Posted on 07 July 2014, 11:50
I have been experiencing a steep learning curve in the past fortnight. Oh, have I been wet behind the ears! I had been shocked to find how organised Skeptics were in “fixing” Wikipedia. With the entry on Dowsing, for example, I noted that there was no reference to Arthur C. Clarke’s Discovery programme presentation of James Randi’s 1980 test of dowsers, where Clarke notes that while the participants scored badly when tested with metals, with water the odds were 100:1 against successes being by chance. That of course did not suit Randi, so he averaged the results, and declared the test a failure. Clarke expressed his disapproval of this action.
Now I have discovered the recently published “The Australian Skeptics Divining Test” giving James Randi’s account of the same 1980 test. Randi must have remembered the Discovery programme and been aware of the video with Clarke’s evaluation, but he is silent about it. Not honest. Not scientific.
Loes Modderman, Netherlands, commented on my blog, “You know about the promising WISEwiki initiative recently started by a number of USA and Canadian scientists from the SSE? [Society for Scientific Exploration.] Its objective is to form a well informed alternative for Wikipedia on everything ‘fringe’, and also to collect a huge amount of digitalized magazines on the site regarding the same subjects. They are well under way, and everybody can participate in this worthy goal.”
I mentioned WISEwiki to Michael Tymn who also writes blogs for White Crow, and he told me about a similar initiative of the Society for Psychical Research. I wondered whether the initiatives should be consolidated and wrote to Robert McLuhon who heads the SPR project. He replied, “Yes, it’s true the SPR is creating an online encyclopaedia, one of several publications projects funded by a recent bequest. I wrote about it here. We’re aware of the WISE project, and of course the idea of a joint enterprise has been discussed. I have met with one of the people behind WISE and we both feel that collaboration would be quite problematic, however, as each project has rather different scope and aims. WISE is essentially a giant archive, WISE is essentially a giant archive to provide access to existing material on all kinds of anomalistic phenomena, much of it scanned from printed sources. There will be some new articles, but I understand these will depend largely on voluntary contributions.
“The SPR will be smaller, and more tightly focused on psi-phenomena. The articles will be overviews of research in different areas, backed by case study summaries of key reports. Since we can pay writers we can put together a fairly homogenous resource quite quickly.
“My personal view is that this sort of dedicated approach is needed to draw in readers who are unfamiliar with parapsychological topics, while WISE is ideal for those who wish to amplify their existing knowledge.”
I explored WISEwiki and was astonished at the great number of scholarly journals in English and German that I could have access to. There is a slot at the top of WISEwiki home page where I could type in questions. Answers came from a variety of sources, including Answers.com. I was impressed with the scholarly and balanced nature of the articles I found from that source. In my opinion it is best to put questions in the WISE wiki slot, rather than going to Answers.com direct where there can be difficulty in framing questions in an acceptable way.
The next stage of my enlightenment came when Craig Weiler wrote to me about his new book, PSI Wars, TED, Wikipedia and the Battle for the Internet. “Enlightenment” is the appropriate word. Anyone who wants to understand at greater depth the forces at work in the production of Wikipedia, should read this book.
Weiler echoes Wikipediocracy in which we can read: “1. Wikipedia contains incorrect, misleading, and biased information. Whether through vandalism, subtle disinformation, or the prolonged battling over biased accounts, many of Wikipedia’s articles are unsuitable for scholarly use. Because of poor standards of sourcing and citation, it is often difficult to determine the origin of statements made in Wikipedia in order to determine their correctness. Pursuit of biased points of view by powerful administrators is considered a particular problem, as opposing voices are often permanently banned from Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s culture of disrespect for expertise and scholarship (see below) makes it difficult to trust anything there.”
“2. Wikipedia’s articles are used to spread gossip, abet character assassination, and invade the privacy of the general public. So-called “Biographies of Living Persons” are often the result of attempts by powerful but anonymous editors and administrators at humiliating or belittling those real-world people with whom they disagree. Wikipedia’s “anyone can edit” culture has allowed baseless defamation of various individuals to spread widely through the Internet. When the family, friends, associates, or subjects of these biographies attempt to correct errors or insert balance, they are often banned from Wikipedia for “Conflicts of Interest”. Subjects of these hatchet jobs usually must resort to legal action to get the articles removed or corrected, a course not available to all.”...
“Wikipedia’s culture of anonymous editing and administration results in a lack of responsible authorship and management. Wikipedia editors may contribute as IP addresses, or as an ever-changing set of pseudonyms. There is thus no way of determining conflicts of interest, canvassing, or other misbehaviour in article editing. Wikipedia’s administrators are similarly anonymous, shielding them from scrutiny for their actions. They additionally can hide the history of their editing (or that of others).”
Click the Wikipediocracy link to read further claims, and also their rebuttals.
In his book, Weiler writes, “According to a thesis paper by Spanish researcher Filipe Ortega, Wikipedia lost almost 50,000 editors in 2009. The core group of editors has picked up the slack. Who is this core? It is 87% male with an average age of 26.8 years. This is hardly the demographic to entrust with the world’s knowledge. In the real world we would never tolerate people that young being entrusted with the accuracy of an important encyclopedia.”
Read the book, and tear your hair out!
All this led me to consider how I should present links to sources of trustworthy information in my e-journal The Ground of Faith. You might care to look at my draft version for the issue of August 2014.
I have been constructing a column in which I provide links to sources of information that I consider trustworthy. Have you suggestions for changes, or additions?
As I said, I have been experiencing a steep learning curve in the past fortnight.
Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
His forthcoming book, Into the Wider Dream will be published summer 2014 by White Crow Books.