[EAS] Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Nov 3 17:14:11 EST 2008

Dear Colleagues -

Further to my note on "Scholarship and the Data Deluge," my colleague 
and friend Rodion Rathbone wrote:

>A interesting related topic is the expansion and nature of 
>comprehensive second-level information sources -- sources of totally 
>derivative but annotated information, of which Wikipedia is of 
>course the prime example.
>Technology Review did a nice piece on this,  "Wikipedia and the 
>Meaning of Truth" at
>              http://www.technologyreview.com/web/21558/?a=f
>The core point of the piece is well summarized in this (partially 
>elided) paragraph
>Unlike the laws of mathematics or science, wikitruth isn't based on 
>principles such as consistency or observability. It's not even based 
>on common sense or firsthand experience. Wikipedia has evolved a 
>radically different set of epistemological standards ...
>What makes a fact or statement fit for inclusion is that it appeared 
>in some other publication--ideally, one that is in English and is 
>available free online. "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is 
>verifiability, not truth," states Wikipedia's official policy on the 

The Technology Review article is indeed very well done and 
recommended. The quest for truth, traditionally the realm of 
philosophers, has in Wikipedia a very populist dimension. I suppose 
even models of how philosophy is done may be subject to new 
pressures, as the Internet nibbles away at our concepts of terms like 
justification, description, explanation, reason, familiarity, 
deduction, unification and necessity.


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