Thursday, September 14, 2006

Intellectual Snobbery

Via boing boing I saw that the Wall Street Journal Online had a debate between Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales and the Encylopaedia Britiannicas Dale Hoiberg:

Will Wikipedia mean the end of Traditional Encyclopaedias

The contents of which was fairly predictable until the end when Dale Hoiberg started recommending his guidelines for the limits of knowledge:

Anyone who works on an encyclopedia for any length of time understands the hazard in this: the whole endeavor can easily spin out of control as you try to take in everything that has ever been known, thought, or said. It's an impulse that should be resisted because it produces work without direction or focus.

Which made me think - who's direction and focus. It's an encyclopaedia - it's supposed to provide me with the information I've decided I want to know about. It's not supposed to be a social commentary on the world.

And later:
Most of us don't need all the information in the world. We need information that yields knowledge - a practical and enlightened understanding of ourselves and the world we live in

Which makes me think - who's deciding what this enlightened understanding should be in his mind.

I recognise the usefulness of formal Encyclopaedia's but I like being able to see the drafts and discussions around an article. Whenever I look up something in Wikipedia I always check the discussion page to find the context in which it has been printed. This is not something a traditional Encyclopedia model allows.

I am willing to believe that the statements above do not really mean that Dale Hoiberg believes that he has the right to impose his view of what information is worth while knowing on the world. I do think that possibly he should be more careful his use of language.

Maybe this is supposed to be publicity for the Britannica...

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