In the Wikipedia research community — that is, the group of academics and Wikipedians who are interested in studying Wikipedia — there has been a pretty substantial and longstanding problem with how research is published. Academics, from graduate students to tenured faculty, are deeply invested and entrenched in an system that rewards the publication of research. Publish or perish, as we’ve all heard. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of publications which are recognized as ‘academic’ require us to assign copyright to the publication, so that the publisher can then charge for access to the article. This is in direct contradiction with the goals of Wikipedia, as well as many other open source and open content creation communities — communities which are the subject of a substantial amount of academic research.
This is a paper I wrote for a class on “Technology and Critique” – a class that blended critical theory with Science and Technology Studies. Taking from Bruno Latour’s “Do you believe in Reality? News from the Trenches of the Science Wars,” this work is a critical examination of the way in which the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia has been implicitly cast as a continuation of the Science Wars. Instead of debating about the efficacy and authority of science, academics are now debating the efficacy and authority of Wikipedia. Using Martin Heidegger’s work on ontology and technology, I argue that this particular academic mindset is a way of being-in-the-world that works to either affirm or negate the integration of Wikipedia into its particular projects – namely, the production of academic knowledge. However, I show that asking whether Wikipedia is a reliable academic source enframes Wikipedia into an objectless standing-reserve of potential citations, foreclosing many other possibilities for its use. Instead of following Steven Colbert and countless academics by asking what Wikipedia has done to reality, I ask: what have we done to Wikipedia in the name of reality?
When I took my first Physics class as a High School student, my rather inept lab team developed a catchphrase that was frequently invoked when our experiments resulted in data that wildly contradicted the accepted scientific theory: “Mr. Evans,” we would say to our teacher in a mockingly-apologetic tone, “We broke Physics.” Every time without fail, he would dash our hopes by showing us that we had not yet succeeded in breaking his prized subject; indeed, it we poor experimentalists who were broken and must be repaired. This had the immediate effect of us manipulating the experiment to achieve the predicted result, instead of the traditionally-understood method of using experimentation to arrive at a theory. However, this manipulation was simply for the grade; raised on stories of intrepid and independent scientists, we held out for the day when we would break that monolithic institution by discovering an anomaly that would give us agency over the theories and equations instead of the other way around. Putting aside any Friereian critiques of the student/teacher pedagogic model, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions provides an interesting explanation for this story.
I was reading through Spectra, the monthly publication of the National Communication Association. The president of the NCA, Arthur Bochner, wrote an extended column about “Things That Boggle My Mind” which focused on his general disgust of students today and especially about the student use of technology in the classroom:
As I scan the room, I see that more than half the students have laptops on their desks. Just as many chat obtrusively on their cell phones, while checking their e-mail or sports scores… I feel uncomfortable in this space. It’s not “my space.”
Collaborative research on Wikiversity by Cormac Lawler (user Cormaggio on Wikimedia projects) at the University of Manchester. Wikiversity is a relatively young project in the Wikimedia umbrella, but I think it is a natural development and a great space to realize the potential of all the educators currently on Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikibooks, and all the other projects.