“I begin with a few general and perhaps untenable statements…” (William Carlos Williams, from The Embodiment of Knowledge, found on Invisible Stories)
Courtney brought this op-ed piece in today’s online version of Scientific American to my attention this afternoon, offering it as an answer to my pondering aloud about what I should write for this entry. After she forwarded the link to me I read through it once, and then once more – and at the end I found I was left with a question that I still cannot answer: “What do I know, and why does it matter?”
Add to this question so many others, like “how do I measure what I know?” and “who knows better or more than I do?” and “why shouldn’t I share my knowledge with others?” Considered in the context of Wikipedia and, further, in regards to the production and management of publicly-accessible Web content, these questions prove particularly important and complex. One should even ask how knowledge, expertise, and worthwhile information should themselves be defined. Perhaps these categorical difficulties have also led to the steady (and shocking) decline of individuals promoted to “admin status” on Wikipedia, along with what author Andrew Lih refers to as a “vetting process [that] is akin to putting someone through the Supreme Court,” a figurative and real-time “hazing ritual” that becomes more exclusive by the minute.
The ethical implications of such exclusivity are wide-spanning and are discussed candidly in Hilda Bastian’s op-ed and in Robinson Meyer’s Atlantic article (both linked above):
- approximately 30% of Wikipedia’s readership consists of women; and women comprise only 10% of the online encyclopedia’s editorial staff
- 2012 has been the worst year for adding new administrators at only 1 or 2 per month (this process peaked in 2007, an average of 50 new administrators were added per month)
- the number of people source-editing Wikipedia has also downturned; from averaging upwards of 50,000 site edits a month in April of 2007 to roughly 30,000 edits, as of April 2012
- there are continuing debates about controversies surrounding article deletion, various biases (gender, knowledge), and still of Wikipedia’s “legitimacy” as a source of veritable information
- and so on…
Many things to be concerned about. Of course, it’s not all bad – higher standards, when kept in check, must eventually improve the quality of the information available to the public; and all of us have used resources like Wikipedia at least once if not five or, let’s be honest, a thousand times. The aforementioned issues just simply must be addressed in order for true, egalitarian growth to occur.
There are efforts being made to curb such backsliding (The Ada Initiative and Wikipedia Teahouse present two such movements in a productive direction). Everything seems to point to an increased public involvement – and, yes, persistence in asking the questions that plague us so – in the cultivation and preservation of knowledge as a means for a cure to our current e-info woes. Here’s one of our answers: insert ourselves into the process. Know more by doing more.
— J. J. Morr