Monday, August 06, 2007

Wikipedia "no original research" policy; Bloggers talk of organizing


Once again, there have been more comments recently that Wikipeida is cracking down and insisting of maintaining a level of professionalism and credentialism in its articles. This is certainly understandable, as the academic and media world have criticized its model for lack of “credibility” and often do not allow it to be used as a primary source.

Three of the most important policies seem to be the “no original research” requirement, the “neutral point of view” and “conflict of interest.” The “no original research” means that one cannot present previously unpublished (or only self-published) findings about something until they have been given professional credibility by an established third party. It is possible to publish “brand new” material that one has developed if there is some independent confirmation of it available from another source.

Wikipedia is also obviously sensitive to “self-promotion,” and does not allow the publication of new ideas on its sites without separate corroboration.

Wikipedia has depended on volunteer efforts, and the tightening of standards (which have actually been there for a long time but have more recently attracted attention) could make it harder to get people to continue contributing without compensation. I have signed up as a register user. I’ve thought about adding some more factual sources to the materials on “don’t ask don’t tell”. I’ve also thought about originating an article on filial responsibility laws. However, it would take considerable effort to keep such an article within strictly factual guidelines researched in a conventional academic way, and the importance of the articles in a practical sense might be lost. I have to weigh what I can do with my time.

There are a couple of other points here. Wikipedia obviously does not want to see “original speculation” and I can understand that this does not belong in an encyclopedia or a standard library reference. When we wrote term papers in high school and college, we sometimes used these references (in the print world), but quickly had to go beyond them and use interlibrary loans to get obscure materials that developed the importance of some topic or entity. Living in the DC area (back in the 50s and 60s), I sometimes even went to the Library of Congress for high school literature term papers. In a college English term paper assignment at George Washington University in 1963, we had to start by writing an “annotated bibliography” that explained in laborious detail how we would do the research. That’s a good thing to have to do as an emerging adult at age 19. That is a bit like a “business plan” in the real world.

Speculation, or imagination, however, is part of the process of “connecting the dots” – or foreseeing what severe problems are likely to occur in the future if a problem is not addressed. Syndicated columnists do it all the time. So do bloggers now. For issues like global warming, pandemics, terrorism, and now filial responsibility laws and even gay marriage and gays in the military, original speculation is an entirely appropriate and necessary part of public debate. It just doesn’t live well in an encyclopedia.

There is a related problem – the credibility of blogosphere content as a whole. We’ve read a lot of criticisms recently about “amateurism” as a whole (as with the book by Andrew Keen, “The Cult of the Amateur”). Without going into too much detail to rehash what has been said before, it’s easy to imagine measures that could be taken, in terms of time limits or financial results, to discourage “amateurism” and this does worry me. But -- that's a speculation -- mine.

That's why in other postings I've argued that the wiki concept be expanded, to have a forum for letting users enter "speculations" and link them to incidents and original sources, with software to organize the speculations around issues. This, implemented well, could become a respected concept.

Along these lines, it’s interesting to note an article today on page 19 print of the DC Examiner on Monday August 6, 2007 by Ashley M. Heher in Chicago, “Bloggers debate forming union for collective bargaining powers,” with a variety of proposals that could include the ability to buy group health insurance, as well as get “press credentials”. They could work with the National Writers Union, it would seem, although that organization has to deal with its cultural rift between “professional” writers (who take paid assignments to convey the messages of others) and “amateurs” who often write what they want to say.

There is an underlying social battle, here, over how people disseminate and obtain information about new areas, and especially how they learn to think critically about novel issues. In the past, people depended on their familial and business hierarchies for their “accepted” information, in a way that tied information to the sexual functions in the family. That all broke up with the explosion of information technology, which reached the home desktop in the 1990s. This does not sit well with everyone.

Again, since this posting is itself "speculative", it doesn't belong on Wikipedia!

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