Wikis – many truths, loosely joined


December 13th, 2005 Are wikis showing us that truth is inherently flawed?

Interesting post noted by downes called Are wikis inherently flawed? There is a fine list of good wiki behavious listed at the end of the site that I encourage anyone starting a wiki to look at, and at least address if not follow. My concern though, lies more in the middle of the argument. Thalheimer says

Wikis, blogs, websites (indeed, all forms of communication) carry with them the possibility that the information conveyed is not true. The more widely some information is dispersed, the bigger the potential problems. The more our communication channels have validators who correct inaccuracies, the more we tend to move toward the truth. For example, the press has traditionally played a role in holding public officials to account and conveying the news to people. Competition, as between political parties, can surface truths sometimes. Peer policing, as academic researchers do through research referring mechanisms, offer a correcting mechanism. Credentialling standards or agencies control who gets into a field or who advances.

Take a look at the bolded sentence. If we have ‘validators’ we get closer to ‘the truth’. Validating agents have a tendency to support ‘dominant narratives’ or the truth that already exists, or more specifically, the truth that keeps the powerful, powerful and the rich, rich. The example of the press is an ideal one, here in Canada several editors have been fired for saying things that were not inline with the dominant narrative (they have argued, essentially, against those funding the paper). The validators, in the case of the newspaper, were the censors. The people telling you what you can and can’t write.

There are certainly some kinds of truth that lend themselves more to validating than others. If the math is wrong, then it’s usually wrong. But this is not the same kind of truth. Most kinds of work that will be done in wikis will not be this kind of ‘right or wrong’ truth. It will be subtle issues of context. Things where different persepectives will be important. Where a ‘validator’ might tell you that your idea is foolish, or worthless, (”Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance will never sell” is one of my favorite examples of the ‘validator’ not really knowing what is going on).

Wikis don’t ‘create’ truth anymore than anything else does. They allow for a special kind of presentation of a truth, a truth that comes together through many people working together. Truth is created where people invest their trust. If we invest our trust in commercials, then we believe that we need three glasses of milk a day to stay healthy. If we believe the American government, the war in Iraq has been won… twice. If we believe that wikipedia matters, then it does. The ‘JFK involvement’ story is an growing pain that we must all go through, the man who did it said ‘he didn’t realize that wikipedia was a serious thing, and therefore treated it like a bar bathroom stall.

Wikis allow for dissent. They allow for group-think. The violent group-think that leads to mob mentality usually happens when people are ‘trying’ to find a voice and can’t. Wikis give them that voice. Is it the final word on group work… certainly not. New and better will be on the way. But I’ll put my trust in the truths of wikipedia, that can come from different cultures, and different perspectives, and trust to the new research methodologies of the current era that allow me to assess people’s perspective, rather than trusting to the single, top-down perspective of brittanica. (who’s name is so colonial it’s kinda funny)

And these research methodologies ‘many truths, loosely joined’, is where i think we need to be going.

Author: dave

I run this site… among other things.

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