A Credible Wiki?

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, speaking with CNET this month, spoke about his new project: Citizendium (short for Citizens’ Compendium).  It differs from Wikipedia in that it “abolishes posting on wikis anonymously, brings in experts to edit submissions, and enforces strict reviewing procedures.”  Money Quote:

Well there’s a lot of different views that people take about the credibility of experts per se, right? I mean, I myself (don’t get) all gaga over someone simply because he or she has got a Ph.D. I think, however, that the fact that someone has credentials of various sorts–not just degrees–is an indicator that they know unusual amounts about very specific subjects. So really, the question here is why should anybody think that people that are considered by society as experts are really credible or reliable? That’s a question for each of us to answer, I think, on our own. If it has to come down to my believing someone when someone writes something on a Web site, I would rather believe someone who has made it his or her life work to study something than someone who’s read a single book on the subject written by that expert.  

This could be interesting.  A few months ago we saw the start of Conservapedia, which was the conservatives’ response to Wiki, which is considered “far too liberal.”  I don’t necessarily agree with that judgement–I don’t think Wiki is necessarily liberal or conservative at all.  Just highly, highly unreliable because anyone with a keyboard and an opinion can post it as fact.  Remember Stephen Colbert’s entries he did while on the air, removing all references to George Washington owning slaves?

05opart-large.jpgRegardless of your political disposition, this could seriously effect the discourse among bloggers and commenters.  As I myself have experienced, what one person considers a reliable source, another often considers biased or just plain unreliable.  Oftentimes it leads us through the meandering path illustrated in the pic on the left, from the NYTimes (click for larger version):  

Now imagine a universally respected resource that would put everyone on level ground where arguments can stand on their own merit, not on disputed sources. 

There I go dreaming again. 

But Citizendium appears to have its uses nonetheless, foremost among them (in my never humble opinion) its potential as a reliable source for students and teachers alike.  An on-site Essay, “Why the Citizendium Will (Probably) Succeed” sums it up nicely: Citizendium has grown directly out of Wikipedia’s credibility problems. 

Every plugged-in student and researcher in the world has been given a giant “encyclopedia” that, despite lacking authoritativeness, is just so darned useful that it seems inefficient to consult anything else.  

Unlike Wikipedia, Citizendium’s search for credibility is the driving force, and relying on experts to provide the info instead of any John Doe on the street has to be good.

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3 thoughts on “A Credible Wiki?

  1. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, some topics in the original Wikipedia are pretty much reaching their saturation point as a source of knowledge. Information we can all agree on is neccessarily scarce. On the other hand, shutting out the casual user smacks of elitism.

    Initially, one of the joys with Wikipedia was that it was completely democratic. Anyone could edit and un-edit the content. And the idea was that self-policing would limit any truly serious misinformation on the site. But as the articles got more complex, large cracks began appearing. Controversial topics have become more a battleground for wits (and voters) than actual forums of scientific discussion. Witness the chaos the “evolution”, “racism”, and “homosexuality” articles have created, for instance.

    But for all the problems, Wikipedia was (and is) uniquely open-ended. With this new “experts only” online encyclopedia, I don’t know how it would be any different from reading any number of other encyclopedias and journals produced by academics.

  2. Well, what’s wrong with having a free authoritative, factual encyclopedia in addition to Wiki? As long as one knows the difference, they can both be utilized–but Wiki is really more of a compendium of viewpoints, not facts per se. Which is useful for many things, but not certain scholarly endeavors.

    Although I would favor people digging out some paper books once in a while . . .

  3. I doubt the new site will be seen as authoritative, Jamie.

    If anything, I’m sure this new factual encyclopedia will have the very sort of academic bias conservatives seem to go apeshit over. At least with Wikipedia, the right can try and argue their alternative viewpoint in an open forum. Now, they’ll cry “bloody murder” and “censorship” and “Stalinism” until they’re blue in the face. It’ll be seen as a liberal power grab and/or legitimation attempt.

    Now, I don’t object to having this new resource per se. But I do think, in some sense, it is not a step forward for Wiki’s stated principles of free communication and consensus-building. Perhaps, it’s a step sideways at best.

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