We Shall Overcome

In Praise of Knowledge Reworked

BrainIt’s impossible to discuss complex ideas without clarity, but don’t search for deeper meaning in Wikipedia or a dictionary. That was the message over at the Scatterplot blog last week. With a focus on academic submissions to a sociological journal it seems a valid point, but it also tells us something about hands-off commentary.

As passing quips, the posts on using Wikipedia for background information and appealing to dictionaries in defining complex ideas read very much like on-the-run, exasperated commentary. And they should be – journal editors have a responsibility to act as gatekeepers, screening out submissions not fully engaged in the world of ideas.

This isn’t as abstract as it might seem; a journal article is, or at least should be, a small contribution to how we understand the world, regardless of the discipline in which it was written. But look at the problem from a slightly different perspective. How can we ensure that cut-price sources become top-rate reference material?

definitionsLeaving dictionaries aside because they still involve a long process of submission, consideration and acceptance – not to mention the need for sometimes crippling brevity – what can we do about Wikipedia? From a blogger’s perspective, John Quiggin has provided a very simple answer.

Quiggin, an economist and astute political commentator, wanted to comment recently on a question put to the Australian Treasurer about the NAIRU – the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment. The NAIRU allows us to know the point at which a decrease in unemployment is likely to cause inflation. When more pay packets create more demand, at some stage prices rise. That’s the theory.

Interestingly enough the Treasurer seemed a little vague about the concept.

When Quiggin set out to write his blog post he wanted to include the Wikipedia entry on the NAIRU

but, as with quite a few economics articles, it’s not entirely satisfactory. However, rather than complain, I’ve edited it to include a slightly better explanation.

It’s a small step that won’t change the world, but bravo Professor Quiggin. Here’s an academic who knows the value of knowledge beyond the allure of idle complaint.

Keeping in mind my earlier observation about dictionaries, allow me to offer a short definition submitted to no greater authority than you, the reader: the verb ‘to Quiggin’.

Quiggin /Kwıgın/ v. To refine knowledge rather than complain about ignorance.

Never one to let an issue lie, Quiggin’s post today playfully mentions the twisted way Google searches can lead to unusual Wikipedia entries.

KnowledgeThe quest for knowledge, whether online or off, can be interesting, confusing, satisfying and annoying in turn. But that should never dissuade us from searching harder, from looking around the next bend.

Sometimes it’s a pleasure to live in a puzzling world.

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2 Responses to We Shall Overcome

  1. chris-09 says:

    The quest for knowledge, whether online or off, can be interesting, confusing, satisfying and annoying in turn. But that should never dissuade us from searching harder, from looking around the next bend.

    Sometimes it’s a pleasure to live in a puzzling world.

  2. Mike Poole says:

    Chris, you’re entirely correct. I was speaking to a scientist yesterday who said that the importance of his work wasn’t in the discovering but in the looking. I couldn’t put it better myself!

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