• jamalrob
    Interesting article on Quartz about the SEP and how its approach could be used more generally to provide authoritative, comprehensive, and up-to-date information on the web, overcoming the problems with things like Wikipedia.


    EDIT: I just noticed it's from last year.
  • Bitter Crank
    Oops. No longer timely. Toss it.
  • andrewk
    I am a huge fan of Wikipedia, which it sounds like the author of that article is not. SEP is very good in its way, but I have learned far more from Wikipedia than I have from SEP.

    There is one SEP article that I prefer to its Wikipedia equivalent. It's the one on Zermelo Frankel set theory. SEP's presentation of the axioms is clearer and more concise, and not beset by the logical problems. I rewrote some of the Wiki article, fixing some of its ambiguities and inconsistencies, but some contributors are very proprietorial about that page, and very wedded to mirroring the presentation in a particular book (irrespective of any flaws in that book). They reversed my changes so I didn't bother with that page any more. Life is too short to get into arguments over the drafting of an internet page.

    But that's an exception. I find that for most cases in which I am interested the Wikipedia article gets to the point more quickly and gives a better explanation. Where it doesn't, I have occasionally done my bit to improve the page, meeting only very occasional resistance.
  • Thorongil
    I don't know. A lot of SEP articles are ponderously dense and unreadable. Yeah, SEP tries to get experts to write them, but these people are in some cases awful writers not suited to writing encyclopedia entries, which, by definition are meant for a general audience.
  • Bitter Crank
    Comparing SEP to Wikipedia is like comparing the Joy of Cooking which covers everything from fried squirrel to lemon meringue with Thirty Nine Steps to Perfect Spaghetti Sauce. One is very comprehensive, the other is very specialized. I've used the JOC for 35 years. The specialized cookbooks were given a suitable burial. Perfect spaghetti sauce is available in jars.

    True enough, the Internet as a whole is an ungraded mix of everything from gold to garbage. Human knowledge has been the same mixed heap since people paused in their rock knapping to think about it. The Internet does not present unique problems. It presents the problem of discriminating gold from garbage much more extensively, but this problem existed a long time before the Internet and the WWW were conceived.

    Wikipedia is not a truckload of the ungraded heap. There are editors, there are readers with specialized knowledge like Andrewk, and corrections can be made. There are alerts on many Wiki entries noting deficiencies. Naturally the articles don't have the sterling provenance of SEP or the Mayo Clinic web site. Of course one should not use a Wiki article to practice medicine on ones self, but one shouldn't use the Mayo Clinic articles that way either. ("He who treats himself has a fool for a doctor.")

    Except: when we surf the web we have to be our own librarians, making distinctions among what seems solidly authoritative, what seems pretty firmly anchored in reality, what seems to be dicey, what seems to be mostly error, and what is 100% rubbish. The only way of determining the grade of what I am reading (if I start knowing nothing about the topic) is to compare sources, and try to discriminate between what is well argued and supported and what is not. Usually it isn't hard to tell the difference.

    If the information is too ambiguous to grade, then one has to head over to a library, a bookstore, or talk to an expert (and even then...)
  • Bitter Crank
    Wikipedia's biggest problem is maintaining what it has in good condition and regularly adding new high quality information. This depends on money, to some extent, but it depends even more on an enlarged core of dedicated volunteers. The energy of the existing core of volunteers is flagging (after years of editing) and the volume of information is increasing, requiring more attention.

    I think its worth worrying about because Wikipedia has been damned useful to me. Again and again it has provided for free and easy what otherwise might have been expensive and certainly laborious to get.
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