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Sunday, May 02, 2004
Why Webistemology?

Here's my original posting from 2001, explaining where I came up with webistemology

If epistemology is the study of how we know what we know, then maybe wepistemology is the study of how we know what we know on the web. A recent story about a failed class action law suit may be of some interest here. Someone was silly enough to listen to a stock analyst during the dot boom, and was upset that they didn't get rich. Boo hoo. As a result of the dot bust, they sued the analysts that they listened to, trying to get rich by speculating on the market.

I particularly liked some of the judge's comments,

A collection of market gossip pervades the endless stream of news organization tidbits which are spread throughout [the suits]. Generally, these are expectable comments of the gamblers in the world's gaming pits depending on the season. They come during the inevitable sequel after market boom periods. Opinions turned sour by uncontrollable tidal waves of the economic cycle are substituted for considered standards of conduct.

It's way easy to fall into the second rate critic role, and just start lambasting everyone in sight. How stupid is the investor? What kind of slime worm lawyer sues over this kind of crap? Hell, the analyst in question was probably in someone's pocket all along. I'd rather not go there. The fact of the matter is that people like to work and act together. We are not sheep. We are social animals. No amount of invective, propoganda or surveys are going to change that fundamental fact of human nature.

Almost invariably people will talk positively about a community saying, "everyone looks after one another here". Go track the hacker boards for a cyber equivalent. So what happens when social animals - that's you and me, get together in a fundamentally anti-social mileau - the stock market and most corporations? Look around you and you can answer for yourself.

Modern myths:

* The stock market is a rational place.
* You can get ahead solely by hard work and diligence
* If you are wronged, a lawsuit will help

The people that launched the lawsuit against the wall street analysts can be excused for thinking that they had a case. The analyst, being a good social animal went along with the other analysts. Trite undertoned phrases about past performance not predicting the future were almost immediately contradicted by glowing reviews of companies and stocks that made sense only in the social context in which they operated....certainly in no broader economic or business sense.

The investors, following the rituals and taboos of their social grouping, really had no alternative to shuffle off behind the analysts and shovel as much money as they possibly could into the dot boom. There were feeding the myth by which they built their own dreams. It's so human as to be trite.

Along comes the bust. All the analysts, pundits and talking heads smugly spout about cycle, soft/hard landings, indicators and recovery. Have you ever been snorkeling or watched a nature show with shots of the schools of fish on a coral reef? Have you ever wondered how they could communicate with each other so well as to turn simultaneously without any apparent difficulty. The Wall Street analyst crowd could probably tell you.

How do we know what we know on the web? Look to the Judas Goat media, leading us to the slaughter. If you want to live, start listening around you instead. Blogs are part of the answer, unbiased search engines help, but most of all you can help yourself by casting off the broadcast mentality and realize that information is not given to you, but is something that you have to interact with. When you start doing that, then you will know how you know what you know.

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