In an Inside Higher Ed column, “Professors Should Embrace Wikipedia,” Mark A. Wilson claims of Wikipedia, “The vision of its founders, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, has become reality…” Wilson calls on college professors to get involved in Wikipedia, using their own real names. One has to wonder if this is an April Fool’s gag, but it’s a pretty sober-sounding piece.
Here’s is my response, which I added to the IHE comments:
I’m Larry Sanger, and this is false. Please do not use my name to encourage professors to get involved in Wikipedia. My vision has always been for a maximally reliable information resource—not one that is controlled by faceless, often hostile, often irresponsible people, many of them teenagers and college students.
Over the years there have been repeated calls to professors to get involved and improve Wikipedia. Few have heeded the call, and those who have have come back pretty consistently saying, “This place is nuts.” Indeed, long ago—in 2002—I seriously considered starting up a Wikipedia “Sifter” project (you can still read about this in archives) in which experts would approve Wikipedia articles. At the time I was told by some of the more active Wikipedians, essentially: “Don’t expect those alleged experts to get any special treatment from us. They’re no better than the rest of us, and they shouldn’t get all uppity and act like they are!” It then became clear to me that Wikipedia simply had no place for experts. I could not in good conscience recommend that any serious knowledge professional participate in Wikipedia. I still cannot.
Inside Higher Ed and this columnist would do better to acquaint themselves with a project that actually gives college professors, and other experts, a modest but real stake in guidance of content decisions and management of content policy: the Citizendium. I can’t fault the author for not mentioning us, as we are new and, with only 5,800 articles, still unproven. But a positive passing mention would help to create a better alternative to Wikipedia. Please spread the word.
Sign up here. It’s a good time to sign up; tomorrow is our monthly Write-a-Thon, which is always very lively!
Let me temper the above comments with a few additional remarks:
- I have long maintained, and I still do, that Wikipedia is very useful, and that most of the people working on Wikipedia are excellent hands. I do not mean to dismiss Wikipedia, or the work of most Wikipedians, wholesale. I simply want to quash any notion that I can be associated with a call to experts to descend on Wikipedia, which I think is a bad idea.
- Perhaps I should also clarify that the significant advantage of the Citizendium is not merely that it makes a place for experts. That is only one of our differences (and advantages). But it is the difference that is relevant to any suggestion that experts get involved in Wikipedia.
- I understand that there are certain topics, especially more technical and mathematical topics, where Wikipedians behave themselves rather better and where expert knowledge is accorded an appropriate (not fawning, of course) respect. I don’t mean to deny this, and well done to all involved for their success with articles on such topics.