As Michael Fischer observed elsewhere on the OAC, Wikipedia coverage for anthropology is dismal in comparison to other disciplines due to lack of participation by anthropologists. As Rex noted at Savage Minds some time ago, the same holds true for Citizendium. Any ideas as to why this might be the case?

Citizendium even has a program, Eduzendium, where they partner with university programs to create high-quality entries by allowing students, under teacher supervision, to write public entries about key terms pertaining to their discipline. This would be a great project for undergraduate anthropology courses.

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Huon, I think that many disciplines in both the sciences and humanities might have a contextual and dialogical view of knowledge, which is incapable of being reduced to a list of facts. In that way, I don't think anthropologists are unique. Encyclopedias also typically include entries for concepts and intellectual debates, not just 'facts'.

I wonder though if anthropology does have a unique perspective on knowledge what it might look like, and how it might relate to methods of teaching in the classroom.


Martin Walsh said:
So, why are anthropologists not writing and editing articles for online encyclopaedias/compendia to the extent that they might? (Wasn't that Justin's original question? Have we answered it? Do we accept its premises?)
Huon Wardle said:
Here is a different, but perhaps related, hypothesis; the reason anthropologists' ideas don't figure much on wikipedia is that anthropologists typically have a contextual and dialogical view of knowledge that doesn't fit the format of knowledge as a list of facts.

Justin Shaffner said:
Huon, I think that many disciplines in both the sciences and humanities might have a contextual and dialogical view of knowledge, which is incapable of being reduced to a list of facts. In that way, I don't think anthropologists are unique. Encyclopedias also typically include entries for concepts and intellectual debates, not just 'facts'.

Citizendium editorial policy encourages the contextual (I think the actually policy calls it "narrative") approach to presenting our material. It doesn't always work out that way on every article, but I hope that Citizendium becomes known for the approach Huon and Justin describe.
Beck J said:
We have a seminar series which is intimate and for students only precisely because it is a safe environment for us to feel our way.

That's a very astute observation. Anthropology deals with so many sensitive issues that I'm sure noone would get through a major without insulting at least a handful of people. We have to make mistakes in order to learn from them after all.

On the flip side, I think a lot of students write lazy papers because they know that only the professor will ever read them. There is obviously pressure to do well for the grade but not always the kind of pressure that makes you do more than "just enough" for the grade. Actually, I think the pseudonymous writing environment at Wikipedia gives similar results.

To really, truly understand a topic or idea, I believe one must attempt to understand -- if not agree with -- all aspects. I find that it's hard to tell whether you understand the big picture without attempting to explain it to someone else. Citizendium provides excellent practice for this. So while I've submitted bits and pieces of my term papers, I don't want to see people copying whole term papers onto the site and I especially don't want to see them composing those papers out in the open. My personal position is that contributions to Citizendium should be encouraged to help students figure out what they need to know and what they need to engage in order to make a strong argument, but the argument itself should be saved for a term paper to be submitted to the professor alone.
From The Sunday Times (London)
November 29, 2009
Think tank: The serious gap in Wikipedia’s knowledge
The online encyclopedia is bloated with trivia and needs more meat
Evgeny Morozov

"In its almost nine years of existence, Wikipedia has achieved unequivocal success: as the fifth most visited website in the world, it features more than 14.3m articles in 270 languages contributed by more than 100,000 volunteers.

Given that this has been done on a shoestring budget, Wikipedia easily puts to shame all other efforts to create and disseminate digital knowledge.

The debates about the truthfulness of entries have also subsided — perhaps a sign that most of us have discovered there are plenty of other lies on the internet. Wikipedia has become the lazy man’s Google: why bother sifting through 100 search results if chances are that someone has already done this job for you in a Wikipedia entry?

Most projects would be comfortable with gaining so much power in so little time, but Wikipedians are an ambitious bunch. Their commitment, as codified in the vision statement of the Wikimedia foundation, the legal entity behind the project, is to create a world where “every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”.

The very phrasing suggests that Wikipedians are painfully aware of their project’s most burning problem: unevenness. There are two gaps on Wikipedia. First is the language gap: local editions of Wikipedia have considerably fewer articles than those in popular languages such as English or German; the Swahili edition of Wikipedia has 14,756 entries, compared with more than 3m articles in English (hence the commitment to extend Wikipedia’s benefits to “every single human being”). Second is the vast expertise gap on the site — Wikipedia has an excellent compendium of articles about popular culture but an uneven coverage of topics in science and humanities (hence the commitment to embrace “the sum of all knowledge” rather than just the easier-to-find popular bits).

Only new talent, contributors with specialised skills, can fill these two gaps. The tricky part is persuading them to stay after their first edit or two: some leave in disgust because their contributions get deleted, others because arguing with other editors takes too much time and effort. This aversion to new content stems from Wikipedia’s early success: many of the project’s old guard have marked their Wiki-territory and don’t want to cede power — or even accept changes made by them (Wikipedians’ resistance to new edits is well documented in a recent study by PARC, a Californian research group).

One elegant way out of this debacle would be to create a “fast lane” for contributors who join the project to create or improve articles on particular subjects that Wikipedians deem “important”. Those working in the fast lane would not be subject to heckling and would be reviewed by other experts in the field rather than generalist editors.

Of course, this would violate Wikipedia’s norms and regulations — but that may be the price for getting busy subject experts — many endowed with faculty chairs and egos to match, to make much-needed improvements to the site on a continuous basis.

One reason why this hasn’t happened yet is because there is no such concept as “importance” in its value system. For Wikipedians everything is “important” as long as it is “notable”, meaning discussed at length in trusted sources — a newspaper, for example.

In a sense, this has radically levelled the playing field: winners of the Nobel prize were treated the same way as guests appearing on MTV’s Cribs show. Both groups are “notable” — but most of us would agree that they are not equally “important”.

This topical egalitarianism means Wikipedians have developed a severe case of attention deficit disorder and have been increasingly bogged down in trivial matters of the MTV variety.

Contrary to urban myths, producing a Wikipedia entry requires more than just writing it up: one has to make a coherent argument about why it needs to stay on the site and others are supposed to argue back. But there is a fixed amount of deliberation and attention to go around — and arguing over biographies of the Pokémon characters is a waste of both.

Now the English-language version has grown up, Wikipedians have to find a way formally to enshrine the concept of “importance” into their editing practices. This doesn’t mean that entries about the disputed anatomy of Rasputin’s penis, or the memorial to a reputed UFO in Sweden, or the cultural history of the Richard Nixon mask, have to go: whoever wants can continue editing them — they should just be made aware that these aren’t areas that need the most attention. Otherwise, Wikipedians might succeed in creating the world’s most thorough archive of popular culture, a far cry from being the “sum of all knowledge” that they had aspired to produce."

Evgeny Morozov is a Yahoo fellow at Georgetown University. His book on the internet and democracy will be published by Allen Lane in late 2010
Thanks for putting this up, Martin. It is very useful. It's a pity that it panders to the fogies by claiming that Wikipedia is mainly about popular culture. For some time now, I have taken to writing while online and I write a lot. Almost all of it is 'serious' and intended for academic audiences (although some would disagree). I would say that my efficiency has improved by at least 25% over the last decade. I used to compile a list of things I needed to know -- facts and references -- and every now and then spend a morning in Cambridge University library looking them up, always with some missing. Now, without getting out of my seat, I hit Google and other search engines, including searches of my own email and documents on my hard drive, and in most cases I get a satisfactory answer in less than a minute. The top item in Google is often a Wikipedia article and I can assure you that I am not usually looking for information about Richard Nixon masks. I value speed and so Wikipedia's convenience. 70% of the time it gives me what I want. I don't bother with checking the accuracy. Life is short. If I reproduce a mistake and someone finds it out, I will correct the mistake. In my lifetime I have been caught out for language mistakes thousands of times and I make them good, if I can remember. I realize that I am not 'humanity', but these are early stages in the digital revolution. This article raises important questions relevant to the present thread. What would induce experts to contribute their knowledge to Wikipedia or similar collections in areas like our own, anthropology. But let's not overdo the cynicism about what has been achieved, unevenly for sure, already.

Martin Walsh said:
From The Sunday Times (London)
November 29, 2009
there is something deeply comical about lamenting that fact that Wikipedia has "just" 15,000 entries (& counting) in Swahili since its inception.

It is appropriate that a lovely, internet-invented phrase exists for Morozov & his tone: "concern troll / concern trolling". In the guise of wishing Wikipedia only the best, he outlines all the things this amazing, hugely successful cooperative venture is doing wrong and should do differently -- for its own good, of course. As if its collective effervescence is no match for his lone-dude nit-picking. This kind of thing always reminds me of that very nice scene in the film Amadeus when the Emperor Joseph tells Mozart after a performance that his composition was all very nice, but he *does* have a bit of advice: that overall, there were "too many notes". :) :) :) :) :)

:) :) :) :)
Keith, I strongly agree with your observations about the value of Google searches and the internet in terms of writing and knowledge production. I also think that you are right on Wikipedia. I fail to understand why it makes such a fuss. Maybe because it gives often pretty detailed info about previously considered obscure bits of knowledge that are now easily available at the distance of a click? For me it's all very welcome. It makes academics faster, good academics better, and academics who don't want to share their knowledge (which is often unlikely to be purely their own 'individual' merit given millions of years of knowledge making) quickly out of the game. As academia (at least in Europe) still gets most of its funding from public sources, it seems to me that free knowledge for the highest number of people possible should be in fact an obligation, not just an 'interesting' discussion. And that's why more anthropologists should join in the wikipedia project and other similar projects. There are so many fascinating ideas and empirical data from anthropology that could be of a wider social value to many people from all kinds of backgrounds, engaged in different activities. And yet, so little of this is out there in an accessible format and translated in a language that can be understood by the general educated public.

Keith Hart said:
Thanks for putting this up, Martin. It is very useful. It's a pity that it panders to the fogies by claiming that Wikipedia is mainly about popular culture. For some time now ...
Other than newspapers, there are also scholarly resources that provide some perspective on the role of expertise in wikis, e.g. a recent comparison of Wikipedia, Citizendium, Scholarpedia and Medpedia, with special attention to how they handle article quality and expert contributions.
Before this thread dies completely, here's the text of a recent post from DFID (the UK Department for International Development):

"WikiHoles – Plugging the information gaps

December 6, 2009

Those of us with a good internet connection and questions to ask often turn to Wikipedia. It’s a useful reference tool in a number of ways, and is pretty reliable if you want to know how many provinces there are in Panama (nine, and five indigenous Comarcas), the demonym of people from St. Kitts (Kittitians), or the official name of a country, properly spelled (Republic of The Gambia, with a capital T). But there are big gaps. ‘Food miles’ has its own page, but ‘Fair miles’ does not. The article on the English town of Lyme Regis (population 4,500) is 2,525 words long, but the article on Paramaribo (population 250,000), the capital city of Suriname, is 607 words long . Lyme is a very special place, it’s true, but Paramaribo certainly can’t be fully or fairly described in 607 words.

Mark Graham, a Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, has just blogged about and done some great maps illustrating the huge disparity in ‘geotagged’ articles on Wikipedia. He concedes that not all articles are appropriate for geotagging, but still – the relative lack of information about many regions is astonishing.

While the United States has almost 90,000 articles, Anguilla has 4, and most small island nations and city states have less than 100. He says that ‘Almost all of Africa is poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the fifty-three countries in Africa (or perhaps even more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia).’

Mark’s map of the number of articles per country really makes you think (and on his site he also maps for area and population).

Inevitably one of the reasons behind this disparity is the poor internet connectivity and lack of computers in most of the under-represented countries. According to the Internet World Stats website , Africa has 14.6% of the world’s population, but only 3.9% of its internet users.

While the number of articles about Africa and developing countries in general will grow as access increases, do make a space in your communications strategy to make sure that your partners’ institutions, their partners, and the key facts about your research issues have all got a home on Wikipedia. When a country has only got four articles, even one new one increases its presence by 20%!"

---------
The original including hyperlinks is at
http://commscorner.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/wikiholes-%e2%80%93-plu...
Fair enough, Martin. But ever since I started researching the internet 15 years ago, I have encountered a persistent use of the digital divide to undermine the real achievements and potential of the digital revolution. When I wrote my book The Memory Bank, the chorus of 'What about the people who are left out?' was so loud that I felt obliged to include as a subtitle, 'Money in an unequal world'. I gave a public speech recently in Paris on the potential for virtual currency and all I got was 'What about the 85% who are not on the internet?' I told them, 'You look after the 85% and I will try to help the 15% become more democratic.' The point is that no communications technology has diffused faster than this cluster. In 1900 the telephone was thought to be at best an instrument for an elite class. In 2000 it was the most democratic means of polling in the rich countries. Now East Africa leads the world in monetary use of mobile phones. It took 300 years for iron to find its basic use as tools for agriculture and manufacturing after starting out as ornaments and weapons. The internet was restricted to the military, academics and bureaucrats until the early 90s. So why concentrate on what has not been achieved by Wikipedia? Do you think that the Encyclopedia Britannica gave any more words to the capital of Suriname? How many articles did it have in Swahili? Of course the diffusion of this revolution in the generation of knowledge is uneven. It does not need your friend in DfID to encourage right-minded paternalists to give Africa a plug. The Africans will do that when it suits them.
I think the implication is that those with knowledge that could fill the gaps should be encouraged to help fill them. There's no obligation, of course, but there should be encouragement. People without access to the internet don't have access to information about themselves or anybody else. The least we can do is provide information for those who already do have that access. The best we could do is find a way to share all of this information with people who don't have electronic access.
I agree that we should be contributing / encouraging others to do so. I pasted in that blog from DFID (not from one of my 'friends', Keith) for information and as a contribution to the discussion of how and why we aren't writing as much as we could for Wikipedia and other online encylopedias. Next time I'll add a disclaimer!

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