Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mormonism on Wikipedia

Mormonism is a topic that I have discussed here before.  I suggested that pages about the LDS are well-written but with little criticism.  I also stated that I think they are carefully monitored by the LDS and I believe that Mormons understand marketing and the We Got Your Wiki Back! project probably better than skeptics.  With over 200K hits a month for the 3 search terms (polygamy, Mormon & Joseph Smith) these pages need to be in excellent shape.  Even more importantly because according to the LDS church historian I quoted, the Mormons are losing membership mainly because of all the information about the church on the Internet.

Interesting.  People are leaving the church because they are learning about it.  I wonder if it is also true that numbers of new members are down because potential newbies are researching the church beforehand?

I have not edited LDS Wikipedia pages, nor do I advocate the average person to do so.  The pages that exist today are carefully watched and maintained.  Everything must be discussed on the Talk page before making the change, otherwise your edit will be reverted.  This is the way it is on many high-profile pages (astrology, homeopathy and others).  All the sides of the discussion have worked for years(?) gaining agreement on the presentation.  I'm sure there have been edit wars over single sentences, maybe over single words. 

Tonight I've found this article published by Meridian Magazine (a LDS publication) that discusses the problems with the Mormon presence on Wikipedia.  The author, Larry Barkdull is very informed about how Wikipedia works, he is also aware of search optimization importance.  Barkdull explains that the LDS is not well-represented in some places.  He details some of the edits that need to be fixed (all are out of my expertize) and advocates that Mormons should venture over to Wikipedia and politely but persistently become involved in improving Wikipedia for all the pages concerning Mormonism.

Where have I heard this before?

It seems I have a lot more in common with Mormonism that I would have thought.

Equally important is to be educated on the subject being edited. Acquiring a thorough knowledge of the available sources is the key to success on Wikipedia. Editors’ own opinions should not remain in Wikipedia articles, but cited facts will stand a much better chance of remaining. One should not remove citations, even if they appear disagreeable to the editor, unless the source used is obviously in violation of Wikipedia policy. An editor who consistently behaves in a civil manner toward others, and patiently works to achieve consensus with those editors with whom he or she may disagree, will build a solid reputation within the Wikipedia community. Over time, misrepresentations about our faith can be corrected.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Penny4NASA & Neil deGrasse Tyson

Thanks to editor Nathan Miller, the Neil deGrasse Tyson Wikipedia page now has two paragraphs mentioning the Penny4NASA project. 

I know you're all wondering, how much of an impact can that have?  If we consult our handy-dandy traffic page we discover that November saw 115,967 hits to Tyson's page.  That's a lot of potential traffic being sent to the Penny4NASA website. 

When Cosmos is released, and all the media coverage that will proceed it, I'm hoping that the 115K number will look miniscule in comparison.   

Nathan has also spent considerable time researching whether Penny4NASA has enough notoriety to warrant their own Wikipedia page.  He discovered that they don't, yet.   Hopefully all that work won't go to waste, he has the beginnings of the page written and waiting.  Lets help make that happen.  The Penny4NASA webpage has many ideas for our community to become involved in the project and pressure Congress to add a half-penny to NASA's budget. 

Remember I need hundreds of new editors to the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.  If you can help, I will train.  Contact me at

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Power Balance on Wikipedia

I've written about my experiences editing the Power Balance Wikipedia page and how important it is to get the message out to people who need to hear it.  Nothing has changed, Power Balance is still one of the top search terms that bring people to this blog, and the WP page still gets over 25K hits a month.  I don't know if those people are following the link from Lamar Odom's WP page, or maybe they just purchased the product and are curious how it "works" or possibly searchers are trying to remind themselves how thoroughly the product was debunked. For whatever reason we still need to make sure the Wikipedia page correctly reflects the best definition and citations possible.

My friend Steve Muscarella shared a new link on Facebook about Mark Cuban's opinion of the product.  He's upset that the NBA is still endorsing the bracelets.  Nathan Miller added the quote to the growing list of criticisms on the WP page. (citation #25)

This made me take another look at the Power Balance Wikipedia page.  I must say that I'm still impressed with the amount of coverage and citations.  I discovered a second period at the end of a sentence but left it for one of you to find and correct.  (One way to get you all to discover how easy it is to edit)

What amazes me is that with all this amazing evidence gathered in one easy to use place, that people still are endorsing and purchasing the product.  I expect that probably with the demise of Power Balance, the spin-offs are taking up where PB left off.  Creating a WP page for each of these companies will happen if they become noteworthy enough, but at the moment that hasn't happened.

So just want to take a moment and thank each and every person/group that has done their research and written (filmed or tested) about this product.  This allowed several Wikipedia editors (not all are from my guerrilla skepticism group) to place these citations (with quotes) onto the WP page for the use of over 300,000 readers each year.  Imagine that. 

One more point.  I'm always a little thrilled to see the familiar red WOT symbol on pages like this.  (see citation #5) This means that if you are one of the 40 million people who have WOT (Web of Trust) installed on your computer, you can rate Internet pages based on your opinion of trustfulness.  Here is one of several articles by Tim Farley explaining WOT much better than I can. Obviously enough people rated Power Balance's website negativity, which is why you see a red warning screen if you try to access their page. Try it!  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wanted: Photos for Wikipedia

As regular readers of this blog already know, we can not use just any ole' photograph on Wikipedia.  Each image must be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with all the correct licensing.  The easiest is to have the photographer upload the image themselves.

Here are instructions for uploading
From Flickr
OTRS Open-source Ticket Request System

We need images.  Please please please check through your photo albums and see if you might have an image that we need.  If you aren't sure that the quality might not be good enough, run it by me (   Hi-rez is not required, but it is best to have something that is well framed with little distractions.  It is possible to photoshop some of the problems, if you don't have that ability, I have people to do that for you and then send it back to you for uploading.  Many times, creative cropping will fix the image. 

Here are a few examples of people uploading pictures.  Check out the newest edition of Paul Kurtz's page, 4 founders of modern skepticism image was taken by DJ Grothe and uploaded by Ken Frazier, the Kurtz desk image was taken by Barry Karr, and the B/W of Kurtz and Gardner was taken by Robert Sheaffer. 

Robert Sheaffer also took and uploaded this image of Whitley Strieber, it is a low-rez image but looks okay here on the page.  This is also a good example of a page that needs work. 

Keep in mind that your image may go world-wide as this one by Greg

One more point before I give the current list of needed photos.  

If you are attending a skeptic/science/atheist function, or know someone personally that has or probably will have their own Wikipedia page, please try to get that image for us.  The easiest way is to actually ask them to pose for an image.  Chose a uncluttered background and avoid water bottles and clutter.  The best photographs are at a high angle (very flattering on necks) have them sit and you stand, or you stand on a chair. 

If you are photographing at a lecture, ask before hand if you can take a picture of them at the podium before they begin, remove the water bottle and other distractions for the picture, then put it right back.  Explain that by doing this quickly beforehand you are going to be able to concentrate on what they are saying and not popping around in front of them while they are speaking.  Also doing this will remove the chance you are going to get them in a speaking moment, a lot of us move our hands when we talk so it helps to get a posed image instead of something with blurred hands.  

If they tell you they hate getting their picture taken, then explain it is a necessary evil. Would they rather have an image of themselves chewing food at dinner?  Someone is going to get a shot of them somewhere, might as well be a flattering one. 

Here is the list so far, hopefully we can get these items off the list.  Some people have one image on their Wikipedia page already, but more would be better, we want to tell a story with these images.  So send the URL to the uploaded picture to me.  If you want to add names to the list also post here on the blog and I'll add them to the list. 

Dean Cameron (any)
Jim Lippard (any)
Marilyn vos Savant
Robynn McCarthy
Stephen Barrett (any)
R. Joseph Hoffmann (any)
Mac King (more)
**Here are some photos that are needed for the "Signers of the Humanist Manifesto project:
    A. Eustace Haydon (professor of history of religions, University of Chicago.)
    E. Burdette Backus (minister, First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles)
    Edwin H. Wilson (managing editor, the New Humanist)
    F.H. Hankins (professor of economics and sociology, Smith College.)
    John H. Dietrich (minister, First Unitarian Society, Minneapolis.)
    John Herman Randall, Jr. (department of philosophy, Columbia University.)
    R. Lester Mondale (minister, Unitarian Church, Evanston, Illinois.)
    Robert Morss Lovett (editor, The New Republic; professor of English, University of Chicago.)
A. B. Shah, Pres., Indian Secular Society
Alan F. Guttmacher, Pres., Planned Parenthood Fed. of America
Alfred McC. Lee, Prof. Emeritus, Soc.-Anthropology, C.U.N.Y.
Antony Flew, Prof. of Philosophy, The Univ., Reading, England
Archie J. Bahm, Prof. of Philosophy Emeritus, Univ. of N.M.
Arthur Danto, Prof. of Philosophy, Columbia University
Brigid Brophy, author, Great Britain
Chaim Perelman, Prof. of Philosophy, Univ. of Brussels, Belgium
Chauncey D. Leake, Prof., Univ. of California, San Francisco
Clinton Lee Scott, Universalist Minister, St Petersburgh, Fla.
Corliss Lamont, Chm., Natl. Emergency Civil Liberties Comm.
Edward Lamb, Pres., Lamb Communications, Inc.
Edwin H. Wilson, Ex. Dir. Emeritus, American Humanist Assn.
Eustace Haydon, Prof. Emeritus of History of Religions
H. J. Blackham, Chm., Social Morality Council, Great Britain
Herbert Feigl, Prof. Emeritus, Univ. of Minnesota
Herbert J. Muller, Professor, University of Indiana
James Hemming, Psychologist, Great Britain
James W. Prescott, Natl, Inst. of Child Health and Human Dev.
John Anton, Professor, Emory University
John Herman Randall, Jr., Prof. Emeritus, Columbia Univ.
John W. Sears, clinical psychologist
Joseph Fletcher, Visiting Prof., Sch. of Medicine, Univ. of Virginia
Joseph L. Blau, Prof. of Religion, Columbia University
Kai Nielsen, Prof. of Philosophy, Univ. of Calgary, Canada
Lionel Able, Prof. of English, State Univ. of New York at Buffalo
Lord Ritchie-Calder, formerly Univ. of Edinburgh, Scotland
M. L. Rosenthal, Professor, New York University
Mark Starr, Chm., Esperanto Info. Center
Mary Morain, Editorial Bd., Intl. Soc. of General Semantics
Maxine Greene, Prof., Teachers College, Columbia University
Miriam Allen deFord, author
Paul Blanshard, author
Paul Edwards, Prof. of Philosophy, Brooklyn College
Raymond B. Bragg, Minister Emer., Unitarian Ch., Kansas City
Richard Kostelanetz, poet
Roy Wood Sellars, Prof. Emeritus, Univ. of Michigan
Theodore Brameld, Visiting Prof., C.U.N.Y.
Babu R.R. Gogineni (Executive director, International Humanist and Ethical Union)
James Dewey Watson (Medicine, 1962)
Jerome I. Friedman (Physics, 1990)
Jim Herrick (Editor, the New Humanist)
Johann Deisenhofer (Chemistry, 1988)
Lloyd L. Morain
Paul D. Boyer (Chemistry, 1997)
Riane Eisler (President, Center for Partnership Studies)
Sherwin Wine (Founder and president, Society for Humanistic Judaism)
Stephen Mumford (President, Center for Research on Population and Security)
Vashti McCollum
Vern Bullough (Sexologist and former copresident of the International Humanist and Ethical Union) Warren Allen Smith (Editor and author)
Claude Allegre, Farrell Till, George Abell, Isidor Sauers,  Stanislaw Burzynski, Andrew Weil, Stephen Barrett,  Drauzio Varella. James Oberg, Jerome ClarkLinda Howe, Michael Goudeau, Sherwin Nuland, Dean Radin, Robert Priddy, Victor Stenger, Curtis Peebles, Donna KossyGerald Glaskin, Terence Hines, James Moseley
Penn & Teller separately

Just for fun, here is my list of contributions.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

World Wikipedia - 4 months later

World Wikipedia has been busy.  We are on month four of the formation of this group and moving forward. 

Here are a few updates. 

Luis Garcia Castro created the Spanish version of SkeptiCamp's page.  That really makes me smile when thinking about a grassroots group like SkeptiCamp being supported by another grassroot group.

Today, the Dutch Wikipedia group (lead by editor Rian van Lierop) launched the 7th version of Jerry Andrus, this means the page is available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Portuguese.

I've learned how to add info boxes to Dutch Wikipedia pages that already exist, and have had some success improving the appearance of a few skeptical pages. 

James Randi Before
James Randi After

Michael Shermer Before
Michael Shermer After

The Wendy Hughes video that explains the We Got Your Wiki Back! project has now been translated into Spanish and Dutch (plus the English subtitles). 

The French Paul Kurtz page now has some new pictures, waiting for the French team to start improving the whole page, but in the mean time there is more to look at. Same for the Polish page.

We now have an Indian Wikipedia team.  This is a unique approach we are taking, as they will be editing in English but will focus on topics more associated with India.  This group just formed and is still in the reading everything process of learning, but expect great things from them. 

One thing that came out of the formation of the group was that a page on this elderly gentleman was brought to my attention.  I spent a bit of time cleaning out most of the nonsense (maybe more will need to go).  I was amazed that he was reported to be several hundred years old, someone had even added his name to a category stating that he was born in the 900's.  Yet we know that he died in the 1970's.  I don't think so. 

I've left only one reference and am waiting to see if others come in and improve the article, otherwise this mud man's page is likely to be deleted.

Devaha Baba Before
Devaha Baba After

We also added our first Urdu editor, just waiting for him to get settled in before we start him on projects.

Nix Dorf arranged our first Google Hangout for the editors.  It was a blast but as usual we had a bunch of technical problems.  Getting those all ironed out for our second try.  Finding a time was also interesting, but really very exciting to have people from all over the world on the call. 

Nix is in Brazil
Nicola Mazbar in Atlanta, Georgia
Svetlana Bavykina in Russia
Luis García Castro in Spain
Luis Filipe Pratas in Portugal
and myself in California

If you haven't been keeping up with the World Wikipedia project, here is the blog from our 2 month anniversary. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

We Got Your Wiki Back - Jerry Andrus en Español

The World Wikipedia project is still moving along as planned.  Joining Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Russian is a brand new Spanish page.

Thank you Linda Mazarredo and the Español team for another beautiful page everyone in our community should be familiar with, Jerry Andrus.

As a special treat Linda seems to have found a new video of Jerry Andrus performing his illusions, the video is in Español, but don't let that keep you from watching.  There are a few illusions I've never seen before and I thought I had seen them all.  The ability to WOW us with his own handmade illusions is one reason I selected Jerry Andrus to be the first focus of the World Wikipedia project, he is Universal, no words are needed to amaze us. 

As I look out my window tonight I see a gray and cold evening closing in.  The perfect night to stay home bundled up, take some time to watch all of these videos in whatever language you chose (many of these, our World Wikipedia editors have captioned in several languages).  You can show these to the young people in your life and open their eyes to the amazing world of optical illusions, and then have the discussion of how easily we can be fooled by our eyes.  Think about it, Jerry Andrus can be a discussion everyone on every political spectrum will enjoy, maybe it will facilitate that all important discussion we need to start having with each other, how do we know what we know?


Jerry Andrus in Español

25,252 11/8/12

Hurricane Sandy - Wikipedia - Global Climate Change

Thank you Tim Farley for bringing this article to my attention this morning.  BTW Tim, I love your blog Skeptical Software Tools.  I receive it right in my inbox and know I'm going to learn something new that will make advancing the skeptical movement cause even easier.  Just hope the good guys are reading also.


This article by POPSCI's reporter Dan Nosowitz tells one of the stories of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.  We do not advocate vandalism, we advocate getting the message of science into the hands of people who need it, the readers of Wikipedia. 

I know very very little about global warming, so would be VERY uncomfortable editing a page about hurricanes or global climate change.  That is why we need a diversified team of editors who understand the rules of Wikipedia, what is allowed and what is not.  How to cite and how to work with other editors to make the best page possible.  Wikipedia is not a joke, it is where the majority of people get their information.  Even if they do not go directly to the Wikipedia page, we know that the reporters that are creating the media (radio, TV, print) are getting their information from the Wikipedia page.  Maybe not always cut and paste, but are influenced by the write-up, citations and hyperlinks to other pages.

Here is one paragraph from the above article that I cut and pasted here.   (my bolding)

When I told Jay Walsh about the back-and-forth regarding climate change, he said, "It doesn't surprise me to hear that. Climate change is a bastard--it's one of those really complicated topics within Wikipedia, because the [editors] are so science-focused." But he wasn't upset that one point of view had been steamrollered on a Wikipedia page that received more than half a million hits in three days--he was intrigued about how the process went, and about how it was eventually ironed out, in a way. "The article doesn't not do its work because of that," he said. Walsh talked about a "good faith" versus "bad faith" edit: Ken Mampel really thinks he is improving that page by eliminating an unclear passage about climate change, so that's a "good faith" edit. Which, for Wikipedians, means the system is working. But what about for those 500,000 readers who didn't get the full story?

Make sure you look at that Wikipedia article traffic statistics link in the middle of the paragraph, I use this tool several times a day and I know you will find it interesting to play around with too.  Just make sure that the name you insert in the search box is exactly the name on the page you want to look up.  Also you can see the hit count for different languages (again you have to put the name exactly as it is on that other language page)

So if you want to help out with the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project, please contact me at  You don't have to be an expert on anything, I need doers more than I need experts.  I do train. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Conspiracy of Wikipedia

Received a tweet from my friend and fellow "skeptical activist" Bob Blaskiewicz.  If you don't already know Bob, you should, he is on my "people to watch" list along with a short list of other names.   Amongst other projects, Bob writes a conspiracy theory column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine as the "The Conspiracy Guy"  I'm sure he's on a lot of other people's watch lists also, probably grouped in the shadow government category. 
Bob was telling me about some UFO conspiracy person who is complaining about Wikipedia.  I ventured over to the blog and was pretty amazed to read all about motivations I didn't even know I had. 
Here is the link to the article I'm about to talk about.  I've broken it in half, and you can restore it in the address bar.  Tim Farley uses a no-follow code to make it so that when you are posting to a paranormal site, they won't be able to follow the URL back to where you posted it.  I don't really know how to do this, but Tim's blog skeptical software tools explains it and much much more. 


 Below are some of the highlights of Coppen's blog along with my comments.
Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown as the online phenomenon that apparently allows the truth to be managed democratically; but over the past year it has also been exposed as a real-life "Ministry of Truth". Worse: people have been arrested and terrorised due to incorrect information being posted on this free Internet encyclopaedia.

True, Wikipedia has become an online phenomenon.  At its best it is a repository for the facts.  We do try to work with editors who have other agendas, there is a lot of back and forth on controversial topics, but eventually the citations should win out.  Usually this leaves supporters of the paranormal frustrated and angry. 
The "arrested and terrorised" comment he refers to is about a gentleman who was stopped from freely traveling because his Wikipedia article had a reference to him being a terrorist.  Obviously we guerrilla skeptics are against vandalism in all forms.  We also understand that we are dealing with real people and don't want reputations harmed.  I'm not sure how likely it is that travel is really being halted because of what is read on Wikipedia, Coppen is a man known for conspiracy theories, he probably knows better than I, so I'll just give him this one.

On 15 December 2005, various media sources reported that the open-access encyclopaedia Wikipedia was about as accurate as the online Encyclopaedia Britannica, at least for science-based articles. This was the result of a study by the journal Nature, which chose scientific articles from both encyclopaedias across a wide range of topics and sent them for peer review. The reviewers found just eight serious errors. Of those, four came from each site. They also found a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, there were 123 such problems with Britannica and 162 with Wikipedia. That in itself is a staggering conclusion, which translates as averaging out to 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia, or three versus four mistakes. That, of course, is not "as accurate" as the newspapers reported – thus showing misleading statements in the newspapers' headlines.
 Well I guess this might be a win for Wikipedia if true.  I have problems when people compare Wikipedia to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Maybe to the Britannica on-line site but not the book version.  Wikipedia can change hourly whereas Britannica only yearly.  

Also I think this might be a problem with small sample size, he does not state how many articles were selected, but only finding 8 errors.  And no idea what is meant by "serious".  Finding errors, omissions and misleading statements of 162 Wikipedia articles, again how many articles were reviewed, and what criteria was used to determine errors?  Are we talking about spelling, math, citations or what?

Coppen infers that these errors equal 3.86 errors (per subject?  or did they count all the errors on the page? To Coppen it is "staggering", without clearer examples I don't know if he and I have the same definition of that word.

Jack Sarfatti considers himself to be a victim of the service and even considered litigation at one point. He found that certain libellous information had been posted about him. Of course, he, like anyone else, can go in and alter that information, which is what he tried to do. He tried posting at various times of the day, but each time, within minutes, the changes were undone – suggesting that the Wikipedia moderators were constantly monitoring certain pages. When he dug further, he came to the conclusion that Wikipedia seemed to be in the hands of a group of sceptical minds, intent on making sure there were no mysteries and no conspiracies.

No, Coopen's is incorrect.  Biased people can not just go into a page and edit.  I mean they can do it, but it is frowned on.   There are several good reasons for this, I'll use Jack Sarfatti as an example.  Firstly we do not want Sarfatti to hide, embellish or exaggerate part of his biography.  Secondly, even if what Sarfatti is correcting is legit, like his birthdate, birthplace or where he got his degree, how do we know it is the real Sarfatti doing the editing?  Should Wikipedia contain a registration screen for new accounts that includes you're Social Security number and a team of editors to check it? Thirdly, we can't just add or change info unless there is a citation proving the edit. Otherwise we would just have nonsense pages.
I guess to someone wrapped up in conspiracies, having someone revert you're edits in “minutes” at “various times of the day” would look like they were being watched. I don't know about constantly monitoring a page, but most non-editors are unaware that we can with one click add a page to a watchlist, that when refreshed tells us when a change is made. It only takes two clicks to undo a change, I guess that looks magical also. I suppose Sarfatti envisioned a team of Wikipedia editors wearing all black with dark sunglasses gathered around iron tables in a unused warehouse somewhere. They would have to move around the country to avoid I.P. Addresses being traced I suppose.

The reality is more mundane I'm sorry to say. Editors all across the world (who probably don't even know each other) sitting at their office desk at work, venture over to their Wikipedia account during a lull in the workday, click on their watchlist and say “Damn, not again”. They might even be trying to leave notes on his user page but it does not exist. Maybe on the talk page is a conversation between editors about how best to keep the page in good shape. I haven't looked, so this is all just speculation. It also is likely that one of the Wikipedia bots (robot) changed the page.

This last sentence “Wikipedia seemed to be in the hands of a group of sceptical minds, intent on making sure there were no mysteries and no conspiracies. “ makes me suspicious that the edits that Sarfatti was making were not corrections to his birthdate, but tying to add in material that should not be there.

“Indeed, when you consult a variety of subjects on Wikipedia, you will notice a certain "mindset" that excludes certain opinions.”
If he means a mindset that includes making sure vandalism does not exist, and that only correctly cited material is allowed, then I plead guilty, I also plead guilty to having an agenda of wanting to make sure the articles are factual. I and my team choose to work on the pages of our skeptical spokespeople, in the same way that a chess or bowling enthusiast wants to work on their people's pages.

Rennes-le-Chateau and Priory of Sion mysteries (which are at the core of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code) and is responsible for most of the Wikipedia entries on the subject. Some of these entries are blatantly biased and others contain serious factual errors. In both instances, I adjusted the wording and removed the errors. At no point did this mean that the Priory was depicted as genuine – far from it. In fact, I felt that an error-free posting would actually bring enhanced value to the entry. In this case, the entries remained up for a number of months, but then were returned to their negative, erroneous entries. The "Wikipedia Police" should have seen that the new entry was less neutral and more biased than what was on there, but they did not revert to the previous version. The question is: why prefer erroneous information over more neutral wordings? No wonder that experts find numerous errors in every article on Wikipedia...when Wikipedia seems to prefer to promote errors over factual statements.
“Wikipedia Police” really? Is he talking about the 100 admins that are trying to watch the hundreds of thousands of pages? What Coppen considers “blantly biased... serious factual errors” may be just his opinion and no one elses.
“ No wonder that experts find numerous errors in every article on Wikipedia” (need citation)

Concerning Corpus Hermeticum, “Wikipedia moderators removed the section themselves, stating that I needed to give "more sources" – though I had actually given more sources than most of the other statements that maintain the status quo in this entry”. You have to add in citations to prove you're statement.

“Paul Joseph Watson of Prison Planet has noted there is a concerted campaign to erase the 9/11 Truth Movement. Furthermore, pages which they and like-minded individuals created, such as "List of Republican sex scandals", "People questioning the 9/11 Commission Report" and "Movement to impeach George W. Bush" were all deleted. “

Really? I can't imagine why. Wonder if there are a lot of secondary sources to prove that these pages are relevant. Maybe they could have a category page instead?

The first-mentioned page might indeed not be seen as important in an encyclopaedic environment, but the "wiki" (a page in the encyclopaedia) for Dylan Avery, the producer of the most-watched documentary film in Internet history, clearly merits a biographical page on an online encyclopaedia. Wikipedia, however, thought otherwise.

Again he assumes that there is some kind of police out there trying to keep out pages of reputable, noteworthy people. I can assure him that there are all kinds of pages that exist for controversial non-skeptics. Many of which the skeptical community keeps vandalism free. If there are enough citations and secondary sources for an individual or organization to prove the noteworthiness then no one will be able to keep it out of Wikipedia. If someone wants to write a well-sourced page for Avery then I'll completely support that.

Sarfatti commented on a private email list: "They have set up a Virtual Shadow Government in which they now have their own courts to adjudicate 'litigation'." He made the point that the theory is that whoever controls the Web controls the Earth – and there is indeed that potential. Perform a Google websearch and if Wikipedia has a result on what you search for, the Wikipedia entry will come up on top. So whatever you want to know, you will probably Google it and find it in Wikipedia. "Googlepedia" thus has a virtual monopoly on information and does indeed, as Sarfatti said, control the Web – and knowledge.

Wow! A Shadow Government! Damn where do I sign up? Other than that I mostly agree with the rest of this statement. Wikipedia is powerful. Having well-written and correctly cited pages is a major influence on human knowledge world-wide. No argument from me.

Googlepedia offers a one-stop shop for teachers and anyone else who wants to find information.
Again no argument from me.

Teachers have stated that this is exactly the case. What is in Wikipedia – and the opinions expressed therein – is almost directly passed on to students. It begs the question as to why there is still a need for teachers, as students are equally able to do a websearch...
And students are more likely to check other hits, perhaps being more realistic about the expectations of Wikipedia – which for many teachers seems to have become gospel.
No idea on teacher's opinions of Wikipedia other than my years in college when the professor instructed us to not use it as a citation. I'm positive that students use Wikipedia as the first place to check when trying to get background on a subject, also to find relevant links needed to do better research. And I'm sure there are students that are just copying and pasting. (probably some teachers also) This is why we need to make sure that Wikipedia is in excellent shape. We can not control human nature.

Coppen goes on to explain that some people and organizations sometimes edit pages to make themselves look good. Well duh. Does it mean there is a conspiracy? Would like to see the citation on that.

So, welcome to WikiWorld, a realm where inconvenient truths can easily be removed, while erroneous information – convenient lies and disinformation – can be entered in the encyclopaedia with emotionally upsetting and even worse consequences for the people involved.
This is the modern Ministry of Truth which, together with the liars and no doubt some mentally unstable people, has been put in charge of rewriting history. It labels itself as the "Free Encyclopaedia", but perhaps the world should be freed from this encyclopaedia before the old proverb is converted thus: "There are lies, damned lies, statistics, and then there's Wikipedia."
The problem with Wikipedia is not that it exists, but that it has become the cornerstone for researchers scanning the Internet for information and blindly copying from Wikipedia entries, wrongfully assuming that they are neutral and correct. It has become the "Ministry of Information", the "one-stop information shop" of the Internet, but no one should fall for the "Newspeak" of a title. Wikipedia has made the task for those seeding disinformation and removing dissenting views easier, more direct and even more anonymous. Lies and Wikipedia, indeed...

Well some of what he is saying is true, we need to remain vigilant and check out watchlists. Also when reverting a unsorced edit or something biased, remember that most people do not understand the rules. To them, it does look like a conspiracy of “mentally unstable people... rewriting history”. Always remain polite and state you're reasons for you're revert. And always assume “good faith”.

Happy Halloween - The Bell Witch Page

Fresh off the plane, Ben Radford wrote to me about his visit to the Bell Witch house in Adams, Tenn.   Apparently he had visited the house while attending CSIcon in Nashville, and wondered what the Wikipedia page looked like.  He was surprised that the page did not have skeptical content, though he and Brian Dunning had written articles about the place.

I told him I would look into it, and vowed to only devote one hour to the page rewrite. After about 3 hours I had a good working rewrite of the page.  Fascinating story and as editor Brad McDowell pointed out, a great example of Hyman's Maxim, don't try to research something until you know there is a there, there.   As you will see from the page, the ghost writers base their writings on a book that was written 70+ years after the event.  Even that book was based on a (never seen) book that was from a 30 year old man's childhood memories of the events.  So not very reliable.

Anyway, as usual it is always fun to see how many views these pages get, so before you check this URL, make a guess how many people in October 2012 have visited the Bell Witch page.   And to prove that this is a Halloween story, you will see a major drop in visits from September

The Bell Witch before

The Bell Witch after

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Humanist Manifesto Project

This baby is all Lei Pinter's. Humanist Manifesto Category Page.

A couple months ago Lei came up with the idea to start a category called the Humanist Manifesto.  We got one volenteer, Terry from the UK.  Terry hadn't edited before but was game to learn how on this project.

I've been watching Terry and Lei's progress for the last couple weeks, and it looks like they have mostly finished.  I've been waiting to write this blog but keep thinking that it will be done any day now.  Finally I spent some time on Lei's Google spreadsheet tonight and decided that they won't be completely done for ages.  And not because they aren't working on the project, but because of the way that Lei organized it.  With each edit they make, the to-do list grows.

Lei and Terry have been visiting every name on the list of the three manifestos.  Some do not have Wikipedia pages which is noted on the spreadsheet.  If they do have a page, then the citation for the manifesto is added, and at the bottom of the page the category is left. 

Here is a good example of a page that now has a mention of the manifesto as well as at the bottom is a link to the category page.  Philip Warren Anderson

They are also looking over each page and making notes on the condition of the page, does it need a photo?  Is it a stub?  Does it need a rewrite?  And so on.

The Atlantic newsletter/blog announced yesterday that Wikipedia is almost complete, most of the big subjects like WWII, and most sports heroes are written and don't need revision.  In my opinion, Wikipedia has a lot of work left to do, just click though some of the names on this category list and you can see why I said that Lei and Terry have created a to-do list for the rest of us. 

On a sad note, the death this week of Paul Kurtz gave quite a boost of views to the manifesto's pages.  Kurtz was the writer of the Humanist Manifesto II (this page is in need of some work also by the way) and after his death was announced, his page received a few hits.  Over 18 thousand views in 5 days, when normally he would receive about 500 views in that same 5 days.  Someone else can figure out the math.

This brings on the ripple effect, we have been working on the Paul Kurtz page and thankfully we got it in shape in time for all the views. 

Humanist Manifesto had a 85% hit increase
Humanist Manifesto II experienced a 800% increase in views on one day (over the previous day) 
Humanism and Its Aspirations jumped 285% over normal

There is a lot of work remaining to be done.  Here is one that is similar to this project.  The Amsterdam Declaration from 2002,  great potential for a category page.

I would love to do the same thing Lei has done with the Manifesto, to the Project Steve list.  Maybe even contrast and compare it to the list of scientists that signed on to the creationist project.  Now that would be interesting.  All I need is you and you and you.  Contact me at if you are ready to get started.

Carol Tavris - Photo Preference

Here is a quick true story.

I had just finished reading Carol Tavris's book "Mistakes Were Made but Not by me" and wanted to know more about her.  So I went to Wikipedia and noticed that her page didn't have a photo. 

Fast forward to 2010 and I attended the IIG (Independent Investigation Group)'s 10th anniversary party in Los Angeles.  I wasn't a member of the group yet, but tried to help out by taking a lot of pictures of the party.  My goal was to try and get a nice portrait of Carol for her Wikipedia page. 

That wasn't difficult as she is a very approachable person.  Got two images uploaded and onto her page soon afterward. 

Last week I was tagged on Facebook during a discussion from Shęldon Hęlms's account.  Apparently he was involved in a project that used a picture of Carol on a poster.  She wrote to Sheldon and asked if that image could be used on her Wikipedia page as she preferred it.

I was tagged as someone to ask for help with this request.  I explained that I had taken the image on the page, but would not be hurt if there was a better image.  I gave the instructions for the photographer to upload the image to Wikimedia Commons and waited for the file.  

Sheldon came back a few hours later and said that he had talked to the person who put the picture on the poster she had seen.  It turns out that it is the exact same picture I took.  The only difference was that the graphic designer had flipped the image so it would look better with all the other images on the page. 

Sheldon hit the nail on the head when he figured it out, "Of course she prefers the flipped image, that's what she sees in the mirror each morning!" 

Carol Tavris Wikipedia

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Red vs Blue ~ The Hyperlink Argument

One of my World editors, Luis wondered if it was best to leave a page with red text (linked to empty pages) or link it to another Wikipedia page in another language.  He asked this question on a Portuguese Wikipedia discussion page.

Ligações para artigos em outras línguas

Numa tradução, como devemos tratar as ligações para artigos que ainda não existem na Wikipédia de língua portuguesa?
Por exemplo, como cenário hipotético podemos considerar o artigo em inglês de en:Alma_Reville:
Frase original
They married on 2 December 1926 at Brompton Oratory in London; their daughter Patricia Hitchcock was born on 7 July 1928.

Qual é a forma correcta de tratar as ligações para os artigos que ainda não existem na Wikipédia de língua portuguesa?
Solução 1 - deixar as ligações a vermelho
Eles casaram a 2 de dezembro de 1926 na (igreja) Brompton Oratory em Londres; a filha Patricia Hitchcock nasceu a 7 de julho.
Solução 2 - criar ligações para os artigos em inglês
Eles casaram a 2 de dezembro de 1926 na (igreja) en:Brompton Oratory em Londres; a filha en:Patricia Hitchcock nasceu a 7 de julho.
Solução 3 - uma combinação das duas soluções anteriores
Eles casaram a 2 de dezembro de 1926 na (igreja) Brompton Oratoryinglês em Londres; a filha Patricia Hitchcockinglês nasceu a 7 de julho.
Desde já muito obrigado.
-- Argenti 22h57min de 18 de outubro de 2012 (UTC)

The two Portuguese editors that responded felt that it was best to leave the red text in order to encourage other editors to get to work and create these pages.

Não se devem usar ligações para outras wikis no artigo. A solução de longe mais comum é deixar a vermelho porque mais cedo ou mais tarde alguém vai criar o artigo. Dito isto, há, no entanto, casos excepcionais que devem ser vistos isoladamente. É preciso ter bom senso e perceber se determinado artigo alguma vez irá criado na wikipédia portuguesa. Mas estou a falar de excepções muito excepcionais e raras. Por exemplo, quais serão as hipóteses de algum dia, mesmo daqui a vinte anos, haver um artigo na para um mayor de uma pequena cidade dos estados unidos em 1926? Na podem ter feito a ligação interna porque até existe o artigo, mas aqui seria contraproducente. Polyethylen (discussão) 23h29min de 18 de outubro de 2012 (UTC)
Concordo com o Polyethylen. Luís Bonifácio (discussão) 07h59min de 19 de outubro de 2012 (UTC)

Compreendi perfeitamente. Polyethylen, obrigado pela resposta.
Argenti 13h45min de 19 de outubro de 2012 (UTC) 
One should not use links to other wikis in the article. The solution is far more common to leave the red because sooner or later someone will create the article. That said, there is, however, exceptional cases that must be considered in isolation. It takes common sense and realize if given article will ever created in the Portuguese Wikipedia. But I'm talking about very exceptional and rare exceptions. For example, what are the chances of someday, even twenty years from now, there is an article in for a mayor of a small town in the United States in 1926? In may have made the connection until there is internal because the article, but here would be counterproductive. Polyethylen (talk) 23:29, 18 October

My opinion differs. I've really thought about this a lot over the last couple days. I've only recently learned how to hyperlink to other language Wikipedia pages, usually English, but I think that the Portuguese Penn & Teller page may be superior to the English page. But the citations used on the P&T page are in English, so by default the English page would be the correct hyperlink.

I don't think we are improving Wikipedia so that other editors can know at a glance what yet needs to be done. We are trying to educate readers with facts. Having something to link to is superior to having nothing. A page even with pictures can explain a lot. As I edit Wikipedia in many languages, I often have no idea what the link I'm clicking on will lead me too. Once the page loads I can usually figure it out by looking at the images.

Also I'm becoming quite familiar with Google Translate. With a quick copy/paste I instantly know what is going on (generally that is). The service is free and easy to use, so don't think that should be an obstacle to reading anything in another language.

The other reason we should clean up the red hyperlinks is because there is a majority of the world uninformed that Wikipedia exists in other languages than their own. I'm sure there are people who have forgotten that other languages exist (in Wikipedia and elsewhere).

Here is how you can join the Blue Hyperlink team today.

Go to a Wikipedia page in another language. On many pages you will find on the left hand side of the page a list of languages (written in that language, for example it won't say Spanish, but Español) Click on that blue hyperlink and you will be taken to that page. Possibly you will see red hyperlinks throughout the page. Figure out which one you want to tackle.

Click on the “Edit” tab at the top of the page. I guess it won't say the word Edit but it is the middle tab in exactly the same place as it exists on the English page. (clever huh)

You should be looking at a wall of scary text, made even more frightening because it is in another language, maybe not even in characters you recognize.

Find a hyperlink that looks like this [[James Randi]] this is what the code looks like when linking. This would send the viewer directly to the James Randi page in that language. If it is red text that means that the James Randi Wikipedia page does not exist in that language.


It means that the words “James Randi” are not the way the word is written on his page. Maybe there is a spelling error? Or missing something, such in the case of Harriett Hall's WP page. If you want to link to her page you have to use Harriett A. Hall. To discover the correct spelling of the page, go to the page and copy/paste it into your hyperlink code.


You have decided that the James Randi page does not exist in the language you are currently editing.

This is what the edit will look like when done correctly.

[[:en:James Randi|James Randi]]

Preview what you have done.

Leave a reason (yes I know it will be in English) for your edit

Click “Save”

These buttons “preview” and “save” are in the exact same spot as they are located in English.

Then look at the improvement you have made to the page. Now please BRAG on all your social networking sites at how amazing you are. Be sure to tag me on your social site so I can get that warm glow at how awesome you are.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Paul Kurtz - We Got Your Wiki Back!

Assume good faith.  Assume good faith. Assume good faith.  Assume good faith.

My mantra for today.  Wikipedia editors believe to keep the project civil we should always assume that the other editors (some from the opposite side of the fence) are also working to create the best encyclopedia possible.

This is why when I started looking further into some edits made in the last couple days on the page for Paul Kurtz I started to get a bit upset.


As you all know by now, one of the founders of the modern skeptical movement died on Saturday, Oct. 20.  I've met Dr. Kurtz several times, once for a week summer session at CFI in Buffalo.  He was one of our instructors on Naturalism.  I'm almost embarrassed to say that I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time.  I am just one of those people who can not grasp philosophy, I'm sorry if that shatters your illusions of me as an intellectual, but that's just the way it is. 

Another time was at TAM8, where one of my photo goals was to try and get a image of Kurtz and Randi together. I thought it might be difficult as they had been at odds with each other for years.  I found getting the image to be really easy as they were together often.

So when I learned about Paul Kurtz's death yesterday I went over to his Wikipedia page to make sure there was no vandalism, and to make sure it was in great shape so that when the media started to access the page to find out more about this amazing man, they would find something worth looking at.  In the back of my mind I was worried about someone with a agenda saying that he had converted to XYZ religion on his deathbed, then the media picking up on that and the next thing you know it is on the front page of some newspaper. 

First thing I noticed was that two people had spent a couple hours taking up a big chunk of the page to showcase his last project, The Institute for Secular Human Values.  Personally I don't think that an organization that has only existed for 2 years should get more prominence on the page than CSICOP which has been around for 30+ years. 

The second thing that concerned me was this sentence.  "Upon being forced out of the Center for Inquiry, by the board and management for power and control of the vast network and holdings he had envisioned, developed, managed and maintained for decades, he launched the Institute for Science and Human Values as a separate entity."

That definitely can not remain,  there is no citation to prove this statement, so it sounds just like opinion.

Assume good faith.  Assume good faith. Assume good faith.  Assume good faith.

Lei just removed another major addition to the page.  Someone added in over 2,000 characters of content, trying to prove that Kurtz was opposed to militant atheists.  While this might be true (I don't know) an edit this big and controversial needs to be discussed on the Talk page first.  And added in only after a discussion of why it is necessary and should take up a good sized chunk of the page.

At this moment I'm not that interested in knowing who these people are, I'm sure it would be easy to figure it out if someone wanted to, but I'm busy with other pages waiting to be looked after.  I'm only curious why they thought that these kinds of edits would pass unnoticed?  Do they not understand that the page might have a hundred editors watching the page? 

I'm more interested in drawing attention to the fact that we need to make sure that our skeptical spokespersons pages are always in great shape. We need to keep a good eye on this page the next few days and keep the discussion on the talk page going.  

Professor Paul Kurtz deserves betterNot only because he was one of our founders, but because he represents us, and we him.  Now before the media starts getting the wrong impression, lets get this page in shape.  

Out of curiosity just thought I would take a peek at the stat views for Paul Kurtz's page.  I almost cried.  This is why this project is so important.

Extra credit points for the first person who sends me a news story that obviously copied the WP article.   

Indre Viskontas - We Got Your Wiki Back!

In September 2012 I lectured at the San Francisco, Reason 4 Reason "Skeptical Speaker Series".  This group is set apart from most other skeptic groups because it encourages becoming active in the movement.  Founder, Jay Diamond (also on my "people to watch list") asked me to speak because he knows that I am forever advocating people to find their passion in the movement and go out and make it happen.  Until they find that niche they should work on smaller crowd-sourcing projects like WOT, Wikipedia and others.

During that lecture, I was asked in the Q&A what could the audience do today to help with the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.  The question came from a skeptic group that had traveled from Chico, CA to attend my lecture and also watch operatic soprano and host of "Miracle Detectives", Indre Viskontas, sing.

Thinking quickly, I told them to convince Indre that it was time for her to have a Wikipedia page.  I had approached her before at SkeptiCal in March 2012 after being impressed with her lecture about her time co-hosting "Miracle Detectives".   I never heard back from her.

Yes, I know that I don't need her support to write a Wikipedia page.  Anyone who has been through this process knows that it is very time-consuming and tedious.  Having some support with the target giving you their bio, and uploading images is such a time saver.  The tedious editing still remains.   Finding and getting correct licensing for an image is really the area that needs their help the most. 

So the Chico Skeptics worked their magic and the next day I received an email from Indre telling me that she would supply me with a bio if I needed it.  And that's all that was really needed from her, just a place to start.  Near the end she had to get the photographer to upload the awesome image that now sits on her page.

Enter Brad McDowell from Iowa.  Brad found this project while attending his first TAM this summer. He started out by captioning several Ray Hyman interviews into English, which was really helpful and allows other people to translate the videos into other languages.  Then those videos can be used as citations for pages in other languages.

He saw my call out for someone to begin a page on Indre Viskontas.  He was VERY new, but did a fabulous job as you are about to see.  Brad and I worked on this together by email, he did all the work and I just watched over his shoulder and explained code and editing as they came up.  We don't just throw people into the project with no training, we are careful with what we release, and several of the editors on the project oversee the page before its launching.

So here today I present a brand new page, by a brand new editor.

Congratulations Brad McDowell. 

Indre Viskontas

Monday, October 15, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

We got your Wiki Back Jerry Andrus - Arabic العربية

I'm amazed at the talent I have on this team.  Out of the blue tonight, Nicola Mazbar posts "Done" in the Arabic team page.  I look and there is this beautiful page all translated and ready for the Arabic world.  I'm just a bit stunned that he made it look so easy. 

Jerry Andrus

What makes this more cool is that although I didn't have a speaker position at Dragon*Con, I talked to everyone that would listen about the World Wikipedia and the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia projects.  Nicola must have just heard a couple minutes of me talking (probably on a unguarded microphone) when he approached, got my business card and the next thing I knew he was involved and editing.

So I hope you all are as proud as I am of our very first Arabic release.

Thank you Nicola Mazbar! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

One Portrait's Adventure on World Wikipedia

You might remember that a member of the World Wikipedia project, Filipe Russo rewrote the Portuguese page for Penn & Teller.  It is beautiful, but we had a horrible time trying to find a picture of Penn & Teller.  The one that was on the page was from 1988 and looked like they were attending a prom together.  We finally used a portrait of them with Jerry Andrus.

I put out a call to my FB friends and even tried to contact Penn & Teller to get a new photo uploaded.  No luck. I can not just take a portrait from the Internet, we have to have the photographer upload the image to Wikimedia Commons. 

Greg Dorais who attended a lecture I gave in San Francisco last month came to our rescue.  He uploaded a lovely image of P&T with James Randi that he took this year at TAM 2012.   So here is the image and its new life on Wikipedia.

In Dutch

In Spanish

In Suomi

In French

In Bahasa Indonesia There is a great promo portrait here which I suspect is not correctly licensed and should be removed.

In Italian 

In Nederland

In Polish

In Swedish


In Chinese

Thank you Greg.  Look how much improvement your one upload was to many pages.  While writing this blog, several of my team have already translated the caption to the correct language.  So Greg I suppose you can now state with evidence that you are an international portrait photographer.  Start updating your resume.

If others are inspired to help with this project, check through your photo albums, do you have an image that will improve a page?  Let me know, and we can make that happen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Escéptica Blog - World Wikipedia Project

Today Escéptica wrote an article about the World Wikipedia project.    Daniela Mili has summed up the project up nicely and I want to share it with you.

You know my thoughts, the sooner we get used to the fact that other languages exist outside of English the better. 

Escéptica is affiliated with SkeptChick and I have just added it into my Google Reader as I hope you will also.

The World Wikipedia project is always looking for these "sponsors" that will publish our successes and struggles to encourage more editors/photographers/video interviewers and so on to get involved.  All hands are needed if we are going to be successful.

If you can help by spreading the word, please let me know.

And don't forget this amazing tool.

Citing a source - How-to

Here is a quick how-to correctly cite a source on Wikipedia.

Here is the way I learned to do this, go to a page that has it done correctly, copy that and paste it into the page you want to use it.  You can then use this template and paste in the correct info. Its a bit tedious but it does work well. 

<ref>{{cite web|last=Hyman|first=Ray|title=''Testing Natasha''|url=|publisher=[[Skeptical Inquirer Magazine]]|accessdate=5/22/12|month=May/June|year=2005}}</ref>

Make sure you hit "preview" and look at the citation to make sure it looks correct before you hit save.

The next easiest way to cite a source is to use the template dropdown box.  Click on the "Cite" area on the far right side.

Click on Templates, and you will see the dropdown menu.  Select the one that fits your citation (usually "cite web") but check the all out.

Here is what it looks like. Just fill out the form.  Sometimes I just use "title", "URL", "Publisher" and "Access date".


 When you want to use the same citation in separate paragraphs you need to do the following.  See how I have changed the citation to include something called "Grotheinterviewpt2" (you get to decide on the name to use)

<ref name="Grotheinterviewpt1">{{cite web|url=|title=Ray Hyman - The Life of an Expert Skeptic, Part 1 | For Good Reason|publisher=[[JREF]]|date=2012-01-20 |accessdate=2012-05-21}}</ref>

<ref name="Grotheinterviewpt2"/>

This is the code, you can find many examples of this on the Ray Hyman and Jerry Andrus pages.

Here is the way it looks on the actual footnote.  Look at the little "a" and "b" at the beginning.

As usual if you have questions please contact me at