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Is the internet redefining what it means to be an expert?


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  For years Wikipedia has, unfortunately, been the go-to source for up-to-date information on current and past events.  Almost as soon as something anywhere in the world happens, someone, somewhere, generates a news story for the on-line encyclopedia.   Then the story gets edited by almost anyone who has access to the system.  And therein lies the problem.

For example, following the Germanwings airliner crash back in March, the Wikipedia entry was edited more than 2,000 times by more than 300 people in only three days.  Now do we really think that some 300 experts, or even 300 knowledgeable people, were on Wikipedia adding expert facts and opinions to the basic story?  Of course not.

So who were these editors?  My guess is they were people who thought they knew what they were talking about but didn’t, or they were people who had an opinion about the crash, an opinion that was probably not backed up by facts.

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia editing algorithm has no way to know who is an expert and who isn’t.  It can tell where the edit is coming from, but not much else.

We see the same thing in almost any news blog, political forum, science web site or religious news feed.

Now, I’m all for free, wide-ranging discussion.  And the internet certainly provides a forum for almost anyone who has anything to say.  But ask yourself, how many of the entries are actually adding to the discussion, and how many are simply vituperative ad hominin attacks?

Or even if the comments aren’t an attack on a previous responder, how many of them are from people who actually know what they are talking about?   After all, a serious discussion has to be supported by provable facts and evidence, not hearsay and guesses.

The Internet does, and should, belong to anyone who has something to say, any time they want to say it.  But that doesn’t mean we have to believe everything we read, even if it is in an online encyclopedia.