Another accomplished academic fell afoul of Jimbo Wales’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ this week. This latest calumny involved the usual Star Chamber trial and subsequent banishment imposed by anonymous figures lacking published credentials. This week’s victim was a well-known mathematical physicist, a Director of a major research group and Professor at a major University.
His efforts to clarify the origins of a set of dubious physics equations, given undue prominence by Wikipedia, led to an attack by a mob of editors during a heated debate. Many of the professor’s adversaries openly admitted that they had no knowledge of the subject matter, but weighed in on the dispute nonetheless. The episode is discussed in this Wikipedia Review forum thread.
Having failed to convince the mob that their article was problematic and should be dismantled, the physicist in question made a posting, two weeks later, at the Wikipedia Administrators’ Notice Board/Incidents calling attention to what had occurred. Within 29 minutes of this posting, he was blocked from making any further Wikipedia postings - on the grounds that, having deleted his original account, he was not entitled to return and make any further postings. A considerable outcry arose, which led after three days to his right to post being reinstated, but not without a further offensive sequence of attacks by the same aggressive individuals who had made a shambles of the original debate. He then wrote this blistering indictment of Wikipedia, also posted to the Administrators’ Noticeboard.
Conclusion: The modern notion of Encyclopaedia was a product of the Enlightenment and intended as an educational vehicle to raise the level of the masses. The Encyclopaedists included some of the greatest thinkers of their time. They valued, above all: knowledge, understanding, truth. The “scientific method” was based upon the same foundations: empirical knowledge, verifiability and careful reasoning. These were the ideals of the Enlightenment , together with a belief in justice in society.
Wikipedia is an embodiment of the opposite. It is a return to the Dark Ages, with an element of chaos that is greatly enhanced by the mass communications tools available in the internet. It involves a reduction of all genuine achievements to parity with the very basest, most primitive notions of the ignorant and undereducated. The encyclopaedists would never have proposed that their work was to be an equal collaboration of the ignorant and the educated. It was to be a vehicle for raising the former from their ignorance by making the most valuable achievements of human endeavor available to all.
Wikipedia, on the contrary, is the enshrinement of contempt for learning, knowledge and expertise. It is, for many, a diversionary hobby to which they are prepared to devote a great portion of their time, as others do to computer based video games. Unfortunately, it has led also to an inner cult, shrouded in anonymity, with structures and processes of self-regulation that are woefully inadequate. Many of these tools and procedures are reminiscent, in parody, of those of the Inquisition: secret courts, an inner “elite” arbitrarily empowered to censor and exclude all those perceived as a threat to the adopted conventions of the cult; denunciations, character assassination, excommunication. An arbitrarily concocted “rulebook” and language rife with self-referential sanctimoniousness give a superficial illusion of order and good sense, but no such thing exists in practice.
It is truly a “Tyranny of the Ignorant”.
15:31, 15 April 2008 (UTC)