Sunday, March 18, 2012

Single Purpose Accounts and Editor Assistance

Wanted to wait a bit before bringing this all up.  I don't want to influence people into getting involved in discussions or edit wars unless they already were editing that page.  So it appears to have run its course and I want to discuss it here.  You don't have to know all about the history of the page, or even understand the topic to learn some valuable lessons.

This is going to be about Vassula Ryden whom you might remember was one of the first pages I had added skeptical content to.  I've used her edits as an example of working backwards, when I found an article in Skeptical Inquirer Magazine by Joe Nickell and added it to her Wikipedia page. 

A month ago I received a letter from an anti-Ryden blogger who had read this blog and appealed to me for help.  She had been trying to edit the Ryden Wikipedia page and kept getting her edits reverted.  I went to Vassula's page and realized that my Joe Nickell edits had been removed.  So I put it back in, this nearly started an edit war (something you do not want).

The talk page got heated up with a person or two (they weren't signing their posts so I'm not sure who said what) I'm going to sum this all up for you, but include the links if you want to read all the details.

They said that they removed my edits because Ryden is a living person and you can't put anything negative (or opinion) about a living person.  Also Nickell had never met Ryden so he could not comment on her spiritual writings from God.

I said "oh yeah! I don't think so, that is stupid" (actually I was much more professional)

They said, "Yeah!  and if you don't like it we are going to tell on you"

So I said "Fine!  I just asked an editor to assist us in this disagreement"

And I did.  I had never done this before but made a request on the Editor Assistance page, I stated my case and then provided the link to the people who I was arguing with back on the Ryden talk page.  The other editors went to the Assistance page and made their argument too. 

Then senior editor looked over the page and said.

Not only should the Nickell edit be put back on, but there should be more criticism like that on the page.  The page is fringe and it is slanted too far towards Ryden.  Editors can not leave their opinion on a page, but the person we quote can leave their opinion, and clearly Nickell was qualified to do so.

The editor then looked at the contributions of all the editors that work on the page and found that these people mostly only work on Ryden's page. Opps!  It appears that they are supporters of Ryden and are not interested in improving Wikipedia, only improving Ryden and they need to knock it off.

So time has passed, my Nickell edit has now been moved up to the beginning of the page and not nearer the end where it was before.  These people I think have stopped editing.

Lessons to be learned here?  Stay calm.  Be professional.  Clearly state your facts.  Allow your opponent to have their say.  You might be completely wrong, step back and see the edits from their point of view.  Also ask for help, sometimes you are right and they are wrong.

Tim Farley is a very smart man.  He has suggested many times that editors need to branch out from editing skeptical sites and edit other topics like your home town page, or your college page.  You don't want to be accused of having a single user account.

Link to Ryden talk page (search for sgerbic)
Link to Editor Assistance page (search for sgerbic)

You can see another editor's contributions by clicking on the blue "contribs" after their name. 


  1. Thanks for the nice words. Just a clarification, the Wikipedia jargon for this type of editing is "Single Purpose Account" or SPA. (Wikipedia editors love acronyms). You can read what they have to say about it at this article titled Single Purpose Account and linked by its acronym:

  2. Do you know how to report a problem with a template? For example, I found an example of a Cite News (newspaper citation) that has the parameter "work=" twice. The result is that the second "work" is displayed as the source in the reference footnote which, in this case, is misleading. I could see nefarious editors abusing this to make the references appear to be more diverse than they actually are.

  3. I suspect listing a parameter of a template twice is probably just a known issue with the way templates are expanded. In many ways, the WikiMedia software is incredibly primitive in cases like this. Why are we having to type things like "{{cite |" and "newspaper=" in 2012, anyway? This should be a pop-up screen that guides you through providing the right bits.

    I would just fix the reference and move on.

  4. This just in. An edit war sprang up on the Vassula Ryden page and went to editor. The person who went to editor is the one outed as having a conflict of interest (he as an admin for Ryden's website)

    So not sure if the person didn't realize that he had no business editing Ryden's page or what? Judging from the way he was pushing edits on us he is a true believer. I'm sure he really thinks that Ryden is channeling God and he is doing the right thing.

    Anyway, if your interested in seeing what this kind of thing looks like here is the link.

  5. There are at least 3 people from TLIG (True Life In God, Ryden's organization/cult) trying to get criticism of Ryden taken out and praise for Ryden added in to the Wikipedia article. It's pretty hard to fight such "single purpose accounts" who do nothing but edit the Vassula Ryden article 7 days a week and are unfailingly polite but very persistent and aggressive. When their "wiki-lawyering" fails, they accuse other editors (who only want to prevent the article from being taken over by Ryden Zombies) of being "biased against religion", etc. Their latest scheme is to try to get any mention of the Vatican condemnations against Ryden removed from the article. Laughable!


    You might also check out the reincarnation articles, there are a number of pro-reincarnation editors who try and keep mention of reincarnation research being pseudoscientific out of the articles.

  7. Thanks, I'll add it to my watch list.

  8. So I looked over the above discussion about Reincarnation Research and it is quite interesting. Very suspicious and cautious that an Anonymous commenter would give me a link to a talk page where a discussion is taking place at this moment.

    When someone is "invited" to something like this it is called Canvassing, and is a major no-no in Wikipedia. I'll use this as a teaching moment, really the only people who should be engaged in the discussion of a talk page that is serious are people who have been editors before. Otherwise it looks like there has been a call for all their "friends" to come over and support an edit.

    This does not always happen, sometimes we stumble on pages of interest, or we have them on watchlists but don't actually edit them. I have many of these. Its a great way to keep up with things. I've learned about deaths and major events just because I look at the page whenever it is updated.

    If you want to go and take a look at the conversation on the talk page above, then go ahead. The discussion is pretty lively and one person even used the phrase "legitimate rape" a couple days ago. That was interesting.

    Please do not join in the conversation, but it is a great way of learning how these kinds of things work. On one hand it appears that there is a passionate supporter of reincarnation research who can't leave the page alone, against a bunch of editors who are trying to explain that reincarnation is a pseudoscience and that if only one person is doing the research then it isn't notable. It is just possible that the person doing this research could have his own page, but that isn't what the supporter wants.

    The final lesson here is that you should not get involved so personally with an article that you spend days hovering over it. I've written many articles, once they are done, I move on. I hope that a lot doesn't get changed, but small edits only mean I probably did a good job.

    So I guess I will put this page on my watchlist. Great reading!

  9. My favourite part is them insisting the text of these articles state that the reception to this guys reincarnation research is "mixed" and that only "skeptics" feel its pseudoscience. Whereas the scientific community as a whole does not accept this as a valid field.