Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Signpost Newsletter on Wikipedia

This week a editor on Wikipedia wrote this about me and this site on a Wikipedia newsletter called "The Signpost"  

Guerrilla skepticism on Wikipedia?

At The Amaz!ng Meeting 2011 (an annual US conference on science, skepticism, and atheism), Susan Gerbic gave a talk on "guerrilla skepticism on Wikipedia and how important that is as skeptics for us to get the message out there". She suggested that skeptics should seek to redress a perceived imbalance in the presentation of the skepticism–religion divide on Wikipedia.
Despite assurances from Gerbic that "it's not vandalism, which it kinds of sounds like, because we are totally following the rules", concern has already been expressed that editors may attempt to give otherwise neutral articles a pro-skeptic slant. Although in the past there have been crackdowns on religious POV-pushing (most notably the Scientology arbitration case), Gerbic was clear that what has been left behind is not sufficiently pro-skeptic, describing the "skeptical content" on Wikipedia as "not very good". A YouTube video of Gerbic's talk
and an accompanying blog post
are available.

I was very surprised, didn't realize that anyone at Wikipedia was aware of my efforts to get more editors. The article I'm responding to in the comments was worded differently.  He had said that I was "not following the rules" and encouraging others to do the same.  Once I wrote my comments the newsletter was softened to what you see now.

These are the comments from the article.

Thank you for your frankness. My agenda is obvious, I want to improve pages, reflecting cited articles that focus on critically thinking about subjects. Many pseudoscience articles rely on vagueness and only giving a slight nod to anything that is factual. I'm thinking about the blog I published last night on psychic Archaeology

as a great example.

I also advocate that the pages of our spokespeople are clearly lacking. I do not want to cover up anything negative (see Brian Dunning (skeptic) for a great example of leaving negative where it was put. I know that Wikipedia is the single most important tool readers have to understand the world around them. When they are searching for one of our spokespeople, we need to make sure we have their backs, and frankly I do think that overall our representation is horrible. I wish that wasn't so, but with a few exceptions of the really popular people we have mostly stubs representing us. Shame!

As far as your assertion that I am not "following the rules" I would like to see that clarified so it can be discussed. Maybe I am doing something wrong but until I know what that is I can't change my behavior. I'm a self taught editor learning as I go. I'm passing on my thoughts, frustrations and tips to people on a blog (off-site Wikipedia) and hoping for help from others.
I look forward to your comments.
Sgerbic (talk) 16:00, 15 August 2011 (UTC)

I fail to understand how removing bias on pages promoting pseudoscience by introducing a balanced POV is not following the rules. In fact, it is desired by Wikipedia. Yes, this makes some topics more controversial and targets for cultish editing to remove such balanced POV, but this is nothing new to Wikipedia and an ongoing battle. --FreedominThought (talk) 18:47, 15 August 2011 (UTC)
  • I'm at work right now —I will answer your objections in three hours. jorgenev 20:30, 15 August 2011 (UTC)
Note: The above conversation appears to refer to earlier versions of the story, e.g. this one, which differ from the published version. Regards, HaeB (talk) 10:22, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
See Inteligent Design for an article that is completely dominated by a clique of self-righteous skeptics. You can hurt the project while still "following rules": The regulars there preferred to have the article to loose it's Good Article status than fix balance the coverage. The article should be about a concept, but it's actually about a legal case in the U.S.. --damiens.rf 17:31, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
What do you mean "lose its Good Article status"? It's a Featured Article! -- (talk) 17:40, 17 August 2011 (UTC)
"Following the rules" is neither necessary nor sufficient for the purposes of Wikipedia. The goal is to produce encyclopaedic articles, not to push the agenda of either "true believers" or "skeptics". For this reason the balance will vary from article to article, a comprehensive description of an "alternative system of medicine" for example, might be extensively citable, while there may be very little citable either supporting or opposing the treatments, and if there were it might well be better spun out as a separate article. The dangers of public calls to action, however well intentioned, are something that Wikipedia has been subject too many times and has, so far as we know, weathered, but not without creating a lot of needless conflict. Rich Farmbrough, 17:40, 16 August 2011 (UTC).
  • We definitely need more skeptics and scientists involved. Hopefully this will attract more people to the community. Skepticism is a critical part of any academic work. We cannot let our articles be exclusively written by "believers" Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 18:45, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
    • Skeptics are believers just as well. And they believe to be the only one right just like any other fundamentalist. Believing in Papal infallibility: Dumb. Believing in Inductive reasoning infallibility: Smart. I don't see the difference. --damiens.rf 19:22, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
      Err, yeah, that about sums up the basis of the scientific method. —Tom Morris (talk) 22:58, 16 August 2011 (UTC)

The Inteligent Design article is now featured and the lead is well written. Not sure to what damiens refers too.Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 18:50, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
Delayed response, but while I do agree that parts of the Psychic archaeology article could be written more bluntly ("The problem with psychic archaeology is that it has no verified accomplishments"), I think you're a little harsh on the article as a whole. The dowsing section has to give how dowsing works *according to the theory of the dowsers*. It doesn't help to add "and this doesn't actually work" every other sentence. This is probably more clear if you think of articles on old scientific theories that have been surpassed; it's entire legitimate to talk about "when the four humors are out of balance, the easiest way to restore them is to drain away the excessive humor, such as via leeches to the blood." We know that this isn't very helpful these days, and when leeching is helpful it's not for the claimed reasons, but in an article on the four humors, Wikipedia should present what practitioners believed and how they applied the system. Same here; let dowsing theory stand on its own, then mention in the lede and in the Validity section that it doesn't work. SnowFire (talk) 23:14, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
What the pseudoscience skeptics, and anyone else, need to understand is how important the overall tone of an article is. That is one of the problems with the Inteligent Design article in that its overall tone is one of skepticism towards the entire idea of Inteligent Design. Someone reading a Wikipedia article should not be able to tell which side it is taking on the topic. In my experience, if you bring up the subject of "balance" with some skeptical editors, they will respond that the advocacy side for the topic, for example, those who promote Intelligent Design, is "fringe" and "undue". Cla68 (talk) 07:00, 17 August 2011 (UTC) 
One always has to take a sceptical approach to anything, otherwise one can't distinguish fact from fiction. This is how the "scientific method" works, it has led to the modern technological world, including Wikipedia. Count Iblis (talk) 17:24, 17 August 2011 (UTC)
And what's wrong with noting that something is a fringe belief? Or that a particular POV is receiving undue weight in an article? Nothing. Powers T 21:18, 17 August 2011 (UTC) Again, if an article is truly NPOV, the reader should not be able to tell which side it is taking on an issue or topic. If one side is labeled "fringe" it should be described as such in the voice of a reliable source, not Wikipedia's voice. Cla68 (talk) 04:49, 18 August 2011 (UTC)
I wasn't talking about identifying it within an article. You referred to "bring[ing] up the subject of 'balance' with some skeptical editors", which implies discussion about what is "fringe" and "undue", not placing such claims within the text of an article. There is nothing wrong with an editor, in discussion, properly and correctly identifying a fringe view as "fringe". Powers T 12:57, 18 August 2011 (UTC)


  1. Hmm they make it sound like we have some agenda that seems different then wikipedias. I thought our agenda was find the truth and if so then its not about "believers vs skeptics" its about that the evidence shows. Whats that bs about skeptics are believers too? Oh and susan can you catch any logical fallacies in there? bonus points if you can name the logical fallacies if you can find any

  2. To be more specific then the last post we have no POV in relation to different claims other then what the evidence indicates. Which is what i thought the neutral POV of wikipedia was supposed to be about.

  3. No Zach, I'm not very good at naming them. I can see that some comments are comparing us with other groups and saying we are the same.

    This phrase "pseudoscience skeptics" is leading.

    Once you point the fallacies out I'm sure it will be obvious to me. That's what happens on the SGU every time they mention them. Great exercise for our minds.