I love conspiracy theories. I think I like them so much because they’re absolutely the opposite of science; they can never be falsified. Conspiracy theories are compelling to me because they’re self-sustaining and impervious to outside influences; they’re intellectual black holes.
Myths Run Wild in Blog Tsunami Debate, from the NY Times
On an “authority by community” note, this passage was of particular interest:
Online discussion can evolve toward truth, said Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in the interactive telecommunications program at New York University and a blogger. One result is a process that can be more reliable than many new media, where corrections are often late and small, if they appear at all.
Dr. Shirky said the key to reasonable discussion was to get beyond flames and the “echo chamber” effect of like-minded people simply reinforcing the opinions of one another and to let the self-correcting mechanisms do their job in a civil way. “You hope the echo chamber effect and the fact-checking effect will balance out into a better and more nuanced set of narratives, and a more rigorously checked set of facts,” he said. But in such a sharply contentious world, “The risk is it will largely divide itself into competing narratives where what even constitutes a fact is different in different camps.”
To Xeni Jardin, an editor of BoingBoing.net, the “self-healing” quality of debate is one of the most important results of the electronic medium. “When information that is provably untrue surfaces on the Net or surfaces in discussion groups, people want to be right – they want to know the truth,” she said.
In her own blog, she said, “Sometimes people spend really a long time researching background information on an item that we post” and correct the record through comments.
The “self-healing” quality of debate? I’m not sure I buy that. One of the articles of faith of science (for lack of a better way of putting it) is that it’s closing in on truth: through rigorous methodology and replication what is true will be demonstrated with reliability and what is false will be shown to be false. But ordinary debate? If a conversation lasts long enough, it will arrive at truth? The Western scientific enterprise has been referred to as The Great Conversation, but it’s not just any conversation, it’s a conversation with a very specific set of rules. Will any conversation achieve the same results? I would tend to doubt it.
So where does that leave the blogosphere, and projects such as Wikipedia?