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…
Skeptical 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…
Complaint Department grenade by Adam the atom , distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
Complaining about things is pretty central to being a skeptic. Most skeptics are good complainers by their nature.
But if you want to be an effective skeptical activist, you need to know how to target your complaints properly. A blog post complaining about something (often the first resort for many skeptics) is only immediately effective if your blog has a large following. That’s nice for those that have it, but the rest of us usually need to take our complaints to a more effective venue. I’ve written before about complaining to government regulators using Fishbarrel, for instance. Complaining to the police via a change.org petition was a crucial step in getting a notorious Twitter spammer arrested.
In online activism, complaining often involves using the specialized complaint procedures of a particular website or platform. Most of the larger, well-established sites (Facebook, YouTube and so on) have relatively robust complaint procedures. Smaller sites will have less well-thought-out procedures, or perhaps none at all. But the key is to know what’s there, what the rules are around them, and when it is appropriate to use them.
There were two stories in the news recently about complaints involving websites that caught my eye. One involved skeptical activists using complaints to target Scientology. The other involved complaints in the opposite direction – from paranormalists about skeptics on Wikipedia. Let’s take a quick look at these two cases and see what we can learn about effective complaining.