05:02 AM

3.12.07 Wikipedia deals with fake experts

Who's Essjay? He's not, it turns out, a tenured professor in Catholic law but rather 24-year-old Ryan Jordan. The disclosure has prompted Jimmy Wales to draft a credential verification scheme and is causing something of an identity crisis among the Wikipedians, The Times says.

The details of how Mr. Wales’s system would work are still being bandied about, and include the idea of having users fax copies of their diplomas to Wikipedia’s offices, or relying on a “circle of trust,” whereby a trusted individual would be in charge of verification. Mr. Wales said he thought that some version of his proposal would begin on the site “in a week.”

Florence Devouard, head of Wikimedia Foundation board, said she was “not supportive” of the proposal. “I think what matters is the quality of the content, which we can improve by enforcing policies such as ‘cite your source,’ not the quality of credentials showed by an editor,” she added.

Wales concedes: “The moral of the story is what makes for a good Wikipedian is not a good credential.” But he always realizes something important: that Wikipedia will die if people perceive that it is “written by a bunch of 12-year-olds.”

In general I agree with Devouard that "cite your source" is the best protection against falsity and slopppiness. As a law student, I take offense at assertions of fact that can't be backed up. It's not enough that others may correct errors. In the law, assertions require proof. Published works are best, citing to other Wikipedia articles doesn't cut it. So it needs to be enforced somehow.

The power of Wikipedia is in the intelligence of many people not their anonymity or their credentials.