Wednesday 10 April 2013

Spelling of coleoptera?

I was talking to The Brother (I'm the original Brother of the More Famous Jack) the other day and we were reflecting on the weaknesses of wikipedia.  This came about because I confessed to coughing up another $30 to support Jimmy Wales and his team.  One beef was that the technical articles, which used to be written by ordinary bloggos struggling to make sense of a complex subject, are now written by the equivalent of Professor Neutrino Quarkhood of Harvard.  They might accordingly be as well written in katakana for most of us.  The Brother was yearning for a site that would explain it all, not in Sunspeak with a reading age of seven, but for educated, not-stupid people who have another expertise.  The second beef was that wikipedia is grossly misused by lazy-arsed journalists and others as the sole buck-stops-here source for information.  The Institute has a policy for students that they are not to cite wikipedia in term-papers but to track down the original source.  You'd hope that more journalists were given the same instructions because otherwise we're all churning and recycling the same limited dollop of data.  And in fairness, wikipedia says more or less the same thing in their modest how-to-use-the-tool pages.

One visible consequence is that the top hit for all too many google searches is the appropriate wikipedia entry.  Which means that thousands of ( sites are referring to wikipedia rather than the real McCoy., for example, tops out Hissonour's own website

I wrote a while back about the late great JBS Haldane, who was a fund of quips and quotes including "God must have had an inordinate fondness for beetles", in answer to a question on what he could infer about the mind of the creator from the wonders of the natural world.   There are at least half a million species of beetles, many of which will comprise uncountably large numbers of individual insects.  They are important on so many levels, and so numerous, that they warrant serious study.  But as wikipedia becomes effectively our entire universe of information it is chastening to note that, while the Beetles are dusted off in just over 10,000 words, wikipedia believes the Beatles are worthy of nearer 14,000.
Don't get me wrong, The Beatles are cultural icons and my father believed that Eleanor Rigby was the most socially significant song of the 20th century but this sort of imbalance needs to be addressed.  Go to entomologists!  


  1. further proof of its worth - no reference there either of Deakin or The Children on the Hill - did the book drop out of the sky? but thanks for the lead!

  2. Begob and you're right. **We** could start editing up Wikipedia to more properly treat things that didn't happen in the last week. It's rather sad how the relentless trumpeting of the latest fad/celeb/murder makes us forget the good/great of the past. So when RTE runs a survey to identify the most important Irish people ever, we can remember and vote for Bono, Jedward, and Katie Taylor but cannot recall John Tyndall, William Rowan Hamilton, Robert Boyle, JD Bernal, Robert Lloyd Praeger, William Thomson, William Parsons of Birr Castle, or Ernest "Nobel" Walton - and that's just (some of) the scientists!