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Fake professor in Wikipedia storm

BBC News

3/6/2007

Internet site Wikipedia has been hit by controversy after the disclosure that a prominent editor had assumed a false identity complete with fake PhD.

The editor, known as Essjay, had described himself as a professor of religion at a private university.

But he was in fact Ryan Jordan, 24, a college student from Kentucky who used texts such as Catholicism for Dummies to help him work.

He has retired from the site and his authority to edit has been cancelled.

Wikipedia is a collaborative encyclopaedia open to all, written by volunteers from around the world.

'Trust and tolerance'

Under the name Essjay, Mr Jordan edited articles and also had the authority to arbitrate disputes between authors and remove site vandalism.

In his user profile, he said he taught both undergraduate and graduate theology, and in an interview with the New Yorker in July 2006, was described as a "tenured professor of religion".

His real identity came to light last week when the magazine added an editorial note to the piece highlighting the deception.

"At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay's real name," the note said.

Essjay told them he hid his identity because "he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online", the newspaper's note said.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, writing on the site on 3 March, said that Mr Jordan was apologetic, but that Wikipedia was "based on twin pillars of trust and tolerance".

"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," he wrote.

And in a post the next day, Mr Jordan announced his retirement from the site.

"I hope others will refocus the energy they have spent the past few days in defending and denouncing me to make something here at Wikipedia better," he said.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/americas/6423659.stm

Published: 2007/03/06 14:39:15 GMT

------------

Wikipedia founder takes on Google

By Matt Wells

BBC News, New York

3/7/2006

Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has helped transform the way people use the net to seek out information and now the founder Jimmy Wales is hoping to do the same in the search field.

The bearded and softly-spoken founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, describes himself as "pathologically optimistic".

Bearing in mind that he recently revealed the development of a new "open source" search engine to compete for eyeballs with the mighty Google, he is going to need every ounce of optimism he can get.

"

Search has become a fundamental part of the infrastructure of society," said the 40-year-old, talking to a group of mainly media professionals at a recent event in downtown Manhattan, organised by The Glasshouse, a trans-Atlantic entrepreneurs' support group.

"The way that things are sorted and ranked and presented to us, really does shape our view of the world.

"I think it is important that we say, there really should be an alternative that is completely open and transparent," he added, before going on to criticise the culture of secrecy surrounding the cloistered algorithms of the leading search empires.

There is a paradox surrounding Wales's position in the first-rank of internet movers and shakers, which he freely acknowledges.

The Wiki boss has often said that his free, not-for-profit online encyclopaedia - that now gets seven billion page views each month with in-excess of five million multiple-language entries - was either the "smartest thing, or the dumbest thing that I ever did".

Extraordinary statistic

The total number of Wikipedia employees is five; an extraordinary statistic when you consider that it is the 10th most visited site in the world.

He told a wry anecdote about being offered a recent ride in the Google jet as the online superstars converged on the World Economic Forum in Davos - since at this point, there is no Wiki-jet.

But his cultural-hero status as the man who aims to bundle all the world's knowledge together and give it away free, is formidable.

The new "transparent" search venture is in its early infancy, and also a project that is being shepherded by the very much for-profit sister company of Wikipedia, Wikia.

His idea is to Wiki-fy the process of internet search, so that human beings decide openly how to rank and organise information, not the huge private servers of Google and Yahoo.

In an online message at the end of the year, Wales labelled the project "Search Wikia" and referred to it as an attempt to create "the search engine that changes everything".

'People powered'

He went on to ask for volunteers to step forward in the name of "people-powered" search, to help move the project forward. There was no mention of any possible profit-sharing.

Far from seeking to confront Google in conventional business terms, Wales - ever the optimist - believes that there may be ways of working with what he calls the "second tier search players" on the web.

"(Google) have hired all the geniuses... they're saying, 'gee, if this alternative could succeed, and make good quality search results a commodity, then we can compete on other things... on vertical search, on brand, on user-interface'."

His philosophical approach to challenging Google, has drawn some criticism inside the blogosphere.

The web veteran Dave Taylor, who writes The Intuitive Life Business Blog, wrote a sceptical post, questioning Wales's ability to influence the search market on any level.

"My belief - based on talking to thousands of internet users - is that the only time someone switches search engines is when their current system begins to fail them," he wrote.

"Far from being able to steal market-share from Google, the reality will be that it will be only if Google fails to produce good search results that another firm will even have a ghost of a chance of succeeding."

Wales describes his politics as "libertarian with a small l" and having become used to travelling the world to meet Wikipedia's amateur army of administrators and contributors, he says he no longer cares who wins the next presidential election in the US.

'Open societies'

"Within the broad framework of open societies, of liberal democracies, things aren't so horrible, right?"

He added: "There are horrible places in the world - these are much more important - corruption in Africa, and things like that."

Wikipedia's idealism, that some would argue is essentially flawed in that verifiability and not "objective" truthfulness is the standard by which entries are judged, has been heavily lampooned on American television in the last few months, by the satirist Stephen Colbert.

In his persona as a polemical and bombastic news anchorman, Colbert lampooned the idea of allowing enthusiasts to form a consensus amongst themselves on what is fact, or not, coining the word "Wikiality".

It has become a running joke, and the site's administrators have intervened to stop some of the show's fans from altering entries.

Unphased

Wales himself is unfazed by how easy it is for unregistered readers to make instant changes on Wikipedia - sometimes for the good, but often out of mischief.

Constant upheaval and occasional "vandalism" of the site, is a price worth paying, he believes.

"If you have a web environment where the software assumes everyone's going to do something bad, and where the community isn't given the tools to make corrections... you actually encourage hostile behaviours."

He is convinced that Wikipedia's success is down to simple software and mutual respect, combined with the minimum amount of censorship and policing possible.

Ultimately however, some wonder whether the collectivist world of Wiki, might not become more and more untrustworthy and cultish as the web expands. It is a danger that Wales himself seems to be aware of.

Speaking at the University of Pennsylvania in June last year, he reportedly said that Wikipedia should not be used by college students to conduct serious research, and if students continue to believe in the objectivity of Wikipedia, they only have themselves to blame.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/technology/6335793.stm

Published: 2007/02/07 02:38:42 GMT

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Fake professor in Wikipedia storm

BBC News

3/6/2007

Internet site Wikipedia has been hit by controversy after the disclosure that a prominent editor had assumed a false identity complete with fake PhD.

The editor, known as Essjay, had described himself as a professor of religion at a private university.

But he was in fact Ryan Jordan, 24, a college student from Kentucky who used texts such as Catholicism for Dummies to help him work.

He has retired from the site and his authority to edit has been cancelled.

Wikipedia is a collaborative encyclopaedia open to all, written by volunteers from around the world.

'Trust and tolerance'

Under the name Essjay, Mr Jordan edited articles and also had the authority to arbitrate disputes between authors and remove site vandalism.

In his user profile, he said he taught both undergraduate and graduate theology, and in an interview with the New Yorker in July 2006, was described as a "tenured professor of religion".

His real identity came to light last week when the magazine added an editorial note to the piece highlighting the deception.

"At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay's real name," the note said.

Essjay told them he hid his identity because "he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online", the newspaper's note said.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, writing on the site on 3 March, said that Mr Jordan was apologetic, but that Wikipedia was "based on twin pillars of trust and tolerance".

"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," he wrote.

And in a post the next day, Mr Jordan announced his retirement from the site.

"I hope others will refocus the energy they have spent the past few days in defending and denouncing me to make something here at Wikipedia better," he said.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/americas/6423659.stm

Published: 2007/03/06 14:39:15 GMT

------------

Wikipedia founder takes on Google

By Matt Wells

BBC News, New York

3/7/2006

Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has helped transform the way people use the net to seek out information and now the founder Jimmy Wales is hoping to do the same in the search field.

The bearded and softly-spoken founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, describes himself as "pathologically optimistic".

Bearing in mind that he recently revealed the development of a new "open source" search engine to compete for eyeballs with the mighty Google, he is going to need every ounce of optimism he can get.

"

Search has become a fundamental part of the infrastructure of society," said the 40-year-old, talking to a group of mainly media professionals at a recent event in downtown Manhattan, organised by The Glasshouse, a trans-Atlantic entrepreneurs' support group.

"The way that things are sorted and ranked and presented to us, really does shape our view of the world.

"I think it is important that we say, there really should be an alternative that is completely open and transparent," he added, before going on to criticise the culture of secrecy surrounding the cloistered algorithms of the leading search empires.

There is a paradox surrounding Wales's position in the first-rank of internet movers and shakers, which he freely acknowledges.

The Wiki boss has often said that his free, not-for-profit online encyclopaedia - that now gets seven billion page views each month with in-excess of five million multiple-language entries - was either the "smartest thing, or the dumbest thing that I ever did".

Extraordinary statistic

The total number of Wikipedia employees is five; an extraordinary statistic when you consider that it is the 10th most visited site in the world.

He told a wry anecdote about being offered a recent ride in the Google jet as the online superstars converged on the World Economic Forum in Davos - since at this point, there is no Wiki-jet.

But his cultural-hero status as the man who aims to bundle all the world's knowledge together and give it away free, is formidable.

The new "transparent" search venture is in its early infancy, and also a project that is being shepherded by the very much for-profit sister company of Wikipedia, Wikia.

His idea is to Wiki-fy the process of internet search, so that human beings decide openly how to rank and organise information, not the huge private servers of Google and Yahoo.

In an online message at the end of the year, Wales labelled the project "Search Wikia" and referred to it as an attempt to create "the search engine that changes everything".

'People powered'

He went on to ask for volunteers to step forward in the name of "people-powered" search, to help move the project forward. There was no mention of any possible profit-sharing.

Far from seeking to confront Google in conventional business terms, Wales - ever the optimist - believes that there may be ways of working with what he calls the "second tier search players" on the web.

"(Google) have hired all the geniuses... they're saying, 'gee, if this alternative could succeed, and make good quality search results a commodity, then we can compete on other things... on vertical search, on brand, on user-interface'."

His philosophical approach to challenging Google, has drawn some criticism inside the blogosphere.

The web veteran Dave Taylor, who writes The Intuitive Life Business Blog, wrote a sceptical post, questioning Wales's ability to influence the search market on any level.

"My belief - based on talking to thousands of internet users - is that the only time someone switches search engines is when their current system begins to fail them," he wrote.

"Far from being able to steal market-share from Google, the reality will be that it will be only if Google fails to produce good search results that another firm will even have a ghost of a chance of succeeding."

Wales describes his politics as "libertarian with a small l" and having become used to travelling the world to meet Wikipedia's amateur army of administrators and contributors, he says he no longer cares who wins the next presidential election in the US.

'Open societies'

"Within the broad framework of open societies, of liberal democracies, things aren't so horrible, right?"

He added: "There are horrible places in the world - these are much more important - corruption in Africa, and things like that."

Wikipedia's idealism, that some would argue is essentially flawed in that verifiability and not "objective" truthfulness is the standard by which entries are judged, has been heavily lampooned on American television in the last few months, by the satirist Stephen Colbert.

In his persona as a polemical and bombastic news anchorman, Colbert lampooned the idea of allowing enthusiasts to form a consensus amongst themselves on what is fact, or not, coining the word "Wikiality".

It has become a running joke, and the site's administrators have intervened to stop some of the show's fans from altering entries.

Unphased

Wales himself is unfazed by how easy it is for unregistered readers to make instant changes on Wikipedia - sometimes for the good, but often out of mischief.

Constant upheaval and occasional "vandalism" of the site, is a price worth paying, he believes.

"If you have a web environment where the software assumes everyone's going to do something bad, and where the community isn't given the tools to make corrections... you actually encourage hostile behaviours."

He is convinced that Wikipedia's success is down to simple software and mutual respect, combined with the minimum amount of censorship and policing possible.

Ultimately however, some wonder whether the collectivist world of Wiki, might not become more and more untrustworthy and cultish as the web expands. It is a danger that Wales himself seems to be aware of.

Speaking at the University of Pennsylvania in June last year, he reportedly said that Wikipedia should not be used by college students to conduct serious research, and if students continue to believe in the objectivity of Wikipedia, they only have themselves to blame.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/technology/6335793.stm

Published: 2007/02/07 02:38:42 GMT

Someone pulled the curtain aside and showed the Wizard of Wiki. Sure want to see more like this.

Hm, shouldn't there be a Wiki page about the brew-ha-ha over Wiki's fraudulent foundation?

(Just to close the loop: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.ph...mp;#entry96470)

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Further trouble brews over the Wikiwookies and their propensity for getting things wrong.

The following are recent pieces from Canada's newspaper of record, The Globe & Mail:

Zoeller sues over Wikipedia entry

Associated Press

Miami -- Pro golfer Fuzzy Zoeller is suing to track down the author who posted what he considers a defamatory paragraph about him on the Internet reference site Wikipedia. The suit alleges someone used a computer at Josef Silny & Associates, a Miami education consulting firm, to add the information to Zoeller's Wikipedia profile. The paragraph in question has been removed, but the information has been picked up by other websites. The lawsuit said it alleged Zoeller abused drugs, alcohol and his family with no evidence to back up the statements.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wikipedia to seek proof of credentials

Associated Press

New York — Following revelations that a high-ranking member of Wikipedia's bureaucracy used his cloak of anonymity to lie about being a professor of religion, the free Internet encyclopedia plans to ask contributors who claim such credentials to identify themselves.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said in interviews by phone and instant message Wednesday from Japan that contributors still would be able to remain anonymous. But he said they should only be allowed to cite some professional expertise in a subject if those credentials have been verified.

"We always prefer to give a positive incentive rather than absolute prohibition, so that people can contribute without a lot of hassle," Wales wrote.

Wales suggested such a plan two years ago, but the idea suddenly gained currency after the recent discovery that a prolific Wikipedia contributor who wrote under the pen name "Essjay" and claimed to be a professor of theology turned out to be a 24-year-old college dropout, Ryan Jordan.

Jordan's fraud came to light last week when The New Yorker published an editor's note stating that a 2006 Wikipedia profile in the magazine had erroneously described Essjay's purported academic resume. The New Yorker said a Wikipedia higher-up had vouched for Essjay to the author of the piece, Stacy Schiff, but that neither knew Essjay's real identity.

In addition to contributing thousands of articles to the sprawling Web encyclopedia, Jordan had recently been promoted to arbitrator, a position for trusted members of the community. Arbitrators can overrule an edit made by another volunteer or block people who abuse the site.

Jordan also was hired in January by Wikia Inc., a for-profit venture run by Wales. He has since been dismissed.

Jordan has not returned an e-mail seeking comment from The Associated Press. But in a note on his Wikipedia "user page" before it was officially "retired," he apologized for any harm he caused Wikipedia.

"It was, quite honestly, my impression that it was well known that I was not who I claimed to be, and that in the absence of any confirmation, no respectible (sic) publication would print it," he wrote.

Wikipedia is full of anonymous contributors like Essjay, whose user page also once proclaimed: "My Wikipedia motto is `Lux et Veritas' (Light and Truth) and I believe more individuals should contribute with an intention to bring light to the community and truth to the encyclopedia."

The anonymity of the site is a frequent cause of mischief — from juvenile vandalism of entries to the infamous case involving journalist John Seigenthaler Sr., who was incorrectly described as a suspect in the Kennedy assassinations. And that has raised concerns about the credibility of the site.

But anonymity is also considered one of the main forces behind Wikipedia's astonishing growth, to nearly 1.7-million articles in English and-millions more in dozens of other languages. Wales has said he is an "anti-credentialist" — because anonymity puts a reader's attention on the substance of what people have written rather than who they are.

Wales said Wednesday that belief is unchanged. But, he said, if people want to claim expertise on Wikipedia, they ought to be prompted to prove it. If they don't want to give their real names, they shouldn't be allowed to tout credentials. Had that policy been in place, Wales said, Jordan probably would not have gotten away with claiming a Ph.D. in religion.

"It's always inappropriate to try to win an argument by flashing your credentials," Wales said, "and even more so if those credentials are inaccurate."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wikipedia deletes bogus editor

Jack Kapica

Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia written and edited by anyone who wants to contribute, has fallen victim to its own myth.

One of their most prolific contributors, a volunteer editor and fact-checker who listed his credentials as a tenured professor with doctorates in theology and canon law, turned out to be a fraud. He is in reality a 24-year-old Kentucky college dropout called Ryan Jordan.

Identified online as Essjay, he was smart enough to fool The New Yorker, which published a long feature on him last July, hailing his crack fact-checking skills on a level with the magazine’s own renowned editors.

But someone who knows him outed Essjay, and the current issue of The New Yorker published an editor’s note at the end of the article saying that “At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay’s real name. Essjay’s entire Wikipedia life was conducted with only a user name; anonymity is common for Wikipedia administrators and contributors, and he says that he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online.”

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales then asked for Jordan’s resignation, and got it. And he asked members of Wikipedia to treat Jordan with a “calm loving approach,” insisting that “Wikipedia is built on … twin pillars of trust and tolerance. The harmony of our work depends on human understanding and forgiveness of errors.”

Wales sounded regretful in letting Jordan go. “It is not good, obviously, but the interesting thing is that Mr. Jordan was an excellent editor, credentials or no. His work was extremely positive for Wikipedia.”

Wikipedia, which has 1.6 million articles in it, making it far larger than the Encyclopedia Britannica, worked on the assumption that taken globally, the combined knowledge of contributors would somehow arrive at the truth. In many ways it did — Wikipedia entries have been referred to in criminal trials. Sometimes Wikipedia would get things wrong, but eventually someone would correct the information, and the idea of a single global body of knowledge having a good heart continued.

But what the Jordan case underlines is not the rightness of the information provided by Wikipedia, but the one thing the Wikipedia took for granted: credibility. The Wikipedia philosophy assumed that accuracy alone would give it that credibility.

But Wikipedia did not count on two things. First was the dubious concept that it could publish something dreadfully wrong (such as the statement that the prime minister of Norway was a pedophile) and leave it up until someone corrected it. If The New York Times or The Globe and Mail adopted that practice, we’d be out of business the next day. Why should an online publication be any different?

Next was the magnitude of Jordan’s deception, which has been called “a fraud.” He was bluntly asking people to believe his credentials as a full professor. If he didn’t have those awesome credentials, then he was creating a fraud, one that undermines everything he did that was good.

A parallel example is that of plagiarism. Many writers have been summarily dispatched for stealing other people’s work, without accuracy even entering the argument. What plagiarists do is undermine the readers’ faith in their work.

I’ve been waiting for this issue to arise online for a number of years. And it has, many times, but not on such a scale as large as this.

Wikipedia must now face a decision it never imagined it had to make: How to protect its credibility, the way other news and information outlets protect theirs.

It’s a costly process, and one that might outstrip the budget of a “free” site.

But if Wikipedia wants to continue, it must do more than simply point to its accuracy as its main product.

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After False Claim, Wikipedia to Check Degrees

By NOAM COHEN

New York Times

March 12, 2007

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/12/technolo...?ref=technology

After an influential contributor and administrator at the online encyclopedia Wikipedia was found last week to have invented a history of academic credentials, Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder and globetrotting advocate, called for a voluntary system for accrediting contributors who say they have advanced degrees, like a Ph.D

or M.D.

The details of how Mr. Wales’s system would work are still being bandied about, and include the idea of having users fax copies of their diplomas to Wikipedia’s offices, or relying on a “circle of trust,” whereby a trusted individual would be in charge of verification. Mr. Wales said he thought that some version of his proposal would begin on the site “in a week.”

But reaction within the fiercely egalitarian Wikipedia world has not been universally favorable. Many writing on Mr. Wales’s user page seemed dumbstruck at the idea of Wikipedia spending its time to verify academic authority when the site’s motto is “the encyclopedia anyone can edit.”

Florence Devouard, Mr. Wales’s successor as the head of Wikimedia Foundation board, the parent of the many Wikipedias in scores of languages, said she was “not supportive” of the proposal. “I think what matters is the quality of the content, which we can improve by enforcing policies such as ‘cite your source,’ not the quality of credentials showed by an editor,” she added.

Mr. Wales was reacting to the public fallout from the revelation that a contributor and Wikipedia administrator named Essjay who claimed to be a tenured professor in Catholic law was in fact Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old from Louisville, Ky. Mr. Wales said that the Essjay controversy was evidence of “growing pains” for the site, a worldwide phenomenon that has become a default research tool for nearly everyone who uses the Internet.

And while he said “the moral of the story is what makes for a good Wikipedian is not a good credential,” he added that it was important that the general public not think that Wikipedia is “written by a bunch of 12-year-olds.”

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