Duck! and Gather

Archive for January 3rd, 2007

Wikipedia.org is a paradigm example of the “wisdom of the crowds” phenomenon. For example, consider the hypothesis presented in my book Personality and the Brain. A little over a year ago, the only people who were aware of this hypothesis were myself and the handful of people who proof-read it for me (and among them, there may have been only one such person who actually comprehended the thing).

But then I uploaded the book to this site, and posted the following paragraph on the “Research issues” section of Wikipedia’s page for “Enneagram”:

[A] partially finished book entitled “Personality and the Brain” was posted for free download in December 2005. This book, written by a self-described “hacker”, presents a model for linking the Enneagram to the current findings of neuroscience regarding prefrontal cortex (PFC) and amygdala asymmetry.

My site stats tell me that during 2006, that link in the above paragraph to the home page of my book was clicked 945 times. Given that that page was loaded 2222 times, it would appear that many people revisited the page — suggesting at least some degree of interest in the book. These stats further tell me that there were 765 attempts to download the PDF version of the book (out of which it seems there were about 300 successful downloads). Also, the HTML web page versions of the various chapters of the book appear to have been visited by some hundreds of folks. Virtually all of this interest can be traced back to Wikipedia.

So if the hypothesis in my book proves correct, Wikipedia will get the credit for bringing out that hypothesis to public consciousness. Realize that before I uploaded the book for free download and added the above paragraph to Wikipedia, I contacted some widely recognized experts in the Enneagram community, soliciting interest in the ideas of my book. The responses I received were polite and even warm. Yet the universal upshot was disinterest. Hence my decision to go the self-publish/Wikipedia route. Since as far as the Enneagram and neuroscience are concerned, I am merely one among the unwashed “crowds”, if my hypothesis does prove correct, Wikipedia will have once again demonstrated the powerful wisdom of the crowds. So hooray for Wikipedia.

But of course, with day comes the night, and with Summer comes the Winter, up with down, useful with less useful, and so on. Like all phenomena, Wikipedia is not immune to this yin and yang law of nature.

Where there are crowds, some among them will be mobs. The difference between a mere crowd and a mob concerns emotion. That is, a mob is a crowd infused with passionate emotions. Conversely, a crowd is merely a group of people under the sway of no overriding emotional state.

Where do we find mob rule on Wikipedia? We find it on some emotionally charged topics. The one I visited last night was Wikipedia’s page on 9/11 conspiracy theories. Check out that page. Notice anything?

Perhaps you’ll notice that the entire tone and approach of the page comes from the conspiracy “debunker” corner. To test that assumption, I made an entry last night on that page concerning Larry Silverstein’s famous “pull it” statement on PBS. If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s the video. And here is the text of what Mr. Silverstein said in that video:

“I remember getting a call from the, er, fire department commander, telling me that they were not sure they were gonna be able to contain the fire, and I said, “We’ve had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is pull it. And they made that decision to pull and we watched the building collapse.” (emphasis added)

The debunker interpretation of the above paragraph would have us believe that in saying the words “they” three times, and the word “it” once, Mr. Silverstein was referring in all four cases to the very same entity — namely the firefighters who were presumably battling the fires in WTC Building 7 on 9/11. The obvious problem with the debunker interpretation is that it violates some fundamental laws of grammar that we native English speakers learned as toddlers.

So last night, I entered a couple of sentences to that effect in the “Building Seven” section of the “9/11 conspiracy theories” Wikipedia page. As of last night, these extra sentences concerning the grammatical errors of Mr. Silverstein were in that section and available to any visitor to read.

But this morning, when I checked that same section, these entries of mine had been deleted. I feel this deletion confirmed my suspicion that the page is “owned” and “patrolled” by a mob of self-styled 9/11 “debunkers”.

In my podcast below, I also go into how the page treats Steven Jones. As with the deletion of my passage concerning a glaring grammatical error, the treatment of Mr. Jones can’t be described as pro-actively false. That is, the falsity is not found in what is said. Instead, the falsity is found in what is omitted and, judging from my own experience, regularly deleted.

In other words, while the mob controlling this Wikipedia page is led astray by its strong emotions, it is still lucid enough to ensure that its falsities are subtle enough that only a small fraction of visitors will probably identify just what is false about the page.

Thus Wikipedia is a sober reminder that in the coming People vs. Corporations struggle, the People will include not merely benign crowds, but also more than one wayward mob.

Here’s my podcast on this:

(117) Wikipedia: Crowds versus Mobs. Wikipedia is a paradigm example of wisdom of the crowds. However, concerning strong emotional topics (like 9/11), it can degenerate into the ignorance and error of the mobs.


for the money has gone too far

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