Saturday, June 11, 2011

"We Got Your Wiki Back" Project ~ The Bigger Picture

Hopefully by now everyone understands that Guerrilla Skepticism usually involves "tagging" paranormal Wikipedia pages inserting a bit of critical thinking into the knee-deep woo. At its best that is what I advocate.

But what about the skeptical sites. Do we really need to update and cite people involved in the skeptical movement. Why do they need their own personal pages? Everyone knows who Carl Sagan is so why keep up his page?

Because I said so! That's why!

No seriously, it is a good question. We need to think about what the "big picture" goal here is. When our skeptical "heroes" speak out for us in the "real world" they need the credibility of having a well maintained and cited page backing them up. Face it most people don't know who is who in the skeptical movement, Carl Sagan may be the exception but stop 10 people on the street today and ask them who James "The Amazing" Randi is and they will sadly shrug their shoulders. That's almost unfathomable to us skeptics. My point is, we don't live in the real world (so to speak) our language is unique to us (woo, troother, JREF, IIG, SI) are just a few examples. When someone turns on CNN and there is Randi talking about Sylvia Browne how many people are going to say "who is that?" a quick search on Wikipedia is going to do a lot of educating, and shame on us if we don't have Randi's back.

Also skeptical topics and people should have a ton of links the researcher can follow that will expand the knowledge of not only the lay person but also avenues that we skeptics didn't know existed. Many times I have been reading a Wikipedia page and discovered podcasts and articles that I didn't know they were on. Having a live link to click on opens up my interest level and the next thing I know I've found a new podcast to subscribe to.

Face it we are a very small group of fish in this ocean. There are more bowling activists than there are skeptic activists (don't ask for the stats on this cause I just made it up). We have a lot of work to do to get the message out that skepticism is awesome and active. We also need to look out for each other. Someone looking on Joe Nickell's page is going to see links to other podcasts and articles he has been quoted in.

When someone looking at Vassula Ryden's (see earlier blog post) Wikipedia page sees the article by Joe Nickell they might follow his hyperlink. When they say "who is this guy?" they can click on his link and find out exactly who this guy is. There are a ton of people on her site that reportedly have investigated her, only one has a hyperlink to a Wikipedia page, all the others I say "who the hell is this?" No credibility at all.

We need to remember that most of the skeptics on Wikipedia also have other interests not related to skepticism. For example Yau Man Chan is known for his time on the reality show Survivors, plus he is really active in the world of ping-pong. We know him for being one of the Skeptologists. I recently listened to him lecture at SkeptiCalCon in Berkeley this May, while there I photographed him wearing his nametag and holding the JREF Pigasus. I uploaded the picture to WikiCommons and posted it on his Wikipedia page along with this reference "Yau-Man Chan & JREF Pigasus after lecture at SkeptiCalCon, May 29, 2011 Berkeley, CA". There wasn't any reason to post a blurb on his site as he lectures all the time and there was nothing notable about the SkeptiCalCon lecture. BUT the picture is really cute and awesome and I'm able to link back to the JREF and if SkeptiCalCon had a Wikipedia page of its own it would also be linked.

Also from that same conference I photographed Anthony Pratkanis, Robert Carroll and Peter Gleick all three of these men had Wikipedia pages but none with a picture. Now they all do, with the reference back to SkeptiCalCon. This might expose people reading their pages to this concept of skepticism.

Mark Edward is known as a mentalist as well as a skeptic heavily involved in Guerrilla Skepticism, his Wikipedia page expresses both of these worlds. I have left his name on the famous mentalist Wikipedia page as well as the Street Magic page. People interested in knowing more about the mentalists and street magicians will see his name and follow the hyperlink and discover Mark. This is kinda a back door to exposing them to skepticism, there is a quote on Mark's page saying "I've always been a skeptic because I'm a magician. When I see something in this hand (points to right hand) I automaticly want to know what the other hand is doing." This quote may engage anyone coming to his site with a magic interest.

In some minds, Skepticism is thought of as a negative term, "only old white men with no humor are skeptics" seems to be the statement most popular. My friend John Rael from Skeptically Pwnd recently told me that we need to "take back the term skeptic and remind people how cool that word is". Well okay John I agree, in my opinion we don't need to be looking for a better word to describe ourselves, just need to market ourselves better.

One way is to show on the Wiki pages how human we actually are. Check out Barry Beyerstein's page. When I first tried to read this page I nearly fell asleep (look at history of page before I began to edit it and you will see what I mean) another editor on Wiki approached me and asked if I could help edit the page. I knew Barry and loved his sense of humor and compassion for people (he would go to any lengths to explain something) just an all-round neat guy. So I remembered that he had signed a book for me that he wrote an auto-bio essay in called "Skeptical Odysseys" (yes we can and should be quoting from books also). So after reading the essay a few times I took notes and quoted a ton from it.

Should note that this is not the correct way to edit references on Wikipedia, you are to use your own words as much as possible. But I loved the tone and that it seemed to come from Barry's voice so I did something totally different and wrong. So sue me! Its been months and no one has said a word (its on my Watch List). If and when someone does I'll clean it up or allow them to do so. But for the moment Barry describes himself like this " I frequently found myself the odd man out...(they thought) I was a nice guy, but hopelessly 'linear' and 'left-brained', despite my de rigueur shoulder-length hair, tie-dye t-shirt, bell bottoms and cowboy boots.” How human is that?

He didn't even have a picture on his site. I did have some group pictures I had taken years ago, so I cleaned them up the best I could and inserted them on his page. I then "friended" his daughter on Facebook and let her know I had updated his page. She was delighted and said that her dad would be very happy with it. Recently I asked Lindsay if she would please upload some nicer images of her dad (she is a photographer) to WikiCommons and I'll link those pictures to his site. She assured me she would get to it soon and again thanked me.

So remember the big picture. We need to keep these pages up to date and well tended. If they don't have a site maybe we should consider making one (currently I am working on James Underdown and Barry Karr's pages). We want to market skepticism better and give these people more creditability, so get on it.

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