Wikipedia:Academic bias

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Introduction[edit]

The role that academic opinion plays, or should play, on Wikipedia can occasionally be controversial[citation needed]. This essay discusses why Wikipedia has, and should have, a pro-academia "bias".[1]

Some editors new to Wikipedia are somewhat surprised to find out that Wikipedia has a pro-academic bias. For example, Wikipedia does take the side of Charles Darwin and calls evolution a fact, or the paradigm of biology to use somewhat fussy language. Wikipedia does apply the pseudoscience label to creation science and intelligent design. How does Wikipedia know this? It knows it from biologists who live by publish or perish. The biologists have consensually agreed that evolution is valid and that creationism and intelligent design are awkward rubbish, insofar we speak of science. (Creationism is theologically okay, but as far as it pretends to be scientific, it is labeled pseudoscience.)

Tolerance does not require refraining from calling a spade a spade. Wikipedia applies the label pseudoscience when it is consensually applied by the authorities in the field. See List of topics characterized as pseudoscience. That is not to say that creationist theology is rubbish, but when it tries to be science it does not get beyond pseudoscience. As biologist H. Allen Orr has explained, "Evolutionists are widely perceived as uncritical ideologues, devoted to suppressing all doubt about evolution. It's easy to see how this impression arose: evolutionists, after all, spend most of their public lives defending Darwin against endlessly recycled creationist arguments. So of course we appear hide-bound reactionaries. (So would physicists if the theory of gravity were dragged into court every other year.)"[2] Scientifically seen, creationism "is not even wrong", it is not science any way one would look at it.

Disinterested community of scholars[edit]

Heir to a great ideal of the disinterested community of scholars seeking truth for its own sake, the university has become a central institution of the modern era.[3]

—Peter Sheehan, Universities in the Knowledge Economy

From the already approved Wikipedia policies and guidelines it follows that Wikipedia often takes and should take the side of academia. It pertains to the basics of Wikipedia. Wikipedia editors don't create their own sort of knowledge, but render the viewpoints expressed by academics. In respect to present-day biographies, entertainment and politics, reliable press is also included. It seems obvious that Wikipedia has and should have a pro-academia bias. According to some scientific knowledge theory, knowledge is forged by the academic community, i.e. a "disinterested community of scholars seeking truth for its own sake".

This essay is about recognizing the importance of the university (or universities) for the build up of human knowledge, which Wikipedia has to render. We know the boiling point of mercury, the chemical formula of water and we heard about Julius Caesar from people who got such information from scholars. So, scholars have created most of our explicit knowledge, at least the explicit knowledge of encyclopedic value. We have to recognize how dependent is Wikipedia upon the academe.

As Silver put it, it is the academic community that produces the science and history other information that is used in our articles. Peer reviewed academic sources are also the highest quality sources we can use. Being "pro-academic" essentially means being "pro-information". And, really, you could technically argue it means "pro-truth" as well, since academics sources are the most likely to be correct and accurate. ... we [Wikipedia editors] already have a "pro-academia bias". It's called our "proper sourcing bias". The only major difference between us and Citizendium is that they required experts to actually write their articles, while we don't (as that would constrain the creation and expansion of articles). But, other than that, we both still have the same types of sourcing.

To many experienced Wikipedia editors, this essay is superfluous since Wikipedia policies, guidelines and essays already support/affirm it. E.g., Surturz said: The concerns of the OP are adequately addressed by WP:V, WP:NPOV, WP:NOR, WP:RS, etc. and is (indirectly) a re-hash of the WP:VNT argument.

In this case, a pro-academia bias is no violation of WP:NPOV, but a straightforward consequence of how scientific research and philosophical/theological debate work. It is restating the obvious, but it is meant to have an educational (pedagogical) value, like "what matters is verifiability not truth"controversial, see WT:V archives has educated thousands of editors into prioritizing reliable sources over their own musings about what the truth is in the edited matter. There is no denying that the viewpoints contained in this essay could be gathered from other Wikipedia policies, guidelines and essays. The intent is, however, to give users a quick introduction into how the ball is played inside Wikipedia.

What Wikipedia does not discuss is whether the mainstream scholarly view is right or wrong. Wikipedia does not question the mainstream view, it just takes for granted that it is true or at least that it is the best approximation of truth available today.

For writing about Justin Bieber, we may expect that the press gives us more information about him than articles published with peer-review in scientific journals. In fact, what academics are in respect to scholarship, journalists are in respect to everyday events. They are professionals with a reputation of fact-checking and their area of expertise consists of everyday events like political events, disasters, crime, entertainment, etc. Plato and Aristotle did not have a diploma, because it was not usual for those times to have such credentials; meanwhile academics and journalists became specialized professionals, i.e. their activity got standardized and professionalized. So, besides a pro-academia bias, Wikipedia has a pro-press bias, meaning that the press is a very important information source for Wikipedia.

Who is who in the academe[edit]

In order to be able to identify reliable sources, we have to have some rule of thumb for who is an academic and who isn't, about who is an authority in his/her field and who isn't. So, sooner or later, it is unavoidable to pass judgment about who's who in the academe. "I like how he/she writes and I believe him/her on his/hers word of honor that he/she has checked the facts" is too subjective for WP:RSN. In fact, we ask for no more than for recognition for what is being practiced daily at WP:RSN, it just has to get a formal acknowledgment which will end nonsensical discussions like "your pro-academia bias is a violation of NPOV".

Accreditation matters. We would not want to be taught by someone who got his/her diploma through mail order or got a PhD for writing three essays on alternative medicine. But we should not turn the requirement of proper accreditation into being scared of a global accreditation conspiracy meant to silence the politically undesirable. Credentials matter and accreditation is there in order to prevent fake credentials.

An academic has:

  • credentials (mostly a PhD from a properly accredited university);
  • a paid teaching position (at an accredited university);
  • research output in reputable peer-reviewed journals (preferably ISI-indexed).

Rick Roderick was teaching a TTC course over Jacques Derrida and said that Derrida has been smeared that he would believe that all opinions are equal. Roderick said that Derrida does not believe that all opinions are equally worth, nor anybody else, except those permanently committed to the insane asylum. Therefore, Wikipedia does not believe and should not believe that all opinions are equal. Deciding who to trust and who to ignore is of capital importance when writing an encyclopedia. There is plenty of room for pluralism, there is no room for rubbish.

Here is what a Christian has to say about who counts as a scientist:

The Bible is the voice of God, not the voice of scientists. If we want the voice of scientists, we ask the scientists. Most of them do advocate the Big Bang, abiogenesis, and evolution as the most visible means of how the world came to be. Whether or not this was God's doing is up to the reader to decide. If the scientists are mistaken, this has to be shown to them on their own grounds, which anti-evolution folks are not really doing, because they are not reading up on the same literature, they are not using the same standards and experiments, and they are not speaking in the same circles nor getting published in the same journals. If it does not walk like a duck, does not talk like a duck, and avoids ducks like the plague, there is little reason to assume its a duck. Or scientist, in this case. I'm not saying the anti-evolution folks are wrong, I'm just saying that they are not mainstream scientists. This is why they're not consulted for the voice of scientists. Now, they can be consulted for what they think if their views are notable.

The CHOPS test[edit]

Shortcut:

If a scholarly claim is principally unworthy of being taught at Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Princeton and/or Sorbonne, then it amounts to sub-standard scholarship and should be never considered a reliable source for establishing facts for Wikipedia. Any claim which would be unequivocally ridiculed at those universities cannot establish facts for Wikipedia. To the extent that such claims are notable, they should be rendered inside Wikipedia, but always with attribution and duly stating that they are minority or fringe views.

My 'attitude', and that of Wikipedia (arrived at through consensus) is that we don't write about bullcrap except in articles on the subject of bullcrap - and when we do we say 'this is bullcrap' in big shiny letters...

The root cause of the problem is the false equivalence given to the views of anti-fluoridationists and the scientific community. The scientific consensus, by definition, incorporates all significant valid viewpoints. It develops over time in response to new data. In maters of science, the scientific consensus view is inherently the neutral point of view for Wikipedia purposes. To "balance" that with anti- views is to compromise fundamental policy.

Guy[2]

No claim that academia are perfect[edit]

A final note: there is no claim here that academia is perfect, pure embodied perfection. However, academia has the capacity to learn, research and integrate new viewpoints. "Wikipedia is behind the ball – that is we don't lead, we follow – let reliable sources make the novel connections and statements and find NPOV ways of presenting them if needed."[4] According to WP:GREATWRONGS, Wikipedia has neither the task of reforming academia nor of correcting its failures. If academia has systemic bias, Wikipedia can hardly redress it, since it would have to rely upon peer-reviewed sources published by scholars and by definition scholars are part of academia and part of such systemic bias. According to WP:NOT#OR, Wikipedia is not a platform for publishing original research, even if it is aimed at redressing some real or imaginary harm produced by academia. Nor is it a platform for giving undue weight to novel academical insights. The question is not whether academia has a systemic bias, but what Wikipedia could do about it? And the answer is: nothing, Wikipedia is constrained by its own policies and guidelines to be unable to do anything about it.

For the practical purpose of writing Wikipedia articles in nuclear physics it does not really matter if nuclear physicists are "truly" disinterested, nor whether employment for physics faculties is biased according to gender, theological or political opinion. They may matter in articles about the sociology of science, but they cannot change the way scientific articles in nuclear physics should be written. Theological bias is a subject in the history of science, e.g. describing the early reception of the Big Bang hypothesis by the physics community. But Wikipedia, were it available when the Big Bang hypothesis was initially stated, would have had no business of correcting the scientific consensus because it seemed theologically biased against what smacked of creatio ex nihilo.

Although currently accepted scientific paradigms may later be rejected, and hypotheses previously held to be controversial or incorrect sometimes become accepted by the scientific community, it is not the place of Wikipedia to venture such projections.

Big Science[edit]

According to Paulo Correa et al., Wikipedia favors Big Science. I am not sure if he means that WP:UNDUE and WP:FRINGE directly lead to such result, but anyway, Wikipedia does favor the mainstream views and the scientific consensus and more or less rejects the fringe views, except in articles exclusively devoted to notable fringe views. In itself, this is neither good nor bad, it is a choice which Wikipedia makes in selecting which sources to trust. Chaos would result if Wikipedia made the contrary choice.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Bias" within quotation marks, like we would say that humans have a breathing "bias".
  2. ^ "Darwin v. Intelligent Design (Again)", Boston Review, Commentary, September 1996.
  3. ^ http://lirne.net/resources/netknowledge/sheehan.pdf
  4. ^ User:Benjiboi

See also[edit]