Monday, April 17, 2006

A glut of knowledge

WikipediaAndrew Orlowski has a typically trollish article in the Guardian criticising Wikipedia. I wrote the following comment to the editor:

Andrew Orlowski's article "A thirst for knowledge" (13 April) seems to boil down to the following:

1. The president and previous editor-in-chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica dislike claims made in Nature that it is of similar quality to its free rival, Wikipedia. Rather than backing up these concerns in a peer-reviewed article published by one of the world's leading scientific journals, they pick figures such as "31% less reliable" out of the air. They then add largely irrelevant concerns such as writing quality and over-the-top claims of "gross offences against publishing."

2. Contradicting his previous claims on quality, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica then criticises the Internet for a homogeneity of discourse. That seems a breathtakingly ignorant claim; and one that in no way, of course, applies to his own encyclopaedia.

3. The American Library Association's president makes the claim that "No one would tell you a student using Google today is producing work as good as they were 20 years ago using printed sources." Ah, that golden age when all students' information needs were funded through the university library budget.

4. Will Davies notes that the Internet "hasn't made us addicted to education." How odd to imagine that it was intended to do so.

5. Orlowski concludes by claiming that a better model is to fund libraries to pay large fees to provide their users with access to commercial databases. Why should this be the case for many of the databases which contain information that is gradually moving to free access online, such as law reports, mapping data and academic publications?

It is also odd that an article premised on the essential poor quality of Wikipedia fails to mention the move towards adding expert review in systems such as Digital Universe. Maybe this was to do with the article's own homogeneity of discourse. Why didn't it quote positive views from anyone at Wikipedia, or indeed anywhere else?

Overall, an extremely unenlightening piece.

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