Reg hack gives forth in Wikipedia doco

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You know, some people - rare people - can develop and cultivate a sense of objectivity about almost any subject. These special people can even apply that objectivity to themselves or topics that under normal circumstances they care a great deal about. Large chunks of science, justice and the humanities are devoted to trying to achieve this objectivity on a professional level.

Those who do achieve it, most especially those who have obtained a great deal of knowledge about one or many topics are truly experts. The hive mind is not objective. The hive mind is instinctual and moody. It has passions and flights of fancy and these cloud the judgement of the masses.

A dictionary may refer to someone as “a peculiar and dislikable person" because in truth they are. You could argue that such a statement should never be made because there is a measure of subjectivity, however even something subjective can be qualified given enough data. Objectivity is the art and science of extracting signal from the noise, and Wikipedia simply doesn’t have it.

It has its uses. It is a great starting point for any research and a treasure trove of pointless trivia. That said, it is not now and it never will be the equal of carefully studied objective information on any topic. There is a requirement for expert opinions and information, most especially if they disagree with you, me and the hive mind itself. “Because the masses believe it to be true” does not in fact make something to be true. Conversely, “that the masses believe something to be true” can be worth reporting and be important information of it’s own right.

“A peculiar and dislikable person” conveys in one very short sentence the information that, on the whole, this individual did not adhere to the social norms of their time. It also indicates that for whatever reason the majority opinion of their personality was negative. I do not see in it an absolute statement (all people find them to be disagreeable) but merely a conveyance of the general perception of society towards them.

Where Wikipedia diverges, and the hive mind’s passions and predjudices set in is at exactly these points of trying to quantify subjective information. The ability of individuals to “own” articles, popular opinion (as opposed to learned expertise and objectivity) used to determine the veracity of differing citations and quite a bit more ensure Wikipedia can never be a trusted source of information.

At best, Wikipedia is useful because other people have done the drudge work of getting links for a topic together for you. (All those citations.) Reading the source material, and travelling back through the source material’s references all the way to the original works is always the best course. Learn about the origins of the information. Was the scientist or historian who gave them truly objective? Are the links/citations pointing to utter rubbish websites with no real tracability? Was there any real expertise or professionalism, or was it aught but the partisan ramblings of someone with an axe to grind?

Give me primary source material any time.


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