Leslie Madsen-Brooks has a great post about the new online encyclopedia project, Citizendium. The idea behind Citizendium is to basically add some editorial oversight to a wikipedia-like project. In order to do so, Sanger recruited editors from the academic community. Bryan Alexander wrote about the launch of the site, which included a manifesto from Sanger.
Bryan’s post discusses some of the issues he has with Sanger’s evocation of a more traditional model of knowledge creation that a project like Wikipedia has attempted to disrupt. Leslie’s post does much the same, focusing on how Citizendium’s collection of editors seems to have very few women in it. She suggests a history of knowledge creation in which women are often left out:
Across time and cultures, women have been deemed, sometimes subtly and frequently explicitly, to be less reliable sources of information. Today in the U.S., women are more populous than men in undergraduate education, but they are yet to be as well represented in graduate programs in the sciences as are men.
In a system where people with Ph.D.s may be favored over those without, and where the accuracy of scientific information is a priority (Sanger cites several scientific examples in his essay, and the major scientific journal Nature published an oft-cited report on the accuracy of scientific information on Wikipedia), it’s likely that women’s participation in the project may not be as valued or welcomed.
She cites others who are concerned about squeezing out women’s voices as well as other groups on the margins.
One of her commenters made the point that we academics often discredit Web 2.0 projects without ever participating ourselves and notices a tendency for those who decry the projects most loudly to be those with the most to lose:
I don’t see why experts shouldn’t just involve themselves in wikipedia. Encourage their students to involve themselves in wikipedia. A wiki is only as good as the people who contribute. So contribute. For once. Instead of taking our collective academic ball home in a huff, let’s play the game.
I think it’s an especially promising opportunity to challenge the structures of the academy. I find the fact that men who are academically established are the ones trying to start an expert alternative that will be authoritative rather telling.
While Wikipedia and Citizendium are not appropriate academic sources, they do serve as authoritative sources for a great many people and they certainly are “The World Book” of the 21st century. Back when I was a kid, family debates were resolved with a check in our encyclopedia set. Now, we turn to Wikipedia. These new Web 2.0 sources represent to many people the way knowledge and information is created. Do we really want to recreate the hierarchal structures that prevented the exploration and discussion of topics outside the mainstream? Whether Citizendium is on that path or not is hard to tell at this early date, but we certainly shouldn’t necessarily take it as a completely “better” Wikipedia.