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Who do you trust?

Referencing: Who Do You Trust, The Wiki Or The Reporter?

The above link leads to an interesting TechDirt article where a traditional reporter complains about the inherent inaccuracy of information sources such as Wikipedia etc. The reporter's claim boils down to simply that you can't trust the rabble, and you need experts (reporters, one presumes) to present facts.

Well, OK. It's true that sometimes you can't trust a mob. When a subject becomes emotionally charged (for example the SCO Lawsuit), it's quite possible for mob-rule sources to be distorted by emotions and make it impossible for a balanced view to be presented.

But that's also true of reporters and "experts". Back before the Wright brothers, you could find plenty of scientific "experts" who could explain why mechanical flight was impossible.

From The Wright Brothers Chapter Seven:


More than once Professor Newcomb had written that flight without gas-bags would require the discovery of some new metal or a new unsuspected force in Nature. Then, in an article in The Independent - October 22, 1903, while the Wrights were at Kitty Hawk assembling their power machine - he not only proved that trying to fly was nonsense, but went further and showed that even if a man did fly, he wouldn't dare to stop. "Once he slackens his speed, down he begins to fall. - Once he stops, he falls a dead mass. How shall he reach the ground without destroying his delicate machinery? I do not think that even the most imaginative inventor has yet put on paper a demonstrative, successful way of meeting this difficulty."

Later, similar experts would expound upon why physics would not allow us to travel faster than the speed of sound. There are many other examples and they continue to this day - probably always will.

So really, the same arguments about prejudice and inaccuracy apply everywhere. You can't implicitly trust Wikipedia or the New York Times. The librarian quoted in the original article (link dead, sorry) says "part of my job is to help my students develop critical thinking skills"; those are just as necessary with any source, no matter what its reputation is.

However, bulletin boards, newsgroups, and Wikis at least offer the potential for other views to creep in. You get to read other points of view, unsanitized by corporate policy. Yes, that can let a lot of junk in also, but if you are thinking logically, the junk should fall out rather easily. Personally, I'd rather read multiple points of view and decide for myself.



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© Tony Lawrence



'At the mouth of two or three witnesses is a matter established' - a bad paraphrase from an ancient law code. The principle still stands. Selecting information from a single source is prone to error, even from "known experts." When verified by several independent sources, information can be more reliable.
---August 31, 2004



---August 31, 2004

Yes, though sometimes you don't know what to think. I've mentioned this before in the context of the SCO lawsuit - I can't trust my own feelings because I'm too prejudiced (against SCO), and I wonder if my understanding of my own prejudice affects my feelings toward other peoples opinions - in other words, I don't trust them because I don't trust myself.

--TonyLawrence



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