Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Did You Ever Hear The One About Last Year?

It was all a lie."

I like conspiracy theories. I used to hang out in conspiracy groups and listen to the sound of the bats' wings flapping in the gloom above. I have a few pet ones – the "NASA did so NOT land a man on the moon" conspiracy always figures high in my estimation, and I had a brief fling with the "holograms of airplanes in the sky coincided with bombs in the basement to bring down the World Trade Center Towers" theory.

What attracted me to these in particular was the sheer number of people who would have to be in the know and yet have not subsequently blabbed to their wives or sold their story to the Weekly World News. You can always count on a few stony SAS men or Marine generals not to talk to the press, but I found it thrilling that people could spin up a theory that relies on a thousand low-paid NASA engineers not to crack or some huge outfit with previously unknown holography techniques not to try to sell their distant-life-size-airplane-conjuring gear to the Rolling Stones or U2 as a tour gimmick.

My interest in conspiratoria flagged mightily after the success of The Da Vinci Code, however. If a hoary old chestnut like that could become a best-seller, I figured, then pretty much everyone must know every conspiracy theory out there. As time goes on, I'm learning that this isn't the case, but joy is slow in returning in listening to nutballs explain that da gubmint is apparently stuffed with antichrists and/or dupes of the New World Order who can simultaneously lie to everyone about the legality of taxation, the legitimacy of the Federal Reserve, and the multiplicity of Illuminati symbols in Washington DC.

You'll note that those are all very American conspiracies. Today I found evidence of a British conspiracy theory. John Scalzi, the SF writer, blogger and online-offer of occasional advice to writers, found an article in the Guardian that he really, really didn't like. The article, by Ben Myers, was about doing research on the internet. It concluded that it was easy, and yet not the answer to everything. Words were typed about Wikipedia. I commented on Scalzi's blog about the article. I didn't find it particularly enlightening myself.

But the comments to the article were another matter. Here's the portions I found interesting.

574871 "The fact that Googling a topic consistently throws up Wikipedia as the 1st or 2nd site on the list is frankly worrying. Is there some kind of deal between Google and Wikipedia that we don't yet know about?"

576120 "I have worked with computers for over 25 years. I know that 1 kilobyte is and always has been precisely 1024 bytes (and 1 megabyte is 1024 kilobytes, etc.). I was also aware that in order to overstate their products, the media storeage industry has for some time been exagerating the capacity of their products by pretending that the figure is 1000 (so, a DVD-R capable of storing around 4,700,000,000 bytes is wrongly described as "4.7Gb" rather than the actual "under 4.4Gb"). When a Grauniad journalist made this mistake in a recent article, I was quick to correct him. He responded by pointing me towards the Wikipedia article ... which is pure lies and propaganda by the media storeage industry! … [A]nd the vested interest bodies are clearly paying people to spread the lie as widely as possible. If such a mundane but clear-cut fact can be distorted and wrongly redefined by powerful vested interest, what hope is there for the more controversial and marginal, but which is nevertheless fact?

576636 "The big CO2 emitters support think tanks which use web sites to spread misinformation. This is a rare example of a conspiracy for which there is strong evidence… The reason why this is frightening is that it demonstrates that it is now possible for the super-rich to invest money in misinformation and spread it more efficiently than in the past."

Is this a new conspiracy theory that I've missed? That "They" own the Internet and are changing the information on it to suit Their Own Purposes?

Having read some of the arguments between Wikipedia contributors and editors, I personally feel that you couldn't buy any of them off with a trip to Phuket or even a pony (though a new IPhone might work) and anyway there's thousands of them. Wikipedia contributors are like termites, except ornerier. If they write something and someone else tries to muscle in and change a word, it's like the fight between the two dolled-up iguanas in "The Lost World".

I can't imagine any distributed network like Wikipedia falling to a single enemy. It would have to have more money than God.

Update: I just looked up Wikipedia on Google (or possibly vice versa) and apparently they do have more money than God.

Title: Lyrics from the Black Crowes "A Conspiracy".
ETA: another post on the subject.

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