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A Wikipedia for Scholars (Take 2)

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales must be feeling pretty pleased with the new crop of upstart online encyclopedias coming from the academic world.

First came Larry Sanger's Citizendium — a "progressive fork" of Wikipedia that aims to take articles from that site and let scholars mold them as they see fit (The Chronicle, October 27, 2006). And now there's Scholarpedia, which combines Wikipedia's open-source principles with a healthy dash of peer review.

Scholarpedia looks almost exactly like the pioneering site that inspired it, but it has a much more rigid hierarchy: All the articles on the site are written by scholars who are either invited by Scholarpedia directors or elected by the public. The articles are anonymously peer reviewed and placed under the charge of "curators" — experts who are often the articles' authors — who must approve any additions or edits.

For now Scholarpedia is restricting itself to articles on neuroscience and computational intelligence. "The approach of Scholarpedia does not compete with but rather complements that of Wikipedia," writes Eugene M. Izhikevich, a senior fellow in theoretical neurobiology at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, who is the site's editor in chief. "Instead of covering a broad range of topics, Scholarpedia covers a few narrow fields, but does that exhaustively."

Is there enough room on the Web for more than one scholarly Wikipedia knockoff? That remains to be seen. But on the Institute for the Future of the Book's if:book blog, Ben Vershbow argues that Scholarpedia might be better equipped for long-term survival than Citizendium. The new encyclopedia "already feels like a more plausible proposition" than Mr. Sanger's brainchild, he writes, "if for no other reason than that it knows who its community is and that it establishes an unambiguous hierarchy of participation." –Brock Read

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