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Fake Wikipedia editor unmasked

Supposed expert is college student

     
4:15 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Couldn't find this posted elsewhere.

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.

From the BBC [news.bbc.co.uk]

Syzygy

4:22 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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And is anyone at all surprised by this?

Wikipedia is a wasteland full of unidentified and unqualified "editors". I'm surprised it hasn't already imploded under the weight of its own (very faulty) infrastructure.

4:22 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Hehe - the Wikipedia haters will dine out on that one for years ;)

I love stories like that. It just goes to show, take everything you read on the internet with a pinch of salt.

4:25 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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That's sad, because this will probably kill Wikipedia dead, and I've found it to be an excellent way to get pundits to give free advice.

To wit: I make a strawman assertion, and reference a Wikipedia article.

The pundits come boiling out of the woodwork to correct the assertion, and wind up giving a great deal of information for free, when they would normally charge good money.

4:47 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Hey TJ! :)

Well, I do admit to being biased against Wikipedia from the get go but I think the BBC is a relatively reliable source ... don't you? Personally, I would give any BBC author more credence than 100, so called Wikipedia editors! At least we know the identities of the BBC reporters and can get hold of their credentials should we wish to take issue with their facts.

cmarshall, never fear! Wikipedia is (unfortunately) far from dead and this little hiccup won't even slow it down. This sort of thing is to be expected in any "volunteer" based system. The owners of Wikipedia will just gloss over this tiny embarrassment as they have in the past. "We regret" ... blah, blah, blah. "Thousands of reliable and honest editors" ... blah, blah, blah ... and the general public will buy it. All of it!

Wikipedia will go on forever because there is so much momentum behind this "blind leading the blind" concept that it is almost impossible to stop it.

I could detail any proven theory and back it up with facts and scientific journals proving the theory, but if some "Wikipedia pundit" decided he was going to say differently on Wikipedia ... in no time at all, some idiot would be putting forward all kinds of theories why the "pundit" was right and the rest of the world was wrong. It seems that once in writing, things suddenly becomes a "truth" for those who simply don't know any better!

5:06 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I think the BBC is a relatively reliable source

The source of the story is irrelevant? The facts of the story are the important part - that a senior editor had somewhat "inflated" credentials ;)

Wikipedia is just an extension of the internet really. The concept of nicknames hiding identities, or folks pretending to be something else, is not a new concept and not unique to Wikipedia.

It's an internet phenomena, not a wikipedia phenomena.

It won't stop me using Wikipedia as a source of information, any more than this phenomena will stop me using the internet as a source of information.

I have no idea who you are, or your real name, but I enjoy and get value out of reading your posts on WebmasterWorld. For all I know you may be some 9 year old kid* who really knows nothing at all. I act as my own sift.

TJ

OK, that would mean that you joined when you were 2, but you get my drift I'm sure... ;)

5:25 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Faking hardly unique to the net (even if no one knows you're a dog, or whatever).

Is NY Times a good source?
Yet one article won a pullitzer, I believe it was, by guy who'd made it all up.

How about that Korean guy who claimed to be doing so much cloning?

I think best to take Wikipedia article by article, and if important, go check elsewhere. Which is true with pretty much any source, albeit some normally more solid than others.

Gotta go now, time for walkies and chasing sticks :)

6:08 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Eh, it was probly just Stephen Colbert...
6:31 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I've watched, fascinated, as several minor Wiki articles on subjects I'm interested in, have been gradually and subtly vandalized, and for the most part no-one has noticed. Obvious vandalism like e.g. "Widgetville is a dump" does get deleted ASAP, but plausible-sounding factlets which are totally and blatantly wrong keep finding their way in.

As a Nobel Prize-winning professor of microbiology, I cannot of course condone this sort of behavior.

6:36 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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>>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.

That is too funny. You can't make this stuff up...

6:36 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I agree with TrillianJedi, I'm my own sifter and will keep using it while gleaning information from more than one source. I don't take anything on the internet as law ( unless it is a .gov site stating law :)

Phd doesn't always mean "genius" either. How many here are self taught webmasters,making loads of cash, but never went to college for that expertise? If it took this long to out him, obviously the guy wasn't a complete idiot and knew how to do his research on topics to mislead so many people.

[edited by: TammyJo at 6:37 pm (utc) on Mar. 6, 2007]

6:47 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I'm still laughing over the Catholicism for Dummies! I'm Catholic and didn't know such a book exists.

I became a skeptic of Wiki when I realized anyone could be a "editor" and contribute. So, if it's important, I check numerous sources.

7:13 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Who-da-thunk-it?

You know, if these wikidiots cited their sources acurately, like when they snitch info from a commercial site, and put in a proper link it wouldn't be half bad, but they're all so pumped that they are an "authority."

7:21 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Ultimately, the solution has to be identification of editors, at least higher-level ones. Public identification would be ideal, but even private verification by management would be better than nothing.

This isn't impossible. In this community, you can be sure that GoogleGuy and MSNDude, for example, are not random posers. In another community I know well, there is a special class of membership for individuals with topical expertise who have been vetted by phone (and not to a number provided by the member, but rather the central phone number for the claimed affiliation.) Only after independent verification are the members added to the special class.

Even that's not sure-fire; plenty of institutions have been hoodwinked by individuals with invented but plausible credentials. A verification step would screen out most of the bogus ones, though.

7:24 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Hehe - the Wikipedia haters will dine out on that one for years ;)

Wont I just!

Not that I mind other encyclopaedias, Britannica is very good (I own three full editions and volumes from two others), but Wikipedia is pure rubbish, apart from what they plagurise from me, of course <bg>

Matt

7:36 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Keep in mind that the old mainstream media has it's share of credibility problems. While these aren't the same as credentialing problems, they are significant.

Two come to mind immediately, but there are a whole lot more.

1. The guy at the new york times who was writing about the sniper incidents in maryland as though he was 'on scene' when in reality he was in NYC the whole time. ie - he made the stories up based on other news articles. (jason Blair)

2. Dan Rathner who was forced out for not doing a simple vetting and being fooled into thinking that an MS word document was created on a manual typewrite 25 years earlier. (Along with his 'fake but accurate' defense.

There are a bunch more of these but I don't remember all the specifics.

Caveat Emptor probably applies to what you read as well as what you buy.

One other thing.. Even universities have credentialing problems. Remember the professor who said that the 911 victims had it coming because they were all 'little eichmans'? He made a big show of being of Native American heritage. Someone checked with the tribes he claimed to be from and it turned out that the leaders of the tribes said there was no record of him in the tribal records.

chris

8:17 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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It's not a huge surprise that this has happened. I expect that Ryan Jordan will get his own wiki page soon.

I always cross check my references, especially information that I have found on the internet. It is also interesting to note that some schools are telling children NOT to use wiki for any projects, etc.

8:40 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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but Wikipedia is pure rubbish

Now that kind of generalization makes you look like just a hater or someone jealous, personally I find it's the best way to know about something if you just need a glimpse or as a starting point for good research. As a rule of thumb, no place on the internet should actually be trusted with your life. Their external links section are also valuable to check the trusted sites on a topic.

I guess a lot of people are losing money because wikipedia replaced them in the first results. But you know what? One of the reason it's popular is the fact that you will never land on a page full of ads and affiliate links, or a horribly designed menu system. Just clean content like the web in its first years.

8:42 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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> interesting to note that some schools are telling children NOT to use wiki

Jimmy Wales, cofounder of Wikipedia, says, "For God sake, you're in college; don't cite the encyclopedia," referring to his own Wikipedia.

The Register: Avoid Wikipedia, warns Wikipedia chief [theregister.co.uk]

Happily, I have more faith in my websites than it would seem Mr. Wales has in his.

8:50 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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All these "wikipedia sucks" threads all remind me of the TV commercial a few years back:

A piece of trash rests a foot away from a trash can on a public street. A crowd of onlookers gathers, all agreeing how deplorable the litterbug was for not putting the trash in the trash can. After a few seconds of public outrage, a new passerby sees the trash, throws it in the trash can and walks on without a word.

Personally, I'd rather be the guy who picks up the litter than the crowd that cries about litterbugs.

9:36 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Please mod previous post +5 and toss in a few extra karma points.

You can find errors of various kinds all over the place.

Today it is a sports reporter at the Boston Globe tomorrow its a fake doctor, last week it was ...

On and on it goes.

9:55 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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A piece of trash rests a foot away from a trash can on a public street. A crowd of onlookers gathers, all agreeing how deplorable the litterbug was for not putting the trash in the trash can. After a few seconds of public outrage, a new passerby sees the trash, throws it in the trash can and walks on without a word.

Then the majority in the crowd agree that it wasn't really trash - it was a sidewalk adornment, and belonged there - quickly rumaging through the trash can and throwing it back in its place, banning that naive fool from ever picking up trash on their sidewalk again.
11:21 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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"Not that I mind other encyclopaedias, Britannica is very good (I own three full editions and volumes from two others), but Wikipedia is pure rubbish, apart from what they plagurise from me, of course <bg>"

Come on, you can't all agree with Matt, here, can you?

Wikipedia has more entries on more subjects and fewer errors per thousand entries than any other encyclopedia, including your five sets of Britannicas. It's free, free of ads, open to debate, and full of open-minded editors who will listen to arguments and weigh points.

If you have evidence of a factual error in a Wikipedia entry, then fix it, cite your sources, and make your case. It's just like the real world, unless you're used to screaming until you get your way, regardless of how wrong you are.

I don't understand this massive hatefest against Wikipedia. Idiots are everywhere -- it just takes some time to find them.

It goes without saying that Wikipedia is not the final word on anything, but it's a great starting point. And THAT'S what encyclopedias are all about.

11:43 pm on Mar 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

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but it's a great starting point.

The most important part of any Wikipedia entry is the "external links" section at the bottom of the page.

Far more efficient than Google.

I will often cite WP if I'm too lazy to go trawling around, and the topic isn't Earth-shatteringly important, or if I'm trying to get a rise out of some experts (I have found that making a brash statement and referencing WP is FAR more effective than simply asking a question. Human nature likes to correct at someone else's expense, rather than inform at our own glorification).

[edited by: encyclo at 2:35 am (utc) on Mar. 7, 2007]

12:46 am on Mar 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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If you have evidence of a factual error in a Wikipedia entry, then fix it, cite your sources, and make your case.

This is exactly the kind of "wiki thinking" which ticks me right off. First some "editor" steals my unique and copyrighted material, rewrites it as he or she sees fit, includes a few extra little nuggets (mostly based in fantasy) and then publishes it on Wikipedia!

And I am supposed to go and fix what the knot head wrote? I think not! Since the "editor" who chose to steal my material failed to credit my web site by way of providing a link, I think I will let him or her keep thinking he or she is a brilliant writer. Why the hell should I care if Wikipedia is full of errors? If they can't be bothered to take the time to establish any kind of authority amongst their editors, why should I rewrite myself at my expense?

Not going to happen!

3:21 am on Mar 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Guys, I say so what?

Wikipedia has millions and millions of articles and volunteers. If we are going to see something like this every now and then, so what? it is one in a million, which still makes it perfect.

Better yet, at least these things are coming out in public, and people know about them. It is a system that evolves and keeps on fixing itself.

Who said there is someone else beside God that is perfect? Wikipedia is not God, but it is great!

3:55 am on Mar 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I phony editor won't hurt WP any more that one crazed astronaut will ground NASA. By tomorrow, something 'NEW' will come along and most people will move along, following that trail until something 'NEW' comes along. I think we've reached the tipping point where a whole lot of people don't even want to think for themselves anymore. The day the internet breaks will probably see millions jumping from high-rise windows in despair.

Catholicism for Dummies! Now that is funny.

4:04 am on Mar 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I myself would like to see more come out about these folks, and I would be a fool to think there are not a few more skeletons.

While still in development they took one of my proprietary website tools leaving a little too much code so that it I found it in my logs. They said they were "going to ask" but ended up taking another which is open source.

But who am I, take it for what it is worth. You just have to ask yourself if this Dave fella would be so stupid to leave himself so open, or is what he is saying protected because it is fact.

5:06 am on Mar 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Happily, I have more faith in my websites than it would seem Mr. Wales has in his.

You missed the point entirely. Students of a certain age are expected to do their own research, so they are required to find authoritative works on a subject, not cite encyclopedias in general. Encyclopedias are starting points to research, not main sources.

As for those claiming the end of Wikipedia because of one isolated incident, that happens all the time, everywhere, so I don't see why wikipedia would be impervious to a few lesser honest people.

5:40 am on Mar 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I did some random searches on wikipedia: babe ruth, area 51, mars, 300 spartans, iPod nano.

The articles were all quite good.

Where's the rubbish I keep hearing about?
Can someone be specific, or is it more like a Walmart vs. Target kind of class warfare going on.

This 47 message thread spans 2 pages: 47
 

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