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Wikipedians versus Academics
A few days ago Wikipedians (Wikipedia users, most of whom are anonymous white males 25 years old or younger) reached a consensus to rename Wikipedia’s article Côte d'Ivoire to Ivory Coast. Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimbo Wales called this “the right decision” and stated: “What would be weird would be to use a name that most English speakers don't know and can't spell, for the sake of some pseudo-academic reasons.” That “pseudo-academic reasons”, coming from the co-founder of the world’s most popular encyclopedia in this particular situation (Encyclopedia Britannica has this article named Côte d'Ivoire) was not entirely unexpected. It is a well known fact that Wikipedians do not really care either about academic reasons or about academic credentials. To them the most important credential is being an expert in collaborative, volunteer development of an open encyclopedia that is using wiki software. Wikipedia’s administrator Gwen Gale is sure that “A citation from a reliable secondary source trumps any academic qualification.” Wikipedia’s arbitrator (a member of Wikipedia Superior Court) Jclemens exclaims: “Wikipedia is a tertiary source that reflects reliable secondary sources--since when do we want our tertiary project edited by academicians with direct access to primary sources?” Jclemens said this in regards to the article “The 'Undue Weight' of Truth on Wikipedia”, published in The Chronicle Review on February 12, 2012. The article was written by Professor Timothy Messer-Kruse who tried to improve a Wikipedia’s article “Haymarket affair”, on which he is the world known expert. Sure enough he was prevented from sharing his expertise, and instead was advised "to have a quick look at Wikipedia's civility policy" and “at Wikipedia's policy on sockpuppets”. Wikipedia’s user Cerejota explains: “Most human beings are not academics, so it follows this is not an academic encyclopedia.” Wikipedia's administrator dave souza says: "It can be a struggle and undoubtedly off-putting to academics used to their authority carrying weight, but here authority must be based on verifiable sources clearly and fairly presented. The success of this project comes, in my opinion, from it being a forum open to all and not a hierarchy of academic rankings."
No wonder many academics find editing Wikipedia and dealing with Wikipedians to be an unpleasant experience, and unproductive waste of time. Wikipedia co-founder Dr. Larry Sanger barely avoided being blocked from Wikipedia by Wikipedia’s administrator Beeblebrox who has administrative tools in spite of having difficulties in spelling and being very uncivil. Professor Messer-Kruse was lucky he did not get banned from Wikipedia for so called “self-promotion”. Professor Carl Hewitt was not so lucky. Professor Hewitt was banned from Wikipedia for improving scientific articles by providing references to his own works. On the other hand Wikipedia’s administrator Gwen Gale (Heidi Wyss) who wrote two articles about absolutely not notable self was never sanctioned even after the articles were discovered and removed from Wikipedia. Even pseudo-academics are treated better than the real ones are. Jimbo Wales called user Essjay “a fantastic editor and trusted member of the community” just after it was discovered that 24-years old college dropout Essjay lied about his academic credentials.
John Harnad, a professor of mathematics and statistics at Concordia University in Montréal calls Wikipedia “a Tyranny of the Ignorant”. The professor continues: “It is a return to the Dark Ages, with an element of chaos that is greatly enhanced by the mass communications tools available in the internet. It involves a reduction of all genuine achievements to parity with the very basest, most primitive notions of the ignorant and undereducated. The encyclopedists would never have proposed that their work was to be an equal collaboration of the ignorant and the educated. It was to be a vehicle for raising the former from their ignorance by making the most valuable achievements of human endeavor available to all.”
Maybe one day Wikipedia co-founder will realize that a name of an encyclopedic article should not deepened on convenience of its spelling for English speakers. Maybe one day Wikipedians will realize that no encyclopedia could be written on a principal of “an equal collaboration of the ignorant and the educated”. Maybe one day Wikipedia administrators will understand that although “most human beings are not academics” the ones who are should not be treated with suspicion. Until then Wikipedia will remain “a Tyranny of the ignorant.”