Britannica mounts elitist defence against Wikipedia. Germany funds theirs.

Alright, so Wikipedia is having some quality control problems at the moment. And true – the very least you can ask of an encyclopaedia is that it be complete, current and accurate, or alternatively that it flag gaps, uncertainty or controversies. In response, Larry Sanger decided that a little gentle oversight from an expert custodian for each entry would bring about these improvements, and so Citizendium was born.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, which would like nothing better than for it all to fold, takes spirited pot shots from the side. Michael Gorman’s case is that there is a:

“… collective pretence that the established criteria of learning—notably literacy and intelligence—are dilutable. True literacy—the ability to interact with complex texts and the ability to express complex ideas in clear prose—is being equated with ill-defined concepts such as “visual literacy,” “computer literacy,” and “21st-century literacies” as if they could make up for illiteracy and a-literacy. Some have proposed that playing video games is an activity on the same plane as reading texts and equally beneficial to mental growth. These attempts to downplay the central part literacy plays in the life of the mind are malign attempts to come to grips with the changes being wrought by the digital revolution through abandoning the fundamental values of learning that have obtained in Western societies since classical Greece.”

So far so good, but:

“Intelligence, an essential component of success in the educational process, is partly a gift and partly the result of work and training. There is no substitute for it academically, and it is very important that it be nurtured, encouraged, and rewarded.

Perhaps these are elitist ideas? So be it. Learning and education are enterprises in which the academically gifted prosper and are justified in prospering. That prospering benefits the individual, but it also benefits society. A leveling academy that rewards semi-literacy and tolerates ignorance is, by definition, dysfunctional. We should be seeking to reward the intellectually gifted, not least because societal progress depends on their intelligence, understanding, and wisdom.”

John Connell (via Stephen Downes) picked him up on that:

“I prefer to see education and learning as processes by which everyone prospers relative to their starting position. Gorman and his ilk, those who, with no sense of irony whatsoever, can style themselves as ‘intellectually gifted’, wish to corral education for their own selfish and exclusive use.”

I’m not ready to give up on Wikipedia yet. Nor is the German government, which is funding the training of contributors. Of course Citizendium may yet clean up with a model that subsumes Wikipedia. If Citizendium gets off the ground, that is – if people want to contribute to it, if the magic’s still there. And if it doesn’t, maybe all those willing experts who nagged Larry Sanger to jump ship on Wikipedia will make their way backagain, take up the cudgels and resume their edit wars.

And anybody writing their essay from Wikipedia should stop. Encyclopaedias are only for looking stuff up, silly.


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