[Foundation-l] [WikiEN-l] Accountability: bringing back a proposal I made nearly 2 years ago

Kat Walsh kat at wikimedia.org
Fri Mar 9 22:07:59 UTC 2007

On 3/5/07, Erik Moeller <erik at wikimedia.org> wrote:
> On 3/5/07, Anthony <wikilegal at inbox.org> wrote:
> > There are two parts to the suggestion: 1) marking some statements with
> > a "verified credentials" tag, and 2) a "policy of gentle (or firm)
> > discouragement for people to make claims like those that EssJay made,
> > unless they are willing to back them up".
> I'm cross-posting this to wikipedia-l and foundation-l, because it may
> very well become a Foundation-level issue at some point.
> I would support the following:
> 1) Any user can ask for his or her professional credentials to be verified.
> 2) Making up professional credentials is prohibited, and may result in
> a ban. (This may or may not be covered by existing policy, but judging
> from the Essjay case, it is probably not sufficiently clear.) This is
> independent of whether or not the user asks for credentials to be
> verified. We may investigate claims that are dubious when they are
> pointed out to us.
> 3) Any user trusted on admin level or higher who makes a statement of
> credentials on their user page must have them verified through a team
> of volunteers designated to this role by the Wikimedia Foundation (we
> may want to involve the chapters if this becomes international). The
> process of verification could be similar to what Citizendium uses,
> i.e.:
> a) have an existing, credentialed user vouch for the credentials to be
> correct based on personal knowledge,
> b) respond to an email associated with a reliable institution, and
> point us to a web page of that institution where their credentials are
> listed,
> c) point to someone associated with a reliable institution we can
> contact to verify the credentials.
> We may extend this to regular users if it proves to scale well.
> 4) Users with verified credentials will get a little "Verified
> credentials on <date>" marker on their user page, nothing more. This
> marker would ideally be independent of the wikitext of the page, and
> set in the user table instead.
> I am opposed to any marker of edit contributions and such -- users who
> care about credentials can look them up, those who do not care should
> not be bothered by them in discussions or contributions.

As many others do I believe this is too bureaucratic, and I don't
think it will ever be followed on a wide enough scale to be useful.

I believe that for all but the most hardcore contributors it is too
much bother; they won't do it. And among the more dedicated
contributors, many will be against it. There's a reason we don't
simply take experts at their word -- not because we do not respect
expertise, but because for our purposes we need to know *where* the
experts got what they know so that someone can independently verify
it, no matter how reliable the contributor may personally be.

And how reliable that person is does not necessarily match up to how
well-qualified they are... or how much information they are willing to
give. There are plenty of cranks who are more than happy to prove six
ways from sunday that they have a load of letters after their names,
in the hopes that you will be impressed enough to defer to their
crankish viewpoint. And plenty of solid contributors who are
uncredentialed, who aren't willing to go to the trouble, or who don't
believe that it should be required and wouldn't want to use them to
influence discussion anyway, who will not participate.

Is it wrong to claim you are something you are not in order to
influence decisions? Sure, and I don't condone that. But mandatory
credential verification is not something I see as effectively
addressing the problem. For whatever reason, some people make things
up. Most people don't lie, and I do not think that telling everyone
who says on their user page "hi, I live in Arizona, I have a Ph.D. in
math, and I want to edit articles about graph theory" that they have
to let someone check credentials is going to go over well -- nor is it

Positions of personal-level trust are different -- checkusers, press
contacts, and similar. And for those, I don't care about credentials,
unless the credentials are in some way related to what they are doing
-- just identity, that they are who they say they are. Already we ask
that stewards prove they are over age 18; checkusers *should* be the
same. I'm sure we will be more stringent about checking on the
identities of press contacts in the future. It is reluctantly that I
can accept restricting users from being able to fill these positions
without proving identity, because I want to trust that people will not
misrepresent themselves, but I recognize that they do not always do

As for admins? I'm afraid it may even be counterproductive. It implies
that credentials and identity are important to adminship. And this is
exactly the wrong impression. It says that we care what kind of
standing our admins have for adminship -- separate from their roles as
content editors. (And many of the most well-regarded and prolific
content editors are not admins.) There is nothing about adminship that
needs special qualification other than experience with the site. I
care that people who are contributing content are not backing up their
statements with false authority -- false credentials, misquoted
references, hoaxes, anything of the like -- regardless of their status
as admins or not. There is nothing about the position of admin that
requires us to know anything other than their history with the site.
(The press likes to make a big deal about admins, but if we are doing
something in response to press alone against our better judgment we
are in a sad state.)

Even assuming we all thought this was a great idea and we were all on
board, who is going to be doing the checking? How deep is this going
to be? Is someone who has a diploma mill Ph.D. still able to say "I
have a a Ph.D." or will all instances needed to be marked with

I am afraid this is a knee-jerk response, and I am also afraid that
saying to the media that we are going to do it (and that is what has
been said so far) foolishly commits us to something that may not be a
good idea even if we had the resources to do it. And so even as I am
for knowing the identities of those in positions of trust, I am
against this proposal.

who advises you to take all of the above with a grain of salt; she
only has a BA, which no one here has personally checked up on

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