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Academic Credentials and Wikiality 429

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

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  • by jspayne ( 98716 ) <<moc.ecalpsenyap> <ta> <ffej>> on Thursday March 01, 2007 @09:45AM (#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.
  • Re:A pseudonym? (Score:3, Informative)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:12AM (#18193488)

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

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

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

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:25AM (#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.


  • by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @10:28AM (#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
  • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @11:28AM (#18194394) Homepage
    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, like Britannica, is great for quickly getting the basics on just about any subject (and Wikipedia more so than a standard encyclopedia due to its breadth). And neither Wikipedia nor Britannica has the depth or standing to be a first-class source to cite for a scholarly work. Neither is written to have such standing - and a good thing too; having every entry read like a journal paper would make them unusable for their real use of quick orientation to a subject.

  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dlrowcidamon.> on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:09PM (#18194926) Homepage
    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 count as an account manager.

    So working part-time at a law firm after school for a few years, and then a minor clerical job at Home Depot? I can see that.
  • Re:Citation needed! (Score:2, Informative)

    by ioshhdflwuegfh ( 1067182 ) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @12:15PM (#18195014)

    It would be nice if the submitter actually gave a source for that quote; I couldn't find it in any of the articles.
    It's the last sentence of this article [], that says: "[...]Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay's invented persona, 'I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it.'"
  • Re:Wait, what? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nasarius ( 593729 ) on Thursday March 01, 2007 @01:36PM (#18196166)
    You managed to get to college (I assume) without realizing that no encyclopedia should be cited in a paper? They even tell you this themselves []. You wouldn't cite a textbook either; they're tertiary sources, and mostly useless for getting a deep, accurate view of any topic. They're starting points for research that will give you a broad overview and sometimes a few sources to follow up on. For many topics, Wikipedia is quite appropriate for this role.
  • by GodInHell ( 258915 ) * on Thursday March 01, 2007 @04:01PM (#18198264) Homepage

    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 articles, and that's why they (used to be?) the best.

    It's a long way from a scottsman in the low-lands penning down the history of the world's knowledge as he knew it. I actually got to take a look at those old originals though (closed covers, in plastic, on a shelf) - Britannica has retained copies of almost every edition. They used to be kept in the old tape-vault right next to the mainframe room, back before they rolled all of that back out, gave up the whole printing of new editions thing, and went on-line only (then turned around and went back.. they've very confused.) I think they moved them up to the library a few years back.. and then the company moved, so who knows now.

    But anyway, yes - Britannica articles do have by-lines if the writer is an impressive name.


Someday somebody has got to decide whether the typewriter is the machine, or the person who operates it.