[Foundation-l] Expertise and Wikipedia redux

Peter Damian peter.damian at btinternet.com
Thu Oct 14 18:24:27 UTC 2010

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "David Gerard" <dgerard at gmail.com>
To: "Wikimedia Foundation Mailing List" <foundation-l at lists.wikimedia.org>
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 8:56 PM
Subject: Re: [Foundation-l] Expertise and Wikipedia redux

> And it didn't irritate you that this is a vice-chancellor saying these
> things, with an aim to making you pretty much redundant?
> (Vice-chancellors are not picked for their fluffy nature and goodwill
> to academics who don't pull in large sums in grants.)

Let me reply in more detail.  Will projects like Wikipedia affect employment 
in academia?  Discuss.

1.  One business of academia is research, i.e. the production of primary 
sources.  But use of primary sources is forbidden in Wikipedia, so no change 

2.  Another business is teaching, and the awarding of degrees.  Given the 
choice between a graduate of one of the better universities, and a graduate 
of Wikipedia, what would you choose?  No change there either.

3.  Some academics produce material intended for wider publication than the 
journals and specialised outlets - basic introductions, popular works 
(Russell made his money from History of Western Philosophy).  Wikipedia is 
allowed to *use* secondary sources.  But it can't *produce* them.  That is 
also forbidden by policy - see e.g. WP:RS and the other policy 'pillars'. 
Wikipedia is a tertiary source.  No change there either.

4.  So who is Wikipedia putting out of business?  There are two classes of 
writers for encyclopedias.  These are the (rather poorly paid) recently 
graduated staff who compile sources, work with the specialised databases 
that collect together all the comprehensive information for the 'factual' 
articles.  They are supported by adminstrative and clerical staff.  It is 
this class of people that Wikipedia is putting out of a job.  The other 
class are those who have a specialism and who write the 'high level' 
summaries of a whole subject, the big articles that tie the encyclopedia 
together.  These are, or were paid somewhat more.  These probably are losing 
out also.  But you see the cost.  Wikipedia is good at compiling lists and 
basic facts.  But at articles which require a thread, a conspectus, an 
overall summary of a big, general, subject, it is hopeless.  (As I've 
pointed out here a few times).

In summary, Wikipedia is hardly making a dent.  Where it is making a dent, 
it is by cheapening the product.  No win all round. 

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