Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Editing Skeptical Content ~ Making it Stick!

Just encountered an blog that is sending "traffic" to this site.  Apparently "The Daily Grail" posted a blog a couple weeks ago about his frustration over editing Wikipedia on "TDG-related topics".  (which I hope someone will enlighten me about.)

I've reread his blog and the comments that follow.  I think that I'm understanding his frustration.

His point seems to be that Wikipedia needs to keep the "riff-raff" out but it is going too far, with "bias articles towards mainstream opinion without fair representation of alternative views." He seems to think that Wikipedia should be balanced.  He also states that "it was quite obvious that there was a fairly large, and loud, contingent of pseudo-skeptics in place there who would soon revert any open-minded content, no matter how well referenced and written the piece was."   He discovered the Guerrilla Skepticism blog and is pointing his finger at us for being the problem.  He even claims that we are astroturfing.

Well okay then.  I'm open to new ideas.

The example he gives concerns a trance medium called Leonora Piper, the blogger wrote an article about Piper and tried to quote it on Wikipedia as a reference. 

He seems a bit confused about the Wikipedia policy to favor a secondary source over the primary one, believing that when a reputable source reports on the original primary source it becomes more noteworthy and creditable.  Reading the blog again I'm understanding that he thinks his blog on Piper should be considered equal to a book review about Martin Gardner's assessment of Leonora Piper. 



The blogger feels that Martin Gardner should not be used as a reference on Leonora Piper because he (the blogger) found many factual errors in Gardner's research.

Now I'm not going to go into the background on all this, I'm simply bringing it up to you all intelligent people to kinda see the other sides point of view.

Here are a few samplings from the comment section.

"So, on Wikipedia, different people operate by different rules. It takes time and effort to understand those rules. Like learning how to deal with bureaucrats."

" find wikipedia attracts certain types that write their pages and edit their pages -- it seems geared toward the 'tiny detail' types, the OCD/asperger's types who are focused on details."

"When I was in high-school, my Psychology teacher used to call them 'anal retentives'"

"You have my sympathy: I once tried to correct a minor mistake about the history of the village I live in only for it to be re-edited within days. Some people get a fixation about certain things and nothing, but nothing, will shift their viewpoint."

"This explains why there are so many alternatives to Wikipedia, obviously you're not the first person to encounter a Wikitroll."

and lastly


"After a few years of following CISCOP, Penn and Teller, and other similar outfits I sometimes get the distinct feeling that the founding fathers of these groups are really all about supressing any and everything that might point to the wider powers of mind. It is not just that they are skeptical - they are outright hostile to the very idea of heightened mental and sensual faculties, and they assiduously stomp down even the slightest of glimmerings. It really feels to me like they have been "tasked" to stifle the human potential movement. There is a coordination among them if you happen to read them all at once. It was first obvious with 911 conspiracy theory which they endlessly and vociferously tried to quash, and they often had to abandon hard science to do so. Watching the Amazing Randi jettison his normally acute powers of observation to make allowances for the official government sanctioned 911 theory was the first real eye opener for me. These guys are not on the up and up at all.
Randi's adolescent rebuttal of quantum entanglement may be the most ludicrous assignment he ever gave himself or had given to him, but he has so boxed himself into a logical corner that he can't now really think very clearly. They really have the smell of hired whores to me, and the larger view might be that they have been tasked to keep as many people as possible dumb to a larger dimension. What really attracted Randi's attention about quantum entanglement was not the physics of it but that it implied an avenue from which things like ESP might find footing. The very idea of that immediately sets the works to grinding over there at CISCOP. They are like crazy fundamentalist preachers who must stick to their Good Book at all costs and no matter what."

I hope this gives all of us some pause.

14 comments:

  1. So you're judging Greg's opinion about skepticism in Wikipedia by focusing on the comments his post received?

    TDG-related topics, BTW is merely trying to distinguish the kind of fields we like to discuss in our community: the type of things that get relegated (sometimes rather unfairly) to the 'fringier' side of Science. We are not doey-eyed New Age believers, nor we are debunkers who dismiss everything out of hand because their mind is already made up.

    Saludos,

    RPJ

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  2. Not exactly Red Pill Junkie. I'm really not trying to make a comment about Greg's opinion. (thank you for giving me his name)

    He seems to feel that Wikipedia articles should have equal weight. "Teach the controversy" is all that makes me think of.

    If Gardner made mistakes that are so egregious then another source would have written about it, published the errors and THAT can be sourced on Wikipedia. Greg would have better used his time looking for that article.

    Not that Greg isn't welcome to his opinion? You Go Greg! But it isn't Wiki worthy.

    I think what I wanted to point out about his blog was that "both" sides are frustrated with getting edits to stay on the pages. He is blaming skeptics and pseudo-skeptics (not exactly sure which one I'm supposed to be).

    Seriously he should be looking at what he considers "evidence" worthy of being on Wikipedia. The advice the editor gave him was all correct, if he thought about it a bit more he would be more successful with his editing.

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  3. "If Gardner made mistakes that are so egregious then another source would have written about it, published the errors and THAT can be sourced on Wikipedia. Greg would have better used his time looking for that article."

    One would think that, and yet one is left wondering why there aren't any articles pointing that out.

    The answer, based on Greg's essay, is that many people don't bother researching the evidence for themselves; they just take Gardner's opinion as the final word on the matter --dogma, as it were.

    It's not just Greg's opinion that Gardner was wrong. He judges Gardner's text based on the original proceedings in Piper's research conducted by the American Society for Psychical Research. He quotes both side by side and lets the reader understand the (significant) differences.

    When you read what they wrote 100 years ago, and compare it with Gardner's articles, you come to the conclusion that he never bothered to study the original material in the first place; and yet it's *his* opinion what Wikipedia considers worthy of citing, whereas Greg's research is dubbed subpar and biased?

    That's the crux of the matter: that Wikipedia editors are basing their decisions not on the merits of the citing material, but in the academic status and popularity of the people cited.

    Remember, we're not trying to determine if Piper was a genuine psychic or a fraud. We're judging Gardner's opinion on the way the members of the Society conducted their investigation. And in that regard Greg does make the point that Gardner often misquoted the researchers, or dismissed out of hand many of the things they carefully annotated in the proceedings.

    Like I wrote in the TDG's comment section, the only thing left is hoping some big shot in the academic circles will get to write something based/inspired on Greg's original work, and THAT will pass mustard on the Wikipedia standards.

    Saludos,

    RPJ

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello,

    Blogs are not valid source for wikipedia. His article about Martin Gardner is on a blog. That settles it. After that he can make all the handwavings that he wants claiming that his blogpost is so good that it deserves to be a source on wikipedia, it's just not how wikipedia works.

    After that, it's clear that his blogspot made the round in parapsychological circle. I so a mention of it last week on the Facebook page for the Society for Psychical Research. But that's another story...

    Sincerelly,

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  5. @ Jean-Michel Abrassart,

    Actually, his essay was part of the Darklore anthology, published last year.


    Good enough for you?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi,

    A few replies to clarify things:

    @Red Pill Junkie,

    No, I don't think Darklore is a good enough source. But the original sources that are quoted in the article should be.

    @sgerbic

    "The example he gives concerns a trance medium called Leonora Piper, the blogger wrote an article about Piper and tried to quote it on Wikipedia as a reference."

    No, I didn't quote anything on Wikipedia. I gave up trying to edit on Wikipedia long ago, for the reasons I already gave. Someone else referenced my article, I was just interested to see the result.

    "Reading the blog again I'm understanding that he thinks his blog on Piper should be considered equal to a book review about Martin Gardner's assessment of Leonora Piper."

    No, I'm thinking pretty much anything is superior to Gardner's article...it really is a terrible piece of hackery. But, more specifically, the *original sources* should be considered superior to Gardner's errors/misinformation.

    "If Gardner made mistakes that are so egregious then another source would have written about it, published the errors and THAT can be sourced on Wikipedia. Greg would have better used his time looking for that article. "

    I've used my time to look for that article. It doesn't exist. It would be lovely if someone else - especially 'skeptics' - had written that article, given the amount of incorect information in Gardner's article...unfortunately, it's taken a blogger with some knowledge of the case to do it. But you don't need to believe anything I've written, you can check the original sources (which are fully referenced in the actual book version).

    "Seriously he should be looking at what he considers "evidence" worthy of being on Wikipedia. The advice the editor gave him was all correct, if he thought about it a bit more he would be more successful with his editing. "

    Again, it wasn't me doing the editing.

    @Jean-Michel Abrassart

    "he can make all the handwavings that he wants claiming that his blogpost is so good that it deserves to be a source on wikipedia, it's just not how wikipedia works."

    There was no "handwaving", and certainly no "claiming that his blogpost is so good". In fact, this is what I wrote:

    "I have no problem with my article not being referenced on Wikipedia. I'm not an acknowledged expert, and Darklore is certainly a 'fringe' anthology. I *do* have a problem with Gardner being referenced in the Wikipedia article. His work on the topic is riddled with factual errors, bias, and misrepresentation of the case."

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  7. Thank you Greg for clarifying. I did not notice until now that you were not the one who put the article up on Wikipedia, someone else tried to do that.

    I have not read your article on Gardner so I can't comment on that at all. I don't know why you seem to be under the impression that you can't publish a critical argument of Gardner in a skeptical journal.

    Thats how science works. We critique and critique and there is no one that we will not take a fresh look at, Gardner is a major skeptical hero, but if he is wrong then come right out and state it. We have no qualms about it.

    The editors of these journals will examine your findings, they might find numerous flaws in your reasoning, they might not find it relevant to current events. But they will review it, they will not simply dismiss the article because you are not "one of us". They will take it seriously, if you take it seriously.

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  8. @sgerbic:

    "if he is wrong then come right out and state it. We have no qualms about it."

    Err.. Greg came out and stated it last year, with references.

    "they will review it, they will not simply dismiss the article because you are not "one of us". They will take it seriously, if you take it seriously."

    Heh, you're not really that naive are you? :-)

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  9. "The editors of these journals will examine your findings, they might find numerous flaws in your reasoning, they might not find it relevant to current events. But they will review it, they will not simply dismiss the article because you are not "one of us". They will take it seriously, if you take it seriously."

    I don't know if I'm understanding you correctly, sgerbic, but from you comment I gather that you think a way in which Greg's article would be merited a mention on Wikipedia, would be if it was published in a skeptical journal.

    Let's have a practical example here: right now I'm looking at the Wikipedia's entry on the Roswell UFO incident. In it the reader can already find short reference to Annie Jacobsen's recently published book on Area 51, in which she included the testimony of a man who worked in that secret facility, and stated the whole Roswell incident was a plan by Stalin to create terror in the American public with the help of deformed children altered by Joseph Mengele --a theory that even us tinfoil hat-wearing folks have a hard time swallowing I might add ;)

    So here's the thing: I'm pretty sure Jacobsen didn't present a paper on Roswell in any peer-reviewed journals, or in any type of skeptical magazines... so why is there an entry about her book in Wikipedia?

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  10. Without looking at the reference you are addressing I can only assume it is because of 3 things.

    1. She published a book (books are free game as references)
    2. Someone edited the site using her book as a reference.
    3. No other editors either noticed or cared enough to challenge the edit.

    Really, "tinfoil hats" huh? Can you get those on ebay these days? LOL

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  11. to Bob Ham

    I suppose I am "that naive". We don't carry skeptic ID cards. If someone writes a well reasoned article and follows all the formatting guidelines for the magazine. And the article is "timely" and cited and all that. If the editors of the magazine like it they will take it.

    That's how science works. If everyone agreed with each other then we wouldn't move forward. People publish, then other people challenge it, then it goes back and forth until there is some kind of resolution.

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  12. @ sgerbic,

    >1. She published a book (books are free game as references).

    And Greg published a book, too. Not from a 'reputable' (read 'big') publisher, mind you, but published it was nonetheless.

    I suppose Wikipedia will have to iron out the details re. source material that is being disseminated in non-conventional ways —print-on-demand books, e-books, scientific journals that exist only in digital form (like PLos ONE) etc etc

    >"Really, "tinfoil hats" huh? Can you get those on ebay these days? LOL"

    Oh no! You need to go through the proper initiation in order to get yours. I'd love to tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you ;)

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  13. Was the book the one quoted on the Martin Gardner article?

    I know this whole idea of what is notable and not is a bit strange. In the end it kinda comes down to opinion.

    Its just how it works.

    I think I'll pass on the initiation unless in involves Chocolate. Even then I suppose I should pass.

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  14. >"I know this whole idea of what is notable and not is a bit strange. In the end it kinda comes down to opinion."

    Agreed. But then, Wikipedia editors should try to make an effort not to let their own bias influence (too heavily) on their editing decisions.

    Saludos,

    RPJ

    ReplyDelete