Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dissemination of knowledge

I stumble over a very intersting blog that o focus on Open Access Anthropology. I'm not sure what this is really about, but sounds at the first sight an interessant topic. And thanks to the author, Enkerli, I'm now being a tag ;-)

You well know that I do blog most of the time in French. As per its French name, Zero Seconde, easily understandable, I do feel having zero second for what pleased me the most. And translating my posts in English would have been a pleasure. Beeing a father of two young kids, this already a miracle to have time to even blog in French so much -- and did I tell you I'm working for the most time-hungry industry : multimedia?

But here I am, coming back to this English version blog. That is all about the blog I found. And taking time to have a decent conversation. I see him having a passion that isn't so far away from mines.

As I can see -- and what I like the most about blogging-- is we can have a asynchonious conversation about a passion we have both of us ... at two different time. This would even be possible before the event of web. Web allow now backlinks that keep a conversation alive.

Dissemination of knowledge was one of my particular suject a while ago and if this isn't too bullish, I would like to point him directly to some of my earlier posts I maid about blog/academia/knowlewdge.

My thought behind this exchance is that he might take some of my insights and go further with it. That was the intent behind my postings. I'll happy if this happens. (And won't be sad neither if not). It has be writen in 2004-2005, so it might also seems a bit old at Internet time.

It is in French, but I guess this isn't an issue for him. I know that some of my insight has already been spread a bit in Spanish, but I guess so far he's my only gateway to the English speaking World. I wished I could be more fluent in English. Oh, well.

But first let me define what is blogging:

The blog is a very powerful tool for self-representation on a digital network that works as a proxy to identify a person when having "conversation" amongs peers over the network.

And here's some posts (in French) about it:

1- I do believe Academia represents the future of blog : the presure of "publish or die" will boost auto-publication among academia (especially young people).

2- "Posting before processing" allow a fast turn around of idea, something even less formal that a communication at a conference, that allow procesing more data.

3- Academia has to face a new challenger : a new pool of amateurs challenging their idea, creating new ones and manipulating some kinds of rhetoric tools that will take out some credibility of academia and give more to the "wishdom of crowd".

4- The blogosphere is a pool a amateurs' theories. Let's live with it: it won't desappear (i.e.: 911 conspiracy theories)

5. Academia developed a way to access to the world : this is way too heavy for the blogsphere. Having a ligher back channel may help -- but at a risk...

Other insightful posts-- you tell me if it's true-- can be found here.


Blogger Alexandre said...

Two Francophones having a conversation in English. For the benefit of...?
My post about your posts on Web 2.0 and Internet 6 did have something to do with the desire to get English-speakers to understand your model, and the way you look at it. When I started blogging, I wasn't completely sure whether I would mostly write in English or in French. Because there are more French-speakers who can read English than there are English-speakers who can read French, I tend to write in English about things I read in French. Also, my work is primarily in English.
I'll respond to your specific Z/S posts. As you say, we have similar ideas about the dissemination of knowledge. And we aren't alone at all. My impression is that a large group of people are saying very similar things.
For instance, check out Language Log, especially this post on Raising the bar by lowering it.
There's also a lot of talk about Open Access to academic texts. Some of the discussion is fairly limited, but the idea is eventually to focus on the way knowledge is shared.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Martin Lessard said...

Alexandre, your are now my gateway to the academic world.

As you might know I'm strugling outside the academic world to make sense of was is going on, but without any resource nor real pay-time to do it.

I sometime feel like an outpost of academia.

And as a matter of fact, this wild wild world is primary an English-Speaking world. I do tend to believe that knowledge dissemination works best with a standard language. It just happens to be English right now. I guess I have to learn Chinese pretty soon. So far I stll more comfortable in French and I have to confess I do it in purpose.

Just to remind everyones that knowledge has many languages...

But for the benefits of the rest of the world, that's why I created this English blog in order to give trace of interesting conversation in the Lingua Franca of early 21st century.

Who knows, a Chinese can access to the conversation too...

11:01 AM  
Blogger Alexandre said...

Well.. Just one warning. I'm not the best person to keep you connected with academia. I do teach, and such, but I don't have a tenure-track position yet and I tend to be critical of how academia is handled... ;-)

As for the use of a lingua franca. To connect back to your answer about getting comments: I actually get more comments when I post in French because I know more French-speaking bloggers (through YulBlog) and because there are less French-speaking blogs in North America.
One thing that's funny is that, despite all the "global" dimensions of the online world, many communities are in fact pretty local. Some individuals connect different networks to one another but many networks have a strong sense of geographic concentration.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Martin Lessard said...

Alexandre, I'm more than aware that academia is a pretty weird world on its own, with a dark side and power struggle all along.

And as I formulated in a post, the next crux in the up coming knowledge dissemination tsunami (that is open access knowledge) isn't access to knowledge it's tools to process it. One of the tool is crux in my book : cognitive authority, that is, people you trust to be proxy on portion of the knowledge you find by yourself, the ones that "validate" -- or to be more precise : legitimate-- the new knowledge.

So far, open access knowledge does weakenold knowledge institution. University is a risk in that sense.

As I elaborated this point of view in l'autorité cognitive sur Internet, in view to develop a study research I intend one day to do as a PhD, I noticed how weird it is to develop my theory inside an institution that is the most at risk with it.

Academia, however, isn't dead yet, and with people like you I guess you have enough authority or are legitimate enough to pursue such question inside the institution. Which isn't really my chance : as an outsider, a field agent ;-), stuck with down to earth reality stuff, academia is allowed to think my thoughts is not worth much...

About your point of view on networking and language, I do tend to believe that it is better to be big in a small bowl than tiny in the ocean. Therefore I blog in French.

But as I learn so much at the same time from the English-speaking blogosphere, I do sometime take the time to lets some trace behind for others to pick up...

1:41 PM  
Blogger Alexandre said...

Wasn't aware of Wilson's notion of "cognitive authority." Sounds interesting a concept but my attitude toward knowledge is more, shall we say, "libertarian." Although, your blog entries on the subject seem to make the concept less "authoritarian," so to speak. More of a "social negotiation of expertise" kind of concept.
In my mind, the possible paradigm shift (!) in knowledge management should in fact imply changes in most university systems but maybe because of my involvement in it, I don't to see universities as being really at risk, here. It's very academic a tendency to challenge any form of intellectual (cognitive?) authority. Without necessarily creating new ones. But the way universities are perceived has a lot to do with the links between prestige, expertise, legitimacy, and authority.
To put it bluntly: the changes are very post-modern and PoMo was pretty much "acted out" in universities.
But what do I know?

4:59 PM  
Blogger Martin Lessard said...

Alexandre, I can only agree with you: academic tendency to challenge cognitive authority is an university sport.

I must also said I should temper my says about University being at risk. As an institution, it may have many years ahead.

PoMo is a university brewed meme (as far memetic can be "real"). I have to agree too. Much of intellectual movements came one way or the other from University.

But I guess it is more about competition from "alternative cognitive institution". A too sophisticated name for what it's called media. And now Internet.

As long as it is only traditionnal media (tv, newspaper and radio), University finded a way to work around to keep its authority (more later about why I don't mean authoritarian).

With uprising grassroot knowledge sharing (aka wisdom of crowd, wikipedia or what ever), I see it as a new way of brewing new (yet amateur) theory about the World.

Don't get me wrong. This have been called folk theory and it's been studied at the University.

What's new, in my humble opinion -- and you're more than welcome to challenge me on that--, is the fact that some factors on the net are acting to foster quality in this realm of Do-it-Yourself network. I build this point of view on Paquet's thesis.

This should create what I call cognitive authority -- people that are given the trust to legitimate knowledge--. This isn't about someone taking the right to say so, but someone that got invested by his peers to act as a proxy to knowledge.

Nonetheless, this isn't an new concept: academia knows more about it than normal folk : all scolars tend to relay on proxy to build his own theory.

I won't get in details as Patrick Wilson wrote an entire book on it 25 years. As far as I understand, cognitive authority is a strong concept, alas quite impossible to decipher (you need to know very well a subject in order to trust someone else to know as well as you -- make him less usefull--.

That said, the emergence of non-academic knowledge has now a headstart on the network. And this make me very curious about what's coming up next.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Alexandre said...

I still "buck" (like a horse) on the "authoritarian" idea. My view of universities is that if they do help construct the figure of the "expert," they only do so tangentially. University administrators and people in media ("traditional" or "new") do care about such things as labeled experts, but many academes really don't care. In my mind, the reason we "listen to someone's voice" isn't supposed to have anything to do with authority in any sense of that word. It has to do with the idea itself. The most vocal advocates of the "peer-review system" agree on this point. The idea of using a "proxy" is quite compatible with peer-review. And the concept of "peer-review" emphasises a lack of differential status ("peers" have the same status), regardless of the stratified system in which people might be put.
The only point of departure between us (and, as most French-speaking academics, I'm always wary of too strong a consensus) is about the likely outcome. We even seem to agree that the "prestigious university expert" will eventually disappear but, as I keep saying, the concept of a university will remain. Not as a structured institution giving status to an intellectual elite. But as the "site" of a specific type of reflection. The university will become more Ancient Greece, more Socratic, more Seminar, more community-focused, more "virtual," more anarchic, more libertarian, more egalitarian, more approachable, more fun, more playful, more innovative, more affordable, more useful...
But it will remain. It's not that the world has less need for universities. It's that more of the world is a large university.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Martin Lessard said...

I like the idea of not having any "authority" at all. But I'm not sure we can get rid of it.

I started to stick with that concept when I tried to figured out how someone can trust an information on the web.

This seems to me a big outcome of having direct access to knowledge. How do I know the information I'm finding out on the net is true or false (or for the sake of it -- as I don't want to enter epistemology-- : trustable)?

I trust Google to give me plausible answers. As well as Wikipedia.

So far, in my thinkings, I couldn't feel comfortable of having to evaluate only "idea" by itself to find it valuable or not.

Maybe I'm wrong. At least I didn't find any cue helping me to find out how I could understand the process of trusting an information.

About your last point, I do like the way you think. The university as it is now is meant to evolve in a new thing. In that sense you give me hope for a brighter future (even if I might never been able to see it in my life)...

9:51 PM  
Blogger Alexandre said...

I get the point about trust but the academic ideal is supposed to be (if I understood correctly) to only "trust information" based on the scientific method, not on an evaluation of the source. In practise, because of information overload, academics do "trust" some sources more than others. But that "trust" doesn't mean that "truth" is only found in trusted sources. It means that academics tend to challenge information contained in peer-reviewed articles a bit less because they assume that other people have already challenged most of what needed to be challenged. In science, you're presumed wrong until proven right but we cut you some slack if others have gone through the process of analysing your results carefully.
The peer-review system is far from perfect. In fact, I was quite taken by this thoughtful blog post in which an auditor points out the flaws of the peer-review system. The link to that post came from the aforementioned Language Log post on raising standards by lowering them.
Maybe my take is, again, a bit naïve, but I do work under the assumption that people can learn to judge information validity by themselves using different methods (corroboration, analysis, hypothesis-testing...).
I understand that you don't want to get too deeply into epistemological discussions. But I perceive our discussion here to be precisely that.
It all goes back to the simple idea that, though science is a quest for Truth, we never assume that we can ever get unadulterated Truth.
The Google and Wikipedia examples are appropriate. If we assume Google to give appropriate results, it's because we give the "benefit of validity" to the system. Including the mass of people who publish things online to be picked up by Google's spiders. And the PageRank algorithm. As you say, we should probably say that we "trust" the results. But we maintain our critical perspective while looking at the result. We may tend to give more weight to the first result in Google but we'll dig further if the issue is important to us or if we suspect something flawed in the information presented to us.
Wikipedia enthusiasts frequently talk about the validity of much of the information the online encyclopedia contains. Though I do use Wikipedia a lot (and so do many of my colleagues), I have a problem with the assumption that the source would somehow guarantee accuracy. When I read something in Wikipedia, I add what I read to my brain's "knowledge base" with a "to be verified" tag. Knowledge I already have may help me evaluate new information, from a friend or from Wikipedia. If something clashes with what I previously thought, I might dig deeper or I might maintain an ambivalence as to which set of data is likely to be more accurate. Of course, I do tend to give a bit more credence to Wikipedia than to The Onion, but not more than to an Encyclopedia Britannica entry or to a New York Times article. And I do give to Wikipedia and NYT less credence than to a peer-reviewed academic article.
I know "giving credence to" sounds like "trusting the validity of." But I do mean a different process. Whatever the source of what I read, I apply what some call "redaction criticism" if I want to evaluate the validity of its statements. Mostly, I try to see what the author was trying to do, assuming bias.

Now, all of this is in a quest for Truth. Much of what I do isn't really about Truth but about reflection, inspiration, comprehension, etc. By linking to the Wikipedia entry on "redaction criticism," I wasn't trying to show that I was right about the concept. I'm trying to give a way for you (or another reader) to understand which concept I'm using. As a matter of fact, I had learned of this concept as «critique des sources», back in a methodology class I took in 1991. From what I can see in Wikipedia, "redaction criticism" is closer to what I meant than "source criticism." I had no idea that any of this was related to biblical studies as I assumed it was from history. Because the origin of the term matters less to me than the usefulness of the concept, I probably won't go out of my way to check whether or not biblical studies coined the term "redaction criticism." In fact, I assume that those who wrote the original entries on these "criticisms" did so from a biblical background and that biblical studies borrowed those methods from other disciplines. IOW, I do "redaction criticism" of articles on that very concept.
Come to think of it... I tend to prefer usefulness over validity. If a hypothesis can successfully explain a phenomenon, that hypothesis is useful even if it might seem invalid for other reasons. Competing hypotheses can remain equally valid in my mind until one appears to have more explanatory power. Eco and Sebeok's Sign of Three had neat things to say about this method, as a semiotic process. Sperber and Wilson's Relevance could probably work for the complementary processes in terms of communication and cognition.

Now, don't get me started on the differences between English-speaking academics using citation as evidence vs. French-speaking academics assuming readers' prior knowledge. 'Kay? ;-)

10:13 AM  

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