The death of the expert?
Online magazine The Awl published an article by Maria Bustillos, "Wikipedia and the Death of the Expert". It starts with a plea to stop "kvetching about Wikipedia" and describes the various technical and social processes that are used to stop Wikipedia from becoming "a giant glob of graffiti". Bustillos makes the point that the "byzantine array of forces working for accuracy and against edit-warring, sock-puppetry and the like" don't always work:
It's not perfect, of course, but neither is any other human-derived resource, including, as if it were necessary to say so, printed encyclopedias or books.
Bustillos argues that Wikipedia has benefits for those doing serious research: it presents a richer set of citations and bibliographies than traditional encyclopedias (in part due to the insistence on verifiability); it responds quickly to new developments (such as royal weddings and Japanese earthquakes); and most importantly it enables readers to look "under the hood" at the history and talk page of any article, providing valuable access to the controversy related to the subject, albeit with a proviso:
Of course, a load of dimwitted yelling and general codswallop may also emerge, but let's face it, the same thing happens with any given stack of books in the library, only in more formal, less convenient packaging.
It is from this that Bustillos' main argument emerges: that Wikipedia embodies a shift away from the "era of print", with its culture of ownership of ideas by experts and its linear and authoritative representations of knowledge; Wikipedia, she is saying – based on an interview with Bob Stein (director of the "Institute for the Future of the Book") – is at the forefront of an era of digital knowledge as described by Marshall McLuhan, based on "collaborative" and "tribal" knowledge. After responding to critics of this general trend – including Nick Carr and, especially, Jaron Lanier – Bustillos takes the argument further, reaching this rather disquieting conclusion:
Wikipedia is like a laboratory for this new way of public reasoning for the purpose of understanding, an extended polylogue embracing every reader in an ever-larger, never-ending dialectic. Rather than being handed an "authoritative" decision, you're given the means for rolling your own.
We can call this new way of looking at things post-linear or even "post-fact" as Clay Shirky put it in a recent and thrill-packed interview with me. [Shirky said:] "Wikipedia, if it works better than Britannica, threatens not only its authority as a source of information, but also the theory of knowledge on which Britannica is founded. On Wikipedia 'the author' is distributed, and this fact is indigestible to current models of thinking. ... Wikipedia is forcing people to accept the stone-cold bummer that knowledge is produced and constructed by argument rather than by divine inspiration."
Shirky compares this with the historical example of the transition from alchemists to chemists: "Alchemists kept their practices shrouded in secrecy. ... The difference was that chemists had become willing to expose their methods and conclusions to the withering scrutiny of their peers" (an example that Shirky had already used in his 2010 book Cognitive Surplus, as summarized in the Signpost's review).
Bustillos admits that "there continues to be resistance to the idea that expertise itself has been called into question". But are Wikipedians the ones calling expertise into question? It seems strange to say that people who spend considerable time hunting down citations in old books, journals, newspapers and scholarly databases are undermining the role of expertise. Indeed, the increasing tendency of Wikipedians to try and reach out to universities, museums and libraries (through Campus Ambassadors, GLAM projects, the Public Policy Initiative, and so on) suggests there may be some life left in making a profession out of knowing things. The popularity of so-called "denialist" movements that often set up in populist opposition to the views of experts (for example, climate scientists) may be considered a rather more negative version of the "post-fact" world Bustillos is describing, as pointed out in the comments section to Bustillos' article.
For some, the rhetoric of epistemic free-for-all goes above and beyond the reality of projects such as Wikipedia. One example from the comments section:
Wikipedia hardly devalues experts. It enshrines them like never before. Every statement in a Wikipedia article has to be backed up with a citation to an article or book produced by a journalist, an academic, a scientist, or some other credentialed expert who has carried out primary research according to currently prevailing methods in journalism or academia.
Finally, Wikipedia co-founder and Citizendium founder Larry Sanger weighed in with a post on his personal blog entitled 25 Replies to Maria Bustillos.
Debate on UK superinjunctions continues; celebrity named
In the United Kingdom, controversy over the superinjunctions taken out by at least 4 celebrities to block publication of allegations regarding their private lives raged on, and continued to involve Wikipedia (see earlier story). Legal action brought against Twitter to reveal the identities of users publishing the blocked information prompted discussion on Foundation-l about the implications for the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia users. Mike Godwin, former legal counsel of the WMF, recounted that "I've discussed this precise issue (informally) with Twitter's general counsel, and we agree that the exposure for Twitter in the UK is significantly different than it would be for the Wikimedia Foundation" (presumably lower), but that "the risks for WMF in the UK (and, indeed, throughout the EU as a function of UK membership in the European Union) remain pretty significant".
Jimmy Wales, adding to his statements in an earlier interview with the BBC (see last week's "In the news"), continued to speak out against the superinjunctions in an interview with The Independent newspaper ("Wikipedia founder opens new front in privacy battle"), similar to Godwin stating that "We probably wouldn't consider setting up [an office] in the UK due to potential problems with censorship."
After Scottish newspaper the Sunday Herald published the identity of one of the celebrities, footballer Ryan Giggs, followed by US media such as Gawker and Ars Technica, the information eventually stayed on Wikipedia, too. In The Independent interview, Wales vowed that "if someone tried to force us to take the information down, we would definitely fight them. If we got a valid court order from a judge in the USA, there would be little we could do other than to comply. But I think that is very unlikely, because of the First Amendment." Similarly, asked on his talk page whether the WMF would release information about an editor's identity in such cases, Wales said that "as someone able to closely observe the general opinions of the board and staff and legal team of the Foundation, I can say that it would be very unlikely that the Wikimedia Foundation would comply casually with a request from a non-US court where no ones life is in danger and there is not clear evidence of libel." In a 2009 court case – held, like some of the current superinjunction hearings, before Justice Tugendhat – concerning the insertion of "private and sensitive information" into the Wikipedia article about the plaintiff and her child, the WMF had "indicated that it would not disclose the [editor's] IP address without a court order, but that it would obey such an order even though it was outside an English court's jurisdiction."
By Monday the name was uttered in the UK's House of Commons, which is exempt from the injunctions by parliamentary immunity, and eventually found its way into major British sources like the BBC.
New York Times and others on Wikipedia UNESCO bid
Kevin J. O'Brien has written an article for The New York Times about the possibility raised by the German Wikimedia chapter ("Wikipedia’s German overseer") of nominating Wikipedia to be listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (cf. past Signpost coverage: May 16, April 4, March 28). The petition is currently featured on the homepage of Wikimedia Germany and on that of the Foundation's tenth anniversary wiki, already listing over 700 signatories at the time of writing. The NYT article quotes Jimmy Wales in support of the idea, and Susan Williams, head of external media relations at UNESCO in Paris, saying that "anyone can apply" for World Heritage Site status but Wikipedia "may have difficulty fulfilling the criteria" as Wikipedia is not currently endangered. The article goes on to explore other possible UNESCO statuses Wikipedia could potentially apply for. The website Monsters & Critics featured an interview with Jimmy Wales with dpa on this and other subjects. User:Ziko briefly summarized coverage of the UNESCO proposal in German media.
- Gardner on gender gap: A Marie Claire interview with the WMF's Executive Director Sue Gardner covered the low participation of women in Wikipedia, the Foundation's plans to improve it, and sexism in Silicon Valley media ("Confessions of a Female Tech Exec").
- Editing from inside Parliament. The website Political Scrapbook states that someone inside the Houses of Parliament in London edited the Wikipedia article for Tory MP Nadine Dorries, specifically to remove critical material (diff) and to insert positive material about Dorries' appearance on the television programme Tower Block of Commons (diff). The edits have been reverted. (Cf. related Signpost coverage: "UK parliament COI editing awards", "British politicians accused of WP cover-ups")
- Radical librarians. Wikipedia is mentioned in an article on "radical librarians" published on the Canadian website Hour Community.
- Wikipedia as authority file?: Inspired by the "Wikipedia Miner" software to search and statistically analyze Wikipedia, librarian Jonathan Rochkind wondered about the possibility of using Wikipedia as an authority file for libraries (a sort of index of persons, such as book authors, or of concepts). As pointed out in the comments section of his blog posting, there are already efforts to connect Wikipedia with existing authority files rather than replacing them, cf. Template:Authority control or a seminal GLAM collaboration of the German Wikipedia with the German National Library, initiated in 2005.
- Public Policy Initiative update. Michigan State University have issued a press release to celebrate the high level of contributions produced by their 94 undergraduate students, and by 11 graduate students who ranked third in average number of characters added to Wikipedia per student. Johannes Bauer, a professor at MSU, and Annie Lin from the Wikimedia Foundation, are quoted in the press release.
- QAA Podcast: On the podcast of the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), professor Mahzarin Banaji, the president of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), talked about the association's call to its members to contribute to Wikipedia (Signpost coverage: "US psychological society starts Wikipedia initiative").
- Almost half of students use Wikipedia for test preparation in psychiatry: In a US survey of 186 medical students who had recently completed psychiatric clinical clerkships, 47% listed Wikipedia as one of the primary sources of knowledge they would use to prepare for an upcoming exam in psychiatry, according to preliminary results presented at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association recently (as reported by MedPage Today: "APA: Med Students Cram for Exams With Wikipedia"). While less than the ratio for test question books specifically designed for self-preparation (88%), the Wikipedia percentage was much higher than that for traditional textbooks (10%), and conjectured to be under-reported by one of the researchers ("If I used it, I'm not sure I would admit to it on a survey").
- German Wikipedian corrects omission of former BMW CEO's Nazi past: In an article for Süddeutsche Zeitung, German historian Wigbert Benz describes how user Zsasz from the German Wikipedia, during routine research for writing an article about a Gestapo functionary, Heinrich Richter-Brohm, found out that he was identical to the German manager of the same name who had been CEO of carmaker BMW from 1957 to 1960. For a time around June 1933 he had belonged to the top dozen Gestapo functionaries; among his actions was the order to close the renowned Institute for Social Research and seize its assets because of alleged subversive activities. Benz notes that neither a 1960 Der Spiegel title story about the manager, nor earlier academic research about the Gestapo functionary had noted the identity. BMW historians told Süddeutsche Zeitung that the company's files did not contain information about his professional history between 1932 and 1934.
- Using Wikipedia for real estate marketing: An article in The Miami Herald described the attempted use of Wikipedia for branding efforts in the city's real estate market, with a hotel investment firm inserting the claim that a certain area of South Beach was "known as the SoBe 10 or Power Mile, [and] considered to be the epicenter of South Beach nightlife and entertainment" (which according to the Herald "might be news" to nightclubs elsewhere in the city, and was removed from the Wikipedia article).
- Wikipedia motivates release of 450,000 photos: As reported on the blog of Creative Commons Netherlands, the country's "Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed" (RCE) has decided to release 449,318 photos of Dutch national monuments under CC-BY-SA (instead of the previous release under CC-BY-NC) in a low resolution (800 pixels on the longer side), motivated by the possibility of reuse in Wikipedia.
- Simple English Wikipedia in the classroom: A teachers' blog described the usefulness of the Simple English Wikipedia in education.
- Spammers try to exploit Wikipedia's popularity: Computer security firm Symantec reports "a new spam tactic being used, which targets the Wikipedia name for the promotion of fake pharmaceutical products ... Wikipedia’s popularity is being exploited here, considering its vast knowledge base and popularity."
- Geographically densest Wikipedia coverage: A blogger compiled lists of the areas of the world which have the highest density of geotagged articles. Among areas with 1 km diameter, Florence (Italy) topped the list, and both the 10 km and 100 km diameter areas with the highest density were found in London (UK).