Saturday, June 18, 2011

Editing Wikipedia ~ "How To Edit"

Found this comment from JMA on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe forum today.  I hear comments like this all the time and he/she makes some very valid points to which I will respond.

"Interesting blog. I'm looking forward to read more. I have been contributing skeptical contents on wikipedia (especially the French version, wikipédia) for years, but it's very frustrating and time consuming. I created my own blog because I was so tired to have woo-proponents editing my stuff away... Editing wikipedia is more easily said than done."

Mark Edward gets hit with the statement that his style of Guerrilla Skepticism (which is where the term came from) is too "in your face" and he can't expect others to follow his style.  Some say we need to be gentle when confronting the woo in the world and not call them out for their stupidity.  His response is that there are many ways to educate and confront.  The spectrum of skeptical activism is broad and we each need to find our own way.  The Penn & Teller approach isn't for everyone.  (BTW if you haven't already seen this video of Mark Edward punking grief vampire Sylvia Browne you should)

Mark is correct.  There are many avenues to take, you need to find the style that fits you comfortably and take advantage of the skills and opportunities you have.  I'm not a in-your-face kind of person but I'm always up for something behind the scenes.  Guerrilla Skepticism is VERY behind the scenes but subtly in-your-face. To be fair to Mark, he isn't really after the believers, and he has said many times to leave the little old lady card reader on the street corner alone.  The big fish like Praagh and John Edwards need our attention.  When he confronted Sylvia Browne he did so in a way that She Knew he was on to her, and that we skeptics could be invisible and get close to her, also that we were organized, creative and motivated and had no qualms to letting other people know.  Sylvia Browne very soon after this started cutting back on her live shows.

When someone is searching for more information about a person/place/thing or phrase on the Internet most often within the first 3 links they will receive will be a Wikipedia link (yes it is just that powerful and we need to take advantage of that power).  Which link will the researcher take?  I call it the Goldilocks effect.  Choosing the personal website of the person might be just too positive, a anti site like might be too negative.  But Wikipedia is just right, and the researcher knows this.  So that is where they are going to invest their time reading, from the Wikipedia page once they have some background, they can follow more links both positive and negative.

So going back to JMA's statement.  Personal blogs and websites are a wonderful avenue for people wanting to express opinions and make bold statements (your reading my blog after all). These serve a purpose in the skeptical movement and you have a specific audience.  I don't expect Sylvia Browne fans to find this blog, read it and change their minds, this blog is for the skeptical community people who want to get active and DO SOMETHING to move our movement forward into the public eye (and take back the word Skeptic to mean something other than the pejorative it has become in some minds).

Wikipedia is a totally different approach.  The power of this site has changed our vocabulary (who ever heard of Wikianything 11 years ago?)  Everyone on the Internet uses Wikipedia.  I find references to it everywhere and when someone in a blog or their website wants to explain a term they just link to the Wikipedia page instead of explaining the term.

Editing Wikipedia might seem frustrating and time consuming.  You Bet!  But it satisfies some part of my OCD mind, I love creating order.  When I've left a new blurb on a paranormal site it is an awesome feeling.  And when I see it still linked there months later, Wow!  I am involved with the IIG (Independent Investigative Group and have many references to IIG all over Wikipedia.  When I see the web stats come in for and find that we have 4 hits from Carla Baron's Wikipedia page, or 6 from See Clearly Method that is really a nice feeling.

If you have chosen this for a hobby as I have, you must enjoy what you are doing.  If you don't see the importance of what you are doing and it becomes a task then this isn't the project for you.

I have had very little problems with "woo-propondents editing" my posts.  I don't know if it is the topics I choose or my style of editing but I'm just not encountering it.  I find that in life if you make bold statements with confidence most people will not challenge you, this also seems to be true on Wikipedia.  I have a "user" page that other editors can see if they want, I also have a lot of edits which also gives confidence.

I am on the "first-responder" committee for the IIG and daily I see the emails come in from people looking to take our $50K paranormal challenge.  Mostly these people can't write a coherent sentence, let alone do it without being in ALL CAPS.  I'm not too worried about them managing to find their way to a Wikipedia edit page.

I'm sure you have heard this phrase before, "The nice thing about Wikipedia is that everyone can edit Wikipedia, which is also the sad part of Wikipedia."  And that is true, you can be anonymous and leave edits.  They aren't taken seriously by other editors and you can't leave it on a "watchlist" if you don't have an account.  So when that post is quickly removed (and it will be) they have no idea it is gone unless they just check back.  They can also get their IP address banned from Wikipedia if they do it often.

Some pages are semi-protected and only people who have "auto-confirmed" their user name can edit.  That's me!  Its a nice feeling when I see that note at the top of the page and know that I can edit.  Some pages are even more protected like the $cientologist page.  Followers of that cult have been aggressive about cleaning up any info that is anti-$cientology.  Editors have been able to research their IP addresses and found that they are coming from $cientology centers.  This was very bad media for them and it banned many from the site, also being a protected page means that only the facts appear on $cientology.  Anyone researching this group will be able to go to Wikipedia and get an honest look at them.  What a cool feeling that is.  (I take this back they are only semi-protected now)

So thank you JMA for your comment as it has allowed me to discuss some really important issues.

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