Simson Garfinkel recently penned a meandering piece on Wikipedia and Truth which never gets at the heart of either subject.
Wikipedia does not claim to define truth, and tries to avoid doing more than describing what others see as truth — which could lead to an interesting discussion of reflection, meta-levels of truth, the difference between truth and awareness, or between tight and loose asociation. However, most of the words of this essay are spent describing mundane aspects of Wikihistory and article editing. A familiar grapelike aroma permeates — the author confesses at one point being chastised for editing his own biography.
Natural contextual parallels — a discussion of the meaning and value of truth in various other media; modern press, journals, texts, lemmas, Theorems, and Laws — are not drawn. When you digress to share the full history of Wikipedia and are limited to four pages, there isn’t much room for analysis. But it does make me pine for a proper review of accuracy, precision, consistency, accountability, fact checking, reproducability, and reputation in the modern collective intelligence. Much of what I read and hear today — from experts and amateurs alike — is partly misguided or misinformed. (Experts tend to gloss over what is not known, or pretend recent disagreements don’t exist; amateurs tend to privilege new ideas and discoveries.) In few places outside of math and hard science is there even a clear process for steady improvement with an eye towards closure, rather than simply expanding the heap of random facts on which contenders draw and the space in which they flail.
So let’s hear it for Truth and its pursuit, and those who care for it. And let’s hope they draw useful inspiration from projects such as Wikipedia that identify a way for millions to do better than thousands, with room for iterative improvement.
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