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Academic Credentials and Wikiality

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the matter-of-degrees dept.

The Internet 429

An anonymous reader writes "A prominent Wikipedia administrator and Wikia employee has been caught lying to the media and 'other' professors about his academic credentials. Wikipedia's Essjay has been representing himself as 'a tenured professor of theology at a private university in the eastern United States; I teach both undergraduate and graduate theology. My Academic Degrees: Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (B.A.), Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.), Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology (Ph.D.), Doctorate in Canon Law (JCD).' His real identity came to light after Wikia offered him a job: It turns out that he is really 24 years old with no degree living in Louisville, KY. Wikipedia's co-founder, Jimbo Wales, says 'I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it.' How will this affect Wikipedia's already shaky reputation with the academic world?"

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Re: How will this affect Wikipedia? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193138)

Maybe they will open a Politics section like Slashdot did before it lost all reputation in the nerd world.

Re: How will this affect Wikipedia? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193326)

In soviet slashdot, politics section YOU!!

Re: How will this affect Wikipedia? (2, Interesting)

Fordiman (689627) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193840)

Or not.

Honestly. You don't use Wikipedia directly for academic stuff. You use it as a starting point, but you never reference it. Any college student can tell you this.

'Shaky reputation in the Academic world.' Hah. It's got a great rep - as a starting point.

it wont (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193144)

its already shaky at best!

Leave him alone! (-1, Flamebait)

SSonnentag (203358) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193146)

For me this is just more proof that it doesn't matter what degrees you have under your belt, it's what you DO that matters. This guy is obviously intelligent and motivated. He has helped to produce one of the best information sites in the world. If he wants to have an alter web identity, more power to him. Just leave him alone.

Re:Leave him alone! (5, Insightful)

BadERA (107121) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193250)

I too think that what you do, not what paper you hold, defines you, and your abilities, but to lie about holding said paper is inexcusable. It then brings into question your credibility over all. Prove yourself on your own merit, not on falsehoods.

Re:Leave him alone! (2, Insightful)

shaitand (626655) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193514)

That would be ideal. Unfortunately in the real world you probably won't have the opportunity to show such merit without claims to a piece of paper.

Re:Leave him alone! (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193688)

"That would be ideal. Unfortunately in the real world you probably won't have the opportunity to show such merit without claims to a piece of paper."

"Piece of paper"? That is SO 20th century :-)

Re:Leave him alone! (3, Funny)

kalirion (728907) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193830)

That would be ideal. Unfortunately in the real world you probably won't have the opportunity to show such merit without claims to a piece of paper.

Yes, he's sure showed his merit to the world now. I think we already have enough misinformation in the media, don't you?

Re:Leave him alone! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193256)

For me this is just more proof that it doesn't matter what degrees you have under your belt, it's what you DO that matters. This guy is obviously intelligent and motivated. He has helped to produce one of the best information sites in the world. If he wants to have an alter web identity, more power to him. Just leave him alone.
That's a good point but I don't agree with leaving him alone. I mean, the point of Wikipedia is to get unbiased truth and knowledge out to the world. If you're lying about your education on the very site that you intend to spread knowledge & truth with, what good are you for it?

The actual danger he poses to the site is quite small--and that's the beauty of Wikiedia. It will survive vandals, biased authors & liars (like Essjay) but will prevail in the end at being the starting point of potentially unreliable information that will set you on your path to finding what you desire to know. Mr. Wales knows all of this and that's why he's indifferent about Essjay's lies. The thing that worries me is that Essjay might have been editing an article on theocracy and then when it was challenged in the discussion, he could refer other editors to his credentials. And even if he wasn't doing that, users could be considering everything he says being golden because of his claimed credentials.

I would never, for a minute, consider this a threat to Wikipedia's reputation, however.

Re:Leave him alone! (3, Interesting)

Stewie241 (1035724) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193512)

The thing that worries me is that Essjay might have been editing an article on theocracy and then when it was challenged in the discussion, he could refer other editors to his credentials. And even if he wasn't doing that, users could be considering everything he says being golden because of his claimed credentials.

Which is why when you're doing research and moderating such a tool source is so important. There are doctors who write garbage diet books - it doesn't mean they are good. Sources need to be cited. You can't really on a 'mine is bigger than yours' attitude to claim informational integrity. Sources should be peer reviewed articles or studies. Sure, it is fine to present reasoned arguments as to why something is or is not true, but "because I said so" is not an argument.

Re:Leave him alone! (1)

skinfaxi (212627) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193678)

"I would never, for a minute, consider this a threat to Wikipedia's reputation, however."

I wouldn't either. The newspaper I write for already forbids use of Wikipedia for research, as does the college I attend. No threat to any of that!

Re:Leave him alone! (5, Insightful)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193740)

"I would never, for a minute, consider this a threat to Wikipedia's reputation, however."

I disagree. Much is made of the idea of Wikipedia as a *community*, and that the strength of that community compensates for other structural vulnerabilities. The general response when someone posits mischief on Wikipedia is: "the community will catch it." So far, so good.

However, a community is composed of individuals, and the strength of that community is directly proportional to the strength of those individuals. An academic community's strength is relies on the individual credentials of it's members. Same with an athletic community (sports team), or a business community.

But the Wikipedia community members, being effectively anonymous, have no characteristics by which to be judged. Their strengths are judged solely on a subjective basis: do people trust and respect them? So far, the Wikipedia community has been doing OK in that regard, and is generally trusted and respected by the public at large.

But here comes a guy who had built up a high level of trust and respect who turns out to be highly untrustworthy. Let's face it - the guy invented a grand CV out of whole cloth. He lied, which is the antithesis to trustworthiness. So now here is a memmber of the wikipedia community who cannot be trusted, and has lost all respect. This diminishes the community, not only by the incremental loss, but by the questions it raises: who else is faking their credentials? Who else can't be trusted?

The damage from this one guy may be trivial, but it isn't inconsequential. If you pluck a hair from your head, you aren't bald all of a sudden. But if you keep doing it, you will definitely become bald, and it will be way before the last hair is plucked. It's all a matter of perception.

Re:Leave him alone! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193290)

>This guy is obviously intelligent and motivated. He has helped to produce one of the best information sites in the world

All of which is now in question you moron

So - would you be okay with THIS lie? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193382)

If its what you do that's so important, why lie?

How about a lie like this (minor edit to story) ...?

Wikipedia's Essjay has been representing himself as 'a talented callgirl originally from a private coed university in the eastern United States. My "Academic Degrees": Missionary Position, Anal, Oral, Doctorate in Feishes (BDSM sub-specialty).' His real identity came to light after slashdot user SSonnentag solicited him for a "blowjob": It turns out that he is really a fat 24 year old male living in his mother's basement in Louisville, KY. Shawn Sonnentag says 'I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with who sucks my dick.'

... so, is it okay to lie, as long as you "get the job done?" Enquiring minds want to know.

Re:So - would you be okay with THIS lie? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193498)

Surely Shawn has the right to decide who does and who doesn't supply him with oral pleasure? I have trouble seeing where my opinion or yours comes into it.

Re:So - would you be okay with THIS lie? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193650)

" Surely Shawn has the right to decide who does and who doesn't supply him with oral pleasure? I have trouble seeing where my opinion or yours comes into it. "

His wife Norma might have a different opinion ... unless that's a lie too, because after all, he's already on the record that it doesn't matter whether you lie or not - its what you do.

Nice way to miss the point, that being a liar affects your credibility, and that of the projects you work on.

Re:Leave him alone! (1)

skoaldipper (752281) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193440)

> This guy is obviously intelligent and motivated.

How intelligent can one be when applying for a job with no college degree while claiming to hold a PhD? I'll give him this - his pair makes mine look like a set of raisins.

Re:Leave him alone! (5, Insightful)

LordPhantom (763327) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193452)

So.... it's ok to tell the world that they should belive you as an 'expert' based upon your credentials, even if you have none?

You, sir, live in a strange world that I want no part of. This man has proven himself to be a charletan and a liar, and until he's proven to change assigning him any level of credibility is rather idiotic.

Worse, offering him a job based on that work history makes Wika look rather silly.

Re:Leave him alone! (-1)

timster (32400) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193470)

Right now you're modded as a troll, but I want to say that you're right; the moderator should be ashamed. A degree isn't a holy sacrament (even if it is supposedly in theology). If people will listen to you because you claim to have a piece of paper which doesn't prove anything, then perhaps the lie is necessary to get past their biased discrimination. As far as I can tell, he didn't claim it for purposes of getting a job or otherwise defrauding someone.

Re:Leave him alone! (4, Insightful)

JoeD (12073) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193754)

You're right, up to the point of his lying about his credentials.

If he had just said from the beginning "I'm 24 with no degree, but I think the quality of my work addresses my fitness for the job", then there would be no problem.

But he lied about it. And if he's willing to lie about that, what else is he willing to lie about?

If you can't trust the people, then you can't trust the information they're presenting either. Fire his ass.

Re:Leave him alone! (1)

LordKazan (558383) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193766)

No, he's not - i have had interaction with him before and he helps enforce status quo-compliant POV in a certain medical article in contradiction of medical facts.

and that is why i don't edit, or trust, wikipedia anymore - corruption all the way to the top

Wow... (5, Funny)

Zeek40 (1017978) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193158)

Lying about having a Liberal Arts degree.... that's a new level of desperation. ;)

Re:Wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193218)

...and lying about a theology degree scores a few extra irony points.

Not for a Muslim - that's 'taqiyya' (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193536)

I see no problem.. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193160)

I see no problem with this current situation.

Dr. Anonymous Coward
Harvard Law

Re:I see no problem.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193720)

Bill Gates has no degree either. However, he never lied about the fact that he did. And stop using my pseudonym, "Mr. Coward!"

-Anonymous Coward, PhD, DDS, MD, LSD

Wait, what? (3, Insightful)

maniac/dev/null (170211) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193164)

Wait, Wikipedia had a reputation as a believable source at one time?

Re:Wait, what? (1)

raptorspike (765137) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193418)

I know most of the classes I'm in don't allow us to use wikipedia as a source on a paper

Re:Wait, what? (3, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193852)

Don't knock it. I learn valuable stuff there all the time. For example, did you know that the population of African elephants has TRIPLED in just the last ten years?

-Eric

Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (4, Insightful)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193180)

The major premise of wikipedia functionality is that it can be edited by anyone, yes? This is probably also its number one criticism, but taking that into account, how does it matter if someone high-up in the organization has background issues? Unless he is maliciously mucking up the software itself, he hardly has any more potential for corrupting the content than I do or some random schmuck browsing wiki at a library.

If he had been working at Encyclopedia Brittanica as an editor, sure, worry about his work. But at wikipedia is rather duplicitous to criticize it for *both* it's egalitarian editing policy and the character flaws of its administrators. The former mitigates the latter.

Re:Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (2, Interesting)

mdd4696 (1017728) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193304)

Not only can anyone edit Wikipedia, anyone can become an administrator as well. Anyone who makes valuable contributions to Wikipedia and shows an understanding of policies and Wikipedia's five pillars [wikipedia.org] is welcome to apply to be an administrator.

"Administrator" is somewhat of a misnomer, and many people give the position far more credence than it warrants. The fact that Essjay did not tell the truth about his personal life doesn't really influence Wikipedia's credibility at all; it's the misperception that this somehow influenced his ability to be an upstanding Wikipedian.

Re:Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (4, Insightful)

ZachPruckowski (918562) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193350)

I think the problem here is that if a prominent member of the Wikipedia community can lie about something like that, then there's not much stock placed in truth in the organization. I'm not asking for real names or anything, but claiming to have a PhD when you don't ought to be a no-no in any community.

Re:Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (3, Insightful)

kripkenstein (913150) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193850)

Furthermore, the fake credentials were used specifically for the purpose of bolstering Wikipedia's integrity. Therefore when they turned out to be fake, they slight Wikipedia's credibility all the more.

This is terrible publicity, and I am surprised that Wales isn't pissed off. I know I am ashamed for Wikipedia, which I hold in very high regard. This guy makes it look like Wikipedia 'community leaders' are a bunch of amateurs that have no qualms about lying or deceiving.

Re:Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (4, Insightful)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193372)

The major premise of wikipedia functionality is that it can be edited by anyone, yes?

Well, not exactly anyone. It is possible to get banned from Wikipedia. If this person has been using those fake credentials to gain support from others while editing articles, then maybe a ban is appropriate. De-adminship is also certainly appropriate if those credentials were presented before the community approved of his adminship.

Unless he is maliciously mucking up the software itself, he hardly has any more potential for corrupting the content than I do or some random schmuck browsing wiki at a library.

Actually, admins have quite a bit of potential to corrupt Wikipedia content, especially if they can gain the support of other admins by presenting them with false credentials. Users can be blocked and pages can be protected from editing except by admins.

But at wikipedia is rather duplicitous to criticize it for *both* it's egalitarian editing policy and the character flaws of its administrators. The former mitigates the latter.

But Wikipedia doesn't really have a totally egalitarian editing policy. When the content of a page is disputed by an admin and a non-admin, the admin is going to win the dispute 9 times out of 10. That might not be explicit policy, but it is the de facto reality of the situation. Admins tend to support other admins. Even moreso if the admin claims to have certain credentials.

Re:Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (1)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193774)

If this person has been using those fake credentials to gain support from others while editing articles, then maybe a ban is appropriate.

If a person is using fake credentials to gain support and actually gets it maybe both he and all his "supporters" should be banned, since "appeal to authority" is a classic logical fallacy and in no way provides evidence that any given information is true. Experts can be just as wrong as other people and they can lie. Facts need to be determined by logic, not emotional dependance upon someone's supposed certification.

Actually, admins have quite a bit of potential to corrupt Wikipedia content, especially if they can gain the support of other admins by presenting them with false credentials. Users can be blocked and pages can be protected from editing except by admins.

Perhaps one of wikipedia's requirements for being an admin should be to read and understand the wikipedia page on "logical fallacy" so that admins can make logical choices.

But Wikipedia doesn't really have a totally egalitarian editing policy. When the content of a page is disputed by an admin and a non-admin, the admin is going to win the dispute 9 times out of 10.

Ahh, but since anyone can be become an admin and admin status is not in any way tied to whether or not one has particular educational certificates how does this particular instance reflect the disparity?

Even moreso if the admin claims to have certain credentials.

Sadly, this reflects a problem with the users of wikipedia, the admins, and the general populace. Most people don't understand logical decision making and thus make illogical decisions. This is not so much a failing of wikipedia as a failing of the general populace and the educational system reflected upon wikipedia.

Re:Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193378)

Furthermore, administrators aren't "high up". Just about anyone can become an Admin.

Re:Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193508)

If he had been working at Encyclopedia Brittanica as an editor, sure, worry about his work.

The problem is that jimmy Wales has been going around touting wikipedia as a competitor to Britannica and other, more serious, encyclopedias. This just points out a major chink in wikipedia's armour: that it's largely predicated on unverified trust.

-Eric

Re:Wiki equality applies to the higher ups too (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193566)

unverified trust -- There's no such thing as unverified trust.

Random House:
trust
1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

Not possible to have trust without verification. The word you're looking for is faith.

Credentials are over rated... for some fields... (0, Troll)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193182)

Credentials are great if you need to develop a specific complex skill set for your job and need to think in a certain way using a certain set domains they teach you when you go through the academic obstacle course in the academic system (Set domains as in a set domain in set theory of math, except, vis, not with decimal symbols but with accrued experiential data patterns).

The truth is credentials and experience for many jobs are purely manufactured to keep the economy going, that is the big secret of government schools and market economies. The school-market caste system within certain job classifications. You need to divide people into functionaries in order to maintain society.

Most people who graduated high school with fairly decent marks could easily teach the first 3-4 grades in public school, and hell probably more, with a few 6 month course in teaching, public speaking and presentation, they could teach most of what is taught in public school with the exception of perhaps science.

Re:Credentials are over rated... for some fields.. (3, Funny)

Deag (250823) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193334)

This teacher training course could be expanded by testing the participants to make sure no bad ones slip through. Then for more complex teaching requirements there could be longer training courses which also is examined to maintain a level of quality. Each of these exams could have a certificate to show to others that the person who took it is competent in this area. Then we wouldn't need those useless credentials.

Re:Credentials are over rated... for some fields.. (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193670)

Commerical pilots require credentials, engineers require them, as do physicians. And, I'm damn glad they do.
I'm up two, it's your turn to list occupations where they "shouldn't" be needed. And, that's assuming I even agree about the elementary teaching thing.

"with a few 6 month course in teaching, public speaking and presentation, they could teach most of what is taught in public school with the exception of perhaps science"
Which would be... credentials.

Re:Credentials are over rated... for some fields.. (1)

jeppster (1031326) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193802)

Whoa, hold on. Who says teachers don't need a "specific, complex skill set" to do their job? I think you're forgetting that being able to teach is more than just knowing the content. We hear so much complaining about our education system, and it doesn't suck because there isn't enough funding, or the state curriculums are horrid. The logical reason for poor education is poor teaching.

My wife is an 8th grade teacher in literature, and from what I hear from her, her school is just amazing, and all the teacher's there are brilliant, etc., etc. It is no surprise that her district is the #1 district in our state. I've also heard from her in schools past about poor teachers who just don't care anymore and who hate their job and don't put any effort into their work. She replaced one of those teachers once and found that the kids had no knowledge of the content at all, and she had to teach a whole year's curriculum in one semester.

My wife's education has been invaluable to her career, and to this day she still finds new ways to use things she learned in college. My point is that though your post has some points I agree with, the example was baseless and probably offensive to any teachers reading it (including my wife). If you're going to illustrate a point with an example, please use something with substance and validity as opposed to just assumption.

I figure my job (software developer) would be one of those examples to be honest. I've got a bachelors in Information Systems, but I quite honestly could have done my job a year out of high school.

Perfect! (1)

tbone1 (309237) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193186)

Sign him up for a seat on the board!

Sincerely,
Herb Atological, CEO of Accenture

It shouldn't be a problem.... (1)

onthevirge (254457) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193204)

As long as he only addding content about Kentucky's cash crop. Maybe he's a first hand taste tester, just as long as he doesn't inhale.

A pseudonym? (5, Interesting)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193208)

No. Sorry, but no. This is nothing more or less than a profound appeal to improper authority, the authority being the editor in question. I'd like to know how many times his 'credentials' have been called upon as proof in Wiki arguments, or the number of times that people have agreed with him on the false assumption that he was playing things straight.

His username is a pseudonym. His claimed credentials are a fraud.

Re:A pseudonym? (1, Interesting)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193282)

"No. Sorry, but no. This is nothing more or less than a profound appeal to improper authority, the authority being the editor in question"

I can see why he did it, I think you can't blame him entirely. We have a whole irrational damn-near religious awe of credentials and enormous stigma against those who do not possess this "sacred currency", if you don't have a degree you're "low cog" (lower down on the cognitive chain) and hence "less worthy". The fact is our culture worships the paper. You are deemed more or less worthy by how well you navigated some arbitrary designed academic obstacle course that may or most likely - may not have interested you because of the stale (or incorrect) way it was presented and the stifling of natural curiosity that happens in how children are taught today. Gatto as commented on this extensively.

http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/ [johntaylorgatto.com]

Re:A pseudonym? (4, Insightful)

Sobrique (543255) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193400)

We do culturally pay more attention to 'academia'. That is, after all, kind of the point - someone who's life work is a particular field, has a quite good basis to assert expertise.

I don't care about pseudonyms, nor what bits of paper you do or don't hold. I will continue to give someone who has a doctorate in medicine, more credence than a co-worker, at least when it come to 'what to do about my back pain'.

I do however, object to someone lying about having the aforementioned bits of paper.

Re:A pseudonym? (1)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193456)

I can see why he did it, I think you can't blame him entirely.

Everyone can "see why he did it", and you make a few good points about our cultural reverence for (potentially) meaningless degrees (I believe I personally got quite a lot out of my own time in college, though I know all too well that the majority of my fellow students in CS "earned" the same degree as I did but couldn't code to save their lives).

But you most certainly can blame him for lying.

Re:A pseudonym? (4, Insightful)

Txiasaeia (581598) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193652)

You are deemed more or less worthy by how well you navigated some arbitrary designed academic obstacle course that may or most likely - may not have interested you because of the stale (or incorrect) way it was presented and the stifling of natural curiosity that happens in how children are taught today.

Well, I'll tell you what: any day of the week, if I was in a serious car accident, I'd take a surgeon with a piece of paper from an arbitrary designed academic obstacle course than an unemployed, uneducated individual with mere natural curiosity as his only credentials.

Re:A pseudonym? (3, Insightful)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193724)

I can see why he did it, I think you can't blame him entirely. We have a whole irrational damn-near religious awe of credentials and enormous stigma against those who do not possess this "sacred currency"

I don't. But I do have this irrational attachment to the truth.

Thing is, I still go to wikipedia to look up info, it's become a reflex, just typing a noun appended by "wikipedia" in google. But I no longer feel good about it. Nor am I particularly inclined to help edit it when I can see that my efforts would simply be sabotaged from above by malignant indifference, blundering incompetence, and (increasingly now) outright mendacity.

Stil Full of Shit? (5, Interesting)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193484)

His claimed credentials are a fraud.

Not only that, his revised Wiki bio now says he was an account manager for Fortune 20 company and a licensed paralegal for 5 years before that. The guy is 24. Let's assume he was this account manager for maybe a year? So he must have started the 2 year paralegal school at what? 16 or so? Yeah.

Re:Stil Full of Shit? (5, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193616)

I think the only creditial he has earned is "Long-time compulsive liar." I've worked with a few guys like that. They would continue to tell obvious lies even after they were called on it. And, the more you ignored them, the larger the lies would grow.

Every compulsive liar will tell you they're a somebody--desperately masking the fact that they're just another nobody.

-Eric

Re:A pseudonym? (2, Informative)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193488)

This is nothing more or less than a profound appeal to improper authority, the authority being the editor in question.

This reflects one of the greatest flaws in the US educational system. I went to public schools. I took probably 8 or more history classes, none of which ever made it to WWII and half of which spent a lot of my childhood woefully mis-educated me about the facts behind "thanksgiving." In none of my classes in public school was I taught critical thinking, logic, or the rhetorical method... vital tools for properly understanding, making decisions, and communicating effectively. We barely touched upon the scientific method, despite having numerous general science classes. Even in order to get my undergraduate degree I was never required to take a course in the rhetorical method.

If education in the US provided proper building blocks and intellectual tools, instead of rote memorization of both true and false "factoids" the situation where one person fakes their credentials would be of no matter. Appealing to authority is a logical fallacy as any properly educated person knows. The sad fact is, most people are so poorly educated that even politicians have no problem not only espousing obvious logical fallacies, but calling them by name (slippery slope is a fallacy and calling something a slippery slope does not bolster your argument, it undermines it, when taking to people who understand the rules of logic). This is not a failing of this person or wikipedia so much as a general failing of the wikipedia user base.

Re:A pseudonym? (1)

dylan_- (1661) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193626)

The sad fact is, most people are so poorly educated that even politicians have no problem not only espousing obvious logical fallacies, but calling them by name (slippery slope is a fallacy and calling something a slippery slope does not bolster your argument, it undermines it, when taking to people who understand the rules of logic).
No, the slippery slope argument is just that: an argument. Just because something can be a fallacy does not mean it always is. The slippery slope argument can also be valid (in the most trivial case, literally: if you push that box onto that slippery slope, it will slide all the way to the bottom).

Re:A pseudonym? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193776)

"This is not a failing of this person or wikipedia so much as a general failing of the wikipedia user base."

That's a good way to foist your blame on surrounding people, virtual or otherwise. You screw up and it's the "user base's" fault? Bull. You screw up and it's your fault, not mine. I reject your attempt to lob guilt upon me for your shortcomming.

Re:A pseudonym? (1)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193854)

If education in the US provided proper building blocks and intellectual tools, instead of rote memorization of both true and false "factoids"

Diversity in the workplace has told me one thing: primary education in other countries, particularly former British colonies, is worse when it comes to rote memorization. I guarantee you that no one in India is getting taught critical thinking, logic, or rhetorical methods in their early education. In some areas, we may well have moved too far away from rote skills: it'd be nice to see the basic rules of grammar and spelling drilled in a touch more, neh?

Appealing to authority is a logical fallacy as any properly educated person knows.

And "appealing" to formal fallacy is itself an informal fallacy -- I defer to Einstein and Hawking when it comes to matters of physics. This kid on Wikipedia isn't an authority, just a schmuck who claimed to be one.

Re:A pseudonym? (1)

canUbeleiveIT (787307) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193880)

In the *state* university that I attended in the mid 90s, critical thinking was emphasized across the curriculum. In fact, when I did my post-grad, it was assumed that students already have a complete grasp of the scientific method, logic, writing, etc. Grad school was much more of a hand's-on, training type of thing where it was implemented. If you didn't understand it by then, you were pretty much screwed.

I have the dreaded BA in Liberal Arts and both my introductory level Chemistry and intro Biology started with a comprehensive unit on the scientific method. My Introduction to Philosophy included a full quarter on logic and rhetoric.

Moving forward to the present, my son's high school does include the scientific method in some depth in all science classes. However, they barely touch on logic and rhetoric.

I wonder if the problem was more about when you were educated rather than where. I graduated from high school in the early 80s and I can't remember any of that stuff being taught.

LMAO (0, Troll)

Sodade (650466) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193510)

If the "people that agreed with him" did so just on the basis of his "credentials," then maybe they should question the value people place on education - particularly the Liberal Arts (even moreso for fuzzy crap like religious studies). It's not like he was claiming to be a doctor, biologist or engineer. Now, if the "people that agreed with him" did so on the basis of his convincing arguments, then maybe the guy was smart and learned enough to make convincing arguements. In this case, maybe this proves that "credentials" don't mean as much as the weight that society tends to place on them. Maybe people tend to attribute value to "credentials" if they have some too? Maybe it is a way to validate their own schooling?

Well.. (5, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193226)

Speaking as a top award-winning particle physicist, race car driver, neurosurgeon, and rock star, I feel that this is absolutely terrible.

Re:Well.. (0)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193234)

How did things go against the World Crime League, Mr. Banzai?

Re:Well.. (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193480)

I have *GOT* to see that movie.

(Honey, can I have a Netflix selection? Pleeeease?)

Re:Well.. (1)

Bigboote66 (166717) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193630)

Credential fraud's not my goddamn problem. Understand, Monkey Boy?

-BbT

Its an Encyclopedia... (2, Informative)

jspayne (98716) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193228)

Its an Encyclopedia - an Encyclopedia does not have any standing in the academic community in the first place (beyond 6th grade, anyway). No one, ever, should consider Wikipedia to be an authoritative source - it isn't intended to be one. It is just a repository of common knowledge.

Re:Its an Encyclopedia... (3, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193448)

Going off at a tangent, but when has an encyclopedia ever been a good source to cite in an academic work? I've never come across someone citing Brittanica or Encarta beyond high-school level. Encyclopedias are up there with pop science books and newspaper columns when it comes to respectability as an academic source. At least Wikipedia has the advantage of giving you references which you can cite, in most cases.

Re:Its an Encyclopedia... (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193794)

"It is just a repository of common knowledge."

Nope. It's a repository of common typing.

Re:Its an Encyclopedia... (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193894)

Actually, the Encylopedia Britannica is considered a scholarly level reference work. Its articles are usually authored by well-known scholars and heavily vetted before publication. Its a great reference work, even for a grad student.

-Eric

He should be deadminned (5, Insightful)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193236)

Wikipedia's co-founder, Jimbo Wales, says 'I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it.'

That's the only part that really concerns me. If any editor, let alone an administrator, is using fake credentials to try to bolster support for his arguments, that should be a serious concern. This seems to be the essence of the rule against sockpuppetry, though that particular rule probably doesn't handle a case where the user has only one account.

Now that this is out in the open, I think this person should be deadminned and asked to re-apply for adminship without lying.

Re:He should be deadminned (2, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193332)

Since there is supposed to be no original research on Wikipedia and articles are only supposed to include facts cited from verifiable primary sources, it doesn't matter whether the editors of Wikipedia are Nobel-prize-winning physicists, illegal aliens, or baby killers. The person's arguments don't enter into it, because those arguments aren't filtered through the person's credentials, but through Wikipedia policy.

If you see a situation where this isn't true, be bold and make an effort to correct the problem.

Now, if this guy is using his fake credentials to get a job, money, media attention, or whatever else, then there's a problem, but I agree with Jimbo in the context of Wikipedia on this one - as long as his adminship was based on his activity on Wikipedia and his efforts to uphold Wikipedia's policies, Wikipedia should be blind to his real-world foibles.

Re:He should be deadminned (1)

keyero (1069796) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193444)

He's not just an admin, but Essjay is a bureaucrat, serves on arbcom, has checkuser permission, and was recommended to the reporter.

Re:He should be deadminned (3, Interesting)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193446)

Since there is supposed to be no original research on Wikipedia and articles are only supposed to include facts cited from verifiable primary sources, it doesn't matter whether the editors of Wikipedia are Nobel-prize-winning physicists, illegal aliens, or baby killers.

Nope, you forgot to carry that word "supposed" all the way through. Maybe it is supposed to not matter whether the editors of Wikipedia, but when the admins are the ones these rules in the first place, it does matter who the admins are.

The person's arguments don't enter into it, because those arguments aren't filtered through the person's credentials, but through Wikipedia policy.

This might be true if a computer were implementing Wikipedia "policy", but Wikipedia "policy" is implemented by humans. These policies (which are really very sparse, most of them are non-binding "guidelines") are not enforced systematically and consistently, so of course a person's credentials come into play.

Anyway, if a person's credentials don't matter, then why not let everyone be an admin? If a person's credentials don't matter, then surely this particular admin will have no problem being re-granted adminship after a new review.

If you see a situation where this isn't true, be bold and make an effort to correct the problem.

I've tried that many times in the past. It doesn't work.

Now, if this guy is using his fake credentials to get a job, money, media attention, or whatever else, then there's a problem, but I agree with Jimbo in the context of Wikipedia on this one - as long as his adminship was based on his activity on Wikipedia and his efforts to uphold Wikipedia's policies, Wikipedia should be blind to his real-world foibles.

Personally I think the dichotomy between Wikipedia and the real world is a false one. Wikipedia is not a MMORPG. It's a real effort to make a real encyclopedia for the real world.

Re:He should be deadminned (1)

Dhalka226 (559740) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193732)

For the record, I think credentials probably do matter, and that they probably SHOULD matter in a lot of cases. But:

Anyway, if a person's credentials don't matter, then why not let everyone be an admin?

Because you morphed the argument. The proper extension to "credentials don't matter" is "why not let anyone be an admin?" (More specifically, anybody who doesn't have some other problems that would eliminate them.) Too many cooks and all that jazz. I'll leave it up to others to debate whether that is actually how it works.

Citation needed! (1)

starwed (735423) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193380)

It would be nice if the submitter actually gave a source for that quote; I couldn't find it in any of the articles. He might have been referring to the premise that an admin might not give their real name, rather than presenting fake credentials. It's impossible to tell without context.

Re:He should be deadminned (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193424)

They don't seem to take notice of credentials to be honest. This has annoyed many an academic who has made massive changes to an article only to see it reverted because: 1) He didn't discuss his massive changes with the other editors 2) He didn't provide any references Generally speaking, when it comes to being taken seriously you have to have good negotiating and debating skills (not a great talent for arguing, actual debating skills) and the ability to provide references which can easily be checked by peers. In my experience, at any rate.

edu.wikipedia.org (2, Interesting)

LoudMusic (199347) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193258)

They could host a second wikipedia site, edu.wikipedia.org or some such, using all the same software started with an empty database. In order to get an editors account you'd have to provide credentials from an upstanding college or university. Then see if it ever gets used.

Re:edu.wikipedia.org (1)

nevali (942731) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193506)

You could, but I'd have to wonder what the point would be.

So Wikipedia has a poor standing in academic communities. So what? I bet the Encyclopaedia Britannica doesn't have a much better standing (especially not after that semi-recent study showed that it was only marginally more accurate than Wikipedia, despite being incredibly costly to obtain and having significantly shorter entries in general).

What the academic community seems to want is a nice resource site collating the results of peer-reviewed studies. And, er, that's it.

Wikipedia's poor standing with respect to academia can be countered with a two-word argument: 'So what?'.

If you don't like it, you don't use it. If you quote stuff from Wikipedia without checking out the references it cites (or do so when it doesn't cite any), then _you_ deserve the brunt of the criticism, not Wikipedia. (And instead of complaining about inaccuracies, maybe some of these people could help improve it-it would benefit them and their peers too, after all).

Re:edu.wikipedia.org (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193552)

In soviet wikipedia, university credential edit YOU!!

Just an elaborate Ad Hominem... (1)

aendeuryu (844048) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193268)

Any scandal that erupts out of this is largely Ad Hominem. That doesn't mean it's hostile, but it is flawed.

If a known insane blatering fool comes up to you and says the sky is blue, does that mean it's automatically not blue? Of course not, you have to verify the information yourself.

This is at the heart of Wikipedia. You judge it by its content, not by its contributors, who are often anonymous anyway. There are still legitimate complaints about the potential for the abuse, but in the end, the abuse itself is what marks it as suspect, not the possibility of an abuser.

Re:Just an elaborate Ad Hominem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193356)

Isn't that old news? Slashdot had an article on Citizendium last month that talked about that.

I think he's confusing Admins with Stewards (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193340)

Wikipedia admin access isn't particularly valuable. People are granted admin accounts by votes from other editors at the moment, but el Jimbo has spoken in the past about simply giving away administrator access to a few users at random to see what happens. However this guy represented himself, aside from a few administrative abilities (banning/unbanning users, undeleting and locking articles) the use of which is prescribed by Wikipedia policy, he's just another editor when it comes to adding or removing content. And as we all know, qualifications (real or imagined) don't mean a lot to the Wikipedia posse. I think the article creator is confusing administrators with Stewards, select members of MediaWiki with project-wide authority.

Essjay not a Steward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#18193646)

In the last steward Election the Wikimedia lawyer insisted that all stewards be at least 18 and disclose their real name to the foundation offices. (http://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/htdig/foundati on-l/2006-November/024896.html) Essjay refused to do this, so he couldn't be a steward. Some of the Wikimedia board members opposed (http://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/htdig/foundati on-l/2006-November/024902.html) but didn't block it.

Looks like the Wikimedia office made the right idea for once.

How is this any different than meatspace? (2, Interesting)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193344)

You can pick out almost any organization the size of Wikipedia and I bet I can find at least one person fudging their resume, or completely faking it and probably more than one if your company has more than 50 people. All that kid would have needed was to be a few years older and he could have diploma-milled his credentials. Not much different.

Want to go through the faculty of any small or medium size community college and see how many diploma mill teachers they have on staff? Or how many people took graduate classes but never actually completed that degree they're claiming.

Buying credentials is easy, the good ones will even verify them for employment checks. Sure, sooner or later the diploma mill will be found out, but who goes back to validate credentials periodically? A few companies but not very many.

The problem with experts (1)

Ignorant Aardvark (632408) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193346)

Incidentally, this is why Wikipedia frequently gets in trouble with "experts" who think they can just waltz into an article and say that it should be one way because they're an expert in their field and they know best.

Well ... how do we know you're really an expert in the field? Essjay claimed to be, and threw that weight around in a lot of arguments over articles, but he wasn't ...

Re:The problem with experts (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193478)

Yes, they don't take it very well when you ask for some references. "But I wrote the textbook on this!" Well, yes, you should have a big box of papers on the subject kicking around then.

Actual credentials (5, Funny)

ari_j (90255) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193376)

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.

But I have not yet gone to college.

Re:Actual credentials (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193410)


Damn, that's an awesome list of "things to do when bored".

Re:Actual credentials (1)

ray-auch (454705) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193562)

[...]

You forgot to add:

"and I never credit the original author whose work I copy"

Hugh Gallagher by the way. Look him up - he's a published writer now.

Re:Actual credentials (1)

DebateG (1001165) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193604)

That's a great essay, but you should attribute it to the man who wrote it, Hugh Gallagher [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Actual credentials (3, Informative)

ari_j (90255) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193660)

This is in response to you and the sibling. I am aware of who wrote it - the reason I didn't cite the source is because I assumed that everyone on Slashdot would know it right away. You don't cite things like "vast right-wing conspiracy"[1] or "in Soviet Russia"[2] jokes for the same reason.

Then again, kids these days may not know, so I will be more careful about citing obvious sources in the future.

[1] - Hillary Clinton
[2] - Yakov Smirnoff

No harm done (1)

BOFHelsinki (709551) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193404)

This doesn't affect W's rep in the academic world because it has none and should have none. It's helluva useful (for just about everybody there) but it cannot be depended on like a work with established procedures and responsible editors -- it cannot have and need not have that sort of authority (to be a small miracle of a tool). Who cares about a co-founder, it could be Dubya and still not affect the almighty community process one bit.

Some background on the controversy (4, Interesting)

Everyman (197621) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193486)

Some screen-shot links for those who want more information. (Wikipedia sometimes makes controversial pages disappear):

Essjay's user page at Wikia, where he "outed" himself:
http://www.wikipedia-watch.org/gifs/wmessjay.png [wikipedia-watch.org]

Previous details from an old user page at Wikipedia:
http://www.wikipedia-watch.org/gifs/essjay5.png [wikipedia-watch.org]

Essjay brags about how he fooled The New Yorker:
http://www.wikipedia-watch.org/essjay.html [wikipedia-watch.org]

Authoritativeness (1)

j.leidner (642936) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193524)

This is not a problem with Wikipedia, but a general problem with *all* publications. Nobody ever checks what's in Who's Who is correct, nobody ckecked wether the guy who was given the NASA's PR top job by the Bush regime had the credentials that he claimed he had (well, until a student from Oxford contacted his "alma mater" and it all came to light).

Jochen
RealName[tm]

Sheesh, no need to freak out (1)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193548)

So what if he lacks credentials? It's not like theology ever had anything to do with real facts anyway!

Good to see (1)

soxos (614545) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193594)

Nice to see people still get in trouble for this. Working in the business world (or living in LA) too long can make you forget that some institutions take credentials seriously. I always like to see someone get some public humiliation for trying to create an academic image for themselves... like this guy [wikipedia.org]

has been caught lying to the media and 'other' professors about
Shouldn't the quotes be around professor?

The Wikipedia Cabal (3, Interesting)

br00tus (528477) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193662)

If Wikipedia was interested in being a reliable encyclopedia, we would know who the top people are (Arbitration Committee etc.), a lot of them would have PHD's, and there would also be a place up there for techies and so forth.

So when the Arbitration Committee had elections (which Jimbo didn't want), who did he appoint that did not get the most votes? JayJG, who had 98 people oppose him going onto ArbCom, which was a hell of a lot for the position (it was over 100, but they attacked people's votes, cajoled people into changing their votes, erased questions and comments about his misconduct etc.) Filiocht had the same number of votes for him as did JayJG, yet only 18 opposing him. Filiocht is someone almost everyone can agree is fair, a lot of people have problems with JayJG and his biases. A number of people met the vote threshold and got a higher percentage than JayJG, so we thought we finally won and got him off the committee, which he had never been elected to. But Jimbo appointed him again, just like he did the first time.

Why? Because he agrees with him politically. Jimbo ran the Ayn Rand mailing list for years and is one of those Randroid nuts. He appoints people like Fred Bauder, a lawyer who was disbarred for telling one of his woman clients to pay him in sex. Larry Sanger is who built Wikipedia anyway, but Jimbo was his boss so he not only wanted to grab the glory, he denies Sanger any credit.

The problems at the top are massive, and I don't think Wikipedia will survive it. I see a split happening, and competitors, and the first real competitor will win and Wikipedia will disappear. I saw Gopher and Archie and Veronica be overtaken by Opentext on the web (anyone remember them?) and then Webcrawler and then Alta Vista and finally Google. Larry Sanger's creation is too good to not get competition. Of course, Jimbo pushed Larry aside and is ruining things. The next Wikipedia competitor will make Wikipedia history, just like Opentext is more or less history nowadays.

I Just Realized Something (2, Interesting)

I re-discovered Amer (1070124) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193704)

There are a bunch of other users on Wikipedia who say that they are professors. But, many of them are hyper-active. No one can edit Wikipedia that much and still have even a job. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Angr [wikipedia.org] -- who also has pages on Commons, Wikisource, a dozen other languages, etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Mel_Etitis [wikipedia.org] is another one. Same for http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Future_Perfect_a t_Sunrise [wikipedia.org] . I have nothing against these guys -- they're pretty civil -- but I must say that I have my doubts now!

Making it safe for the rest of the unwashed masses (1)

rchf (173235) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193748)

Very smart move to pass this off as a pseudonymn because it will make it less likely that the next contributor will feel a need to assert fake credentials. If it doesn't matter to Jimmy Wales and if you will eventually get found out then there is no reason at all to take the risk of lying.

Shows you the value of a degree in theology! (1)

Caspian (99221) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193814)

If any old schlub can successfully masquerade as a holder of multiple degrees in God-ology, well... let's just say that no matter what the titles-- B.A., M.A., Ph.D. or anything else-- a degree in theology is B.S.

Helpful hint: This may, in fact, apply to many other degrees as well.

He went to the same school as I did. (2, Funny)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#18193828)

U of Me.

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