19.388 Wikipedia

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 1 Nov 2005 06:27:21 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 388.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Ingbert Floyd <ifloyd2_at_gmail.com> (131)
         Subject: Re: 19.379 Wikipedia

   [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (15)
         Subject: students using Wikipedia?

   [3] From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com> (61)
         Subject: Re: 19.365 Wikipedia

         Date: Tue, 01 Nov 2005 06:01:37 +0000
         From: Ingbert Floyd <ifloyd2_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.379 Wikipedia

> Wikipedia here has a certain ambivalence. It isn't as structurally
> disciplined as regular printed sources, so one has to read it with
> more critical engagement. I wonder whether reading Wikipedia is a
> different kind of intellectual activity from reading a regular
> 'pedia.

This is what interests me about the Wikipedia. It seems that the
unreliability of the information ought to be emphasized, and that its
function described as an entry-point to wider literature. While I
don't think you can do this effectively on the site itself without
encouraging contributers who will simply post lists of hundreds of
links on a particular topic (which would be totally unhelpful), I
think it is proper to do so in the meta-literature about Wikipedia.
Thus, what is useful about the articles on Wikipedia is that they
introduce you to vocabulary which you did not know exist (and had no
good/easy/convenient way of finding before), provide some basic links
to get you started on web resources, and give you enough context so
that you actually have a clue how to structure a keyword search to
find out more about it. The important question is, then, do the
people who use wikipedia (academics and non-academics) realize that
this is how the information ought to be regarded, and do they actually
use it as feeder material for further searching, or do they just
assume it is correct and take it at face value? If they don't bother
to search further, how can the content be better structured to
encourage such behavior? Or, is the information on wikipedia actually
better/more reliable than the information they would otherwise find
(from the other top ten Google hits, from their friends or co-workers,
etc.), that despite the errors in the wikipedia data, it's actually
better that they rely on that information, since they don't have the
time or inclination to look any farther?

The ideal of course, would be that Wikipedia would serve as a training
ground for critical gathering of information. I.e., that people would
get in the habit of always checking their sources because they rely on
Wikipedia for most of their information, and then, when they happen to
use other media to get information, they just habitually try to
cross-check what they find. Wishful thinking perhaps, especially
given how much time people have...

I think the social question you raise is also an interesting one, but
I am compelled to think of it as a question of epistimology, rather
than a question of being "transparent / neutral as to culture". To
me, knowledge does not exist outside of a mind. (Patterns and figures
do, but they don't become symbols or hold meaning until interpreted by
a mind.) And knowledge is not shared between people, it is just a
particular person's assumption that the concept in their mind is
identical to the concept in the person's mind they are talking to, if
the same word is being used to reference the concept. And a person
only becomes aware that they are making this assumption, when the
other person acts/speaks in a manner that is inconsistent with what
they would expect given their understanding of the concept. Thus, all
a culture is (no matter what the scale you happen to be talking
about), is a set of people whose use of particular words to represent
concepts does not cause other people who are part of the culture to
question their assumption of what the concept is that is represented
by those words.

Thus, the idea of being neutral to culture becomes somewhat
meaningless (there is nothing besides culture--all communication
happens in culture), and when thinking critically about wikipedia, the
focus is more: what cultural vocabularies are supported in the
Wikipedia text, does it help bridge barriers between cultural
vocabularies, what is the granularity of the culture (all of western
culture vs. east-coast US computer hackers), and how does this change
over time as editing continues (does it become more inclusive or more
exclusive, do more cultures and diverse granularities of cultures
become reflected, or does it smooth over time to the largest culture
possible for the language in which the article is written, etc.).

I don't know, what do you think? 'Cause I have to admit that I am
always surprised by just how much on Wikipedia is actually *right* and
can be relied upon...

Ingbert Floyd
Ph.D. Student
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

> Another angle on the Wikipedia question has to do with whether it is
> transparent / neutral as to culture, knowledge-base and so on. Many
> national encyclopaedias have detectable national biases; the
> Britannica changed flavour when it crossed the Atlantic; Funk and
> Wagnall's could not have been composed in Europe; encyclopaedias
> under the old Soviet Union were definitely ideologically filtered.
And so on.
> There *is* a tendency among the reading public to genuflect before
> dictionaries and encyclopaedias. In my case at least, my critical
> distancing (Verfremdung?) is related to my competence. So I will
> approach dictionaries of the languages that I know with a healthy
> scepticism; but if it's a language that I don't know so well, I tend
> to be more trusting.
> Wikipedia here has a certain ambivalence. It isn't as structurally
> disciplined as regular printed sources, so one has to read it with
> more critical engagement. I wonder whether reading Wikipedia is a
> different kind of intellectual activity from reading a regular
> 'pedia. There *are* intermittent biases, and one needs to be alert to
> them. It's worth asking to what extent a wide contributor base has a
> smoothing function, and if so, in which cultural / knowledge-base the
> smoothing is occurring.
> --
> Roland Sussex
> Professor of Applied Language Studies
> School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies
> The University of Queensland
> Brisbane
> Queensland 4072
> University's CRICOS provider number: 00025B
> Office: Greenwood 434 (Building 32)
> Phone: +61 7 3365 6896
> Fax: +61 7 3365 6799
> Email: sussex_at_uq.edu.au
> Web: http://www.arts.uq.edu.au/slccs/index.html?page=18094&pid=19591
> School's website:
> http://www.arts.uq.edu.au/slccs/
> Applied linguistics website:
> http://www.uq.edu.au/slccs/AppliedLing/
> Language Talkback ABC radio:
> Web: http://www.cltr.uq.edu.au/languagetalkback/
> Audio: from http://www.abc.net.au/hobart/stories/s782293.htm
> **********************************************************

Check out the unofficial GSLIS Wiki:
Tell me what you think, if you find it useful, or if you have any
ideas for how to organize it better.  And if you feel comfortable
doing so, I heartily encourage you to contribute content!
         Date: Tue, 01 Nov 2005 06:11:02 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: students using Wikipedia?
Has anyone here constructed exercises in which students are asked to
look further than a given Wikipedia entry and then to evaluate that
entry? If so, it would be useful to hear which entries have been
used, what the results have been.
If my own experience as a student is any guide, students almost
always have to be pushed to go further than the obvious reference
sources (Cliff notes &c). I expect that our students now need to be
taught an old lesson in terms of a new medium, from which they tend
to expect "just the facts, m'am, just the facts".
Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
         Date: Tue, 01 Nov 2005 06:13:40 +0000
         From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.365 Wikipedia
Dear Willard,
At 02:09 AM 10/26/2005, you wrote:
 >It seems reasonable to suppose that the print medium might
 >consciously be deployed for uses to which it is well adapted, and
 >that the same would happen, once we come to our senses, for the
 >digital medium. In *Buch, Bibliothek, und geisteswissenschaftliche
 >Forschung*, translated and adapted by John J Boll as *In Close
 >Association: Research, Humanities, and the Library*, Bernhard Fabian
 >argues that, "In view of the overabundance of literature and the
 >development of new media and methods of distribution, a new
 >hierarchical structure of publication formats seems unavoidable"
 >(1998: 4). That seems so obviously right to me that I wonder if
 >there's really an argument here at all. The question, it seems to me,
 >is hierarchy with respect to what kind of difference(s), and once we
 >have that in mind, then we start arguing about the distance on this
 >great chain of being between one kind of publishing and the next up
 >or down. And do we not begin by asking how the particular
 >characteristics of the media in question help us to place each in the
This is so interesting. It reminds me of a very refreshing little
book I read last year --
Gabriel Diaz. So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of
Abundance. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2003.
The problem is that the last problem you pose, "how the particular
characteristics of the media in question help us to place each in the
hierarchy", is impossible to discern without both distinguishing what
*uses* those media may be put to (since a medium is not a static
thing, but adapts to the uses of its adopters), and accordingly the
manifold different hierarchies and potential hierarchies that might
result, when media are put to new uses either competing with or
complementing more established channels. So, not a simple "chain of
being" but a network of interpenetrating networks.
So for example, current trends seem to indicate that political
discourse even in very conventional mainstream media is being
affected by the echoings of activity in "the blogosphere" as it's
been called. Even though largely out of view of the average TV
watcher, debates seem to be crystallized and focused more quickly
than hitherto -- can one doubt this is due to more people have more
access to more evidence and more points of view, making for a broader
range of impressions from which conventional wisdoms can be
distilled? One can hope.
I dare say this happens in smaller communities and markets as well.
In fact I work in an industry that utterly depends on email and the
web for the circulation of information absolutely vital to its
survival ... were everyone to suddenly quit using the net,
e-publishing in general (which includes e-publishing on paper, i.e.,
today, almost "publishing" altogether) would be set back decades.
This is because progress in the last ten years has been based largely
on the adoption of standards that would be impossible to promulgate
at the same rate or to such good effect, were it not for these channels.
Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc.                http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street                    Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207                                          Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD  20850                                 Fax: 301/315-8285
    Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML
Received on Tue Nov 01 2005 - 01:36:22 EST

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