Sunday, March 04, 2007

About reputation and education

Wikipedia has a new scandal. There are several issues here and, several interested parties. The scandal is about someone who is known by a nickname and who claimed that he had academic qualifications. He claimed to be a doctor of theology.

One of the interested parties who obviously relished this occasion was Dr Sanger of Citizendium fame. For Dr Sanger it is one of those occasions where he can sing the praises of his project. He did, I did not read anything new there. In the mean time, his project was announced in Nature and now, so many months later, there is still nothing to be seen. That does wonders for the credibility of that project ...

Given that scientific credentials will be very relevant on OmegaWiki, I have given it some thought. When people want to claim professional credentials, they would have to provide us at least with their real name and their e-mail address. These would be the requirements on the level of OmegaWiki.

For the Wikis for professionals, different rules might apply. When medical credentials are claimed, wrong information can kill. It is for such reasons that much more identifiable information is likely to be required. This does not mean that credentials are as important as Dr Sanger says. Relevant is the quality of the information provided. Relevant is the role a person plays in the community. This means that a person can become relevant in OmegaWiki by building a reputation. For this you do not need scientific credentials. Science has, like every part of society, its fair share of miserable people and I am sure Citizendium will learn that as well.

If this incident is to be a lesson, the lesson is that it does not pay to assume credentials and have a virtual reality meet real life. It is therefore sad that Essjay is now "retired". If this means that the person who did a lot of good work will do no more, than it is a sad outcome. If this is the only time that the issue of assumed credentials raises its ugly head, it has a silver lining. If this incident is sufficiently public that it will stop this phenomena, then I will be glad.


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