Who says we know - by Larry Sanger

In my Dutch newspaper, NRC, an interesting article about wikipedia mentioned an Edge essay by Larry Sanger: "Who says we know". The essay is long, but well-written and worth the read. I was surprised to run into the essay in the newspaper. Did I miss all the discussion about this essay? Or is everybody still thinking about it's contents?

Basically this essay questions the "epistemic egalitarianism" adagium of Wikipedia. Simply stated: everybody is equal, an expert is not more (knowledgable) than a non-expert, together we define what is true. Sanger's main critique is that "Wikipedia, places Truth in the service of Equality." And if he had to choose between the two he's "on the side of Truth". This does not imply that Sanger is against Wikipedia or that he doesn't see all the good Wikipedia has brought. But he'd like to see a more prominent, distinguished role for experts in Wikipedia.
I understand the point he's making. And, though I too am enthralled by the success of Wikipedia, I also wonder how Wikipedia will solve, for instance, the "edit wars", that Sanger also mentions. Don't we need a mediator/expert to end those wars? Or can we simply allow two definitions to one entry?
Another solution could be to get in between Sanger and Wikipedia. Every now and then we would let experts in Wikipedia and have them correct, extend, etc. the entries. After they've come in, we let "the rest of the world" in, etc. In this way we have expert and non-expert "waves".
Anyway, Sanger's essay teaches us, again, that the Web requires us to develop our judging skills. In the Internet era it's more important than ever before that we learn to look up different sources, compare, choose and finally judge, instead of simply copy-pasting.
The essay is reviewed by a couple of thoughtleaders (such as Leadbeater). Some agree with Sanger, some don't. I'm curious what Tapscott and Williams (authors of Wikinomics) think of this essay!

Update Aug. 5, 2011: also refer to Macrowikinomics, p. 362 about collectivism.


  1. The expert and non-expert "waves" at Wikipedia would be analogous to allowing professional artists to paint the walls of a stately building, only to allow the awaiting crowds outside to afterward come in to paint graffiti all over it. You might still see some of the original work underneath it all, but no artist will even bother with the initial painting knowing what awaits his or her work once completed.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Stephen. You could be right. But is that what we see daily? Do people listen to experts and turn around and say: "I disagree"? Most people would listen carefully and try to correct/improve the expert's statement. Like I'm doing now.


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