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Promoting Skepticism via Wikipedia


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Wikipedia represents a tremendous opportunity for skeptical outreach. But skeptics must make an effort to work within the existing rules. This presentation makes the case for why Wikipedia is such an opportunity, and then gives some tips on how skeptics can contribute.

Published in: Education, Technology, Spiritual
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Promoting Skepticism via Wikipedia

  1. 1. Promoting Skepticismvia Wikipediaby Tim &
  2. 2. Introduction & Agenda•Why is Wikipedia important?•What can we contribute?•What are the pitfalls?•Tips for effective editing
  3. 3. Skeptical of Wikipedia?•Editing is open to anyone • Includes anonymous editing•No significant central editing authority•Yes, there is much junk•We have to cooperate with non-skeptics in editing•Recipe for disaster?
  4. 4. Search engine result pages are crucial•Users rely on search engines 1 • 88% will start with a search engine when asked to do a random online task•“Google Gullibility” - Users use only the top results2•Therefore search engine results are important - hence the emergence of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)• 1Jacob Neilsen’s Alertbox, 2Jacob Neilsen’s Alertbox,
  5. 5. #1 hits in Google• acupuncture, Adam Savage, AIDS denial, alien abduction, Andrew Wakefield, astral projection, attachment therapy, ayurveda, Ben Radford, bigfoot, Breatharian, Carl Sagan, Charles Darwin, chiropractic, Christian Science, clairvoyance, colloidal silver, craniosacral, creationism, critical thinking, cryptid, cupping, debunking, Derek Colanduno, detoxification, double blind, dowsing, Edzard Ernst, evolution, EVP, exorcism, facilitated communication, faith healer, feng shui, ganzfeld, ghosts, Harry Houdini, holistic health, Holocaust denial, homeopathy, hypnosis, Illuminati, intelligent design, iridology, Jehovahs Witnesses, Jenny McCarthy, Kevin Trudeau, Loch Ness monster, Martin Gardner, Matthias Rath, mediums, MMR, moxibustion, naturopathy, new world order, numerology, ozone therapy, parapsychology, Paul Kurtz, Peter Popoff, poltergeist, pseudoscience, psychic, psychic surgery, quackery, Ray Hyman, Rebecca Watson, reiki, reparative therapy, Sai Baba, Scientology, skepticism, Steven Novella, thimerosal, Uri Geller, witchcraft
  6. 6. Other high hits in Google•Other terms are not #1 but the Wikipedia article still falls on the crucial first page of Google results: 9-11 truth, alternative medicine, applied kinesiology, astrology, Australian Skeptics, Ben Goldacre, Benny Hinn, Brian Dunning, Center for Inquiry, channeling, colon cleansing, conspiracy theory, creation science, cryptozoology, CSICOP, denialism, D.J. Grothe, ear candles, evidence based medicine, fan death, Harriet Hall, herbalism, James Oberg, James Randi, Joe Nickell, John Edward, JREF, levitation, Michael Shermer, paranormal, Penn & Teller, Phil Plait, placebo, quack, Richard Dawkins, Richard Saunders, rods, Simon Singh, skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer, Skepticality, skeptics, Skeptics Guide, Skeptoid, Stephen Barrett, Suzanne Somers, Sylvia Browne, The Amazing Meeting, therapeutic touch, UFO, urban legend
  7. 7. SEO on our own websites•Pros: • Cons: • More control • Difficult • Better specialization • Huge competition on certain keywords • Can include topics “not notable enough” for • Must be done ad-hoc Wikipedia for each topic • Users come to us, not • Hard to scale to cover them many topics
  8. 8. The five pillars•Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a website•Wikipedia has a neutral point of view•Wikipedia is free content•Wikipedians should interact respectfully & civilly• Wikipedia does not have firm rules - be bold! • See more at WP:5P on Wikipedia
  9. 9. Wikipedia disadvantages•Huge culture with its own lingo • BLP, NPOV, 3RR, RS, PROD, SPA•Many pages of guidelines and rules•Easy to get lost•Civility is a guideline but is often violated•Ultimately we as skeptics do not have control over it
  10. 10. Civility + be bold = editing welcomed•Wikipedia policy is designed to invite new editors•Believers in pseudoscience and superstition certainly are taking advantage of this•We owe it to the public to do it as well•Don’t be afraid to edit
  11. 11. Wikipedia is easy•Do not need to know HTML • Create a hyperlink: [ My hyperlink] • Create a section heading: == My heading ==•Do not need to write entire articles - most edits are small edits•If you make an error, another editor will usually clean it up for you
  12. 12. Wikipedia policies are pro-skepticism•WP:RS - Must use reliable sources•WP:NPOV - neutral point of view•WP:NOTE - topics must meet a certain standard of notability•WP:FRINGE - do not promote “fringe” theories beyond notability•WP:NOR - no original research
  13. 13. Wikipedia UI• Original user interface:• New beta:
  14. 14. What is our role?•Edit pseudoscience •Create skepticism articles articles • Include criticism, ensure • Biographies for major NPOV skeptics • Update to match latest • Use skeptic articles as science sources elsewhere • Monitor for abuse by the • Cross-link to skeptic other side articles for discoverability
  15. 15. Tip: Create an account•You can find your own edits (“my contributions”)•You can create a watch list
  16. 16. Tip: Create a watch list•Find articles you care about, mark them•Periodically view “my watchlist” in the menu•Look into edits and ensure they are true and follow the rules•Revert or modify edits as needed
  17. 17. Tip: Start small•Don’t create a new article, start with edits to existing•Fix typos & grammar errors•Add good reliable sources (footnotes) to existing articles • Skeptic sources help draw people to our articles•Revert vandalism you see on your watch list
  18. 18. Tip: Build up a history of good edits•It helps other editors realize you are serious•When articles are “protected” only editors with a history are allowed to work there
  19. 19. Tip: Don’t be a WP:SPA•WP:SPA means a Single Purpose Account • “Some editors are concerned that contributions by SPAs do not align with Wikipedias neutrality or advocacy standards...”•If you are always editing a handful of skeptic articles, other editors may decide you are pushing an agenda•Find other topics to contribute. Your home town? Your favorite music artist?
  20. 20. Tip: Avoid battlegrounds at first•Don’t edit on contentious articles • Does history have a huge amount of activities? Many mentions of “revert” or “undid”? • Does talk page (“discussion”) contain much contentious recent text?•Examples: 2012 articles are a current battleground. Stephen Barrett and James Randi
  21. 21. Tip: Do communicate •The talk page on your user page is a place where other editors will occasionally contact you•You get a notice at the top of Wikipedia pages when someone contacts you•Use “:” to indent replies. Sign your replies with “~~~~”.•Be civil
  22. 22. Tip: Imitate other pages •Guidelines are voluminous and hard to navigate•Copy tags, structure, footnote styles that you see there•Be sure to use an article that is has a good rating (not “stub” or “unassessed”)
  23. 23. Tip: Don’t get possessive•Your contributions belong to Wikipedia now, and they will get edited!•Once you post it, it is CC licensed to the public (WP:OWN)•Do defend Wikipedia policies•Do not get drawn into pointless battles
  24. 24. Tip: Create articles about skepticism •Insuring a NPOV on pseudoscience articles is only part of our role•Document skepticism: • Biographies of skeptics • Articles about skeptic events • Refer to skeptical activism in mainstream articles
  25. 25. Tip: Create links to skeptical articles•Wikipedia’s power comes from heavy cross-linking which leads people to new topics•Where appropriate, this can lead people to skepticism•Where a link in the body of the article is not appropriate, be sure to create links in the footnotes: McCarthy, Robynn; Colanduno, Derek (January 16, 2007), "#044 - Interview: Michael A. Stackpole", Skepticality (Skeptic Magazine),, retrieved 2009-01-15•Also helps establish reason for articles existence (but not a strong indicator of notability)
  26. 26. Tip: Use your user scratch space•User:YourName is your “user page”•Every user can create scratch articles here. Start URL to article with “User:YourName/”•Example: ••Use these to work on edits without interruption
  27. 27. Tip: Watch WP:FRINGE notice board•“Notice boards” are special pages used to discuss troublesome edits and so on•Wikipedia:FRINGE (or WP:FRINGE) is the “Fringe theory” notice board is of particular interest to skeptics•Monitor this for activity of interest•Be sure to take what other editors are saying into account as you act
  28. 28. Tip: Join a WikiProject•WikiProjects are groups of people who get together to coordinate on improving the articles on one topic•Joining shows you are serious about Wikipedia, may help you find allies when editing trouble occurs•“Rational Skepticism” is our WikiProject•There are others for alternative medicine and paranormal, but mostly full of non-skeptics
  29. 29. Tip: Contribute photos to Wikimedia•Photos really add to articles•If you have photos that are relevant and are willing to CC license them to the public, contribute them•Tag them appropriately•Add them to relevant articles
  30. 30. Tip: Footnote like crazy•Wikipedia is very insistent on citing reliable sources (WP:RS), so footnote any new material you add•Do not go beyond what is said in the source (WP:NOR)•Tag footnote with <ref>bibliographic footnote here</ ref>•Can reference more than once with <ref name=“foo”/>
  31. 31. Thank you!•Follow me on Twitter or Facebook: I post skeptic new stories & a Skeptic History item every day.•What’s The Harm is•Skeptical Software Tools blog is