I just couldn’t bring myself to register and comment on Dana Blankenhorn’s posting, Is Wikipedia a threat or a menace?

So, I’ll comment on it here and see if it shows up as a trackback. But first, my disclaimer. I don’t know Dana Blankenhorn, I have no reason to dislike him, this posting may be an aberration, and I might agree with (tongue in cheek) 99.44% of his other thoughts. Now, on with the dressing down.

I did due dilligence and read the entire article looking for the words “threat” and “menace”. I also searched Charles Cooper’s article for those same words. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zero.

So, first strike, the article doesn’t directly address its own question. And what a question!

“Is Wikipedia a threat or a menace?”

Are those my only choices? Well, no, because they aren’t choices! Check the dictionary. A threat is a menace, and vice versa. It’s exactly this kind of carelessness, perhaps even verbal arrogance nee ignorance, that undermines his argument. If he can’t get his vocabulary right, as a pseudo-journalist, then how will the masses arrive at an accurate encyclopedia? When I open Britannica, I have confidence that the compilers went to the most authoritative sources. The information may later turn out to be flawed, but it is as correct as it could be based on expert consensus.

Wikipedia is based on mainstream, ever-changing bickering. Even those who post fairly accurate information are unlikely to be experts in the subject, and are subject to having someone less informed scribble through their good effort. The experts are, in my opinion, probably busy being paid for their expertise. Do I use it? Occasionally. Do I trust it? No.

As far as Mr. Blankenhorn’s comments, he’s basically praising Wikipedia for its accuracy and self-correcting nature. He makes this claim:

But know this. Most of what is in Wikipedia - 99.44% of it (actually a good deal more) is 100% accurate and fair. The vast majority of people who contribute to Wikipedia are honest, they tell the truth.

And that’s true for the Internet as a whole, by the way. That’s why it works. That it does work should tell you something very, very positive and very, very important as you enter the weekend.

How many things are wrong with these paragraphs?

1. What’s his source for claiming this percentage of accuracy?

2. If he has no source, has he personally verified a statistically significant number of articles?

3. Has the claim been verified?

4. No statement is 100% accurate and fair–probably neither. “It is sunny.” Grab a beer and argue over whether that statement is 100% accurate and fair.

5. Is .56% a “good deal more”? What a silly remark.

6. “that’s true for the Internet as a whole. . . .” Really? The vast majority of internet site data is contributed by honest people who tell the truth? Well, maybe if you eliminate pornography (violates many international laws, therefore conditionally dishonest), and political sites (because, if two sites contradict each other, one is surely not telling the truth).

We could debate the idea that people who are honest therefore tell the truth–but, no, I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. To get you started: an honest person can tell an unintentional falsehood. He’s not lying (an intentional falsehood), but he’s not telling the truth. He’s also being honest.

7. The Internet isn’t intended as a medium of honest communication. Merely communication. To say otherwise is to be ignorant of the origins and goals of ARPANET. (To be fair, “community” was also a goal.) Clearly, Mr. Blankenhorn has a personal view of what “it” is that is working. I praise his optimism, but not his less-than-99.44% accuracy.

8. Sue me, but I’m fascinated by that number. 99.44%. Here are some other references to it obtained by Googling around. Some are ridiculous, others fascinating. It’s clear this number has become a stand in for real research, a cultural catch phrase in lieu of truthful studies and statistics.

99.44 percent of everything history-related on the Internet is garbage

You ignored my point that non-aggression, which we have completely violated, would make us about, oh, let me guess, 99.44/100ths% less susceptible to such an attack in the first place.

Friedman called the jitney chapter, “99 and 44/100ths percent built”, by which he meant that the infrastructure already existed.

It’s not like you went to K-Mart and tried to buy socks but bought eczema instead, out of ignorance. Eczema is not caused by stupidity in 99.44% of recorded cases.

The results confirmed that human and chimpanzee genes are highly conserved at the nucleotide level. As for amino acids, the average sequence identity was 99.44%.

The Skycasters satellite Internet service is a best-effort service with historic reliability in the range of 99.44%

This yearning makes sense if you remember that arbitrary lords and chiefs did rule us for 99.44 percent of human existence.

If you see a suspicious package leave it for the cleaners at Coney Island since there is a 99.44% chance it is garbage

And, in case you think I’m totally ignorant of the cultural origin of this number:

99-44/100% Pure: It Floats

Oh, let’s not forget:

9. “as you enter the weekend.” What’s so special about the upcoming weekend? Or does Dana know something I don’t?

“Your weekend is uncertain. Consider the Utopia of the Internet and you will be saved.”

Well, if I fall into a ditch and die, he can laugh along with Mel Brooks.