The expertise problem.

English Wikipedia is allegedly anti-expert. This fails to explain why you can hardly move on the wiki without bumping into someone with multiple degrees, or how it got tagged “unemployed Ph. D. deathmatch.”

I submit that English Wikipedia does not have a bias against experts (although there are editors who clearly do), but that massive collaboration is hard. The main problem is how to work with idiots you can’t get rid of, who consider you an idiot they can’t get rid of. “Assume good faith” is not a platitude, it’s a warning that someone really can be that clueless and that sincere idiocy is ten times as hard to deal with as knowing trolling; it’s a nicer way of phrasing “don’t assume malice where stupidity will suffice.” Summary of the summary: people remain the problem.

Academia has evolved mechanisms to deal with antisocial idiots (throw them out) and antisocial experts (put them to work in a locked room and keep them away from humans); wikis are still working on the problem. Antisocial experts on a wiki — unquestionably expert, unquestionably unable to collaborate on a wiki — are really special. Thankfully they’re usually too weird to then go blogging about it …

How do other wikis cope with this? Other Wikipedias? Citizendium doesn’t seem to have had this yet that I know of, but that could just be early days. Ideas?

Edit: You’re allowed to comment, you know. The same post on my LiveJournal is going great guns!

5 thoughts on “The expertise problem.”

  1. Why makes an Ph. D. an expert? There are plenty of engineers writing about about politics and religion and philosophers who prefer to rant in RfDs.

  2. “Antisocial experts on a wiki — unquestionably expert, unquestionably unable to collaborate on a wiki — are really special. Thankfully they’re usually too weird to then go blogging about it …”

    Maybe that’s why I can never build up an audience for my blog. Or maybe I’m just not an expert in anything I write about on Wikipedia. That would explain why I’ve never been able to write a Featured Article.


  3. A serious response this time. Over on your LiveJournal page, there’s a thread between you & mirrorshard about the nature of geeks that I recommend the rest of the folk here to read. Is Wikipedia’s problem due to the poor social skills of its regulars, who are geeks?

    I’m beginning to think that Wikipedia’s culture is changing for the worst. Old-timers get tired &/or lose patience with troublemakers & begin to bite newbies & other Old-timers they haven’t met. Newbies see Old-timers bite other people, conclude that’s how one becomes an Old-timer, & start biting everyone else. Repeat until good will is exhausted. If collaboration hasn’t failed by this point, it will soon afterwards.

    Incivility has always been a problem with every community, online or face-to-face. The problem has been to keep it from growing deep roots & running amok through all of the flower beds.


  4. One more good point from you, Gerard :)

    This is not only a problem. I think that all wm projects which had initially people who wanted to share knowledge, not propaganda — have the same problem.

    I agree with Geoff about changing of Wikipedia’s culture. Wikipedia is not anymore only a free knowledge project, but a very well known place, too. Of course, where people may propagate their own frustrations.

    I thought that bigger wm projects have less quality problems. However, as I am deep inside of content of now, I may say that all projects share the same problems. And, of course, a number of times I wanted to remove some nonsense, but I realized that *it doesn’t have a sense* as I don’t want to waste my time on keeping some articles from idiots.

    So, what are the options? I don’t have the solution, I’ll just try to elaborate some of them, so we may think about it together:

    1. Give up from Wikipedia. I think that this is useful for a person who does it, but it is not a solution here ;)

    2. Seeking for a consensus. In theory, it is the best. In practice, we have a lot of problems. Also, the only valid example for a long term seeking consensus for us is Sharia. More then a millennium of collaborative work and heavy conservative.

    3. Vanguard. All vanguards want to become bureaucracies. Unfortunately, wm projects don’t have vanguards, but have very irritant bureaucracies.

    4. Democracy. This means that Earth will be described as flat, too, if 20% of idiots think that.

    5. Expert rule. May be useful, but I know a lot of PhD idiots.

    Something between all of them (except 1, of course :) ), as well as including some other options? Almost for sure — yes. The only question is: What is that?

    I think that wm projects are going through some, unknown ways. And I think that these days are the last moment to find: (1) where we are going? (2) what is around us: a wood, a desert, a city…? (3) what will be tomorrow around us? (4) do we have enough food and drink for our trip? where would we sleep next night? (5) … (add your question here).

  5. You don’t want to put up your credentials on Wikipedia, because the minute you do, someone is going to nail your ass to the wall, under cloak of anonymity. On Wikipedia, real names are for dummies. The nasty squad are freer with a little less recognition. That’s why Brandt’s board was such a shock to the uglies – they thought they could do whatever they wanted, without being called to account.

    On a substantive basis, showing that you ARE and expert, won’t win you points in an argument, ever on Wikipedia, so outing yourself by listing your creds does nada. Better to just roam the pages for months, get some karma points, make some buddies, and then use brute force to implement your beliefs. This works if you are an expert or not, but non-experts tend to feel more comfortable with such methods.

    Which is why Wikipedia is anti-expert. The normal way of making points and arguing doesn’t work there.

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