Sunday, August 14, 2011

Psychic Archaeology on Wikipedia

Struggling with how to edit this page on psychic archaeology, would welcome opinions.

I was thinking I would write a blog on how to use books as resources for Wikipedia citations, and pulled off my shelf a book by Kenneth Feder, Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. This book was required reading in an archaeology class I took at CSUMB several years ago.  Feder is also one of the first authors I ever approached and was stupefied that he wrote me back.  I wanted to know why he used the AD and BC dating method in his book when most archaeologists use CE and BCE.  I think his answer was that he wanted the book to be understood by students who were usually not archaeologists, he said he would consider changing it in further editions.

Anyway, I got to thinking about Feder and this book a few days ago as it is just one of those books that you can just breeze through, knowing that you are learning great things.  And I looked up his Wikipedia Page, just horrible.  Another stub and no picture, some days it is so discouraging.  I added his name to the American Skeptic category and put it on my watchlist hoping that someone will get his back. 

Reading through his book looking for quotes and such to edit into existing articles, I reread a chapter called "Good Vibrations: Psychics, Dowsers and Photo-Fields" all really great information.  He even follows up each chapter with a FAQ section, web links for more info and a critical thinking exercise section.  In this chapter he sums up the verdict of psychic archaeology by saying...

As an archaeologist, I wish psychic archaeology worked.  As an archaeologist committed to a scientific and skeptical approach, I can only say that wishing doesn't make it so.  The verdict on psychic archaeology based on experiments under controlled conditions is decidedly negative.  

I think those few lines are going to end up somewhere on the psychic archaeology page.  Need to reread the chapter again but my editing style is to quote, its a really nice sum up.

My problem lies in how to go about editing the psychic archaeology page.  As it exists now it seems from reading the discussion page that it was written by a student satisfying some kind of requirement.  The editors are trying for "balance" on the page, which as I've discussed before isn't really what Wikipedia is all about.  Overall it seems just too positive towards the pseudosciences.

The dowsing section does not reflect any science, it leaves the reader thinking that there is something to it.  I understand that the editor is trying to leave the reader with knowledge about how dowsing works in archaeology, but that is one of my problems, it does NOT WORK, and the section says nothing about that.

Dowsing in psychic archaeology can take on many forms. One of the better publicized methods and the subject of psychic archaeologist Karen Hunt’s 1981 Masters thesis at Indiana University involves dowsing for Electromagnetic Photo-Fields (EMPF) using two L-shaped [Ferrous] coat hangers bent about 17.8 cm from the end as electromagnetic photo sensors. Hunt stated that the electromagnetic photo sensors detect EMPF similar to a proton magnetometer detecting magnetic fields. Crossed dowsing rods indicated the crossing of an EMPF, which are three-dimensional patterns generated by man-made objects left in place for at least six-months[2]. There are other methods of dowsing employed in psychic archaeology with less inherent scientism than EMPF. Often conventional dowsers will offer there services to archaeologist with varying explanation for there methods[3]. Straddling the border of dowsing and channeling is a technique known as map dowsing, in which a medium or psychic dangles a pendulum over a map of the area of a potential dig to divine ideal locations for test pits or excavation.

Is it just me being all cranky tonight that thinks we need some critical thinking inserted here?

And then what about this section?


Advocates of psychic archaeology believe that at best it possesses the power to answer questions about the lives in the past not answerable using the archaeological record, and also to locating prime archaeological sites[4]. They believe that, at worst, psychic archaeologists can locate and excavate important sites that may not be excavated without the motivation of psychic guidance[9]. Skeptics, on the other hand, usually question the existence of psychic abilities, ascribing the occasional apparent successes of psychic archaeology to fallacious thinking on the part of practitioners and cite phenomena such as coincidence, confirmation bias, cherry picking or outright trickery[11]. They compare psychic archaeologists to psychic detectives.

Doesn't Validity mean "truth"?  No where does it say anything about there being any evidence that psychic archaeology actually works.  Shouldn't that be an important part of the page?  At its worst...."psychic archaeologists can locate...?  What?!?

Again is this just me?  Do you all see this as well?

There have been tons of investigations on dowsing, even Feder writes about testing the dowsers in his book.  This whole page seems really riddled with being overly gracious towards psychics.  The best part of the page is how "skeptics" compare psychic archaeologists to psychic detectives.  They are both frauds in our opinion.  But our psychic detective page still isn't re-edited, so when the pages are hyperlinked as they are that puts more pressure on getting the detective page finished.

BTW the psychic archaeology page averages about 700 hits a month. 


  1. Noticed this link today about me.

    Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia?

    Susan Gerbic at The Amaz!ng Meeting 2011 gave a talk on "guerrilla skepticism on Wikipedia and how important that is as skeptics for us to get the message out there" —oh dear. "Its not vandalism, which it kinds of sounds like, because we are totally following the rules" she said. Not vandalism? True. But, following the rules? Not so much that either.

    Whats really strange is that as an atheist skeptic myself I have found our content to be pretty inline with my world views. It was my understanding that the hardcore atheist POV camp was one of the strongest and most institutionalized onwiki, but Gerbic described the "skeptical content" on Wikipedia as "not very good".

    Well anyways, maybe we will be able to get some new contributors out of this and reform them —otherwise be on the watch for suspicious editing activity on the skeptical articles font.

  2. I know your expertise on this. I must say we should have an online discussion on this. Writing only comments will close the discussion straight away! And will restrict the benefits from this information.
    visit here for more info