Why has Quora become a magnet for flat Earth and Moon landing conspiracy questions that must be given BNBR respect, even though they’re undeserving?

The question is amusing to me, given that part of Quora’s raison d’être is to sift bad knowledge from good knowledge, via both credentials and the wisdom of the crowds. See A Breakdown of Mills Baker’s Answer: Democratizing Access (Pt 1/2) by Ryan Q.Y. See on The Insurgency (much more readable than the original, though longer).

While Quora wants to democratise the production of knowledge, outside of the bastion of academia and Wikipedia, it also wants to act as a corrective to bad knowledge available online. And Quora engineers, if asked, will tell you that conspiracy theories are an exemplar of that; read the post.

And yet, Quora has awarded Top Writer to a proponent of a variant of the Phantom time hypothesis (Roman and Early Mediaeval History as we know it is a fiction perpetrated by mediaeval scribes).

It’s no more a magnet, I suspect, than other forums disseminating knowledge online. Where Wikipedia uses the cudgel of original research to block it (and in the process blocks a whole lot of stuff it shouldn’t—celebrities can’t correct their own middle names on Wikipedia, unless there’s a published source corroborating it), Quora is meant to use the gentle corrective of bots and machine learning.

It’s gentle enough that crap will get through, and that does not exempt the reader from the onus of being sceptical of anything that sounds crazy. And yes, sometimes people really are wrong, and people shouldn’t have to waste time proving to “sceptics” the entire body of work of a discipline.

BNBR is a deeply problematic notion. It can be reactionary, it can certainly have a chilling effect. In this regard though… I don’t see a way around it that will not shut down too much besides it.

In bots we trust *sigh*

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