by Jason Lee Miller
Amid embarrassment over an academic fraud, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has announced that anyone claiming professional expertise in a subject would be required to provide proof of those credentials. Recently, a New Yorker article exposed the misadventures of Wikipedia contributor and arbitrator "Essjay," a 24-year-old college dropout purporting himself to have a doctorate-level credentials in theology and cannon law. His real name is Ryan Jordan, whose profile was officially retired from Wikipedia around the same time his employment was terminated at Wikia.
According to an Associated Press interview, Wales reiterated his "anti-credentialist" stance and his belief in anonymity. However, in light of recent events giving weight to a tabled two-year-old suggestion, Wales said anyone claiming specific expertise in a subject would have to back it up. Otherwise, they could remain anonymous and contribute to Wikipedia.
"It's always inappropriate to try to win an argument by flashing your credentials," Wales told the AP, "and even more so if those credentials are inaccurate."
Pressure to reform some of the rules at Wikipedia also comes from the other co-founder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, who left the online encyclopedia to create his own, more credentialed version, a project he calls "Citizendum." Citizendum requires all contributors to prove their qualifications. Sanger's stated goal is "unseat Wikipedia" as the top information resource on the Web.
From a Wikipedia article about the Citizendum project:
The stated aim of the project is to create a "new compendium of knowledge" based on the contributions of "intellectuals", defined as "educated, thinking people who read about science or ideas regularly." Citizendium hopes to foster an expert culture and a community that encourages subject specialists (presently named as "editors") to contribute, and "citizens" (to be called "authors") to "respect" the expert contributions (by a so-called "gentle process of guidance").
If Sanger is able to recreate Wikipedia with Citizendum, the days of entry vandalism and, perhaps, college professors not accepting a publicly edited encyclopedia as a source, may be numbered.