Friday, June 17, 2011

General Overview and Plea for Help

We know that shouting and being in people's faces about their lack of critical thinking does not work.  It might make you feel superior for the moment but really belittling people about their beliefs is only going to force them to "circle their thinking wagons" and just defend their beliefs more.  When they can go onto sites like Wikipedia and see a well written blurb about their favorite woo or paranormal belief they might just get curious and start reading links on cold-reading and other methods, maybe even follow the footnote to the actual article.  Once on that site they might look around at other articles and so on...   People change their minds when THEY get to do the research and THEY make the decision that what they once believed is no longer making sense to them.  Wikipedia (which is going to be one of the first hits they receive when searching for a word/phrase/person on the Internet) is the place to facilitate that experience.

Most of us came about becoming skeptics in this same fashion (not necessarily through Wikipedia which has only been around 10 years) but by questioning our beliefs through discussion with ourselves and others.  Articles, TV shows and other media play a big part in getting the conversation going.

Originally I had written this introductory post explaining the overview and philosophy of Guerrilla Skepticism for the JREF TAM committee.  They asked if I would write a blog post that they would put up on their site.  I did so and was selected to present a paper at the Sunday morning session at TAM9 Las Vegas July 2011.  I then decided to pull the blog article from this site so as not to conflict with the blog they were going to be putting up.

I started this personal blog after giving two lectures one at SkeptiCamp: Fort Collins, Colorado in February, and at SkeptiCalCon in Berkeley Memorial Day weekend 2011.  I get a lot of questions about what I'm doing and how can people help.  This blog answers all kinds of those questions.  How you can help is easy.  Just comment on this blog so we can get started.  I could make this a 40 hour work week job for the rest of my life and still not get caught up.

We need lots of help.  I can show you how to edit if you need that kind of help.  (First you need to make an account on Wikipedia).  We need people who are great at writing blurbs for articles that are well cited (this means journal articles, newspaper articles, magazines ect...)  I say start backwards by finding your source first that fits all the Wikipedia requirements and then look at places to put it on, write your blurb and citation and place it in as many locations as possible.

If you don't want to edit Wikipedia you can just work on writing the blurbs.  I read an SI article on the plane yesterday and wrote the blurb on the page of the magazine.  Now all I have to do is type it out, cite it and paste it in.

We need photographers to get to the skeptic pages and update with current images.  Events as well as portraits.  I think we need a whole blog just on this subject which I will get to soon.  Photographers don't need to actually post the pictures on the Wiki site but they will need to open an account on WikiCommons and upload the image and make it available to editors.

People to correct my grammar and spelling before posting it on Wikipedia are easy to find.  I have found having over 1,000 Facebook friends rather helpful.  I get instant feedback on any problems.  Then I can go in and make the changes to my blurb and post.

Barry Karr from Skeptical Inquirer Magazine and I have been having an on-going conversation about a comment that Dr. Eugenie Scott (yes that Eugenie Scott!) made during my lecture at SkeptiCalCon.  She said that SI magazine does not have 100% of its print articles on-line for people to link to.  Barry's concern is that he needs to sell magazines and if the entire content is on-line why would people want to subscribe to a print magazine?  Good point.  I'm not in the business of selling magazines, I just want people to find the article on-line.

So what he proposes is for us to begin by going to the site and find an article we want to write about and then place the link in the Wikipedia article.  That way we know that the article is on-line.  I think this is brilliant and where we should tackle first (working backwards remember).

If you look at my "tag" on Vassula Ryden's page you will see that the footnote does not go to a on-line link.  Only to a print magazine reference.  Most people will just stop there and not research further.  I'm sure if we ask Barry nicely he will put up specific articles like Joe Nickell's on Vassula Ryden.  But in the mean time we should try doing articles that are already on-line.

Barry was pretty excited about the "tag" I put up on Walmart's massive page concerning their support of homeopathy. (See my blog for discussion on this event) He says he "likes the idea" of what we are doing and would like me to write an article for the online version of SI.  Of course I would love to do so but will have to wait until after TAM9 so as not to step on the JREF toes that got me first.

BTW I keep giving SI examples to work on and there are thousands that need to be done.  But that does not mean that is the only area to tackle.  We have many many science and skeptic journals that relate to pseudoscience topics.  Plus we need to keep up our support of those scientists/skeptics who are on the front lines writing the articles and educating people on critical thinking. 

Barry has informed me that CSI gets about 4% of its hits from people following links from Wikipedia.  I'm really glad we have a starting number and with some effort I'm sure we can make that percentage rise.  The IIG gets about 6% of its hits to from Wikipedia.  The number has risen from about 5% when I started.  IIG receives most of its hits from UFO Wiki sites on Billy Meyer.  Our Wiki UFO articles have been translated to Japanese as we get the majority of hits from Wiki Japan.  Guess that makes sense.

Anyway, I'm going to "launch" this blog now that I'm over 10 articles.  I'm sure you will get the drift of what I'm advocating by just reading through the blogs.  The skeptical community really needs your help on this.  If you have the desire to reach out and do something that will really make a difference please consider getting involved in this project.



  1. This is a great project. I want to help with this. I'm not sure about the blurbs, but I would definitely like to start editing Wikipedia. What's the best way to go about doing that?

  2. Thank you for your interest Josh. Do you already know how to edit Wikipedia? Or are you just asking where to start editing?

    If you don't know how to edit I would suggest first you open up a Wikipedia account. Then we can pick something simple to work on. I have a billion tasks that need to be done. We can start with the basics and move on from there.

    If you already have an account and know how to edit then its just a matter of getting you started. Is there an area you feel more passionate about than others (cause this should be something you really enjoy making a difference at and not a task)

    Working backwards as I keep saying you would find an article that has a on-line link already. Make sure there will be a Wikipedia page to place the blurb on also. Then read and re-read the article. I and anyone else here can help you with the blurb. Remember you have to be neutral and also factual. Then you write the citation (I will help you with that) and then we just place it on the site. And possibly we can place it on many other sites as well.


  3. Hello! Could I interview you for my podcast please? :)

  4. What podcast are you with? I'm always game to ramble on. Just let me know when.

  5. Token Skeptic. :) Actually, maybe it'd be easier to send print questions? Will send you a message via FB. :)

  6. Truth and reason police.

    Love It!

  7. Sgerbic

    I do have an account with Wikipedia. I don't know how to edit yet and I need to focus on the basics. Can you help me get started?

  8. Sure Josh. Where would you like to start? Do you want to write blurbs? Put in categories? Correct grammar? Rewrite articles? Do you have a favorite paranormal area? We can start you anywhere just give me some ideas.

    Throughout this blog I've been leaving some openings of things that remain to be done. Has anything stood out?

  9. Lets start with correcting grammar. It sounds simple enough.

    My favorite paranormal area would be anything related to ghosts, haunted places, and ghost hunting.

  10. Excellent Josh. Give me a couple hours and I'll have a blog out with details how you (and anyone else) can start editing. I will open real pages and give you step by step ideas.

    I hope to follow up that blog with something more advanced that you or someone can grab onto.

    This should be really fun.

  11. Okay go to my blog on "how to tips" and it should show you how to get you started. I'm really looking forward to hearing how that turned out for you. Leave some comments about the whole process, remember that there are hundreds of people virtually watching you do this. No pressure or anything.

    BTW this blog has been up on only a few days and it has been read just about 1,000 times. Like in the real world you don't see the written feedback most of the time, but trust me people are reading it.

    Same with the edits you do on Wikipedia. I doubt you are going to ever hear back from someone that your edit changed their mine about pseudoscience. But because you are not getting that feedback don't be discouraged. This project is too important. People change their minds when they can quietly research on their own, the "ah ha" moment will happen, we just won't hear about it.