I may soon have to rename my blog to Wikipediathought, but I suspect the "Essjay" scandal has peaked now, and we're entering the mop-up phase. Obligatory New York Times link: "A Contributor to Wikipedia Has His Fictional Side"
I've got to give Wales credit for being willing to respond to my emails. I don't want to ask him about posting them, I think it'll give the flavor to note his most recent public comment
It was a scandal. And I have apologized for my role in it. I made several mistakes of judgment at various points along the way, and I am very much in favor of reforming our processes so that we are not so vulnerable. I am spending a lot of time reflecting carefully on my role here. The primary mistake that I made is one that I have trouble condemning myself for, because I think that one of my personality flaws is actually a strength for Wikipedia: a willingness to trust people and assume good faith even in difficult times. That caused me to wrongly minimize the importance of this, and to make bad decisions for a time. I am very sorry for that, and the only solution I know of is to work for positive change. -- [[User:Jimbo Wales|Jimbo Wales]] 11:09, 5 March 2007 (UTC)
This is also, however, a standard scandal script. All the troubling details can be brushed aside with the claim that he's a busy man, he was just too nice a guy to ask hard questions, his trusting nature has been taken advantage of, by an immoral subordinate, let us now move on to Morning In America ....
I joked, isn't this pretty much what's being played out now in the "Scooter" Libby trial over the Valerie Plame CIA case? And pleading it was how Karl Rove avoided being indicted himself?
The problem is that unless some very hard evidence to the contrary is leaked, this sort of defense is nigh-impossible to disprove. We can't subpoena the other senior members of the Wikia corporation. And they'd probably all have lapses of memory anyway ("Sorry, I was so overworked, I just can't remember the details of that meeting when it was decided to hire Essjay ..."). See also Jason Scott: Another Essjay Essay.
Elsewhere, discussion on Wikipedia is in a full-force firestorm over people who want to be compassionate and delete "Essjay"'s old material and comments about him, now that's he's retired, and others who argue this is a cover-up in practice if not in intent. Round and round the "wheel-warring" goes, and where it stops, nobody knows. This is not a good model for society, though the law/policy pundits who need to hear that aren't listening (link omitted for self-preservation).
I have to side with those in favor of keeping the material online and available. Combing through it all helped establish the truth. And it's possible more information may come out. Look at it this way: It's always different when it's you. The history is unquestionably "notable" under a public-interest standard in regard to investigating the scandal, and, institutionally, Wikipedia doesn't exactly place a huge value on people's privacy. There's too much of an appearance of impropriety, of using privacy as an excuse to destroy embarrassing documents, even if some people have generous motives.
History, I think from Daniel Brandt:
By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 05, 2007 08:44 PM (Infothought permalink)
Some of us expected this and archived some things with webcitation.org:
- Edit in which Essjay claims to a user that he had a PhD and students under his charge
- Essjay's (non-)apology
- Letter by Essjay to an academic in which he falsely claims academic credentials and accomplishments.
- Wikipedia:Requests for comment/Essjay
- Deletion log 1 of Essay's userspace
- Deletion log 2 of Essay's userspace