Internet “experts” on Yahoo, the value of advice…..


Just after I finished the story on spark plugs, there was a loud knock on our back door. This is very unusual at night at our place.  It was our next door neighbor Alan. He was short of breath, had a flash light and said only “Come with me.”

It is overcast and pitch dark out here in the country. It rained 5″ in 40 minutes here yesterday, and the whole area is flooded except for the roads.  I was a little reluctant to follow him, as he had seen a 4 foot water moccasin slither into our pond 3 days ago, and I first thought that Alan had seen him again, in which case I was much more interested in having a Mossberg product than a Maglite product.

Turns out, it was a cause for wonder, not alarm. We walked out to the drainage ditch, and Alan showed me 3 large Beavers, swimming back and forth like motorboats. I was stunned. I had never seen one in Florida, and textbooks on wildlife written years ago said that Florida and Hawaii were the only states without them. Yet, right in front of our eyes, 12 feet away, they swam back and forth, and didn’t care about the flashlight nor us.

After 15 minutes, we thought is best to leave them alone. Back inside, I typed “Beavers in Florida” into Google to see what was there. The very first thing that comes up is the same thing that often does, the “Yahoo answers”, where experts write in the answers, and other Yahoo readers vote to confirm which answer is the correct one,  Majority confirming the obviously correct answer……

The most popular, and thus correct answer, was provided by an alleged human named “Sisyphus.” This person holds the coveted “Top Contributor” status with Yahoo, and lists Zoology as his subject. This name wrote in to say “NO, NOT a Tropical animal.” 75% of Yahoo readers confirmed this as the correct answer, “Sisyphus” evidently answers lots of topics with such expertise, as 14,000 people voted his answers on topics as the correct ones. What a beautifully simple display of group networking, and people pooling intelligence! I was momentarily tempted to write Al Gore thanking him for inventing the Internet until I remembered that I had just seen 3 Beavers, they were not dressed as tourists, and we are 75 miles inside of Florida.

On “Yahoo answers”, one person wrote in to say that there are beavers in florida. They offered a brief from the Florida State wildlife site, and gave footnotes on reports. He stated that there were beavers in Florida. Exactly ONE Yahoo reader agreed with this. It was the “wrong” answer in the world according to Yahoo. Below, is the paragraphs from the Florida State site. This answer is further down Google than the Yahoo answer, and required reading more than 5 words for an answer.

“Today the beaver thrives along many of the perennial streams and rivers that course through the landscape of the Florida panhandle and upper peninsula. As architects of wetlands, beavers provide habitat for nesting wood ducks, migratory waterfowl, otters, turtles and fishes.”

“In northern Florida beaver dams may block drainage systems and flood roads, crops, and timberland. Hungry beavers occasionally chew down ornamental trees and venture into fields to feed on crops like sorghum and corn. Wire or hardware cloth fencing at least 3.5ft (1.2 m) high may prevent damage of valuable trees. Daily destruction of dams and removal of dam building materials sometimes will cause a beaver colony to abandon an area. The insertion of water control structures into existing beaver dams can be effective at preventing excessive flooding. Problems beavers may be trapped and relocated but permits from the FWC are required from the regional office. “

How does this relate to airplane building? You can not imagine how many times in the last ten years I have seen homebuilders take advice on building planes and engines from the internet using essentially the same system, ie, ask a big group of nameless people, and assume that the popular answer must be the one to bet your life on. On every facet of aircraft building, I have seen countless builders assume that the answer they read, even when they have never met, nor heard of the “expert”, is correct. Over many years it was my position that aviation internet groups should have limits or qualifications on “advice” that people without experience offer. Counter to my position were hordes of people who claimed that this was the same thing as Stalin style censorship. They all said they if they asked a question, they wanted to hear every answer, and then they would decide what the correct anser was from the options presented.

Obviously, that is nearly the exact equivalent of Yahoo answers, only in this case, going with the wrong answer has some real consequences. I always tried to point out that if you were qualified to sort out the real answer from all the made up ones, then obviously you wouldn’t have needed to ask the question in the first place………I have seen no shortage of people offering incorrect answers to aviation questions. Be careful from who you ask answers, you have a lot at stake.-WW

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