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« Facebook's Privacy Triumph: Stealth, Secrecy, and Melodrama | Main | Larry Sanger on me on Citizendium »

September 18, 2006

Larry Sanger, Citizendium, and the Problem of Expertise

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Posted by Clay Shirky

The interesting thing about Citizendium, Larry Sanger’s proposed fork of Wikipedia designed to add expert review, is how consistent Sanger has been about his beliefs over the last 5 years. I’ve been reviewing the literature from the dawn of Wikipedia, born from the failure of the process-laden and expert-driven Nupedia, and from then to now, Sanger’s published opinions seem based on three beliefs:

1. Experts are a special category of people, who can be readily recognized within their domains of expertise.
2. A process of open creation in which experts are deferred to as of right will be superior to one in which they are given no special treatment.
3. Once experts are identified, that deference will mainly be a product of moral suasion, and the only place authority will need to intrude are edge cases.

All three beliefs are false.

There are a number of structural issues with Citizendium, many related to the question of motivation on the part of the putative editors; these will probably prove quickly fatal. More interesting to me, though, is is the worldview behind Sanger’s attitude towards expertise, and why it is a bad fit for this kind of work. Reading the Citizendium manifesto, two things jump out: his faith in experts as a robust and largely context-free category of people, and his belief that authority can exist largely free of expensive enforcement. Sanger wants to believe that expertise can survive just fine outside institutional frameworks, and that Wikipedia is the anomaly. It can’t, and it isn’t.

Experts Don’t Exist Independent of Institutions

Sanger’s core animating belief seems to be a faith in experts. He took great care to invite experts to the Nupedia Advisory Board, and he has consistently lamented that Wikipedia offers no special prerogatives for expert review, and no special defenses against subsequent editing of material written by experts. Much of his writing, and the core of Citizendium, is based on assumptions about how experts should be involved in a project like this.

The problem Citizendium faces is that experts are social facts — society typically recognizes experts through some process of credentialling, such as the granting of degrees, professional certifications, or institutional engagement. We have a sense of what it means that someone is a doctor, a judge, an architect, or a priest, but these facts are only facts because we agree they are. If I say “I sentence you to 45 days in jail”, nothing happens. If a judge says “I sentence you to 45 days in jail”, in a court of law, dozens of people will make it their business to act on that imperative, from the bailiff to the warden to the prison guards. My words are the same as the judges, but the judge occupies a position of authority that gives his words an effect mine lack, an authority only exists because enough people agree that it does.

Sanger’s view seems to be that expertise is a quality like height — some people are obviously taller than others, and the rest of us have no problem recognizing who the tall people are. But expertise isn’t like that at all; it is in fact highly subject to shifts in context. A lawyer from New York can’t practice in California without passing the bar there. A surgeon from India can’t operate on a patient in the US without further certification. The UN representative from Yugoslavia went away when Yugoslavia did, and so on.

As a result, you cannot have expertise without institutional overhead, and institutional overhead is what stifled Nupedia, and what will stifle Citizendium. Sanger is aware of this challenge, and offers mollifying details:

[…]we will be posting a list of credentials suitable for editorship. (We have not constructed this list yet, but we will post a draft in the next few weeks. A Ph.D. will be neither necessary nor sufficient for editorship.) Contributors may then look at the list and make the judgment themselves whether, essentially, their CVs qualify them as editors. They may then go to the wiki, place a link to their CV on their user page, and declare themselves to be editors. Since this declaration must be made publicly on the wiki, and credentials must be verifiable online via links on user pages, it will be very easy for the community to spot false claims to editorship.


We will also no doubt need a process where people who do not have the credentials are allowed to become editors, and where (in unusual cases) people who have the credentials are removed as editors.

Sanger et al. set the bar for editorship, editors self-certify, then, in order to get around the problems this will create, there will be an additional certification and de-certification process internal to the site. On Citizendium, if you are competent but uncredentialed, you will have to be vetted before you are allowed to ascend to the editor’s chair, and if you are credentialed but incompetent, you’re in until decertification. And, critically, Sanger expects that decertification will only take place in unusual cases.

This is wrong; policing certification will be a common case, and a huge time-sink. If there is a value to being an expert, people will self-certify to get at that value, not matter what their credentials. The editor-in-chief will then have to spend considerable time monitoring that process, and most of that time will be spent fighting about edge cases.

Sanger himself experienced this in his fight with Cunctator at the dawn of Wikipedia; Cunc questioned Sanger’s authority, leading Sanger to defend it with increasing vigor. As Sanger said at the time “…in order to preserve my time and sanity, I have to act like an autocrat. In a way, I am being trained to act like an autocrat.” Sanger’s authority at Wikipedia required his demonstrating it, yet this very demonstration made his job harder, and ultimately untenable. This the common case; as any parent can tell you, exercise of presumptive authority creates the conditions under which it is tested. As a result, Citizendium will re-create the core failure of Nupedia, namely putting at the center of the effort a process whose maintenance takes more energy than can be mustered by a volunteer project.

“We’re a Warm And Fuzzy Hierarchy”: The Costs of Enforcement

In addition to his misplaced faith in the rugged condition of expertise, Sanger also underestimates the costs of setting up and then enforcing a process that divides experts from the rest of us. Curiously, this underestimation seems to be borne of a belief that most of the world shares his views on the appropriate deference to expertise:

Can you really expect headstrong Wikipedia types to work under the guidance of expert types in this way?

Probably not. But then, the Citizendium will not be Wikipedia. We do expect people who have proper respect for expertise, for knowledge hard gained, to love the opportunity to work alongside editors. Imagine yourself as a college student who had the opportunity to work alongside, and under the loose and gentle direction of, your professors. This isn’t going to be a top-down, command-and-control system. It is merely a sensible community: one where the people who have made it their life’s work to study certain areas are given a certain appropriate authority—without thereby converting the community into a traditional top-down academic editorial scheme.

Well, can you expect the experts to want to work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with nonexperts?

Yes, because some already do on Wikipedia. Furthermore, they will have an incentive to work in this project, because when it comes to content—i.e., what the experts really care about—they will be in charge.

These passages evince a wounded sense of purpose: Experts are real, and it is only sensible and proper that they be given an appropriate amount of authority. The totality of the normative view on display here is made more striking because Sanger never reveals the source of these judgments. “Sensible” according to whom? How much authority is “appropriate”? How much control is implied by being “in charge”, and what happens when that control is abused?

These responses are also mutually contradictory. Citizendium, the manifesto claims, will not be a traditional top-down academic scheme, but experts will be in charge of the content. The only way experts can be in charge without top-down imposition is if every participant internalizes respect for authority to the point that it is never challenged in the first place. One need allude only lightly to the history of social software since at least Communitree to note that this condition is vanishingly rare.

Citizendium is based less on a system of supportable governance than on the belief that such governance will not be necessary, except in rare cases. Real experts will self-certify; rank-and-file participants will be delighted to work alongside them; when disputes arise, the expert view will prevail; and all of this will proceed under a process that is lightweight and harmonious. All of this will come to naught when the citizens rankle at the reflexive deference to editors; in reaction, they will debauch self-certification (leading to irc-style chanop wars), contest expert preogatives, rasing the cost of review to unsupportable levels (Wikitorial, round II,) take to distributed protest (q.v. Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf), or simply opt-out (Nupedia in a nutshell.)

The “U”-Curve of Organization and the Mechanisms of Deference

Sanger is an incrementalist, and assumes that the current institutional framework for credentialling experts and giving them authority can largely be preserved in a process that is open and communally supported. The problem with incrementalism is that the very costs of being an institution, with the significant overhead of process, creates a U curve — it’s good to be a functioning hierarchy, and its good to be a functioning community with a core group, but most of the hybrids are less fit than either of the end points.

The philosophical issue here is one of deference. Citizendium is intended to improve on Wikipedia by adding a mechanism for deference, but Wikipedia already has a mechanism for deference — survival of edits. I recently re-wrote the conceptual recipe for a Menger Sponge, and my edits have survived, so far. The community has deferred not to me, but to my contribution, and that deference is both negative (not edited so far) and provisional (can always be edited.)

Deference, on Citizendium will be for people, not contributions, and will rely on external credentials, a priori certification, and institutional enforcement. Deference, on Wikipedia, is for contributions, not people, and relies on behavior on Wikipedia itself, post hoc examination, and peer-review. Sanger believes that Wikipedia goes too far in its disrespect of experts; what killed Nupedia and will kill Citizendium is that they won’t go far enough.

Comments (34) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


COMMENTS

1. James Grimmelmann on September 18, 2006 2:39 PM writes...

Note also that since Wikipedia and Citizendium use the same license (GNU FDL), it will be trivial to synchronize content back and forth between the two. I wouldn't expect Wikipedia to be systematically biased against information gathered and vetted on Citizendium; that's what deference to contributions rather than people is all about. Result, any noncontroversial areas in which the Citizendium excels will quite quickly result in Wikipedia rapidly rising to the same level of excellence. Citizendium's design makes the reverse less likely to happen.

To understand the rapid success of Wikipedia, realize that (with a little more work, involving the copying of ideas and facts, rather than particular expressions), it stands in this same relation to every other possible source of knowledge.

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2. Eric Finchley on September 18, 2006 3:40 PM writes...

I disagree with your comments on expertise. It seems to me that you are conflating expertise and authority. A judge has a socially constructed authority to pronounce sentence, just as an opinion commentator has the authority to write for a diverse audience in a national newspaper. But we haven't said anything about their expertise here.

Another example: cardiac surgery. Are you suggesting that the reason a cardiac surgeon is allowed to operate is entirely socially constructed? Surely such an individual has a fairly unique set of abilities, expertise, in this domain. The reason we don't allow Indian MDs to do this without review is to verify that such a person has the skills and knowledge to be operating successfully -- that is, that they are an expert. Now, those standards may be social facts, but in most cases they are reasonable and necessary.

Having said that, I still agree with the premise that his new project will have difficulty succeeding - if only because the motivation for real experts to participate is fairly low.

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3. Clay on September 18, 2006 4:13 PM writes...

You're right; I should have been clearer that I'm talking about the distinction between having expertise and being an expert. The latter category is where issues of authority come in, and what seems to get Sanger worked up is his belief that the overlap of expertise and experts is large.

And of course social facts are both reasonable and necessary in many circumstances. The reason we allow a cardiac surgeon to perform such surgery is a social fact, but it exists as a way of assuring that the person in whom the authority is vested has been trained. When an incompetent cardiac surgeon performs, that act happens at exactly the juncture where such systems are buggy.

To say that many, even most social facts are reasonable and necessary, though, says nothing about this particular case. One of the things that is so good about the literature Sanger has created over the years is that he has dramatized the expectation that Wikipedia will fail due to lack of expertise, making its success illustrative.

My belief is that Wikipedia's success dramatizes instead a change in the nature of authority, moving from trust inhering in guarantees offered by institutions to probabilities created by processes.

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4. Larry Sanger on September 18, 2006 4:42 PM writes...

Clay, interesting, but ultimately wrongheaded. I will take the time to reply in depth on my own website. Give me a day or two.

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5. Larry Sanger on September 18, 2006 5:29 PM writes...

On second thought, Clay, if you're willing to post my reply I'd like to put it on many2many. :-)

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6. Phil on September 19, 2006 4:11 AM writes...

Sanger also underestimates the costs of setting up and then enforcing a process that divides experts from the rest of us. Curiously, this underestimation seems to be borne of a belief that most of the world shares his views on the appropriate deference to expertise

Well, no, it's not. It's based on the belief that some people share those views (which is correct) and the hope that enough people share those views to make Citizendium viable. You apparently don't; I do. Why not just welcome the fork?

Setting aside the (rather feeble) attempt to take down the notion of expertise, all I'm really getting from this piece is that you think the community dynamics which have made Wikipedia what it is today will wreck Citizendium. Which may be true - but if, like me, you think that what Wikipedia is today is "partially broken" (not least by the effects of its own procedures and hierarchies), then it's worth a small bet on the Citizendium community evolving differently, and on Citizendium-the-resource surviving and flourishing.

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7. Paul B. Hartzog on September 19, 2006 10:21 AM writes...

Citizendium and Wikipedia both have the same issues, i.e. increasing editorialism.

You might want to see my post @ OnTheCommons.org on The Knowledge Commons: Getting It Right.

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8. Paul B. Hartzog on September 19, 2006 10:24 AM writes...

Citizendium and Wikipedia both have the same issues, i.e. increasing editorialism.

You might want to see my post @ OnTheCommons.org on The Knowledge Commons: Getting It Right.

Permalink to Comment

9. David Berry on September 19, 2006 12:34 PM writes...

This is a very interesting argument but I think you overplay the socially constructed nature of authority and expertise and underplay the obduracy of expertise-reinforcing institutional outputs (such as PhD certificates etc). So, I agree that indeed they are social facts, but "expertise" is also manifested in concrete objects in the world which prescribe back on us a particular preferred social network organisation. In other words, experts are experts due to a network of human and non-human actants.

In any case, I would suggest that Sanger might move to a system of peer-review whereby rather than self-certify (a crazy idea and subject to all sorts of problems and policing issues), he allow the body of users to certify each other. This is rather like a "web of trust" network and providing a policing policy is also in place to decertify vandals and incompetents, would allow the network of users to provide a vote of certification. So he could set the ball rolling and certify those he trusts as 'experts' and then they could be given the power to certify others. Naturally, there could be a required minimum of certification (i.e. three other experts and a defined period of editorial work on the Wiki) to allow you access to certify others. You could also envisage an apprenticeship level for recently promoted editors and a named superviser to help/monitor at first.

It might be slower to get the expert network rolling, but at least it would be more likely to avoid the problems outlined in this article.

Of course, there is still the question of motivation - or why would I get out of bed in the morning to edit a wiki - but that's another question ;-)

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10. Clay on September 20, 2006 11:02 AM writes...

Phil says:

Well, no, it's not. It's based on the belief that some people share those views (which is correct) and the hope that enough people share those views to make Citizendium viable. You apparently don't; I do. Why not just welcome the fork?

The bet on the success of Citizendium is based on the belief that intersection of "People who want to edit Citizendium and people who share the project's goal of deference to expertise" will be large enough to get the project to take off and large enough to defend the project against non-deferential contributors. In practical terms, I don't think either is the case.

I stand by the claim, though, that the manifesto is not written in the language of that sort of calculation. Sanger could have couched the invite in normative-free terms -- "However many of there are, we can get together to do something valuable." He didn't. Instead, by calling that behavior sensible, appropriate, and so on, he judges deference to authority to be the normal state of affairs.

As for welcoming the fork, I welcome the fork. Why not? There's nothing wrong with trying new things.

That doesn't, however, mean I have to give it even odds of succeeding. In fact, by noting in advance that my principles lead me to believe that its failure is inevitable and will fall along predictable lines, I'm putting my principles to the test, something you're not doing (or at least not linking to from here.) If I'm right, Citizendium's failure will be more informative than just another project that didn't get off the ground, and if I'm wrong, it will be sad for me, but good for the community, in that my views will be discredited.

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11. Seth Finkelstein on September 20, 2006 12:38 PM writes...

Regarding: "My belief is that Wikipedia's success dramatizes instead a change in the nature of authority, moving from trust inhering in guarantees offered by institutions to probabilities created by processes."

I suggest this is conflating many different things:

1) Why Wikipedia hasn't flamed-out. The reason for this, as you yourself have pointed out elsewhere, is that it in fact *doesn't* have quite the sort of complete openness as myth would have it. It closes-off and has structure in ways precisely to fight off the sorts things that would cause it to flame-out (and has been pretty successful in not having this interfere with its mythology).

2) Why people give it authority. The answer to that is "truthiness".

What I think is often missed is that Wikipedia is itself an *institution*, though a pretty poor one by general acedemic standards. But it's also one which casts itself as an anarchy, and both sides have a lot of incentive to use that mythology - Wikipedia because that's the source of a lot of its appeal, and academia because that lets it avoid examining how Wikipedia functions by kind of a distillation of the worst aspects of academic institutions (no pay, and motivation from lording status over lower-down members, as well as exploiting people's idealism for the life of the mind).

Permalink to Comment

12. Daniel Haran on September 20, 2006 1:56 PM writes...

To me the important questions are:

- Can they get Google Juice (links)
- Can they monetize (advertising?)
- Can they find experts?

If they sync with wikipedia, citizendium will be a safer link: You know people visiting it will have a non-vandalized page.

Money certainly helps finance institutions and credentialing, so the question of monetizing is important. This may not be such a crazy idea.

Permalink to Comment

13. John Mark Ockerbloom on September 20, 2006 3:54 PM writes...

I also have some doubts about how well Citizendium will work out, though I'd be delighted to have those doubts proven wrong, as many of my initial doubts about Wikipedia were. (Wikipedia has its share of problems, but in practice it has worked a lot better than I initially expected it to.)

But it would be interesting to see people's criteria on how we could tell whether or not it succeeds (especially Clay's and Larry's), at least beyond the level of "the servers are still up and running".

One set of measures might be: How many articles have been forked from WP (instead of just being copies of WP)? And how does the quality of a random selection of those articles compare with the same articles on WP?

But a simple side-by-side comparison might not work all that well, since, as one earlier poster suggested, I'd imagine that if both resources do reasonably well, it will be fairly common for content to migrate from one site to the other.

Googlejuice, which one other commenter suggested, might be another measure, though web pages that have been around for a while tend to get noticeably better ranks than newer pages, all else being equal, since they've had a longer time to collect inbound links. On the other hand, if the neewer CZ pages start getting commonly ranked above WP pages on the same topics, that might be a strong hint that the project is "working" in the sense of attracting favorable attention.

Of course, one could also measure the success of Citizendium in terms of its own stated preferences, which might be something like "what do 'experts' think about the usefulness CZ and WP when asked about them?" There may be different opinions on how important this criterion is, but it is measurable by suitable polling practices, and may at least show whether the project serves the ends of its primary target community.

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14. David Gerard on September 20, 2006 5:02 PM writes...

Yeah. It makes me wonder how Sanger has managed in academia never, ever to meet people who are clearly experts but who are also clearly dickheads no sane person would ever want to work with a second longer than necessary. It's entirely unclear why expert dickheads with credentials up to here would be any more pleasant to work with as a volunteer than plain regular dickheads are.

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15. Larry Sanger on September 20, 2006 6:17 PM writes...

"It makes me wonder how Sanger has managed in academia never, ever to meet people who are clearly experts but who are also clearly dickheads no sane person would ever want to work with a second longer than necessary."

Why do you think I decided to leave academia (over the years, several times)?

I hold no brief for academia per se. Someday I may explain why I never got into it more deeply than I have (it's not just laziness--I read and write voluminously). But I recognize that academia is where the action is, to a great extent, when it comes to knowing stuff.

Permalink to Comment

16. Larry Sanger on September 20, 2006 6:18 PM writes...

Clay has kindly posted my reply to him.

Permalink to Comment

17. Phil on September 21, 2006 3:18 AM writes...

I'm putting my principles to the test, something you're not doing

I'm not predicting that Citizendium will succeed! for the simple reason that I've no idea whether it will or not. It may fail for a dozen different reasons, including the one you suggest. What I will say is that I don't believe it's doomed to fail - and that I hope it succeeds.

Permalink to Comment

18. David Gerard on September 21, 2006 5:07 AM writes...

"Why do you think I decided to leave academia (over the years, several times)?"

Heh, fair enough ;-)

I do observe, though, that those experts who seem to protest the most on Wikipedia are those who don't seem so good at working with others in any case. And Wikipedia makes SEVERE demands on one's ability to work with others - that is, working productively with people you consider complete blithering idiots is actually not optional.

That is, the problems claimed for experts on Wikipedia (a) are problems with working with people (b) may be much more difficult to avoid than you think.

Permalink to Comment

19. Joe Clark on September 21, 2006 1:53 PM writes...

Well, OK, Clay, what’s your solution to the known and real problem of Wikipedia jackasses editing out the additions of *genuine experts*? Even you agree they exist, if only as a social construct. (You really should stay out of the realm of poststructuralism, but let’s leave that till another day.) We need a solution from you to the problem of nonexperts editing, effacing, or reverting experts’ contributions, usually because they don’t know what they don’t know or simply have a problem with expertise.

Really. We need your solution. Because you obviously don’t like what Singer is doing to solve it.

Permalink to Comment

20. Clay on September 21, 2006 2:57 PM writes...

It's not that I don't like what Sanger is trying, it's that it won't work, because Sanger overestimates the native level of deference possible in open environments and underestimates the cost of governance.

As for my suggestions, the solution to bad edits is good edits. Framing the problem in terms of genuine experts vs. jackasses wrongly presumes that those categories are observer-independent and non-overlapping.

Permalink to Comment

21. Brian W on September 22, 2006 2:26 AM writes...

I thought it was quite clear that Clay was not doubting the real existence of expertise. The point is that, were two people to disagree about who is an expert, you can't just wave a magic wand to reveal who is right. A test could be administered, but then you're just deferring the argument to the devising of the test. Quite simply, people will argue about anything, especially when status is involved.

The particular problem I forsee is domain disputes between experts because a good number of experts have a hard time recognizing the limits of their expertise. Experts tend to be opinionated people, many of whom discount whole other recognized areas of expertise as non-sense (my own object of derision is management theory; a few of you on here seem to feel that way about schools of critical theory).

Even within a well-defined boundary of expertise, there's plenty of room for vicious disagreement. As Clay points out, edge cases can suck up a critical amount of energy of a project.

Even if Sanger demands vetting up front before you can do any editing, these problems will exist because argumentative experts are the experts that the project will most attract.

I do wish WP would be more willing to at least experiment with more formal processes, and hopefully Sanger's project will come up with at least one good idea. But:

1) if Sanger succeeds, the forked content and/or process will find its way back to the main fork; 2) Sanger's plan, as currently described, won't succeed.

Hopefully, Sanger will at the very least attract an early group experts who will quickly modify the plan for the better. For this to happen, the initial group must include non-Wikipedians and current Wikipedians while minimizing the number of disaffected former-Wikipedians (like Sanger himself), too many of whom seem to blindly fixate on avenging those morons who blemished, criticized, or reverted their hard work.

Permalink to Comment

22. David Gerard on September 22, 2006 7:08 AM writes...

Plenty of people complain of Wikipedia's alleged "anti-expert bias". I've yet to see solid evidence of it. Unless "expert-neutral" is conflated to mean "anti-expert." Wikipedia is expert-neutral - experts don't get a free ride. Which is annoying when you know something but are required to show your working, but is giving us a much better-referenced work.

One thing the claims of "anti-expert bias" fail to explain is: there's lots of experts who do edit Wikipedia. If Wikipedia is so very hostile to experts, you need to explain their presence.

Permalink to Comment

23. engineer_scotty on September 22, 2006 1:19 PM writes...

I've been studying the so-called "expert problem" on Wikipedia--and I'm becoming more and more convinced that it isn't and expert problem per se; it is a jackass problem. As in some Wikipedians are utter jackasses--in this context, "jackass" is an umbrella category for a wide variety of problem behaviors which are contrary to Wikipedia policy--POV pushing, advocacy of dubious theories, vandalism, abusive behavior, etc. Wikipedia policy is reasonably good at dealing with vandalism, abusive behavior and incivility (too good, some think, as WP:NPA occasionally results in good editors getting blocked for wielding the occasional cluestick 'gainst idiots who sorely need it). It isn't currently good at dealing with POV-pushers and crackpots whose edits are civil but unscholarly, and who repeatedly insert dubious material into the encyclopedia. Recent policy proposals are designed to address this.

Many experts who have left, or otherwise have expressed dissatisfaction with Wikipedia, fall into two categories: Those who have had repeated bad experiences dealing with jackassses, and are frustrated by Wikipedia's inability to restrain said jackasses; and those who themselves are jackasses. Wikipedia has seen several recent incidents, including one this month, where notable scientists have joined the project and engaged in patterns of edits which demonstrated utter contempt for other editors of the encyclopedia (many of whom were also PhD-holding scientists, though lesser known), attempted to "own" pages, attempted to portray conjecture or unpublished research as fact, or have exaggerated the importance or quality of their own work. When challenged, said editors have engaged in (predictable) tirades accusing the encyclopedia of anti-intellectualism and anti-expert bias--charges we've all heard before.

The former sort of expert the project should try to keep. The latter, I think the project is probably better off without; and I suspect they would wear out their welcomes quickly on Citizendium as well.

Permalink to Comment

24. Larry Sanger on September 22, 2006 5:01 PM writes...

Clay, above: "It's not that I don't like what Sanger is trying, it's that it won't work, because Sanger overestimates the native level of deference possible in open environments and underestimates the cost of governance." That's a nice summary of your argument. A nice summary reply from me is: you are assuming that this will be like other open environments, while I maintain that this will be different, because people will self-select for the ability to defer.

Permalink to Comment

25. engineer_scotty on September 22, 2006 7:34 PM writes...

The ability to defer may be a self-selection criteria early on. But if Citizendium gets popular (and I hope that it succeeds--I hope the same for Wikipedia BTW), it will--like any valuable common resource--attract free riders and parasites.

Where Wikipedia has long had difficulty, is dealing with these. WP has a cultural bias towards openness, as a result, it has been traditionally difficult to get kicked off (and rather easy to create sockpuppets). WP lately is moving in the direction of tightening the screws against parasitic users, albeit slowly; I consider this a good thing.

Citizendium, if popular, will attract the same sorts of parasites, who will want to exploit a resource which many regard as reliable and truthful, in order to publish propaganda. It may be that registration, real names, and such may keep these folks at bay; but some wikiparasites are quite determined. My suspicion is that Citizendium, if it does gain some level of popularity, will have to impose technical barriers to access beyond the honor system. Which might not be bad, but it may have significant effects on the makeup of the author base, sufficient to impart bias on the project.

It is naive to assume that only angels will come to Citizendium, just because you place a sign on the door prolaiming that your establishment doesn't serve devils. If the drinks are any good, the devils will come wearing halos and playing harps, and you'll need increasingly agile and clever bouncers to keep them out.

Permalink to Comment

26. Andy on September 22, 2006 8:01 PM writes...

You might be interested to know that your article has been mentioned at Knowledge Smackdown: Wikipedia vs. Citizendium. After reading that article and now your original article I totally agree with your comments about experts. I also agree with the Smackdown articles contention that the competition between Wikipedia and Citizendium will benefit both projects and the building of an online encyclopedia.

Permalink to Comment

27. Nico Flores on September 28, 2006 4:34 PM writes...

Lots of interesting arguments here, and I'm not sure what side I'm on. A couple of comments:

1. The central issue, imho, is not expertise or authority but power - the engine behind, and result of, social facts. Much of the web 2.0 ideology is about the (some would claim) inevitable erosion of power through the flatteining virtues of open networks. Citizendium seems to be a departure from this in that it seeks to accept power; but it is '2.0' in that it tries to manage power in a democratic way. Is this naive? Impossible to tell, but the experiment is worth watching.

2. Clay writes that "deference, on Wikipedia, is for contributions, not people, and relies on behavior on Wikipedia itself, post hoc examination, and peer-review." Perhaps. But a disaggregated, anonymous contribution will never be the same as an authored one - even if the two are identical. The former is just a piece of dead content. The former is a speech act (as Clay, judging from his references, must know), an utterance in a conversation; something that binds its author and her later utterances; and something on which she has staked her reputation.

I wrote about speech acts in the context of journalism some time ago - see this

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28. Martin on October 17, 2006 6:36 AM writes...

Can I ask a question? I understand scientists like to be quoted, in fact, they more they get quoted by others, the higher their "market value" is. I understand that Mr. Sanger would like Citizendium to be written by experts, but they are still expected to do so anonymously. So devoting time and effort to Citizendium would not add much to their resume, so to say. How can these two conflicting issues be reconciled?

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29. Martin on October 17, 2006 6:37 AM writes...

Can I ask a question? I understand scientists like to be quoted, in fact, they more they get quoted by others, the higher their "market value" is. I understand that Mr. Sanger would like Citizendium to be written by experts, but they are still expected to do so anonymously. So devoting time and effort to Citizendium would not add much to their resume, so to say. How can these two conflicting issues be reconciled?

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30. David Barry on October 17, 2006 1:18 PM writes...

I was intrigued by the argument as to whether or not "expertise" was easily recognised or not. Expertise is a social fact, and is socially defined. However just as money is a social fact developed to enable people to exchange goods and services without having to trust each other (as an economist said "evil is the root of all money") so credentials have been developed as a way by which we can assess peoples' expertise without having to make tedious enquiries, or indeed having the expertise needed to assess the claim. So when we are introduced to the cardiac surgeon we know that they (in the United Kingdom) are registered with the General Medical Council, which has the power to "strike him off" if he should prove incompetant, and when they registered him they checked that he had a degree from a recognised medical school and so forth.

In fact the core function of a university, the performance of which keeps it in existence, is the ability to award degrees.

The formal degree ceremonies of the ancient Universities, hark back to the original of the Western University, the medieval university of Paris, which had constituted itself as a self governing community of scholars. The degrees are awarded by a vote of the Masters of the University. This of course is now purely formal as the degree ceremony follows after the whole examination process, but when I got my BA I had to stand with all my fellow graduates to be, while the Chancellor of the University asked the Masters present whether or not we could have our degrees. Placet or Non placet.....

And of course this was similar to the medieval guild system of apprentices and masters.

So expertise IS socially defined, and is mostly conferred through credentials which themselves are the outcome of peer review.

However sometimes people DO become recognised as experts directly through recognition. An example of this is Stafford Beer, who ended up with a number of Professorships of Cybernetics despite the fact that he never finished his Philosophy Degree, or William Rowan Hamilton who was appointed a full Professor of Astronomy before he graduated. For that matter Einstein only obtained a mediocre degree getting his recognition through publishing three papers in a year any one of which was probably worth the Nobel that he got for one of them.

Of course these are truely the exceptions that prove the rule.

It seems to me that Wikipedia actually takes us back to an extreme form of peer review in which anyone can be a "peer"

And takes us back to an alternative model. The University of Bologna, which when Paris was a self governing community of Scholars, was a self Governing Community of students....

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31. ProfRAP on February 9, 2007 10:22 PM writes...

An excellent article -- best I've seen about Citizendium. I worked on CZ for three months, was active in the forums, wrote many new articles, improved many others. But every time I, or other independent-minded editors, did anything that strayed from the Larry vision, we heard from him personally. Interdisciplinary Studies was rejected as a field; Larry didn't think it was legitimate. Then, WP content was dumped, after "consultations" with an editorial board that I heard about only after the decision was made (even though I watched the forums closely, and was on the Editorial LISTSERV). When I and a few other editors and authors voiced concerns, Larry dismissed them.

The common thread was that Larry, because he is a man with a Ph.D. but who has not worked within the social frame of academia, confuses credentials with expertise. He thinks that the common sense of people with doctorates is better than the common sense of other people, and it just ain't so. However, the *egos* can be a bit larger, and that has, and will I am sure continue to lead to problems attracting and retaining qualified practicing, socially-recognized "experts."

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32. Tom Foley on April 3, 2007 11:24 AM writes...

All the positive objectives of Citizendium seem to be be lost in the fog of this debate.

The term "expert" is a word that might be assocated wiith the student dozing through some boring lectures in the halls of formal acadenia.
Somehow, he or she manages to be awarded a diploma.

The term "expert" is a word that might be associated with a person who is passionate about learning and gains empirical knowledge at the local town libary or the internet. He or she receives no diplona...only the knowledge.

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33. Dennis Stevenson on November 27, 2007 7:10 PM writes...

Most 'experts' do all their training in institutions that are either controlled or highly influenced by money and power. Thus their training is usually strongly biased by that influence - obviously in favor of that money and power.

After their training, they usually belong to, work for, or are accepted into the establishment by the same money or power. Thus their credentials, peer groups, income, positions and support - their very careers - come from this same power. Step out of line - and stay there (refuse to be good) - and you are likely to lose your job, research funding, publication opportunities and be ostracised by your peers. Though you may then be welcomed as a rare voice for truth by the citizens.

This is why we have, certainly in Australia though similarly in the US, England, Canada etc, a fraudulent establishment system of health, democracy, mental health, justice, policing, defence, etc.

Each of these vital areas of our lives are so controlled, seemingly by credentialled experts, but in reality by money and power, that they usually act in opposition to what they claim to be helping.

This is why our medical system acknowledges they accidentally kill 18,000 patients a year - and why they use drugs instead of the body's healing power. It is why our system of government is designed to give power to political parties that act in a criminal way by perverting democracy through the illicit control of the votes and voices of Members of Parliament through bribes. (The Crimes Act forbids ANY attempt to offer an incentive/bribe to a MP to, in ANY way, turn their backs on their electorates or the Constitution). Members are actually required by law to re-present the majority expressed will of their employers (their electorates) and not sell themselves to party controllers. Similarly try to bribe a police officer and you are likely to be charged and jailed, yet this is how political parties routinely operate.

For similar reasons, the 'justice' system is neither fast, cheap or just - losing all its three key ingredients. Thus the most flagrant injustices remain unhandled while being made worse by the system and it becomes almost impossible to fix them. Why? The entire system, whether through corrupt police, timid and often incompetent lawyers (you do not get accepted to the bar in the first place if you are too likely to support truth and justice and require that the 'experts' themselves obey the law) who become timid and incompetent judges and don't have the courage or intelligence to obey the law and stand against the power. Not forgetting that political parties pass the unjust laws in the first place.

In Australia, at any one time, injustices probably exist in their tens of thousands. Some persistent defendents or victims continue their actions for decades in an elusive search for justice.

Under the guise of healing the mentally ill, we get psycho surgery, ECT treatment, mind altering drugs and a total lack of understanding or acknowledgement of the spiritual nature of man - at least by the establishment.

Our defence forces are used as part of the world police to subjugate people or nations who are not under the control of forces controlled by the money or power. Thus Iraq is invaded on the pretense of WMD's and Iran seems to be next, with the same justification - WMD's. (Why change a propaganda line that seems to be working well?)

The establishment organised attacks on the World Trade Centre, long planned in advance, are used to remove our rights and freedoms at a fabulous pace. In Australia, Martin Bryant is set up as the patsy for the Port Arthur murders in order to bring in stringent gun control.

All these things are done in the name of experts and expertise - with the corrupted media ensuring that the truth is suppressed within an inch of its life.

Is it not likely that until we break the establishment selection, training and hiring of 'experts', we are in for a fascinating journey on a very rocky road to truth and freedom?

If you are unsure of any of the controversial statements I make, that's why the net is a great gift to us - the answers are there for the taking.

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34. P G Palmer on December 19, 2007 3:56 PM writes...

I happen to agree with most of the Dennis Stevenson post above, though I'm still not sure what he thinks of Citizendium. I'm actively editing and writing in the Citizendium and am enjoying the process much more than I did at Wikipedia, mainly because on Wikipedia there were a lot of people who thought they owned pages and would revert or destroy anything they didn't agree with, often without even attempting to explain why.

Haven't gotten into many of those situations in Citizenium, and when I have, there has (eventually) been some sort of reasonable resolution through discussion.

It's amazing how much better people behave when they are not acting anonymously. That, and mainly that, in my view, is the difference in Wikipedia and Citizendium.

I expect Citizendium will grow much more slowly than Wikipedia, but eventually, it will have higher quality across the board.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

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