Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Post Script to The Power of Epistemology

In my previous article it was discussed how bad epistemology can actually threaten one's own life, case in point, how emotionalism on the part of one scientist (Ancel Keys) may have lead to the suffering and death of millions. Now we have another example, non-life threatening, of how bad epistemology can possibly lead to the permanent extinction of actual facts:
When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.

The sociology major's made-up quote — which he added to the Wikipedia page of Maurice Jarre hours after the French composer's death March 28 — flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper Web sites in Britain, Australia and India.
Again we come upon the case where a single epistemological poison can invalidate the entire system, the poison being, this time, a failure to maintain an active mind.

Every credible researcher should know that Wikipedia should not be used as a primary source. If it be used at all, it is best to go straight to the sources cited section and treat the site as if it were a mere gathering of links to reference material.

Because of the journalists' laziness they unintentionally mislead their readers, and if their error had gone unnoticed then the error could have become self-perpetuating:
"I am 100 percent convinced that if I hadn't come forward, that quote would have gone down in history as something Maurice Jarre said, instead of something I made up," he said. "It would have become another example where, once anything is printed enough times in the media without challenge, it becomes fact."
What then, referencing the question posed last time, should we do now that we have been confronted with another conundrum of bad testimony? First off, every journalist that went to the Wikipedia entry and copied that quote should lose their credibility for such a failure to exercise proper journalism techniques. As I said before, what takes one minute to do may lead to consequences that take one decade to undo. The lazy journalists do have the opportunity to regain their credibility, but it will take a long time to achieve it in the eyes of those holding a healthy system of epistemology.

The journalists that quoted the other journalists, however, are much more innocent. They are among those who have been duped by those they thought to be credible but turned out to be incredible. If they want to keep their credibility (and, in actuality, enhance it), they should disavow those particular sources and offer a correction to those they mislead.

The bad news is, however, that many news sources try to take advantage of whatever bad epistemology its own consumer base may have as to try and make the situation go unnoticed so that the consumers are never aware of an error occurring. For example, my own local newspaper has/had a section devoted to corrections that is so small and difficult to find within the newspaper that I wonder why they included it at all; the majority of times I could not tell if it was there or not.

So protect your mind. It is being assaulted from bad epistemology much worse than this, all around.

Edit: Formatting

No comments: