RespectExperts

What to say when other people call for more respect towards experts? What does it mean?

One of the drawbacks when using a wiki for knowledge collection and processing is that other people don’t know whom they are dealing with. On an ordinary web page, they can basically assume the owner of the site to be the author, or the author at least to be clearly indicated, much like on paper publication. People build trust in names. The guy who wrote such-and-such, oh he has a good taste in music, her style sheet rocks, we share usability concerns, hm she has a PhD in history so she must know what she is talking about. People. Attributes. Trust.

Note that it doesn’t always have to make sense. Sometimes we trust people more just because they use a style sheet that we like. Sometimes we trust a paper from a journal just because two other people have reviewed it, even if we must assume that they are no domain experts, eg. publishing a paper on wikis in a new journal that is mostly about study groups on the web.

The problem is that on a wiki newcomers might get the feeling that articles have an unknown number of anonymous contributors. Who are these people? No names, no trust.

Specially in the context of WikiPedia, where we have a lot of diverse domains, partisan contributors, semi-structured PeerReview, and a certain amount of flux, how are we to gain trust?

Similarly, in FreeSoftware newcomers are getting a piece of software by essentially unknown contributors. There is a semi-structured release process, but basically: No names, no trust.

There are several ways of dealing with it:

  1. Promoted by LarrySanger for WikiPedia: Respect for experts. Let us determine who the experts are, and defer to them. Let us stop unqualified people from wasting the expert’s time. We need a way to identify the experts and to assess their expert status.
  2. Join them. Once you join the contributor ranks of a project, chances are that over time, you will learn to trust the project contributors, even though you don’t know their names or qualification. Empirical evidence will bolster your trust.

This explains a few things:

  1. People new to collaborative efforts generally don't trust it. This is natural and explained using the very general concept of “trusting in names” up above. There does not seem to be much we can do to counter this initial reaction. Maybe it is part of how we function as humans or as part of a civilization that likes to challenge things. We’d need a culture of technophiles believing in everything they read on the web to change this. “It’s true, I read it on a wiki!” :) That doesn’t make much sense. So we’ll just have to live with it.
  2. Respecting Experts is what we usually do offline and it works quite well in most of our daily lives. This is why many people like to suggest RespectExperts to solve some issues of trust on the web. We need institutions like academia to certify experts, and means of verifying claims of expertise, however. This hard both online and offline. Offline people don’t often fake degrees, which is why we believe most people who claim to have a degree. So it basically works offline and we would need to think of ways of implementing it online, too.
  3. Before delving into the RespectExperts solution, it might be interesting to consider alternatives to respecting experts. One such alternative is joining collaborative efforts and slowly build trust in other members of the effort. That is, to give ourselves the opportunity to experience expertise first-hand. Observe experts and beginners at their tasks, and setting out ourselves on the road to expertise. The case made above for this approach uses the problem governments and institutions face when picking free software. How will they build trust in the team developing the software? Having one of their own join the team seems like an excellent strategy of coping. This costs time and money, however.

CategoryWikiAgenda

Discussion

I think the idea for this page is a good idea; I just wish it were more oriented towards CategoryWikiAgenda.

While reading this first pass, I was thinking, “Where is he going with this? What is it establishing?” I saw “CategoryWikiAgenda” and thought: “This is about spreading wiki?” I clicked on CategoryWikiAgenda, and saw, “This is what we want from wiki.” Oh! Alex means that one of the challenges for wiki is a respect for experts! Oh! He’s talking about efforts like Wikipedia, where they- okay, I get it.

So, I would make this more properly part of the CategoryWikiAgenda series.

Or, keep it multipurpose, but give it a little more direction, towards: “We want to RespectExperts so that experts will work with us.”

Note that I don’t totally agree: Amongst experts, there are vicious disagreements over who is an expert and who is not. It’s very tempting to say: “Those guys, they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re not experts; They’re amateurs pretending to be experts.” …and then the same, spoken in just the other direction. There are times (I believe) where you just need to part ways with the experts, and go your own route. Michael Crichton writes about this sort of thinking in his autobiography, Travels: Where, as a doctor (yeah- he doesn’t just write books,) he questions pretty much the entire medical industry.

I don’t think we can take RespectExperts as a general catch-all role. I also don’t think that you think that. But, it seems to me that that’s what the page is suggesting.

I don’t know: It’s kind of hard to talk about this in the abstract; If we’re going to talk about it in the abstract, then there’s going to be a lot of high-level tradeoff discussion: “If you RespectExperts, then you can expect to see X, Y, and Z. On the other hand, you’ll also see A, B, and C. If you don’t RespectExperts, you’ll solve A, B, and C, but probably have to deal with D, E, and F.”

Personally, I don’t think that page would be very useful for the CategoryWikiAgenda project, though.

If we wanted something for CategoryWikiAgenda, (perhaps call it ExpertsUsingWiki?, or something like that, if we wanted a different name for it,) then it would be like: “How can we get experts to use wiki? Do we need a HardSecurity TechnologySolution so that they can keep the infidels out? Or is SoftSecurity enough? How do FreeSoftware projects deal with expertise- can we borrow techniques from there? What about WikiPedia: Can they have a method for discriminating experts? What might it look like?”

I’d (personally) favor the CategoryWikiAgenda path, since it’s more interesting to me. But we could take both. I suspect there is little to say about the abstract RespectExperts, without getting into the particulars of one situation or another.

I’ve added a list of key points at the end, and added two sentences at the beginning trying to make clear where I wanted to go with this page.

I wasn’t really writing a page telling is what we need to do in order to further our agenda. “Let us respect experts and wikis will be better off!” Not at all. You know I don’t really believe it, you said it. I wanted something else. Something like a building block. A Lego piece. A new word in the LinkLanguage: “People claim we need to RespectExperts, but I think this is tricky business.” Now if you want to know more about it, you click on the link and find a discussion of why people ask for it, what the benefits are, and what the drawbacks are. I agree with you – there is no easy answer.

Define external redirect: ExpertsUsingWiki

EditNearLinks: FreeSoftware PeerReview HardSecurity LarrySanger

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