Tag Archives: wikipedia

Citation Needed

I was recently reading a NY Times article about the new gold rush going on in Silicon Valley which included the following statement: “Nationwide unemployment among computer scientists and programmers is higher than in other white-collar professions – around 5 percent”. Ok, that seems interesting, and not what I expected, so I wanted a citation.

Years of using Wikipedia has developed a very good set of habbits in actually looking at all the references someone links to in an article. Just because someone writes a thing down, doesn’t make it true. In the era of the internet you can’t hide behind your endnotes.

So I went trying to find this fact. Maybe they paid the $20 for the IEEE report on unemployment? Though I doubt it for an article that was basically about crazy perqs that were being given. All the freely available pieces of data cited on blogs are from October 2009, 18 months ago. I’m sure that 18 months in no way changed that number. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data that is broken down by job family is older than that, dating back to May 2009. And it doesn’t actually address unemployment, but employment. And when it break it down by job family, you start to realize how difficult it would be to figure out those rates anyway. If anyone has a better way to find these numbers, please let me know.

As the NY Times is about to put itself behind a paywall, I’m starting to wonder if one of the lessons old media really needs to learn from new media is heavily footnote. Trust is no longer given to an organization, they’ve all been too wrong too often. But trust can be given on a piece by piece basis if it has enough supporting material. And providing people good links to good primary sources is really valuable, as an hour on google will attest to. If the NY Times actually started doing that, I’d jump on the digital subscription bandwagon. It’s one of the reasons I pay for Ars Technica, they actually spend time getting good citations.

Unlearn Something Wrong Today

Glass is not a high-viscosity liquid at room temperature: it is an amorphous solid, although it does have some chemical properties normally associated with liquids. Panes of stained glass windows often have thicker glass at the bottom than at the top, and this has been cited as an example of the slow flow of glass over centuries. However, this unevenness is due to the window manufacturing processes used in earlier eras, which produced glass panes that were unevenly thick at the time of their installation. It is common to find old windows which are thicker at the sides or the top.[114][115]

Wikipedia has a pretty good list of Common Misconceptions, with references explaining why they aren’t true, and what the real story is.  Unlearning a wrong fact is one of the hardest things to do as a human being, so do yourself a favor and unlearn something wrong today.