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The Epistemic Cultures of Science and Wikipedia: A Comparison

  • K. Brad Wray

I compare the epistemic culture of Wikipedia with the epistemic culture of science, with special attention to the culture of collaborative research in science. The two cultures differ markedly with respect to (1) the knowledge produced, (2) who produces the knowledge, and (3) the processes by which knowledge is produced. Wikipedia has created a community of inquirers that are governed by norms very different from those that govern scientists. Those who contribute to Wikipedia do not ground their claims on their reputations as knowers, for they stand to lose nothing if and when their contributions are found to be misleading or false. And the immediacy of the medium encourages gossip and jokes. Hence, though we have some reason to believe that an invisible hand aids scientists in realizing their epistemic goals, we cannot ground our confidence in what is reported on Wikipedia on the fact that an invisible hand ensures quality. Nor is the information on Wikipedia aptly justified in a manner similar to the way testimony can be justified.

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