Citations needed: Anti-science proponents hate skeptics on Wikipedia

I’ve seen a few remarks going around about how angry the anti-skeptics are about critical comments towards them. Yep, that’s a decent indication that arrows have hit the mark. A common scapegoat seems to be Wikipedia and the volunteers who edit it. But a solution to their problem is simple – add the citations to support their claims. Instead, they throw temper tantrums.

It’s currently a top subject on Natural News (which I wrote about yesterday) prompted by the hubbub over the anti-vaccination documentary by Andrew Wakefield that was cut from the Tribeca Film Festival. The admins of NN have undertaken a campaign to lash out at skeptics in a personal (juvenile and unfair) way. Snarling at skeptical critique is routine. But with the current volume of it, I think it signals that the barbs are cutting, particularly to alternative medicine proponents, paranormalists, and parapsychologists.

NN is making skeptical advocacy out to be some conspiracy (as they do everything they don’t like)

Skeptical activists have taken it upon themselves to debunk and control information via Wikipedia on a variety of topics including vaccine safety, alternative medicine, natural health, homeopathy, cancer treatments, the paranormal, astrology and psychic mediums.

What these so-called skeptics are really doing is organizing an international effort to smear and discredit anything they consider to be “pseudoscience.” This type of collaborated effort is characterized by a pattern of racketeering, as skeptical activists write, edit and promote biased profiles on Wikipedia to generate income, notoriety and legitimacy.

Wikipedia seems like a good place to get fast information that’s at least somewhat reliable, right? Wrong. The truth is that Wikipedia is nothing more than a trove of disinformation and propaganda peddled by industry gatekeepers, intent on maintaining their ominous facades while upholding the lucrative empires that largely enslave us all, i.e. the pharmaceutical industry and its costly vaccine market.

Let’s be clear, it’s not propaganda or disinformation to challenge a bad idea with countering arguments. Critique and skepticism is the way we work through ideas to discard the rotten stuff and find out what’s true. Anyone can become a wikipedia editor if they follow the rules. Skeptics don’t have a monopoly on it. Just because a project was organized to prioritize entries that needed work does not constitute a smear campaign – it’s nothing of the sort. If anything, it’s housecleaning. Do you get the feeling that the NN writers are infected with not only paranoia but sour grapes? I’m scratching my head wondering why they can’t make an effort to work within the guidelines of Wikipedia instead of writing scathing blog posts calling skeptics bad names. Hmm, maybe I know why…

Screen shot from Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW):

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 6.57.22 PM

Oh, Susan, you jokester! They won’t get the joke but what else can you do but laugh.

In 2014, I attended a conference of parapsychology researchers and professional academics. More than one painted a skeptical straw (wo)man editor of Wikipedia with a nasty scientific materialism bias – as if that’s a bad word. It’s not really. They made accusations that were well received with nods and knowing looks by several in the audience. I felt the animosity. In March 2016, I reviewed a new comprehensive book on parapsychology written by and for essentially the same crowd.  I recommended it for those who want to be up-to-date on the state of the science in this field. I included in the review an observation of their attitudes towards skeptics:

A few contributors emphasize the prejudice and intolerance they receive and blame “skeptics” for it. In the first section, organized skepticism is called “debilitating” to progress of parapsychology. The various digs at skepticism (which IS a key component of the scientific ethos) was so interesting that I’ll leave that for another post. But there is a pleading for observers to see the “increasingly consistent and positive database” and not be influenced by negativity of skeptics who dispute it. The most annoying chapter was that by Sheldrake who described “psi in everyday life”. His comments were astoundingly naive and unsupported calling on “the commonness of the sense of being stared at” – in addition to his studies that he thinks are solid – “makes it very probable that this is a real ability”. Of course, “the dogmas of materialism have had a severely inhibitory effect on psi research”. This may not be entirely pseudoscience, but it’s BAD science and pathetic reasoning.

This is the “another post” mentioned in that quote. Note the name [Rupert] Sheldrake: Sheldrake gets really perturbed at those who don’t love his work about the sense of being stared at, psychic animals and morphic fields. He calls Wikipedia biased and demonizes GSoW on his personal blog. However, his Wikipedia entry is fair, not mean or disparaging. It notes that not everyone agrees with him. His ideas are challenged as are most ideas in science.

Morphic resonance is not accepted by the scientific community as a real phenomenon and Sheldrake’s proposals relating to it have been characterized as pseudoscience. Critics cite a lack of evidence for morphic resonance and an inconsistency between the idea and data from genetics and embryology. They also express concern that popular attention paid to Sheldrake’s books and public appearances undermines the public’s understanding of science.

Pseudoscience is an inflammatory word, no doubt, but it can be useful as it represents a category of study areas to which we can apply criteria to judge if it fits or not. The rest of the Wikipedia piece on Sheldrake provides details for WHY the ideas are rejected by some. It’s not just opinion, it’s informed and cited. Your opinions about how these pros and cons play out will vary but it’s not lying or “racketeering” to collect references that state the scientific community disagrees with these concepts. It’s understandable that the public figure will not want the negative stuff to appear in public but hiding them doesn’t make the critiques go away or make your psi theory any stronger. Objections remain legitimate points.

Criticism is a part of science. It’s mostly NOT tolerated by pseudoscientists who overreact and play victim.

Back to the parapsychology book I read earlier this year. In the introduction, the editors explicitly warn against using Wikipedia to get information on parapsychology and instead recommend that the interested scholar consult only primary journal sources. That’s all fine except for the unfortunate reality that most primary sources are not easily available (especially parapsychology sources that may not be held by local educational institutions) whereas Wikipedia is often the first search result you get, it’s free, easily accessible, and open to everyone. Wikipedia is a great place to start your research on a topic precisely because it gives you a broad overview WITH SOURCES so you know where to go next to dig in deeper. Thus, there is something ironic in the rejection and outright hatred some fringe researchers have about Wikipedia. Editors are free to add these primary sources they advise you to seek to bolster claims about parapsychology research, or alternative treatments, or paranormal explanations, or astrology, etc. They haven’t been too successful at that. [Correction: In discussion with Susan Gerbic of GSoW, Wikipedia does not recognize paranormal journals as reputable sources. Therefore, that makes those promoting fringe ideas at a distinct disadvantage to source their claims.]

In December 2008, Tim Farley wrote a blog post on why skeptics should pay attention to Wikipedia. This call to action resulted in new editors to the site who created and improved content on their own time for no pay. (I challenge all those loudmouths who call us “shills” to produce evidence we are paid by big pharma or big Skeptic). Read over Tim’s post and decide for yourself if his suggestion are anything but following the set rules and ethics of wikipedia, I’ll wait…


See? No foul at all. State the facts, cite them, be transparent in the process (although the editor’s identity may be hidden.) Tim also documented the complaints by Rupert Sheldrake and Deepak Chopra about how skeptics are running and ruining Wikipedia. It so happens that it can be documented that skeptics are NOT ruining wikipedia but are following the rules to add and improve content.

Those who endorse alternative medicine hate Wikipedia as well because some awful facts supported by real citations come up again and again.

…the rules of evidence on Wikipedia are pro-skeptic and pro-science. If you are pushing an idea that science rejects, Wikipedia will reject it too.

Paranormalists and pseudoscientists take note: skeptics are not bullying you off Wikipedia. We are only enforcing the rules of evidence as clearly stated on the service. If you cannot provide adequate evidence for your ideas, they will not be accepted.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, was terse in his response to a petition to be softer on alt med on the site:

What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”.

He said “lunatic charlatans,” not me.

I suspect that the anti-science and parascience proponents aren’t adept enough to fix their Wikipedia public relations problem. I also think this is a sign that they are bumping up against the realization that they have no respected sources and science to back up their claims. They can’t play the science game fairly so they whine and try to cheat instead, undertaking acts of desperation to try to intimidate critics who point out their shortcomings. Taking the position of victim does not look good for them as they have built no foundation for their fringe ideas. I wonder what they’ll try next.


9 thoughts on “Citations needed: Anti-science proponents hate skeptics on Wikipedia

  1. Leaders of fringe science — some of them with PhDs — should be embarassed to use the same rhetorical tactics, sometimes even the same anti-skeptic phrases, as the tinfoil-brained conspiracists in the YouTube comments sections.

  2. As you’ll have noticed, they tend to engage in a characteristic set of behaviours wherever they encounter the reality-based community, and personalising the dispute is always top of the list. Wikipedia has been skeptical since its inception. Conservapedia exists solely because Wikipedia followed an unashamedly rationalist line on creationism and climate change – it’s ten years old this year.

    It’s not materialism, it’s not scientism, it’s reality. Science is the most reliable way we have found to tell truth from bullshit, and when science says a claim is wrong, so does Wikipedia. If your beliefs are out of line with the facts as established by careful scientific investigation then you need to accept that you are probably wrong.

    Of course they always claim to have brought reliable sources. Reliable in their minds means: ideologically consonant.

    My message for these folks is the same every time: we describe incorrect beliefs according to the reliable independent sources, but we don’t pretend they are correct or that they have any equivalence with diligent science. You believe in homeopathy? Tough: the universe hates you and has a set of laws which makes your beliefs ridiculous. It’s not our problem to fix.

  3. One has to wonder who these skeptics are who are getting rich (or even just gaining income) from their Wikipedia efforts.

  4. Skeptical bias has definitely infiltrated Wikipedia. Now that Wikipedia kowtows to radical skepticism and reductionist materialism, we will have to go elsewhere for balanced reporting.

  5. What do you consider objectionable and “skeptical bias”? As noted, citations are needed. I’ll need a definition for “radical skepticism” because that term suggests that skeptics believe in nothing, which is demonstrably untrue. All positions are not equal so your claim of “balanced reporting” is confusing. The position with the better evidentiary support is preferable in terms of a truth claim than that position without such evidence. It is false balance to allow an idea like creationism to be on par with evolution, for example, because they are simply not equal and comparable. Provide support for you specious arguments, Roy S.

  6. In addition, simply stating that bias has “definitely” infiltrated Wikipedia, in addition to using loaded terminology, doesn’t make it so.

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