Occasionally, the New York Times inadvertently prints a story that serves to high-light part of what is wrong with the MSM today. In this morning's paper, George Johnson writes about a clash between a modern distributed network and a legacy, centralized authority that reflects poorly on the standard model of the news gathering and disseminating business. The commentary, The Nitpicking of the Masses vs. the Authority of the Experts is unintentionally quite revealing. It starts off in a fairly straightforward manner:
Uneasily sharing space on the top ledge of my computer browser are two buttons I click almost daily for an information fix: Encyclopaedia Britannica, as old and steadfast as the ligature in its name, and a mercurial upstart called Wikipedia, in which almost anyone anywhere can fiddle with the prose.
It may seem foolish to trust Wikipedia knowing I could jump right in and change the order of the planets or give the electron a positive charge. But with a worldwide web of readers looking over my shoulder, the error would quickly be corrected. Like the swarms of proofreading enzymes that monitor DNA for mutations, some tens of thousands of regular Wikipedians constantly revise and polish the growing repository of information.
Johnson goes on to cite a research report in the journal Nature (which I have not read) which compared error rates as discerned by experts in the field:
A study last month in Nature showed that the decision is far from clear-cut. Calling on experts to compare 42 competing entries, the journal counted an average of four errors per article in Wikipedia - and three in Britannica. That is not much of a difference, and a look at the details only adds to the anxiety. A fact is surely a fact, but what constitutes an error can be as hard to pin down as a bead of mercury.
In fact, Johnson goes on to show that the error rates are even closer than the 3 vs 4 mentioned, once the errors are examined more closely. His final comments are well worth quoting:
Whatever their shortcomings, neither encyclopedia appears to be as error-prone as one might have inferred from Nature, and if Britannica has an edge in accuracy, Wikipedia seems bound to catch up.
The idea that perfection can be achieved solely through deliberate effort and centralized control has been given the lie in biology with the success of Darwin and in economics with the failure of Marx. [Emphasis mine-SW]
It seems natural that over time, thousands, then millions of inexpert Wikipedians - even with an occasional saboteur in their midst - can produce a better product than a far smaller number of isolated experts ever could.
Meanwhile the competition has some catching up to do. While Wikipedia includes a good, balanced article on the history of Britannica, Britannica has not a word to say about Wikipedia, as it rapidly becomes one of the most significant phenomena on the Net.
Substitute MSM for Britannica and Blogosphere for Wikipedia and the message is clear. The MSM has been trying for sometime now to discredit bloggers by invoking their inherent authority (perhaps learned in journalism school?) but there is no reason reporters should have greater authority on subjects like economics, psychology, math, war fare, the military, or any other human activity, than people who are experts in the field.
Often, our patients look to us to give them direction and advice, since we are, purportedly, the experts in human behavior. Most of the time they know what they think they should do and merely want us to offer a blessing to their course of action or an excuse not to do what they think they should. On those occasions when they are truly uncertain about the right course of action, it is still in their best interest for us not to offer advice. (The exceptional situations occur with patients who by virtue of their serious mental illness have impaired reality testing and are likely to do something harmful to themselves or others.) First of all, though I may know a lot about how people's minds are generally organized, the particular workings of an individual's mind are unique to that person, and he is the best judge of what works for him. Since the goal of analysis is to enlarge the sphere of responsible behavior by the patient (that is, for the patient to understand and accept responsibility for their actions) giving advice is antithetical to such work. Just as important, it is the patient who has to live with the results, intended and unintended, of their actions, not the analyst or therapist.
As the MSM becomes more and more desperate (recall they are losing money, hemorrhaging readers, laying off reporters) they are going to be increasingly likely to rely on their fantasied authority to make their readers see the world the way they should. Just as the recourse to authority is harmful to therapy patients (it damages our patient's autonomy and agency, which is exactly what analysis seeks to enlarge) the Times desperate paternalism is likely to further impair the cognitive ability of the liberals who rely on it to determine their world view.
The Times, apparently, is hard at work trying to impede rational thought by their readers, if Scott Johnson's report at Powerline, Timesspeak: Specialists at work, is any indication; quoting Orwell, he writes:
And so today, in the furor created by the New York Times stories by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, the Times and its media allies seek to impose the yoke of their thought on readers in order to stifle if not control the debate -- "to make all other modes of thought impossible." Let's call the lingo "Timesspeak" in honor of Orwell.