Science & Technology

Who Gets a Seat at the Table? (and Other Mixed Metaphors)


Some deepthink on online encyclopedias from Larry Sanger, founder of the new Wikipedia competitor, Citizendium. Sanger wants a larger role for experts in his project:

As it turns out, our many Web 2.0 revolutionaries have been so thoroughly seized with the successes of strong collaboration that they are resistant to recognizing some hard truths. As wonderful as it might be that the hegemony of professionals over knowledge is lessening, there is a downside: our grasp of and respect for reliable information suffers. With the rejection of professionalism has come a widespread rejection of expertise—of the proper role in society of people who make it their life's work to know stuff. This, I maintain, is not a positive development; but it is also not a necessary one. We can imagine a Web 2.0 with experts. We can imagine an Internet that is still egalitarian, but which is more open and welcoming to specialists. The new politics of knowledge that I advocate would place experts at the head of the table, but—unlike the old order—gives the general public a place at the table as well.

Sanger's language here ("gives the general public a place at the table") has the feeling of closing the stable door after the horses have gotten out. To mix (and brutally abuse) metaphors: The public already owns the table. Sanger is just buying another table, reserving the best seats for the credentialed, and hoping the public will come sit at it anyway. And they might. May the best encyclopedia win.

For his part, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says he's not anti-elitist, but cops to being "perhaps anti-credentialist. To me the key thing is getting it right. And if a person's really smart and they're doing fantastic work, I don't care if they're a high school kid or a Harvard professor; it's the work that matters…. You can't coast on your credentials on Wikipedia…. You have to enter the marketplace of ideas and engage with people."

(Keep an eye out for this, and much much more in my upcoming profile of Wales in the next issue of the print magazine)

Read the whole (long) essay at (The site, which claims to close the gap between science-types and literary intellectuals, is full of similarly interesting essays from people you have almost heard of.)