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Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia

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.


  1. from the senescence-for-sentients-dept.
    domesticated primates can get really protective over their territory…

    and our territory includes ideas…

    thank g_odness we don’t fling poo at each other ;3

    1. And it lends some credence to
      And it lends some credence to my conspiracy theory that there is a concerted and coordinated effort to impede the human awareness movement because it takes people away from mental control, brain washing, and fear mongering.

      1. a concerted and coordinated effort
        i’m prone to believe that many of the foot soldiers of such a “concerted and coordinated effort” are acting independently, some motivated by some deep unacknowledged fear, some thinking they are actually surrounded by benighted fools, some just being jerks for their particular cause, some bouncing from one extreme to another (once were believers, now are debunkers) etc…

        in any case, the cumulative effect of this army of jerks who refuse to mind their own business, is to bolster the very real concerted and coordinated effort to keep humanity from playing in the park all day long.

        1. No doubt it is a menagerie,
          No doubt it is a menagerie, but there is a possibility it is partially manned by little armies of hyper-elitist agents working on behalf of those whose fondest dream is to have a planet largely peopled by obedient ciphers. I keep going back to Ingo Swann’s sense that there were such forces arrayed against remote viewing because a populace of people thus abled would make it harder for the nasties to keep their many secrets. ESP has very real consequences for authority.

          1. Cass Sunstein’s “Cognitive Infiltration” of the Internet

            “Cass Sunstein has long been one of Barack Obama’s closest confidants. Often mentioned as a likely Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, Sunstein is currently Obama’s head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs.” In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper’s abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.”

            Obviously, there are people in high places intent on pushing various agendas by stocking the internet with cognitive agents. This is not some far fetched conspiracy theory.

  2. This is worth exposing
    I just wrote a blog post on this topic yesterday, should have known you would have covered it first.

    One of the things I found at Guerrilla Skepticism was a link to another blog instructing “Skeptics” on how to ideologically twist other internet entities naively believed to be honest and above board, “Skeptical Software Tools”. Back when I used to use WOT I noticed that sites and blogs dealing with parapsychological science were often targeted for red flag warnings and biased comments. WOT was one of the things “Skeptics” were instructed to turn into an ideological tool.

    It should be known that there is organized ideological “editing” of Wikipedia and organized ideological manipulation of things like WOT. these are things that can prevent someone from even looking at information, the real goal of the “Skeptics” is to get people to not look at data and evidence of things on the index of prohibited ideas. I can only imagine who is doing this without bragging about it.

  3. This isn’t a conspiracy theory
    I wish I’d read your posts before writing about this yesterday, I’ll always check from now on. There’s no conspiracy theory needed when the conspirators publicly brag about what they’re doing. The “Skeptics” are openly turning Wikipedia, “Web of Trust” and other online entities into their tool. As they put it at “Guerilla Skeptics”, “Wikipedia is the most important tool for skepticism that exists today.” But only if Wikipedia and the rest of us allow them to turn it into that.

    As I noted, following up from other posts at GS, they’re not alone in organized hijacking of the web, there is “Skeptical Software Tools” and probably others training people to do the hijacking. Having dealt with “WOT” on another issue of ideological smearing, they seem to be afraid of the kind of mobbing that the “Skeptics” can bring down on them. Clearly some of these groups that want to be seen as objective and reliable sources of information have conceded real reliability to ideologues who openly try to control them.

    At the very least, people need to know that Wikipedia and WOT aren’t reliable because of this.

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