Wray and the Wrong Tree

I have to agree with Sage Ross on his response to Brad Wray’s The Epistemic Cultures of Science and Wikipedia: a Comparison. Wray is right to note that there are differences between scientific knowledge production and Wikipedia production in terms of the knowledge produced, who produces it, and the process. However, Wray’s article does not show any cognizance of the actual epistemic basis of Wikipedia: not a word about Neutral Point of View, No Original Research, and Verifiability. Instead, he uses Adam Smith’s invisible hand metaphor to argue that if local concern about one’s scientific reputation and career yields a global value in the production of knowledge, this cannot be claimed for Wikipedia because no one has a scientific reputation at stake. First, the invisible hand argument is not the only theory for understanding peer-production. Two, as Ross notes scientific reputation is not the only motive that might be operational under the invisible hand model – many Wikipedians are very much concerned about their peers’ opinions. Wray writes “We have very little reason to believe that an invisible hand is at work, ensuring that the truth, and only the truth, is made available” (p. 43). Smith’s hand can apply to more than scientific reputation and “truth”!? That’s simply barking up the wrong tree.

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