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Wikipedia? No, Citizendium!

Here is the story. Fresher student wants to write the single best essay they have ever attempted. Student searches keyword in Google. Student clicks on first entry on the page that will usually end with, for example …/wiki/French_Revolution. Student reads, believes, cites, and references Wikipedia. Student hand in essay, waits, and fails. Or maybe does not fail but is told in no uncertain terms NEVER to reference Wikipedia.

How many of you can relate to this story? Is that unnamed student you? It was me at some point I can promise you that, but, I quickly learned my lesson.

What are my research options?

The degree I read was BSc. Sport Sciences, a degree heavily rooted in biology, psychology, and biomechanics amongst a few other smaller disciplines. This made researching a particular topic a tiresome and endless process using multiple online databases that spewed out vast amounts of scientific literature in answer to a single keyword entry. For example, the definition of DNA, I’d enter “DNA” and hit “search” only to be confronted by thousands of articles, half of which were inaccessible, some written in Spanish, French or German, and others were published in the early 1900s long before sport science, as a discipline, existed. Alternatively, I type”DNA” into Google and I’m provided with …/wiki/DNA. what do I do? I need a simple definition DNA and I face the choice of sifting through tens of PDF documents or opening up a browser window that will display the definition of DNA according to someone that entered it into the wiki database. The answer is simply neither

Wikipedia has revolutionised the way that we can access information I agree, but these wonders have far too often been infiltrated by individuals seeking to destroy all that is great about the site using the “anybody can edit” feature. Examples of this have been highlighted in the press, for example, Wikipedia’s biography of John Seigenthaler Sr. where nearly the complete article was false and linked him with the assassination of JFK and was posted on the site for 132 days. Another example is that of Chris Benoit where a person wrote about the death of Nancy Benoit 12 hours before it actually happened. A coincidence or otherwise I am not sure but the whole situation infers that Wikipedia is an unstable, unreliable, and a limited resource.

What can I use instead?

Citizendium. A compendium initially set up to serve as mirror of Wikipedia where expert authors would edit the posts deemed inaccurate, this mission was recently altered and the site now contains its own original database of posts. Citizendium aims to stamp out the aforementioned accuracy, post hijacking, and general limitations of Wikipedia by implementing fundamental principles. These include:

  • Open collaboration – anyone can participate, much like Wikipedia.
  • Expert contribution – all posts can be edited by Citizens but certain decisions are placed in the hands of subject experts.
  • Article approval – a post is approved once it is deemed true, unbiased, and accurate by a subject expert.
  • Real names – all participants are required to provide their real name, unlike Wikipedia where false names are often used.

For a greater depth of information regarding the policies then click on

Why Citizendium?

I read the page Why Citizendium? because I do not completely understand why they are trying to out do Wikipedia. The page is written in a manner that initially compares the two sites and basically declares that Citizendium is better, however, towards the end of the article they set Citizendium apart from Wikipedia and discuss its merits independently. An interesting read to say the least.

The founders of Citizendium strongly believe that they can catch up with the millions of articles contained within Wikipedia. Why? The Citizendium added five million words in its first year – more than Wikipedia achieved. The authors do not believe that Wikipedia is simply “good enough”, they state that it is full of inaccuracies that blemish the massive database, editors “squat” on posts ensuring that they are never edited in a way that does not suit their personal opinion, textual vandalism is rife due to the anonymous author feature. The Citizendium authors believe that real names will stamp out hijacking of posts because people are considerate when a name is on the line, expert approval will ensure that nobodies will not be able to approve an article as fact, and sensible governance is better. New participants, called Citizens, are required to agree to the Statement of Fundamental Policies, and are reined in upon by Constables when/if they behave irresponsibly.


The Citizendium also offers supplementary reference material or sub pages.

The Citizendium has “subpages.” These are pages, such as Bibliography or Related Articles, attached to a main (encyclopedia) page via a standard table. A main article together with its subpages is called a “cluster.” You might look at the Biology article and its subpages–our “biology cluster”–as an example.

The purpose of subpages is to provide supplementary and background information to allow people to find all different types of information about a topic.

This in my opinion is a superb addition to the wiki model, subpages offered to you on a plate by experts in the field. The numerous hours that I used to spend looking for a decent video clip of a sporting action will never be returned to me but for you this should not be an issue.

Another useful addition is Signed Articles.

Signed articles are introductory, overview, general review, and perspectival articles attributed to one person or a small group of people. Such articles have two fundamental requirements: first, they must be characterizable as reference material, and neither brand new research nor mere polemics; second, they must be crafted by people who are unquestionably experts on the topic in question.

Basically, academic experts can post their personal opinion about a post contained in Citizendium. This to me in genius. In science, as with many subjects I suppose, there are differing views on almost all topics. In psychology there are; Cognitive, Behavioural, Psychoanalytic, Humanistic, Biological, among other paradigms, prominent psychologists from each of these will undoubtedly have fairly opposing views on the formation of personality, who is to say which views are correct and which are not. With Signed Articles you can follow the arguments from different perspectives and devise a theory or belief of your own.

The final word from the founder of Wikipedia himself

Jimmy Wales, the site’s founder, has acknowledged Wikipedia’s limitations. “If what you are after is ‘Who won the World Cup in 1984′, Wikipedia is going to be fine,” he said. “If you want to know something more esoteric, or something controversial, you should probably use a second reference – at least.”

Source: Wikipedia amateurs face backlash from the experts

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9 Responses to “Wikipedia? No, Citizendium!”

  1. Anne-Laure says:

    Thank you for mentioning Citizendium.
    I find that Scholarpedia ( is quite good too, though it doesn’t cover a lot of topics (for now, at least). Here is how it works :
    * Each article is written by an expert (invited or elected by the public).
    * Each article is anonymously peer reviewed to ensure accurate and reliable information.
    * Each article has a curator – typically its author — who is responsible for its content.
    * Any modification of the article needs to be approved by the curator before it appears in the final, approved version.

  2. danielb says:

    @ Anne-Laure – Sounds very similar to the concept of Citizendium. I’m sure there will are numerous alternatives to Wikipedia each offering their own tailored concept.

    Scholarpedia offers articles on a few select topics whereas Citizendium aims to cover every possible topic. Although the idea of expanding is mentioned on the home page. I particularly support the notion of invite only.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. paulette says:

    I agree with you that information shall be written in a correct manner so that the readers will gain knowledge from it. Info is useless if its innacurate.

  4. Most schools subscribe to a variety of encyclopedias, either in print or online. For instance, the university I work at subscribes to American National Biography Online; Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology; Encyclopaedia Britannica Online; Encyclopedia of Genetics, Genomics, Proteomics, and Bioinformatics, and dozens more.

    When I was doing my undergrad, after the 2nd year I was told to NEVER use an encyclopedia in a bibliography. They were a place to begin research, but not something to cite. As a grad student, we’re not told this, but it is pretty understood. I do occasionally quote Wikipedia to prove a point- for instance “Some people believe XYZ (Wikipedia) but the literature suggest the opposite is really true (Scholarly Journal Article.)” If I do cite wikipedia, I cite a timestamped entry rather than the article main page, since that can change.

    I’m glad all these alternative sources are popping up- it’s great to have options! Google is going to start yet another project like this.

  5. Chris Y. says:

    If you’re looking for a definitions just go to Google and search for “define: xyz” minus the quotation marks.

    Using your DNA example, Google returned “The material inside the nucleus of cells that carries genetic information. The scientific name for DNA is deoxyribonucleic acid.”

  6. danielb says:

    @Paulette – too true

    @Karin – You are very lucky that the University you work for have access to such a wide array of encyclopaedias, however, I do not think this scenario represents the majority of academic establishments. Also, from my experience access to the online versions and for that matter the physical versions are only available “on campus”. Considering that mature students and distance learners can live 50 or so miles away they are not necessarily a viable option.

    I agree that they should only be used as a starting point and this is why it is important to ensure that the information is correct from the start. Otherwise you may find that you have been led up the garden path by some half wit pretending to know what they are harping on about. A triangulation of research sources is required to ensure that what you are reading is legitimate information and not biased tosh.

    I too am glad that a variety of options are coming in to the fore as Wikipedia is invariably flawed

    @Chris Y – A strategy that I often employ.

    About that DNA..Erythrocytes or red blood cells do not contain a nucleus and therefore do not contain any DNA. Considering that RBCs make up approximately 45% of blood volume and that the body contains approximately 10 pints of blood that makes up on average 7% of body weight, that is a lot of body material that does not contain DNA.

  7. @danielb – Most universities at least have Encyclopaedia Britannica. I have studied at 5 colleges (eek) and all of them have had online access to electronic resources from off campus. I’m sure not all of them do, but it is fairly common. I am a distance student right now and access ALL of my school resources online. I don’t think any school should be offering distance classes if they don’t have the online resources to back up students who may never set foot on campus.

    I totally agree that a variety of resources are needed, though! Citizendium is one more to add to a growing list of great online resources.

  8. nice research.. thanks for sharing this information

  9. Mark Stone says:

    The answer to your problem with regards DNA is simple, and your answer is incorrect. Go to your University or College’s library and get the information from a book which will have been written and reviewed by experts.

    Please note, I am not suggesting that electronic resources are unwarranted. Indeed an electronic copy of the book or journal from which you got this information would be fine (and most Universities and Colleges offer ebooks and electronic manuscripts). Indeed, remember that you should not be citing any encyclopedia … be it wikipedia or Britinnica!