by Emily Drabinski | Last week, when the San Diego Chargers’ Nate Kaeding missed three field goals in a playoff loss against the New York Jets that the Bolts were heavily favored to win, the Internet came alive with condemnation of the two-time Pro Bowler who, during the regular season, was pretty much automatic. On Wikipedia, that heavily favored scholarly source of so many students, Kaeding’s biography took particularly heavy hits. Contributors to his page, editable by any registered user, said that after storied high school and college careers, he went on to “becoming a failure in the NFL for costing the Chargers three playoff games,” his weight was changed to “0 and 3 he fuckin’ blows,” his two sons were renamed “Jackchoker” and “Wyattchoker,” and accounts of his personal life were riddled with jokes about his sexuality and inability to kill himself when it really mattered. If you look at Nate Kaeding’s Wikipedia entry today, a week after the loss, all of those angry, emotional edits from disappointed fans are gone, and Kaeding’s biography looks like that of any other NFL player’s–a narration of his career highlights, with lowlights noted but not excessively, with a brief gloss on his wife and kids.
While the conflict (mostly) proceeds in a more orderly fashion, most published work goes through a similar churn of editing, informed by the emotional, political, and intellectual arguments of writers and the peers that review them. The main difference is that in the case of Wikipedia, that process is laid bare for all to see on the ‘Talk’ page of each entry. As a Jets fan, I didn’t follow the Kaeding scandal while it was happening–here in Brooklyn, I was too amazed that we weren’t the team that choked this time–but I can follow it now and forever by reading the entry’s revision history. With scholarly communication, the final text is presented as authoritative, the drama that contributes to its production all but invisible, especially to a reader new to that discourse community, eg., most of our students.
A Wikipedia entry like this one can kick off a conversation about the nature of objectivity in other kinds of texts. The revision page is a rich text from which to draw conclusions about the kinds of things that motivate producers of information–emotional commitments to certain ideologies (Chargers rule), desire for objectivity (other users reverse vandalism of the page almost as quickly as it is made), unstated biases and prejudices (one of the worst things that can be said about Kaeding is that he prefers sex with other men), etc. After such a list has been generated, it might be applied to another text deemed authoritative in the classroom, giving students a way in to critical analysis of what can so often seem, in its stark and clean presentation on the page, simply the truth