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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:
- Real and perceived lack of credibility.
- The dominance of difficult people, trolls, and their enablers.
- Creation of an unwelcoming environment for editors with disciplinary expertise.
- Being unfairly targeted at work leading to fines for the swear jar
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.
- Maintaining Wikipedia involves many "menial", repetitive tasks that some feel expert editors would not want to bother with, but which may be embraced by anti-elitist editors.
- Intelligent non-experts can compile perfectly encyclopedic articles on many topics by referring to tertiary sources (paraphrasing other encyclopedias and introductory textbooks).
- Flawed articles due to trolling or pushing of fringe scholarship may have the effect of motivating educated editors to invest effort much more than an invitation to expand a short but innocent stub article would.
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.