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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cunningham’s Law and the Williams Corollary

                 Ward Cunningham, Wikipedia Pioneer
(Photo by Carigg Photography and courtesy of:Wikipedia Creative Commons.)

                  Cunningham’s Law: “The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer." As quoted by Cunningham's friend and former Intel Corp. executive Steven McGeady

 Williams’ corollary to Cunningham’s law: "It's not enough that the question posited be incorrect; said question must also be so egregiously erroneous as to compel even the laziest of smug, know-it-all bastards to get off their judgmental haunches and chime in with the correction.” Taken from a comment posted on Reddit, March 8, 2014

Joel Z. Williams
Creator of the "Williams Corollary" to the Cunningham Law

In a discussion held on the popular news and information site Reddit, Joel Z. Williams responded to a comment left by "rockychunk" who stated that Cunningham's Law was fairly good but that it did not apply in situations where it was unclear as to whether the answer put forth was accurate or true. Joel Z. Williams agreed with "rockychunk" and expanded this concept to say that any answer put forth must deviate substantially from any plausibly correct answer in order to compel persons to intervene.

For example: Joel Z. Williams published an article a year prior to his discussion with "rockychunk" wherein he posted a formula he named the "Williams Peak". Although not a scientist, Joel Z. Williams created the formula using plausible variables such as the numbers of insecticide resistant bedbug cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control, the numbers of licensed Pest Control Operators in the U.S. and etc. Yet despite the article receiving heavy viewership for over a year, no scientist or other expert questioned his formula or otherwise called him to account. Joel Z. Williams attributed this phenomena to the fact that his formula contained all of the normal hallmarks of scientific legitimacy. Indeed, his correct use of letters to denote time, distance, costs, and etc., in his formula discouraged critical analysis from people unfamiliar with such fields of study.

 Joel Z. Williams pointed to the tactics employed by Nigerian con-artists working what has come to be known as an Advanced-Fee Fraud, or "419 Nigerian Prince Scam". These con artist purposely send out thousands of emails to potential victims which are peppered with misspelled words and poor grammar in an effort to weed out the more critically thinking victims. This process saves the Nigerian Prince scammers time because of a process called "self-selecting".  Victims who overlook the glaring "red flags" and do respond are usually more feeble-minded and therefore more pliable to their schemes. 

In other words, the majority of people would  immediately notice if a correspondence sent to them did not bear the hallmarks of legitimacy. Readily apparent  indicia of fraud such as bank notes bearing the logos of unfamiliar institutions, hand-written text on a supposedly legal document and etcetera. Smarter people would instantly say: "See? that's a scam, there's no longer any need to read further or otherwise concern myself with the intricacies of that person's sad story." whereas the more gullible person might ignore those obvious signs and say: "OMG that person is in extreme peril and I must act now to save them.".

In summary, if Joel Z. Williams wants to get the right answer on the internet regarding his formula for the Williams Peak, then he needs to rewrite the equation using obviously unscientific terms and other wildly inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims. That should sufficiently upset someone in the scientific community to the point that they would feel compelled to right a wrong and correct such an obvious and unforgivable error. (Note: The Williams Peak article is posted on this site in an article called "The Missouri Method").  

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