Wikipedia talk:Anti-elitism

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Larry Sanger[edit]

Larry Sanger wrote:

This lack of respect for expertise explains the first problem, 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. [1]

Sanger appears to argue that less tolerance would foster more openness:

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. [ibid]
The project can both prize and praise its most knowledgeable contributors, and permit contribution by persons with no credentials whatsoever. [ibid]

Sanger offers a solution:

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. [ibid]

And another solution:

I believe it is only a matter of time before some organization--only possibly Wikipedia's managing nonprofit, Wikimedia--takes advantage of the fact that Wikipedia contents are open content, and on the basis of the older project, starts a new, competing project with publicly credible quality controls. The result would be what is called in the open content software world a fork. I fully believe that if a respected university, thinktank, or other established institution were to do this, Wikipedia, or child-of-Wikipedia, would blossom into a reference source the likes of which the world has never before seen. [2]
Truth be told I thought about something very similar this week. Someone could skive off a quarter-million articles, put them under a more peer-reviewed editing scheme and... Wyss 17:56, 5 August 2005 (UTC)
lose their shirt. Fred Bauder 17:42, August 6, 2005 (UTC)
Totally :) Any model would have to be supported. Wyss 18:32, 6 August 2005 (UTC)
Only out of a non-profit motive could it be done, where there is no need to get a return on investment because it would be a labor of love. It would have to come from a philanthropist with deep pockets, or foundation which believed that giving the gift of knowledge to the world was its own reward. Who or what would be willing to do this, Fred? Uncle Ed 20:10, August 7, 2005 (UTC)


Anti-elitism is not the best term for the problem. We don't need "an elite". Indeed, the proposition sets up a straw man. Who would want to participate in a project controled by an elite, except the elite? And does it make any sense to consider the entire membership of anything "elite"? Besides, it's poor construction to invite anyone to join the war on anti-anythingism.

The problem lies within elitism is its core belief in superiority. If the idea of superiority of a particular traits develops results, other views and characteristics, become ignored and thus does not allow for adequate competition. Anti-Elitism allows for the greatest respect of true merit and not simply advantages given by birth with particular resources and with society having a favorable view of particular talents and culture. As long as the castle-jumpers can destroy 8 times as fast as the builders can build, there will always be a uphill battle to produce and maintain decent content. — Xiongtalk* 00:51, 2005 August 9 (UTC)

So I think about Hypatia at Alexandria. Wyss 05:14, 9 August 2005 (UTC)

Update: The other editor and I were able to work out our differences. I probably chose a poor example; nonetheless, it's a terrible problem. Wiki only works under certain conditions, and this project has reached a point where for many, it no longer does. — Xiongtalk* 00:16, 2005 August 11 (UTC)

Will you annotate your classical reference? I hope you're not suggesting I'm headed for an appointment with a basket of meathooks. — Xiongtalk* 00:18, 2005 August 11 (UTC)

It wasn't directed at anyone, only a citation of an historical event, something PoV warriors did to a scholar out there in the real world. Wyss 16:16, 11 August 2005 (UTC)

Beyond agreeing and disagreeing and being neutral[edit]


Maybe what needs to be done is to recognize a certain discipline in editing these articles. Rather than going by what's popular and what people feel should be done I think we need to do some deep reflection on what we want to put in and what should be in. Whenever you get a publicly available editing scheme you start dealing with people's personalities and often personalities clash. But, if we were to come into this with a clinical view of correctness over popularity some things might happen: 1.) We might have to agree with something that goes against our individual views. 2.) We might have to defer to good old fashioned succinctness where we might want to put as much information in as can possibly fit. It's always amazed me how lilliputian egg breaking some of these arguements can get when the simple solution of "keeping it simple, stupid" is long since been passed on by. I think Wikipedia is a great resource if enough people took it seriously and the people contributing it weren't too serious for the wrong reasons. I think there's a very simple solution if we can all keep our heads cool. Wikipedia shouldn't be anti-elitist just as much as it shouldn't be elitist. It should not prefer one over the other and should only put contributions up to clinical scrutiny not popular opinion. Problem with that is not everybody is trained in that form of behavior and more often than not you get your normal everyday untrained Joe trying to be the authority on things. Which is fine, but it takes more than "I think it should be..." or "I disagree on the basis of personal feeling". FazzMunkle 08:49, 17 January 2006 (UTC)

Poll archive[edit]

Anti-elitism at Wikipedia is at the root of both of its biggest problems.

  1. lack of public perception of credibility, particularly in areas of detail
  2. the dominance of difficult people, trolls, and their enablers

It must be jettisoned. -Unsigned


I agree: We need a little bit of "elite" element, that is, "authority" element to control problems. For example, the New York Times' web pages are NOT edited by just anyone: Whether the stories are biased or not, the pages are stable and free from vandalism. Additionally, lack of pay ensures you "get what you pay for" in the quality of editors on some occasions. Both the instability and lack of pay can lead to low morale and lack of respect for those with expertise who contribute that professional knowledge to wiki articles in their area of expertise.--GordonWattsDotCom 17:10, 5 August 2005 (UTC)


  • In order to claim that Wikipedia has "anti-elitism", one must first demonstrate that such an assertion is actually true. In fact, what Wikipedia has is openness. If openness = anti-elitism, then what does elitism actually produce? -St|eve 21:10, 5 August 2005 (UTC)
  • I think an important Wikipedian, Jimbo Wales, addressed this matter best: "Wikipedia is not anti-elitist, but it is anti-credentialist." We should always respect the best or most persuasive arguments -- not the person with the most impressive set of initials behind her/his name. The fact that experts tend to have credentials, & tend to have the best arguments, sometimes blurs this important distinction -- but it does not remove it. -- llywrch 21:24, 5 August 2005 (UTC)
    • But isn't it usually a fact that the people with credentials are the most qualified to say what's fact and what's not about a subject? I mean, J. Random Luser may make a (to you) persuasive argument that the Earth is hollow, but who would you trust, him or a geologist? ~~ N (t/c) 22:01, 28 August 2005 (UTC)
  • Anti-elitism at Wikipedia is at the root of both of its biggest problems.:
    • lack of public perception of credibility, particularly in areas of detail
      • Public perception of credibility is based on naive acceptance of assertions of authority, which, so far as it is rational, is based on the credentials and reputation of those who assert it. Wikipedia is focused on generation of reliable knowledge, not on asserting authority, except to the extent reliable knowledge is its own authority.
    • the dominance of difficult people, trolls, and their enablers.
      • Members of elites are often difficult, engage in trolling and enable trolling and to be frank, not honest or straightforward; they have agendas. Wikipedia is focused on responsible behavior, not on credentials which misleadingly promise responsibility. It is not hard to see that almost any Wikipedian can write an article on foreign relations of the United States that is better in some respects than what Henry Kissinger might write. What could be expected from him is realpolitik. Fred Bauder 22:47, August 5, 2005 (UTC)
  • We don't need anti-elitism. We need people to cite verifiable sources. That's the answer to both the above criticisms. Dan100 (Talk) 07:42, August 6, 2005 (UTC)
That may be the pith of it. In my experience, the existing citation requirements are often ignored or un-enforced. Editors insisting on them are wontedly called any number of invectives... elitists, vandals, fascists... Wyss 16:05, 6 August 2005 (UTC)
Another name for those scoundrels is Arbitrators. Fred Bauder 16:28, August 6, 2005 (UTC)
More may be needed, but they'd inevitably be accused of being... elitists :/ Wyss 17:17, 6 August 2005 (UTC)

That is a good example of what we are talking about here. Those who are willing to patiently go through the evidence, think about what might be done in terms of existing policy and convince the other arbitrators that it makes sense can be considered an elite, but it is an elite in operational terms, not one based on arbitrary a priori criteria. Although the present Committee would all admit we have lots to learn. Fred Bauder 17:39, August 6, 2005 (UTC)

Only for the sake of this discussion, I would submit that PoV warriors, deconstructionists, pranksters and extreme activists aren't likely to avoid using invective when it stands a chance of distracting folks from WP citation policies ;) Wyss 18:35, 6 August 2005 (UTC)
  • It's about getting the content right, not who wrote it, stupid. The whole premise behind what Larry views as a problem at Wikipedia is based on the flawed assumption that a person with credentials is somehow a better arbitrator of truth. This is an appeal to authority that I know from personal experience is dangerous; I’ve had several PhD professors that have espoused, as fact, fairly fringe ideas. I no longer take the word of any PhD or other *single* person as fact without first checking reputable sources (this is very different than credentialism). Those who are in ivory towers feel threatened by Wikipedia since it invalidates their exalted position as the gatekeepers of knowledge. --mav 20:34, 16 August 2005 (UTC)
Reading this thread, I've come to the conclusion that framing these questions in terms of "anti-elitism" is at best problematic. Most people seem to agree that helpful articles are solidly sourced ones. Wyss 20:38, 16 August 2005 (UTC)
  • I think what Wikipedia is more anti-elitism! With the current system of admins and other methods to ensure quality I think a listtle bit of bureaucracy has developed. Edit numbers aregenerally seen as credentials and weighed as such...--Carabinieri 14:41, 14 October 2005 (UTC)
  • Anti-elitism is merely the surface manifestation. Elitism is the root. In an encyclopedia, the quality of the articles is the only thing that matters. If we are going in the direction of better edits and less vandalism, Wikipedia's administration methods are effective. However, we are obviously not going in that direction. Vandalism is increasing exponentially. The quality of edits is going dramatically down, and good editors are leaving Wikipedia because it purports itself to be a level playing field and is not. We have an objective set of rules for blocking, and we don't even try to follow them, then we have the gall to ask where these vandals come from. We created them! Good editors are of course going to be outraged by the top-down control of a system that claims to follow rules. Why would writers with talent subject themselves the hidden agendas of the secret combinations that really control the content here? Most of them aren't even going to stick around long enough to find out what's going on. Then we have the gall to ask why the quality of edits is going down. We drove off the good editors! Obviously the system isn't working. You can't have bottom-up editing with top-down administration. No self-respecting editor is going donate their NPOV talents to a bunch of biased control freaks. If we want to get rid of the anti-elitism, we have to get rid of elitism first. Human nature simply does not allow people to subjugate themselves to corrupt causes. When we see an article getting worse because of the biased absolute control of a few administrators, we cannot abide it. --Zephram Stark 20:54, 16 October 2005 (UTC)


  • The statements are too vague for me to be comfortable with a categorical opinion on them. What is meant by anti-elitism? And how are difficult people dominant? I just don't understand what Sanger is talking about. I agree fully with Llyrch on the distinction between good credentials and good arguments. I also agree with St that Wikipedia's fundamental quality is openness. - Haukurth 21:52, 5 August 2005 (UTC)
  • "Jettisoned" how? Why are we having another vote? Dan100 (Talk) 23:06, August 5, 2005 (UTC)
    • Frankly, Dan, your guess is as good as mine. Ed announced this on Wikien-L a few hours ago, but didn't provide any context there. -- llywrch 01:57, 6 August 2005 (UTC)
    • Dan100 makes a good point. Wikipedia it seems was built with the idea of letting everyone have equal say. If you want to be in charge of us all, go start your own encyclopedia. Olleicua 01:19, 13 August 2005 (UTC)
I'm not so sure WP was "built with the idea of letting everyone have equal say" but rather, to let everyone have an equal chance to participate in writing an encyclopedia according to WP policy. Wyss 13:28, 13 August 2005 (UTC)

I agree (aside from the "lack of pay" argument) but also realize that given the propensity to form cliques that seems to be hard-wired into human nature, there should be checks and balances to avoid cresting the optimal ridge (so to speak) and sliding down the slippery slope... that an editor's asserted credentials could ever be a substitute for a solid cite of a secondary source drawn from the documented record. I also think registered users should have some sort of presumed good faith (and I'm not sure I'd object to edits being restricted to registered users but I'm torn on that one... many anons do helpful things on WP). Evidence should always be given preference to the lack of it and academically trained people tend to understand this and know how to apply it. Finally, many qualified specialists are driven away from Wikipedia after putting long hours into informative and helpful articles with entirely supportable content, only to have them mutilated by less knowledgeable "editors" who typically seed strings of articles with disinformation or pseudoscience (or worse), hoping to promote agendas that have little or nothing to do with NPoV encyclopedic knowledge. Wyss 17:28, 5 August 2005 (UTC)

  • It seems like inherent POV to declare, as an explicit policy, that Wikipedia is either elitist or anti-elitist. It just is what it is... with elements of openness that some consider anti-elitist, and elements of social hierarchy that some consider elitist, but not ideologically committed to either thing. *Dan* 17:23, August 27, 2005 (UTC)
  • It's not about elitism. Openness and inclusiveness and fairness is what it's about. If administrators ignore non-administrators, that's elitism of a sort. I don't agree with that nor do I agree with bowing down to an "authority" whether in a subject area or in Wikipedia itself. Tedernst 08:24, 27 October 2005 (UTC)

The problem is not anti-elitism![edit]

The problem isn't so much anti-elitism as it is a kind of reverse snobbery that seeks to excuse mediocrity. I suspect that mediocrity, in addition to the bad actors already cited here, also has to do with sophomoric undergraduates and pedantic graduates, who seem to subscribe to the post-modernist cultural relativism which feel-good hack academics have been foisting on them, which says, "Your truth is as good as mine, now aren't we sophisticated?"

Tolerance is the cheapest of virtues because all too often it's nothing more than a sanctimonious way of disguising one's moral and/or intellectual sloth. This perversion of tolerance creates one of the big problems on Wikipedia, the confusion of NPOV with "balance". Truth (yes, dear post-modernists, objective truth) isn't balanced, so NPOV will seldom be "fair". And need we go into that other pernicious way for people to sneak in their POV, the weasel words that plague almost every article with a history?

I think the best way to maintain excellence in Wikipedia, to keep it a truly collaborative effort as invisioned by its founders, is for users to be made to recognize that Wiki is not an exercise in civil rights but an effort to prove that truth is more reliably found in the dialectic of continual critical review than with standing peer review. And critical review does not require specialized knowledge of the article subject, just the ability to recognize bullshit when we see it. And those who can recognize bullshit when they see it are called editors. And I think that editors, not content providers, are what Wikipedia sorely needs.

Agreeing with versus being informed by seems to be a distinction that some folks have a problem with, and it's not those folks whom Wikipedia should seek to accomodate. As someone here has pointed out, Jimmy Wales told us (doubtless with Ward Cunningham's strong second), don't scrutinize the credentials, but by all means do scrutinize the content. And if that smacks of elitism, then so be it. — J M Rice 00:10, 18 August 2005 (UTC)

What true experts can do[edit]

True experts can explain their subject so rational though previously uninformed people will be convinced of the soundness of their views--and so the irrationality of absurd positions will be self-evident to any unbiased non-expert observer. True experts acknowledge and fairly present other valid positions than their own. The experts who get impatient at Wikipedia may be suited to scholarship, but not to a general encyclopedia, which is properly seen as a project in educational outreach. Alternatively, they may be less expert than they think they are.DGG (talk) 20:53, 13 November 2007 (UTC)

Are experts really "scum" on Wikipedia?[edit]

Are these truisms:

  • "The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: 'Experts are scum.'"
  • "And they get downright irate when asked politely to engage in discourse."

It certainly seems like a statement of an established idea. I would really like to see that whole quote removed, because it reduces the subject to absurdity and its purpose is unclear, however funny it may seem. It generalizes: its premise is that all experts act in a certain, childish manner and makes the issue worse, rather than explaining it. Rosier (talk) 12:52, 25 February 2008 (UTC)

With this quote removed, the redirect to this article from Wikipedia:Sword-skeleton theory now seems inappropriate, since there is no longer mention of said theory on this article. Therefore, I have listed the redirect on RfD. If anyone objects to the removal of the quote, please also add a comment to the RfD discussion so the redirect can be kept. Dansiman (talk|Contribs) 22:32, 20 March 2008 (UTC)

I'm restoring it. try to understand that sometimes humour is the best way to drive home a point. --dab (𒁳) 10:07, 21 March 2008 (UTC)

It is a most elegantly phrased and pithy quote. Powerful, self explanatory, apposite and funny. Autodidactyl (talk) 12:34, 22 November 2008 (UTC)

What is 'sword-skeleton theory'?[edit]

This term currently redirects here. Apparently it was put up for 'redirects for discussion' but I can't find it. I think if it has any relevance as a redirect then the coiner of the term should explain what it means. Tyciol (talk) 16:22, 21 June 2008 (UTC)

What about elitism within Wikipedia?[edit]

There are some areas where your average man on the street is, in fact, just about as qualified as someone in academia. Keeping track of internet memes and pop culture, for example, would be an area that requires no special expertise. But what I think we're seeing is a class of elitist editors within the community who seem to be dedicated to throwing out the baby even before they drain the bathwater. --Nerd42 (talk) 00:57, 13 May 2010 (UTC)

This has already happened, I know of at least 24 former expert editors with bachelors degrees or better in their specialties who were trolled off Wikipedia mercilessly because the opposed the SOPA blackout. (talk) 05:04, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

Wikipedia's problem is eletism there is no anti-elitism[edit]

Wikipedia's hostility to simple explanations for initial learners of a subject and its tendency to label everything as original research or cite undo weight whenever a disagreement is explained is the real problem, a problem I would summarize as elitism. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:36, 3 August 2015 (UTC)

Paragraph on Randy: moving[edit]

The paragraph on Randy describes a negative consequence of anti-elitism, not a positive one; just look at the other items listed under positive and negative consequences. Hence [3], which I trust isn't particularly bold, even in an essay. If it is too bold, I trust someone will revert, and then we can do the WP:BRD thing. Happy editing. --Middle 8 (tc | privacyCOI) 18:05, 21 October 2016 (UTC)