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Humanist Archives: Jan. 22, 2019, 6:18 a.m. Humanist 32.365 - the question on Wikipedia

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 365.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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    [1]    From: James Cummings 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.363: the question on Wikipedia (38)

    [2]    From: maurizio lana 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.362: the question on Wikipedia (33)

        Date: 2019-01-21 10:18:05+00:00
        From: James Cummings 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.363: the question on Wikipedia

Willard, you ask:

> The fluidity of digital publication washes back on us all too often as
> sloppiness. The value-judgment implicit in that word 'sloppiness' might
> provoke an argument to the effect that I should accept the fact that
> standards have changed, but I cannot agree. Rather let me
> ask: historically what have been the constraints that have
> ensured reliability? Or, perhaps better, how historically
> contingent is our concept of reliability? Or, to ask another,
> what is built into the idea of "all the world's knowledge"?

Although Encyclopedia Britannia has been mentioned I haven't seen much reference
to the (now quite dated, I think) comparative studies which found wikipedia to
be significantly more accurate on random sampling because of its ease of
updating. The fluidity of publication might lead to sloppiness in some cases,
but has it not been shown to also provide a reactive swiftness in updating
information when the facts of a situation change? The constraints to reliability
may not be to do (just) with the level of expertise but the ease to which it may
be modified and updated. An encyclopedia printed decades ago, let's say, is more
likely to be out-of-date with a substantial number of its assertions. Facts
change. (Clearly there are topics where the underlying facts change more or less
quickly, and some facts that are unlikely to change.) Our concept of
reliability, as you seem to be hinting, is as historically-bound as any other
concept. And the problem, as others have suggested, with 'all the world's
knowledge', I'd assume, is that not all the world is correct in their beliefs of
what is true. I'm the first to decry mass-moderation systems, but on balance I'd
rather choose the dumbed-down existence with wikipedia than the out-of-date
existence of any print encyclopedias.

Many thanks,


        Date: 2019-01-21 06:22:03+00:00
        From: maurizio lana 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.362: the question on Wikipedia

hi ken,

i was thinking of addressing your question about the reliability of
wikipedia, when speaking of articles about fascism and Resistance in the
recent Italian history.

but your reply seems to explain that what you would like is one or more
/solution/ to the problems of reliability of wikipedia.
i think that the only solution is what i was recalling: that is a
continuous (continual!) action of people who (re)build the knowledge
content of the articles.

this is implicit in the openness of the contributions to wikipedia:
various forms of lack of reliability (whole articles or part of
articles) which are original (poor quality of knowledge of the
contributor/s) or subsequent (defacement of previous correct content).

we need a constant abundant flux of good, correct content in order to
minimize the relevance of bad content. what in turn implies a social
responsibility towards the digital environment we all live in.


Maurizio Lana
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici
Università del Piemonte Orientale
piazza Roma 36 - 13100 Vercelli
tel. +39 347 7370925

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