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Wikipedia May Require Proof of Credentials 317

narramissic writes "According to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, a new policy is currently under discussion by the community of users who regularly write and maintain Wikipedia that would require contributors to the site who claim certain credentials to prove they really have them. The new policy comes after one of Wikipedia's most prolific and respected editors, who went by the pseudonym 'Essjay,' was found not to be the 'tenured professor of theology' he claimed to be but a run-of-the-mill 24 year-old from Kentucky. Said Wales, 'To discover that someone had been deceiving the community for a long time really was a bit of a blow to our trust. Wikipedia is built on the idea of trusting other people and people being honest and we find that in the most part everyone is, so it was a real disappointment.'"
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Wikipedia May Require Proof of Credentials

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  • Somewhat odd. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by keyne9 ( 567528 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @11:47AM (#18289198)
    Why would it matter if "credentials" were accurate, if the information provided by said person(s) was accurate and worthwhile?
  • Probably a good idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eviloverlordx ( 99809 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @11:49AM (#18289230)
    As a frequent editor on Wikipedia (I can indulge my need to correct grammar and spelling), I think that this is a good idea. It's ok to have the average user contribute, but people who claim academic credentials should be able to, and be required to, back them up.
  • Simple steps (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus poet> on Friday March 09, 2007 @11:55AM (#18289354) Homepage
    1. no anon edits. They're almost always just vandalism and frankly how can you trust information supplied without credentials?

    2. Lock articles once they're solid. I watch about 20 pages and almost all of them have dozens of revisions a day, all of which is to undue vandalism. People like Jim Carrey (for instance) are not making news daily. Just lock the damn article, then when someone proposes something new to add in the discussion page, unlock it and add it. That is, discussion pages should be unlocked, and stable articles should be locked.

    3. community == good, disorder == bad. We can't have an orderly encyclopedia if anyone and everyone can edit the content. Sorry, them's the facts.

    4. Derive clear policies concerning articles about commercial entities. Often, an article about a company amounts to nothing more than a single paragraph and a link to their products/homepage. When you try to confront them about spammin wiki they counter with all sorts of allegations of bias, double standards, etc.

  • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @11:57AM (#18289410)
    - Used to run a porn site?

    - Deleted from the records his own statement that his birth certificate was incorrect, two years later, and then got pissy about people who were quoting that statement?

    - Encourages wikipedia admins to ban anyone who disagrees with them on content as a "troll"?

    - Called one of his detractors a "disease" in your IRC channels, then denied he said it (even though it was logged) and created an entire "biography" on the person devoted solely to libeling them, in violation of publication laws and wikipedia's own "standards" for biographical entries?

    - Suggested in logged, publicly available email lists for the project that "lone wolves" should start filing dishonest "complaints" with the hosting ISP against a site critical of wikipedia admins' behavior?

    - Does nothing when false reports are filed by admins using the "advanced" tools like CheckUser, or when admins engage in stalking behavior or worse?

    - Claims now to be the "sole founder" of Wikipedia, even though years of Wikipedia's own press releases show otherwise, since they credited Larry Sanger as "co-founder" or "one of the founders" for years prior to his creating Citizendium out of disgust for the cronyism and corruption in Wikipedia?

    - Makes tons of money "sharing" Wikipedia's content to sites like for a cut of the advertising revenue, then fraudulently claims that the site needs more money to run?

    Sorry. Wikipedia's doomed. Doesn't matter what kind of damage control Jimbo tries now, he's corrupt, the admins are corrupt, the system is corrupt, and that's that.
  • by mdm-adph ( 1030332 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:01PM (#18289482)
    there's the rub -- the majority of the populace doesn't even come close to being described as a "scholar." Most just believe whatever is thrown their way.
  • Re:Agreed and.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Richard Steiner ( 1585 ) <> on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:23PM (#18289846) Homepage Journal

    ...and if you have a account number below 1000 you have to prove to did not buy it, but really were there.

    How would one go about doing this?

    I'm not under 1000, but I *could* have gotten a lower ID on Slashdot legitimately had I decided to register on this site right away. However, I didn't create an account until I had been reading here for some time. But how would I prove that? :-)

    Folks who were active on other contemporary sites at the time might recognize my name (from IWE or from other places), but that would be hearsay, not proof.

  • Re:Somewhat odd. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:12PM (#18290626)
    Exactly. If you have a PhD in physics, does that mean that you somehow have free reign to alter and "correct" all physics related content on Wikipedia with impunity? Facts are facts. Information is information. Further, when do credentials become relevant to the reader of a Wikipedia article? Or are they going to start including a byline on the main portion of certain articles indicating that these were written and vetted by some sort of "educated professional"?

    Additionally, supposed credentialed experts in a field have drastic differences in opinion and are just as likely as anyone else to engage in pointless flamewars, editing wars and vandalism.
  • Re:Obligatory (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <(wgrother) (at) (> on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:19PM (#18290724) Journal

    It's off-topic because there are Wikipedia nazis with mod points. Since they can't edit jokes away, they will stamp them out with moderation. Every faction has its zealots; they jealously guard the "reputation" of their favorite thing, and don't appreciate anyone who disagrees with them or derides it in any way.

  • Re:Somewhat odd. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:22PM (#18290770)
    Mods: Parent isn't just a funny comment. Parent does bring up a very valid question. Please mod appropriately.

    The beginning philosophy of Wikipedia was that everyone had something to contribute to human knowledge, and credentials (the sort of things that get you opportunities to publish in respected journals) should not matter as much as the accuracy of your statements.
    This is correct, and it still holds true--all other things being equal. There's the catch. If everyone had an equal say in things, then regardless of credentials, the validity of each person's contribution would be based on content. That is to say, if I told you that a red shift meant things were moving away and someone with a Ph.D. in astrophysics said that a red shift meant things were moving towards, you might believe the astrophysicist (if you knew), but what if I could back up my claims with sources and the astrophysicist couldn't, what I said would end up on Wikipedia.

    However, when it comes to moderators and administrators, things are a little different. They break this concept of equality that is the foundation of the philosophy. They can exert influence over points of contention, and even more so, they can assert their authority by limiting the voice of a regular wikipedian. They are in a position of power. So the rules have to change for them.

    It isn't intuitive, but ideally, it is the fact that they are in a position of power that lends credibility to their claimed credentials, as opposed to their credentials putting them in that position. Remember that credentials are ideally meaningless for a regular wikipedian. That means that their elevation to a moderator or administrator would be made based on the content of their contributions. Credentials are still meaningless during this process. But once they've ceased to be a regular wikipedian, and they begin exerting their powers over regular wikipedians, then their credentials need to come into play.

    This shouldn't mean that one has to have a Ph.D. or some other credential to be a moderator or administrator. However, this does mean that once someone becomes a moderator or administrator, all such claims need to be verifiably true. Just because someone doesn't have a degree in anything doesn't mean that person would make a poor moderator. But it does mean that the person should not be able to influence debates on astrophysics in the role of a moderator.

    So no, it's not so much of a breakdown in the philosophy of wikipedia, as it is that the original system was imperfectly implemented. A background check on moderator/administrator candidates would be more like a natural part of the ideal system based on the wiki philosophy, but that was not discovered until now.
  • by christurkel ( 520220 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @02:07PM (#18291430) Homepage Journal
    I agree with you.

    Wikipedia started off good then the powerful got so full of themselves as the project rose in prominence that they became corrupt, arrogant and out of touch. Admins protect their friends and make sure all appeals are squashed. Ever try to get an admin to account for his actions? If you are not banned, you will be soon after. I have seen it time and time again.

    I once tried to become an admin but to rise up through the ranks you have to become a certain kind of person, a kind of narcissistic ass. I couldn't do it. I couldn't become that. There are a few nice admins out there but they are truly in the minority or leaving.

    Wikipedia's glory days are done. We are now seeing the decline and fall of the empire.
  • by internic ( 453511 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:35PM (#18292698)

    At this point, I wouldn't trust anything I read in there to be true...I sincerely doubt that any of the editors or contributors have any credentials. Those types of folks tend to get published in real world journals, magazines and books.

    I can't speak about most of the articles on Wikipedia one way or another, but I will say, as someone who does research in quantum physics, that the wiki articles on quantum mechanics and quantum information topics are characteristically pretty good in terms of content (though not necessarily quality of writing), and I would be very surprised if there aren't a number of Ph.D. scientists who contribute to them, given the high level of some of the information there.

    Just because people get published in journals it doesn't follow that they won't also publish stuff for free online. See for example John Baez's extensive collection or writing []. Also bare in mind that most journals (aside from a few review journals) are for publishing new discoveries while Wikipedia is mostly about sumaraizing and explaining existing knowledge, so they're somewhat orthogonal.

  • the real problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by N3wsByt3 ( 758224 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:39PM (#18292756) Journal
    That may be, but I think the real problem is, nobody cared to check his references. As he stated:

    "and I offer as my reference the text "Catholicism for Dummies" by Trigilio (Ph.D./Th.D.) and Brighenti (Ph.D.)."

    Now, did *anyone* ever do the trouble of finding out if this is correct? Because, if it is, whether he's Phd or not doesn't matter; he has a basis for his claim. If it doesn't turn out to be true, then it's an inherent problem of wikipedia, where people can get their opinion voiced by citing non-existant sources.

    This won't be dealt with by requiring 'proof' of ones' credentials, however. In fact, people with 'high credentials' often have quite a big ego, which add to the problem when they think *they* are right and the others aren't. (Well, it's a common human thing, after all).

    On the other hand, I've experienced the same kind of 'argument' being used against me too, when giving some commonly known criticism of the Freenet project, for instance. I had to 'prove' and 'cite sources' untill I dropped dead, but they still didn't allow that criticism, because it came from me. In fact, it was just to get rid of the criticism by fanboys, disguised as being 'not according to the rules'. It boiled down to a variant of an ad hominem attack, really; it wasn't about what I said, but about who said it. Proof of the matter: someone else made similar criticism as I did, and that was kept, because ultimatly, they couldn't hide behind 'the rules' indefinately.

    It's difficult to see how one could resolve the first problem, without falling in the pitfall of the second. Any such system is bound to be abused, if it wants to be 'open' to everyone. When you try to deal with one thing, you automatically restrict the other aspect. There is no bullitproof solution for it, though they might refine the system, not by requiring credentials (btw, wasn't there an article on slashdot where it was shown mixed groups work better then groups only existing of lay peopla AND better then groups solely existing of experts?), but by a constant evaluation of the 'worth' a certain wikipediamoderator has. That worth should be determined by the content/edits he made by peer-moderators and normal wikipedians (as endusers).

    Thus, it would be a system like it's sometimes used by progressive governmental offices and even companies, where your superior gives a recurrent evaluation of you, but you also (well, all the ones working for the superior) give a grade to the superior. Or where teachers evaluate students, but the students may evaluate teachers too. I know this system is often criticised because of a perceived lack of quality (for instance; the teacher will let students pass if he really gets graded by students, and therefor, we can't really let his job be depended on it - which is why students only have some meaningless say in the matter), but all in all, that system really does provide an extra layer of quality, because the really bad apples *do* get to be removed faster, or at least, they are spotted easier.

    If they would implement such a system in wikipedia (and I mean, a real bottom-up evaluation-system, not the poor substitute they have now), it would do a lot better then asking for credentials.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling