Research:Wikipedia + Politics
This research project aims to understand collaboration within teams of diverse individuals. Given the increased political polarization in the United States and elsewhere, we are particularly interested in how team members' political diversity affects collaboration and its outcomes.
Using Wikipedia as a natural setting in which diverse editors co-create content, we would like to learn about editors' political preferences and their experiences in dealing with editors who share or don't share these preferences. Finally, we would like to examine whether these preferences and experiences affect, if at all, the edited pages.
This research is led by a team from several US universities:
- Feng "Bill" Shi, Odum Institute for Social Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Misha Teplitskiy, Innovation Science Lab, Harvard University
- James Evans, Department of Sociology | KnowledgeLab, University of Chicago
- Eamon Duede, Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science | KnowledgeLab, University of Chicago
Recent political events, including the 2016 presidential election, have underscored that the effects of political hyper-partisanship are not confined to political decision-making alone. A growing literature documents the various pathways through which individuals’ political preferences shape the consumption of non-political information generally, and science specifically . The findings of this literature have converged on an alarming narrative: news media and social networking platforms have promoted the formation of “echo chambers” that limit the variety of information that people see and come to believe, degrading the quality of individuals’ decisions , including those on which democratic institutions are based.
This literature on the deleterious effects that political polarization exerts on the consumption of knowledge contrasts starkly with the literature on the largely healthy effects that social diversity exerts on the production of knowledge. In a variety of cooperative contexts, social, ethnic, and gender diversity have been shown to improve the performance of teams and firms, contributing even more to performance than ability.
Despite plentiful research on how teams with diverse gender or racial composition perform, how politically polarized teams perform is unclear. The literature on knowledge consumption implies that political polarization may degrade the stocks of knowledge individuals bring to teams, destroying any potential benefits of diversity. The literature on knowledge production speculates otherwise. For instance, a report by the National Association of Scholars to the University of California system entitled “A Crisis of Competence” reports that in the homogeneously liberal academia a one-sided “[p]olitical activism will tend to promote shallow, superficial thinking that falls short of the analytical depth that we expect of the college-educated mind” (pg. 5).
This project consists of two parts:
- Survey to measure political preferences of a sample of editors of the English-language Wikipedia
- Statistical modelling of the relationship between team composition and article characteristics, particularly quality
The political composition of teams will be measured with the mean and variance of the political preferences of its members.
A sample of the survey questions can be found here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSftvvCdGGY07VL1R1O4JhwnOTHl8CyiFnn17gC6EeWgJj-2Bg/viewform?usp=sf_link
We aim to survey a set of 200-300 people who have edited Wikipedia pages related to politics and possibly other domains.
We piloted the survey in May 2017 and launched a first version of the full survey soon thereafter for a period of a few weeks. We conducted data analysis in early June 2017 and prepared a draft of the research for publication. As of April, 2018, we decided to conduct a small follow-up to the main, full survey, in an effort to improve validation of a measure in our study.
Policy, Ethics and Human Subjects Research
We are currently undergoing the review process with University of Chicago's Institutional Review Board (IRB) and will follow all ethical guidelines this board recommends. Survey responses will be used for research purposes only and any resulting publications will report aggregate data only or, if any quotes from the survey are used, they will be attributed to an "anonymous editor," never a specific individual.
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