Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Copy vs. the Personality

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia got a black eye in 2007 when the identity of an editor working under the pseudonym Essjay (aka Ryan Jordan) came to light.

Essjay had passed himself off as a professor of Religion with a PhD in Theology and a degree in Canon Law. In truth he was really a 24-year-old college drop-out who used “
Catholicism for Dummies” to edit articles on religion. During his engagement as a Wikipedia editor he wrote over 20,000 contributions.

The Wikipedia folks eventually asked Essjay to resign -- he'd been a paid employee, and he left with a defiant non-apology apology -- but initially founder Jimmy Wales dismissed the matter as no big deal. The false background was deemed to be of small consequence: in JW's view, it was just part of the persona of the pseudonym. Significantly, when Essjay's true identity was revealed, Wikipedia did not ask him to clear out; that came later only after a sustained public outcry.

That Essjay had editorial authority to resolve disputes between contributors -- i.e. he had final say in how a number of articles regarding Catholicism were written -- was of no consequence to Wales and the Wikipedia crowd. That Essjay claimed to be a homosexual theologian espousing liberal Christianity and berated non-liberals was not initially on the radar for them either, though later under pressure from readers they were obliged to admit at least that Essjay had leveraged his fake credentials to bolster his arguments.

Read about the matter
here and here and here.

Wikipedia: the idea is to collaborate on interesting topics, but in the end biased and activist editors who suffer from group-think and liberal peer pressure ("how can a million lemmings all be wrong?") have the final say. You might find accurate information there, but use with caution.

On a potentially positive note, look for up-and-coming rival
Citizendium to make a run at unseating Wikipedia as the go-to site for information down the road: its editors bill it as a credible free online encyclopedia characterized by expert, peer-reviewed content. It could turn out to be just as liberal as Wikipedia, but for now it's being touted as the thinking man's alternative to what the septic and dysfunctional amateurs are doing over at Wikipedia.

1 comment:

Patti Petersen said...

I have found that the information one is seeking can be found from creditable sources with a little elbow grease, rather than relying on Wikipedia. It's a pity that what could be a valuable online reference tool is treated with so little respect and integrity by those who are running it.