The Internet Doesn't Magically Solve Epistemological Problems

by chromatic

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When discussing how no single writer or publisher knows as much about a story than all of the experts in the world combined, Robin Miller makes a whopping claim:

With thousands of readers as fact-checkers, mistakes would rarely go uncorrected for long...

That's a huge assumption, requiring you to believe also that:

  • Thousands of readers know the facts

  • Some significant percentage of those readers will make corrections

  • Those corrections represent the truth and not the opinions or biases of the correctors

  • You can tell true corrections from false ones

  • People read the comments!

Having read press releases and seen demonstrations staged for the mutual benefit of television cameras, I believe more strongly in the ability of a small group of people dedicated to manipulating the press (however willingly) than in the as-yet unproven ability or desire of a larger group of disinterested people to report more accurately on an issue they don't care about.

More bluntly, unless you become an investigative reporter yourself, how can you tell a legitimate correction from deliberate misleading published by someone with an agenda? Does the loudest voice win? Does the most popular opinion win? Does the last edit win? Do you flip a coin?

Are Robin's ideas bad? Not at all! Giving people more information about more perspectives about an event probably does improve the chances of knowing what really happened and why.

However, I just can't believe that merely allowing feedback from anyone, regardless of experience, bias, knowledge, or skill, means that the truth is suddenly obvious and easy and widespread. The Internet doesn't magically solve epistemological problems.

Here's where you register a dozen different accounts and tell me I'm wrong.


2005-11-30 13:43:29
Many eyes, shallow bugs?
I largely agree and would go as far to say that the theory that many eyes makes all bug shallow is false as well.
2005-11-30 14:08:19
Many eyes, shallow bugs?

I was thinking that too. I'm not willing to say that the theory is false, but certainly the idea that all (or even many) projects realize the potential for having all of their bugs fixed is false.

2005-11-30 14:22:23
Even Worse...
I would even go so far to say that as the Internet grows in popularity we'll see more misinformation, spam and fraud. It is a matter of incentive. Fraudsters with an agenda have much more incentive to advance their views, compared to Joe User.

I foresee a day when we'll clamber to be admitted into walled gardens maintained by trusted brands. Crazy? I offer iPod/iTunes as an example of such a walled garden.

For more cynical ruminations see my 'How many AdWords clicks does it take to increase GOOG $10?':

2005-11-30 15:53:22
Many eyes, shallow bugs?
My claim that the theory is false is a little strong, but still, having a small group of motivated developers seems more effective than a large group of disinterested developers who are unlikely to even look at the code in question. Still, I think the value of transparency to anyone who wants to look at the code is very valuable; and maybe one of the most important strengths of open source. However, that doesn't magically make bugs easy to fix or likely to be fixed, it just makes it possible.
2005-11-30 20:09:47
No you're wrong!
Right after the quote you posted, his next point was, "Not all readers know what they're talking about." So it's not like he doesn't understand that there are other issues involved. That's why Slash's moderation system is so valuable.

Of course, no one thinks -- least of all Robin -- that there's any magic solution, let alone a perfect one. But community participation is a step in the right direction, is the point.

2005-11-30 20:17:22
How can we make it better?
1. no anonymity

2. reliability ratings
eg. this article has been authored/edited by persons with a reliability rating for this topic of 30%.
OR your reliability rating for this topic is below 75%. You are not permitted to edit this article.

#2 is complex, maybe even more than a page-rank algorithm. Could it ever be fair enough for the system to go anywhere?

2005-12-10 11:08:55
Many eyes, shallow bugs?
Yeah, I'd say in many cases that the phrase should be:
Many bugs, shallow eyes.