The Encyclopedia Britannica is often cited as an example of a best result of the professional system, usually in contradistinction to the amateur efforts of Wikipedia.
However, Britannica’s spectacular failures to report on Einstein’s 1905 writings that fundamentally changed our understanding of this entire universe, along with their simultaneous refusal to change a centuries old attitude towards racism, the roots of World War One, just to name a few instances of brittle Britannica bias, should be enough reason alone to encourage other sources of information.
Marvin Minsky, arguably, “The smartest man in the world,” at least by the standards of Isaac Asimov, says that, “You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.”
How can you learn anything more than one way if the professionals’ attention span is that of a myopic gnat?
What we need is MORE information sources. . .not less!
Michael Hart, Friday, 22 June 2007
Here’s a spirited defense of the flat-hierarchies enabled by the web in general and encouraged by wikis and Wikipedia more specifically. Michael Hart is, as his by-line says, “Founding Member of Project Gutenberg, World eBook Fair & General Cyberspace.” Hart is responding to the book of the same name, and to what he calls, “paid professional punditry,” who find their authority challenged.
It’s odd that there always seems to be this ‘sky is falling’ attitude among some critics, as if you had to have professional opinions or amateur opinions but not both. Interestingly, the pundits fear that the amateurs have an unfair advantage, as if sheer enthusiasm could swamp clear thinking. That may be true in some cases.
It suggests, though, that we need to continue to promote and teach and model skepticism, as Hart suggest. One good rule: never trust a single source of any kind. Perhaps another rule is to never trust one kind of source; to play amateur against professional and vice versa. It’s also important to remember– again, as Hart emphasizes– that the system of expertise always exaggerated the accuracy of its knowledge.