Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Don’t believe half of what you see...

...and none of what you hear." So says Lou Reed in 'The Last Great American Whale.' He might have been talking about the internet, really -- but most internet users already know that, don't they. The constant use of Snopes.com suggests so, doesn't it?

The 'New York Times' however has just noticed that not everything on the 'net is reliable, and they're worried about it in the way that only the 'NY Times' could worry about something. "FALSE WITNESS: How true are 'facts' online?" screams their worried strapline. Oooh.

What started their worrying was a chap in Tennessee whose Wikipedia biography was incorrect. Fancy. The chap could have simply changed it once he'd found the error using Wikipedia's handy 'edit' button -- which is three-thousand percent easier than changing the lies you find in your newspaper or on television every day -- but instead of that he contacted the 'newspaper of record' who talked his story into a new scare: "Snared in the web of a Wikipedia Liar."

"...the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: 'Can you trust it?'" asked the producer of 'all the news that's fit to print.' Just imagine.

Well, I suspect that most people aside from conspiracy theorists and New York Time journalists have a healthy mistrust for what they read on the 'net. (ConsumerReports.Org agrees - if you can believe their survey!) Certainly, after the Jayson Blair fiasco most people will have a healthy mistrust for what appears in the 'New York Times.'

The truth is that whether you get your news and information online or off, independent confirmation, checking for sense and contradiction, and the effect of reputation have much to recommend themselves -- just as they do when you read heavier tomes. As Ayn Rand said in her essay 'Philosophical Detection,' "What objectivity ... requires is not an 'open mind,' but an active mind - a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically." That applies to fact-checking just as much as it does the checking of ideas.

But all that said, I am becoming increasingly impressed with the 'spontaneous order' of Wikipedia. Such a shame that no one's written me up yet. :-)

Linked Scare Story: Snared in the web of a Wikipedia Liar [Hat tip Oh Crikey]

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