When you’re not here to create an encyclopedia, your Wikipedia statistics show it

Rupert Sheldrake at a conference. Photo by Zereshk licensed under a CC BY 3.0 license.

Rupert Sheldrake at a conference. Photo by Zereshk licensed under a CC BY 3.0 license.

I’ve been promising for a while to follow up on the Rupert Sheldrake Wikipedia controversy that exploded in the press and the blogs last fall. (I’ve previously written on this topic in two different posts). What’s kept me from writing this follow-up is the huge volume of debate back and forth that has gone on. Frankly, it is quite tedious to wade through and it is hard to cut through the bull to make any sense of it. It is also spread through numerous blogs and various back pages of Wikipedia, so it isn’t even all in one place.

And it continues today. Just this past weekend one of the pro-Sheldrake editors filed a Wikipedia Request for Arbitration regarding the matter, listing all sorts of complaints about alleged wrongs by skeptical editors. This person even dragged my name into it simply on the basis of my blogging here (which of course is protected free speech) even though I’ve never edited the Sheldrake page myself! The request was curtly denied.

It’s almost as if all of this was intended to be hard to grasp – and maybe it is. I’ve long had the sense that a large part of this was a drummed up manufactroversy created deliberately by the Sheldrake camp. I hate to use an overused word, but it really feels like some of these people are simply trolling Wikipedia.  But is there a way to succinctly demonstrate that?

The other side certainly isn’t succinct – Craig Weiler has blogged at least nine times on the subject of Wikipedia (plus more on other Sheldrake issues). That’s over thirteen thousand words. Rome Viharo has built an entire website around the controversy, containing another thirty five thousand words (largely nonsense). He’s also attempted to troll me on Twitter and within the comments of this blog.

It’s all so tedious. It makes me want to say, “Enough arguing, either put up or shut up!”  And that got me thinking – if you apply “put up or shut up” to Wikipedia, what does that mean? I think I have an idea.

Read on to find out what it is…

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Useful links and resources from the #SkepTech 2 security panel

Skep Tech 2 LogoToday in Minneapolis I was on a panel with Neil Wehneman of Secular Student Alliance and Jason Thibeault of Freethought Blogs. It was moderated by Sean Wurgler. The panel was frankly titled “How to protect your shit online” and this was the summary:

Even “real life” activists have to navigate online spaces–online activists obviously more so. Unfortunately, the power that online activism can lend can easily turn against activists. How do we protect our content from hackers, spammers, and trolls? How to we maintain security while simultaneously engaging in online activism–an act that requires us to put our content out into the interwebspaceplace? Expect conversation on basic content protection measures, DDOS attacks and how to subvert them, and beyond.

In this post I will attempt to gather up the links and resources we mentioned during the panel and closely related ones as well. Feel free to chime in with other good resources in the comments. Read more of this post

Skep Tech 2 is but 7 days away. Don’t miss it!

Skep Tech 2 LogoIf you are going to be anywhere near Minneapolis next weekend (April 4-6), I highly recommend you attend Skep Tech 2. This is the sequel to last year’s inaugural conference on skepticism and technology, put on by a coalition of three student groups at Minnesota universities.

I knew I had to attend when I found out this event was being planned back in 2012. After all, skepticism and technology is the focus of this blog! I contacted the organizers and they were nice enough to add me to their speakers list somewhat late in the invitation process.

I didn’t know what to expect, of course – first year events are often quite disorganized. But the students involved were up to the task. Not only did they manage to put on a successful event, but they made it free to attend and got an award for their efforts.

This year’s event promises to be even better. For a preview of this year’s event and more, read on.

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Wikipedia founder responds to pro-alt-med petition; skeptics cheer

Jimmy Wales, photo by Andrew Lih licensed under a CC BY-SA 2.5 license.

Jimmy Wales, photo by Andrew Lih licensed under a CC BY-SA 2.5 license.

Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales this week sent a clear signal to skeptics who edit the user-created encyclopedia – he agrees with our focus on science and good evidence.  He did this by responding firmly in the negative to a Change.org petition created by alternative medicine and holistic healing advocates. His response, which referred to paranormalists as “lunatic charlatans”, was widely reported on Twitter.

I’ve been recommending skeptics pay close attention to Wikipedia since the earliest days of this blog, almost six years ago.  Susan Gerbic took up that gauntlet and created her wildly successful Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia project.

In the last year or so, the success of Susan’s project has gotten many paranormal and alternative medicine advocates riled up. They’ve repeatedly floated conspiracy theories that skeptics are somehow rigging the game on Wikipedia, or even bullying opponents off the site. Even personalities like Rupert Sheldrake and Deepak Chopra have gotten involved. None of these accusations have been supported by facts, and both Sheldrake and Chopra have been subsequently embarrassed by their own supporters’ rule-breaking behavior on the service.

With this response, Wales makes clear what I have been saying all along – the rules of evidence on Wikipedia are pro-skeptic and pro-science. If you are pushing an idea that science rejects, Wikipedia will reject it too.  Read on for Wales’ exact words…

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The Skepticism Convention Guide opens events up to all

Lanyrd logoTwo years ago this month here on the blog I introduced skeptics to Lanyrd – a website that compiles information about multiple speaker events like conferences, symposia and workshops. It can compile all the info about an event in one place for easy reference by attendees and others.  Since I’ve been promoting the site, it has been adopted by many skeptic organizations.  It has become the official scheduling application for The Amazing Meeting, several Center for Inquiry events, Skepticamp, Germany’s SkepKon, Skeptics of Oz and more.

As a convenience to skeptics and skeptic event organizers, I and others have been curating what Lanyrd calls a “guide” – a special list of just the skeptic conferences that are upcoming and listed on the site. The guide acts as an entry point to Lanyrd for skeptics.  It has other uses too, for instance an RSS feed from this guide automatically populates the list of upcoming skeptic conferences that is visible on the right here at the blog.

Of course, numerous skeptics cannot attend these events in person due to cost or travel involved or for many other reasons. Some skeptics only attend them rarely. If you fall in this category, you might wonder why I mention Lanyrd repeatedly here, on my blog and on the Virtual Skeptics webcast.

Last week I launched social media feeds associated with the guide, to promote its value better.  Let me explain why I think this is a useful thing for all skeptics, not just those who regularly attend these events.

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See how to debunk viral photos in seconds using image search

Google Image SearchBack in August I wrote about how Google Image Search and other reverse image search engines are a valuable tool to debunk viral hoaxes. Last week yet another example popped up that shows just how easy these types of debunks can be.

The new example involves social media posts about animal rights and animal testing. Photos of suffering animals are always compelling, and often go viral. While most people sympathize with the animals pictured, there is a secondary lesson here – don’t forget to apply skepticism to viral content even when the message confirms your own beliefs and pet causes.

I’m an animal fan myself – we have both a dog and a cat in our household. The purpose of this post is not to criticize animal rights activists, but show how to verify photos. So lets see how it’s done.

Warning: If you are particularly sensitive to pictures of animals in medical situations, you might not want to see the photo in this post. Try reading my previous post on this topic instead.

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RBUTR supports more browsers, adds a universal linking toolbar

RBUTR logo

Some exciting new additions to RBUTR have been announced in the last few weeks. The folks on the team behind this skeptic favorite have been busy!

RBUTR is an excellent skeptic tool that I’ve written about here before. It is a service that links web pages to other articles which rebut them (hence the name). Skeptics could do well to both evangelize the tool to the general public, and to populate it with links to good skeptical content.

RBUTR works via a browser add-in: a small piece of software that adds new functionality to your web browser. When you navigate to a new web page, the add-in looks up whether there are any rebuttals to that article or content and gives a visual indication at the top of the browser window.

One limitation of browser plugins is each one is usually only compatible with one browser. Since its launch, RBUTR has only been available for Google’s Chrome browser, which limited the product’s reach. Statistics on browser usage vary widely, but Chrome’s market penetration varies somewhere between 15% and 40% depending on whose numbers you believe. But whichever set of numbers are correct, the majority of Internet users are using other browsers.

Now the RBUTR team have made several new additions that significantly widen its reach – two additional browsers and more.

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