Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
Also, see this article by Deepak Chopra
This is my final post on trying to edit Wikipedia. There is no point to this charade anymore. After having taken a few days to reflect on what was happening, I’ve come to the same conclusion that many before me have reached as well: It’s not worth the effort. Wikipedia is systematically broken to the point that trying to edit it is a complete waste of time. Wikipediocracy has compiled A Compendium of Wikipedia Criticism. It’s worth reading. Rupert Sheldrake’s biography is no better than when I started and this is despite the efforts of numerous people.
Tumbleman was banned, Oh boy Chicken Again was banned, I was almost banned as was Lou Sander. That is four people who were trying to edit the article to a neutral point of view. Number of opposing editors banned or nearly banned? Zero.
Once you start looking for this type of problem on Wikipedia, the floodgates start to open.
The Fairy-Tale Cult of Wikipedia, Wikipedia Woes – Pending Crisis as Editors Leave in Droves , The Acta Pauli blog and Wikipedia trolls, Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar, The Decline of Wikipedia, Why Wikipedia Can’t Work, Tell a Lie Enough Times . . ., Yet More Problems With Wikipedia, Wikipedia Goes All-In on Transphobia, Wikipedia Bans 1,000 IP Addresses to Silence One Man, The Great Failure of Wikipedia and on and on and on. And remember that there is also an entire organization dedicated to outing all the terrible problems of this Encyclopedia. Wikipediocracy.
These articles, mostly culled from a quick search, go as far back as 2004, with many of the same problems recurring over the years. My articles are merely the latest in a long line of similar criticisms of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia’s basic rule structure and philosophy of “anybody can edit” has produced a product that is so easy for ideologues to game that it is frankly useless to oppose them. Ordinary editing only occurs on those subjects where ideologues don’t care and have left them alone. Everything else is just a time sink.
I am a fairly good scholar and writer myself. I have a bachelor’s in Spanish, which is basically an English degree in another language. I’ve written over 200 articles for this blog, many of them researched, and learned a lot about sourcing along the way. I have a heavily researched book at the publisher and I am also very well read on parapsychology in general. I have a pretty substantial library of science books that I’ve read to become better informed.
So imagine how I might perceive this:
OK, so Craig. CSICOP [link mine.] promote that is extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That is not an unreasonable position. We cannot take every claim people make at face value; for a start many such claims are contradictory, so we need to ensure that claims are passed through a filter to determine what’s bullshit and what might not be. Now, to make extraordinary claims without such evidence is commonly done by humans. However, once someone’s claims have been assessed by the expert in this area, who point out obvious fallacies, those persons who continue to promote such unsubstantiated fantasies is all of these things: (1) immensely stupid or deeply immoral (depending on whether the claimant is being an idiot or trying to profit in some way despite knowing it’s wrong) (2) disrespectful of expert opinion (3) potentially harmful as regards the public understanding of science, and (4) potentially harmful to people with mental health issues. I’m sure you can appreciate that sometimes things get a little heated when people who take their time to point out that you are wrong and you respond with (1)(2)(3)(4) above. This btw, is how Wikipedia works too. Barney the barney barney (talk) 16:16, 1 October 2013 (UTC)
I’m being lectured to by someone who is speaking on a range of subjects he is
almost completely ignorant about, but fancies himself to be an expert. I am supposed to argue my points with this person? And convince him with facts? I actually made the attempt, but it turned out exactly as expected. He comes into the discussion on Wikipedia as my equal and he has other, equally ignorant people to back him up. Now imagine me trying to reason with a whole group of them and you’ll be able to see the problem. Endless discussions that go nowhere and that I end up losing because the ignorant people agree with each other. Voilá, a Wikipedia consensus.
All around the web people encounter truly bizarre situations on Wikipedia, such as this attempt by a scholar to get a correction past a 14 year old administrator.
I’ve learned that Anonymous Dissident, who removed my links from the French and German articles on the Acts of Paul and Thecla, is
12approximately 14 years old. Wow, that’s pretty cool Wikipedia! A 12approximately 14 year old is able to eliminate a link to this site which is being published by people with PhDs. Now I’m sure that Anonymous Dissident is very mature for the age of 12 approximately 14, but it does lower the status of Wikipedia considerably when scholars can’t even add a little insignificant link to your so-called encyclopedia.
One of the commenters on that blog put the problem very clearly:
The sheer number of people who have had bad experiences is very great, even though it is difficult to find material about this using Google. But even so, there are any number who report being attacked by trolls, of finding their attempts to contribute — and Wikipedia is designed to entice participation, to make doing so addictive — met with violence, of dishonest “administrators”, of no rational or sane way to resolve disagreements.
A stellar example of the kind of nonsense I have been putting up with is this attempt to get one single source removed. My argument was simple: There was an experiment involving Rupert Sheldrake and Steve Rose. Rose believed that the results did not support morphic resonance and Sheldrake did. The source being cited was Rose’s argument. But Sheldrake also had a rebuttal to that. To cite only Rose and nothing else amounted to cherry picking so Rose’s statement had to be taken in context to everything else. I argued that Rose’s paper was therefore part and parcel of a primary source which is disallowed on Wikipedia.
What followed was a huge, bloated mostly off topic discussion that did everything but actually address the point I was making. The skeptical position amounted to “no, we disagree” and that was about it. Why didn’t they actually address the issue? Because they didn’t have to. On Wikipedia you don’t need to argue rationally or provide sufficient facts if other people have your back. There is no authority that differentiates between nonsense and informed discussion. Well, there is, actually, It’s the RfC. But figuring out which sources are legitimate requires an expert on the topic, not a bunch of people flying blind. If you are not familiar with the nature of the whole parapsychology controversy then you’re probably not going to make a good decision.
There is an administrator on the page, but neither the talk situation nor the article itself have improved at all since he’s arrived. It’s safe to say that he has utterly failed to make any difference.
I’m faced with a question: do I really care enough to battle into eternity with ideologues in the hopes of making a tiny change to a single article? I look to former Wikipedia editor, Abd ul-Rahman Lomax, who had this to say about a similarly controversial article he’d been working on:
[The Wikipedia Arbitration Committee] knows that Wikipedia has problems. What they do is to blame them on “disruptive editors,” rather than on lack of functional structure, because it’s easy to ban a disruptive editor, difficult to change structure. In fact, they know that it is very difficult to change structure, because at various points, the Arbitration Committee tried. They were shouted down, and they had no spine.
. . . And that’s the real Wikipedia. A radically unreliable structure, massively inefficient — it can take weeks of work to get a simple change through, that should have been obvious from the beginning. . . . That, essentially and long-term, filters out sane editors. . . . The cabal has been able to maintain the Wikipedia article in an obviously poor and confused state because it’s not worth going to RfC over hundreds of small changes.
Is it productive for me to try to edit? Definitely not. There is no point in entangling myself in the mess that is Rupert Sheldrake’s biography page with the ideologues running the show. I’ve already been run around in circles a couple of times and I don’t care for more of the same. This leaves the other option of trying to learn the system in order to use Wikipedia policy against the ideologues by trying to get them banned or at least soundly rebuked. Again, no. I’m not interested in doing that. It’s not my idea of fun. It seems mean spirited and ugly to behave like they do.
The last option is to try to go up the ladder at Wikipedia and see if I can get structural changes in place for this obviously broken system. Here too, my answer is no. It would end up becoming my life’s mission and given how deep the problem is and how long it’s been going on, it’s doubtful that I would accomplish anything anyway. Raging against The Machine is a fools errand. Wikipedia is not an important part of my life and that’s the way it’s going to stay. I am not obsessive enough to want to take that on.
I am left with the knowledge that I am shut out of the topic where I have the most expertise. As a result, I am not left with any appealing options for participating on Wikipedia. So I will move on and Wikipedia will continue to deteriorate as a resource. The problem is too big for me to deal with it.
It’s time to go outside of the box. “How do we fix Wikipedia?” is the wrong question. It can’t be fixed. So whatever happens, it has to be something else.
. . . The solution is to remove Wales from the equation, get rid of all the “administrators”/trolls/children, and get rid of the system where the REAL system administrators remain unknown. Instead, introduce a fair, sane, and transparent system of governance, run by responsible people who do so under their own names in an accountable manner. I fear that only the government can do this. Little as I like the idea, I suspect that it needs to do so. Wikipedia is a howling success at gathering information, because of its contributors. It is a terrible failure in most other respects.
I don’t have the answer, but there is at least one stopgap measure that’s been suggested: I have heard several people mention that the Rupert Sheldrake Biography should be deleted from Wikipedia because it’s impossible for him to be treated fairly. I find that hard to argue with. Not having any article on Wikipedia has to be better for Rupert (and perhaps many other notable people) than being slandered like this. And there it is: The only way to win is not to play.