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On Wikipedia, no one knows you're a 24-year-old with no credentials
February 28, 2007 10:06 PM   Subscribe

The New Yorker appends a correction (scroll to bottom)... It seems that Essjay, an inner-circle Wikipedian favored by Jimbo Wales, has been lying about his "credentials " to everyone for years, including to The New Yorker (covered previously prior to correction.)
posted by bhouston (114 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Essjay described himself this way:

"I am 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)"


But according to The New Yorker correction:

"he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught."

Wikipedia is such a strange place.
posted by bhouston at 10:10 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Did you know that the population of African Elephants has tripled in the last whatever/who fucking cares?
posted by basicchannel at 10:12 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


basicchannel, just to clarify, Essjay is at the top of the pecking order over at Wikipedia and is supposed to be one of those ruling over others ensuring that what gets into Wikipedia is reliable, sourced and what not.
posted by bhouston at 10:17 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think my basic proposal is still sound.
posted by Gyan at 10:19 PM on February 28, 2007


So you're saying some information on Wikipedia was inaccurate?

This will truly change everything. /snark

I assume this guy will announce he is "exploring new opportunities" by end of week?
posted by Ynoxas at 10:27 PM on February 28, 2007


Funny stuff!

Kinda wish I had read the title before spending two minutes on this.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:29 PM on February 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


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.”

Oh my god. You have got to be fucking kidding me. A Wikipedia admin goes out of his way to blatantly lie about being "a tenured professor of theology" in his capacity as administrator, and Jimmy Wales doesn't really have a problem with that?

Good christ, what a bonehead response. The guy was defending Wikipedia's credibility by lying through his teeth. Has Wales completely lost all sense?
posted by mediareport at 10:30 PM on February 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


And please note I'm not defending credentialism here; I have no problem with 24-year-old schmoes editing and administering Wikipedia; in fact, I love it. But for the co-founder of the site to condone bald-faced lying about fake credentials is just mind-bogglingly counter-productive.
posted by mediareport at 10:34 PM on February 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


OK, I'm really fucking pissed off at this. I really don't like liars one bit.

I edited Essjay's page to include a pointer to the New Yorker article.

Jimmy Wales has been fairly steadily losing cred with me over the last few months -- now I'm starting to believe he's a bullshit artist.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:45 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


There is more thorough background coverage available here and here.
posted by bhouston at 10:49 PM on February 28, 2007


I also posted this to digg.com -- feel free to go there and Digg it.

I really, really don't like being lied to.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:56 PM on February 28, 2007


I have to admit this is just another nail in the coffin for me. I've lately lost much of my interest in contributing new articles and editing existing articles on Wikipedia.

There are simply too many editors given administrative rights who will modify entire chunks of work, who have no knowledge about the material being edited.

With that, when they aren't applying capricious and dubious interpretations of Wikipedia policy to editing, they are threatening non-administrative editors who don't comply with bad edits with blockage.

There's no way to fight back against these people because they are so well connected with the Wikipedia inner circle.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:01 PM on February 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon, I am not sure what the solution to Wikipedia's credibility problems are. Citizendium may offer an alternative, but Wikipedia has the crowds right now and thus a lot of existing momentum that is difficult to overcome. Wikipedia might end up being the Windows 95 - low quality, lots of issues but with a monopolistic and insurmountable position.
posted by bhouston at 11:06 PM on February 28, 2007


One Wikipedia user is defending Essjay with the following argument: "If you believe what people say on the internet, you are stupid... There is no honesty policy on wikipedia, and people have a right to protect themselves."

I think there's something in that for all of us.
posted by stammer at 11:12 PM on February 28, 2007


Wikipedia is saturated with editors and admins who flaunt their religious beliefs. It is their ultimate revenge on the world.
posted by Brian B. at 11:33 PM on February 28, 2007


Good christ, what a bonehead response.

Really? It's not like a professor's contributions somehow are more credible just because of a Ph.D. Anything that they could write from their own knowledge would have to be backed up by primary sources.
posted by oaf at 11:33 PM on February 28, 2007


Blazecock Pileon, I am not sure what the solution to Wikipedia's credibility problems are.

I don't think administrators should be allowed to edit -- only revert or delete entire articles. Doing both sets up a conflict of interest.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:33 PM on February 28, 2007


Oy vey. What gets me is that someone feels he needs to invent a bullshit persona to be taken seriously on Wikipedia, of all places.

Part of the early promise of the internet was that, well, nobody knew that you were a dog. You could be taken seriously (or not) entirely on the basis of your interactions, rather than your formal schooling, economic status, or bad decisions made earlier in life. And there were always unlimited second chances-- nobody needs (or wants) to know that you were LØRD P41NZWR4XXØR on the "Elfin Tears BBS" in 1989. A few keystrokes, and voilà, you're "William McPuttyHead Esq." with a clean slate.

So while I sympathize with those who were lied to, I sort of see what Wales is getting at. If the guy's edits were on balance well-thought-out and reliable, then it shouldn't matter if the guy was a professor at Yale or in for possession at San Quentin. If his edits were unreliable and he was leaning on his baloney biography to win arguments, well, go back and ditch the bad edits.

What really bums me out, though, is that folks consider giving up on Wikipedia for nonsense like this. Ninety percent of the edit wars are over less than one percent of the content*. Forget about it! Wikipedia still is the world's best repository for really awesome stuff.

* I just made that number up, because I'm drunk-commenting.
posted by phooky at 11:44 PM on February 28, 2007 [2 favorites]



What really bums me out, though, is that folks consider giving up on Wikipedia for nonsense like this.


I have to say, finding out a senior editor was lying through his teeth doesn't bother me much. Having the stalwart leader of the organization say "eh, whatever" though -- that does not bode well.

Wales had a good idea and made it work, but like most entrepreneurs he is ill equipped to run a large and stable organization. There will come a time (perhaps there already has) when the best thing he can do for the future of Wikipedia will be to step aside. I wonder if he'll muster the grace to do it?
posted by tkolar at 11:55 PM on February 28, 2007


That's seriously fucked up. I mean seriously fucked up. I mean it's actually pissing me off, because I really like Wikipedia and think its a great thing.

Read the "letter" (and would someone mirror it?) This goes way beyond making up a 'character' or pimping up a resume, the guy was really pretending to be whatever.

It's fucked up man, the guy must be a little fucked up in the head. Wikipedia is too important to leave in the hands of dhyot style internet psychos.
posted by delmoi at 12:13 AM on March 1, 2007


I don't think administrators should be allowed to edit -- only revert or delete entire articles. Doing both sets up a conflict of interest.

Just because they didn't write it themselves doesn't mean they don't have a stake. I mean, say I'm an Admin and people get into a dispute about some matter I care about. I'm more likely to side with the people I agree with.
posted by delmoi at 12:17 AM on March 1, 2007


Speaking as a bronzed, 28-year-old male model and part-time Salon editor with a Genius grant, a full head of hair and three advanced degrees from Harvard, I have no problem with this.
posted by Dizzy at 12:21 AM on March 1, 2007 [8 favorites]


Wikipedia has very little credibility for me. They insist on 'verifiability' over accuracy so it's nothing more than a re-hash of other sources, but with huge quantities of added unreliablility, and the geek clique running the site spend days debating some abstruse point of WP protocol rather than getting on with the job in hand. In many ways, it's a fine example of how collectivism fails to work.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 12:26 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


I mean, say I'm an Admin and people get into a dispute about some matter I care about. I'm more likely to side with the people I agree with.

This seems to be a clear case where there's a conflict of interest that works against the site, where a clique or cabal of personalities dictate content, instead of the people who actually know what they're talking about.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:35 AM on March 1, 2007


More here
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:41 AM on March 1, 2007


Would Jesus lie about his credentials on Wikipedia?

WWJLOW ??
posted by zog at 12:50 AM on March 1, 2007


If the guy's edits were on balance well-thought-out and reliable, then it shouldn't matter if the guy was a professor at Yale or in for possession at San Quentin.

Wikipedia is rife with editors who have strongholds over their subject domains. These little fiefdoms have URL's which point back to private webpages which gets them around the "orginal research" prohibition. When challenged, they use their education and job titles as a line of defense.
posted by surplus at 1:05 AM on March 1, 2007


'verifiability' over accuracy

Explain how you can have trustworthy accuracy without verifiability.
posted by oaf at 1:16 AM on March 1, 2007


Some people here may still be unfamiliar with the WikiTruth.
posted by imperium at 1:17 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is just sad and pathetic.
I don't know why, exactly, but I kind of expected Wikipedia as an organization to be better than this.
posted by nightchrome at 1:34 AM on March 1, 2007


Some people here may still be unfamiliar with the WikiTruth.

Jimmy Wales sounds like the Paul McCartney to Sanger's Lennon. Hope they make up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:41 AM on March 1, 2007


Is there a good source somewhere that provides a quick overview of wikipedia structure and subculture? I had no idea it was so Vogon.
posted by srboisvert at 2:45 AM on March 1, 2007


srboisvert, the wikitruth link above does give you a non-NPOV take on the subculture, some of the key people, and a bit about the structure. I'm not claiming it's exactly what you're after (it's an anti-wikipedia campaign site), but it's good to see both sides, right? For the next level in that, see the wikipedia article on wikitruth.
posted by imperium at 3:16 AM on March 1, 2007


Key phrase:
"There is no honesty policy on wikipedia"

Data without honesty is bullshit.
posted by wendell at 3:58 AM on March 1, 2007 [4 favorites]


Isn't Wikipedia, in a very basic sense, just a microcosm of the Internet as a whole?
posted by moonbiter at 4:11 AM on March 1, 2007


Explain how you can have trustworthy accuracy without verifiability.
Note my use of quotes to indicate a non-orthodox use of the word. If you go into your backyard and test your hitherto-unknown hypothesis that apples fall when you drop them, Wikipedia would not permit you to post the results because it constitutes 'personal research'. There is no existing data on your experiment (because you're testing a new theory). Your observation - that apples do, indeed, fall when you drop them - is accurate, trustworthy (assuming that you are) and, in Wikipedia's terms, unverifiable.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 4:14 AM on March 1, 2007


wikipedia, as an amateurish project that you read for free over the Internet, has every right to do things as badly -- and dishonestly, becaue we're dealing with a 24 year old dork who probably still lives with his parents who pretends to be a college professor in order to beef his resume up -- as they see fit.

the problem is that The New Yorker is neither an amateurish project nor is it given away for free (well, yes, they give some stories away for free over the Internet, but not the entire magazine, and the New Yorker allowed a clueless writer to quote somebody whose identity she had not verified.

Wikipedia is free to suck -- it's supposed to. The New Yorker, not really.

and now if you'll excuse me, I'll go vandalize a few wikipedia entries.
posted by matteo at 4:33 AM on March 1, 2007


Delete - NN, wikicruft
posted by BeerFilter at 4:50 AM on March 1, 2007


I've never edited on Wikipedia, but just earlier today I stumbled on a page with blatant errors and further questionable information (I need to research). I only noticed the errors because the article is related to the material I've worked with since the 80s. It's factual data, not subject to interpretation. Most people would read it and accept it as truth. Stealthy bad info is evil.

I'm swamped with work right now. Still, I was considering finding the hour or two it would take to research and do a thorough job of fixing that article (properly referenced to real, peer-reviewed publications). Hell, if I needed help I could even call one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet about that subject – a PhD well known in his field – who I've known and worked with for nearly twenty years.

I have no interest in becoming a regular Wiki editor and all of the ego games that seem to come with that. I'm just a person with some specific knowledge to contribute and the resources to do a good job. But after this shit I really don't feel like volunteering my time. I've got real publications to work on. If one of the PhDs I work with turned out to be a fraud, they'd never be allowed to publish through professional channels again.

Jimmy Wales can bite my shiny metal ass.
posted by D.C. at 5:09 AM on March 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


If the guy's edits were on balance well-thought-out and reliable, then it shouldn't matter if the guy was a professor at Yale or in for possession at San Quentin.

So, if the prisoner told you he was a professor, and used his "professorial credentials" to back up his edits -- in other words, he lied to enhance his prestige and power -- and the guy who runs what is supposed to be a massive encyclopedia of fact has no fucking problem with this -- that's cool with you?

Well, I happen to be a doctor of online psychology with 37 degrees and a master of krav maga, and I can tell you that you're wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

Although perhaps the New Yorker should really reconsider quoting anonymous 'Net fucktards who refuse to give any personally identifying info for verification. FACT ERROR MINUS 50.
posted by solistrato at 5:34 AM on March 1, 2007


Also, from the Wikipedia entry on Jimmy Wales:

...passionate adherent of Objectivism..

WHO IS JOHN GALT? Well, he's a tenured professor with many degrees, apparently...
posted by solistrato at 5:38 AM on March 1, 2007


Yes it's a mess and I don't have any suggestions for resolving the conflict.

I've accepted Wikipedia's potential for inaccuracy. I view it as a starting point, not an infallible source.

I optimistically view Wikipedia as part of our cultural evolution as critical readers. I am hopeful we begin applying that same skepticism to other mass media.
posted by surplus at 6:07 AM on March 1, 2007


What gets me is the absolute postmodernity of it all. This note involves the New Yorker reporting on itself, where the original article was about Wikipedia's collective production of reliable (?) information. Essjay's job, within Wikipedia, was, in part, to help improve the reliability of articles, but his credentials were made up, and that's apparently a routine matter within Wikipedia, which Jimmy Wales doesn't consider significant. Oh, and the New Yorker reporter took Essjay's word for it in her own piece, the New Yorker being another institution famously committed to the production of reliable (?) information, albeit through very different methods.
posted by grimmelm at 6:19 AM on March 1, 2007


There is no administrative task so tedious or straightforward that a bunch of obsessive geeks cannot make it ten times worse.

But hey Phooky thanks, that history of ferrous metallurgy article is plenty interesting.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:27 AM on March 1, 2007


but just earlier today I stumbled on a page with blatant errors and further questionable information

Care to point out which page it was? Seems a bit ironic to point out how inaccurate wikipedia is without offering any verification.
posted by public at 6:36 AM on March 1, 2007


From Jimbo's talk page:

Please assume good faith. I'm unconvinced that essjay did this as a deliberate effort to appear have credentials he did not. ✎ Peter M Dodge 23:33, 28 February 2007 (UTC)

This boggles my mind. Does Peter M Dodge think that someone else created those false credentials, or that essjay did it in his sleep or under hypnosis? The guy lied to make himself more impressive and got caught. In any reputable organization he'd be out on the street. I still find Wikipedia a useful resource, but I've pretty much lost whatever respect I had for Jimbo Wales.

And I hope the New Yorker has learned a lesson about interviewing anonymous bullshit artists.
posted by languagehat at 6:42 AM on March 1, 2007 [4 favorites]


Oh, and I see they've already sent the User:Essjay/History1 page lupus_yonderboy linked to down the memory hole. At the moment it's completely blank.
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on March 1, 2007


I haven't trusted Wikipedia since they deleted the entry about me. Is being Omaha's most successful playwright enough to get you a Wikipedia entry or not, assholes? Of course, they don't have an entry about Megan Terry either, so apparently Omaha playwrights just don't matter to Wikipedia.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:14 AM on March 1, 2007


Yes, I dispensed information and advice to aspiring rock musicians on a major guitar manufacturer's player forum page as an aging locally famous rocker who spent the seventies and eighties touring the country, taking drugs, and rocking groupies. In fact, I'm an eleven year-old ficus tree in the waiting room of an insurance office in a business park in suburban St. Louis. I will never apologize for my alter ego's ramblings, as I'm sure I launched dozens or even hundreds of kids into the perilous and rewarding world of rock megastardom. Those who took my advice and failed will have stories to tell their kids, real stories about their real lives. Say what you want about my dishonesty. I don't give a fig. The book is closed.
posted by breezeway at 7:17 AM on March 1, 2007 [4 favorites]


What I love is how the old-school fact checkers at the New Yorker totally pwned a self-important Internet/"new media" personality. The New Yorker's fact checkers are some of the best in the biz. They don't take no mess. Word!
posted by jonp72 at 7:23 AM on March 1, 2007


I've been a champion of Wikipedia, in spite of its flaws, because I believed it was headed in the right direction.

But it seems clear to me now that for as long as Wales is running it, Wikipedia won't have the responsibility or accountability that the world's most well-read online encyclopedia requires.

Having a Jayson Blair for an admin is not, by itself, a large matter.

But this guy was hired by Wikia after telling Wales and another Wikia exec that he's been faking his bio. He was appointed directly by Wales to Wikipedia's arbitration committee after admitting the fakery. And Wikipedia did not tell the New Yorker that the magazine had been hoaxed, in spite of the fact it recommended this guy as an interview subject.

The site's a trainwreck.
posted by rcade at 7:39 AM on March 1, 2007 [2 favorites]


Geez, breezeway, that was YOU?
I thank you, my groupies thank you and the surgical team that is poised to install my new liver thanks you. For a ficus that doesn't give a fig you sure changed my life.
posted by Floydd at 7:41 AM on March 1, 2007


So, breezeway, you're a ficus but you don't give a fig? What's that about?
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 8:19 AM on March 1, 2007


The New Yorker's fact checkers are some of the best in the biz.

I don't know how much the New Yorker's fact checkers get the credit here...

"Are you aware that [Daniel] Brandt has been browbeating the New Yorker for weeks over this, including contacting the author of the story, the author's agent, and the author's current publisher? All purely in the name of upholding the New Yorker's reputation , of course."

See also "Who is Essjay? I would love to ID this guy. I think he's notable enough for his own biography."
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:20 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well Floydd, if you cherished advice like "And when the front-row sweeties party with me after the show and see that I'm wearing some girl's undies, they'll be climbing all over each other to be the next show's lucky warm-up;" "I don't consider my response all that sexual. But I see your point. I do consider girls' panties to be clothing. I thought some of my readers might like to know why I enjoy wearing them on stage;" "I drink about a liter of spirits every day, and take lots of pills (uppers, mostly). I also drink a normal amount of beer. I don't have a problem with nerves;" and "How did I keep from burning out? It was easy: I knew that I'd rest when it was over, and at the next week's show, there'd be plenty of booze, drugs, girls, and rock'n'roll to start in on all over again;" then I'm mighty pleased to know my efforts bore fruit.
posted by breezeway at 8:21 AM on March 1, 2007


My metafilter sock puppet account is outraged that it has been misled!
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 AM on March 1, 2007


Really? It's not like a professor's contributions somehow are more credible just because of a Ph.D. Anything that they could write from their own knowledge would have to be backed up by primary sources.
posted by oaf at 7:33 AM GMT on March 1 [+]
[!]


Hey! You're not allowed to do orginal research for wikipedia. You are allowed to quote questionable media sources by reporters who are often worse researchers than I was in grade 10, but you aren't allowed to cite archival material you've personally been studying for the past year. Nor are you allowed to cite works of art or music which aren't text, or properly condicted oral history. None of these are reliable, not like a newspaper. Everything a newspaper reports is accurate.

Anyways, I think we just have here exhibit a through z for any professor or teacher who wants to say that students or pupils are not allowed to cite wikipedia. I personally would use his letter to the professsor as a handout in a lesson on the difference between academic sources and non-academic sources. And ban non-academic sources as secondary sources for all students, from grade one up.
posted by jb at 8:53 AM on March 1, 2007


(non-academic sources are, of course, fine as primary sources - after all, you use media and popular art to study that media or popular art. So in an essay about wikipedia, you can use wikipedia as a source. But not in an essay about African elephants.)
posted by jb at 8:54 AM on March 1, 2007


TBH Wikipedias strength comes from the bottom up anyway, so Jimbo and mates acting like fuctards occasionaly doesn't harm it too much.
posted by Artw at 9:20 AM on March 1, 2007


I think the rationale Essjay is sticking to ("I did it to protect myself from online stalkers") is questionable, at best, and definitely shows more than questionable judgment. The easiest way to "protect yourself" from online stalkers is to *limit* the amount of information available about yourself, not make up a detailed fake persona (with lots of academic degrees). This just shows what bad judgment he has and a perfect reason he should not be in any area of responsibility.

Seriously, if you're going to lie to cover your identity (what is he, an international spy or celebrity?), why create multiple degrees, make yourself a teacher somewhere, etc. etc. I mean, simply saying, "I live somewhere in the U.S." would have been just as effective. Reading his tortured explanation screams out, Ooops, I got caught!

Most employers would fire someone for lies of this magnitude, not hire them. It goes to show you that the folks at the top over there aren't exactly about the transparency they purport to be.
posted by docjohn at 9:32 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


This guy claims his "disinformation" (great doublespeak, that) was to "protect himself". So instead of saying "I'm a midget in Arizona" or "I'm a yak it Tibet" or something simple, he invents an entire persona with heavyweight credentials and experience, and then proceeds to hold forth as an expert in that very field.
Wow. Not "I'm going to make a bunch of crap up so I'll be taken more seriously than I deserve". Not "my real life shows me to be a person of meager accomplishment, so I'll invent an avatar that will be the opposite of what I've become". He's "protecting himself".

Liar.
posted by kjs3 at 9:37 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm deeply disturbed about Wales' saying he doesn't care about the fraud. I'm generally OK with Wikipedia's plasticity, but for him to directly countenance misrepresentation is depressing.

BTW, Daniel Brand is the same guy behind the site Google Watch.
posted by Nelson at 9:40 AM on March 1, 2007


I hope a self-link is acceptable in a comment if it's on topic; admins, please feel free to delete this if it's not. But the reason I quit Wikipedia and don't use it except for the occasional check of a fanboy-fact was because I figured out that Wikipedia's central failure point is that truth doesn't derive from popular consensus, and thus what it arrives with is the most palatable denominator, which very, very often is not equal to the facts. Cf. our own ikkyu2 and his efforts at improving the epilepsy article ...
posted by WCityMike at 9:54 AM on March 1, 2007


I view this sort of thing as a market correction to the Web 2.0 hype. The breathless "Soon Wikipedia will contain the sum of all human knowledge!" faith of the hyperlinked, social network, swarm intelligence fanboys was clearly misplaced from the get-go, because the days of yore, when anyone you talked to on the Internet was almost guaranteed to have a college degree and a 140 IQ have been over by at least fifteen years. Wikipedia is going to be in the midst of The September That Never Ended, forever, and should have been structured while keeping in mind that this is the population that keeps the Weekly World News alive and votes for, well, any of our politicians. I suspect we'll see more scandals, abuses, and instances of petty tyranny for a long time to come.
posted by adipocere at 10:30 AM on March 1, 2007 [2 favorites]


Essjay claims he does this to protect himself from stalkers.

His letter to professors (which is still active as I write this) makes me wonder how that can possibly be true. He is obviously misrepresenting himself to benefit wikipeida.
posted by null terminated at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not any more inaccurate than the random google results we used before.
posted by smackfu at 10:45 AM on March 1, 2007


Not saying anything not said previously, but I firmly firmly believe that Jimmy Wales is, by far, the worst thing about Wikipedia, and as long as he rules over it like a secret monarch, pretending it is all community-driven, but popping out to interfere in said community whenever he feels like it, it will never EVER reach its true potential.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:58 AM on March 1, 2007


There was a whole school of pop thought back when wherein the latest Web app/big new thing/whatever was equated with God. I specifically recall reading one article asking if Google was God, and seem to recall others (probably in Wired or something). It did have that same breathless The-Web-Will-Solve-Everything-Get-On-Board-Luddites tone that I've seen countless times before. So anytime I read something like this, I remind myself that if the Internet is a deity, it is the Gnostic Demiurge: a blind idiot god.
posted by solistrato at 11:06 AM on March 1, 2007 [4 favorites]


Oy vey. What gets me is that someone feels he needs to invent a bullshit persona to be taken seriously on Wikipedia, of all places.

The easiest way to "protect yourself" from online stalkers is to *limit* the amount of information available about yourself, not make up a detailed fake persona (with lots of academic degrees). This just shows what bad judgment he has and a perfect reason he should not be in any area of responsibility.

I think these two comments sum up my view on the matter. It's very disappointing and I won't be able to take EssJay as seriously, at least not until he drops the act.

If the guy's edits were on balance well-thought-out and reliable, then it shouldn't matter if the guy was a professor at Yale or in for possession at San Quentin.

This is spot on. Certainly by Wikipedia's paramount Attribution Policy, nobody is editing based on their credentials, but on their sources. In fact, someone with real credentials would be presumed to be in a position where they had easy access to terrific sourcing.

This has clearly come about just now because EssJay was promoted. I do believe this shows some questionable judgement by Wales, by the Foundation, and by the community as a whole, in decreasing order -- but

Essjay is at the top of the pecking order over at Wikipedia and is supposed to be one of those ruling over others ensuring that what gets into Wikipedia is reliable, sourced and what not

... is only partly true. An administrator's job isn't "ensuring what gets into Wikipedia is reliable" -- that's the job of all editors. Administrators are supposed to "use the mop" as it's said to make sure that editors are following the rules. Most admins, in my experience, use the extra powers sparingly.

I've read many of EssJay's comments on rules interpretation, and can't remember having a serious problem with any of them. This is partly why he's an administrator -- he is widely respected by the community, not for his resume but for his work on the site. That point is being overlooked.

On the other hand, as a bureaucrat -- an uber-administrator with checkuser and oversight rights (that most don't have) -- he faces more scrutiny, and it was very poor judgement not to come clean and wipe his false bio months ago, certainly by the time he was in the New Yorker.

Oh, and I see they've already sent the User:Essjay/History1 page lupus_yonderboy linked to down the memory hole. At the moment it's completely blank.

languagehat, you can see the old version in the article history. Essjay blanked his page -- his right -- because it was slashdotted/mefi'ed and experiencing vandalism. Another administrator, and Essjay probably asked for someone else to do this, has protected the page.
posted by dhartung at 11:18 AM on March 1, 2007


I don't think the revised bio is legit either.

Before joining Wikia, I was an account manager with a Fortune 20 company. Prior to that, I was a paralegal for five years, including a three month special position with a United States Trustee and nearly two years freelance, handling special projects.

And he is 24...
posted by A189Nut at 11:22 AM on March 1, 2007


It's very disappointing and I won't be able to take EssJay as seriously, at least not until he drops the act.

He's posted an apology (search for "My response").
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:23 AM on March 1, 2007


If the guy's edits were on balance well-thought-out and reliable, then it shouldn't matter if the guy was a professor at Yale or in for possession at San Quentin.

Fair enough, it doesn't matter who you are, but it certainly matters to me whether you are honest. An encyclopedia editor who lies to bolster his credibility is like a fox guarding chickens.

This is depressing. I was just starting to get into editing Wikipedia (tedious things, such as the exit list for I-65 in Alabama). It seemed like such an agreeable and meaningful way to give back to the world. I've never thought it was perfect, but I've always assumed that the folks in charge had good intentions and knew how to behave.
posted by owhydididoit at 12:27 PM on March 1, 2007


Looking at the comments that follow his apology, it is obvious that the wiki community is not all falling in line behind this guy. Consensus is never tidy, and I shouldn't discount the entire worth of WP because of the untrustwrthiness of a single editor, however powerful.
posted by owhydididoit at 12:34 PM on March 1, 2007


"I'm also sorry the New Yorker chose to print what they did about me ... it was, quite honestly, my impression that it was well known that I was not who I claimed to be"

Convincing!
posted by stammer at 12:54 PM on March 1, 2007


it was, quite honestly, my impression that it was well known that I was not who I claimed to be

Talk about chutzpah. The guy is pathetic; what I find interesting is that the responses at Wikipedia divide neatly into two camps, "So what, he's a great admin, he spends all his time trying to make it a better place, ignore the haters" and "Screw him, he lied and Jimbo covered it up." Some people just can't assimilate new information.
posted by languagehat at 1:35 PM on March 1, 2007


I agree with the comments pointing towards this being a necessary correction in the perception of Wikipedia.

It certainly is an amazing resource, regardless of who is behind it. But because it's a community, like all communities it will have problems, even very serious problems, and it needs to be seen as a jumping off point for research, and not an end-all.

What is most troubling to me is that Essjay is part of Wikia, which is Jimbo's attempt to cash in on Wikipedia's massive, but not direct financially, success. It seems to be a huge conflict of interest to have a for-profit and a non-profit, using the same technology and even hierarchy. At the very least, it seems it could cause problems down the road.
posted by cell divide at 2:04 PM on March 1, 2007


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by infidelpants at 2:52 PM on March 1, 2007


I agree with John Kenneth Fisher, the problem is that while wikis are by nature self-organized systems, Wikipedia is effectively a monarchy because of Jim Wales. The entire hierarchical admin/editor structure of Wikipedia needs to be scrapped & replaced with a reputation-based voting scheme. Unaccountable leadership leads to arbitrary decisions & ultimately corrupts the system.
posted by scalefree at 3:11 PM on March 1, 2007


Man, I’d like to have some credentials to lie about.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:31 PM on March 1, 2007


Your observation - that apples do, indeed, fall when you drop them - is accurate, trustworthy (assuming that you are) and, in Wikipedia's terms, unverifiable.

So I should trust some random person on Wikipedia who claims to be a theoretical physicist rather than, say, a publication like Nature. Got it.

I've accepted Wikipedia's potential for inaccuracy.

I've accepted every publication's potential for inaccuracy. It's not as small as you'd like to think.

I think we just have here exhibit a through z for any professor or teacher who wants to say that students or pupils are not allowed to cite wikipedia.

You shouldn't be allowed to cite Wikipedia. You shouldn't be allowed to cite World Book or Britannica, either. Any professor who would allow citations of the latter and not the former is not one you want to be working with, because they clearly don't understand the basics of research if they do this.
posted by oaf at 3:44 PM on March 1, 2007


To put Essjay's claim that his "disinformation" was solely about hiding from stalkers, here are some behind-the-scenes quotes from him:

I've been a Catholic scholar for years, and I couldn't tell you know how many times I've heard this myth, in and outside class.

If you'd like to start an RfC on the matter, I'd be happy to offer the community my evidence; I am, after all, one of Wikipedia's foremost experts on Catholicism.
posted by scalefree at 3:58 PM on March 1, 2007


Actually, I'm on wikipedia, and everybody knows I'm a 24-year-old with no credentials.
posted by limon at 5:01 PM on March 1, 2007


This is disappointing. I'm an outspoken proponent of wikis, the collaborative process they afford, and Wikipedia. But, like others here at MeFi, I've come to see Wales as little more than dead weight. It's as if as if he has a fundamental misunderstanding of the very technologies he's advocating.
posted by aladfar at 5:15 PM on March 1, 2007


Wikipedias strength comes from the bottom up anyway, so Jimbo and mates acting like fuctards occasionaly doesn't harm it too much.

Interesting point, Artw, and one I halfway agree with. This episode probably won't have much of an impact on the Wikipedia pages I go to and the links I find at the bottom (by far the most useful part of most Wikipedia articles, I've found). But the behavior of the admins is still a sometimes hilarious problem for the site. Here's a fun example, Angela Beesley, from that wikitruth site (thanks for the link, imperium). Seems she's an admin but doesn't want to have a page about herself because "I'm sick of this article being trolled. It's full of lies and nonsense."

Ba-dum-bump.
posted by mediareport at 5:50 PM on March 1, 2007


public wrote: Care to point out which page it was? Seems a bit ironic to point out how inaccurate wikipedia is without offering any verification.

Oh, I know I'm being a bit coy about it. I keep my work and non-work activities separate online, mostly because of work politics. Pointing out the page would reveal too much info. I don't want to connect the dots for anyone whether they are strangers on the net or the people who sign my paychecks.

I may be paranoid, but at least I'm honest. ; )
posted by D.C. at 6:19 PM on March 1, 2007


Essjay's user page and the talk page for that are no longer editable. I added the link to the New Yorker piece several times, but they obviously took care of it.
posted by chlorus at 9:12 PM on March 1, 2007


Other high-level admins react — Cyde Weys, Kelly Martin — and not along the party line, either. And Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger. And the tech news has picked it up: Google News search. And Slashdot, of course.
posted by WCityMike at 10:01 PM on March 1, 2007


But the behavior of the admins is still a sometimes hilarious problem for the site. Here's a fun example, Angela Beesley, from that wikitruth site (thanks for the link, imperium). Seems she's an admin but doesn't want to have a page about herself because "I'm sick of this article being trolled. It's full of lies and nonsense."

Note that Beesley got a page about herself when she was on the board of the Wikimedia Foundation, not because of being an admin. She wasn't happy with it from the beginning. When she left the foundation board and joined Wikia, she was temporarily successful at arguing that she isn't notable enough for an article. I think it's a reasonable argument, but the consensus is otherwise.

Essjay's user page and the talk page for that are no longer editable. I added the link to the New Yorker piece several times, but they obviously took care of it.

This isn't some super-secret conspiracy, locking the doors. Wikipedia users are assumed to have primary control over the content on their user pages -- they are not articles.

His normal Talk page remains open and there are several pointed comments. There is a discussion at the Community noticeboard, the inevitable biographical article, discussion at Jimbo's talk page, and so forth.

Our own rcade is, indeed, arguing for a loss of admin privileges. The major obstacle is that a procedure for de-adminship has never been agreed upon (although many admins agree there should be one); the only route is an Arbitration Committee case, and those take forever (typically a month), and it's unclear they would accept the case regardless.

So, you can't say that talking about this is verboten. In fact I predict that there will be a very strong, but ultimately unsuccesful, attempt to remove EssJay procedurally -- but the outcry might be so severe that Wales and Jordan agree he should be voluntarily taken off the admin roster on the English Wikipedia (or all Wikipedias). EssJay has actually resigned as a bureaucrat once before. You heard it here first.

Personally, I'm moving closer to the Rcade position as a result of seeing what Cyde, Kelly Martin, and so on are turning up. That he has actually explicitly used those credentials in debates is much more troubling than just puffing his ego with them.

Which brings me to:
I have no interest in becoming a regular Wiki editor and all of the ego games that seem to come with that.

Ironically, I find that the vast majority of edits are made by anonymous IP addresses. Not much ego there. The majority of the ego trips are by editors who end up being short-timers because they can't (literally) hack the culture. You sort of get used to watching this little firework arc past you.

But I allow that it's hard to see that unless you edit frequently.
posted by dhartung at 11:13 PM on March 1, 2007


All this breathless outrage over lying is really getting old. From James Frey to now this little tempest in a teapot involving a damn website, everytime somebody is caught lying everybody and their grandmother takes the opportunity to climb up on their soapbox, wring their hands and declare that 'lying is just so terrible! He's a bad, bad, bad man!' Of course the ensuing witchunt is never as satisfying enough. No matter how many people you destroy for lying, no matter how many witches get burned, there's always more out there. And then there are big ones (like, say, the President) who you'll never catch. The end result is just more and more anxiety. I wonder how long it'll be before people are conditioned to accept this sort of deception as normal in the same way everybody's been trained to accept omnipresent advertising and surveillence. If people can voluntarily surrender their social and private spaces then they can surely outgrow the simplistic true/false dichotomy when it comes to interpersonal communication.
posted by nixerman at 11:25 PM on March 1, 2007


So I should trust some random person on Wikipedia who claims to be a theoretical physicist rather than, say, a publication like Nature. Got it.
I was explaining, as I was asked to, how you can have trustworthy accuracy without verifiability, not whether this would satisfy Wikipedia's arcane requirements. After all, even information with a quoted source could have been amended two seconds before you see it and corrected two seconds afterwards.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 12:27 AM on March 2, 2007


Wikipedia users are assumed to have primary control over the content on their user pages -- they are not articles.

I ran into an administrator who not only vandalized my user page repeatedly, but had the help of one of his friends. You'd think he would be familiar with this concept, but it took arbitration to finally get him to knock it off. He's still at large.

I predict that there will be a very strong, but ultimately unsuccesful, attempt to remove EssJay procedurally

And that's the problem: the cabal will protect its own, as insular communities are wont to do.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:08 AM on March 2, 2007


That community talk page is disturbing. There are so many rationalization's for Essjay's behavior along the lines of "I totally understand what he was doing and it doesn't really bother me."

One member even suggested blocking rcade for causing such a ruckus.
posted by chlorus at 5:47 AM on March 2, 2007


Jason Scott's take on this.
Now might be a good time to repeat what I said here. And revisit the issue of whether Wikipedia links belong on Metafilter.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:38 AM on March 2, 2007


The community straw poll.
posted by CRM114 at 6:59 AM on March 2, 2007


I'm moving closer to the Rcade position

Moving closer, dhartung? I'm curious; do you mean his position on EssJay or Wales? (Or Wikipedia itself?) The evidence that EssJay "has actually explicitly used those credentials in debates" is right there in front of us, so is it safe to assume you feel he should lose admin privileges? Not giving you a hard time just to do it, just honestly curious what it is that's keeping you from arriving at (rather than "moving closer" to) the conclusion that EssJay has abused his position enough to be removed from power and that Wales has his had head up his ass on this one from the start.
posted by mediareport at 7:40 AM on March 2, 2007


And revisit the issue of whether Wikipedia links belong on Metafilter.

Let's not. You can't ban a site like Wikipedia, and it's stupid to even suggest it.
posted by mediareport at 7:45 AM on March 2, 2007


Thanks for that Scott link, Saucy Intruder. This was particularly intriguing:
But the best part, to me, is that I think he's still in the middle of a lie. This is critical: I don't believe for a second that Ryan Jordan is what or who he says he is. He still has made no public appearance at a Wikimania conference, he has made statements about working at a Fortune 20 company that don't add up, and there is some question as to what his real age and location is. A reasonable person would say "Surely, he can't still be lying about this sort of stuff, with all this attention, all this going on." And like I pointed out above, the Liar Spasms take a long time to die. I think we're nowhere near the end of that.
Pass the popcorn!

But like mediareport said, the idea of banning Wikipedia links is just silly. We all know its good and bad points; the fact that a prominent member of the WikiCabal turns out to be a lying liar doesn't change anything, it just provides entertainment for the onlookers.
posted by languagehat at 7:58 AM on March 2, 2007


We all know its good and bad points

Do we? All the time, I see people cite to it as THE authoritative source. I don't see anyone linking to the edit history to make sure that everyone who contributed to the article is who they say it is. When that happened in the New York Times, it was a national scandal and resulted in the firing of the senior editors.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:01 AM on March 2, 2007


Hey, Dr. GiantDong, Phd. didn't vandalize anything that wasn't already defaced with filthy fabrications and loathsome lies.

At least, that's what he told me.

posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:02 AM on March 2, 2007


mediareport: I don't have a simple answer. There's a line from the straw poll that goes, One's activities as an admin should be the standard by which one's adminship is judged, as a rule, and in principle, I agree with that.

I don't even think that using his credentials in debates is a horrible problem. The fact is we let 100% anonymous IP addresses have a role in debates, and to change articles, and the overriding principle should be the attributability of what is in the article, not someone's "professional opinion". (So you could in fact say that while I recognize and respect his position, I do not agree with ikkyu2.) But the structure of Wikipedia is such -- at least in the ideal case -- that despite the sturm und drang, it shouldn't matter whether he said he was a stockboy or a Senator or a surrealist painter. All that said, it pokes an enormous hole through the ability of myself or anyone to assume good faith on Essjay's part.

Clearly, Essjay's actions jeopardize the good faith of the public in Wikipedia. To wit, Jason Scott's gameplayer point of view. (Are there admins with sockpuppets? Yes. Most or all of them? No. I can't believe it.) But then, there have been people who believed this all along. What Scott says about Wales and Wikipedia does not match up with what I'm seeing internally -- there are plenty of the "gang" who are upset in one way or another. What he says about the "liar spasm" is probably right, though.

I expected something like the straw poll but I'm going to have to ponder my individual answers.

All the time, I see people cite to it as THE authoritative source.

They should not do that. Wikipedia rests on its citations, not on its authority. They are misrepresenting what Wikipedia is, or even can be.
posted by dhartung at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2007


Do we? All the time, I see people cite to it as THE authoritative source.

By "we" I mean "we here on MeFi." We are not responsible, nor should we be concerned about, the idiotic citation habits practiced elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with linking to a Wikipedia article in a MeFi post or thread. Essjay's lies did not magically degrade every article on the site. It is what it is, tremendously useful and distressingly flawed. Much like humanity itself.
posted by languagehat at 11:01 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


languagehat wrote: It is what it is, tremendously useful and distressingly flawed. Much like humanity itself.

Very true.
posted by bhouston at 3:57 PM on March 2, 2007


Breaking: Jimbo Wales asks Essjay to resign.
posted by dhartung at 11:03 PM on March 2, 2007


For reference:
I have blanked my entire talk page to make sure this statement gets adequate attention. Hopefully someone more clueful than me :-) can archive things properly.

I have been for several days in a remote part of India with little or no Internet access. I only learned this morning that EssJay used his false credentials in content disputes. I understood this to be primarily the matter of a pseudonymous identity (something very mild and completely understandable given the personal dangers possible on the Internet) and not a matter of violation of people's trust. I want to make it perfectly clear that my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on. Even now, I have not been able to check diffs, etc.


I have asked EssJay to resign his positions of trust within the community. In terms of the full parameters of what happens next, I advise (as usual) that we take a calm, loving, and reasonable approach. From the moment this whole thing became known, EssJay has been contrite and apologetic. People who characterize him as being "proud" of it or "bragging" are badly mistaken.

On a personal level, EssJay has apologized to me, and I have accepted his apology on a personal level, and I think this is the right thing to do. If anyone else feels that they need or want a personal apology, please ask him for it. And if you find it to be sincere, then I hope you will accept it too, but each person must make their own judgments. Despite my personal forgiveness, I hope that he will accept my resignation request, because forgiveness or not, these positions are not appropriate for him now.

I still have limited net access... for a couple of hours here I will be online, and then I am offline until I am in Japan tomorrow morning. I beleive I will have a fast and stable Internet connection at that time, and I will deal with this further at that time.

Wikipedia is built on (among other things) twin pillars of trust and tolerance. The integrity of the project depends on the core community being passionate about quality and integrity, so that we can trust each other. The harmony of our work depends on human understanding and forgiveness of errors.

--[[User:Jimbo Wales|Jimbo Wales]] 06:42, 3 March 2007 (UTC)
posted by tkolar at 11:44 PM on March 2, 2007


My comment on it:


King Jimbo valiantly cuts himself loose from a sinking ship and denies all knowledge of wrongdoing.

At this point, I'm rooting for EssJay to tell him to stuff it, just to see how much authority Jimbo actually has.
posted by tkolar at 11:47 PM on March 2, 2007


Essjay has retired, resigning from all his posts admin on up, and asking for most of his userspace to be deleted. Sorry, tkolar!

On the Request for Comment (previously a straw poll, changed for procedural reasons), I raised the question for Jimbo of how he couldn't have suspected a pattern of behavior knowing the front that Essjay put up. I said, My experience with professional liars is that they do not lie in just one or two things, but are truthful in all others; no, they lie all the time, and they lie about everything.

I was, therefore, unsurprised to find that he was lying to the very end -- falsely claiming that Stacy Schiff, who has won a Pulitzer Prize, offered to pay him for an interview. Apparently the motivation was merely to show what a great and humble guy he was, but he didn't even have a clue that this was a serious, serious charge.
posted by dhartung at 10:38 PM on March 3, 2007


Kelly Martin (major early Wikipedian) has the best summation of what weaknesses Wikipedia must address in the wake of all this. Martin quoted this thread in a prior post, so Hi!

Martin also reports that Essjay is no longer working for Wikia, either.

The thing this incident has done for me is, for the first, time, to fully read something on Daniel Brandt's site, Wikipedia Review. The thread there is chortling over their win and contemplating their next target. They're just as caught up in their own game as they say that Essjay was, alas.
posted by dhartung at 10:58 PM on March 3, 2007


The thing this incident has done for me is, for the first, time, to fully read something on Daniel Brandt's site, Wikipedia Review. The thread there is chortling over their win and contemplating their next target. They're just as caught up in their own game as they say that Essjay was, alas.

This is the big problem with humans. They're so . . . human.
posted by tkolar at 11:42 PM on March 3, 2007


Follow-ups: The Wikipedia Signpost story, with a pun headline (and rcade is mentioned), and the New York Times story.

Signpost noted the "compensation" claim, although the NYT did not. Interestingly, Andrew Lih thinks that the New Yorker was surprisingly lax in its response.
posted by dhartung at 10:22 PM on March 5, 2007


Thanks for posting these followups, dhartung. Much appreciated.
posted by languagehat at 5:42 AM on March 6, 2007


I stand vindicated in my total disdain for the Wikipedia project, which has been a fountain of misinformation, lies, and half truths on so many subjects it's scary. Now we know one reason why. How many other liars are claiming "expertise" on the site?

The internet is crawling with people who claim false credentials, especially PhDs. This guy is typical. Wikipedia is typical. I give it 5 years before utter irrelevance.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:59 AM on March 6, 2007


You shouldn't be allowed to cite Wikipedia. You shouldn't be allowed to cite World Book or Britannica, either. Any professor who would allow citations of the latter and not the former is not one you want to be working with, because they clearly don't understand the basics of research if they do this.

It depends. In grade school, a properly checked and edited encyclopedia is fine source. I wrote a project on Koalas in grade three based on World Book 1985 (which was pretty up to date at the time). I did know better than to use the 1967 Encyclopedia Brittanica I had at home for my astronomy project.

I have even used encyclopedias in graduate school, but they were academic and very specialised encyclopedias (there is a really important one for medieval history - I'm blanking on the name) where all of the articles are by named authors and include citations. They are standard reference texts.

But what all pupils and students need to learn is why an edited encyclopedia is acceptable (paper or electronic), while Wikipedia is not, and which are acceptable for what level of schooling, and that what is appropriate for Grade three is not acceptable in university. It's not a simple cut and dry issue; it's about teaching judgement and critical skills.

That said, Wikipedia is an amazing source for popular knowledge and culture, and for casual knowledge. I use Wikipedia all the time to learn more about other countries, bits of history and geography which are both uncontroversial and unrelated to my study, to work out the crazy plot intricacies of MZB's Darkover series...

I just wish that wikipedia would stop shooting itself in the foot with its arrogance towards the contributers who actually write articles, rather than kibbutz on the site all day, and with their delete happy "it's not notable" policies to any interesting pages which aren't on geek topics.
posted by jb at 1:58 PM on March 6, 2007


So who wants to take bets on what Essjay's next identity will be? Will he create an alter to slip back into Wikipedia as an ex-Special Forces explosives specialist or will he find another community to shower appreciation on him for his imaginary accomplishments? Everything about how he handled the scandal just screams "repeat offender" to me.
posted by scalefree at 9:13 PM on March 6, 2007


Update: Wikipedia to seek proof of credentials.
posted by gwint at 8:00 AM on March 9, 2007


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