Factrak a problem

I hope and believe that many students recognize that factrak cannot provide them with reliable information, and that by its existence, it damages the community that many of us treasure. I hope and believe that they recognize as well that making the site inaccessible to faculty (as it now is) does nothing to address its most serious problems, but does add new problems to the mix. Our community is, of course, far from perfect, but that does not mean that all changes are for the better. Factrak, in my view, makes our community worse.

In last week’s Record, I raised some of my objections to factrak. I’d like now briefly to indicate why I hope and believe that many students may be comparably critical. For that, I need to take a look at some statistics.

According to factrak co-founder Spencer Wong, as quoted in last week’s Record, “Student response is almost universally positive.” Wong meant, I assume, that what he and his co-founders had heard, at that point, had been predominately supportive. Yet the Record also reported that following the purging from the site of more than 150 postings deemed by the co-founders to be “abuses,” a mere 700 postings remained. At least 20% of the reported postings might, therefore, reasonably be interpreted as “negative responses” in the form of attempted sabotage (most of those postings were “duplicate posts,” which would have served further to reduce the credibility of the posts they had duplicated, and thus of the site as a whole). As of Saturday, May 4, the number of postings on the site had grown only to 895 (including at least one blank, one restricted to the word “testing,” and several, on WGST, that were amusingly ironic). It is also possible that additional postings had been censored by the site’s co-founders.

Assuming that, on average, each of the roughly 2,000 students at Williams has had 10 different instructors (a clearly conservative estimate), the total possible posts would be some 20,000. 895 “non-abusive” posts would then reflect a positive response rate of a bit under 5%. Despite the comments of the site’s co-founders – and of the editors of the Record, who deem the site “an invaluable resource for students . . . of vital importance to the student body” – it seems to me that this response rate undermines the claim that there is powerful student support for factrak. And before the Record again reports (or implies) that there is, I hope that they will come up with evidence to support that contention.




Alan White

Chair and professor of philosophy

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