Wikipedia and the Tragedy of the Commons

The entry on Charles Darwin in the online community encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, has been locked to prevent “vandalism”.

Wikipedia, like democracy, is a great idea in principal. The concept works something like this: anyone can contribute and anyone can update or improve the information. In theory, it is a self-correcting set-up that should lead ultimately to articles of authority that have been literally checked thousands of times. The problem is that it is open to abuse from “cheaters”.

In that sense it mirrors the process of natural selection as, typically, only the selfish survive.
Evolution is less about survival of the fittest than it is about survival of the most selfish. Game theory shows that in most cases behaving for the good of a group instead of yourself is not an evolutionarily stable strategy (with the possible exception being when the group members are closely related to you).

 It is easy to demonstrate this with a practical example: say you were part of a population that was in danger of consuming all its food resources. If you were to refrain from breeding for the good of the group so that you did not outstrip the supply, while this might sound like the logical thing to do, it would put you at a disadvantage in an evolutionary sense. This is because any animal that did not refrain from breeding would pass on its genes (along with those that code for such selfish behaviour) at the expense of your genes. In other words, natural selection will just about always reward the “cheaters”, those that behave selfishly.

So, back to Wikipedia: it is sad that we all cannot contribute as we would wish to the article on Darwin, but in many ways I guess that is to be expected. And, ironically, it was Darwin who was the first to show us why.
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