Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind [...] or other status.

Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism

Larry Sanger

Larry Sanger
Fri Dec 31, 2004 at 12:42:24 AM EST


"I think merely that there are a great many benefits that accrue from robust credibility to the public. One benefit, but only one, is support and participation by academia. I am on the academic job market now and I felt it was necessary to explain my views about Wikipedia's credibility for potential employers. A great many of my colleagues are not at all impressed with the project; but more about that in a bit.


Wikipedia has another sort of credibility problem, mentioned in passing above, and I fear that time is not a solution to this problem, the way it might be to the foregoing one. Namely, one can make a good case that, when it comes to relatively specialized topics (outside of the interests of most of the contributors), the project's credibility is very uneven. If the project was lucky enough to have a writer or two well-informed about some specialized subject, and if their work was not degraded in quality by the majority of people, whose knowledge of the subject is based on paragraphs in books and mere mentions in college classes, then there might be a good, credible article on that specialized subject. Otherwise, there will be no article at all, a very amateurish-sounding article, or an article that looks like it might once have been pretty good, but which has been hacked to bits by hoi polloi. (Am I sounding elitist enough for you yet? Just wait.) One has only to compare the excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy to Wikipedia's Philosophy section. From the point of view of a specialist, let's just say that Wikipedia needs a lot of work.


The root problem: anti-elitism, or lack of respect for expertise. There is a deeper problem--or I, at least, regard it as a problem--which explains both of the above-elaborated problems. Namely, as a community, Wikipedia lacks the habit or tradition of respect for expertise. As a community, far from being elitist (which would, in this context, mean excluding the unwashed masses), it is anti-elitist (which, in this context, means that expertise is not accorded any special respect, and snubs and disrespect of expertise is tolerated). This is one of my failures: a policy that I attempted to institute in Wikipedia's first year, but for which I did not muster adequate support, was the policy of respecting and deferring politely to experts. (Those who were there will, I hope, remember that I tried very hard.)

I need not recount the history of how this nascent policy eventually withered and died. Ultimately, it became very clear that the most active and influential members of the project--beginning with Jimmy Wales, who hired me to start a free encyclopedia project and who now manages Wikipedia and Wikimedia--were decidedly anti-elitist in the above-described sense.

Consequently, nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will--at least if they are editing articles on articles that are subject to any sort of controversy--be forced to defend their edits on article discussion pages against attacks by nonexperts. This is not perhaps so bad in itself. But if the expert should have the gall to complain to the community about the problem, he or she will be shouted down (at worst) or politely asked to "work with" persons who have proven themselves to be unreasonable (at best).

This lack of respect for expertise explains the first problem [lack of public perception of credibility, particularly in areas of detail], because if the project participants had greater respect for expertise, they would have long since invited a board of academics and researchers to manage a culled version of Wikipedia (one that, I think, would not directly affect the way the main project is run). But because project participants have such a horror of the traditional deference to expertise, this sort of proposal has never been taken very seriously by most Wikipedians leading the project now. And so much the worse for Wikipedia and its reputation.

This lack of respect for expertise and authority also explains the second problem [the dominance of difficult people, trolls, and their enablers], because again if the project participants had greater respect for expertise, there would necessarily be very little patience for those who deliberately disrupt the project. This is perhaps not obvious, so let me explain. To attact and retain the participation of experts, there would have to be little patience for those who do not understand or agree with Wikipedia's mission, or even for those pretentious mediocrities who are not able to work with others constructively and recognize when there are holes in their knowledge (collectively, probably the most disruptive group of all). A less tolerant attitude toward disruption would make the project more polite, welcoming, and indeed open to the vast majority of intelligent, well-meaning people on the Internet. As it is, there are far fewer genuine experts involved in the project (though there are some, of course) than there could and should be.


I know, of course, that Wikipedia works because it is radically open. I recognized that as soon as anyone; indeed, it was part of the original plan. But I firmly disagree with the notion that that Wikipedia-fertilizing openness requires disrespect toward expertise. The project can both prize and praise its most knowledgeable contributors, and permit contribution by persons with no credentials whatsoever. That, in fact, was my original conception of the project. It is sad that the project did not go in that direction.

One thing that Wikipedia could do now, although I doubt that it is possible in the current atmosphere and with the current management, is to adopt an official policy of respect of and deference to expertise. Wikipedia's "key policies" have not changed since I was associated with the project; but if a policy of respect of and deference to expertise were adopted at that level, and if it were enforced somehow, perhaps the project would solve the problems described above.

But don't hold your breath. Unless there is the equivalent of a revolution in the ranks of Wikipedia, the project will not adopt this sort of policy and make it a "key policy"; or if it does, the policy will probably be not be enforced. I certainly do not expect Jimmy Wales to change his mind. I have known him since 1994 and he is a smart and thoughtful guy; I am sure he has thought through his support of radical openness and his (what I call) anti-elitism. I doubt he will change his mind about these things. And unless he does change his mind, the project itself will probably not change.

Nevertheless, everyone familiar with Wikipedia can now see the power of the basic Wikipedia idea and the crying need to get more experts on board and a publicly credible review process in place (so that there is a subset of "approved" articles--not a heavy-handed, complicated process, of course). The only way Wikipedia can achieve these things is to jettison its anti-elitism and to moderate its openness to trolls and fools; but it will almost certainly not do these things. Consequently, as Wikipedia increases in popularity and strength, I do not see how there can not be a more academic fork of the project in the future.

I hope that a university, academic consortium, or thinktank can be found to pursue a project to release vetted versions of Wikipedia articles, and I hope that the new project's managers will understand very well what has made Wikipedia work as well as it has, before they adopt any policies."

This article is followed by some 408 comments, up to Jun 20, 2005

An idea

Jimmy Wales
Tue May 24 12:57:55 UTC 2005

"The idea is this: people wonder, and not unreasonably, who we all are. Why should the world listen to us about anything? People think, and not unreasonably, that credentials say something helpful about that. As it turns out, we mostly do know something about what we edit, and although we never want Wikipedia to be about a closed club of credential fetishists, there's nothing particularly wrong with advertising that, hey, we are *random* people on the Internet *g*, but not random *morons* after all."


Wikipedia contributors
Aug 5, 2005 - Mar 23, 2008

"Anti-elitism at Wikipedia is at the root of both its biggest problems and its greatest strengths.

The negative effects of anti-elitism are obvious


The positive effects are perhaps less predictable, but are demonstrated in effect by the success of Wikipedia's anti-elitist model, compared to more restrictively "elitist" projects like Nupedia or Citizendium."


Expert rebellion

Wikipedia contributors
Aug 29 - Oct 2, 2006

"There are numerous discontented users, and former users, of Wikipedia, who have repeatedly claimed that Wikipedia offers very little incentive for editors who wish to contribute to expert topics. This page contains links to pages of users who are discontented for fundamentally similar reasons, along with discussion of what (if anything) might be done."

Talk:Expert rebellion

Expert retention

Bassin VNVA vide Heuringhem 2

Wikipedia contributors
Sep 5, 2006 - Aug 1, 2011

"If by "Wikipedia" one means its values as expressed in policy, then it can be definitely said that Wikipedia places no value on expertise.


Anti-expertise positions are not acted against, so they are in effect encouraged. And as they are encouraged, they more than negate any positive regard for expertise


[There is] the naive expectation that Wikipedia articles tend to naturally improve monotonically, at least "on average". A dangerously naive WP myth holds that (apparently by some previously unknown law of nature) articles can only improve monotonically in quality.

[...] the classic crank is only interested in his own unique and bizarre vision (and cranks often abuse each other with extreme viciousness) [...] The fiction is that these people need to be educated in the ways of the 'pedia — the truth is that by in large they are beyond redemption because they are parasites, scofflaws or insane.


The bad guys (the ideologues, hoaxers, linkspammers, crank physikers, undercover political "dirty tricks" operatives, and guerrilla marketeers, among others) are winning this struggle for control of the Wikipedia.


There exists a class of editor so driven by ideological agendas that they simply will not recognize Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View Policy or seem to believe that it means that it guarantees uncritical place for their interpretations regardless of how flimsy the supporting facts or underlying logic might be. Worse, after an exhausting effort to bring these under control in a few months a fresh batch of POV pushers, unrelated to the first, show up to the same topics and the process must begin again from scratch.

I am sorry to report that I begin to feel-after very few weeks of browsing and editing-the whole Wikipedia enterprise verges on the worthless [...] It's a pity, really-but there are just too many people with perverse agendas, who care little for clarity or objective truth [...] I did try reversion,[...] but it was promptly edited back again without explanation. The whole exercise then becomes pathetically childish, and I simply refuse to compromise myself any further. If people prefer ignorance, so be it. I do not want to give you the impression that I consider myself to be infallible; I am as capable of error as any other individual; but I always welcome reasoned challenges to any point I put forward. Apart from one or two people [,,,.] it is not forthcoming.

There is, I think, a deep flaw in the philosophical grounding of the whole project, the assumption that 'truth' can somehow emerge through consensus. What emerges-depending on the topic- is a kind of mad Berkeleian world, where ideas struggle for dominance in complete disassociation from physical reality-I shout the loudest, therefore I am!


Tribes of influential (= have the most free time on their hands) admins and editors have decided that WP policies say something other than what they actually say. They want to have loose reigns to make WP their playground for their own particular agendas. People who follow strict and standardized interpretations of policies threaten that and must be stalked and rebuffed.

The problem on WP is not so much the obvious trolls but the ones who make editing painful for other editors by repetitive questions, tendentious editing, private agendas hidden beneath yet lord of all arguments; immature teenagers and college students who view biographies of living persons as their private political platform rather than a task requiring the utmost responsibility and mature outlook, all in recognition that words can be like flames and real lives can and sometimes really are ruined or at least permanently altered; people who fill up talk pages with nonsense, who see the truth of contrary arguments yet refuse from selfishness to acknowledge them; who endlessly Wikilawyer the most obvious points, and enforce not the policies but the policies as they privately interpret them through the grid of their own private agendas.

[...] The price that has been paid and will continue to be paid until something changes is a Project in the guise of an encyclopedia that cannot even be cited by 1st graders, lest high schoolers.

Talk:Expert retention

Accountability: bringing back a proposal I made nearly 2 years ago

Jimmy Wales July 2010 crop

Jimmy Wales, Founder of the Wikipedia project.

Jimmy Wales
Mon Mar 5 08:58:07 UTC 2007

"At the time, this seemed like a plausibly decent idea to me, and the reaction at the time was mostly positive, with some reasonable caveats and improvements


Nowadays, I bring back the proposal for further consideration [...]. I think it imperative that we make some positive moves here... we have a real opportunity here to move the quality of Wikipedia forward by doing something that many have vaguely thought to be a reasonably good idea if worked out carefully.

For anyone who is reading but not online, I will sum it up. I made a proposal that we have a system whereby people who are willing to verify their real name and credentials are allowed a special notification. "Verified Credentials". This could be a rather open ended system, and optional.

The point is to make sure that people are being honest with us and with the general public. If you don't care to tell us that you are a PhD (or that you are not), then that's fine: your editing stands or falls on its own merit. But if you do care to represent yourself as something, you have to be able to prove it.

This policy will be coupled with a policy of gentle (or firm) discouragement for people to make claims [...], unless they are willing to back them up."

Wikipedia:Credentials (proposal)

Abe Lincoln young

Wikipedia contributors
Mar 5 - 15, 2007

It has been proposed by Jimbo in May 2005, and again in March 2007, that Wikipedia develop a system for verifying editors' credentials, so as to encourage greater accountability for users who claim expertise in certain fields. Such a system would hopefully build Wikipedia's credibility, and encourage greater confidence from the reading public, in addition to fostering greater trust between fellow editors.

This page briefly outlines the "gist" or "vibe" of the proposal. All users are invited to help develop the details of the proposal by engaging in discussion on the talk page. What sorts of credentials should be included? How should verification take place? All these questions and more are waiting to be answered.

Talk:Credentials (proposal)

In less than ten days the "proposed Wikipedia policy, guideline, or process [that might] still be in development, under discussion, or in the process of gathering consensus for adoption" was rejected: "This is a failed proposal. Consensus in its favor was not established within a reasonable period of time [my bold]. If you want to revive discussion, please use the talk page or initiate a thread at the village pump." Short note left about that conclusion: per talk page, and, while I don't like polls, something that gets ZERO support in one obviously does not have consensus

Please see "Good practice for proposals" to check, also on this occasion, the community inability to follow it's own policies and/or guidelines.

Credential Verification

Wikipedia contributors
Mar 8 - 28, 2007

This user subpage is currently inactive and is retained for historical reference.

"Subject matter expertise can help editors shape articles appropriately. It is generally agreed that an expert in a field can be particularly helpful in integrating related articles and identifying attributable, but inaccurate, information in articles related to that field. In recognition of this, editors are free to declare credentials, affiliations and other expertise on their own user page. Such declarations make it possible for other editors to seek their assistance with articles related to their area of expertise. Editors will not be required to verify their claims. The suggested verification approach is not mandated and no sanctions can be taken against an editor who chooses, for any reason, not to participate."

Talk:Credential Verification

This user subpage [...] currently inactive and [...] retained for historical reference is given the status of a rejected proposal (please see below, There is no credential policy). One more instance of the community inability to follow it's own policies and/or guidelines (please see "Good practice for proposals").

Credentials are irrelevant

Presentation of the Mahometan credentials - or - the final resource of French atheists by James Gillray 702px

Wikipedia contributors
Mar 11 - 22, 2007

"In light of the Essjay controversy, a number of editors have become very angry about how User:Essjay misrepresented himself. Yes, he caused a major PR blow to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation, but don't we have policies that prevent using individual experience? When it comes to editing articles, we must look at the sources which are being used in the article, rather than the credibility of the editor who put it in there. Although an expert in the field is helpful as they have easier access to sources, but should those credentials have any effect in editing articles for an encyclopedia where only 3rd party sources are allowed?

Wikipedia's attribution policy dictates that information should be attributed to a reliable published source. Even someone with verifiable expertise in a subject cannot make edits based on their own opinion or interpretation of a subject, however well-informed that opinion is. Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought.

This does not imply that someone with expertise shouldn't edit articles within their field; they should be encouraged to do so. They can also cite their own published research as an external source. But no Wikipedian can expect the community to accept their opinion as truth. Attributability, not truth, is the threshold for inclusion.

Inappropriate use of credentials

When users use their credentials, real or imagined, to win an argument on a talk page, to put an end to an edit war, or to circumvent the need to verify their controversial edits with a reliable source, then they are using them inappropriately. All editors – whether they are world-renowned experts, or teenagers editing from high school – are required to follow Wikipedia policies and guidelines, refrain from adding original research to articles, and contribute only material that can be supported by a reliable source. No Wikipedian's opinion is more valuable than another's.

Why "credential verification" is a bad idea

Trying to prove your credentials is contrary to the fundamental spirit of Wikipedia. In particular, stating at WP:RFA "I hold a Ph.D, so you should make me an admin" would destroy the concept of anonymity, equality and community that is fundamental to the Wikipedia ethos.

If you have academic credentials, it's up to you whether you note them on your userpage or not. But you should avoid referring to your credentials outside your own userpage. It is acceptable to mention them on article talkpages, but you should not do so to settle a content dispute, nor expect any special treatment as a result of citing your credentials.

Believe It or Not the above is the full transcription of an Wikipedia essay containing the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors.

For a more complete reading on the matter, don't miss Talk:Credentials are irrelevant

Nobody cares about your credentials

Baden-Württemberg Neuer Polizeidienstausweis Vorderseite

Mar 12 - 13, 2007

"Credentials are useless" or "Nobody cares about your credentials" is a counter-proposal (or rather, a bunch of thoughts) to some recent ideas of verifying user's claimed credentials so that scandals such as the Essjay controversy never happen again on Wikipedia. It refers to [...] the credential verification idea [...], which I believe to be fundamentally flawed.

Yes, it's an essay, so that nobody can mess with it, making it {{rejected}} or something. You are welcome to make a useful policy out of this though (just don't steal my credit... or do, whatever floats your boat).

For the ease of reading, I have set it up into a Q&A format. If you would like to add a question to the list, post it on the talk page and I might decide on adding it. Typographical corrections are always welcome, but please leave the merits to me (and fork if you wish).

Talk:Nobody cares about your credentials

If nobody cares about credentials, how come so much has been written about them? Tell that to the guy who pulls you over on the highway, next time, and then come back to report on what happened. :-)

Credential ban

Wikipedia contributors
Mar 12 - 15, 2007

"This proposal seeks to be a foolproof solution to the problems associated with credentials on Wikipedia and with verifying those credentials. Disallow the use of credentials on Wikipedia."

In less than three days the "proposed Wikipedia policy, guideline, or process [that might] still be in development, under discussion, or in the process of gathering consensus for adoption" was rejected: "This is a failed proposal. Consensus in its favor was not established within a reasonable period of time [my bold]. If you want to revive discussion, please use the talk page or initiate a thread at the village pump." Note left about that conclusion: very obviously rejected, per talk page. Also, while I don't like polls, an issue that can't get something even remotely resembling a majority will obviously not get a consensus. Therefore, for further entertainment, please don't miss Talk:Credential ban

Please see "Good practice for proposals" to check, also on this occasion, the community inability to follow it's own policies and/or guidelines.

Ignore all credentials

Aaron Henry 1964

Wikipedia contributors
Mar 14 - May 31, 2007

Value of expertise

Expertise is valuable to Wikipedia to the extent that someone with expert knowledge has ready access to reference materials from reliable sources, and should be able to attribute them. Consequently, Wikipedians should ignore the credentials of self-proclaimed experts who cannot produce their sources, trying to assert their own authority instead, which is equivalent to original research.

Irrational appeals to authority

The use of credentials to try to get an advantage in an edit dispute is extremely poor form. In lieu of ignoring all credentials, one can remind editors who use their credentials in an edit dispute that those credentials are irrelevant to whether or not a specific edit is a good one. We edit together in a spirit of mutual respect and equality. "I am a PhD, so stop arguing", for example, would not be a good approach. Reasoned discourse does not require credentials.

Fraud and puffery

As demonstrated by the Essjay controversy, when an editor claims fraudulent or puffed up credentials as an indicator of his or her expertise, this can have an adverse effect on the reputation of Wikipedia and on our traditions of assuming good faith. If, however, one consistently ignores all credentials, or reminds other editors and readers that credentials are irrelevant to whether a specific edit is a good one, concerns about fraud and puffery can be greatly lessened.

Credentials on user pages

For a variety of reasons, editors sometimes choose to provide information about their credentials on their Wikipedia user pages. While the Wikipedia community frowns upon editors using their credentials to gain an advantage in a content dispute or claiming credentials that they do not actually have, editors have traditionally been given a great deal of freedom regarding the information that they may display on their Wikipedia user pages. Userpages may be interesting, useful, or amusing. No one, however, should rely upon any information that userpages convey about credentials as actually being factual [my bold], as processes for verifying credentials are at this time only under discussion.

You got to love people that are capable of writing all of the above and refer to assuming good faith in the same breath, while, at the same time, ignoring one of Wikipedia five pillars:
Editors should interact with each other in a respectful and civil manner.

This essay contain[ing] advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors is given the status of a rejected proposal (please see below, There is no credential policy). For more wacky entertainment, please go on to Talk:Ignore all credentials

One more instance of the community inability to follow it's own policies and/or guidelines (please see "Good practice for proposals").

Wikipedia:Credential verification (proposal)

Shipwreck, Beach Near Lake Sijung, North Korea 800px

Wikipedia contributors
Mar 14 - 23, 2007

"This is an initial draft for how credentials will be verified on Wikipedia. Please feel free to edit and modify. Please discuss on the talk page.

Verification of claimed credentials may occur in various circumstances. This policy outlines those situations and the process that will be used to verify those claims."

Talk:Credential verification (proposal)

In less than nine days the "proposed Wikipedia policy, guideline, or process [that might] still be in development, under discussion, or in the process of gathering consensus for adoption" was tagged as "currently inactive and is retained for historical reference. Either the page is no longer relevant or consensus on its purpose has become unclear. To revive discussion, seek broader input via a forum such as the the village pump."

A couple of months later someone delivered the coup de grace: "This is a failed proposal. Consensus in its favor was not established within a reasonable period of time [my bold]. If you want to revive discussion, please use the talk page or initiate a thread at the village pump." Short note left about that conclusion: this was rejected by the community

Please see "Good practice for proposals" to check, also on this occasion, the community inability to follow it's own policies and/or guidelines.

Credentials are harmless

Presentation of Credentials 01

User:Bcasterline, (last edit: Apr 15, 2009)
Mar 18, 2007

It is widely acknowledged that experts, including academics and other professionals, are important. Aside from content, they provide credibility. Their contributions may be non-essential to the project's viability, but the encyclopedia is clearly aided, not hindered, by their participation. Following the Essjay controversy, however, a number of essays have been written opposing Jimbo's proposed process of verifying expert's credentials, one even suggesting that the process might ultimately "destroy the concept of anonymity, equality and community that is fundamental to the Wikipedia ethos." A policy has been proposed to "ignore all credentials" instead. This reaction is excessive.

Existing policy works

Wikipedia attribution (ATT) makes it clear that content must be attributable to a published source and must not be original thought. Additionally, Wikipedia neutral point of view (NPOV) makes it clear that all significant viewpoints must be included, not just the most personally agreeable. These policies already prevent anyone from using Wikipedia as a vehicle to express their own opinions, no matter their credentials.

To provide a method for the verification of credentials is not to circumvent cornerstone Wikipedia policies like ATT and NPOV. The opposite is true. While not everyone is well-equipped to assess the reliability of a source, for example, an expert with years of experience probably is. Verified credentials would allow experts to enforce the policy better, not get around it.

As long as existing policies are enforced and guidelines are followed, there is no room for abuse -- only improvement. Credentials (verified or not) do not give anyone an upper hand. They are harmless.

Specifically anti-credential policy is harmful

Is it really necessary, then, to go out of our way to attack credentials? Calling them "useless", "irrelevant", something to be "ignored", and something "nobody cares about" does not help Wikipedia. Instead, it's an "in your face" to experts and academics for whom credentials matter. It hurts Wikipedia by creating an anti-intellectual atmosphere which discourages their participation and encourages mistrust among academics and the everyday user in general.

In sum, Wikipedia is already well protected from the undue influence of professionals by established policies. A process of verification will not preempt those policies; in fact, it may strengthen them. That said, verification is not necessary to the project, and this [...] essay is not intended to advocate such a process. But an environment receptive to the input of experts may in fact be necessary to Wikipedia's long term success. An environment hostile to their participation is at best unnecessary, and at worst harmful, to the project.

Credentials matter

Carl Gustaf XVI, Jaak Jõerüüt 800px

Wikipedia contributors
Mar 18, 2007 - Mar 30, 2011

"A little learning is a dangerous thing" — Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism (1711)

In the wake of the wikipedia:en:Essjay controversyEssjay controversy, a number of essays have been written against credentialing, including a policy proposal to Ignore all credentials. While the concern about abuse of credentials isn't totally unwarranted, the problem is being overstated. Wikipedia's worst problem with credentials isn't that editors abuse them; it is that editors do not respect them.

Most editors here lack credentials. Some are knowledgeable amateurs, and some are just amateurs, and some are outright cranks. But a small number are professionals in their fields. It isn't unreasonable to suppose that articles in their field should generally be able to suffer their review, but in all too many controversies, this isn't the case. Indeed, the expert rebellion movement arose from the complaints of professionals that they were finding the climate here inhospitable.

This is not to say that those with credentials should wave them about as a trump card. Such pomposity will win no friends. One would expect someone with a doctorate or other such certification to understand the need to present sources and other such supporting material, and policy or no policy, other editors are going to expect such verification.

Yet it is really quite unreasonable that those of us who aren't professionals should be so hostile to those who are. When nobody is allowed expressions of expertise, then everyone becomes an expert. And that is all too often how editing is done here. Editors without the credentials to back them up are far more confident about their positions than they should be. Amateurs may not have the experience or education necessary to evaluate sources adequately, or may not understand the material well enough to organize it into a coherent whole. And they may not be aware of how poor their understanding might be (the Dunning–Kruger effect). Experts are not perfect, but amateurs are on the whole less perfect, and especially in their judgement of the work of experts.

So if you are an amateur in a subject, and you find yourself in disagreement with a professional, ask yourself this: isn't it possible that I could learn from someone who has the credentials I lack?

On judgment
"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." — William James

Those who believe credentials don't matter may be right on the point that Wikipedia aims to source statements to reliable sources, and that having expertise doesn't free us from the stringent requirements of verifiability. But it does have a role for some topics in the humanities, the arts and so on.

An example: on an article on philosophical debates about the existence and nature of the soul, it is appropriate to give weight to the views of significant philosophers and theologians who have weighed in on this question. Ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Epicurus had theories of what the soul is, as do Thomas Aquinas, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Benedict de Spinoza and William James. But so does J.Z. Knight of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, and for just $1,000 she will tell you what the soul or spirit of a 35,000 year old warrior from Atlantis has to say about your health, wealth and sex life.

What distinguishes Plato or Spinoza or Aquinas from cranks and hustlers? Judgment. The reason that Plato's view of the soul is taught in undergraduate philosophy lecturers is because of a sort of unspoken consensus amongst philosophers that Plato is important and New Age babble is not.

What makes Shakespeare more worthy of the title "great literature" than Jilly Cooper? Judgment. What makes Beethoven more significant than Lady Gaga? Judgment.

Experts, "credentialed" or otherwise, are useful because in some areas, they are able to tell you whether or not something is taken seriously by other experts. This kind of judgment isn't usually published, because those experts spend their time studying what goes on inside their own field, rather than patrolling the border. Such judgment isn't always available in reliable sources. Such judgment is not often discussed publicly. It is very difficult to codify into rules (in the natural sciences, bibliometric measures rule but they do not work so well in humanistic disciplines). Credentialed experts could, if the Wikipedia community wanted to, be a useful judge of due weight for subjects in the humanities.

Talk:Credentials matter

Sand Castles of Knowledge

Sand castle, Cannon Beach

Kyle Gann
May 5, 2007

"I’ve seen the light on Wikipedia, and I feel like a fool. I’ve used it, praised it, and, determined populist that I am, extolled it here as a model. I’m probably one of the few professors who has talked it up to his students and allowed them to cite it as a reference – carefully, with outside confirmation if possible, and judging the quality of an entry carefully. I started contributing to Wikipedia as a kind of spare-moment hobby, and I guess I was lulled into complacency by the fact that most of the entries I worked on were obscure ones, not likely to attract attention. But I had the temerity to do a little badly-needed clean-up on the dismally confused “Minimalism” entry, and learned more than I wanted to know about how the site operates. The articles that a lot of people think they know something about, it turns out, are a nightmare. I take back everything: Wikipedia is a playground for belligerent adolescents.


Many of the departing scholars note the incident that finally brought them to leave; mine was a truculent teenager who refused to acknowledge that minimalist music was considered classical, because, as he put it, “it sounds more like Britney Spears than like Merzbow.” Let that sink in a minute. A person who insists that Einstein on the Beach, or Phill Niblock’s Four Full Flutes, or Tom Johnson’s Chord Catalogue cannot be considered classical because it sounds like Britney Spears is not a person one can seek consensus with.


Wikipedia is amateur-friendly, and that’s what I liked about it. Too many print reference works are hobbled by the exclusion of scholars and thinkers who are ahead of the curve, whose ideas (and even entire categories of knowledge) are not countenanced in the stodgier university departments whence many reference works depend. But Wikipedia is not only amateur-friendly, but expert-unfriendly. They pretend not to be, and give lip service to the importance of expert editors. But when you put the rules together, you realize that people who are actually authorities on a subject are forced to argue with one hand tied behind their backs.

[...] there’s [a] rule called “Conflict of Interest,” which disallows quoting yourself for the purpose of bringing public attention to your writings. Which means that any other person on the planet can write something in Wikipedia and quote me as an authority, but if I do it myself, that’s suspect. I have done it myself, and the citations stand if no one objects, but if a crank wants to contradict me, all he has to do is yell “Conflict of interest!,” and delete whatever he wants. After all, who knows what scruffy, fly-by-night vanity presses my books might be issued by (Cambridge University Press, Schirmer Books, University of California Press)? Editors are sympathetic – everyone agreed with what I was saying except this post-pubescent parasite – but rules are rules, and nothing could be done.


It’s kind of an intellectual’s worst nightmare: you find out your new editor is the dumb bully who used to beat up on you in seventh grade – and he hasn’t changed in any respect! He’s still in seventh grade, and imagines you are too.

There is no credential policy


Is there a Heaven for Pumpkinheads?

Wikipedia contributors
Jan 5 - Feb 14, 2008

Wikipedia currently has no policy on the validity or proper verification of credentials. Proposals either to verify editor credentials or to reject their validity altogether have both been rejected. [my bold] In the absence of an official policy, editors are free to accept, reject, invoke, or verify any credentials as they see fit, but there is no official requirement for any other editors to treat credentials in the same manner.

Any information about credentials displayed on user pages is by its author only, as Wikipedia does not have procedures for verifying them. Editors may interpret existing Wikipedia policy as supporting a certain credential policy, but such interpretations may not necessarily be shared by the community and do not necessarily reflect official policy.

Rejected proposals

The following proposals to verify credentials were rejected [my bold]:

The following proposals to disallow credentials were rejected [my bold]:

Please, don't miss Talk:There is no credential policy

Competence is required

Postcard of the lynched Jesse Washington, front and back 470px

Incompetent on all counts

Wikipedia contributors
Jun 19, 2008 - May 20, 2011

"Clearly, every editor is incompetent for some subjects, so it is important to know or discover your limitations.

Some types of incompetence we commonly see here
Factual incompetence
The best good will is unavailing if basic understanding of the facts, of their mainstream interpretation and the cultural context are lacking.
Social incompetence
Some people just can't function well in this particular collaborative environment. We can't change Wikipedia to suit them, so if they're unable to change themselves, they'll need to be shown the door.
Bias-based incompetence
Some people's personal opinions are so strongly held that they get in the way of editing neutrally or collaboratively. If this continues to be disruptive, a topic ban is generally appropriate. Try this first before going for a site ban, because some people can make valuable contributions in places other than their pet topic. For some reason, it is very difficult to see your own biased editing, though it is easy to see others' biased editing.
Language difficulty
If someone can't use English well, and can't discuss things with other editors very well, consider trying to get them to edit a Wikipedia in their own language. Those other language Wikipedias need help from editors, too.
Some folks just can't act like reasonable adults.
Lack of intelligence
Some people aren't able to grasp the subtleties of how Wikipedia works. They may still be able to do some easy jobs, but they'll probably run into trouble if they try biting off too much.
Lack of technical expertise
Not usually a problem at all, as long as they don't delve into areas that require it. Not everyone needs the same skill set—and as long as people operate only where they're capable, it's not a problem.
Some people get so upset over a past dispute that they look at everything through a lens of "So-and-so is a bad editor and is out to get me." Taken to extremes, this easily becomes quite disruptive. An enforced parole of "don't interact with this other editor" may be something to try in these cases.
Newbie incompetence
We were all pretty incompetent when we started. The great thing about this situation is that it's easily fixable. Help the newbies understand what we do here, and soon they'll be making themselves useful.
The bottom line

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter much whether someone's disruption is due to mischief or incompetence. Don't spend much time trying to figure this out, because many of our trolls do their trolling by feigning incompetence. There's no point trying to distinguish between fake or real incompetence—disruption is disruption, and needs to be prevented. Give editors a few chances, and some good advice, certainly—but if these things don't lead to reasonably competent editing within a reasonable timeframe, it's best to wash your hands of the situation. Not every person belongs at Wikipedia, because some people are not sufficiently competent."

Talk:Competence is required

Required readings
Titles for future developments of the above essay
  • Scientific Wikipedism
  • The Blame Frame: Justifying (User) Injustice in Wikipedia
  • Justifying Wikipedism Requires Moral Delusions, Denial of Humanity

For those who think the illustration and above references to be highly (or even moderately) exaggerated, please read the following page and check the result:

Discussion of the proposed deletion of "Competence is required"

Randy in Boise


Wikipedia contributors
Aug 12, 2009 - Apr 12, 2011

"Randy in Boise is the archetypal uninformed but relentless Wikipedia editor. Randy rose to fame in an essay about Wikipedia in Wired:

The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: "Experts are scum." For some reason people who spend 40 years learning everything they can about, say, the Peloponnesian War — and indeed, advancing the body of human knowledge — get all pissy when their contributions are edited away by Randy in Boise who heard somewhere that sword-wielding skeletons were involved. And they get downright irate when asked politely to engage in discourse with Randy until the sword-skeleton theory can be incorporated into the article without passing judgment. (Lore Sjöberg, "The Wikipedia FAQK" – Wired, April 2006)

Randy's enablers

Randy would cause far less disruption were it not for his enablers. Most of these are experienced Wikipedians, whose own content edits are unproblematic, but who systematically take Randy's side in the disputes with which he inevitably becomes involved.

Frequently, they discover behavioral problems with every editor who opposes Randy's point of view pushing. Meanwhile they ignore or minimize Randy's own behavior problems. When Randy first arrives on the scene they justify this by saying that "experienced Wikipedians should be held to a higher standard" and reminding everyone "not to bite the newbies". However, if their support allows Randy to last long enough to accumulate a few thousand edits and perhaps burn out one or more valuable editors, they do not then hold him to a higher standard.

Eventually, Randy wears out the patience of the community to the point that his enablers can no longer protect him. His editing career is then over, except for possible sockpuppets. But his enablers go on forever, always finding new Randies to support.

Talk:Randy in Boise

Discussion of the proposed deletion of "Randy in Boise"

Your unfriendly neighborhood list

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Participation of intellectual professions

Fri, 28 May 2010 21:57:14

I think it is important to think how many of the intellectual profession don't collaborate and why.

David Goodman
Fri, 28 May 2010 22:57:39

One of the problems is the reception they get--a great many experts do not take it kindly when they are challenged by the ignorant, and get no respect for their qualifications, or even negative comments about them. But there is no way of keeping WP open and preventing them from being subjected to this. It affects not just academic experts, but experts in all sorts of fields and knowledgeable amateurs also.

Some experts can deal with it well, and a few have been known to go for years on WP without mentioning their academic status. Some have the art of explaining things to make them clear to anyone who is not willfully misunderstanding, and the patience to do it. These are the kind of people we need. Alas, the one's who cannot tolerate the fools are probably never going to be able to work effectively in a WP environment.

Virgilio A. P. Machado <>
Sat, 29 May 2010 08:26:40

This an interesting topic which ties in very well with others that I have been discussing in this list. Noein presented part of the problem. Dr. Goodman, with whom I had the pleasure of exchanging some comments before, added some more very important information. He mentions "ignorants" and "fools". I have called them worse, but that's besides the point. What I find deplorable is the sorry state of cronyism and complicity so pervasive in several (but fortunately not all) Wikimedia projects that allows "ignorants" and "fools" to prevail. The spectacle of seeing someone with qualifications similar to those of the professors who are giving you so much grief in school is just too entertaining to pass. So is the spectacle of seeing a colleague that "cannot tolerate the fools" fail to work effectively in a WP environment. I am indeed a bit short on examples where the community has stand up to the "ignorants" and "fools", in favor of the inexperienced expert or the well meaning do gooder. I'm sorry most of you are not enough knowledgeable of the Portuguese language to ever had been able to interfere in the abuse and travesty of proper procedure (It's impossible to call that justice. It will be too offensive to what justice is) that I and others have had to endure in the Portuguese Wikipedia. At least I never notice your participation there, but records and written testimonies of the abusive behavior I mention are abundant.

Bericht zur Verleihung der Zedler-Medaille und Academy
Le avventure di Pinocchio-pag239

Milos Rancic
Sat, 27 Nov 2010 00:41:36

[...] our recruitment base are not well formed scientists, but high school students who are interested in Wikipedia (and other Wikimedia projects) per se.

Russell Nelson
Sat, 27 Nov 2010 15:05:14

Why would people with these expertises be useful? Wikipedia is very frustrating to people with expertise in a field, because Wikipedia places zero value on their expertise. [...] I'm not calling into question the citation needed policy, but instead the idea that domain experts (professional, teachers, scientists) are needed to improve Wikipedia.

Milos Rancic
Sat, 27 Nov 2010 17:12:33

Ideally, encyclopedists shouldn't be experts in particular fields, but experts in writing encyclopedia: those who are able to compile known facts into readable articles, according to the encyclopedic rules.

The Wikipedia-Ready Essay
Cockatoos damaging 800px

Virgilio A. P. Machado <>
Wed, 1 Jun 2011 00:58:48

Now that my attention has been drawn to that section, I wonder if that explains why the academic projects were not welcome and their contributions are being vandalized, almost systematically, at the Brazilian Wikipedia.


Virgilio A. P. Machado

M. Williamson
Wed, 1 Jun 2011 02:48:00

Professor Machado:

This is an interesting allegation, I would be quite interested to see some examples of this taking place.


Virgilio A. P. Machado <>
Fri, 24 Jun 2011 01:20:19

The evidence is in.

Wanton vandalism

Your move.

Virgilio A. P. Machado (Vapmachado)

Executive Editor, Logística, a Logistics wikibook in Portuguese
The One and Only Editor to ever develop and complete academic projects on the Brazilian Wikipedia

Austin Hair
Fri, 24 Jun 2011 19:49:09

I'm not sure whose move it is, exactly, so I hope you'll forgive me if I'm out of turn.

You've been given more chances than usual, Virgilio, but I'm afraid enough is finally enough. The list administrators will be monitoring your next several posts until we're convinced that you can maintain a decent civility:trolling ratio.

Best regards,


(Please, see also Showdown)

Human rights

Le avventure di Pinocchio-pag251

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [...]. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."[1]


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

[...] the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,


Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance [...]

Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind [...] or other status.

Article 7. [...] All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 28. Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29. (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any [...] group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.