Further thoughts of the day

I’ve had some annoying feedback on my last blog post regarding my thoughts about the problems with ‘believers vs. Guerrilla Skeptics’  and I wanted to address some of the misrepresentations people are making of my position as it’s getting pretty annoying. I was simply writing my observations of why people were hostile towards a group that had a combative name who were open about the fact that they are mass editing Wikipedia, but people seem to think I am claiming that people should be able to make any claims they like without being challenged when there is no evidence to back up their claims.

That’s a good observation on their part, except for the part where they are completely fucking wrong.

Also incorrect is the idea that I was suggesting the Guerrilla Skepticism group were editing Sheldrake’s Wikipedia page, despite the fact that I linked to an article where this was shown to not be true and even pointed out this had been denied. However, why let reading a blog post you’re commenting on get in the way of commenting on it, hey? Hey?

It has also been suggested that I am affording Rupert Sheldrake respect I am not affording other skeptics. This is, quite frankly, bullshit and feels like an attempt to dismiss me and my points.

are you kidding me

I thought I’d blog again to make my exact points a little clearer, as people seem to be innocently and accidentally reading between the lines.

People – sometimes people who identify as skeptics – have been fact checking Wikipedia articles long before the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project came around. Sometimes these edits have dismissive of research into paranormal cases with a heavy bias towards the position of skeptics. Believe it or not skeptics are biased too, being human and all.

I was not suggesting the the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project were guilty of this, or even that they caused this problem. I was pointing out that they have entered an arena where this problem already exists and have done nothing but fan the flames some more. I did not suggest they did this on purpose, but if they were not aware that this would happen when they started their work, then this was very shortsighted of them. I do not believe it is unreasonable for them to address these issues, or to try and build bridges.

Despite what people have said to me in response to my last blog post, not everyone involved in paranormal research is a closed minded bumbling idiot who is opposed to ensuring claims are well sourced, and building bridges works. It is important to enter into dialogue with people from opposite sides of any argument or debate you are involved with and to consider their feedback or criticism otherwise you start working inside of an echo chamber.

If you claim otherwise, as many have, then that is problematic.

Acting as though all of those who disagree with you are doing so because they are all blinded by their own biases and don’t like not being allowed to promote those biases without being challenged is pretty disingenuous and is an easy way to avoid listening to them.

im not listening seal

The fact is that many people I have observed being critical of skeptics who edit Wikipedia – Guerrilla Skeptics or not – are pretty open minded individuals despite what they personally believe, and have good points worth listening to. It’s infuriating to see their thoughts being dismissed as though they’re ‘closed minded believers’ who have an agenda.

About Hayley Stevens 420 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

12 Comments on Further thoughts of the day

  1. Understood, Hayley.

    The complaint that seems legit is that some of the sources that GS uses comtain errors. They might want to look into that.

    Other than that, they might want to clarify their mission every so often.

  2. “Sometimes these edits have dismissive of research into paranormal cases with a heavy bias towards the position of skeptics.”

    Can you supply some examples of this happening, that are not drawn from the recent case? Not just “look at this article, it’s a disgrace” but show me the actual edit sequence on Wikipedia where the biased, dismissive edits occurred. I want to understand what types of things you are talking about.

    “and have done nothing but fan the flames some more”

    Can you also supply some detailed examples of the actual activities that caused this?

    Please don’t just link me to other people’s blog posts that I’ve already read. Show me actual details that you personally find support that. I really find “done nothing but fan the flames” hard to believe.

    I’m sorry to be a pain, but so far your supporting evidence has been blog posts that I find less than truthful. In general, those posts have been written by people who clearly don’t edit Wikipedia themselves and whose comments are (at best) naive. I don’t find them useful in getting to the heart of what you believe the problem to be.

  3. Hayley, your first post was clear and this second post is also clear. In the absence of an attempt to address the issues you highlight, or to build bridges, then GSoW’s work will perpetuate, and not solve, the problems that already exist.

    Of course GSoW doesn’t have to care and is under no obligation to communicate better about their work or collaborate with those on the other side of the argument, or any other such wacky ideas. All you did was highlight an issue; the reaction to that has been somewhat overwrought. Ah well.

  4. Hi Haley,

    I’m a big supporter of your work and the fact that you try to enter into dialogue with those of a different point of view, trying to bring a bit more rigor and critical thinking to the world of paranormal belief/ideas in a kind and earnest way is to be applauded. I first encountered you with the Be Reasonable podcast for which I’m an avid listener and have shared with other people.

    The support I have for your methods in this area is what has disappointed me about the recent posts on twitter and subsequent blog posts hard to digest. I feel that the criticisms toward your posts about GSoW might be coming from a perception of possible hypocrisy or double-standard. I don’t claim at all that is the case, just that how it appears. Your first blog post was much more centered and reasonable than your first tweet (but still had some inaccuracies) but you have not taken responsibility for the room for misinterpretation you have left in your posts nor the poor quality references but have instead have blamed others for being incompetent or having bad intentions.

    I am the one you quote as saying that you give people like Sheldrake respect. That was meant in a good way. All people deserve to be treated with respect, all ideas should be open to criticism. I was only trying to point that out and take full responsibility that my 140 characters left a lot of room for misinterpretation.

    Keep up the good work with the paranormal researchers, it’s very important and great to have people like you out there. I hope that this can become a positive dialogue around how to communicate critical thinking instead of a finger pointing, schism-causing exercise.

    All the best.


    (Sorry in advance if there are any English errors that make it hard to read as this was typed on the go from my phone).

  5. Unless I’m missing something, the talk page on Leonora Piper that you linked to shows a very by-the-book discussion hinging around whether a blog is a reliable source. The answer is almost always no. Long experience on Wikipedia has shown that when you allow personal blogs to be used as sources, this gets abused – cases have occurred where people set up blogs specifically to act as sources for bogus information they wanted to get into Wikipedia. In rare cases entirely fictional articles have been slipped in this way.

    (And incidentally, the three skeptical editors I see involved in that discussion are long-time Wikipedia contributors, and none is involved in GSoW to my knowledge. LuckyLouie and Dbrodbeck joined in June 2006, IRWolfie in May 2006 – predating GSoW and even my involvement in skepticism by years).

    If you watch what GSoW-involved editors like myself and Susan Gerbic do on Wikipedia, we always relentlessly source every piece of information, to the best verifiable sources we can find (usually newspapers, journals and magazines). For instance, I wrote Karen Stollznow’s bio originally, it’s only about 17K of text but has 40 footnotes.

    The most common mistake I see that gets paranormal believers slapped down, is not doing this kind of homework. I don’t deny this can be frustrating. You “know something is true” or that it is “obvious to anyone skilled in the field” but when you type it into the article it gets removed. But to keep the quality of Wikipedia up, they’ve had to institute these rules about sourcing. And thus, to be a successful editor, you have to do your homework.

    I’ve literally gone to libraries and pored over microfilm, spent my own money on copies and so on in my Wikipedia editing efforts.

  6. Hi Hayley. I am a Wikipedia administrator, I know Jimmy Wales and I have been (though maybe not now) one of the most active admins on Wikipedia. Before I was an admin I dealt with the attacks on Simon Wessely by the extremist ME/CFS types. I have been editing Wikipedia for over nine years, often in contentious areas.

    I understand where you’re coming from, but you have it wrong. GSoW recruits editors, they will learn Wikipedia just like everybody else does. Susan does a good job of teaching them how to reach an appropriate balance.

    But Wikipedia has a long term problem with cranks. Check the history of cold fusion, look into the arbitration cases. The issue is this: Wikipedia is the number one most important place for any crank to get their opinion reflected. It is used by millions daily. It is the most used informational website in the world. It is the only one of the top ten websites that has no advertisements.

    For scientists Wikipedia is insignificant. It is not indexed by PubMed. It is not peer reviewed. Being published in Nature is a big deal, getting your work on Wikipedia, not so much.

    This produces an imbalance.

    Where the issue is political and there is no objective right or wrong (e.g. Palestine), Wikipedia reaches balance through compromise. In science, any compromise between a true statement and a false statement, is a false statement. Homeopathy is bullshit. A compromise between that and the believers, necessarily results in an inaccurate article. We can say what believers believe, we can say why, we can say how they come to believe it, but if we say they are right, then we have failed in one of our core objectives.

    Pseudoscience has form. Advocates of pseudoscientific concepts have tried, very determinedly, politely, and with immense persistence, to skew Wikipedia articles to reflect “non-standard” (i.e. bullshit) views.

    So there are two models of disputes on Wikipedia. One is the Palestine model, where Wikipedia’s task is to drag the warring parties apart, support the consensus builders, and facilitate civil debate; and the Creationism model, where our task is to tell the loons to fuck off to Conservapedia and stop wasting everybody’s time.

    What you describe, holds for the Palestine model. it does not hold for the Creationism model, because there is an inequality of motivation and because of the fallacy of false balance. The balanced view is not a compromise between the scientific consensus and the creationists, the scientific consensus is, in and of itself, the balanced view, any compromise between that and the True Believers is not just ad science, it goes against Wikipedia’s fundamental ethos. In these areas, the scientific point of view *is* the neutral point of view. By definition.

  7. Wikipedia is not an academic site. Anybody can contribute and I always advise my students to stay away from it. Yes, it’s a good site, but it should never judge what knowledge is good/bad for us.

  8. Hayley, I know you mean well but the number of people who have interpreted your comments as I have, is sufficient that you need to consider, at the very least, that you may have been ambiguous.

    Do be aware that there is abroad spectrum of “woo” on Wikipedia. We have in the past had serious battles over such abject quackery as NLP and homeopathy. These battles are genuinely important – a recent case in Wales saw combat veterans being subjected to NLP, for example. It is important to be sure that such articles are clear and unambiguous.

    It may be much less important elsewhere. The “cerealogists” are just plain confused, there’s no need to whack them with a clue-by-four as they are not in the grip of the same dangerous monomaniacal zeal as homeopaths.

    The aim in articles on homeopathy and so on has never been to try to convert or appease the quacks, and I hope it never will be. Our function there is to ensure that the endless torrent of special pleading, dreadful studies, misrepresentation and outright lies, is held back.

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