Accurate sources for other people

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Martin Blank
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Accurate sources for other people

Post by Martin Blank » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:03 am

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my aunt about Albert Einstein. She had brought up something I'd never heard before, that his first wife was just as responsible for the theory of relativity as was he, and that he'd promised to share his Nobel Prize money with her after he divorced her.

I questioned this, as I'd never heard it before, and thought that Einstein was honorable enough to mention those who played a factor in his discoveries. There was also a side mention of his sons, another questionable topic. I suggested we check Wikipedia. Her response? "No, way! I never look at Wikipedia! I tried to use that before and was told it was full of lies!" (The exclamation points were really there. She gets loudly defensive whenever she counters a suggestion.)

After a couple of minutes of not finding much (usually a decent sign that something is off), I said I'd look it up on my own later. I tracked down her source: a History Channel show that suggested that Einstein was an egotistical jerk and deliberately cut his wife (or ex-wife) out of any possible credit. Checking slightly more reputable sources, I found that while his first wife was a trained physicist, the concepts of relativity never showed up in any of her known letters (they were widely discussed in his) and she never tried to claim any credit later on.

I run into this periodically with people claiming that Wikipedia is full of lies (scientific studies that it's actually more accurate overall than the Encyclopedia Britannica area apparently also lies), but it becomes impossible to convince anyone that they're wrong on some point even though they trust me on 95% of other things. Somehow, the History Channel gathered up enough credence that it's managed to maintain it for several years after it stopped being the Hitler Channel.
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Accurate sources for other people

Post by ampersand » Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:14 pm

Didn't Einstein had relations with his cousin? I recall seeing a Nova show about him that indicated after he divorced his first wife, he had relationship with a cousin of his.

Nova is a PBS show, so for them to be as sensational as ze History Channel would be rather alarming. (And I concede they could be guilty of some of this here.)

I find people distrust peer to peer review that Wikipedia does, where its the norm in every scientific journal to operate in this manner. The difference is that they assume the people who review journal articles are hand selected where there are no such constraints on Wikipedia.

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Martin Blank
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Re: Accurate sources for other people

Post by Martin Blank » Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:33 pm

His second wife was his first cousin by his mom and second cousin by his dad. He may have had a relationship going back some years before the divorce of his first wife.
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Re: Accurate sources for other people

Post by Dr. Tower » Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:30 pm

ampersand wrote:I find people distrust peer to peer review that Wikipedia does, where its the norm in every scientific journal to operate in this manner. The difference is that they assume the people who review journal articles are hand selected where there are no such constraints on Wikipedia.
And by "hand selected" you mean "published once in a field at least somewhat close." Hell, I've been asked to review journal articles before (both of them were crap though with glaring flaws in their method, and I recommended that they not get published).

As to the question, I'm always a fan of scholar.google.com for scientific things. A lot of times the answers to the basic questions are in the abstract, which is almost always public. Past that, Wikipedia has pretty good citations, so you can use those as well.
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Re: Accurate sources for other people

Post by Martin Blank » Fri Feb 15, 2013 3:50 pm

For scholarly purposes, yes. And in serious discussion, it's a starting point for research and then the references can be checked and utilized. But for answering a basic question about Einstein (like did he have kids), Wikipedia does fine. Sure, someone might vandalize a significant page like that, but the odds of someone landing on it during the few minutes between the change and someone noticing and reverting it are slim.

There have been some studies about Wikipedia's accuracy, and it's pretty damned good. I do wish that some of the articles were better maintained in terms of dates (I see a lot of "is expected to happen in 2009" or the vague "as of now"), but a printed encyclopedia isn't any better.
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Re: Accurate sources for other people

Post by ampersand » Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:17 pm

Tower: I've worked with a couple of weather journals, so yes, "hand selected" is just finding someone associated with that particular field. Some journals will ask the author for some suggested people to talk to. I happen to know some authors will make sure some people not get picked by having them listed in the "acknowledgements."

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Re: Accurate sources for other people

Post by Dr. Tower » Sat Feb 16, 2013 2:21 am

Oh, I'm not knocking on Wikipedia at all. It is my go-to source for generic (and sometimes specific) information. Hell, I even threw some money at them in 2012 because I use it so much. I've looked up all sorts of things from Buffy episodes to tensor algebra (probably unsurprising, but the tensor algebra page is really thorough, though probably written at a higher level than what would be considered "encyclopedic"). I thought this was more of a "where can we find info when somebody won't accept Wikipedia".

And Ampersand, I had never thought of the acknowledgements trick. Not a bad ploy, and they can't really refuse, like they can with authorship.
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Accurate sources for other people

Post by Deacon » Sat Feb 16, 2013 3:05 am

Dr. Tower wrote:I even threw some money at them in 2012 because I use it so much.
Same here.
The follies which a man regrets the most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity. - Helen Rowland, A Guide to Men, 1922

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