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  • D-Brief shares rare video of beaked whales on the move.

  • Dangerous Minds notes that someone has actually begun selling unauthorized action figures of Trump Administration figures like Bannon and Spencer.

  • Language Log looks at a linguistic feature of Emma Watson's quote, her ending it with a preposition.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen considers, originally for Bloomberg View, if Trump could be seen as a placebo for what ails America.

  • The New APPS Blog takes a Marxist angle on the issue of big data, from the perspective of (among other things) primitive accumulation.

  • The Search reports on the phenomenon of the Women's History Month Wikipedia edit-a-thon, aiming to literally increase the representation of notable women on Wikipedia.

  • Towleroad notes the six men who will be stars of a new Fire Island reality television show.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy finds some merit in Ben Carson's description of American slaves as immigrants.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that Belarusians are beginning to mobilize against their government and suggests they are already making headway.

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  • Centauri Dreams looks at the advanced microelectronics that might last a space probe the two decades it would take to get to Proxima Centauri.

  • Dangerous Minds links to a 1980 filmed concert performance by Queen.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on the discovery of potassium in the atmosphere of WASP-17b.

  • Language Hat looks at the Carmina of Optatianus, an interesting piece of Latin literature.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reports on the shameless anti-democratic maneuvering of the Republicans in North Carolina.

  • The LRB Blog reflects on the shamelessness of the perpetrators of the Aleppo massacres.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at what Charles Darwin's reading habits have to say about the man's process of research.

  • North!'s Justin Petrone looks at the elves of Estonia.

  • The NYRB Daily praises the new movie Manchester by the Sea.

  • The Planetary Society Blog shares a recent photo of Phobos.

  • Peter Rukavina argues that the Island's low PISA scores do not necessarily reflect on what Islanders have learned.

  • Savage Minds shares an essay by someone who combines academic work with library work.

  • Torontoist notes the city's subsidies to some major water polluters.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the anniversary of some important riots in Kazakhstan.

  • Arnold Zwicky reflects on the penguin-related caption of a photo on Wikipedia that has made the world laugh.

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Vice's Mike Pearl interviews Wikipedia editor Victor Grigas to examine Wikipedia's strategies for exposing fraud.

VICE: How'd you get into writing about fake news?
Victor Grigas: Chicago stuff is what I write about, and I had all these friends who were like, "This is bullshit, man!" when Trump got elected. And I was like, "Send your [protest] photos in!" I had one friend who did, and I uploaded them. [So] I'm pretty happy with where [Wikipedia's articles about Trump protests have] gone. But in the process of researching it, if you type in "Trump protests," you'll find these fake news articles that say there were people paid, and it's crazy! If you actually read the fake news articles, they'll cite this one YouTube video of a dash cam camera driving in Chicago past a bunch of buses. So it's like, "Oh, because these buses are here, they've bused in protesters from everywhere!"

Is that claim backed up by any sources Wikipedia considers reliable?
It's total nonsense with no basis whatsoever! But they're writing this to feed whatever beast. I don't know if they're writing it just to make money, or if there's a political incentive. I have no fucking clue, but it's obviously not reliable. But for some reason it's coming up near the top of my Google searches, which is really infuriating. So I want to make sure that when people read about these things, they know they're not there.

Does the existence of this fake news merit its own inclusion in well-sourced articles?
At the bottom of the page about the protests, there's one or two lines about [fake news]. And I got into a little bit of an editing conflict about that because I tried using the fake news site as a source about the fake news. They deleted what I wrote, and I think the line was "awful reference!" and it got deleted right away, automatically without reading or trying to understand what I was trying to do about it.

So when veteran Wikipedia editors aren't around, what happens when an article shows up based on fake news?
There's a lot of policing that happens on Wikipedia, which people see as a real barrier to entry to get started, because there's a huge learning curve. One of the aspects of that learning curve is what you're allowed to write, basically. And it takes a little bit of patience to figure out how to make it work. So one of the things that happens is you start editing and stuff gets deleted like that.

What kind of stuff do you mean?
If you start [sourcing] like a blog, or a personal site, or something like that, it's gonna bite the dust real fast. People are gonna take it out, and they're gonna point you to the reason why they took it out, usually.
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  • The Inter Press Service suggests climate change is contributing to a severe drought in Nicaragua.

  • Reuters notes China's plan to implement sanctions against North Korea.

  • Atlas Obscura explores the now-defunct medium of vinyl movies.

  • Science goes into detail about the findings that many pre-contact American populations did not survive conquest at all.

  • CBC notes evidence that salmon prefer dark-walled tanks.

  • Universe Today notes the discovery of a spinning neutron star in the Andromeda Galaxy.

  • Vice's Motherboard notes how Angolan users of free limited-access internet sites are sharing files through Wikipedia.

  • MacLean's notes how an ordinary British Columbia man's boudoir photos for his wife have led to a modelling gig.

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Wired's Cade Metz notes Wikipedia's evolution in recent years, for good and for ill.

Today, Wikipedia celebrates its fifteenth birthday. In Internet years, that’s pretty old. But “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit” is different from services like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Though Wikipedia has long been one of the Internet’s most popular sites—a force that decimated institutions like the Encyclopedia Britannica—it’s only just reaching maturity.

The site’s defining moment, it turns out, came about a decade ago, when Stephen Colbert coined the term “Wikiality.” In a 2006 episode The Colbert Report, the comedian spotlighted Wikipedia’s most obvious weakness: With a crowdsourced encyclopedia, we run the risk of a small group of people—or even a single person—bending reality to suit their particular opinions or attitudes or motivations.

“Any user can change any entry, and if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true,” Colbert said, before ironically praising Wikipedia in a way that exposed one of its biggest flaws. “Who is Britannica to tell me that George Washington had slaves? If I want to say he didn’t, that’s my right. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, it’s also a fact. We should apply these principles to all information. All we need to do is convince a majority of people that some factoid is true.”

Fifteen years on, Wikipedia is approaching an equilibrium.

To prove his point, Colbert invited viewers to add incorrect information to Wikipedia’s article on elephants. And they did. In the end, this wonderfully clever piece of participatory social commentary sparked a response from Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder and figurehead-in-chief. At the 2006 Wikimania—an annual gathering of Wikipedia’s core editors and administrators—Wales signaled a shift in the site’s priorities, saying the community would put a greater emphasis on the quality of its articles, as opposed to the quantity. “We’re going from the era of growth to the era of quality,” Wales told the The New York Times.

And that’s just what happened. The site’s administrators redoubled efforts to stop site vandalism, to prevent the kind of “truthiness” Colbert had satirized. In many ways, it worked. “There was a major switch,” says Aaron Halfaker, a researcher with the Wikimedia Foundation, the not-profit that oversees Wikipedia. Volunteers policed pages with a greater vigor and, generally speaking, became more wary of anyone who wasn’t already a part of the community. The article on elephants is still “protected” from unknown editors.
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Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen linked to the preprint of an upcoming paper, by Halfaker et al., "The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System:
How Wikipedia’s reaction to popularity is causing its decline"
.

Open collaboration systems like Wikipedia need to maintain a pool of volunteer contributors in order to remain relevant. Wikipedia was created through a tremendous number of contributions by millions of contributors. However, recent research has shown that the number of active contributors in Wikipedia has been declining steadily for years, and suggests that a sharp decline in the retention of newcomers is the cause. This paper presents data that show that several changes the Wikipedia community made to manage quality and consistency in the face of a massive growth in participation have ironically crippled the very growth they were designed to manage. Specifically, the restrictiveness of the encyclopedia’s primary quality control mechanism and the algorithmic tools used to reject contributions are implicated as key causes of decreased newcomer retention. Further, the community’s formal mechanisms for norm articulation are shown to have calcified against changes – especially changes proposed by newer editors.
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Wikipedia's development of AI editors, noted by Wired's Cade Metz, worries me. If AIs will work there, what role will humans have?

Aaron Halfaker just built an artificial intelligence engine designed to automatically analyze changes to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia anyone can edit. In crowdsourcing the creation of an encyclopedia, the not-for-profit website forever changed the way we get information. It’s among the ten most-visited sites on the Internet, and it has swept tomes like World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica into the dustbin of history. But it’s not without flaws. If anyone can edit Wikipedia, anyone can mistakenly add bogus information. And anyone can vandalize the site, purposefully adding bogus information. Halfaker, a senior research scientist at the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that oversees Wikipedia, built his AI engine as a way of identifying such vandalism.

In one sense, this means less work for the volunteer editors who police Wikipedia’s articles. And it might seem like a step toward phasing these editors out, another example of AI replacing humans. But Halfaker’s project is actually an effort to increase human participation in Wikipedia. Although some predict that AI and robotics will replace as much as 47 percent of our jobs over the next 20 years, others believe that AI will also create a significant number of new jobs. This project is at least a small example of that dynamic at work.

“This project is one attempt to bring back the human element,” says Dario Taraborelli, Wikimedia’s head of research, “to allocate human attention where it’s most needed.”
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  • Gerry Canavan shares his collection of links.

  • Centauri Dreams reacts to the discovery of a polar cap at Charon.

  • Language Log considers rhoticity and class in New York City.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money examines Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell from a productive intellectual property perspective.

  • Marginal Revolution wonders if Wikipedia will survive the displacement of the personal computers used by contributors by mobiles.

  • Steve Munro looks at the latest on the Yonge relief line.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer compares Greece to the Baltic States and Slovakia, and notes the depth of the Greek collapse.

  • The Planetary Society Blog's Emily Lakdawalla shares the latest from New Horizons
  • .
  • The Russian Demographics Blog reports on censuses in British India.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the intense anti-Americanism of Russia.

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  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper examining how volatiles like water get transported to nascent rocky planets in circumstellar habitable zones.

  • The Dragon's Tales looks at 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft of Japan, India, and Turkey.

  • Imageo shares photos of the breaking ice on the Arctic Ocean.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that Russia's anti-gay Vitaly Milonov is castigating Russia's Eurovision contestant for being polite to Conchita Wurst.

  • Language Hat links to a report of a gathering of poloyglots in Berlin.

  • The Numerati's Stephen Baker describes why and how he got his Wikipedia biography edited.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw writes about his profound interest in stories of all kinds.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that there are still no good economic explanations for the scramble for Africa.

  • Spacing maps Canada's various land types.

  • The Transit Toronto blog shares the TTC's explanation for yesterday's transit outage.

  • Window on Eurasia shares a Tatar academic's argument that Russians are fundamentally not Europeans, much like Tatars.

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  • blogTO notes a running race this summer sponsored by Nike on the Toronto Islands.

  • Centauri Dreams argues that the sustainability of technological civilizations should be taken into account by the Drake equation.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes that a F-117 downed by Serbia in 1999 ended up sparking a Russian technological revolution.

  • Joe. My. God. notes the release of Windows 10, while Wave Without A Shore's C.J. Cherryh is unexcited.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money makes an argument against law school.

  • Marginal Revolution notes Venezuela is massively in debt to China.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes 3-D printed houses are not yet economically competitive with conventional constructions.

  • Torontoist looks at now-demolished Stollery's at Yonge and Bloor.

  • Towelroad notes that Chilean legislators have passed a civil unions bill.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia sees Europe through the perspective of a pre-1914 imperialist, wonders if a Mongolian shift to the traditional script will cut off ties with Mongol peoples in Russia, and notes that a Belarusian national church is still some ways off.

  • Writing Through the Fog shares beautiful pictures from Hawai'i.

  • Zero Geography's Mark Graham examines "informational magnetism" on Wikipedia.

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  • Centauri Dreams reports that an astronomy project is set to begin to look for planets around Proxima Centauri, the third red dwarf component of the Alpha Centauri system, via eclipses of the star.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on a bright superjovian in a distant orbit around young red dwarf GU Pisces.

  • The Dragon's Tale links to a paper suggesting that Earth-like worlds can remain broadly habitable without stabilizing moons like ours.

  • Geocurrents' Martin Lewis engages with Wikipedia maps of the world by religion.

  • Language Log's Julie Sedivy engages with an interesting new app for speed reading.

  • Marginal Revolution notes that apparently Cornwall and Wales are poorer than some new European Union member-states. Proof of European convergence as much as of British disparities?

  • At the Planetary Society Blog, Marc Rayman explains how the Dawn probe will slowly decelerate into orbit about Ceres next year.

  • Towleroad quotes from Monica Lewinsky's new Vanity Fair feature, explaining her empathy with victims of bullying like Tyler Clementi.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy links to an apparent Russian government report claiming, contra public statements, that there was only 30% turnout in the referendum on attaching Crimea to Russia and only 15% supporting the notion.

  • Window on Eurasia links to an author arguing that the Ukrainian crisis has destabilized Putin's schedule for Eurasian integration.

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  • Daniel Drezner notes, using as an example the controversial Keystone pipeline, that interest group political movements inevitably become compromised whenever they encounter politicians not beholden to said (here, Kerry's beliefs).

  • Eastern Approaches notes the continued rivalry between contending political factions in Georgia.

  • Language Log analyses a recent photo of Vietnamese written in Chinese script. What does the odd character order mean?

  • Marginal Revolution notes that poor soil conditions in much of Africa inhibit economic development.

  • In a guest post at the Planetary Society Blog, Bill Dunford describes, in photos and words, some of the more evocatively-named features on other worlds.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer makes the case that there is no such thing as a resource curse, just bad governance.

  • Torontoist notes that Fort York's new visitor centre is under contstruction.

  • Understanding Society's Daniel Little describes an interesting-sounding conference in China on rural economic development, one that features an actual visit to an up-and-coming rural cooperative.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell visits the David Bowie exhibit in London and considers Bowie as pioneering a sort of post-colonial modernity that the United Kingdom hadn't had until that point.

  • Zero Geography's Mark Graham maps controversial articles in different versions of Wikipedia.

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  • Bag News Notes examines the use of a stock photo of some Dutch immigrant youths to illustrate a variety of different alarming articles.

  • Crasstalk's Maxichamp introduces readers to the Port Chicago disaster during the Second World War, which incidentally led to a notable civil rights case.

  • Daniel Drezner didn't find many surprises with the terms of the Cypriot bailout and notes that Russian disinterest in bailing Cyprus out underlines the extent to which it's a status quo, non-revisionist power.

  • At A Fistful of Euros, Edward Hugh speculates that the current trend of emigration from Spain may put the Spanish health and pension systems at risk, especially inasmuch as Spain needs skilled labour to boost its productivity.

  • A Geocurrents comparison of Bolivia with Ecuador, two Andean republics with large indigenous populations and radical governments, underlines the differences (Ecuador's government draws its support from the coastal Hispanophone majority and is somewhat hostile to the indigenous minority of the interior).

  • Language Hat links to a site describing the small languages of Russia.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen seems much more worried about the outcomes of the Cypriot bailout than Drezner.

  • Whatever's John Scalzi notes the unsustainability of Ohio's current constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, legally and in terms of popular opinion, and suggests it indicates current patterns of change.

  • Window on Eurasia's Paul Goble notes that the Moldovan enclave of Gagauzia, an autonomous Turkic-populated district, wants a voice in Moldovan foreign policy.

  • Zero Geography's Mark Graham notes the proportion of edits to geotagged English-language Wikipedia articles coming from users in the relevant countries. There are significant variations, with African articles being largely maintained by non-national users.

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  • Anders Sandberg argues that there are good reasons to think that, even embedded in hive minds, individuals may keep some measure of privacy.

  • James Bow found Legoland Toronto, in Vaughan Mills, disappointing. A pity; Vaughan is so much closer for me than Niagara Falls.

  • Crooked Timber's Daniel Davies posts another choose-your-own-adventure-style guide to the latest iteration of the Eurozone crisis, this one focusing on Cyprus.

  • Daniel Drezner claims that the lack of bank runs, stock market collapses, or much else after the announcement of the Cypriot bank account haircut shows that the global financial system is more stable and mature than estimated.

  • The Dragon's Tales Will Baird announces that the Neandertal genome is online and publically available.

  • Geocurrents maps the various expensive and (likely) failed water-related geoengineering projects of Turkmenistan.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer thinks that the risks behind Japan's mining of methane hydrates on the seafloor make such activity dangerous, but also thinks natural gas costs are such that it won't be viable.

  • Torontoist covers a Syrian-Canadian protest calling for intervention in the Syrian civil war.

  • Understanding Society's Daniel Little considers the ways in which black Americans fare more poorly than their white counterparts, noting that explicit racial animus is not necessary.

  • Zero Geography maps the origins of edits to Wikipedia's Egypt pages.

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  • Sociologist Dan Hirschman is unimpressed by Mark Regnerus' claim that porn viewing predisposes heterosexual men to support same-sex marriage. Yes, it's actually a causal claim.

  • Centauri Dreams' Paul Gilster notes a new method for detecting planets, one relying on patterns in the dust clouds orbiting stars.

  • At Crooked Timber, Daniel Davies uses a metaphor to explore the insufficient nature of criticisms of religion to believers. Who, after all, believes in Canada?

  • Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok takes issue with the New York Times' claims that its coverage of poor conditions at Chinese factories have led to improved wages. In actual fact, wages have been increasing for a decade as part of China's growth.

  • At Registan, Myles G. Smith notes the extent to which the Kazakh-language Wikipedia appears to be dominated by state-sponsored volunteers.

  • Torontoist recounts the successful restoration of a decrepit building downtown on Yonge Street.

  • Window on Eurasia notes Russian commentary on regionalism in the eastern Latvian region of Latgale.

  • Wonkman tells us why we should care about Susan Sontag--her controversial 1982 suggestion that the left got it wrong on Communism speaks to an admirable intellectual honesty.

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  • 80 Beats notes the testing, in California, of a new biodiesel fuel produced by algae.

  • James Bow interviews Gerard Kennedy, candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Ontario.

  • Crooked Timber's Corey Robin takes agency with the Spielberg film Lincoln's portrayal of slaves as having an ahistorical lack of agency. (Also, Tony Kushner's perspective on Reconstruction is distressing.)

  • Daniel Drezner speculates on what's going on in the Middle East, noting (among other things) that the evolution of Middle Eastern policy into a partisan issue in the United States is potentially bad for Israel.

  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley wondered if there might be economic motivations to the Hamas missile attacks on Israel, if Hamas was trying to overwhelm Israel financially by forcing it to spend large amounts of money intercepting relatively inexpensive missiles.

  • Progressive Download's John Farrell discusses an unusual type of supernova, one that fizzles.

  • At the Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Kontorovich writes about separatism as a potential solution to intractable problems.

  • Zero Geography notes that, in Europe, the United Kingdom is the most visible country on Wikipedia (in terms of page views).

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  • Dan Hirschman, at A (Budding) Sociologist's Commonplace Blog, wonders about sociological studies of dying fields and institutions. He raises the example of the card game bridge.

  • Far Outliers has a variety of links--1, 2, 3--describing how the Black Sea city of Odessa, in southern Ukraine, was in the 19th century a booming metropolis comparable in many ways to America's Chicago.

  • Language Hat tackles the possible impending breakthroughs surrounding the decryption of proto-Elamite cuneiform.

  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley has no truck with The Nation's argument that Middle Eastern dictatorships depended critically on American support. Many didn't; many of the ones being threatened opposed the United States strongly. Cf Libya.
  • Not Rocket Science's Ed Yong reflects on newly-published studies of old recordings demonstrating that a beluga whale held in captivity was actively trying to mimic human speech.

  • Itching for Eestimaa's Guistino reflects on the Estonian-Finnish relationship, close but with undercurrents of conflict.

  • Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok links to a Slate article noting how an unlikely mutation to let humans metabolize milk became wide-spread. The commenters suggest that mutations which allow people to metabolize milk helps maximize the caloric value of cows, at least compared to slaughtering them outright.

  • Normblog links to an article by Iranian expatriate Roya Hoyakian noting how Iran's revolution quickly led to institutionalized misogyny, and warning that there are signs of this also occurring in the countries changed by the Arab Spring's revolution.

  • Torontoist's Steve Kupferman wonders about the effectiveness and utility of The Globe and Mail's new paywall, soon to be adopted by the other major Toronto dailies.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy's David Kopel makes a fair point in pointing out that Syria is Iran's access to the sea--the Mediterranean Sea, at least.

  • Zero Geography determines the dominant language used for Wikipedia articles for different countries. English is globally dominant, unsurprisingly, but French, Russian, and surprisingly German also do above-average.

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  • Bag News Notes comments on some recently-published photos of the family of Bashar Assad--father, mother, children--and how they seem particularly staged.

  • The Burgh Diaspora links to an article describing how migration to the United States from one Mexican village helped, via remittances, to lift it to middle4 classes.

  • The Discoblog summarizes a recent paper taking a look at conflicts of pattern in Wikipedia article edit wars, noting--among other things--that certain specific patterns of editing indicate that a conflict will go on for some while.

  • Eastern Approaches writes about the Bosnian city of Tuzla, home to--among other things--salt lakes. They're popular with tourists, see.

  • Geocurrents links to a news item highlighting the latest efforts--so far mostly rhetorically--to start up economic cooperation between China and countries of the Portuguese-speaking world.

  • GNXP's Razib Khan highlights the ongoing controversy over the division of the indigenous languages of the Western Hemisphere into three groups, a conflict centering on the question of whether or not the Amerind group actually exists.

  • Registan highlighted Tajikistan's position of being able to cultivate multiple partners, trading basing rights for money, Russia and India standing out.

  • Zero Geography maps the relative prominence of articles on different countries in the Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian Wikipedias.

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  • Andrew Barton at Acts of Minor Treason wonders about the next generation of birthers, concerned with "natural-born" presidential candidates: what of the genetically engineered?

  • blogTO notes that People's Foods, an iconic diner in The Annex on Dupont Street, is closing down due to rising rents.

  • Far Outliers profiles the displacement of classical Chinese as the written language of Vietnam by Latin-script Vietnamese under the French.

  • Geocurrents observes that Eurovision's second-place winners, Russia's Buranovskie Babushki, come from the pagan-inflected Finnic republic of Udmurtia.

  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Erik Loomis provides a sympathetic review of the Earth Liberation Front and the documentary If A Tree Falls.

  • Language Log notes the controversy in Ukraine regarding the introduction of Russian as an official language.

  • Open the Future's Jamais Cascio blogs about his impressions of Kazakstan's new capital Astana--being built practically overnight in the middle of the steppe--and an economic conference being held there that's curiously tone-deaf.

  • Torontoist noted that red-paned Toronto skyscraper Scotia Plaza has been sold for a cool $C 1.27 billion.

  • Zero Geography's Mark Graham compares English- and French-language geotagged articles on Wikipedia and finds with the exception of France, the Maghreb, and selected points elsewhere, English outnumbers French.

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At anthropology blog Savage Minds, Alex Golub makes the claim that Wikipedia is superior to encyclopedia because of the engagement with material that Wikipedia requires of its users/contributors.

To prepare for writing my encyclopedia entry I went to the library to see what actual encyclopedias look like. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. As a student I spurned encyclopedias as ‘secondary sources’ and plowed through texts. As a result, I have an invaluable knowledge that can’t be duplicated by reading secondary sources, and a keen awareness of how exhausting not using secondary sources is! Reading the high-quality, professionally edited entries in my library’s encyclopedias was an eye-opener and a guilty pleasure — you could learn so much with so little effort! And you don’t have to work as hard untangling the entries the way you do with Wikipedia!

But this is exactly the problem with closed, for-profit encyclopedias: they require no work. In fact, they require just the opposite: submission to authority. The writing guidelines for my encyclopedia entry insist that there be no quotations or citations — just a short list of additional readings. Encyclopedias give us no reason to believe their claims are true except the arbitrary authority of those who write them. They are the ultimate triumph of the authoritarian impulse in academics.

Compare this to Wikipedia, which has gotten so persnickety about insisting on citations and references that much of the charm of its early days has gone. Every wikipedia entry is an argument between its composers, spilling out of the discussion page and into the entry. Accuracy and verifiablity are there on the page to see. In other words, Wikipedia is the ultimate realization of academic ideals of argumentation, presentation of evidence, probing claims to logical coherence, and the deliberative use of reason. There is no better place for people to cut their teeth on the life of the mind, or to begin to learn the fundamental skill of close and critical reading of a text.

It is this refusal of arbitrary authority that really scares encyclopedia types, not worries about accuracy. Wikipedia is a place where you must learn to think for yourself, encyclopedias are places where you are told what to believe.

Of course, there is a lot to like about the arbitrary exercise of authority if you have faith in the authority in question: the gullible are not duped, the conspiracy theorists are silenced, and the trains run on time. The down side of intellectual debate is the possibility of intellectual chaos — and there’s certainly a lot of that on Wikipedia! If you are pessimistic about the capacities of your students to know and learn then feeding them the party line is, to you at least, the best way to protect them.

But we as educators can and must believe that our students — and everyone else! — is capable of more than this. Our fundamental principles and highest aspirations lead us ineluctably to the conclusion that attaining intellectual maturity requires immersion in the rough waters of public debate, which is exactly what Wikipedia is. The real danger of Wikipedia is its use by people made gullible by a system which promises them that someone, somewhere knows The Truth, exactly the belief that college teachers try to educate their students out of rather than into. We’d have less uncritical reading of Wikipedia if there were less people trained to be uncritical readers.

[. . .]

Wikipedia is flawed, human, complex, and ultimately deeply worthwhile. It is real life, not a child-proof playroom. What sort of educators are we if we believe the latter is better for our students than the former?

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