Sunday, March 18, 2012

Single Purpose Accounts and Editor Assistance

Wanted to wait a bit before bringing this all up.  I don't want to influence people into getting involved in discussions or edit wars unless they already were editing that page.  So it appears to have run its course and I want to discuss it here.  You don't have to know all about the history of the page, or even understand the topic to learn some valuable lessons.

This is going to be about Vassula Ryden whom you might remember was one of the first pages I had added skeptical content to.  I've used her edits as an example of working backwards, when I found an article in Skeptical Inquirer Magazine by Joe Nickell and added it to her Wikipedia page. 

A month ago I received a letter from an anti-Ryden blogger who had read this blog and appealed to me for help.  She had been trying to edit the Ryden Wikipedia page and kept getting her edits reverted.  I went to Vassula's page and realized that my Joe Nickell edits had been removed.  So I put it back in, this nearly started an edit war (something you do not want).

The talk page got heated up with a person or two (they weren't signing their posts so I'm not sure who said what) I'm going to sum this all up for you, but include the links if you want to read all the details.

They said that they removed my edits because Ryden is a living person and you can't put anything negative (or opinion) about a living person.  Also Nickell had never met Ryden so he could not comment on her spiritual writings from God.

I said "oh yeah! I don't think so, that is stupid" (actually I was much more professional)

They said, "Yeah!  and if you don't like it we are going to tell on you"

So I said "Fine!  I just asked an editor to assist us in this disagreement"

And I did.  I had never done this before but made a request on the Editor Assistance page, I stated my case and then provided the link to the people who I was arguing with back on the Ryden talk page.  The other editors went to the Assistance page and made their argument too. 

Then senior editor looked over the page and said.

Not only should the Nickell edit be put back on, but there should be more criticism like that on the page.  The page is fringe and it is slanted too far towards Ryden.  Editors can not leave their opinion on a page, but the person we quote can leave their opinion, and clearly Nickell was qualified to do so.

The editor then looked at the contributions of all the editors that work on the page and found that these people mostly only work on Ryden's page. Opps!  It appears that they are supporters of Ryden and are not interested in improving Wikipedia, only improving Ryden and they need to knock it off.

So time has passed, my Nickell edit has now been moved up to the beginning of the page and not nearer the end where it was before.  These people I think have stopped editing.

Lessons to be learned here?  Stay calm.  Be professional.  Clearly state your facts.  Allow your opponent to have their say.  You might be completely wrong, step back and see the edits from their point of view.  Also ask for help, sometimes you are right and they are wrong.

Tim Farley is a very smart man.  He has suggested many times that editors need to branch out from editing skeptical sites and edit other topics like your home town page, or your college page.  You don't want to be accused of having a single user account.

Link to Ryden talk page (search for sgerbic)
Link to Editor Assistance page (search for sgerbic)

You can see another editor's contributions by clicking on the blue "contribs" after their name. 

Should Skeptics write pages for Paranormal People?

Really hoping for a great discussion on this topic.  You all know my motivation, I want to improve skeptical content on Wikipedia, but always by following the rules of Wikipedia.  I also want to hold all paranormal topics and people to those same rules.  They can't make a claim on their page unless it is completely backed up with correct citations.

But what about skeptics writing pages for topics and people that are clearly on the other side of skepticism?  Aren't we exposing readers to the opposition?  Maybe even giving them more notoriety than they deserve?  Shouldn't we concentrate on our own skeptical spokespeople?  I mean I'm forever going on and on about how badly our people's pages need help. 

Lets take a look at a few pages that already existed and we have spent quite a bit of time keeping up-to-date.  Sylvia Browne, Chip Coffey, John Edward and James Van Praagh. 

Sylvia received 11,454 hits in February 2012.  Her star is really fading as she is either being replaced by others or because she isn't in the news as much anymore, I seem to remember seeing numbers in the 30K area each month.  Looking over her page a reader will find that nearly the entire page is devoted to her downfalls.  Whenever someone has tried to post something positive about her it is ripped down.  Why?  Because the positive things can't be backed up by good citations, noteworthy sources aren't writing about her, and editors aren't allowed to put up excerpts from her books and her blog saying how "nice she is".  Sorry.  The only things allowed are the facts, which includes the court transcripts of her indictment of fraud

Chip Coffey is another story, the page as you can see is a mess.  There is at least a picture of him.  Where is the skeptical side of the story?  We can only add in edits if the story is already written.  Either the articles don't exist or we haven't added them in yet.  This page was once on the list for deletion but it was saved mainly because of uninterest by other editors.  In Feb 2012 it received 4,026 hits.  That's quite a lot for a stub.  I think this page needs quite a bit of attention. 

John Edward is the new hot psychic thing now that Sylvia isn't as active.  His page received 25,464 hits in Feb 2012.  This page is far from ignored by skeptics, several of my edits are on this page as well as from others.  At least once a week one of us has to revert vandalism of someone calling him the Biggest Douche in the Universe somewhere on the page.  The reference already exists in its correct place on the page. 

James Van Praagh is in the middle of Sylvia and John as far as attention.  With 4,598 hits, the page is an advertisement for a bad psychic.  The criticism section is longer than most Wikipedia pages in total. 

Now why are we maintaining these pages?  Because readers are visiting them and we want to make sure there is a neutral place to leave the articles written from the skeptic world. 

Here are a couple more examples I bet you have never heard of.  Newly joined to the Guerrilla Skepticism world is Rick Duffy from Colorado.  Rick wrote a couple pages for two men who are rising in prominence in Colorado.  Voters there will recognize Jeff Peckman and Stan Romanek.  Rick told me he wrote these pages because they have become noteworthy enough to warrant them, and this way readers can get the whole story and not just the bits and pieces from TV news clips. 

Peckman received 530 hits and Romanek 902. 

I'm all for Rick's work, the pages are neutral from the perspective of the reader.  I'm sure Romanek and Peckman would love to remove some of the edits, but we can only add in what is out there already.  If positive information hits the media, we will add it in also. 

To answer the last question, shouldn't we be working on pages for our skeptical spokespeople instead?  I would love to see more focus on the skeptical pages, but Duffy's work allowed citations from Bryan Bonner and Matthew Baxter's work in Rocky Mountain Paranormal.  I've already written about this group on the Stanley Hotel blog and Wikipedia page.  At the moment RMP is not noteworthy enough to have their own Wikipedia page, but that is quickly changing now that Rick has done his work.

Also, I think that it is really important to remember that we aren't getting paid for all this editing work.  This is a passion and a mission for me, it should be something you enjoy doing.  We should be working on the projects we enjoy, not crossing off items that Susan has assigned.  Find your passion.  I'll be happy to assist if you need some guidance but I think just spend some time on Wikipedia and start following the hyperlinks to other pages, in time you will be far away from your initial start and maybe you will bump into your mission. 

As always, if you want to become more involved in this project or need help learning how to edit please contact me at 

Black Non-Believers on Wikipedia

While working on the Sikivu Hutchinson page I found this article "Blacks Say Atheists Were Unseen Civil Rights Activists".  Very interesting article.  I wondered what do their Wikipedia pages look like?  How is their non-belief presented to readers?  February was Black History Month, so school children all over America were accessing Wikipedia to learn more about people, events and places, what did they see?

All numbers are from Feb 2012

Richard Wright - 28,653 hits
Carter Woodson - 59,994 hits 
A. Phillip Randolph - 29,920 hits
Hubert Harrison - 2,610 hits
Lorraine Hansberry - 19,324 hits
W.E.B. Du Bois - 215,498 hits (in one day he received 48K hits alone)
James Baldwin - 40,160

The Black History Month page alone received 182,271 hits February 2012.

Check out these pages for yourself.  Do you think their non-belief is well represented?  Do you think these pages need improvement with content and are visually appealing?  The goal is to get students (and others) to stick around and read the whole page, click on the links and continue reading the references.  Can we say that this has been done in these cases?  If yes, then we need to keep an eye on these pages and work to improve the links that are fed from these pages.  If no, then please help by working on the page, or at least writing on the talk page with your observations so other editors can proceed.

As usual if you would like to help with this project but don't know where to start or how to edit, please contact me

 note: I know, I know.  Students aren't allowed to use Wikipedia as a source for schoolwork.  But guess what, they are.  They might not be able to cite a Wikipedia page, but they are going there to get an overview of that person and then following links to other Wikipedia pages and to the citations that are used.

Monday, March 12, 2012

6th World Skeptics Congress

Exciting times in Berlin May 2012.  The 6th World Skeptics Congress will be hosting a wide array of speakers.  Some of them I'm already very familiar with, others I have no idea who they are.  So off to Wikipedia to discover who these people are that are representing the skeptical community. 

Regular readers already know where this is going... The We Got Your Wiki Back! project aims to support all the skeptical spokespeople's Wikipedia pages.  Because we know that people outside of our community are going to access these pages shame on us if we don't have their backs.  If we don't care about our spokespeople then why should anyone else?

So I'm going to access the pages of these speakers to see what the rest of the world is seeing when they do the same.  An added challenge, remember this is a world congress.  What do the pages look like in their native language? 

One more side note - If you haven't already read my blog Forget English: What the Rest of the World Sees you might want to check it out.  I talk about this same World Congress's message to combat Creationism and Medical Quackery.  Talk directly to the people needing the message (in their own language) by making sure Wikipedia pages related to Evolution/Creationism and medical quackery are all in good order, YOU might not use Wikipedia as a resource, but this isn't about preaching to the choir, its about getting the correct information in a place they will read... Wikipedia.

The Speakers...

Gerd Antes  -  No Wikipedia page exists in English or Deutsch

Anila Asghar -  No Wikipedia page exists

Johan Braeckman - Page exists but as a stub (more like a stub of a stub)

Chris French - Wikipedia page exists but needs work.

Luigi Garlaschelli - No Wikipedia page but mentioned here.

Dittmar Graf - No Wikipedia page - but mentioned on this page.

Harriet Hall - Great page

Sven Ove Hansson - Very nice page (needs a picture)

Holm Hummler - No Wikipedia page

Ray Hyman - Nice page

Walter Kramer - No Wikipedia page

Benedikt Matenaer - No Wikipedia page

Chris Mooney - Needs expanding but still a nice page

Simon Perry - No Wikipedia page

Massimo Polidoro - Good page in English - Page in Italian (but with a horrible picture)

James Randi - Awesome page with 40K hits in Feb 2012.  There is a page in Deutsch as well with 1,800 hits in Feb 2012.  French page got 700+ hits. 

Gita Sahgal - Very informative page

Eugenie Scott - Very nice page

Simon Singh - Awesome page! (received 6,600 hits in Feb 2012)

Samatha Stein - No Wikipedia page

Kylie Sturgess - Darn good page

Rebecca Watson - Already addressed the issues with this page here.

Jurgen Windeler - No Wikipedia page but mentioned here.

Tomasz Witzowski - No Wikipedia page

Its either hit or miss with these pages.  If no page exists then it is possible that person has not met the notability requirements for Wikipedia.  It is also possible that they do meet the requirements but no page has been created.

So what can we do to help?  

The pages that need help like Braeckman's page need someone to re-write the page.  The speakers from non-English speaking countries should also have pages in that language.  Everyone needs to have a nice picture taken of them (at the podium with the Skeptics World Congress logo) in the shot.  If we don't use the picture now (giving publicity to the Congress BTW) then we might use the picture later. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Forget English - What does the rest of the World see?

Just finished reading Kylie Sturgess's interview with Amardeo Sarma concerning CFI's World Skeptic Congress in Berlin, May 2012.  Would love to be able to afford to go but alas there is that house payment I must take care of every month.

Sarma states that alternative medicine (mainly homeopathy) is becoming a nuisance in Central Europe. He reasons this is because politicians are promoting it.  In America, creationism in the classroom is an ongoing issue.  Sturgess asks Sarma if they are seeing it as a problem in Europe as well.

"I must say that in Germany “evolution versus creationism” is not really an issue yet. But we see that coming up a little bit, not because of the Christian variants of creationism but because of the Islamic variants. That’s not an issue so much in Germany, but it is in some of the other countries like in Belgium. Interestingly, even though that’s the case, at the same time in Germany it’s not been so much of an issue yet with the Turkish population here as far as I can see. But it is becoming a problem more and more in the last years. That’s something I think we should be aware of and that’s why this has been one of the topics that we’ve taken up for this particular conference." 
So I wondered what non-English readers are seeing when they access Wikipedia pages on Homeopathy and Evolution? 

Homeopathy in English  (over 100K hits in Feb. 2012)

Homeopathy in German  (with over 35K hits in Feb. 2012)

Homeopathy in French  (with over hits 22K in Feb. 2012)

The following pages appear (to my non-expert eyes) to be in good shape.  I'd rather have an expert like Dr. Eugenie Scott's opinion.

Evolution article in English

Evolution article in German 

Evolution article in French
Evolution article in Arabic

Evolution article in Punjabi 

Evolution article in Hindi

Evolution article in Kurdish

As you can see, these pages vary in content.  I have no idea what these pages say, but some are obviously only a few paragraphs long, with only one image.  When a reader of Hindi or Punjabi opens the Evolution page and sees only one or two paragraphs what do you think they are thinking?  Imagine what the Kurdish readers are thinking when they access the page and are only given a couple sentences?  How important could evolution be if editors are ignoring the topic?

Evolution hits for February 2012 in English

Evolution hits for February 2012 in German  

Evolution hits for February 2012 in French

Evolution hits for February 2012 in Hindi

Evolution hits for February 2012 in Arabic

So what is my point?

We are so focused on educating English readers that we forget about the rest of the world. These people deserve to understand the science of these topics, with real citations they can follow to more detailed articles.

Wikipedia is being accessed expediently as the world adds more Internet users.  Just like in English, when someone is curious about a topic, if they don't directly go to Wikipedia, they will turn to a search engine for a neutral point of view.  Within the first 5 hits they will see a Wikipedia link waiting for them.  Wikipedia is virus and spam free, no pop-ups, click-able links to other pages if they don't understand a term, citations and external links for more in depth information and they don't even have to have an account to access the information. 

Shame on us if we are ignoring this chance to educate.

Lists of languages on Wikipedia

Skeptoid 300th Episode - PARTY PARTY PARTY

Last night I attended the 300th Skeptoid episode party, great fun!  Sometimes opportunities are too good to pass up and I managed to get some nice images even though the lighting was really awful.  The Skeptiod Wikipedia page has been updated, but still needs more attention than I have time for.  I've left a blub about the "Gypsy Queen" (listen to episode before reading my edit).  I'm relying on my memory of what happened last night and could easily have several things wrong, if you think the edit needs rewriting please do so with my blessing.

While your at it could you also add in the third Skeptoid book and help expand the article?  We really need to find secondary sources to improve the article.  This means notable places/people talking about Skeptoid.

Noticed that the talented Rachel Bloom's Wikipedia page for her Ray Bradbury video needs updating as well.  Mark Edward and I have a personal connection with the video and Bradbury so I added Mark's skeptiblog article about the experience to the External Links.  (yes I know External Links and blogs are a no-no.  If someone complains I'll quote from the article as a reference and remove the external link)  While I was on the page I did a general cleanup of all the nasty red unlinked text and moved some things around.  Bloom's page before.  Bloom has a lot of articles in the External Link area, if someone wanted to take the time to read through all the articles there should be enough content from them to expand the Wikipedia page into something more substantial.  HINT HINT

Matt Kirshen did not have a picture on his Wikipedia page, which now has been fixed.  His page now links back to Skeptoid because of the image.

I got a few other nice images from that party.  I'll hold onto them in case one of the other people at the event need pictures for their future Wikipedia pages.

The moral of this story is to continually look out for opportunities to improve Wikipedia pages.  At times it seems like something "someone else should do" or "why bother?" I'm here to tell you that we need to stop looking for someone else to do it, and get busy.  There is a lot of work to be done (its fun trust me!) But we need to show the world that our skeptical spokes people are important, they are supported and We Have Their Wiki Backs!

NOTE:  Having a party or conference?  Keep me in mind!

Congratulations Brian Dunning on your 300th episode and your future endeavors!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Uploading pictures from Flickr

The following comes from Vera de Kok who wrote instructions on uploading pictures from Flickr that other people have taken.

Your my first guest author Vera!

One other great way to get contemporary pictures onto Wikipedia is by looking for pictures on Flickr that have the right Creative Commons license. Under ‘Advanced search’ you can specify this:

Creative Commons is an alternative to regular copyright that lets the original author keep some of it rights but makes clear that he or she is OK with other people using his work. Because Wikipedia is an open encyclopedia that strives to be accessible in whatever shape or form. This means that commercial or modified use should be an option.

Being able to use the work commercial might seem a bit extreme. Keep in mind that the threshold for what can be considered commercial is very low. If you have a blog that has advertisement on it, that blog is commercial – even if it doesn’t run a profit. If you share content on Facebook: commercial because Facebook advertises. It also makes it possible for the content to be printed in books, still a cornerstone of many education systems.

Sometimes you can’t find a picture that has the right license. I haven’t shunned away from contacting Flickr users to ask if they might be ok with the publication of their photo on Wikipedia.

Here is my example letter:

Dear Mr/Madam. ******

I'm contacting you concerning this picture you made of *******

I was wondering if you would be willing to donate this picture to the public domain so it can be used on *****s’ Wikipedia page. You can do this by going over to the picture, and under "'Owner settings" change "All Rights Reserved" to a Creative Commons "Attribution-ShareAlike" license. This will make it possible for any use of this picture as long as they credit you as its source and use the same license for their derivative work.

Please note that “any use” includes commercial use of your work. This is necessary because Wikipedia strives to be an open encyclopedia that can be published in whatever shape or form. Being printed in books and published on blogs that carry advertisements. I will fully understand if you object to this.

Your Flickr account will be credited as the source. Please drop me a note if you're OK with this.

Thanks in advance,

Your Name

You do need a Flickr account to contact other users. Keep in mind that you are asking people a favor so stay polite. In my experience it is easier to get amateur photographers to agree with publication than professionals.

If you have found an interesting picture, the best way to upload it onto Wikimedia Commons is to use the Flickr bot.

Instructions there are fairly easy to follow. Do read the instructions if you go over it for the first time. Getting your picture in the right category might be an issue, but that will be covered by another blog post.