An excellent post by Robert McLuhan over at his Paranormalia blog, on the ‘guerilla skepticism’ movement, in particular the concerted effort by upper-case Skeptics to keep Wikipedia a woo-free environment. Robert firstly points out the rhetorical technique of ending a paragraph about a certain claim with the skeptical counterclaim – doing so gives the impression of a neutral passage, though it gives the final word each time to the skeptical view.
Robert also notes the use of skeptical personalities as authorities worth citing, such as the god-awful commentaries of Robert Todd Carroll (of the Skeptic’s Dictionary). I’ve written about this previously, on the referencing of Martin Gardner’s opinion on Leonora Piper. Robert wonders…
…In what world could someone like Todd Carroll, a compiler of spectacularly biased and poorly informed encyclopedia entries, be considered a serious authority? If this sort of thing is allowed on Wikipedia then what’s to stop me inserting remarks like, ‘According to psi-advocate Robert McLuhan, this type of critical commentary is tendentious tosh by people who haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.”
We can’t really complain about hostile editing, as long it stays within the Wikipedia guidelines for editors, which Gerbic seems committed to doing. As she sees it, it’s all about insisting on backing up claims with evidence, which is what sceptics are all about. In fact I’ve even seen it suggested that Wikipedia is by nature a sceptical endeavour, since it depends on evidence. Some seem to have taken heart when its founder Jimmy Wales came out against homeopathy, a subject that infuriates them more than almost anything else.
I’m not sure how worked up I can get about Wikipedia’s view of homeopathy or about celebrity psychics, who can look after themselves. Still, it’s a pity that this key source for learning and education is so compromised as far as serious parapsychology is concerned. There is of course plenty of information about parapsychology, but little that isn’t gummed up with sceptic disdain. Even aside from that, it looks rather flat and lame. What’s to stop editors giving quotes from credible people – scientists, psi-researchers, experients who are well-known in other fields – that give their own enthusiastic responses? Why are the dullards, ignoramuses and professional nay-sayers getting such a free run?
We need to make it clear that our evidence counts as evidence. At the very least, if sceptics insert a long section at the end of an entry that promotes their views exclusively, under the heading of ‘Criticism’ or some such, then it seems to me to be perfectly legitimate to add a following section headed ‘Responses to criticism’, in which the key points would be rebutted, at leisure and without constant heckling.
I did briefly consider making contributions of my own, but where does one start?
I’m not sure it’s a battle worth getting into. Skeptics of this type are already well-ensconced in Wikipedia as editors, watching these topics vigilantly, and have a certain zealotry that will drive them to continue editing fringe entries longer than either you or I care. But certainly a topic worth discussing, and keeping in mind when reading and referencing Wikipedia as a source.