How I Stopped Being a Panicky Perfectionist and Embraced the Freedom of an Eco-mind
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So what is the answer? What's the cure for my perfectionist affliction? It's to rethink what it means to be a public intellectual. I am actually a public learner, a co-creator of iterative knowledge, not a deliverer of once-and-for-all facts.
The internet makes this possible. It is my liberation.
Right now on the Small Planet Institute's website I have posted all EcoMind endnotes. There I am updating "URLs" as I discover them to be dated. Even more important, readers can find -- by chapter -- updates, including corrections. I've just started this process, but I'm committed to expanding it. I may add others' feedback by chapter as well.
There is a catch word for all this today. It's "transparency" -- exactly the opposite of Fox News-style combat media without transparency or opportunity for correction or refinement. The value of transparency is gaining ground and urgency: Think of the bipartisan anger at the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision enabling the unprecedented flood of secret campaign money. It's deadly. On the positive, think of Wikipedia where it's possible to uncover the identity of any contributor, or Politifact where I can find not only judgments on the accuracy of controversial public statements, but the reasoning behind them. So I can go behind the spin.
Transparency, as a core value of democratic society, also goes right to the heart of the petition appeal to Oxford University Press that colleagues and I are pursuing. We're simply asking the Press for: 1. Citations for evidence-based claims; 2) Disclosure of potential conflict of interest, whether financial or other associations; and 3) Accurate representation of the publication by the Press in its promotion. Pretty basic!
Beyond transparency, the Internet enables collaborative knowledge creation. I "crowd-sourced" EcoMind, for example, so dozens of people weighed in on my draft book, offering the equivalent to 80 pages of suggestions. The approach is gaining ground even "within the stately world of peer review," wrote Jack Hitt in The New York Times last Sunday: "New ways to encourage wider collaboration before an article is published -- through sites like ResearchGate -- are attempts to bring the modern world of crowd-improvement to empirical research."
Redefining my role as a public co-learner rather than Ms. Never Wrong, I am free. I am free to continue to do my best to be as carefully accurate as possible, and I am free to continually refine what I say. I undertake the later not as the woeful admission of a perfectionist's failure, but as evidence that I am inhabiting an eco-mind -- a mind of continuous change within an endless community of learners.