Following disclosures that a high-ranking member of Wikipedia's bureaucracy used his anonymity to lie about being a professor of religion, the free Internet encyclopedia plans to ask contributors who claim such credentials to identify themselves.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said in interviews by phone and instant message yesterday from Japan that contributors still would be able to remain anonymous. But he said they should only be allowed to cite professional expertise in a subject if those credentials have been verified.
"We always prefer to give a positive incentive rather than absolute prohibition, so that people can contribute without a lot of hassle," Wales wrote.
Wales's idea gained currency after the discovery that a prolific Wikipedia contributor who wrote under the pen name "Essjay" and claimed to be a professor of theology turned out to be a 24-year-old college dropout, Ryan Jordan.
Jordan's fraud came to light last week when The New Yorker published an editor's note stating that a 2006 Wikipedia profile in the magazine had erroneously described Essjay's purported academic resume. The New Yorker said a Wikipedia higher-up had vouched for Essjay to the author of the piece, Stacy Schiff, but that neither knew Essjay's real identity.
Jordan did not return an e-mail seeking comment . But in a note on his Wikipedia "user page" before it was "retired," he apologized for any harm he caused Wikipedia.
"It was, quite honestly, my impression that it was well known that I was not who I claimed to be, and that in the absence of any confirmation, no respectible (sic) publication would print it," he wrote.