The Spectacle Blog

Even more on Wikipedia

By on 12.16.05 | 11:21AM

Earlier this week, Robert McHenry offered fairly devastating criticism of Wikipedia in this article. Having been Editor in Chief of the Encyclopædia Britannica, McHenry argues effectively:


I was once an encyclopedia editor, but I wasn’t one just because I said so. It’s not like being an artist, after all. When I began I first learned to proofread, then to fiddle about with galleys and page proofs, then to fact-check, then to write clearly and concisely, and so on; at length I learned (so we agreed to say)

editorial judgment. Late in my days I took a hand in training others. There really is something to the job -- skills, knowledge, experience, and maybe even a touch of talent.



Feeling out what the standards are in the new internet medium has been tough, but McHenry is emphatic that it's not to be found in Wikipedia's structure, which allows just anyone to edit according to whim. With veterans like McHenry and, earlier, John Siegenthaler, it began to look like a debate between new and old school, at least in the popular media. But now Tycho at Penny Arcade has offered his viewpoint. (Be sure to check out the comic strip, which, no pun intended, is an excellent illustration of the problems Wikipedia suffers.) Tycho has expounded at length about his disdain for the so-called "visionaries" who claim they were part of some underground that now has been utterly sold out to the mainstream -- people who think that "everything has changed" in light of Internet publishing; he's glad that more people can publish, but unenthusiastic about the dishonest and immature approaches many take:


Reponses to criticism of Wikipedia go something like this: the first is usually a paean to that pure democracy which is the project's noble fundament. If I don't like it, why don't I go edit it myself? To which I reply: because I don't have time to babysit the Internet. Hardly anyone does. If they do, it isn't exactly a compliment.

Any persistent idiot can obliterate your contributions. The fact of the matter is that all sources of information are not of equal value, and I don't know how or when it became impolitic to suggest it. In opposition to the spirit of Wikipedia, I believe there is such a thing as expertise.

Summary? Appreciate the authority of experience -- we write things down for a reason.

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