Thursday, July 2, 2015

Message to wikipedia: do stop taking yourself so seriously.

Wikipedia - that creeping control freak of the informationsphere, now attempting to throttle unfolding news stories, like the Taiwan water park disaster

 This posting is prompted by this new wiki page. It relates to that dreadful mishap in the Taiwan water park, involving the coloured powder that caught fire.

Odd title: it refers to the Taiwan Water Park fireball tragedy (June 2015). But it's wikipedia's over-strict editing policies that are mainly in the frame.

First things first. Let's overlook the fact that no one has called Taiwan "Formosa" for decades. But that description you see above ("Formosa Fun Park") may be the one that the local owners have coined, maybe with a hint of nostalgia, so we'll say no more on that score.

Next: what you see above is NOT the main entry, which I linked to in the preceding post. It's what one sees when one hits the Talk tab.  Why did I hit it? Because I wanted to flag up my suspicion that it may not have been the potentially flammable/explosive nature of the starch-based powder per se, at least in the first instance, but the means used to propel it into the crowd, which I correctly reckoned to have used gas. (Current reports are now confirming that a gas was indeed used in the stage effects equipment, although described improbably as CO2). But look at the injunction circled in red, top left. It reads "This is not a forum for general discussion of the article's subject". Why not? Are we supposed to believe everything we (and the article's author)  read in the initial newspaper reports? What if one suspects it's wrong, or merely incomplete? How else is one supposed to question the veracity of the 'authoritative'  wiki article, except by going to the Talk (or Edit) facility.

But it gets worse - much worse. Look at the second red circle, inside of which on reads "No original research".  Yup, I kid thee not:

And you thought a wiki entry was state-of-the-art?


Having had a brush with wiki editors not so long ago on a different matter (the Turin Shroud) I know only too well what's being said there - that wikipedia is for dissemination of ideas that have previously been published via authoritative  information outlets (often taken to mean peer-reviewed publications, even if that's not always the case). But how can there be authoritative information on so recent a tragedy? There can't.What's more, the preliminary information being published via wiki may confer a spurious degree of accuracy and reliability - all the more reason for needing a channel of communication by which obvious errors can be corrected (obviously) but additionally new interpretations can be flagged up. How can one do that when something seemingly as informal as a "Talk"  facility is closed off to those of us who wish to "discuss" the topic?

I say wikipedia has got it wrong - seriously wrong.  Leaving aside the  hopelessly Byzantine complexity of the site generally, doing its utmost to shut out newcomers from the editing/upgrading process with dense impenetrable jargon,  it makes a fundamental error. It imagines itself to be a finished product 'in the making' so to speak, one that with a few more tweaks here and there is an internet equivalent of a traditional encyclopaedia. Nonsense. Why do folk make a beeline for wikipedia? Merely because its free? I doubt it. Most folk go to wiki for an initial  taster of an unfamiliar topic, not because it's the last word on the subject, but simply the first or maybe second word -  preliminary, provisional,  one that can serve as a basis for further research, maybe one's own.  They like its provisonal feel. As such, "original research" (or OR to give it the wiki abbreviation, as if somehow unfit for spelling in full) is not a dirty word. The process of validating new knowledge is not one that is achieved in a single step, certainly not peer-review (more a means of filtering off shoddy data and conclusions than guaranteeing top quality).

Wikipedia needs to get down off its pedestal, and start opening itself up to newcomers and outsiders via the Talk and Edit functions, removing the 'barbed wire' with which it presently surrounds itself. Wikipedia needs to see itself for what it is - or should be - a uniquely internet-based and thus interactive source of information on topics where opinion is never allowed to gel into unquestionable dogma or shielded from criticism by the walls of an impenetrable fortress.  Wikipedia should be edgy - not stodgy.

Update: Friday 3rd July

Posted to the Telegraph in response to:

Big Rip will end the Universe, scientists claim

(Sorry about the crazy gaps/white space  that now appear at intervals. They come with cut-and-paste from news sites etc. They keep returning, even after editing in html (Yes. I delete long strings of line break commands that are respnsible for the gaps, only for those same breaks to be reinserted later by some mysterious default system that frankly should not be operating - this being MY site goddamit).)

It's going to be tough on chemistry teachers during the initial phase of atom expansion, as shells of negative valence electrons become further and further away from the positive nucleus. Electropositive elements, like the alkali metals, will find it easier to shed their outer valence electrons, so lithium will start to behave like sodium, sodium like potassium etc. Conversely, electronegative elements like the halogens will find it harder to attract electrons, so super-reactive fluorine will start to behave like tamer chlorine, etc. It's going to be tough on exam boards, having to keep changing the answers while the questions stay the same, but they can maybe get advice from economics teachers on how to cope. Alternatively, chemistry labs could be relocated to the fringes of black holes, where gravitational forces compress atoms back to their proper 21st century size, restoring standard textbook behaviour, for a few aeons at any rate..

followed by a light-hearted response to this oh-so-predictable comment:

Lots of those who support AGW tell me that when I query why they believe we should all go green; that's after they've called me a denier of course.<

There'll be less and less to worry about re AGW. The planet and everything else will be cooling with expansion of the universe needless to say. But micro-expansion of space and CO2 molecules will help divert attention. The carbon-oxygen bonds will weaken so that present infrared absorption shifts to longer wavelengths. There will then be government decrees on maximum listening to radio or watching TV or use of mobile phones (back-radiation causing our microwave ovens to overcook). Water molecules will be easier to split by photolysis, so green plants will have a field day, photosynthesizing like crazy, gobbling up the last of the CO2. There will then have to be brainstorming on what to poke down dormant volcanoes to make them erupt and replenish CO2 (some still being needed for fire extinguishers and keeping a head on keg beer). That's supposing anyone will be able to cut their way through the jungle and other biomass to reach base camp.
Update: Friday 3 July, 11:00

These two comments have appeared under a posting entitled  "Is Colin Berry Onto Something?" (laced with the site-owners customary admonition re my manner of dealing with  pseudo-scientific claptrap and those who have indulged in it, eminent Shroud so-called investigators included, whether living or dead, STURP or non-STURP).


I'm not sure whether the latest model can be described as a "scorch" hypothesis or not. I guess it's a scorch if one used a hot iron to bring up the colour in that flour imprint. But there are other ways of doing that which don't require heat, e.g. nitric acid, or which use a combination of heat and chemistry (hot limewater). It's probably better to avoid the term "scorch" for the new model anyway, since the aim is to selectively colour the flour imprint, leaving the linen unaffected (at least outside the imprint area - though what happens under the imprint at the flour/linen interface is anyone's guess).

I  call it the Blue Peter model, since it's one that can be done at home quite safely by a 10 year old, assuming they can be trusted not to spill flour paste on the carpet, and to exercise care with using a very hot electric iron (max setting). It's that simple, and for that reason is hardly likely to be suitable for the peer-reviewed scientific literature. It was conceived in real-time on the internet, and thus it will probably remains so, unless or until somebody in the MSM considers it has some mileage.

Thanks btw to the mysterious "reader" in Palo Alto who considers my model to be getting less attention than it deserves (my thoughts too, but then I would say that, wouldn't I?). There's a simple explanation, reader of Palo Alto, already alluded to. My model is TOO simple. It insults the collective intelligence and mindset of mainstream Shroudology!

Which brings me back to wikipedia and its vexatious straitjacket policies re editing and updating of existing articles. There are such things as overarching ideas, ones that need no report to a peer-reviewed journal. The world has a right to be informed of new ideas, even if the supporting data have yet to be garnered. Wikipedia is in fact suppressing ideas.Wikipedia has set its face against the world of ideas.

Update (13:30)  reminder for anyone new to the site who hasn't the faintest clue what I'm talking about (above)  re the Turin Shroud. It's to do with how the image (faint body image that is, not blood) was made, and why. Let's start with why. The 'scorch hypothesis' attracted initially because it accounted for the tan colour, the STURP belief that it was chemically-altered linen fibres with no known additives, the negative image, the 3D-properties even, assuming a hot metal statue or bas relief had been used to imprint a scorch image. But why - why a scorch? There was a rationale, albeit a long shot, based on the claim that the first known owner of the Shroud, one Geoffroi de Charny, had an uncle with an almost identical name, Geoffroi de Charney, who along with Jacques de Molay was one of several Knights Templar burned (or rather slow-roasted) at the stake in Paris in 1314. Maybe the 'scorched-on' image was an artistic attempt to depict the cruel, sadistic manner of those Templar executions. It was even possible to find clues on the Lirey Pilgrim's badge to death by roasting rather than crucifixion (assuming one was looking for them, needless to say ;-)

All that changed when we learned of the discovery of a mould for a second Lirey badge with an inset face, clearly of Jesus, above the word SUAIRE (face cloth), suggesting that the Shroud image too was an imprint, and one moreover in sweat (and blood) that matched the then celebrated Veil of Veronica.
So there was now an entirely new rationale for the Shroud image that needed to be considered, namely that it was fabricated to represent a SWEAT (and blood) imprint. How might that have been achieved, using medieval technology?

Abandon the scorch hypothesis, especially as it needs hot metal. Develop a new model, one that created an imprint from a real person that can be claimed to have been formed from sweat - 1300 years earlier - such that it would be yellowed with age, but still faint.

The obvious option is to find a faint yellow dye, to imprint with that dye in one go. But that would look like a crude imprint. People would see that for what it was immediately. A dye would not have been well-received by the 20th/21st century scientific eye either - tending to soak through the weave to give a prominent reverse-side image too (which the Shroud lacks). STURP found no evidence for dyes, pigments etc.

However, there is a more nuanced alternative to a one-step dye procedure if one adheres to the logic of (a) initial imprinting with sweat and (b) subsequent yellowing with age.

One selects a pale-coloured substitute (proxy?) for sweat which one paints evenly all over one's real-life human subject. One then imprints onto linen. One releases one's subject to go and get showered. One lets that imprint dry, and then, at leisure,  one does something that selectively colours up the imprint to make it a yellow or yellow/brown colour, WITHOUT significantly altering the colour of the non-imprinted areas of the linen.

Back in April I tried a number of different proxies for sweat - egg white, milk, starch etc etc, but there was one that was found serendipitously to be superior to the others by virtue of its adhesive properties. allowing linen to stick to human skin, conforming to fine details of relief, like bunched fingers etc. It was ordinary plain white flour, stirred with cold water to make a thin paste. It dried reasonably quickly to leave an almost invisible imprint, while the subject could easily wash off the non-toxic flour.

All that remained was to find a means of making that flour imprint turn from off-white to yellow (or yellow-brown).   Nitric acid was tested, first as vapour, then solution. Both worked well. Then limewater was tested briefly, and seemed to work satisfactorily if hot. Then simple pressing with a very hot iron was tried, and that worked too.

Thus we have a simple two-stage imprinting process that works with a real person - 'paint' from head to toe with flour paste, imprint onto linen, then develop chemically to convert one or more flour components using either chemical OR thermal treatments, OR a combination of both.

In fact, things didn't happen as described above, i.e. as a short simple logical pathway. I wish they had. The pathway went round the houses. Here briefly is how we got from A to B via Z, Y,X, W etc.

Joe Accetta published a paper for his St.Louis (2014) presentation, proposing that the TS image had been obtained by woodblock printing using the kind of oak gall or iron/oak gall inks that were available in the 14th century. Whilst I was a little sceptical on account of the risk, indeed likelihood, of reverse-side coloration,  he had suggested that gum arabic had been used to increase ink viscosity. There was a mention too of the additional possibility of a mordanting action which assists with attachment of dye to fibre. I had been wondering if sulphuric acid might play a role in image formation , given a hint in the 1981 STURP summary and in the work of Luigi Garlaschelli, quoting Joe Nickell also.  Hugh Farey too had mentioned acids at one point.  But what was the source of acid? Might it have been there without folk knowing it? Possibly so, if alum had been used as mordant, because it hydrolyses to form sulphuric acid. So  I set up experiments using tannins from pomegranate rind as dyes with added alum mordants, but saw no obvious acid etching of the linen. That was followed by tests with sulphuric acid alone at a range of high concentrations. But there was only faint coloration of linen, even at the highest concentration tested.

That was the cue to try another strong  mineral acid , namely  HNO3 (nitric acid).  That produced a much better discoloration of linen. But why? By what chemical mechanism? Oxidation of carbohydrates was the obvious one, but there was another to consider, namely nitration of proteins via the so-called xanthoproteic reaction. If there was enough surface protein in linen to account for the discoloration by nitration alone,  then what would be the effect of supplementing the intrinsic proteins of flax fibres in linen with more from outside? What protein sources could be used to coat the linen? Milk? Egg white? Gelatin? White flour paste? It was then a small step to adopt a different approach. Instead of coating all the linen, why not use the protein and/or carbohydrate source as imprinting medium, and then use nitric acid to develop the colour.  That way, one gets a yellow image against a much paler linen background, even if the latter is slightly altered by the chemical developer. As I say, a somewhat roundabout route.

Why bother with the chemical reasoning? Why not simply try this or that recipe, working one's way systematically across the likely medieval pantry shelf? Answer: fine if one gets lucky quickly. But supposing one does not? Chances are one would lose interest quickly and abandon the project. The advantage of the systematic chemical approach is that it usually throws up something interesting along the way to keep one interested. One is far more likely to stick at it when following a methodical scientific pathway than if simply taking shots in the dark.

Update: Friday, June 3

Have just googled (taiwan water park fireball).
Page 1 of returns :

The wiki article - the one I'm not allowed to discuss, even under the Talk Tab -  is near the top of the returns. My blog posting, suggesting that a flammable gas (butane?) had been used to propel the powder into the crowd is directly underneath. (See inside my yellow box).  How crazy is that - I'm not allowed to flag up the flammable gas idea on the wiki page, despite there being a sizeable number of visits to my posting? What do I have to do? Get it published in Nature? Get it published in a tabloid newspaper?  Write a pdf for that looks for all the world like a peer-reviewed paper, but has probably had token scrutiny only?
Update Saturday

Imagine for a moment that I had accompanied my 'Blue Peter'  (paste, press 'n' iron) model of the Shroud  with this photograph:

Imagine I had said that what you see above is the gold standard that all other models have to aim at.

What, you may ask? That discoloration on a piece of linen? Where's the image? Where's the negative tone reversal? Where's the 3D properties?

Where indeed? Yet in a galaxy far, far away, one called Shroudology, that photograph was presented just yesterday as the model that I and others have to aim for. It was produced by blitzing linen with a laser beam radiating in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum. Lasers are man-made, needless to say. There are no grounds for thinking that the laser effect exists anywhere else in the Universe. Even if it did, what we see (or rather faintly discern) in the photograph is not an image, any more than a patch of sunburned  or suntanned skin is an "image". As such it is totally irrelevant in  any discussion on modelling the Shroud IMAGE. What we see is in fact an egregious example of what I stated earlier to be my chief bugbear as a retired researcher browsing the newspapers and internet - PSEUDO-SCIENCE! What we see above is a misapplication of technology, one that still postures in the MSM as cutting edge science. Shame on Italy's ENEA for allowing this intelligence-insulting nonsense to continue under its banner and patronage.

Update Sunday

I tried using the "Talk" tab on that wiki coverage of the Taiwan fireball. Here's a link.

Immediately I was given all the folderol about "No Original Research" (unless previously published elsewhere, and no, my  blog site does not count as an authoritative source). So newspaper reporting IS regarded as an authoritative source, and treated as such, until an investigator has taken the trouble to  write a formal paper and get it published somewhere that wiki regards as 'authoritative'.

If that is wiki's position, my message is simple. Butt out of current affairs, wiki. You are doing a HUGE disservice to the internet and wider society, posturing as the fount of all reliable knowledge when, as often as not, you are accepting uncritically what happens to be in yesterday's or last week's newspaper, and allowing it to go unquestioned.

I personally will cease using wikipedia from now on. I've seen enough. I wish to have nothing more to do with that snobbish, pompous, narcissistic,  pseudo-professional operation

Further reading: here's a rather curious report, not because the event may have been Gay Pride-sponsored (with attempts in the Taiwanese media  to suppress that suggestion) but on account of the new chemistry being proposed. It was rainbow-coloured glitter we are told, based on metallic coatings and powders like magnesium, with no mention of the starch powder reporting. That seems highly improbable to me. I have personally ignited suspensions of a metal powder (aluminium) in air. One gets a sudden intense white flash, not the sustained orange/red conflagration one sees in the video clips.

Tomorrow I will respond to the latest putdown from a nameless wikipedia editor. For now, I am keeping to my new resolution of ignoring wikipedia entries when doing research. A  few minutes ago  I needed to look up the history of Kenyan independence in relation to the Mau Mau uprising. It was for a comment I have just posted to Jeremy Warner in the Telegraph re the hounding and asset-stripping of BP in the US courts, aided in part by anti-British rhetoric that has come from that country's Head of State (see below). I ignored the wiki entry at the top of the list, and went for something else instead, and how refreshing that was indeed.

My comment:

Obama’s vote-seeking has half destroyed BP


ColinB 31 minutes ago 
I suppose it's just possible that a Conservative PM has all of a sudden become lazy and complacent about reaffirming our commitment to NATO (minimum 2% GDP for Defence). I suppose it's just possible that a Conservative PM should unwisely seem to make light of a crude and ungraceful threat made by the incumbent US President just a week or two ago to downgrade the UK's status in NATO, stating that he'll have to wait till the Autumn Defence Review to see if the 2% is maintained or not.
Or maybe there are things we don't know, like this UK PM being fed up to the back teeth with the incumbent US President, one who imagines that GDP grows on trees, that he and his country's piranha legal system can use an industrial mishap to bleed one of our major companies white.
Whatsoever ye sow, so shall ye reap, Mr.Obama. You trashed what little remained of the special relationship with what JW here politely refers to as your populism, your grubbing for votes in the darkest corners of the American psyche.The latter with its limited grasp of history still likes to pigeon-hole Britain as an ex-colonialist oppressor, despite the example set by Australia, Canada, India and dare one say Kenya too, the latter after a nasty and some might say needless armed terrorist uprising about which you and your forebears know plenty, one that almost certainly delayed independence.
Methinks Mr.Cameron is deliberately keeping you waiting for the 'right answer' re our defence budget, Mr.Obama, and rightly so. You are indeed 'anti-British', and you are cynically using your country's merciless legal system out of vindictive spite.
You are not a statesman, Mr.Obama. You are a temporary obstacle to achieving a proper response by the liberal West to current security threats. The sooner your term of office expires, the greater and more audible will be the collective sigh of relief this side of the Atlantic (and possibly your side too, at least in the more enlightened sections of your long-suffering country's electorate).

Update Monday July 7th

Note the new picture at the top of this posting, added just a few minutes ago. Naturally I did a little checking of facts to remind myself that I was not being too harsh on Nurse Ratched from "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", and by implication (or insinuation) wikipedia either. This time I purposely declined the wiki fix that seems to head 99% of my Google searches, and looked further down the list. Oh boy. What a liberating and refreshing experience. To think that all these years I have gradually allowed myself to become enslaved to that bunch of faceless control freaks who give their services to wikipedia for free, we are told (WHY???????). Now I know how they operate, with their simplistic mission statements, their attempts to demean those who have spotted flaws in their carefully scripted responses, my contempt for these people grows by the day, nay the hour. How dare they attempt to take ownership of an unfolding  news story, one in which scarcely any hard facts are in the public domain. Left to wiki, those facts could remain buried forever, given its stifling of attempts to question and analyse what really happened.

Update 6 July 15:30

Here's the magisterial putdown I received yesterday from the faceless wiki editor. Note the robotic and dismissive deployment of one of its no-no categories ("Fringe Theories").

Please read the core Wikipedia policies linked above. I'm not going to debate them with you, as they are not negotiable. The four tildes (~~~~) are responsible for the signature and timestamp that appeared after your first post above. Please always sign your comments on Talk pages. General Ization Talk 19:11, 5 July 2015 (UTC)
Also, please see Fringe theories which I, having taken the time to read your blog entry (the one about the explosion, not the one about Wikipedia), believe certainly applies in this case. General Ization Talk 19:15, 5 July 2015 (UTC)
 Here was my exasperated reply, penned just a few minutes ago (exasperated because this is about a current affairs topic, not an overview of the Big Bang or Evolution theory):

So, wikipedia is prepared to take the first reports of a current affairs topic, obtained from news agencies, official spokesmen etc, and use those to compose the wiki entry. Anyone who attempts to challenge the official record, those 'first impressions', barely a day or two old, is told they are proposing "fringe theories" no matter who they are, no matter their track record for getting to the truth via systematic lines of questioning. This is quite frankly appalling. Wikipedia has no right to preempt discussion and comment on current affairs, essentially crystallizing the first reports as if certain truth.
You have made an enemy wikipedia. I intend to expose your shoddy methods, your contempt for scholarship, or even plain detective work by those of us with enquiring or critical minds.
I have compared you on my latest blog posting with Nurse Ratched from "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's nest".
Colin Berry (talk) 13:12, 6 July 2015 (UTC)
Or, given the verbose and convoluted barbed wire with which your surround and protect yourself, I'll repeat that again in the reverse order, with the four tildes first and my name second. (talk) 13:12, 6 July 2015 (UTC)
Colin Berry

Update: Tuesday 7 July

Have just come across this through googling for updates on the Taiwan disaster:

Quote: Last weekend at a water park in Taiwan, a mysterious substance caused a massive fireball to ignite and consume the stage, resulting in the death of one person and the injuries of 500. While many celebrities took to Weibo to send their messages of hope, JJ teamed up with Taiwanese singer and guitarist Wing to compose a beautiful three minute ballad called ‘I Pray For You’ to give encouragement and strength to those affected in the explosion
At last - someone out there who still has an open and enquiring mind, one that recognizes that the fireball did not match the description of a dust 'explosion'. As such there can be no justification whatsoever for wikipedia or anyone else to go attaching that label pending the findings of an official enquiry. 
Does wikiepdia not realize the inconsistency and self-contradiction of its 'No Discuss/No Research policy? How does it think the first reports originated? Do journalists not do some quick research where breaking news stories are concerned. Most do, so what they write is "research" (of variable quality) which wikipedia writers use to create a new article. So they have used "research" but from what generally is a journalist with a deadline to meet, and unlikely therefore to be "authoritative". What does wiki do? It goes and puts those first impressions onto the internet, blocking any attempt to question or correct the record, except to their own inner circle of faceless editors, operating behind their pseudonyms, erecting ludicrously complex and arcane barriers to anyone who wished to intrude on their magic circle.
Here's an item that appeared on the BBC, one where a small sample of wiki's people's army  of unpaid editors were interviewed.  Sure, they seem a pleasant enough bunch of people.
But, the big but.  What credentials or qualifications do each of those nine self-selected interviewees bring to the job? Why do they do what they do, without any visibility or financial reward? Would it be uncharitable to suggest that the thing that unites them would be a feeling of total anonymity were it not for the wiki editing. 
Here's my advice to each of them: chose a specialist topic you're REALLY interested in and start a blog.

One has to hand it to Jimmy Wales. He has this vast workforce that doesn't cost him a single penny (which doesn't prevent him producing the begging bowl at regular intervals). Discipline? Easy: simply issue an edict saying there's to be no intrusion of new ideas, merely selection and filtering  of what's already in the public domain, and no entering into discussion even under the Talk or Edit tabs.

Methinks there's something rotten in the estate of Wales. It strikes me as being too regimented and robotic, turning its voluntary helpers into apparatchiks. It's frankly weird, dare one say a little dehumanising. I guess it's an occupational hazard of compiling an encyclopaedia with no upper page limit or number of volumes. It's become a human treadmill, one that recruits real people and proceeds to turn them into near-invisible mice, notable mainly for nocturnal activity and sharp incisors.

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Lily Fong said...
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