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


  1. Hello,

    As a French skeptic, I just want to point out that the problem is not only one way. I'd take one page as an exemple. I live in Belgium. A while back there was the Belgian UFO wave (89-92). If you look at the wikipage in French, the content has far more skeptical informations than the English page, and sources are the primary one.

    I tried to change that a little bit, but of course it's not so easy to change a page that is not in your main language.

    Same thing for another page that I worked a lot on: the psychosocial hypothesis about UFO. If you look in French, the page is far better than the English one. I think because we have a very active group of ufoskeptics speaking French, and thus we were active on wikipedia putting skeptical informations in there.

    Or course, all that being said, the skeptic community is far bigger in the English-speaking world than in the French-speaking one, so just because of that the impact of the French skeptic community on wikipedia is not so great.

    With skepticallity,

  2. Thank you!

    Your comments are so correct. The English speaking world should not think we hold the monopoly on knowledge of the skeptical world. We all have things we can learn from each other, people hold different expertize and passions.

    The skeptic community is far bigger in English speaking areas which is why we (the skeptical/science movement) should embrace Wikipedia.

    I remember how excited I was to meet other atheists, I still get a thrill to be in a group of like minded people. Pre-Internet the only access I had to knowing these people were there was through a couple books I found in the library, and then finally Skeptical Inquirer magazine (then next Skeptic Magazine). I read them cover to cover hoping that there would be some kind of event in my area.

    I live very close to several skeptical groups in California, and because of the Internet have joined them and even started my own (Monterey County Skeptics). People in Uganda or Chili don't have the same support (yes, the Internet has changed everything and involvement is improving, but not like in America).

    Imagine you live in an area where the topic of evolution is discouraged, where parents do not want it taught at school. What resources does someone have to learn about evolution? Its possible they might go to science websites, but more likely they will go to neutral places like Wikipedia so they can get the basics, then hopefully move on to the links to get more in depth articles. I'm not talking only about students who hopefully can get information from school. But parents who do not understand the topic, or ex-students who didn't get a good science education and now are curious.

    Maybe they have a spouse or parent that would be upset to find skeptical literature in the house. (My mother would have freaked if she found the Atheist book I hid in my closet when I was a teenager) Wikipedia is a place where people can go on a whim, and browse when they have time, return to it again and again.

    Please keep working on the French pages, we really need yours and your friends efforts. I hope to hear from you regularly.