Friday, June 22, 2012

Catch up with me this summer

Taking Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia on the road, catch up with me if you can.

July 6th - Silver Legacy - "End of Time" conference for MENSA (this is a closed conference unless you are a member of MENSA)  Skepticism in Action - I will be on a panel with Brad Lutts (Reno Skeptics), Ben Radford and Mark Edward.

That Friday night July 6th. Join the Reno Skeptics who are hosting a Skeptics in the Pub meetup.  Location to be determined but here is the FB group announcing it.

Saturday, July 7th - Reason4Reason will be featuring Mark Edward discussing his upcoming book Psychic Blues.  I will be there as well, so please if you are in the area of San Francisco that night come hang out with us.  

July 12 -16th find me wandering the venue with camera in hand at South Point (Las Vegas) during the TAM conference.  I will be gathering lots of data for Wikipedia.

August 9-12 find me in Eugene, OR for the Skeptic's Toolbox hosted at the University of Oregon.  I will be launching the re-writes of several faculty at the beginning of August.

August 30-Sept 4th - Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia.  I'm told I might be able to arm-wrestle for a spot on a panel or two. 

September (Date to be determined) I will have my own lecture on Wikipedia for the Reason4Reason group in San Francisco.  Stay tuned for that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Video Interviews and Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia

I hear from people all the time they love this project, but they are looking for a non-editing way to help out. 

So, this blog is for you.

Editors of Wikipedia can not add in content that does not exist.  Most of us do not have the ability to create articles and publish them in noteworthy places, we badly need more content.  Editors can quote from podcast interviews (better if the podcast is noteworthy, but not necessary) but then again very few of us have the ability to create a podcast.

Blogs generally are a good way to stay informed and create community.  But Wikipedia editors are not supposed to cite blogs.

What most of us do have, is the ability to create video interviews of noteworthy people (not forgetting those who will soon become noteworthy).

I'm finding the use of video interviews increasingly valuable for the We Got Your Wiki Back! project.  You can't write a whole Wikipedia page based on YouTube video interviews, but it can work to supplement an article, shore up vagueness, and bring lots of personality back to a Wikipedia page that may otherwise seem dry.

The YouTube video just needs to be dated and location is also a good idea.  Any extra information you can add on the video is also helpful.

I am currently re-writing the Wikipedia pages for several of the founders of the skeptical movement.  As well as creating from scratch the Skeptic Toolbox page.  I've been having trouble finding citations about the formation of the Toolbox as well as the motivation for creating it.  So I sat down with the creator Ray Hyman on Father's day and on video asked him about the history and motivation.  Uploaded it to YouTube, quoted him and cited the video.  DONE!

While I was at it I managed to get 4 more videos about his history in science and skepticism.  His comments not only shore up citation holes on his page, but they work to confirm other citations on other people's pages.  When he mentions that the first workshop was with Jim Alcock and Steve Shaw (now Banachek) that strengthens citations on Alcock and Shaw's pages.  We have to constantly remember that back in the 70's and 80's people didn't carry around video cameras in their pockets, and no one realized how important those first meetings would be, the media surely wasn't paying attention.  We need to document our history moving forward, as well as recapture what we can of our past.

Some other examples of using videos for citations on Wikipedia.

I've met James Randi many times, and with my good friend Kitty Mervine we tag-team taping just about every story he tells.  You never know if it will be a magic trick or a personal story, or something about the history of skepticism, but it is always something worth capturing.

When I began editing in 2010 I went through my videos for some reason and came across this one.  Randi discusses Claiborne Pell.   (I was on a rocking cruise ship and missed the beginning of the story) and I had to ask Facebook friends who Randi was talking about because I had never heard the name before.  Here is the Pell page before I added a Paranormal belief section.  And now here is the page with the Randi interview. 

Another great example of using videos to support a page.  When the Reason Rally happened at the beginning of the year the WP page was heavily edited by religious editors trying to diminish the rally.  They quoted all the news sources they could find, which were noteworthy sources but they were all religious.

I didn't attend the rally, but a woman whom knew of this project but had never thought she would ever have a need for help, wrote to me.  The page was a mess, skeptics had not yet come out with any media supporting the rally.  As you can see from this link, the page had become very religious friendly.  According to all the newspaper articles, there were hundreds of Christians handing out flyers and free water to the bad Atheists.  The Atheists were holding really evil signs and saying bad things about religion.

One example was this one "Other atheist activists held more controversial signs such as “So many Christians, so few lions,” in reference to the Diocletianic Persecution, in which several Christians were tortured." That's right "one example", there were thousands of people there and one person holding a sign should be mentioned?  Funny that they said only "several Christians were tortured", I guess they didn't have the room to name each one individually?  Seriously, the bias of that editor was obvious.  

The page went under many changes with two people sitting on the page.  They were arguing and reverting edits like crazy.   See the talk page for more info on how crazy it was. 

It took me some time to finally take this page seriously and go in and change it to what it looks like now.  Finally skeptics started posting videos of the speakers, and people like Brian Engler uploaded images.  Once the videos were up, I searched for the ones with the best quality, and edited out the quotes that I thought represented the speaker best.  Then cited the video.  We never want to remove all criticism, but just get down to the facts.  

The video you get does not have to be fancy, don't wait until you have the perfect setting, turn on the camera and do the best with what you got.  When you upload it, tag it with everything you can think of, and again don't fuss on it too much, its more important that it is uploaded quickly than playing with it for months until you forget about it (or worse delete it)

As in the case of the Reason Rally, we do not always have time to wait for the "official" videos to come out.  Citations must be freely available to anyone who wants to follow the link and see whatever it is you saw when you wrote the citation. (note: this does not mean that you must have a URL, the reference has to be one that without a lot of effort they can also obtain)

So pull out your smart phone,  or video camera and get these interviews recorded.  I could also use some help finding these interviews that should be on these pages.  Please contact me with whatever you got stored on your YouTube feed that might be relevant. 

I was just asked yesterday to recommend a good book talking about the modern skeptical movement's history.  Other than a few mentions in journals, there isn't one that I know of.  We are still waiting on the biographies (or auto-biographies) for our founders.  In the meantime, some of us over on Wikipedia are doing our best to get the citations, pictures and videos all in one place.  Future historians will thank us!

As usual, if you would like to help out with this project contact me at

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Accuracy of non-Wikipedia articles vs Wikipedia

As if we need another good reason to make sure Wikipedia's pages are up to speed, another one showed up in my email a few minutes ago. 

I have Google alerts set for many people and subjects, but one of the oldest alerts I have set is for Barry Beyerstein.  If I could show you my desktop at this moment you would see a Barry Beyerstein edit page tab wide open awaiting a grammar check before I hit save.  (you can't see it yet as I'm working on this in my user space, but very soon I hope to be done)

And noticed that a new email in my inbox is a Google alert for Beyerstein.  Wonderful and timely!  I follow the alert to  this article for Business Insider. I use the "find" feature to find the mention of Barry and sure enough the author is quoting an article done years ago about myths concerning using only 10% of your brain.  I notice that the author has footnotes scattered around the article, but they don't seem to be hyperlinked to anything. 

I explore a little further and realize that he is citing Wikipeidia, a page called Ten percent of brain myth.  I'm always amazed at the Wikipedia pages I didn't know exist, so I go over to that page to see if Beyerstein has a mention on it.  Again I use the find feature on my computer to see if he is cited. 

To my amazement almost the entire Business Insider article is copied word for word (along with the footnote numbers, but not the citations) from the Wikipedia page.   He has done no research to check the Wikipedia article, just assumed that it was correct. 

I'm not going to comment on plagiarism or the accuracy of Wikipedia.  I'm just pointing out that this is a common practice for reporters and bloggers.  The information we are leaving on Wikipedia influences many more people than just the readers of Wikipedia.  I believe Lei pointed this out to me a few months ago but I hadn't come across such an extreme example as this before. 

Sometimes I hear from anti-Wikipedia users that they refuse to use Wikipedia because they have had run-ins with editors when they tried to edit or because they think Wikipedia contains incorrect information.  Well I now have news for them, what they think they are reading in their non-Wikipedia source may still be Wikipedia.