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

This page will hold the final report.

Early working draft




How does a wiki website that is open and where "everyone can edit" prevent its biographies of living people from being disrupted by vandalism and bias? Wikipedia started with an emphasis on traditional biographies that might be expected to exist in a traditional print encyclopedia (example). The article talk page was the main tool for sorting out how to craft a balanced biography.

The early biographies of living persons on Wikipedia were usually about well-known people (example). and the evolution/creationism debates (related early discussion moved to META. What policies were developed to keep biographies under control? NPOV, all policy

The Siegenthaler Incident


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

The Rosalind Picard Biography


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

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

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

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