Can We Please Put The 'Amateur Brain Surgeon' Strawman To Rest?

from the please,-make-it-go-away dept

For years, the common criticism of Wikipedia was the “brain surgery” myth, which usually was something along the lines of saying, “you wouldn’t let an amateur or ‘the crowd’ perform brain surgery, so why would you let them create a reference book?” Of course, that makes a bunch of bogus assumptions. First, it assumes that there’s some sort of equivalence between creating an encyclopedia and doing brain surgery. But that’s silly. Second, it assumes that no one involved in Wikipedia is an expert, which is not true. In fact, there are some brain surgeons who patrol Wikipedia as well. Finally, it assumes that these kinds of services are based on everyone being on equal footing, rather than recognizing that well-supported content is what gets through.

Along those lines, we’ve now got people using the same bogus “brain surgery” myth to attack the concept of “citizen journalism”:

First, would you trust a citizen neurosurgeon to remove your kid’s neuroblastoma? No, you wouldn’t. You would not trust a citizen dentist either for your cavities. Or even a people’s car repairman.

Of course not. But most people seem to recognize the basic difference between reporting on something and cutting into someone’s brain. And, many people also recognize that most reporters themselves are often not experts in the field they’re reporting on — and what participatory journalism and the internet enable is the ability for actual experts on the topic to take part in the discussion and reporting as well.

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Comments on “Can We Please Put The 'Amateur Brain Surgeon' Strawman To Rest?”

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Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Here is one of the second level links: .

Together with the top page, this forms a tiny bit of the information you can access on Wikipedia related to brain surgery. This second page leads to hundreds of other pages on Wikipedia.


Let me ask Dan something that apparently I have forgotten from my 5th grade human body study’s class.

We know that patients who had blood removed surgically after undergoing a CT scan showing the presence of hematoma have a significant risk of experiencing rebleeding at the site.

This was basically common knowledge back in school..

30 days hath September,
April, June, and November,
These plus one’s still fewer
Than the portion who rebleed
Post fixing the Hematoma need.

So since it’s so important to pick the right surgical procedure, [and here is my question, Dan:] which, clipping or coiling, is generally used to fix aneurysms of the middle cerebral artery?

I couldn’t remember the answer, and Wikipedia, likely written by third and fourth graders, probably doesn’t cover it.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In my experience

I would rather have an unlicensed brain surgeon who had thoroughly studied my particular case as a devoted amateur and who did a meticulous job, than an arrogant professional with preconceptions of what he wants to be wrong, who is sloppy, in a hurry to make his tee time, and only opening my skull for the money and fame.

This also applies to electricians who can burn your house down, firemen who can fail to prevent it burning down, and Christmas tree sellers who think they know how to rope the tree to your roof, whilst blowing the fuse on your seat belt motors. His 40 years experience didn’t teach him anything except to overrate his skills.

Spanky says:


And before you know it, MBAs will be giving expert commentary on patent law.

One fallacy you may not have picked out here is the appeal to authority. I’ve known experts who were jokes, and average joes who knew more than the experts.

Whether or not I believe what someone says or writes has to do with their facts and argumentation. They needn’t bother sending me their resume.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:


… I’m rather disillusioned with what often passes for “professional” journalism these days, so I don’t see any great harm in letting a wannabe Woodward (or Bernstein) send in his boxtops to get his “citizen journalist” creds.

If we were to equate the skills and practices of a professional brain surgeon to those of a modern professional journalist, I’d give serious thought to just taking my chances on that tumor…


Richard (profile) says:


First, would you trust a citizen neurosurgeon to remove your kid’s neuroblastoma? No, you wouldn’t. You would not trust a citizen dentist either for your cavities. Or even a people’s car repairman.

But we trust the unqualified to run major corporations and even to run the national banking system.

Consider the following (reposted from the ZOPA jokes thread)

WHO IS THE ODD MAN OUT – and more importantly – WHY??

Lord Stevenson: former chairman, HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland (a major UK BANK))

Sir Fred Goodwin: former chief executive, RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland – one of the largest banks in the world)

Andy Hornby: former chief executive, HBOS

Sir Tom McKillop: former chairman, RBS

John McFall MP: Former chairman of Treasury Select Committee

Alastair Darling: Former Chancellor of the Exchequer

Gordon Brown: Former Prime Minister and former Chancellor

Sir Terry Wogan: presenter of Radio 2’s Breakfast Show

You’re probably thinking

Terry Wogan.

You’re right.

However, the reason may surprise you………..

Terry Wogan is the only one out of this motley crew who
actually holds any formal banking qualification.

Nathan Vegdahl (profile) says:

The comparison is also ridiculous because you can iteratively improve written works, like wikipedia, so mistakes are not at all permanent.

The same cannot be said of brain surgery. If you screw up, you can’t just roll it back or fix the mistake. So of course I wouldn’t want a crowd of people (some not experts) working on my brain. The experts wouldn’t be able to fix the non-experts’ mistakes.

The whole point of Wikipedia is that it progressively improves, not that it’s correct the first time every time.

The comparison is just utterly bogus on so many levels.

Emmanuel Carabott (profile) says:

The real reason

I think the problem here is not that people are afraid of some doctor doing brain surgery on them who would have studied brain surgery on wikipedia (obviously no one expects that to ever happen) I think its more like fear of free. I have seen it a lot especially in the gaming world. A lot of people have the misconception that since its free, it doesnt generate money and thus it cannot be of equal quality of something that charges money. And it would be fine if it ends there but it somehow turns into hostility towards the free offering as if the free offering is harming the world and we need to get rid of it or something. Its like some people want to hate free stuff and they’re looking for any excuse to rationalize it.

Further more if its the profession that makes people good at their job and only people who are good at their job can do the job at all, isnt that a bit of a chicken and egg problem? no one is born into a profession. Surely everyone can see that! I think its really all fear of the free

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