Quacks really hate Wikipedia.
It’s understandable, really. Wikipedia has some fairly tight standards regulating its form and content. Quacks, thinking that because anybody can edit Wikipedia articles it must mean that they can edit the entries on their favorite bit of woo to their hearts’ content in order to make it look more scientifically supported and to remove disconfirming information, are disappointed when they discover that it’s not that easy. Now, I’ve been a critic of Wikipedia in the past, having found problems in entries on topics where I have deep knowledge and been concerned that the quacks and cranks always have more time to edit pages than scientists and doctors or even just most people with belief in a sound basis in science, but I do think it’s gotten a lot better. Part of the reason is that science- and skeptic-minded people have made an effort to become editors, even banding together in a group like Guerilla Skeptics.
Of course, this has pissed off quacks to no end. Indeed, not too long ago, Deepak Chopra took to The Huffington Post and SFGate to complain that there is a cabal of skeptics out to discredit energy healing, quantum consciousness, and, above all, his good buddy Rupert Sheldrake, he of the “morphic resonance field.” Also, not too long ago, Stanislaw Burzynski’s propagandist, Eric Merola, added an entire segment to his second movie about Burzynski in order to lambaste those evil skeptics on Wikipedia editing his hero’s entry and preventing him and his minions from adding the “truth” about the Brave Maverick Doctor Who Can Cure Cancers That No One Else Can through their nefariousness on Wikipedia and elsewhere. Meanwhile, even though I haven’t edited a Wikipedia page in several years, having decided that a far more profitable use of my time is to create your daily dose of Insolence and that editing Wikipedia is hard, Merola likened me to a white supremacist who eats puppies. And, of course, antivaccinationists like Sharyl Attkisson are displeased at what they perceive as skeptics “controlling” Wikipedia. Clearly, not being able to bend Wikipedia to their will is a major bug up the butts of cranks and quacks everywhere.
Not too long ago, Jimmy Wales’, one of the founders of Wikipedia, posted a most excellent response to a Change.org petition by the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) complaining about the treatment of “energy psychology,” “energy medicine,” and emotional freedom techniques (all rank quackery, by the way) on Wikipedia. Basically, Wales said:
o, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful.
Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately.
What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t.
None of this has stopped the quacks. Now J. D. Heyes, one of the contributors at that most wretched hive of scum and quackery, Mike Adams’ NaturalNews.com, is still complaining about this. The hilarious thing is that he wrote an entire article about the ACEP petition without even noting that Jimmy Wales responded to it two and a half months ago, with an article entitled Wikipedia petitioned to halt outrageous slander and lies against holistic and alternative medicine.
It is, of course, simply a rehash of the same sorts of complaints that circulated the first time the petition went around, most of which were largely ignored or forgotten in the wake of Jimmy Wales’ response. One thing that did interest me again (and part of the reason why I even bothered to mention the NaturalNews.com article) is the mention of Larry Sanger, whose (alleged) words I will repeat:
In some fields and some topics, there are groups who ‘squat’ on articles and insist on making them reflect their own specific biases. There is no credible mechanism to approve versions of articles.
I tried searching for that quote, and I have as yet been unable to find independent confirmation of the statement or, more importantly, the context in which it was made. (My skeptical antennae strongly twitched the first time I read it.) It made me wonder whether Wikipedia’s treatment of alternative medicine actually had anything to do with Sanger’s departure. As of yet, I haven’t been able to find any evidence that this is true, at least online, but I don’t have endless time to search. Briefly searching Larry Sanger’s website for some common CAM terms also failed to turn up anything.
It’s heartening to see that Wikipedia’s policies regarding quackery are still causing writers at websites like NaturalNews.com to go into major kniptions, even months later. It’s also amusing to see NaturalNew.com post a diatribe against Wikipedia and support for ACEP’s dubious petition while completely ignoring the fact that Jimmy Wales responded to the petition back in March.
Still, I’m a remain a bit concerned. Thanks to the infiltration of quackademic medicine into medical academia over the last couple of decades, using publications in respectable scientific journals as the arbiters of what is reliable science and what is not is becoming more and more problematic, particularly with the proliferation of “pay to play” open access journals. As I mentioned, I was just at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting a few days ago, and there was a major session on “integrative oncology,” which I will discuss soon. The more quackademic medicine infiltrates medical academia, the bigger an issue this will become on Wikipedia. Actually, dealing with the issue on Wikipedia is probably the least of our problems, as more and more non-evidence-based medicine and even outright quackery gain legitimacy.