Michael Gorman is reliable - I can always count on him for a long winded, uninformed rant about the evils of the internet. Here's his lede today:
The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise. Bloggers are called “citizen journalists”; alternatives to Western medicine are increasingly popular, though we can thank our stars there is no discernable “citizen surgeon” movement; millions of Americans are believers in Biblical inerrancy -- the belief that every word in the Bible is both true and the literal word of God, something that, among other things, pits faith against carbon dating; and, scientific truths on such matters as medical research, accepted by all mainstream scientists, are rejected by substantial numbers of citizens and many in politics.
Here's the problem - none of the problems he raises are due to bad information on the net. Every single one of the information gaps he cites as worrisome is old - I remember reading about each and every one of them in "Time" and "Newsweek" as a teenager.
Gorman seems to believe that pre-web, there was a "golden age" of journalism, when facts didn't get distorted, and reporters got things right with unerring accuracy. Hmm - Back in the 70's, I remember the big climate scare being "the coming ice age". Now, it's "global warming". Without wading into that debate, I'll note that they can't both be correct - and I'll also note that both are memes that were (or in the latter case, are) heavily pushed by the media.
Gorman is writing on the Britannica site, so I understand why he's trying very hard to make his case without bringing up Wikipedia. I've written about Wikipedia and encyclopedias before - to summarize, Wikipedia is edited every single day by a self selected group of editors. Things like Britannica are edited periodically by a paid staff of editors. Does one group have biases while the other is magically objective? I don't think so. Depending on the topic being written about, "experts" can be hard to find, or extremely biased by the surrounding culture. For instance - how would an encyclopedia written by a group of recognized experts have dealt with Africa circa 1900? How would the text differ from one written - again, by a set of recognized experts - a year ago?
The splendid, objective expertise that Gorman imagines in the world of editors and professional writes doesn't exist now, and it's never existed. Biases - conscious and unconscious - have crept in consistently. Scientific errors (due to incomplete or inaccurate understanding of the underlying science) have always been around, and will always be around.
I read a fair amount of history, and I like to get a start on topics that may be of interest to me on Wikipedia. I find that the articles there range from good to excellent on the area I'm interested in (European history, mostly). Gorman would probably tell me to visit a "real" encyclopedia; I'd advise him to read this, which I addressed to him 18 months ago. Gorman was in "gatekeeper" mode then, and he's still there now.
Oh, and do read Clay Shirkey's response to Gorman.