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Academic Credentials and Wikiality 429

Posted by kdawson
from the matter-of-degrees dept.
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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Academic Credentials and Wikiality

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  • Wow... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Zeek40 (1017978) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:40AM (#18193158)
    Lying about having a Liberal Arts degree.... that's a new level of desperation. ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:40AM (#18193160)
    I see no problem with this current situation.

    Dr. Anonymous Coward
    Harvard Law
  • Wait, what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maniac/dev/null (170211) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:40AM (#18193164) Homepage
    Wait, Wikipedia had a reputation as a believable source at one time?
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:42AM (#18193180) Homepage
    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: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mdd4696 (1017728)
      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
    • 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.
      • by kripkenstein (913150) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:43AM (#18193850) Homepage
        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Not to mention he was citing his credentials as a reason for his edits to be taken more seriously. It's not that he's just some guy editing a page and inflating his own importance at the same time by talking sh1t about his background; he's asking people to give his edits more credence based on his "background".
      • by GodInHell (258915) * on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:09AM (#18194922) Homepage

        but claiming to have a PhD when you don't ought to be a no-no in any community.
        Actually.. it represents a deep betrayal of one of the core concepts of both that forum, and this. When we discuss issues on Wikipedia or Slashdot, we often refer to our careers, our degrees, our experiences as cause for consideration of our claims which otherwise lack authority.

        For example: I have a degree in philosophy, 5 years experience as a software engineer, and I'm working on my law degree. When I speak on these issues I know when to make authorative statements (BSD is not a flavor of windows) and when not to (is BSD a flavor of Linux? I never really looked at BSD.. so I have no idea.) If I claim to know about particle physics (and I may) my knowledge will be admittedly amatuer, I don't follow that field as closely as I do supreme court rulings... I have no authority in that field.

        Our community rests on trust - trust that the people who say they are X are in fact X. This trust breaks down often here on /. it's a bad thing to exacerbate this by allowing a member of the wikipedia community to garner approval by employing false authority. We don't NEED authority to speak intelligently, but we should not claim that authority when we don't have it. Professors often learn from their students, and there is plenty of room in the on-line community for intelligent and committed amatuers to make major contributions to the knowledge base. We don't need to confuse the act of lieing with the act of participation... otherwise any claim to authority will need to be dismissed out of hand - and that would harm our communites more than help them.

        Or at least that's my take on it.

        -GiH
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by imidan (559239)
          I get the feeling that there's this grand, egalitarian philosophy behind Wikipedia--this ideal of a vast, distributed network of citizen editors who form a self-improving, self-policing community. The reality is different. The real purpose of the community is not clear to me.

          You'll note that when you open up the Britannica, you don't find people's names attached to the articles there. Wikipedia, on the other hand, almost has ego built right in to the system. Look at Essjay's user page [wikipedia.org]. There's an entir
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by GodInHell (258915) *

            You'll note that when you open up the Britannica, you don't find people's names attached to the articles there. Wikipedia, on the other hand, almost has ego built right in to the system. Look at Essjay's user page. There's an entire section dedicated to bragging about his edit count, his longevity with the project, his position in the top 1000, etc. Tell me, is Wikipedia about producing a great research product, or is it about who has the most marbles?

            Actually, that's not true. Britannica used to brag about the qualitiy of its authors (Einstein wrote the sections on relativity for instance). I actually used to work for Britannica (nobody imporant, I worked in the QA team for Britannica Online, the .com spin-off back in 2001), and that was always one of apocraphal tales of the day-gone-by, back when Sears Roebuck gave Britannica money to run the company as a public good. Britannica was ABSOLUTELY focused on getting the best authors to write thier article

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dread_ed (260158)
          "Our community rests on trust - trust that the people who say they are X are in fact X."

          I beg to differ with you on this point, let me explain. Our community rests on the fact that it is a public community that anyone can contribute to, much like Wikipedia. Because of the constituents it is self balancing. For instance, if you say you are a professor of X and make a dumbassed/incorrect comment (whether in your area of expertise or not) there are a bunch of people here who will call you out with superior
          • by GodInHell (258915) * on Thursday March 01, 2007 @05:59PM (#18200496) Homepage

            Seriously, knowing what you should know about anonymous communications, why would you ever take anyone's self professed knowledge and experience at face value? If anything, when I hear someone spout off their credentials in this forum it carnks up the sensitivity on my BS detector. In anonymous communications, never, ever consider the source. Consider the merits of the dialogue.
            Okay.. but people DO rely on a poster's claim to authority. It's one of the ways you hash out the frivalous argument from the meat of the issue. Here on /. especially, there is a low threshold of argument viability - facts and statistics are rare, hyperbole and noise are high. That's not even considering the technical issues.

            For example, if I say that it is reasonably safe to assume the RIAA's case agains Tenise Baker will survive her Rule 12 (b)6 motion to dismiss because judges tend to err on the side of allowing a trial to go forward when factual questions reasonably might exist rather than risk being overturned on appeal - the authority of that statement is difficult to track. I can cite the law (which does not state that), I can point to a few cases where the issues were similar with a likewise result.. but many things in the legal world are simply not recorded. Like the rule that a police officer probably won't pull you over unless you exceed 10 miles over the speed limit - it's true, but authority is lacking except for experience and a few folks involved in the writing of tickets who can explaint that most speed tracking machines are calibrated to a 10mph +/- accuracy, and therefore tickets for less than 10 over the limit aren't strong. Except for the departments that use other than radar decices with much higher degrees of precision... but I digress.

            If two /.ers started flinging numbers back and forth aruging about more technical issues in physics (or even history) the degree of work involved in checking their numbers to see who is "more right" (assuming either one is) is prohibitive - the easier, and essentially sole, solution is to look at the speakers, and make a judgement call on trustworthiness.. which is more likely to be speaking out of his ass, fudging numbers, or inventing anecdotes.. that's the one I put in the ignore column.

            Even in /. the range of debate is far too wide for any of us to be expert or even proficient, in all the issues - wikipedia only exacerbates this - as a result, we must depend upon trust and authority. We're really left without alternatives.. IMHO. The community has picked up on this too.. honest and reasonable people often put an "I am not" statement to clarify that what they are about to say is the truth as they know it, but they are not experts. Then the experts do speak up - the proclaimed experts anyway.. I believe that most of those who claim to be, probably are expert. But then, I also make enemies out of those who do get exposed as liars.

            -GiH
    • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:58AM (#18193372) Journal

      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.

      • 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 under

    • by Sockatume (732728)
      Furthermore, administrators aren't "high up". Just about anyone can become an Admin.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      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

      • 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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by JanneM (7445)
        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.

        There is no problem with the standing of Wikipedia in the academic community. Nobody would find citing Wikipedia in a serious paper acceptable; this doesn't change it. The fallacy is is in the implicit assumption that something like Britannica would be.

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

      By far my biggest concern about this scandal is that your premise is actually false, and the falsity of your premise is directly related to the negative consequences of this affair in a very intimate way.

      I understand that in an ideal world, anything on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone with no censorship whatsoever, and in an ideal world, two conflicting edits are resolved on the basis of the actual contributions with no regard to credentials or background or the identities of the contributors involved

  • Sign him up for a seat on the board!

    Sincerely,
    Herb Atological, CEO of Accenture

  • A pseudonym? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bieeanda (961632) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:44AM (#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: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by blahplusplus (757119)
      "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 m
      • Re:A pseudonym? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Sobrique (543255) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:01AM (#18193400) Homepage
        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.

      • by pla (258480)
        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? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Txiasaeia (581598) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:27AM (#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? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nuzak (959558) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:33AM (#18193724) Journal
        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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by yankpop (931224)

        So what's your point then? Because PhDs are hard to get, and once achieved they confer social status beyond what you think they actually merit, it becomes ok to fraudulently claim you have one?

        What you say about religious awe and stigma may be true in many cases. That doesn't justify further subverting the whole system by accepting fraud as an appropriate response.

        I have seen from the inside the problems with the process of acquiring a PhD, and the misuse of same by people who've suffered through it. Th

    • Stil Full of Shit? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:12AM (#18193484) Homepage

      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.

      • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:25AM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by nomadic (141991) *
        So he must have started the 2 year paralegal school at what? 16 or so? Yeah.

        Depends on the jurisdiction, some places you don't need any sort of degree to be a paralegal.

        Not only that, his revised Wiki bio now says he was an account manager for Fortune 20 company

        It's possible. "Account manager" isn't an especially prestigious title to start with, and he doesn't say what kind of account he was managing. Home Depot is in the Fortune 20, some minor clerical work at a local Home Depot store could coun
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      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 scie

      • by dylan_- (1661)

        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 (i

      • "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.
      • by nuzak (959558)
        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:
  • Well.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:45AM (#18193226) Homepage Journal
    Speaking as a top award-winning particle physicist, race car driver, neurosurgeon, and rock star, I feel that this is absolutely terrible.
  • by jspayne (98716) <.jeff. .at. .paynesplace.com.> on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:45AM (#18193228) Homepage
    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.
    • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:07AM (#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.
    • "It is just a repository of common knowledge."

      Nope. It's a repository of common typing.
  • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:46AM (#18193236) Journal

    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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dachannien (617929)
      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 probl
      • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:07AM (#18193446) Journal

        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.

        • by Dhalka226 (559740)

          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

    • 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.
    • by Sockatume (732728)
      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 p
  • edu.wikipedia.org (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LoudMusic (199347) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:48AM (#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.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:56AM (#18193344) Homepage

    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.

  • 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 ...
  • by ari_j (90255) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:58AM (#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.

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

    • by ray-auch (454705)
      [...]

      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.
    • by DebateG (1001165)
      That's a great essay, but you should attribute it to the man who wrote it, Hugh Gallagher [wikipedia.org].
      • by ari_j (90255) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:28AM (#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
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by grasshoppa (657393)
      Chuck Norris, is that you?
  • by Everyman (197621) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:12AM (#18193486) Homepage
    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]

    • by the pickle (261584) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:35AM (#18194466) Homepage
      Essjay brags about how he fooled The New Yorker:
      http://www.wikipedia-watch.org/essjay.html [wikipedia-watch.org]


      I wouldn't exactly call it "bragging", especially in light of the other sections on that page wherein he explains quite thoroughly the wikistalker element that no one has yet mentioned. I've been active on WP for 2.5 years now, and I remember Essjay from way back. I wouldn't say we've ever had much interaction, but I remember the username, and while I'm nowhere near as active as he is, I don't recall him ever using his fake credentials as an argument in support of a decision of any kind. The credentials appear to have been used entirely as a cover for real life so that the crazy stalker portion of society (which seems to be more prominent online; go figure!) wouldn't be able to track him down.

      Do I agree with hiding your identity in the way that he did? Not really -- why not just claim you're a 24-year-old living in your parents' basement in Nevada? It's no less believable than saying the same about Kentucky. ;)

      Do I have a problem with what he did? Not really.

      Slashdot is, as usual, blowing this WAY out of proportion. The only thing that's even remotely "wrong" about this is that he claimed academic credentials he didn't have. If nothing else, it shows a lack of respect for the effort required to gain a PhD, but that's hardly worthy of a story on Slashdot (or any other news site).

      p
  • 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]

  • So what if he lacks credentials? It's not like theology ever had anything to do with real facts anyway!
  • The Wikipedia Cabal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by br00tus (528477) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:28AM (#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.

  • 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
  • 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.
  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:41AM (#18193828) Homepage Journal
    U of Me.

  • by saforrest (184929) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:33AM (#18194446) Homepage Journal
    This story has very little to say about the credibility of Wikipedia as a useful source of information.

    It's no big shocker that people will lie when they have no oversight and effectively no chance of getting called on it. It happens everywhere, in government, industry, and private relationship. Wikipedia is probably full of liars. That's not to say that getting caught in a lie shouldn't come with a price, and I hope Essjay at the least loses some credibility with Wikipedians!

    But Wikipedia's utility as an information source comes from the verifiable facts submitted by contributers. It is these facts, and not contributors' credentials, that are submitted to the rigorous scrutiny, the thousands of eyeballs, the selective forces, that have made Wikipedia as useful as it is now.

    If anything, this whole business demonstrates why Wikipedia's lack of official recognition of credentials is a good idea, and why any sort of credential-based system like Larry Sanger's Citizendium had better have some awfully reliable connections to the real world for verifying credentials.
  • Crap! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Malakusen (961638) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:17AM (#18195046) Journal
    Now I have to go find a credible and legitimate source of information for fictional universes from TV shows, and video game settings!
  • Judith Miller (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mshurpik (198339) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:20AM (#18195076)
    >How will this affect Wikipedia's already shaky reputation with the academic world?

    It doesn't. The New York Times has a journalist that pushed for war with Iraq against all available evidence. She goes to the office. She's on payroll. She prints whatever she wants under the banner of the Times.

    Wikipedia is no worse than the NYT, and probably better than most.
  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:50AM (#18195502) Homepage Journal

    This is the sort of news bitter academics have desired ever since Wikipedia first hit the mainstream.

    The well-adjusted ones are fine with Wikipedia, because they understand that it will never replace true academic research.

  • From Essjay (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Garse Janacek (554329) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:35PM (#18196146)

    Essjay's comments on why he did it (from here [wikipedia.org]):

    One of the things that tends to happen as you become, let us say, "popular" on Wikipedia is that you attract the attention of an unsavory element. There are a number of trolls, stalkers, and psychopaths who wander around Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects looking for people to harass, stalk, and otherwise ruin the lives of

    ...

    Many people have tried many things to keep thier identities secret: They worry over every little detail they may have released, or refuse to answer anything about themselves, making it very difficult to form any personal ties. Quite unfortunately, it simply isn't possible to keep your details quiet: You will eventually say something that will lead back to you, and the stalkers will find it. My approach was different: I decided to be myself, to never hide my personality, to always be who I am, but to utilize disinformation with regard to what I consider unimportant details: age, location, occupation, etc. As a result, I've made many strong friendships here, because I've always been the person I am, but the stalkers have spent the last two years searching for middle-aged college professors with the initials "SJ" (which are, by the way, my initials) who live in the Northeast; I never had to worry that anything I said would lead back to me, because the areas they focused on, the unimportant statistical information, was a cover

    I was actually under the impression that the stalkers and psychopaths were the only people who actually believed the story... [etc.]

    (Emphasis mine, of course.) Sooo... yeah. An interesting excuse. The constant references to the stalkers and psychopaths sounds a little paranoid... are there really people who have been trying for two years to figure out who this guy is? I mean, come on...

  • by Larry Sanger (936381) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @08:32PM (#18202192) Journal
    There's something utterly breathtaking, and ultimately tragic, about Jimmy telling The New Yorker that he doesn't have a problem with Essjay's lies, and by essentially honoring Essjay after his lies were exposed. As Blogworld quite rightly said, "By his [Jimmy's] actions or lack thereof ... and [by] his words he is endorsing fraud." I've become increasingly disillusioned with Jimmy's behavior, but this I simply wouldn't have expected. It's one thing to revise history self-servingly. But this new incident seems self-destructive on a level beyond previous incidents. Doesn't Jimmy realize that this could well blow up in his face-that it could well be picked up by the news media and severely damage not only Wikipedia's reputation, but Wikia's bottom line (since Wikia is, still, Essjay's employer)? The media is already making some noise (the story broke yesterday) and it's likely only to get hotter. The media now loves a good Wikipedia scandal. Since this one has such a compelling narrative line, and a "you can't make this stuff up" quality to it, how can tech reporters resist? And how can respected observers of the scene then fail to draw some obvious conclusions, as the blogosphere is already doing in its usual vigorous way? Doesn't Jimmy know that this has the potential to be even more damaging to Wikipedia than the Seigenthaler situation, since it reflects directly on the judgment and values of the management of Wikipedia? (More on my blog... [citizendium.org])

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