"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

1.21.2009

morning in America

Barack Obama has only been president for a day (or two hours, if you're a FOX News lover), and already things are getting better. Not only did the son of the most diverse family in presidential history take the oath of office once again, just to be sure, but Gitmo is well on the way to closing, lobbyists won't get to run the show at the White House, and HE HAS OPENED THE ARCHIVES AGAIN.

Unless you do research for a living, you have no idea what a pain the Bush administration was when it came to freedom of information. They closed records that had previously been open (Seriously. In 2003, I could photocopy documents about U.S. activity in Tanzania in the 1960's, but in 2004, many of those documents had been reclassified and therefore pulled from the files. Never mind that the copies were still sitting in my office.) and kept scholars from getting access to new documents that should have been opened according to the thirty year rule. Why would they do that, you might ask? Well, whose presidency began almost thirty years ago? That should explain it. The Bushies didn't think that scholars should, you know, actually have access to real information about the administration of St. Reagan.

Glory be. Obama's people aren't afraid of transparency. It's a whole new day for those of us who need access to this stuff to do what we do.

In other news from the new era, al-Qaeda's being taken out by the plague (I am not making this up.), I now have a near-perfect example for my "Wikipedia is Not a Valid Source of Information" lecture/rant, there's a super-cool mosaic of the inauguration at the WaPo, Obama has a larger vocabulary than W (thanks, Ben), and The Baylor Lariat actually printed the words "Gay Men's Chorus of Washington" in a story about the Lobbyist.

The times, they are 'a changing.

6 Comments:

Blogger David McCullars said...

You know I have to stick up for Wikipedia ...

The amazing thing about the examples you sent is that both were fixed within 5 minutes of the erroneous change. 5 minutes! Now consider how long it takes to revise a mistake in Encyclopedia Britannica or any other printed reference, textbook, or non-fiction: years, maybe even decades before an updated release. And even then you can't collect up all the false copies and burn them.

What I would love to see some statistician do for a thesis is analyze the probabilities (per unit time) of receiving false information via Wikipedia versus from other sources. I'd be willing to bet money that the probability of obtaining false information at any given moment is no greater with Wikipedia than so called reputable sources.

No, in my mind the reason to discount Wikipedia from being an accepted academic source (and of course it shouldn't be) isn't because it can be edited by any old nutjob or biased fanatic -- it's that it's fluid. An academic source needs to be etched in stone so that anyone can reference it 15 or 30 years from now and know it's the same then as it was at the time it was first referenced. Wikipedia (nor anything on the Internet) can provide this.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 10:13:00 PM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

I am strongly opposed to Wikipedia not because it's inaccurate on major topics like the Kennedys, but rather because it's so wrong on so many more obscure topics - which tend to be the things for which my students want to use it. Published sources are usually peer-reviewed, which means they are far less likely to suffer from errors in the first place. But I'd be willing to be that the 10 people in the world who know more about the eastern DRC than anybody else aren't checking the Wiki entry.

I also think it diminishes the ideal of expertise. There's a reason academics isn't democratic, and I don't apologize for that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 10:18:00 PM

 
Blogger David McCullars said...

I understand and will gladly concede to your expertise as a professional academic.

However, let us all remember there is a fine line between the ideal of expertise for academics and elitism/snobbery. The point of Wikipedia isn't to create a free Encyclopedia Britannica; the motivation is the dream of capturing all human knowledge into a single, well organized source -- and no medium can do that unless it evolves as fast as human knowledge does. Books fail miserably at this task as they are out of date before they hit the press. Of course Wikipedia has a long way to go, but they have made such an amazing amount of progress. The problem, however, is when the 10 people who know the most about the DRC don't bother contributing their knowledge because they think Wikipedia is beneath them. That is elitism, and when that happens we all suffer. I understand academics want to get paid for their hard-earned knowledge -- just like we all do -- but I also believe in a world of free knowledge where sharing that knowledge makes us all better. Who is it who said the truth will set us free?

Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:38:00 AM

 
Blogger Michael said...

I like that he froze the pay of a lot of his senior staff. I thought that was a good gesture. Now to see if the rest of his budget follows that example . . .

Thursday, January 22, 2009 8:41:00 AM

 
Anonymous Sister said...

I love that JP compared the GMCW to his Baylor family at the end of the story!

Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:34:00 PM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

I know!!! Wasn't that the most fantastic thing you've seen? Now I'm just wondering if they'll let him stay in charge of the intern welcoming program. He hosts a thing for new Baylor interns in DC and introduces them to "typical Baylor alums working in DC" - which usually means Cole, Tasha, and a couple other of our friends. He always has to scramble to find a Republican.

Thursday, January 22, 2009 1:16:00 PM

 

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