Seth Finkelstein covers the latest scandal to embarrass Wikipedia: a site administrator and Wikia employee who's been lying for years about his academic credentials.

Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old in Kentucky who's never taught a class, claimed on his Wikipedia bio and in an interview with the New Yorker to be a tenured professor of religion with four degrees: a bachelor of arts in religious studies, master of arts in religion, doctorate of philosophy in theology and doctorate in canon law. The magazine ran a correction after he bragged on his Wikipedia talk page about fooling reporter Stacy Schiff and the magazine's fact checker:

I did six hours of interviews with the reporter, and two with a fact checker, but I was really surprised that they were willing to do an interview with someone who they couldn't confirm; I can only assume that it is proof I was doing a good job playing the part.

Jordan serves on one of Wikipedia's management committees and was hired in January by Wikia, the for-profit company affiliated with the site, after acknowledging the fraud. If Jordan can be believed, he told Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales about faking his bio before being hired:

Before I accepted the position, I provided all my real details to Angela and Jimbo, and immediately provided the same information to Brad Patrick; I also placed it on my Wikia userpage, from where I expected it would fairly quickly make it's way back to Wikipedia.

Reporters who cover Wikipedia should consider its role in this deception. Someone at Wikipedia recommended Jordan to Schiff as an interview subject, Wales hired him after he admitted the ruse and nobody told the New Yorker it had been scammed. When contacted by the magazine, Wales said, "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it."

In a furious debate going on within Wikipedia, one of Jordan's fans makes a defense of his actions that nicely demonstrates what a trainwreck the project has become under the situational ethics of its management:

... 2. If you believe what people say on the internet, you are stupid. 3. There is no honesty policy on wikipedia, and people have a right to protect themselves. ... 5. If the New Yorker is stupid enough to believe everything everyone tells them, that's their problem.

Update:

A member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, Erik Möller, is urging Ryan Jordan to step down:

Creating a pseudonym is one thing. Creating an elaborate fake persona with fake credentials, and using it in arguments, letters, and interviews is another. I am deeply troubled by this behavior, consider it highly unethical, and would like to ask you to seriously consider stepping down from your official Wikimedia roles. At the very least, I believe you owe the community an apology for this behavior. You have damaged both the reputation of the project, and your own. I am deeply saddened and disappointed.

Möeller was elected to the board in September 2006 to assume a term that ends in December 2007.

-- Rogers Cadenhead

Comments

You might want to make copies of the incriminating pages you are linking to on Wikipedia.

There are a small number of wikipedia administrators (29, as of today) who have a special privilege called "oversight", which means they can delete things "permanently" from the history. Other admins without the oversight privilege cannot see that this has even happened; revisions can just disappear from an article's history nowadays. Other admins with the oversight privilege can view the log of oversight deletions, but not the contents of the deleted revisions. Only developers (aka persons with MySQL access) can restore "oversighted" revisions.

en.wikipedia.org
en.wikipedia.org

(Essjay is one of the 29 overseers listed.)


 

Note that Essjay has left wikipedia. See "step down" link above.