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Wikipedia/Essjay/‘New Yorker’ updates
March 17, 2007 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Wikipedia/Essjay/‘New Yorker’ updates The New Yorker denies ever offering to pay the expenses of “Essjay” (“Ryan Jordan”), the Wikipedia administrator with the fraudulent credentials. The Wikipedia Weekly podcast, Episode 14 (not transcribed yet), at about 12:30, reports:
I actually did correspond with the deputy editor of the New Yorker... and I asked them specifically: Did Miss Schiff ever ask Essjay for his real full name during the course of reporting? [...] They came out with this, which I don’t think has been published anywhere yet...: “I think that between our Editors’ Note and the Times story, it’s clear what happened. The only thing that hasn’t come up before is the question of expenses. So, for the record, Stacy Schiff never offered to reimburse Essjay for his telephone expenses or anything else. [And] Essjay did tell her that if she wanted to cover them, she could send a cheque to the Wikipedia Foundation, which she did not.”
posted by joeclark (35 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also, Wikipedia leader Jimbo Wales has a letter of apology in the current issue (2007.03.19; not online, but Sethf has a posting that includes it it), stating:
I am writing to apologize to the New Yorker and Stacy Schiff, and to give some followup concerning Ryan Jordan.... When I last spoke to the New Yorker... I misjudged the issue. It was not OK for Mr. Jordan, or Essjay, to lie to a reporter, even to protect his identity. I later learned more about the deceptions involved and asked Mr. Jordan to resign from his positions of responsibility at Wikipedia. He has since resigned from his position at Wikia as well. Mr. Jordan is a wonderful and thoughtful young man who made a series of very bad judgements. I consider him a friend, and I hope that the world will allow him to move forward in peach and dignity to regain his honour through a life well lived. Wikipedia is built on trust and love. Our trust has been broken, and only love can rebuild it. The community has begun discussing a proposal of mine that we adopt some verification measures for claimed credentials, so that Wikipedia may further improve from this painful experience.
(What I wonder is: If Jimbo knew Jordan is “a wonderful and thoughtful young man” and Jordan is “a friend,” doesn’t that mean Jimbo either met him, talked to him on the phone, or had enough knowledge to reasonably know he wasn’t a university professor with multiple degrees?)
posted by joeclark at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2007


The what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it issue with Jimbo is complicated. He certainly knew Essjay was not a tenured professor when he (Essjay) was hired by Wikia. All parties agree on this. But that was some time after the _New Yorker_ article.

I don't think anybody can prove Jimbo knew earlier - his defense is essentially the "busy man" argument, that he simply didn't pay much attention to such details. Some critics don't believe him, some supporters do, the truth looks like it's impossible to determine.
posted by Seth Finkelstein at 12:22 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Built on love.
posted by pruner at 12:34 PM on March 17, 2007


His defense is essentially the "busy man" argument...

But it's clear that Wales has said time and time again that he doesn't really care if some anonymous dog or whatever poses as a "subject matter expert" on Wikipedia. In fact, according to Wales, that's the entire point, and what makes Wikipedia better than Britannica. So it could be argued that Wales should be held accountable for this debacle. I vote his admin privileges be revoked for, like, a week, or something.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:41 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jimmy Wales stepped in it, deep. And he's been trying to dig himself out since. I know my personal opinion of Wikipedia and Wales in particular has been knocked down multiple notches, not that he cares in the least.

But I hate being lied to and Jimmy Wales has been lying about what he knew and when.
posted by fenriq at 12:45 PM on March 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Situational Ethics: built on love
posted by Falconetti at 12:50 PM on March 17, 2007


Just asking: what actually is new since the end of our last thread? Other than that they still had an episode of a podcast to prepare?

What I wonder is: If Jimbo knew Jordan is “a wonderful and thoughtful young man” and Jordan is “a friend,” doesn’t that mean Jimbo either met him, talked to him on the phone, or had enough knowledge to reasonably know he wasn’t a university professor with multiple degrees?

Joeclark, we already know that Jimbo had him revise his biography before it was posted on the Wikia website. That's how people found out about it. Do try to keep up.
posted by dhartung at 1:20 PM on March 17, 2007


DHartung, pleasure as ever. It’s called additional evidence. And I looked at the last thread and thought the weight of the two items warranted a new post. And! I! guess! you! disagree!
posted by joeclark at 1:41 PM on March 17, 2007


Lets all stop giving this guy attention. Instead, lets focus on making Wikipedia accurate.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:53 PM on March 17, 2007


or inaccurate!
posted by srboisvert at 1:55 PM on March 17, 2007


Well, that may have been a bit caustic. But Wikipedia's own article has a timeline. Suffice to say that Jimbo certainly knew that Essjay was no theologian long before anyone else did, including Daniel Brandt, who was how the New Yorker found out.

For one current response by the community, there is the essay Credentials are irrelevant, as well as Ignore all credentials. (These are not official policy, but they represent views within the community.) Long-since-rejected (pre-controversy) are Administrator accountability and even Admin recall. Some of these issues overlap with those at perennial proposals (i.e. that never get off the ground).

I haven't seen a proposal yet that would really address the crux of the Essjay problem, though, which was basically the non-negotiable god-king powers of Wales. He appointed Essjay out of process to the Arbitration Committee (basically the topmost level of administrator oversight) and left the community vulnerable to this embarassment. It violates the more-eyes-are-better principle that makes Wikipedia great.
posted by dhartung at 2:09 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


My theory is that Jimmy Wales is himself a wiki. Some random part of his brain might come up with some nonsense about Essjay having done nothing wrong, but that doesn't matter, because sooner or later another part of his brain will be along to correct it. Studies show that in general, over a period of time, Jimmy Wales is roughly as accurate as more traditional kinds of people.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:11 PM on March 17, 2007 [11 favorites]


I consider him a friend, and I hope that the world will allow him to move forward in peach and dignity to regain his honour through a life well lived.

Mmmm... Peach and dignity. Sounds delicious!
posted by delmoi at 2:34 PM on March 17, 2007


Die, Deleteapedia, Die!
posted by BeerFilter at 2:57 PM on March 17, 2007


So I'm going to put it down here once and for all: I don't see what's so terrible about Wikipedia.

Not to single out BeerFilter, but his/her sentiment almost inevitably arises when Wikipedia is brought up. Is it the petty editorial power which feels, when applied at internet speed, like tyranny? Is it the opaque credentials on sources (less opaque than, say, Britannica, but still opaque). Is it the fear of the dictionary-pounding pundit class? What?

None of these would seem to justify the "something has got to be wrong with that place!" angst.

Seriously, I'm trying to understand the... gleeful disdain.

/derail
posted by abulafa at 3:07 PM on March 17, 2007


I get my "something has got to be wrong with that place" angst from the steady stream of things that are revealed to be wrong with it. I'm weird that way.
posted by rcade at 3:28 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seriously, I'm trying to understand the... gleeful disdain.

It's just that there's something wrong with Jimmy Wales. He's creepy. Is it because he lives in Florida and calls himself Jimmy? I don't know, but somehow I suspect he lives the life of a furvert or something (come on, it's not as if I'm accusing him of being an Internet pornographer and then lying about his past, or anything), and I resent the fact that a creep like him acts like Wikipedia is the best thing since gopher or archie or something. That, and he's a manipulative, lying, two-faced scumbag.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:40 PM on March 17, 2007


He appointed Essjay out of process to the Arbitration Committee

Bingo. Until Wales comes forward to say he was wrong to do *that*, and is setting up checks to make certain no one can ever do it again, anything else he says about what he knew and when he knew it doesn't matter (to me). The issue Wikipedia's harshest critics say is at the core remains: Wales' hypocritical, arbitrary, undemocratic decision-making. And I bet that's not gonna go away any time soon.
posted by mediareport at 5:09 PM on March 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Disclaimer: I'm occasionally known as a Wikipedia Critic.

I think that in terms of "gleeful disdain" and the "let's get back to work" stuff, I encounter a lot of the "why do you have to focus on the negatives" discussion whenever Wikipedia criticism occurs. So, I like to compare it to its natural real-life counterpart: Louisiana and New Orleans.

It is possible to visit New Orleans and Louisiana and have a really great time. Less so than before the flood, perhaps, but still, pretty damn great. For Mardis Gras, you can have one of the finest good times anywhere. And the food! And the culture and music!

However, Louisiana is corrupt. So corrupt it's just accepted it's corrupt, like it's accepted that Florida has lots of old people and Seattle is constantly raining. It's just the way things are, and people accept that, even when the corruptness of the police force was yet another nail in the coffin of the Flood as they abandoned posts in droves and in a few cases committed suicide.

This would all be fine, as long as nobody is turning around and saying we should use the Louisiana model to refashion government and law enforcement.

Wikipedia is being held up, more and more, as a "model" by which to do things, and people are using it more and more as a reference, even fully aware of the flaws. Stories like the Essjay Scandal help to maybe remind people just how shaky that foundation is.

Thanks for the update, joeclark.
posted by jscott at 5:11 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


...oh and can someone fix my poor spelling of "Mardi Gras"? :)
posted by jscott at 5:13 PM on March 17, 2007


*Marty Grass*


fixed that for you, jscott.
posted by strontiumdog at 5:53 PM on March 17, 2007


If you want to understand in a nutshell what's wrong with wikipedia, read these prayers that Essay "jokingly" composed to honor Jimmy Wales.
We believe in one Jimbo,
the Father, the Almighty,
ruler of Meta and Wikipedia,
of all that is made, deleted and undeleted.
Or,
Glory to Jimbo in the highest
and peace to his editors on Wikipedia.

Lord Jimbo, Meta's King,
almighty Director and Founder,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Administrators,
many children of the Founder,
Lord Sysops, Lambs of Jimbo,
you roll back the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
Or,
May Almighty Jimbo have mercy on us, forgive us our WikiSins, and bring us to a neutral point of view.

Jimbo, have mercy,
Admins, have mercy,
Jimbo, have mercy.
Sure, it's a joke, but it's relevatory of how this "encyclopedia" is a cult of personality surrounding Wales.

Wikipedia (as others have noted) functions as a never-ending D&D game that allows people with few real world accomplishments to grant each other ranks ("Arbcom") , titles ("Administrator"), honors (the ubiquitous "Barnstars"), and power (the ability to slant controversial articles and ban users who won't buy into the game), less for actually summarizing knowledge than for crusades against the "trolls" which provide Jimmy's faux nation-state its dragons and Emmanual Goldensteins to slay.

All of which would be fine in a D&D game, or a Multi-User Dungeon. But Wikipedia claims to be much more than a game; if it wants to be treated as seriously as it pretends to be, it can't continue to be a personality cult centered around Wales and his gang of young, impressionable kids playing at "writing an encyclopedia" while stroking eaach others' egos and supporting each others' factual errors, misconceptions and outright fantasies.

No, Catholicism for Dummies, the text Essjay used to to pretend to be a professor, is not an adequate basis for an encyclopedia. No, Wales's attempts to minimize this embarrassment -- and more importantly his role in elevating Essjay to several top jobs on Wikipedia --, by making vague statements about love and by advocating deleting any reference to it on Wikipedia, don't measure up to the requirements of real oversight of a real encyclopedia.

Essjay is only the latest Jayson Blair that Wales has made an "authority" on wikipedia. If Wales seriously cares about his encyclopedia that he's gotten a myriad of others to write for him, he needs to reevaluate whether his continued leadership is actually good for the project.posted by orthogonality at 7:57 PM on March 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia (as others have noted) functions as a never-ending D&D game that allows people with few real world accomplishments to grant each other ranks, titles, honors, and power ... less for actually summarizing knowledge than for crusades against the "trolls"

See, I get it, but I don't see that as something unique to Wikipedia. You could say much the same about the culture of many non-profits, or academia, or politics. My personal encounters with other editors don't bear this view out; it is largely held by people who have had brief, unhappy experiences with the place for one reason or another.

There is doubtless a social component -- Lord knows I've never received a barnstar in two years, though I have gotten numerous compliments -- and that plays into, alas, some important things like Admin or Arbcom elections. Ultimately, though, that just shows that Wikipedia is, as they say, made of humans.

No, Catholicism for Dummies, the text Essjay used to to pretend to be a professor, is not an adequate basis for an encyclopedia.

Perhaps, but so far as anyone has determined, Essjay never cited it as a source, either -- he just used it to appear more learned in a very few discussions. That bit doesn't concern me. I'd rather not have editors go to the New Yorker and pretend to be professors, and in general I'd rather not have editors haul out the parchment to win debates. But most editing is done without reference to editorial credentials, and that's the way it should be.
posted by dhartung at 8:43 PM on March 17, 2007


...as far as anyone has determined, Essjay never cited [Catholicism for Dummies] as a source...

From this discussion on Wikipedia...

"I offer as my reference the text "Catholicism for Dummies" by Trigilio (Ph.D./Th.D.) and Brighenti (Ph.D.). The text offers a Nihil Obstat from the Rev. Daniel J. Mahan, STB, STL, Censor Librorum, and an Imprimatur from the Rev. Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, Vicar General. This is a text I often require for my students, and I would hang my own Ph.D. on it's credibility."
posted by jscott at 9:59 PM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pay no attention to the Jimmy Wales behind the curtain. Jimmy Wales calls linking to his own words stalking, and throws his own birthdate down the memory hole.
posted by orthogonality at 10:32 PM on March 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


Jesus, the guy's crazy. Thanks for that last bit, orthogonality.
posted by mediareport at 7:01 AM on March 18, 2007


dhartung writes "Well, that may have been a bit caustic. But Wikipedia's own article has a timeline. Suffice to say that Jimbo certainly knew that Essjay was no theologian long before anyone else did, including Daniel Brandt, who was how the New Yorker found out."

Well, so says Wikipedia. The problem is that Wikipedia, Essjay and Jimbo himself all keep on proving themselves to be utterly unreliable as a source of accurate information.

I mean, if Jimbo can't keep his own birthday straight, why should we believe his claims to have known about this before Wikipedia arch-nemesis Daniel Brandt?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:12 AM on March 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


jscott writes "'I offer as my reference the text 'Catholicism for Dummies' by Trigilio (Ph.D./Th.D.) and Brighenti (Ph.D.). The text offers a Nihil Obstat from the Rev. Daniel J. Mahan, STB, STL, Censor Librorum, and an Imprimatur from the Rev. Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, Vicar General. This is a text I often require for my students, and I would hang my own Ph.D. on it's credibility.'"

As a matter of interest, does anyone know if US universities are generally in the habit of using books from the '...for Dummies' series as academic textbooks?

Credible though the contents may be, the few that I've ever seen would be regarded as too simplistic for secondary school students, let alone those in tertiary education.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:23 AM on March 18, 2007


jscott: When I say he "never cited it as a source", I mean that he never put Catholicism for Dummies down as a source for a citation within an article. I don't care what he said conversationally. In any event, it is a published source and thus valid for attribution, even if an editor should be a bit embarrassed to use a "for Dummies" text in that way.
posted by dhartung at 10:58 AM on March 18, 2007


dhartung writes "When I say he 'never cited it as a source', I mean that he never put Catholicism for Dummies down as a source for a citation within an article. I don't care what he said conversationally. In "

dhartung, that's because this was before Wikipedia routinely used citations. Essjay sites it to shut down argument against his version of the Imprimatur article. Essjay wins an argumant about the difference between "nihil obstat" and "imprimatur", even though Essjay's definitions go against the plain language of the Latin terms, because Essjay is a "canon lawyer" and he references Catholicism for Dummies.

Here is cannon lawyer Essjay's definitions:
(Nihil obstat is a separate distinction granted by a Roman Catholic censor; imprimatur can be granted by any bishop. While the imprimatur certifies there is no moral or doctrinal error, the nihil obstat is an express permission from the censor for the text to be printed.)
Here is what's in the article today:
* Nihil obstat (Latin, meaning "nothing hinders") -- This stamp indicates that the work has been examined and approved by the censor of the diocese, and that he finds it free of doctrinal or moral error. The censor is often a scholarly priest appointed by the bishop, and it is his task to work back-and-forth with the author of the work to correct any inaccuracies or problems.

* Imprimatur (Latin, meaning "let it be printed") -- Finally, this stamp indicates that the work has been approved for printing by the bishop of the diocese, or other ecclesiastical authority.
This is a sterling example of Pope's warning against a little knowledge, and is what happens when an enthusiastic amateur gets to dictate the direction of articles; note also that EssJay's version, in addition to being simply wrong, is written far less clearly: "X is something; Y can be something else. While Y certifies..., X is ...." Again, even a little high school Latin suggests that EssJay has the definitions exactly backward, but the right answer, given by another wikpedia user, gets overturned by Essjay's "authority". (But talk to ikkyu2 for an even better example).

It's almost three months later before someone notices that Wikipedia has been peddling the wrong definition. This time, Essjay after "consulting with the Curia" (! LOL !) admits he was wrong. The corrector, possibly in deference to EssJay's "authority" blames Catholicism for Dummies for being unclear.
posted by orthogonality at 3:16 PM on March 18, 2007


Er, cites it.
posted by orthogonality at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2007


But...but...Essjay's edits were good! They were *good*!
posted by mediareport at 5:16 PM on March 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


mediareport writes "But...but...Essjay's edits were good! They were *good*!"

And, and, he's got a whole website of his own dedicated to fighting vandals. And if he leaves wikipedia, the vandals and trolls will win! Clearly fighting trolls who criticize God-king Jimbo trumps actually writing an accurate encyclopedia!
posted by orthogonality at 6:57 PM on March 18, 2007


the Britannica guys must be pissing their pants with laughter every time someone mentions wikipedia, and rightly so
posted by matteo at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2007


Can someone find an actual reference that states that one of Wikipedia’s founding principles is “love”? Or is that some kind of Walesian Randian Objectivist post-facto twaddle?

(I think the claim that Wikipedia is “built on trust” is false on its face, so let’s not bother.)
posted by joeclark at 11:20 AM on March 19, 2007


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