Twitter is evil. Elsevier is evil. Wikipedia is evil.


…or maybe not…

Librarians need to know about authoritative sources of information. Librarians need to teach other people how to evaluate the reliability of resources.

Nothing new there.

What is new is how widely distributed the sources can be and how important context can be to their authoritativeness – and how much librarians need to understand about these new contexts.

Three examples of the need to understand context crossed my desktop this week.

EXAMPLE ONE: Twitter is evil

Swine flu: Twitter’s power to misinform .  Evgeny Morozov, Foreign Policy, net.effect. 25/04/09. In Evgeny Morozov’s opinion Twitter is noisy and full of misinformation about Swine Flu and likely to scare people who will encourage others to panic.

I can’t quote the article due to possible copyright restrictions.

Instead, here’s a cartoon from xkcd, Swine Flu .

EXAMPLE TWO: Elsevier is evil.

Elsevier published fake medical journals: Elsevier published six ‘fake’ Australian medical journals on behalf of pharma companies Kate McDonald, Australian Life Scientist, 08/05/2009 .  The Australasian Journal of [insert term here] will no longer be taken quite so seriously now that Elsevier has revealed that the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine was actually funded by pharmaceutical company Merck, contained only reprints or summaries of articles from other Elsevier journals that contained positive references to two of the company’s products and only had advertisements for the same two products.

I can’t quote the article due to possible copyright restrictions.

Instead, here is a link to a great conversation  from a mob of librarians on Friendfeed.It starts with a comment from Steve Lawson and continues with over eighty comments that range over the deficits of academic journals in general, I think the LSW needs to get Elsevier to publish the Australasian Journal of Library Science.

Oh, and a cartoon from Organisation Monkey, Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine

EXAMPLE THREE – Wikipedia is evil

Student’s Wikipedia hoax quote used worldwide in newspaper obituaries Genevieve Carbery , Irish Times, 06/05/09.  When composer Maurice Jarre died at the end of March 2009, newspapers around the world carried a beautiful quote from him: ““One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear,””. The source? Wikipedia. The problem? A 22 year old student had placed the quote in Jarre’s Wikipedia page the night of Jarre’s death, and kept adding it even though Wikipedia’s editors deleted it several times.

I can’t quote the article due to possible copyright restrictions.

Instead, here is a quote from the discussion page for the Wikipedia entry for Maurice Jarre: ” Although I may agree it’s something of a rude experiment have a bit of proportion. This is not equivalent to getting someone arrested or poisoning their Tylenol. It’s more like doodling on a library book or at most streaking at the Oscars.–T. Anthony (talk) 05:38, 8 May 2009 (UTC) ”

What conclusions can we draw from these articles?

1. Twitter, Elsevier and Wikipedia should be legally stopped before they can do any more damage?

2. There is no context in which Twitter, Elsevier and Wikipedia will be a reliable or useful information source?

3. Librarians don’t need understand the many different ways  Twitter can be used, the funding patterns of academic journals nor how references are quality controlled in Wikipedia?

Nope. Librarians need to understand how information on Twitter, in academic journals and Wikipedia  is created, distributed, re-used, re-purposed and the criteria for sensible evaluation.

13 thoughts on “Twitter is evil. Elsevier is evil. Wikipedia is evil.

  1. Sounds like us bloggers also have to keep our eyes peeled on how we quote from more specialised publications. (But of course I was doing that already, heh.)
    Very nice, KG.

  2. How does the quote go: everyone fear’s that which they don’t understand. These tools are no different to the internet in general or even the news, which gets things wrong. No-one(or not everyone), believes that everything you find on the internet is true. Same applies to these sources as well (although Elsevier is really pushing it with that prant).

    I told a group of Grade Six students that I loved Wikipedia – but not as an only source of information – you always need to confirm the content from other sources also. Same applies here. And that’s what librarians are good at.

    Ban them? No. Learn how to make the most of them and use them to their full potential – absolutely. They’re too good a source of information to totally deny them.

  3. I’ve referred to Elsevier as “the evil empire” for years–due to the exorbitant prices they charge for journals. Now we have a new reason to refer to them that way.

    BTW. How much did they charge for the fake journals?

  4. I did have much more about the copyright restrictions in the first draft of my post, but it seemed to distract too much so I took it out.

    I didn’t feel like wading through the relative copyright provisions of Ireland, the EU, the US and Australia to work out just how stupid and illegal the provisions were on the publications’ home pages… so spat the dummy and just put in a short, grumpy sentence.

    The first article has a wonderfully restrictive caveat about “web posting“:
    ” Reprint & Reuse Permissions
    Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) is FP’s exclusive agent for granting reprint and reuse permissions. Examples include: photocopying, Web posting, and book reprints. You can submit your permission request online at or by phone at (978) 750-8400. If you need assistance with this process, contact CCC at or FP at ”

    The Irish Times’ copyright provision is similarly odd:
    “Links are not permitted other than to the Home Page, except with prior written consent. In relation to any other form of linking or use of material, users must receive prior written permission.”

  5. I agree with Michelle – the “Twitter is evil” meme is just part of the broader “Internet is evil” meme that we’ve lived with ever since Internet started going mainstream in the 1990s. I’m sure Gutenberg had to put up with “Printing is evil” nonsense too wayback when he started his printing press.

What do you think? Let us know.