aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, April 16, 2006
A Wikipedia error to ponder
I’ve been a farily ardent defender of Wikipedia on accuracy, placing it in the context of a new oral tradition. But I’ve also said that it’s important to look critically at Wikipedia from within an understanding of what it is and what it aims to do.
Danah Boyd’s experience raises some great questions today:
A month ago, a discussion emerged in the Talk section about whether or not i was notable and then i was nominated for deletion. My colleagues (who are also dear friends) were accused of crafting a vanity page. People wanted “proof” that i was notable; they wanted proof of every aspect of my profile. Then, when people in my field stood up for my entry in the discussion for deletion, they were attacked for not being Wikipedians. This was really intriguing to me, especially when Barry Wellman (who is an expert on social networks and online interaction) stood up for me. (I was completely honored.) Wikipedia is not prepared to handle domain experts. Of course, this is a difficult issue - how do you know someone is a domain expert? Still, something felt strange about the whole thing.
As the conversation progressed, people started editing my profile. While the earlier profile felt weird, the current profile is downright problematic. There are little mistakes (examples: my name is capitalized; there is an extra ‘l’ in my middle name; i was born in 1977; my blog is called Apophenia). There are other mistakes because mainstream media wrote something inaccurate and Wikipedia is unable to correct it (examples: i was on Epix not Compuserv and my mother didn’t have an account; i was not associated with the people at Friendster; i didn’t take the name Boyd immediately after Mattas and it didn’t happen right after my mother’s divorce; i didn’t transfer to MIT - i went to grad school at the MIT Media Lab; i’m not a cultural anthropologist). Then there are also disconcerting framing issues - apparently my notability rests on my presence in mainstream media and i’m a cultural anthropologist because it said so on TV. Good grief.
Why does mainstream media play such a significant role in the Wikipedia validation process?
At tax time, hire a professional
That’s what the people who write the tax laws do:
When it comes to their own tax returns, many members of Congress who specialize in writing tax laws turn to professional preparers rather than completing the paperwork themselves.
“It’s onerous and everybody knows it,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.
Three of the four top lawmakers on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, which are in charge of writing tax laws, pay a professional to file their annual tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.
The “Pioneers” and today’s illegal immigrants
Eduardo MoisÃƒÂ©s PeÃƒÂ±alver, an associate professor at Fordham Law School, in the WaPo today:
A number of the politicians calling for the criminalization of illegal immigrants may not be aware that they and a good many of their constituents could themselves be direct descendants of people who did some illegal migrating of their own many years ago. Much of the territory of the United States was settled by people—hundreds of thousands of them—who disregarded the law by squatting on public lands.
Of course, they had a ready reason for doing so: Like today’s immigrants, they were seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Indeed, many of the current residents of the states between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains can trace their roots directly to these onetime criminals—whom we now call “pioneers.” [...]
Eastern politicians...condemned the squatters’ defiance of federal law. They accused squatters of being “greedy, lawless land grabbers” who had no respect for law and order. In 1815 President James Madison issued a proclamation warning “uninformed or evil disposed persons . . . who have unlawfully taken possession of or made any settlement on the public lands . . . to remove therefrom” or face ejection by the Army and criminal prosecution. Henry Clay expressed a widely shared sentiment in 1838 when he dismissed the squatters as a “lawless rabble.”
But once the squatters managed to put down roots, the federal government found it difficult, both politically and practically, to remove them. Accordingly, on 39 occasions before 1837, Congress enacted retroactive amnesties for squatters illegally occupying federal lands, despite the objection that these amounted to a reward for lawlessness. Ultimately the process of moving from occupation to ownership was fully legalized in the 1862 Homestead Act, which granted free title to settlers who met the statute’s residency and improvement requirements. In one of the great ironies of American history, the lawless squatters underwent a dramatic image makeover in our collective memory to become noble pioneers.
Via David Shraub.
Daniel Gilbert says, “The human brain knows many tricks that allow it to consider evidence, weigh facts and still reach precisely the conclusion it favors.” Then he points to some research to demonstrate it:
Two psychologists, Peter Ditto and David Lopez, told subjects that they were being tested for a dangerous enzyme deficiency. Subjects placed a drop of saliva on a test strip and waited to see if it turned green. Some subjects were told that the strip would turn green if they had the deficiency, and others were told that the strip would turn green if they did not. In fact, the strip was just an ordinary piece of paper that never changed color.
So how long did subjects stare at the strip before accepting its conclusion? Those who were hoping to see the strip turn green waited a lot longer than those who were hoping not to. Good news may travel slowly, but people are willing to wait for it to arrive.
The same researchers asked subjects to evaluate a student’s intelligence by examining information about him one piece at a time. The information was quite damning, and subjects were told they could stop examining it as soon as they’d reached a firm conclusion. Results showed that when subjects liked the student they were evaluating, they turned over one card after another, searching for the one piece of information that might allow them to say something nice about him. But when they disliked the student, they turned over a few cards, shrugged and called it a day.
Much of what happens in the brain is not evident to the brain itself, and thus people are better at playing these sorts of tricks on themselves than at catching themselves in the act. People realize that humans deceive themselves, of course, but they don’t seem to realize that they too are human.
That’s only half the story, “Research shows that while people underestimate the influence of self-interest on their own judgments and decisions, they overestimate its influence on others.” Read the whole piece.