Essay:Wikipedia and Citizendium

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I was with Larry early on at Wikipedia, and I like his basic approach a lot. In fact, I would say that without him, the idea of a collaborative, online free encyclopedia might never have gotten started.

But the critiques by David Gerard, et al., are thoughtful and helpful.

One thing no one has mentioned, however, is the importance of tolerating alternate viewpoints. Progress never comes simply by contributing more of the same. Semmelweiss, with his idea of an "invisible substance" causing fatal infections, was dismissed with contempt by the medical establishment of his time - even though it turned out later that he was right (see Germ Theory of Disease, or Joseph Lister, or Louis Pasteur).

By dismissing him and his ideas prematurely, instead of giving him a hearing and allowing him to explain WHY he believed in his novel idea, "men of science" buried an important discovery. And if it had turned out that his idea was pseudoscience, what better way to nip it in the bud than to examine the man's evidence?

Wikipedia and Citizendium share a weakness for Consensus Editing when it comes to that 1 article in 10,000 which describes the most crucially important issues of modern life, rather than neutrally describing all viewpoints. This is because neutral writing is sheer torture: it's the hardest intellectual task on the planet. Most people simply aren't up to it, and most of the rest aren't interested.

Larry and his constables may have prevented vandalism, but they've also - inadvertently, I'm sure - thrown out the baby of originality to protect the bathwater of What We Think We Already Know.

The solution (and you may think it strange to hear this from a man you regard as an arch-conservative) is to actually put into practice a key liberal value: tolerance.

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