Archive for wikipedia

Truth, Lies and Wikipedia

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 19, 2010 by telescoper

I think it’s time to post a brief update on the story of Mark Brake, a Professor at the University of Glamorgan who falsely claimed to have a PhD from Cardiff University when applying for a grant in 2006. After this came to light through a story in the Western Mail, it was covered in the Times Higher, and I also blogged about it here.

There’s relatively little I can say about what’s been going more recently on in connection with this story, for reasons of confidentiality. However, one thing I am allowed say in public that Professor Mark Brake is no longer a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, a status he acquired in 2008.  I’m not allowed to discuss the events leading up to, or the reasons behind, his decision to resign from the IOP, but he did so in January 2010.

That little bit of news hardly merits an entire blog post, but what’s interesting is the subsequent behaviour of the wikipedia editors. Mark Brake’s wikipedia page currently states:

He was elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 2008[1] and is presently Director of the Science Communication Research Unit at Glamorgan.

As soon as Brake creased to be a FInstP, the IOP Director of Membership and Business, John Brindley, edited the page to make it clear that he no longer held the Fellowship. Bizarrely, however, a wikipedia editor overruled the change and the text reverted to the above form. The editor says that this “leaves open the possibility that this may no longer be the case”.

Well, it may leave open that possibility but the implication of the above form is definitely that Brake remains a Fellow. As John Brindley himself wrote on the corresponding wikipedia discussion page

there is a well established and understood convention that memebrships of professional institutions is considered as continuous from the date of election unless or untl a date of resignation or removal is given.

However, the editor has refused to budge on the grounds that

Other than your comments here, which unfortunately can’t be considered to be a reliable source according to wikipedia rules, I can find nothing to indicate that he has, in fact, resigned.

Short of putting an announcement on their webpages that Brake has resigned his Fellowship – something that is contrary to their usual practice – there doesn’t seem to be anything the IOP can do to convince wikipedia to amend this page so it says the whole truth, rather than just a partial and potentially misleading version.

And while I’m on the subject of potentially misleading statements, it is perhaps worth going back to the original grant application that started this whole affair off. I showed part of this in a previous post, but here is the whole page showing the false claim of a PhD:

Under Professional Qualifications you will see Brake lists professional connections with the Royal Society of Chemistry as well as a Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. This was written in 2006. In fact Brake disappeared from the membership register for the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1993 and ceased to be a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1994. Hmmm…

You might argue – as the editor seems to be doing in the case of the wikipedia page – that these aren’t factually incorrect in that they give the year of election but say nothing about whether his tenure may or may not have ended.  I think most academics would agree with John Brindley, however, that the convention is to give a date of termination if the qualification no longer applies, otherwise the implication is that the status is unchanged.

Seeing further pieces of misleading information on the grant application doesn’t really surprise me, but I find it strange that somebody seems to want wikipedia’s pages  to misrepresent the truth in a similar fashion.