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.
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Geez, Jimmy, tell us what you really think.
I gotta say, I love it. My opinion of Jimmy Wales, already favorable, just jumped up several notches.
Alas, wikipedia has not applied those standards to the entry for dogturd bob.
A few years ago, Gary Null sued Wikip- for 100 000 000 USD: the case was dismissed and he had to pay (minor) expenses . ( see Quackwatch/ recently posted articles/ credential watch).
Whilst the hoary charlatan was not at all pleased with Wikip-itself, he was livid because it linked to Barrett's criticisms in a Quackwatch article which elucidated the woo-meister's dodgy credentials, degrees and products in detailed fashion- including his risibly faux dissertation. The article presented currently @ wiki links to Barrett and our gracious host's 'friend' as well as to other interesting articles including the self-poisoning incident described in newspapers.
Because I truly enjoy comeuppance like this, I just re-read the Wakefield entry @ wikip- and am rather surprised that he hasn't yet tried to sue: there are 122 references, many of them which link directly to Deer and the GMC.
I'm hopeful that the legal decision I reference above will discourage other disgraceful manipulators of desperate people from going after wikip-.
@ Dr Chris:
I don't know, it DOES include the criticisms of his crap book by Drs Offit, DG and Novella. It's a start.
Perhaps you have something to add there. Why not?
from the point of view of his BS claims about increasing vaccination among non vaccinating parents (the final words in his page), that is bunk. It's no small coincidence that he had lots of whooping cough in 2010 in his practice area (he admits it in the 2nd edition of his "book") and that the recent 22 cases of measles in Orange County (where he practices) were focused in the southern part of the county (where he is).
The Larry Sanger quote came from a 2008 blog here. http://blog.citizendium.org/?p=286 I think since then Wikipedia has become much better. However, I asked larry on twitter about it. We'll see if he comment on how valid it is now.
That's ridiculous. Everyone knows that Orac eats KITTENS.
And now the quacks will busily tell us all, "We told you so!"
There's a "study" being reported from the University of North Carolina that claims that 9 out of 10 Wikipedia medical websites are erroneous. No explanation from the head of this research about what exactly the errors are, or even what degree of seriousness. Plays right into the hands of the sCAMsters.
Overheated, reheated rhetoric abounds. Surely Orac won't claim he has never eaten hot dogs, corn dogs or hushpuppies.
"There’s a “study” being reported from the University of North Carolina that claims that 9 out of 10 Wikipedia medical websites are erroneous. No explanation from the head of this research about what exactly the errors are, or even what degree of seriousness. Plays right into the hands of the sCAMsters."
How many CAM websites have errors? I wonder if it's more than 90%...
I think the CAM logic is "Even if you try really hard to avoid errors, misconceptions, and biases, errors will still creep into evidence-based medicine. Therefore, why bother?" This is akin to deciding that since even a sober driver can have an accident, driving a fifth of scotch before getting on the road is a good idea.
The editors of the journal point out shortcomings of that study:
Every medical text I access, be it online or printed has a waiver saying essentially "we've done our best to be accurate, but there still may be a mistake in here somewhere...so use yer noggin when readin' our stuff (and oh, yeah, you can't sue us)".
Everyone knows that you're really the industrious Wiki editor 'MastCell'; I read it at Whale.to and WikiRath!
It is time for other big players on the Internet, like Google and Amazon to follow Wikipedia's example and not give quacks equal standing in their results. Searching for information or books about 'vaccines,' should not bring up anti-vax info among the top results.
I had to fight Amazon for a few months to get my review of Sear's "vaccine book" published. Until I proved to them that I had actually purchased my copy from Amazon, they refused to put up my review.
Definitely OT, but a scam-publisher's offer of a book just turned up in my spam tray and the title is too good not to share:
It's the digoxin that makes it art.
The same publisher has previously brought us
Not to forget their magnum opus,
We now return you to the scheduled Wikipedia-related programming.
And then there was Jimmy Wales' rant against homeopathy that upset more than a few quacks.
Aye, but if Neanderthal man was autistic it blows the whole vaccine theory out of the foetid swamp that it breeds in.
No, don't you see? The vaccines are such powerful bad stuff that they even harm the ANCESTORS of those who get them! Forget kids being vaccine-injured from their mom's vaccines, THIS is the real deal.
I thought neanderthal's were a genetic dead end, with few or none modern humans sharing their lineage. Or am I wrong?
I'm a Wikipedia admin, and actually the quacks are up against a much bigger problem than just a reality-based bias. Wikipedia is deeply distrustful of anyone who comes along to promote their commercial interests. Every time a chiroquacktor, homeoquack or quackupuncturist ocmes along to promote the delusions on which their business is based, they contribute to the firming of resolve that this kind of bullshit will not be allowed.
Obviously Wikipedia also aspires to be accurate, trustworthy, factual, fair and all the rest, but the one thing the Wikipedia really hates is promotional editing.
Oh, and apparently we have an extreme liberal bias. As in, we don't pretend that the earth being a few thousand years old is a valid alternative scientific view, we state as fact that the climate is changing and it's mankind that's doing it, we accept the rights of LGBT people to live their lives in peace, and of course we admit that maybe the reason America has such a problem with gun crime might just be that the place is awash with guns wielded by rednecks who read Soldier Of Fortune.
@Uselesstwit, there's genetic evidence that Homo Sapiens interbred with Neanderthals. More than a few modern humans have Neanderthal DNA.
Thanks for the answer Julian. Looks like I have some unlearning and new reading to do.
Jimmy Wales was doing just fine until his last sentence ('...lunatic charlatans...'), at which point he shot himself in the foot and then stuck the foot in his mouth.
Compare and contrast: 'No Parking' vs. 'No Parking, You Idiot.'
It's OK to say 'lunatic charlatans' here on RI and other sceptic forums that are dedicated to a strong point of view about these things. It's decidedly not-OK for the head of something that purports to be an _encyclopedia_, which espouses neutral point-of-view as a key principle, to indulge in that kind of partisan rant.
Neutral POV doesn't mean letting quackers and their backers infest Wikipedia with outrageous claims for dodgy BS. 'Published in peer-reviewed journals and replicated' is sufficient to keep the quacks out of the pond.
'Lunatic charlatans' adds nothing and merely throws petrol on the fire. It comes across as puerile ad-hominem, decidedly partisan, and a hypocritical repudiation of neutral POV. It's guaranteed to stir up a bloody row, and that's exactly what it did.
As a result we have a further infestation of quackers and their backers, able to use Wales' wailing as an excuse to claim victimhood. Wail-wail meets Waah-waah, generating what politicos call 'red meat' to feed the endless news & gossip cycle. The quacks win because they get more attention this way.
Further proving his bona-fides as a hothead who doesn't know when to shut up, Wales lately came out against the EU decision that requires Google to let us delete ourselves from search. This time he called Europeans and Britons 'prissy' or something to that effect, another deliberately provocative ad-hom. Wales has demonstrated that not only is he incapable of keeping a level head on, he isn't even capable of making a public statement without indulging in gratuitous snipes and digs.
Wales needs to go away. He is not helping our cause, nor is he helping Wikipedia. He get a job that is more suited to his temperament, such as working for Rupert Murdoch.
I'm not sure I agree.
You have some point about not pouring oil on fire, but this part:
comes a bit too close to advocating for a "balanced view". Being neutral doesn't mean you are not allowed to strongly remind people that there are rules to follow.
When reading Guy Chapman's entry, just above yours, I was thinking that "charlatan" is actually a good descriptor of people who sees Wikipedia as an advertisement platform to promote their own unproven products.
So, OK, it may be a bit inflammatory, but the "citation needed" meme is so widely known that a would-be Wikipedia editor really has no ground for complaining when told s/he cannot just write stuff without serious backup.
In short, if the shoe fits...
Hellanthus @ 27:
'Balanced view,' no. 'Published in peer-reviewed journals and replicated', doesn't leave any wiggle-room. One could still publish e.g. an article on creationism that discussed it as a religious belief, as one should be able to do, but one couldn't insert dodgy science to 'prove' it and get away with it.
The famous homeopathy article in Nature would have gotten by but only briefly. James Randi's takedown of it by demonstrating that it could not be replicated, and Nature's ultimate retraction of it, would have been the end of it. Wakefield's deliberate and outrageous fraud would likewise have been exposed as the evidence came in, the article was retracted, and he was barred from the practice of medicine. Any change in the status of a peer-reviewed finding would become cause for immediate correction in Wikipedia.
As well, any finding at all that is less than, e.g. two years old, should automatically receive a header saying 'this is so recent that it has to be considered as provisional until replication studies are published.' Once replications came in, the header would be removed.
Re. quacks attempting self-promotion: woo-peddlers are 1/N of the overall self-promotion problem (I routinely see corporate PR style writing as edits and as whole articles). There is already a social ecosystem that eats self-promoters of all kinds, and there is no reason to believe its appetite will be sated before it gets to the homeoquacks, chiroquacktors, and quackupuncturists on the menu.
Establishing a special and different category for woo only makes the woo look 'special' and fuels the victim/persecution narrative. Keeping one set of standards, and one set of rules, that are uniformly applied and the results transparently reported, defeats any claim of special treatment or persecution.
Beyond that, disallowing triumphalist rants by Jimmy Wales and other well-known authority figures, would further rob the woomeisters of their narrative.
Really: the goal of editing an _encyclopedia_ shouldn't be dramatic battle scenes ending in the righteous vanquishing of evil foes, no matter how emotionally gratifying this may be to the victors. The goal should be precisely the opposite: a complete absence of drama and emotionalism, and a system that is as mundane, regular, and uniform as street cleaning.
Which was one of many reasons I ended up giving up on Wikipedia entirely. The ideals of Wikipedia are wonderful; in actual practice, it's term papers crossed with guerilla warfare.
Antaeus: Great concept for a novel, not so much in real life.
Never forget that Larry Sanger's own Wikipedia wannabe, Citizendium, became the quackery hugbox WP couldn't be turned into.
Antaneus @ 29: Good point, that all the emotional drama-queen politics on Wikipedia also drives away rationalists. I thought of getting involved about five years ago but was deterred by the reports of internal politics, coups and counter-coups, sordid affairs and B-movie plots, etc.
Politicalguineapig@ 30: Good suggestion, perhaps someone will write a novel about an organisation devoid of internal power politics, where people live their lives, do their duties, and have their say, without all the drama and suchlike.
Pharma Shill @ 31: Is 'Citizendium' a clever way to pluralise 'CitizenDumbDumb'?;-) If it still exists, at least it confines the quackers to their own duck pond, which I suppose is their right, plus or minus impacts on public health. (IMHO 'free speech' should not include the ability to spread demonstrable lies that have the effect of causing casualties, e.g. anti-vaxx conspiracy theory, as well as hate speech, but I'll save that debate for another time.)
BTW, I've been trying to get paid by Big Pharma for my efforts on their behalf, but so far I have't received any replies to my emails. Could it be that 'paid pharma shills' are another hoax spun up by the quackadoodle lobby?;-)
Yes, I'm afraid you've uncovered the dreadful truth:
none of us are being paid by pharma.
His Lordship, Draconis Zeneca, is the invention and alter ego of a very clever gay man who has a band.
All of my money, property and possessions are due to work, inheritance and investment. Oh, and I rent out a half- unit I own to some guy and try to never pay retail for clothes.
Orac really doesn't drive his Maserati 4 door to his yacht and private Lear jet.
Lurker:As an avid reader, I have to say that would be the most boring novel in existence. I was planning something that was the exact opposite of what you proposed.
I got too much change once when I bought a pack of paracetamol. I think I got 10p too much. Perhaps Lord Draconis was guiding the hand of the Sainsbury's cashier.
@ Denice #33 -- That's what His Lordship wants us to think, of course. :)
No, no, no! He's not a mercilous alien reptilian overlord bent on our eventual destruction after we've been farmed for profit by his species and an armada of allied insectoid conquistadors...
he's just a white boy from California.
I think I feel a song coming on:
He's just a white boy...
STOP THAT! You're not going to do a song while I'm 'ere! :)
@Rebecca Fisher - sadly, Lord D. would not be caught dead in Sainsbury’s - he is more likely to be found in Harrods or Grace Brothers.
he is more likely to be found in Harrods or Grace Brothers.
Whoa. That mental image is going to be hard to shift. *giggles*
Come now. Only parvenus and Australian backpackers go to Harrods these days.
Don't worry, if you go to conventions and conferences, you might be able to pick up free pens and paper from the pharmaceutical stalls. It'll only cost you the entry fee, transport cost, parking, lunch costs, lost earnings, and hours of sheer boredom.
But hey, according to one whackadoodle that was interrogating me, free stationary is enough to count as a pharmashill.
Do air headed cheerleaders or chiseled faced GQ guy drug reps count as pharmacshrills? I think they should, They used to bring tchotchkes into the pharmacy all the time. I got them free because I showed up to work, and i was evening shift so I didn't even have to sit through their talks.
I miss the days of using a Diflucan pen on an Oxycontin sticky note.
@M O'B - What was it Stephen Fry said?
"I love Sainsbury's. It keeps the scum out of Waitrose"...
It looks like homeopaths are also feeling Wikipedia butthurt.
Larry Sanger responded that he does not know of any policy changes to wikipedia that would fix the problem. I'm inclined to disagree. The editors at wikipedia fight the battle quite well compared to the old days.
DedJ; I got a stress ball from BARDA at a conference (in the shape of a chicken, no less). Obviously I am hopelessly tainted.
Regarding the homeopaths' petition to get love from Wikipedia, they're going about it the wrong way - it'd be most powerful if _no one_ signed it.
The big policy change that is needed is one which will never be implemented, because it would require admitting that the stochastic accuracy algorithm of "the wiki way" is deeply unreliable. Which is a pity, since it's conceptually quite simple.
The answer is to split apart the two separate duties currently combined into the single role of "editor". Composing new versions of wiki articles, trying to create one which will optimally satisfy all the project's goals (NPOV, referencing to reliable sources); this is a duty which is currently open to everyone, and it should remain so - because it's very possible that a newcomer to Wikipedia will have some knowledge of a subject, or some insight into how it can be presented, that can make for an improved article.
What should be established as a separate duty, and restricted to a smaller pool of participants, is curation: deciding, out of all the separate drafts which have been proposed, which one should actually serve as the default version presented. That is a task which requires experience and judgment and knowledge it would be irrational to expect any newcomer to have - and yet Wikipedia forces every newcomer to not only make that decision, but make it in their own favor, if they want to participate in the composing process in the normal way.
But, as previously mentioned, to adopt this structure would mean admitting that "the wiki way" doesn't solve everything. (The "wiki way" is that, if you see a problem, you should fix it; therefore, whenever an unfixed problem is pointed out, the blame can be immediately affixed to whoever pointed it out and didn't fix it, and once it's fixed, it's considered evidence for "the wiki way" working. It's kind of like those cases where the person who's been on Death Row for decades is finally exonerated by DNA evidence, and the very prosecutors who did their best to obstruct the testing of that DNA evidence utter some statement about how the exoneration proves that "the system works".)
Well, assuming the page isn't locked. I pointed out several screaming errors (which were technical in the sense of not understanding that what was input was decidedly not what was being rendered, viz., the "curatorial" improver – it was noted as such – didn't check his damn work; I omit the page because I was unregistered) on a proudly "level-4 vital article."
It wasn't even acknowledged for a month, while attention did revolve around genuinely idiotic aesthetic trivialities. I have no idea how long it finally took for what should have been an utterly trivial fix to be ciphered out by the brain trust.
I no longer even bother. Even minor corrections (such as references) can be a giant paint in the ass thanks to the deranged markup system, which makes Unicode conceptually look like it was set forth by Apollo on a particularly good day.