Scholarly Snobbery and Wikipedia (again)

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by Neil Godfrey

The corrected article

I trust most readers here would patiently attempt to point out to intellectual snobs who look down with scorn and mockery on those less well educated that their privileged status obligates them to act with responsibility and do what they can to broaden a community’s education.

One of the more insufferable intellectual snobs on the internet poured scorn on the public in general when he wrote

Wikipedia’s Editors Are Imbeciles

Wikipedia’s editors are, of course, the general public. The scholar who went on to call them dullards and add labels to his post that included disdain, scorn, stupidity, could have deigned to dirty his hands and correct the article himself. That’s how Wikipedia works. Anyone who sees a mistake can correct it. Some scholars would seem to prefer to sit back and laugh at lesser mortals than actually go to the trouble of sharing their knowledge and better informing them.

I am reminded of a 2005 study. If there is anything comparable that is more recent do let me know. I wrote some time ago the following about it:

Research that was published in Nature in 2005 showed that it is comparable in accuracy and thoroughness with Encyclopedia Britannica. There were round about the same number of mistakes in each. Wikipedia responded by correcting its mistakes. EB, on the other hand, responded with a furious rebuttal and even threatened to sue Nature or the authors of the research. But Nature published a pretty strong rebuttal.

Anyone interested who missed this study can follow it up:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/full/438900a.html (and see related links)



I notice that the wikipedia entry has since corrected the photo in the article that made the scholar feel so so superior to the less well informed.

I do have to confess that this time I have not followed my own advice and attempted to point out to our gentleman scholar that he not only has the freedom and invitation to make a correction himself in the democratic encyclopedia, but some would even think he has a responsibility to do so. Previous attempts to engage the gentleman scholar have unfortunately resulted in him responding with vile insults. But don’t let my negative experiences stop you.  (I have at times gently pointed out to the occasional person who mocks wikipedia out of ignorance that they themselves are free and encouraged to make corrections themselves.)

I should add that Wikipedia is far from perfect. There are indeed a few articles that seem to have been taken over by dedicated persons determined to undo any editing that does not agree with their own biases. I understand that there are ways to respond to those sorts of situations, but then one has to decide on priorities and time against the an every painful awareness of the shortness of life.

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15 thoughts on “Scholarly Snobbery and Wikipedia (again)”

  1. Yes, he takes some getting used to. The best thing that can be said is that he’s actually gentler and more forgiving than Martin Luther, which is an incredibly low bar.

    1. Not just in theory but in reality. That’s the point of creative commons: to facilitate the spread of knowledge and intellectual creations without burying the creator in the process.

  2. I’m probably repeating myself, but what I find most amusing here is the fact that the transparent and free exchange of information in the open forum of Wikipedia seems to work pretty well, while the opaque and byzantine methods of scholarly peer review routinely fail in spectacular fashion.

  3. I have noticed this for a long time now. Many of those with University Degrees are completely brainwashed and cannot think outside the box they have been enclosed in. They have a form of cognitive dissonance which like those of strong religious persuasion cannot escape from, or at least that was what I thought until I read Norman Doidge M.D’s book “The Brain that Changes Itself”. I was trying to understand how it is possible not to even look at other people’s beliefs and ideas and this book does have some answers. All to do with the Brain’ plasticity and it can be changed.

  4. As a novice Wikipedia editor I wanted to add Voltaire as an influential source for Thomas Jefferson as per his article (which then only stated):

    Jefferson subscribed to the political ideals expounded by John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton, whom he considered the three greatest men who ever lived.

    One particular editor went on an all out offensive to block adding Voltaire as an influential source. I cited several reliable sources, but he demanded a citation of peer reviewed work by a historical scholar.

    Finally another helpful editor cited: Cogliano, Francis D. (2008). Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy. University of Virginia Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-8139-2733-6. “Jefferson read the major philosophic historians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – including Gibbon, Hume, Robertson, Bolingbroke, Montesquieu and Voltaire – and he endorsed their views on the utilitarian value of the study of history.”

    And updated the article by adding:

    He was also influenced by the writings of Gibbon, Hume, Robertson, Bolingbroke, Montesquieu, and Voltaire.

    I can only surmise that the obstinate editor shared a similar opinion of Voltaire as with the following writer:

    [Per The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon] the unwary reader is conducted, with matchless dexterity, to the desired conclusion—the abominable Manicheism of Candide, and, in fact, of all the productions of Voltaire’s historic school—viz., “that instead of being a merciful, ameliorating, and benignant visitation, the religion of Christians would rather seem to be a scourge sent on man by the author of all evil. —(Dublin review: a quarterly and critical journal. 1840. p. 208)

    1. The embedded image from above is not a screen-shot of a Wikipedia article, but rather a Google Search page.
      • “Theodore Beza French Theologian – Google Search“. http://www.google.com. Retrieved 18 August 2018.

      The displayed gallery is from “Google Images” and the image “Portrait of the Reformer Philipp Melanchthon” has been extracted from:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAmLFnxtuY0 YouTube. Discerning History. 1 February 2016.

      1. My god I think you are right! And I trusted a biblical scholar to be honest about what he was fed on the internet!

        (I’m tempted to write and tell Jim myself but most times I’ve emailed him something in the past he has responded with a post telling a blatant lie about what I wrote him!)

        1. Jim (18 August 2012). “The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament”. Zwinglius Redivivus :

          Here’s a sample entry:

          ἰδιώτης, ου, ὁ   idiōtēs   layperson, uneducated person

          Lit.: BILLERBECK III, 454–56. — H. SCHLIER, TDNT III, 215–17. — SPICQ, Notes I, 384–86.

          1. In Greek usage ἰδιώτης means both “private person” in contrast to public officials, and “stranger” in contrast to members of the group or local persons. Although the word does not appear in the LXX, it was taken over as a loanword with the same meaning in the rabbinic literature: heḏeyôṭ can thus designate a human being in contrast to the deity. The meaning is determined concretely by its context or by the contrast that is made. In the NT the Greek word appears 5 times, of which 3 are in 1 Corinthians 14 (vv. 16, 23, and 24).

          2. In Acts 4:13 the apostles are called ἄνθρωποι ἀγράμματοι καὶ ἰδιῶται (Hippolytus Philos. ix.11.1 uses the same phrase): they are uneducated and are not scribes. Similarly, Paul calls himself ἰδιώτης τῷ λόγῳ in 2 Cor 11:6. His intent is not to describe himself as generally uneducated, but rather to emphasize οὐ τῇ γνώσει. Thus the phrase is to be translated “unversed in speaking” (cf. Hippolytus Philos. viii.18: ἰδιῶται τὴν γνῶσιν; similarly Justin Apol. i.39.3; in 60.11 parallel to βάρβαροι).

          In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul uses the term in reference to untranslated glossolalia. It is disputed whether Paul is concerned about the church member who is incapable of glossolalia or the non-Christian outsider. In v. 16 ὁ ἀναπληρῶν τὸν τόπον τοῦ ἰδιώτου might refer to a church member whose status (cf. τόπον in Acts 1:25) leaves him ignorant of glossolalia. The meaning in 14:23 is also ambiguous: “When the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, εἰσέλθωσιν δὲ ἰδιῶται ἢ ἄπιστοι, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, εἰσέλθῃ δέ τις ἄπιστος ἢ ἰδιώτης, he is convicted by all.” Schlier (217) and Conzelmann (1 Cor [Hermeneia] 243) see no distinction between ἄπιστος and ἰδιώτης, while BAGD (s.v. 2), referring to the t.t. of religious associations, understands ἰδιώτης as a type of proselyte, a participant who is not fully a member. The parallel to βάρβαρος in Justin [see above] is also present in 1 Cor 14:11.

          H.-W. Bartsch

          1. Sparkes, A. W. (1988). “Idiots, Ancient and Modern”. Politics. 23 (1): 101–102. doi:10.1080/00323268808402051.

            Schlier (1966:215–217) gives an impressive collection of quotations illustrating the range of meanings of ‘idiotes’. Amongst the authors he cites are Plato, Aristotle, Thycydides and Xenophon. Schlier (1966:216) comments:

            In general, it is evident that the term . . . takes on its concrete sense from the context or the specific contrast. There can be no fixed rendering, though it always maintains the basic sense of one who represents his own interests as compared with the official or public interest. Even the professional or the expert is broadly concerned with the public interest at large.

            Schlier is too wistful for unity. There is no reason for thinking (or for thinking that the Greeks thought) that there ts a conceptual link between being foreign or unskilled and representing one‘s own as compared with the official or public interest and Schlier‘s final sentence is a piece desperation to which I reply with Wittgenstein’s challenge: Don’t say: ‘There must be something common . . . but look and see whether there is anything common at all’ (Philosophical Investigations Pt I para. 66).

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