As readers of randi.org will know, a lot of great skeptical activism gets carried out by hard working volunteers on a regular basis. Sometimes it is as simple as challenging misinformation on the net, as JREF fellow Tim Farley has spoken about. An example of this sort of work is Susan Gerbic’s project over the last couple of years to organize volunteers to clean up Wikipedia when it comes to skeptical and paranormal topics.
She recently organized a cleanup of JREF fellow Leo Igwe’s page. She shares with randi.org a writeup of recent progress:
Leo’s page was in very sorry shape when editor Vera de Kok first took it on, as you can see here. She expanded the article and added an image and there the page lingered for several months. Nathan Miller expressed an interest in the page and started researching. Brian Engler uploaded a photo he took at TAM 2012 to further improve the page, and after several days of research Nathan Miller was done.
According to Miller, “It's essential that we expand Wikipedia's coverage of the important, tireless and often thankless work that people like Leo undertake, but often goes unnoticed or under-noticed by others. A lot of us who are rather insulated, like myself, from these realities are initially incredulous that modern-day witchcraft accusation could pose a tangible threat in the 21st century. Tying these accounts together and making this information available through the Internet's fifth largest site helps, I hope, make the individual journey of discovery that much easier. With the stellar list of references we've integrated, we can make sure that researchers are getting the most reliable, verifiable information we can point them to.”
Not only will this updated version of the page increase Igwe's profile and make his credibility more apparent to readers, it does the same for skepticism as a movement. We can't expect the public to respect our spokespeople if we don't respect them. For additional exposure to the “outside world” Igwe's page was placed on the front page of Wikipedia for 8 hours as a Did You Know? article. This placement gave the page 3,607 views for that day alone.
But that number is only a part of the story. While sometimes individual page views are isolated, a lot of viewers are encouraged to check up on related articles to learn more. For instance, Igwe's article discusses other human rights groups doing similar work. During the Did You Know? feature of Igwe's article, the pages for Stepping Stones Nigeria received a 1,652% (not a typo) daily increase, compared to their daily average throughout January 2013. That's a measurable effect to show how well we are raising awareness about important skeptical issues. The article on "Witch Children in Africa," which receives virtually no traffic, received 4,339 visitors. These users were made curious by what they read.
Skeptical organizations receive extra attention from these Did You Know? features, as well. The Center for Inquiry article's daily traffic spiked by 33%, and daily visits to the James Randi Educational Foundation article grew by around 20%.
The Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia are a group of volunteers working to improve the pages of Wikipedia world-wide. During the 2 years we have existed as a team, we have written (or rewritten) many Wikipedia pages for skeptics, science educators, and science-based medicine proponents who push back against pseudoscience and the paranormal in the media, and for the public. The following is only a partial list: Ken Feder, Sara Mayhew, Indre Viskontes, Kiki Sanford, Bryan & Baxter, Jennifer Ouellette, Tim Farley, Alan Melikdjanian, William B. Davis, Mary Roach & Sikivu Hutchinson.
The World Wikipedia project began a month after JREF’s Amaz!ng Meeting last year, yet already our volunteers have made many additions to Wikipedia. We currently work in 17 different languages translating, researching and copy-editing skeptical and paranormal Wikipedia pages for people outside our community. New pages have been created for Jerry Andrus (you might remember him as the optical illusion inventor who was a fixture at TAM for many years and also at the Skeptic's Toolbox). His page is now available in Arabic, Dutch, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Portuguese.
Bob Carroll from the Skeptic's Dictionary now has his page in Dutch and French.
Paul Kurtz received new pages in Russian and Portuguese.
Spanish-language Wikipedia added a SkeptiCamp page, and the Dutch site rewrote the James Randi and Michael Shermer pages.
And the prolific Portuguese team has added Wikipedia pages for Phil Plait, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Power Balance, Martin Gardner, Penn & Teller, Erich von Daniken, Indigo House, Indigo Children and Ray Hyman for Wikipedia readers in their language . . . and even more.
In addition, the Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia team works to ensure that all claims on paranormal themed pages are balanced and have citations to notable secondary sources. For example, many lesser known psychics often have Wikipedia pages that look like they were written by themselves. They claim to have found missing persons, solved crimes and assisted police. When citations are checked, they usually lead back to the psychic's personal webpage.
Being true to our name, we often make edits that are left in places that will be found by readers who are not skeptics themselves. One recent example of this concerns JREF's call-out to Priceline.com for their promotion of the Long Island Medium as a spokesperson. D.J. Grothe issued an “open letter” on Huffington Post challenging Priceline to encourage Caputo to take the JREF’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. I added this challenge to the Priceline.com Wikipedia page as well as the Long Island Medium's page. Total views of these pages, 46,546 for the month of February only. Read this blog for further details.
Keeping in mind that Wikipedia is the 5th most viewed page world-wide on the Internet, along with the fact that everyone — including proponents of the paranormal — can edit Wikipedia, and that we are trying to do this in multiple languages, you might think we are a bit overly ambitious. Maybe we are, but we are doing it anyway. We have already had numerous successes, and many more pages and edits are in the works. The only thing we need are more volunteers to join our team. We train, we mentor and no one is thrown to the wolves, so to speak. If you have further questions, please visit our blog. When you are ready to join us, please contact me on Facebook, and we will get you started.
There you have it, folks. A great opportunity to get involved with skepticism online. Please connect with Susan and help out online skepticism today.
D.J. Grothe is president of the James Randi Educational Foundation.