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Archive for September, 2009

Evolution of Evolution

Ben Fry posts an amazing visualization of the changes in the six editions of Darwin’s Origin of Species, based on meticulous work done by Dr. John van Wyhe and others. From Ben’s introductory text:

The second edition, for instance, adds a notable “by the Creator” to the closing paragraph, giving greater attribution to a higher power. In another example, the phrase “survival of the fittest” — usually considered central to the theory and often attributed to Darwin — instead came from British philosopher Herbert Spencer, and didn’t appear until the fifth edition of the text.

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The price of free law

The latest Radio Berkman episode has me interviewing Steve Schultze about his RECAP project that posts public domain legal records that otherwise you’d have to pay to access. And the federal courts are not all that happy about it.

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Google Books metadata meta-wreck

Geoff Nunberg has a fantastic post warning about the poor quality of the metadata attached to the books Google is scanning into its soon to be dominant-to-the-point-of-monopoly digital library. Apparently, the attempt to gather metadata automatically from the scans has resulted in the introduction of legions of errors. But the real problems are, as Geoff points out, that Google seems not to have a plan for dealing with this problem and that it has not opened up the metadata design process.

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Wikipedia’s bio policy explained

Billy Barnes explains what’s really going on with Wikipedia’s new process for editing the biographies of living people.

What the media reported: In response to vandalism of bios, Wikipedia is not allowing any edits to bios of living people to be posted before they have been reviewed by trusted editors. (Implication: Wikipedia has failed at its mission of completely open, ungoverned editing [which of course isn’t Wikipedia’s mission].)

What actually is happening: Wikipedia has a two month trial of a “patrolled revisions” system that lets a reviewer (and I’m not sure who is in that class) set a flag on a bio of a living person to indicate that that particular version is vandalism free. According to the Wikipedia page describing this: “Currently, the number of edits to BLPs [biographies of living people] is so large that we don’t have the power to check all of them. This system allows us to monitor changes to BLPs by reducing the number of diffs to check by comparing new edits to previously patrolled revision.”

Does this mean that if you make a change to a living bio, it first has to be marked as approved before it will be posted? Not as far as I can tell: ” Patrolling does not affect the revision viewed by unregistered users by default, it’s always the latest one (unless the article is flag protected).” In fact, Jimmy Wales has said (on an email list I’m on) that the aim of this change is to use more efficient patrolling to enable some pages that have been locked to once again be editable by any user. That’s more or less the opposite of what the media coverage said. And, I hasten to add, what slashdot and, um, I said about it. (And I hope I’m getting it right this time…)

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