Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Wikiality

Wikipedia is great. However, as a sometimes editor, I'm starting to grow tired of getting involved in endless editing wars with people who are not experts on the subjects. If you don't like a rant, look away now.

I'm perfectly happy with people editing and disagreeing on all sort of subjects in which I may not be well-versed. For example, if I decide to edit an article on Naruto characters, I would be happy for someone else to stamp their anime expertise and authority over mine. However, I have started to realise that there are articles zealously policed by wiki-obsessives who do not want any changes to their pet subjects. I recently experienced this (I won't specify where, as the battle is still being waged), where a specific editor has decided unilaterally that his definition of a criminal offence is the only one possible, and has precluded all other interpretations of that opinion, although it is clear that he lacks the legal credentials to make the distinction.

I am all in favour of the vibrant and democratic nature of the Internet, but this characteristic should not herald the end of specialised knowledge and expertise. There is something positive about an environment that fosters the free examination and discussion of ideas, but to kill-off the expert is to enter a parallel reality where there are no truths and all opinions have the same weight. This is, I believe, what has allowed patently untrue memes such as global warming denialism and creationism to survive. When a home-schooled teenager from Nebraska feels that he has the same right to talk about evolution than an experienced biologist, then there is something wrong with the way in which we look at knowledge. Do not get me wrong, if I am wrong and a pimply teenager from Nebraska points it out to me, I will still be as wrong as if it was pointed out by a peer. However, experience and expertise count for something. I would not want an amateur to operate on me, so why would anyone wish to get legal opinions from amateurs?

Rant over. I'm now off to Wikipedia to wage a guerilla war against the home-schooled pimply teenagers of the world.

5 comments:

GSake said...

This issue is connected to the quality of the under CC licenses content as well. I completely agree with your thesis that some kind of quality creterions must filter the content. Otherwise wikipedia, the "trademark" of CC content will end up being a low-quility repository. Maybe versionong should be more strict and where there is a disagreement about content admins should warn that there is "beta" version or something like this. This is already done in some point, but there should be a better and more "robust" filter. Science and knowledge should be "open" and "free" to access; but not free of quality... Maybe it is the code again that can regulate content! What about ATHENS login for PhD students and academics to the Wikipedia with "gravity" points? Content could recieve a special certificate (sticker of approval) if uploaded by an academic; this would certify a standard of minimum. Good luck with the flame wars!!

Andres Guadamuz said...

Hi,

I should have mentioned that there's quality control in places such as Citizendum:
http://en.citizendium.org

The problem with such projects is that it loses the momentum of having non-experts edit it.

GSake said...

True, but still in a balanced project entries that are certified or not, could co-exist and even create discussions on the topic. I am sure that academics would be intrested in reading laymens aspects on their field of study, esp in Law or Philosophy.

ps: thnks about the link, did not know there was such project

Alex said...

I was about to ask if your post was a logical argument for moving to the more controlled wiki environment of Citizendium, but you have answered my question in a previous reply. Excellent rant, Andres!

Laurence said...

Don't know if you've seen this, but ironically, Wikipedia has a (restricted) article on this very phenomenon:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:LEW

har har!