Allowing users to have steak knives

This post on the Wikipedia/Seigenthaler spat at contains this excellent comment from Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales:

Imagine that we are designing a restaurant. This restuarant will serve steak. Because we are going to be serving steak, we will have steak knives for the customers. Because the customers will have steak knives, they might stab each other. Therefore, we conclude, we need to put each table into separate metal cages, to prevent the possibility of people stabbing each other.

What would such an approach do to our civil society? What does it do to human kindness, benevolence, and a positive sense of community?

When we reject this design for restaurants, and then when, inevitably, someone does get stabbed in a restaurant (it does happen), do we write long editorials to the papers complaining that “The steakhouse is inviting it by not only allowing irresponsible vandals to stab anyone they please, but by also providing the weapons”?

No, instead we acknowledge that the verb “to allow” does not apply in such a situation. A restaurant is not allowing something just because they haven”t taken measures to forcibly prevent it a priori. It is surely against the rules of the restaurant, and of course against the laws of society. Just. Like. Libel. If someone starts doing bad things in a restuarant, they are forcibly kicked out and, if it”s particularly bad, the law can be called. Just. Like. Wikipedia. I do not accept the spin that Wikipedia “allows anyone to write anything” just because we do not metaphysically prevent it by putting authors in cages.

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  1. ben
    Posted December 21, 2005 at 10:03 | Permalink

    Never mind the steak — try ordering the census-taker’s liver and see what they do to you. Metal cages not the least of it.

  2. Alex
    Posted December 21, 2005 at 11:13 | Permalink

    Is this turning into a blog on meat? Commentary on hacking and stuff through the media of delicious meaty goodness. Looking forward to a tasty gubbeen ham at christmas. You can’t beat it.

  3. Posted December 22, 2005 at 00:29 | Permalink

    what’s Gubbeen ham? sounds good, whatever it is…

  4. Alex
    Posted December 22, 2005 at 14:41 | Permalink

    Gubbeen primarily make cheese down in schull. They also have a smokehouse where they smoke cheese, ham, rashers, fish, salami, chorizo etc.

    You can buy their stuff in the Temple bar market and Sheridans on south anne street.

  5. Posted December 23, 2005 at 19:03 | Permalink

    It strikes me that this whole Wikipedia spat is just an old media who don’t “get it”. They don’t get it that anyone can edit a page, they don’t get it that Wikipedia is an information source but not meant to be a definitive information source. Whether it matters whether or not they don’t get it is a different question.

  6. nishad
    Posted December 25, 2005 at 20:47 | Permalink

    I think the spat is about accountability, and we’ve got to admit there isn’t much of it, when you edit something at wikipedia. Requiring “registration” before editing isn’t any real form of security.

    The trouble is that wikipedia is now pretty “definitive” as a source of information, because it’s free and easy to find and it therefore will get used a lot. It’s disingenuous for anyone to say, “Oh look, use at your own risk, buddy, it’s only a volunteer effort after all.” We all well know that’s not what the majority of users are thinking.

  7. tom
    Posted January 3, 2006 at 12:07 | Permalink

    exactly. the problem with wikipedia (and I like wikipedia, don’t get me wrong) is that it is not definitive and can’t be definitive, and what is the point of an encyclopedia that isn’t definitive?

    it’s also hard to reference as it keeps changing – which is also odd for an encylcopedia or any ‘reference book’.

    oh and lastly most of the articles become very obviously written by committee with all the lack of personality that entails, but that’s a different point.

  8. Posted January 4, 2006 at 00:49 | Permalink

    Tom — the other encyclopedias likewise are not entirely definitive (see the recent Nature test); nor do they stay the same between publications. Perhaps you’re just expecting too much from an encyclopedia ;)

    The “written by committee” style is a bit annoying, though, I have to agree with that.

  9. tom
    Posted January 4, 2006 at 11:32 | Permalink

    well, there are mistakes in other encyclopedias – that’s true.

    on the other hand I’ve never opened Britannica to be told that Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the leading pornographers of the 19th century…