Gorman Rants, Again

Updated below.

Michael Gorman, self appointed Poobah of the Kranky Old Geezers of the Library World * has a new rant up about how the Internet and blogs are making us stupid at, of all places, the Britannica Blog. He starts off with a straw man so huge, the denizens of a small island off the coast of Scotland have already gathered around it, stuffed it with Edward Woodward and are fetching the torches as we speak:

The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise. Bloggers are called “citizen journalists”; alternatives to Western medicine are increasingly popular, though we can thank our stars there is no discernable “citizen surgeon” movement; millions of Americans are believers in Biblical inerrancy—the belief that every word in the Bible is both true and the literal word of God, something that, among other things, pits faith against carbon dating; and, scientific truths on such matters as medical research, accepted by all mainstream scientists, are rejected by substantial numbers of citizens and many in politics.

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s Dr. Nathan Null, “a White House Situational Science Adviser,” tells us that: “Situational science is about respecting both sides of a scientific argument, not just the one supported by facts.” This is satire, of course, but hardly too broad in a time when school boards aim “intelligent design” (creationism with lipstick on) at the minds of schoolchildren and powerful interests deny the very existence of catastrophic human-caused global climate change. These are evidence of a tide of credulity and misinformation that can only be countered by a culture of respect for authenticity and expertise in all scholarly, research, and educational endeavors.

For a man opposed to Burst Culture, he sure doesn’t waste time with any long winded preambles. But take a gander at that frame: it’s so gaudy it should be around a Da Vinci painting. “Citizen Journalists” (us bloggers) are in the same category as Barber Surgeons, Flat Earthers and Creationists. Nice, huh? How he thinks Bloggers or the Internet are to blame for Intelligent Design/Creationism or the popularity of Alternative Medicine is a mystery, one he doesn’t bother to explain. These have been around far longer than the Internet, as long as his beloved “Expert Culture” has, if not longer. If the freekin’ Enlightenment didn’t drive them away what makes him think the Internet can? Or that it should?

Gorman goes on to wax poetic about Goya’s etching, The sleep of reason brings forth monsters and how he knew about it because he did hours of laborious research in authoritative texts. For those who don’t have hours to indulge their hobby researching famous artwork, you can read the Wikipedia article. It covers the exact same information and probably from the same sources. He does admit that “Print does not necessarily bestow authenticity,” pauses to imply that electronic sources don’t either and then adds, “The task before us is to extend into the digital world the virtues of authenticity, expertise, and scholarly apparatus that have evolved over the 500 years of print, virtues often absent in the manuscript age that preceded print.”

To which I would agree. Except his apparent method for making the Internet better is to whine and bitch about how it didn’t leap, fully formed and authoritative from the forehead of Jupiter (see Mike, we bloggers aren’t all illiterate).

Nothing could be easier than improving the Internet. If you want to make electronic resources more authoritative, make Britannica better. Start an Authoritative version of Wikipedia, devoted to Goya, or whatever it is that has your knickers in a knot. But complaining about how the Model T doesn’t work as well as the solar powered hover car in your head isn’t going to improve how the Model T preforms. You want to make it better, then roll up your sleeves, learn some HTML and get to work. But have realistic expectations. Britannica is not the model of Authoritative resourcing Gorman and other worshipers of the Almighty Subject Heading wish it were. And neither is Wikipedia. But Wikipedia isn’t claiming to be Authoritative. It’s claiming to be what it is: a work in progress.

Link via Boing Boing.


Part 2 is up and Gorman’s not making any stronger arguments:

He [Jaron Lanier] defines this “new online collectivism” as “nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force.” This “wisdom of the crowds” and “hive mind” mentality is a direct assault on the tradition of individualism in scholarship that has been paramount in Western societies at least since the Renaissance and, before then, can be seen in the Church Fathers and the Greek philosophers, among others.

Nothing like a bit of the old, “Are you trying to make baby Jesus cry with your dirty hippie collectivism?” to make an argument really sing. It’s anti-Communism, of all things. Look, Wikipedia (and let’s be honest, his whole beef is against the Wiki and Open Source model) and the whole much touted Web 2.0 (which is just like Web 1.0, but with Youtube) is based on the good old Authoratative model called Peer Review. If you are on the web, you are a peer. You get to contribute along with everyone else. Which is of course Michael Gorman’s problem. The Web has information on it not sanctioned by Michael Gorman or just the small circle of like-minded librarians.

Gorman goes on to talk about the Cult of the Amateur, which, “…’worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer.’,” the independent academic. ” ‘It suggests that everyone—even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us—can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves.’.”

Which is one of the basic tenants of Democracy. The unwashed masses get a voice. They can contribute, not just consume. People, academics and plumbers, have a forum on the Internet in which to enlarge their ideas through debate and discussion, to share information and develop new areas of research that meets the needs of people better because people, all people are involved in defining it. Not just a small group of cloistered savants with two left feet who are uninvolved in the popular culture that makes up our lives.

Michael Gorman doesn’t think you are smart enough or educated enough to contribute anything meaningful to the culture at large.*

12 thoughts on “Gorman Rants, Again”

  1. Most of the foundation discoveries of science prior to the 20th century were made by “rank amateurs” who had the time and money to pursue their interests.

    I received a degree in “Computer Science” after the fact, because there were no academic programs for computers when I started working in the field. The people in the lead had engineering degrees, or math degrees, when they had any degree at all. Steve Wozniak went back to college to get his degree after he cashed out at Apple, having designed the original Apple and the MacIntosh.

    The interest in the subject matter is as or more important than formal education. If you require formal education, credentials, first, nothing new would ever be discovered.

  2. He also assumes that experts aren’t contributing to projects like Wikipedia and Open Source software development. Just because anyone can contribute, it doesn’t mean it’s only amateurs.

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