The "I" in this wiki

From Sustainability Methods

Using the first person is usually discouraged in scientific writing. In a nutshell, I disagree with this notion, and explain in this text, why we use the first person - both I and we - in this Wiki, and how you should read and understand this.

I perceive the norm of writing in a third person as a scientist as a clear indicator of the arrogance of science that is deeply rooted in the fallacy of positivism. By writing in the third person, many scientists claim they convey objective information that can be reproduced by anyone, while the first person humanises our work. I think that by clearly indicating something as our personal opinion or to be based on our personal experience we give the information more value, and not less. This is rooted in me defining myself as a critical realist. I think there is higher value information in ethics that help us make sense of the world and find meaning, and these are ontologically objective assumptions. However, when it comes to epistemological knowledge - and this is what sciences is mostly preoccupied with - I think we only have subjective information at our disposal.

Within this epistemological knowledge, I can clearly differentiate between activated observations that I made, and observations that are shared by the scientific community. For the latter, I would clearly use the third person. By doing this, I clearly acknowledge that our knowledge may change in the future, but there is a scientific canon that currently agrees on specific knowledge. An example of such knowledge would be the continuous development of life through evolution. Our knowledge about the mechanisms which we understand that are behind these processes still continuously change (consider for instance the impact of epigenetic on our lives). Still, we can widely agree that there are processes such as natural selection and mutations that drive the adaptation and further development of living organisms. I therefore think it is justified to say that science generally accepts evolution as the mechanisms behind the diversity of life. This is different from information that is conveyed by a sub-community within the wider arena of science. Altruism is a good example where you have basically two principal sub-communities: the scientists that view altruism as a trait of evolutions, and scientists who look for something beyond a mere kinship advantage perceived through altruism. I count myself to the latter group. I do no want to act altruistically because evolution tells me to, but look instead for higher reasons that are independent of my genes. Another example would be in statistics. I am more interested in parsimonious models, and many scientists would agree that these are preferable to full models. However, some researchers believe that full models - without any model reduction towards a parsimonious model - deserve our attention, and hence publish full models. I think within frequentist statistics, this approach is wrong. Consequently, when I say "we propose that model reduction is preferable to reporting full models", I mean myself and likeminded scientists. This is a deeply normative statement rooted in my experience and the experience of other scientist, and therefore ideally deserves further explanation. Consequently, I might write something to the end of "by avoiding p-values and building my model reduction on AIC values, the reported statistic model are more robust under the criteria of parsimony".

The use of third person is to me a great destroyer of scientific discourse since it makes the way we conduct discourse less precise. I think the scientific community made a grave mistake when it shifted to the third voice almost exclusively, since this took away any possibility to clearly indicate whether you speak of widely accepted knowledge, knowledge accepted by a specific community, or your own experience. The last sentences are all written in the first person, because I wrote down my opinion. It is "I" who has this opinion, and while I am sure and even vaguely know that I am not the only person that has this opinion, the norms of the scientific community widely reject my opinion. I have no precise knowledge about other scientists who share my opinion. Hence I verbalised a new thought, and this deserves the first person. It is I who has this thought, and I offer this thought to the scientific community as a basis for discourse.

To summarise, this wiki will use three different perspectives in terms of statements. The widest most general agreement includes knowledge that is accepted by the majority of scientists - written in the third person. The second category is knowledge by a scientific sub community - "we". The third - innermost - category is knowledge that is proclaimed by me as a curator of this Wiki, on this Wiki, marked by "I". All three categories are normative, since the knowledge within all three categories may change.