Re: Binding

 James Kanze <>
Thu, 02 Aug 2007 07:45:11 -0000
On Aug 1, 9:46 am, "Alf P. Steinbach" <> wrote:

* James Kanze:

On Aug 1, 1:22 am, "Alf P. Steinbach" <> wrote:

* James Kanze:

On Jul 31, 12:34 pm, Juha Nieminen <nos...@thanks.invalid> wrote:

James Kanze wrote:

The Wikipedia is fun for a lot of things, but it can
hardly be considered a source of reliable information.

  So the urban legend says, yet I have yet to see with my own
eyes unrealiable information there. Sure, there are examples.
I just haven't seen any myself.

I've run into a number of them. But that's not the point. The
point is that there is no guarantee of reliability; unless you
already know the answer, you don't know whether what the article
says is correct or not.

Sorry friend James, I have to disagree strongly with you there.

There's no such thing as absolute correctness: it's just a
question of probability of correctness, and Wikipedia compared
favorably to old Encylopedia Britannica in that respect last
time it was checked.

And that is simply false. (Although in fact, I don't think it
was ever checked.)

Now, now, listen to Alf, I say.


"Wikipedia is about as good a source of accurate information as
Britannica, the venerable standard-bearer of facts about the world
around us, according to a study published this week [December 15, 2005]
in the journal Nature."

Did you read the rest of the article? Where it says that their
evidence is based on a sample set of only 42 (hardly
significant). Or the fact that what they actually find isn't
that Wikipedia is accurate (it's actually worse than I thought),
but that the Encylopedia Britannica was exceedingly inaccurate.
And that the Wikipedia did have about 1/3 more errors, which
would be significant if the sample size were significant.

At least in their sample. (But it's worrying enough that I'd
like to see a test with a much larger sample.)

 From my own experience, about one article in
two contains some more or less important error.

Yes, it averages to about 2 or 3 errors per article (page) in
either encyclopedia, and that's the usual.

E.g. check out the errata list for any serious, good technical book,
such as TCPPPL: it's /long/.

But most are simple typos, or minor details.

The issue isn't just one of such errors. It's one of
orientation, or presentation. (I'm not sure what the exact word
I'm looking for is.) For "just plain facts", like birth dates,
etc., the Wikipedia is fine (in general, anyway). Just about
any time the question is more open, however, Wikipedia is
subject to "hijacking" (and in practice, usually is hijacked).

On the other hand, the really bad books seemingly are error-free, no
errata lists published, and na=EFve novices believe 'em. They're just
like magazines (like old Object magazine, very unfortunately merged into
DDJ if I recall correctly) that don't publish letters to the editor.
Wikipedia is at the absolute other end of the spectrum: you can leave
discussion comments freely, and you can /fix/ it -- and should.

It's the "you can fix it" that causes problems. There's no way
to guarantee accuracy, but ensuring that an article is written
by an established expert in the field helps avoid the worst
abuse; in most cases, of course, you'd also want some sort of
peer review.

But it often depends. I use the Wikipedia a lot for information
that isn't important enough for a classic encyclopedia, nor
controversial enough for people to attempt to slant it. There's
a lot of information there that it would be very difficult to
find elsewhere.


Note that I'm not against Wikipedia per se. I find it a lot of
fun, and enjoy reading it. But I also find that it is being
rather systematically used for something it is not: an
authorative source.

Yes, I agree, and add: it can be stupid to cite a "fact" with reference
to Wikipedia, because when someone follows the reference, the Wikipedia
article might have changed, omitting that "fact", but on the other hand
it can be intelligent if the "fact" is in doubt, because when someone
follows the reference, the article might have been corrected.

Or the "fact" might have been correct, and been "corrected" to
something wrong.

And the nice thing is that you can follow the references and google for
terms and facts found in the articles, and find authoritative sources.

Even the choice of references can be tendential.

Not that those more authoritative sources necessarily have better error
rates, but, they're authoritative, so nobody can fault you... ;-)

Unless the fact is cut and dried (like a recent birth date,
established from a birth certificate), you need several
different authoritative sources. The real problem, however, is
the one you mentionned concerning bad books, above: how does a
newbie know whether a source really is authoritative?

There's no simple solution; learning any complex subject is
difficult, and involves real work. And intellectual laziness
seems to be the in thing these days: everyone just wants to "plug
in" expert knowledge, and imagines that they can. And the
Wikipedia (perhaps not intentionally) panders to this attitude.
(In a way, so does any encyclopedia. But there's something
about having to physically go to the bookshelf, and lift a heavy
tome, that suggests that some work is involved. Today, you just
Google, take the first hit, and consider yourself an expert.)

James Kanze (GABI Software)
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