If epistemology is the study and philosophy of knowledge, it's creation and quality, then I consider myself a lowly disciple of Wikipistemology, the contemplation and investigation of Wikipedia and other open community-edited resources.
Sadly, I didn't coin the term "Wikipistemology." That honor belongs to University of Arizona professor Don Fallis, who dropped it in a paper in 2008, "Toward an Epistemology of Wikipedia," and again in the 2011 collection "Social Epistemology: Essential Readings."
Fallis presents fascinating academic analyses, but, to me, it's all in the practical application. When I visit a Wikipedia page, I'm looking for four things that are conveniently easy to find: I want to see the main entry itself, obviously. I want to see how it's sourced, so I scroll to the bottom for the footnotes. I want to know how often the article has been edited, so I'll click over to the "View History" tab to scope out whether there have been any revision wars or spikes in editing around particular events and how many anonymous editors have had their way with it. Finally, I'll go to the "Talk" tab so see how editing decisions have been made through consensus.
In February 2011, this process led me to slam then-City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio for a history of assigning his underlings to beef up his Wikipedia page and the pages of his businesses, in violation of the community's standards. This week I took a second look at the Republican's page as he challenges Rep. Scott Peters for San Diego's 52nd District congressional seat.
The good news is that DeMaio seems to have kept his hands, and his interns' hands, off the page. The article has undergone extensive edits by a committed and articulate circle of Wikipedia editors, most prominently "Wikignome" MelanieN, who may very well be one of San Diego's stealthiest knowledge-masters, responsible for dozens of San Diego-related pages, from Point Loma's page to the list of San Diego breweries. For the most part, DeMaio's page seems fair and honest, although it doesn't contain or emphasize everything I would've. (But I'm biased: I'm always foremost interested in the "Controversies" section of politicians' pages, and I was a co-author of CityBeat's all-negative "Carl DeMaio A to Z" guide.)
Here are a few of the other things Iíve learned about how DeMaio's page came to be in its current form:
· After CityBeat published its "Wikipedia weasel" story about DeMaio in 2012, the episode was documented on his page. In July 2014, editors decided it was too inside-baseball and that a better way to recognize the controversy was to include links at the top of the "Talk" page.
· There's been much debate over the bizarre allegations by state Sen. Ben Hueso that he caught DeMaio masturbating in a City Hall bathroom while they both sat on the council. Was it substantiated? Did it actually have any impact whatsoever? If included, should it disclose that Hueso is a bitter opponent of DeMaio? Should it include that DeMaio's denial passed a polygraph test? Ultimately, the editors reached consensus that it really had no place on Wikipedia.
· Last month, editors went back and forth about where the fact that DeMaio is gay should appear in the article. There were two camps: those who thought it should go in the opening and those who said it should appear further down in the text. The latter won out for now, with MelanieN citing Wikipedia standards and precedence.
· During the last week, there's been an ongoing revision battle (edit, revert, undo revision, revert) by an anonymous user (we'll call him Mr. 108, for the first three numbers of his IP) and a recognized anti-vandalism patroller, Discospinster. Mr. 108 really hates DeMaio's commercials and really wants the page to include this rant:
"He runs slander ads all over TV, spending an astronomical $1.2 million on advertising for the 2014 campaign. They are on tv multiple times a day, showing that DeMaio wishes to buy the public's opinion by outspending and out-advertising his opponent. It is unknown if the incessant advertising will work, but it is surely a fact that the TV ads are annoying as hell."
So, what about Peters' page? There have been only three discussions, none of them occurring in 2014, although edits of his page have picked up in the last month. It's fairly balanced, but, really, it's just boring. Say what you will about DeMaio's politics; he'll always be the most interesting candidate in any race he's in.
One last thing: If you're also a Wikipistemologist, and you're on Twitter, you should follow @CongressEdits, a newish account that automatically Tweets whenever someone with a congressional IP address anonymously edits a Wikipedia page. It's hilarious what politicos will edit: video games, transgender issues, Choco Tacos. Someone even smeared journalist Ben Smith as a "Smirnoff Ice enthusiast."
I guess that's one reason to be glad I'm not that notable.