Epistemology of Wikipedia

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Special February 2009, Vol 6, No. 1, issue of Episteme.

URL = http://www.eupjournals.com/toc/epi/2009/6/1?cookieSet=1


Introduction

Don Fallis:

"Despite these concerns, there is much theoretical and empirical evidence that large collaborative projects, such as Wikipedia, can actually be fairly reliable (cf. Surowiecki 2004, Sunstein 2006, Page 2007, Fallis 2008). When groups are sufficiently large and diverse, they can often come up with better information than the experts on a topic. For example, when a contestant on the television show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is stumped by a question, she can poll the studio audience or phone a friend to get some help. It turns out that consulting the collective wisdom of the audience is a much more reliable “lifeline” than consulting your smartest friend (Surowiecki 2004, 4). And this phenomenon, often referred to as the Wisdom of Crowds, seems to apply to Web 2.0 projects.5 For example, in a study sponsored by the journal Nature (Giles 2005) that involved a blind comparison by experts, the error rate for Wikipedia articles (on several scientific topics) was higher, but only slightly higher, than the error rate for Britannica articles.

In any event, large collaborative projects that produce and disseminate information and knowledge are not going away any time soon. Thus, it is critical to understand the epistemology of mass collaboration. Toward this end, the contributions to this issue of Episteme address the following important epistemological questions: How reliable are large collaborative projects that produce and disseminate information? What is the explanation for their reliability?

Can large collaborative projects be reliable even if they do not make use of experts?

Does the information produced by such projects count as testimony? Can we be justified in believing information produced by large collaborative projects? How should we go about deciding whether to believe information produced by such projects?" (http://www.eupjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.3366/E1742360008000506)


Articles

  • WIKIPEDIA and the Epistemology of Testimony, by Deborah Perron Tollefsen:

“In this paper, I explore the issue of group testimony in greater detail by focusing on one putative source of testimony, that of Wikipedia. My aim is to the answer the following questions: Is Wikipedia a source of testimony? And if so, what is the nature of that source? Are we to understand Wikipedia entries as a collection of testimonial statements made by individuals, some subset of individuals, or is Wikipedia itself (the organization or the Wikipedia community) the entity that testifies?”


  • The Epistemic Cultures of Science and WIKIPEDIA: A Comparison. By K. Brad Wray:

“I compare the epistemic culture of Wikipedia with the epistemic culture of science, with special attention to the culture of collaborative research in science. The two cultures differ markedly with respect to (1) the knowledge produced, (2) who produces the knowledge, and (3) the processes by which knowledge is produced. Wikipedia has created a community of inquirers that are governed by norms very different from those that govern scientists. Those who contribute to Wikipedia do not ground their claims on their reputations as knowers, for they stand to lose nothing if and when their contributions are found to be misleading or false.”


  • The Fate of Expertise after WIKIPEDIA. Lawrence M. Sanger:

“explores a couple ways in which egalitarian online communities might challenge the occupational roles or the epistemic leadership roles of experts. There is little support for the notion that the distinctive occupations that require expertise are being undermined. It is also implausible that Wikipedia and its like might take over the epistemic leadership roles of experts. Section 4 argues that a main reason that Wikipedia’s articles are as good as they are is that they are edited by knowledgeable people to whom deference is paid, although voluntarily. But some Wikipedia articles suffer because so many aggressive people drive off people more knowledgeable than they are”


  • On Trusting WIKIPEDIA. P. D. Magnus:

“Given the fact that many people use Wikipedia, we should ask: Can we trust it? The empirical evidence suggests that Wikipedia articles are sometimes quite good but that they vary a great deal. As such, it is wrong to ask for a monolithic verdict on Wikipedia. Interacting with Wikipedia involves assessing where it is likely to be reliable and where not. I identify five strategies that we use to assess claims from other sources and argue that, to a greater of lesser degree, Wikipedia frustrates all of them. Interacting responsibly with something like Wikipedia requires new epistemic methods and strategies.”