Cory Doctorow’s Devastating Rant Against Andrew Orlowski

Cory Doctorow recently quit his job and poured a little of that extra time he’s got to write this devastating attack against the world’s worst pseudo-journalist, The Register’s Andrew Orlowski. Orlowski is so wrong so often you have to wonder if The Register doesn’t encourage him to make gross errors of fact simply because the resulting controversy leads to more page views for the online rag. Orlowski’s the sort who will lambaste Google over what turns out to be a misspelling that he couldn’t be bothered to check.

In late December, Orlowski ran one of his fact-free articles in which he claimed that Doctorow posted thing on Wikipedia related to his own Wikipedia entry that Doctorow had, in fact, never posted,

Orlowski put me in the vain and foolish camp because I had taken part in a discussion of my entry in which I spoke of myself in the third person, e.g. “‘Since these issues are inextricably linked to the way Doctorow has chosen to present his books to the world, I do think it is at least somewhat appropriate,’ Doctorow adds.” He also implied that this somehow tricked Wikipedia’s volunteer moderators into letting me correct the record where others had been denied.

He’s at least part right — people who talk about themselves in the third person do look pretty foolish. But he was completely wrong on the factual assertion that I had talked about myself in the third person, and so his speculation that this was the magic trick necessary to allow people to edit their own entries was invalid.

I had indeed taken part in the message-board for my Wikipedia entry, and some months later, a Wikipedia editor reorganized the page, grouping the discussions by topic. To an untrained eye it was unclear who had written what, and if you hold the kind of low opinion of me that Orlowski clearly has, it might be possible to believe that the entire message board had been written by me alone.

The worst thing is how the Register chose to correct the errors once pointed out. They simply removed part of the nonsense that Orlowksi had written as if it had never been there. No note that the page had been altered due to errors that Doctorow brought to their attention, and certainly no apology for the Register’s continued employment of someone who makes Nigerian 419 scammers look like dedicated truthseekers.

Doctorow is wrong, however, in claiming that given the two, Wikipedia’s sort of errors are superior to Orlowski’s sort of errors,

Wikipedia’s transparent approach to the truth lays out all sides of the debate where all can see them and judge for themselves what the fact of the matter is. The Register’s approach hides the negotiation of truth behind invisible, silent edits, and behind the whims of writers who are free to correct, (or not correct) the record as they see fit.

I couldn’t disagree more. When I visit a Wikipedia page, I have no idea about who wrote any given assertion nor how reliable that person is. It could be the most accurate article ever written on the topic, or it a piece of self-serving garbage, but it is very difficult for me as a casual Wikipedia user to ascertain authorship or reliability.

With Orlowski, however, people who encounter his work a few times know that pretty much everything he writes is bogus. Similarly, someone can visit this blog, look around, and form an opinion about how reliable they think I am. By eliminating any sort of easily traceable authorship, an important clue to how accurate the article is becomes unavailable.

It Takes A Village (Idiot)

Probably the funniest thing I’ve read in the last 15 minutes is this piece by Andrew Orlowski attacking Wikipedia. Wikipedia is certainly right there at the bottom of trustworthy sites, but one of the few things I’d trust less than a Wikipedia article is anything written by Orlowski.

Between them, Orlowski and Wikipedia demonstrate that idiocy is just as well at home in large groups as it is in lone crusaders.

On the Wikipedia side, the case of John Seigenthaler has brought Wikipedia’s inherent problems to the forefront. Seigenthaler was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. As a joke (which pretty much sums up Wikipedia right there), someone edited the Wikipedia entry on Seigenthaler to accuse him of having a suspected role in the Kennedy assassinations. Contrary to Wikipedia defenders who claim the sites public editing process means errors get corrected quickly, this libelous claim was allowed to stay on the site for months before someone alerted Seigenthaler to it. The person who posted the bogus article has since come forth and been fired resigned as a result (he apparently edited the entry at work to make a point to a co-worker).

So Wikipedia is largely untrustworthy garbage — that was apparent long before the recent controversy. But most traditional media and online media outlets that allegedly have editors are no better, and nothing illustrates that point better than The Register’s Andrew Orlowski who has repeated published some of the most inane, inaccurate and downright bizarre pieces to grace a semi-legitimate online publication.

Just how bad is Orlowski’s “journalism”? Consider a November 2004 article in which Orlowski treated readers to the fact that Google returned garbage results for searches even on famous historical events such as the Battle at Guadalcanal. The only problem was that Orlowski and his source, Scott Middleton, apparently thought that Guadalcanal referred to a battle at a canal, and so were searching Google for “Guadal Canal” (Guadalcanal is, in fact, named after a Spanish village, which in turn takes its name from an Arabic word).

Not searching on the correct term, they ran into pages set up by other people who had a similar problem in correctly identifying the name of the battle.

Orlowski is the epitome of the sort of lousy tech writers whose only skill is jumping from one bandwagon to the next. For example, on June 4, 2004, he hyped an Apple software saying,” Apple today cemented its position as the smartphone’s best friend.” Less than 24 hours later, however, Orlowski bemoaned that “Apple’s iSync software needs a health warning: use at your peril” and complains the software suffers from errors that should have been caught in Beta testing — this from someone who, himself, couldn’t be bothered to give the software a legitimate evaluation before hyping it in The Register.

Frankly, everytime I run across a completely inaccurate Wikipedia entry, part of me wonders, “Did Orlowski write this?” Certainly the bulk of what’s in Wikipedia is no better or worse than what appears on a daily basis in The Register.

Search Engines: Garbage In, Garbage Out

I am an unabashed Google cheerleader. As far as I’m concerned, Google is one of the crowning achievements of human civilization — if you know what you’re doing, almost any question can be answered by Google. Of course, if you don’t know what you’re doing, then using Google is no better than taking lessons from that urban legend spam about how some terminally ill kid wants to set the record for most greeting cards.

A lot of people have taken to bitching about Google, but most of the complaints I see are from people who simply haven’t taken the time to figure out how to use the search engine, or (more frequently) make rookie mistakes that would hurt them regardless of what search engine or offline system they were using for research.

Take Scott Middleton — please. Middleton is offered up by the Register’s resident anti-Google nutjob, Andrew Orlowski, as a prime example of just how unreliable Google and other search engines are. But Middleton’s problem is actually his own ignorance about what he is searching for.

Middleton wanted to see what sort of information about World War II he could track down, so he typed in “Guadal Canal” in Google and, not surprisingly, received very poor search results in return. Middleton concludes that it is shameful that there should be such poor search results for such a key World War II battle.

Except, there was no battle of “Guadal Canal.” There was, however, a battle of “Guadalcanal.” If you search Google on the correct name of the battle, you will find very helpful links in the first 10 results, including a chronology of the battle, complete with maps and other information.

Is it Google’s fault that Middleton thinks that Guadal Canal is some sort of canal system, instead of knowing that Guadalcanal is the name of small island in the Pacific?

No, but even so, Google tries to compensate for its users’ ignorance. If you search on “Guadal Canal,” Google helpfully asks “Did you mean Guadalcanal?” So even if, like Middleton, you don’t know the first thing about World War II battles, Google will step in and try to set you straight.

At some point you have to ask the user to resort to some sort of common sense or basic attention to detail. If people like Middleton want information about Sony, but search on Sanyo, there’s not much that even the best system can do to help.

Garbage in, garbage out.


Our kids deserve better than a Google™ future. Andrew Orlowski, The Register, September 20, 2004.

Doc Searls on Andrew Orloski

Doc Searls has some interesting comments about this pathetic hit piece from The Register aimed at a Microsoft employee who keeps a weblog. The article basically is one long insult toward the MS employee because she apparently devoted her weblog to pictures of her cats, descriptions of her XBox-playing habits, etc.

Doc should just come out and be blunt about it — Andrew Orlowski’s being a John Dvorak-sized asshole there.

It amazes me to no end how obssessed some people are with pointing out that people post “trivial” data about their lives on their weblogs or web sites. With some of these columnists, you’d think that posting a picture of your cat or dog online was akin to spreading child pornography.

I wonder if there were similar critiques of the phone system. I can just see an early 20th century John Dvorak or Andrew Orlowski complaining that people were wasting precious telephone bandwidth merely talking to loved ones and sharing the daily minutae of their lives rather than doing truly important things (as the John Dvorak’s and Andrew Orlowki’s of the world are offering indispensable insights — not).