Changes in Knowledge Creation

When I was younger, I had a junior encyclopedia set. Everything presented in the set was knowledge that was agreed upon by whoever published the set. The books included all of what the authors deemed necessary and excluded everything thought to be unworthy of publication. The information in that set was the truth, and that was end of it.

With the rapid increase in use and popularity of the Internet, the amount of information that is presented as true has grown. Anyone can present their analysis of a subject online. Amateurs can argue for hours with professionals on social media websites on nearly any issue, but they also work together online. Either an amateur or a professional can post their findings online, but now it is up to the reader to analyze the research’s authenticity. This is an issue in online knowledge creation. In Weinberger’s Too Big to Know, he mentions the controversial figure Jenny McCarthy, whose large media presence has been used to convince parents that vaccinations are dangerous and can cause autism in their children. This is not based on anything resembling science, yet many viewers perceive the medical advice from the actress/model McCarthy as knowledge.

Another part of Weinberger’s discourse on open knowledge creation is the idea of public research. There is the example in Chapter 7 of Jean-Claude Bradley’s “UsefulChem,” which was an attempt to document Bradley’s lab’s work and relay the information to the public. This is an important development in the realm of knowledge creation for a few reasons. First, this exercise teaches the public how the research method actually works. An interesting observation that Weinberger makes is that journals rarely publish boring or negative test results, yet most research projects conclude with such results. Second, the exercise alters the traditional temporality of the research results. In the past, time consisted of two parts for the public in reference to a research project: the time before the research results were published, and the time following the publication. With a live experiment like Bradley’s, the public could now follow his research as it went, well before publication of the results. This would allow the public to use Bradley’s findings to theorize for themselves. Having such an open platform could take away credit from those doing the experiments, but more knowledge is being created and science may actually benefit from it. It is an interesting balance that will need examination in the coming years.


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