Contra Citizendium

Further to this earlier post on Citizendium, back in September when Citizendium was just kicking off, Clay Shirky made a strong opposition rooted in the cost of enforcing authority and in the nature of authority itself:

“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.”

He challenges those assumptions about quality which are based on a given post’s author’s reputation or credentials. (Sounds alright, though what are reputations based on if not public presentations?) As an alternative mechanism for deference he suggests survival of edits, and this clearly illustrates the tenuous link between ‘deference’ and ‘validity’: there are many reasons for the duration of a given edit’s survival – numbers of readers, perceived relevance and degree of active engagement being three. In giving preeminence to the survival of edits, Clay fails to address either the edit wars or vandalism which plague Wikipedia. At the same time, Wikipedia is working pretty well, possibly because as one of the commenters points out, it is an institution of sorts, and not the dissolute jumble of activity Larry Sanger perhaps suggests. Clay downplays the value of validity, but he does talk about “good edits” leading one commenter to accuse him of straying ineptly into poststructualist territories. Meanwhile others make many confident predictions about the ways Citizendium will fail.

For somebody who seems to reject ad autoritatem arguments Clay’s critique of Citizendium is somewhat ad hominem, a point which he allows Larry to make in a published response on Many 2 Many.

Shirky, C. (2006). Larry Sanger, Citizendium and the problem of expertise. Many2many, 18th September 2006. Available from

Sanger, L. (2006). Larry Sanger on me on Citizendium. Many2many 20th September 2006. Available from:


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