Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Wikipedia editor who posed as professor is Ky. dropout

Wikipedia editor who posed as professor is Ky. dropout
Man resigns post after controversy
By Andrew Wolfson
The Courier-Journal

He touted himself as a tenured professor with doctorates in theology and canon law.

But the volunteer editor and fact checker for the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia turned out to be a 24-year-old dropout from Centre College and Lexington Community College.

In a long feature last July, The New Yorker described how Ryan Jordan -- identified online and in the magazine article as Essjay -- was renowned for rooting out errors and obscenity from Wikipedia, whose entries are contributed and corrected by readers and volunteer editors.

Last week, however, after Jordan's credentials were exposed as fictitious, the magazine ran a correction -- and yesterday Jordan, who had written or edited about 16,000 entries, resigned.

Wikipedia has said no questions have been raised about the accuracy of his work.

Critics of Wikipedia said the deception was fitting, given the site's history of errors that include reporting that the prime minister of Norway was a pedophile.

Devoted contributors, including Louisville computer programmer Steve Magruder, who has written many entries about the city, said they feared Essjay's deceptions could damage the encyclopedia's credibility.

Another Wikipedian, as they call themselves, denounced Jordan last week on the site, saying: "I hope you understand how you are –––– all over the thousands of people who have made a real effort to turn Wikipedia into a credible source."

Responding on his Wikipedia page, Jordan initially defended his deceptions by saying he had to protect himself from online stalkers. He told The New Yorker he routinely got death threats from people he banned from the site.

Wikipedia's co-founder, Jimmy Wales, also said at first on the site that he had no problem with Jordan's invented persona.

But yesterday, Wales asked for Jordan's resignation.

Wales said he'd been following the controversy from "a remote part of India" and hadn't known Jordan had misused his bogus credentials in "content disputes."

Still, Wales asked members of Wikipedia to treat Jordan with a "calm loving approach."

"Wikipedia is built on … twin pillars of trust and tolerance," Wales said. "The harmony of our work depends on human understanding and forgiveness of errors."

Asked about the impact on Wikipedia's credibility, Wales said in an e-mail: "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."

Before Jordan's Wikipedia page was shut down, he posted a parting message saying he had "done much good work" but that "leaving is the best thing for me and for Wikipedia."

Responding to an e-mail from The Courier-Journal, Jordan said only: "Please leave me alone."

His deception was discovered after he took a job at the for-pay arm of Wikipedia, Wikia Inc., based in San Mateo, Calif. He also resigned that post, a Wikipedia spokeswoman said.

On Wikia's site, Jordan said he lives outside Louisville and studied philosophy and religion at Centre, in Danville, as well as the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.

He said that before coming to Wikia, "I was an account manager with a Fortune 20 company, where I worked on a ten person team that managed roughly $500,000,000 in annual sales. Prior to that, I was a paralegal for five years," including "nearly a year with a firm in Louisville that represented doctors in medical licensure matter and a three month special position with a United States Bankruptcy Trustee."

A Centre spokesman confirmed Jordan attended from 2001 to 2003, and a UK spokesman said he was enrolled in the fall semester of 2003 at the former Lexington Community College, now Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

A spokeswoman for U of L said nobody by that name has attended the university since 1920, and a spokeswoman for the U.S. bankruptcy trustee said the office had no record Jordan had worked there.

J. Fox DeMoisey, a lawyer who represents doctors in licensure cases, said Jordan had worked in his office for about six months as a secretary and receptionist.

Wikipedia, which was founded in 2001 and is run by a foundation in St. Petersburg, Fla., recorded its millionth entry last year -- nearly 10 times the number in the most comprehensive edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, according to the New Yorker article.

In an e-mail to The Courier-Journal, Pamela McCarthy, deputy editor of The New Yorker, said the magazine's editors and writer, Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer Stacy Schiff, "were comfortable" with the material from Essjay because of Wikipedia's confirmation of his work.

But Regrettheerror.com, which reports on corrections in the media, said The New Yorker would have avoided the mistake if it had heeded a cartoon that ran in its July 5, 1993, issue.

It shows a dog typing at a computer keyboard, over the caption, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at 5025827189.

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