Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wikipedia vs. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Remember the news@Nature study that compared Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and found that the two were almost equally matched in terms of accuracy?

EB responded, saying the research was "Fatally flawed", to which Nature said it wasn't. While Nature and EB were swapping hate-pdf's, (I do think it would show more class if they'd behave more like gentlemen and publish their argumentation as books. So sad the world is too fast-paced for such gentlemanly behaviour...) the media and all sorts of wise-noses started debating on the issue.

What is the point of old-fashioned print-publishing, is there any credibility in on-line publications? Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning, and which one of the two media is at the thin end of the wedge? Someone pointed out that Wikipedia actually has an entry for Encyclopaedia Britannica, but the EB doesn't yet have an entry for Wikipedia. Funny...

What I found today was even more hilarious (I know it's not actually even funny, but for boring people the smallest speck of comedy will be a laugh). Some entries in Wikipedia are actually copies or adaptations of articles originally published in the EB. If Wikipedia has got it's facts right, the US copyright law states that the copyright term is 95 years for corporate authorship. This makes the 11th edition of EB from 1911 now public domain!

I was looking for more information about strophes and antistrophes, and Greek poetry in general, as I wanted to know more about the structure of Euripides' plays. I have to say, his plays are pretty tough, and those Greek gods are guite a bunch of a**holes, to be frank. :-) Euripides wasn't holding it back. He must have had a pretty dark imagination to come up with all these schemes... And you can see his ideas and turns of plots being utilised in every Tarantino movie and sick Korean flick about revenge and suffering. That's imitation, or even plagiarism and watered-down as that. It's all been said over 2000 years ago, which is sad in a way (any new ideas, anyone?), but since it also means it is public domain, what can you do?

Oh, about writing books as a way of arguing. My favourite example is the debate about studying cognition, figuring out the inner workings of The Human Mind. Steven Pinker, of Harvard University, wrote a book "How the Mind Works", in which he, according to his humble website, provides a "grand synthesis of the most satisfying explanations of our mental life that have been proposed in cognitive science and evolutionary biology, with insights from disciplines ranging from neuroscience to economics and social psychology. [The book] is also fascinating, provocative, and thoroughly entertaining." Pinker's book was published in 1997. Right after that, in 2000, another cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor published a book called "The Mind Doesn't Work That Way", where he criticises cognitive science, including Pinker, for getting some of the epistemological issues fundamentally wrong. Pinker has been publishing stuff since then, but to my disappointment, none of it is titled "Does too!".

(Pic: Penguin Classics cover of Euripides' "The Bacchae and other plays", from

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