Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Here Comes Everybody: The Internet Ensures Even "Crackpot" Theories Are Aired. Good, Thinks Elaine Morgan

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Here Comes Everybody: The Internet Ensures Even "Crackpot" Theories Are Aired. Good, Thinks Elaine Morgan

Article excerpt

"Enter demos." Alistair Cooke used this ringing phrase in America, his 1973 television series about the country and its history. Earlier episodes had depicted the Jeffersons and the Washingtons; but now he was recalling the time when European settlers began pouring through the gaps in the Appalachians and heading west, to where the assumptions and mores of the eastern seaboard were only distant noises-off for the multitude of nameless homesteaders, cowboys, trappers and prospectors.

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In our own day, democracy is taking another giant step forward. Throughout history, one of the jealously guarded prerogatives of all great institutions has been the control of access to information. And now the internet is breaking down the door. Surely we should rejoice? Don't all progressive thinkers welcome the wider dissemination of knowledge? Or is demos an uncontrollable beast if given too much licence? Do we really want to see Wikipedia replacing Britannica as the ultimate arbiter between what is fact, and what people might have - perhaps mistakenly - come to believe? Everyone is entitled to drink freely of the wells of knowledge, but who should be trusted with ensuring that the waters are not muddied?

Academia, presumably. That is its raison d'etre - and few people are disposed or qualified to question it. If academia says one thing and the internet another, the authoritative choice for any serious inquirer should be a no-brainer, surely? …

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