Wikipedians, Check This Out

I’ve discovered that the Wikipedia entry about Falun Gong is heavily biased. Indeed, before I took it upon myself to insert a few words about the criticism the organisation has met with, the article was entirely about a) how good FG is (and I disagree), b) how nasty the Chinese government is (and I agree).

Now, this article is guarded by a bunch of FG devotees who undo all attempts to introduce a more balanced view into the text. Their antics on the discussion page are quite a sight. I think it would be good if some of Aard’s readers joined me in making improvements to the article. Informative, referenced additions is what I have in mind. Let’s leave the pro-FG and anti-government material untouched and just introduce a solid anti-FG perspective. Editing Wikipedia is easy and self-explanatory. Don’t forget to check out the discussion page.

Update: This is the first time I’ve been involved in an edit war on Wikipedia. Very instructive. Some new (to me) knowledge:

  • Three Revert Rule: you are not allowed to make “more than three reverts, in whole or in part, on a single page within a 24-hour period. A revert means undoing the actions of another editor, whether involving the same or different material each time.”

  • The Falun Gong devotees try to get around this rule by ganging up and taking turns reverting anti-FG additions to the article. No individual participant breaks the 3RR rule except when they lose count.
  • Their main edit-battle tactic is to allege that an anti-FG addition is somehow against the Wikipedia guidelines, even if this forces them to contort like acrobats.
  • Edit wars against cultists are hard to win decisively. One way out of a stalemate is to attract more participants to the discussion, people who are willing to put a contested article on their watchlist, preferably Wikipedia admins or other Wikipedia junkies.

The Falun Gong article is of course just one example of many where Wikipedia’s basic principle does not work very well. (I oppose all cults, and I could just as well have had this fight with Raelians, Scientologists or Catholics.) But it’s still a hugely useful resource, particularly since warred-over articles tend to get flagged as such at the top. If I want to know the Swedish name of the hoki fish or the dates of Anthemius’s reign, then Wikipedia really can’t be beaten. Love it!

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Comments

  1. #1 DrugMonkey
    March 11, 2008

    What!!!??? A Wikipedia entry captured by those with an agenda and rendered something less than encyclopedic? Slanted away from any semblance of “neutral point of view”?

    I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

  2. #2 Carl von Blixen
    March 12, 2008

    Good job Martin! I have participated in my fair share of edit wars on Swedish Wikipedia and just like you I believe that turning to other Wikipedians for help is a possible way forward in situations like these.

  3. #3 Hans Persson
    March 12, 2008

    Edit wars are annoying, but for the long-term success of Wikipedia I feel that deletionism is a much bigger threat.

  4. #4 spurious 8259A interrupt
    March 12, 2008

    Great stuff! Here are some more cult-windmills you can fight:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opus_Dei

    I regret to admit that I don’t have your patience.
    :-)

  5. #5 brtkrbzhnv
    March 12, 2008

    I’m sure you’d have better luck if you followed the Wikipedia guidelines instead of adding unsourced claims.

  6. #6 Martin R
    March 12, 2008

    Brtkrbzhnv: let’s see now: you link to a Taiwanese newspaper. The Taiwanese don’t like the Mainland Chinese regime (does anybody?). That regime doesn’t like Falun Gong. Thus the Taiwanese and FG have a common enemy and are likely to be quite friendly. Yeah, it makes sense that you would make snide remarks on this issue. You into Raelianism, BTW?

  7. #7 Jason Moir
    March 12, 2008

    I think Wikipedia, as an online encyclopedia, should be as objective as possible and based on facts. Saying that the page on Falun Gong is biased then wanting introduce a “solid anti-Falun Gong perspective’ really doesn’t sound right. Adding your own bias won’t fix the edit wars. I say let the facts speak for themselves. All the teachings on Falun Gong are available at the main website http://www.falundafa.org for people to make their own judgments. Why try to sway people one way or another? As for the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, that is truly a human rights atrocity which is verified by both Amnesty International and the United Nation’s rapporteur for torture. I think Wikipedia works best when personal views are left ‘at the door’ so to speak.

  8. #8 Martin R
    March 12, 2008

    As you’ll find if you investigate the matter, I have not touched the parts of the article that say “FG good” and “Government bad”. I have inserted a single paragraph saying “Some non-government people think FG bad”.

  9. #9 Olaf
    March 12, 2008

    Indeed, it’s interesting how you, Martin, have a completely different understanding of what’s happening with the articles. Several other editors have opposed your edits chiefly because of the fact that you have failed to cite any appropriate policies to justify their inclusion – and it is elementary in Wikipedia that a person who proposes material and is challenged will try to defend his or her position in a legitimate fashion.

    The other side of the debate has called for references to significant publications, preferably peer-reviewed journals, because *that’s the general standard in Wikipedia, and the policies are non-negotiable* (see the articles Wikipedia:Verifiability, Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, Wikipedia:No original research, Wikipedia:Attribution). Instead of addressing real, elaborate concerns, you are keen on pushing self-published sources just because you happen to dig their ideological agenda. While others call for meticulousness, transparency and methodological stringency, you insert the same thing all over again, never caring to participate in the discussion apart from a few punch lines here and there. Partly because of extensive troubles in the past, the articles have several major issues to fix, such as the balance of different viewpoints, but that will only happen when people agree to stick with the rules and provide reliable sources that pass the Wiki test. That is, not what *I* or *you* think are reliable, but what can be legitimately and elaborately *argued* to be reliable. Only after that we get to consensus-seeking reflections on their place in the article, due or undue weight of majority/minority viewpoints, and so on.

    You are certainly a Wikipedia newbie, but you walk in with pride and arrogance, “I have come to impose my will and thou shalt feel my wrath”, and then you still dare to call others names, such as “cultists” who are “contorting like acrobats”. Yeah right, Martin. It’s interesting how you think that “editing Wikipedia is easy and self-explanatory”; I perceive it as a sign of not really doing your homework. (See the category: Wikipedia:Wikipedia policies and guidelines) As stated earlier, that suspicion is further strengthened by the fact that I’ve never seen you refer to any single one of them.

    Anyone can make mistakes and learn from them; we have yet so see whether you’ve learned or not. There are notorious examples of likeminded people who have been permanently banned from editing these articles after they just couldn’t comply with the most basic requirements.

  10. #10 The Countess
    March 12, 2008

    Hey, there. I came over from Pharygula. I’m PZ Myers’ favorite sex writer. ;)

    I have edited a controversial page on Wikipedia, and I tell you, it’s like being in a carnival fun house or I’m Alice down the rabbit hole. EVERYTHING you wrote is right on key! I have edited the Fathers’ Rights page – posting the opposing view of the fathers’ rights movement – and some real nutbags have come out of the woodwork over the past year. It’s fun to edit, but sometimes I think Wikipedia is like that old saying – You take a million monkeys and you put them on a million typewriters, but you don’t get the complete works of Shakespeare. You get Wikipedia. LOL!!

  11. #11 Martin R
    March 12, 2008

    Yeah, Comtesse, the net really introduces you to people you’d never have believed existed. Olaf, for instance, who dumped the screed above, always communicates in that mode and seems to spend a huge part of his spare time grooming Falun Gong’s appearance on Wikipedia. No other issue appears to interest him. *shakes head*

  12. #12 Nick
    March 12, 2008

    I’m in China, so I can’t help you directly (wikipedia is blocked, even sometimes with anonymouse), but if you really need citations, here is a passage from pg. 211-212 of Ian Johnson’s “Wild Grass.” “Master Li’s works also preach exclusivity: either you are with us or you are condemned to hell. To me, this was one of the most unappealing sides of F@G, although I recognized in it the same view found in most major religions. Again, the fundamentalist label seemed appropriate [“Again” because just before he mentioned Master Li criticized homosexuality; to his credit, it was only once and the passage has been taken from his website]. This was a religion trying to overturn the moneylenders’ tables in the temple; it wasn’t exactly a feel-good religion.”

    Johnson won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the F@G and most of his book is against the CCP’s persecution. Also, the Epoch Times is pretty biased, and sometimes seems to just make stuff up. It shouldn’t be too hard to learn more about that.

    And I should say I’ve been following your blog ever since you wrote about American politics (I’m American), but haven’t commented before because I normally have little to say. I also think persecution, even of crazy cults, is unfair. Doesn’t make the cult less crazy though.

  13. #13 Olaf
    March 12, 2008

    Ad hominem ad nauseam. For your information, I am not endorsing the current version of the articles. If I hadn’t just taken 8 months off Wikipedia, apart from a few minor edits, the pages would look quite different. I have no interest in preserving the status quo; the only thing I want is fair play.

  14. #14 The Countess
    March 12, 2008

    Martin R., I have noticed exactly what you are saying. I read some controversial topics on Wiki, but I don’t edit those page. There seems to be the same people with one agenda or another editing, and they are always boinked by the Main Wiki Editors. It’s amusing to see. Some people have a lot invested in making sure their ideology gets published on Wikipedia. That’s why many editors don’t want you to cite Wikipedia in articles.

  15. #15 Chris O.
    March 13, 2008

    Martin, I’m not sure if it’s you who was trying to cite the Wikipedia discussion page as an example of Falun Gong supporters attacking skeptics, but whoever was doing that is not doing the edit war any favors. It looks like original research which is clearly not allowed, and is rather snide regardless. You have to follow the rules and take the high road if you want to win an edit war.

  16. #16 Kesh
    March 13, 2008

    This is why it’s a bad idea to solicit people to help “correct” a Wikipedia article: it draws a bunch of people who don’t understand the rules of Wikipedia, and disrupts any attempt to fix the problem.

    There’s already proper channels to deal with this sort of thing, but recruiting people to mob the page isn’t it.

  17. #17 BL
    March 13, 2008

    Hi, just came here from Pharyngula, and want to echo Chris. As annoying as it is, the standard for inclusion in Wikipedia is not what is true, but what can be verified with reliable sources. It doesn’t matter if something is blatantly obvious and the whole world know it’s true: If it’s challenged enough, and you can’t source it, it can’t be included. You’re doing the right thing by asking people to help look for sources — I’d encourage you to concentrate on that and try to stop accusing the FG proponents of bad faith. It doesn’t help your cause, and, as frustrating as it is, it looks like they DO have some WIkipedia policies on their side.

  18. #18 David Marjanovi?
    March 13, 2008

    Hey, there. I came over from Pharygula. I’m PZ Myers’ favorite sex writer. ;)

    Not that it matters, but I’ve never seen you on Pharyngula… am I killing a joke here?

  19. #19 Hael
    March 13, 2008

    Looking through the history one of the things they removed for being “original research” was a statement about Falun Gong being controversial. If that’s the kind of standard they have it’s no wonder they won’t let any criticism in. The whole tone of the article is clearly pro-Falun Gong, too. You can’t possible call that neutral point of view. And why doesn’t the beliefs section mention anything about them being able to cure cancer or Li’s beliefs on aliens invading us? That’s like a scientology article not mentioning Xenu.

  20. #20 Nicky
    March 13, 2008

    Try homeopathy if you want to watch people scream bloody murder that you are attacking both their religion and their livelihoods. Be prepared for the anguished whimper of a surprisingly large body of data being twisted in a malign attempt to support a conclusion that just is not there.

  21. #21 Kristjan Wager
    March 13, 2008

    Not that it matters, but I’ve never seen you on Pharyngula… am I killing a joke here?

    David, there are several of us old-timers that are not really active in the Pharyngula comments any more. If you want to see some of the Countess’ comments in the past, I think you would have fun in looking at the time where PZ hosted the 8th Skeptics’ Circle.

  22. #22 Damian
    March 13, 2008

    Martin, can you not just link to that discussion page in reference to cultish activities? It is quite unbelievable. Talk about moving the goal-posts!

    They start every post by referring people to the rules, and have been shown to have not followed them, themselves (i.e. claims without reference). They ask for references, and then claim that they aren’t good enough, or aren’t relevant, when provided. Then they ask for “peer-reviewed journal” references, yet when you look at the actual references that they have used, many are from newspapers and sites like the Christian review (or something like that). Even some of the claims that are supposed to be linked to journals are not actually linked to journal articles – it just says that they have found the claim in said journal – and some of the ones that are don’t work.

    I don’t know it is helpful, but I found this site with many articles which hopefully point to references.

  23. #23 Infophile
    March 13, 2008

    Alright, I think I might be able to help you out here. I’ve spent a fair bit of time fighting wiki-battles (Homeopathy is my current big project), so I know how things work. I’ll drop in and see what I can do with this one. Feel free to drop me a message at my talk page for any wiki/wiki-battle related questions (this applies to anyone reading this who wants to help out).

  24. #24 Olaf
    March 13, 2008

    Damian, it goes without saying that there are several things to correct in the FLG articles. Maybe you can help make them good candidates for a Wikipedia community review. If you find unreferenced claims, just tag them appropriately and they’ll get a lot more attention. Personally, I don’t assume any responsibility for the status quo of the articles. I’ve been several months off Wikipedia, as I left after the big arbitration case we had last summer; I just got tired of it all, and the really bad guys at that time were banished anyway. My point is, if we want to *improve* the articles, we’ll have to remove what is not valid and bring in what is valid. Substandard content is something to remove, not to insert. (By the way, it is not imperative that the references are available online, as long as they are reliable and verifiable.)

  25. #25 Barn Owl
    March 13, 2008

    A couple of years ago, I was talking with a former colleague about a mutual acquaintance of ours, a Chinese scientist at the university where we’d worked. My colleague told me that the scientist and his wife, also a scientist, had dropped their successful career trajectories in the US, to return to China and spend all their time with Falun Gong activities. We discussed alleged persecution of Falun Gong members by the Chinese government, and the explanation that my colleague (also Chinese) had was that the Chinese government doesn’t understand and can’t control Falun Gong, and therefore it’s considered a threat. I couldn’t tell whether he was more concerned about potential dangers to the scientist couple from the Chinese government, or from Falun Gong itself. My impression was that both are worrisome, and in any case, it’s sad that two productive individuals left scientific research to join a cult. Up to the point at which I’d heard that story and had the discussion, I’d assumed that Falun Gong was innocuous, but I can see that I was wrong.

  26. #26 Calton
    March 14, 2008

    It doesn’t matter if something is blatantly obvious and the whole world know it’s true: If it’s challenged enough, and you can’t source it, it can’t be included.

    Which is as it should: vague appeals to authority, “common sense”, “everybody knows THAT”, or citations from The International Journal of Because I Said So should not be sufficient in ANY scholarship.

    More to the point, though, your statement is, in fact, wrong, and even self-contradicting. To quote the policy page:

    All quotations and any material challenged or likely to be challenged should be attributed to a reliable, published source using an inline citation. (The boldface is in the original)

    Basically, if it’s “blatantly obvious and the whole world know it’s true”, then why would it be challenged? If it is, then pretty much by definition it’s NOT “blatantly obvious and the whole world know it’s true”, is it? And if you can’t find sources for it, how the hell can it actually be “blatantly obvious and the whole world know it’s true”?

  27. #27 Calton
    March 14, 2008

    (The above, by the way, is from their Verifiability Policy page.)

  28. #28 Olaf
    March 14, 2008

    So when two brave individuals return to their homeland, despite a successful career, in order to peacefully resist social injustice and one of the most vicious persecutions in the 21st Century, you call it “joining a cult”?

    Maybe you didn’t know that no Falun Gong practitioner has ever joined Falun Gong, because there’s essentially nothing to join. You don’t become a “member” of badminton, you don’t become a “member” of tai chi, you don’t become a “member” of falungong. You either practice or not, you associate with other practitioners or not, you take it seriously or not. The only reason you can call it a “cult” is because you disagree with the teachings and consider them detached from reality. That’s not a very good reason, in my opinion. I’d advise you to reflect on how language constructs social reality and what tangible consequences can follow from such marginalization to those who are its objects.

  29. #29 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Calton asked: “Basically, if it’s ‘blatantly obvious and the whole world know it’s true’, then why would it be challenged?”

    Because “the whole world” means “the great majority of humanity that has no stake in this particular issue”.

  30. #30 The Countess
    March 14, 2008

    Hi, David. I’m an old fan of PZ Myers, but I tend to lurk in comments rather than post. And yes, I really am a sex writer.

  31. #31 Per Edman
    March 14, 2008

    Whoever said “if it’s ‘blatantly obvious and the whole world know it’s true’, then why would it be challenged?” never spent too much time arguing with religious cultists. I do. Spend too much time on it, specifically.

    / Per

  32. #32 October Mermaid
    March 14, 2008

    I came over from Pharyngula, as well, and I’d like to help because I’ve read other entries you’ve made and its not that I think you’re lying or untrustworthy, but simply that I don’t know a thing about editting wikipedia, the rules or how it works, and like another person mentioned earlier, if I messed with it, I think I’d make stuff worse for everyone.

    Oh, but I did want to comment on this thing you said, though “Yeah, Comtesse, the net really introduces you to people you’d never have believed existed.”
    TOTALLY. I totally agree. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it’s bad enough to shift your whole perception of the world. Some people can just be such huge, unrelenting scumbags that it can be kind of depressing.

    Of course, I guess a lot of that also has to do with the whole anonymity thing, and a lack of real consequences for being a jerk.

  33. #33 Martin R
    March 14, 2008

    Mermaid, I suggest you just set up an account and start reading articles on subjects where you know a lot. Dogs? Physics? Bluegrass music? BDSM? Pretty soon you’ll find an error or important omission, and then you just do your best to improve the article.

  34. #34 Charles Liu
    March 14, 2008

    Martin, here’s the factual citation you are looking for. A Canadian judge did declare FLG “controlversial” in her ruling against FLG on free speech:

    Here’s what Quebec Superior Court justice Jeannine Rousseau wrote in her ruling against Falun Gong:

    Source: http://www.jugements.qc.ca (search for judgement, also archived by McGill Univ.: http://www.math.mcgill.ca/triples/infocult/jugementFalungong122005.doc)

    “[40] It is a controversial movement, which does not accept criticism.”

    Incidentally, justice Rousseau also made statement re nature of FLG’s teaching:

    “[39] Amongst the characteristics of Master Li’s teachings are the rejection of science as being misleading and dangerous, the promise of supernatural powers, amongst which a rotating wheel in the stomach of practitioners to purify them, constant health, rejuvenation, and the ability to see into other spatial dimensions.”

    I’m “bobby fletcher” on Wikipedia.

  35. #35 Calton
    March 14, 2008

    Because “the whole world” means “the great majority of humanity that has no stake in this particular issue”.

    So, basically, you’re saying that you’re sore in need of a dictionary?

    Generally, it’s best when communicating to use generally accepted meanings instead of Making Convenient Stuff Up.

  36. #36 Asdfg
    March 15, 2008

    There’s also no evidence that Falun Gong practitioners are guilty of any wrongdoing. No one here has said precisely what is wrong with Falun Gong, apart from vague personal opinions, or what harm it has caused. Apparently, Falun Gong has not actually done anything wrong. Since the beliefs are not in line with Martin’s, he labels it a cult and makes it the subject of scorn and ridicule. That’s actually not the definition of a cult! That’s called “bigotry”

  37. #37 FO
    March 15, 2008

    I may be feeding the trolls here, but I can’t resist..

    “So, basically, you’re saying that you’re sore in need of a dictionary?”

    No, it means YOU’RE sorely in need of a new brain. That the world is round is “blatantly obvious”, but it doesn’t stop shitbrained flat-earthers from “challenging” the view.

    I just visited the FG website, and it reeks of supernatural woo-woo. I don’t know whether it can be termed ‘cult’ or not, but the fact that it invokes supernatural crap is already a big red light to me.

  38. #38 The Countess
    March 15, 2008

    I like editing Wiki, even the controversial entries, but I can’t do it all the time. It’s exhausting. I figure as long as you have reputable sources to back your statements, you’ll be fine. It’s not really a matter of “any reasonable person knows this”. You still have to provide sources. And it’s not that hard.

    Just remember that Widi updates all the time, which in one way makes it unreliable for research purposes. Lots of editors won’t let their writer’s use Wiki as a source. I understand why, especially for controversial topics. Just go to the sources cited in Wiki and resource them instead of Wiki itself.

  39. #39 BL
    March 19, 2008

    Oh lord, I wasn’t trying to start a fight. I also wasn’t trying to put down Wikipedia’s verifiability standards, which, Calton, I assure you I know to be necessary. I was just trying to acknowledge that I know these things can be annoying, but that Martin’s top priority really needs to be improving his sources. If it helps, feel free to read my comment as “…It doesn’t matter if you think something is blatantly obvious…” — that’s closer to what I meant.

  40. #40 davidp
    March 27, 2008

    Here’s another reference about Falun Gong’s controversy and cult-like status, from Australia’s (pretty respected and independent) government broadcaster:
    Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Background Briefing – see the last third of the transcript
    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s283930.htm

    There is no doubt that the Chinese government has a credibility problem when it comes to human rights matters, and the same goes for Beijing’s message about Falun Gong being ‘a dangerous cult’. But there are concerns emerging in the West, about the Falun Gong, especially among the so-called cult-watchers.

    People cited in the transcript who think it is cult-like, and controversial:
    Emeritus Professor Margaret Singer, University of California, Berkeley
    Director of Cult Counselling Australia, Raphael Aaron

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