I’m only fifty pages into Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur, and passages like the following just keep popping up and confounding me:
When an article runs under the banner of a respected newspaper, we know that it has been weighed by a team of seasoned editors with years of training, assigned to a qualified reporter, researched, fact-checked, edited, proofread, and backed by a trusted news organization vouching for its truthfulness and accuracy. Take those filters away, and we, the general public, are faced with the impossible task of sifting through and evaluating an endless sea of the muddled musings of amateurs.
... Unlike professionally edited newspapers or magazines where the political slant of the paper is restricted to the op-ed page, the majority of blogs make radical, sweeping statements without evidence or substantiation. (pp. 52-53)
This assertion is made without evidence, substantiation, or a wink of self-awareness.
Lawrence Lessig has a long discussion of Keen’s book. He rightly points out that underlying Keen’s sweeping and unsubstantiated screed are some important questions (however unasked-by-Keen they may be): How do we create authority in collaborate and open systems? How do we build critical, capable audiences/creators of social media? How do we change build new kinds of markets to make this stuff work commercially?
And then Lessig unloads:
But what is puzzling about this book is that it purports to be a book attacking the sloppiness, error and ignorance of the Internet, yet it itself is shot through with sloppiness, error and ignorance. It tells us that without institutions, and standards, to signal what we can trust (like the institution (Doubleday) that decided to print his book), we won’t know what’s true and what’s false. But the book itself is riddled with falsity — from simple errors of fact, to gross misreadings of arguments, to the most basic errors of economics.
So how could it be that a book criticizing the Internet — because the product of a standardless process where nothing is “vetted for accuracy” (as he says of Wikipedia) — could itself be so mistaken, when it, presumably, has been “vetted for accuracy” and was only selected for publication because it passed the high standards of truth imposed by its publisher — Doubleday?
And then it hit me: Keen is our generation’s greatest self-parodist. His book is not a criticism of the Internet. Like the article in Nature comparing Wikipedia and Britannica, the real argument of Keen’s book is that traditional media and publishing is just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Here’s a book — Keen’s — that has passed through all the rigor of modern American publishing, yet which is perhaps as reliable as your average blog post: No doubt interesting, sometimes well written, lots of times ridiculously over the top — but also riddled with errors. Keen’s obvious point is to show those with a blind faith in the traditional system that it can be just as bad as the worst of the Internet. Indeed, one might say even worse, since the Internet doesn’t primp itself with the pretense that its words are promised to be true.
Lessig elaborates on the several key fallacies he sees in the book (relating to, among others, piracy, efficiency, and experts) both in his post and on a wiki, The Keen Reader.