Wikipedia and the Slant Factor

How Much Should You Rely on the Free Online Encyclopedia?

In the age of the Internet, everyone has access to facts and information as never before. Or do they? While it is true that a diligent researcher can uncover vast quantities of information on just about any subject, just how reliable is it? Now, it turns out, one of the most relied-upon sources of Internet information could be something quite different from its billing.

Wikipedia, the free, “crowd sourced,” on-line encyclopedia was founded in 2001 by web entrepreneur Jimmy Wales and encyclopedist Larry Sanger. It prides itself on providing a free and collective exchange of information while covering all sides of many controversial topics. Though frequently consulted by almost all web users, Wikipedia now stands accused of secret bias toward favored groups—and worse.

At the same time, alternative points of view, like those advanced in this magazine, are presented in a manner that is often distorted, dismissive, or downright insulting. Could the same entrenched materialistic paradigm protectors, who have, for centuries, successfully blocked the dissemination of much important knowledge on many worthy topics, have now learned to apply their systematic suppression techniques to the leading online encyclopedia?

 

Alternative Science

One prominent example of an obviously materialistic bias at Wikipedia is the entry on homeopathy. According to the Homeopathy web site (http://www.homeopathycenter.org), Wikipedia “does not accurately define or represent this natural system of medicine. In many places the entry provides incorrect information, uses biased references, and negative thoughts and feelings rather than scientific evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathy.”

“Homeopathy,” declares Wikipedia, “lacks biological plausibility, and the axioms of homeopathy have been refuted for some time. The postulated mechanisms of action of homeopathic remedies are both scientifically implausible and not physically possible.” Dismissed, out of hand, is the 1988 paper by French immunologist Jacques Benveniste, published in the scientific journal Nature, which clearly showed a demonstrable effect for very high, homeopathic dilutions of an antibody on human basophils, a kind of white blood cell. Cited in opposition to homeopathy is the notorious debunker and stage magician James Randi, even as strong support for homeopathy by Dr. Luc Montagnier, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize (for discovery of the AIDS virus) is entirely ignored. Yet, despite being provided with authoritative and up-to-date information, Wikipedia has steadfastly refused to update the page and has blocked any editing. In the forlorn hope of persuading Wikipedia to fix the problem, The Homeopathy Center website is asking concerned individuals to sign its online petition at Change.Org.

Another area where Wikipedia displays an obvious bias against alternative science is in its treatment of the influence of electromagnetic forces on large-scale phenomena in the universe. Regarding the related plasma cosmology—proposed by such influential scientists as Nobel-prize-winning Hannes Alfvén: and constituting a major part of ‘the electric universe’ hypothesis advanced by astrophysicists like Walt Thornhill, and others—Wikipedia cluelessly declares, “[Plasma Cosmology] is contrary to the general consensus by cosmologists and astrophysicists which strongly supports that astronomical bodies and structures in the universe are mostly influenced by gravity, Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and quantum mechanics.” Hotly disputing that contention is Henry Bauer, emeritus professor of chemistry and science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, who charges that Wikipedia’s editing process, “takes only one dedicated fanatic to dominate any given Wikipedia entry or topic.” Furthermore, he complains, “arbitration on Wikipedia is controlled by sometimes anonymous individuals whose credentials are thereby unknown.” (http://www.thunderbolts.info/thunderblogs/guest1.htm)

Concerning intelligent design (I.D.) theory, which Wikipedia equates with ‘neo-creationism’ and a disbelief in evolution: “The neo-creationist movement,” it says, “is motivated by the fear that religion is under attack by the study of evolution.” On the contrary, ID theorists do not disbelieve in evolution. They simply differ with Darwinists over what the evidence shows to be its guiding processes. (See the following article on page 34, by William B. Stoecker.)

Biologist and author, Rupert Sheldrake (The Science Delusion, U.K., Science Set Free, in the U.S., 2013), is best known for his hypothesis of morphic fields and morphic resonance, which, he says, “leads to a vision of a living, developing universe with its own inherent memory.” A Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, in the 1960s, Sheldrake did important research in developmental biology. Later he became the Principal Plant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), in Hyderabad, India. More recently, he was Director of the Perrott-Warrick project, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge. In its article on Sheldrake, Wikipedia goes out of its way to state that his Morphic Resonance Theory “is not accepted by the scientific community as a real phenomenon, and Sheldrake’s proposals relating to it have been characterized as pseudoscience.” The brief bio concludes mockingly, “Despite the negative reception Sheldrake’s ideas have received from the scientific community, they have found support in the New Age Movement, such as from Deepak Chopra. Sheldrake argues that science should incorporate alternative medicine, psychic phenomena, and a greater focus on holistic thinking.” Notwithstanding Wikipedia’s disrespect, in the July 2014 Scientific American, influential science writer John Horgan says, “[Sheldrake] possesses a deep knowledge of science, including its history and philosophy (which he studied at Harvard in the 1960s). This knowledge—along with his ability to cite detailed experimental evidence for his claims—make Sheldrake a formidable defender of his outlook.” (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/ 2014/07/14/scientific-heretic-rupert-sheldrake-on-morphic-fields-psychic-dogs-and-other-mysteries/)

On another major scientific front, Wikipedia weighs in regarding the famous water erosion hypothesis of the Great Sphinx, and its radical re-dating, as advanced by Boston University Geology professor and regular Atlantis Rising contributor, Dr. Robert Schoch. In its opening paragraph, Wikipedia says, “Egyptologists, geologists, and others have rejected the water erosion hypothesis and the idea of an older Sphinx, offering various alternative explanations for the cause and date of the erosion.” But, as Dr. Schoch has pointed out in this publication and elsewhere, while his thesis may be questioned by some Egyptologists, it is widely accepted throughout the community of academic and professional geologists.

Complaints of significant Wikipedia bias can be found in many places on the web. Perhaps the loudest come from Christians and political conservatives. (http://www.conservapedia.com/Examples_of_Bias_in_Wikipedia) The practice causing the greatest alarm, though, is manipulation of Wikipedia’s editorial process by corporate interests, in ways, which, it can be argued, are threatening public health and welfare.

 

Astroturfing

Investigative journalist Cheryl Attkisson warns about a widespread public relations strategy called “astroturfing” and sees Wikipedia as a key part of the technique. Based in Washington D.C. she is currently writing a book entitled Stonewalled (Harper Collins), which addresses the unseen influences of corporations and special interests on the information and images the public receives every day in the news and elsewhere. For twenty years (through March 2014), Attkisson was a correspondent for CBS News. In 2013, she received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism.

In a recent TEDx event in Nevada, available on YouTube, Attkisson explained that Astroturf is a “perversion of grassroots—as in fake grassroots.” (https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=-bYAQ-ZZtEU) It happens “when political or corporate or other special interests disguise themselves and publish blogs, start Facebook and Twitter accounts, publish ads, letters-to-the-editor, or simply post comments on line to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grassroots movement is speaking. The whole point of astroturf is to give the impression there is widespread support for, or against, an agenda when there’s not. Astroturf seeks to manipulate you into changing your opinion by making you feel as though you are an outlier when you are not.”

Astroturfers, Attkisson says, seek to “controversialize” those who disagree with them. “They attack news organizations that publish stories they don’t like, whistle blowers who tell the truth, politicians who dare to ask the tough questions, and journalists who have the audacity to report on all of it. Sometimes astroturfers simply shove so much conflicting and confusing information into the mix that you are left to throw up your hands and disregard all of it—including the truth. [They] drown out a link between a medicine and a harmful side effect—say vaccines and autism—by throwing a bunch of conflicting, paid-for studies, surveys and experts into the mix, confusing the truth beyond recognition.”

Wikipedia, Attkisson says, is “astorturf’s dream come true.” Though billed as the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, “the reality,” she says, “can’t be more different.”

“Anonymous Wikipedia editors,” she argues, “control and co-opt pages on behalf of special interests. They forbid and reverse edits that go against their agenda, they skew and delete information, in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s own established policies, with impunity, always superior to the poor schlubs who actually believe anyone could edit Wikipedia, only to discover they are barred from correcting even the simplest factual inaccuracies.”

“Try adding a footnoted fact or correcting a fact error on one of these monitored Wikipedia pages,” she complains, “and poof, you will find—sometimes in a matter of seconds—your edit is reversed.” She describes the case of celebrated author Phillip Roth, who in 2012, tried to correct a major factual error about the inspiration behind one of his book characters, cited on a Wikipedia page. No matter how hard he tried, though, Wikipedia’s editors wouldn’t allow it. The entry kept undoing the edits and reverting back to the false information. When Roth finally reached a person at Wikipedia—which was no easy task—and tried to find out what was going wrong, they told him he was simply not considered a credible source on ‘himself.’

In 2014, a medical study published by the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, cited by Attkisson, looked at medical conditions described on Wikipedia’s pages and compared them to actual peer-reviewed published research. Wikipedia, it turns out, contradicted medical research 90% of the time. “You may never fully trust what you read on Wikipedia again,” says Attkisson, “nor should you.”

In theory, Wikipedia articles are written by disinterested volunteers and are based on reliable secondary sources. However, when a person searches on an article’s title, Google will rank a Wikipedia article as the first result. The consequence is public relations firms and “reputation management” companies work hard to remove any negative or controversial facts relating to their clients from Wikipedia articles. And, according to Conservapedia.com, although such paid editing is explicitly forbidden, Wikipedia does little to enforce the rules against paid editing and there are numerous examples of such editors introducing biased content on behalf of their clients. Moreover, when large Wikipedia donors are involved, says Conservapedia, Wikipedia selectively fails to enforce its ban on paid editing. Many organizations that visit the WMF Headquarters also engage in undisclosed paid editing to promote themselves. (http://www.conservapedia.com/Examples_of_Bias_in_Wikipedia)

The International Business Times reported in November, 2013, that companies were willing to pay top dollar to PR firms willing to ‘fix’ their entries. Wikipedia, wrote blogger Thomas Halleck, “is facing an onslaught of editors paid by private interests to edit and create articles, while its volunteer ranks are dwindling.” (http://www.ibtimes.com/wikipedia-paid-edits-companies-pay-top-dollar-firms-willing-fix-their-entries-1449172)

Wikipedia, after all, is free of advertising, and readers can also use it for free. The idea is that tens of thousands of independent editors motivated only by a desire to spread the truth can edit the material and keep it up to par. But even in 2013, the number of active editors was down nearly 40%. The result is, existing editors have more influence over what gets to stay in, says Helleck, but that is not the whole story.

Halleck spoke of one editor, out of many, Mike Wood, who is paid by companies and individuals to create and maintain articles that present them in the best light. “Sometimes,” says Halleck, “[Wood] is even asked to remove negative information from a client’s page. Wood likens himself to an attorney in court, advising a client on what course of action they can and cannot take. He charges as little as $50 for a small Wikipedia edit, up to $2,000 for the creation of a new article. Wood says that Wikipedia is his main source of income, and he makes more editing for hire on his site, LegalMorning.com, than from any other work he has pursued.”

The result of Wood’s effort, and that of others like him, is that, at a minimum, the public gets an unreliable picture of the truth. And, as Sheryl Attkisson argues, for someone trying to use Wikipedia to decide what kind of drug might be safe, the results could be disastrous.

 

The Battle for the Internet

While the risks of putting a thumb on the scales of pharmaceutical information may be clear to all, some believe that, possibly even more serious, are the dangers to our entire society from distorting the meaning of important new scientific knowledge. Among these is Craig Weiler, author of the 2013 book: PSI WARS: TED, Wikipedia and the Battle for the Internet. On his blog, The Weiler Psi, he argues that Wikipedia’s treatment of Rupert Sheldrake is particularly egregious. A group of skeptical ideologues, Weiler says, has taken control of Rupert Sheldrake’s biography page. Their ultimate goal, he believes, is no less than to control all available information across the collaborative encyclopedia (https://weilerpsiblog.wordpress.com/).

In March of 2013 Sheldrake was involved in a controversy following his speech, “The Science Delusion,” at TEDx, White Chapel in London. Like Wikipedia, the prestigious not-for-profit TED Talks organization claims a commitment to informing its patrons about the latest developments in Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED). Despite charging audiences thousands of dollars to watch speeches, at conferences and streaming live on the web, for which it pays nothing, TED has developed a considerable international following, reaching over a billion viewers so far. Now it can add one more trophy to its collection: censorship.

After hearing Sheldrake challenge the materialistic assumptions of contemporary science, the ‘skeptical’ movement rose up as one, mad as hell, and the TED people soon fell in line, pulling Sheldrake’s speech from their web lineup. They also removed a speech by Graham Hancock. However, despite publicly citing an unnamed science board for its decision, TED, in the wake of the ensuing and overwhelming, public backlash, again retreated and restored both speeches to its site, albeit to a less desirable location—what Hancock called “the naughty corner.”

Later Sheldrake, in his newsletter, exposed an organized group called ‘Guerrilla Skeptic’ for its determined efforts to modify Wikipedia entries on behalf of its agenda. Clearly threatened by someone with such a large—and approving—public following, the militant skeptical community, nevertheless, doubled down and renewed its unrelenting campaign to modify Wikipedia entries to reflect its own ‘skeptical’ perspective on what it calls ‘pseudoscience’; i.e., paranormal phenomena and the like. Now fully aroused, the group went after the Sheldrake threat, hammer and tong. Weiler also was savaged after he reported on the attacks on Sheldrake’s page.

The assault on Sheldrake is not an isolated problem, Weiler says. There are many aggressive ideologues who want to control Wikipedia, especially over so-called fringe topics, but, these aggressors, he says, do not so much express their own point of view as attack that of those with whom they disagree.

According to Weiler, one Wikipedia editor known as ‘The Tumbleman,’ who seemed knowledgeable about parapsychology, tried to defend the notion of having an objective discussion about Sheldrake and his reputation. (https://weilerpsiblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/wikipedia-the-trial-of-tumbleman/)

Attempting to take a more neutral stance toward Sheldrake and his scientific theories, The Tumbleman challenged the biases of the skeptics. The result was a concerted attack on The Tumbleman himself. A campaign to have him banned followed and ultimately succeeded.

One of Wikipedia’s talk pages carried comments by an administrator who sided with the Guerrilla Skeptics. For Weiler that was clear evidence that Wikipedia is not only aware of the actions of the skeptical organization but has made no effort to stop them.

Anyone interested in subjects like astrology, the paranormal, metaphysics, faith/spirituality, alternative medicine, or even atheism, or skepticism—what Wikipedia terms ‘fringe’ topics—will soon learn that the ‘free’ online encyclopedia has little interest in their views. They will also find, by many reports, that they are dealing with a virtually secret cabal, dominated by a small group of editors, supported by at least two, full-time supervising ‘experts’ who zealously patrol, edit, and delete pages while claiming authority as strictly unbiased referees. Making, reportedly, up to ten thousand edits per year under the cloak of anonymity they ensure, say critics, that their favored doctrine, ‘scientism,’ triumphs, bad science is whitewashed, and inconvenient evidence is suppressed. At the same time, editors who dare to challenge the powers that be, are ridiculed, intimidated, and banned in virtual tribunals.

Many critics, like Craig Weiler, marvel at just how the ‘skeptics’ have been able to carry out such devious strategy so effectively. Galileo, we suspect, may have had similar questions about the Roman inquisition almost f

By Martin Ruggles