Wikipedia – First Among Fact Checkers

The Daily Mail’s creaming itself over being able to publish this attack on Wikipedia.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘This is a complete waste of money. Wikipedia is an intellectual crutch, often full of mistakes, and encouraging pupils to rely on it does not help them.

It’s rare to see a target so comprehensively missed. Not a glowing reference for his “Real Education”.

I challenge anyone to point me to a MORE trustworthy and up to date general information source than Wikipedia. You can start by pointing to one which has fewer mistakes (proportionally) and elaborate how you reach that conclusion.

You can then move on to the question of how this potential superior source identifies its errors; how it publicises that identification and how it fixes them.

And finally, you might point out how and whether we can review the history of its entries and check on the identities (pseudonymous or otherwise) of those who created them.

Wikipedia took a while to deal with its most obvious weakness – the unhindered free access to its editing tools by the ignorant or agenda-motivated. But since it sorted that out, about 10 years ago, it has become, by a distance of several light years, the first port of call for anyone wanting a reasonably objective summary of what is known about the widest range of topics arranged in one place anywhere on the internet.

It’s exceptionally useful as the “First Fact Checker”. Here’s a tip. Whenever you read some extraordinary claim about something you know little about, before you go spreading the story, why not check out what Wiki has to say about it? It will save you a lot of embarrassment.

Yes, it still has occasional errors and some rather amateurish entries. And yes, it can still be “spoofed” in small ways on topics that attract so little attention that nobody bothers to check them. But there is nowhere else on the web which has anything like the rich and vibrant support community and readership which ensures that it has at least as high an overall credibility rating as the “professional encyclopedias” (a fact acknowledged by the BBC – who used to love wiki-bashing as well – back in 2005, after research conducted by the journal Nature, which compared a range of scientific entries in Wiki and Encyclopedia Brittanica and found them broadly comparable)

Most significantly of all, Wiki keeps and publishes an ongoing assessment of its own reliability. Point me to ANY other online information source doing that.

So it’s a nod of appreciation to Leicester city council. Your pupils will gain considerably by learning how to evaluate and use Wikipedia as the best starting point for almost anything they need to research. Most important of all, they’ll learn how it never permits assertions to be made without references and it will let them go and check those references for themselves, to see whether or not the assertion is justified. THAT’S “Real Education”.

Perhaps one of the reasons tabloids like the Daily Mail love attacking Wiki is because it can so easily destroy the credibility of so much of their own bullshit.

David Anderson takes a Step In the Right Direction

With David Anderson’s report, we finally look like we may be moving in the right direction.

However, his solution to over-reach is aiming at the wrong target. Prior authorisation by his proposed new judicial body is really no more than a band-aid on the amputated limb.

The 2800 authorisations issued last year are enough to illustrate the limitation of “control by authorisation”

There is no way that serious consideration of the facts and arguments underpinning any relevant surveillance request can possibly be conducted, at that rate, by the small organisation implied by a Judicial Commission. In fact, as David Davies argued on Radio 4, it’s not credible that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, even with the resources of the Home Office, can give genuinely appropriate levels of attention to such requests at the rate of 7 a day. Especially on top of her day job.

Frankly, however, we shouldn’t really care who signs off the authorisation for any given task. All they need to authorise is that the new rules I’m about to propose are being followed to the letter. That, in short means that a new digital case file has been opened and that everything related to the case will be stored in that file and made available, on demand to the independent oversight body and/or political authorities.

What matters far more – and is absolutely vital to ensuring true democratic control of the State’s surveillance apparatus – is the complete and routine data-capture (to an immutable audit trail) of the entire surveillance decision-making process and subsequent implementation of those decisions. In other words, nobody should be watched more closely and comprehensively than the watchers themselves. Think helmet cams, body cams, discreet microphones, Smartphone and GPS location tracking, Google glass and a host of similar technologies. Think ubiquitous CCTV and Webcam coverage in all secure areas and offices.

These are the experts in surveillance. They know exactly how to ensure that everything they say and do, in the line of duty, is captured to that immutable audit trail. They know how to keep their own data safe and secure and available only to those who have legal authority to access it. (If they don’t, they have no business keeping ours) It would probably be cost neutral or slightly beneficial.

Most importantly it will facilitate precisely the democratic oversight which is needed to ensure that everything the authorities do is on the record (or is automatically a criminal offence) and available for review by whatever oversight body we determine is necessary to earn the Trust of the British People.

That body must have untrammelled authority to inspect ANY relevant data at ANY time from the moment of authorisation forward. Indeed, it must even have authority to conduct spot inspections of anything relevant to their oversight with the sole and reasonable limitation that they can watch but not impede an ongoing operation. They must also be allocated resources which permit independent and trusted expert evaluation of what they find.

The technology will allow them to rewind any operation and see for themselves what evidence justified the operation and whether the implementation of the operation was entirely necessary and proportionate. Note, I don’t even insist that it was “legal”.

What matters is that We The People would agree that it was justified. Not that a “here today gone tomorrow” politician – with a potentially hidden agenda – asserts that it was justified and demands that we trust them.

The oversight body would be empowered to disclose whatever they thought necessary to the British Public. We need to be completely confident that if they say the operation was clean and justified, but that the details need to remain secret, we would probably have agreed with them if we were in possession of all the facts.

By the same token, where they clearly uncover illicit behaviour, we must be equally confident that they are able to disclose everything we ought to know, however embarrassing for the State, that disclosure may be.

Personally I don’t trust unelected Authoritarians, even relatively tame ones like most Judges, to wield that disclosure against the elected Authoritarians and I would much prefer that Oversight body to take the form of a Standing Jury with a few dozen members selected randomly from a national pool of civic-minded volunteers.

I don’t think we should object if the Security services wanted to Vet those volunteers and weed out any that might be a threat to the necessary discipline and security that such a Jury would have to work under. But the Jury itself would be the final arbiter on any such exclusions from Jury Service.

Such an arrangement would render the process truly democratic.

We should, perhaps, have no objection to a tribunal of experienced judges being available to advise and guide the Jury on all points of law and precedent, but the Jury itself should be sovereign and make the final judgements.

With all that in place, you can perhaps see why we needn’t care so much about who authorises the actual operations.

Provided we can see, after the event, who was asked, why they were asked, why they agreed, what the consequences were and how it was handled, frankly I don’t give a give a damn what it is they actually authorise – up to and including the assassination of a fellow citizen – or even an attack on a wedding party in Pakistan. There are potential legitimate reasons for any of these activities.

But where the consequences are that extreme, nothing less than a Jury of our peers, taking an entirely uninhibited look, on our behalf, at what went on and why, will satisfy any rationally sceptical citizen that the decisions were reasonable and rationally based on reviewable evidence; or that the implementation of those decisions was carried out in the least destructive and damaging way possible in the circumstances.

To be blunt; how many of the USA Police brutality incidents we have been bombarded with for the past few decades would have survived that level of scrutiny? Or, to put it another way, how much of that brutality would we have eliminated, how many lives would we have saved, had they been under that level of scrutiny?

Yes, the American Police are a far easier target for our opprobrium than the British Security Services.
We’d rather like to keep it that way!