John Gordon Ross

A Man for All Reasons

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The End of Civilization As We Know It

February 1st, 2009 · 2 Comments

Over at You Don’t Say,* the blog of Baltimore Sun copy editor John McIntyre, there has been a discussion going on about Wikipedia. I must point out that the Wikipediaphobes have not, quite, said that the online encyclopaedia will bring about the End of Civilization etc. as the title of this post would suggest. On the other hand, they do feel themselves at liberty to put words into the mouths of the Wikipedia defenders, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t do the same (if you’ve ever done any proper debating, you know the trick – you haven’t got an answer so you make up your own question and answer that instead. Politicians and Tory voters do it all the time).

If you are interested in the great Wikipedia battle, you’ll find the original posts and comment threads at I Said, Get Mitty, Wikipediaphilia, Crisis of authority and McIntyre is having a cow about Wikipedia. I won’t describe the arguments in detail, but John McIntyre has added a summary, which he gives the title Wiki-wacky. He structures it as a dialogue between the (True) Believers and the Skeptics. The Believers expound their silly circular arguments which the Skeptics refute soundly, or what would be definitively to anyone sensible, i.e., with the same opinions as Mr McIntyre. He calls it light-hearted. I call it snide. And please note at this stage that JM’s list of the threads involved excludes the one on Crisis of authority.

The whole thing was triggered by an everyday gripe by Mr McIntyre (first post), that Wikipedia contained errors, lots of them. Nothing really surprising about that, but it provoked some comments, mostly along the lines of “Yes, but…” In his second post, John began to get testy (he enjoys describing himself as ‘curmudgeonly,’ it goes with the tweed jacket image he likes to project), apparently seeing the whole Wikipedia concept as an attack on his life’s work as an editor, if not all editors. I dropped a couple of comments in at that stage, to the effect that the Wikpedia entry about JM himself looked believable, that Wikipedia was not a traditional encyclopedia and shouldn’t be judged as if it were, and that however imperfect it might be it was jolly useful.

Escalation came with John’s post on Crisis of authority, in which he really lost his rag. We were treated to declamations like “The very idea of authority is being challenged,” “there are gunslingers walking the streets at will,” and “the Internet: political subversion, religious controversy, all conducted with vicious personal attacks on one’s opponents. No copyright — anyone could steal anything.” You get the idea. As I say, JM has chosen to forget that this thread was part of the discussion. I think it’s the most important part.

For his penultimate post on the subject, JM chose to relax and take a more sardonic tone, dropping the references to authority or lack of it, making a joke comparing Wikipedia with sewage (is this what passes for urbane humour in Baltimore?), and inventing the term “Wikipediaphiliac” to describe the Wikipedia defenders (as I have pointed out over there, I think there is something disparaging about the suffix chosen, and “Wikipediaphile” would have been a better choice. But, hey, John’s the editor, he knows what he wants to say and how).

Now, I’m not a True Believer in Wikipedia, however much easier JM finds it to deal with me if I am, but I do think that, on the whole, the world is a better place with Wikipedia than it was without it, and would be if Wikipedia were in some way “regulated.” Your thoughts on the matter are most welcome.

*I run the You Don’t Say feed, because it is intelligent and entertaining and because it is declaredly prescriptivist, and the descriptivists might otherwise be over-represented on the Language Stuff page.

Tags: Language · Life

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John McIntyre // Feb 1, 2009 at %I:%M %p

    Had I used “Wikipediaphile,” I would no doubt have been accused of trying to associate Wikipedia enthusiasts with pedophiles — a stonger echo than with “Wikipediaphilac.” I’m not the only player in You Can’t Win.

  • 2 JohnRoss // Feb 1, 2009 at %I:%M %p

    I take your point, Wikpediaphiliac it is, then. It’s easy to see why you’re the director of the copy desk of a great metropolitan newspaper and I just have this crummy blog.

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