June 16, 2007

From: The internet is killing our culture... to: The people look like ants.

Here's a fascinating NPR interview with Andrew Keen, who wrote "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture." Needless to say, he's negative about blogging and the like, but I love his attitude. When the NPR guy questions his theory and says that "cultural gatekeepers" are "often protecting entrenched interests who happen to be rich and powerful," he sneers: "That is a neo-Marxist argument."

But isn't it good the way the internet has enabled musicians to leap over the music business and get their work out to the public? Keen is negative. The people who are good at marketing will win, not the best artists. But he seems to think well of the the Arctic Monkeys.

Later, poking around on the bad old internet, I see this:
[Prefixmag]: So you guys didn't even know how to [put] your music on the Internet?
Arctic Monkeys: No, no.

PM: Are you guys Internet users?
Arctic Monkeys: Only to e-mail or whatever; iTunes, stuff like that. But none of us really knew how to. It was a guy at college who made the Web site. We had tried putting music on the site, but it didn't work properly. People couldn't listen to it properly.

PM: I notice you have a pretty popular site on Myspace.
Arctic Monkeys: We don't know about that, either.

PM: So that's not you guys?
Arctic Monkeys: No, no. The other day someone said to us, "I looked at your profile on Myspace." I said, "I don't even know what Myspace is." [When we went number one in England] we were on the news and radio about how Myspace has helped us. But that's just the perfect example of someone who doesn't know what the f*ck they're talking about. We actually had no idea what [Myspace] was.
What would Keen think of that? The musicians were good enough to inspire fans who were web-savvy enough to market them. It doesn't seem as though a whole lot of business genius is involved. But the group's name stuck in my head, and I happened to see a video of theirs when I was idly clicking around on YouTube today, and got to this video of "Leave Before the Lights Come On," which I liked enough to link to in an IM with John.

John responds:
mm, i'd like to hear more from them since they're playing a style of music I've been listening to a lot, but I'm not really a fan of that song. I think it's pretty generic....

the gimmick of starting a video out with someone on the ledge of a building contemplating suicide has been done.
He sends me this link to a video by Collective Soul, "The World I Know."
me: this is a much more professional video

john: yeah

me: I like the way the bird makes him think maybe life is worth living, then the ants seem especially cool, and then "the people look like ants" either means that seeing a cliché made real is so amusing that he wants to live or he actually suddenly appreciates humanity because he started off liking ants and then it was like oh, okay, since i know I like ants, maybe if people are like ants I want to live.

john: ha

john: you should blog that...
John was thus doing some gatekeeping, of the go on, go ahead variety that I'm sure would make the snobby old Mr. Keen cringe. What? We're publishing 9 p.m. IMs now? Yes, we are, old man.... like a million little ants.

ADDED: I see that Glenn Reynolds trashed Keen's book here:
The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture... is basically an extended paean to the lost Golden Age of middlebrow taste-makers and big-media megaphones, and an extended jeremiad against an age in which people are free to make up their own minds, and make their own contributions. Keen is even sad about the declining influence of small-scale taste-makers: He decries the absence of the "deeply knowledgeable Tower clerk" in the world of online record sales, and he seems to think that the musical snobs in the book (and film) High Fidelity were supposed to be appealing characters.

Ha ha.

45 comments:

GeorgeH said...

But isn't it good the way the internet has enabled musicians to leap over the music business and get their work out to the public? Keen is negative. The people who are good at marketing will win, not the best artists.

And this is different from the past how?

Ann Althouse said...

Well, it's Keen's idea, not mine, and he really believes in the gatekeepers. So I think he'd say the music companies will discover and give precedence to the right people, the best artists.

amba said...

According to this fascinating interview with the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, the idea of the wiki is based on the ideas of libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek.

In 1945, in his famous essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society," the libertarian economist F.A. Hayek argued that market mechanisms serve "to share and synchronize local and personal knowledge, allowing society's members to achieve diverse, complicated ends through a principle of spontaneous self-organization." (These are the words not of the Nobel Prize winner himself but of Wikipedia's entry on him.) "Hayek's work on price theory is central to my own thinking about how to manage the Wikipedia project," Wales wrote on the blog of the Internet law guru Lawrence Lessig. "One can't understand my ideas about Wikipedia without understanding Hayek." Long before socialism crumbled, Hayek saw the perils of centralization. When information is dispersed (as it always is), decisions are best left to those with the most local knowledge.

When Wales founded the site in 2001, his plan was simple yet seemingly insane: "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." In case that plan didn't sound nutty enough on its own, he went on to let every Tom, Dick, and Friedrich write and edit articles for that mystical encyclopedia. "Now it's obvious that it works," says Wales . . .


In other words: the self-organizing community will serve as its own gatekeeper, thank you. While viral-marketing skill will probably prove almost as essential to the artist's survival as artistic skill and vision (it already is), quality WILL be discovered and will rise to the top, filtered through the nervous systems of millions of users. What affects the most people will become known to even more. It's more trustworthy than the "gatekeepers" who presume to know what people ought to like, not what they do like.

Palladian said...

amba, thanks for pointing to that interview, which I think sums up a general philosophy of the internet pretty well. Keen's book is profoundly stupid, with one of those "molotov cocktail" titles engineered to get people irritated and talking about something that's otherwise beneath the merit of serious discussion. Whether or not one likes his attitude is not really sufficient justification for reading his silly book.

I'd elucidate, but since I'm an "amateur", I'd just be killing our "culture" in the process.

amba said...

More from that Jimmy Wales interview (this is a keeper, eh):

Although he professes to hate phrases like "swarm intelligence" and "the wisdom of crowds," Wales' phenomenal success springs largely from his willingness to trust large aggregations of human beings to produce good outcomes though decentralized, market-like mechanisms. He is suspicious of a priori planning and centralization, and he places a high value on freedom and independence for individuals. He is also suspicious of mob rule. Most Wikipedia entries, Wales notes, are actually written by two or three people, or reflect decisions made by small groups in the discussion forums on the site. Wales calls himself an "anti-credentialist" but adds that doesn't mean he's anti-elitist. He likes elites, he says; they just have to duke it out with the rest of us on Wikipedia and his other projects.

Synova said...

I write science fiction which deals with "what ifs" such as "What if broadcasting rules made mass-market entertainment impossible?"

I suppose we can say, "What is culture" and define "culture" as the high brow stuff, but I think that "culture" is what is. Good or bad. Campy. Tasteless.

In any case, the loss of amateur musical talent is eating us out from the inside at breakneck speed. If the internet works to counteract that, it's a great thing.

It wasn't that long ago... people made their own music. My little hick town... someone could play a fiddle, who knows how the heck he learned it. People owned musical instruments, the now antique reed (pump) organs that my father repairs, or pianos, or fiddles or they sang. Played the *spoons* or a snuff box if nothing else was available.

And we provided our own music at church. Organ and piano and our voices. Even if someone didn't play very well they'd be asked to do accompaniment. I even did a couple times in Sunday School and I can't play piano worth beans. We sang in *parts* just on the normal scheme of things.

And now it's all taped. Even at church. A person who can manage a few chords on easy songs isn't needed to play guitar during the singing. No one needs the piano player if they have "special music" during the service because they have tapes with harmony voices and everything.

We've lost "amateur" at the level that "amateur" should matter.

All the kids still want to be rock stars, and they practice and work so hard, but nearly any every-day opportunity to make music is being eaten by the professionals.

A question, though. If I b*tch about the "cultural gatekeepers" without implying anything about the rich and powerful, is it still a neo-Marxist argument?

amba said...

And finally:

People who don't "get" Wikipedia, or who get it and recoil in horror, tend to be from an older generation literally and figuratively: the Seigenthalers and Britannica editors of the world. People who get it are younger and hipper: the Irene McGees and Jeff Bezoses. But the people who really matter are the Kiras [Wales' little daughter], who will never remember a time without Wikipedia (or perhaps Wikia), the people for whom open-source, self-governed, spontaneously ordered online community projects don't seem insane, scary, or even particularly remarkable. If Wales has his way-and if Wikipedia is any indication, he will-such projects will just be another reason the Internet doesn't suck.

Kev said...

As a musician, I'm really happy that, when I have sell-worthy tracks, I'll be able to market them from my MySpace instead of having to have my music "approved" by a record-label bureaucrat who probably has no creative ability of his/her own. And even if I do want the larger distribution of a label, there are several successful indies owned by other jazz musicians now. (I ranted on the state of Big Music in an early post on my blog.

I for one am glad that Keen and his ilk are likely part of a dying generation; we can manage our own gate, thank you very much.

George said...

Vulgar dog-puppet comedy?

Here's the voting:

11 votes for celebrity buttocks-sniffing.
1 against.

11 votes for elderly lesbians tongue kissing in the street.
1 against

11 votes for mocking the elderly Angela Lansbury and Abe Vigoda.
1 against.

11 votes for making this available to children.
1 against.

The global mind has spoken. More vulgar dog-puppet comedy, please.

And more Sunday morning photos of ants eating the eye of a dead bird....

AJ Lynch said...

Ann- you have to provide the link to Instapundi't review of Keen's book. Apparently Keen reviewed one of Reynolds books last year and turnabout is fair play.

Also, those Jib Jab guys were frigging talented and got discovered via internet. That is an example that refutes Keen's concern that only marketing will count.

And what the fluff does "neo-marxist" mean anyway?

Roost on the Moon said...

11 votes for making this available to children.
1 against...And more Sunday morning photos of ants eating the eye of a dead bird....


Yes, I've had to be very careful about how often I let my young children read Althouse. They come for the SCOTUS analysis, but they end up staying for the existential photography and the frank discussions of third-wave feminist sexuality. I'm afraid there may not be much we can do, george: kids will be kids.

Congratulations Ann, on (maybe) your first charge of corrupting the children.

Dave said...

I bet Dan Rather has 10 signed copies. Because this story is rock-solid.

This is the sound dinosaurs make when they're going extinct.

Dave said...

"And what the fluff does "neo-marxist" mean anyway?"

I'm pretty sure it means "that's a really good point and I have no counter to it."

My estimation is that the world can almost always be divided into two groups -- those who want to control others and those who don't. It is the job of those who don't to see that those who want to don't go too far. This is tedious and time-consuming, since those who want to control others never, ever give up. It appears to be central to their life.

For instance, george, where would *you* draw the culture line? Give us some hard case examples, please.

LiberTexian said...

Apparently Mr. Keen has failed to recognize the future... the one we live in and continually move into. The PC became predominant because the Mac was proprietary, or as Jobs must have been thinking, 'it's my way or the hiway.'

That would be the 'information super hiway', thank you very much.

The record companies will lose. The movie companies will lose. The politicians will lose.

The internet gives control to the people, just ask Trent Lott. It's our way. Mr. Keen and the retailers can live in their culture of control, they don't really matter.

kcom said...

"This is tedious and time-consuming, since those who want to control others never, ever give up. It appears to be central to their life."

The catastrophists never give up either. Ever. When it becomes clear that the catastrophe du jour (pollution, ozone hole, nuclear war, nuclear winter, fascism, global cooling... ad nauseum) is not going to be responsible for the end of all life on the planet they don't relax and say "Whew!", they just move on to the next one. They can't live, it seems, without the rush of feeling they are always on the edge of annihilation.

And my bet would be that there is a huge overlap between them and the "control others" group you mentioned. You might be familiar with this quote attributed to H. L. Mencken which I think contains a lot of truth, "The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it."

AJ Lynch said...

Dave said:

"I'm pretty sure it means "that's a really good point and I have no counter to it.""

Thanks Dave - gave me a good laugh.

Re liberals like to control. Here is what I heard today via my liberal sister... some state is considering re-instating "Blue Laws" which outlaw shopping on Sunday (for certain goods) to reduce travel,gas use, etc.

That proves they are nuts and won't stop at taking other freedoms away. And I bet Mr. Keen would approve.

Roost on the Moon said...

Keen's faith in the gatekeepers is exasperating. Try listening to non-nostaligia-based FM music radio. Just try. The music buisness doesn't feed us the best talent, they just wield payola and marketing like a cultural hammer. So you get bland, demographically-designed product played over and over. You want dead culture, check out FM radio.

Or surely a medium like big-budget film will survive? It has built in economic gatekeepers. Not every Joe-schmo with a camcorder can make Godzilla! Hollywood would seem to be a great refuge against these decentralizing trends. Let's take a look at the vibrant art culture they foster this summer:

Spiderman 3
Pirates of the Carribean 3
Schreck 3
Oceans 13 (Oceans 11 3)
Die Hard 4
Bourne Identity 3
Fantastic Four 2
Evan Almighty (Bruce Almighty 2)

Blasted internet...Soon all that will matter is marketing.

His sneering attitude toward what he calls "neo-marxism" is frustrating, too. That's grounds for dismissing the idea outright? Shallow thinking. We can rephrase it in libertarian terminology, if that will make it less "neo-marxist": we could frame it as democratizing technology sapping power from extant centralized systems, which naturally (and naturally inefficiently) struggle against those forces.

This is a common idea on the right, too, but by calling it neo-marxist he dismisses it like it's only accepted reasoning among shaggy leftists.

I'm a big "buy local" advocate. I don't mind paying a bit more to support a neighborhood business. I'm with Keen here, these little shops are cultural gems worth protecting. But Keen sounds like he is so commited to their survival that he is suggesting some kind of hobbling of internet commerce. (What would that be? An Amazon tarriff?) Or is he suggesting subsidizing bookstores? Is he proposing a solution to this or is he just sad that from now on, he lives in a dead culture?

He says he "rejects technological determinism". Well, we might not have ended up with a massive supply-chaining mail order bookstore called "Amazon", but we were going to get one called something. I suspect he rejects it in the same way he does "neo-marxism". By not considering it in the first place.

Joe said...

I'm pretty damn sure that when the first caveman write on the wall, another beat him to death for destroying "our culture."

Fen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fen said...

[people] who will never remember a time without Wikipedia... the people for whom open-source, self-governed, spontaneously ordered online community projects don't seem insane, scary, or even particularly remarkable.

That might be because they didn't live through the sixites. Alot of the hippes communes devolved into Jim Jones type communities. Both Wiki and Digg are showing similar problems - mob rule by cliques of corrupt powermogering leaders/members who "bury" any fact or opinion they dislike.

Paraphrased from Stephen King: Give me one person and I'll show you a saint, give me two and they'll become lovers, give me three and they'll make one an outcast.

Wiki is good for general information, but I cringe when I see it used as a source in a term paper. Its nothing more than the conventional wisdom of a mob that censors information that conflicts with their agenda.

Palladian said...

"Both Wiki and Digg are showing similar problems - mob rule by cliques of corrupt powermogering leaders/members who "bury" any fact or opinion they dislike."

I don't know Digg because I don't use it, but on the Wikipedia point, you're a sack of hot air. As usual.

Wikipedia is quite open about its limitations.

Chip Ahoy said...

I've been able to find books and recordings for friends that they were unable to find themselves without online help and have the items sent to them .

Scanning the "used and new" option on Amazon reveals they broker the same bookstores as Abebooks (and probably others but I never bothered to look.) After picking a vendor by book description, the broker is just a matter of shipping cost -- often a difference of a WHOLE DOLLAR!

You don't have to pay 22.95 list for The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture You can get a new one for 13.00 from a place called 1094Books, shipping from somewhere in Maryland, somebody's local, just not mine, conveniently brokered through either Amazon or Abe or whoever.

Pluuuuuus I can see what the author has to say, usually not as much as Keen does on Amazon, but at least he's using the media he's deploring, and I can even see a photograph he's uploaded there. His book is well reviewed on Amazon, except by the ones who read it.

reader_iam said...

Amateur: 1784, "one who has a taste for (something)," from Fr. amateur "lover of," from O.Fr., from L. amatorem (nom. amator) "lover," from amatus, pp. of amare "to love"

Now, most seem to use this word to distinguish doing something as a pastime as opposed to as a profession.

As for me, having had countless discussion/debates over the decades about amateur vs. professional with my musicians-by-profession parents and others, I still like to think of it (nonpejoratively) as this:

One who does something for the love of it.

To this day, I still maintain that takes not one whit away from my respect for professionals.

reader_iam said...

(No, I'm not saying professionals don't love what they do.)

Maxine Weiss said...

Who's John?

Fen said...

Fen: Both Wiki and Digg are showing similar problems - mob rule by cliques of corrupt powermogering leaders/members who "bury" any fact or opinion they dislike.

Palladian: on the Wikipedia point, you're a sack of hot air. As usual

No. Its a fact that a group of wikipedia admins have an edit bias against right-wing sites and issues. Your little ad hom is cute but not responsive.

Wikipedia is quite open about its limitations

Again, non-responsive. Wiki's disclaimer doesn't change the fact that its users often employ it as an authoritive source equal to a "real" encyclopedia.

Go look through some term papers and see for yourself. Take a class on rhetoric while you're at it. Knee-jerk ad homs do nothing but telegraph your ignorance.

paul a'barge said...

I think John is her son, who lives in Austin (oops, Moscow on the Colorado).

Fen said...

BTW Palladian, your reaction here is typical of admins who moderate sites like that. Rudeness and bias against anything that challenges your preconcieved notions. When I was speaking of the mob cult mentality that pervaded the hippe communes, I didn't expect you would step up and roleplay the model. Thanks for that.

Fen said...

Oh wait... are you a Wiki admin? That would explain it.

Roost on the Moon said...

its users often employ it as an authoritive source equal to a "real" encyclopedia.

Which is the rational thing to do, because it often is just that. If I want to know the area of Kazakhstan or the date of Franz Ferdinand's assassination, you know, typical encyclopedia-type questions, wikipedia is a fine source of information.

No. Its a fact that a group of wikipedia admins have an edit bias against right-wing sites and issues.

I haven't noticed this. Can we get some examples?

Fen said...

Roost: If I want to know the area of Kazakhstan or the date of Franz Ferdinand's assassination, you know, typical encyclopedia-type questions, wikipedia is a fine source of information.

Which I already said - its useful for general information. But to quote it an authorative source?

Which is the rational thing to do, because it often is just that.

Hint.

What about when its not?

Maxine Weiss said...

The mother/son patterns of communication revealed through their emotional text messages.

Fen said...

I haven't noticed this. Can we get some examples

reader_iam said...

Well, there is a son John, whose IM's have made it here before, but he's not the one in Austin. Technically, though, the post doesn't specify "son."

Inane hairsplitting--yeah, I know.

Maxine Weiss said...

But it's so obvious from the tone and tenor of those messages, all the histrionics and catharsis that goes in Althouse's relationship with her son.

DWPittelli said...

And what's wrong with a Marxist argument? I am a classical liberal, but that doesn't mean I must believe that no one acts in accordance with his economic interests.

Roost on the Moon said...

"Hint"

I used the word often because you did, Fen.

What about when its not?

When it's not a good source of information? Those times are usually pretty clear. They certainly aren't causing a crisis of disinformation.

That was a funny list, though. Good stuff. Ken Ham's Creation Museum, too. You guys are on the rebound. Coming back in a big way. Keep it up.

Seven Machos said...

Does it follow that because wikipedia should not be used for theses and term papers that wikipedia is bad?

No. It doesn't.

The issue here is much larger: there is a group of control freaks out there who want to control who gives information and controls which information and art everyone else sees. I find it appalling.

As for the argument that wikipedia leans left, this isn't bad, it's an opportunity to get out there and create a response. Quit complaining and get to work.

Fen said...

roost: When it's not a good source of information? Those times are usually pretty clear.

Really? That seems counterintuitive. People search google to find information, not the confirm it. You're basically saying a car buyer doesn't need to run the used car to a mechanic, as it should usually be pretty clear whats good and bad re the car?

That was a funny list, though. Good stuff. You guys are on the rebound. Coming back in a big way. Keep it up.

Not my list, just the first link I found. Google [yes, ironic] Wikipedia & Bias for yourself. Here are a few more:

[Admin] Jordan contended that he resorted to a fictional persona to protect himself from people who might be angered by his administrative role at Wikipedia... Some Wikipedia users argued that Essjay had compounded the deception by flaunting a fictional Ph.D. and professorship to influence the editing on the site... "People have gone through his edits and found places where he was basically cashing in on his fake credentials to bolster his arguments,"

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/06/business/wiki.php

Several hundred administrators have the power to delete entries and block IP addresses to keep vandals from changing meaningful descriptions to obscene language as well as others who continuously add strong opinions or political commentary. Jimmy Wales has the ultimate authority.

http://www.answers.com/topic/wikipedia

Wikipedia says this: “Earlier on, we had a systemic bias toward liberal issues. However, as Wikipedia has grown, and become more mainstream, the liberal contingent has declined as a proportion of Wikipedia in general. Perhaps our other biases will be partially neutralised in the same way.”... This suggests to me that the Wikipedia community was early on biased “liberal.” That they say bias might now me “partially neutralised” suggests that it has not been “fully neutralised.” That the proportion has declined means the issue has not gone away.

http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/04/email_debatewales_discusses_po.html

Seven: The issue here is much larger: there is a group of control freaks out there who want to control who gives information and controls which information and art everyone else sees. I find it appalling... As for the argument that wikipedia leans left, this isn't bad

My point is that your "group of control freaks out there who want to control who gives information and controls which information and art everyone else sees" also includes admins/moderator at sites like Wiki and Digg.

Fen said...

Hey Roost, here is a better example. Rings true with direct experience I've had with admins/moderators [most liberal] at gaming sites who get involved in political discussions and then shut down anyone who disagrees with them:

" am now the leading blog critic of Keith Olbermann and a recognized authority on Keith Olbermann (citation: quoted in Washington Post, New York Observer, Hartford Courant, Online Journalism Review, etc.).

Not only do I know a great deal about Keith Olbermann, I also have a good deal of familiarity with some of the Wikipedia editors who have watch-listed his entry — liberal fans of Keith Olbermann. Some of these fan/editors have declared online that the Keith Olbermann page is their “pet project” and, not surprisingly, the entry reads more like a “fan site” than an encyclopedia entry. Some of these editors have openly sought to use that page to market their own fan sites and forums. Not surprisingly, the Keith Olbermann entry is massively non-NPOV.

From time to time, I have attempted to correction misinformation or edit a section to make it NPOV. Those edits are typically “reverted” within the hour without explanation or discussion. Over the past month, I signed up for an account with my name in the User ID; many of the editors know who I am and are openly hostile to my editing the site. These editors aggressively revert any edits I make to the entry. When I attempt to discuss my recommended edits they ignore me. When I make the edits they criticize me for not discussing them. If I continue to make edits they complain to the “Wikipedia cops.” Even after posting a detailed exposition on why the page is massively NPOV they have ignored the substance of my post and instead attacked the messenger.

It’s a neat trick — they demand that I propose changes on the discussion page, ignore me, then when I go ahead and make those changes they revert them, all the while complaining to an admin that I should be banned from editing because I won’t “discuss” changes. The real issues is that these people WANT the page to be massively non-NPOV and resent any efforts to alter their pet project."

http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/04/email_debatewales_discusses_po.html

[...]

Surely you wouldn't approve of that?

Roost on the Moon said...

You're basically saying a car buyer doesn't need to run the used car to a mechanic, as it should usually be pretty clear whats good and bad re the car?

It should be pretty clear whether or not the mechanic is full of it. And if he seems to push a political agenda, that will be easy to spot.

These areas where trouble and neutrality disputes crop up are usually things you shouldn't use wikipedia for anyway.

If I don't know anything about Keith Olberman, I can find out who he is through wikipedia. I wouldn't expect an encyclopedia to tell me that he's a shrill blowhard. Or, if the entry really does "read like a fan site", that's going to be clear. In either case, I'm a grown up, who can discern between statements of confirmable fact and irrelevant cheerleading.

This guy in the interview you link to makes my point well. He only refers to one of his actual 'reverted' changes:

"I HAVE stated a fact — that most of the active editors on the site are left-wing, Keith Olbermann supporters."
-Robert Cox

But this "fact" is not even about Olberman; it's about how Wikipedia fits into Cox's worldview. It is a passive-aggressive implication that most of the editors are biased. And it's unsubstantiated. All solid reasons that this is exactly the kind of thing that doesn't belong an encyclopedia entry. Can we agree on that? "Most of the editors on this site are left-wing Olberman supporters." That they were right to delete that?

It's the only example he gives of something wrongfully deleted for bias reasons, and he's clearly in the wrong.

Roost on the Moon said...

Conservapedia does seem like a good source of information, for things like needing a place to poop on. What an embarrassment.

Fen said...

Fen: You're basically saying a car buyer doesn't need to run the used car to a mechanic, as it should usually be pretty clear whats good and bad re the car?

Roost; It should be pretty clear whether or not the mechanic is full of it

Huh? Maybe you misunderstood - you claimed that biased info on wiki should be obvious to the buyer. But the buyer is going to wiki to find information, not peer review it, ie. he doesn't know enough about the info to determine bias.

Fen said...

Roost the Moon: Conservapedia does seem like a good source of information, for things like needing a place to poop on. What an embarrassment.

Yah, I know you think its cute to attach that site to me and then ridicule it, but they're also part of the problem. Information brokers should not be polarized into Left/Right camps. Truth and fact should not be determined by democratic or mob rule.

And I'm still trying to figure out how you can claim that bias on wiki is obvious [to anyone] and easy to ignore [for everyone].

Roost on the Moon said...

I don't mean to attach Conservapedia to you, but you cited from it. I do respect your objection, though, and won't imply any further that you drink from that trough.

Now, while not granting that Wikipedia is controlled by a mob of leftists, or even consciously a political entity at all, I will try to explain how it is possible for a layman to recognize and read past bias.

First, recognize when it might come in. Like you said, for general information it shouldn't be a problem. There are actually a relatively tiny number of topics where political bias could enter the picture. Step one would be to bear these in mind. Can you die from a scorpion sting? Probably solid information. History of Israel? Tread with caution. Most people know this stuff intuitively, I think.

So let's say we're trying to learn about the history of Israel. We know this is a politically charged issue, so we know that biases are going to seep in. So first off, obviously, don't make Wikipedia your only source. It's not claiming to be a replacement for everything else, and it's not their fault if someone misuses that way. But if you are really trying to learn, be sure to check sources, especially on statistics or anecdotes that seem to strongly support one controversial view or the other. Simple, easy, clear-cut answers to complex problems are suspect. Just because something is factual doesn't mean it's not biased. (If I was reading an entry on Israel, for example, and came across the line: "The Israeli military has killed scores of innocent Palestinians." I would suspect a strong and skewing bias, despite the truth of the statement.)

Which makes your "truth and facts" just as subject to bias as Op/Ed stuff. Just because something is true doesn't mean it isn't being selectively chosen to convince you of something. So, as you are reading facts about a controversial or politically charged issue, ask yourself if you are being sold on something. Again, everyone does this automatically. You can get better at it, but the impulse to be skeptical runs pretty deep, especially if it seems like someone claiming to be objectively informative is trying to build a case.

Now, I should apologize; you've got to be getting sick of my pedantic tone, because this is stuff everyone knows. But that's the point.

If you could point to a real instance of harmful bias on a current wikipedia page, we could apply this discussion to a concrete case.

Most of the Conservapedia complaints weren't really alleging bias so much as lack of conservative bias. But I don't doubt that bias really does seep into to Wikipedia all over the place from both sides. What I doubt is that this minor bias does real harm to our discourse, let alone enough harm to outweigh the public good this free service does provide.

But by all means, if you want, find some bias, and we'll discuss whether it actually is potentially harmful.