Talk:Wikimedia Ethics/Moulton, JWSchmidt's investigation/Final report

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Is the following the correct way to tell this story? --JWSchmidt 21:39, 2 September 2008 (UTC)Reply

A study of Wikipedia editing

[edit source]

In May of 2005 a Wikipedia editor entered false information into the Wikipedia biography for John Seigenthaler, Sr. The false information was not discovered until September 2005 after which it became known as the Seigenthaler incident. In response to the publicity generated by this and other similar cases, Wikipedia restricted page creation (see: Wikipedia Signpost 2005-12-05 "Page creation restrictions") and created new guidelines for biographies. The Wikipedia community continues to struggle with biased and false content in its biographical articles.

Rosalind Wright Picard is Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Laboratory. She holds Doctor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech. She has been a member of the faculty at MIT since 1991 and a full professor since 2005.

With over a quarter of a million biographies, Wikipedia has many biographical articles about university professors. In 1997, Dr. Picard published a book entitled "Affective Computing", an innovative branch of Computer Science which studies how to make systems that recognize and respond to human emotions. One might guess that her Wikipedia biography would have been started in order to describe her scientific research and seminal contributions in Digital Signal Processing, Pattern Recognition, Affective Computing, and Autism Research. However, that is not the case.

On Feb. 21, 2006, The New York Times published "Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition" by Kenneth Chang. The petition comprised a two-sentence statement, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." Dr. Picard was one of a group of 105 scientists, researchers, and academics who agreed with this statement when it was circulated (in E-Mail) in academia in 2001.

On March 8, 2006 the Rosalind Picard article was made by copying her online Faculty Profile and adding a section called, "Intelligent Design Support". It is clear that the purpose of the creator of the biography (User:Tempb) was to create an article that labels Dr. Picard as a supporter of Intelligent design and as "anti-evolution". Notice that the Wikipedia user account "Tempb" was a single purpose account, used only to push into Wikipedia the conclusion that Dr. Picard is anti-evolution and a supporter of intelligent design. Note that "Tempb" is an experienced wiki editor who decided to use a "throw-away account" in order to make a biographical article that violated the Wikipedia policy on Biographies of living persons, part of which said: "Editors should be on the lookout for the malicious creation or editing of biographies or biographical information. If someone appears to be pushing a point of view, ask for credible third-party published sources and a clear demonstration of relevance to the person's notability."

In late February, 2006, Picard, her graduate students, and her faculty colleagues at MIT began receiving a series of harassing and abusive E-Mails from Don Hopkins (Photo), who was quoting extensively from Wikipedia articles on Intelligent Design, and haranguing Picard with messages like this:

[describe back-and-forth editing of the page 2006 to 2007]

Between March 13, 2006, and February 4, 2007, Picard made a total of seven IP edits to her biography, with these edit summaries:

Picard IP Edit Summaries

  • 23:20, February 4, 2007 (hist) (diff) Rosalind Picard ‎ (focus on the entry)
  • 23:19, February 4, 2007 (hist) (diff) Rosalind Picard ‎ (the deleted material has nothing to do with the person in the entry)
  • 22:35, June 29, 2006 (hist) (diff) Rosalind Picard ‎ ("anti-evol" is POV of the writer. the organizers of the petition support many aspects of evolution such as microevolution so to label it anti-evolution is an attempt to sell more newspapers)
  • 23:29, April 27, 2006 (hist) (diff) Rosalind Picard ‎ (Read the petition. Calling it anti-evolution is not accurate, even if the NYT tried to label it that way.)
  • 23:24, April 27, 2006 (hist) (diff) Rosalind Picard ‎ (→Intelligent Design Support: The petition does NOT say anything about intelligent design. Read the petition.)
  • 00:21, March 31, 2006 (hist) (diff) Rosalind Picard ‎ (→Showing Skepticism and Asking for Critical Examination of Evidence)
  • 15:28, March 13, 2006 (hist) (diff) Rosalind Picard ‎ (→Showing Skepticism and Asking for More Critical Examination of the Evidence)

On August 8, 2007 the disputed page section title was changed from "Anti-Evolution Petition Signatory" to "Darwin dissenter" by Filll. On 20 August, User:Hrafn removed most of the page contents after it was noticed that something was wrong (it had been copied from Dr. Picard's faculty profile).

Before 21 August 2007, User:Moulton was a typical Wikipedia editor, having made several dozen edits to various articles over the course of a year and a half. When Moulton followed a link from Affective computing to Rosalind Picard he found a biographical Wikipedia article that was in a particularly bad state.