March 3, 2008

"Wikipedia is just an incredible thing. It's fact-encirclingly huge..."

"... and it's idiosyncratic, careful, messy, funny, shocking, and full of simmering controversies—and it's free, and it's fast. In a few seconds you can look up, for instance, 'Diogenes of Sinope,' or 'turnip,' or 'Crazy Eddie,' or 'Bagoas,' or 'quadratic formula,' or 'Bristol Beaufighter,' or 'squeegee,' or 'Sanford B. Dole,' and you'll have knowledge you didn't have before. It's like some vast aerial city with people walking briskly to and fro on catwalks, carrying picnic baskets full of nutritious snacks."

The novelist Nicholson Baker has a big NYRB essay on Wikipedia (and "Wikipedia: The Missing Manual"). I didn't go looking for this after writing the last post and mentioning that Wikipedia has what is almost only a stub on "A Room of One's Own." It just turned up as the next thing in my email box. But look at this:
... Wikipedia seemed unusually humble. It asked for help, and when it did, it used a particularly affecting word: "stub." At the bottom of a short article about something, it would say, "This article about X is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it." And you'd think: That poor sad stub: I will help. Not right now, because I'm writing a book, but someday, yes, I will try to help.
So, there's your argument countering mine. I called the short entry evidence of female underachievement. But you can say that all those scholars and literati with knowledge of and love for "A Room of One's Own" are off writing books. And you can build on that: Editing is traditionally a woman's work, properly shunned by the heroic women who are creating and composing their own tomes, perhaps expounding Woolf's slim volume.

I like the Nicholson Baker books I've read, like "Room Temperature," "Mezzanine," and "Double Fold." Pop quiz: What Nicholson Baker book did Monica Lewinsky give to Bill Clinton? Answer here — in the Wikipedia entry for Nicholson Baker. It's "Vox" — that book about phone sex. I haven't read that one. Sorry. Apparently, libraries interest me more than phone sex. (Or books about.) I have this vague feeling that I was once offended by some political thing NB once wrote. Dare I search my archives to see what I have against someone I like after I've forgotten what it is?

32 comments:

rhhardin said...

Editing is traditionally a woman's work, properly shunned by the heroic women who are creating and composing their own tomes, perhaps expounding Woolf's slim volume.

Translating, too. Derrida's stuff comes to mind, though he also has some male translators.

I mention it because it plays to a strength.

Simon said...

Wikipedia's a potentially great tool, but it does have some problems - for obvious reasons, it's bad at handling hot-button topics and it does have potential for people to go after someone they don't like by editing articles in ways designed to set them in poor light.

Smilin' Jack said...

It's "Vox" — that book about phone sex.

"Vox" is excellent--poignant and beautifully written. It's about phone sex in the same way that "Mezzanine" is about shoelaces.

Ron said...

Yes, but doesn't Wikipedia provide the best 'put up or shut up' defense for itself? You're a specialist in a topic and don't like what's written there? Go ahead -- write it yourself! No one is stopping you. (well, relatively at least)

tituspleay said...

I love Wiki. I am on it constantly. If it had a hog I would do it.

Simon said...

Ron, that defense only goes so far, though: you can write a carefully-researched expert piece for Wikipedia, and it'll be wiped out thirty seconds later by the next editor.

Fen said...

it'll be wiped out thirty seconds later by the next editor.

Exactly. Just check out Ann's own Wiki bio page. The site is infested with Lefty spin artists intent on controlling the narrative and rewriting history.

Wiki is useful as a quick reference for undisputed fact - population of Tehran, exploits of the Civil War, etc. But thats about it.

Simon said...

Fen, you're preaching to the choir on that point. Look at the article's edit history for last February-April. After the BHTV thing there was an urgent need to fight a holding action (and if Wikipedia actually took its policies seriously - they actually have a rule that says "ignore all the rules" - it'd have been a lot easier to do). I still try to keep as close an eye on it as possible - the anti-Althousiana sometimes ebb, but alas, refuse to die.

Fen said...

Listen up, tier 1 law school graduates… Do yourselves a favor and take a look at -

Right. Like a 1st tier grad is going to waste time with an organization so unprofessional, its reduced to spamming legal blogs.

Ron said...

you can write a carefully-researched expert piece for Wikipedia, and it'll be wiped out thirty seconds later by the next editor.

Simon, I feel that objection only goes so far. If someone attacks or trashes the page, usually(!) this will be fixed by someone else, frequently an editor.

Fen said...

frequently an editor.

Please read the editor's comments on Ann's wiki page. He admits to being hectored by the tyranny of the majority on the Wiki site, so much so that he grudgingly added content that he normally wouldn't have.

Simon said...

Ron, it depends on the nature of the attack. Obvious vandalism is dealt with rapidly, but it's not always so obvious. Just to take one example, someone added a quote from Ann to her wikipedia article that was entirely severed from context; it wasn't an inaccurate quotation, it was sourced, and would presumably have remained in the article with no admin intervention. The remedy was to first put the quote back into context, and then, after a couple of months, to drop the entire phrase. But it's easy to imagine an edit war developing over even that change, and even easier to imagine an admin taking sides and preventing the article from being corrected. There are plenty of people who are determined to leverage wikipedia as a tool for their own purposes, something that wikipedia's structure is often incompetent to prevent.

The problem with wikipedia is that it has a tendency to assumes that the truth is a result of quasi-democratic consensus (the IPCC has the same problem).

Cedarford said...

Fen - The site is infested with Lefty spin artists intent on controlling the narrative and rewriting history.

Wiki is useful as a quick reference for undisputed fact - population of Tehran, exploits of the Civil War, etc. But thats about it.


Great thoughts on the Left now going after Western history and culture with a vengeance, intent on controlling the narratives and memes of the lesser-educated masses.

When did that start, exactly? Who laid down that template? Was it the French Revolutionaries? Was it the educated elite Jewish Bolsheviks that agressively sought to use media to enforce "proper lines to transformational thought" that supported the approved Marxist line, on the dumb but noble proletariat? Was it earlier - the Roman Church spinning events in a systemic manner to alter the facts? The Romans themselves?

Love to know where it started.

It is frightenly pervasive. I see events in history I was a small part of being rewritten in falsities, or attempted to be rewritten by Lefty activists and academics. And public school textbooks altered to give a very warped view of critical events in history.

*************

Disagree on Wikipedia, which is of course the topic of innumerable haughty, snotty intellectuals dissing & deploring the "vacuity and shallow nature" of any Wiki topic that - properly, in their minds - should be left to intellectuals to pontificate on to the masses, after great research.

But meanwhile, the masses are flocking to Wiki and other on-line, "at your fingertips" references. I liken this to the people being able to bypass the academics and spinmeisters on topics that go far past the 19th and 20th Century "bridge" of knowledge going past the experts into common households - the family encyclopedia. And it is perhaps as important - with Wiki, blogs, a myriad of websites blossoming that devote themselves to in-depth work and promulgation of a particular topic - to when the printed Bible was put in the hands of Christians in their own languages and the Catholic priests lost their monoply.

The other day, a rainy Saturday, I left my wife for 6 hours to explore a claim of an old military pal that the best officer and strategist of WWII was not Patton, Zhukov, Rommel, Nimitz, Monty, Yamoto, MacArthur, Guderian...any of the usual names. But a Brit named William Slim. The other Briish Field Marshall, who had the Indian-Burma theater. Who started with a 1,000 mile retreat then a slow, brilliant conquest 1,000 miles back against superb Japanese troops.

I left my Internet immersion, where I of course started at Wiki and got source documents to read from that site - believing Slim had a claim. Only 20% of his forces were British. His best testimony comes from memoirs of Indians, Burmese, Paks, Americans, Aussies, Canadians that served under his unified command and saw his air-mobile warfare and jungle fighting tactics at work. And memoirs by Japanese foes that considered themselves outfought and out-thought by Slim.

Not even one in 1000 Americans who all "get" WWII in school knows his name.

Of course, American kids are educated to know how many Jews were killed in WWII - 85-90% know the number when polled. In the same poll, few (under 10% gave the correct answer to the poll question of 400,000-450,000) know how many Americans died (420,000) because that number isn't taught. And few polled believed that the Soviets did more than the Americans to win the War against the Nazis, but they did, though they did understand the Reds lost more people, but under 10% gave the approximate nember scholars work off of - 22 million. Many believe it is under 6 million, because of a belief that the Jewish number is the worst one..

And few Americans polled know that the Brits lost more in the war - and killed both more Nazis and Japs in land battles, than the Americans did.

(And while grateful, the ignorant American taunt that the Brits "owe America" or they would be speaking German is true on a Lend-Lease basis, not on the well-rested player that shows up near the end and scores and claims players at the contest throughout "owe" him the victory. A taunt even more ignorant when referring to Russians, where we "paid in" with food and Detroit goods on the Main Front of the war, while they "paid in" with blood on a scale 50 times what the US sacrificed.)

History. Both a set of facts and a tool to indoctrinate youth into what you want them to think is important and what they are supposed to believe.

Hillary just stepped into that contretemps with her real-life, "I was sentient and saw it" contemporaneous knowledge of LBJ's critical role in Civil Rights -conflicting with Obama-leaning youth taught to believe that Saint Martin did it all.

Wiki may help dissipate some of that PC and well-meaning indoctrination of misinformation on history, as well as resolve office arguments on Jordan's stats against LeBron's.

Smilin' Jack said...

I called the short entry evidence of female underachievement.

Actually, it's the opposite. Being assigned in Women's Studies classes is the only reason Woolf is known at all today. If Virginia's talented brother Virgil had written tedious piffle like "To the Lighthouse" or "The Waves," he wouldn't even have gotten a stub.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks to everyone who keeps an eye on my Wikipedia entry, especially Simon. I'm afraid to look at it. I really don't understand why those people are so concerned about me. The seem pretty twisted.

Fen said...

Its because you are seen as a heretic. You are not allowed to criticize the Left, it cannot withstand scrutiny in any venue that allows for feedback.

Simon said...

Ann - glad to help. Would be even more glad if it weren't necessary, but there's worse avocations. .

As to the why - I think Fen's got it about right (cf. my comment last year), and you alluded to much the same thing in an update to this post. A frustrated sense of entitlement, and also there's an element of a feedback loop - I'm no psychologist, so perhaps Dr. Helen can articulate this better, but it seems to me that once one develops an opinion of a person, new information about them tends to be slotted into the existing paradigm, usually reinforcing it, even if it takes some subconscious molding to make it fit. Once someone's formed an impression of someone, that impression tends to be strengthened as time goes by - hence, I tend to like you better notwithstanding posts I disagree with, while Joe Q. Anti-Althouse tends to hate you more notwithstanding posts he agrees with. This has been your 30 seconds of amateur psychology...

Beth said...

I'm not sure the entry on A Room of One's Own is evidence of any underachievement. One would have to compare it to other like documents to get to that judgment.

A Room of One's Own is a slender volume, and it's not a novel. Novels tend to have long entries on wikipedia, fleshed out with plot outlines, character analyses and so forth. But as a lecture-turned-publication, what do you want from this entry? I looked at "The Monsters and the Critics," Tolkein's lecture-turned-publication on the history of Beowulf criticism, a work similarly important in its academic field, and it's about the same length.

Curiously, there is no entry on Alice Walker's "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens," which can be read as a response to Woolf. So that's a mark of underachievement, perhaps.

Pogo said...

There's probably money in a 12 Step Anti-Althouse Recovery Program.

Hmmmm. Think think think.

Beth said...

Smilin' Jack, you'll find Woolf's fiction in English literature courses more than you'll find it in Women's Studies courses.

Simon said...

Pogo - I have a one step program for them. I don't want to give the game away, but it doesn't end well.

former law student said...

And while grateful, the ignorant American taunt that the Brits "owe America" or they would be speaking German is true on a Lend-Lease basis, not on the well-rested player that shows up near the end and scores and claims players at the contest throughout "owe" him the victory.

For the second war within 20 years the British were f*cked; so played out and worn that they maintained food rationing for a decade after the war, although clothes rationing ended in 1949. Desperate to bring the Yanks into the war, the Brits set up a propaganda center in New York, headed by "The Quiet Canadian" Sir William Stephenson. With far more Americans claiming German heritage than British, and memories of the thankless sacrifices of World War I fresh in many Americans' minds, the propaganda campaign had to work overtime, helped by the Anglophile FDR.

Smilin' Jack said...

...you'll find Woolf's fiction in English literature courses more than you'll find it in Women's Studies courses.

They're pretty much the same thing these days.

former law student said...

People who care write wikipedia entries. If you want an entry to be fleshed out, the helping hand you seek is at the end of your own arm.

Simon said...

FLS, that's true, but limited. When there are many more people dedicated to having an article written in a way that serves a given agenda than there are who have the time and inclination to ensure it's fair and accurate, they tend to win. There's just no fortification that can fend off a sufficiently determined attacker. The question is whether they're determined enough.

Beth said...

SJ, as a faculty member in both departments, I can tell you that no, they're not the same thing. Unless you mean there's books written by women in both areas of study.

Smilin' Jack said...

SJ, as a faculty member in both departments, I can tell you that no, they're not the same thing.

You're lucky, then. At my university the English department is completely dominated by feminist literary theory types, who analyze all works with a bizarre mutant form of Freudian psychoanalysis. They seem completely unaware that Freud hasn't been taken seriously in the psychology department for nearly a hundred years.

Fen said...

When there are many more people dedicated to having an article written in a way that serves a given agenda than there are who have the time and inclination to ensure it's fair and accurate, they tend to win.

Exactly. Think of the Southpark episode where Cartman & Co are bullied in Warcraft by a fat slovenly unemployed loser who spends his entire life playing the game. To confront him, the kids must first become him.

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=2013601753

Same diff re Wiki edit flamefests, and simply not worth it.

Beth said...

Jack, I'm not lucky; my department reflects a variety of approaches, and so far as I can tell from my conversations with friends at other schools, it's not unusual. It sounds like you're in a weird situation.

former law student said...

simon -- I should have included a reference. I was thinking of "a room of one's own." There's no anti-feminist agenda behind its entry's stubbiness, just lack of desire.

Beth said...

The transcendentalists are also sitting down on the job. Emerson's lecture The Transcendentalist comes in even shorter than Woolf's.

The romantics are on their ass, too; Biographia Literaria is likewise a mere 3 shorts paragraphs.

I'm seeing a pattern -- lectures and essays, feminist and otherwise, don't pull in the crowds on wikipedia.

Paco Wové said...

If you were to envision a single person as being the "average Wikipedia editor", he would probably be a young man in his twenties, majoring in Comp. Sci. or a related field, living in Toronto. Wikipedia tends to reflect the interests of our hypothetical Average Editor (videogames, movies, computers, anime, porn).