Wikipedia and the Shifting Definition of ‘Expert’
How do we judge whether a person knows what he or she is talking about? How do we gauge someone’s credibility? At least in part, we rely on a set of cues – titles, university degrees, papers published, lectures given – that have long been bound up in the concept of “expertise”. If a person is deemed an expert, we are more credulous of their claims, and their words carry more weight. But expertise is a fraught commodity – lashed inextricably to the commodities of privilege and power. Does an expert on poverty know more than someone who is poor? Are women given expert status on issues relating to women, but not others? Does expertise itself invest people with perverse incentives to maintain the status quo? How we ascribe expertise shapes whose voices and ideas have purchase in our discourse – whose books get published, whose writing fill op-ed column inches, who sits at what tables.
Part of the beauty of Wikipedia is the hope that through its openness and its anonymity it could democratize the process of how knowledge gets built and organized.