Jason Flom has a very good brief post on 10 principles for the future of learning:
This is a good post that I'm not so much criticizing as using a springboard to illustrate a trend that I see with current epistemological thinking in popular culture: we are moving toward seeing collectively derived sources as authorities in preference to individuals, or we assume that we are moving away from reliance on authority sources. It seems as if a lot of people are viewing this as an unambiguously good thing. I'm not so sure. Culture is changing rapidly, but the evolved properties of the human nervous system don't necessarily change at the same rate, and I think there is no doubt that we do have stable social cognitive features that characterize us even when we switch technologies radically.
To me there is a classic dilemma regarding authority: we rely on it for accurate knowledge (because expertise is not evenly distributed!) and we can also be manipulated by it and rely on it too much. The currently popular philosophy of knowledge seems to be that we are sociallizing knowledge and that our intelligence and expertise are becoming a collective web of some sort. This abstract is certainly interesting and provocative, but really it is unlikely to be true at least in the near future.
The important features of individual minds don't scale to networks of humans (as far as I know!). Individual expertise and intelligence does not appear as a property of human social networks (again, AFAIK). Also, groups are subject to fallacies just as individuals are (this one I think is pretty well established in social psychology). Those fallacies just follow a different pattern.
Collective editing is not neccessarily self-correcting, it can amplify mistakes under various conditions.So we can't just make that dilemma of authority go away by saying that we are collectively the new authority source or that there is no more need for authoritative sources or pretending that social networks are themselves experts or that expertise is becoming more evenly distributed. It clearly is not.
As of right now, there are still a few people who know much more than nearly all others about each domain. I don't say that lightly. It's a fundamental scaling that results from the effort required to achieve true expertise in any domain. It's a result of expertise research, not political or social philosophy.
So I feel as if there is a serious but very common epistemological flaw of confusing wide dissemination of information with even distribution of expertise. The misused term "knowledge" seems to be used in this service, since we often carelessly use it to mean both information and expertise. Of course we should make use of collective sources like Wikipedia, but we should not make the further glib assumption that these can replace individual expertise.
That's why we really do need some of those criteria for making limited use of collectively derived sources. They don't neccessarily provide us with the best information for all uses, and our natural temptation is to just transfer credibility to them. We need to not only make better use of collectively derived sources but also transfer proportionately our critical thinking normative principles from individual authority to those collective sources and learn new principles for evaluating them.
Sometimes the crowd is wrong. And most of the time the crowd gets the least common denominator most right. That's probably good enough for a high school project, but not for serious scholarship. In my opinion. Thinking remains a property of individual minds, facilitated by the social network but not (God help us) replaced by it.