Friday, 26 April 2013

Wikipedia

I am usually mad at common misconceptions that have somehow won people's opinions that they sound like self-evident. Ideas that you hear everyone reciting and just because everyone is saying that, it must be true. It's annoying how self-evidently these ideas are recited without trying to understand what they mean and how accurate they are, how strong they become because they are bound to be so now that everyone says so. And while they might have some merit, they don't feel absolutely so true if you try to make sense of them.

One common such idea that I am too tired to listen every once and then, when I happen to discuss something with a friend and suddenly mention "Oh,. I also read in wikipedia that blah blah...". And then he responds instinctively the same parroted words: "Wikipedia is not a reliable source, it's inaccurate, anyone can edit, blah blah..". Arghh!!! And what are the sources that you are proposing then? The local library? The university? Someone at NASA? What are the sources about specific subjects that you don't have direct access, and your best friend for that is the internet?

It depends on the subject. Of course I know the saying that you should not reference wikipedia in a scientific paper. Even wikipedia says so. Wikipedia articles are just a simple start up with a subject that also cites the original sources used. But the classic saying, "wikipedia is oh so faulty" occurs so robotically, like a Godwin's law, even when discussing about trivial information that are easy to verify or insignificant claims. And the absolute way they recite this saying gives you the impression that wikipedia is an extremely bad source of information, one of the worse on the internet. Which is not true, quite the contrary. Wikipedia is for me one of the best sources on the internet!

Why am I saying that? Whenever I hear about a new term, organization, person or anything I immediately reach wikipedia first. One would say, that is because it's good head start the easy way on a subject and then one can continue with linking to the references. One reason is this but there is more juice. Sometimes you can't be sure about something from different sources, because each source is opinionated or has different agendas. Wikipedia is maintained by thousand of users, each obsessed with different topics, trying to be as insanely correct as possible about each subject. Which of course can also lead to quarrels too, but it's resolved by several people and their different views might be blend (or not). It's as good as it can get given the nature of the internet. And sometimes you get a broader and more complete article where it says "The definition for this is A, but it's disputed by some other people, while that guy said it's C [citation needed]".

Search for example for the definition of hacking for example on the internet. Confusing! Information wants to be free, mentor's manifest, revolution,. no script kids they are, but there are true hackers, the others are called crackers,. confusing opinionated things, each site tells a different story. And that's where the wikipedia article shines! It says something like "1) Used to be the MIT guys, or a state of mind of creative people,. 2) then the computer hobbyists, 3) now the computer network intruders by the media,. etc. And these guys dispute the definition, while the other guys said about this, etc..". And then the history and then all the whole bunch of links and references. At least you get the whole image, what it is, what it was, what are the different opinions, how it changed through history, in a neat article that tries to be not too big yet covers the most important information for the basic understanding of the subject. Another example would be to learn about a company or organization you just heard about. Would you say that the best plan is to visit the organization's website? Of course, at first, depends on what you are searching too. But what if you want to have a more spherical objective view, rather than only positive promotion on the company's website? What if what you are searching is not "We have the best products, 20 years of positive experience, the happiest and most productive personel, blah blah" but raw words like "This company was started by that guy at 1980, in 1990 they produce that but didn't sell well, at 1998 there was a scandal with the CEO, blah blah". This is what I like in wikipedia! A good head start, raw words, factlike, no agenda towards only one direction, different views presented in a neutral way and additionally references to external link if you want to verify the facts.

When most of our sources come from the internet today (depending on the subject of course) and wikipedia has all these qualities (and if it doesn't, at least it's a good starting point) how can you say that it is a bad source? Then most of the rest of the internet are worse. Unless you believe that the internet itself is a bad source of information. Says the person who uses it everyday to read or spread information. How generic is that? The internet is you and me and everyone of us. It's like saying that people and their sayings are a bad source of information. Then what is left? This is the same as that old again robotic saying that users in Pouet are 95% illiterate and have nothing to do with the scene? WHAT? But Pouet is the ONLY such big demoscene community site where people come together, with discussions and everything! Pouet IS demoscene on the internet (but not in real life). Why do people say such things from mouth to mouth without thinking a bit? How can 95% at Pouet be irrelevant with the scene? And are the people who do these claims in the 5%? Then what the hell are they doing in a site that is 95% non scene related? I know that more than 95% who frequent there have produced something for the scene. But 95% of people kept reciting the same old song :P

Don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that wikipedia or the internet is the GOD. I am not saying it's 100% infallible. It's just as right as humans can be. When I am mentioning that I read something on wikipedia, I am not saying that it must be true. I am saying that I read something in some source (being the internet or not, it's irrelevant) and wondering what the other person has to say about this information. The stupid way would be to answer "The information is bullshit, because wikipedia is unreliable" and the more mature would be "I think this information is not correct because of this and that reason, regardless where you read it". Hell, it wouldn't even make the information more reliable even if I heard it from a person of high authority. It's like the old quarrels in debates, "I have 2 masters, 3 PHDs, I am the best in my domain, so you are totally wrong and stupid!" :P

Classic fallacy I guess, blaming the messenger instead of trying to understand and verify the message.

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