Monday, January 01, 2007


I’ve been mulling over pignut’s comment (Dec. 19) about rumors that Walt Disney was a Nazi sympathizer.

My dear readers, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. As a matter of fact, don’t believe anything you read on the Internet – until you check it out. Not even what you read on this blog.

But how to check stuff? Who’ll give you the ‘truth’? I think this is a crisis: more and more of us feel we can’t trust information.

Ironically, for all its blemishes, one of our more accurate info sources might be the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Not the front part of Wiki articles, but the behind-the-scenes parts -- where everyone’s feuding, fighting and fisticuffing over what should and shouldn’t be popped into an article.

By the time you get them in your hands most encyclopedias are yesterday’s news. And at most their articles are penned by one or two people. A Wiki article on the other hand can have dozens of authors and is often updated weekly.

Also, the most knowledgeable among us – our university profs -- whether they realize it or not, often hand you their personal viewpoint on an issue. With Wiki articles, tho, you get three, four, maybe ten people slugging it out, all with different viewpoints. You can even read these juicy slugfests. Just go to the top of any Wiki article, click on the “discussion” tab, and you’ll get a virtual feast of feisty feuding. With this much fun on the Internet who needs TV?

A word of warning, though: don’t trust a Wiki article that’s not backed up by a bibliography of published stuff. Published writers may not always be totally objective, but they try hard to be. Why? ‘Cause if they’re not, no one will publish their stuff any more.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you sometimes feel you can't trust the information you get in books, on TV, radio, newspapers? Have you ever used Wiki?
Thnx to bjearwicke for the fine foto


Pignut said...

Thanks for that, read up a bit. Sounds like the nazi sympathiser story was just a cheap shot.

Regarding Wiki, I love it, been following its progress for years, and it's still incomplete, still innaccurate at times, it's still got puerile obscenities on some pages, but it's growing at a formidable rate. Most of the articles are not controversial, those that are at least get a note in red. I've edited and argued over some pages, and the system works pretty well for impartially getting to the facts of controversial issues (I've lost some arguments on Wikipedia).

A few years ago, I heard a debate in the ivory towers of science (where I worked) about freedom of scientific information. Lots of scientists were getting frustrated that the respected journals where they published were not available to the lay(wo)man, and they would have been happy to give their knowledge away for free (information was often the legal property of a university etc., or only available on subscription databases). I was regularly refused entry to university libraries because I was from the wrong institution (any of this sound familiar Athana?).

Anyway, criticises wikipedia for giving free information (sometimes copyrighted elsewhere), which then gets "scraped" onto other sites, which exist purely to carry adverts. Presumably we should only have expensive copyrighted information instead? (to stop commercialism ?....yeah right). Also complaints about lack of fact checking (all kneel before the "expert").

Getting back to the science info, there are heaps of "junk science" journals that run for 5 issues, publish heavily biased, commercially driven research papers (e.g. "Eating lard and smoking cures cancer" - I'm paraphrasing). Real scientists are generally unaware of this kind of "science" until they see it all over the newspapers, announced as the latest breakthrough.

I have a soft spot for Creationists and Von Danikenites. Like humpty dumpty, I have sometimes believed 100 impossible things before breakfast. The internet spreads a lot of nonsense, but this comes from a lack of viewpoints and information in general. It's good to have somewhere like wikipedia to bring opposing viewpoints together.

Often when you look for a source for something that "everyone knows", you are chasing phantoms e.g. "Eostre was an Anglo-Saxon Goddess with the head of a hare" (or maybe not). "A blue moon is when two full moons happen in the same month (or maybe not)". "The song ring 'o roses is about the black death" (definately not!). Seneca said: "The youth of today have no manners, no respect for their elders or for religion. Heaven knows what they'll be like when they grow up" (or was it Cicero? or Socrates? Or a medieval hermit? or an ancient Sumerian clay tablets? or none of them - why let the truth get in the way of a good story?).

Some of the examples I give above have been in books, and these books have been quoted in other books, it's not just the internet that's to blame here. I have discussed some of these on my web page

To use Eostre as an example, I want to find a reference saying something like: "The heathens worship a goddess called Eostre, she has the head of a hare and is a goddess of both the Spring and the Dawn" signed, Bishop Ethelwulf, 750AD with a reference telling me where to read the whole of Bishop Ethelwulf's memoirs, and where the original scroll is kept.

"It's in a book/webpage so it must be true" is not good enough.

Anne Johnson said...

I call it "Wicked Pedia" and don't trust it for facts. I'm highly biased toward print publications that have to be fact-checked by scholars. I've never read the debate parts, though.

Morgaine said...

Wikipedia is a good general source, but like everything else, you need to know what you're looking for and read with an open but skeptical mind. Wiki has not been kind to the Goddess community, but they do seem to be starting to note that Goddess info is controversial, then give both sides of the controversy, which is the best approach for a neutral source.

Unfortunately, Pignut, Herstory is rarely so easily documented. There's been a 5,000 year campaign to erase our Lady from the public consciousness, and we're left sifting through ashes and rubble. We're piecing the evidence together, intuiting what goes in the gaps, and that's not often taken seriously by academia, but that's not the goal. The goal is to find out where we've been so that we can see where we might go.

Pignut said...

"Unfortunately, Pignut, Herstory is rarely so easily documented. There's been a 5,000 year campaign to erase our Lady from the public consciousness, and we're left sifting through ashes and rubble."

No argument there whatsoever. I've spent a lot of time sifting through the rubble too.

Douglas Adams wrote the following before he died. sums up what I feel about wiki. I found this article while chasing a funny looking fellow under a bridge.

"Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back – like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust – of course you can’t, it’s just people talking – but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV – a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’".

Athana said...

Pignut, "I was regularly refused entry to university libraries because I was from the wrong institution (any of this sound familiar Athana?)."

Actually I've not been refused entry to university libraries here in the U.S. We have a system called "interlibrary loan" here in New England at least, whereby my local library will find any book ever published from whatever library they have to go to in order to get it. The upshot is I've never not been able to get a book I want.

Years ago I even got a library card from one of the libraries at Harvard, undoubtedly one of our more prestigious universities -- even though I wasn't a student there, and even though I wasn't even a resident of MA, the state Harvard's in. And I don't remember even being denied access to any area in that library while I was there.

Athana said...

anne, I daresay the majority would agree with you. It is the current norm to trust print publications "that have to be fact-checked by scholars." But do you know which print sources are fact-checked by scholars? Encyclopedias may be. But do *all* encyclopedias get written and/or fact-checked by *good* and unbiased scholars? Does "Billy-Bob's Giant Discount Encyclopedia" get fact-checked by scholars?

And why don't all encyclopedias agree on "facts"? Why does Britannica say one thing and the World Book another?

And, outside of encyclopedias, do you know how to tell if a book, say, has been fact-checked by scholars? Of course some say they have been. But what about the vast number of others that don't say? Do certain publishing companies pay to have their books fact-checked by scholars before publishing them? If so, which do? Which don't? I don't know the answers to these questions, BTW.

After all this, we get into the question of scholarly bias. Scholars almost never agree on anything. My entire Ph.D. program in anthropology was almost nothing but plowing through all the disagreements tons of scholars had on every single issue you'd care to mention.

Then we get to the question, "What's truth?" (Have I lost you yet?)

Athana said...

morgaine: "There's been a 5,000 year campaign to erase our Lady from the public consciousness...."

Possibly even worse than working like the devil to *erase* evidence of the Goddess is the campaign to twist Her into ugly, demeaning, disgusting shapes that will revolt people. Example: Turning the sacred Mother Goddess riding on her sacred goose into the silly and profane "Mother Goose." Go to my July 26 and 27 2005 posts to see the difference.

pignut said...

Athana, we have interlibrary loan in UK too but it is expensive between university libraries. Students generally get it subsidised, but when I began working as a researcher I was told my employers were only willing to pay for 12 interlibrary loans a year.

If you are not in a university or other institution, getting access to scientific papers is extremely difficult and expensive.

sopka said...

Disney was anti-union and very conservative in political views. Today he would have been an fundie. I do not believe he was a Nazi-sympatiser simply because as a young teenager he ran away from home to be an ambulance driver in the trenches in WWI. he also wished to keep disney land segregated.