Publishing in the echo chamber 
In these two related items, Wikipedian prose appears in print:

1. Dublin student Shane Fitzgerald invented a quotation and attributed it to the recently-deceased composer Maurice Jarre in the latter's Wikipedia entry.* The quote was subsequently printed by several major newspapers in obituaries for Jarre. [coverage in the Irish Times, here]

Regarding Wikipedia, this just corroborates things I already knew. Even though the quote was written to sound like something that the composer might plausibly have said, it was quickly removed from Wikipedia. Fitzgerald had to add it repeatedly until it slipped by Wikipedia's first responders. Even then, it only persisted for about a day. Wikipedia did its usual decent but imperfect job of filtering out fibs.

Regarding the state of journalism, it's more depressing. When people lament the demise of newspapers, they often say that real journalists do important work that citizen bloggers do not. Surely that is true in some cases, but not here. Newspapers played exactly the same echo chamber game that bloggers play.

2. Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, has a forthcoming book titled Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Waldo Jaquith at the Virginia Quarterly Review discovered that some sections of the book had been plagiarized. Anderson replied that the original draft had included footnotes, that the editor had decided to eliminate the apparatus at the last minute, and that errors had been made when incorporating attributions into the body text. Both he and his publisher have said that the footnotes will be available as an on-line supplement.

This much seems fine. He tried to acknowledge sources, made honest mistakes, and has made a good faith effort to correct for those mistakes. In any case, the standards are somewhat fuzzier for popular books than they are academic monographs.

The more worrisome thing is that some of the passages relating facts (about usury, for example) are copied verbatim from Wikipedia. One might worry again about plagiarism. It is verboten to repeat text verbatim without indenting it or putting quotation marks around it. Yet perhaps in the original draft, along with a footnote crediting Wikipedia, there were quotation marks.

The more substantive concern is that the text uncritically turns to Wikipedia as a relevant and reliable source. Anderson wrote a popular, nonfiction book and so is effectively operating as a journalist. Just as I expect reporters to take the few minutes required to follow up on what Maurice Jarre said, I expect a book author to follow up on whether charging interest was made a heresy in 1311.

In the case of Jarre, it is possible that many of the papers just took stories from the wire. It might even be that only one reporter knowingly took the quote from Wikipedia, and subsequent newspaper editors just unwittingly traded it around. In Anderson's case, we know that he was the one who did the cut-and-paste job.


* I let this news item pass without comment a couple of months ago, but blogging about it now lets me stick a pin in it. I live in the 21st-century, and the internet is my scrapbook.

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Vanity searches and scholary productivity 
Poking around on Google Scholar, I can check how often my publications have been cited.* Subtracting instances of me citing myself, my most cited papers are Epistemology and the Wikipedia (with 7 citations) and Distributed cognition and the task of science (with 6 citations).

In science studies, the number of citations made to an article is often used as a measure of the article's scholarly impact. It is sometimes even used as a proxy for the article's quality. Citation counts give social scientists a quantifiable handle on ineffable factors. Sometimes, the same measures are used by administrators to assess the productivity of scholars and departments - again because it gives an objective procedure for assessing such things.

As far as I know, nobody uses such measures to gauge the quality of philosophical work.** It is a good thing, too. Citation patterns vary widely across the field, with some specialties cluttering articles with clouds of citations and others providing a few exemplary citations. There is little difference in substance between a footnote that cites 20 articles without comment and one that cites a recent survey article or anthology.

Considering my two most cited papers, neither of them are straight-up philosophy: The first was only a conference presentation. Anyone who has read it found it on the internet - either on my website or the SUNY digital archive. It has been cited mostly by people thinking about IT issues. The second was published in Social Studies of Science, an interdisciplinary journal.

Suppose these two examples are typical and imagine what would follow if citation counts were used as a measure of scholarly productivity for philosophers. Insofar as scholars in other disciplines cite more, one would want to write papers that pique the interest of those guys. One would want to publish outside the mainstay philosophy journals. In short, one would do more interdisciplinary work.

I do not know whether this would be a good thing or a bad thing. In the long run, though, philosophers would probably just start citing each other more in uninformative, cloud-of-reference footnotes.


* Admittedly, Google Scholar's database is somewhat quirky. It has the virtue of being readily available.

** Some time ago, I discussed an attempt to measure the impact of philosophy journals.

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Meet the new book, same as the old book 
I uploaded the first new version of forall x in over a year. There are plenty of corrections, but no substantive changes. For uninteresting reasons, this new version is 1.27 - three increments later than the previous version 1.24.

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In other forms, forall x 
I wrote forall x primarily for use in my own logic course, to fit my syllabus in a way that was affordable for students. I made it available under a Creative Commons license primarily in hopes that other instructors might adopt it.

I get occasional e-mails from people who are using forall x to teach themselves logic, and that's cool too. Since it's designed to be accompany lectures and office hours, it's not perfect for self-directed study - but people say they find it useful.

Dave Morris at the University of Lethbridge was one of the first people to adopt it up as a course text. He was teaching abstract math, rather than philosophical logic, so it wasn't a perfect fit. Later, the CC license allowed Morris to use it as a starting point in writing his own textbook. He and his wife have written an abstract mathematics textbook called Proofs and Concepts which incorporates a lot of material from my book. They acknowledge this and provide a full citation in the front matter of their book.

This is not something that I had really thought through when I released forall x, but it is one of the great features of CC licenses. Once I have made something available, people find uses for it that I hadn't anticipated.

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Berkeleyfest 


I was at Cornell last weekend for the Berkeley Bonanza, organized by Andrew Chignell and Melissa Frankel. I have worked on Reid and taught Berkeley, but I was surprised at the extent to which I had things to say about Berkeley once I was in a room full of Berkeley scholars.

I was invited to comment on a paper by Alex Klein addressing the concept of empiricism, the relation between psychology and philosophy, and Berkeley's account of abstract ideas. I accepted knowing that I would at least have things to say about the first two of these. In preparing my comments, however, I had as much to say about how we should read Berkeley.

(The above picture is a composite I made from two photos that I took with the cheap camera in my cellphone. There was, in the actual room, a door in the middle of the far wall. It wasn't in either photograph, so it doesn't appear.)

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