June 16, 2005
The Authority Debate: A Chronological Link List
The Shirky/boyd Debate
boyd, danah. “Academia and Wikipedia.” Many 2 Many. 4 Jan. 2005. http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2005/01/04/academia_and_wikipedia.php. 10 June 2005.
Boyd responds to Shirky with this refutation of Wikipedian authority. She supposes that the Academy does not necessarily dislike Wikipedia, but rather fears it because it is new. She herself does not encourage her students to cite Wikipedia as a source, and notes that her own early, incorrect articles on anthropology have yet to be corrected. However, she is careful to say that she does not dislike Wikipedia, but rather does not consider it equivalent to an encyclopedia. Her primary concern is that students are not experienced enough to know when to trust Wikipedia and when they would be better off with another source. She pushes for a vetted Wikipedia that would be more accountable and authoritative.
Shirky, Clay. “Wikipedia: Me on boyd on Sanger on Wales.” Many 2 Many. 1 Jan. 2005. http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2005/01/05/wikipedia_me_on_boyd_on_sanger_on_wales.php. 14 June 2005.
Shirky states once again that Wikipedia and Britannica are not comparable. The question should instead be, “Under what conditions is Britannica better, and under what conditions is Wikipedia better?“ Wikipedia has the advantage as a real-time information source, as demonstrated by the article on the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake. It also has advantages in the areas of cost, availability, topicality, and breadth of coverage. In all of these ways, it will in fact never be an encyclopedia. Instead, it is something radically different — and “the principle value is in that radical difference.”
Britannica’s innovation was the move to substitute institutional brand for authorship. “This was a huge leap, and one that required a shift in authority, away from the literal (authority derived from a particular author) to authority by proxy (though the entries have authors, the authority is derived from the values of the institution that employs those authors.)” As such, it and Wikipedia are very closely related in nature.
Shirky, Clay. “Wikipedia: The nature of authority, and a LazyWeb request...” Many 2 Many. 6 Jan. 2005. http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2005/01/06/wikipedia_the_nature_of_authority_and_a_lazyweb_request.php. 14 June, 2005.
“Wikipedia is not a product, it is a system,” Shirky says in this second response. This property transforms time into an advantage: while Britannica becomes stale over time, Wikipedia is constantly refreshed. Shirky also explores personal authority (i.e. Mom’s Diner) versus brand authority (McDonald’s). Wikipedia has yet to achieve brand authority, and since all contributions are anonymous it also lacks personal authority. Instead, it has a market of trust in the same way that Ebay does: “the syndication of user attention and the possibility of recourse for bad behavior keeps people generally honest.” Trustworthiness becomes a social fact in such a market. We assume that many pairs of eyes have re/viewed it, and so it (whatever ‘it’ is) becomes worthy of our trust.
The problem, of course, is those Wikipedia pages that have only been edited by one person. Shirky proposes a dashboard trust profile for pages that would show how many times the page had been edited by how many people over how much time. Such a widget would serve as a method of generating trust (or not).
boyd, danah. On a Vetted Wikipedia, Reflexivity and Investment in Quality (a.k.a. more responses to Clay).” Many 2 Many. 8 Jan 2005. http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2005/01/08/on_a_vetted_wikipedia_reflexivity_and_investment_in_quality_aka_more_responses_to_clay.php. 14 June 2005.
Boyd clarifies her position (that Wikipedia is not worse than Britannica, but different) and adds, “If legitimacy requires a definitional change, I’m worried. Why does it have to be an encyclopedia? Why can’t it simply be Wikipedia?” She suggests:
- a vetted Wikipedia could be complementary to the existing system
- “reflexivity [the process by which a researcher articulates and situates their biases] would be of great value for entries that interpret”
- “authority has to do with knowledge, investment, and risk”
Shirky, Clay. “Who’s Afraid of Wikipedia?” Many 2 Many. 28 Feb. 2005. http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2005/02/28/whos_afraid_of_wikipedia.php 16 June 2005.
Shirky gets his first student paper citing Wikipedia, and says that he would expect a student to cite any sources they gleaned information from. If they learned something from the Wikipedia entry and didn’t cite it, they would be guilty of academic dishonesty. As with any encyclopedia citation, one would look for additional primary-source citations in the bib. That’s that.
boyd, danah. “Situating Wikipedia.” Apophenia. 6 March, 2005. http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2005/03/06/situating_wikipedia.html 16 June 2005.
In this final response, boyd clarifies two brief points:
- Her primary complaint with Wikipedia is the lack of known authorship and the consequent inability to attribute part of a text to an authority within the relevant field.
- Good scholarship cites primary sources, not nonauthoritative commentary. Piecing together various critiques is no substitute for critical thought about a primary source.