Tag Archives: Guerrilla Skepticism

I defended Dr. Oz on Wikipedia – and you should too.

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.

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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Quantum variations in Wikipedia rules – Deepak Chopra and conflict of interest

Wikipedia logoSkeptical editing of Wikipedia has gotten some attention in the media lately. I covered part of it in my piece on skeptic complaints. I am working on a longer post that digs into the entire history of how Rupert Sheldrake and a handful of paranormal bloggers created this manufactroversy. (Spoiler alert: it’s largely due to misunderstandings of how Wikipedia works).

But before we get to that, how about an entertaining side drama involving Deepak Chopra?

Early in November, Deepak Chopra used his column on SFGate (cross-posted to his blog and elsewhere) to add his voice to the chorus coming from the Sheldrake camp. The multi-part post quickly branched into a variety of criticisms of skepticism in general, but that first post on November 3rd devoted a number of paragraphs to the false accusation that skeptics in general (and Susan Gerbic’s Guerrilla Skeptics in particular) were responsible for a “concerted attack” on Sheldrake’s biography. Steven Novella and Jerry Coyne both replied to Chopra on their blogs.  Coyne also reiterated his points in an expanded article on The New Republic and sparked a rather hilarious (and fallacy-laden) reply by Chopra.

Susan Gerbic and I have appeared together on both the Skepticality and the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcasts to state our side of the story.

A few days after Deepak’s original post, an interesting footnote to this drama played out deep in the recesses of Wikipedia’s administrative pages. I mentioned it on Skepticality, but it hasn’t been covered in news media so far as I have seen. It involves a pseudonymous editor, a quickly retracted open letter by Chopra, and a blatant five-year abuse of Wikipedia’s clearly stated conflict-of-interest rules.

Chopra is legendary for applying quantum physics anywhere and everywhere he can make it fit in. At the end of this, you’ll wonder if perhaps he (or his staff) believes that quantum mechanics applies to ethics rules as well. Read on for more…

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