[Foundation-l] Misplaced Reliance, was Re: Paid editing, was Re: Ban and...

Andreas Kolbe jayen466 at yahoo.com
Sun Oct 24 21:59:13 UTC 2010

> > They can argue, but if we keep our heads, they cannot
> overturn a founding
> > principle. As in the Atorvastatin article when
> patients are running to
> > their doctors, saying, "My God, I can't think", and it
> is observable by
> > medical practitioners that indeed they can't, it's a
> significant event.
> > However, it does need to be put into proportion,
> serious effects to a few
> > hundred people must be weighed against efficacious
> help for millions.
> >
> > http://www.theheart.org/article/843115.do
> >
> > Note the reference to a Wall Street Journal article.
> >
> > If our inclusion of this information in a Wikipedia
> article and placing
> > undue emphasis on it results in thousands of deaths
> because people are
> > afraid of the drug, then we need to look at the way it
> is handled, not
> > just to a conclusion that there can be no negative
> information about
> > useful drugs.
> >
> > Fred
> >
> On the other hand, failing to include it could be leading
> to deaths.
> The point is, we can't know. What we have always done is
> simply report
> (responsibly) what the reliable sources are saying, and
> that has
> always included the high-quality media, because they
> represent a
> significant source of majority or significant-minority
> opinion. The
> academic journals are often very slow to report problems.
> You are right that they cannot overturn a founding
> principle. But they
> can ignore it, or persuade new editors that their
> interpretation of it
> is correct, and after a few years of this the spirit of the
> founding
> principle gets lost. Fighting them is a tremendous amount
> of work, and
> increasingly few people have the stomach for it.
> Sarah

We are between a rock and a hard place, aren't we. Media reports 

- may report interesting studies as scientific breakthroughs; 
- sometimes misreport statistical significance levels;
- may present claims as major controversies in a field, even if 98% of 
  scholars are in agreement;
- etc.

Some of our articles completely ignore the existing scholarly literature in 
favour of press articles, simply because the latter are more easily 

Nobody denies that the best journalistic work may be more reliable than
the lowest-quality scholarly work. If I am presented with a meticulously
researched, extensively fact-checked 60-page article in the New Yorker and
a conference paper delivered by an academic oddball, my sympathies are
entirely with the New Yorker.

On the other hand, nobody will seriously argue that, all things being 
equal, the average media report is more reliable, or even as reliable, as 
the average scholarly source.

And where there is a body of scholarly research, the peer-reviewed 
scholarly literature is the most authoritative literature around. When
governments formulate policy, they do not look in the pages of the Daily
Telegraph to establish what the scientific state of the art is. They do
not contact the BBC's science writers to present them with a brief. 
Instead, they ask the advice of leading scholars.

There is the difference in reliability in a nutshell.

As an encyclopedia, we cannot pretend that writing an article on climate
change, or the solar system, or cholesterol, or Doris Lessing's novels, can 
be done just as well using media sources as it can be done using scholarly 

It can't.

Having said that, I would always argue that it is our job to cover notable 
controversies in the public consciousness, including controversies 
surrounding topics that are the subject of scholarly research. 

There is merit to both sides of the debate here: 

In fields that are the subject of significant academic research -- whether 
that be hard science or the humanities -- we must make sure that we reflect 
the current status of that research. If all we cite is newspapers, we have 
done a poor job.

If there is significant discussion in the media around one of these topics,
we must tell the reader about this discussion. If we don't, we have done a
poor job.

Where media reports are based on scholarly studies, it is best to cite both
the media report and the study, as Fred did in the Atorvastatin edit (which
has stuck so far), and where they disagree, go with the underlying study.

If we are agreed on the above principles, the task becomes a simple one:
find a wording that encapsulates those principles.



More information about the foundation-l mailing list