Taylor: Pooled ignorance does not add up to wisdom

I have my own definition of hell—editing by committee.

Dante’s Inferno defined nine circles of hell, each appropriate for different kinds of sin. I have my own definition of hell—editing by committee.

You know how it works. A whole group reads a draft and wonders what to do with it.

Then one member ventures an opinion: A certain sentence should use “different than” rather than “different from.”

Now the floodgates open. Everyone has a pet phrase that they feel impelled to insert, challenge, or delete. They resurrect grammar no-no’s from Grade 8.

Someone objects to the recommendations—additional alternatives should be included. No, says someone else, they can’t be alternatives, because “alternative” implies only two possibilities. With more than two, they must be called options. Or choices.

Would a discreetly worded disclaimer reduce legal liability?

And shouldn’t the bullet list be numbered?

I guarantee that the result of editing by committee will be verbose, ponderous and incomprehensible—even if every single amendment were linguistically correct. (I’m being charitable in suggesting that possibility; almost inevitably, some “improvements” will be just plain wrong.)

Committee members are entitled to their opinions, of course. But a collection of inputs needs to be filtered through a single competent mind to produce a readable document.

I can think of only one significant exception to this rule—the King James Version of the Bible, created by a committee of 74 independent scholars in 1611. But even there, they borrowed two-thirds of their text from a previous translation done by one writer, William Tyndale.

For his heretical efforts, Tyndale had been executed by strangulation. Then his dead body was burned at the stake.

Unfortunately, editing by committee has gained popularity in the digital age of social media. Anyone can now contribute their knowledge—or their ignorance—to any subject.

It’s called “crowd-sourcing.”

James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few, popularized the concept. Its philosophy is the more, the merrier. And the more creative.

Yes, there are times when crowd-sourcing seems to work. Wikipedia is an example. Random sampling of its contents apparently proves it fractionally more accurate than even the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica.

Still, there are times when its entries seem to reflect the obsessions of a few fanatic individuals.

But now Collins has thrown open its dictionary to anyone with an Internet connection—in other words, anyone.

Which means, for example, that someone can insist that flout and flaunt are the same thing. Or career and careen. And is it you’re, your, or yore? There, they’re, or their?

You’re not sure what the difference is? Look ’em up.

Oh, sorry, you can’t. Well, yes, you can, but can you trust a collective wisdom that includes ignorance?

As Jonathan Green asked, in Britain’s Guardian: “If it is not intensively researched, edited, proofed and rendered as ‘true’ as possible, why bother to consult it? If a reference [text] is to remain useful, it cannot become amateur hour.”

There is a place for wisdom, for knowledge, for expertise. Pooled ignorance—as politics keeps proving—does not add up to wisdom.

Just Posted

Missing Kelowna woman found

Christine Olsen-Meissnitzer has been located

More than $270,000 raised for Kelowna-based hospice

10th Swinging with the Stars fundraiser for the Central Okanagan Hospice Assoc. is a big success

Former Kelowna councillor and radio talk show host Barrie Clark dies

Clark remembered as a fair-minded ‘statesman’ who saw the big picture when it came to Kelowna

Getting into the swing of spring

Kelowna garden shop is busy now that spring has finally arrived

Axe the tax says Kelowna city council

City says it wants B.C.’s Speculation Tax dumped because it could have a significant impact here

Old timbers grace new Timmy’s

The newest Tim Hortons just outside of Oliver was officially opened Saturday

Proposed gun bill attacked by gun owners and shooting victims

The federal government tabled the bill today in order to tighten the sale and tracking of firearms

New anti-radicalization centre in the works for B.C.

Centre aims to help ‘vulnerable individuals of the path to radicalization’ before they turn to crime

B.C. bravery, public service honoured by Governor General Julie Payette

UVic basketball coach Kathryn Shields inducted into Order of Canada

Sea lion with rope wrapped around neck saved by Vancouver Aquarium

Steller sea lions are a species of special concern and some populations are endangered in parts of Alaska

50-million-year-old fossil found in B.C. town makes history

Paleontologist Dr. Bruce Archibald says Princeton, B.C. is becoming famous for giving up rare fossils

Shephard to don Maple Leaf Down Under

Former KSS Owl and current UBC Thunderbird to play for Canada at Commonwealth Games

VIDEO: Dashcam records near-miss by bad driver

Speeding pickup truck shown illegally passing on highway shoulder

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Most Read