Clay Shirky on Citizendium and the problems of experts

Citizendium is the much-talked about new alternative to Wikipedia, which aims to give a prominent place to experts. There is an excellent description and commentary at the Modern Dragons blog, which I strongly recommend, and won’t reproduce here.

The entry also cites insightful commentary by Clay Shirky. I share his concerns.

In earlier entries on Anti-credentialism, Equipotentiality and Communal Validation, I have tried to explain how the P2P epistemological process is fundamentally different from modernist conceptions of peer review, the commanding role of credentialed experts. The Wikipedia model may have its flaws, but institutionalizing the commanding role of experts may be just as flawed.

Opening an existing peer review process to bottom-up enrichment, the so-called open peer review process, may be a progress, but restraining an existing bottom-up process, might not work. What is needed are voluntary schemes, whereby the role of experts is freely accepted, or combined under equal terms (the expert-based technology evaluaton conferences come to mind, where experts informed a jury of citizens).

My own idea for Wikipedia would be slightly different. It would be to create a value-added layer for experts to create criticism (and only open to them), so that the writers of the pages, and the readers of the page, could read, why for experts, the content of certain pages may be problematic. A sort of ‘expert view’ add-on.

In this way, the bottom-up process remain unaffected, the plurality of expert views can be heard without interference, and the bottom-up authors can be inspired to adapt the content of the pages. So in my scheme, you would actually create two levels of contributors. I fear that the other alternative, to let experts decide on the contributions of the general citizenry, would crowd out the enthusiasm of the non-credentialed contributors.

But let us here Clay Shirky:

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.

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. … 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

1 Comment Clay Shirky on Citizendium and the problems of experts

  1. Pingback: Consultoría artesana en red » Wikipedia y contextopedias y citizendiums

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