There are some new developments in the saga of Wikipedia and Rupert Sheldrake. One of the editors has come out and is using his real name, mostly because unscrupulous editors on Wikipedia outed him and he had to clear his name. Rome Viharo, a.k.a. Tumbleman, is now being cyberbullied by (ir)rationalWiki, just like me.
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This cyberbullying has a different effect on each of us. For me, as a member of the parapsychology community who wrote a book about the excesses of skepticism, it’s a badge of honor to be trolled by these people. I explicitly take on skepticism and this is a great way for me to show the worst tendencies of skeptics. However, Viharo is an entrepreneur and digital/social media consultant who wasn’t really on one side or the other of the controversy so being called a troll (and worse) could damage his reputation.
He has responded by documenting all of the abuse he has received on Wikipedia (Wikipedia, We Have a Problem) and has provided a compelling account of what has been happening, some of which I documented on my blog. His account was banned and he had to come back under another name although unsuccessfully.
Nearly a dozen editors who have disagreed with the skeptical majority’s opinion on the Sheldrake page have been threatened with banning. Those who persisted, and especially those who presented valid references, sources and citations that could not be easily dismissed were accused of vague infractions and/or of sharing the viewpoints of others that had been previously banned, such as Tumbleman. Despite failing to illustrate a single case of actual, intentional or disruptive violations, these cases against the dissenting editors were rapidly filled by shrill cries to have them banned forever, “for the good of WP.” An administrator usually gives the case a brief review, sees an entire page full of denunciations of the dissenting editor and makes the quick & easy choice to click “BAN.” In all fairness, these admins have hundreds of cases to get through and can’t spend much time reviewing the details.
After Tumbleman was banned, Viharo came back as Philosophy Fellow. This account was blocked as well for being a sockpuppet for an account that wasn’t even active. This is a violation of Wikipedia rules, of course, but at this point, so what? The group responsible for controlling Rupert Sheldrake’s page flaunts the rules regularly and Wikipedia does nothing. They are allowed to bully other editors at will.
Tom Butler, an editor familiar with the situation wrote this on my blog:
It is interesting to note that one of the people talking against Barleybannocks to have him topic banned from the Rupert Sheldrake article is an editor who has been banned from Wikipedia for life. He is ScienceApologist now editing as JPS (AKA User:QTxVi4bEMRbrNqOorWBV. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:QTxVi4bEMRbrNqOorWBV). One editor even pointed this out on the Rupert Sheldrake article talk page where we know administrators are watching and fully aware of JPS’s activity. This pretty much makes it “Official Wikipedia Policy” that strongarm skeptics editors are a protected class.
The note about this on the talk page: “I am also quite saddened that an editor with your experience, expertise and background,(1) has had to resort to personal attacks again (“myopia”, “brain dead”), bearing in mind your history, (2) previous sanctions, (3)and the very recent WP:AE case concerning Barleybannocks and TRPoD. (4) Barleybannocks and TRPoD. –Iantresman (talk) 20:21, 21 December 2013 (UTC)”
JPS has now pretty much taken over the article and moving it hard-over toward the skeptic view.
Wikipedia is a disaster, start to finish. It violates copyrights; it’s articles are convoluted and horribly written, the information is often flat out wrong; it is reactionary and hidebound and a home to ideologues and cyberbullies. There is almost nothing good about it. Yet it is THE major source of information in the world. Why?
Because it is free, that’s why.
Wikipedia content provides a virtually unlimited source of information at no cost to the user, so it’s been a no brainer for corporations to plug Wikipedia into their device searches. Quality is something that is paid for. When there is no cost, there is no way to control quality. The open, community based nature of Wikipedia protects it from lawsuits for defamation or incorrect information, so they have little in the way of negative incentives to change their system. There is no penalty at all for providing wrong information.
I don’t see this changing anytime soon. It’s a system that’s far too convenient for everyone. It works for Google because it’s in their best interest to push non advertising sites to the top of search so that companies have to buy ad space from Google. You don’t see Britannica in the search results. They have subscriptions. To generate revenue. To pay experts. To write accurate information. Because that is what they are paid to do. We have junk information from an unreliable, often biased source because we are getting what we paid for.