Friday, March 28, 2014

Another Empty Promise For Disabled Veterans

Social Security launches new expedited disability process for veterans

Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the launch of a new disability process to expedite disability claims filed by veterans with a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation rating of 100% Permanent & Total (P&T). Under the new process, Social Security will treat these veterans’ applications as high priority and issue expedited decisions, similar to the way the agency currently handles disability claims from Wounded Warriors.
“We have reached another milestone for those who have sacrificed so much for our country and this process ensures they will get the benefits they need quickly,” said Acting Commissioner Colvin. “While we can never fully repay them for their sacrifices, we can be sure we provide them with the quality of service that they deserve. This initiative is truly a lifeline for those who need it most."
“No one wants to put America’s veterans through a bureaucratic runaround,” said Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes, a leading proponent for increasing assistance to veterans. “As the baby boomer generation ages and more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need care, this common sense change will help reduce backlogs and cut through unnecessary red tape so that our most disabled veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned.”
In order to receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100% P&T and show proof of their disability rating with their VA Notification Letter.
The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an approval for Social Security disability benefits. These veterans must still meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.
The Acting Commissioner is doing nothing more than giving lip service to disabled veterans in this announcement. This is an empty promise. It is a carrot on a stick. It is a distinction without a difference. This is just a lot of hot air. This will not reduce backlogs and cut through unnecessary red tape. It will have little or no influence on the 1500 Social Security Administration  Administrative Law Judges, many of whom are not veterans and have no sympathy for the disabled veterans. In almost 20 years as a SSA ALJ I never heard more than one or two express anything more than contempt for the military and veterans. When Viet Nam disabled veterans came in for disability hearings they were not given any compassionate consideration. There are a lot of draft dodgers from the 1960s in the ALJ corps. A lot more women are coming into the ALJ corps; many are anti-military.
The requirements for getting benefits have not changed. In order to receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100% P&T and show proof of their disability rating with their VA Notification Letter. It is very difficult for a veteran to get a 100% Permanent and Total Rating. The Acting Commissioner was honest enough to say that "The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an approval for Social Security disability benefits. These veterans must still meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance."
Putting the best face possible on this, what the Acting Commissioner has done is promise to provide the the wounded warriors with the quality of service that they deserve. BUT, they should have been getting that all along. That would have been the professional thing to do. So, I ask you, what has changed?
For information about this service, please visit

For more about Social Security’s handling of Wounded Warrior’s disability claims, please visit

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Husband Is A Victim Of Flawed Civilian Command Policies

 A Wife Responds

When the strains of war lead to infidelity

By Rebecca Sinclair

Rebecca Sinclair is married to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, who is being tried at Fort Bragg, N.C., on charges including adultery and sexual misconduct. 

Like most Americans, I’ve been unable to escape the current news cycle regarding several high-ranking military generals entangled in sex scandals. Unlike most Americans, however, for me the topic is personal. My husband, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, is one of the officers.

Spectators will try to make this scandal about many things: the arrogance of powerful men; conniving mistresses; the silent epidemic of sexual assault in the armed services. But these explanations obscure an underlying problem: the devastating influence of an open-ended war — now in its 11th year — on the families of U.S. service members.
<caption> Ann Telnaes cartoon: Petreaus case reveals reach of nation’s surveillance programs. </caption>
Ann Telnaes cartoon: Petreaus case reveals reach of nation’s surveillance programs.
 Let me first address the elephant in the room. My husband had an affair. He violated our marriage
vows and hurt me tremendously. Jeff and I are working on our marriage, but that’s our business.

Jeff also needs to answer to the Army. That is his business, not mine, and he accepts that. I believe in and support him as much as ever.
I wish I could say that my husband was the only officer or soldier who has been unfaithful. Since 2001, the stress of war has led many service members to engage in tremendously self-destructive behavior. The officer corps is plagued by leaders abandoning their families and forging new beginnings with other men and women. And many wives know about their husbands’ infidelity but stay silent.
For military wives, the options are bad and worse. Stay with an unfaithful husband and keep your family intact; or lose your husband, your family and the financial security that comes with a military salary, pension, health care and housing. Because we move so often, spouses lose years of career advancement. Some of us spend every other year as single parents. We are vulnerable emotionally and financially. Many stay silent out of necessity, not natural passivity.
In many ways, ours is a typical military story. Jeff and I married 27 years ago. While he rose through the officer corps, I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and taught at community colleges in the places where we were stationed. We later had children.
Since 2001, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have destabilized our life. We have moved six times in 11 years. On average, our kids change schools every two years. Between five deployments, site surveys and training operations, Jeff has spent more than six of the past 10 years away from his family.
None of this is meant to excuse infidelity. I expected more of Jeff, and I think he expected more of himself. But we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t recognize the larger reality. My friends who are married to other combat leaders have been my anchor during this crisis. We understand that our soldiers may come home disfigured or injured in such a way that we will become lifelong caregivers. We also understand that they may not come home at all, and if blessed with a reunion, they may carry emotional baggage few could understand. My friends know that it could have been their heartbreak as much as mine. This is the only time in U.S. history that our nation has fought a decade-long war with a volunteer Army. Doing so has consequences. Nothing good can come of families being chronically separated for a decade or more.
Jeff’s case has its own complications. He was involved with a woman who confessed to a superior officer. As a servicewoman, she stood to be charged with criminal conduct under the military code of justice. She alleged sexual assault, and no such allegation should ever go unanswered. We are confident that the charges will be dropped. Hundreds of text messages and journal entries came to light in pretrial hearings last week that establish the affair was consensual. The woman in question admitted under oath that she never intended to have Jeff charged, and Jeff has passed a polygraph test. Ironically, if Jeff had decided to leave his family he would be in the clear.
There are many accusations against Jeff, some of which have already fallen apart. Jeff has been charged with possessing alcohol in a combat zone; a visiting dignitary gave him a bottle of Scotch that remained unopened on a bookshelf. 
 His personal computer was used to access pornography; time stamps and Army records show that he was out of the country or city when most of the files were downloaded. We expect those charges, too, to be dismissed.
But the damage has been done. It will take years for Jeff to shed the false image of a hard-drinking, porn-dependent aggressor. The other generals will also struggle to rehabilitate reputations they spent decades building. All of these men are human beings, with strengths and fallibilities, and they have families who are under real strain. How we address this strain will say much about what kind of country we are; it will also determine how stable and strong our military is.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Travesty? Mockery? Justice? Was It Worth It?

 (Brig Gen. Jeff Sinclair as he arrives to the Fort Bragg courthouse, for his sentencing hearing, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Fort Bragg, N.C. Sinclair, who was accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate, plead guilty to lesser charges in a plea deal reached with government prosecutors.)

Disgraced Army general, Jeffrey A. Sinclair, gets $20,000 fine, no jail time.

 (FORT BRAGG, NC - MARCH 17: Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair leaves the Fort Bragg Courthouse after sexual assault charges against him were dropped after he plead to lesser charges March 17, 2014 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Sinclair, a former deputy commander with the 82nd Airborne Division, has admitted to an extramarital affair with a junior officer. "Unlawful command influence" caused a delay in the trial last week.) (Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair carried on a three-year affair with a captain and had two other inappropriate relationships with subordinates. He was reprimanded and fined $20,000 in pay. He will not serve any jail time.

 Coast Guard Academy Cadet Webster Smith had consensual sex with a confidant and girl friend; he received six months jail time and a bad conduct discharge. Is it fair? Is that what we call "equal protection of the law"? It was an American Tragedy. It was a mockery of justice. It was a case that will live in infamy. It was a travesty!
(Read all about The Webster Smith Case at
Admiral Thad W. Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, speaking at the Academy on 8 September 2006 did not mention the Webster Smith Case. But, talking with reporters afterward, Allen said THE PROCESS used to deal with the issue worked as it should.
Apparently, Commandant Allen did not know that the System was stalled. He did not seem to be aware that his fellow Admiral, the Superintendent, was stonewalling the System.
(

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair admitted carrying on a prolonged, turbulent affair with an officer under his direct command and having improper relationships with two other women. He was reprimanded and fined $20,000 by a military judge Thursday March 20th.
To his visible relief, however, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was spared a jail sentence. The decorated combat veteran hugged his lawyers and friends after his sentence was imposed by Col. James Pohl, the military judge who oversaw his court-martial at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The system worked. I’ve always been proud of my Army,” Sinclair told reporters. “All I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and wife.”

Yes, the System worked. That sounds awfully like what Admiral Thad Allen said about the court-martial of Cadet Webster Smith when he was interviewed at the United states Coast Guard Academy after the first court-martial of a cadet in Coast Guard history.
The big question is "for whom'? For whom did the System work? It works a lot better for some than for others.
Greg Jacob of the Service Women’s Action Network said the case demonstrates the need for legislation that would strip commanders of the authority to prosecute cases and give that power to seasoned military lawyers. The bill, backed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was defeated in the Senate earlier this month.
The Defense Department's failure so far to change the military's male-dominated culture is driving a vocal group of mainly female lawmakers led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to advocate aggressive reforms.
                                              (Senator Kirsten Gilllibrand, D-N.Y.)
Tinkering at the edges, they argue, won't produce the seismic shift needed to send the message that sexist attitudes and behaviors will no longer be tolerated. Victims need to be confident that if they report a crime their allegations won't be discounted and they won't face retaliation.
“This case has illustrated a military justice system in dire need of independence from the chain of command,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who fought the bill, said the case reinforced her side of the argument.
“One of its lessons highlights what we already know — that commanders are often more aggressive than prosecutors in pursuing prosecutions and vetting these cases,” Sarah Feldman said.

For two years, Sinclair’s court-martial had made him the public face of the military’s struggle to prevent and police sexual misconduct in the ranks. He was only the third Army general to face court-martial in 60 years, a measure that critics called emblematic of the military’s reluctance to hold senior commanders accountable for all kinds of wrongdoing.
Although Sinclair was pleased with the outcome, his chief accuser and some advocacy groups for sex-crime victims expressed deep disappointment. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) called the sentence “a mockery of military justice” and a “laughable punishment.
Sinclair was originally charged with crimes that could have landed him in prison for life.
His accuser, a much younger female captain who served on his staffs in Iraq and Afghanistan, reported in March 2012 that she had been the married general’s lover for three years. She also said that he had sexually assaulted her on two occasions and once threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about the affair.
Under the sexual assault charges, Sinclair was accused of twice forcing the female captain to perform oral sex and threatening to kill her if she told anyone. 
The Army prosecuted Sinclair for those offenses for nearly two years, but suddenly dropped the charges this month and cut a plea deal with the general after prosecutors admitted they had doubts about the reliability of the general’s mistress. Their hand was also forced after the judge ruled that there was evidence the Army had allowed politics and external considerations to influence its handling of the case.
The case started to crumble as Sinclair’s lawyers hammered away at the captain’s credibility and raised questions about whether Sinclair’s commander improperly pressed ahead with a trial because of political considerations — namely, a desire to show the Army’s resolve to combat sexual misconduct.
Earlier this year, the lead prosecutor came to believe the woman lied under oath at a pre-trial hearing about when she found an old iPhone containing messages between her and the general. Within weeks, the prosecutor was found drunk and suicidal in a Washington hotel, distraught over a superior’s refusal to drop the sexual assault charges, according to testimony. He was later removed from the case.
In the end, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery, maltreatment of his accuser and two other improper relationships. He also admitted to making derogatory comments about women and, when challenged by his staff, replying: “I’m a general, I’ll say whatever the [expletive] I want.”
The accuser’s attorney, Jamie Barnett, a retired Navy rear admiral, said she was “obviously devastated” that Sinclair’s sentence wasn’t more severe.
“It’s a terrible outcome, and by failing to render justice today, the Army’s going to face the reality that this could happen again,” said Barnett, now a lawyer in private practice. “It’s really beyond disappointing. It’s a travesty for the Army and military justice in general.” Rear Admiral Barnett also said the woman was very disappointed with the sentence. Barnett called it a “slap on the wrist.”
“A sentence doesn’t take away any of the pain and anguish that she has endured,” Barnett said.
Experts in military law agreed the sentence was lenient.
“I can’t believe it,” said retired Lt. Col. Gary Solis, a former military judge who now teaches law at West Point and Georgetown University. Solis said Sinclair “is an individual who should not be a general officer. He should have gone to jail and dismissed from the Army.”
Still, retired Maj. Gen. Walt Huffman, a Texas Tech University law professor who served as the Army’s top lawyer, said: “His career is being terminated. That much is for sure. He’s being fired for all practical purposes.”
Coincidentally, Sinclair was sentenced on the same day that another high-profile sexual assault prosecution in the military collapsed.
In that case, a military judge at the Washington Navy Yard found a former Navy football player not guilty of sexually assaulting a female classmate at an April 2012 party. The Navy had originally charged two other midshipmen in the same incident but later cleared both as the case slowly crumbled.
In the past, military leaders have been criticized for not taking sex abuse allegations seriously and for mistreating victims. But in the courts-martial that culminated Thursday, the evidence of sexual assault rested largely on the testimony of the accusers, both of whom struggled to give a consistent and clear account.
Advocacy groups for sexual-assault victims were quick to seize on the outcomes as another sign that the military justice system is ill-equipped to handle such cases.
Nancy Parrish, the president of Protect our Defenders, said the results would discourage other members of the military from coming forward to report sex crimes.
“The military’s promises of ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual offenses continues to ring hollow as yet another high ranking official is let off the hook,” she said of the Sinclair case. “It has been long known within the military that General Sinclair conducted himself in outrageous and inappropriate, even unlawful ways. His behavior was not addressed until this victim came forward.”
Sinclair’s attorney, Richard Scheff, retorted that people who thought the general got away with a light sentence were ignoring the facts. “Critics of this ruling who weren’t in court and haven’t seen the evidence have no idea what they’re talking about.”
Sinclair admitted the affair but vigorously denied assaulting or threatening the woman. His lawyers portrayed her as a jealous mistress who spoke out after she read suggestive e-mails he had sent to other women, and because he refused to divorce his wife.
He could be punished further financially. His attorneys have said they expect he will have to retire from the Army at a lower rank, which would diminish his pension benefits.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, declined to comment on Sinclair’s sentence. But he acknowledged that the military needed to do more to deter and prosecute sex crimes.
We know we need to get better. We know that there are changes that need to continue to be made,” Kirby told reporters. “Our focus is on making sure victims have the confidence to report and that those who are proven guilty of a crime are held accountable.”

(By . Ernesto Londoño contributed.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Treating Physician Rule Governs In SSA SSID Cases

Judge Revives Claim For Disability Benefits

Eastern District Judge Arthur Spatt (See Profile) has ordered the Social Security Administration (SSA) to reconsider its decision to deny disability benefits to a 55-year-old union carpenter with a knee injury, finding that an administrative law judge rejected the opinions of the man's treating physician without justification.
The plaintiff, William Box, slipped and fell on the job in January 2009. He was later diagnosed with multiple injuries in his right knee, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus. He eventually underwent two surgeries. In November 2009, Box applied for disability benefits. In August 2010, an administrative law judge denied the application. An Appeals Council (A/C) denied Box's petition for review, and in March 2012, he sued the Social Security Administration seeking to overturn the decision.
Box's treating physician, Benizon Benatar, submitted an opinion that Box was completely disabled because he could not stand or walk for more than two hours a day.
Another doctor, Erlinda Austria, also examined Box at the request of the New York State Division of Disability Determination. Austria opined that Box was capable of light work. A person capable of light work is presumed to be able to stand and/or work for six of eight hours in a day.
District Judge Spatt found that the ALJ had improperly credited Austria's testimony over Benatar's without justification, going against the "treating physician rule," which requires deference to an applicant's treating physician.
 While an ALJ can choose not to credit a treating physician, Spatt said, that choice must be justified by an analysis of the record, which the ALJ did not do.
Spatt therefore remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.
The Claimant, William Box is represented by Sharmine Persaud.
The SSA is represented by Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Lipari.
The case is Box v. Colvin, 12-cv-1317.
, New York Law Journal,March 19, 2014  )
Read more:

The Last days

Matt. 24:3 and
Dan. 12:92nd
Luke 21:25-28
Timothy 3:1-.....
 Rev. 7:9, 13. These are They.
Are we living in the Last Days? The End of The World? The Time of the End? The End Times?
If we are, what are you going to do about it?
Is there work to be done?
What will it take to blast yo out of your comfort zone? To spur you to action? To save the world? One soul? You own soul?
Are you comfy? Satisfied?
Do you believe Christ is coming soon? Why?

Harold Egbert Camping (07/19/1921 –12/15/2013) was an American Christian radio broadcaster, author and evangelist. Beginning in 1958, he served as president of Family Radio, a California-based radio station group that broadcasts to more than 150 markets in the United States.
Camping taught that all churches have become apostate and thus must be abandoned. He encourages personal Bible study and listening to his Family Radio broadcasts.
Camping is notable for issuing multiple failed predictions of dates for the End Times, which temporarily gained him a global following and millions of dollars of donations.
Camping predicted that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on May 21, 2011, whereupon the saved would be taken up to heaven in the rapture, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world. He had previously predicted that Judgment Day would occur on or about September 6, 1994.

End times calculations

Camping's teachings regarding the timing of Christ's second coming were based on the cycles of:
He projected these cycles into modern times and combined the results with other information in the Bible.
Camping's date for the crucifixion of Christ – Friday, April 1, AD 33 (Gregorian) – is nominally the same day as one of those supported by other twentieth-century commentators: Friday, April 3, AD 33 (Julian). However, the dates differ because Camping used the Gregorian calendar, while most commentators use the older Julian calendar, which had a two-day difference during the 1st century AD (they now differ by thirteen days).

In March 2012, Camping admitted that his predictions were in error, stating: "We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing."
In March 2012, he stated that his attempt to predict a date was "sinful", and that his critics had been right in emphasizing the words of Matthew 24:36: "of that day and hour knoweth no man".

SEE Matt 24: 4--(Read)... and many will come in My Name, and will deceive many.
1) Rev Jim Jones carried hundreds of people from Oakland, CA to Jones Town in the jungle.
He spouted a lot of psyco-babble and caused a lot weak- minded Christians to drink the "kool-aid", and to committ suicide in the jungle.
2) Rev Sun Young Moon- came in the spirit and power of the SECOND COMING OF Jesus.
He led multi-denominational pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
He gained audiences to the PLO and many world wide Heads of States, as an International Peace-Maker.
He is the only man to enter into Commercial Trade Agreements with the Government of North Korea. And he built factories in North Korea creating jobs for many people.
He married 20,000 people at a time in numerous sports stadiums around America.
I drank his Red Gin-Sing Tea and attended his rallies.

Even as Bishop Starling was proclaiming him as the 2nd Coming of Jesus, Rev Moon died.
But, I can tell you He deceived many.

Matt 24: 6-- And you will hear of Wars and Rumors of Wars. COLD WARS and HOT WARS.
Just this week, Russia moved into Crimea and took it without firing a shot.
But about 50 Thousand Russian troops are standing on the border with the Ukraine, a country that borders Hungary where we lived before we came to Virginia.
The US and Russia are again involved in a Cold War.
The US has just ended two HOT wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
The UN reports that in the world today there are over 100 wars taking place, not just in Syria and Africa and the Middle East, but in places we cannot find on the map.

Are we living in the Last Days? The End of The World? The Time of the End? The End Times?
If we are, what are you going to do about it?
Is there work to be done?
What will it take to blast yo out of your comfort zone? To spur you to action? To save the world? One soul? You own soul?
Are you comfy? Satisfied?
Do you believe Christ is coming soon? Why?
If I can help somebody as I pass along. If I can cheer somebody with a word or a song?
If I can show somebody that he is traveling wrong, Then my living shall not be in vain?
Yes, Jesus, I want to do my duty as a Christian aught (to),
I want to bring salvation to a world once wrought,
I want to help spread the message that the Master taught,
So that my living will not be in vain.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Video Hearings Are A Denial Of Due Process

Social Security Disability Video Hearings Increase In 2013


Social Security Disability Video Hearings Increase In 2013, Allsup Reports
More people than ever before attended a video hearing in 2013 while seeking Social Security disability benefits.
The number of video hearings increased to 179,308 in fiscal year 2013, more than double the 86,320 video hearings in FY 2009, according to data released by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in its Annual Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2015. This was an increase of nearly 17 percent from 153,592 video hearings the previous year (FY 2012).
Video hearings are one of the methods SSA uses to reduce the backlog of SSDI claims.
 The use of vide-oconferencing technology to exclude the Claimant from being physically present in the same Hearing Room as the ALJ and other witnesses violates the Claimant’s due process rights. 
A Claimant who can only observe witnesses on a television screen will not be able to observe
the demeanor  of the witnesses and properly ascertain the accuracy and reliability of their proffered evidence.
The primary  reason, among others, for the use of video hearings is to reduce travel costs and conserve the time of its ALJs and hearing support staff without diminishing the Claimant’s ability to effectively participate in the hearing.”
A Claimant could argue that the SSA ALJ must give the Claimant an “opportunity to appear,” as provided in the U S Constitution which requires the defendant and the judge to be physically present in the same courtroom.
 Most reasonable people would agree with this contention, referring to the meaning of appear and to the traditional understanding of a Claimant’s appearance before a court empowered to deprive him of his property, that is to say, his Disability Benefits.
It is noted that both the Webster’s Dictionary and the Black’s Law Dictionary define appear and
appearance so as to suggest that an appearance can only occur if the person comes into the physical presence of the judge. To appear means to be physically present.
The form and substantive quality of a hearing is altered when either the defendant or
the judge is absent from the hearing room, even if he or she is participating by video-conference.

SSDI is a federal insurance program that provides monthly income to people under full retirement age (65-67) with a severe disability lasting at least 12 months or a terminal condition.To apply for SSDI benefits, someone must be unable to work. 
SSDI is funded by FICA payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers.
Individuals reach the hearing level after their initial application has been denied two times by the State Disability Determination Service (DDS).
Most hearings are still held in person before administrative law judges (ALJs). But Social Security is increasing its ability to perform hearings through video conferencing, including using video at National Hearing Centers. The SSA has five of these centers in Albuquerque, N.M., Baltimore, Chicago, Falls Church, Va., and St. Louis. (Statistics provided by ALLSUP)
A claimant will give up important due process rights if he or she opts for a video hearing.
During a video hearing, the ALJ, claimant and representative interact with each other using videoconferencing equipment, very similar to a large television. The judge usually remains at his location and connects by video with the claimant at his or her location.
Video conferencing can be more convenient for the claimant, if he or she lives in a remote area. And it saves travel time for the judge.
Consider the following information when preparing for an SSDI hearing.
  •     How should I dress? A hearing is not a time to dress casually. A business suit isnt required, but jeans, shorts and flip flops arent a good idea, even for a video hearing.
  •     What happens when I get there? The process typically is the same for hearings, video or in-person. The judge leads the hearing, and he or she asks questions of the claimant and the representative.
  •     Whats different with a video hearing? It can be important for someone to provide technical support, to make sure the video and sound quality are good, and to ensure the sound recording is working properly. The sound recording is kept for the records.
  •     Who else is there? There also can be vocational experts, medical experts and other witnesses at the hearing to provide testimony.
  •     How does the hearing end? The entire hearing may last about an hour as the ALJ evaluates the information being provided by the person who is seeking SSDI benefits and other testimony. When the judge has all the information he or she needs, the hearing is ended. Its rare that the judge announces the decision (to award or approve) at the conclusion of the hearing.
 Some people become very frustrated at video hearings.
  • MADISON, Wisconsin — A Wisconsin Rapids woman will spend three years on probation for threatening to kill a federal administrative law judge (ALJ).
    Fifty-one-year-old Norma Prince was sentenced Thursday March 6, 2014. Prince pleaded guilty in December.
    Prosecutors say the incident happened Jan. 31, 2013, when Prince appeared at a Social Security disability benefits hearing in Wausau.
    Administrative Law Judge Thomas Sanzi was presiding over the hearing by video teleconference from Madison. Prosecutors say Prince became upset and threatened to shoot Judge Sanzi and cut off his head. The hearing was halted and Prince was escorted from the courtroom.
    Prince's husband told a federal agent that his wife had bought two .22-caliber rifles about a month before the disability hearing.
    At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman said Prince's mental health issues can be controlled through medication and supervision.

      A video-conference hearing is one  at which all parties were physically present except for the judge and the court reporter, who participate by video-conference from a remote location.
    SSDI claimants should challenge the judge’s decision to conduct a hearing by
    I present here the question of first impression for SSA SSDI appeals: "whether the
    use of video-conferencing to conduct a hearing violates  the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.
     Although the SSA and no SSA ALJ has previously confronted this exact
    issue, the question of the constitutional and statutory validity of the use
    of videoconferencing technology by the Federal Administrative Agencies is far from
    novel. As technology has advanced rapidly, the SSA has been faced with a surge of new, unforeseen issues that it has had to resolve without legislative direction.
    The invention of video-conferencing appeared to be a perfect solution to the SSA; so, it  has encouraged the use of video-conferencing systems in the Hearing Rooms.
    Courts and government agencies have implemented the use of
    video-conferencing technology in post-conviction proceedings, including
    probation, parole, and supervised release revocation hearings.
    The courts of appeals are beginning to strike down the practice, but only on
    statutory grounds. This trend appears to rest on the general principle
    of judicial restraint that requires courts to avoid constitutional questions
    if statutory analysis is sufficient.
    However, in the absence of legislation or a decision from the United
    States Supreme Court, there remains the potential that SSA ALJ Hearings and other federal courts,  could find that video-conferencing violate a Claimant's Due Process rights.
    Therefore, the due process rights undermined by the use of video-conferencing technology
    deserve the judiciary’s attention, particularly the right to be present at your Hearing, and to effective assistance of counsel and the right to confront adverse witnesses, such as, SSA's Consultative Medical Examiners (ME) and Vocational Experts (VE). 
     Videoconferencing at Rule 43 Criminal Proceedings
    In the 1990s and early 2000s, circuit courts first considered whether
    the use of videoconferencing at a criminal proceeding governed by Rule 43
    satisfies the statutory requirement that a defendant be “present.”
    Since that time, the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have held
    that the use of videoconferencing at Rule 43 proceedings violates a
    defendant’s statutory rights. For example, the Tenth Circuit confronted this issue in 2002 in
    United States v. Torres-Palma. In Torres-Palma, the defendant appeared by videoconference at his
    sentencing, which took place in a different state than where the judge presided. In determining that Rule 43 required a defendant to be physically present at sentencing, the court concluded that the content and the plain reading of the text of Rule 43, along with the Webster’s Dictionary and Black’s Law Dictionary definitions of presence and present, mandated that physical presence
    was required.
     Fifth Circuit noted that the rights protected by Rule 43 include not only due process rights and the common law right to be present, but also the right of a defendant to meet face-to-face with witnesses appearing before the trier of fact, as governed by the Confrontation Clause.
    After the Tenth Circuit’s decision and the decisions of its sister circuits, it was clear that, even though the use of videoconferencing could increase productivity and save money, the technology was not appropriate for Rule 43 proceedings because it violated both common law and statutory rights to be present.
    The reason for the use of video hearings is to reduce travel costs and conserve the time of its ALJs and hearing support staff without diminishing the Claimant’s ability to effectively participate in the
    Violates his statutory  and constitutional rights when it denied his request for an in-person
    hearing. Specifically,  the use of videoconferencing violated his due process rights and 18 U.S.C. § 4208(e), which requires that a prisoner “be allowed to appear and testify on his own behalf.

    A Claimant could argue that the SSA ALJ must give the Claimant an “opportunity to appear,” as provided in the U S Constitution which requires the defendant and the judge to be physically present in the same courtroom.
     Most reasonable people would agree with this contention, referring to the meaning of appear and to the traditional understanding of a Claimant’s appearance before a court
    empowered to deprive him of his property, that is to say, his Disability Benefits.
    It is noted that both the Webster’s Dictionary and the Black’s Law Dictionary define appear and
    appearance so as to suggest that an appearance can only occur if the person comes into the physical presence of the judge. To appear means to be physically present.
    The form and substantive quality of a hearing is altered when either the defendant or
    the judge is absent from the hearing room, even if he or she is participating by video-conference.

    The Seventh Circuit of Appeals referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in
    Escoe v. Zerbst, in which the Supreme Court determined that a lower
    court’s decision to revoke a defendant’s probation without a hearing
    violated the requirement that he be “brought before the court.” Although Escoe
    predated video-conferencing technology, and the Internet for that matter, the case provided the traditional legal understanding of a person’s appearance. In Escoe, the Court held that
    “‘the end and aim of an appearance before the court’ under the statute was to ‘enable an accused [parolee] to explain away the accusation,’ and this required ‘bringing the [parolee]
    into the presence of his judge.’” Additionally, the Seventh Circuit referenced the statutory language of other Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that explicitly allow for the use of videoconferencing.
    The court reasoned that, since video-conferencing is permitted only with stated exceptions in the rules, the use of the technology “is the exception to the rule, not the default rule itself,” and that Rule 32.1’s “opportunity to appear,” therefore, excludes appearance by video-conference.
    During its interpretation of the opportunity to appear, the court also examined the statutory rights owed to a defendant at a revocation hearing. Rule 32.1 provides, in pertinent part, that:
    The person is entitled to: . . . (C) an opportunity to appear, present
    evidence, and question any adverse witness . . . ; [and] (D) notice of the
    person’s right to retain counsel or to request that counsel be appointed if
    the person cannot obtain counsel . . . .
    After determining that the opportunity to appear requires a parolee to come into the physical presence of the judge, the court furthered its statutory analysis by noting that this right is not isolated, but instead exists in conjunction with the right to “present evidence,” to “question
    any adverse witness,” and to “make a statement and present any evidence in mitigation. Appearance in court is “the means by which the petitioner effectuates the other rights conferred” by Rule 32.1.

    The conjunctive force of a defendant’s opportunity to appear is particularly important to the defendant’s right to “make a statement and present any information in mitigation” because “appearing before the court allows the [parolee] to plead his case personally to the [deciding]
    This right, known as the right of allocution, “ensures that the defendant has the opportunity to ‘personally address the court’ before punishment is imposed.” Without the physical meeting, the court reasoned, the judge could not experience the impressions of any personal confrontation wherein he or she attempts to assess the parolee’s credibility or to evaluate the defendant’s true moral fiber. Consequently, without the personal, physical interaction between a judge and a parolee, the force of the parolee’s other rights guaranteed by Rule 32.1 is diminished.
    Finally, after determining that the judge’s participation by videoconferencing in Thompson’s revocation hearing violated Rule 32.1, the court vacated Thompson’s term of re-imprisonment and
    remanded. The court resolved the second issue, whether video-conferencing violated Thompson’s due process rights, in a one-sentence footnote: “Because we hold that the judge’s participation by
    video-conference violated Rule 32.1, we need not address Thompson’s argument that holding the hearing by video-conference violated the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

    The Court then turned its analysis to the nature of the process that is due a parolee at a revocation hearing, wherein it laid out the minimum requirements of due process. Accordingly, a parolee must have an opportunity to be heard and to show either that he or she did not violate the conditions of release or, alternatively, that there are mitigating circumstances.
    Further, the Court held that the minimum requirements of due process include, in pertinent part, the “(c) opportunity to be heard in person and to present witnesses and documentary evidence; [and] (d) the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearing officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation).

    Defense counsel suffers a multitude of communication challenges when not in the presence of the judge or the courtroom. Anne Bowen Poulin, a law professor at the Villanova University School of Law, stressed in her discussion of the use of videoconferencing technology that “[t]he attorney will be unable to gauge the emotional interactions and mood of the courtroom as effectively to determine when and how to intervene on the client’s behalf.”She also examined various studies
    that suggest that alliances form among those who are in the same physical location—alliances against those who appear via video-conference.In the case where neither the parolee nor counsel is physically present at the revocation hearing, the effectiveness of counsel is even more imperiled. The court in Thompson, although faced with the opposite situation in which the judge appeared by video-conference, foresaw this consequence and determined that “[t]he important point is that the
    form and substantive quality of the hearing is altered when a key participant is absent from the hearing room, even if he is participating by virtue of a cable or satellite link.” The physical separation of a parolee from counsel inevitably takes its toll on the effectiveness of the counsel, and this effect is most strongly felt by the communication between them. Some courts have tried to curb this problem by providing telephone lines that allow for privileged communication.
    However, this practice still cannot replace the quality of the attorney–client relationship created by in-person interaction.
    According to Poulin, the human interactions that foster the relationship are muted by the technology, which detracts from the defendant’s experience. Likewise, counsel cannot gauge the defendant’s mental and emotional state, and neither party can use nonverbal cues to communicate with each other during a proceeding, both of which are necessary to effective communication. Despite the surplus of communication problems caused by the use of
    video-conferencing technology, Poulin believes that these adversities will not rise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel in the eyes of the courts.
    However, effective communication is so integral to the role of counsel, and counsel’s ability to effectively assist a client, that it is likely to be a key consideration when a court determines whether the right to effective assistance of counsel has been violated by the use of videoconferencing technology at a revocation hearing. In fact, at least one court has recognized that the use of technology to physically exclude a parolee from the courtroom, as well as from counsel, violates the right to counsel because of the detrimental effect it has on communication.
    In Schiffer v. State, the District Court of Appeal of Florida heard an appeal from a revocation hearing and a subsequent sentencing hearing in which the parolee participated via
    video/audio arrangement. The court found that, because the parolee had no means by which to access and to communicate privately with his counsel, his right to counsel was “obliterated.” The court held that “[w]e can imagine no more fettered and ineffective consultation and communication between an accused and his lawyer than to do so by television in front of a crowded courtroom with the prosecutor and judge able to hear the exchange.
    The use of videoconferencing technology in revocation hearings also violates the parolee’s due process right to confront adverse witnesses.
    As with the right to effective assistance of counsel, the parolee’s due process right “to be heard in person”works in conjunction with the due process right to confront adverse witnesses. Without the parolee’s physical presence, there is no effective right to confront adverse witnesses that satisfies the minimum requirements of due process. The Ninth Circuit addressed this issue in
    White v. White when it considered whether a bar to the presence of an adverse witness at a
    parole revocation hearing violated due process.
    The court held that “[w]here the facts are contested, the presence of adverse witnesses, absent good cause for their nonappearance, is necessary to enable the parole board to make accurate
    findings.” Therefore, without good cause, the appearance or the presence of adverse witnesses is necessary. 

    A parolee has a strong interest in the right to confront adverse witnesses at a revocation hearing, a proceeding at which the parolee’s liberty is at stake. The parolee, who will either want to argue innocence or prove factors in mitigation, cannot effectively exercise a right of confrontation when appearing via vide-oconference, away from the physical presence of the adverse witnesses. Like in Wilkinson, a parolee who can observe witnesses only on screen will not be able to observe
    their demeanor and properly ascertain the accuracy and reliability of their proffered evidence, evidence that is often determinative of the parolee’s fate.

    Therefore, given the strength of a Claimant’s due process right of confrontation, and the insufficiency, or even the complete absence of good cause by the government, a Claimant should be able to successfully demonstrate that the use of vide-oconferencing technology
    to exclude the Claimant from being physically present in the same Hearing Room as the ALJ and other witnesses violates the Claimant’s due process right to confront adverse witnesses.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Let The Buyer Beware

Paid Ghostwriters Write Wikipedia On Behalf of Paying Clients – Confirmed by Wikimedia Foundation Legal Department

So here is what everyone has always known but could never prove and it is another strong reason to be sceptical about what appears on Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s lawyers are proposing changes to the Wikipedia Terms of Use to add an amendment about undisclosed ghostwriting on behalf of undisclosed paying corporate and other customers.
Wikipedia is advertised as an encyclopedia anyone can edit but many have complained that is not true and that only one perspective or point of view is allowed to be included, with some “troll-like” bullying and abusive behaviour from some of Wikipedia’s “Admins” and habitual “Editors” ensuring balance is eradicated particularly from some topics.  Wikipedia is edited by children and older people, some of the latter seem sadly to spend their lives on it.
The Essjay debacle revealed some of the deception and disinformation practised by [a now fired] Wikipedia paid employee, who used the false name Essjay and claimed to hold doctoral degrees in theology and canon law and worked as a tenured professor at a private university: Essjay Controversy. (See Appendix 01) It was later discovered that he was 24 years old and had dropped out of community college with no qualifications.  A corrective footnote to a The New Yorker magazine article which originally published Essjay’s claims states: “Essjay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught.” and “Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay’s invented persona, “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.”“: Schiff, Stacy. “Know it all: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?”, The New Yorker, July 31, 2006. (See Appendix 02)
The announcement by Wikipedia can be seen here:  Terms of use/Paid contributions amendment. But make a careful note because it could well soon vanish.  And of course the claim by Wikipedia that “To ensure compliance with these provisions, this amendment provides specific minimum disclosure requirements” is of course tosh.  Words in a Wikipedia contract cannot ensure anything, [especially if they cannot catch the perpetrators, which of course means looking for them] and Wikipedia are dependent upon corporate and other donations just to exist, so it looks like “window-dressing“:
The Wikimedia Foundation Legal Department plans to ask the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees to consider a proposed amendment in our Terms of Use to address further undisclosed paid editing. Contributing to the Wikimedia Projects to serve the interests of a paying client while concealing the paid affiliation has led to situations that the community considers problematic. Many believe that users with a potential conflict of interest should engage in transparent collaboration, requiring honest disclosure of paid contributions. Making contributions to the Wikimedia Projects without disclosing payment or employment may also lead to legal ramifications. Our Terms of Use already prohibit engaging in deceptive activities, including misrepresentation of affiliation, impersonation, and fraud. To ensure compliance with these provisions, this amendment provides specific minimum disclosure requirements for paid contributions on the Wikimedia projects.

Appendix 01.

Essjay controversy

The Essjay controversy was an incident concerning a prominent Wikipedia participant and salaried Wikia employee, known by the username Essjay, who later identified himself as Ryan Jordan. Jordan held trusted volunteer positions within Wikipedia known as "administrator", "bureaucrat", "arbitrator", and "mediator".
On July 24, 2006, a thread titled "Who is Essjay?" (later retitled "Who is Essjay?, Probably he's Ryan Jordan" after Jordan's self-disclosure) was started on the forum site Wikipedia Review. The ensuing discussion brought to light contradictions in claims Essjay made about his academic qualifications and professional experiences on his Wikipedia user page. Yet, five days later, The New Yorker published an interview with Essjay which repeated some of the claims. Wikipedia Review found definitive proof that Jordan made false claims about his qualifications and experience, including that he was not a "tenured professor", a claim that was used to describe Essjay in the interview for The New Yorker. In January 2007, Daniel Brandt contacted the author of the article in The New Yorker about the discrepancies in Jordan's biography and the exploitation of his supposed qualifications as leverage in internal disputes over Wikipedia content.
The controversy that ensued focused on his falsification of a persona and qualifications, the impact of this deception on perceptions of Wikipedia (and its policies and credibility), and the quality of decisions made in his promotion, support, and employment.
Reactions to the disclosure were diverse, encompassing commentary and articles in the electronic, print, and broadcast media; the Wikipedia community researched Essjay's article edits to check for errors and debated proposals to improve the project's handling of personal identification. In his editorial activities Jordan spent less time editing the content of articles and more time addressing vandalism and resolving editorial disputes.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales initially supported Essjay's use of a persona, saying, "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it." Later, Wales withdrew his support and asked for Essjay's resignation from his positions with Wikipedia and Wikia. Wales stated that he withdrew his support when he learned "that Essjay used his false credentials in content disputes" on Wikipedia.


The New Yorker interview

Stacy Schiff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist writing for The New Yorker, interviewed Essjay as a source for an article about Wikipedia ("Know It All"; July 31, 2006) after he was recommended to her by a member of the Wikimedia Foundation. According to The New Yorker, Essjay "was willing to describe his work as a Wikipedia administrator but would not identify himself other than by confirming the biographical details that appeared on his user page."[16]
Image of Essjay from his Wikia profile
During the interview, Jordan told The New Yorker and had previously stated on his Wikipedia user page that he held doctoral degrees in theology and canon law and worked as a tenured professor at a private university.[1] It was later discovered that he was 24 years old, and had dropped out of community college with no qualifications.[10] The New Yorker published a correction in February 2007, which brought the issue to broader public attention.[16]
The article said that Essjay spent some 14 hours or more a day on Wikipedia but was careful to keep his online life a secret from his colleagues and friends. It portrayed Essjay as often taking his laptop to class so he could be available to other Wikipedians while giving a quiz. He asserted that he required anonymity to avoid cyberstalking.[16]
Jordan, as Essjay, claimed he sent an email to a college professor using his invented persona's credentials, vouching for Wikipedia's accuracy. In the message he wrote in part, "I am an administrator of the online encyclopedia project Wikipedia. I am also a tenured professor of theology; feel free to have a look at my Wikipedia user page (linked below) to gain an idea of my background and credentials."[18][22]

Identity revealed

When Essjay was hired by Wikia in January 2007, he changed his Wikia profile and "came clean on who he really was," identifying himself as Ryan Jordan.[23][24][25][26][27] Other Wikipedia editors questioned Essjay on his Wikipedia talk page about the apparent discrepancy between his new Wikia profile and his previously claimed credentials.[5][28] Essjay posted a detailed explanation in response to the first inquiry, stating that:
There are a number of trolls, stalkers, and psychopaths who wander around Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects looking for people to harass, stalk, and otherwise ruin the lives of (several have been arrested over their activities here)...You will eventually say something that will lead back to you, and the stalkers will find it...I decided to be myself, to never hide my personality, to always be who I am, but to utilize disinformation with regard to what I consider unimportant details: age, location, occupation, etc...
—Essjay, [5]
He later commented on his Wikipedia user page about having fooled Schiff by "...doing a good job playing the part."[18]
Wikipedia critic Daniel Brandt then wrote a letter[29] reporting the identity discrepancy to Stacy Schiff and The New Yorker.[4] In late February 2007, the magazine updated its article with a correction indicating that "Essjay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught."[16]
On March 3, 2007, Andrew Lih, Assistant Professor and Director of Technology Journalism and of the Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong,[30] said on his blog that a portion of Essjay's comments on the incident entered "the dangerous domain of defamation and libel" against Stacy Schiff. Lih quoted Essjay as writing on his Wikipedia talk page: "Further, she [Schiff] made several offers to compensate me for my time, and my response was that if she truly felt the need to do so, she should donate to the Foundation instead." Lih noted:
This is an accusation of the highest degree to make about a journalist. Paying a source for a story is an absolute no-no in the normal practice of print journalism. And it struck me immediately how incredible it was he would accuse Stacy Schiff, a Pulitzer Prize winning author writing for The New Yorker, of this crime. We either have a serious breach of ethics with Ms. Schiff or another dubious statement claim from Essjay.
—Andrew Lih
Lih wrote that he contacted Schiff for comment about whether she had offered to pay Essjay for his time and quoted her return email. In it, Schiff stated that Essjay's assertion was "complete nonsense."[31]


Wikipedia community

Speaking personally about Jordan, Wales said, "Mr. Ryan [sic] was a friend, and still is a friend. He is a young man, and he has offered me a heartfelt personal apology, which I have accepted. I hope the world will let him go in peace to build an honorable life and reputation."[32]
Essjay had responded at the time with a statement on his Wikipedia page, in part reading:
...I *am* sorry if anyone in the Wikipedia community has been hurt by my decision to use disinformation to protect myself. I'm not sorry that I protected myself; I believed, and continue to believe, that I was right to protect myself, in light of the problems encountered on the Internet in these trying times. I have spoken to all of my close friends here about this, and have heard resoundingly that they understand my position, and they support me. Jimbo and many others in Wikipedia's hierarchy have made their support known as well...
—Essjay, [33]
Reaction from within the Wikipedia community to the Essjay/Jordan identity discrepancy was sharp, voluminous, and mixed. While most editors denounced at least some of his actions, responses ranged from offering complete support to accusing Jordan of fraud.[34]
As the controversy unfolded, the Wikipedia community began a review of Essjay's previous edits and some felt he had relied upon his fictional professorship to influence editorial consideration of edits he made. "People have gone through his edits and found places where he was basically cashing in on his fake credentials to bolster his arguments," said Michael Snow, a Wikipedia administrator and founder of the Wikipedia community newspaper, The Wikipedia Signpost. "Those will get looked at again."[34] For instance, Essjay had recommended sources such as Catholicism for Dummies,[35] a book granted the nihil obstat and imprimatur by the Roman Catholic Church.[36] Essjay defended his use of the book by telling fellow Wikipedia editors in a disagreement over the editing of the article Imprimatur: "This is a text I often require for my students, and I would hang my own Ph.D. on its credibility."[34][37] In another case (a discussion of the liturgical use of the psalms), he cited personal experience from "the Abbey of Gethsemani, where I was a monk."[38]
Jimmy Wales proposed a credential verification system on Wikipedia following the Essjay controversy, but the proposal was rejected. Wales was "reported to be considering vetting all persons who adjudicate on factual disputes."[39] "I don't think this incident exposes any inherent weakness in Wikipedia, but it does expose a weakness that we will be working to address," Wales added.[32] He insisted that Wikipedia editors still would be able to remain anonymous if they wished. "We always prefer to give a positive incentive rather than absolute prohibition, so that people can contribute without a lot of hassle," Wales commented. However, he also warned that "It's always inappropriate to try to win an argument by flashing your credentials, and even more so if those credentials are inaccurate."[11] However, Florence Devouard, chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, was not supportive of his credential proposal, saying, "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." A formal proposal that users claiming to have academic qualifications would have to provide evidence before citing them in content disputes was eventually rejected by the Wikipedia community,[40] like all previous such proposals.
As a follow-up to his initial comments to The New Yorker, Wales wrote this apology to the magazine, which appeared in its March 19, 2007 issue:
I am writing to apologize to The New Yorker and Stacy Schiff, and to give some follow-up concerning Ryan Jordan (Editors' Note, March 5). When I last spoke to The New Yorker about the fact that a prominent Wikipedia community member had lied about his credentials, I misjudged the issue. It was not O.K. for Mr. Jordan, or Essjay, to lie to a reporter, even to protect his identity.
Wales expressed his regret that Essjay had "made a series of very bad judgments."[13] He also commented that he hoped Wikipedia would improve as a result of the controversy.[13]

Wikipedia critics

Journalist and Wikipedia critic Andrew Orlowski
Andrew Orlowski, a frequent Wikipedia critic and writer for The Register—a British technology news and opinion website—criticized Jimmy Wales for hiring Essjay at the venture-capital-funded Wikia and for appointing him to the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee after Essjay had apparently admitted his previously claimed academic and professional credentials were false. Orlowski added that Essjay's actions betrayed a dangerous community mindset within Wikipedia.[41]
Others to comment negatively included ZDNet writer Mitch Ratcliffe, who asked "why lying about one's background qualifies a person to work for a company like Wikia, which proposes to help communities to record accurate information" and asked for additional details "such as when he fired Jordan and the reasons for the firing, as well as when he endorsed Jordan in public statements."[20]
Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia who left the project in 2002, called Essjay's response "a defiant non-apology"[42] and elsewhere characterized Essjay's actions as "identity fraud."[41]
Other comments:
  • Internet activist Seth Finkelstein asserted that Wikipedia "fundamentally runs by an extremely deceptive sort of social promise" to its editors—that they will gain academic prestige by contributing to an online encyclopedia. Finkelstein said Essjay was a product of that deceptive system,[43] and was "that dream's poster child."[18]
  • BusinessWeek commented on proposals for credential verification: "Sadly, not everyone who posts to Wikipedia is concerned with the Ten Commandments. Some are concerned with revenge. Some with self-aggrandizement. Some just have nothing better to do. We live in an age of fake IDs, fake money, fake e-mails, fake URLs, fake IP addresses, and fake votes..." However, the article argued that Wikipedia could not become a "net police" of reliability on the Internet.[44]
  • Steve Maich (journalist, Maclean's) stated that the controversy could damage Wikipedia's future as a media business operation, observing that Wikipedia's model was supposedly built upon trust and credibility.[45]
  • Cassandra Jardine, a Daily Telegraph contributor, opined that Essjay was "hooked on 'Wiki crack'—devotees' jargon for the thrill of seeing your efforts debated." She further observed that "Essjay has provided a reminder that any given entry could have been written by someone as ignorant as ourselves. On the other hand, no one has taken issue with his edits, only his assumed persona, so perhaps the real lesson of this democratic medium is that college drop-outs might be as authoritative as professors."[46]
  • ITworld commented on Wikipedia contributors: "Legitimate writers, scholars and industry experts have very little motivation to contribute to Wikipedia—leaving the project with wannabes and posers like Essjay with too much time on their hands to churn out content."[47]
  • Andrew Keen (author, Cult of the Amateur) described the controversy as an example of ignoring expert guidance in favor of the "dictatorship of idiots."[48]
  • L. Brent Bozell III (president, Media Research Center) commented that "off-setting and off-putting material" can be added to Wikipedia to create "intellectual mischief." He called the Essjay controversy "enough to make used-car salesmen cringe."[49]
  • Alex Beam (columnist, Boston Globe) criticized the Essjay affair as being part of what he characterizes as the problems of "crowdsourcing" and the "wisdom of crowds," stating also that the crowd accepts authority unquestioningly: "Who would you rather have write your encyclopedia entries? Bertrand Russell, T.H. Huxley, and Benedetto Croce, who wrote for the Britannica? Or ... EssJay?"[50]


Following the media coverage of the Essjay controversy, a number of academics noted the damage to the credibility of Wikipedia. On March 2, 2007, a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education commented "the incident is clearly damaging to Wikipedia's credibility—especially with professors who will now note that one of the site's most visible academics has turned out to be a fraud."[51] Ross Brann, a professor of Judeo-Islamic studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, stated that Wikipedia lacks a process of scholarly review, saying, "They could make up your life if they wanted to." Brann also said that Wikipedia "has no place in the University," and he believed the Essjay incident would do nothing to change the unfavorable opinion that academics generally hold about the online encyclopedia. Students at Cornell indicated that they may continue to use Wikipedia as a quick source of information, though they would not cite it in scholarly work.[52]
Nicola Pratt, a lecturer in international relations at the University of East Anglia in England stated, "The ethos of Wikipedia is that anyone can contribute, regardless of status... What's relevant is their knowledge as judged by other readers, not whether they are professors or not—and the fact the student [Essjay] was exposed shows it works."[53] In 2009, an lengthy article was published by the National Council of Teachers of English discussing the challenges of determining textual origins in college compositions, using a detailed history of the Essjay incident to set the context.[54]

Appendix 02.

Know It All

Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?

by July 31, 2006

Editors’ Note appended.

On March 1st, Wikipedia, the online interactive encyclopedia, hit the million-articles mark, with an entry on Jordanhill, a railway station in suburban Glasgow. Its author, Ewan MacDonald, posted a single sentence about the station at 11 P.M., local time; over the next twenty-four hours, the entry was edited more than four hundred times, by dozens of people. (Jordanhill happens to be the “1029th busiest station in the United Kingdom”; it “no longer has a staffed ticket counter.”) The Encyclopædia Britannica, which for more than two centuries has been considered the gold standard for reference works, has only a hundred and twenty thousand entries in its most comprehensive edition. Apparently, no traditional encyclopedia has ever suspected that someone might wonder about Sudoku or about prostitution in China. Or, for that matter, about Capgras delusion (the unnerving sensation that an impostor is sitting in for a close relative), the Boston molasses disaster, the Rhinoceros Party of Canada, Bill Gates’s house, the forty-five-minute Anglo-Zanzibar War, or Islam in Iceland. Wikipedia includes fine entries on Kafka and the War of the Spanish Succession, and also a complete guide to the ships of the U.S. Navy, a definition of Philadelphia cheesesteak, a masterly page on Scrabble, a list of historical cats (celebrity cats, a cat millionaire, the first feline to circumnavigate Australia), a survey of invented expletives in fiction (“bippie,” “cakesniffer,” “furgle”), instructions for curing hiccups, and an article that describes, with schematic diagrams, how to build a stove from a discarded soda can. The how-to entries represent territory that the encyclopedia has not claimed since the eighteenth century. You could cure a toothache or make snowshoes using the original Britannica, of 1768-71. (You could also imbibe a lot of prejudice and superstition. The entry on Woman was just six words: “The female of man. See HOMO.”) If you look up “coffee preparation” on Wikipedia, you will find your way, via the entry on Espresso, to a piece on types of espresso machines, which you will want to consult before buying. There is also a page on the site dedicated to “Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia” (Stalin’s birth date, the true inventor of the safety razor).
Because there are no physical limits on its size, Wikipedia can aspire to be all-inclusive. It is also perfectly configured to be current: there are detailed entries for each of the twelve finalists on this season’s “American Idol,” and the article on the “2006 Israel-Lebanon Conflict” has been edited more than four thousand times since it was created, on July 12th, six hours after Hezbollah militants ignited the hostilities by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, is now the seventeenth-most-popular site on the Internet, generating more traffic daily than and the online versions of the Times and the Wall Street Journal combined. The number of visitors has been doubling every four months; the site receives as many as fourteen thousand hits per second. Wikipedia functions as a filter for vast amounts of information online, and it could be said that Google owes the site for tidying up the neighborhood. But the search engine is amply repaying its debt: because Wikipedia pages contain so many links to other entries on the site, and are so frequently updated, they enjoy an enviably high page rank.

The site has achieved this prominence largely without paid staff or revenue. It has five employees in addition to Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s thirty-nine-year-old founder, and it carries no advertising. In 2003, Wikipedia became a nonprofit organization; it meets most of its budget, of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, with donations, the bulk of them contributions of twenty dollars or less. Wales says that he is on a mission to “distribute a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet in their own language,” and to an astonishing degree he is succeeding. Anyone with Internet access can create a Wikipedia entry or edit an existing one. The site currently exists in more than two hundred languages and has hundreds of thousands of contributors around the world. Wales is at the forefront of a revolution in knowledge gathering: he has marshalled an army of volunteers who believe that, working collaboratively, they can produce an encyclopedia that is as good as any written by experts, and with an unprecedented range.
Wikipedia is an online community devoted not to last night’s party or to next season’s iPod but to a higher good. It is also no more immune to human nature than any other utopian project. Pettiness, idiocy, and vulgarity are regular features of the site. Nothing about high-minded collaboration guarantees accuracy, and open editing invites abuse. Senators and congressmen have been caught tampering with their entries; the entire House of Representatives has been banned from Wikipedia several times. (It is not subtle to change Senator Robert Byrd’s age from eighty-eight to a hundred and eighty. It is subtler to sanitize one’s voting record in order to distance oneself from an unpopular President, or to delete broken campaign promises.) Curiously, though, mob rule has not led to chaos. Wikipedia, which began as an experiment in unfettered democracy, has sprouted policies and procedures. At the same time, the site embodies our newly casual relationship to truth. When confronted with evidence of errors or bias, Wikipedians invoke a favorite excuse: look how often the mainstream media, and the traditional encyclopedia, are wrong! As defenses go, this is the epistemological equivalent of “But Johnny jumped off the bridge first.” Wikipedia, though, is only five years old. One day, it may grow up.
The encyclopedic impulse dates back more than two thousand years and has rarely balked at national borders. Among the first general reference works was Emperor’s Mirror, commissioned in 220 A.D. by a Chinese emperor, for use by civil servants. The quest to catalogue all human knowledge accelerated in the eighteenth century. In the seventeen-seventies, the Germans, champions of thoroughness, began assembling a two-hundred-and-forty-two-volume masterwork. A few decades earlier, Johann Heinrich Zedler, a Leipzig bookseller, had alarmed local competitors when he solicited articles for his Universal-Lexicon. His rivals, fearing that the work would put them out of business by rendering all other books obsolete, tried unsuccessfully to sabotage the project.
It took a devious Frenchman, Pierre Bayle, to conceive of an encyclopedia composed solely of errors. After the idea failed to generate much enthusiasm among potential readers, he instead compiled a “Dictionnaire Historique et Critique,” which consisted almost entirely of footnotes, many highlighting flaws of earlier scholarship. Bayle taught readers to doubt, a lesson in subversion that Diderot and d’Alembert, the authors of the Encyclopédie (1751-80), learned well. Their thirty-five-volume work preached rationalism at the expense of church and state. The more stolid Britannica was born of cross-channel rivalry and an Anglo-Saxon passion for utility.
Wales’s first encyclopedia was the World Book, which his parents acquired after dinner one evening in 1969, from a door-to-door salesman. Wales—who resembles a young Billy Crystal with the neuroses neatly tucked in—recalls the enchantment of pasting in update stickers that cross-referenced older entries to the annual supplements. Wales’s mother and grandmother ran a private school in Huntsville, Alabama, which he attended from the age of three. He graduated from Auburn University with a degree in finance and began a Ph.D. in the subject, enrolling first at the University of Alabama and later at Indiana University. In 1994, he decided to take a job trading options in Chicago rather than write his dissertation. Four years later, he moved to San Diego, where he used his savings to found an Internet portal. Its audience was mostly men; pornography—videos and blogs—accounted for about a tenth of its revenues. Meanwhile, Wales was cogitating. In his view, misinformation, propaganda, and ignorance are responsible for many of the world’s ills. “I’m very much an Enlightenment kind of guy,” Wales told me. The promise of the Internet is free knowledge for everyone, he recalls thinking. How do we make that happen?
As an undergraduate, he had read Friedrich Hayek’s 1945 free-market manifesto, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” which argues that a person’s knowledge is by definition partial, and that truth is established only when people pool their wisdom. Wales thought of the essay again in the nineteen-nineties, when he began reading about the open-source movement, a group of programmers who believed that software should be free and distributed in such a way that anyone could modify the code. He was particularly impressed by “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” an essay, later expanded into a book, by Eric Raymond, one of the movement’s founders. “It opened my eyes to the possibility of mass collaboration,” Wales said.
The first step was a misstep. In 2000, Wales hired Larry Sanger, a graduate student in philosophy he had met on a Listserv, to help him create an online general-interest encyclopedia called Nupedia. The idea was to solicit articles from scholars, subject the articles to a seven-step review process, and post them free online. Wales himself tried to compose the entry on Robert Merton and options-pricing theory; after he had written a few sentences, he remembered why he had dropped out of graduate school. “They were going to take my essay and send it to two finance professors in the field,” he recalled. “I had been out of academia for several years. It was intimidating; it felt like homework.”
After a year, Nupedia had only twenty-one articles, on such topics as atonality and Herodotus. In January, 2001, Sanger had dinner with a friend, who told him about the wiki, a simple software tool that allows for collaborative writing and editing. Sanger thought that a wiki might attract new contributors to Nupedia. (Wales says that using a wiki was his idea.) Wales agreed to try it, more or less as a lark. Under the wiki model that Sanger and Wales adopted, each entry included a history page, which preserves a record of all editing changes. They added a talk page, to allow for discussion of the editorial process—an idea Bayle would have appreciated. Sanger coined the term Wikipedia, and the site went live on January 15, 2001. Two days later, he sent an e-mail to the Nupedia mailing list—about two thousand people. “Wikipedia is up!” he wrote. “Humor me. Go there and add a little article. It will take all of five or ten minutes.”
Wales braced himself for “complete rubbish.” He figured that if he and Sanger were lucky the wiki would generate a few rough drafts for Nupedia. Within a month, Wikipedia had six hundred articles. After a year, there were twenty thousand.
Wales is fond of citing a 1962 proclamation by Charles Van Doren, who later became an editor at Britannica. Van Doren believed that the traditional encyclopedia was defunct. It had grown by accretion rather than by design; it had sacrificed artful synthesis to plodding convention; it looked backward. “Because the world is radically new, the ideal encyclopedia should be radical, too,” Van Doren wrote. “It should stop being safe—in politics, in philosophy, in science.”
In its seminal Western incarnation, the encyclopedia had been a dangerous book. The Encyclopédie muscled aside religious institutions and orthodoxies to install human reason at the center of the universe—and, for that muscling, briefly earned the book’s publisher a place in the Bastille. As the historian Robert Darnton pointed out, the entry in the Encyclopédie on cannibalism ends with the cross-reference “See Eucharist.” What Wales seems to have in mind, however, is less Van Doren’s call to arms than that of an earlier rabble-rouser. In the nineteen-thirties, H. G. Wells lamented that, while the world was becoming smaller and moving at increasing speed, the way information was distributed remained old-fashioned and ineffective. He prescribed a “world brain,” a collaborative, decentralized repository of knowledge that would be subject to continual revision. More radically—with “alma-matricidal impiety,” as he put it—Wells indicted academia; the university was itself medieval. “We want a Henry Ford today to modernize the distribution of knowledge, make good knowledge cheap and easy in this still very ignorant, ill-educated, ill-served English-speaking world of ours,” he wrote. Had the Internet existed in his lifetime, Wells might have beaten Wales to the punch.
Wales’s most radical contribution may be not to have made information free but—in his own alma-matricidal way—to have invented a system that does not favor the Ph.D. over the well-read fifteen-year-old. “To me, the key thing is getting it right,” Wales has said of Wikipedia’s contributors. “I don’t care if they’re a high-school kid or a Harvard professor.” At the beginning, there were no formal rules, though Sanger eventually posted a set of guidelines on the site. The first was “Ignore all the rules.” Two of the others have become central tenets: articles must reflect a neutral point of view (N.P.O.V., in Wikipedia lingo), and their content must be both verifiable and previously published. Among other things, the prohibition against original research heads off a great deal of material about people’s pets.
Insofar as Wikipedia has a physical existence, it is in St. Petersburg, Florida, in an executive suite that serves as the headquarters of the Wikimedia Foundation, the parent organization of Wikipedia and its lesser-known sister projects, among them Wikisource (a library of free texts), Wikinews (a current-events site) and Wikiquote (bye-bye Bartlett’s). Wales, who is married and has a five-year-old daughter, says that St. Petersburg’s attractive housing prices lured him from California. When I visited the offices in March, the walls were bare, the furniture battered. With the addition of a dead plant, the suite could pass for a graduate-student lounge.
The real work at Wikipedia takes place not in Florida but on thousands of computer screens across the world. Perhaps Wikipedia’s greatest achievement—one that Wales did not fully anticipate—was the creation of a community. Wikipedians are officially anonymous, contributing to unsigned entries under screen names. They are also predominantly male—about eighty per cent, Wales says—and compulsively social, conversing with each other not only on the talk pages attached to each entry but on Wikipedia-dedicated I.R.C. channels and on user pages, which regular contributors often create and which serve as a sort of personalized office cooler. On the page of a twenty-year-old Wikipedian named Arocoun, who lists “philosophizing” among his favorite activities, messages from other users range from the reflective (“I’d argue against your claim that humans should aim to be independent/self-reliant in all aspects of their lives . . . I don’t think true independence is a realistic ideal given all the inherent intertwinings of any society”) to the geekily flirtatious (“I’m a neurotic painter from Ohio, and I guess if you consider your views radical, then I’m a radical, too. So . . . we should be friends”).
Wikipedians have evolved a distinctive vocabulary, of which “revert,” meaning “reinstate”—as in “I reverted the edit, but the user has simply rereverted it”—may be the most commonly used word. Other terms include WikiGnome (a user who keeps a low profile, fixing typos, poor grammar, and broken links) and its antithesis, WikiTroll (a user who persistently violates the site’s guidelines or otherwise engages in disruptive behavior). There are Aspergian Wikipedians (seventy-two), bipolar Wikipedians, vegetarian Wikipedians, antivegetarian Wikipedians, existential Wikipedians, pro-Luxembourg Wikipedians, and Wikipedians who don’t like to be categorized. According to a page on the site, an avid interest in Wikipedia has been known to afflict “computer programmers, academics, graduate students, game-show contestants, news junkies, the unemployed, the soon-to-be unemployed and, in general, people with multiple interests and good memories.” You may travel in more exalted circles, but this covers pretty much everyone I know.
Wikipedia may be the world’s most ambitious vanity press. There are two hundred thousand registered users on the English-language site, of whom about thirty-three hundred—fewer than two per cent—are responsible for seventy per cent of the work. The site allows you to compare contributors by the number of edits they have made, by the number of articles that have been judged by community vote to be outstanding (these “featured” articles often appear on the site’s home page), and by hourly activity, in graph form. A seventeen-year-old P. G. Wodehouse fan who specializes in British peerages leads the featured-article pack, with fifty-eight entries. A twenty-four-year-old University of Toronto graduate is the site’s premier contributor. Since composing his first piece, on the Panama Canal, in 2001, he has written or edited more than seventy-two thousand articles. “Wikipediholism” and “editcountitis” are well defined on the site; both link to an article on obsessive-compulsive disorder. (There is a Britannica entry for O.C.D., but no version of it has included Felix Unger’s name in the third sentence, a comprehensive survey of “OCD in literature and film,” or a list of celebrity O.C.D. sufferers, which unites, surely for the first time in history, Florence Nightingale with Joey Ramone.)
One regular on the site is a user known as Essjay, who holds a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law and has written or contributed to sixteen thousand entries. A tenured professor of religion at a private university, Essjay made his first edit in February, 2005. Initially, he contributed to articles in his field—on the penitential rite, transubstantiation, the papal tiara. Soon he was spending fourteen hours a day on the site, though he was careful to keep his online life a secret from his colleagues and friends. (To his knowledge, he has never met another Wikipedian, and he will not be attending Wikimania, the second international gathering of the encyclopedia’s contributors, which will take place in early August in Boston.)
Gradually, Essjay found himself devoting less time to editing and more to correcting errors and removing obscenities from the site. In May, he twice removed a sentence from the entry on Justin Timberlake asserting that the pop star had lost his home in 2002 for failing to pay federal taxes—a statement that Essjay knew to be false. The incident ended there. Others involve ideological disagreements and escalate into intense edit wars. A number of the disputes on the English-language Wikipedia relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to religious issues. Almost as acrimonious are the battles waged over the entries on Macedonia, Danzig, the Armenian genocide, and Henry Ford. Ethnic feuds die hard: Was Copernicus Polish, German, or Prussian? (A nonbinding poll was conducted earlier this year to determine whether the question merited mention in the article’s lead.) Some debates may never be resolved: Was the 1812 Battle of Borodino a victory for the Russians or for the French? What is the date of Ann Coulter’s birth? Is apple pie all-American? (The answer, at least for now, is no: “Apple trees didn’t even grow in America until the Europeans brought them over,” one user railed. He was seconded by another, who added, “Apple pie is very popular in the Netherlands too. Americans did not invent or introduce it to the Netherlands. You already plagiarized Santa Claus from our Saint Nicholas. Stop it!”) Who could have guessed that “cheese” would figure among the site’s most contested entries? (The controversy entailed whether in Asia there is a cultural prohibition against eating it.) For the past nine months, Baltimore’s climate has been a subject of bitter debate. What is the average temperature in January?
At first, Wales handled the fistfights himself, but he was reluctant to ban anyone from the site. As the number of users increased, so did the editing wars and the incidence of vandalism. In October, 2001, Wales appointed a small cadre of administrators, called admins, to police the site for abuse. Admins can delete articles or protect them from further changes, block users from editing, and revert text more efficiently than can ordinary users. (There are now nearly a thousand admins on the site.) In 2004, Wales formalized the 3R rule—initially it had been merely a guideline—according to which any user who reverts the same text more than three times in a twenty-four-hour period is blocked from editing for a day. The policy grew out of a series of particularly vitriolic battles, including one over the U.S. economy—it was experiencing either high growth and low unemployment or low growth and high unemployment.
Wales also appointed an arbitration committee to rule on disputes. Before a case reaches the arbitration committee, it often passes through a mediation committee. Essjay is serving a second term as chair of the mediation committee. He is also an admin, a bureaucrat, and a checkuser, which means that he is one of fourteen Wikipedians authorized to trace I.P. addresses in cases of suspected abuse. He often takes his laptop to class, so that he can be available to Wikipedians while giving a quiz, and he keeps an eye on twenty I.R.C. chat channels, where users often trade gossip about abuses they have witnessed.
Five robots troll the site for obvious vandalism, searching for obscenities and evidence of mass deletions, reverting text as they go. More egregious violations require human intervention. Essjay recently caught a user who, under one screen name, was replacing sentences with nonsense and deleting whole entries and, under another, correcting the abuses—all in order to boost his edit count. He was banned permanently from the site. Some users who have been caught tampering threaten revenge against the admins who apprehend them. Essjay says that he routinely receives death threats. “There are people who take Wikipedia way too seriously,” he told me. (Wikipedians have acknowledged Essjay’s labors by awarding him numerous barnstars—five-pointed stars, which the community has adopted as a symbol of praise—including several Random Acts of Kindness Barnstars and the Tireless Contributor Barnstar.)
Wikipedia has become a regulatory thicket, complete with an elaborate hierarchy of users and policies about policies. Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda B. Viégas, two researchers at I.B.M. who have studied the site using computerized visual models called “history flows,” found that the talk pages and “meta pages”—those dealing with coördination and administration—have experienced the greatest growth. Whereas articles once made up about eighty-five per cent of the site’s content, as of last October they represented seventy per cent. As Wattenberg put it, “People are talking about governance, not working on content.” Wales is ambivalent about the rules and procedures but believes that they are necessary. “Things work well when a group of people know each other, and things break down when it’s a bunch of random people interacting,” he told me.
For all its protocol, Wikipedia’s bureaucracy doesn’t necessarily favor truth. In March, 2005, William Connolley, a climate modeller at the British Antarctic Survey, in Cambridge, was briefly a victim of an edit war over the entry on global warming, to which he had contributed. After a particularly nasty confrontation with a skeptic, who had repeatedly watered down language pertaining to the greenhouse effect, the case went into arbitration. “User William M. Connolley strongly pushes his POV with systematic removal of any POV which does not match his own,” his accuser charged in a written deposition. “His views on climate science are singular and narrow.” A decision from the arbitration committee was three months in coming, after which Connolley was placed on a humiliating one-revert-a-day parole. The punishment was later revoked, and Connolley is now an admin, with two thousand pages on his watchlist—a feature that enables users to compile a list of entries and to be notified when changes are made to them. He says that Wikipedia’s entry on global warming may be the best page on the subject anywhere on the Web. Nevertheless, Wales admits that in this case the system failed. It can still seem as though the user who spends the most time on the site—or who yells the loudest—wins.
Connolley believes that Wikipedia “gives no privilege to those who know what they’re talking about,” a view that is echoed by many academics and former contributors, including Larry Sanger, who argues that too many Wikipedians are fundamentally suspicious of experts and unjustly confident of their own opinions. He left Wikipedia in March, 2002, after Wales ran out of money to support the site during the dot-com bust. Sanger concluded that he had become a symbol of authority in an anti-authoritarian community. “Wikipedia has gone from a nearly perfect anarchy to an anarchy with gang rule,” he told me. (Sanger is now the director of collaborative projects at the online foundation Digital Universe, where he is helping to develop a Web-based encyclopedia, a hybrid between a wiki and a traditional reference work. He promises that it will have “the lowest error rate in history.”) Even Eric Raymond, the open-source pioneer whose work inspired Wales, argues that “ ‘disaster’ is not too strong a word” for Wikipedia. In his view, the site is “infested with moonbats.” (Think hobgoblins of little minds, varsity division.) He has found his corrections to entries on science fiction dismantled by users who evidently felt that he was trespassing on their terrain. “The more you look at what some of the Wikipedia contributors have done, the better Britannica looks,” Raymond said. He believes that the open-source model is simply inapplicable to an encyclopedia. For software, there is an objective standard: either it works or it doesn’t. There is no such test for truth.
Nor has increasing surveillance of the site by admins deterred vandals, a majority of whom seem to be inserting obscenities and absurdities into Wikipedia when they should be doing their homework. Many are committing their pranks in the classroom: the abuse tends to ebb on a Friday afternoon and resume early on a Monday. Entire schools and universities have found their I.P. addresses blocked as a result. The entry on George W. Bush has been vandalized so frequently—sometimes more than twice a minute—that it is often closed to editing for days. At any given time, a couple of hundred entries are semi-protected, which means that a user must register his I.P. address and wait several days before making changes. This group recently included not only the entries on God, Galileo, and Al Gore but also those on poodles, oranges, and Frédéric Chopin. Even Wales has been caught airbrushing his Wikipedia entry—eighteen times in the past year. He is particularly sensitive about references to the porn traffic on his Web portal. “Adult content” or “glamour photography” are the terms that he prefers, though, as one user pointed out on the site, they are perhaps not the most precise way to describe lesbian strip-poker threesomes. (In January, Wales agreed to a compromise: “erotic photography.”) He is repentant about his meddling. “People shouldn’t do it, including me,” he said. “It’s in poor taste.”
Wales recently established an “oversight” function, by which some admins (Essjay among them) can purge text from the system, so that even the history page bears no record of its ever having been there. Wales says that this measure is rarely used, and only in order to remove slanderous or private information, such as a telephone number. “It’s a perfectly reasonable power in any other situation, but completely antithetical to this project,” said Jason Scott, a longtime contributor to Wikipedia who has published several essays critical of the site.
Is Wikipedia accurate? Last year, Nature published a survey comparing forty-two entries on scientific topics on Wikipedia with their counterparts in Encyclopædia Britannica. According to the survey, Wikipedia had four errors for every three of Britannica’s, a result that, oddly, was hailed as a triumph for the upstart. Such exercises in nitpicking are relatively meaningless, as no reference work is infallible. Britannica issued a public statement refuting the survey’s findings, and took out a half-page advertisement in the Times, which said, in part, “Britannica has never claimed to be error-free. We have a reputation not for unattainable perfection but for strong scholarship, sound judgment, and disciplined editorial review.” Later, Jorge Cauz, Britannica’s president, told me in an e-mail that if Wikipedia continued without some kind of editorial oversight it would “decline into a hulking mediocre mass of uneven, unreliable, and, many times, unreadable articles.” Wales has said that he would consider Britannica a competitor, “except that I think they will be crushed out of existence within five years.”
Larry Sanger proposes a fine distinction between knowledge that is useful and knowledge that is reliable, and there is no question that Wikipedia beats every other source when it comes to breadth, efficiency, and accessibility. Yet the site’s virtues are also liabilities. Cauz scoffed at the notion of “good enough knowledge.” “I hate that,” he said, pointing out that there is no way to know which facts in an entry to trust. Or, as Robert McHenry, a veteran editor at Britannica, put it, “We can get the wrong answer to a question quicker than our fathers and mothers could find a pencil.”
Part of the problem is provenance. The bulk of Wikipedia’s content originates not in the stacks but on the Web, which offers up everything from breaking news, spin, and gossip to proof that the moon landings never took place. Glaring errors jostle quiet omissions. Wales, in his public speeches, cites the Google test: “If it isn’t on Google, it doesn’t exist.” This position poses another difficulty: on Wikipedia, the present takes precedent over the past. The (generally good) entry on St. Augustine is shorter than the one on Britney Spears. The article on Nietzsche has been modified incessantly, yielding five archived talk pages. But the debate is largely over Nietzsche’s politics; taken as a whole, the entry is inferior to the essay in the current Britannica, a model of its form. (From Wikipedia: “Nietzsche also owned a copy of Philipp Mainländer’s ‘Die Philosophie der Erlösung,’ a work which, like Schopenhauer’s philosophy, expressed pessimism.”)
Wikipedia remains a lumpy work in progress. The entries can read as though they had been written by a seventh grader: clarity and concision are lacking; the facts may be sturdy, but the connective tissue is either anemic or absent; and citation is hit or miss. Wattenberg and Viégas, of I.B.M., note that the vast majority of Wikipedia edits consist of deletions and additions rather than of attempts to reorder paragraphs or to shape an entry as a whole, and they believe that Wikipedia’s twenty-five-line editing window deserves some of the blame. It is difficult to craft an article in its entirety when reading it piecemeal, and, given Wikipedians’ obsession with racking up edits, simple fixes often take priority over more complex edits. Wattenberg and Viégas have also identified a “first-mover advantage”: the initial contributor to an article often sets the tone, and that person is rarely a Macaulay or a Johnson. The over-all effect is jittery, the textual equivalent of a film shot with a handheld camera.
What can be said for an encyclopedia that is sometimes right, sometimes wrong, and sometimes illiterate? When I showed the Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam his entry, he was surprised to find it as good as the one in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He was flabbergasted when he learned how Wikipedia worked. “Obviously, this was the work of experts,” he said. In the nineteen-sixties, William F. Buckley, Jr., said that he would sooner “live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” On Wikipedia, he might finally have his wish. How was his page? Essentially on target, he said. All the same, Buckley added, he would prefer that those anonymous two thousand souls govern, and leave the encyclopedia writing to the experts.
Over breakfast in early May, I asked Cauz for an analogy with which to compare Britannica and Wikipedia. “Wikipedia is to Britannica as ‘American Idol’ is to the Juilliard School,” he e-mailed me the next day. A few days later, Wales also chose a musical metaphor. “Wikipedia is to Britannica as rock and roll is to easy listening,” he suggested. “It may not be as smooth, but it scares the parents and is a lot smarter in the end.” He is right to emphasize the fright factor over accuracy. As was the Encyclopédie, Wikipedia is a combination of manifesto and reference work. Peer review, the mainstream media, and government agencies have landed us in a ditch. Not only are we impatient with the authorities but we are in a mood to talk back. Wikipedia offers endless opportunities for self-expression. It is the love child of reading groups and chat rooms, a second home for anyone who has written an Amazon review. This is not the first time that encyclopedia-makers have snatched control from an élite, or cast a harsh light on certitude. Jimmy Wales may or may not be the new Henry Ford, yet he has sent us tooling down the interstate, with but a squint back at the railroad. We’re on the open road now, without conductors and timetables. We’re free to chart our own course, also free to get gloriously, recklessly lost. Your truth or mine?

The July 31, 2006, piece on Wikipedia, “Know It All,” by Stacy Schiff, contained an interview with a Wikipedia site administrator and contributor called Essjay, whose responsibilities included handling disagreements about the accuracy of the site’s articles and taking action against users who violate site policy. He was described in the piece as “a tenured professor of religion at a private university” with “a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law.”
Essjay was recommended to Ms. Schiff as a source by a member of Wikipedia’s management team because of his respected position within the Wikipedia community. He was willing to describe his work as a Wikipedia administrator but would not identify himself other than by confirming the biographical details that appeared on his user page. At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay’s real name. Essjay’s entire Wikipedia life was conducted with only a user name; anonymity is common for Wikipedia administrators and contributors, and he says that he feared personal retribution from those he had ruled against online. Essjay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advanced degrees, and that he has never taught. He was recently hired by Wikia—a for-profit company affiliated with Wikipedia—as a “community manager”; he continues to hold his Wikipedia positions. He did not answer a message we sent to him; Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay’s invented persona, “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.”