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The Pirate Hoax

The Pirate Hoax is generating strong reactions. Basically, a professor asked his students to a series of fabricated resources posted on Blogs, Wikipedia, and YouTube, and promoted on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. The project was discontinued once actual historians – colleagues of the professor who initiated the project – “bought into the hoax”. Deliberating posting fabricated information has ethical dimensions. Not everyone is amused. Michael Feldstein sees the project as teaching vandalism, and in the process, calling into question sites like Wikipedia. I understand that perspective. My own view is different. This project is not about Wikipedia or even the potential fallibility of user-generated content. This project highlights the importance for everyone, even so-called experts, to be constantly vigilant about all information sources. Everyone who encounters information online should be aware that it can be easily created by anyone. When gatekeepers such as journals and encyclopedias play a less important role in restricting information access, the openness creates a shift in where we determine information’s value and authenticity. Information is now validated at the point of consumption, not creation.


  1. Alan Levine wrote:

    It’s going to be interesting to watch as reactions wave out on this one. In embracing open content, IMHO many of us are naively ignoring the yin-yang balance; openness provides a door for doing just as much Bad as Good. Do we not dare do Good for fear of Bad? Or does playing it out where all can see provide a means to learn to deal with Bad?

    Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  2. glen wrote:

    I agree that everyone should be constantly vigilant about all information sources. But that has always been the case. Frauds like this have been perpetuated forever, the web-based, multimedia element is just the latest. There are lots of stories about fraudulent science using peer-reviewed journals and the most respected “gatekeepers” . Big tobacco, the pharmaceutical industry, revisionist historians just to name a few.

    Interesting to note how, 400 years after the fact, the Catholic church is trying to rehabilitate its image with respect to its treatment of Galileo.

    Peer-review is no guarantee against fraud. You are right that information now must be validated at the point of consumption, including information that comes from the most authoritative of sources. (yes, even eLearnspace)

    The George Mason class sounds brilliant but the brouhaha calls for a critical think. A case of a virus escaping from the research lab? attention seeking prof? manipulation by the Chronicle of Higher Education? hmmm

    Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 12:02 pm | Permalink
  3. Ken Allan wrote:

    Kia ora George

    It’s a pity that blogs, Wikipedia or even YouTube should suffer collateral damage from the hoaxers. Unfortunately mud sticks.

    You said that the issue “highlights the importance for everyone, even so-called experts, to be constantly vigilant about all information sources”. I fully agree.

    Isn’t awareness of information sources what we as citizens should always be aware of, what parents should warn their children about, what teachers should teach in schools, and what authorities (experts included) should be aware of?

    The sophistication of technology, developed over the centuries, has created an environment that dulls our natural human instinct of survival – to recognise impostors. Now more than ever, we have to use our higher gifts of intelligence and analysis to be aware of the possibilities of being conned and to detect the baloney for our own protection.

    Best wishes
    from Middle-earth

    Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  4. George,
    Thanks, as ever, for making me think. I dont think there is much to get exercised about in the hoax itself. Wikepedia will recover.

    Your last line really got me going however as I think we are becoming increasingly credulous and do not question where we should. Explored a little further in my blog…

    Friday, January 2, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

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  1. The New-New Literacy | All The Young (Edu)Punks on Friday, January 2, 2009 at 10:11 am

    [...] and I think that it might be a bit more coherent to do so here. George wrote a little bit about the Pirate Hoax and it’s implications for what digital literacy means. I think his commentary is dead on, in [...]