Quick Roundup 434

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wikigooglia Killer?

I've seen excited references to Wolfram Alpha popping up quite a bit lately, particularly in Objectivist circles. But color me skeptical. A post at HBL reminded me of one of the first news accounts I encountered about it, and even -- by mentioning the unusual verb "curated" -- reminded me of the very passage that has me looking at it with a jaundiced eye:

Dr Wolfram, an award-winning physicist who is based in America, added that the information is "curated", meaning it is assessed first by experts. This means that the weaknesses of sites such as Wikipedia, where doubts are cast on the information because anyone can contribute, are taken out. It is based on his best-selling Mathematica software, a standard tool for scientists, engineers and academics for crunching complex maths. [bold added]
Great. So which "experts" will curate information on global warming -- I mean climate change?

I, too, would love to see the information on the Internet made even more useful than it is now, but all information must be evaluated against the context of other knowledge at some point. An expert may have more training in a given area, but if his cognitive methods or normative principles are wrong, he will evaluate the information incorrectly. (Numbers fail to protect against this if certain kinds of errors are widespread. They will only lend credibility by anointing a common mistaken conclusion as a "consensus.")

A pretty good recent example of this would, according to a recent review, be the book Fool's Gold, which attempts to blame the financial crisis on a lack of regulation. Brian Phillips excerpts part of the review:
Ironically, Ms. Tett's reporting describes not an out-of-control free market but one tragically distorted by government regulation. If she struggles to reach a logical conclusion, then, she still does an excellent job of assembling the facts necessary to form one.
If Wolfram Alpha fails to live up to the excitement, blame bad philosophy.

And Speaking of Wikipedia and Bad Curation ...

Via forwarded email, I have learned that Wikipedia has recently purged all references to James Valliant's The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics due to its not being a "reliable source."

Here's an excerpt:
QUOTE (Wikipedia editors)
Proposed removal of references to James Valliant and The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics

Following several discussions calling into question the work of James Valliant as a reliable source (e.g. 1, 2.., 3), I propose that all references to it be removed from Wikipedia until such time as it is shown to satisfy the criteria for reliable sources. If there is consensus to do so, I will begin in one week's time. Skomorokh 15:15, 11 May 2009 (UTC)

Yes, I'm in favor of removing them. J Readings (talk) 18:12, 11 May 2009 (UTC)

Please do.KD Tries Again (talk) 18:32, 11 May 2009 (UTC) KD Tries Again

By fire be purged. TallNapoleon (talk) 22:17, 11 May 2009 (UTC) [formatting removed]
There were no hyperlinks within the email, but the email implies that they can be found at "'Cross-Talk for Ayn Rand and Objectivism Articles' on the Wikipedia site."

I don't dabble in Wikipedia and don't know where to find this, so if anyone out there does know where to look for this "cross-talk" and can leave the link in the comments, I'd be grateful.

Interestingly, The Passion of Ayn Rand, by Barabara Branden, who clearly has an axe to grind, is referred to, and "James Valliant" redirects to "Objectivist Movement," where his name fails to appear even once within the body of the article.

Hmmm. On second thought, at least if Wolfram Alpha makes poor expert choices, perhaps it would be easier to know up front who they are, and what we could expect.

A Generic Recipe

Always on the lookout for interesting recipes, I found this generic casserole recipe over at Life Hacker.
What do those categories mean, exactly?

The main ingredient is the protein, meat or otherwise. The second ingredient is a vegetable or secondary protein, like hard-boiled eggs. The starch, seasoning, and topping should be pretty self-evident, and the "goodie" can be whatever you'd like, while the "binder" is something thick and saucy, like sour cream, pureed foods, or, yes, even canned soup.
Is it just me, or have the same "bourgeois bohemians" who hate Wal-Mart recently started preening against canned soup? This is at least the third time recently that I've seen the phrase "canned soup" tossed in like some sort of verbal shibboleth, by an author whose eybrow was undoubtedly arched as he wrote it.

On the other hand, it could also be purism or culinary machismo speaking, but I see nothing wrong with canned soup when convenience is the goal. It's a casserole for Pete's sake.

Ghosts in the Courtroom

Paula Hall notes that the Michigan Supreme Court may soon allow Moslem women to keep their faces covered while tesifying in trials.
What's on the line for a Muslim woman if she removes her niqab? The ghost she believes in might get upset. What's on the line if the ability of a court to judge a witness's credibility is compromised because her face is hidden? The life and property of a defendant.

The true individual right at stake here is the right of an accused to confront witnesses against them. If you've been hauled into court and your property or life is now at stake, it is wrong to allow someone's irrational beliefs to violate your right to defend your property or life. [minor edit, bold added]
Creeping dhimmitude continues to lurk in the shadows of our government's more visible war against our individual rights. (But at least the latter is no longer being called "capitalism" due to its being perpetrated by a Republican administration.)

-- CAV


John Drake said...

With regards to James Valliant's book, all I could find was this link:

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, John.

The comments with hyperlinks presently occur in mid page. Click on "Proposed removal of references" as directly linking seems not to work.

Andrew Dalton said...

On controversial subjects, Wikipedia seems prone to a phenomenon in which the angriest, most dedicated activists--and those with the most spare time on their hands--get to have their way though sheer persistence.

Sure, the Wikipedia rules prevent them from adding any arbitrary content that they might like. But if all they're trying to do is to quash a source, especially if that source goes against the gang's "consensus," then the power of exclusion is all that they need.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Sure, the Wikipedia rules prevent them from adding any arbitrary content that they might like."


If you manage to get your ravings published in book form before attempting to incorporate them into Wikipedia, then you're golden.

William Scott Scherk said...

Wikipedia has a byzantine procedure for everything (even a special Ayn Rand arbitration page). So it should be no surprise that the Valliant deletions are now contested. See Cross_Talk#Valliant_revisited.

No doubt some of the material will be back on Wiki before too long. Removing everything seems a bit hamfisted. Luckily, nothing ever dies on Wikipedia -- it remains lurking in the database, every last change of comma . . . waiting for resurrection.

Of interest: it was Valliant himself who put almost all of the contested materials up on Wikipedia, through an 'anonymous' account. Apparently adding cites for you own book is a 'conflict of interest' with the Wikipedia honchos.

He is now subject to a topic ban until November . . .

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the further information. I think I now already know more about Wikipedia than I ever wanted to.