Thursday, March 01, 2007

Larry Sanger proven right about Wikipedia

Larry Sanger has long argued that Wikipedia is anti-intellectual. And, sadly, he has been proven right, by Jimbo's recent fiat appointment of Essjay to the English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee. This person, who apparently lied to the Wikipedia community -- and to the New Yorker (scroll to bottom for editor's note about Essjay's deceptions) -- for months about basically every aspect of his identity, including his academic credentials. Amongst the lies Essjay told is that he was a leading scholar in Roman Catholicism. Jimbo -- and much of the Wikipedia community, apparently -- has apparently chosen to forgive Essjay his deceits and appointed Essjay to the Arbitration Committee, where Essjay will be called upon to decide if other editors are behaving in a manner which is beneficial to the project.

Quite frankly, a man who would lie about his academic credentials, and then use those credentials to add undue weight to his own opinions in debate on Wikipedia, does not deserve to even be allowed to edit Wikipedia, let alone sit in judgment over those who do. For examples of where Essjay has done this, see this comment (about Catholic Confession), this comment (about another aspect of Catholicism), this comment (about another Christian topic), and this comment (another Catholic topic). Essjay has no more right to claim to be a scholar of Christianity (and certainly not "Wikipedia's leading scholar on Catholicism"!) than I do, and yet his totally inexpert opinion has been given undue weight because of his lies. It is a travesty that he holds a position of high authority in this community; that he does certainly has a great deal to say about how little the Wikipedia community cares about writing a factually accurate encyclopedia.

I confess that I liked Essjay when I knew him, and in general his judgment was, in my experience, reasonably good. However, I shall never be able to trust him again, not after finding out the extent to which he lied to the Wikipedia community, to others, and (most importantly, from my point of view), to me. The best interpretation of this entire situation is that Essjay created a false identity to preserve his anonymity and then got caught up in it. However, if you want a false identity to protect yourself, that's fine, but don't elaborate it with false claims intended to puff up your own authority and prominence.

Over the past few years, a number of people with included false claims on their resumes or CVs have lost academic leadership posts (for example, Eugene R. Kole, former President of Quincy University, who resigned when two of the degrees he listed in his biography were found to be fictitious). It is startling and telling that Essjay, after revealing similiar lies, is not only not censured, but in fact elevated to one of the highest positions of responsibility that Wikipedia has. Clearly Jimbo has decided to demonstrate just how much unlike academicia Wikipedia is.

Update: Apparently Slashdot is talking about this now. Also, there's an apology (if you can call it that) on Essjay's user talk page at enwiki. I especially like the "If I leave Wikipedia, the terrorists will win" at the bottom. Nice.

2nd update: This is apparently a hot topic on the blogs. See, for example, Freakonomics, Blog World, Infothought, and Rough Type, just for starters.

3rd update: Not only is this getting even more blog play (MetaFilter, Digg, XODP, and Larry Sanger; see also Technorati), but the mainstream tech media is also starting to get involved. This is going to get ugly fast.


  1. Nor can I, for that matter.

    You've said it a lot better than I ever could.

  2. There is a complete list of media coverage of this issue available here.

  3. Wow. I was fooled. I don't think anyone trusts Ryan with the charge of deciding on user conduct issue concerns; he should resign from Arb at least.

    It is additionally disturbing that Jimmy doesn't see anything wrong with this. Misrepresentation of credentials, even on a site that does not require them of editors, is a serious breach of trust.

    Enjoyed the post, Kelly.

  4. Are all of these Pseudonyms?

  5. I find it intriguing why someone so young would consider that he needed to be so scared to be known as someone who occasionally edited Wikipedia (given that the vast majority of his edits weren't even in article space but were on 'admin' pages).

    Is the knowledge of others that you are an editor truly something to be scared of, and if so why?

  6. Essjay's Response Soon After The Controversy Broke Out!

    I would like to clear up an oversight on my part. I was, until this morning, under the impression that in my initial post on this subject (in response to a question from Dev920 made some weeks ago) I had made an apology for anyone who felt they were hurt by my decision to use misinformation. In speaking to various different people, including Jimbo, I did make it known that I was sorry that anyone felt hurt by my actions, and I believed I had done so in my initial statement. On re-reading that, I find I did not; it was a rather lengthy statement I had been thinking about for some time, and I seem to have left out a rather critical element of it. So, I rectify that now, with further apologies that it was not included originally, as I pointed people back to that statement in the belief it was complete.

    I *am* sorry if anyone in the Wikipedia community has been hurt by my decision to use disinformation to protect myself. I'm not sorry that I protected myself; I believed, and continue to believe, that I was right to protect myself, in light of the problems encountered on the internet in these trying times. I have spoken to all of my close friends here about this, and have heard resoundingly that they understand my position, and they support me. Jimbo and many others in Wikipedia's hierarchy have made thier support known as well. I'm also sorry the New Yorker chose to print what they did about me; there seems to be a belief that I knew they were going to print it, and that is not the case. I spoke with Stacy Shiff for over eight hours; in that time, she asked me about a variety of subjects related to Wikipedia and I have her much to write on. (Those who know me will know I am rarely ever brief in my comments.) That she chose to focus on two rather trivial reverts to [[Justin Timberlake]] and what my userpage said came as a complete surprise to me; 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 publication would print it. I did not have an advance copy of the article, and indeed, didn't even get the complimentary print copy that others were given when it was published; I asked Stacy to send it to the Foundation for thier use instead. Further, she made several offers to compensate me for my time, and my response was that if she truly felt the need to do so, she should donate to the Foundation instead.

    For two years, I have poured my life into making this site a better place. That many people feel hurt by my decision pains me greatly, and to them I am genuinely sorry. To the stalkers, the trolls, and the vandals, I am not sorry; they are abusive, hateful people, and they have done far worse things than those whole of the Wikipeida Community, myself included, have ever thought about doing. Now, I am going back to what I have always done: Making Wikipedia a better place. (In the immediate present, I'm going to bed, as I've been up for quite a long time.) Tonight, I will be back to my normal routine: Blocking vandals, closing RFAs, tending to the mailing lists, etc. I have no intention of going anywhere, because to do so would be to let the vandals, trolls, and stalkers win.

    I have no doubt that others will continue to debate this matter; I have no intention to say anything further, as I have made my statement complete. If anyone needs me, look where the work of keeping the encyclopedia running is being done, and you'll probably find me there. '''Essjay'''

    Here is the website address below to verify the text: