On Academia, Industry and Assumed Value Neutrality

Reading Coleman et als’ paper, a useful piece examining VGI participants and their motivation, brought forth, for me, one of my bigger pet peeves: the idea of value-neutrality (and proficiency) within academia. Let me explain. In the list of motivations to contribute, the authors identify three negative motivations: mischief, agenda, and malice and/or criminal intent. While the article by no means classifies these motivations as specific to VGI, their placement sets them symbolically apart from that knowledege produced by experts. By positing these negative uses as illustrative of VGI as non-neutral, I read an assertion of value neutrality into the domain of experts.
I recognize that the rigourous demands of a publishing process cannot be ignored, and unquestionably account for a higher quality of data production within academic and professional realms. This does not mean that they are perfect, nor does it mean they are without agenda. Agenda is not always explicit, and I argue not always even conscious. However, the lay reader of an academic paper believes it to be value-neutral. All the while, VGI is seen as never trustworthy. Let us bring this to the domain of GIS.
We trust the professionals at Google maps and the peer-reviewed GIS paper, but not at OpenStreetMaps. Both producers and produsers have to make decisions when they input data. We know that in spatial representations, it is easy to lie and it is easy to produce hierarchies. In fact, it is difficult not to. The difference between VGI and professional GIS is that people expect the former to do so and the latter to abstain. However, Google has to make money, and the academic has to be published, and they can mold their data to this end, as can their editors and publishers. I guess what I’m asking in the end, is where can we make a useful critique of VGI that takes into account the unreliability of all data? How to we introduce accountablity into academia, industry or VGI?

On the question of mischief, well, that one happens too. See here



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