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Wikipedia's Wales Reverses Decision on Problem Admin

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the who-can-you-trust dept.

The Internet 241

ToiletDuck writes "Wikipedia co-founder Jimbo Wales appears to have changed his mind concerning Essjay, the administrator who was caught lying about his academic credentials. Wales issued a statement today on his User Talk page requesting that EssJay voluntarily step down. Wales defended his earlier comment about EssJay, claiming 'I only learned this morning that EssJay used his false credentials in content disputes ... I want to make it perfectly clear that my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on.' Wales did not comment on whether EssJay would continue to serve in his paid position at Wikia, the for-profit cousin of Wikipedia."

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But more importantly... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221538)

Who really cares.

Re:But more importantly... (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221700)

"I for one welcome our lying dumb-ass overlords ..."

Seriously, is the Wiki that hard up for talent that they have to knowingly hire liars? What next, pull a SCO and sue someone for 5 bazillions?

Re:But more importantly... (4, Interesting)

Namronorman (901664) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222496)

He [slashdot.org] does!

From the... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221544)

Who gives a *&@# department.

What difference does it make? A nobody fakes his way into a coveted spot, only to get busted in the future. History is full of such low-lifes.

Bad hiring decision (1, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221558)

Wales did not comment on whether EssJay would continue to serve in his paid position at Wikia, the for-profit cousin of Wikipedia."

Ulp.

Re:Bad hiring decision (1)

gunny01 (1022579) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221644)

Well, Jimbo has done the right think by letting him stand down. If not, he should be kicked and fired.

Re:Bad hiring decision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221668)

Does the liar get a severance package?

Re:Bad hiring decision (1)

koweja (922288) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222068)

Knowing how business work, possibly. That is why people are often offered a chance to retire instead of flat out getting fired. Retirement gets you benefits (severance, pension, whatever) while firing doesn't. Of course, that's another reason he should have been fired in the first place. Of course, allowing someone to retire makes it harder for them to retaliate against the company, so I guess this is the easiest way of making the problem go away.

Re:Bad hiring decision (2, Insightful)

Petrushka (815171) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222110)

Wait and see if he actually does resign, first. By the way, I love the fact that his WP user page [wikipedia.org] is headed "stamus contra malum" -- "we stand against evil." Suuuuure you do, Essjay.

Jimbo's change of mind is a good thing but I suspect it's too late. A lot of damage has been done: journalists will have a field-day with this fiasco, and WP now has a reputation as a community that rewards lying. Not a good way of attracting contributors; not honest ones, at least. Couldn't be much worse, really. Well, no, it could be -- if Jimbo hadn't flip-flopped, I guess that'd be worse.

Re:Bad hiring decision (1)

Ash Vince (602485) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222374)

I have just skirted over Essjay's page and notice it has been locked to prevent people editing it. It should have simply been removed. If my employers found out I had made up qualifications on my CV I would be escorted out of the building immediately and they would probably make sure it ended my career. Why should he be any different?

There should have been no attempt to ask him to step down as this is a waste of time and just shows that the people in charge of wikipedia do not have what is needed to manage a team of people. I know that this can be a hard decision to have to make but sometimes you really do have no choice.

Unless Mr Wales always knew he was being dishonest about his qualifications which makes him complicit and maybe he should step down too.

I have often posted links to wikipedia as I did trust it as a source of accurate information. I will try and find a better source in future. It is a shame but Mr Wales has made clear with this debacle he is not competant to hold the position he does. He came up with a nice idea, but he has now well and truly fumbled the ball. Hopefully someone else will pick it up and run with it as the concept was good.

Re:Bad hiring decision (3, Interesting)

limecat4eva (1055464) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221674)

Heh. More like Wales should be kicked and fired—not that anyone at the Wikimedia Foundation has the decency to do so. I'm already regretting my donation this past winter—the more I learn about the Foundation, the more it seems they're just "meatpuppets" for Jimbo.

Re:Bad hiring decision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18222044)

Why does Wales hate America?

We need more info from Jimmy (5, Insightful)

Larry Sanger (936381) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221566)

Jimmy has more questions to answer [citizendium.org] . He makes no attempt to explain several fundamental points that got people worked up in the first place. What did he mean in telling The New Yorker "I have no problem with" Essjay's duplicity? When did he learn of that duplicity? (I think it was last January, since that's when Essjay got on the Wikia payroll.) And then why did he ignore the obvious moral implications of that duplicity--to the point of giving him a job and even appointing him to Arbitration Committee--until now? Jimmy needs to answer these questions convincingly, if he can.

Enough with the Cheap Shots, Larry (5, Informative)

Internet Esquire (1070224) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221686)

Jimbo may have questions to answer, but -- since you're so concerned with factual accuracy -- you might want to get your facts straight before making any more accusations or indictments. To wit, Essjay was hired by Wikia *this* January (i.e., about 60 days ago) not *last* January. And now that Jimbo has found out the extent of Essjay's deception -- i.e., not a simple case of pseudonymity -- Jimbo has asked Essjay to resign from his positions of trust at Wikipedia. For a longer tome on my views, please see my blog post: http://blog.xodp.org/2007/03/credentialists-and-im postors.html [xodp.org]

Re:Enough with the Cheap Shots, Larry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221762)

http://blog.xodp.org/2007/03/credentialists-and-im postors.html

What? You got a problem with people posting stuff on IM?

What cheap shots? (5, Interesting)

Larry Sanger (936381) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221790)

NetEsq writes: "...now that Jimbo has found out the extent of Essjay's deception -- i.e., not a simple case of pseudonymity..."

Wait a second here. Of course Jimbo knew that "Essjay" was not Essjay's real name, since "Essjay" isn't a person's name. The point is that, if Jimmy's company, Wikia, hired Essjay last December or January, then Essjay had to come clean then about the fact that he wasn't a tenured Ph.D. theologian guy after all. That's heavy-duty deception that Jimmy presumably had to have learned about then. Indeed, Jimmy admitted that he knew as much The New Yorker: what else was "I don't have a problem with it" refer to? All that Jimmy says he learned this morning is that Essjay used his false credentials to win debates on Wikipedia. And he couldn't be bothered to check whether his employee had done this? And isn't it obvious, in any case, that Essjay must have risen through the Wikipedia ranks faster partly on the strength of his credentials?

These are legitimate questions, not "cheap shots."

Relevance, Your Honor? (1)

Internet Esquire (1070224) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221912)

What Jimbo did or did not know in the past, or when he did or did not know it, is irrelevant and (at best) conjecture. What is relevant is the fact that Essjay used false credentials to win debates, and Jimbo's position on that issue is now very clear. To wit, it's a BadThing(TM). However, this raises yet another important point: Using *REAL* credentials to win a debate is a VeryBadThing(TM).

Re:Relevance, Your Honor? (3, Insightful)

Larry Sanger (936381) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221940)

You're missing my point entirely, NetEsq. If Jimmy knew three months ago that Essjay had lied to the community about being a tenured professor, etc., and then hired him and put him on the ArbComm, what does that say about Jimmy's judgment?

Surely you're not saying that it matters only if Essjay used "real credentials to win a debate." Doesn't it matter even more if Essjay used his credentials implicitly to rise through Wikipedia's ranks?

Credentials Really Are Meaningless (0, Troll)

Internet Esquire (1070224) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222036)

I admit that I am intrigued by Jimbo's failure to properly vet Essjay before hiring him at Wikia and/or appointing him to ArbCom. However, credentials are supposed to be irrelevant on Wikipedia, and they mean less than nothing to me, so I could easily see how someone could overlook inflated credentials on a resume. In sum, if there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that credentials (whether real or fabricated) really are meaningless.

Re:Credentials Really Are Meaningless (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18222098)

I have to agree with Larry. You really do seem to be missing the point entirely, and you're repeatedly rephrasing the debate to terms that suit you. One has to ask you, though, that if you despise credentials so much, why is it that you have your resume posted on your consulting website? If you actually believed what you preach, you should just be able to tell the law firms that hire you that they should trust you, regardless of your qualifications.

Re:Credentials Really Are Meaningless (1)

Internet Esquire (1070224) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222776)

Why do I have my resume posted on my website? Certainly not to attract clients, but rather to count coup with credentialists. The vast majority of my clients are personal referrals or attorneys who have attended one of my presentations at an MCLE program. Nice try, though.

Re:Credentials Really Are Meaningless (1)

limecat4eva (1055464) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222128)

I agree with Larry and the AC, in case you suspect the AC and Larry are one and the same—oh, but what's a name but just another credential?

Anyway, just sayin'.

Re:Credentials Really Are Meaningless (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222502)

omg omg omg like mehbeh teh AC wuz teh Larry Sanger and Larry wuz tryin to make a point about not havin creds lol I c wut u did thar!

Re:Credentials Really Are Meaningless (4, Insightful)

zoney_ie (740061) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222380)

I presume someone being a liar, and a seriously committed one at that, is not irrelevant on Wikipedia.

So the argument about credentials being irrelevant, is in fact itself irrelevant, as it is the deception that is the issue, not the perceived effects of it in influencing Wikipedia editing.

Bizarrely, Wales appears to think the latter is the most important thing, and that up until he found out about that, was perfectly happy with the deception.

This suggests a very big disconnection from reality for the figurehead (indeed more than that) of a project like Wikipedia.

Re:Enough with the Cheap Shots, Larry (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221882)

A douchebag, "this January" is January 08. "Last January is January 07"

This summer I am planning a trip to Farkistan.

Last summer I went to Cuntsylvania.

This week I am fucking your mom.

Last week I was fucking your dad.

Ambiguity (1)

Internet Esquire (1070224) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222078)

Last January? Do you mean this last January, or this January of last year?

Re:Enough with the Cheap Shots, Larry (2, Insightful)

MadJo (674225) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221998)

I fail to see the difference between "this January" and "last January". Aren't both actually about January 2007?

Re:Enough with the Cheap Shots, Larry (2, Interesting)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222254)

Adding 'last' or 'next' to a month or day name means you are not talk about the closest one, but the one beyond that. I really wish people would stop saying it because it IS confusing.

'January this year' and 'January last year' are a LOT clearer.

Also, say you are in September and say 'this January' ... Which one do you mean? The one coming, or the one last year? Often, you'd mean the January in the future, but ... Not always. Too much context is needed.

Re:We need more info from Jimmy (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18222028)

Jimbo doesn't have to answer jack shit. Oh yeah and thanks for promoting the Citizendium encyclopedia. Is it for elitist egomaniacs?
I was considering contributing to Citizendium, but now I see you're an unforgiving rule worshipping prick who is quick to pass judgement and condemnation.

I will stick with Wikipedia, even with it's occasional false information is better than a collection of elitist opinion passed off as fact. I guess it's not for the little people.

Re:We need more info from Jimmy (1)

jokestress (837997) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222204)

Hmm. Larry Sanger chiding Jimbo's judgment concerning employees... Must... avoid... typing... smartass... comment...

Re:We need more info from Jimmy (1)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222642)

Ok, I admit it - that comment cracked me up :)

well at least we have it on Slashdot! (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222246)

Maybe we can't get it on Wikipedia, but at least here on Slashdot we can get neutral-point-of-view commentary from well-credentialed, unbiased parties!

The honest truth about Wikipedia (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221578)

It's that group of nerd kids that huddled together after insults were thrown at them all through middle school and they acted all high and mighty, then better than everyone else when actually they were still a bunch of a dateless nerds each weekend who just masturbated themselves to sleep.

gotta say it (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221590)

pwned!

He didn't reverse his decision (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221596)

He simply edited it with updated information.

Re:He didn't reverse his decision (1)

ToiletDuck (57205) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221656)

I submitted the headline as "Wikipedia's Wales Reverts Decision on Problem Admin" as a nod to those who have witnessed history being changed to suit Wikipedia consensus.

That's the beauty of Wikipedia (0, Offtopic)

Nymz (905908) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221846)

Check out Hillary Clinton's padded educational credentials. (for the last 2 years)
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hillary_ Rodham_Clinton&diff=18494301&oldid=18493966 [wikipedia.org]

Once exposed (yesterday),
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17388372/page/3/ [msn.com]

the author updated his own profile, 'best known for his work on the Hillary Rodham Clinton article'.........indeed.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:LukeTH [wikipedia.org]

Tortured prose (4, Insightful)

Demona (7994) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221650)

"Fully based on a lack of knowledge", indeed. But what kind of fool conflates the use of a pseudonym with claiming credentials one never earned? So much for the vaunted Objectivist reputation for truth and integrity.

Re:Tortured prose (2, Funny)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221728)

Careful there, buddy. Excessive use of that Thesaurus will make you go blind.

Re:Tortured prose (1)

minus_273 (174041) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221734)

when did Jimbo claim to be objectivist? the whole wikipedia project is for the "common good" if hes an objectivist, he needs to read Atlas Shrugged again and pay attention to the fate of the 20th century motor corp..

Re:Tortured prose (1)

dr.badass (25287) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222792)

when did Jimbo claim to be objectivist?

"Wales has been a passionate adherent of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. When asked by Brian Lamb in his appearance on C-SPAN's Q&A about Rand, Wales cited "the virtue of independence" as important to him personally. When asked if he could trace "the Ayn Rand connection" to having a political philosophy at the time of the interview, Wales reluctantly labeled himself a libertarian, qualifying his remark by referring to the Libertarian Party as "lunatics" and citing "freedom, liberty, basically individual rights, that idea of dealing with other people in a matter that is not initiating force against them" as his guiding principles.[5] From 1992 to 1996, he ran the electronic mailing list "Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy".[34]" -- Jimbo Wales @ Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

Re:Tortured prose (1)

LGagnon (762015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222446)

Did Rand's cult ever have a reputation to begin with? Rand herself was notorious for her hypocrisy. Her "philosophy" (widely rejected by academia) is full of poorly done arguments, unsourced statements, and pseudo-psychology. She never attempted to prove that she told the truth, and she never had any integrity at all outside of the trust of her cult.

Re:Tortured prose (1, Offtopic)

Brandybuck (704397) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222512)

As a libertarian, I can attest to the massive damage the objectivists have done to the movement. It's a philosophy based on a cheap scifi novel, a cult centered around the personality of a woman who railed against cults of personality, and an irrational belief that the universe can be explained in one trite axiom. It's an individualist groupthink circle jerk. It's Scientology without bad Hollywood actors. I'll gladly trade them all in for a handful of stoned anarcho-capitalists.

"Nathaniel! Bring me another gin and tonic!"

O RLY? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221662)

was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on.'

When has lack of knowledge about a subject ever stopped anyone on wikipedia? If it's good enough for ordinary users, it's good enough for Jimbo!

Essjay still has my support (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221690)

He didn't deliberately flood wikipedia with false information to mislead. He didn't offer false medical advice deliberately while claiming to be a doctor.

What about all the good he has done? Are we to flush it down the toilet.

Ben Franklin aka Silence Dogood "lied" about his identity too .. I ask .. so what? I trust people based on whether i think they'll screw me over. And nothing else.

Re:Essjay still has my support (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221754)

Just because some historical figure got away with it, absolutely doesn't mean it was OK.

If you don't punish the wicked, you are simply encouraging them to keep on doing.

Re:Essjay still has my support (5, Informative)

Dan Slotman (974474) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221776)

  • False information is always intended to mislead. The aim of misleading may be innocent or harmless, but its intent is always deception.
  • He claimed to be a doctor of theology, not medicine.
  • The good he has done cannot be separated from the lying he has also done. To regard them separately is a double standard.
  • Further, it isn't as if his past good has magically vanished just because he lied—however, his potential as a source of future good must be evaluated. Right now he is a significant black eye to Wikipedia.
  • Ben Franklin used pseudonyms in the traditional sense, to hide his identity. He did not present himself as someone with qualifications he did not have or earn.

Wrong about Ben (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221854)

Ben Franklin used pseudonyms in the traditional sense, to hide his identity. He did not present himself as someone with qualifications he did not have or earn.

Umm, he claimed to be a widow with kids. If I say that I'm black and that I think blacks are no longer suffering discrimination in society that carries more weight than if I was perceived as a white guy saying "blacks are not discriminated against". Now you may say that it shouldn't. And I agree it shouldn't carry more weight. But the fact is that it does.

Ben Franklin said he was a old widow with kids because saying his real identity would have distorted what he was trying to say. And I am sure he felt that way, otherwise he would have described himself at least as a man.

Re:Wrong about Ben (2, Insightful)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222332)

Ben Franklin said he was a old widow with kids because saying his real identity would have distorted what he was trying to say. And I am sure he felt that way, otherwise he would have described himself at least as a man.

There is a massive difference between writing a letter to your brother's newspaper and writing for an encyclopedia. Few would take a letter in a newspaper as more than a single example or an opinion, if they believed it at all. An encyclopedia is supposed to consist of a higher grade of information. Passing yourself off as an authority in that arena is correspondingly a far more serious matter.

Re:Wrong about Ben (0)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222524)

If you need info fast, Wikipedia will get you 95% of the way with good accuracy. What you do with the info is up to you. It is far better than "private" websites or even newspapers that cannot be disputed.

Re:Essjay still has my support (2, Informative)

pHatidic (163975) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222282)

>Ben Franklin used pseudonyms in the traditional sense, to hide his identity. He did not present himself as someone with qualifications he did not have or earn.

Not true. Ben Franklin used a pseudonym to present himself as a free man, when in fact he was a runaway apprentice.

Re:Essjay still has my support (2, Insightful)

limecat4eva (1055464) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221788)

What "good" has he done? Administrators exactly like him use their powers all the time to block people they dislike from editing the Wikipedia. Those with special powers, including Essjay, alter the database to remove edits they dislike, whether those be slander and personal information or, less justifiably, information pointing out the hypocrisy that permeates the project.

Admins like Essjay are the reason Wikipedia can't attract any more contributors. Any potential new editors get disgusted and leave.

Re:Essjay still has my support (1)

Gandling (899826) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221862)

He didn't deliberately flood wikipedia with false information to mislead. He didn't offer false medical advice deliberately while claiming to be a doctor.
Firstly, his PhD is in Theology. Secondly, he has cited his "credentials" in correspondence with real professors in an attempt to convince them that Wikipedia is a valid research tool. http://www.webcitation.org/5N2MZaMWP [webcitation.org]

Re:Essjay still has my support (5, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221874)

He didn't deliberately flood wikipedia with false information to mislead.

Most of us put "lying" and "misleading" on roughly the same footing.

What about all the good he has done? Are we to flush it down the toilet.

Yes. Because at this point, it's probably impossible to tell how much influence he improperly exerted through his lies. Every single article he's touched has to be considered tainted until it can be generally agreed that:

  • He posted accurate information that stands on its own merits, and not just random junk that people let stand because, hey, it was written by a Th.D., and/or
  • He didn't prevent anyone else from posting accurate information by way of the prestige he lied his way into.

Essjay's damage is particularly bad because it could be so subtle. How many people deferred to his judgment at the expense of correctness? We'll probably never know.

Ben Franklin aka Silence Dogood "lied" about his identity too .. I ask .. so what?

Indeed: so what? Silence Dogood was a middle-aged widow. What particular authority did that lie grant Franklin, assuming that he wasn't writing about childbearing or what it's like to lose your spouse? Essjay, though, directly stated that he had the educational background to make authoritative statements in his pages. Surely you can see that there's much more than a semantic difference between the two actions?

I trust people based on whether i think they'll screw me over. And nothing else.

Essjay screwed you over.

but people don't really defer to credentials much (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222302)

In fact that was one of Larry Sanger's main complaints leading him to start Citizendium: that Wikipedians don't generally let people wave around credentials and end discussions thereby. People presenting expert credentials also get subject to scrutiny, sometimes to more scrutiny just on principle.

So now apparently Wikipedia is unreliable because it: 1) defers too much to experts; and also 2) doesn't defer enough to experts.

Re:but people don't really defer to credentials mu (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222386)

Wikipedians don't generally let people wave around credentials and end discussions thereby.

But everyone else seems to; that's the Slashdotter's constant lament. And Wikipedia isn't just "Wikipedians", but lots of regular people who have something to add to an article or two. A jaded editor isn't likely to be bullied around, but that's not the kind of person this hurts most.

Re:but people don't really defer to credentials mu (1)

vague disclaimer (861154) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222618)

Sanger's project also has a real names only policy, so if anyone claims credentials they can expect to get Googled (at the very least). There is at least some attempt at safeguarding

The point is that Essjay wasn't an expert, he merely claimed that he was. He then bragged about fooling the New Yorker, but in fact had fooled everyone and was able to exercise arbitrary authority while doing so - usinbg his faux expertise as a weapon. There is a difference between working anonymously and working deceitfully.

Can Citzendium be abused? Almost certainly, because any system can be abused by anybody determined enough. But the cancer at the heart of Wikipedia is that it not only took NO precautions at all to prevent the abuse, and then practically celebrated it (the sympathy this liar and fraud is getting after spinning a sob-story about how he only did it to keep stalkers off his back is simply breathtaking).

Re:Essjay still has my support (1)

koweja (922288) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222154)

And if he was doing it on his own time then no, it probably wouldn't have mattered. However when he lies while acting as a agent of the Foundation, it makes the organization look bad as well. That's why he should be fired. It isn't like someone on /. claiming to be an expert on theoretical physics or copyright law when they're just a whiny teenager - nobody pays them much attention and it doesn't reflect (too) badly on Slashdot to have a liar in their mists.

Following In the Master's Footsteps (1)

obender (546976) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221714)

From the Article Summary:

my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on.
EssJay did exactly the same thing. To this I can only add that I did not read the article so this post is also fully based on lack of knowledge.

A serious blow for Wikipedia (3, Insightful)

Parallax Blue (836836) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221742)

Even before this there were serious doubts as to the accuracy and credibility of the information on Wikipedia. That a top administrator and contributor to Wikipedia has faked his academic credentials and used them to influence Wikipedia content will only make this worse.

I can't think of a more damaging relevation to the Wikipedian ideal than this one, and even if it isn't a death blow to Wikipedia, scholars and researchers EVERYWHERE will have a field day with this; college professors will point to this as an example of why they don't accept citations from Wikipedia. In general, Wikipedia may be totally discredited by this scandal.

One nagging question that I have is why there is no push to validate academic credentials on Wikipedia. Ordinary users that do not claim to have any academic credentials beyond their own knowledge are fine, ones that claim to have advanced degrees in such-and-such should be required to prove this, or at least be able to validate their credentials when asked. I have no idea how this would be done, only that it SHOULD be done.. Essjay is an excellent example as to why.

I shudder to think how many more Essjays are out there right now, editing articles and claiming expertise, when in fact they have none.

-PxB

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (3, Interesting)

DaleGlass (1068434) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221918)

Even before this there were serious doubts as to the accuracy and credibility of the information on Wikipedia.


Well, duh. Wikipedia can be edited by anybody, and the site itself says "However, Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here."

I can't think of a more damaging relevation to the Wikipedian ideal than this one, and even if it isn't a death blow to Wikipedia, scholars and researchers EVERYWHERE will have a field day with this; college professors will point to this as an example of why they don't accept citations from Wikipedia. In general, Wikipedia may be totally discredited by this scandal.


Yawn. Here we go with this nonsense again.

A college should never, ever accept a citation from Wikipedia or any encyclopedia in the first place! Encyclopedias are starting points, not something to be cited. I have no clue where you went to school, but when I did, nobody had heard of Wikipedia yet, and teachers made it clear that if our work consisted in copying an encyclopedia, a big fat 0 would be what we'd get.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (2, Insightful)

limecat4eva (1055464) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221964)

Indeed. This says less about Wikipedia's unreliability than it does about the culture of venality and self-importance surrounding Wikipedia and its administration. It's a big reason Wikipedia can't attract more (and more diverse) contributors.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221982)

I can't think of a more damaging relevation to the Wikipedian ideal than this one, and even if it isn't a death blow to Wikipedia, scholars and researchers EVERYWHERE will have a field day with this; college professors will point to this as an example of why they don't accept citations from Wikipedia. In general, Wikipedia may be totally discredited by this scandal.

I totally disagree. This kind of event is a logical result of the ideals of wikipedia - an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It doesn't say, "anyone who can prove they are an expert" it is just simply, "anyone."

It would be a scandal if wikipedia was a big, top-down command-and-control organization, because it is expected that people will be fully vetted with all the assurances and rigidity that comes with it. There is no such expectation for wikipedia. If people are shocked by this situation, it is because they do not fully grasp the implications of the wiki model.

The flexibility that is wiki's strength comes with risks, fakers are just another risk. Identify it, be prepared for it and move on.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (2, Insightful)

Jack Action (761544) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222000)

Mod the parent up.

This is very serious for Wikipedia in the real world. You can pretty much assume all the hagiographies written in the media recently will end. Essjay lied to the New Yorker and a pulitzer prize winning reporter; and Jimbo Wales backed him up. This will taint every serious article written by a journalist from this point forward.

As for Wikipedia and academia, this is the death-knell. The ultimate authority at Wikipedia -- Wales -- stated plainly that faked credentials don't matter. Like lying to a journalist, Wikipedia just won't recover. Every academic now has a professional duty to make their students exclude Wikipedia.

then isn't this a serious blow for The New Yorker? (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222286)

If Wikipedia getting duped, and as a result having inaccurate content it has to retract, is a "death-knell" for Wikipedia, then wouldn't The New Yorker getting duped, and as a result having inaccurate content it has to retract, also be a "death-knell" for The New Yorker? Here's a professional organization, with paid staff to check these things, and their article still got it every bit as wrong as Wikipedia did.

Re:then isn't this a serious blow for The New York (1)

Larry Sanger (936381) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222486)

Not quite, because The New Yorker apologized for the error when it was revealed, and it's not like this is the first time a source has deceived a journalist. But the management of Wikipedia rewarded the liar by giving him a job and putting him on the highest judicial body on the project--and continues to show little understanding of the seriousness of the problem.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (1, Insightful)

Eloquence (144160) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222006)

Wikipedia is not built on credentials. That Essjay occasionally pointed to his hoax bio when editing articles may have influenced other editors, but did not gain him special privileges. The privileges he does (to this day) have are janitorial, not editorial, and were based on the fact that he made thousands and thousands of edits, most of them administrative in nature (of the 19891 edits he made, only 1372 were in the article namespace -- see edit count tool [wikimedia.de] ). There is no process by which a person with an academic degree can simply go in and say "I am an authority, therefore I'm right." This kind of model was abandoned when Wikipedia replaced Nupedia [wikipedia.org] , where contributing academics did indeed have to validate their credentials.

Instead, Wikipedia is built on content policies such as Neutral Point of View [wikipedia.org] and Attribution [wikipedia.org] . A typical featured article [wikipedia.org] will have dozens or even hundreds of references for every key statement that it makes. The authors of the article, on the other hand, are not even mentioned; Wikipedia is largely egoless.

In this way, Wikipedia is the least harmed by a revelation of fake credentials. Unlike Larry Sanger's Citizendium, Wikipedia does not grant special privileges to those who claim to be experts. This explains Jimmy's initial "bleh" reaction: "So he faked his bio -- like that actually makes a difference in Wikipedia!" I disagree with this initial reaction (faking academic credentials is seriously unethical), and as noted above, the fake bio may have subtly influenced other editors who deferred to him instead of researching the topic on their own. But these are social dynamics, and if anything, this revelation will improve these dynamics.

I don't believe there is a strong need for us to validate any statement someone might make on their user page. I do agree with you that Essjay's claims should have been verified before he was given the janitorial roles that he ended up with, and recommended to the media as an interviewee. Here, we have been careless and are already discussing internally how to deal with this in a reasonable fashion. For example, there's nothing wrong per se with a Wikipedian wanting to remain pseudonymous, but they should disclose this to the reporter interviewing them. And faking credentials is certainly unacceptable in all circumstances.

As a massively volunteer-driven project, Wikipedia's community represents the entire breadth of humanity. The community rewards good behavior and ostracizes or even bans those who violate the written and unwritten norms. Now that Essjay has violated the community's trust, it is doubtful that he will ever regain it. If we were more credential-driven, then it would make sense to strongly call for validation of any claims like the ones Essjay made. As it is, verification when users cross certain thresholds of internal importance, and a renewed skepticism for anything a person might claim about themselves, should be sufficient. Certainly, this episode is a cautionary tale--but it is so especially for those who rely on identity, rather than the quality of a user's contributions.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (1)

SocialWorm (316263) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222314)

I believe there was, in the past, an idea to depreciate the term "Administrators" because the term seems to denote an authority which is not actually present. Being is an administrator is a position of responsibility, but not one of authority. Had this idea been implemented and Administrators were referred to as something like "Special Access Editors" or even "Superusers", "Sysops" (as the primary term), "Wiki mongers", etc, that the current situation may not have occurred, and we wouldn't be seeing this on the front page of Slashdot and elsewhere.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (2, Interesting)

Larry Sanger (936381) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222454)

Nobody ever suggested that Wikipedia should validate statements that people make on their user pages. But if it turns out that Essjay made up some credentials which had to have helped him get ahead in the Wikipedia game--it's silly to suggest otherwise--then it's amazingly telling for Jimmy to hire him, and to put him on ArbCom, in spite of this. And, Erik, you imply that Jimmy didn't know that Essjay had made up credentials; but of course Jimmy must have known this, because he hired him last December or January.

Also, the Citizendium [citizendium.org] does not give privileges to people who claim to be experts, as you say; we give some small privileges to people who actually have them. Or perhaps you think that every college professor and every professional is just merely claiming to be an expert?

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18222536)

As a massively volunteer-driven project, Wikipedia's community represents the entire breadth of humanity.
What? Humanity?? You were doing so well, until you added the layer of astroturf.

The community rewards good behavior and ostracizes or even bans those who violate the written and unwritten norms.
Tell that to any newcomer who has ever been bitten by a miscreant with admin rights. The idea that "good behavior" is "rewarded" is laughable. As you noted, the charlatan in question made minuscule contributions to content in article space. The message this sends is simple: if you aren't with "the in crowd", you're SOL.

So much for egalitarianism.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (1)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222008)

I couldn't disagree more. Wikipedia has, and always will be, a good general reference. That's it. If its goal is to be an encyclopedia anyone can anonymously edit, than anyone will edit it anonymously! If you want credible sources then you have to find credible sources. Wikipedia isn't it, but it may have links to credible sources.

For research Wikipedia can be somewhat of a starting point, but real sources of information still need to be discovered. Try starting with the See More links at the bottom of each page.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18222014)

I can't think of a more damaging relevation to the Wikipedian ideal than this one, and even if it isn't a death blow to Wikipedia, scholars and researchers EVERYWHERE will have a field day with this; college professors will point to this as an example of why they don't accept citations from Wikipedia. In general, Wikipedia may be totally discredited by this scandal.

I'm going to have to assume that you dont go to college because since when has wikipedia EVER been a peer reviewed source? I've never been allowed citations from non-peer reviewed sources, and thus wikipedia has never been allowed to be cited, and for good reason.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (4, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222018)

I can't think of a more damaging relevation to the Wikipedian ideal than this one, and even if it isn't a death blow to Wikipedia, scholars and researchers EVERYWHERE will have a field day with this; college professors will point to this as an example of why they don't accept citations from Wikipedia

Wait, wait... are you suggesting that citations from the Wikipedia should be acceptable for academic research? Even without this case of someone contributing with fraudulent credentials, the Wikipedia just isn't authoritative enough to cite.

Don't get me wrong. I love the Wikipedia. It's incredibly useful and it's a great example for people to understand the power of mass-collaboration that the internet allows. When someone brings up a topic I'm not familiar with, the Wikipedia is often the first place I look to get an overview. However, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, which certifies that any given fact in the Wikipedia is going to be correct at any given time. Sure, the general ideas are probably correct (excepting cases of vandalism, which happens too), and incorrect facts are likely to get fixed sooner or later. However, there isn't any authority that is even attempting to make sure that the page you're about to load will be absolutely correct at the exact moment you load it.

College professors refuse to accept citations from Wikipedia are right to refuse. This is especially true given that they're dealing with fricken college students. If you're a college student, it's your job to do research. You have few responsibilities other than to ensure that your research is reliable, and if you can't handle that, then what the hell are you doing in college?

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18222020)

Pretty easy way to validate - anybody with valid academic credentials probably has the ability to put up a website at someuniversity.edu/~theirname with a CV and such. Simply have them throw up a file that explicitly says "I, the person with this academic background, am also user-whatever on Wikipedia." Have an existing credible admin check it, and there you go.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (1)

zoftie (195518) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222242)

Degree is not a certificate of knowledge, but performance of a work done. It does not pertain to quality of individual's knowledge. It seems people have forgotten that going to university is for higher education for one self's enhancement of intellect. Fact that people use graduation papers that for certification is deceitful. After all president Bush has graduated from Ivy League school. So quality of knowledge cannot be verified by having school papers. For example, numerous awards for recognition of furthering one or other area can be more useful.
Claiming university credentials for something as hands on as wikipedia is useless. Wikipedia isn't a scholarly text. It is a good starting ground for starting, and/or getting leads on your research.

I don't see how this changes anything (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222268)

Wikipedia today is as accurate or inaccurate as it was two weeks ago. If it was appropriate to use two weeks ago, it's still appropriate now, and likewise in the negative case.

In any case, I'm in academia myself, and plenty of people here use it. You just have to, like any other source, use it appropriately. I wouldn't cite Wikipedia as an authoritative source for scientific facts, but then I wouldn't cite Britannica as an authoritative source for scientific facts, either. What I (and most people I know) mainly use it for is exploratory research---getting an idea of what's out there on a topic, how it relates, where to look for more information, etc..

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (1)

StryfeX (1046428) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222322)

As many people have said before, Wikipedia isn't (and rightfully so) generally an accepted source for anything beyond high school, if that. I feel that Wikipedia is a good place to start research, or get an overview of a topic, but no way is it acceptable as a quoted source.

I believe that, ultimately, Wikipedia will fully recover from this and go on about its business of recording human knowledge.

--Stryfe

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (1)

moonbender (547943) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222372)

In general, Wikipedia may be totally discredited by this scandal.

Oh rubbish. Hardly anybody will remember it in a month - although I'm sure Larry Sanger will. Hey Larry, you say this will determine how much you personally will support Wikipedia in the future, so in what ways do you support Wikipedia now? Apart from critising it, that is, a necessary job which you do fairly well, but not as well (or as fervently) as Andrew Orlowski, among others.

And I don't give a FRA about whether college profs accept Wikipedia as a valid source. If Wikipedia's main value was as a source for college papers, well, then it would be pretty worthless compared to what it really is.

Wikipedia, if nothing else, should teach people not to trust any source blindly. And Essjay, if nobody else, should teach people not to trust persons solely because they claim to be an authority.

Professors accept encyclopedia citations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18222498)

If any academic institutions allow citations from encyclopedias in student's papers, then we have bigger problems than a few editors with inflated credentials. Encyclopedias are for getting a quick overview BEFORE doing real work. And for settling bar bets.

Re:A serious blow for Wikipedia (0, Troll)

owlnation (858981) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222734)

I can't think of a more damaging revelation to the Wikipedian ideal than this one, and even if it isn't a death blow to Wikipedia, scholars and researchers EVERYWHERE will have a field day with this; college professors will point to this as an example of why they don't accept citations from Wikipedia. In general, Wikipedia may be totally discredited by this scandal.
Sadly, I don't think this will happen. It really should be the final nail in the coffin of wikiality, but I suspect that, although we here on /. know the perils of wikipedia's lack of provable accuracy and precision, and its ability to be easily manipulated by zealous or biased admins, the greater public largely does not.

It is of constant irk to me that Wikipedia appears high in the rankings of any search you do on Google. There are many many (most) people out there who do not know wikipedia's flaws and limitations. Which is why I have always believed that it should have clear and bold warnings and disclaimers at the top of every page. That's fair, true and responsible.

However, I seriously doubt they will until some (inevitable) lawsuit forces them to do so. The Wikipedia foundation and the admins have too much ego invested in their work to ever admit it's potentially unsafe for the public. I think this Essjay thing proves that beyond doubt. They want people to believe they are a quality factual source regardless of the reality, and sadly, I think that many do.

Ironic! (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221824)

People just make shit up and other people believe it without checking. You'd expect the guy who founded Wikipedia to be aware of the problem and of how important checking facts are, but there you go.

Is Dave Grohl still dead this week?

Innevitable (5, Funny)

nEoN nOoDlE (27594) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221830)

"my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on."

Well, that's what happens when you get all your info from Wikipedia.

You guys are taking too hard on this subject (2, Insightful)

vivaoporto (1064484) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221888)

I know this is Slashdot, but you guys are overreacting on this whole matter. Imagine it was not Wikipedia, but any other company, let's say, Canonical. Imagine there is this guy whose online curriculum says is a M.S. in Computer Science, Java Certified and whatnot. He finds and files a lot of bugs on Ubuntu, helps to create packages, contribute with code, and do such a great job that Canonical decides to hire him, just to discover that he is really only an undergraduated in C.S. Canonical hires him anyway.

Three questions: 1) Would it be the wrong decision? 2) Would your confidence on their product (Ubuntu) be diminished? 3) Would it make front page on Slashdot?

I really must be new here (I'm not), because this sounds more like British sensationalist tabloid-like journalism, that likes to blow things out of proportion. That, or there is some "vast conspiracy" involving other players that aims to take the place now occupied by Wikipedia. (Citizendium, maybe, who knows. Every article mentioning some wikipedia flaw is automatically followed by comments praising the virtues of Citizendium.)

Re:You guys are taking too hard on this subject (2, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222140)

That situation is not the same. It would be evident to many people that the patches are indeed quality and that credentials or not the individual is talented. Then again as a potential employer I would be extremely cautious about hireling someone who misrepresents himself for no good reason. What else is he going to lie about? Could I ever expect any truthfulness from him especially when he does have a reason to lie?

Back to the issue at hand though.. In this case its not something like code that either works or does not, is readable by others or isn't. This is much more esoteric type information that can only be validated by people who really have done the research or will do it. It may even require specially qualified people to do the work, as I don't even know where outside the "Mid-evil Source Book" to go looking for original documents much of the field is based on. All the work he did is tainted and un-trustworthy and unless or until someone does the work, and at that point they might as well have produced it themselves. So yes his contribution is effectively reduced to nothing at this point.

Stuff on wiki stands based on our faith in others, when that faith becomes compromised so does the information unless its based on easily observed and verified facts or highly repeatable efforts, like running some computer code to see what is does.

Re:You guys are taking too hard on this subject (1)

Bri3D (584578) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222772)

No. This is totally different. It's easy to verify a bug report (does it exist or not) and code (does it work or not, are there security flaws). It's very difficult to verify information on theology, and it's almost certain that a lot of questions other editors or users had were quashed by EssJay's claimed ThD (he has a PhD in that, he must be right!)
Code is a field where I feel a degree doesn't mean much (it's easy to tell good code from bad code and degree is irrelevant; code is objective, either it works well and is secure or it does not work well), whereas in theology and a peer-review encyclopedia a degree very important (he gained prestige due to his degree and theology is very subjective, therefore it's highly likely his viewpoints weaseled their way in).

This is all a terrible misunderstanding (4, Funny)

Rix (54095) | more than 7 years ago | (#18221906)

Essjay has faith in the idea that he holds a PhD. Doesn't that qualify him in the field of theology? ;)

Re:This is all a terrible misunderstanding (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222142)

lol I couldn't help but notice the same thing myself. People are making it out as if Essjay had claimed some sort of expertise with these credentials. That would imply that there are really people who see theology degrees to be legitimate educational credentials in the first place.

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18221948)

He only supported the guy because he didn't know the circumstances? Shouldn't you learn the circumstances before you publicly voice your support of something? That's kind of like commenting on an article without reading it...oh wait.

Jimbo needs more money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18222042)

I think Wikipedia should have another fundraiser so he can think about things some more. He'll be jet-setting from India to Japan tomorrow... c'mon, that takes money people!

Nail, meet Head. (1)

adameros (851468) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222064)

"...was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on." I think that statement can go with most of the decisions the heads of Wikipedia make concerning their admins.

This is not news! (2, Funny)

jeevesbond (1066726) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222066)

Some of us have known for a long time that Wikipedia administrators are evil. See what the highly reliable Conservapedia [conservapedia.com] has to say about them:

The administrators who monitor and control the content on Wikipedia do not represent the views of the majority of Americans, and many are in fact not American. For example, only 10% of Americans accept evolution as it is taught in public school, yet many Wikipedia administrators accept it as a sourced fact, and will censor material that contradicts evolution.

As everyone knows, Conservapedia editors are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

Re:This is not news! (2, Insightful)

adameros (851468) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222166)

Conservapedia is no better. The amount of bias it the same, just in the opposite direction.

Re:This is not news! (1)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222228)

Dear god...is it parody? I honestly can't tell anymore.

How are credentials important for WP? (1)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222122)

I'm sure there's something I'm missing here, I'll confess right out that I knew nothing about this until 5 minutes ago and I haven't bothered to try and look into it much further, but how are the credentials of a poster or an administrator relevant to WP?

Surely the entire point of WP is that it's an encyclopedia, therefore it contains no original research meaning that (in theory at least) any and every point of contention in each article can and should be backed up by a reference, meaning that no poster should need to provide any credentials. Even if Stephen Hawking provided content for the Hawking Radiation article it shouldn't be included unless referenced.

I'm sure I'm probably wrong. Now, anyone care to explain why?

Re:How are credentials important for WP? (2, Informative)

ToiletDuck (57205) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222402)

He was using his fake credentials to enhance his reputation on Wikipedia. Reputation is everything for the typical Wikipedean. Special privileges are doled out to those that have convinced The Community that they are trustworthy servants to The Project. They say these positions are janitorial roles; that they are but a mop and a bucket for servants to The Project. In reality, they are status symbols for the obsessed, or tools used to enhance one's ability to push a particular point of view.

He was using his fake credentials to speak from authority on article content issues.

He cited his fake credentials in correspondence with real academics to try to enhance Wikipedia's credibility.

He cited his fake credentials to the media, apparently because those fifteen minutes of fame are much more fun when one is a tenured professor with four degrees instead of a college dropout living with a cat in Kentucky.

Jimbo shows it again... (4, Funny)

Erwos (553607) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222196)

Jimmy Wales shows us the qualities of a good Wikipedia administrator:
1. Doesn't know what he's talking about, yet talks anyways.
2. Soft on folks who deliberately falsify information.

What more could you ask for? Er, wait...

I support Jimbo's original position (1)

pHatidic (163975) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222298)

I don't really see what the problem is. If he really was a tenured professor and was going around telling people he was a high school dropout, would anyone care? His edits need to be factual and sourced just like anyone else's. This is Wikipedia's biggest strength. Larry Sangar is starting a Wikipedia fork where the biggest difference is that it will still let 12 year old kids edit, but it will prevent the 12 year old kid from editing the work of a PhD prof. The thing is, if the work of a PhD can't stand up to the criticisms of a 12 year old then that certainly says something. The only reason you would take someone with a PhD more seriously is if you are unable to think for yourself.

Any system where a certain class of people are given a free pass and aren't forced to defend their ideas can only result in intellectual bankruptcy.

The fact that the Wikipedia community is up in arms about this suggests to me that some of the core ideals may be going by the wayside.

Wikipedia Drama (2, Funny)

alexjohnc3 (915701) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222330)

Wikipedia — Serious business.

Speaking of serious, I seriously can't believe someone would lie about themselves on the Internet, of all places (and on Wikipedia too!), for their own benefit!

This article is missing... (1)

CCFreak2K (930973) | more than 7 years ago | (#18222574)

...the "The Almighty Buck" icon.
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