Michael Gorman, blogging on Britannica

A few people have pointed out Michael Gorman’s blog posts, appropriately enough appearing on the Britannica blog. For reasons that evade me he has one general post split into two parts. Web 2.0 The Sleep of Reason Part I and Web 2.0 The Sleep of Reason Part II. Let me just say that Michael Gorman is a smart guy and I just wish the things he said didn’t sound so… snooty. Statements like these “The task before us is to extend into the digital world the virtues of authenticity, expertise, and scholarly apparatus that have evolved over the 500 years of print, virtues often absent in the manuscript age that preceded print.” are things I can totally get behind but then he follow-up in his later post with “Google cofounder Sergey Brin has said that ‘the perfect search engine would be like the mind of God,’ but most of us took that to be billionaire hyperventilating not blasphemy.” and I don’t understand why he has to be that way.

My take on what is happening has less to do with the nature of scholarship and more to do with the blurring of the idea of “research” as something we do for entertainment as well as scholarship. This may be something I think because I’m not really affiliated with an academic community and perhaps things have changed more than I am aware of, but I don’t think the idea of the expert is going away, only that it’s shifting in many of our interactions. So instead of us asking our expert mechanic for his or her opinion, we’ll check not only Consumer Reports but also epinions and maybe Edmunds.com when we’re buying a new car. We have more data because of the Internet and the network generally, and in many cases there’s no reason plain old humans can’t do something with that data. Gorman glibly refers to the idea his relief that there is “no discernable ‘citizen surgeon’ movement” but why is there a problem with citizen journalism? Especially if, like tagging and folksonomies, these trends are offered as supplments to the existing canon of options, not as supplanters of them?

update: aaaaand Clay Shirky’s reponse to Michael Gorman made boingboing

14 thoughts on “Michael Gorman, blogging on Britannica

  1. I would posit that with the increasing sophistication of the body modification movement, there are ‘citizen surgeons’ out there.

  2. My main issue is with the whole “two-part” blog posting.

    You have to really be banking on me having the time or mental capacity to remember that there is a second part.

    This in its itself is a very telling action.

  3. And of course, there may be no ‘citizen surgeon’ movement, but there IS a recognized and much-talked about trend of patients researching their own medical conditions online, and showing up to their doctors with information. Which can be good or bad, of course.

    Some people say this is an awful thing, some people say it’s a good thing—to me, the smartest people say, it IS a thing, like it or not, and the public health goal is to help people improve the medical research they are doing on their own, and to get doctors and patients interacting better in this new information environment. Rather than attempt some futile war to get patients to stop doing this. (Just trust everything the doctor says? No thanks. I’ve had too many run-ins with bad doctors. And I’m a fairly wealthy white male!)

    There is indeed an analogy here.

  4. I agree there is room for both experts and an educated public. The attitude you’re irked about has bothered me for some time.

    I also think the average person may have a level of experience or expertise that acedemics are either unaware of or intimidated by… just because someone posted it online, doesn’t automatically make it crap. Which is what some of my professors would say. If you’re looking for information on mailart, sheep breeding or bagpiping the experts may very well be found online, not in any academic institution.

    Wikipedia isn’t the devil as so many instructors think. It is what it is, information deposited by all kinds of people, some of it’s good some of it’s not. I wouldn’t cite it for a paper, but if you want to learn to play bunko- what’s wrong with Wikipedia?

    I think evaluation is a key skill in our current society.

  5. The similarities between the body mod community and Web 2.0 are surprising. Both communities have an intense pride in innovation, sharing and creation, but still respect individual artists and the need to make a living.

    The advanced body mods are often hooked up online as well, for the anonymity and the research. Also for sharing. Personally I’m all for the guy with the scalpel having read all he can from every source he can find and THEN making a decision. Just like I prefer my tattoo artist to know where her inks are from and what is in them. The core of Web 2.0 and the body mod community is information sharing and making it mean something. Web 2.0 kinda stops there though, whereas body mods go a bit further.

    Also, I thought you might like this.

  6. There may not be a “citizen surgeon movement” per se, but doctors use those unreliable web tools just as much as the rest of us.

    And maybe they’re not all that unreliable. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (as reported last fall by the BBC and the Daily Mail) found that a Google search correctly diagnosed diseases 58% of the time. Considering the fact that doctors only correctly diagnose fatal illnesses 80% of the time (according to the Mail), that’s something worth thinking about.

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