The Encyclopedia Britannica, once synonymous with knowledge, is apparently feeling threatened by the spread of free information on the Internet — including sites like Wikipedia, where literally anyone can contribute anything. Britannica’s brilliant idea for returning to the zenith of its prestige and influence? Says the Boston Globe) “[N]aming an advisory board, whose 15 members top editor Dale Hoiberg calls ‘some of the smartest people on earth.’”
If it seems absurd that fourteen Ivory Tower-types, such as Nobel-Prize winners David Baltimore and, from the “they could do worse” department, Amartya Sen — can hope to compete with the collected knowledge of millions of people around the globe, that’s because it is. The very existence of markets, including those in information such as Wikipedia, serves as a testament to the ability of average “schmucks” to combine their expertise, which individually may well amount to near nothing, into something marvelous.
The fact that the Britannica hopes to compete with the combined intellect of the masses with fourteen academics shows a remarkable combination of naivete and superciliousness. Perhaps the first article the new advisory panel should look at is the one on F.A. Hayek, who seems to have saw this coming: “If most people are not willing to see difficulty, this is mainly because, consciously or unconsciously, they assume that it will be they who will settle these questions for the others, and because they are convinced of their own capacity to do this.”