Tag Archives: knowledge

Zealotry, Credibility and Knowledge on the Web

A friend of mine recently offered a post lamenting the hooligans that currently terrorize Wikipedia.

Based on my past and recent experiences, my impression is that Wikipedia has become dominated by an entrenched group of individuals who are territorial rather than collegial. Any newcomer is treated as an interloper and is subjected to a hazing process that is likely to discourage them from returning.

Her zeal to contribute and support Wikipedia is contrary to this attitude,  otherwise known as the common wisdom,  expressed in today’s Chronicle:

The rise of Wikipedia seems to have afflicted some scholars with a mild case of existential panic. And understandably so: When the world’s most popular reference tool is such an egalitarian outfit, that can be interpreted as a fairly stiff challenge to the value of expertise, right?

To be fair, the Chronicle article focuses on the philosophy of Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, who left because “he felt the site’s credentials-be-damned approach benefited vandals and kept away scholars.”  Dr. Sanger (Phd. Philosophy with a bent towards epistemology — he knows whereof he speaks) offers this hypothesis:

“The quality of a given Wikipedia article will do a random walk around the highest level of quality permitted by the most persistent and aggressive people who follow an article.”

I believe Dr. Butcher’s experience offers anecdotal evidence of the truth of his hypothesis.

So, if the public seeks knowledge (a value determined by the market) and knowledge is thwarted by a minority of the marketplace – whose failure is this?

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Filed under Information, public values

Science and democracy have always been twins.

A simple statement with a magnitude of implications.  From an essay in today’s NYT by Dennis Overby:

It is no coincidence that these are the same qualities that make for democracy and that they arose as a collective behavior about the same time that parliamentary democracies were appearing. If there is anything democracy requires and thrives on, it is the willingness to embrace debate and respect one another and the freedom to shun received wisdom. Science and democracy have always been twins.

Then, in the Post, an article concerning Wayne Clough’s vision to make the holdings of the Smithsonian available to all using the internet.  The curators of the Smithsonian are having some difficulty understanding what their role will be if everything is available for anyone to see.  The gatekeepers ask, “Who will guarantee the quality of knowledge?”  To which, Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, replies:

“Is it our job to be smart and be the best? Or is it our job to share knowledge?” Anderson asked.

Sharing knowledge, sharing information — that’s what makes democracy work.  And, sharing information makes markets more efficient.  I think the philosophers and economists can agree on that point.

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Filed under Government, Information, Market Failure, public values