Mariette DiChristina on Wikipedia's 10th Anniversary

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For me, Wikipedia underscores an evolutionary lesson: We've always gotten farther as a species collaborating than going it alone. Forgive me. As a longtime science journalist, I often can't stop myself from looking at human endeavors through the lens of possible past selection pressures. Wikipedia reminds me of in-group information sharing -- the kind that helped our ancient forebears survive -- and thrive. Humans are incredibly social creatures. We have our obvious shortcomings as a species, of course, but in general we are really attuned to sharing and helping each other. In the past, the groups that cooperated best lived longer and had more kids -- and we inherited those tendencies. Groups would correct cheaters (people who didn't share info or goods) through social pressure. So Wikipedia is like humanity's social nature writ large electronically, complete with ongoing disputes and corrections. The collective electronic outpouring of info is not without flaws, but it's generally helpful -- just like most encounters we have with people we know in the real world. In many ways, Wikipedia both captures and reflects our very nature as a species.

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Mariette DiChristina oversees Scientific American and ScientificAmerican.com. A science journalist for more than 20 years, she is the former president of the National Association of Science Writers.

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