Wiki-ontology, wiki-epistemology: is it Really Real?

October 24, 2008

Concepts such as “ontology” and “epistemology” used in discussions of Web 2.0, Web 3.0, wikis and the semantic web expand conversations from Data Management to Knowledge Management and now even Truth Management (Garfinkel 2008-11/12).

Garfinkel claimed that “wikitruth” is true enough for most readers including journalists who use “wikiclaims” as background material.

Garfinkel distinguishes between the epistemological standards used in mathematics and science where legitimization of objective truth-claims are based on laws and observability in contrast to Wikipedia epistemology where “wikitruth”-claims are included as long as they are “verifiable.”

“The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.”

He raises a number of key issues about the dangers of a consensus view of knowledge-claims-about-a-thing. But these are fundamentally the same issues that anyone seriously wanting greater clarity on any topic would consider.

Who is naive enough today to trust truth claims from a single article on a controversial topic in even the most prestigious scientific, medical or technical journal?

I am sure I am not alone in reading their bibliographies first, selecting and reading some of their suggestions while seeking out the viewpoints of those who have made opposing truth claims.

If a person is serious about finding greater accuracy, surely she would find the most convincing and robust among the wiki sources to use as background. Wikipedia is not authoritative in itself nor does it claim to be, does it? I am pleased wiki does not allow original research. I wouldn’t cite a wiki-claim in an academic journal. (I would point to the wiki the way I would point to other links (indexicality) on my blog. It says, “This is interesting. Check it out.” I’m not claiming it is the Truth.)

But then most encyclopedias could not be expected to provide the most recent (post-printing) robust statements required for advanced academic research. That’s what researchers working on original research are meant to do on an ongoing basis. So it is always changing.

In reality the two processes are the same.

When we look at root causes of the current global economic crisis and compare it to crises in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s we can trace the unbridled power of truth claims made by economists like Milton Friedman to Sachs. Nations cut off the economic-social tails mercilessly, made draconian cuts to transform economies based on Free Market-Minimal Government-Invisible Hand theories that were called Truth. It is only with hindsight that we recognize the enormity of the social costs, the abysmal errors, the arrogance and giddy power on their faces from interviews in Argentina, Bolivia, Poland, USSR/Russia.

As we face the complete breakdown in U.S. credit markets even market experts like Alan Greenspan admitted his own errors in judgment in resisting regulations, we are witnessing an assault on truth claims that have enjoyed a hegemony since 1989 and on ontological certitude in the kingpin of western capitalism.

Who do you trust now?

I choose the wiki article among the first and work through their sources.

The ontology within a wiki-Web 2.0 zeitgeist resembles a pragmatic realism that acknowledges human limitations; a wiki, Web 2.0 epistemology looks more like a search for knowledge-to-enhance-understanding-about not Knowledge, various truth-claims-to-consider not Truth, a wiki, Web 2.0 methodologies are eclectic, open, technology-enhanced, shareable, collaborative; wiki Web 2.0 axiology incorporates some elements of trust and generosity.

The Virtual post-positivist philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view.

A compromise that is possible between positivism and relativism is to engage in inquiries as if reality, the Real, did exist while acknowledging human limitations in terms of our capacity to completely observe, analyze, measure, describe, comprehend or explain reality, the really Real.

Pragmatism can be seen as reasonable accommodation within inquiries about truth claims to allow for diversity in terms of ontology, epistemology, methodology, axiology and zeitgeist.


1. Wiki “The term ontology has its origin in philosophy, and has been applied in many different ways. The core meaning within computer science is a model for describing the world that consists of a set of types, properties, and relationship types. Exactly what is provided around these varies, but they are the essentials of an ontology. There is also generally an expectation that there be a close resemblance between the real world and the features of the model in an ontology.[3] What ontology has in common in both computer science and in philosophy is the representation of entities, ideas, and events, along with their properties and relations, according to a system of categories. In both fields, one finds considerable work on problems of ontological relativity (e.g., Quine and Kripke in philosophy, Sowa and Guarino in computer science)[4] and debates concerning whether a normative ontology is viable (e.g., debates over foundationalism in philosophy, debates over the Cyc project in AI). Differences between the two are largely matters of focus. Philosophers are less concerned with establishing fixed, controlled vocabularies than are researchers in computer science, while computer scientists are less involved in discussions of first principles (such as debating whether there are such things as fixed essences, or whether entities must be ontologically more primary than processes).”

2. With alarming frequency wikipedia has become the primary resource for Canadian students doing ‘research’ on such topics as Inuit culture, comparative economies of nation-states, etc. What are the longterm implications for civil society in the future with this embedded dependence on wiki-epistemology and wiki-ontology? How can we be informed as citizens if we do not take the long slow road to knowledge acquisition? What role do educators play in developing critical thinking in the wiki environment? Will we PowerPoint our way to the simplest descriptions of complex issues allowing the market and/or interest groups to sway our decisions in an effortless manner simply because we only had time for a wiki-analysis?

Bibliography and Webliography

Garfinkel, Simson L. 2008-11/12.“Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth: Why the online encyclopedia’s epistemology should worry those who care about traditional notions of accuracy.” Technology Review. MIT.

Garshol, Lars Marius. 2004-10-26. “Metadata? Thesauri? Taxonomies? Topic Maps! Making sense of it all.”

Felsenthal, Mark. 2008-10-23. “Greenspan “shocked” at credit system breakdown.” Reuters. Business and Finance.


It is informative to review Commanding Heights documentary on the frightening power and influence of economists from the Chicago School (University of Chicago) and Professor Sachs from Harvard University on world economics and world governance. The list of social problems stemming from past mistakes are eerily repeated in current economic chaos.

2 Responses to “Wiki-ontology, wiki-epistemology: is it Really Real?”

  1. choco Says:

    Nice Post, I have bookmarked your site and will return again

  2. […] to critically examining and evaluating sources. See also my October 24, 2008 post entitled “Wiki-ontology, wiki-epistemology: is it Really Real?“ Posted by Maureen Flynn-Burhoe Filed in Uncategorized Leave a Comment […]

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