In a terrific post, Transparency is the new objectivity, David Weinberger argues that the hyperlink nature of the internet is reshaping our notions of authority. With everybody suddenly a potential author, the old claim to objectivity seems more and more trite and outworn:
Objectivity used to be presented as a stopping point for belief: If the source is objective and well-informed, you have sufficient reason to believe. The objectivity of the reporter is a stopping point for reader’s inquiry. That was part of high-end newspapers’ claimed value: You can’t believe what you read in a slanted tabloid, but our news is objective, so your inquiry can come to rest here. Credentialing systems had the same basic rhythm: You can stop your quest once you come to a credentialed authority who says, “I got this. You can believe it.” End of story.
Instead we demand transparency; to be able to “see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position.”
Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.
I think that this kind of “hyper-transparency” -where citing a book isn’t enough, but where a link has to point to the actual resource- may be an essential feature of the internet medium; but whereas it certainly is a necessary condition for establishing reliability, it’s hardly sufficient. After all, what leads to reliability is not the number of hyperlinks to the author’s sources, but trust in the fact that the relevant aspects of the matter have been adequately dealt with.
So, instead of objectivity, I’d suggest ‘comprehensiveness’ as a condition for reliability. And it’s a sufficient one too, because on the internet comprehensiveness seems more than ever to subsume transparency.