Wednesday, 8 July 2009
The successes and failures of wikipedia are both very notable. That it is unprofessional is not so much an indictment of wikipedia (as no-one is forced to take its articles at face value) but of existing social and economic models for their failure to fill its niche in the internet with something professional.
I’d have thought that a national government could subsidise graduates to work on an academic version of the same thing. However, neo-liberalism increasingly disparages the thought that the state can do anything useful. Instead the state should make follies for those left behind by the free market to work on.
In scientific terms there is a debate that an intense focus on peer reviewed magazines is both expensive and stifling debate. Perhaps they should use open-access publishing sources more frequently in something akin to a hyper-wikipedia. It does seem to me that the scientific community (if there is such a thing) is becoming increasingly tribal and unflexible in its academic isolation.
This is most evident from the near religious way in which Darwin's theory of evolution is treated by academics, who do not like to debate it, even philosophically. The hounding of Michael Reiss for stating that teachers and lecturers should be PREPARED TO DEBATE creationism was one of the most unpleasant things that I have read about. Furthermore it is deeply unscientific. Karl Popper once described Darwinian evolution as ‘theology’ for its lack of falsifiability; Darwin’s self-appointed heirs seem determined to provide inquisitors for the theology.
On The Scientist website there has been a running photograph of a man standing beside a life size cutout of Charles Darwin. Darwin was himself a modest man and would no doubt be horrified at this.
In his book ‘A Devil’s Chaplain’ Richard Dawkins proudly displays a letter that he co-wrote with Stephen Jay Gould imploring academics not to talk to Intelligent Design advocates.
Whilst I have no interest in intelligent design, I find it difficult to see that stifling debate is ever positive. Of course, the reason could be because of the ID argument that Darwinian evolution through gradual natural selection itself leaves a vast amount unexplained.
This is NOT a valid argument that there is a creator. But it is a point that benefits the Popperian view of science, though not a point that most evolutionary scientists think should be heard by the unwashed hordes. In fact some scientific articles I’ve read actually seem to present evolution AS design. One instance is an article in response to a vital question, which has gnawed at man since the dawn of time: why are Greeks hairier than Africans?
The ‘scientific’ response was that hair protects from blood sucking insects. However, given that moderately more body hair would not be a significant advantage, I fail to see how gradual streamlining can work in this case. Anyway, midges in Scotland are worse than anything in Greece, yet this has not created a notably hairy people. If the incidental Greek mosquito puts hair on the chest, then surely the hordes of winged bloodsuckers in Scotland should create a race like this:
(the midge problem in Central Ross-shire-joke for Russian audience)
Still, to return to Wikipedia, this ‘meme’ is evident in other fields. According to wikipedia mainstream scientists have not been debating the ‘conspiracy theorists’ in the Architects and Academics for 9/11 truth movement because THROUGH DEBATING THEM THEY WILL GIVE THEM UNWARRANTED CREDIBILITY.
I saw Richard Gage’s two hour talk on the issue, and thought that he made many very good points. I would define a ‘conspiracy theorist’ as someone who makes positive arguments rather than simply stating that the official account is deeply flawed. Gage does not advocate a conspiracy theory by this criteria.
I am entirely with ‘The Antiterrorist’ in using Okham’s argument against conspiracy theories. For all I know giant lizards may be ruling the earth, but I have no evidence and it is better to ask questions rather than to provide 'answers'. It is better to make the positive statements that we can make.
But the mainstream scientists think that this is nonsense, that through answering question about the third tower, primary accounts of multiples explosions and the shipping of the debris to China, they would be GRANTING CREDENCE to conspiracy theories.
In other words ‘put your unanswered questions away, and shut your mouth’ (apologies to Steven deSouza).
The humanities side of wikipedia is very similar. If a source is published, then it is worthy of respect. If not, it isn’t. This is becoming increasingly ambiguous as articles are published for their adherence to ideology rather than any intelligence or honesty of their writers.
The wikipedia page on ‘The Trap’ is a case in point. This is an excellent documentary about how diverse ideas helped to make selfishness appear a virtue in the West.
Our media increasingly treats economic liberty as the only liberty worth having. Yet Britain is turning into a dictatorship. Curtis is very open about how these theories arose through the failure of opposing theories: the terrorism of Soviet Russia and Revolutionary France; the economic stagnation of post-war Britain; the difficulty of facing the unimaginable during the Cold War.
And yes, The Trap does have its flaws. Curtis contradicts himself over the neo-conservatives stating they want democracy and demonstrating that they supported dictators. He similarly over-emphasises Thatcher’s ideas of freedom. And he exaggerates the totalitarian impulse of Putin, or at least the idea that Putin is any more authoritarian than his predecessor.
However, the central thesis is sound. We only need look at how the British state has coddled Berezovsky as a ‘dissident’ to see how theories of economic freedom have metamorphosed into Mammon worship.
Whilst British tend to disparage the concept of European liberty based on the fact that they still have state run industries, Privacy international proves that any smugness is unfounded.
In all, Curtis’s theories are worthy of respect. But the two articles invert the story of the Dutch boy and stick their fingers into the holes to destroy the dyke.
A bewigged troll in The New Statesman decides that the theories are so far fetched they are far fetched. No comment about the increase of greed in discourse of freedom. No, it made her confused therefore it was incoherent. Curtis-
‘Dug up footage of Donald Rumsfeld saying the same things of the USSR as he later did of Osama Bin Laden, an echo that had liberals rubbing their hands in glee.’
That goes to show he is biased towards the moonbat libruls, what with showing them real life footage and everything.
The other published source wikipedia links to as evidence of the documentary’s shortcomings is a piece in ‘Prospect’. Again it uses the word ‘paranoid’ in the headline. Not that they make any intellectual refutation of Curtis’s central hypothesis, that greed and selfishness have come to be portrayed as the foundations of freedom, but it is paranoid… because it is paranoid.
I’m not using this to bash wikipedia. As a historian I would never rely on wikipedia as a viable source, though as a casual websurfer it has its uses.
It is limited by the received wisdom of the day. Whilst its science pages have received some praise, its political articles are shackled by the limiting chains of neo-liberal editors. It is a reflection, not a parody of published material on politics.
Will academia or capitalism provide a comparable source of information? And will this be beneficial to the scientific community as well as th reading public?