‘Nothing shady goes on in our secret forum, honest. You’ll have to take my word for it though, ‘cos it’s private. We’d let you join, but we can’t. Not even our friends get to join.’ The above is my personal summary of a rebuttal written by the team leader of the Dutch language group of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project to recent criticism. Before I am accused of creating a straw-man argument I will point out that my summary is not a direct quote, but it comes pretty close.
Rebecca O’Neill recently wrote criticism of the Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSOW) project from the point of view of someone who is studying ‘how curation has moved from being the pursuit of a singular expert within an institution such a museum, gallery or archive, to a collective endeavour in which many “citizen curators” (a term that I am developing) work together to curate content both off and online.’
In my own latest criticism of the GSOW project I mentioned her in passing. I wrote at the time:
… an audience member who is studying the way information is shared on Wikipedia questioned why the Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia group have a private (described as “secret”) forum away from Wikipedia if what they do isn’t agenda driven. This went unanswered with just “my editors only put out good stuff” given in response.
Leon Korteweg wrote the rebuttal on the GWOS blog after seeing a link to Rebecca’s article on my Facebook wall. His response was everything I expected it to be and nothing more.
In her criticism Rebecca points out that there are problems around the fact that GSOW use a private member-only forum in which they discuss the work their project does. She writes that she has ‘no knowledge of the nature of the discussions on the forum as I have not approached the group to become a member.’
Simple solution, says Leon in his rebuttal, ‘you can always apply to join if you want to help improve Wikipedia, value the scientific method and the evidence it produces, use critical thinking and want to get instructions on how to write about it in an encyclopedic fashion …’
…only one problem though, he goes on to explain, ‘we can’t demand that of you, and we don’t give access to people who are simply interested in ‘keeping track of what GSoW does.’ Not even close friends get access, Leon says, so why would critics, right? It’s okay though because he continues ‘we have a fine blog and Facebook group page for that, both of which are public, which should suffice‘
Trying to get people involved with GSOW to understand that the private forum is creating suspicion and confusion about their tactics and possible agenda is like trying to get blood from a stone. It seems that they hear what people are saying but want people to just take their word that the criticism is unjust and that nothing bad happens in the private forum.
The response always seems to be the same: if you’re Rupert Sheldrake or Craig Weiler you’re labelled a crank and your criticism is ignored, if you’re a skeptic you’re told ‘we do only good stuff in our secret forum, trust us’ with no evidence provided. Leon ends his piece with ‘Yes, we have a private forum, and we’re fine with that’ and that speak volumes.
I recently wrote a piece about why I am done with the skeptic movement, and I’m glad that projects like GSOW are things I am leaving behind.