Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
This is part of a series of articles on Wikipedia.
Here we are two weeks into working on Rupert Sheldrake’s Biography page on Wikipedia and it’s quite the wild ride. The harassment is never ending. The constant efforts to get The Tumbleman banned finally succeeded. The Tumbleman has been banned for a week supposedly for creating a sockpuppet account that never appeared on the Sheldrake page.
He requested an appeal by a different administrator but the same one who banned him came back and denied his request. This seems like a dirty trick to me. He doesn’t need to create a secondary account to support himself because he has good arguments and citations. He’s obviously being targeted because he wants to change the article from a skeptical point of view to a neutral one.
This also prevented him from participating in a hearing he requested regarding bad behavior on the Sheldrake page. He is being attacked and hounded at every turn. This was the fourth attempt to ban him and because it succeeded, ideologue skeptics on the site have made sure to cast him in the worst possible light. I’ve read most of his comments and they have always been on topic and respectful, which is why all previous efforts had failed.
These same people have also tried to ban me, for supposedly recruiting people to the Sheldrake article. (It’s OK for the Guerrilla Skeptics though, trust me.) I have been branded a conspiracy theorist by those editors; it’s my new title and it gets repeated over and over again.
I’m getting harassed beyond the walls of Wikipedia as well. If you Google my name, (Ir)RationalWiki is at the top of my name’s search results. That’s what you get when you use your real name on Wikipedia – Abuse.
All pretense of civil conversation is completely absent. (The newest conversations are at the bottom of the page.) The ideologue skeptical editors mostly just insist they are right and everyone else is wrong. That’s the basis of almost all their arguments. What they haven’t done is argue about the article itself intelligently. Not one tiny bit. It’s even doubtful that between all of them that they know very much about the subject and they seem to be hiding their lack of knowledge behind some seriously aggressive behavior. A regular pattern has been established: they continue to edit the article and defend their edits while avoiding any reasonable discussions that might change what they’ve done. It’s a breathtaking abuse of the system . . . and there is no one there to stop it.
I’ve dealt with a lot of skeptics over the years and they vary wildly in how reasonable they are. Some of them are quite decent and moderate -true skeptics. Those conversations are quite pleasant and challenging because they involve sharing information and trying to understand how someone else thinks.
Others, however are the worst sort of ideologues. With them, there is no dialog because it is all about winning. I cannot learn from them because all they have are vague talking points and they don’t learn from me because everything I say is just a reason to argue back. Nearly all of the skeptics I’ve encountered on Wikipedia fall strongly into the latter category. The truth is secondary to their moral viewpoint – that people who believe in or even talk about PSI are morally wrong. They are unable and unwilling to consider any viewpoint but their own and have a strong us vs. them mentality. They are very polarizing and I’ve found myself having to hold back from being uncivil myself. It’s hard to receive their constant rude and disrespectful treatment and stay calm.
Wikipedia is supposed to be a place of reasoned discussion and compromise, instead its an endless barrage of insulting behavior and dirty tricks. Myself and other editors who disagree with them are being ground down by this behavior; it will eventually work. Arguing with these people is a colossal waste of my time and I don’t like it, nor can I keep it up indefinitely.
Tom Butler, an editor since 2006 provided me with this insight:
In their devotion to mainstream ideals, skeptical editors are well organized and help one another while more moderate editors are not inclined toward activism nor are they inclined to organize.
Reliable sources are required for every statement of substance; however, that rule is used to say that virtually all publications supporting the study of things paranormal are not allowed as references while virtually any publication negative toward things paranormal are allowed–This is a result of skeptic control of the encyclopedia.
Moderate editors are easily ran off, either by simply wearing them down with wiki-lowering or outright banning them.
If an editor is discovered to have more than the average experience in a subject, it is easy for skeptical editors to ban the editor from contributing to the article based on conflict of interest, it is true or not.
Editors are discouraged from using their real name. Without the need to protect personal reputation, editors are free to be as aggressive, mean spirited and deceptive as they wish. Thus, it is common to have a pack of college kids control an article by any means. If the identity is known, aggression toward an editor is likely to continue beyond Wikipedia.
Any off-hand comment by any authority figure can be taken out of context as a reference. Even if the scientist changes his mind and admits the phenomenon is real, the off-hand, negative comment will be available forever as a reference.
Understanding is changing very rapidly in the study of things paranormal, yet because of editing rules, articles will always be out of date. All the dominant editors intend is to not allow an article to show the subject in a positive light.
. . . A final note: the Internet has given skeptics access to the public and they know how to make the best of it. By comparison, paranormalists are not well organized and their message is diluted by this lack of unity. An online search for virtually every paranormal subject brings Wikipedia at or near the top, making it a most powerful tool for social change. This has consequences since the skeptical groups are working to make pseudoscience seen as a danger to society.
In order to edit the article and make those edits stick, I would have to focus my attention not on good arguments, sources and cooperation, but on gathering my buddies together to figure out how to get every single ideologue skeptic on the page permanently banned or harass them until they left and then camp on the page and chase off everyone else who came by trying to change it. That seems to be the recipe for success on Wikipedia. -, one these ideologue-skeptics are using to great effect.
Solving this problem would be relatively simple: acknowledge expertise and reward those people who possess the requisite knowledge that ordinary anonymous editors often lack. Grant scientific organizations God Rights over their specific scientific domain. It’s not especially difficult to vet experts, despite Wikipedia’s claims to the contrary. Experts usually have email addresses that point back to organizations that they belong to. They typically have a web presence and use their real names. A vetting process would only involve contacting the real person in some way to be sure they were the same as who was editing.
People with expertise tend to be more even handed as a group. They typically don’t have the time to engage in endless petty squabbling, aren’t generally interested in subjects beyond their expertise and have reputations to preserve. Also, expert explainers are usually fairly immune to the illusion of explanatory depth, which is the problem of thinking that we know more than we really do. (Once you’ve had to explore a topic in great depth, you realize how much you don’t know and can apply that lesson to other subjects.)
The edits of such people and organizations should have priority over ordinary editors.
The truth about Wikipedia is that the editing process is batshit insane. If Google did not put them at the top of search results in almost every category Wikipedia would have faded into obscurity by now, victims of their own lack of adult supervision.
And now for something completely different . . . by William Brinkman: