[Citizendium-l] Include in Citizendium a built-in bibliographicdatabase manager for authors & editors

Larry Sanger sanger-lists at citizendium.org
Mon Oct 30 02:45:18 EST 2006

Dear Dr. Sebastian,

If I understand what a BDM is, I'm sure it would be very useful some fields,
such as medicine.  If the decision ends up in my hands (and, if the decision
isn't made for a few years, it might not be), then what I will want to see
is a clear explanation of what problem such a system solves, whether a
system available to us would actually solves them efficiently, and what
further problems it might generate.  In other words, a project proposal
together with an exploration of the relevant arguments, and technical
requirements.  This then would be given to the Executive Committee that I
want to set up soonish.

Let me explain one of my own constraints on making such decisions.  A
problem that Wikipedia has had is that people (programmers and people who
just like to make small edits to the system) have had all sorts of "cool
ideas" for new stuff, and no one was around to say "no" or simply "let's
think about this more systematically please."  So templates, categories,
portals, instructions, etc., to say nothing of new projects that were never
very well thought out, just kept getting piled on top of each other.  The
result is a bit of a mess for the user and a headache for the contributor.
(Ultimately, I think the problem is that Wikipedians think of themselves too
often as first and foremost a community, so that what they do is done to
make contributors happy, rather than to produce high-quality work.)

Something that *used* to be a constraint on Wikipedia feature proposals
(when I was around ;-) ) was that new features should not make it
appreciably more difficult for people to dive in and get to work.  Now, I
can understand that some really useful things might require a bit more
complexity, but more complexity really has to pay for itself.  Why?  Because
the payoff of simplicity is extremely high.  A large part of the reason for
Wikipedia's take-off is precisely that it's simple--the wiki markup is easy
to master, and the concept of what we're doing (writing encyclopedia
articles) is pretty simple, too.

Frankly, I think we need to discuss in some more detail what the basic
principles of citation should be.  If we want to create an *expert-level*
encyclopedia of medicine, then of course there should be many citations.
But the notion that some Wikipedians have forwarded, that there should be
citations for virtually every positive claim, is simply ridiculous.
Wikipedians may feel they need that simply to satify themselves that people
aren't adding information fraudulently.  But with expert editors able to
make decisions about articles, we will not have that same motivation.

To get really clear about this, I think we need an answer to a fundamental
question, namely, "What is the purpose of citations in encyclopedia
articles?"  Notice I do not say "What is the purpose of citations?" simply.
Citations serve different purposes in different works.  What purpose do they
serve *in encyclopedia articles*?  And in encyclopedia articles of different

Note, for instance, that a BDM would presumably not pay its own way if we
were writing a children's encyclopedia--even if the children's encyclopedia
had some citations.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: citizendium-l-bounces at lists.purdue.edu 
> [mailto:citizendium-l-bounces at lists.purdue.edu] On Behalf Of 
> Anthony Sebastian
> Sent: Sunday, October 29, 2006 3:55 PM
> To: citizendium-l at lists.purdue.edu
> Cc: 'Larry Sanger'
> Subject: Re: [Citizendium-l] Include in Citizendium a 
> built-in bibliographicdatabase manager for authors & editors
> Sunday, October 29, 2006
> Dear Mr. Sanger:
> I have participated in the Citizendium forums (as 
> Anthony.Sebastian) and have suggested in the technical forum 
> consideration of incorporating a bibliographic database 
> manager (BDM) in Citizendium.  I received favorable 
> responses.  Incorporating a BDM, like Reference Manager, 
> Endnote or Pro-Cite, would greatly assist author/editors in 
> including source-citations in the text, and in generating 
> reference lists.  Most academics I know depend on the 
> functionality of BDMs.
> Citizendium’s BDM would allow authors/editors to cite while 
> they wrote, automatically generate reference lists, and 
> search of many online database from outside sources (e.g., 
> Library of Congress, individual university library catalogs, 
> PubMed, Agricola, LexisNexis Academic).  An enormous number 
> of such databases exist (e.g., see 
> http://www-sul.stanford.edu/catdb/alldata.html#l), giving 
> author/editors access to millions of citation-sources for 
> documenting their articles. 
> Citizendium’s BDM would allow easy copying of 
> citation-sources (articles, books, websites, etc.) from those 
> databases to an article's individual database.
> Citizendium needs to make it easy for an author/editor to 
> render her article scholarly and authoritative, to maximize 
> the quality and instructiveness of the article, to facilitate 
> completing the article, and thus to facilitate the growth of 
> Citizendium.
> Below, see a letter I composed to the president of Thomson 
> ResearchSoft, maker of the three major BDMs, urging him to 
> contact you to consider the possibility of incorporating the 
> functionality of Reference Manager into Citizendium’s writing 
> tools.  I would not transmit it without your okay. You might 
> want to consider a different approach if the BDM idea appeals.
> Sincerely yours,
> Anthony Sebastian, M.D.
> Professor of Medicine
> To: President of Thompson ResearchSoft
> Dear Sir:
> You undoubtedly have heard of Wikipedia, the online, 
> user-developed encyclopedia. The premiere science journal, 
> Nature, gave it high marks in comparison with Encyclopedia Britannica.
> Now, the originator of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, has started a 
> new "version", Citizendium, targeting more authoritative 
> articles. See his introductory
> essay: http://citizendium.org/essay_shorter.html.
> The start-up team has not incorporated a bibliographic 
> database manager in their writing tools for authors.  That 
> oversight will make it much more difficult for expert authors 
> to reference their articles comprehensively.
> I believe they should incorporate Reference Manager in 
> Citizendium. I would expect a mechanism of incorporation that 
> precludes private use of the program, so that it would have 
> no negative effect on your sales of the product. Indeed, as 
> users become familiar with the use and advantages  of 
> Reference Manager (e.g., Cite-While-You-Write, internet 
> searching for sources), they might want to purchase a copy 
> for their own use.  In any event, your company would get a 
> lot of public exposure and free publicity.
> I would urge you to contact Mr. Sanger 
> (sanger at citizendium.org) and discuss possibilities.  Yours 
> and his technical teams could work out the security issues.  
> Perhaps you would consider donating the product 
> functionality, once you see the potential of its success in 
> establishing an authoritative, constantly updated online encyclopedia.
> Anthony Sebastian, M.D.
> Professor of Medicine
> _________________________
> Anthony Sebastian, MD
> Anthony_Sebastian at msn.com [preferred email address] 
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