ISSN 2567-6458, July 31, 2022 – Sept 11, 2022
Author: Gerd Doeben-Henisch
This text is part of the uffmm.org Blog
IN FAVOUR OF WIKIPEDIA
Today we are living in a world where we are flooded with information of all kinds from all directions. It is nearly impossible to collect, order and evaluate all this in some systematic way (not least because the available ordering systems as such are themselves mostly ‘dynamic’ changing often in the course of time).
Even in the realm of science, where things are — at least by the intention — mostly methodologically organized and transparent, we can observe an explosion of more and more specializations accompanied by less and less integration. Comparable a little bit to a planet earth which is losing its atmosphere, science seems to lose its ‘meta level knowledge’ which is important to connect and integrate all the many divers individual science parts. Some would perhaps say that there was never such a ‘meta level knowledge’; others perhaps will even deny that such a ‘meta level knowledge’ is possible at all.
In the long run a multitude of different knowledge spaces which are not integrated will destroy themselves. Science will turn into noise only.
A science which by its history and its self-conception should be able to solve this challenge in close collaboration with all scientific disciplines is philosophy with all its sub fields. But by many reasons this does not really work. We have no elaborated theoretical concept, no methods, no practices working in the everyday fabric of science, whereby a systematic ‘meta level of knowledge’ would be enabled such, that it would be accepted by all. As long as every individual scientific discipline — including physics — thinks that their own field is enough for all, we are lost.
In such a difficult situation is a phenomenon like wikipedia something like a ‘gift’ for all of us. Yes, wikipedia is not and cannot be the the ‘perfect solution’ for the ‘meta level knowledge’ problem (not yet), but compared to the activities of the individual disciplines it is a first step to overcome the all-sided isolation of knowledge today. As long as increasing parts of our societies beginn to believe that ‘science’ is wrong because they less and less understand what science is doing, science has missed its job in the society.
Wikipedia has one strong first argument for its mission: it is using ‘ordinary language’ to talk about all what is perhaps important in our world. Strictly speaking everything can be communicated in Wikipedia, everything is completely transparent, every citizen can in principal participate. This makes Wikipedia by itself to a ‘common science’. What cannot be expressed on this level does somehow not exist because the special languages, methods, models and results of an individual science are ‘trapped’ within the individual scientific disciplines.
One can criticize wikipedia, this is OK, this is indeed intended and necessary, but delete it would be a great mistake; there exists no common science alternatives until now.
Assuming this position I heavily make use of Wikipedia articles to ‘calibrate’ my ‘philosophical’ ideas with some part of the ‘common science’ mainstream. Clearly, common science does not replace specialized scientific disciplines, but without a working ‘meta level knowledge’ the specialized scientific disciplines do not really exist, not in the mind of a democratic population, which as a whole has to judge in which direction a democratic society should go. Autocratic politicians and autocratic science behaves different; this is well known.
 See an example of a critical reviewing of Wikipedia in: Jim Giles (2005), Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. Nature 438, 7070 (Dec. 2005), 900–901. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/438900a