Crowdsourcing as academic methodology
Modern information and communications technology has allowed large groups of people in locations around the globe to participate collective analysis and debate. The best known product of this approach is Wikipedia, which publishes information online that is written and edited by anyone who chooses to do so, expert of otherwise. While academics often advise caution in the use of such collective work as source material, it is clear that Wikipedia has become the reference of choice for people in all walks of life, including members of the academy itself.
Now researchers from George Mason University are assessing the use of non-expert crowds in making judgements about the likelihood or nature of future events. The initial context for this research is intelligence analysis, but there may be scope for the development of crowdsourcing as a research method in other contexts as well. The initial assumption is that large numbers of people, even those without advanced expertise in the subject, can when their views are taken together make more accurate judgments on certain topics than smaller groups of specialists. Such methods are unlikely to find a cure for cancer, but they may be useful in gaining political or other social science insights.
It is not that academic study is set to become a giant ‘ask-the-audience’ exercise, but larger groups contain both wisdom and knowledge that can be tapped more effectively. It is at any rate worth some analysis.