Thursday, June 01, 2006

Wikipedia and journalistic errors in the Economist

In the blog entry linked to above, a science blogger notes errors in how Wikipedia operates included in a recent Economist survey of open source business. This raises larger issues:

1. How to indicate tentative and uncertain information in blog articles.
2. How to version information in blog articles, so that updates based on new information or ideas, that lead to less tentative and more certain statements, can be traced back to the original uncertain statement.

One reason for this is to maintain consistency as errors are corrected during peer review. When one blog points to an error in another blog, after the error is corrected the blog noting the error becomes invalid. This was raised as an issue recently on Juan Cole's Wikipedia entry. The dates given to each blog entry are a natural way to timestamp entries.

Transparency of historical interpretations

Versioning information with blog time stamps could also facilitate historical writing and interpretation, making the interpretation of primary historical sources and their refinement into secondary hypotheses transparent.

Historical interpretations take as their input primary sources and certain assumptions and produce a richer version of the events that is logically consistent with the original primary sources.

If the original primary sources are recorded in the weblog and timestamped, then when they are combined into a new historical interpretation thay can still be traced back to the original facts and assumptions that were used to derive them.

Toulmin's model of logical argumentation is a natural choice to accomplish this.

Online primary sources like Geoff Wade's Ming Shi-lu at the National University of Singapore can be used as an easy referencable input into this model. That's what I've tried to do with the historical narrative I am developing for the Tai-Yunnan frontier (c. 1369-1398).