Control, review and quality

In document Collaboratory Digital Libraries for Humanities in the Italian context (Page 105-108)

4.5 Community

4.5.1 Control, review and quality

The issue of control is probably one of the most problematic in online collab-orative projects, especially if open and wiki-style. Projects like Wikipedia commit the review and the quality of the content directly to the same com-munity why is producing that content. It is a sort of peer review, though not formalized and relegated to the good willingness of users. The most

con-17Actually, it would be more precise to state that the Wikipedia community is composed by several communities of practice, because of many users collaborate only with a small subgroup of fellow participants who share the same interest about a topic.

4.5. COMMUNITY 97 troversial aspect of wiki projects is in fact this: how it is possible to trust information if you are not sure about the author and the reviewer? This question would not be answered here, going far beyond the scope of the present study. Nevertheless, it will suffice to say that the auto-organization of the Wikipedia community seems to work in assessing quality of the con-tent, on average. Several quantitative studies, as Wilkinson and Huberman (2008), suggest that the more users contributes and edits a page, the more the page, on average, is accurate and provides trustworthy information. Fur-ther and more qualitative research is needed to evaluate and comprehend these outcomes.

Regarding Internet, Wikipedia and other peer-generated information, Eco thinks is always a problem of filtering:

So Wikipedia, as the whole Internet, has the problem of fil-tering the news. It keeps both false and real news; but the rich knows filtering techniques at least for the areas they know how to check. [. . . ] Collective filtering is useless, since it could yield to fluctuations. I noticed that in a certain period of Berlusconi’s triumph people went looking for information about me on the right-winged books and placed them in Wikipedia: as correct-ness prevents me from changing them directly, I left them on.

But obviously it was an entry made by the winners of the mo-ment.

The collective control is therefore useful up to a certain point:

it is conceivable that if one gives a false length of the equator, sooner or later someone comes and corrects it, but correction of more subtle and difficult issues is more complicated.

In scholarly publishing, peer review is much more formalized and de-mands competences and economic resources. In collaboratory digital li-braries, it is not yet understood (or foreseen) how the process of assessing quality would work. Data suggest it is a matter of both authority and community.

Eco strongly believes in the difference of open, uncontrollable and anar-chic communities of users and controlled community of scholars.

98 CHAPTER 4. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS Take for example the journal Nature. In the scientific world, if an article appeared on Nature, where there is peer review and large control, it is taken seriously. It is true, in any case, that Nature could make an error, and exclude a brilliant article:

nevertheless, Nature is believed a landmark of reliability, with fringe boundaries. There is always the possibility of an error, or event a little academic revenge. . .

He believes in the final convergence on a consensus between peers, but only in a community with defined boundaries, with defined names and cur-ricula, which guarantee authority of information and possibility of control.

I am a disciple of Peirce, who states that the scientific truths get assessed and approved by the community. He intended the scientific community, at his time much more divided by the nor-mal crowd. The slow work of the community, though errors and revisions, carries on the “torch of the truth”, as he said in the XIXth century.

And again:

Things eventually get fixed : these are the controlled commu-nities, which are not anarchic, but with a fringe authority. This doesn’t regard Wikipedia, in which the anarchy is much bigger.

Thus, for Eco it is not possible to compare communities of scholars and communities of general active users as in Wikipedia. Also other interviewees shared a similar (yet less incisive) thought: some of them sincerely confessed that opening a scholar collaborative project to general users would be of-ten counterproductive, because people could vandalize or worse insert false information and argue with no competence about very specialized topics.

Though, the researcher somehow feels that Eco did attribute some flaws to collective processes that he did not see(or appear to see) in scientific communities. He trusted the scientific community to reach, eventually, a convergence that he’s not willing to attribute at the communities of active users of Wikipedia.

4.5. COMMUNITY 99 Although the researcher is absolutely not competent of sociology of sci-ence, yet, it is his humble opinion that a statement like this may be disputed in the future. Sociology of science is a quite sectorial and young field of study, but provides interesting insights about behaviour of scientific com-munities (and single scholars), illustrating a much more (and disturbing) picture of science, research and scholarship. Mechanisms of knowledge pro-duction and science discovery are not immune of the influence of external factors as grants, scientific fads, trends, mainstream science, competition among scholars, etc. Even the existence of a core, mainstream science is a political fact that preventes a free and totally open science and research, especially in developing countries (Guedn, 2009). Further and multidisci-plinary research is then needed to understand similarities and difference of scholar and amateur communities, that are maybe more related than ex-pected.

In document Collaboratory Digital Libraries for Humanities in the Italian context (Page 105-108)