Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Crowd Science and the Knowledge Commons

In a recent article published in the Times Literary Supplement, "What are Universities For?" (7 May 2010) Keith Thomas defends the British university system from the threat of cuts and changes by arguing that:

"From medieval seminary to the consultancy campus, universities have served the needs of society..." and that "the humanities offer an indispensable antidote to the vices which inevitably afflict a democratic, capitalist society. They counter the dumbing down of the media by asserting the complexity of things; and they challenge the evasiveness and mendacity of politicians by placing a premium on intellectual honesty".

Like many other recent defences of Academia, Keith's argument will not sustain the universities because it fails to offer any real vision of the future role of the universities within society, other than a continuation of their current role as gatekeepers for privilege, definers and guardians of what consitutes 'knowledge', accomplices in military research, manufacturers of consent, and seedbed for profit-driven technologies.

Yet there is a real opportunity for universities to transform themselves into the beating heart of a new knowledge commons, to work with people in the whole community rather than link themselves to the privileged elites commerce, industry, media and the state. Just a hint of what might be achieved is seen in this recent article "Crowd Science Reaches New Heights", published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.