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Wikipedia: magic, monkeys and typewriters

We just 'Don't Get It'

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Peer review has its own problems with groupthink, and only works when the peers are experts. But Wikipedia fans love the fact that it's a great leveler an expert has the same authority as a spotty teenager on the other side of the world who doesn't know the subject matter in hand.

What they don't like to talk about is that on Wikipedia, the truth is determined in the end by a physical contest: whoever has the endurance to stay awake at a keyboard and maintain his version of the edits wins.


I believe that the tone of the article is quite demeaning and misses out on the one indisputable quality that Wikipedia has brought into being. Now, thanks to the convergence of a million monkeys typing on a million keyboards, and after more than two millennia of breathless waiting, we finally have a modern, technologically advanced and incredibly complex version of the stables of Augias.

One can only wonder, amazed by this Babel tower of Klingonesque beauty, if and where from will our modern Heracles will emerge, to transform this gem of astounding impurity into something worthy of the name "encyclopaedia".

As for me, I won't hold my breath for it.

Pascal Monnett


There were some terrific responses in favor of Wikipedia. Several fans flew to their keyboards without reading our article, we suspect, because they gave versions 1 and 3 of the standard template defense without modification.

"Wikipedia might not be fulfilling all of its objectives, but to ridicule a free service honestly attempted, and intended for the benefit of all is pretty low. Do you poke fun at the Salvation Army because of that beggar you saw in the gutter the other day?" asks Jonathan.

So we should think of it as scraps for the informationally destitute. This, perhaps, isn't the high gloss finish we've been led to expect by the embedded reporters.

Here's another that argues volunteer efforts should not be criticized:

It would be more like attending the complimentary breakfast in the church event hall and telling the old ladies that their coffee sucks. You didn't pay for the service, and these people have volunteered their valuable time for the good of the community. If you think you can do better, you should roll up your sleeves and do it, and stop whining.

So if you don't write for it, to criticize it. Then there's the more extreme cousin of this argument, the "don't use it, don't criticize it defense", here expressed by Dan Grey:

"Many of the criticisms you raise are valid... but so what? People are free to NOT use it - the simple truth is that its very popular."

But we are free to criticize things that affect us that we don't use. Do I have to buy a Hummer before I can criticize gas guzzling cars? And in order to criticize my government I should start my own country, perhaps, too. Free speech could rapidly become a very expensive business!

"This article was terrble [sic], and you KNOW it. It's biased and unfair, and completely misrepresents the project. You deliberately wrote this article in the manner you did, probably to gain advertising revenue," opines Jonathan Stewart.

"This has seriously hurt my opinion of the Register, which i thought to be crude, but accurate. I must now seriously question the factual accuracy of articles posted on the regsiter."

(You can't make this stuff up.)

Matt Toups, a PhD at Carnegie Mellon, defends his corner by going on the attack:

"Your first few sentences attempt to hand-wavingly conjure up an image of a failed project that rebuffs criticism. these are but the first of many unsubstantiated claims," he writes. "The rest of the article is filled with selective quotes, inappropriate comparisons and cheap sarcastic attacks. you have complaints about quality and objectivity? Ha! As if your article demonstrated any of these things. Anyway, I assume you know how weak the article was."

"Clearly you are not qualified to comment on these matters, nor are you qualified to relate the issue to the public.

"good day."

Harr-rumph.

So there.

Just feel the anger, the incomprehension, the sense that anyone criticising the project must have dark and dastardly motives:

"I cannot believe you are a a stupid, stubborn, and illogical person, but your stance towards wikipedia (and the comment about waitors throwing food, and being only as good as your worst article) is either the result of ignorant rage or an advertisement. Journalistic integrity requires you to disclose any personal or business reason you may have to post such an article. Please include either this full disclosure or append a statement as to how you learned to make up for being slow with spite.

jason thalken

Jason is another student. He's a Computational Condensed Matter Theory Physicist - but this Wikipedia criticism, he simply cannot Compute.

There must be an agenda. There must be:

hey jackass

wikipedia is about a million times more useful than your stupid article. your jottings are more low-quality and biased than any wiki entry i've read. what's your agenda?

jon lovitz

It's all a big conspiracy Jon. We're monitoring your brain patterns as you fiddle.

As we mentioned earlier, a year ago we'd get a lot of these but now there are just a handful, and the relief from the Wiki-wary is palpable.

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