Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Blog Insights: Wikipedia's great fraud

Blog Insights: Wikipedia's great fraud 3/6/2007
Dan Blacharski,

What bloggers are saying about the latest in information technology

Wikipedia's basic premise is built on a pseudo-intellectual concept of collective contributions, on the mistaken belief that since there are lots of people constantly contributing and reviewing entries, they will somehow come out accurate. Chairman Mao would have been proud. Wikipedia cheerleaders believe that the old traditions of mainstream media (fact-checking and professional editing) lack merit, and that an entry that is written by an anonymous contributor, and subsequently reviewed and edited by many other anonymous contributors, will be inherently superior. It's rather like getting a hundred monkeys in a room together and expecting them to produce "Hamlet."

Until last week, one of the most prolific contributors was one such anonymous person named "Essjay," who claimed to be a scholar with multiple degrees. There's been a large degree of scandal since Essjay has been shown to be nothing of the sort, but what's even more amazing is that he felt justified in lying and that Wikipedia supporters (and Jimbo Wales himself) justified his actions. Essjay was pretending to be something he's not -- but that's not too surprising. Wikipedia itself, from the very beginning, pretends to be something it's not, and its very existence is an affront to real writers and editors everywhere.

Essjay, who has apparently resigned from Wikipedia as well as from his position at the affiliated for-profit Wikia, made an impassioned entry last week, discussing his "decision to use misinformation to protect myself". Essjay says he's "not sorry" he protected himself, was right to do so, and had resounding support for his position. Sorry Essjay, but while using a nom de plume may be an acceptable way of protecting yourself, claiming to be an authority figure with multiple degrees when you are not, for the purpose of having your work accepted by the public, is not protecting yourself. It's fraud.

Public sentiment turned against Essjay's argument fairly quickly, despite some early support. Last week, Wales was hoping it would all go away, and according to today's New York Times article, reiterated the "protecting himself" argument, praising him for his excellent work and "exemplary track record." Essjay reported on the above Wikipedia page, "I will be back to my normal routine . . . I have no intention of going anywhere." But Wales could see the handwriting on the wall, and asked for Essjay's resignation, taking the opportunity to again beat the Wikipedia drum and talk about how its integrity is built on "trust and tolerance." Speaking as a member of the media myself, the concept of trust has no place in publishing. If I were to apply to the New York Times for the position of religion editor, and told them I had a Ph.D. in Divinity (which I do not), I'm pretty sure they'd ask to see the sheepskin. And if I said, "trust me," I'm pretty sure they wouldn't. And this is as it should be.

Citizendium, which attempts to create something a bit more professional than Wikipedia, has its own blog on the subject, and founder Larry Sanger describes it accurately: Wikipedians "are completely independent of the real world", and the traditional concept of identity and credentials are considered by Wikipedia to be unnecessary. It's a very strange system of values.

Seth Finkelstein wrote that Wikipedia "fundamentally runs by an extremely deceptive sort of social promise", a type of collectivistic anti-intellectualism that makes the false claim of being right by virtue of popularity. Seth quotes from a very telling letter that EssJay had written previously to a real college professor, saying "Well credentialed individuals (myself included) participate in the project in the hopes that our involvement will help to make Wikipedia a better source, and dispel the misconceptions held by the public." But it would seem now that those supposed misconceptions are correct, and the contributors to Wikipedia are not as well-credentialed as they would have you believe. Legitimate writers, scholars and industry experts have very little motivation to contribute to Wikipedia -- leaving the project with wannabes and posers like Essjay with too much time on their hands to churn out content.

No comments: