There is a lot of talk about Wikipedia at the moment. It used to be the go-to encyclopaedia for everybody, but it seems to have been usurped by academics, who put in complaints about other people’s articles not being academic enough.
One issue that makes it increasingly difficult to use is that some articles can no longer be considered encyclopaedic, but more like works for a peer review journal, going into so much depth that anybody who did not already know everything about a topic, cannot follow it anymore. Even the basics are often missing.
Then there is the continuous request for citations, which are interspersed in the text (both rows of numbers to cited works and the words that indicate where one is needed), which often makes a text unreadable.
Lastly, it seems to have become the place where disgruntled academics try to influence the layman, not with convincing information, but with ad hominin attacks and sweeping generalizations.
Now, of course, Wikipedia is not a normal encyclopaedia, which tend to list the references to the people they used in the front of the book, and then they can print clear text all the way. And I do agree that it is only fair to cite people who come up with a new idea and not simply assume it is public knowledge.
Citations are peer support. That makes them something positive. Academics, especially, pride themselves on “peer reviews”, because they assume this means that people with knowledge in their field have considered their theory.
I agree with that. Not only do citations allow the reader to find more information by people who understand the topic, but they give those other writers their due respect.
However, specialist feedback should not be the only feedback of a theory or idea.
Getting citations is easy, I have said this before. It took me on average one to two hours to get all the support I needed for any essay I was writing, by walking into the university library, picking some books, reading the blurb to see what side of the argument they were on (there are usually only two) and then flipping through the index for the pages needed to find something that sounded profound. – I will add that I took a lot more care when writing my book.
And within a field, there are countless journals with articles to pick from. However, it is a whole lot easier for academics than for people from outside to come up with those citations, especially from journals, which often cost either in credentials or money to access.
That there are usually only two or three active arguments is because even within academia, it is impossible for everybody to agree, yet these arguments tend to pivot on details rather than being completely alternative theories. If something is not in the academic debate, it is either such an assumption that you do not find it mentioned at all, or it comes from people without the credentials and is dismissed out of hand.
My last point is to the way some articles are written. Every field will at one or another time go through a period of paradigm shift, which means that an entire edifice of assumptions, on which the current knowledge is built, comes tumbling down as a result of new evidence. These are upsetting times for the academics who hold the traditional view – even if they accept that “science always improves on itself” – and often comes with a lot of nastiness and heated discussions. New ideas, as we all know, take a long time to get accepted in a community, especially in a competitive climate like academia. Often, people’s status and income are considered more valuable than getting to a new understanding of the topic.
In the past, if new ideas came from outside of academia, the scholars used to band together. But today the social media and the possibility of sharing visual evidence by means of You Tube, allows these alternative views to spread much faster than the academics can keep control over, because the layman is no longer at the mercy of what is officially shared with them but allowed to think for themselves. We see this happening mainly in archaeology and psychology today.
This bottom-up spread of new ideas is not new – Christianity was a bottom-up phenomenon – but today such ideas have a lot more chance to spread. Some academics are happy enough with that and join the debates or put up their own channel or blog and argue their side of the belief in a fair way.
But some are not happy with that and resort to attacks on the people who hold some respect in that public community, and more often than not, they have already thrown every alternative view onto one heap, blaming the writer for being wrong, because somebody else is saying things that are disputed in a completely different field.
And those are the obvious fallacies anybody can see. There are two more problems with insisting on citations that may be less obvious:
- A circular argument.
If academics quote each other, even if in different fields, you get things like, A is right, because B has proven C. Then, when you look up B’s work, he claims to be right, because C said so and this is supported by A, and C’s work says something similar – usually, this spans across many more people, so that, at first sight, it is not obvious, especially when quotes are made across disciplines.
As explained before, we now have English professors making claims on psychology based on quotes by neuroscientists, while herself being quoted by politicians, doctors and the media – “scientists believe” so it must be right – without anybody realizing that neither English nor neuroscience are psychology.
This is a result of the education system giving credentials only to those who agree with its current beliefs. This system then produces the teachers, the politicians and the judges, who maintain the contents of that education system and their grades. And, as I said before, in that respect, it makes no difference whether that education is controlled by the church, by the aristocracy or by celebrities and those who win popular votes (Homology: 335).
Thus, citations can, whether paraphrased by journalists, or literal by other academics, become circular arguments that have as their only objective to boost the status of the writer and control the information the public gets – you have to believe in God and show that by supporting the church or else risk being ousted.
- An Infinite Regress.
This is an argument that is based on premises that are based on premises that are based on premises that are based on a truism or axiom – something assumed true, because it has been in the group belief for so long, nobody questions it anymore.
David Hume said that we expect the sun to come up every day. We say, “I will do this tomorrow”, assuming tomorrow exists. This was in relation to deductive versus inductive arguments, but the idea is the same. Deductive arguments take the form of two or more premises (truisms) from which the new belief or ‘truth’ is deduced and assumed knowledge.
Of course, some truisms are, indeed, ‘true’: 1 and 1 make 2. There is little to debate about that… unless you deal with reproduction, in which 1 and 1 make 3, so that, even there it depends on your perspective.
But in science and philosophy, every argument is based on premises that are “believed to be true”. Of course, truth itself is in debate, and not considered the same by all people, because we each experience truth differently depending on our psychological make-up. This then, expresses in those endless arguments, because people cannot step out of their own experience, so they are forever doomed to consider the experiences of others wrong. We can never prove any of it, because none of us can step out of our own heads. The more naturally objectivist, reductionist and materialist a person is, the more they will believe that, if they can see it, it must be the only reality and everybody else must be wrong, and some do not hesitate to say so.
I have also previously explained that I do not blame these people, because our beliefs are existential; they experience reality that way. If they would acknowledge that their experience is not true, they lose their reason for existing. Nobody gives up their existential belief.
At any rate, academics using citations, use arguments made by others and eventually every such argument must be based on a truism in one or another field, because deduction is NOT possible without induction (without hypothesis or belief).
Most academics, being immersed in an institution that forces specialization, do not notice these regresses, exactly because they are focused on the details of the works of their peers and assume that other disciplines are right, because they are academics. This belief then, is ingrained in children by the education system.
However, this applies to the alternative thinkers as well. It is good to look beyond the accepted traditional views and bring in evidence to the contrary – but you cannot then blindly accept information from another discipline that backs up your new view, because somebody with a credential tells you so.
We need to understand the groupmind. We need to accept that we are, all of us, immersed in the current beliefs and that it takes a major psychological leap to step away from those, to create a paradigm shift. Nobody does that alone. The groupmind changes slowly and that is a good thing. If we could all be convinced by the first clever sounding argument that came along, we’d live in perpetual chaos. But the groupmind speaks through people, even those who seem independent or alternative.
So if Wikipedia wants to survive, it will have to change its criteria for acceptance. We live in a new world; a world of information being exchanged for free in most cases. Wikipedia itself is one of the best examples of that. Countless You Tubers and bloggers share everything they know and all their research for free. In many cases such research is way more profound what is being done in academia, mostly because independents collect information across disciplines.
The future will see academia also being free and, hopefully, less competitive.
Credentials should not be the standard; a well written article should be, and sure you can favour citations, but only if you allow citations from any writer, not just academics, and format them differently. The number of citations in any small article currently far exceeds those in big fat books.
Articles that begin by slandering others because they are not part of the academic community or resemble somebody you do not like should not be allowed, because they are off topic. On the other hand, Wikipedia could change its policy to request that, instead of a million citations per article, the main originators of an idea are mentioned in the text and still link to books at the bottom, but leave out the endless references to articles by other academics, who have their idea from somebody else again and so on.
We must remember that the goal is to get to an understanding of the topic, and we must do that TOGETHER.