Elena Falco (2018 Cohort)

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About me: With my PhD, I’m coming back to academia after a long hiatus, during which I have worked in journalism and science publishing. My last job has been at the Royal Society.

I started my university education by studying Neuropsychology, only to discover that my interests mainly lay in the conditions that allow knowing the mind in the first place; that’s when I decided to turn to philosophy. I have a BA and an MA in Philosophy, focussing on the philosophy of science. I grew up in Italy, spent some time in Denmark and finally landed in London in 2012.

My research: My project focusses on the collective production of knowledge, using Wikipedia (and its less-known little sister, Citizendium) as a case study. Wikipedia (and Citizendium) pages are the result of the interaction between editors. This interaction takes the form of debate, available on “Talk” pages, and other mechanisms (such as “edit wars”, during which the same piece of information is changed back and forth by opposing factions).

This activity happens within the constraints of the wikis’ policies and platform design. The final product, the page, is a dynamic artefact, which changes over time, and whose fluidity depends on the controversies simmering under the surface. With my research, I aim to make sense of these processes, and tease out any ethical issues related to them.

The difference my research makes: Wikipedia pages are the building blocks of a worldview which is presented to readers as an objective description of reality. They are also the most readily-available source of information for a large part of the world population. Such a widely-used reference tool can be extremely influential, and deserves scrutiny. A better understanding of the way it works, and a careful examination from an ethical point of view, can inform policy and foster improvements in the design of wiki platforms. Ultimately, my work aims at making crowdsourced knowledge fairer, more inclusive, and more reliable.

This project can also be a stepping stone for further research into other digital tools for the production of knowledge, by establishing a methodology that can be transferred to other platforms, such as peer-review systems and digital repositories.

Supervisors: Dr Jack Stilgoe and Dr Phyllis Illari

Pathway: Science and Techonology Studies

Location: UCL Science and Technology Studies Department

Email: ucrhefa@ucl.ac.uk

Twitter: @lele_falco