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Archive for February, 2012

SOCRATES: In the matter of just and unjust, fair and foul, good and evil, which are the subjects of our present consultation, ought we to follow the opinion of the many and to fear them; or the opinion of the one man who has understanding, and whom we ought to fear and reverence more than all the rest of the world: and whom deserting we shall destroy and injure that principle in us which may be assumed to be improved by justice and deteriorated by injustice; is there not such a principle?

CRITO: Certainly, there is, Socrates.

      –Plato, Crito, 47c-d [trans. by Benjamin Jowett] [link]

It seems that Wikipedia is getting into trouble with the experts…again. As he explains in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education), Professor Timothy Messer-Kruse, an academic with years of experience researching the Haymarket Affair (i.e., an expert on the topic), ran into difficulty editing the Wikipedia article on the event because his suggested improvements constituted original research, contradicted the scholarly majority opinion, and lacked sufficient source attribution. Basically, Messer-Kruse attempted to correct commonly believed factual inaccuracies and was summarily shot-down.

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If David Weinberger is to be believed, the Internet hasn’t just changed how we access information, it has altered the very meaning of ‘knowledge’. In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Weinberger claims that “for the coming generation, knowing looks less like capturing truths in books than engaging in never-settled networks of discussion and argument.” Supposedly, the networked, collaborative, and social nature of the Internet has changed our very understanding of knowledge to the point that knowledge is no longer tied to concepts of truth, objectivity, or certainty. Instead, as Weinberger argues in his recent book, Too Big to Know, “knowledge is a property of the network” (p. xiii). That is, the Internet has profoundly changed what it means to be a fact, to be true, or to be known. This book has been making the rounds among librarians, so I thought it might be a good idea to try to explain Weinberger’s argument and what librarians should–and should not–take away from it.

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