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How the Guerilla Sceptics are undermining Wikipedia’s neutrality

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd October 2013


This summer, soon after the TED controversy, a commando squad of skeptics captured the Wikipedia page about me. They have occupied and controlled it ever since, rewriting my biography with as much negative bias as possible, to the point of defamation. At the beginning of the “Talk” page, on which editorial changes are discussed, they have posted a warning to editors who do not share their biases: “A common objection made by new arrivals is that the article presents Sheldrake’s work in an unsympathetic light and that criticism of it is too extensive or violates Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View policy.” Several new arrivals have indeed attempted to restore a more balanced picture, but have had a bewildering variety of rules thrown at them, and warned that they will be banned if they persist in opposing the skeptics.

A group of virulent fundamentalists has been fighting scientific inquiry on the internet.

Excerpted from Rupert Sheldrake, whose page was targeted:

“This summer, soon after the TED controversy, a commando squad of skeptics captured the Wikipedia page about me. They have occupied and controlled it ever since, rewriting my biography with as much negative bias as possible, to the point of defamation. At the beginning of the “Talk” page, on which editorial changes are discussed, they have posted a warning to editors who do not share their biases: “A common objection made by new arrivals is that the article presents Sheldrake’s work in an unsympathetic light and that criticism of it is too extensive or violates Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View policy.” Several new arrivals have indeed attempted to restore a more balanced picture, but have had a bewildering variety of rules thrown at them, and warned that they will be banned if they persist in opposing the skeptics. Craig Weiler gives some telling examples in his newly posted blog called “The Wikipedia battle for Rupert Sheldrake’s biography”. Fortunately, a few editors arguing for a more neutral point of view have not yet been bullied into silence. An editing war is raging as you read this.

The Guerrilla Skeptics are well trained, highly motivated, have an ideological agenda, and operate in teams, contrary to Wikipedia rules. The mastermind behind this organization is Susan Gerbik. She explains how her teams work in a training video. She now has over 90 guerrillas operating in 17 different languages. The teams are coordinated through secret Facebook pages. They check the credentials of new recruits to avoid infiltration. Their aim is to “control information”, and Ms Gerbik glories in the power that she and her warriors wield. They have already seized control of many Wikipedia pages, deleted entries on subjects they disapprove of, and boosted the biographies of atheists.

As the Guerrilla Skeptics have demonstrated, Wikipedia can easily be subverted by determined groups of activists, despite its well-intentioned policies and mediation procedures. Perhaps one solution would be for experienced editors to visit the talk pages of sites where editing wars are taking place, rather like UN Peacekeeping Forces, and try to re-establish a neutral point of view. But this would not help in cases where there are no editors to oppose the Guerrilla Skeptics, or where they have been silenced.

If nothing is done, Wikipedia will lose its credibility, and its financial backers will withdraw their support. I hope the noble aims of Wikipedia will prevail.”

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4 Responses to “How the Guerilla Sceptics are undermining Wikipedia’s neutrality”

  1. Matthew Slater Says:

    >If nothing is done, Wikipedia will lose its credibility
    Perhaps we should start by acknowledging that ‘neutral’ is an aribtrary point between other arbitrary points.

    Instead of fighting to change wikipedia, wikipedia content could be mirrored, on another site and altered by a team which inspires trust and states its biases.

    Another solution is this wikipedia plugin which overlays wikipedia with dissenting opinions from the crowd. www.wikipediaplus.org/wiki/Main_Page

  2. Marco Fioretti Says:

    “They have occupied and controlled it ever since…”

    This issue is the main reason why, even for much less controversial topics, personally I’ve never contributed to Wikipedia and probably never will

  3. Rob Myers Says:

    The talk page is informative, especially the section for new editors:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Rupert_Sheldrake

    Wikipedia is a hornet’s nest, but failing to act as an uncritical promotional platform for fringe beliefs isn’t one of its sins.

  4. Rome Viharo Says:

    Hello Michel. I just wanted to bring to your attention. I was involved in that wiki war on the Sheldrake article and have compiled a personal case study on the abuses you mention.

    www.wikipediawehaveaproblem.com

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