Cover story articleCitizendium

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Their logo as of July 2010. Hey, Gmail was "beta" for five years.

Citizendium ("CZ") is a pretender to the throne of Wikipedia as a free Internet-based encyclopedia project.[1] Wikipedia co-founder[2] Larry Sanger started the project in 2006 to remedy what he viewed as problems with Wikipedia.

Citizendium aims to boost its reliability by having articles vetted by experts and requiring real names for contributions.[3] Articles are managed by workgroups, which until recently included "healing arts," Citizendium's term for alternative medicine[4] — distinct from the workgroup on "health sciences", medical treatment that actually works. This led to the first public sign that something had gone seriously wrong, when a ludicrous puff piece on homeopathy was featured on the main page.[5] While pseudoscience advocates have been protected by site policies, many of the recruited academic experts have left, driven away by Sanger and the site administrators.[6]

The project began with lofty ambitions and heavy media coverage. Participation peaked in early 2008, then gradually declined to the present core of 20 or so regulars and about 50 people making at least one edit per month. By June 2011 Citizendium was moribund, with fewer participants[7] and fewer edits[8] than any full month in its history, and with well over half the month's edits made by just three users.[9] Citizendium illustrates the pitfalls of top-down management of volunteer projects and the dangers of credentialism.



Founding and public launch

The project was founded in 2006 to create a "new compendium of knowledge" based on the contributions of "intellectuals," defined as "educated, thinking people who read about science or ideas regularly."[10] The ambition was to "unseat Wikipedia as the go-to destination for general information online."[11] It was launched with great fanfare and wide coverage in both the blogosphere and the international prestige press.[12]

Citizendium began its closed pilot phase in late 2006 and went public on March 27, 2007.[13] It began as a fork of the English Wikipedia under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, but by the time of the public launch Sanger had decided that starting from a clean slate was the best way to motivate writers. He therefore deleted all Wikipedia-sourced articles that had not been worked on locally.[14] This was a huge gamble, betting that Citizendium's writers would fill gaping holes in content.

Growth and decline

Sanger stated in October 2007 that he foresaw "an explosion of the not-too-distant future,"[15] and that he expected the project to triple, or at least double, in size annually. This did not occur.

Participation grew during Citizendium's first year, peaking in early 2008 before settling in to a long-term decline. The number of words added per day has plummeted by more than 95% from its peak of 17,100 in the second quarter of 2008, to just 700 in the last quarter of 2011. Article creation rate increased from around 14 per day in late 2007 to 18-20 per day in 2010, falling to a mere one or two per day in late 2011. With the growth in article numbers outpacing the growth in words[16] the median article length has correspondingly declined, from 468 words in October 2007 to 138 words (roughly the length of the paragraph you are now reading) in December 2011.[17] At the start of 2012 there were about 14 million words in 24,239 mainspace articles (a mean of 580 words/article).[18][19]

In late 2011 about 60 individuals made at least one edit per month at Citizendium, down from around 200 at the time of Sanger's "explosion of growth" prediction.[20] It is of course dwarfed by Wikipedia, which had 133,137 editors in the thirty days prior to 1 January 2012.[21] But it's also far behind even narrow, hobbyist wikis such as Muppet Wiki and Wookieepedia (the Star Wars wiki), which had 226[22] and 832[23] contributors respectively in December 2011. Or even RationalWiki, where about 300 people make at least one edit in a given month.[24] The project is now dominated by a core of about 20 regulars with almost no new blood.

Community management

Authors and editors

Citizendium calls its contributors "Citizens." They are divided into authors (hoi polloi) and editors (the experts) — analogous to print publications. The class distinction is clear and comes from the top: if you're a mere author, your opinions are worthless.[25] (As may be expected, this has left Citizendium a wiki of editors with few authors to supervise.[26]) This contrasts with Wikipedia, where everyone is an "editor." The difference in terminology sometimes leads to confusion when discussing Citizendium.

Editors are supposed to provide "gentle expert guidance" to authors. They can referee disputes over article content and can also enforce style guidelines. But their real power lies in their ability to "approve" articles. After an article is approved it becomes the version displayed to the public and is locked from further editing. Any changes must be made to a separate draft version which can eventually be approved to replace the current public-facing version. The process is cumbersome enough that reapprovals are rare, so even obvious and uncontroversial errors can remain in articles for years.[27] As we shall see later, this also has some interesting implications for the project's coverage of fringe and pseudoscience.

Signing up to contribute

Citizendium has often been criticized for its cumbersome and intrusive signup process. Not only is each member required to use their real name, but they cannot even use common nicknames: if your full name is Joseph H. Bloggs, you can't sign up as "Joe Bloggs."

NOTE: IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT ALL APPLICANTS USE THEIR FULL, CORRECT NAME IN FILLING OUT THIS REQUEST. If your full name is Richard A. Q. Smith, you may register as Richard Smith, or R.A.Q. Smith, whichever name you most commonly use, and which we can verify, but you may NOT register as Dicky Smith...
—All emphasis is as in the original. From the Citizendium "Request Account" page.

In addition to their real names all contributors have to provide a statement of personal interests and education. Not just a sentence or two, but a minimum of 50 words and "preferably a few hundred words." And if the real name policy and requirement for a biography aren't intrusive enough, the project also suggests you provide "rough clues as to age and location" — a cyberstalker's dream. If you want to be an "editor" you also have to submit a curriculum vitae along with links to web materials supporting what you claim in your CV.

The Citizens often express puzzlement as to why they have so much trouble getting people to join.

Sanger's role

Apparently the only existing photo of Larry Sanger.

Sanger was Editor-In-Chief of Nupedia and Wikipedia until resigning in March 2002,[28] the money having run out a month earlier. He resigned from the volunteer position because he did not have the authority from the community to deal with users he felt were being simply disruptive.[29]

Despite his early claims that Citizendium would operate on an open "bazaar" model rather than a closed "cathedral" one,[30][10] Sanger had worked out in detail how he wanted to run Citizendium early on[31] and kept it under firm control from the start. He surprised prospective contributors who were used to room for opinions[25] and serendipity with such actions as shutting down the project mailing list, thus killing the main venue for community enthusiasm at the time, because he felt it had too much traffic.[32] He was not interested in the ideas of others and tended to react to them as if they were attacks[33] on his detailed plan.[34]

When establishing Citizendium, Sanger announced that he would be resigning as Editor-in-Chief after two or three years.[35][36] In July 2009 he stepped down from active involvement,[37] to pursue paid work on the WatchKnow educational video initiative. When he tried to report Wikipedia to the FBI over "child pornography" (line art drawings of lolicon) in April 2010,[38] he used the official Citizendium blog[39] to link to his reply to Slashdot commenters,[40] suggesting he still considered Citizendium his personal site and bashing Wikipedia part of the mission. He stepped down as Editor-in-Chief after the Charter was ratified in September 2010,[41] but after a brief absence was elected to the site's Management Council in 2011.[42]

Sanger believes that any lack of participation in or readership for Citizendium is not due to his policies or the behaviour of himself or his "constables" (the wiki administrators),[43] but due to "thuggish--cretinish" Wikipedians who are "trying to beat down the underdog with lies and intimidation."[44]

Sanger offers consulting services as an expert in policy formation for online communities.[45]

Operational management

Fiscal insolvency: the $65,000 question

In November 2010 an accidentally-revealed forum thread[46] detailed the dire financial straits in which Sanger had left Citizendium. Sanger had told the Citizens in vague terms that more funding was needed but they were blindsided by the immediacy of the financial crisis. Available funds were down to $1800, they were shelling out $700 a month in hosting charges to Steadfast, and within a few weeks they had a payment of $1500 owed to the Tides Center, their parent organization.[47] According to their new Managing Editor they faced the prospect of insolvency by the end of the year.[48]

This revelation brought up significant questions about the project's financial management. Piecing together Citizendium's fragmentary records[49] the project had received around $60,000-$65,000 in contributions; Sanger has put the amount at "$60,000 and change."[50] In March 2007, Citizendium expanded to multiple servers (five!) with Steadfast; two of these were donated and the other three presumably were paid for out of pocket.[51] This put the accumulated infrastructure and hosting costs at an estimated $32,200 by the time of the forum post, leaving about $30,000 to account for. It eventually came to light that Citizendium had been paying the Tides Foundation at least $2000 per year for handling the project's finances plus $1000 per year for liability insurance.[52] Assuming these expenses were paid for calendar years 2007, 2008, 2009 and the first half of 2010 the total paid to the Tides Center would be at least $10,500, leaving around $20,000. By Citizendium’s own records, only Larry Sanger, initial technical director Jason Potkanski, and an unnamed programmer have received any compensation for their work on the project.[53] The total paid to these individuals has not been revealed. We can make conjectures about other expenses — for example if Sanger had to travel extensively for fundraising or promotion this could have eaten up $10,000 fairly quickly. But we just don't know.

$700 a month for hosting is absurdly high. A site of Citizendium's size and traffic (comparable to RationalWiki) could easily be supported by commercial hosting for around $50-$150 a month. That’s around $28,000 wasted on over-the-top network and server infrastructure. Put another way, enough money was blown to support Citizendium for an estimated 23 years. At the end of 2010 the project took steps that reduced their hosting costs to $320 per month; i.e., they have trimmed their costs from "insane" to merely "excessive."[54]

The post also revealed that the major donors to Citizendium were no longer interested in supporting the project. To their credit, the Citizens stepped up with a fundraiser that yielded over $3,800.[55] This was just about enough to keep them afloat for another year at their reduced hosting costs of $320 per month, now that they no longer have financial obligations to the Tides Center; however, as of October 2011, less than four months of hosting funds remained, and donations were not meeting monthly expenses.[56]

Relationship with the Tides Center

The Tides Center is a major non-profit described as an "incubator" for other non-profits. Apparently, Larry Sanger entered into an agreement with them right before he started accepting large donations, with the Tides Center managing donations and providing status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization under U.S. law. This status is required in order for contributions to be tax deductible; Sanger had said that lack of such status was a "sticking point" for many prospective donors.[57] As noted previously, this arrangement cost Citizendium at least $3000 per year. Citizendium was promised operational independence, and Sanger promised in 2007 that Citizendium would be "independent" within six months. Three years later and $60,000 poorer Citizendium was still a Tides Center project.

Although no official announcement has been made it appears that Citizendium is no longer affiliated with the Tides Center: by May 2011 there was no longer an entry for Citizendium under the Tides Center project directory,[58] and Citizendium staff had quietly deleted most references to Tides from their internal pages.[59][60]

Technical implementation

Citizendium defined itself so completely as the anti-Wikipedia that even technical decisions were made largely on the basis of being different from Wikimedia (such as using PostgreSQL rather than MySQL for the database and incompatible changes to their MediaWiki installation).[61] It has been realised that forking when one doesn't have the technical resources is not such a good idea; the software is being brought back to mainline,[62] and the technical staff now actively contribute to MediaWiki.

Copyright violations

Note: as it stands, this image is a copyvio because the owners of the separate images need to be credited here. Also, the montage ought to be deleted and re-uploaded to purge the system of an image which is a copyvio. Finally, the images of the tiger and the butterfly violate CZ's 'real name' policy.
—Comment on the description page of the lead image of one of their approved articlesimg, as of 5 February 2011. Fixing it would evidently be too much work. Incredibly, still there as of 22 December 2011.

In mid-January 2011 RationalWiki contributors noted extensive and long-standing copyright violations on Citizendium related to their use of images.[63] Citizendium, however, was too busy with infighting[64] and working out complicated numbering systems for their bureaucratic discussions[65] for them to bother with minor matters like breaking the law, and so the report was met with a collective shrug.[66] Eventually most (though by no means all) of the reported images were dealt with to some extent, but no effort has been made to deal with others, of which massive numbers remain.[67]

The concept of expertise on Citizendium

There's much to like in the idea of creating an environment that is welcoming to people who know what they're talking about, in contrast to Wikipedia's grudging concession that "editing in an area in which you have professional or academic expertise is not, in itself, a conflict of interest."[68] But it didn't work out too well at Citizendium.

There's expertise and then there's certification as an expert, which is a social construct made of pieces of paper and (hopefully) accredited standards. All too often the two don't quite overlap. In the quest for expertise — "This article is good and I can explain why" — Citizendium went for credentialism — "This article is good because I have the authority to say so."[69][70]

Further, the minimum acceptable credentials are inconsistent: Someone wishing to be a general editor in an academic field must prove they have a PhD, or are a tenure-track professor. If they can't prove that, they may be able to get editorship in a small subfield — if they have an M.A. or M.Sc, and at least three published, peer-reviewed articles.[71] If they wish to be approved to take over articles in alternative medicine, they need only prove that they are licensed to practice their branch of alternative medicine.[72]

Attracting and repelling academia

My experience of CZ has not impressed me in terms of its chances of its reaching its laudable goals. People discuss and debate, but no matter what we say, Larry comes in and makes some executive decision without really consulting anyone outside of his inner circle.
—An early (18 January 2007) expression of frustration by a Citizendium academic.[73]

Wikipedia has plenty of academics and actual experts editing — you can hardly edit without bumping into someone who knows a hell of a lot more than you about a topic. It fails utterly, however, in keeping idiots out of the experts' faces.[74]

So Citizendium promised they'd remedy this and attracted a good number of established experts, such as university professors, in the site's early days. But almost all have left — and it turned out that the people getting in the academics' faces were Sanger and his constables. Heavy-handedness, meddling in article content, censoring user comments, bullying and harassment of academic users were commonplace and extensively documented in the wider world.[6][44] Others grew exasperated over Sanger's penchant for micromanagement[75] and inability to acknowledge areas of academia he was not competent in,[76] often overruling or pushing out the very specialists he had recruited.[77]

Sanger's guidance was also responsible for driving out established fields of study while encouraging a proliferation of pseudoscience. For instance, in 2006 Women's Studies and Ethnic Studies professors began joining Citizendium. Sanger refused to recognise these as genuine fields of endeavour, saying "I do not want to make CZ 'politically correct,' i.e., appealing especially to one (largely American/Western/Left) ideology," and refused to give them any place in Citizendium's structure.[78] In contrast, he personally recruited "celebrity" homeopath Dana Ullman and gave alternative medicine practitioners their own workgroup with full control over all articles on alternative medicine.[79][80] He told members who preferred scientific evidence over other parts of the "whole dialectical landscape" that they were "not welcome" at Citizendium,[81] and decreed that Citizendium would treat both scientific and anti-scientific views on an equal footing in manufactroversies such as intelligent design and global warming.[82] When others dared question this approach, he responded:

I am sick and tired of reference works, journalists, and professionals generally, simply instructing me what to think, when I know that there are other professionals who disagree with them and who are not given a fair hearing. There is a sort of paternalism about the acceptance of bias in expository writing that I find disturbing. It's not unlike propaganda, ultimately.[81]

Citizendium practice reflected Sanger's philosophy. The article on Intelligent design promoted it in a manner reminiscent of aSK, changing only after Sanger left. Similarly the global warming article included an extended apologia for denialism that was not pared back until after Sanger's departure.

Sanger claims academic credentials, academic expertise, academic credibility and respect for and from academia, and loves the idea of academia.[83] But he has never held a position as professor or the equivalent, and he has no idea what actual working academics do for a living or how to work with them.[44] His idealized vision of academic knowledge production, in which philosophically robust propositions are put forth and formally debated,[84] bears no resemblance to reality, in which academic exchanges are more typified by snatches of hallway conversation or arguments over a beer at a conference — casual semi-social interaction the way humans have always done it. His inflexibility and the emulation of his worst behaviors by his acolytes did the rest. Having run off the recruited academics is not considered a problem by the remaining Citizens.[85]

Crank magnetism

Citizendium's expert approval is just as much a double-edged sword as is Wikipedia's open editing policy. In some cases the Citizendium approach works fine and avoids the problems with Wikipedia's almost unguided editing that causes articles to degrade. But it also allows people of dubious qualifications to obtain control over articles with relatively little opposition. In this way supposed "experts" can hijack articles on their pet topics and ensure that the articles are as uncritical as possible.

Citizendium's approval process means that once an article is approved, it is locked from further editing and all changes must be made to a draft version that is not presented to the public until it goes through the approval process again. And who controls the reapproval process? You guessed it — the same "experts" who approved the original article. This means that once a fringe enthusiast has managed to get an article approved in their preferred version, it is very difficult for reality-based contributors to undo the damage.

It is certainly not the case that all, or even most, Citizendium contributors are cranks. Some have lamented the project's reputation[86] for fringe topics and point out that it has driven away potential contributors.[87][88][89] But the site's policies, such as its emphasis on credentialism, make it especially appealing to cranks. Whereas actual, practicing experts tend simply to get on with their work instead of waving their credentials, cranks compensate for their lack of substance by faking expertise and working for status and perceived credibility. This means cranks will be attracted to and stay on a credentialist project, particularly if those of genuine expertise are driven out.

Citizendium also has a unique protective mechanism that makes it particularly crank-friendly: the rule against attacking other contributors prohibits questioning their claimed expertise. For example, an editor was banned for pointing out that Dana Ullman — a well-known and tireless advocate for homeopathy who was banned from Wikipedia for disruptive advocacy[90] but then became a Citizendium Healing Arts editor — has no medical or homeopathic qualifications and had been arrested for practising medicine without a license.[91] Even an expression of general frustration about homeopathy and other fringe topics will get the smackdown from a pro-altmed constable.[92]

Is the "expert guidance" model working?

The Citizendium process has been critiqued in detail since before the launch. The Citizens quite reasonably replied that the proof would be in the resulting product. Unfortunately, the product did not turn out so well either.[93] The project has been excessively tolerant, even deferential, toward cranks, while driving actual academics away; so it's unsurprising that far too much questionable material appears for a site that prides itself on being "authoritative, error-free, and well-written."[94][95] Even where pseudoscience is not an issue the presentation is often disorganized and unfocused, or contains obvious errors that should never have made it past a true "expert."

Citizendium's greatest pseudoscientific hits

As an example of the deference to cranks, Citizendium's horrific piece on homeopathy[96] was taken over by Dana Ullman (whom Time magazine has called a "leading proselytizer of homeopathy"[97]) at Sanger's personal invitation.[98][99] The resulting article was so badly skewed that the alt-med promoters at Wiki4CAM copied it almost wholesale to use as their own entry on the topic.[100]. Likewise the article on chiropractic[101] was "owned" by D. Matt Innis, a practicing chiropractor and acupuncturist, who as a Constable removes criticism of homeopathy.[92][102] Both of these pseudoscience advocacy articles were fully embraced by the Citizendium community. They are both marked as approved articles, and the homeopathy advertisement — which Sanger called "an excellent article, remarkably balanced and neutral"[103] — was even featured in January 2009 on the site's main page.[104] (This version was live when it was featured.) It wasn't until Sanger's departure in late 2010 that the homeopathy article was finally reduced to something better by motion of the project's Editorial Council. In an extraordinary overruling of the project's "expert approval" process the EC not only legislated the new version of the article but ruled that the article was such a blight on Citizendium that they forbade all editing on it for a year, after which they might allow editing again.[105] Their article on chiropractic, however, remains pure advocacy.

Some more examples of pro-pseudoscience articles:

  • Alice Bailey — Puff piece on the New Age author; relies heavily on her autobiography for sources on such matters as telepathic transmission of books and the hidden "Masters of Wisdom".
  • Cold fusion — Largely written by proponent and advocate Jed Rothwell. Rothwell was banned indefinitely from Wikipedia for disruption and advocacy using an army of sockpuppet accounts.[106] Remained profoundly at odds with the scientific community for over three years, with some of the most blatantly promotional wording finally being redacted in October 2011.
  • Critical views of Chiropracticimg — Not what you'd think. It's actually an attack on criticism of chiropractic by the "medical establishment."
  • Global warming — An early harbinger of future colonization of Citizendium by pseudoscience advocates who had tried and failed on Wikipedia. The 2007 version was a feast of climate change denial bad enough to attract the attention of experts in the field.[107] It was improved somewhat — by copying from Wikipedia.[108] It was biased enough that the global warming denialists at the Heartland Institute listed it as part of their recommended "Primer on Global Warming." The article was finally brought into reasonable agreement with the scientific consensus in early 2011, after Sanger's departure.
  • Pseudoscience — The 2009 version was terrible. The current version is much improved, though written in the rambling and chatty style typical of many Citizendium articles. The article still contains a paragraph defending astrology.[109]
  • Qigong — A barely readable promotion which mentions skepticism only in order to dismiss it, and concludes: In spite of the above, there are many accepted, and in the author's opinion, legitimate "Masters" of "Qigong". The promotional version had remained for almost four years; although some Citizens had edited it in the meantime, they did not alter the promotional tone. Cleanup began the day after the article was called out on RationalWiki.
  • Reiki — A promotional article on one of the stupidest and least supportable alternative medicine quackeries. Page after page after page of promotion, then, right near the end, two sentences basically amounting to "Some skeptics don't like it" as the only balance, then the rest of the controversies are controversies within reiki. The article was in this state from late 2007 through January 2011, with cleanup beginning five days after it was mentioned on RationalWiki.
  • Samuel Hahnemann — Short article heaping praise on the creator of homeopathy.[110]
  • Shang reviews of homeopathy — Uses bizarre arguments (e.g., Shang used a different pre-determined definition of "high-quality" than a study homeopaths liked), a discredited data-mining attempt by a pro-homeopathy team led by Ludtke, a letter from a homeopathic organization, and outright lies about the study's methods and findings[111] to attack an innovative, well-respected study. A hit piece, nothing more, and a very strange topic for an encyclopedia.
  • Tests of the efficacy of homeopathy — Pooh-poohs large, respected negative studies, lists every single tiny study it can find that ever had a positive result.
  • Unidentified flying object — A highly unskeptical article based mainly on the claims of UFO proponents.
  • Vertebral subluxation — A pseudoscientific article on chiropractic, written mostly by an unpublished author without any verifiable medical background. That this is one of the site's "approved" articles is especially damning.

Wikipedia, of course, also has lots of pseudoscience. But apart from having many more contributors to help better approximate reality, Wikipedia does not have mechanisms in place that actively promote pseudoscience; to the contrary, its policies forbid its advocacy and mechanisms are in place to allow it to be identified and fixed (at least in principle). Meanwhile, Citizendium considers alternative medicine qualifications as signs of expertise, which allows a user to take over an article, and has neither policy nor sufficient numbers of motivated people to keep these supposed experts in check.


The Scientology article has been heavily edited by at least two well known members of that organization. On 1 May 2007, the article "Scientology" was moved first to "Scientology (the philosophy)" then finally to Church of Scientology. The word "cult" was deleted, as well as any mention of Scientology being banned in a number of countries, and the term "adherent" replaced with "parishioners" by Terry E. Olsen, a public member of Scientology well-known for his Internet advocacy on its behalf as "Terryeo" on Wikipedia[112] and elsewhere.

Shortly afterwards Steven Ferry joined Citizendium. Ferry did not declare his membership of the Church,[113][114] nor his previous position working in public relations for the Church,[115] prior to editing and purging the article of criticisms.[116][117] Ferry was subsequently elected to the Citizendium Editorial Council unopposed in 2008,[118] leading to claims the project had been successfully infiltrated by the Church of Scientology.[115] Ferry ceased contributing in mid-2008 and the article was gradually cleaned up over the next two years.

Thank goodness for gentle expert guidance!

"Welcome to Citizendium, an endeavor to achieve the highest standards of writing, reliability, and comprehensiveness"
—Citizendium's Main Page as of January 2012.[119]

Even on less contentious topics the supposed expert guidance appears worryingly absent at times, with poorly written articles and basic errors that many a non-expert would spot.[120]

  • Atomic hypothesis — Appears unable to tell the difference between a hypothesis and a theory in scientific terminology. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation that can be tested. A theory, on the other hand, is a body of knowledge and principles that have been found to (approximately) explain observed phenomena, such as "gravitational theory." Nowhere is it mentioned that in the time since Dalton's proposals the atomic hypothesis evolved into a theory supported by experimental testing. It stops with Dalton and goes no further - it's stuck in the 18th century. IUPAC,[121] Encyclopædia Britannica,[122] World Book and Wikipedia all use "Atomic theory".
  • Biology — One of their approved articles, it consists mainly of a rambling, disorganised history of biology. Contains a single paragraph on evolution, while giving disproportionate space to outdated curiosities such as the homunculus. Essential concepts like dominant and recessive genes, chromosomes, mitosis and meiosis are never even defined, just mentioned offhand. There is an enormous amount of irrelevant verbiage, random philosophical musings, and, just for good measure, a see-also link at the top of the article to the one on "healing arts" - Citizendium's term for alternative medicine. Anyone with the slightest understanding of biology could crank out a better article in half an hour. [123]
  • Cat — For four years used the redundant scientific nomenclature for the domesticated cat, Felis silvestris catus. The accepted nomenclature is Felis catus, see for example ITIS taxonomy. Note that silvestris is a wildcat ancestor, not domesticated cat. Encyclopædia Britannica, Tree of Life (TOL), Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), and Wikipedia all use Felis catus for domesticated cat. Corrected 12 hours after being reported on this page.[124]
  • History of the United Kingdom — A Conservative editor[125] had rewritten British history by removing all mention of Labour governments from the timeline. The vandalism went uncorrected for over six months.[126]
  • Jupiter — Claimed for two and a half years that Jupiter has a surface. Gas giants don't have surfaces. Uncorrected despite complaints mailed to the project, corrected less than five hours after being added to this page.[127]
  • William Bonham, William Bonham (outlaw) — Claim Billy the Kid's name was William Bonham, a name mentioned in no existing source. The alias most famously used by Billy the Kid was William Bonney. Uncorrected since July 2009.
  • HTML5 — The second half of the article is not shown because of an ordinary bug (the Wiki parser crashes on the tag <source>). Either the Citizens that worked on it were too sloppy to preview to the end, where they would have noticed the bug, or they did not know how to fix it.
Update: later the problem was fixed (with a reference to RW !). Shortly after, two new errors were introduced. The syntactically correct <audio> <source /> <source /> </audio> was "corrected" to the syntactically wrong: <audio> source / source / </audio>.[128] Why would an expert make such a WP-type correction? Isn't an expert somebody who knows when (s)he doesn't know?
  • Compton effect — The article defines: "The Compton effect is the name for the primary manner in which energy is absorbed by matter." Thus, the Sun heating the oceans and their beaches is the Compton effect? Arthur Compton, and all textbooks after him, define the effect as the elastic collision of a photon with a nearly free electron. No free electrons on the beaches or in the oceans: absorption of energy by sand and rocks is by exciting lattice vibrations; the oceans absorb energy primarily by water molecules gaining kinetic energy. No Compton effect in sight.

When errors are detected, more often than not they are detected by people outside of the project (such as RationalWiki) — bringing into question how qualified these CZ experts are[129] and whether CZ's expert oversight procedure can be claimed to work in practice at all.[130]

The great Wikipedia killer shows its strength

To be even minimally useful, an encyclopedia needs to have information on subjects people would want to know about. Here is a list of articles which do not exist on Citizendium as of April 2012, and, given the moribund nature of actual editing on Citizendium, as opposed to pissing matches, pointless bureaucracy and elections, probably never will.

  • Most of Shakespeare's plays, including King Lear, Othello, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado about Nothing, and Twelfth Night. Luckily, no one ever studies Shakespeare.
  • Basic parts of the body, like organ, bladder, diaphragm, uterus, or testicles. In addition, skeleton and bone are less than 10 words each.
  • Historical figures such as Marco Polo, Hannibal, Cleopatra, Nero, and Caligula.
  • The Boer War, The Franco-Prussian War, The Bosnian War, and much of the rest of military history.
  • Several nations, including Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Honduras, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, and Panama.
  • Many famous scientists, including James Watson, Linus Pauling, Jacques Cousteau, Lise Meitner, and Robert Oppenheimer.

Why Wikipedia wins

Wikipedia is far from perfect, but it is one of the most successful volunteer-driven projects on the World Wide Web, and that makes it hard to compete with. Any other wiki needs something that differentiates them from Wikipedia in order to lure people to them rather than Wikipedia. The successful ones, such as Conservapedia, RationalWiki, and all the various wikis devoted to analyzing video games, television shows, and so on, have a particular focus that does not overlap with Wikipedia's, allowing them to carve out a unique niche. Conservapedia, for instance, caters to right-wing nutjobs. RationalWiki snarks about pseudoscientific topics from a skeptical and scientific perspective. Muppet Wiki has over 24,500 pages (more than all of Citizendium) covering everything anyone might want to know about the various Jim Henson shows, movies, and characters. Whether due to special focus, intentional bias, tone, or obsessive detail, these wikis provide something that Wikipedia cannot.

Citizendium, however, exactly duplicates Wikipedia's focus of being a general encyclopedia. Its major difference is an organizational one, which only affects editors, not readers.

Even worse from a competitive standpoint, Citizendium's content is available under a Creative Commons license - meaning that Wikipedia can import any content it deems good enough. And Wikipedia has done so, setting up WikiProject Citizendium Porting, a group dedicated to reviewing Citizendium's approved articles and adapting them for use on Wikipedia.

Some statistics:

  • At least 23 of Citizendium's 156 approved articles either were taken from Wikipedia, or both Wikipedia and Citizendium's versions were written by the same person. Of the ones taken from Wikipedia, this was often done without attribution.[131]
  • Approximately 150 articles on Wikipedia incorporate some text from Citizendium,[132] though in some cases this was as little as two words.[133]
  • Many of Citizendium's approved articles were considered too low quality to use on Wikipedia, either in whole or in part. For instance, the Citizendium article on DNA was considered "a degraded version of the Wikipedia article that tries to deal with too many subjects at once"; and Tux, as in the Linux mascot, has the note "Strongly against porting any more. A little information added from a low quality article." The Citizendium-approved articles on homeopathy, literature, chiropractic, and World of Warcraft, among others, were all considered completely unsuitable for Wikipedia.[131]
  • The Citizendium articles on Scarborough Castle, wheat and cypherpunks were singled out for praise. And were copied wholesale to Wikipedia under the terms of the mutually compatible Creative Commons licenses of the projects.[131]

This importing does have some benefit to Citizendium, since each imported article will link to the Citizendium one in perpetuity. But in a bizarre twist, while Citizendium's license allows its material to be freely used elsewhere, the project's Editorial Council has expressly forbidden the importation of articles from any other source, including Wikipedia. Thus when a Citizendium article is better than its Wikipedia counterpart, Wikipedia can use the better one, but when the Wikipedia article is better, Citizendium must make do with whatever it has.

With its best content also available at its much larger competitor, which also has much more user-friendly registration procedures, and with Sanger's behaviour costing Citizendium the initial good will of the academic community, it will be very hard for Citizendium ever to become a viable competitor to Wikipedia.

Rearranging the deckchairs

Citizendium has so far utterly failed to make the bold moves necessary to regain the ground it has lost. Instead, much of its effort has been wasted in petty bickering[134] and in byzantine governance procedures that are inappropriate for such a small project.

A Citizendium Charter was mentioned in the project's inaugural press release of October 2006[11] and intended to be implemented within the first twelve months. The charter was at last voted in on 23 September 2010.[135] The approved version contains 55 Articles that set up a seven-member Editorial Council, a five-member Management Council, and the three "ancillary positions" of Managing Editor, Constabulary, and Ombudsman — all for a project with less than 10 contributors on an average day.[136] (Note Article 24 promises "a minimum of bureaucracy.") It has obvious typographical and grammatical errors and some of these, when taken literally, reverse the intended meaning of the text.[137] But the committee assigned to create the charter was disbanded,[138][139] the former members seem pretty burnt out on the process,[140] and personal sniping between them remains a regular feature of the site forum.[141]

A month after the elections for the Management and Editorial councils one of the members of the Editorial Council resigned, citing his frustration with fighting "absolutely pointless bureaucracy":

It has been like the scene from Douglas Adams' Hitch-hikers' Guide to the Galaxy where they task the hair-dressers with discovering fire, so they form the Fire Discovery Subcommittee who then decide they need to do consumer focus groups to decide how best to market fire... Look at any successful open source project and you’ll find few if any committees or Councils or quorums or any of that faff. That is a feature, not a bug. I’m not saying we don’t need those things. But we don't need them now. What we need are sensible, mature people who can make a decision without drama and bickering.
—Tom Morris, "Citizendium Editorial Council: resignation statement"

While some progress has been made since the charter passed, the fundamental problems remain. The homeopathy article was finally replaced with something reasonably sane by Editorial Council fiat, overriding the vaunted "expert approval" process and implicitly admitting its failure.[142] The Healing Arts workgroup — consisting of alternative medicine practitioners — was disbanded;[143] but according to that decision, no healing arts editor licensed to practice their craft will lose their editorship, instead automatically gaining the right to register as Health Sciences editors, where they can do even more damage. (Dana Ullman is still listed as an editor,[144] though not yet attached to Health Sciences or any other workgroup.) Such spot fixes do nothing to solve the wider problem: many promotional articles on the same level as the old homeopathy article still exist, including "approved" articles such as the one on Chiropracticimg.

Even worse, Citizendium's most crucial problem — its failure to attract and retain members — has been actively exacerbated by the Editorial Council. For example, when a member of the Editorial Council pointed out one of his friends chose not to join Citizendium because he felt the questions being asked were too intrusive, another Editorial Council member responded:img

Your friend may be the world's leading expert on whatever subject you say he is, but he's also the world's leading imbecile. And you may tell him that I said so, and use my name as well. What a cretin! And if all the other myriad people you tell us about share his feelings (which I seriously doubt, by the way), then they are cretins too. And we are better off without them.

Welcome to Citizendium.

See also

External links


  1. Their main page
  2. Wikipedia says so, this week. The question is more than a little contentious, however.
  3. Going so far as forbidding its editors from uploading free-to-use images and photographs from elsewhere if the artist works under a pseudonym and can't be convinced to reveal his or her real name: User talk:MGA73, Wikimedia Commons. (Note that the guy's first name is actually known ... and the image wasn't even his.)
  4. CZ:Healing Arts Workgroup — originally set up for people interested in native and traditional medical practice from an anthropological perspective, then taken over by present-day alternative medicine advocates.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Wikipedia founder's scholarly web venture plays host to a war of words (Times Higher Education, 2009-01-22)
  7. Chart: Editors at Citizendium per month
  8. Chart: Edits made at Citizendium per month
  9. The exact figure is 56.5%; see this chart.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge (longer version) (Larry Sanger, 2006-09-15)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Larry Sanger. "Co-Founder to Launch Edited Version of Wikipedia: Pilot Project for the Citizendium to Launch This Week",, October 17, 2006.
  12. CZ:Press Coverage (archived)
  13. Citizendium Press Releases > Mar272007
  14. [1] Citizendium forum thread, "Would you contribute more if the wiki were blank?" (January 2007)
  15. Larry Sanger: The Citizendium one year on: a strong start and an amazing future
  16. This started with a call for stubs in November 2007 and has continued since.
  17. CZ:Statistics#Word_count
  18. The mean being much larger than the median suggests the distribution is strongly positively skewed: many very short articles and a much smaller number of long ones.
  19. By the way, this means the mean is comparable to Wikipedia's, which was 580 words in January 2010.
  20. CZ:Statistics, graph Editing users.png
  21. Thirty-day running totals at
  22. Wikia Statistics - MuppetWiki
  23. Wikia Statistics - Wookieepedia, the Star Wars Wiki
  24. Active Editors at RationalWiki
  25. 25.0 25.1
  27. "My personal observation of the articles I have been involved with is that their quality varies enormously... This includes some of the population elevated to 'approved' articles, an ossification process that simply makes any revision of their infelicities impossibly bureaucratic." Citizendium Forum post, 21 September 2011.
  29. The Hive: The Cunctator (Marshall Poe, The Atlantic, September 2006)
  30. [2] "How similar is this project to open source hacker culture, and how similar to the culture of academia?" Citizendium FAQ, as of 23 December 2010
  31. Sanger, L. 2005-04-19. "The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia, Part II." Slashdot. This article sets out the basic ideas that he attempted eventually to put into practice as Citizendium.
  32. Citizendium — A study in momentum killing (Terrell Russell, blog post, 2006-10-13)
  33. "I won't point out the various examples of spuriousness but instead keep it to one observation: someone that inclined to perceive hostility where it isn't evident is not going to be a good community manager." (Response to a Larry Sanger blog post)
  34. [3] "I can tell you in two words why it failed: Larry Sanger. I found I had moved from anarchy to absolute monarchy. After two or three encounters with Larry's autocratic rudeness, I departed."
  35. 'No dictator for life'
  41. The Charter Ratification Vote is Over (Larry Sanger, citizendium-l, 23 September 2010)
  42. Citizendium Ballot for the Management Council, June 2011.
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 University may be given the keys to Citizendium (comments) — quite vicious analysis in the story comments from academics burnt by Citizendium, with frankly bizarre responses from Larry Sanger and senior Citizendium constables.
  45. Consultingimg (
  46. Screen cap of forum post
  47. Citizendium Forum thread, "Message to the Citizendium Community"
  48. Citizendium Forum thread, "New hosting solution"
  49. Citizendium Donor List ( screencap)
  50. [4] Comment by Larry Sanger posted to Wikipedia Review. Interestingly, Sanger's most forthcoming discussion of Citizendium finances appears on a site outside Citizendium.
  51. Citizendium press release
  52. Citizendium Forums thread, 12 November 2010
  53. Citizendium Personnel
  54. Citizendium form post: A major reorganization of our server farm
  55. Citizendium forum post: "Total donations to date amount to $3,832" ([:Capture_59e14e6c143033b02da9b1ac8ba3a301b137f15b.png screencap])
  56. Citizendium's financial report
  57. [backPid=115&cHash=db6cf0927d0b217ff33f1e45791700bc]
  58. Project Directory at the Tides Center web site
  59. Edit to CZ:FAQ by the project's Managing Editor, describing material on Tides Center partnership as "outdated."
  60. Edit to CZ:We aren't Wikipedia by the project's Managing Editor, removing reference to Tides Center
  61. A look at Citizendium's Backend (Network Performance Daily, 2007-06-11) — "First, to be different from Wikipedia."
  62. Upgrading the MW extensions on the live wiki (Dan Nessett, forums)
  63. First RationalWiki report and second RationalWiki report of said violations.
  64. [ Citizendium's Editorial Council engages in its second thinly-veiled attack on the same one of its members.
  65. [ ...the text of passed motions is available under a link of the form EC:I-2011-004 consisting of the namespace "EC:" followed by "R-", "Rec-", "D-", or "I-" (for Regulation, Recommendation, Decision, internal decision), the year "2011" and the number of the ruling "-004"... etc ad nauseum.
  67. Search for images with "unknown" attribution or copyright status.
  68. Wikipedia:COI
  69. Larry Sanger, Citizendium, and the Problem of Expertise (Clay Shirky, Sep 2006)
  70. Or as one Citizendium Editor put it, "when I politely inform you that what you have written is unbalanced and does not represent mainstream academic views, kindly do not ask me for citations."
  71. Citizendium Editor Policy
  72. Citizendium Editorial Council decision PR-2010-017
  73. [5] Citizendium forum post by Professor Russell Potter, 18 January 2007
  74. And everyone's faces, really. Summary of the summary: People remain a problem.
  75. ProfRAP (Russell Potter), blog comment
  78. A first hand account by Kali Tal of her experience on Citizendium.
  79. A NEW and GOOD Alternative to Wikipedia,especially on homeopathy! (Dana Ullman, forum post)
  80. Talk:Homeopathy > Draftimg (revision as of 22:26, 14 September 2010)
  81. 81.0 81.1 Citizendium forumsimg
  82. Citizendium forumsimg (multiple posts)
  84. Detailed dispute watch rules and procedures
  85. Citizendium failure Aleta Curry: "Do you realise that, the people spouting off on the talk pages you quote are, for the most part, disgruntled and vindictive ex-CZers and, unlike your respectable self, (and with a couple of notable exceptions) hiding behind pseudo anonymity?"
  86. Lessons from Citizendium (Slides and notes for HaeB's talk "Lessons from Citizendium" at Wikimania 2009)
  87. [6] Citizendium forum comment by Tom Morris, 26 April 2009
  88. [7] Citizendium forum comment by Howard C. Berkowitz, 1 October 2009
  89. [8] Citizendium forum comment by Daniel Mietchen, 9 May 2010
  90. Dana Ullman ban announcement
  91. Discussion of Dana Ullman's complete lack of any of the qualifications they claim experts are required to have, leading to the user pointing out the issues, Adam Cuerden, being banned by Hayford Peirce.
  92. 92.0 92.1 Comment removed by D.Matt Innis from Talk:Memory of Water at 20:39, 20 September 2010 The offending words were "Oh, how I wish homeopathy [i.e., the homeopathy article] and its spinoffs would go away. I may just deal with the frustration by leaving Citizendium, as long as this is the main area of discussion. Desperately waiting for the Charter, hopefully ratification, and the Editorial Council..."
  93. On Citizendium
  96. Homeopathyimg (now-archived version from January 2009 which appeared on Citizendium's main page)
  97. "Is homeopathy good medecine?", Time magazine, 25 September 1995
  98. A NEW and GOOD Alternative to Wikipedia,especially on homeopathy! (Dana Ullman, forum post)
  99. Talk:Homeopathy > Draft (revision as of 22:26, 14 September 2010)
  100. "Homeopathy", article at
  101. Citizendium:Chiropractic
  102. Although in fairness, Innis has been a long-term dedicated participant in Citizendium in general, and insightful concerning its problems.
  104. Citizendium main page, January 28th 2009
  105. Citizendium Editorial Council decision
  106. User:JedRothwell block log
  107. Citizendium: cr*p or what? (William L. Connolley, Stoat, 2007-05-14)
  108. Citizendium is still doomed (William L. Connolley, Stoat, 2008-09-10)
  109. 'From "Astrological researchers often complain that they cannot receive a fair hearing in scientific circles, and find it hard to have their research published in scientific journals. They claim that their scientific critics have wrongly dismissed studies which do support astrology. An example would be Michel Gauquelin's purported discovery of correlations between some planetary positions and certain human traits such as vocations." - What the hell, Citizendium?
  110. Lists among its references a page from an online merchant of alternative medicine; hardly the type of source material one would expect for a site with Citizendium's aspirations.
  111. For example, "In the final analysis, the researchers included only the 8 largest studies" - that's completely and totally false; the whole point of the study was to see how things changed as study size and quality increased, and those 8 studies are the large, high-quality studies used in the highest rank of the comparison, not the only ones considered.
  112. User:Terryeo block log
  113. Truth About Scientology: Steven Ferry
  114. Scientology discussion
  115. 115.0 115.1 Scientologist infiltrates Citizendium (Operation Clambake Message Boards)
  118. 2008 Council Members
  119. Welcome to Citizendium
  120. Citizendium approved errors (HaeB, Wikipedia)
  121. IUPAC
  122. Atomic theory Encyclopædia Britannica
  123. Due to page moves (and possibly server moves), the article's history is very confusing.
  124. RationalWiki edit; Citizendium correction.
  125. Nick Gardner worked as an advisor to John Major's government.
  127. RationalWiki edit; Citizendium correction.
  128. HTML5 audio.
  131. 131.0 131.1 131.2 WikiProject Citizendium Porting
  132. Figure obtained by counting the number of uses of Template:Citizendium, which is used to notify users that some text in an article has been taken from Citizendium. This figure is likely a bit high, since no attempt was made to subtract non-article usages.
  133. WikiProject Citizendium Porting, note for John Logie Baird: "two words ported, citizendium article based off of wikipedia, but sans references"
  134. For a sample of this petty squabbling see the Citizendium forum thread entitled Appeal of block 1549 ( screencap)
  135. Charter vote (Matt Innis, Citizendium forums)
  136. Citizendium Statistics: Daily contributors Accessed 22 March 2012.
  137. Citizendium Charter. A couple of examples: Article 5 is mostly a long, convoluted sentence that includes the wording "upon complaint of the aggrieved Citizen, the punishment of which may include..." This literally says that it is the "aggrieved citizen" who will be punished. In Article 12, what is "dispute resolutions should be resolved" supposed to mean? And so on.
  138. Citizendium Forums: Comments on "final version"
  139. Citizendium Forums: Comments on "final version"
  140. Citizendium Forums: Comments on "final version"
  141. Post to forum thread, "Openness & the public record", 11 March 2011; reply ( screencap)
  142. Citizendium Editorial Council decision
  143. Citizendium Editorial Council decision: Healing Arts Workgroup
  144. Category:CZ Editors ( screencap)

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