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Wikipedia Breeds Unwitting Trust (Says IT Professor) 441

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the unlike-slashdot-which-is-100%-reliable dept.
kingston writes ""As I say to my students 'if you had to have brain surgery would you prefer someone who has been through medical school, trained and researched in the field, or the student next to you who has read Wikipedia'?" So says Deakin University associate professor of information systems, Sharman Lichtenstein, who believes Wikipedia, where anyone can edit a page entry, is fostering a climate of blind trust among people seeking information. Professor Lichtenstein says the reliance by students on Wikipedia for finding information, and acceptance of the practice by teachers and academics, was "crowding out" valuable knowledge and creating a generation unable to source "credible expert" views even if desired. "People are unwittingly trusting the information they find on Wikipedia, yet experience has shown it can be wrong, incomplete, biased, or misleading," she said. "Parents and teachers think it is [okay], but it is a light-weight model of knowledge and people don't know about the underlying model of how it operates.""
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Wikipedia Breeds Unwitting Trust (Says IT Professor)

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  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:50AM (#23061892) Homepage Journal

    "People are unwittingly trusting the information they find on Wikipedia, yet experience has shown it can be wrong, incomplete, biased, or misleading," she said. "Parents and teachers think it is [okay], but it is a light-weight model of knowledge and people don't know about the underlying model of how it operates."
    And you could "s/Wikipedia/Encyclopedia Brittanica" on that statement and it would still be 100% accurate. Encyclopedias are summaries of available knowledge and nothing more. Wikipedia is just one example of an encyclopedia.

    As any first-year college student can tell you, an encyclopedia is not meant to be an authoritative source, nor can it be used a primary source in a properly-written research paper. It is meant to be a starting point for research only. If you quote anything from an encyclopedia in a research paper, then you need to cite two additional primary souces, which must by definition be from scholarly books, journals or other information published from scholarly sources, which very clearly back up that material.

    Wikipedia's achilles heal for scholarly research isn't that anyone can edit it (a statement which, in and of itself, is not 100% complete or accurate and deliberately misrepresents what Wikipedia is and is not), it's that it is an encyclopedia and nothing more.
    • by vil3nr0b (930195) on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:56AM (#23061958)
      You mean going to a library and doing actual research is far more reliable than reading people's editable posts on the internet? Stop spreading your propaganda or the internet giants will come for you at night.
      • by electrictroy (912290) on Monday April 14, 2008 @10:12AM (#23062926)
        "You can not use the encyclopedia as a source."

        That's what my teachers taught me in the "dark ages" when encyclopedias were printed on paper, and they should be teaching students the same thing today. Wikipedia or Britannica are great places to get a general understanding, and maybe a few sources, but that's it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DarkOx (621550)
          Exactly Encyclopedias are a place to get enough of a handle on a topic quickly so that you can approach your actually research in a directed and intelligent way. They should be thought of as a tool get "get the right search terms". They let you collect a quick list of names and dates related to a topic and help you point in some directions you may not have known about.

          They are not source material. Wikipedia is as good as any for the above; perhaps better. Any tool is likely to fail if used improperly or
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ClubStew (113954)

        At times Wikipedia is biased or even wrong, but one thing people seem to fail to realize is that because "anyone" can edit it is likely - however not guaranteed - that someone authoritative will find and fix a comment, or at least tag it as containing incorrect or unconfirmed information.

        But with more and more people, or at least professors, blasting Wikipedia like this fewer and fewer authoritative sources will visit and edit Wikipedia. Wikipedia could be great over time but people like those in TFA are

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I've had some edits of mine repealed on Wikipedia, by editors viewed to be 'golden' or given some informal award for policing documents.

          My corrections were revoked without discussion, and apparantly without looking at reference sources I provided. References which went directly to the source document that wikipedia was 'quoting' incorrectly.

          It is obvious that politics came into play, and it really reinforced the notion that wikipedia should be used for nothing more serious than confirming the powers of the
    • by DrLang21 (900992) on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:58AM (#23061990)

      As any first-year college student can tell you, an encyclopedia is not meant to be an authoritative source, nor can it be used a primary source in a properly-written research paper.
      Citation needed.
      Seriously, I see third year college students who still don't know what plagerism is. You can't convince me that they all know better than to use an encyclopedia as a primary source.
      • ... who don't know how to spell "plagiarism."
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Hognoxious (631665)

        Seriously, I see fuckwits on slashdot who still don't know how to spell "plagiarism". You can't convince me that they all don't know how to use a dictionary.
        Is that what you meant?
      • Seriously, I see third year college students who still don't know what plagerism is.
        They know what it is. They're just unwilling to define it.
      • by Fozzyuw (950608) on Monday April 14, 2008 @10:04AM (#23062800)

        Seriously, I see third year college students who still don't know what plagerism is. You can't convince me that they all know better than to use an encyclopedia as a primary source.

        Exactly, Wikipedia does not create bad research papers, bad researchers create bad research papers. It's time for professors to stop blaming Wikipedia for poor research papers and start blaming their poor teaching skills in teaching kids how to properly do research.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by teslatug (543527)
        Here's your Citation Reference [wikipedia.org] :)
        I don't get why people don't even trust Wikipedia's disclaimers. I mean are they assuming that the disclaimer is incorrect, and that Wikipedia does make some guarantee of correctness??
    • by JeepFanatic (993244) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:05AM (#23062064)

      As any first-year college student can tell you, an encyclopedia is not meant to be an authoritative source, nor can it be used a primary source in a properly-written research paper.
      I think you give first-year college students too much credit. Having taught them for 5 years, I can tell you from first hand experience that MOST of them do not know the first thing about proper research or what makes for good source materials.
      • by Atzanteol (99067) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:27AM (#23062334) Homepage
        And why should they? It's your job to teach them isn't it? Why are we constantly expecting "students" to know things?

        Besides, High School teachers have become so retarded over the years it's amazing that graduates know anything. My College Writing I professor was constantly complaining about the lack of grammar taught in lower grades (all my teachers taught was 'literature').

        • by Firethorn (177587) on Monday April 14, 2008 @10:39AM (#23063304) Homepage Journal
          And why should they? It's your job to teach them isn't it? Why are we constantly expecting "students" to know things?

          Because, let's face it, college is supposed to be an advanced curriculum, and people attending are supposed to already have a High School diploma that indicates that they have met requirements to graduate that include things like writing a report. They don't need to be perfect, but they should know how.

          Besides, High School teachers have become so retarded over the years it's amazing that graduates know anything.

          This is the REAL problem. Why the heck should we spend 12 years in school if we don't learn anything useful? If anything, the spread of AP courses into high school doesn't indicate that students are learning stuff earlier, it indicates that standards have slipped. What used to be considered HS material is now college level stuff.

          What used to require a HS diploma now requires an Associates, what used to require an Associates now requires a Bachelor. So on and so forth. We're costing ourselves a lot of resources to take another couple years to get people ready for the workplace - It's arguable who's better off, somebody who goes to work out of HS, or somebody to goes to college and comes out $60k in debt for a 'mere' $10k more a year in income while the guy who went to work has 4 extra years of income.

          I think that we need to bring back the technical training - not everybody needs to go to college, nor is it beest for everyone. We still need mechanics, plumbers, and electricions. Hairdressers/barbers, cashiers and tellers. There are people who are happier in those jobs.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by downhole (831621)
            What makes you think we don't have that technical training now? We still have mechanics, plumbers, electricians, hairdressers, barbers, cashiers, tellers, etc, and they aren't going to four-year (or more) colleges to get those jobs. There are indeed people who are happier in those jobs - they know who they are, and they don't need the help of people who think that they are smarter than them to figure out that they want those jobs and how to get them.
      • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:29AM (#23062352)
        5 years? You'd think those kids would be smart enough to give up after the first few years. Tenacious little guys, aren't they?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I think you give first-year college students too much credit. Having taught them for 5 years, I can tell you from first hand experience that MOST of them do not know the first thing about proper research or what makes for good source materials.

        Then clearly the problem is those teaching them are failing. That'll be you!
      • Amen to that (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Selanit (192811) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:50AM (#23062632)
        ... beginning college students typically don't know what constitutes "good research". And they tend to be very trusting, not just of Wikipedia, but of anything on the Internet.

        A few years ago I had a student turn in a paper arguing that the drinking age should be lowered to 18. One of the claims the paper raised was that drinking ages are lower in many European countries, and that they have healthier drinking cultures. That's probably true, but the source that the student cited to back up the point was totally inadequate. It was a two paragraph account of German drinking habits. The account was based on an interview with an unnamed exchange student. It was written down by an anonymous high school student. And it was put up on the web as a really badly designed web page. Let's see - anonymous author, anonymous interview subject, obviously done as part of a high school assignment, very short, no details, and badly presented. Not exactly the world's most credible source. I made the student go find a more thorough account of European drinking habits written by an identifiable human being and vetted by some kind of editor.

        That's a fairly typical example. However, I don't think it's anything worth getting upset about. Students have long been overly credulous. Heck, people in general are overly credulous. It's always been possible to go out, find crappy information, and blindly accept it. Wikipedia (and more broadly the Internet) just make that easier. Yes, there's a lot of GOOD info out there on the web, too, but finding it can be very difficult.

        That being the case, I try to integrate assignments about how you do research, and what constitutes a good source, what Internet sources are good for, and when you might want to hit the library and dig a little deeper. It's really a necessity. The students don't know how to do research; therefore, we need to teach them. Many schools are beginning to recognize this -- over the last ten years or so the number of positions at academic libraries for "instructional librarians" has skyrocketed. They visit other teachers' classes and teach lessons on search techniques, evaluation of sources, give tours of the specialized databases the university subscribes to, and so on. Some schools are even beginning to offer complete courses on information literacy [uri.edu]. I think we'll probably see a good bit more of this over the next few years.
        • Re:Amen to that (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cloricus (691063) on Monday April 14, 2008 @10:23AM (#23063084)
          I noticed that it has a lot to do with the culture of the educational institute.

          My high school put high priority on sources, some times up to 20% of total marks. Poor sourcing or incorrect sourcing was equated to the likes of cheating resulting in various repercussions of real world importance. Anyone daring to be as lazy as you example would fail that specific course. Though to balance this aspect researching methods was a small section of every semester in every class as well as critical thinking.

          Yet when I got to university there was simply no emphasis on sourcing, we were shown Google and then yelled at about how Wikipedia was the devil and told to get busy. When I started handing in my sources like I would in highschool it didn't take long to realise that they rarely even looked at them, and _never_ checked the sources for themselves. Guess what happened next! I simply started Googling, sighting anything but Wikipedia, and grabbing random pages from text books that sounded remotely on topic.

          The reality is students are lazy and the majority do the minimum to pass. Simply increasing the minimum standard and giving students the resources they need improves all the students who are just cruising through. Of course this is only if they have no alternative! :P
    • In fairness, Wikipedia tends to cover some topics in more depth, as they can afford more space than a paper encyclopedia. So it is easy to make the mistake of citing this in-depth article even though it is still only an "executive summary" of the topic.

      ---

      Wikipedia itself has a "No Original Research" policy, of course, so if the article is good it should provide a reference for every fact you might want to cite.
    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:10AM (#23062128)
      The main flaw of traditional encyclopedia articles is that they're often written by a single author, with only minimal editing and peer review. And so the resulting article will inevitably be biased toward the views of said author (however respected he may be), with no recourse for other scholars who may disagree with its points. At least Wikipedia, for all its flaws, allows for some recourse from those with a different perspective or different arguments.
    • by DragonHawk (21256) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:14AM (#23062174) Homepage Journal
      Headline says: "Wikipedia Breeds Unwitting Trust"

      My first thought: s/Breeds/Highlights/

      In general, I find most of the articles that complain about such-and-such a problem with Wikipedia stop too soon. It isn't that Wikipedia is often incorrect, or that Wikipedia articles lack verifiable sources, or that people are too quick to trust what's written in Wikipedia, or that Wikipedia is easily subverted by people with their own agenda. While those statements are all true, they're simply special cases of a far more insidious trend: People put too much trust in information.

      Newspaper articles, scientific studies, engineering decisions, information in general suffers from all the same problems. How often do we see someone make a statement, claiming things are a certain way, but with no way to check on it? Just about every post on Slashdot, for starters. :) But we tend to want to accept such statements as truth, even when we know better. Humans seem to have an inherent, unconscious willingness to trust that domatic statements must be true.

      Wikipedia simply highlights this problem.
    • by Bender0x7D1 (536254) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:50AM (#23062626)

      As any first-year college student can tell you, an encyclopedia is not meant to be an authoritative source, nor can it be used a primary source in a properly-written research paper.

      Why not? OK - I know what you are getting at, but there can be a lot more to a properly-written research paper than the actual research. If I need a few sentences on the history of someone or something, (background or related work), I'm not going to find it in a proper journal article, and there are a lot of people that don't have published biographies to look at. Also, I have seen peer-reviewed articles that are just wrong. One claimed that using the SUM of blocks was a good cryptographic checksum - they would be wrong. How that made it past the peer-review I'll never know.

      I think the rule "no encyclopedias" is used as a fail-safe mechanism to prevent students from using an encyclopedia as their only reference, or over-using it as a reference. The real rule should be: Use your judgement on whether or not it is a good reference. However, there are a lot of students that don't have good judgement in this area and need the rule.

      I could see the same rule being applied to posts in an Internet forum - "An Internet forum is not an authoritative source." OK - Then explain the KoreK attack on WEP. The attack was posted on the NetStumbler Forum [netstumbler.org]. Would the URL for that post be acceptable as a reference? In context of WEP attacks, it should be. Why? Because anyone other reference will eventually trace-back, through other references, to that post.

      I agree that Wikipedia has a lot of articles with mistakes in them. There are also a lot of peer-reviewed papers with mistakes in them. We're human. It happens. I think there will be a lot of headaches from trying to define what a good reference is in the near future as more and more information is served-up through the web. Think about how you get your information on configuring Linux. Was it a journal paper or was it some guy who worked through the problem and posted results on their blog? If you are conducting experiments on performance, how do you know what settings to change, or what those settings do? You probably found it on some blog, website or forum and not in a traditional paper.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday April 14, 2008 @10:39AM (#23063294)
        Your examples of web sources are all things that you confirm yourself (or at least rely on others to do for you). A guy posting in an Internet forum about a WEP attack IS a bad source, until it is confirmed, in which case you need to include the confirmation as a source as well. Peer reviewed papers and books are confirmed by the reviewers so they combine the two sources you'd need otherwise.

        Do you trust the information you get about configuring Linux on the Internet automatically? What if somebody is playing games with the newbie? You don't trust the source until you, or someone else you trust, confirms what they're saying is accurate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dumb_jedi (955432)

      And you could "s/Wikipedia/Encyclopedia Brittanica" on that statement and it would still be 100% accurate. Encyclopedias are summaries of available knowledge and nothing more. Wikipedia is just one example of an encyclopedia.

      Nope. Imagine this scenario: I'm a teacher, and I ask for an assignment about, let's say, Abraham Lincoln. Then I go to Wikipedia's entry on him and edit it, subtlely. How will students know that AL date of birth is wrong ? They can tell unless they use another source.
      Ok, eventually someone will spot the error and will correct it, but between the edit and the correction, the information is wrong. Ad I can edit it again. And again. Point is: There's a chance that Wikipedia's information is not correct, at

  • Just like newspapers.

    Re: misleading, I could have had first post if the fancy new posting thingy worked, or if /. didn't pretend I just posted a comment when I didn't.
    • by owlnation (858981) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:20AM (#23062234)

      Just like newspapers.
      Absolutely! Wikiality is exactly like newspapers in many ways -- and this is its primary flaw, and the point of this article. Newspapers have a powerful lobby and an agenda behind every news story. One that subtly uses semiotics and wordplay to manipulate emotion and how facts are perceived.

      Wikipedians do exactly the same things. For all the talk of NPOV on every discussion page, it's little more than talk. Almost every music related page is essentially fan site, and spam too -- music is a commercial product, from an evil industry. For some bizarre reason people don't equate music promotion with spam. And there's music spam on most other pages too - e.g. "xyz" wrote a song about "Cyprus" or whatever.

      And then there's the much noted cabals. Political pages, religion pages, controversial authors, you name it - there's groups working every hour of every day to ensure the facts are as they see them.

      And then theres the Wikipedia admins... the real problem with the site. Some of them have been proven to be frauds, to have criminal convictions -- and yet they manipulate facts, they have their own little agendas, they block entire countries IP addresses, or the addresses of individuals they dislike (or who are protesting the nature of an article). "Vandalism" isn't necessary vandalism -- they've never actually defined that word. It's like "terrorism" is to a newspaper - a license to do what you like in the name of "truthiness". Would Galileo be a vandal, would Rosa Parks? Is Stephen Colbert?

      What's non-notable and who has the right to decide, why even decide, what the problem if it's not very notable but not spam? This is just like the way news editors manipulate facts and decide who's flavor of the month.

      And then there's Jimbo... good old Jimbo. His relationship with Wikiality, his "misunderstanding" of non-profit and commercial, and "expenses". And his much documented, and much flawed history. Not to mention his autocracy and views on Ayn Rand.

      How is Jimbo different from Rupert Murdoch? I see very little difference. Well... other than Jimbo has so far managed to mislead people into thinking that Wikipedia is "open" and somehow "open source" -- when the reality is far, far from that.
      • by IkeTo (27776) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:36AM (#23062436)
        Wikipedia is actually much better than newspaper in this regard. When reading newspaper, you have no way to see the opinions of anybody other than the members of the editorial board of the newspaper. In Wikipedia, at least you can view the history of the article and the discussion page if the Wiki-page is heavy-handed by a group of people with a particular political, commercial or whatever stand. The only thing good about newspaper is that it is so obviously biased that nobody will trust it.
        • Thing about newspapers is to realize that they're normally written extremely quickly to meet space requirements by an author not necessarily skilled in the topic. Then it goes through an editor who'll chop it down even more, again, without always realizing the importance of what they're chopping. Sometimes it can change meanings completely.

          Still, I've become a bit jaded with all the mistakes I see in the paper. Stuff like '.9 caliber revolver', '10 12 gauge magazines' that were associated with a ruger 10
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        "Vandalism" isn't necessary vandalism -- they've never actually defined that word. It's like "terrorism" is to a newspaper - a license to do what you like in the name of "truthiness". Would Galileo be a vandal, would Rosa Parks? Is Stephen Colbert

        I have to say that if you look at the edit summary of a random article for the text "revert vandalism", it's pretty clear what vandalism is-- typically things like people deleting the entire text of a section and substituting "E4T MY HAIRY WHONG" or "Ki11 ALL ". I don't think that Galileo would do something like that.

        And why do you say "they've never actually defined that word [vandalism]"? Did you look up the definition of vandalism [wikipedia.org] in Wikipedia?

  • by bigattichouse (527527) on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:54AM (#23061926) Homepage
    I wish I could filter out Yahoo answers from my entire online experience. Just about any question I've ever had for a non technical issue (e.g. Can I feed a hamster strawberries), is answered on Yahoo as : 1. Yep 2. Nope 3. Feed it motor oil 4. lolz, luzer! Yeah, the internet used to be 90% noise and 10% signal, and has improved drastically over the last decade to 99% noise! *sigh*
    • by soupforare (542403) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:00AM (#23062010)
      Me too!
      • by Stonent1 (594886)
        Many yahoo answers responses are "I have no idea". So why did you even bother to post?!?!
    • by wild_quinine (998562) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:03AM (#23062038) Homepage

      I wish I could filter out Yahoo answers from my entire online experience. Just about any question I've ever had for a non technical issue (e.g. Can I feed a hamster strawberries), is answered on Yahoo as : 1. Yep 2. Nope 3. Feed it motor oil 4. lolz, luzer!
      Yahoo answers has been a real eye opener for me, and like wikipedia, I'm glad it exists, although not for the purpose for which it was intended.

      See, I use Yahoo Answers as a barometer for ignorance. I check it once every so often to see if the human race is still, collectively, an arse-scratching bunch of chimps.

      So far, Yes.

      Last week on yahoo answers:

      Cud I B prgnent?
      Did u do it standing up???

    • by dfedfe (980539) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:08AM (#23062100)
      Speaking of Yahoo! answers, this [yahoo.com] (the last one) is the funniest incorrect answer I've seen so far:

      Question:
      "What is the meaningof "corrolary" in this sentence?
      ------------------
      As a result, oil demand becomes less and less responsive to movements in international crude oil prices. The *corrolary* of this is that prices would fluctuate more than in the past in response to future short-term shifts in demand and supply."

      Answer:
      "Comparable to corollary in a heart, central blood vessel. Could say "heart of the matter" or point.

      The (point) of this is that prices..."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by antic (29198)
      And what's going to change that for the better? Content (even crappy content) brings users and eyeballs mean advertising dollars. When one of the big players (Yahoo) is taking that path and producing some of the worst content, one can't have much hope!
  • by David Gerard (12369) <slashdot@NospAm.davidgerard.co.uk> on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:54AM (#23061932) Homepage
    Unfortunately, we've yet to perfect the wiki-based model where the reader doesn't have to bring their brain to the party.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:55AM (#23061940)
    Deakin University

    Sharman Lichtenstein

    Uh-huh. Sounds like someone's already defaced the article...
  • by tgd (2822)
    I'm not sure I believe this story...
  • by pnuema (523776) on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:56AM (#23061960)
    IT'S AN ENCYCLOPEDIA.

    If you are using an encyclopedia for anything other than getting you started on your serious research, or satisfying a non-important curiosity, then you don't know what an encyclopedia is for. Apparently someone needs to tell this egghead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Indeed, especially when you consider:

      As with any source, especially one of unknown authorship, you should be wary and independently verify the accuracy of Wikipedia information if possible. For many purposes, but particularly in academia, Wikipedia may not be considered an acceptable source;[1] indeed, some professors and teachers may throw Wikipedia-sourced material away out of hand. This is especially true when it is used uncorroborated.

      We advise special caution when using Wikipedia as a source for resear

  • Professor Lichtenstein says the reliance by students on Wikipedia for finding information, and acceptance of the practice by teachers and academics, was "crowding out" valuable knowledge and creating a generation unable to source "credible expert" views even if desired.

    Yes, that is one risk. But the current academic system is far from perfect. It creates an effectively useless intellectual caste system, and fosters an elitist culture. Valuable knowledge should be shared, even at the risk of adding chinks to its armour. That attitude is the one and same which has fostered a literate world, in which the common man can have this discussion and it be meaningful.

  • by JerryLove (1158461) on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:56AM (#23061970)
    When Wikipedia has been vetted by credible institutions as more accurate (at least outside pop-culture) then the "credible expert" Encylopedia Britannica, the trust may be unwitting but is it really unfounded.

    Honestly, I find that individual experts make far more mistakes that Wiki, which is to a good degree peer reviewed.

    The errors in school textbooks are well known and discussed; many still in existance after decades. So shy of hitting peer-reviewed in-field journals or, of course, doing your own research: whom, exactly, isn't "light-weight" knowledge... or, more to the point, who can be trusted more.

    At least Wiki lets you go into the history and see all the editors, everythign else they've edited, what the differing opinions were, and a discussion on the topic at hand. I can't do that with my encylopedia.
    • by Moryath (553296)
      Funny, most wikipedia articles that don't turn out to themselves be plagiarized from other sources are pure crap.

      And on anything that might be interesting, you can be pretty sure the article's not accurate just because it's been hit at least once by the little Judge Dredds (they call themselves "administrators") running around the place shooting first and asking questions never.
  • "Crowding Out?" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:57AM (#23061978) Journal
    I don't think that the "crowding out" phenomenon is really going to happen. There will still be technical journals and medical textbooks. No one has a medical degree from Wikipedia. It's not designed as that solution. Nobody consults Wikipedia when their life is on the line. Nobody purely learns from only Wikipedia.

    From the start of this article (which was a bad analogy) to the mention of Google Knoll, I'm not impressed with this weird suggestion that Wikipedia is supposed to be the de facto source of knowledge for anyone and anything. It's great to start there or to 'get an understanding' as the article mentions but it's the sources and subsequent sources you find that have the real information. It's at least second hand information from the masses designed to be more second hand information for the masses. Not for doctors or academia.

    I judged a state science fair recently and came upon a bridge project which hand one reference listed--Wikipedia. I asked the kid why he had only used these five different types of bridges and he said because that's what was listed on Wikipedia. I pretty much gave him a horrible score based on that and pointed out that the Army Corp of Engineers provides all its publications free and recommended he check that out if he wanted better information.

    If you're a parent or a teacher, take the time to explain this to your children. If you're a medical doctor or expert in your field, stop fighting new technology that increases general knowledge and relax.
    • Nobody consults Wikipedia when their life is on the line.
      There's the pity. It would cull the herd and as a bonus we might have a lawsuit that would take the entire heap of crap down.

      Remember it's the encyclopedia that anybody can edit - and probably did.
  • It would help... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Phoenix-IT (801337) on Monday April 14, 2008 @08:58AM (#23061986)
    If we had more than one major encyclopedia online that was supported by advertisements or Federal funding to source information from it would be a boon for everyone. I mean, if they'll spend thousands for hardly used encyclopedias for public libraries, there must be a way to make that information more available in the age of the internet. This may already exist, but if it does, I haven't seen it. Perhaps other publicly available sources of information need to be more vocal about their existence?
  • I read the wikipedia article on neurosurgery and performed the operation myself.
  • by mhamel (314503) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:00AM (#23062014)
    I would not accept having a brain surgery by somebody trained on wikipedia for sure. But I would not accept a brain surgery by anybody who has been trained by reading just one article from any book. Even if the book is recognized by the experts.

    But, if I am to get a brain surgery, I will certainly go to wikipedia to have a basic understanding of what is going to happen to me. I'll also follow the links I get from there. And read whatever information I can get. It will make me capable of asking questions the next time I meet my doctor and certainly understand better what he will tell me.

    I know some doctors prefer patients that do not ask questions. It just goes faster. But I think it is part of the doctor job to do what he can for the understanding of it's patient. They very very often do not. I think those doctors have a bad attitude, not their patients for asking questions.
  • More complicated (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheMeuge (645043) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:01AM (#23062020)
    The concept of "blind trust" as applied to public, but not professional sources, isn't new... and it certainly existed long before Wikipedia.

    However, with the advent of the internet, the same fads that would have come and gone in the real world, seem to have gained a staying power that is truly incredible to behold.

    I think that part of the reason is that the Internet finally gave any individual the ability to distribute "media"... wherefore previously economic barriers would have prevented the dissemination of information by most independent individuals. With this barrier gone, any cook can make a claim, and as long as the claim is ridiculous enough to attract attention, it is also certain to attract a following.

    For instance, how would one explain the "Autism/Vaccination" fiasco? Talking of blind trust, here we have literally hundreds of thousands of people, who willingly and knowingly ignore multiple large-scale peer-reviewed studies, only to put their faith into something that can only be described as an internet fad, started by some really sad an unfortunate parents, looking to place the blame for the tragic condition that befell their child.

    The question is - what is there to be done about this. To be honest, I think that the situation can go both ways. We could slowly mature in our understanding of how the Internet works, and accept it as a public forum, with all the positive and negative implications that come with such a place. Or we could continue down into the rabbit hole of collective ignorance, into a future that I, for one, would not want to experience... a future where truth is no longer a function of fact, but a function of how many supporters an idea has.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anne Thwacks (531696)
      how would one explain the "Autism/Vaccination" fiasco?

      This should be within the grasp of all /.ers:

      The media are, by enlarge, run by people who had "arts degrees" - ie a very limited grasp of reality, but endorsed by "experts" - unlike Wikipedia readers, who do atleast understand that the way to knowledge is to look for yourself.

      These people realise that science does not agree with them, but have no grasp of "science" or, in fact, logic. They have limited means to establish a concept of reality, since

  • by wrw3 (152058) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:02AM (#23062030) Homepage
    The analogy of the brain surgery is pretty light-weight, inappropriate, and jejune for a professor. The professor's position is a bit arrogant, suggesting I don't know enough to use the right tool for a given job. Also, no sensible person expects Wikipedia to be The One Tool, nor does anyone with experience and judgment rely upon one source, especially on the Internet. Sounds like the professor could learn a thing or two.
    • I have nothing to add other than to say that any post containing the word 'jejune' deserves to be modded up.
    • by mike2R (721965) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:54AM (#23062680)
      Quite frankly if students come out of education in 2008 not knowing how to evaluate source material properly then this points to a major weakness in their teachers. Seen in this light Wikipedia is an excellent teaching tool - it contains a load of good info, a load of crap info, and all in all is a fantastic way of teaching students about the pit-falls of badly sourced material.

      What this professor needs to do is toddle off down to the history department, and politely ask a professor there if it would be possible to get his students (and possibly himself) an intro into proper source handling. These are not new skills - they've been the bedrock of a historian's trade for a century or so. They just happen to have become skills which are absolutely essential to everyone in the internet age.

      In short; bad teacher, not bad Wikipedia.
  • High perch (Score:2, Insightful)

    by unchiujar (1030510)
    Blabla ivory tower blabla better than tho commoners blablabla I am more important blablablabla.
  • Whatever (Score:5, Insightful)

    by corby (56462) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:05AM (#23062066)
    Because nobody ever believed stuff they read on the Internet before Wikipedia came along?

    How is Wikipedia the cause of this problem? It seems like Wikipedia might be part of the solution. Unlike most of the unsourced data you find on the World Wide Web, Wikipedia actually has a framework that encourages citing references and sources.
  • Old idea, old news... This has been discussed (or at least I've already known it and teach others) not to trust Wiki. I directly link and relate it to the COI, or COST OF INFORMATION. If I have to PAY for information like a journal or subscription, I will hold the people accountable because of that premium. But Wiki is "FREE" so if I read something wrong, I laugh and keep going...

    People who plan for malice take advantage of Wiki's "open" model and hack it up for their own agenda.

    BTW, So Does Newpaper a
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Snowmit (704081)

      Old idea, old news... This has been discussed (or at least I've already known it and teach others) not to trust Wiki. I directly link and relate it to the COI, or COST OF INFORMATION. If I have to PAY for information like a journal or subscription, I will hold the people accountable because of that premium. But Wiki is "FREE" so if I read something wrong, I laugh and keep going...
      Better yet, if I read something wrong on wikipedia, I can CORRECT it and keep going.
  • The example about brain surgery is bogus.

    Most people who look up wikipedia information don't act on it. Those who do will not invest much of their time or money based purely on what wikipedia tells them - if they do, they won;t do it a second time.

    Most of the information discovered is trivial: how many pints in a gallon, or some such. Users don't use wikipedia to decide what investments to make - at least the rich ones don't.

    Therefore asking if people "trust" the answers is the wrong question. A better o

  • Edumacated (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hack_Fetish (1245056)
    Im a 2nd year electrical engineering student at one of the top universities in Canada and in some of my programs, they now specify a minimum number of references and at least half of your references for something have to be from a peer reviewed journal and no more than one from wikipedia. Some of this seems to be out of genuine concern for making sure your information is correct. But with Wikipedia having been proven to be nearly as accurate as Encyclopedia Britanica (http://science.slashdot.org/science/05/
  • Not alone (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:09AM (#23062106)

    "People are unwittingly trusting the information they find on Wikipedia, yet experience has shown it can be wrong, incomplete, biased, or misleading,"

    As opposed to what: Newspapers? Schools' history books? It's a bit silly to criticize only Wikipedia and none of the other sources accepted by schoolteachers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I got a REALLY nasty look from another teacher when I was substitute teaching one day as I complained that people believed the world was round during Columbus's time in front of a class. As a sub, they DIDN'T like me questioning them on their authority.
  • Someone should explain to this guy about the relatively new inventions of the newspaper and TV news. Both have "crowded out credible sources of information". The most trusted guy in American used to be Walter Cronkite. Although I had no reason to distrust Walt, he wasn't a primary source of information.
  • The Internet can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.
  • I encourage it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ginger_Chris (1068390) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:12AM (#23062152)
    As a teacher (11-18) I actually encourage the use of wikipedia as a first stop for information gathering. It gives me a really good way into explaining words such as 'bias' and 'reliable' to students. As long as you explain the things wrong with the website I don't understand the fuss. To be fair, information found on wikipedia is a lot more accurate than the majority on information on the internet. Most pupil's don't even bother reading the information they find, they just copy and paste it (leading to post-grad level work in year 7 student homework). You pretty much have to spend an entire lesson explaining how to gather information and the pitfalls. Wikipedia isn't banned because it's a bad website, it's banned because teachers don't explain how to use it properly.
  • Strawman (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kentrel (526003) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:14AM (#23062176) Journal
    Isn't the professor presenting a Straw man argument here? Nobody would ever compare an encyclopedia to a long course of hands on training and intensive work.

    (Many surgeons train for 3 or 4 years AFTER they become a doctor before they get to be considered proper surgeons by their peers)

    Professor Lichtenstein (or Lichy to her friends?) assumes that all of us blindly trust wikipedia. I don't. I don't know anybody who hasn't doubted the truth of a wikipedia article. She already knows the solution - don't let students cite wikipedia, so its hard to see what her problem is?

    Is she mad that people are contributing their knowledge for free, while she expects to be paid? What a terrible blow Wikipedia has inflicted on our poor starving experts.
  • Associate professor at Deakin? How prestigious.

    I would trust peer reviewed Wikipedia articles backed up with other sources; over biased Deakin lecture power point slides (that can't be contributed to) anyway.

    "Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach. The rest understand binary and work at Deakin U."
  • ...but it still isn't going to keep people from making these assertions. Wikipedia has changed nothing but the scope of information covered by encyclopaedic content. The ignorant sods who considered Brittanica and World Book a reliable source twenty years ago are the same geniuses that quote Wikipedia on research papers. Rampant prejudice specifically directed at Wikipedia exists only because of gross misunderstanding of its peer review format and a general bias against the great evil that is (*GASP*) techn
  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:18AM (#23062218) Homepage
    *Someone* (either those who are against or those who are for Wikipedia here, or both) does not understand the difference between research and citation. Wikipedia is an excellent research tool, and the professors are wrong to say otherwise - but you cannot cite it as a source, and a student would be foolish to do so.

    You can research a subject by entering it into Google, but you wouldn't cite the Google results page in a paper. Instead, you read what the results say, find out where they got their information from, and trace the facts back to an authority you can safely cite.

    With Wikipedia, these authorities and the facts are handily edited, summarized and cited neatly at the end, but it works the same way as the Google search.

    I think I can see the origin of this confusion. When I was in high school, the teachers were paranoid about us plagiarizing stuff from somewhere, and therefore were leaning on us to mention every book we'd so much as seen the cover of during research. This was because the books were all primary sources.

    Once you research on the web, you're dealing with secondary sources (or further than that), and these should *not* be cited as they are not authoritative on their own.
  • The Professor is just upset because the number of elephants in his class has tripled in the past six months.
  • As I say to my students 'if you had to have brain surgery would you prefer someone who has been through medical school, trained and researched in the field, or the student next to you who has read Wikipedia'?

    As someone who uses wikipedia quite frequently, I would like to answer "what a stupid question that is" and ask the idiot professor "if you had to have brain surgery would you prefer someone who has been through medical school, trained and researched in the field, or the student next to you who has read
  • by dominion (3153) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:24AM (#23062288) Homepage
    This is why every middle school (or at least high school) should have a class on Wikipedia as standard curriculum. How it works, how to contribute, how to verify, standard procedures, etc.

    Wikipedia (or at the very least, open, collaborative knowledge) is not going away. It's stupid to keep complaining about how kids don't know how to use it properly, let's start teaching them the proper way to use it.
  • Blind Trust? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 (535323) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:24AM (#23062290) Journal
    "fostering a climate of blind trust among people seeking information"

    Funny, when it comes to Wikipedia, there's no end of people telling us how we can't trust what we read, and we need to be careful what we use it for, and check the sources. Even Wikipedia itself is honest about telling you that an article lacks sources, is biased or may not be reliable.

    It's with every other source that people give their blind trust to - whether it's other encyclopedias, books, the media, or, evidently, University Professors.

    If Wikipedia has made people be careful of what we read, that's a good thing. I only wish people would engage their brain more often, and use that sceptism with every other thing they read or hear.
  • Here's an idea... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Internet Ronin (919897) <internet...ronin@@@gmail...com> on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:24AM (#23062292)
    If they've got such a problem with it, maybe they shouldn't charge $90 for their textbooks. Or thousands of dollars for their expertise.

    Wikipedia doesn't thrive because we don't care about standards of evaluation; Wikipedia thrives because curious, thirsty minds seek answers they can afford and are available. I can, with my cell phone, answer just about any question I have, and Wikipedia is the easiest way to go about it.

    If there's a tremendous worry that Wikipedia is somehow destroying academic integrity, I'm going to need a free, web-based solution, that has the support of a developer community that cares enough to write a website that formats the whole kit-and-caboodle for my iPhone (or for your Treo, or Blackberry for that matter) that allows me to, at a few concise clicks, satisfy my thirst for knowledge. I'm sick of hearing all the griping about Wikipedia, because it's whole purpose is to fulfill the job we're allegedly paying all this money at institutions for: procurement of knowledge. And these hooligans are trying to give it away for free... preposterous. Sometimes I don't want to know the nuances of the issue, I'm just trying to find who the NBA's scoring leader was, or what, for purposes of the article I'm reading, *is* a Boson Particle.

    I can't read a book every time I've got a question, I'd literally do nothing at that point. Hell, I barely have the time to use Wikipedia to answer my question. I've got a lot of questions but having a phone on me with Wikipedia access means more of my questions get answered. Until there's a substitute that these people (charging thousands upon thousands for their answers in the form of collegiate education) can provide that helps me with that problem (my insatiable curiosity) Wikipedia's a gamble I'm willing to take. If something sounds unreasonable, I'll try and verify it elsewhere, but it doesn't particularly matter, it wasn't too long ago that Professors and Academics were up in arms about any internet sources; who knows who and what I can trust on the web.

    I just want my questions answered people.
  • by Lodragandraoidh (639696) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:27AM (#23062324) Journal
    There is a certain tyranny of expertise - particularly in academia. No matter how well researched, thought out, or tested a particular product is (whether it be object or manuscript), it will be snubbed unless the author/inventor has 'Doctor' after his/her name.

    I used to think the institutions of higher learning were composed of open minded people - until I went to school. With rare exception this is not the case - dogma wins out over discourse. The unwitting student stumbles into this minefield of vested interests - the teacher actively attempts to suppress the heretical concepts, or more commonly brushes them under the rug with little comment and much condescension.

    While professors challenge their students to think critically and with an open mind, they should also take that same advise to heart.
  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:27AM (#23062328)

    I'm surprised at how many people here are defending Wikipedia. When I first discovered it, I thought it was a great project. Now, I think it's not-so-great.

    The problem I see is not factual inaccuracies (they exist but are comparatively easy to correct), but lack of rigor and a tendency to transparently pass-through the authors' biases.

    When I say "bias," I am not necessarily referring to political opinions or prejudices. Those are examples but not, even, the most common. A bias is simply something that inclines one to think a certain way without realizing why, and especially without taking the trouble to consider and refute contrary propositions. For instance, Wikipedia's proponents (defenders? apologists?) are fond of saying that Wikipedia's open model makes it less biased than, say, a copyrighted encyclopedia. That's a biased statement itself -- it fails to consider, for example, the possibility that authors may be more inclined to rigorous fact-checking when they're being paid for their efforts, or the possibility that some opinions may be just wrong in spite of having vocal proponents who insist on getting a free soapbox in the name of "balance".

    Finally, a rebuttal to the defense that "it's just an encyclopedia." Would you consult an encyclopedia, any encyclopedia, where 50% of the articles were known to be utterly false? Would you tolerate a 25% error rate? The question I pose is, what error rate really is acceptable and does Wikipedia exceed that rate, or not? My experience is a sample size of about 20 articles and in that sample, the rate of error or omission is about 20%. For me, that's far too high -- but I admit that's a biased analysis. ;-)

    • For instance, Wikipedia's proponents (defenders? apologists?) are fond of saying that Wikipedia's open model makes it less biased than, say, a copyrighted encyclopedia. That's a biased statement itself

      No, it is a statement of fact, because Wikipedia is among the very few sources of information out there that doesn't hide the fact that it might be wrong. How often have you read in your paper encyclopedia that the following article might lack sources, might be biased or otherwise flawed? Likely never. Paper encyclopedia, newspapers and TV don't do that, they present every information as if it would be correct, even so it might not be, not even close. Wikipedia on the other side as all those "Citations mis

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:36AM (#23062432)
    Blind trust is a human problem and has been around since the beginning. Allow me to burn some karma by bringing up a few examples:

    1. Religion. We start in on kids from the moment they spring from the womb, filling their heads with all sorts of bullshit. And why shouldn't they believe it? Mother and father are telling me it is so! The priest, the teacher, the shaman, all confirm what they say. How could I believe otherwise? Sure, it looks like bread and wine but the priest waved his hands over it, mumbled some magic words in latin, and now I know it is the flesh and blood of my lord and savior. The priest promises this ritual cannibalism will bring me to heaven. He also tells me that what we do together is not a bad thing, not a sin, even when he touches me there, even when it hurts.

    2. Cultural bullshit. Take a look at any intractable ethnic problem like Jews and Palestinians, Catholics and Protestants, Yankees and Red Sox fans, you're looking at the product of trusting kids being fed a steady diet of their parents' bullshit. By the time they're having children of their own, they've taken the bullshit for their own and pass that ignorance along as a treasured tradition. "Damn them Jews, damn them Arabs, they wronged us years ago!" God forbid the kids might grow up to devise a solution to the problem, endless bloodshed is so much more productive.

    I could go on and fill more pages so I'll just leave it at the news media. It's been said that Americans are the only people on the planet who believe their own government's propaganda. I'm sure there are probably a few out there more gullible but we're certainly the biggest and most embarrassing. Government spokesmen will come out and make bald-faced lies and the so-called journalists do not call them on it. Gullible sheeple will watch the news and take the denials as truth. "Who could have possibly predicted that a hurricane could have hit New Orleans? I certainly have to give the President that. I'm sure no one ever brought the possibility up to him, not even as the hurricane was bearing down on the city and NOAA issued warnings of chaos and destruction on a biblical scale." A false statement made with great certainty and not contradicted by the so-called journalists will be taken as fact by the contented, unthinking audience.

    Ok, so we can't question religion with science, we can't point our fingers and laugh when bible-thumping morons insist that Noah's Ark is a true story. So we can't beat the priests over the head with science. But then we get politicians setting policy on matters that fall under the jurisdiction of science and they use religion as the guideline? They use pure politics in their calculation and not only ignore but suppress the scientific evidence? "Hey, I think putting a power drill through someone's skull might be harmful." "There are some scientists who would dispute that." "Well fuck me, I don't have a counter to that!" And where is the outrage in all of this, where are the villagers with pitchforks ready to cast the liars out on their asses? I don't even hear crickets, they're probably home watching America's Next Celebrity Suicide.

    So we're supposed to be outraged that people might not do their own BS check when reading Wikipedia? Folks, if that were our only problem in this country, we'd be doing fine.
  • by moxley (895517) on Monday April 14, 2008 @09:42AM (#23062526)
    It seems to me like Wikipedia is getting it from all sides.

    We have people in the intelligence community whose job seems to be managing/editing wikipedia entries on the sly.

    We have politicians changing their own pages and removing anything unflattering, regardless of truth.

    We have allegations of using influence to possibly get Racheal Marsden's page altered which would be slightly unethical (but something I am sure she would gladly do). ..and now we have people like this (and others) trying to poke holes in Wikipedia's credibility.

    But here's the thing - thoughout all of that it is transparent. We know about it. If Wikipedia were a corporation or other closed model - this same sort of stuff would go on and we wouldn't know about it - or even worse, things that could upset powerful politicians or corporations may not even make it in.

    Wikipedia may not be perfect, but I think it is amazing and amazingly trustable - BECAUSE of the transparency, and BECAUSE anybody can participate. It's not like someone can go on there and change important facts without it being caught - and usually it is caught within less than a minute.

    Wikipedia as a system is designed to cope with any and all of these issues, and I (personally) find it much more up-to-date, credible, and comprehensive than any other encyclopedic source.
  • by BAM0027 (82813) <blo@27.org> on Monday April 14, 2008 @10:52AM (#23063472) Homepage
    ...that I think we can all live by:

    Trust, but verify. [wikipedia.org] [Wiki]
  • by Glamdrlng (654792) on Monday April 14, 2008 @11:08AM (#23063768)
    What if you needed someone to configure a server, router, or firewall in an enterprise production environment? Would you want an IT professor or someone who has read wikipedia? My money's on a wikipedia reader. I'm a network security instructor myself, and only a handful of my peers I've worked with in academia have stepped foot in a data center in the last ten years.

    Wikipedia shouldn't be treated as an expert source in a peer-reviewed journal, but it also shouldn't be dismissed as having no value for a researcher.
  • by Theatetus (521747) on Monday April 14, 2008 @11:08AM (#23063770) Journal

    ie, the undergrads I see to day are fully aware that wiki is 85% BS. They've also gone on to assume most other sources are 85% BS.

  • by Tom (822) on Monday April 14, 2008 @11:47AM (#23064456) Homepage Journal
    The problem with Wikipedia in this context is the confusion between information and knowledge. Wikipedia provides a lot of information. The question of knowledge, however, is more difficult.

    Wikipedia claims to be "the sum of human knowledge", but it isn't. First of all, it's not a sum. The simple fact that stuff gets deleted means it is incomplete and wants to be incomplete. More importantly, Wikipedia doesn't provide knowledge, it provides information. Quality varies, truth value varies, completeness varies. The nature of Wikipedia means it always will. That doesn't mean that it can't be very good. But it does mean it is unreliable and needs to be checked. At the very least against its own edit history, better against other sources.

    But the stated claim "the sum of human knowledge" doesn't tell you that. The painstaken listing of article count and the constant Wikipedia fans ranting that Wikipedia is better than Britannica, and that it's a revolution and bla bla also don't tell you to use with care.

    If Wikipedia were a little more modest, a lot less arrogant and considerably more critical towards its own faults(*), it would be a lot more serious in the business sense.

    (*) by that I don't mean to allow criticism, it does that. The problem is that most of the criticism falls into the "you can say what you want, but it doesn't change anything" category. There has been massive criticism of the deletionism attitude for years now, but deleted articles are still gone for good with no backup, instead of keeping at least the last version in archive, in case the consensus changes, for example. That way, criticism can be made, but it's pointless. What do you win if you get the notability nonsense abolished, for example? Millions of articles are already unrestorably gone, and the real work, that of bringing at least a part of them back, would only start after the success. That kind of not-allowing-criticism-to-have-a-meaning silences your critics not through force, but through frustration.

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