Reflections on “Wikipedia Policies Limit Editing Haymarket Bombing” by Steve Inskeep

I’ve commented elsewhere on Wiki Wars (aka “Editing Wars”), Wikipedia’s response–or reaction–in imposing their Five Pillars Policy, and the usefulness of the Talk and Contributions tabs in determining the credibility of an article.

I’d argue for a “Back to Basics” approach. This would entail embedding source documents in Wikipedia–primary documents, and spinning a web of links off the content that could be rank-ordered by a Google-like algorithm. The latter would serve as a truth heuristic–a good but not perfect metric.

Recall that Berners-Lee had an editor built into his archetypal browser, and a mechanism to encode authorship that was stripped out of mainstream browsers. The same thing happened to Kemeny with popular versions of his BASIC programming language–prompting him to write a book entitled True BASIC years later.

Ted Nelson envisioned a side-by-side view of linked documents–with a sort of visual “credibility index” conveyed by the closeness of a related document image to the source. Unfortunately, his Xanadu vision was superseded by the web–and remains unimplemented.

Perhaps we need a Great Books curriculum–as advocated by Jefferson, Erskine and Adler. My father was so repulsed by my high school history text that I came home on day and found it replaced by Commager’s Documents of American History. (The first and last book I ever lent out–never to come back to me. As they say–if you lend a book you’ve given it away.)

My mom agreed and wanted me to consider St. John’s College for their “Great Books curriculum), informing me that Hugh Downs went there (though I just checked Wikipedia and discovered after 50 years that she was incorrect).

So, a lot of the banter coming through to me in this piece is reminiscent of the ongoing debate over the use of textbooks and secondary–even tertiary sources in K-16 education.

I recall an English teacher admit in lecture that she’d checked her interpretation of a passage against the definitive version given in Monarch Notes.

Of course I have to admit–I went out and bought them too.


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