Concerns with Wikipedia

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General

Wikipedia is hugely important as a means of documenting society and making that knowledge base available to anyone with access to the Internet. For the most part, it has been successful. The point of this article is that Wikipedia has become a means for special interest groups to exert undue influence on public opinion. This is most obvious in subjects that are not part of mainstream thought, what is referred to here as a Frontier Subject: The study, practice or experience of a phenomenon which has not been academically established as an accepted part of mainstream culture.

The reason this is important is that a search of the Internet for almost any subject presents a Wikipedia article as first or nearly first choice. Citizens, and especially children, will often learn about a subject from Wikipedia first, and that means they may learn from a small group of editors pushing their particular view of the subject.

Treatment of Subjects

Wikipedia rules governing the content of articles are intended to assure a balanced disclosure of each subject in the detached style of traditional encyclopedias. Because the editors are seldom subject matter experts, everything in articles must be referenced. Consequently, the main rules used to control the tone of an article concerns the acceptability of the information source and neutral point of view of wording in the article. Original research is not allowed and journals for frontier subjects are virtually not acceptable. The problem is that it is the dominant group of editors that decides what is acceptable and who determine how a subject is characterized.

Virtually all material in Wikipedia articles is at least second hand and often based on very outdated material. Because books are preferred over websites as being more academic, and it often takes years to publish a book, it is common to find book references that have long-since been outdated by new research published in journals and on websites. More importantly, references are often used that are unavailable to the reader, making it nearly impossible to verify that the included information is actually supported. Too often, it is not.

Original research means that what must be used is an article written by someone else about that research. Small and/or non-mainstream publications are considered fringe, and are therefore easily discounted by an editor determined not to allow its use. In most frontier subjects, there are only small publications because of the immaturity of the field. Mainstream publications will not venture to publish a positive report about a nonmainstream subject. Also, book publishers will not invest the resources to publish a book intended as a serious research report unless there is a large audience. All of this means that collaboration in frontier subjects is accomplished via newsletters, self-published books and websites. The most current research information is too often on the same search engine page as hobbyists speculating about the subject from a point of view of “how it helped me today,” rather than whether or not “it” has any validity in fact.

Wikipedia Editing Rules

Wikipedia has rules governing the interaction of editors such as the need to assume good faith and to be civil toward other editors. There are also procedural rules, such as how often and why an editor might change another person’s edits. Perhaps most important are the rules governing what may be included in articles. For instance, Articles are required to be written from a neutral point of view and everything in articles must be based on verifiable references. The references themselves must not be out of the mainstream or self-serving to the author, and so there is also a conflict of interest rule.

An editor’s failure to follow the rules is usually addressed by other editors, but if that does not work, then it is possible to bring an editor before a tribunal that has the power to ban an editor from making further contribution.

Who Can Edit Articles

The policy of Wikipedia, or at least the dominant culture’s policy, is that subject matter experts are discouraged from editing articles within their area of expertise. In fact, it is common for subject matter experts to be so abused that they soon stop attempting to contribute content. One of the Wikipedia founders, Larry Sanger, has even written the article, Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism, explaining the pitfalls of editors not using their real name (no accountability) and not being knowledgeable about the subjects they edit. His response was to begin Citizendium, which is a kinder and more dependable online encyclopedia which we urge you to support.

In fact, anyone can edit Wikipedia articles because anyone can register under an assumed name. However, if an editor is found out as a person who might in some way benefit from what is said in an article, that person is considered to have a conflict of interest and is strongly discouraged from editing associated articles. This is an important rule because, in the case of frontier subjects, virtually all of the people who are knowledgeable about the subject are the same people who are leading study groups, have websites, have or might write a book or give talks on the subject.

The Skeptical Community

By special interest groups, I am referring to the members of Wikiproject:Rational Skepticism and those who are sympathetic to them. Based on my encounters with this group, they appear to be James Randi and Robert Carroll adherents. People involved with frontier subjects often document their dismay at how unreasonably closed the skeptical community is to new thought and how ruthless its adherents are in their efforts to make sure the general public understands that the frontier subject is impossible, and therefore, cannot be. People believing such things are branded as delusional or possibly fraudulent.

This tradition of pathological skepticism is now an integral part of Wikipedia. This is a problem for all of us because the online encyclopedia has given skeptics inordinate access to students of the world looking for material to write a term paper. The skeptical theme is that anything that is not explicitly defined by mainstream science must not be shown in Wikipedia to have any form of possibility. Review of any article in Wikipedia will show that the subject is carefully characterized as fringe and/or pseudoscience.

It is essential to remember that the skeptical community believes that it is executing the will of mainstream science to protect the community from being deceived. They edit from this perspective even though they seldom actually know anything about the subject. But the irony is that people who research frontier subjects are necessarily very careful about their assumptions because they know that they are examining something that is not commonly accepted as reality. One might even argue that such researchers are super critical of their own work, and from personal experience, it is easy for them to assume others are equally critical about what they believe. In fact, the skeptical viewpoint is based on assumption and seldom on empirical evidence. The inescapable conclusion is that the most aggressive skeptics have adopted a faith-based viewpoint and their argument is an emotional one cloaked with the authority of science.

Personal Attacks

It is common for skeptic editors to denounce anyone who studies frontier subjects as morons, idiots, deluded, or even more libelous, charlatans and frauds. There are administrative-level editors and procedures to request help from such abuse, but in many instances, complaints are answered by a barrage of comments agreeing with the original insult and adding many more disparaging words to the list. In the end, it is an inescapable conclusion that Wikipedia intends to maintain a civil work environment, but is unable to apply existing rules to protect editors from other editors. The common term is poisoned atmosphere.

Why This Is Important

Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) is a good example of why you should be concerned about the influence of Wikipedia. The Association TransCommunication (ATransC) has gathered substantial information from members and the general public about the characteristics of EVP, including the circumstances under which they tend to occur, their typical characteristics and considerations about how to record, locate and listen to them. The ATransC has conducted well-organized studies and funded research by academically trained scientists. Careful analysis of this anecdotal and experimental data seems to indicate that no known physical principle accounts for their existence. The voices of EVP sometimes appear to be spoken by deceased people or at least include things they might say, in their voice and in response to specific questions.

By any rational standard, EVP are a form of paranormal phenomena which virtually demands further investigation. If they are paranormal, the least benefit is that they represent an experimental tool with which other forms of apparent psi phenomena can be studied in controlled conditions. The most important possible benefit of studying EVP is what they might tell us about our etheric nature and the well-being of our discarnate loved ones. But having been branded a pseudoscience by skeptics, mainstream society is cautioned to think of EVP as simply ordinary experiences mistaken as paranormal; at best illusion or fraud.

Abdication of responsibility in the scientific community: In society, the responsibility of scientists is to explain the environment. If members of the scientific community ignore aspects of the environment being experienced by the citizens, then the scientific community is effectively abdicating its responsibility. Conversely, it is intellectually arrogant for scientists to ridicule laypeople who take it upon themselves to seek explanations for the experiences. It is also unethical for scientists to then comment on the work done by laypeople without becoming familiar with protocols used and what has been learned.

With skeptic’s success in branding EVP a pseudoscience, and their success in convincing governments that pseudoscience is a danger to society, funding for EVP research is virtually nonexistent compared to that available for mainstream subjects. What research is funded is ultimately determined by the popular wisdom of mainstream culture. That opinion is shaped by mainstream science and opinion setters, such as the late Carl Sagan and presumably authoritative sources of information such as Wikipedia.

Peer and popular cultural wisdom is another important factor. Scientists dare not associate themselves with a subject that is characterized as fringe or pseudoscience for fear of ruining their career. History will surely show that the skeptical community is delaying discovery of many new ideas because of the peer pressure they bring to mainstream science. Consequently, frontier subjects will not be studied by mainstream science until popular opinion becomes more accepting of new ideas. When the public demands to know more, funding will follow, and scientists will follow the funding.

The Internet provides extraordinary access to the public making it possible for a determined, but very minority group of people to have extraordinary influence on what people believe. It is not realistic to think that private websites can be controlled, but Wikipedia is publicly funded and affords public access to virtually everything that is written in its pages.

What can be Done?

The best way for us to counter Wikipedia is to tell our story in a levelheaded manner. Whatever your subject, learn to talk about it in terms that a person new to the subject will understand. Giving talks, writing articles and being on talk shows give opportunities to learn what works and what does not. People usually know what they mean, but often fail to communicate that meaning. Much of the criticism of the frontier subjects is due to the failure of people who study them to communicate what they are and why they are important.

Maintain the viewpoint that the subject is an observed phenomenon and that there is a need to study what it is. Avoid a single conclusion by clearly explaining the working hypothesis that best explains the evidence at this time and always try to leave the discussion open for alternative explanations. Do not appear to be determined to prove anything. Let the evidence determine the next step.

Establish a presence on the Internet with an informative website. It need not be slick or even pretty so long as it looks professional, conveys a sense that you are level-headed and that you know what you are talking about. Keep it current. If there is empirical evidence for some parts of what you want to say, then clearly explain that. If parts of it are based on assumption or belief, then clearly explain those parts and clearly distinguish the two.

Make the difference between demonstrably objective and theoretical assumption clear if you wish to be seen as a researcher with integrity. Probably most important is that the articles that others might link to for citations are stable. Credible articles that can be referenced in other work have become an important replacement for scholarly books in frontier subjects.

Mainstream scientists live and die with citations of their work by others. It is a way that researchers can gain a sense of how credible the person’s work is seen by others. We in the paranormalist community are no different. If you refer to an idea posed by another, include some kind of a reference so that your readers can find the source and learn more. Links are very useful for quick access. It is the citizenship thing to do in a cooperative community.

Seek critique and feedback from friends, or even better, from webmasters related to other frontier subjects. Mainstream science has a system of societies, universities and publications that enable collaboration and archiving of the knowledgebase. This is missing for most frontier subjects, so it is important to establish a culture of cooperation amongst interested people. This article is about an issue that is common to all frontier subjects and it is not necessary for us to have common subject matter interests for this issue to be addressed.

Write an article about your subject that is suitable for an encyclopedia and include it on the website. For all of its faults, Wikipedia is a good place to see what formats work best. The article you would write is not to prove your point in any way. It should be a clear explanation of what your subject is without too much emphasis on proving your point. Let your reader decide. Perhaps people outside your circle of experts should help draft the article because it needs to be a serious “What I would like to see in Wikipedia” article that is written from a neutral point of view with good, solid references. The good should be shown with the bad. Seek and include viable alternative explanations. This article may also make an excellent white paper to be used as a handout at conferences.

(cc)2006aaevp-concerns_with_wikipedia

Place this link logo on your website and
help others become informed about Wikipedia

Alternatively, write an article warning people about Wikipedia yourself and use this logo to link to this or your article. It is worth noting that the content of ethericstudies.org is copyright free (Creative Commons) and available for you to use as you see fit with appropriate attribution. But remember, the more links there are to a web page, the higher it will be in the search engines and the more people will read it. This is all about public education, so often includes links to other paranormalist pages to counter Wikipedia.

We do not recommend that anyone becomes an editor at Wikipedia. Until the environment has become more civil, we feel that the anger you will certainly come to know will do more harm than good. We recommend the Paranormal Subgroup of Citizendium if you want to contribute to an encyclopedia. Wherever you edit online, always use your real name. Reading the essay about the Lord of the Flies will tell you why we feel Wikipedia is able to sustain such a gangland-like atmosphere amongst editors.

Navigation Guide for WikipediaWikipedia Navigation

The most important thing anyone can do to help attract serious research is to become personally educated about this field of study and how people react to it. What are the arguments used to discount the work? Insight into this can be found by reading the Talk Page associated with Article Pages in Wikipedia–in effect, by looking behind the curtain. Always look at the archives listed on the Talk Page, as the skeptical editors seek to hide bad things.

Read the History of both pages. For instance, on the history page for the Rupert Sheldrake Article, you can see (archived here) that I was trying to talk the skeptic editors out of calling Sheldrake’s work pseudoscience. But on 5 March 2014, the skeptics were able to permanently ban me from editing the Rupert Sheldrake article because I was promoting pseudoscience (See the ban notice here).

Also, see Wikipedia Under Threat in Ruper Shldrake’s Science Set Free Blog.

A very important point is that the skeptical community has even managed to establish an article category of pseudoscience. The term is usually used to reduce the credibility of frontier subjects and is generally considered a derogatory term. Likely your subject is on the list or will soon be added. Qualifying terms or phrases that imply unscientific thinking or practices are routinely used to suggest through innuendo that the subject is not credible. Something as subtle as relating a subject to religious or spiritual subjects effectively changes a frontier subject from an effort to apply good science to understand something, to a belief system that is not to be taken seriously.

Editors are supposed to sign their posts in the discussion pages. By clicking on the editor’s name at the end of the post, for instance, ScienceApologist (Talk) (now signing as 9SGjOSfyHJaQVsEmy9NS … I will call him User:SA), you will go to the editor’s personal page. Every editor has one and it is considered off-limits for others to post anything there.

You will first see that User:SA does not much like what he prefers to as fringe subject or believers, and that he is dedicated to protecting the status quo as he understands it to be defined by mainstream science. User:SA has apparently received his Ph.D and is now a teacher, so as 9SGjOSfyHJaQVsEmy9NS, he appears to be trying to look more professional on his personal page. However, take a look at one of his old personal pages as ScienceApologist. That is the User:SA I dealt with.

If you click on the (Talk) after the editor’s name, you will go directly to its discussion page. It is there that Administrators (Admins) alert editors about formal complaints, warnings and advice. It is educational to see who is commenting there and why.

As an aside, consider the influence User:SA has had on Wikipedia, and by extension, on Wikipedia readers. He has been instrumental in the skeptic’s takeover of Wikipedia. As a young astronomy student, there is virtually zero reason to think he knows more than the average person about things paranormal. Yet, he has pronounced over and over again about the pseudoscience nature of all things paranormal … often in very demeaning terms. You can thank the rules of Wikipedia for his success, and the silence of other paranormalists as a few lonely editors like me failed to stop the skeptic takeover.

One more point. User:SA is likely teaching young people the same scientism he practices, under cloak of academic authority.

There is a virtual labyrinth of administrative and policy pages in Wikipedia. One sure way to navigate the maze is to follow comments from interesting editors. For instance, an editor might make a complaint about incivility at Wikipedia:Wikiquette alerts. Someone will warn another about civility with, “You have violated WP:CIVIL,” which is a link to the Wikipedia:Civility page containing the policy. (Please note that the policy is also edited and has been occasionally diluted by editors wanting to be allowed more leeway in how rude they are to others.

Another good place to look is the Request for Arbitration pages. Two important ones are Paranormal and Martinphi-ScienceApologist (User:SA). Both have several associated pages for evidence and such, and although painful to read, they offer an important lesson for all of us. There are others, such as the Incident notice board and the Arbitration enforcement board.

Conclusion

It is important to keep in mind that Wikipedia is not the evil empire, it is a very important tool that needs a few changes to keep it from being a platform for social engineering. It really is not realistic to say that one person is at fault for the harmful social engineering a few skeptics are able to accomplish with its content.

Looking behind the curtain, it is evident that the skeptical community is out of control, and that as long as people can insult people with impunity and ignore consensus and balanced reporting, it is essential that the public be told that the online encyclopedia cannot be trusted as a knowledge base.

Did you know?

Sociologist H. M. Collins noted that, ” … positive replications by critics are exceptionally rare in science.”  From:  Changing Order:  Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice by H. M. Collins, Sage Publications, 1955

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