Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fringe Theories Noticeboard

Hi Sgerbic, I just watched your TAM9 video talking about getting skeptics involved in Wikipedia (from this week's Signpost, which I sometimes help edit). I'd avoid the term "guerilla" in discussing skeptics getting involved in Wikipedia, as it is likely to cause experienced editors to think that you are advocating underhanded means (sock puppetry etc.) to edit Wikipedia which would be counterproductive.
In your blog, you mention Wikipedia:WikiProject Rational Skepticism. It is indeed rather dormant, but that's because of WP:FTN. This is an important thing to point out to all skeptics: even if people aren't interested in editing Wikipedia directly, it is very useful to know that WP:FTN exists. I'm not interested in getting into edit wars with the fringe community, but if I come across places where there are problems with lack of skepticism in an article or set of articles or problematic edits, I report it on WP:FTN, the Fringe Theories Noticeboard. I'm not sure whether you are aware of it, but it's something that we should be proud of. WP:FTN is there to help enforce the WP:FRINGE policy.
The other thing is to make sure that when reaching out to skeptics, to point out how policy works. This is a frequent problem for many who come to Wikipedia. There are three things I think every skeptic needs to know about Wikipedia policy beyond the absolute basics. First is verifiability, not truth. Wikipedia isn't about "The Truth", it's about describing what is verifiable according to the sources (rather than, say, original research or original synthesis). Second is undue weight: mainstream views aren't given parity with crazy views. Third is WP:FRINGE and WP:FTN.
Anyway, if you want any help or advice with Wikipedia or want someone to bounce ideas off, do shout. —Tom Morris (talk) 08:56, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
Thank you Tom! I was unaware of FTN until you mentioned it. I've looked it over and it might be a good resource in the future. My problem with WP is the language and culture, things have to be done in certain ways that are very intimidating and confusing to new editors. Once you jump into it you either sink or swim, I keep encountering people who have tried to get involved but a senior editor snapped at them and or reverted their edits without explaining in clear language why (not in WP language).
Have you read my blog? I'm still not sure what the Signpost writer meant by me not following the rules? He said he would write back in a couple hours to explain but its been many more hours than that. I use the term guerrilla skepticism to rally people and get the non-editing world to think about how important WP is. The attitude that someone else will fix it, is overwhelming at times, very frustrating. If an editor thought I was advocating sock puppets or astroturffing then they would just need a quick read of my blog to see that I'm not advocating anything like that.
I think I might just write a blog about our conversation, I think the three items that a skeptic should know about editing WP is worth mentioning. Thank you. Sgerbic (talk) 15:36, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
Do feel free to write a blog post about anything I've said!
I had a read of the comment from Signpost: it kind of got a bit lost, the commenter was criticising an earlier version of the article while it was still being developed. The criticism in the final published version of the Signpost was softened a lot after you responded.
I think there are always concerns when people rally others to go and edit because Wikipedians have seen that before: hence our policy on WP:CANVASSING, WP:MEATPUPPET and things like the idea that we don't vote, we have a consensus-based discussion (for instance, when an article is up for deletion, there is zero benefit in recruiting one's friends and allies to turn up and vote to keep the article; much better to actually provide good reasons and arguments—it's sort of like we think democracy is just one giant argument from popularity). Over the years, Wikipedians have seen lots of people saying they are going to turn up and fix all the woes: sometimes that comes from mostly reasonable people (like, say, the American Psychological Society or indeed skeptics), sometimes not so much (white power Nazi types, marketing/PR people etc). Even when it is well-intentioned, it has to be done with a great deal of care.
Some of the response on Signpost has been essentially "but skeptical content is good enough already!" Here is where I think things get more interesting. There are some really good articles, but they tend to be things which are very high-level topics where scientists have jumped in to the debate, like intelligent design or homeopathy. Those don't really need to be more skeptical: they are pretty damn withering already! If you need proof of that, the fact that after he was kicked off Wikipedia, homeopathy advocate Dana Ullman moved over to Citizendium and coerced the policy situation there to get a very pro-homeopathy article published which homeopaths then crowed about. They slated Wikipedia for not being "neutral" like the Citizendium article, which was heavily written mostly by two fervent pro-homeopathy editors full-time tag-teaming it to oblivion with only me and some other people who don't really care all that much about homeopathy trying and failing to inject some sanity into it. Yeah, compared to that, Wikipedia is pretty damn skeptical of some of the bigger name delusions like homeopathy, alternative medicine and stuff like that.
Where your blog seems to point out problems is more with more minor topics like psychics and so on as well as coverage of skeptics themselves. The reaction of long-time Wikipedians to the thought of more "POV warriors" turning up to rehash things like intelligent design would be quite negative, but having more editors with declared conflicts of interest, turning up to ensure balance on minor articles... that's not such a big concern for people.
As for the cultural stuff, yes, there is a problem with biting the newbies and so on, and it's hard to learn how to participate. It's a learning process, and it takes time. I think the most important thing is humility and willingness to accept criticism, willingness to accept being wrong (kinda like science really!). If you've got any particular bugbears or things you think the community could fix about welcoming newbies and the like, it'd be great to hear them. Both the community and the Wikimedia Foundation are trying hard to fix "newbie retention" issues, so if you've got any ideas...
Anyway, keep up the great skeptical work on Wikipedia. —Tom Morris (talk) 09:27, 17 August 2011 (UTC)

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