Paradox of Darwinian Equality

In reading the pieces on Wikipedia I was struck by a paradox that I call Darwinian Equality. It seems that one of the fundamental assumptions of Wikipedia is that the best will rise to the top – in a survival of the fittest kind of way. At the same time, there is the promotion of a sense of equality – everyone can be an author if they choose to login and take the time to make the edits. These seem contradictory. While I value the social experiment that is Wikipedia – it is intriguing that Sanger is forking Wikipedia with his new Citizendium project and adding in some more traditional views of expert editors. Is this an attempt to resolve a fundamental philosophical conflict? A means to create a better (or at potentially more reliable) end product (AKA knowledge)? Or the process of liminality ending and structure reformulating?

Of note, is the quote on the Rough Type blog in response to Sanger’s idea as a wikipedia for “stick-in-the-muds”: One response from StrayPackets, is that: “‘If an attempt to craft a wiki that strives for accuracy, even via a flawed model, is considered something for ‘stick-in-the-muds,’ then it’s apparent that many of Wikipedia’s supporters value the dynamics of its community more than the credibility of the product they deliver.'” Apparently, the essential problem with the current wikipedia is that people have no stake in it, so it is easy to abuse the system. Is this simply another example of the potential problem of anonymity in regards to community and/or accountability? Or is the blogger way off base here?

One thought on “Paradox of Darwinian Equality

  • October 5, 2006 at 8:49 am

    Brenda, Brenda, Brenda. Who said that Wikipedia was striving for accuracy? I need to go back to read the “policies,” but weren’t contributors frequently told to simply remember that we’re building an encyclopedia? Perhaps accuracy was mentioned, but even the definition of encyclopedia omits any reference to accuracy or high-quality end-product. Here’s a Random House definition: “A comprehensive reference work containing articles on a wide range of subjects or on numerous aspects of a particular field, usually arranged alphabetically.” I think that striving for accuracy is great, but don’t expect it. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, we have the Peter Principle at work. Do I sound jaded? I think my view is more realistic than jaded. I have a few more years under my belt, and along with that, the experience of working with a lot of groups and committees. If there is no ultimate editor responsible for a product’s accuracy or quality…well, you see my point.

    I think it was Fruit of the Loom that ran some ads many years ago promoting a new concept in American manufacturing…that of a worker signing his name to his work. Boxes were labeled, “packed by Anita.” Shirts were tagged with “inspected by Jonathan.” Now, how’s that for accountability. I don’t know if it improved quality. I think I’ll look into it. Perhaps the anonymity thing contributes to a lack of caring about the output. I’m not sure I would be that pessimistic. I think it’s quite simply that most people are mediocre intellects and mediocre writers. Could that be?


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