Monday, June 30, 2008


You think Wikipedia's tough on Experts?

Take a look a look at this exchange on Conservapedia, which calls itself "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia". In short, Andrew Schlafy doubts the findings of a published, peer-reviewed article which presents strong evidence of evolution in bacteria, and decides the best way to question these findings is demand the data the scientist based this article on.

Nothing wrong with a bit of skepticism; by questioning what we are told we come to knowledge. However from this exchange, it appears that Schlafy thinks the scientific method works like tagging statements on Wikipedia articles with {{fact}} or {{verification needed}}: if a statement appears to be questionable, ask for sources. He doesn't realize that dealing with experts in the Real World involves a different approach. Schlafy's correspondent, who I doubt is familiar with Wikipedia's conventions, provides him with an object lesson about how to handle experts -- a lesson Schlafy appears to have failed.

When other Conservapedia editors try to explain to Schlafy just why his approach doesn't work, Schlafy persists in his ignorance. Or maybe this is just one of those parodies that are slipped into Conservapedia, to see if anyone notices; I understand it can sometimes be hard to tell.

We may not be kinder to the experts who donate their time and knowledge at Wikipedia, but I like to think that the average Wikipedian knows to stop arguing when she or he has lost the argument.

If the link above is dead, try this mirror of the exchange. Fair warning: I have commented on this over at Daily Kos, which is where I learned about this.


Technocrati tags: , , ,

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Professionals and Amateurs

I just saw this bit of news: within minutes of newsman Tim Russert's death last week of a sudden heart attack, one of the first things someone at the scene did was...update his article on Wikipedia.

Silly me. I've been contributing to Wikipedia for getting close to six years now, and I figure my first reaction would be to dial 911 or start administering first aid.

Good to know that not everyone who worked with Russert was in such awe of the man that they decided not to wait just a little longer until his family was informed, before being the first to update his Wikipedia article, the new standard of knowledge about everything. If a media professional isn't interested in showing some respect to the family of the recently dead, then why should the folks of the English language Wikipedia bother about the ideals of WP:BLP?

Sorry if I'm sounding a bit off-the-wall; it's hard to be effectively sarcastic when one's mind is still reeling over how a professional would do something truly tasteless and insensitive. But I hope this example of stupidity in the "Real World" shows that when an otherwise well-meaning Wikipedian regular makes a mistake in contributing to an article about a living person, it's not the end of the world. Although it's clear to me now where some of these tactless ideas come from -- outside the Wikipedia bubble.


Technorati tags: , , ,

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 22, 2008


A step in the right direction

You may have seen Pete Forsyth's blog post about the Oregon Revised Statutes being proprietary information. In brief, even if you are a tax payer in Oregon you can't put a copy of the laws you pay for on the Internet -- and especially not if don't pay Oregon taxes. Now for the rest of the story: Pete and a few folks went down last Thursday to make a pitch to the Legislative Counsel Committee to change their minds on this, and I'm glad to write that the committee decided unanimously not to enforce any copyright claims.

I could say this is important by making a comparison to Roman history. One of the many conflicts between the classes was over the fact that the laws at the time were not written down, and while the upper classes possessed this oral knowledge, the lower classes did not and for that reason wanted the laws put in written form, so that personal security and happiness did not depend on the whims of the powerful. But, again, there is more to the story than reaching to that ideal -- some of which Pete provides in his blog. People have been sued for putting copies of the laws of their state online: one case happened a few years back when a fellow put the building code for his state online -- but was sued by a third party who happened to own the copyright to the model legislation that his state's laws were taken from. (I think that is the case referred to here.) And copies of building codes are pricey, because selling copies is one way these groups are able to pay their bills -- despite the fact the pricetag limits access to important information.


Technorati tags: ,

Labels: ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Site Meter