How the Utopian Ideal has been hijacked
Wikipedia is a utopian ideal - founded on a belief that the world can collaborate to create an Encyclopedia. The fact that most of the content is superior to equivalent websites is testimony to this vision and the dedication of thousands of editors. Articles appear to be refreshingly free of agenda, advertising and sales pitches.
Unfortunately, this authoritative neutrality is often a facade. It is no secret that many agents and PR agencies use Wikipedia to promote pages associated with their clients.(Owens 2013) It's not just politicians, authors, musicians and actors "setting the record straight", corporations such as those in the pharmaceutical industry admit to having in-house editors "correcting errors".(Goldstein 2007) Mostly this is harmless promotion that still requires the collaboration of other editors.
|However, anyone interested in pages on what Wikipedia term 'fringe' topics: those relating to astrology, the paranormal, metaphysics, faith/spirituality or alternative medicine or on atheism or scepticism (US spelling skepticism), will find editing is a closed shop controlled by a small group of editors. They are supported by at least two editors working full-time patrolling, editing and deleting these pages while claiming to be scientists. Under the cloak of anonymity, they each make up to ten thousand edits per year to ensure that scientism prevails, bad science is white-washed and inconvenient evidence is suppressed. Editors who challenge them are ridiculed, intimidated and pushed into being banned in a mock trial. How have they been able to do this so effectively?||Wikipedia is like the Bible. No one knows who wrote it but we all believe it blindly.|
Translated from Spanish.
Now the cat is out of the bag! This video (May 2013) reveals a campaign to subvert our consciousness with propaganda and censorship. Not only does this covert ring of sceptics promote themselves, but they actively seek to demote competing viewpoints and to denigrate their opponents.(Sheldrake 2013) Watch it soon - as it is likely that those involved will wake up and want to remove it from public view on YouTube to cover up their embarassing and questionable practices.
It's 72 minutes long - so I'll include some key points with the time reference in brackets. Susan Gerbic outlines her ongoing campaign using a team of carefully vetted [40:50] 'guerrilla skeptics' to promote their sceptical ideology on Wikipedia. Supported by the James Randi 'Educational' Foundation (the JREF) and other foundations, [66:12] Gerbic masterminds a network of 90 editors (in a later video in June 2013 she claims over 120 editors) in 17 languages (as of May 2013).[4:22] These editors collude (off-wiki) in secret groups on Facebook [40:44] to take control of targeted Wikipedia pages.[35:25]
In her talk and at conferences, Gerbic freely admits that she is actively 'crowd sourcing'[1:49] to recruit, train and mentor new editors.[27:01] She also explains how an editor can photoshop [29:25] and upload images to Wikimedia Commons,[27:44] and how 'her' editors should also edit local topics or their high school on WP outside their ideology to avoid being banned for being a single-purpose account or SPA.[29:20]. Gerbic explains how she even edits Wikipedia in languages she does not speak [44:16] and asserts that "In Portuguese, you have Portuguese from Spain and you have Portuguese from Portugal and they are totally kinda different languages.".[42:12] Clearly geography is not her strong point - which might be a worry for Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian users of Wikipedia in search of reliable information.
Promotion of the James Randi Foundation
The JREF is the James Randi 'Educational' Foundation - a well-funded non-profit organisation [2009 expenditure ca.$1 million] founded by sceptical magician James Randi. (JREF 2009) Among Gerbic's stated successes has been to use Wikipedia to increase 'hits' to the JREF homepage,[54:05] create and promote pages of JREF fellows [50:20] and raise the profile of Randi's million dollar challenge for evidence of the paranormal.[49:10] Since winning requires defeating odds of 1 in 10 million, signing away unacceptably restrictive legal terms and knowing that Randi, the magician, claims he always has "an out" - the Challenge is really no more than an amusing charade. As Randi might say to his audience - You decide?
What is the ideology that they promote?
I can't answer for the personal views of all these editors, but based on past experience as a Wikipedia editor, from debates on-line, from email exchanges and from sceptical groups and publications, a stereotype emerges. Most refer to themselves as 'rational sceptics' or rationalists. However, I have not found that they are particularly rational or interested in evidence or practice critical thinking in the manner of genuine sceptics. Most are atheists if not militant atheists. Most (including the largest sceptical group founders Randi and Kurtz) are not scientists and do not follow the scientific spirit of open enquiry as science is, to them, a fixed fundamental belief system. Their avid faith in science as the only source of truth is known as scientism. So anything that cannot be accounted for within the limitations of current scientific knowledge is illusory and deserves zero tolerance. In their view, consciousness and experiences like love are no more than chemical processes and electro-magnetic responses in our brains. Free-will is an illusion. To them, life is random and the Universe has no pattern and is devoid of meaning or purpose. Since most of their knowledge of fringe subjects is acquired from the biased perspective of sceptical publications like the Skeptical Inquirer, conferences and books, subjects like the paranormal, religious belief, astrology and alternative medicine appear objectionable. Scientific evidence supporting fringe subjects is not welcomed in the the manner of a good scientist. It is seen as a challenge to their world view and causes cognitive dissonance. This inner paradox can surface in anger, abusive language or in a disturbingly perverse delight in insulting and mocking proponents of alternative views notably on Wikipedia.
This sceptical ex-cathedra type of judgement of others, ridiculing their personal experiences and hounding their choice of therapy is not appropriate in the 21st century. Even Pope Frances has more moral high-ground when he conceded "Who am I to judge gay people?
" (Donadio 2013)
Mocking homeopathy as quackery
Gerbic is clearly very proud that her team changed the homeopathy page "drastically" and managed to insert the word 'quackery' into the lead section on the main homeopathy article [35:49] - apparently this was with a nod from Jimmy Wales.(New York Times 2013) Though I am not a follower of homeopathy, this seemed an unnecessary insult to a well-established therapy used by many medical doctors. Even if it is a placebo as some tests claim (and others do not), it is therapeutic in a way that does not require invasive surgery or drugs with harmful side-effects. Who are we to judge?
Saving the grieving from mediums ... to depend on anti-depressants?
Nor am I a devotee of mediumship, but the implication (via D.J.Grothe, President of JREF) that her team are saving grieving families from heart-break [64:24] is counter to my observations. It seems to me that most people experience huge joy and relief at being reunited in spirit with someone they love. Trying to persuade the grief-stricken that it means nothing seems unhelpful. This belief 'in the beyond' is not for everyone, but it deserves to be respected even if it is not supported by a scientific mechanism. Bereavement is very painful - everyone should be allowed their own solutions especially when they are more wholesome than a reliance anti-depressant psychoactive drugs that have significant side effects and dangers.(Smith)
Misunderstanding Astrology in a fundamental way
What I do know about is astrology (having been a professional astrologer for over 30 years) and it is clear that Gerbic has had an impact on the main astrology page. Her third edit under the name Sgerbic 29 April 2010 was to insert a quote by CSICOP/CSI fellow, Neil de Grasse Tyson onto the astrology page that starts with the erroneous claim that "astrology was discredited 600 years ago." This criticsm is an example of a classic misunderstanding often made by astronomers who may be light on their history (also made by Steven Hawking) that astrology fails to work under the Copernican System. Perhaps they are unware that Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler were astrologers and like all subsequent astrologers encountered no problem with geocentric celestial maps. These type of inconvenient truths are overlooked by sceptical magazines.
What does "improving the page" and "creative editing" mean?
Gerbic refers to her work "improving the page" in airquotes [16:36] and later states that she "rewrote ... er improved" the page.[19:22] This euphemism: "improving" means seeking and inserting criticism of psychics or fringe proponents or celebrities who support alternative approaches. Another term "creative editing" [7:29] is the reverse. This is polishing the halo of sceptics and atheists especially her supporters in the JREF and toning down any criticism. This is why the Richard Dawkins' bio shines like a star with no mention of the many criticisms such as his influence on Skilling and the Enron scandal. Yet, Dawkins' nemesis, Rupert Sheldrake, author of the "Science Delusion" is characterised in a patronising and insulting manner. Sheldrake is described as a "New Age Author" using a "reliable neutral" (!) source of CSICOP/CSI fellow Frazer Kendrick writing in Prometheus Books, an imprint from the same stable as that objective source, The Skeptical Inquirer. (Weiler 2013) (Sheldrake 2013)
Pushing editors with opposing views into quitting Wikipedia
Gerbic is pleased to inform us that she and her team have been able to frustrate editors with opposing views to the extent that editors have given up editing Wikipedia.[32:15] However, Wikipedia badly needs editors of varying persuasions. Currently most editors are male, technically oriented and as Gerbic states, mostly sceptical anyway.
Bending & Rewriting the Rules to suit the agenda
In recent years many of the rules of Wikipedia connected with pseudoscience and fringe topics have been rewritten by these and other vigilante sceptics. One way of controlling the content is by redefining reliable sources. For example, any sceptical journal like the Skeptical Inquirer, which does not conduct peer review or print opposing views is deemed a reliable source. Yet, an astrological research journal such as Correlation (founded 1968) where scientific papers are peer reviewed and opposing views are published is not considered a reliable source. In her talk [at 3:58] Gerbic says that you can "... change the rul (rules) ... er ... page". I think this Freudian slip reflects the underlying agenda, which is to distort the entire project to be a vehicle not for information but to educate the world in the materialist ways of Randi (JREF) and Kurtz (CSICOP/CSI).
Gerbic stresses that her team follows the rules of Wikipedia. Of course, they appear to follow the WP rules to the letter since editors who don't will be banned. However, her guerrilla tactics infringes many WP rules that are harder to identify and enforce:
- Operating a Secret Cabal off-wiki enables stealth canvassing, meat-puppetry and tag teaming where editors coordinate their efforts. Wikipedia require that all discussions between editors should take place either on the Talk page attached to each article or for other Wikipedia matters on the editor's User Talk page where they can be seen by other editors. There is no point in having a Talk page on an article if group discussions take place off WP and the article is then posted when it is 'finished'.
- The stated objective of the group is advocacy to promote personal beliefs or agendas at the expense of Wikipedia's goals and core content policies, including neutral point of view WP:NPOV. This presents a conflict of interest as Wikipedia is not a soapbox to use for editor's advocacy.
- Off-site collusion gains an unfair advantage that enables single or multiple ownership of a page. Wikipedia's content should be edited collaboratively. No one editor or group has the right to own a page.
- Editors working in collusion (rather than collaboration) on an adversarial page are more inclined to become 'griefers' who ridicule, harass and marginalise opposing editors.
- Working in collusion enables votestacking which makes a mockery of any arbitration about a page or decisions to ban an editor or votes for articles up for deletion. It mocks Wikipedia.
- When debating a heated issue with a team of editors working together, edit warring is more likely. Even independent administrators will side with the majority and punish isolated and divided opponents even when they are interpreting the rules correctly.
Who's to blame?
Given the increasing bias on the esoteric pages in recent years, it was quite evident to editors that a coordinated sceptical cabal exerted a powerful grip on the pages. However, confirmation of these underhand practices is bound to feel like a betrayal to genuine sceptical editors as it has undermined their work and puts them in the dock as shills. In one sense, I don't blame Gerbic or her gang or even the "Skeptical Foundations" (presumably JREF and CSI) for supporting her campaign. Apart from Phil Plait, the leaders of these groups have never been known to take a moral lead. In her shameless naivety, she is at least open about it. In all honesty, I might have been tempted to do the same if I were in her position. The problem lies not with the sceptics who are doing what they believe to be right, just like the Christian missionaries who misguidedly tried to convert Hindus in India. No, the impediment and the solution lies firmly with Wikipedia founder, Jimmy aka "Jimbo" Wales - despite denials that he now only plays a minor role. The project has grown up in his image and naturally reflects many of his own prejudices.(New York Times 2013) Wikipedia needs to serve the world not to indulge one human's personal taste and bias.
Wikipedia now requires his gentle paternal hand. He can no longer turn a blind eye to the abuse of the project. Otherwise, his baby, (b. Jan 15, 2001) soon to become a teenager is in danger of growing up into a monster.
What is the solution?
Currently most of the key astrology pages on Wikipedia contain many misleading or inaccurate claims that are backed by cherry-picked quotes from mainly sceptical sources. It is debunking what astrology is not! On the biographies (that have not been deleted by the anti-astrologers), the criticism is often unjustified or deliberately insulting.
Simply blocking user or IP addresses will not stop idealogues. All significant edits over the past two years needs to be reviewed. To avoid shills and POV pushers on controversial pages, editors should be limited to a select group. These editors should not be hidden by anonymity, but should have a proven track record of collaborative editing and be drawn from all points of view.
Jimbo Wales should come out in support of selected metaphysical peer-reviewed publications as reliable sources in their specialist field and that sceptical magazines that are not peer reviewed are unreliable sources. Editors will find no shortage of critical opposing views. Correlation Journal is an example of a well-established reliable peer reviewed source for astrology experiments from both astrologers, neutral scientists and sceptics. This is where serious research into astrology is published and is arguably the best resource for reliable information in the field.(Wales 2011) By censoring authoritative publications in a field and permitting only criticism from sceptical authors, any Wikipedia article cannot fairly reflect the views of the experts in the field.
- Chozick, Amy Jimmy Wales Is Not an Internet Billionaire New York Times Magazine. Published: June 27, 2013"Wales had weighed in on arguments over whether ... the entry on homeopathy should describe the practice as “quackery” (Wales agreed that it could, as long as the word “quackery” was attributed to the American Medical Association). Argumentum ad Jimbonem” means dutifully following what Wales says, but there are even arguments about that. One Wikipedia editor said, for instance, that Wales was no longer comfortable with the B.D.F.L. (Benevolent Dictator for Life) description."
- Donadio, Rachel (2013) On Gay Priests, Pope Francis Asks, ‘Who Am I to Judge?’ New York Times July 29, 2013
- Goldstein, Jacob (2007) Abbott Labs’ In-House Wikipedia Editor "At 4:38 p.m. on July 2, a mention of a JAMA study that suggested Abbott’s arthritis drug Humira increased the risk of cancer vanished from Abbott’s Wikipedia entry, deleted by an unnamed user working from a computer at Abbott Labs."
- JREF (1990) Form 990. Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax 2009. James Randi Educational Foundation, FL. Revenue: $852,445 Expenditure: $1,062,364 Reportable compensation from the Organization: James Randi $195,000. p.7. 6 May 2010
- Owens, Simon (2013) The battle to destroy Wikipedia's biggest sockpuppet army One company, Wiki-PR claims a staff of 45 Wikipedia editors and admins and 12,000 clients.
- Sheldrake, Rupert (2013) Wikipedia Under Threat "This summer, soon after the TED controversy, a commando squad of skeptics captured the Wikipedia page about me. They have occupied and controlled it ever since, rewriting my biography with as much negative bias as possible, to the point of defamation."
- Smith,Melinda M.A.; Robinson,Lawrence; Segal, Jeanne Ph.D. & Ramsey, Damon MD (2013) Antidepressants (Depression Medication)
What You Need to Know About Medications for Depression
"A major 2006 U.S. government study showed that fewer than 50 percent of people become symptom-free on antidepressants, even after trying two different medications. Furthermore, many who do respond to medication soon slip back into depression, despite sticking with drug treatment.
Other studies show that the benefits of depression medication have been exaggerated, with some researchers concluding that—when it comes to mild to moderate depression—antidepressants are only slightly more effective than placebos."
- Wales,Jimbo (2011) 15:49, 29 September 2011 (UTC) On Correlation: "This is a journal that no one seems to have heard of. It has no website. It is not published by a University. It is not clear who is on the editorial board. It sounds super-fringe to me, despite the thoughtful comments from the editor, and so I think some evidence needs to be adduced to establish the credibility and importance of the journal. What is the paid circulation, and who buys it? etc. I don't think it's unfair to ask these questions. Anyone can write what is essentialy a fanzine with pretentions.I should add that there are, to my mind, two separate and equally important questions. Is it a reliable source, and is it a notable source? If it is neither, we shouldn't reference for anything. If it is not a reliable source, it could still be notable, if it has a lot of readership and influence. And even if the journal as a whole is something we need to be skeptical about, there could be some exceptions, for example if a major scientist writes for it, etc."
A few points should be clarified.
- Correlation is not published by a University, but like many academic journals it is published by a professional body, the Astrological Association of Great Britain (formed 1958).
- Correlation was first published in 1968 and described as "Research Publication of the Astrological Association in collaboration with ISAR (International Society for Astrological Research). It is notable as the oldest and arguably the most well established peer reviewed journal in the field of astrology.
- Wales and his colleagues were unlikely to have heard of Correlation as it is a specialist journal and due to the systemic bias has no page on Wikipedia, though the Astrological Association does.
- Correlation is accessed through the website of the publisher: the Astrological Association, though they are developing an independent site.
- The editorial board include Dr Nick Campion, Professor Suitbert Ertel, Professor Peter Roberts, Dr Percy Seymour, Dr Mark Urbain-Lurain, Arthur Mathers, MSc. and Dr Nicholas Kollerstrom. The Journal has published articles by well known sceptics including Dr Geoffrey Dean or Dr Susan Blackmore and many emininent scientists such as Theodor Landscheidt.
- The editor of Correlation, Pat Harris, MSc, PhD. did her Master's degree and doctorate (2000-2006) at the University of Southampton. Her
doctoral thesis was entitled "Astrology and psychology: astrological and psychological factors and fertility treatment outcome." The supervisors, lecturers and examiners accepted and respected her use of Correlation Journal as a reference source.
- Abstracts of Correlation papers are published on the database of Research Grants for the Critical Study of Astrology (RGCSA). This database was made freely available as academics within Universities were not aware of the complex research that existed in astrology.
- Weiler, Craig (2013) The Wikipedia Battle for Rupert Sheldrake’s Biography
Main Astrology News Page. Information, stories, theories and facts.
Index to past articles Over 50 articles relating to astrology.
Why it is no longer acceptable to say astrology is rubbish on a scientific basis.|
||Philosophers who refused to look through Galileo's Telescope|
||Problems with testing astrological practice under strict scientific conditions |
||Illusionists are for entertainment, not to feign or undermine science.|
||U-Turn in Carlson's Double-Blind Astrology Experiment|
||How and why Astrology became an outcast from the mainstream|
||Scepticism can be used to justify institutional bias even among respected scientists and journals.|
||Sunday Times article on Percy Seymour's new Book Scientific Proof of Astrology|
||Is there a known mechanism for astrology and if not can it be dismissed?|
||Was astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler a sceptic or an astrologer or both? |
||Secrets behind a Test of Astrology by illusionist Derren Brown|
||Was CSICOP scientific and is CSI truly skeptical?|
Jimbo Wales' brainchild, Wikipedia soon to become a teenager (born Jan 15, 2001) is in danger of growing up into a monster.
What can be deduced from this? Most of the key Astrology Pages on Wikipedia are no longer reliable due to bias from a co-ordinated team of editors with an anti-astrology agenda. Inconvenient facts such as the U-Turn in the Carlson Test are suppressed.
Psi Wars: TED, Wikipedia and the Battle for the Internet: The Story of a Wild and Vicious Science Controversy . . . that Anyone Can Join! (2013) by Craig Weiler.
"This is a well written journalistic exposé of an Orwellian double-speak world that -- unfortunately -- is not a work of fiction.
It describes a world where the most widely accessed factual encyclopedia is actually a work of fantasy written by anonymous amateurs; where organizations that purport to support scientific inquiry in fact do the complete opposite; where a celebrated science prize is actually an impossible-to-win publicity stunt; and where an entertainment outlet with a mission for sharing ideas instead acts to censor them. And this is just the beginning.
Highly recommended for those who are comfortable questioning authority. Not recommended for uncritical thinkers who readily accept orthodox dogma."
~ Professor Dean Radin
Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, California, USA