In my how-to series on becoming a Wikipedia editor, I highly recommend spending time patrolling for vandalism using a watch list. It’s good practice with the software, and it helps you build up a positive editing history.
Vandalism on Wikipedia is unfortunately constant – a side effect of their radically open editing policy. This policy allows anyone to anonymously edit most articles, logged only by IP address.
Because skeptical topics are often controversial (in some circles at least), they can spark strong responses, including sometimes vandalism. As a result, if you’re looking for vandalism to fix, skeptic-relevant articles often provide plenty of ammunition.
Indeed, over my career as a Wikipedia editor I’ve removed the word “idiot” from Australian science communicator Dr. Karl’s biography, undone claims that Indian skeptic Prabir Ghosh is a “fake doctor” and excised antisemitic slurs from the biography of Professor Michael Barkun.
Defending Everyone Equally
But I don’t reserve my vandalism patrols just for people I consider allies. I’ve also removed the word “douchebag” from the biography of Bart Sibrel (famed for being hit by Buzz Aldrin). I’ve cut out some rude edits regarding L.Ron Hubbard. I’ve even removed some creative writing on Larry King’s biography that verges into science fiction.
Because of his current fame, Dr. Oz has been a repeated target for attacks. I’ve removed an accusation that he is a bad surgeon, undone some veiled anti-Muslim sentiment from his article and removed weasel words about his training. I’ve even erased the phrase “quack doctor” from his biography!
Why Defend The Bad Guys?
Some skeptics might wonder, why bother with this? Folks like Dr. Oz are a detriment to society, don’t they deserve to take some lumps occasionally? Maybe so, but Wikipedia is absolutely the wrong venue for this.
Skeptics already get wrongly accused of many crimes on Wikipedia. This occurs in part because Wikipedia’s rules and administration are admittedly pro-science. So when we simply enforce the rules, we are perceived as having a pro-skeptic bias.
As a result, we need to do everything we can to provide evidence that we are not in fact biased. Applying the rules (such as the rules on vandalism to biographies) equally to friend and foe is a great way to accomplish this.
Removing vandalism is easy, once you know how. And it demonstrates our lack of bias clearly and unambiguously. It is also a good way to help maintain Wikipedia’s excellent record for quickly removing vandalism.
Bottom line: skeptics should not tolerate name-calling and bias on Wikipedia, whether it is for us or against us. And the editing history will back us up when we point this out.