who do you trust? 01.17.2006, 6:12 PM
posted by jesse wilbur
Larry Sanger posted this comment to if:book's recent Digital Universe and expert review post. In the second paragraph Sanger suggests that experts should not have to constantly prove the value of their expertise. We think this is a crucial question. What do you think?
"In its first year or two it was very much not the case that Wikipedia "only looks at reputation that has been built up within Wikipedia." We used to show respect to well-qualified people as soon as they showed up. In fact, it's very sad that it has changed in that way, because that means that Wikipedia has become insular--and it has, too. (And in fact, I warned very specifically against this insularity. I knew it would rear its ugly head unless we worked against it.) Worse, Wikipedia's notion of expertise depends on how well you work within that system--which has nothing whatsoever to do with how well you know a subject.
"That's what expertise is, after all: knowing a lot about a subject. It seems that any project in which you have to "prove" that you know a lot about a subject, to people who don't know a lot about the subject, will endlessly struggle to attract society's knowledge leaders."
K.G. Schneider on January 17, 2006 11:54 PM:
"We used to show respect to well-qualified people as soon as they showed up." Well, not really. Historically, well-qualified people have still had to "work within the system" to be acknowledged; even with a lower bar for social acumen, intellectuals need to play well enough with one another for their ideas to be accepted.
That said, I believe Wikipedia is oriented toward its creators, not its users. It reminds me in tenor and content of the early Internet, which was dominated by the mores and values of the white male academics who ruled it.
What I think is highly biased, because I manage a service based on the expertise of its content selectors--but then, I'm biased towards bias.
bowerbird on January 18, 2006 5:49 AM:
i have a strong desire to believe in wikipedia.
and in wikis in general.
i have expertise in performance poetry.
it has been a core aspect of my existence
for nearly 20 years now, in which time i
have seen the art-form grow from nothing
-- there were no fundamental principles
when i started, so i had to invent my own
for myself -- into something tangible that
spreads now from one coast to the other,
and all the way around the world, due to
scads of other poets inventing similar
principles of their own for themselves.
it is a zeitgeist. the time is just right.
also, as a social psychologist in a previous
lifetime, i understood what was burgeoning
-- the reinvention of a campfire art-form
in the context of our new global "village" --
and tracked its etiology very closely... :+)
i knew what to look for, and how to look for it,
and i did that diligently, so i've been completely
aware of every step in the art-form's development.
as one indicator, i am the first/only person
to have owned www.performancepoetry.com.
so i know all about performance poetry.
as one of the practitioners of the art, and
as a very close observer of its emergence.
(sorry to drag you through all that just to say that.)
but when i go to wikipedia, the entry there
for _my_ art-form seems totally alien to me.
one person there, who seems very... um,
dedicated to her own... um... importance
has hijacked the page, and has written up
herself very prominently, even though her
contribution didn't amount to all that much
(i'd never _heard_ of her before -- or since)
and seemed to have stopped about the time
that all the _real_ innovators of the art-form
were just getting warmed up. and _their_
achievements aren't even mentioned at all!
(saul williams, marc smith, patricia smith,
and bob holman, if you need some names.)
further, slam poetry, which is probably the most
influential subset of the entire art-form, has been
put "on its own page", and is barely mentioned!
this is akin to a page discussing human transport
that shuttles automobiles off to a separate page
while it concentrates on horses, trucks, and buses.
then there are the "wikipedians" who seem to
want to "make it sound like an encyclopedia",
so they're busy cramming my art-form into
some categorical box, the same box it had to
make its big jail-break from in the first place,
just to assert and assume its place in the sun.
(performance poetry is music, not literature;
it's rooted in the sonic dimension, not print.)
thus, these "editors" are writing up a subject
about which they have not one fucking clue.
it's not just that they got it _wrong_, no sir;
they got it _completely_ wrong. dead wrong.
so it's frustrating.
oh, i edited it. but my edits were reversed.
and i registered a grievance right on the page.
deleted. ("should've been on the talk page...")
yes, i'd also complained on the talk pages, but
nobody appears to even _read_ those things,
let alone engage in any discussion on them.
like i said, frustrating.
and the few times i've made the thing _right_,
they've "edited it" and made it wrong again...
i am confident i will prevail in the long-run
-- after all, it _is_ my art-form, darn it! --
so in the short-term i've not been persistent.
but the whole affair _has_ given me pause...
so, as much as i love the _idea_ of wikipedia,
and as much as i hate to say anything _bad_
about it, i have to admit i am a bit suspicious.
like the band (sonic youth? suicidal tendencies?)
who -- after having been written up by "time"
or one of the other national newsmagazines --
said, "since they got so much wrong about _us_,
we now know never to trust what they say about
the _complicated_ things, like world affairs...",
likewise i now have trepidation about wikipedia.
Jesse Wilbur on January 18, 2006 3:56 PM:
This response raised a few questions for us about testing authority and governance. Bowerbird's experience is, I think, exactly what Sanger is referring to with regards to 'respecting expertise.'
At the Institute we had a conversation that revolved around whether academic credentials are transitive to the digital world, and if they are sufficient to establish a 'sphere of respect' around that person's content.
This leads directly to the question of governance based on credentials. On one hand you want someone intelligent and thoughtful to help you make decisions about your content. But, in the absence of a personal relationship, basing your trust on a third party credential is no kind of insurance against idiocy or ignorance.
Also, I believe that a single view will tend to produce a monolithic document, and that only a multiplicity of views will reflect the varied nature of reality. This, I think, is fundamentally what is best about Wikipedia.
In the end, I think you can only gain trust in a person's expertise by continually testing the quality of a expert's knowledge. I have to disagree with Sanger on his point that thought leaders should gain some special status without earning it in-system, while recognizing the fact that the current system has flaws that work against anyone new (expert or not).