Happy third blogiversary!  
Thus concludes year three of the blog. The statistics stand at 137 entries using 58,868 words. About 14k of those words were from the previous year. If you plot words blogged per year and draw a best fit line, the output reaches zero at the end of the fifth year. However, even if output decreases monotonically, it is unlikely to be linear. I have no plans to stop blogging.

I discovered recently that the blog software I use here is deleting some comments. I think it only happens when there are spam comments; I delete the spam, and the software gets too exuberant. I do appreciate any comments, and I'm looking for the source of the problem.

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Playing telephone with the echo chamber 
There's been some blog reaction to my fibs in Wikipedia paper. That's unsurprising, since the paper is freely available on-line and addresses a topic close to some bloggers' hearts.

What surprises me a bit is that all of the reactions interpret my study as vindicating Wikipedia. My result is certainly a midpoint between despair and celebration for Wikipedia; about a third of the fibs were fixed in the studied time window, but (it follows) about two-thirds of them were not. Since there is good reason to think that the probability of being fixed falls of rapidly after the edit is made, this figure does not allow us to extrapolate a half life for fibs. Nonetheless, Jason Pannone mentions my study and says, "I'm not sure that this article will sway skeptics, but it does offer some additional empirical evidence that minor errors in Wikipedia are corrected quickly."

Kent Anderson points to my paper and briefly summarizes the result. He misinterprets it slightly, taking 1/3 of the fibs fixed to include only those cases in which the fib was removed entirely. This allows him to give the optimistic spin that "additional entries were flagged with 'need citation,' indicating that they had been caught and the time to correction was near." Blogging librarian Rhondda read about my paper in Anderson's blog and summarizes it this way: "The study showed that Wikipedia's methods for checking for small inaccuracies are validated. ... Within 48 hours, those that had not been corrected, had been flagged as needing adjustment." Some others were flagged (Anderson's error) becomes all others were flagged, so that every single fib was caught by someone. If the game of telephone continued, someone down the line might summarize my study as showing that Wikipedia fixes errors with divine inerrancy, before they occur.

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The sincerest form of flattery 
Philip Kitcher introduced the phrase 'Galilean Strategy' in a 2001 paper to describe a form of realist argument. I wrote about it shortly after, and my paper was published in 2003. Today, the top Google result for the phrase 'galilean strategy' is this page, the abstract of a paper at African Journals Online. The paper, which apparently appeared in Sophia: An African Journal of Philosophy in 2006, bears the byline E J Udokang. Suspiciously, the title of the paper (Success, Truth and the Galilean Strategy) is only a comma away from being the title of my paper. The abstract, but for a few spelling errors introduced in the Sophia version, is verbatim my abstract.

I have contacted the editor of the journal, which seems for all I can tell to be otherwise reputable.

Plagiarism this blatant is pretty shocking, because I have always had copies of my papers available on my website. Any referee or editor would have no trouble finding my original version, if they took the time to look. The enterprising plagiarist is better advised to lift prose from papers by luddites who only allow their words to appear in expensive, closed-access formats.

If a paper of mine were reprinted somewhere, under ordinary circumstances, then I could extend the line on my CV to mention both the original publication and the republication. Here that does not seem to be an option, unless I am willing to punish plagiarism with identity theft and claim that E J Udokang is a pen name. That way lies madness, though, and it is better to let it go. I am never likely to be in a situation where my reputation is tarnished his plagiarism, where an interlocutor thinks me presumptuous for coopting the insights of Mister Udokang.

Update, one day later


Udokang's abstract is still the first result when googling 'galilean strategy.' However, this blog entry is the first thing you get if you google 'e j udokang.' My revenge!

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My insidious lies 
A short paper of mine was just published in First Monday. The abstract is this:
A number of studies have assessed the reliability of entries in the Wikipedia at specific times. One important difference between the Wikipedia and traditional media, however, is the dynamic nature of its entries. An entry assessed today might be substantially extended or reworked tomorrow. This paper assesses the frequency with which small, inaccurate changes are quickly corrected.
My methodology was to introduce fibs into the Wikipedia entries on the lives of philosophers and watch the entries for 48 hours. If they had not been corrected, I removed them after that time.

The gist of it is that 10 out of 28 changes (36%) were either flagged or reverted within 48 hours. This is an adjusted number, but I think the more informative one; see the paper for all the whingeing and analysis.

It would have done no good to insert the very same fib into a great many entries, because that might have alerted someone to the systematic nature of the endeavor. So I had to make up a lot of different fibs. That part of the study was kind of fun, and I thought I'd provide a bit of colour commentary that would have been inappropriate in the list of data. None of the following were flagged or corrected.

Of Gottfried Leibniz: "Many of his manuscripts are written in a shorthand of his own invention which uses binary numbers to encode sequences of characters." As Cristyn was quick to mention, there is no way that a binary encoding could be a shorthand. It provably maximizes the number of characters required to encode information!

Of Jeremy Bentham: "As a child, he wrote a series of imaginative dialogues between an unnamed boy and wisdom incarnate in the form of a tiger. These were never published, but reflected the author's early interest in writing and philosophy." I originally wrote this with Thomas Hobbes in mind.

Of Friedrich Nietzsche, in the context of his book not selling well: "In a letter to Victoria Regina, Nietzsche even entertained the possibility of burning the remaining copies to collect on insurance." I was tickled by the thought of despondent Nietzsche writing the Queen of England about his troubles. It is like the premise for a romantic comedy. The fib about Thomas Hill Green's writing to the Queen was caught and corrected, for what it's worth.

In the entry on Rudolf Carnap: "The Vienna Circle was also a tightly-knit social group. They regularly met to play cards, including a bridge-like game of their own devising called Whistenschaft." Ha! I crack myself up.

Of Gilbert Ryle: "After retiring, Ryle bought a small farm. He tinkered with automated processes to care for livestock, although they never proved to be commercially viable." That would explain why Ryle was so down on the goats in the machine.

Of Karl Popper: "[H]e lived on a cooperative farm. He later claimed that nothing prepares the mind for philosophy like milking a cow." There is nothing especially Popperian about this bon mot, but I was tickled by it.

Of GE Moore: "His influence outside philosophy includes a reference to him in the signature line of the musical Oliver." Please, sir... I'd like some Moore. (groan)

I had enough fun conducting this study that I worried a bit that it was silly and petulant. As I mention in the conclusion of the article, there are systematic issues that should discourage anyone from doing a larger-scale version of this study. And probing the Wikipedia should not be used as an excuse for haphazard vandalism. Yet I do think that the study was worth doing, and using less entertaining fibs would not have improved it any.

UPDATE 7Sep: Fixed the link to the complete list of fibs and added mention of the GE Moore pun.

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Courses as dry goods 
I was recently advising undergraduates as they registered for classes. This Fall, the PeopleSoft database has a new web interface. Now, when students initially select courses, the courses appear in their "shopping cart." The students are not actually enrolled until they "check out." These are the actually terms used by the website.

My initial reaction was to object to the commercial metaphor. We might colloquially say that students shop for classes, but a section of Intro Logic is not like a can of beans. Education is not just another commodity, and the university is poorly served by suggesting to students that it is.

My second reaction was that the new interface is probably a generic e-commerce interface, with as few changes as possible to make it work for a university. For example, it doesn't calculate shipping and handling.

My third reaction, however, is a kind of grudging approval. What else would you call the part of the interface where students have selected a list of courses but have not yet actually taken up one of the seats? "Shopping cart" does that in two words, telling students at once that the listed items have been selected and that the choice has not been finalized. I am not sure what else I would have called it.

My fourth reaction was that I had put too much thought into this. I should write a blog post about it and move on.

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