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(Fwd) File: "CRAWFORD PRV5N6"

Liebe Inetbibler,
aus PACS-R habe ich zwei Aufsaetze "geforwarded", wobei der sogleich 
folgende eher den Bibliothekar in uns aufwecken will (sic!), der 
andere (in getrennter Post) von eher technischem Interesse ist.
Ronald Schmidt

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Tue, 20 Sep 1994 10:24:02 -0500
From:          "L-Soft list server at University of Houston (1.8a)"              <LISTSERV _at__ UHUPVM1.UH.EDU>
Subject:       File: "CRAWFORD PRV5N6"
To:            Ronald Schmidt <SCHMIDT _at__ HBZ.HBZ-NRW.DE>

+ Page 27 +

Public-Access Provocations: An Informal Column

Crawford, Walt.  "And Only Half of What You See, Part III: I
Heard It Through the Internet."  The Public-Access Computer
Systems Review 5, no. 6 (1994): 27-30.  To retrieve this file,
send the following e-mail message to listserv _at__ uhupvm1.uh.edu: GET
CRAWFORD PRV5N6 F=MAIL.  Or, use the following URL: gopher://

Effective public access requires skeptical users, a point that
the previous two Public-Access Provocations tried to make
indirectly.  Just because something comes from "the computer,"
there is no reason to believe that it's correct--and, although
library cataloging represents one of the treasures of the
profession, catalogs aren't always completely trustworthy either.
     But at least library catalogs represent sincere efforts to
provide useful, validated, even authority-controlled information.
Similarly, although commercial online databases are rife with
typos and other errors, it is still true that the databases
available on Eureka, FirstSearch, Dialog and the like represent
reasonable attempts to organize data into useful information with
good levels of correctness.
     Then there's the Internet, the nascent Information
Superhighway according to some, where everything's up to date and
the hottest information is available by clicking away at Mosaic
or using WAIS to find out everything you could ever want to know,
magically arranged so that the first thing you get is the most
useful!  And, with disintermediation and direct usage from every
home (and a cardboard box under the freeway?), tomorrow's
super-Internet will offer this wonderland to everyone, all the
time, making everyone potentially an up-to-date expert on
whatever.  Skeptical?  Why?  It's hot, it's happening, it's
now--it's on the Internet!

+ Page 28 +

Seventy Elements: More Than Enough!

Thus we can expect to have fledgling scientists learning the new
and improved seventy-element periodic table with innovative new
element symbols.  It must be right--it's on the Internet.  I
could go on with hundreds of examples; as one version of that
famous cartoon goes, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a
     Of course, truly up-to-date users may be wary of something
that's just boring old ASCII.  If they can't chew up bandwidth
with neat color pictures or (preferably) important live
video--such as vital visual information on how the coffee maker
at some university lab is doing right now--why would they want to
be bothered?  The newest and most correct information will all be
graphical, accessed through Mosaic or some replacement.
     Traditionally, well-done presentations have added weight to
content: there was an assumption that anyone with the resources
to do high-quality graphics and good text layout would probably
pay attention to the content.  That was never a good assumption,
of course, but at least it separated well-funded frauds from
casual cranks and those who simply couldn't be bothered to check
their facts.
     That's all changed.  It doesn't take much to build truly
impressive World-Wide Web servers.  Anyone with an Internet
connection and a decent graphics toolkit can create pages just as
impressive as anything from the Library of Congress or NASA--but
without any regard for factuality or meaning.  You don't even
need good taste to build impressive presentations; modern
software will provide professional defaults so that you just add
your erroneous or misleading text and graphics.

Knowing the Source

The anarchic nature of the Internet and the leveling effect of
today's software raises the importance of cultivating appropriate
skepticism among users, which must begin with appropriate
skepticism among librarians and other library staff.  For
starters, Internet searchers must be trained to look for (and
understand) the source of stuff that comes over the Net, but they
must also learn to go beyond simple source awareness.

+ Page 29 +

     Some Internet navigation tools tend to mask sources, and
that can be dangerous.  There are thousands of cranks on the
Internet now, and there will be even more in the future.  Given a
few thousand dollars and a few weeks of time, I could prepare a
Library of Regress server that could be seen as a serious
competitor to the Library of Congress--never mind that everything
at the Library of Regress was at least half wrong, or at best
meaningless.  A neo-Marxist crank could create an impressive news
bureau and be taken quite as seriously as a major news agency,
even if that crank made up the supposed news flashes and wildly
misinterpreted real events.  A few MIT students with good
software could provide a steady stream of Rubble Telescope (or
Hobbled Telescope?) discoveries based on creatively modified clip
art--and they would probably even have a ".mit.edu" suffix,
assuring credibility.  (To the best of my knowledge, all of these
examples are hypothetical.  I use MIT as an example because of
its reputation for ingenious pranks.)
     What's the solution?  Certainly not to restrict Internet
access to a few hallowed and licensed information providers.
That would be even more dangerous to our society than having huge
gobs of erroneous material on the Net and is, I believe, an
impossibility as things stand.  Rather, if there is a solution,
it is to inculcate caution and healthy skepticism among users of
the Internet and other immediate resources: to make them
understand that being online and apparently up-to-date confers no
authority or even probability of correctness on the information
they see.
     One way to start may be to use a different name for the
Internet.  It's not the Information Superhighway; it's the Stuff
Swamp.  There is a lot of good stuff out there, to be sure--but
it's still a swamp, and a heavily polluted one at that.  Wear
your hip boots when you go out on the Internet; the stuff can get
pretty thick at times.

About the Author

Walt Crawford, Senior Analyst, The Research Libraries Group,
Inc., 1200 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041-1100.  Internet:
br.wcc _at__ rlg.stanford.edu.

+ Page 30 +

The Public-Access Computer Systems Review is an electronic
journal that is distributed on the Internet and on other computer
networks.  There is no subscription fee.
     To subscribe, send an e-mail message to
listserv _at__ uhupvm1.uh.edu that says: SUBSCRIBE PACS-P First Name
Last Name.
     This article is Copyright (C) 1994 by Walt Crawford.  All
Rights Reserved.
     The Public-Access Computer Systems Review is Copyright (C)
1994 by the University Libraries, University of Houston.  All
Rights Reserved.
     Copying is permitted for noncommercial use by academic
computer centers, computer conferences, individual scholars, and
libraries.  Libraries are authorized to add the journal to their
collection, in electronic or printed form, at no charge.  This
message must appear on all copied material.  All commercial use
requires permission.

Dr. Ronald Schmidt               Tel. +49 221 40075-32
                                 EMail Schmidt _at__ HBZ-NRW.De
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