Not satisfied with mangling facts and figures about Google, Information Retrieval Systems or the Internet in general, in his latest rant, Michael Gorman sets his sights on the big fish: Wikipedia. It’s really always been about Wikipedia for him. Trashing Google, bloggers, and Burst Culture is just a side project. He’s really pissed off about Wikipedia and what it does to authoritative credibility in general but his in particular. As his posts have been hosted thus far by the Britannica Blog, that’s no real surprise, seeing as how they’re primary competition comes form Wikipedia:
All the central institutions of Western society have responded in a similarly reactive and alarmed manner. Many of these institutions are driven by the middle aged and old acting in a domain that is widely perceived to be the province of the young. This discontinuity is not helped by reliance on a series of urban myths about the supposed uniqueness of the young generation based on the idea that its members have no useful memory of the pre-Web life. Let us leave aside the fact that the “uniqueness of the young” has been proclaimed every 15 years or so for almost the past centuryâ€”from the energetic flappers of the1920s to the lethargic slackers of the 1990s.
He’s finally become that stereotypical cranky old man, ranting about young people on his lawn. And flappers. I’m not going to parse the rest of his two part rumination on why Wikipedia, and by extension the whole entire Web, sucks. And flappers. It’s more of what we’ve already seen: over simplifications, generalizations and straw men of unusual size.
Wikipedia works. This isn’t just a fan speaking, or some dirty webified Youtubian. I did graduate work on Wikipedia and found that it works pretty well, applying the peer-review concept on a larger scale. An article published in Nature two years ago reached the same conclusion: Wikipedia is just as good as Britannica in most places, better in some but could use a little more attention paid to the more complex, technical articles, a fact that Wikipedians have mentioned and addressed frequently. And, as we say on the Web, it’s just as easy to fix Wikipedia as it is to bitch about what’s wrong with it. But of course, Wikipedia won’t cut Gorman a check for his work, so why bother? No pay, no play for our Serious Academic.
Michael Gorman is still showing his ass to the world over at Britannica Blog. This time he demonstrates that he hasn’t got a clue how Google works:
Information retrieval systems have been studied for many decades. In the course of that study two important criteria have been developed to evaluate such systemsâ€”those criteria are recall and relevance. The first measures the percentage of pertinent documents retrieved from a database (for example, if there are 100 documents on Zambian agriculture in a database and a search on that topic retrieves 76 of them, the recall is 76%). The second measures the supposed appropriateness of the documents that have been retrieved (for example, if you retrieve 100 documents when searching for Zambian agriculture and 76 of them are actually about Zambian agriculture, the relevance is 76%).
Information retrieval systems achieve high recall and relevance rates by the use of controlled vocabularies (indexing terms, etc.) and present the results of complex searches in a meaningful and usable order. By any of these criteria, Google and its like are miserable failures. A search on those engines on anything but the most minutely detailed topic will yield many thousands of “results” in no useful order and with wretched recall and relevance ratios. However, even when the documents retrieved by a search engine are on the subject sought, the quality of the material – often community-generated material that pops up high on a hit list because the material is free and easily accessible â€” is shoddy or irresponsible.
Let’s unpack some of the misconceptions that Gorman is, once again spreading heedlessly.
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 inerrancyâ€”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?