February 16 2005
Thinking more about Wikipedia, and the kind of content disputes that seem to demarcate in terms of specialist/expert vs non-specialist/layman, led me to wonder whether there was more to it than that.
To me, one of the most fascinating things about the evolution of Wikipedia has been the emergence of an interface that reflects disputes and ruptures within existing knowledge. It would be all too easy to dismiss these effects as the ineviatable migration of usenet trolls and mailing list malcontents. But maybe there's another phenomenon in effect?
Wikipedia editing is based on a notion of the 'ideal point of view', where the construction of an article should bring no information with it from which to reconstruct the writer's point of view. This view runs screaming into oblivion when faced with an entry like Loop Quantum Gravity.
This isn't a problem with experts vs generalists, it's a problem with points of view clashing with facts. Or what fact is and isn't allowed to be. The essence of the problem is whether or not Loop Quantum Gravity can be declared a competitor to String Theory in terms of a unification of relativity and quantum gravity. String Theorists believe that there are no competing theories to String Theory. Therefore, mu. In this situation, it's impossible for objections and explanations to aspire to standards of neutrality - what is being disputed is the way basic language itself can and should be used. The most important thing that's missing in all this is a sense of humour. But it goes much further than that...
If you consider the halmark of a reliable scientific claim to be based on falsifiability, it seems the present obsession of particle physics is oddly inverted: The mass of fundamental particles can only be explained with recourse to a virtual object known as the Higgs Boson. It was invented to explain the masses of the fundamental particles. Critics of modern physics will point to the fact that the Higgs Boson has not been observably verified. In answer to this, the basic position of experimental particle physics is "not yet". Science proceeds, ad infinitum.
So while billions of dollars continue to be pumped into the hunt for the eponymous Higgs, there are still significant outstanding anomalies relating to gravity that have originated from physical observations, yet are incompatible with the predictive structure of currently accepted theories. But the scientists engaged in the completion of the grandiose architectural symphony can simply refuse to listen...