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8.1.2007 | Von:
Larry Sanger

Next Wikipedia, take a right

Wikipedia, Citizendium, and the politics of knowledge: An interview with Larry Sanger

What are the criteria to become an "editor"?

The specific criteria have yet to be determined. Perhaps, one way to generate a list of criteria is to ask: What sort of minimal requirements does a hiring committee for a university or research institute have for getting someone on a tenure track job? That would be for academic-type fields.

But because there are subjects in an encyclopedia whose main experts are not academics, obviously, the criteria for those kinds of fields would be different. It might involve publishing a certain number of works of a certain type, giving presentations, organizing workshops, things like that. It will be something that is objective, something people will be able to look at evidence for.

The reason to keep these criteria objective is that we don't want this process politicized, because it becomes politicized so quickly and easily. I know many people who say that this is just "credentialism". Well, if you want to invite people to serve as experts in a system, and you want to avoid those essentially political disputes involved in hiring and firing experts, the only way forward is to rely on the same sort of real-world credentials that hiring committees rely on and just get rid of the committees.

But isn't the setting-up of criteria for experts already a political decision? Don't you already enter the political by deciding in advance who is allowed to be an editor?

If someone were to say that, I would ask them what they mean. In other words, if you were to make the claim that having a Ph.D. isn't required to be an editor in the field of philosophy, I would ask: Why do you think that so? The burden of proof is on those who want to maintain that society's means of credentialing experts in all kinds of different fields – not just the Ph.D. – is political.

But still: Where to draw the line? Should you have a PhD? Should you have tenureship? Isn't that decision something political?

Not in the relevant sense. It isn't political in the sense that the process of deciding who is an editor and who's not does not depend on the acceptance of the hiring committee's particular ideologies or theoretical approaches and so forth. The field of possible views will be as wide as is consistent with the having of those credentials, which is very wide indeed in the scientific and academic communities. Even if there are huge majorities in outlook, there is an enormous long tail in diverse outlooks in many fields, and we are going to be open to that diversity. That's the point.

What about defining the standards for areas of knowledge where there is not yet a set of formalized credentials in the academic system?

It will be very interesting to see how that will work out, and obviously, that's something where we will need input from people in the relevant fields. Engineering is a good example. Engineering professors may not be the best people to make judgements about readable encyclopaedia articles on technical topics.

Then there are all kinds of gaming and hobby topics where there isn't anyone who writes for professional journals, because there are no professional journals. Hardly anyone studies these subjects in universities, and the most knowledgeable people might be some who don't have any kind of academic credentials at all.

To make this process relatively objective and least receptable to politicization, it will be important to come up with some other kind of credentials, now using this term in a very, very loose sense. To give another example: Some of the leading experts in Irish traditional music have never written books or academic articles about the subject, they don't have any degrees in music, and yet they are really the sources of our knowledge about this music.

Will the definition of these criteria be an open process?

Yes, that's absolutely correct. And I would encourage people to realize that in general, that is going to be the case with the Citizendium. The whole idea is that the development of policies is going to be open. But we are going to settle on some very definite policies.

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