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The Wikipedia Battle for Rupert Sheldrake’s Biography


Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

King Henry V

William Shakespeare

As dreary as the task was, I delved into Rupert Sheldrake’s bio on Wikipedia and started examining the sources for just one statement from this totally over the top biased paragraph with six accusations and 18 citations:

Sheldrake’s morphic resonance hypothesis is widely rejected within the scientific community;[8][9][10][11][12] it has been labelled pseudoscience[11][13][14][15][16] and magical thinking.[13][17] Critics cite a lack of evidence to support the hypothesis[18][19][20][21] and its inconsistency with established scientific theories.[11][22]

I worked on citations 8 through 12.  It’s possibly true morphic resonance is “widely rejected”, but far more likely that morphic resonance is widely ignored.   On Wikipedia however, you need valid secondary sources for your statements.  So I checked them out.  Of the five sources: two were book reviews, one link didn’t work and the other two contained just one sentence dealing with the above statement.  Of those two, one was by Martin Gardner from a book published in 1988.  He was also a member of CSICOP, so his opinion was hardly representative of the mainstream, but it was also, just one sentence.  The last was an article favorable to Sheldrake and again, it was just one sentence.

The sourcing for this statement, in other words, was terrible.  Dutifully, I wrote this up on the Wikipedia Rupert Sheldrake Bio talk page.  (Under my own name.)  One more small bit done in order to move his biography from a horribly biased, possibly libelous wreck to a more neutral point of view.

Boring, right?  Why am I doing this?  Well, partially this is more fallout from the TED controversy, which put Rupert in the news . . . again.  On June 20th of this year, after the controversy had died down, Rupert sent out one of his newsletters.  In it was a small blurb:

Robert McLuhan has recently drawn attention to the phenomenon of guerrilla skeptics, who devote a great deal of time and energy to modifying Wikipedia entries so that they reflect a skeptical point of view about psychic phenomena, and try to portray research on these subjects as pseudoscience. His blog on the subject is here:
Guerrilla Skeptics

The Guerrilla Skeptics apparently did not take kindly to being outed.  Since June, they have gone on the attack to seriously change Rupert’s Bio.  On June 14th, he had a relatively stable and neutral biography, which is documented from June 14th.    Compare this to the pretty current September 28th version.  The changes are quite drastic and unfavorable to Sheldrake.

——-

Wikipedia matters because of the sheer numbers of visitors it draws.  The term Parapsychology has about 300,000 views a year and Rupert Sheldrake’s biography Wikipedia page has about 180,000 views a year.  His Wikipedia profile in fact, is second only to his own site if you google his name.  Sheldrake’s Wikipedia problem is a bit unusual because he appears to be the subject of a coordinated attack by an ideologue organization.  (Here’s a long video of them describing their process.)  Most of the people who have problems with Wikipedia are trying to get some bit of information corrected on a subject of their expertise.  Hilarity often ensues.

A Nobel Prize winning physicist and a senior editor of a science magazine tried to get an article about Energy Catalyst fixed, and failed.  Professor Timothy Messer-Kruse tried to get an article about the Haymarket riots, his area of expertise, corrected, using the Library of Congress as a source and failed as well.  Economist David Henderson was not trusted to know his own birthday.

These types of problems occur because anybody can edit Wikipedia.  In order for all of these people to edit this encyclopedia, Wikipedia has a rule that only secondary sources are allowed because primary sources need to be interpreted.  It’s more complicated than that, but what happens is that this opens the door for all sorts of gaming of Wikipedia by less than objective editors.  Especially in regards to controversial topics and people, there are often a number of conflicting opinions to choose from and it requires a bit of subject knowledge to sort them out.  If you’re an ideologue however, you merely choose the opinions that you agree with and ignore everything else while dismissing contrary sources as being biased.  That’s what’s happening on Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia page.

This is not an isolated problem.  The great weakness of Wikipedia is its excessive number of ideologues and their desire for control.  In 2003, Anthropogenic Global Warming Theory was subjected to near total control by a single editor who created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles, obtained Website Administrator status and removed 500 articles and banned over 2,000 Wikipedia editors.  This continued until September of 2009 when his privileges were finally revoked.  In one case a user named Qworty attempted to purge Wikipedia of all references to the occult and modern paganism by making as many as 13,000 edits.

The outing of Qworty, who turned out to be author Robert Clark Young, was done by Wikipedia watchdog organization, Wikipediocracy.  Writer Andrew Leonard, who pursued this story for Salon shared this compelling story:

  “The reason I am doing this,” said Andreas Kolbe, one of the Wikipedocracy members who shared his research with me, “is that I want the public to know just what goes on under the surface of Wikipedia and how the site plays dice with people’s reputations by allowing anonymous editing of biographies of living persons. As someone who joined the project with a fair amount of enthusiasm for its mission more than seven years ago, I have found the realities of how Wikipedia is written irresponsible and deeply disturbing, and given the site’s status as a top-10 website, I believe the public needs to understand just what is going on in Wikipedia day after day.”

Pretty much all the “fringe” topics are subject to control by a large number of ideologues working together.  They call themselves skeptics, but they are really just true believers of a different sort.  They have a long history of ideologue behavior, -particularly towards the paranormal- that goes back to the 1900’s.  They were organized long before Wikipedia was created and quickly moved onto the Internet when it became widely used.  The Guerrilla Skeptics organization is merely an extension of what skeptics were already doing: working to control information in a way that is favorable to their ideology.

These ideologues are reactionaries.  They typically don’t promote their own viewpoint so much as attack viewpoints that they disagree with.

—–

I am not the only person editing (the talk section of) that Wikipedia page for a neutral point of view.   It is a very busy Wikipedia page at the moment, at least behind the scenes.  Wikipedia editors are supposed to work together to iron out their differences, but in reality, the discussions have a very clear cut us vs. them delineation with no real compromising going on.  The issue of how the page should look will surely come down to a fight.

At issue is the all important Wikipedia Neutral Point of View, or NPOV if you’re into the vast array of Wikipedia acronyms.  Another important aspect of this conflict is that it is over the biography of a living person. (BLP)  This affords Sheldrake some rights that an ordinary Wikipedia article doesn’t have.  Wikipedia has faced several lawsuits because of slanderous articles over the years and this has in turn made the neutral point of view for biographies of living people a high priority.  But getting there is still an uphill battle.

Here’s where it gets tricky: the skeptics use a tactic known as “undue weight.”  Labeling something as fringe, which has been done to a wide variety of topics on Wikipedia allows skeptics to give extra weight to their point of view because by their reasoning, there are way more people that oppose these ideas than support them.  This brings to mind the Orwellian phrase:  “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”  And they’ve got legitimate second sources because they found some articles with a sentence or two that said something in favor of their argument.

Another way that skeptics weight things in their favor is to deny non mainstream sources that they don’t agree with while accepting equally non mainstream skeptical sources they do agree with.  Quackwatch, a skeptical site run by Stephen Barrett, who has the distinction of having been declared  “Biased, and unworthy of credibility.”  by the US court system, in a published appeals court decision (NCAHF v King Bio),is supposedly a good source, but Natural News is not.

They’re not above attempts at intimidation either.  On the Sheldrake bio talk page, I had referred to CSICOP as a radical atheist pressure group.  Then I got this personal message:

Hi, I would recommend looking at WP:IMPERSONATE. The worst case of ignoring it is that a random administrator could temporarily block you, which wouldn’t be so bad, just inconvenient until you get it unblocked. This is just FYI; it doesn’t matter to me who anyone is. vzaak (talk) 06:42, 29 September 2013 (UTC) …

… There’s no downside in taking precautions when it comes to identity; “CSICOP, a known radical atheist pressure group” could be construed as an attempt to make the real Craig Weiler look bad. vzaak (talk) 10:47, 29 September 2013 (UTC)

… You can be blocked at any time, for no reason other than your account name. You could have been blocked ten seconds after you created your account. Making heated arguments simply draws more attention; it doesn’t actually matter what the arguments are about. Murphy’s Law says that a block would come at the worse possible time — say, in the middle of some argument — which might indeed look like a conspiracy. But it would only be Wikipedia’s WP:IMPERSONATE policy aiming to protect people. vzaak (talk) 22:37, 29 September 2013 (UTC)

That was truly bizarre.  It brings to mind a Wikipedia mafia:  “Nice name you got there.  It would be a shame if anything should happen to it.”  Surely someone would do a google search of my name first?  The whole first page makes it pretty clear that I’m the real Craig Weiler.

I don’t know why they bother.  I’m not a significant contributor to the page, I’m just too busy with other things, but someone who has been working hard to correct the article who goes by the name “The Tumbleman” has said that he/she plans a major edit.  It should be interesting and I’ll keep everyone posted as to how it goes.

39 comments on “The Wikipedia Battle for Rupert Sheldrake’s Biography

  1. Pingback: Rupert Sheldrake, Morphische Felder, Parapsychologie und veränderliche Naturgesetze | FSMoSophica

  2. Anonymous
    September 13, 2014

    It was not until today that I had heard about guerrilla skeptics and saw Susan Gerbic’s video, but it has been clear to me for years that Wikipedia was a mainstream bastion and that subjects that challenged mainstream (scientific) views even in the slightest way would always attract a few very persistent and often obnoxious editors whose goal in life it appeared to be to protect these pages from what they classified as “fringe” beliefs. So, whenever I read something on Wikipedia that I fear may be controversial (to some) my first port of call is always the “talk” page.
    For me the real Wikipedia is becoming more and more the talk section. I have great respect for the countless people who are seemingly fighting an unwinnable fight against these guerrilla skeptics and if you’re one of them and thinking that your efforts are all for nought as you will never get page x, y or z updated: think again. To many informed readers the talk pages are showing the skeptics for what they really are: narrowminded bigots. It would be good if the general public could be a bit more educated as to the usefulness of reading the talk pages :)

    • Tom Butler
      September 13, 2014

      Well said! The Talk pages are always the second stop for me. I look at the View History page for the Article page first to see if there is an edit war underway. If you look at the reverts and see what was reverted, you can see what the current argument is about.

      I see that the skeptical editors have a new trick to hid dissenting views from being seen by the public on the Talk pages. For the Rupert Sheldrake article, for instance, they have a “rapid archive” feature operating so that there is no discussion left on the page. Instead, the reader needs to be experienced enough to look in the archive files. For instance this is empty: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Rupert_Sheldrake but if you look in the last archive (19) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Rupert_Sheldrake/Archive_19, you see there is still a lot of disagreement.

      Even better, use the search tool in the Archive window. For instance using “pseudoscience,” you will see that there have been 19 sections with pseudoscience in the title. In some cases, a section can include thousands of words and involve the expulsion of editors like me.

  3. Michael
    August 14, 2014

    It’s a pretty simple question, no?

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  6. JB
    March 25, 2014

    Thanks for this extraordinary info about an organisation I used to admire. I’ve been so naive about wikipedia! Are there no equally organised defenders of humanity’s right to unbiased information on the internet?

    I no longer trust Wikipedia’s entries and from now on I’ll seek other sources for anything other than factual dates etc. I’ll be passing this information on to everyone I know who uses wikipedia.

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  9. Paul Kieniewicz
    November 16, 2013

    Fabulous blog! I was about to create w Wiki entry about Andrew Glazewski, a priest, physicist and mystic. Maybe I’ll have another think given the headaches that might ensue. I appreciate your support of RS.

    http://cottarton.blogspot.co.uk/

    P.S. There’s no Science Supreme Court that declares, “This is pseudoscience”. Only people with strong opinions and vested interests.

    • Michael
      April 28, 2014

      What determines pseudoscience is when it doesn’t succeed in experiments — recreatable, peer-reviewed, controlled experiements.

      So many of these things have failed again and again in the experiments, yet people continue to promote them (often using scientific sounding terminology). At that point, it’s fair to call it pseudoscience.

      • craigweiler
        April 28, 2014

        You have very poor sources of information.

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  16. Mr Trouser
    October 11, 2013

    I’m afraid this is why I never go to Wikipedia anymore. I have very little faith in the veracity of info there. Too many ‘editors’ with axes to grind. It’s a shame as Wikipedia could have been such a great resource. Now it’s just a very large word-dump that’s entertaining but definitely not useful.

  17. Tom Butler
    October 11, 2013

    I would like to add my two cents worth. I have been an editor for a number of years and was involved in the decisive administrative action that resulted in a permanent ban of probably the last truly effective editor who was a supporter of fair treatment for paranormal articles. I have a link to some of that record at http://ethericstudies.org/viewpoint.htm. As a longtime director of an association focused on the study of Electronic Voice Phenomena, I am been virtually banned from making changes on the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Voice_Phenomena page, even to correct technical errors.

    In effect, we who wish to see a balanced representation about our subjects of interest have “given our sward” to the Skeptics by our complacency and inability to become organized. Imagine the dedication and organization needed to organize as James Randi has against freedom of ideas.

    The stated intention of such organizations is to first make anything labeled as pseudoscience a danger to society and then label every paranormal subject, organization and individual as proponents of pseudoscience.

    • craigweiler
      October 11, 2013

      Thanks Tom,
      That’s very helpful. I’m going to stay in touch.

      • Tom ButlerT
        October 14, 2013

        Craig, take a look at User:Tom Butler: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Tom_Butler)

        I became an editor November 2006 thinking I might help get the Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) article on the right track (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_voice_phenomenon). Of course, I had no idea at the time that the article was already under the control of editors bent on showing that EVP was either fraud or delusion. I also had no idea that the very good idea of Wikipedia was defeated by the rules which promote something of a Lord of the Flies environment.

        I was involved in the 2007 arbitration for Paranormal: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_arbitration/Paranormal#Statement_by_Tom_Butler and tried to defend several moderate editors before they were permanently banned.

        I have worked on a number of other articles including Energy medicine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_healing) and Spiriitualism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritualism). In pretty much every case, there have been a number of editors who have quickly come to the local skeptic gatekeeper’s aid to counter everything I tried. Two editors in particular, BullRangifer AKA: Minderbinder) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Tom_Butler#WP:FRINGE) and LuckyLouie (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Electronic_voice_phenomenon/Archive4#Scientist_or_Skeptic).

        Moderate, Martinphi and radical skeptic, ScienceApologist have both been permanently banned, but I am willing to bet one of the editors active on the Sheldrake page is a reincarnation of ScienceApologist.

        I have written a little about Wikipedia at http://ethericstudies.org/viewpoint.htm.

        Editing Wikipedia is truly an exercise in futility. I let myself be drawn in from time to time to at least put my point on record, but also to see how the problem has evolved. I learn more about people each visit, but my wife Lisa and I have otherwise concentrated on countering Wikipedia with education. We have over 400 pages of information about many forms of transcommunication at the Association TransCommunication website: atransc.org. We have also published around 120 quarterly NewsJournals since the founding in 1982 by Sarah Estep.

        You should know for the record that I have incorporated Sheldrake’s Formative Causation into my work with a metaphysics inspired by what we are learning from transcommunication. You will find it at http://atransc.org/theory/cosmology.htm. The Trans-survival Hypothesis is testable in many ways, and as it is tested, so is the concept of morphic fields. Working at a high level, the fundamental fractal of reality is described as the life fractal in the form of a morphic field. An engineer’s view of functional areas in the life fractal parses characteristics in a way intended to help a person understand transcommunication and develop experimental protocols. http://atransc.org/theory/principles.htm#Life

        Also, I have prepared (build it and maybe they will come) a wiki for Best Practices to which I am considering adding a place to put the record straight for Wikipedia articles. The problem is that I need other editors. We can take “the world according to “Butler” just so far.

        I hope that helps

        Tom

        • craigweiler
          October 14, 2013

          Yes, that helps a great deal. Thank you. Your previous opinion carries more weight in light of your experience. I’m preparing another article and I’m going to reference this.

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  19. Frank Stalter
    October 11, 2013

    “The great weakness of Wikipedia is its excessive number of ideologues and their desire for control.”

    Replace Wikipedia with humanity and you got it.

    • Peter Beacham
      October 11, 2013

      That plus you have to give the obsession with peer review (which may be the same thing in this case).

      • Frank Stalter
        October 11, 2013

        Peer review = Echo chamber? Hahahaha!

        Not entirely off-topic, since it relates to Sheldrake and TED, the video below is an account of some creeping cultism within TED. As an aside, I think Sheldrake has gotten more publicity as a result of all this which is to his benefit. Personally, I like the guy’s work.

  20. anon
    October 9, 2013

    I’m with you pal, stuff with evidence to back it up is always as valid as lack of evidence. To think Mr. Sheldrake is being treated like this is terrible.

    It’s not like his advocates don’t want to just accept that they might have shortcomings in their judgements, and refuse to swallow their pride. It’s the “scientists” doing that.

  21. shthar
    October 8, 2013

    I gave up on wiki-nazi editors a loooong time ago.

    Course, I don’t have a page on it, so I could walk away easier tha some.

  22. Brandon
    October 7, 2013

    Thank you for your posts. I will be sure to find another source before going to wikipedia from now on. Its too bad that it has to used as a fundamentalists agenda.

    • Peter Beacham
      October 8, 2013

      Wikipedia still has some usefulness for such things as dates in history and biography events. But once it gets out of the linear, it loses credibility quickly.

  23. It’s good your back, even if you’re traveling thru the land of creep world.

  24. Frank
    October 1, 2013

    LOL absoloutely laughable isn’t it. They say if you want to control people you control information… and that is exactly what they are trying to do… and if anyone dares to try and let the public know what the truth is they resort to bullying and threats.

    Doesn’t matter whether you are talking about free energy, pharmaceutical companies, or PSI. It’s pathetic really.

  25. Lynne Thomas
    October 1, 2013

    Please ensure that you protest against David Cameron’s government who are trying to outlaw esoteric content on the web in the UK. RS, in the Science Delusion, speaks so much truth that is Science skeptical, so it is no wonder that he is being shafted by “Skeptics” or , as we know them, government agencies.

  26. Peter Beacham
    October 1, 2013

    This more a comment on the limits and failures of Wikepedia. It insists on citation but does not investigate the accuracy of the citation (as you point out). Wikipedia relies on the elementary logical errors of argumentum ad vericundiam (if someone famous says it it must be true), argumentum ad numerum (the larger the number of people who believe something the more likely it is to be true) and argumentum ad populum (appealing to the beliefs of a particular group).

    Wikipedia is not objective (as you point out), it also mistakenly believes that only sense data is reliable despite the obvious limitations of the senses and the fact that there are other learning styles and other means of acquiring knowledge and, more importantly, wisdom than a reliance on sense data. Those who support the sense data as king contention are locked into a linear approach to life which is very ineffective. Their resultant frustration is projected onto others, particularly those who disagree with them. They are fearful, negative and tend to aggressively attack those who disagree with them – your experience with Atheists is a case in point.

    • Michael
      April 28, 2014

      What are these other means of acquiring knowledge other than through observation?

      • craigweiler
        April 28, 2014

        You really need to be acquainted with the research. You’re not making any sense.

        • Michael
          August 14, 2014

          It’s a pretty simple question, no?

          • craigweiler
            August 14, 2014

            It reminds of an old middle school joke boys used to taunt each other with:

            “Yes or no: Is this the first time you’ve been pregnant?”

            It begins with a false assumption.

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This entry was posted on October 1, 2013 by in Psi Wars, Skeptics and Skeptic Arguments, Wikipedia.
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