Now, this may cause some concern among you about the stability of this blog. To help ease those fears, let me make you several guarantees that will never change as long as I'm in charge here.
- I will never find fault where there is none, and I will never write a review that is anything other than (what I believe to be) a legitimate criticism of the comic in question. We all know what happened to the other blog, and I promise you that will not happen here.
- Unfortunately, if I have to stand behind my words, that means that there are going to be days when I have nothing to say. On those days, I will not waste your time. I will not post nonsense. You will either get a guest review or no review at all.
- Unless it is absolutely atrocious, I will always post any guest reviews that get emailed to me. This blog was originally intended to be a collaboration, not a one man show, and I'll take all the help I can get.
- Finally, I will never abandon this blog without an explanation. I may miss a post here and there, as you've recently seen. However, if I step down from running this blog, I will explain why and leave someone willing and capable in charge (if the community so chooses).
Well, that's a weight off my chest. On to why xkcd sucks!
Title: Citogenesis; alt-text: I just read a pop-science book by a respected author. One chapter, and much of the thesis, was based around wildly inaccurate data which traced back to ... Wikipedia. To encourage people to be on their toes, I'm not going to say what book or author.
I initially tagged this as "straw man," thinking that Randall was just making up a problem and assigning it a name, but a brief jaunt through the forums indicate that this has happened before. However, it's also clear that this is a small, isolated issue, and not the universal "Where Citations Come From" problem that Randall implies it is.
The truth is, Wikipedia is often an excellent resource for research. Obviously you should never cite it directly, but the fact that it's open to editing and that the more important articles get more attention mean that on a whole, Wikipedia is self-correcting. In other words, the information on Wikipedia is MORE likely to be accurate than any other source, simply because it remains current and errors can be removed.
It's also worth noting that this problem goes beyond Wikipedia (one poster mentioned Norse genealogies as an example). Randall uses the Wikipedia example because that's where he lives, but doing so presents the issue in a bubble and misdirects blame. The problem isn't Wikipedia; the problem is confirmation bias that cause people to call it good as soon as one thing backs up what they want to believe. That's a known psychological fallacy - well, known to people who have any interest in the "soft sciences," anyway.
P.S. Does anyone else find it hypocritical that Randall uses his webcomic to cry about bad citations, then offers us an alt-text with a claim but no citation at all? "To encourage people to be on their toes" is a retarded reason to withhold information (if said information actually exists, which several forumites doubt).
P.P.S. It's worth noting that there are two consecutive "was"es in the first panel right now. I expect this is an error that will get corrected, but if it was put in there intentionally (some people on the forums are using it as an example of an "erroneous edit"), that's stupid. You only don't see those things if they're separated as they are in the comic. On a Wikipedia page, the error would be obvious.