Post of the Day
December 15, 2000

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Subject:  Quality of The Fool
Author:  Lokicious

Been too busy with end of term stuff and snow shoveling to keep up with the board of late (short lull as I await massive set of papers). Not quite sure what the issue was that led TMF Tom to feel the need to be defensive about the Fool, but as I sit here knowing what to expect from my college students, I thought I'd comment on the general quality of The Motley Fool.

Many of us concerned with the low level of reading, writing, and thinking in American Education wonder about the effect of the internet. Will it motivate people to read and write more and provide opportunities for intelligent exchange of ideas? Or, will there be such a preponderance of garbage�name calling, opinion not argument, bad grammar�it will facilitate illiteracy and ignorance, because there will be no way to differentiate competent from incompetent posts and web sites?

Somehow there is a need to balance the freedom of everyone to express themselves with a mechanism to sort valuable from worthless information ("worthless information" is an oxymoron). I especially worry when I look at how many college students can't sort good from bad themselves, often preferring a simplistic answer over one that requires them to look at multiple perspectives and weigh evidence.

Editors and publishers used to mediate between authors and readers. This was very limiting, since they had biases and would only make available that which was commercially viable. However, there was significant control over quality. The internet makes it easier and cheaper for many voices to be heard, but to be successful it needs some way to provide the quality-control functions of editors and publishers.

While not perfect, The Motley Fool seems to be finding a nice middle ground. Its discussion boards give everyone an opportunity to speak, but without all the spamming and day trader misinformation we find elsewhere (I actually look at the Yahoo Qualcomm board on occasion as a good example of the negative possibilities of the internet). Part of this is self-control by the participants, but part has to do with the culture of discourse established by The Fool staff, as well as policing.

The staff writers for The Fool set a tone with their articles�importantly, they always invite response. Their articles are usually in line with competent financial journalism, which puts them way ahead of most of what is available on the web and virtually all TV stock market gossip. The anti-Wall St., pro-capitalism, perspective is a refreshing alternative to the established financial publications. This doesn't mean every article is great or even well-researched, and sometimes when the articles talk about a company, such as Qualcomm, the author knows less than active participants on the board. Under the circumstances, criticism is warranted.

In general, though, I think The Motley Fool should be commended. (I'm thinking of using it as a model for students to look at, if I can come up with an excuse.) Just the basic, conservative, advice on investing, which is the same official line you'll hear from any old-fashioned brokerage, is important in an internet context, where make-a-buck-fast trading seems to dominate.

The internet is a big fad among educators. Many teachers (happily, not all) now just send kids to the web to seek information. By all means, let us criticize The Fool to make it better. But let us also appreciate it as a rare island of wisdom (in the good sense) in a troubled internet sea.

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