diderot“Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth.” — Denis Diderot

A leading figure of the European Enlightenment, the great philosophe and skeptic Denis Diderot was a tireless foe of the superstitions of his age. He believed that science was the best way to fight such unfounded belief. In order to popularize this new science, and over a number of laborious decades (from 1745 until 1772), he worked on his Encyclopédie, which eventually totaled 28 volumes, later growing to 35 volumes on a wide variety of topics.

Diderot believed if such a compilation of both general and specific knowledge about many different fields was widely available, that it could “change men's common way of thinking,” and free them from the shackles of superstition that caused so much human misery. Despite the controversial nature of the project — the Encyclopédie had hundreds of contributors and some of them wrote entries harshly critical of superstition, religion and what we would now call paranormal belief — the project continued, and is considered the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment. (There were great skeptical entries on witchcraft, werewolves, divination, sexually motivated demon possession, astrology, superstition, and the like — all in the mid-1700s!)

Fast-forward almost 250 years, and today, the fifth most popular website on the Internet — Wikipedia — would probably make Diderot really happy. Wikipedia is a collection of pages on the World Wide Web on the widest range of topics imaginable — 26 million articles in 286 languages! — and they are all crowd-sourced into an online encyclopedia produced by volunteers from all over the world.

One such Wikipedia volunteer is skeptic activist Susan Gerbic, who has created a Wikipedia Skepticism Project. She recently presented a workshop for The James Randi Educational Foundation in Los Angeles, CA, about ways people can promote critical thinking and the scientific outlook by contributing edits and content to Wikipedia, especially on topics related to scientific skepticism, the paranormal, and pseudoscience.

In JREF’s video of the workshop she details recent collaborative efforts to update the entries on paranormalists like Chip Coffey, James Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne, and Teresa Caputo, along with the entries on leading scientific skeptics like James Randi, Leo Igwe, and so many others.

If you want to get involved with this important work, please be sure to contact her as explained in the video.