Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Plait, Gardner, Tyson, Kurtz, Andrus and so much more

For those of you just joining us, Welcome.  This is an update of all the new releases from the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.  To learn more about what this project is please read this, its a little dated but should catch you up.

We translate well-written Wikipedia pages into other languages, currently we have 18 language teams working on the project (but we badly need more editors working with us, we train and mentor, see bottom of this blog for contact info). 

Not only do we translate but we need to write (or re-write) the pages that will be translated.  We have (and need far more) photographers, video interviewers, copy-editors, researchers, people to caption videos and just motivated people who like doing stuff. 

We have many more pages being worked on right now, but they didn't make the deadline for this update... so stay tuned.

So onto our most current updates... 

Martin Gardner &  Paul Kurtz 
Nix Dorf from the Portuguese team rewrote the Paul Kurtz page.  Here is the before... and now the after.   And then got on to the Martin Gardner page (before) & (after)  

Phil Plait
Filipe Russo created a brand new page for our very own Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait.  

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Luis Pratas rewrote Neil deGrasse Tyson  (before) & (after).  

I want to add that Nathan Miller did the research in English for the Penny4NASA section (under "views") on Tyson's page.  He is trying to build a complete page for the project but it might be too soon as they have not become noteworthy enough yet. 

Ken Feder
The English Ken Feder page got a Did You Know (front page of Wikipedia for 8 hours) unfortunately it was up from 11pm to 8am so we didn't get the hits we would have normally expected.  Only 1,190 for that night.  Other links on Feder's page also experienced a surge on that night. Keep in mind that these are mostly people outside our skeptical choir.  So total win for skepticism. 

Jerry Andrus - Now with it's 8th language... English, Dutch, Portuguese, French, Farsi, Spanish, Russian and now Swedish!  Way to go Philip Skogsberg and Wim Vandenberghe!  Very proud of you both!

Karl Shuker
Received a call-out from Blake Smith from MonsterTalk podcast asking if we might help out a cryptozoologist.  His page had fallen into disrepair, even threats to have the page deleted.  Editor Nathan Miller stepped in and cleaned it up.  Before and After.  Nathan stated "This has been a gratifying effort."

Point of Inquiry
Point of Inquiry is often used in our work as editors as a source for interviews.  This page (Before) had been on our to-do list for quite some time until new editor Ric Watts decided he wanted to take it on.  And he sure did.... here is the after Point of Inquiry.

Our Lady of Warraq
Before new editor Wim Vandenberghe joined the team he had been working on and off on this page for a apparition of the Virgin Mary in Egypt.  (before) He kept having problems getting his edits to stick, problems with other editors (believers) were mostly the problem.  He heard about our project and with a little training and some teamwork this page is in far better condition.  (after

As you can see from the before and after, no mention in the lede about what the "apparition" probably was existed until after we did the re-write. 

Danielle Egnew
You might remember from our last update that someone had added the name of Danielle Egnew to the Psychic page.  Listing her as a famous psychic.  I've never heard of her, but she has had an amazing career.  Check out some of these claims... 

Danielle Egnew is recognized in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand for her work in the spiritual and metaphysical fields as a Clairvoyant Channel, Paranormal Investigator, and Healer. She is alleged to have successfully assisted law enforcement on cold case profiles, as documented on TV pilot Missing Peace.

Though she is alleged to utilize many spiritual aptitudes, she is widely known by film and radio audiences for her claims that her primary form of direct communication with spirit life is through angelic entities

Danielle Egnew currently owns and operates her own private metaphysical practice in the Los Angeles area.

She has more credentials in music, theater and LGBT activism.  I'm not concerned with those claims, just the psychic ones.  So my editors Nathan Miller and (3-day old Chris Pederson) went to town sorting through the mess.  First Nathan rewrote all of the citations so we could see where all the claims were coming from.  He discovered that nearly every footnote that supported a psychic claim was coming from her own website. 

Chris did some research to make sure that there wasn't a good secondary source for these claims elsewhere on the Internet.  Don't mean to spoil the surprise, but there were none.  So they spent about a day going back and forth researching and talking and finally Nathan said, everything comes back to Danielle's own website, "I'm pretty sure I could become a successful professional juggler, in the same sense that I could buy a domain name, and remain a 'successful, popular' professional juggle-master provided I'm not fired from my day job."


Exactly right.  Wikipedia is not a place where you get to advertise, it is not a personal brag page.  Wikipedia is where secondary sources (not your personal website) backs up claims.  Wild claims like how you have solved missing person cases using only your psychic powers needs backing up.  

  Here is the before page... and now the after.   
 And now the plea for help.  We can not make these updates happen if we don't have help.  We need people to join with us to improve the 5th most popular Internet site in the world.  Yes, this is a crazy idea, but it is totally doable.  Once these pages are created it is pretty easy to maintain them, and we are only looking at a small section of Wikipedia, not the entire site. 

But we do need your help.   As I mentioned before, not just as editors but in all kinds of ways.  We also need help getting our message beyond the people who are currently reading this.  Do you have a blog/podcast that you can feature an interview of us or highlight our updates?  Can you tweet or post these on your own social network?  Can you write to skeptical and/or science media sources (and conferences) and encourage them to give us some time?  Especially need people willing to work in other languages besides English, we train, we mentor and are really nice people also.  

If you have ideas of helping us outreach, please write to me at susangerbic@yahoo.com so I can best advise how you can make the biggest splash.

If you want to become involved in the project.  First read everything on this blog as far back as you can stand (working from the bottom up is probably the best way to do so).  Then friend me on Facebook and let me know what your interests are, what language(s) you want to work in and what kind of training do you need.  And then the next thing you know you will amongst a group of people that are happy to see you and will get you helping.  

Thank you 

Monday, February 18, 2013

History of Scientific Skepticism through Pictures

Friend of the blog, Robert Sheaffer has been gracious enough to begin the tiring process of scanning old photos taken back when the world was only in Black and White  (At least this is what I thought when I was a kid)  and uploading them to Wikimedia Commons.  Robert has been a active member of the scientific skepticism world since the beginning and he has the photos to prove it.  Those of us trying to preserve our history really appreciate that.

When James Randi and Ray Hyman met up at a Alice Cooper concert, they discussed forming a club to combat Uri Geller.  They didn't realize then that we would be interested in knowing the history of that time.  They wanted to get things done, not record the moment.  So now 30+ years later we have to find all these old documents and photos and get them in places where we can show our history.  And I can't think of a better place than Wikipedia. 

For your viewing pleasure, enjoy these never before seen images...

James W. Moseley


Paul Kurtz


James Randi

Ray Hyman

Daryl Bem 

Philip Klass

Robert uploaded a lot more, we just don't have the Wikipedia pages written yet to put the photos on.  We stll have a lot of work to do.  Please consider helping out with the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.   We train and mentor.  Contact me at susangerbic@yahoo.com or friend me on Facebook or Twitter as Susan Gerbic

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ken Feder - Sara Mayhew and More Updates

So many updates to the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.   In case you missed it, here were the updates a couple weeks ago
 The Portuguese team is really working hard with several new pages coming out soon.  They are not included here because they can't release the pages yet.  The problem is that the Portuguese Wikipedia has different rules concerning YouTube videos than anywhere else we can discover.  YouTube is banned.  Nix Dorf figured out that he has to ask an admin permission to review and release each individual video so that it can be included in an article.  Very frustrating as they seem to have few admins working.  I'm dying to show you all these releases and hopefully I will be able to do so soon.

With the addition of new editor Jason Grant (who heard about this project on the Skeptic Zone interview I did with Penny Chan) we now have added Japanese to our World group.  That makes 17 languages! 

We have had some skeptical love recently, thank you to everyone who is helping to get the word out.   We have appeared on Jeff Wagg's Skeptoid Blog, Bob Carroll's Skeptic Dictionary newsletter, Skepticality Podcast 1 and 2, Sharon Hill's Doubtful News, Dani Johnson on Skeptoid Blog, and finally a big interview with me on Meet the Skeptic podcast.  Please give these a read or listen and support those that support us.

One really great thing happened as a result of the drama in the skeptical community (if you don't know what I'm talking about, be thankful and ignore it).  A group of people in Minnesota Skeptics have finally had it.  They are tired of all the fighting and nastiness and were looking for a project they could get involved in that makes real differences in helping people outside our little bubble of community.  

Jenny McCarthy

I'm sure you all heard about Jenny getting canned from a exercise festival in Canada. I know I saw the link being posted all over Facebook.  All great that we are informing the skeptical choir and patting ourselves on the back for making this happen, but we aren't done until we have let her supporters know what happened. They only are reading her tweets and getting the story from her.  When you have a reliable secondary citation like we have in this case, its no good wasting it. 

On Luke Freeman's lunch (he said this entire edit took him 20 minutes to finish) he updated the page with these sentences...

In early 2013, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation dropped their plans to have McCarthy headline[49] their Bust a Move charity fundraiser[50] because of criticisms[51][52] of her using her celebrity status to promote views "considered dangerous by most of the medical establishment". [53] While McCarthy posted on Twitter that she had to "pull out" due to a "taping conflict", the event organiser Linda Eagen stated that they had to "negotiate a financial settlement with her [McCarthy's] representatives to get out of the deal" in an interview.[53] 
 I'm sure that cost the charity fundraiser quite a penny.  Great work Jenny, I'm sure you need that money.

Oh yeah, almost forgot.  How many people each month are accessing Jenny's WP page?  Make a guess, then double that.... still wrong.  Stats for Jan 2013

Louisiana Science Education Act

My friend Deborah Warcken  pointed out that the Louisiana Science Education Act WP page has been getting vandalized quite a lot.  I've never heard of it, but went over to take a look.  So did one of our week-old editors.  Wim Vanderberghe (who also edits in Dutch and Swedish)  

He made some positive changes to the article as you can see in on the left side of this link.  What I'm showing you is a "diff/cur" link.  We use these all the time so we can quickly see changes to an article.  Probably more still needs to be done, but for a quick fix I think Wim did a great job.  This page is now on our watchlists to keep it vandalism free.

Just in case your interested in some major back and forth between skeptic and believers, check out the talk page for the Act.   

Whole Body Vibration

Editor Rick Duffy did some serious chopping to the Whole Body Vibration WP page.  All Rick's changes are on the right side of this URL.   Here are the Jan 2013 page views stats.


Being vigilant is ever needed on Wikipedia.  We have watchlists (we add pages of interest to our watchlist by clicking on the empty star on the upper right side of a WP page) but as these lists grow (mine has over 100 pages on it) and sometimes things slip through.  This is why we need more editors.  One that slipped through was on the psychic page.  This sentence seems to invite people to add names of their favorite psychic, 

"Some famous contemporary psychics include Miss Cleo, John Edward, and Sylvia Browne."

I discovered that three names were added, Danielle Egnew whose WP has now been drawn to my attention (and on the to-do list) as well as these two people Michael and Echo Bodine, who are so unfamous that they don't even have a WP page. 

This was a simple edit, and Chris Pederson who has been editing exactly one day was able to fix this quickly.  I think her comment was something like "that was simple and I didn't blow the Internet up." 

On my last blog about Jimmy Wales and Homeopathy I received this comment.  

"We need to remove the emotionallly manipulative test from the homeopathic page on wikipedia. Unbiased information sources are the root of any good research and wikipedia disqualifies itself from that because of it's bissed agenda. It is very easy to see. What is not easy to see is that the people most against homeopathy simply do not have the mental capacity to understand the principles behind it. That is what is really going on here. - Peter"

Again proving that Wikipedia is strong and on the front lines of fighting against bad research, opinions and anecdotes.  We have to be vigilant, and we need more editors to do so.

Homeopathy page view stats for January 2013.

Sara Mayhew

The Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia team has a very long (and growing) to-do list.  I made an effort the first of 2013 to try and clean it out.  You might have seen the Stuart Firestein page that was created from scratch, we also got it featured as a Did You Know? for 8 hours on the front page of Wikipedia.

At the same time I was writing the Firestein page, I also created the page of Sara Mayhew.  We don't have the to-do list in any special order, we work on what intrigues us, and also pages that we think we will have no problem finding the citations to complete the project.

I have many pages sitting in User:sgerbic Wikipedia heaven, waiting for inspiration and/or citations.  When we re-write a page, we copy the current page to our semi-private user page and work till its done.  When we have finished it, then it goes to the team, they work on it for awhile and eventually we contact the "target" if we can.  This helps us fact check everything and then get photos uploaded.

That is a lot of work, which is why it takes us some time to get these pages turned out, and the reason I'm always asking for more editors.  (we train)

So this brings me to the release of a brand new page, Sara Mayhew.  She was a joy to work on, having a young career, all her citations are on-line.  Much more difficult for people who came of age in our world pre-Internet.  Sara also allows us to tie in with the Manga and Anime world, people who might not be aware of skeptics.  When her fans look her up they will be exposed to ideas and citations that they hopefully will read.  A major win for us. 

I only managed to get half-way through Sara's page.  One of our brand new editors, Nathan Miller picked up the gauntlet and ran with it.  He finished listening to all the interviews and videos he could find and cleaned up my rambling efforts.  Nathan informed me that he looked at a lot of Manga author pages and Sara's is far superior to most of them.  This is what I mean when we have her Wiki back.

One more think I want to point out.  I noticed that one of the citations Nathan added was giving us a red WOT warning circle.  I looked and discovered it was Sara's own "Love Pet" page that was receiving this warning.  Web of Trust is a crowd-sourced rating system for positive/negative experiences you might have with a web site.  A green WOT means that the page has been rated as safe and trustworthy.  Love Pet had been rated as a negative page.

It was really suspicious why this happened, no comments were left, just negative scores.  Nathan thinks it might have been a spam bot that caused the problem.  I don't know, but after posting the problem on my Facebook page, many people went to Love Pet's page, looked around and found nothing untrustworthy or unsafe, and were able to vote the page back into a positive green WOT.  That is really community.  

Kenneth Feder

Way back when I was getting my BA (2002) I was required to take a archaeology class to finish off my degree.  It was all just general information, but lots of fun.  We were assigned to read Kenneth Feder's book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology.
Feder made learning about weird pseudoscience topics really fun.  But one thing bugged me, and that was his use of using B.C. and A.D. for dating. Professor Mendoza urged me to write to Feder and ask about it.  I was skeptical, never having approached an author before. (except the time I got a book autographed by Beverly Clearly when I was 10) But I sent him an email anyway, and surprise he wrote back!  I can't remember what he said, something about wanting to use the dating method that most students would understand, so he wouldn't alienate them to the bigger topic, understanding pseudoscience.  Anyway, I was thrilled that someone as important as An Author would write back to Ms. Nobody in Salinas, CA. 

So fast forward to 2013.  Someone added Ken Feder to the very long to-do list that exists in hiding for the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia team.  His page as it existed on Wikipedia was very sad and lonely.  No photos and it had that ugly "stub" tab on it.  See for yourself

The way we work on these pages is mainly out of site of Wikipedia readers.  We copy whatever exists on the live Wikipedia page, and paste it onto a "sandbox" or a "user page". Then work and work and work on it.  Listen to every interview and article we can find on our target.  Then the page goes to the Guerrilla Wikipedia team for more ideas.  I discovered while researching Feder that he had been interviewed twice on MonsterTalk podcast, I'm friends with Blake Smith and Ben Radford so getting Feder's email was easy.  The next thing I knew, I was talking to Ken Feder again and asking for him to upload images.

Working with a team as we do really improves the experience of Wikipedia editing.  I might have started the Ken Feder page, but several other editors contributed to cleaning it up and finding more references, mainly Nathan Miller and Jerry Buchanan.

It all happened so quickly.  We got his page re-write off our to-do list, but in the meantime we have added many more.  I guess it is just job security.

If your ready and have already looked at the before... here is the after - Kenneth Feder.


So I hope I have wet your appetite for getting involved in something so important to getting critical thinking out beyond the skeptics.  From feedback I'm getting from new editors, I need to be clearer with my plea for new editors.  Friend me on Facebook and let me know in a PM that you are interested in the project.  You can also email me at susangerbic@yahoo.com if you are more comfortable doing so, but eventually you are going to need to be placed in one of several Facebook groups.  

Also I want to be clear, we train and mentor.  We are not going to allow you to "blow up the Internet" and all your first edits are watched and reviewed.  Depending on your skill level and confidence we may have you correcting commas and spelling errors to start with.  Nothing wrong with that, most people start that way.  Some people move right in and start on more difficult edits, we don't care, just come join us. 

I've also learned that it takes multiple pleas from me before people join the project.  So pardon me if I continue to harp on the subject.  But we badly need you.  Please consider joining with us to change people's minds on the 5th most popular Internet web site World-Wide.