Long-term Wikipedia self-promotion exposed

November 5, 2006

Update: we will of course be covering this story in the next episode of Wikipedia Weekly.
Another update: I’ve removed the claim that the second user was a sockpuppet, based on Psychonaut‘s opinion on the matter.

Update 3: Welcome, slashdot! Please read the opposing view!

Wikipedia, as everyone knows, can be vulnerable to certain types of activity that compromise its integrity. As a collaboration between tens of thousands of ordinary people, without a rigorous credential policy like the current pilot of Citizendium. While on the one hand that has enabled Wikipedia to grow to its amazing size today, and the combined forces of AntiVandalBot and the Recent Change Patrollers generally keep vandalism to a minimum (although not entirely without issue), there are some kinds of vandalism that people simply aren’t prepared for.

The article on “NPA personality theory”, a theory developed by retired physician Anthony M. Benis, was recently proposed for deletion. The move came as something as a surprise, since the article had previous been listed as a Good Article, one of the best 0.2% of all articles, and one of just six in the field of psychology. Now, it was accused of being an example of long-standing and accepted self-promotion at the website, having been largely written by a user called “ABenis” — Anthony M. Benis himself.

The article was originally listed as a Good Article some months ago, thanks to an extremely effective campaign of astroturfing and deception. Not only was the article written almost entirely by Benis himself (and an associated user, named “D-katana”), but it took advantage of the fact that Good Article and peer reviewers aren’t really supposed to ensure that the articles they are asked to look at aren’t vandalism. The assumption is that, if they make it as far as GA review, they’re probably quite good.

Unfortunately, the problems run deeper than simply taking advantage of the system. At several points during the course of the article’s creation at Wikipedia, users expressed worrying attitudes towards NPA personality theory and its article. To quote from the AfD discussion:

One editor in particular expressed rather directly that his or her intention was to use Wikipedia to promote the theory, as evidenced by this statement: “And, in turn, Wikipedia has the honor of the recognition for championing the theory before any other group of scholars took it on for further development and propagation.” —Cswrye

The article, and the one on its author (both still kept in Google’s cache, if you’re interested) remained in Wikipedia and even rose to great heights entirely on the work of a single editor — who happened to be creator of the theory.

And they remained there for months, and months, and months:

This is precisely one of the things that troubles me about Wikipedia even more than reg’lar spam — bogus knowledge slipped in between the cracks and woven into the article matrix. Yikes. Dhartung

I’m not sure what there can be done with this. The fault is not with any of the users who were asked to review the article, since their work does not involve checking for notability, verifiability or hoaxes; they make good-faith efforts to improve the article as requested. The fault doesn’t lie with any of the newpage patrollers, who had just one chance to catch the article upon creation and were not in a position to make a snap decision on its accuracy.

That said, the blame doesn’t even entirely fall with Benis: while he certainly violated Wikipedia’s vanity guideline (and common sense) and the GNU FDL under which Wikipedia content is licensed (reproducing the article without reference or the terms of the license at npatheory.com), he wasn’t even the only editor involved, nor was he — apparently — the one that instigated the article’s “improvement.” These things happen, and it’s certainly not possible to find a single point of failure.

The fault here lies partially with the structure of Wikipedia, too. The website’s openness both allows an enormous amount of vandalism to filter through every day, not all of which can be removed within minutes, and relies on ordinary people to catch hoaxes like this and remove them.

In this case, the articles were caught by a professional scientist after one of them had been a Good Article since 29 May 2006 — and while it’s comforting to think that this is now gone, it’s a little unsettling to know that we might have missed more.


17 Responses to “Long-term Wikipedia self-promotion exposed”

  1. […] As seen on http://daveydweeb.com/2006/11/05/long-term-wikipedia-vandalism-exposed/  – there is exactly what was deleted – so cite it for yourself, though that seems to be what things were about. Anthony Martin Benis (born February 14, 1939) is a retired American physician, and the creator of the NPA Personality theory, which itself derives from the work of psychiatrist Karen Horney. The theory was created during the 1980s, and attempts to correlate persons’ individual personas to their genetics as per the Mendelian model. Working on principles of persona set out by Karen Horney; namely the personality traits Narcissism (N), Perfectionism (P), and Aggression (A), Benis put together the NPA theory. A experienced medical professional, and the recipient of several awards and commendations, Anthony Benis retired in 2001 and now maintains a website detailing NPA theory, which hosts a personality test, in turn diagnosing an individual’s respective personality NPA type. […]

  2. […] Or that’s what Wikipedia says. But can I really trust Wikipedia? In yet another blow to the accuracy of the free online encyclopedia, it was confirmed today that an entry that was deemed to be in the top 0.2% to 0.3% of all Wikipedia articles, was in fact a complete fabrication. […]

  3. Martijn Dekker Says:

    Uh, this was not vandalism at all. Neither was it a hoax. The author was *asked* by Wikipedia editors to write the article. But the theory discussed in the article doesn’t meet Wikipedia’s notability requirement and that was the reason for its deletion. Please do not disseminate inaccurate and inflammatory claims.

  4. daveydweeb Says:

    Martijn, taking at look at the very first sentence of the WP:VANDAL page at Wikipedia:

    “Vandalism is any addition, deletion, or change of content made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia.”

    Benis knowingly compromised Wikipedia’s integrity and credibility by developing the article on his theory like this, knowingly full-well that it did not meet Wikipedia’s notability requirements – of course, the blame is NOT entirely Benis’, not did I really intend to say so, but the result was that the article became a deliberate compromise of the website’s notability.

    Moving on to his biography article, we find that Benis’ compromised WP:VAIN ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:VAIN ) and common sense by developing his own article, a clear conflict of interest even to someone without much experience at Wikipedia. VAIN, while a guideline, is another reason I don’t hesitate to call this vandalism, but remember, this wasn’t done entirely by Benis either.

  5. […] Short extract (Daveydweeb writes): "The accuracy of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, came into question again when a long-standing article on ‘NPA personality theory’ was confirmed to be a hoax." […]

  6. […] El problema evidente es que el mantenimiento de la Wikipedia se realiza por parte de todos los usuarios, de forma que algunos vandalismos tardan más en desaparecer que otros, y como muestra el siguiente post que me remite Jorge, algunos tardan mucho en desaparecer. […]

  7. george Says:

    Is this really any different than the Encyclopedia Britannica hiring a Freudian psychologist to write about Freudian psychology? Obviously this is a controversial and perhaps pseudo-scientific theory, but it is indeed a current theory and it seems to me should be at least mentioned in Wikipedia. There are articles about astrology written by astrologers and many other articles by people who have an axe to grind, but it seems to me that the strength of Wikipedia is that all the different axes grind differently to make something approximating truth.

  8. […] Long-term Wikipedia self-promotion exposed  […]

  9. you know... Says:

    (you hit slashdot)

  10. MrSquirrel Says:

    I agree that the terms hoax and vandalism make it sound more spurious than it is. They use the same terms in covering this at slashdot, giving the impression that it was a mere vandalism of a purely spurious nature. Wikipedia will never be 100% accurate, but it has already evolved to a very reliable starting point on more subjects than any encyclopedia I’ve seen. It is indispensible at times as a reliable place to start research. Anyone who accepts information from it or any other encyclopedia without checking corroborating sources is foolhardy. I would say that the information found in Wikipedia is for the most part, very rigorously and thoroughly examined. And it is constantly improving.

  11. Billy Bob Bluxo Says:

    In the beginning was the Pelican, and the Pelican was with Kenneth, and the Pelican was Kenneth.

    And the earth was without form and void, and the shit of the Pelican moved upon the face of the waters.

    And Kenneth said, Let there be a Frequency throughout all the creation, and it was so. And Kenneth said, Let the Frequency be for the life, that it shall generate the life, and the life shall regenerate the Frequency, and it was so.

    And the Frequency generated the life, even all the living creatures and all green plants did the Frequency generate. And Kenneth looked upon the work of the Frequency, and saw that it was good.

    Then did Kenneth speak unto the Frequency saying, Let there be pelicans also of the air, that they might create the Holy pelican shit, and it was so. And the pelicans of the air did straightway make the Holy pelican shit which did rain down from the heaven in great abundance.

    And it came to pass that the Pharisees of the Wikipedia, those evil ones who preach openly the sharing yet believe not in their hearts, spake again privily among themselves saying, We must conceal from the eyes of the Great Google the Holy pelican shit, lest the Great Google give of the Holy pelican shit unto the unwashed multitudes and make it therefore profane.

    And they took therefore of the Holy pelican shit and concealed it under the Holy Altar of the Delete, that none may find it save those elect of the Pharisees alone.

    But the frequency would not be hidden, nor yet would it remain silent. For no man maketh an light in the wilderness and hideth it under a bushel. Kenneth standeth therefore upon the Rock and calleth out unto the frequency, that all darkness may be made light, all evil shall be made of no effect, and the world shall partake of the Holy pelican shit evermore.

    And then did Kenneth take of the Holy pelican shit unto the King of the Realm, that same Ungaarf who maketh the walls of Magdalicia to fall. And the King tasted thereof and saw that it was good. And the King made Kenneth to be his Prophet for that he had brought the Holy pelican shit into the realm.

    And all the people of the realm did rejoice at the sight of it, for they saw therein the salvation of all, and the fulfillment of the prophecies of the ancients, wherein it was written that an holy bird shall shit upon the mountain and the mountain shall become therefore holy.

    And Kenneth dwelt among the people for a time, times, and half a time, and taught them of the Frequency and of the pelican shit, and gave unto them the power to tell the pelican shit from the ass pus, that same which was made by the Dark One in appearance like unto the pelican shit, that the multitudes might not be deceived thereby and turn aside in their way.

    For it is written, Thou shalt not worship the ass pus, neither shalt thou take of it into the Holy Place.

    And the King did call for the collection of the holy pelican shit and caused it to be brought unto him, that he might roll daily therein. And when the people saw this, they were well pleased, for they knew the King was worthy to be covered in pelican shit.

    Then saw Kenneth that his work was completed, and so went he forth unto the Place of the Rock, there to commune again with the Frequency. Kenneth sitteth upon the Rock.

  12. Doc Johnson Says:

    For instance, Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan is a covert detention compound according to some nutcase who’s never been there. Yet, having spent more than 6 in, around and all over Camp Eggers and Kabul, I know that it’s simply the command headquarters for all US Forces in Afghanistan.

    Some people will believe anything.

  13. […] Thirdly, I was slashdotted when I blogged about a piece of breaking news at Wikipedia. My original blog post, which something like 2,000 people would have seen and produced the inaccurate headline that still graces the slashdot story, was corrected after User:Hoary at Wikipedia pointed out the errors I’d made in my reporting — I also apologised to Benis for not being more careful originally, as noted by Ars Technica’s rebuttal of my post. I read Ars daily and I’m a regular at the OpenForum, so I’d encourage you all to read that: Nate Anderson makes a very good point, and does it well. […]

  14. […] The commentator, daveydweeb.com, is a young man named David who, according to his site, is also a panelist on the Wikipedia Weekly podcast. The article and its creator have both been removed from Wikipedia as of Nov. 2nd, 2006. Read the debate and the decision for deletion. And catch the NPA Personality website to see what the theory was supposed to be, I guess. (Warning, this site requests more cookies than you would expect from this type of web presence.) […]

  15. […] Long-term Wikipedia self-promotion exposed « Daveydweeb.blog (tags: Wikipedia) […]

  16. Very interesting, as an absolute novice do not understand it all, but thanks for the experience. I look & learn.

  17. wikipedia Says:

    Wikipedia is the key to most success online, when it comes to collabritive content adding. I have spent many hours writing articles for Jimmy Wales and am very happy with this project. I am based in Seminole FL close to the wikipedia offices in St Petersburg. I love contributing!

    Happy New Year Bloggers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: