Running amok

BBC reports that, with current trends women sprinters may outrun men in 150 years’ time. The gap in world record times has been decreasing over the past century, so give it more time and women will eventually overtake men, right?

However, anyone with an intellect more than that of a cabbage should realise that linearly extrapolating like this is total and utter bollocks. Of particular interest from the latter link is the ‘fact’ that by 2064, with current trends, women will be able to run the marathon at a faster speed than a man running the 100m.

What university are these jokers at? Oh, Oxford. Explains a lot.

Folly or no’?

While browsing this excellent site on Edinburgh’s architecture (it beats going out and freezing your arse off), I was surprised to read about the National Monument on Calton Hill – “Edinburgh’s Folly”. A half-complete replica of the Parthenon in Athens, I’d always believed that the reason for its semi-existence was a lack of funds that had halted building. However, the text beneath the photos affirms that the monument was deliberately designed so (a Scotsman story agrees) as a Romantic ruin. The funds story is nothing more than an urban legend (perhaps one of the very first?). Alas, Google is not my friend on this occasion and I cannot find out the curious truth – is this story true, or is it just handy revisionist history?

Armageddon out of here

The MP for Outer Space South, Lembit Öpik, has a slightly scaremongering article about the possibility of an asteroid strike, even though one that would wreak global devastation happens only once every 100,000 years (Öpik makes no such indication, but does cite the much vaster Jupiter as an erroneous parallel). While, in terms of scientific curiosity, the study of our skies for Near Earth Objects is probably quite a valid one, trying to promote it through fear of an exceedingly unlikely event (while ironically dismissing Hollywood’s treatment of the subject) without all the information to hand, is, er, bad science.

Wikipedia’s bias

Just read an interesting article about systemic bias within Wikipedia (via Boing Boing), namely that the nature of its authorship means it predominantly focuses on topics that appeal to the white, male, Anglosphere. The self-regulating nature of Wikipedia is a major help here, and the sensible discussion on how to combat the problem does it great credit.

But it doesn’t quite touch on the biggest gripe I have with Wikipedia, which is its temporal bias. Far too much of the site is dedicated to very recent events, in fact some pages border on obsession with the news. For instance, take the page on Tony Blair. There is (roughly) twice as much written on events surrounding him in the 9 months of 2004 than there is for his entire career up to 1997 or his first term in charge. Some of it is mind-bogglingly trivial – does anyone care that he didn’t win last year’s Nobel Peace Prize? What does the purple condom incident have to do with Blair himself?

There is very little on his political influences, his early friendship with Gordon Brown, how he made law and order a central plank of Labour policy with “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. His many changes/fiddles to the constitution merit just a paragraph. There’s not a sniff on social policies like the minimum wage. Kosovo merits a single sentence. In short, it is a poorly balanced portrait of the man himself.

Now of course, I could go and edit the page, that’s the entire point of Wikipedia. But this page is only an example of Wikipedia’s obsession with current events (which are more heavily covered online, and so easier to source). Hopefully, the call to use more offline and historic material that comes from the article above will help alleviate the problem, even though it has not been directly addressed, but it means a radical change from the obsession with the contemporary that Wikipedia institutionally possesses.