[Smt-talk] Wikipedia

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Mon Aug 1 19:24:16 PDT 2011

Dear Bob,

  Many thanks for your spirited riposte. But I disagree with very little of what you say; nor did my apparently Cassandra-toned posting. It's a question of emphasis and, as I implied, culture. The problems I was alluding to are cultural rather than substantive, if by that later term one understands matters of fact.

  Wilkipedia has become dramatically better in the last 5 years on matters of fact, I agree. Between the constant revision battles and the coarse, grotesque, profoundly anti-human insistence that only footnoted and sourced statements are permitted to remain, factual questions are indisputably far better handled than they used to be; I still recall, from the bad old early days, the lunatic comment, repeatedly reinstated by the smug ignoramus who first posted it, that the swing era started in 1945. This clown was able to keep undoing the corrections because of Wikipedia's open source editorial policy. And isn't it still true? As long as you can cite some form of chapter and verse, you're entirely entitled to replace the work of a Bob Kosovsky or a Nicolas Meeus with your own homegrown perspective.

  But that brings us to the deeper problem. What animates music theory especially plainly as a form of scholarship and learning is, bluntly, not matters of observable fact. Even the most stentorian Pythagorean insists that the matters of fact, the overtone series, dictate matters of interpretation in musical experience. And the more one confronts, is obliged by the matters at hand to confront, matters of interpretation, the more the nihilistic, democracy of Wikipedia fails. As music theorists of all people should know, to leave everything outside the realm of verifiable fact to no consensus beyond the whim of anyone with a typewriter is to destroy intellectual consensus at its base. I was trying be diplomatic, but the post to which I responded made the chilling dangers of this kind of relativism despairingly clear. The culture which so deeply horrifies me about Wikipedia, and which I believe fully warrants the chicken little-caterwauling of my previous dispatch, is that virtually nothing in its constitution and function makes any gesture to the respect of learning as a tangible accomplishment. The savagely simplistic divide of fact and opinion is overdriven to the point that there is no functional difference between the "opinions" of Carl Dahlhaus and Heinrich Schenker on the one hand, and, well, anyone else on the other.

  I understand the good faith and courageous attempts at realism of the folks who have posted here more or less in defense of Wikipedia, or of some form of accommodation with its juggernaut immanence. And I spend an average of several hours per week reading Wikipedia articles myself. Withal I continue to believe, despite the dramatic improvements you cite, Bob, that once you move beyond the realm of fact, Wikipedia's versions of knowledge, truth, and wisdom are utterly and profoundly at odds with scholarship's millennia-long efforts in these same directions.

MW Morse
Trent University

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