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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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  • Wait, what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maniac/dev/null (170211) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:40AM (#18193164) Homepage
    Wait, Wikipedia had a reputation as a believable source at one time?
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:42AM (#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.

  • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:46AM (#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.

  • by BadERA (107121) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:48AM (#18193250) Homepage
    I too think that what you do, not what paper you hold, defines you, and your abilities, but to lie about holding said paper is inexcusable. It then brings into question your credibility over all. Prove yourself on your own merit, not on falsehoods.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:48AM (#18193256)

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

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

    I would never, for a minute, consider this a threat to Wikipedia's reputation, however.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:55AM (#18193332)
    Since there is supposed to be no original research on Wikipedia and articles are only supposed to include facts cited from verifiable primary sources, it doesn't matter whether the editors of Wikipedia are Nobel-prize-winning physicists, illegal aliens, or baby killers. The person's arguments don't enter into it, because those arguments aren't filtered through the person's credentials, but through Wikipedia policy.

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

    Now, if this guy is using his fake credentials to get a job, money, media attention, or whatever else, then there's a problem, but I agree with Jimbo in the context of Wikipedia on this one - as long as his adminship was based on his activity on Wikipedia and his efforts to uphold Wikipedia's policies, Wikipedia should be blind to his real-world foibles.
  • 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 anthony_dipierro (543308) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:58AM (#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.

  • Re:A pseudonym? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sobrique (543255) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:01AM (#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 Sockatume (732728) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:07AM (#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.
  • by LordPhantom (763327) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:09AM (#18193452)
    So.... it's ok to tell the world that they should belive you as an 'expert' based upon your credentials, even if you have none?

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

    Worse, offering him a job based on that work history makes Wika look rather silly.
  • by shaitand (626655) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:15AM (#18193514) Journal
    That would be ideal. Unfortunately in the real world you probably won't have the opportunity to show such merit without claims to a piece of paper.
  • Re:A pseudonym? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Txiasaeia (581598) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:27AM (#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 @10:33AM (#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.
  • by R2.0 (532027) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:34AM (#18193740)
    "I would never, for a minute, consider this a threat to Wikipedia's reputation, however."

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

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

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

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

    The damage from this one guy may be trivial, but it isn't inconsequential. If you pluck a hair from your head, you aren't bald all of a sudden. But if you keep doing it, you will definitely become bald, and it will be way before the last hair is plucked. It's all a matter of perception.
  • by JoeD (12073) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:35AM (#18193754) Homepage
    You're right, up to the point of his lying about his credentials.

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

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

    If you can't trust the people, then you can't trust the information they're presenting either. Fire his ass.
  • by kripkenstein (913150) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:43AM (#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:it wont (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lazerf4rt (969888) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:53AM (#18193966)

    I can't help but scratch my head when people talk about Wikipedia having a shaky reputation. Look at the About Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] page. Nowhere do they claim to be reliable or authoritative source of information. They fully disclose the fact that they're an encyclopedia "project" that anyone can edit. Everyone knows it. And that's what they are. I always thought you have to be found making false claims in order to gain a bad reputation. But I don't see any false claims here.

    As for the content, of course the quality of it is questionable. You know what website you're looking at. What do you expect? It doesn't mean Wikipedia failed. They are what they say they are. Of course they'll never reach the refined, well-edited state of a traditional encyclopedia. But nobody is demanding you to pay $1500 for a gold-trimmed set of Wikipedia volumes sitting on your shelf either.

    Maybe people criticize Wikipedia because they use the "encyclopedia" moniker. But this is just semantics. Wikipedia has expanded the meaning of what an "encyclopedia" can be. But if you're narrow-minded and you think "encyclopedia" must mean "something that is always right", of course you'll end up complaining.

    Is nobody else actually impressed by the quality of the entries they visit? When Wikipedia started, I expected pure crap. I still expect most of it to be crap. So it's a pleasant surprise to find to find good stuff, and there's a lot of really good stuff. (The entries on discrete cosine transformation, network protocols, and a lot of religions come to mind.) For many subjects, there was no source of information on the web with an equivalent level of quality before Wikipedia. People should appreciate that and stop whining. You're on the damn Internet, you should expect garbage everywhere.

    As for the guy faking a bunch of degrees, I'm not surprised. At least he didn't fake his way into a job. He faked his way onto a free encyclopedia project. Like that's a big revelation: There's a weirdo on the Internet. You can only wonder why he went to all the trouble. Anyway, it doesn't change Wikipedia's reputation at all in my eyes. The site is still exactly the site it claims to be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:56AM (#18194002)

    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?

    This is inflamatory at best, blatent trolling at worst. Nobody hates a diploma mill as much as a community college. Think about it for a second and you'd realize that diploma mill schools threaten to destroy community colleges with little effort and offering little benefit to society at large.


    It's fair to say that some instructors at a community college don't all have bachelors degrees, but that has more to do with the fact that most CC's also act as part trade school as well as undergrad school. Two of my main instructors for instance had bachelors degrees in different fields and associates degrees in CIS, but taught the core CIS curriculumn. That's not to say that there wasn't anyone with a BS there on the contrary, these two simply had more education/experience at the end of the day than the rest.


    On the whole of things I have seen instructors with no BS or BA teaching out there, but the classes weren't ever labeled over 100 (a.k.a. non-transferable) and these classes were usually technical/trade or mainstream with a bias towards a particular field.


    Community Colleges see diploma mill schools the same way a job applicant would view someone that lied on their resume. They viciously pursue and expose the worthless liar, because they have the most to lose.

  • Wait a minute... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nschubach (922175) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:59AM (#18194040) Journal
    Did they want to hire him because he did quality work or just because he went to college? I understand the business world takes that sheet of paper almost too serious, but this is ridiculous.

    If the kid knows his stuff or knows how to get it, isn't that more valuable than what he wrote for his educational background?
  • by podRZA (907929) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:00AM (#18194064)
    You say "the point of Wikipedia is to get unbiased truth and knowledge" but this is NOT true despite what many think, and it part of why the media hype surrounding Wikipedia is so uncalled for. Wikipedia is exactly what it claims, an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. The reality is that it IS truth by consensus even if the consensus is wrong. I'm not saying it is, I don't even have an example, but the point is that it COULD. Don't get me wrong I love Wikipedia, I read it every day probably, but one thing is for sure I'm not going to it for articles in which conflicting opinion are likely.
  • by ajs (35943) <ajs@noSPam.ajs.com> on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:01AM (#18194082) Homepage Journal
    Too true. Using Wikipedia for research is always a smart move. Citing it for research clearly indicates you were too lazy to follow up.
  • by sumdumass (711423) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:03AM (#18194112) Journal
    Representing your self as something your not could have even larger reprecusions. Suppose some piece of information is wrong and purposly kept that way because the backers of it are all 24 year old in KY with degrees and jobs that don't exist?

    In real life, this could be problematic too. I know of a person who almost died because someone represented themselve as someone they weren't. When riding his motorcycle throught a field and got tangled in some kite string from loose kite, It wrapped around his neck nad was chocking him. Further we couldn't do CPR because his helmate was in the way and we were afraid of removing it becuse of the possibilities of neck and back injuries from when he crashed. You could look in and see he was turning blue and wasn't getting enough air. Finaly I pulled out a pcket knife and started cutting the string from around his neck at the objection of someone else who was saying it would cause him to hemorage and stuff that would surly kill him. We asked himif he was a doctor and he said a medic when in the marines. He wanted us to do nothing until paramedics arived. I didn't think he could last another 15 minutes so i went ahead and cut it. Turns out he was going to be OK and all that happened was the string wraped around his neck and cut the blood flow off to his brain making him dizzy and eventualy passing out while he wrecked somewhere in between. Turned out the EX-marrines medic experince was basic first aid they give everyone and he was never a medic.

    Of course this was worse then it could have been because no one else knew what to do outside basic instictual things like cutting the string and what we have seen from TV and such were you don't want to move someone like this if they cannot tell you they are ok. (he was passed out) So our ignorance was just as frightening as his non existant experience. But had we listend to this experience, I would be short a good friend right now. I cannot see any place for claiming you are something that you aren't unless it is in a game or somehow people are supposed to know not to belive you.
  • Re:A pseudonym? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yankpop (931224) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:06AM (#18194136)

    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. That said, when I complete my PhD in evolutionary biology in a few months my opinions on the subjects of ecology and evolution damn well better carry more weight than that of the average chump.

    yp.

  • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:09AM (#18194170) Journal
    So it's okay to lie about your academic credentials? If you're that good, you will get recognition with or without the paper. If you're not, you can get some recognition for having put forth the effort to get the paper.

    But getting the recognition for lying about the paper? That's crap. You've got neither the skill to get by without it, the dedication to get it, or the integrity to tell the truth about it.

    No respect from me.
  • by saforrest (184929) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:33AM (#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.
  • by the pickle (261584) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:35AM (#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
  • Experts think so (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TamMan2000 (578899) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:42AM (#18194574) Journal
    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061127-8296 .html [arstechnica.com]

    Experts rate Wikipedia's accuracy higher than non-experts
  • Re:it wont (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dread Pirate Skippy (963698) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:44AM (#18194602)
    No one is saying that wikipedia is not what it claims to be...it has a bad reputation for this reason:

    As for the content, of course the quality of it is questionable.
    If the quality of content is questionable, of course they have a bad reputation. Their reputation is based on the quality of the content. Almost 90% of the english language articles in wikipedia are are currently not well written, stable, accurate, referenced, and written from a neutral point of view according the guidelines for a "good article" [wikipedia.org] in wikipedia.
  • by IAmGarethAdams (990037) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:08PM (#18194912)

    Lets say I get a job as a shoesalesmen claiming to have a high school diploma instead of a GED and then work my way up to management and am finally instrumental in growing the store into a multi-million dollar chain. Who the hell cares that I lied about some insignificant and unimportant piece of paper? My results are what matter. A degree is a notation at the bottom of your resume that you get as a reward for kissing pompous professor tail for several years not an award of merit.

    Or for another example. If a recruit lies about his age to join the military. While in the military forrest carries his fallen comrades out of the jungle and danger and thereby saves 20 lives. Afterward he is awarded a medal of honor for his actions. Would you support an effort to strip the man of the medal he earned with merit because he fibbed on the paperwork to get the opportunity to show that merit?


    I'm going to pass on your second example, because as far as I know, most armies don't have a limit to numbers of recruits.

    However, do you think your first man should get a job over someone else who has done the work to earn a magic "bit of paper"? If you assume that at the point of employment, two people have the same potential for future achievement, would you take someone with a great bit of paper over someone with an average bit of paper? (Yes, there are always other factors, but often they cancel each other out) Would you still take the same great bit of paper over the average bit of paper if the great bit of paper didn't actually exist?
  • by just_another_sean (919159) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:08PM (#18194914) Homepage Journal
    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 @12:09PM (#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
  • by nodnarb1978 (725530) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:16PM (#18195026) Homepage
    Firstly, I'd have to wonder what impact his fanciful list of credentials had when he was nominated for, and voted on, for his various wikipedia titles.

    Secondly, I'd say it's a bad omen: If this guy has used bad faith to attain a "decision-making" position within wikipedia, then what sorts of motivations is this person going to be acting on in their performance of their duties? This issue with "editors" taking biases, then abusing wiki's procedural hierarchy to get "their" way on a contentious issue is hardly new, but this story makes the causes behind many of the potential abuses a bit clearer.

    Finally, in the user's bio on wikipedia, I notice about ten years' worth of professional-level work experience, which is a bit abnormal for someone who's only 24 years old and has no degree. More lies?
  • Judith Miller (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mshurpik (198339) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:20PM (#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.
  • Taiwan (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:23PM (#18195122)
    Fake credentials are one kind of problem. Here's another. Check out the following articles on Taiwan [wikipedia.org] and the Republic of China [wikipedia.org]. In fact, check out any of the Taiwan related articles. Taiwan is a vibrant democracy with a long stable government and a strong economy. It has a military and maintains its own borders. But in the world of Wikipedia, Taiwan is just an island territory of a government in exile. The problem? There are tons of ultra-nationalistic ideological Chinese and more and more of them know enough English to edit Wikipedia. The crowd has one point of view and in Wikipedia, the crowd always wins.
  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:34PM (#18195292)
    Lying about credentials on resumes is actually fairly common and some of those liars are the best performers ever hired. But you can bet that regardless of skill or merit they wouldn't be hired if they hadn't claimed to have the paper.

    In my case you'd lose that bet, although I probably wouldn't quite represent myself as one of "the best performers ever hired". I've been a professional software developer for about 20 years now and have never had difficulty finding a job, even though my formal education extends only as far as the high school diploma that's packed away somewhere. Lest you think that all I've done is little bitty one-offs for individual clients all those years, I'll say that if you own an American car newer than about 7-8 years old, odds are that every time you get in you see the results of my code. The FCC uses my code to verify RF coverage and interference data for potential licensees. Checked yourself in at the airport using a self-serve kiosk? Some of my code was quite possibly in that system as well. What's more, in all those 20 years I've never had a need to lie about my credentials yet somehow I've managed to stay employed. Maybe it's magic, but I suspect it has more to do with me being competent at what I do, having a fairly good idea of what HR people are looking for, and knowing how to interview well.

    You're arguing that the ends justify the means, and I flatly disagree. Lying about credentials may get someone's foot in the door, but I'd have no hesitation about bouncing their ass right back out when I found out about it. They've demonstrated that honesty doesn't have a place in their value system, and that their own well-being is more important to them than integrity. That's the kind of value system that lets corporate espionage, embezzlement, insider trading, and all kinds of other fun stuff flourish.
  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:50PM (#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.

  • Re:Judith Miller (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mjeffers (61490) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @01:20PM (#18195924) Homepage
    Judy Miller had to resign, under pressure if you watched the recent episodes of Frontline, from the NYT [nytimes.com] but Wikipedia thinks this situation (with their admin, not Judy Miller) is OK. Wikipedia is a lot worse than the NYT in this case.

  • From Essjay (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Garse Janacek (554329) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @01:35PM (#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 qwan (967730) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @02:04PM (#18196510)
    The comments are surprising, from comparing him to a soldier to saying that his lies is irrelevant as he contributions were good. I can guage what exactly happened. Today with google anyone can be anything you want to. I still remember I used to talk to a girl ;-) and anything she asked me i knew(I am very knowledgable without the help of the wiki :-P). Once she asked me about Existentialism(look up the wiki :-p) and i had never heard of it inspite of the fact that I believed Existentialism(which i came to know later). back to girl when she asked me on yahoo chat i just copy pasted it into my google search bar in firefox. And in minutes i was spewing out names like Nietzsche. She was shocked and asked me how did I know this. She was very impressed I must say. Then I told her that just googled it when she was asking me. Then i gave her links to some essay and quotes. The nest thing she told me "oh so you google everything i ask you". I told her know If i googled it then i would be giving you links. Well coming to the point this essjay started contributing to really "heavy" topics on theology and I am damn sure that he did not want to appear as the guy who googles his information. And he lied about his credentials. He is on an egomanical trip. Wiki is full of them. They take some great pleasure in becoming the "contributors'. No matter what I dont think I will every believe the wiki because many of the contributors are liars like essjay. I do not disagree with the fact that what they contribute may very well be accurate. Seriously I would on trust an economist to do research on economics no a college dropout. Even though I know that I myself can come up with a good report on any economic trend using google but I will never be hired to write for a economic magazine. That is why only a surgeon who has completed his M.D. is allowed to perform surgery. A general practitioner will never be allowed to. In India there was a case of a compounder(a doctors assistant who dispense medicine) who went to a village and became a doctor there. he lied that he was a doctor. He even started performing surgery. He cured many people from malaria and small fever. It is simple we all know that you take a paracetamol for a fever and chloroquine for malaria. He performed surgery for fractures. Once someone discovered he was not a doctor and then he was arrested and it was a big scandal. This led a quack hunt and many quack were arrested. Even thought this doctor had not killed anyone Many of the other quacks had killed a few patients. I would put essjay in the same league. Just because he gave good information about certain topics does not make him an expert. If you read a drug index you can start prescribing tablet for any medicine but it is a very big risk. Just because the "doctor" "saved" so many peooples lives or rather cured so many diseases does qualify him to be glorified. He did not become a "doctor" to save people but rather to make money. Because a person who truly want to serve manking will go and do his medicine. The same way essjay also lied about his credentials not for money but to continue "prescribing" so that he could satisfy his own egomanical desires.
  • by mmanrrtff (689370) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @03:20PM (#18197628)
    "but what does this say about academia?" That people in academia don't care about wikipedia?
  • by XantheKnight (986840) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @04:32PM (#18198748)
    On one hand, I really like it when news like this makes people realize that they can't just trust a source or a person to deliver correct information, and therefore that critical thought and investigation are key skills in our world. That's a *really* important lesson.

    On the other hand, this issue can devolve into a chicken and egg situation. Even if you are a critical thinking, intelligent individual, able to discern trash info from truth, you still need a basis for comparison. To verify the accuracy of information, you either need a knowledgable individual / expert, or a verified factual repository.

    If a factual repository is built up by the contributions from knowledgable individuals, but then the credentials of those individuals are found to be fraudulent, the repository becomes useless. Not only have you lost the repository, but you've lost the knowledgable individuals to consult. Logically, you must turn elsewhere altogether for your information.

    That's why it's important to protect the credibility, independently, of either (preferably both!) the factual repository, or the knowledgable individuals. If we start developing systems like wikipedia that rely on the latter to construct the former, then we're introducing a chicken-and-egg scenario where a taint on the credibility of either foundation of the system brings the entire thing down en masse. This is especially problematic when lately many have touted wikipedia as some sort of wave of the future in terms of knowledge building, and many similar entities have sprung up, perhaps slowly supplanting other types of factual repositories.

    You can't advocate these types of community fact repositories without removing proven fraudulent information and people. Even wikipedia itself acknowledges the need to remove false information-- why are fraudulent individual credentials, then, less important to the authenticity of the whole? If you let people like Essjay continue to contribute and moderate and approve content under false pretenses, then wikipedia becomes a null entity.

    In my head, wikipedia and similar entities then become analagous to the trivial solution to an equation.

  • by Dread_ed (260158) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @06:04PM (#18199818) Homepage
    "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 facts, figures, and examples. In addition, it doesn't matter if you or they are actual professors or not, it just matters who is right.

    For me, the greatest strength in a community like this is the spirit of competetive geekiness and intellectual one-upmanship that led many of us to pursue careers in professions that most normal people will never begin to understand. That is the basis of a community like this one: a deep and abiding desire to know the whys and hows and to percieve how they interact correctly. Oh and to flame to cindery ashes anyone who dares to contradict the truth.

    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.

    That aside, I do not agree with lying to people to give yourself a leg up. Far from it. I just disagree with your position that the community of an anonymous online forum is based on trust.

    Then again I am scared to wear tinfoil hats because I think it is a government conspiracy. I am a cynical and suspicious bastard so it could just be me.
  • by GodInHell (258915) * on Thursday March 01, 2007 @06:59PM (#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
  • Re:Taiwan (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Haeleth (414428) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @07:12PM (#18200664) Journal

    Lets say you want to do a research on the effects of MSG on Obesity You will find that the wiki denies it. "There is no evidence that MSG causes obesity in humans." This could very well be the fact that MSG is billion dollar industry and any Ajimoto can very well afford to pay a "crowd" to maintain that MSG is safe.
    Alternatively, it could just possibly be because there is no evidence that MSG causes obesity in humans.

    (If MSG causes obesity in humans, then why have China and Japan historically had very low obesity levels, and even today they have far less of an obesity problem than America, despite those cultures having used MSG extensively for far longer than it's been common in the USA? Methinks Americans are eating too much and exercising too little, and trying desperately to find something - anything - to let them avoid taking responsibility for their own unhealthy lifestyles...)
  • by David Jao (2759) <djao@dominia.org> on Friday March 02, 2007 @02:06AM (#18203950) Homepage

    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. Unfortunately, Wikipedia falls far short of this ideal in many important instances, and (ironically) the most serious shortcomings emerge during the most serious cases.

    For example, let's look at Essjay's talk page [wikipedia.org] as of today, 12:40am eastern time. This is an important article for anyone wishing to voice their opinion on the very matter that we are discussing now. Yet, despite the presence of multiple commentors on that page claiming that content is king and credentials don't matter, the simple fact is you cannot edit that page at all unless you already have an account which has been active for some amount of time, because the page is protected.

    This blows a big hole in your assertion that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone at any time. I cannot edit this page at the present time, because I don't have an account, and even if I were to create an account, I would have to wait some amount of time before the account would be considered active long enough to edit that page.

    Although you may like to think that an obscure user's talk page is not important enough to be considered representative of Wikipedia as a whole, the fact is that the large majority of so-called controversial pages are kept in protected status, with the result that outsiders cannot edit the page.

    The sheer hypocrisy of Wikipedia's stance in this matter is astounding. It is far worse than anything I have seen in other notoriously hypocritical arenas such as presidential politics. Wikipedia is saying that, on the one hand, your (academic) credentials are actively immaterial, but on the other hand it considers your (Wikipedia account owning) credentials so essential that it won't even let you post on important matters unless you have a sufficient amount of the latter. If there is a more insidious and adversarial display of censorship to be found anywhere else in the world, I have not seen it.

    Moreover, even if I were to by some stroke of fortune create an account and wait the minimum amount of waiting time necessary to post on that page, I would still be attacked on the grounds of having an account that is too new for my comments to merit consideration. See for instance the comment where Netscott dismisses the opinion of Snackycakes on this very basis. Again, it is hard for me to reconcile this blatantly hostile stance with Wikipedia's official (and largely ficticious) policy of honoring contributions based solely on content.

    However, on top of this (already long) rant, the absolute worst part is that Essjay is an administrator and a member of the oversight committee, and as such, he has more power on Wikipedia than all but five other people in terms of deciding which pages to protect, which users to ban, and which comments to delete. In other words, Essjay, the very user whose integrity I feel is justifiably subject to question, is in a strong position to disproportionately influence this debate about himself, not because of the merit of his contributions to the debate in question, but because of his...

    credentials.

    I should close by saying that I am not by any means the anti-Wikipedia zealot that this post makes me out to be. As a matter of fact, I am a founding member of PlanetMath [planetmath.org] and a strong supp

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