Smithsonian and NIH Are Contributing to Wikipedia, But Will Professors?

(p. B2) Professor Jemielniak in the passage quoted below, asks why professors would ever contribute to Wikipedia since they already can get published in academic journals, and also have a captive audience at their lectures.
Based on that reasoning, Professors likewise would have little motive to blog—yet many do. Why? Perhaps because there is something satisfying in reaching a wide audience of readers who are not required to read, but who choose to read.
(Readers of academic articles are often few, and students at academic lectures are often captives whose bodies are present, but whose minds are somewhere else.)

(p. B2) In the United States, the Wikimedia Foundation has sponsored an academy to teach experts at the National Institutes of Health how to contribute to the site and monitor what appears there. And Mr. Wyatt said that other institutions including the Smithsonian had inquired about getting their own Wikipedian in residence to facilitate their staff members’ contributions to the site.

One talk here by a Polish professor, Dariusz Jemielniak, took a jab at the idea of experts as contributors. He said he had noticed that students often remained contributors to Wikipedia but that professors left quickly. His explanation was that Wikipedia was really just a game for people to gain status. A teenager offering the definitive account of the Thirty Years’ War gets a huge audience and respect from his peers. But, Mr. Jemielniak asked, why would a professor stoop to edit Wikipedia?
“Professors already get published and can lecture and force people to listen to their ideas,” he said.

For the full story, see:

NOAM COHEN. “Link by Link; How Can Wikipedia Grow? Maybe in Bengali.” The New York Times (Mon., July 12, 2010): B2.

(Note: the online version of the article is dates July 11, 2010.)

Britannica Imitates Wikipedia

(p. 209) Britannica had already launched a project called WebShare in April 2008, which was described as “A special program for web publishers, including bloggers, webmasters, and anyone who writes for the Internet. You get complimentary access to the Encyclopaedia Britannica online and, if you like, an easy way to give your readers background on the topics you write about with links to complete Britannica articles.” This was a rather radical move, obviously trying to vie with Wikipedia’s emergence as one of the most linked-to resources on the Internet.

But the latest initiative was something quite astonishing, as Britannica was now inviting users to be part of the team of content creators:

To elicit their participation in our new online community of scholars, we will provide our contributors with a reward system and a rich online home that will enable them to promote themselves, their work, and their services. . . . Encyclopaedia Britannica will allow those visitors to suggest changes and additions to that content.

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)

Art Diamond Identified as One of “the Country’s Most Prolific and Influential Economics Bloggers”

KauffmanBloggerSurveyChart2010-02-01.gifSource of graph:

The Kauffman Foundation recently invited me to participate in a quarterly survey on economic policy that they are compiling from among bloggers who they have identified as among “the country’s most prolific and influential economics bloggers.” I agreed to participate.
Apparently tomorrow (2/2/10) they will release the results of the first survey.
Below I have quoted most of a press release that they emailed out today.
(The Kauffman Foundation is one of the leading non-profit organizations supporting research on entrepreneurship.)

Top Economics Bloggers Grade U.S. Institutions that Influence Economy in New Kauffman Survey

Watch for complete results tomorrow of the first
‘Kauffman Economic Outlook:
A Quarterly Survey of Leading Economics Bloggers’

The country’s most prolific and influential economics bloggers grade the institutions and organizations that impact the economy in a new Kauffman Foundation survey. On an A to F grading scale, the nation’s top economics bloggers give the highest marks to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and General Accountability Office (GAO), as well as to the “U.S. business community.” Central banks such as the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank got passing grades by most, with few A’s and many F’s. Similarly, the World Bank had mixed marks. The worst marks went to Wall Street firms (31 percent F’s) and the U.S. Congress (51 percent F’s).
Learn more about what these insightful analysts think about U.S. economic performance, policy, institutions, and the deficit in the first “Kauffman Economic Outlook: A Quarterly Survey of Economics Bloggers,” which will debut tomorrow, Feb. 2, 2010, at
The survey was conducted in mid-January 2010 by soliciting input from bloggers ranked among the top 200 economics bloggers according to Palgrave’s Ten core questions and seven topical questions were designed in coordination with a distinguished board of advisors.

Web version of press release:

Castro Agents Beat Up Cuban Blogger

SanchezYoaniCubanBlogger2009-12-19.jpg“Blogger Yoani Sánchez speaks at home in Havana on Monday, days after she says she was beaten by Cuban agents.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A14) Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s most prominent dissident blogger, was walking along a Havana street last Friday along with two other bloggers and a friend when two men she says were Cuban agents in civilian clothes forced her inside an unmarked black car and beat her, telling her to stop criticizing the government.

The assault, believed to be the first against the growing blogger movement on the island, has cast a spotlight on the country’s record of repression, highlighting how little change there has been in political freedoms during the nearly three years since Raúl Castro took over as president from retired dictator Fidel Castro.
A decline in tourism revenues from the global recession and damage from several hurricanes last year have prompted the island’s government to clamp down even harder on dissent and freedom of speech, according to a recent report by the Inter American Press Association, a watchdog group.
The group said Cuba currently has 26 journalists in jail, and it cited 102 incidents against Cuban journalists in the past year, including beatings, arbitrary arrests and death threats.

For the full story, see:
DAVID LUHNOW. “Beating Rattles Cuban Bloggers.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., NOVEMBER 11, 2009): A14.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated NOVEMBER 12, 2009.)

Richard Langlois on Why Capitalism Needs the Entrepreneur


Source of book image:

Schumpeter is sometimes viewed as having predicted the obsolescence of the entrepreneur, although Langlois documents that Schumpeter was always of two minds on this issue.
Langlois discusses Schumpeter’s ambivalence and the broader issue of the roles of the entrepreneur and the corporation in his erudite and useful book on The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism. He concludes that changing economic conditions will always require new industrial structures, and the entrepreneur will always be needed to get these new structures built.
(I have written a brief positive review of the book that has recently appeared online.)

Reference to Langlois’ book:
Langlois, Richard N. The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler and the New Economy. London: Routledge, 2006.

Reference to my review of Langlois’ book:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. “Review of Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler and the New Economy.” EH.Net Economic History Services, Aug 6 2009. URL:

Apparently Langlois likes my review:


“Richard N. Langlois.” Source of photo and caption:

Today’s Middle Class Citizens of the U.S. Are Better Off Than Emperor Tiberius, Emperor Napoleon, and Saint Thomas Aquinas

In conversation at the HES meeting in Denver, Pete Boettke mentioned that the opportunity cost of blogging can be very high.
The passage below is from a draft of a key chapter of a long-awaited book authored by Berkeley economist and world-renowned blogger Brad DeLong. (At least in this case, Boettke is right.)

(p. 3) Could the Emperor Tiberius have eaten fresh grapes in January? Could the Emperor Napoleon have crossed the Atlantic in a night, or gotten from Paris to London in two hours? Could Thomas Aquinas have written a 2000-word letter in two hours–and then dispatched it off to 1,000 recipients with the touch of a key, and begun to receive replies within the hour? Computers, automobiles, airplanes, VCR’ s, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, telephones, and other technologies–combined with mass production–give middle-class citizens of the United States today degrees of material wealth–control over commodities, and the ability to consume services–that previous generations could barely imagine.

DeLong, J. Bradford. “Cornucopia: The Pace of Economic Growth in the Twentieth Century.” NBER Working Paper, w7602, 2000.

Today is Three Years Old


I have previously discussed my rationales for blogging, in the brief initial entry to my blog, and in the blog entry celebrating the second anniversary of the blog.

Many human activities have multiple motives, and blogging is no exception.  Today I want to focus on a secondary, but important motive for maintaining

A few decades ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I was wise (or fortunate) enough to participate in a voluntary, non-credit, informal seminar offered by Deirdre McCloskey on research and (mainly) writing in economics.  The advice expressed in the seminar was eventually expanded and refined in McCloskey’s wonderful essay "On Economical Writing."

One of the bits of advice in McCloskey’s essay is that in the research phase, it is useful to carry around some 4 by 6 cards on which to write quotes, and thoughts, related to the research.  Good ideas would not be lost to failed memory, and in the latter stages, the card format lent itself to organization and re-organization.

I embraced this advice with over-the-top enthusiasm, not only purchasing a bunch of 4 by 6 cards, but even purchasing them in several different colors.  (I may have already been primed for this advice by my days of carrying boxes of index card evidence around, when I was on the Riley High School debate team.)

Of course all this was before the days of the personal computer.  I still carry around little note pads for the times when inspiration hits without closeness to keyboard.  But most of the time, a keyboard is handy.  There are software programs, such as Microsoft’s useful "OneNote" in which one can add notes, and organize them, in a private fashion.  And I often use OneNote.  But often it occurs to me that a quote or thought that seems useful to me in my research, might also be useful to someone else in their’s. 

The cost of putting such a quote or thought on my blog is only very slightly higher than the cost of putting it down on OneNote, so I often bear the slight cost, with the hope, in the spirit of Albert Jay Nock, that some unknown member of "the remnant" will put the quote or thought to creative good use.


"You do not know and will never know who the Remnant are, or where they are, or how many of them there are, or what they are doing or will do.  Two things you know, and no more: first, that they exist; second, that they will find you."


Nock, Albert Jay. "Isaiah’s Job." Atlantic Monthly, March 1936.


Recent Years Were Not as Hot as Thought


HotestYearsGraph.gif    Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 19)  Never underestimate the power of the blogosphere and a quarter of a degree to inflame the fight over global warming.

A quarter-degree Fahrenheit is roughly the downward adjustment NASA scientists made earlier this month in their annual estimates of the average temperature in the contiguous 48 states since 2000. They corrected the numbers after an error in meshing two sets of temperature data was discovered by Stephen McIntyre, a blogger and retired business executive in Toronto. Smaller adjustments were made to some readings for some preceding years.

All of this would most likely have passed unremarkably if Mr. McIntyre had not blogged that the adjustments changed the rankings of warmest years for the contiguous states since 1895, when record-keeping began.

Suddenly, 1934 appeared to vault ahead of 1998 as the warmest year on record (by a statistically meaningless 0.036 degrees Fahrenheit). In NASA’s most recent data set, 1934 had followed 1998 by a statistically meaningless 0.018 degrees. Conservative bloggers, columnists and radio hosts pounced. “We have proof of man-made global warming,” Rush Limbaughtold his radio audience. “The man-made global warming is inside NASA.”

Mr. McIntyre, who has spent years seeking flaws in studies pointing to human-driven climate change, traded broadsides on the Web with James E. Hansen, the NASA team’s leader. Dr. Hansen said he would not “joust with court jesters” and Mr. McIntyre posited that Dr. Hansen might have a “Jor-El complex” — a reference to Superman’s father, who foresaw the destruction of his planet and sent his son packing.


For the full story, see: 

ANDREW C. REVKIN.  "Quarter-Degree Fix Fuels Climate Fight."  The New York Times, Main Section  (Sunday,  August 26, 2007):  19.


Von Hippel Promotes User-Driven Innovation


     "Eric von Hippel of M.I.T., left, and Dr. Nathaniel Sims, with hospital devices Dr. Sims has modified. Mr. von Hippel says users can improve on products."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


Some innovation is done by the devoted for free.  But in his books, and in the article excerpted below, I think von Hippel puts too little emphasis on the entrepreneur and the entrepreneur’s profit motive, as drivers of innovation. 

One example is the Moveable Type free program that underlies this, and many other blogs.  It is often described as one of the best blog platforms, but it is hard to use for a non-techie, kludgey, and very limited in some obvious ways.  For example, there apparently is no way that I can make comments to the most recent 10 entries visible on the main blog page.  And there is only limited backup capabilities.  And the spell-checker does not have "blog" in its dictionary, and asks me if I really meant to type "bog."

You can bet that if Moveable Type was produced for profit, they would have provided users these obvious capabilities.  And I would rather pay for a more capable program, rather than get a less capable program for free.


(p. 5) DR. NATHANIEL SIMS, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, has figured out a few ways to help save patients’ lives. 

In doing so, he also represents a significant untapped vein of innovation for companies.

Dr. Sims has picked up more than 10 patents for medical devices over his career. He ginned up a way to more easily shuttle around the dozen or more monitors and drug-delivery devices attached to any cardiac patient after surgery, with a device known around the hospital as the “Nat Rack.”

. . .

What Dr. Sims did is called user-driven innovation by Eric von Hippel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. Mr. von Hippel is the leading advocate of the value of letting users of products modify them or improve them, because they may come up with changes that manufacturers never considered. He thinks that this could help companies develop products more quickly and inexpensively than with their internal design teams.

“It could drive manufacturers out of the design space,” Mr. von Hippel says.

It is a difficult idea for research and development departments to accept, but one of his studies found that 82 percent of new capabilities for scientific instruments like electron microscopes were developed by users.

. . .

One problem with the user-innovation model is that it can run into intellectual property rights protections.  . . .

. . .

. . . , Mr. von Hippel’s ideas are up against more conventional forms of user-aided design, such as sending anthropologists to study how people use products in their daily lives. Companies then translate their research into new designs.

Even some of Mr. von Hippel’s acolytes remain cautious. “A lot of this is still in the category of, ‘You could imagine this working out really well,’ ” says Saul T. Griffith, who as an M.I.T. engineering student was part of a group of kite-surfers who developed products for their sport that have since become commercialized. Mr. von Hippel wrote about Mr. Griffith in his 2005 book, “Democratizing Innovation.


For the full story, see:

MICHAEL FITZGERALD.  "Prototype How to Improve It? Ask Those Who Use It."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., March 25, 2007):  5.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 


von Hippel has two main books in which he defends his user-driven innovation ideas:

von Hippel, Eric. The Sources of Innovation. New York:  Oxford University Press, 1988.

von Hippel, Eric. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 2005.


Today is Two Years Old


    The bars for "July" only include data through July 13th.  Although the best-known metric is "hits" (in green), a more meaningful metric, for many purposes, is "visits" (in yellow).  The source of this graph is the Webalizer program as maintained by the Living Dot service that houses my blog.  (The graph above was produced in the evening of July 14, 2007.) 


The first entry in appeared on July 15, 2005.  In the two years since, the blog remains true to its modest and vague founding motives, but has evolved in some small ways.  I think pictures and graphs help communicate many important stories, and make them more memorable.  So the blog in recent months generally includes such elements in about half the entries.  Even better are dynamic accounts of stories, so I have gradually increased the links to video clips that illustrate important stories.

Also, more often than at the beginning, I offer my own somewhat extended commentary on some person, issue, event, book or article.  As time permits, I have also tried to include an occasional entry that records some reminiscence of some important scholar or telling experience that I have had, that I hope might be of value to someone in the future.  (One example of this sort of entry, in the past year, was my entry on Milton Friedman on the occasion of his death.)

I believe that the web log is useful in my teaching and research, and also hope that it provides easier access to some useful material for others who share my interests and goals. 

Of course, every activity has its opportunity costs.  I try to limit the costs by disciplining myself to only post one new entry a day.  And I try to take advantage of blogging economies of scale, by composing several entries at a time, and pre-scheduling them into the future. 

The benefits are hard to access.  I know that in June (the most recent full month for which data is available), the average daily number of "visits" to my blog was recorded as 1,132.  But I do not know very much about how useful the visitors found the blog, or if useful, how often the use is the kind of use I originally had in mind.

On the other hand, I believe that the process writing and publishing refereed journal articles has its drawbacks.  It is slow, and the refereeing is uneven, and often actually makes an article worse.  When the article is finally published, it is often in a form easily accessible only to a few, and as a result often has negligible impact on knowledge or on the broader world of action.

So I think it is time to take some risks with some experimentation in other forms of knowledge production and communication.  Wikipedia is one promising experiment.  Blogs represent another.


“The Blogger as DJ”


(p. 220)  Increasingly, the winning strategy is to separate content into its component parts ("microchunks"), so that people can consume it the way they want, as well as remix it with other content to create something new.  Newspapers are microchunked into individual articles, which are in turn linked to by more specialist sites that create a different, often more focused, product out of the content form multiple sources—the blogger as DJ, remixing the news, to create something new.



Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail. New York: Hyperion, 2006.