I was back at Wikipedia’s bioethics “talk” page this evening, looking for a quote someone had made about secular bioethicists being baby eating commies (or somesuch, it wasn’t that extreme, but only barely), and got to wondering if I am close enough to the discipline that I would be considered, by Wikipedia guidelines, to have a conflict of interest. So I asked Michael what he thought. His answer? I think you have too much valid information. Sadly, according to the CoI guidelines, he’s probably right and I probably do.
This is probably best for my blood pressure, though.
It does lead to an interesting question, though. How can Wikipedia be a place where experts contribute to the discussion with lay people, when experts are not allowed to participate in the creation of articles, because they have conflicts of interest by being in the field? Of course, in the CoI guidelines, they say that, for example, an expert on climate change is welcome to contribute to articles on that subject, even if that editor is deeply committed to it. However, it also specifically says that if you work with the people or institutions being talked about, you should probably not work on the page.
It might not be an issue if it were something like gardening, but bioethics is controversial. Just take a look at the talk page! Although it hasn’t been edited for a few years, it’s clear that the people discussing it are pretty divided.
And on top of it, as Crooked Timber noted a few weeks ago, you get into a situation where the expert does know more than the lay person, yet by Wikiepedia rules you have to keep both opinions there – and the laity has as much say as the expert. Don’t we have experts for a reason, though? I agree that they should be more accessible, but aren’t we doing everyone a disservice when we give the 17 year old high school student the same credence and weight of word as we give the person who’s been an expert in their field for 30 years?