Talk:Robert McHenry

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edit·history·watch·refresh Stock post message.svg To-do list for Robert McHenry:
  1. Find a photograph
  2. More details about life before EB
  3. Details about circumstances of McHenry's departure from EB; he was replaced as editor-in-chief aged just 52, with apparently no new job. Why? Was he fired? If so, why?
  4. Improve description of How to Know
  5. Arrange peer review
Priority 4

McHenry's article[edit]

McHenry's article certainly is provacative. Among the things I think he fails to understand is that people using the internet for research expect to have to think critically about the veracity and objectivity of the information they find. If you are looking for authority, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is vastly preferred to the Wikipedia. What Wikipedia shows us is that people are looking for qualities besides authority in their information -- qualities such as accessibility, usefulness, and currency. For these qualities, Wikipedia is unexcelled.

Second there is the question of what information matters. The Britannica must weigh the desire to preserve information with the need to control expansion of its volumes. The Wikipedia does not suffer from rampant expansion. McHenry uses the example of the entry on Alexander Hamilton to make his point. What if we were to compare the entries on American Idol, or Banksy, or even Robert McHenry himself? The Britannica is useless, but the Wikipedia preserves such ephemera.

Finally, it must be noted that the lack of authority in Wikipedia is not directly linked to its accuracy. When one cites the Wikipedia, even reproducing an error of fact, the reader is alerted to the non-authoritative status of that fact, just as McHenry says. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Facts are always involved in conflict, as the incalculable revisions to the Britannica itself demonstrate. An error that slips past their esteemed editors will likely BECOME truth saving a monumental effort of revision. The beauty of the Wikipedia is that conflict is transparent and accessible. This is the social construction of truth. Authority is an expedient end-around to settle dispute, but it is not the only means, and it does no guarantee of social value. --Dystopos 22:46, 17 November 2004 (UTC)

I have noticed, however, that Wikipedia articles, freely available as they are, tend to show up all over the web. This is sometimes an attempt to add useful information to a site, but is often apparently a tactic for increasing search-engine hits. When the source of these articles is not made clear the issue of authority is muddled. Furthermore, when dozens of sites copy an article and preserve its one-time state, any inaccuracies are preserved with it and, to the casual internet-searcher, reinforce each other by their repetition. (One example, an older article about the mesoamerican goddess Matlalcueitl, which was vague and inaccurate, is just about the only source of information on Google. The same inaccuracies were copied out over a few dozen websites and the very ubiquity of those claims made them seem more authoritative.)

Dystopos 22:18, 1 Mar 2005 (UTC)

McHenry's quote[edit]

erm shouldn't the quote be in wikiquotes?? Davelane 00:40, 18 November 2004 (UTC)


So my additions to the McHenry stub were removed because they were "criticism of wikipedia". An earlier article mentioning McHenry's public restroom analogy was similarly excised. It would seem that all articles on Wikipedia are open to editing, but the question of the value and validity of any information in Wikipedia is permanently closed.

What does this say about Wikipedia? That the one who most carefully watches and edits subjects is the one whose viewpoint is most closely represented?

In this case, the changes reflected only opinion. Other opinions include "the earth was created 6,000 years ago", and "there was no Nazi holocaust". The facts in these matters are beyond dispute, yet it is useful to have both the facts and the divergent opinions represented here.

So, as a creationist, would I be right to constantly monitor and change the entry for evolution to imply that evolution is not factual? Would I be right to have my friends do the same, to ensure that blocking our IP addresses would not work? Would this make Wikipedia a better resource?

By so closely monitoring the McHenry entry, and expunging any dissenting views, you confirm his hypothesis. Perhaps we should concentrate on what Wikipedia is (a stupendously useful aggregator of knowledge) rather than what it is not (an authoritative set of knowledge). 18:44, 1 March 2005 (UTC)

What's far more likely is that most Wikipedians feel it would be both excessively self-referential and frankly pretty childish to devote this article to the Wikipedia controversy. Clearly most of Wikipedia's contributors know McHenry first and foremost for what he's said about this project, not for what he is actually notable for (writing books and editing the EB), so it would be all too easy for this article to become solely concerned with one minor aspect of what he's done. After all, it's not as if Wikipedia's many proponents are stuck for things to say on the matter. It may be that his attack on Wikipedia comes to be regarded as an important moment in the history of encyclopedias: the day the 'old guard' stopped dismissing Wikipedia as an irrelevance and started getting defensive. That's not for us to say. I could point you to several long discussions and thorough debunkings of what he had to say, and I could have a good go myself, but it's best that we don't turn this article into such an exercise. — Trilobite (Talk) 23:21, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
So you're saying that there are these "Wikipedians" for whom these articles are written; furthermore, that these Wikipedians are whose point of view Wikipedia is meant to espouse, and the articles should be edited to promote this point of view? Just to posit that such a group of persons exists appears to go against the wonderful democracy that I hear about connected with Wikipedia. If indeed there is a particular editorial slant that Wikipedia should espouse, then the only difference between it and the Britannica is that their editors are paid and, one assumes, more experienced.
Incidentally, though I find Wikipedia a useful resource, consult it often, and contribute now and again myself, I would neither call myself a Wikipedian nor agree that you've described my views on the subject at all. 20:26, 8 March 2005 (UTC)
Err... no, that's not what I'm saying at all. Wikipedia is not meant to espouse the point of view of those who write it or to have a particular "editorial slant". It is meant to be written from a neutral point of view. If Wikipedia was written from the point of view of its authors this article would be a long polemical piece arguing against what McHenry had to say, but as I said above there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn't do such a thing in the article. If someone criticised Britannica and was much talked-about amongst its editors, would you expect them to devote a huge article to the controversy? I'd find that childish. Robert McHenry is, as the article said, an editor and writer. His views on Wikipedia are incidental. No one is trying to hide his criticism—the article summarises it and there's a link to it at the bottom of the page. I can't help thinking that you've missed my point. I'm saying the opposite of what you seem to think I'm saying. — Trilobite (Talk) 06:10, 9 Mar 2005 (UTC)

A Letter to the Editor - Robert McHenry - The Jerusalem Post May 14, 1993[edit]

"We do not pretend that the Britnnica is immune to error"

"On the area of Israel and territories: Mr. Landau attempted to read some meaning into a simple mistake. The total area of occupied territories is given as "more than 7,000 square miles" instead of the correct "more than 7,000 square kilometers." This error will, of course, be corrected at the earliest possible opportunity. (The mistake is quite substantial. 7,000 sq. km. is 2,700 sq. miles. J.P., ED. )"

"On the article "Zionism": Mr. Landau's criticism is in part appropriate, in part a quibble. The sentence he quoted errs in seeming to place the whole responsibility for the movement of Arab population out of the new state of Israel on the new state itself."

"We do not know if Khalidi was a member of the Palestine National Council at the time this article was originally commissioned, which was more than 25 years ago (Ochsenwald revised it in 1989). But his political activities, like those of all our contributors, are not of primary interest to us. What is of primary interest is the quality of scholarship, and as to that Mr. Landau offered nothing beyond ad hominem remarks."

Thanks for a good retort Rob - Executive editor, Ted Pappas: "one of the administrators over seeing the political coverage openly encourages people to vote for John Kerry" [1]

"On Moslems and Jerusalem: The article offers an incomplete discussion of the Moslem view of Jerusalem, and will be revised."

"On the law enacted in 1985 by the Knesset: Britannica has it wrong, and the passage will be corrected."

"On the article "Jerusalem:" The criticisms of the article are supported by sources we have consulted, and the article will be revised accordingly."

"ON JEWISH IMMIGRATION: The matter of Jewish immigration (in the early 1940s) is apparently exaggerated in the article, and this will be amended."

"The 'Encyclopedia Britannica' admits some mistakes" The Jerusalem Post April 30, 1993[edit]

"like the statement that Jaffa was founded by the Romans. McHenry admits 'most sources agree with your point.'"

"also concedes her point that 'Muhammad issued the Qibla Manshuka only two years after the 'hegira,' replacing Mecca for Jerusalem in Moslem prayer. Since then, Moslems turn their backs on Jerusalem when praying and face Mecca instead.' 'The passage (in the Britannica) is misleading and will be rephrased," McHenry promises.'

"Willers asserted that saying "the Jewish quarter (in the walled part of Jerusalem) suffered in the 1947-8 fighting" is a gross understatement. In responding, McHenry indulges in yet another understatement, agreeing that 'the term 'suffered' seems insufficient.'"

Anyways I'm tired of copying all his half hearted acknowledgments - there are more. Why can't you be more forgiving Rob? Lotsofissues 03:52, 18 Apr 2005 (UTC)

McHenry's criticism and the issue of provenance on the Wikipedia[edit]

Why is it not legimate to have a link to the article Wikipedia:Provenance?--Carl Hewitt 22:52, 20 August 2005 (UTC)

[Moved from User talk:CarlHewitt] Overall, it is unwise to mention Wikipedia in any article. Decisions to include should be carefully considered because we would likely violate our own standards against vanity. In this case the Wikipedia vanity is obvious. You are adding details from a forum post discussed by less than 10 Wikipedians looking into solving a general problem raised by contributors, bloggers, etc. lots of issues | leave me a message 22:58, 20 August 2005 (UTC)
It's not vanity. It's on point discussion that should not be suppressed.--Carl Hewitt 00:41, 21 August 2005 (UTC)
It's thinly related to him more about Wikipedia minutiae. I find it unencyclopedic. lots of issues | leave me a message 01:24, 21 August 2005 (UTC)
I have added to the discussion to make it directly related to the quotation by McHenry that appears just before.--Carl Hewitt 04:15, 21 August 2005 (UTC)
How about only putting this in if it's implemented? The article is already lopsided even without it. See Trilobite's first comment. — Jeandré, 2005-09-19t20:28z
The issue of implementation is a largely a matter of Wikipedia internal politics short term and/or long term. Implementaton seems somewhat irrevelant to the intellection issues of provenance that concern McHenry. I think that real issue here is whether this kind of provenance meets McHenry's objections. So that kind of disucssion would be in order in the article concerning McHenry's criticisim.--Carl Hewitt 06:30, 20 September 2005 (UTC)
Trilobite's argument above makes complete sense to me. The statements as to why the provenence paragraph should stay do not. — Jeandré, 2005-09-21t21:49z
Since the article directly quotes McHenry, it has entered the realm of controversy and must maintain a neutral point of view. That means that the article cannot ignore the existing controversy and must report the positions that have been taken on it. Atttempting to ignore the controversy would substantially distort reporting the current situation.--Carl Hewitt 06:56, 22 September 2005 (UTC)

The implicit value of uncertain definitions[edit]

The lack of "authoritative blessing" in Wikipedia (and in the Internet in general) is a tremendous benefit: it encourages skeptical thinking.

For many years we tended to take whatever verbiage [insert printed encyclopedia] spewed out as definitive and authoritative. It's clearly not, because the authors and editors are just as human as anyone else, subject to personal whim. But back in the bad old days when it was difficult to find alternative sources of information, one tended to go with whatever came first to hand. And without a background in skepticism, one tends to take information at face value.

Encyclopedias have been obsolete for a while now, thanks to the WWW and search engines. While the information provided by the Web is often inaccurate, sometimes in very subtle ways, this fact is much more obvious to anyone who's spent any time at all using it. If you have nothing to contrast against, an encyclopedia article has to be taken as gospel.

This critical approach is valuable in all areas of life, not just surfing the web.

Furthermore, the lack of ability to prove one's identity is a blessing in disguise. It means average human beings without credentials or formal academic learning can make valuable contributions. It also means kooks with four PhDs can be called as such.

It's difficult to get out of the "academic mindset": that only certain people are qualified to contribute academically, and the ones with the most formal learning are most qualified. The reality is that everyone is qualified to contribute, but not everyone knows their own limitations; that's what editors are for.

Wikipedia will struggle with this for a while, and will eventually come down to two choices. One is to only allow articles to be edited by people who have proven themselves in some way, which will inevitably involve checking identities, educational status, etc. The other is to learn to stop worrying and love the bomb, and accept that janitors will have to spend time cleaning up after mistakes. 18:39, 28 August 2005 (UTC)

"Who farted?" A Response to Robert McHenry[edit]

The other day, when discussing group consensus here at Wikiland with someone, I used the term "Wikithink."

Not having heard this word before, and wondering how clever I had been to use it, I did a Google search. One of the "hit" pages had a reference to Robert McHenry's article, The Faith-Based Encyclopedia. It was a clever title, so I read it.

I listened to his arguments, which were a bit self-serving, and I've also read the pros and cons of Wikipedia at this site. What McHenry should have done was log in and try his hand at editing and learning the culture at WP. He should have gotten involved with some of the better editors here, and edited some of the more serious articles. After logging some time and effort, he would have learned something important:

There are how many articles at Wikipedia world-wide -- over a million? Yes, many of these are short stubs, poorly-written rough drafts, or trifling little pieces of crap. They can't be relied on, but no one who recognizes reasonably good writing would.

But the more specialized, advanced, controversial or important a subject is, the more likely it is being continually being "watched" by very talented and motivated people who have taken ownership of every phrase, every choice of word, every transition and every point of fact.

This means that the more trifling or arcane the subject, the less likely it has received serious attention, but also less likely anyone will read it, rely on it, or expect it to be serious. The more likely it is to be searched and relied on, the more likely someone here has paid serious attention to it. They are directly correlated, and this usually is overlooked by critics, because they haven't worked here.

It's the "watching" -- the watchlist -- that is the key to Wikipedia. The watchlist is our nose -- it's really a snifflist. Everyone watches the work most important to them, and, if you're like me, you pore over every single revision, if, for no other reason, to make sure that some boob in a smelly T-shirt hasn't edited over that lovely phrase you polished for half an hour.

McHenry made an bathroom analogy to Wikipedia, or should I say, Wikipeedia. I'll make another analogy:

Wikipedia is not like a bathroom, it is more like a research facility with thousands of cubicles, one for each area of study. Some cubicles are visited more often and more heavily than others. Some get visited heavily only during article's initial creation.

And every cubicle is small.

When you walk into the cubicle for, say, Ann Coulter or Israel -- pieces which are being scrutinized by zealots from every part of the political spectrum -- and someone walks in and lets a big one rip, believe me, someone is going to notice it, and they're going to say something. No one around here is afraid to say, "Who farted?" And using our watchlists, we can work in one cubicle and still keep our noses in 100 others. We don't even have to be in the room when it happens. We just half to pause in our editing once in a while, stick our heads out, and sniff.

There's no way to emit something nasty here, where it really matters, without its being noticed. The most important cubicles are constantly occupied or monitored. Each is supplied with a can of Country-Fresh Revert. Bad edits don't leave germs, they don't spread disease, and they don't require disinfectant. We don't have to worry about Wikistink. Bad edits are just farts in the wind.

-- Paul Klenk 12:12, 31 August 2005 (UTC)

The Wikipedia does not shy away from controversy[edit]

Traditionally the Wikipedia has not shyied away from contoversy. It is not a violation of NPOV to report on controversy and the contentestants.--Carl Hewitt 22:23, 29 September 2005 (UTC)

This article is...[edit]

... not very good. Is it terribly hard to find background info on this guy? Heck, this article doesn't even have a proper lead! - Ta bu shi da yu 12:57, 22 November 2005 (UTC)

It probably is. Editors of EB are not exactly prominent in the broader scheme of things. Chicheley 21:06, 28 June 2006 (UTC)

Wales interview transcript[edit]

I removed this entry from the "References" section:

* [ Q&A: Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder], Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners of a September 25, 2005 interview, where Wales discusses how McHenry is personally.

If this interview has any information to add to a neutral, encyclopedic article on McHenry, then I suggest using it as a reference first, then listing the citation for the material used -- not just linking to what amounts to hearsay. --Dystopos 14:44, 14 December 2005 (UTC)

The article itself testifies to the truth of McHenry's charge[edit]

"In essence, McHenry's criticism is that Wikipedia is operating on what he believes is a flawed premise; that allowing anyone to edit articles, whether or not they are knowledgeable, will lead to evolution of article quality."

Anybody take that sentence seriously? Bueler? Bueler? 19:29, 4 January 2006 (UTC)

I'm not sure what point you are making. If it is that the sentence is incorrect, I suggest you have not understood what McHenry was saying. Alan Pascoe 14:08, 4 February 2006 (UTC)


The following section needs clarifying as the paragraph is implying that he implied that ID and wikipedia were linked by logical fallacy, which is different from the footnote(refrence)

"McHenry's criticism of Wikipedia for lacking a logical mechanism for success, was consistent with his distaste for things lacking a rational explanation, which has been indicated particularly by his criticism of Intelligent Design (ID). McHenry has argued that ID is not a theory in the scientific meaning of the word, because it is not based on evidence, it does not generate predictions, and thus cannot be tested.[18] He has described ID as anti-science, because it begins with conclusion, that some unknown things are unknowable, and then is supported by selected evidence.[19] McHenry has argued that science is the engine of society and the root of economic success. He believes that ID supporters want to stop the engine, not just for themselves, but for everyone else. He views the support of politicians for ID as particularly dangerous.[20]" —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)

It wasn't my intention to imply a linkage. I was drawing a parallel between McHenry's comment in this "Faith-Based Encyclopedia" article, in which he argued faith in a non-rational mechanism was required, with the comments he has made in articles about ID. I'll reword the first sentence. Alan Pascoe 20:01, 29 March 2006 (UTC)

How to Know[edit]

In 1998, McHenry wrote the book How to Know, in which he explored the questions of what we can know and how we know that we know it.

Sounds very vague and blurby. Is it a popular book about epistemology or something? Qwertyus 01:48, 14 June 2006 (UTC)

I think it's what the publisher released about it. I have the book, but I have not yet read it. In the introduction, McHenry specifically states that the book is not about epistemology. Alan Pascoe 20:14, 14 June 2006 (UTC)

Nothing Compares to Team work[edit]

I don’t think anyone should be able to edit an article, for the sake of protecting the quality of the particular article. The discussion is not a place where scholars condemn and ignore everyday readers. Without feedback the reader eventually holds back from contributing to discussions. Reminding editors that Wiki’s discussion for each article is not like in common text; giving further detail. Wiki’s intention for discussion is asking for further details. Making sense to the reader should intentionally be the end result of an article. Editors that don’t agree with Wiki’s motive to welcome views from any one; should not edit here for the consequences incidentally become attitudinal statements rather than staying focused on the topic. An article should be conditionally locked in with facts as to where a discussion should be unconditionally open for unique attributions pertaining to the article.Kisida 16:40, 9 September 2006 (UTC)

[Copied from User talk:Kisida by User:Kisida] Kisida, the purpose of articles' talk pages is to allow editors to discuss improvements to the articles. Your comment on Talk:Robert McHenry doesn't appear to be relevant or helpful. Alan Pascoe 19:34, 9 September 2006 (UTC)
I have to disagree, I am not an editor, nor do I intend to harass or stir any emotions up. Although for your information: The article on Robert McHenry is clearly a rebuttal and completely disqualifies as an article. I’m not taking sides and McHenny could have chosen a non offences approach. But he didn’t and Wiki’s editors took the bait, and the evidence is in the Article.Kisida 11:51, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
Kisida, the purpose of article talk pages is clearly stated on Help:Talk page. I suggest you read it. The page states:
"The purpose of a talk page is to help to improve the contents of the article in question. Questions, challenges, excised text (due to truly egregious confusion or bias, for example), arguments relevant to changing the text, and commentary on the main page are all fair play."
Your original comment doesn't appear to be consistent with this. I cannot see the relevance of it to this article.
I don't accept your view that this article is a rebuttal of McHenry's criticisms of Wikipedia. There are only two paragraphs in the entire article about Wikipedia. I think these fairly describe both his criticisms and the views of some who disagreed with him. Alan Pascoe 20:12, 11 September 2006 (UTC)

that anyone can edit[edit]

The "that anyone can edit" in "a free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit" is more like part of Wikipedia's tag line than an NPOV description of what it is. In fact, it's a mild factual inaccuracy. How about replacing it with "open content" like in Wikipedia (the article)?

(We wouldn't allow Google to be "a search company that thinks you shouldn't be evil" :p) (talk) 17:17, 19 January 2008 (UTC)

External links modified[edit]

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