Wiki woo?

While I was away over the weekend, a reader made me aware of a new development in the world of “alternative”–excuse me, “complementary and alternative”–medicine (a.k.a. CAM). I suppose I should have seen this coming. In retrospect, given the proliferation of wikis of seemingly every shape and for seemingly every purpose, it was inevitable that someone, somewhere would put together a wiki for CAM, known as the Wiki4CAM: Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Encyclopedia.

My first thought was that maybe I should register. Certainly I could edit some articles, although, despite what some antivaccine activists say about me, I’ve never actually edited a Wikipedia article before. (I’ve been tempted, but I’ve never done it.) Then I read the wiki’s manifesto:

Wiki4CAM has been started to provide the CAM community their own space where they can build their knowledge base without any undue skeptical diversions. Only CAM practitioners can participate in this wiki.

The article Why Do We Need Wiki4CAM? makes it even more explicit:

Are you wondering why do we need Wiki4CAM when we already have the Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is undoubtedly the world’s biggest and most read and referenced encyclopedia. The community participation has made it a huge success. But its open architecture has (at times) also led to the use of Wikipedia for gaining political mileage and for spreading biased views by a handful of editors.

The same thing has happened to most complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies on Wikipedia. A handful of wiki editors are going out of their way to discredit and disrepute nearly all alternative medicine as unscientific.

Ironically, that’s the best news I’ve heard about Wikipedia in a long, long time! As I’ve alluded to before, my concern about Wikipedia has traditionally been that it is too credulous towards CAM because CAM activists keep trying to edit CAM articles to make them less evidence-based and more “friendly” towards woo and even quackery. Even more amusingly, the whine above about how “biased” Wikipedia is actually shows in some cases how biased Wikipedia is towards CAM. The authors of Wiki4CAM cite what they claim to be “examples” of the “bias” in Wikipedia against CAM therapies, but even a cursory inspection shows that their definition of “bias” is suspect. For example, here are some introductions to CAM therapies that the creators of Wiki4CAM complain about (my comments are in italics):

  • Acupressure: Traditional Chinese medicine’s acupuncture theory predates use of the scientific method, and has received various criticisms based on scientific thinking. There is no known anatomical or histological basis for the existence of acupuncture points or meridians. Actually, this is a fairly reasonable and science-based description of acupressure. No wonder CAM advocates don’t like it.
  • Acupuncture: While acupuncture has been a subject of active scientific research since the late 20th century, its effects are not well-understood, and it remains controversial among researchers and clinicians. The body of evidence remains inconclusive but is active and growing. I suppose whether the body of evidence regarding acupunture is “growing” or not depends upon what sort of evidence is growing. If anything, the only scientific evidence regarding acupuncture that’s growing is the evidence suggesting that it’s nothing more than an elaborate placebo. The better designed the clinical trial and the better sham acupuncture used as a control, the less of an apparent “effect” from acupuncture is observed, and in the best-designed trials the effect is indistinguishable from placebo. Indeed, it’s particularly telling that it doesn’t matter one whit whether acupuncture needles are placed in “real” meridian locations or not; the effect is exactly the same and the difference between the two is indistinguishable.
  • Homeopathy: Claims to the efficacy of homeopathic treatment beyond the placebo effect are unsupported by the collective weight of scientific and clinical evidence,[7][8][9][10] although advocates of homeopathy point to studies of the effects of compounds diluted almost out of existence.[11][12] Common homeopathic preparations are diluted beyond the point where there is any likelihood that molecules from the original solution are present in the final product; the claim that these treatments still have any pharmacological effect is thus scientifically implausible[13][14] and violates fundamental principles of science,[15] including the law of mass action.[15] Critics also object that the number of high-quality studies that support homeopathy is small, the conclusions are not definitive, and duplication of the results, a key test of scientific validity, has proven problematic at best.[16] The lack of convincing scientific evidence supporting its efficacy[17] and its use of remedies without active ingredients have caused homeopathy to be regarded as pseudoscience;[18] quackery;[19][20][21] or, in the words of a 1998 medical review, “placebo therapy at best and quackery at worst.”[22] Actually, I would disagree with this description of homeopathy above and characterize it as entirely too credulous. The number of high quality studies that support homeopathy isn’t just “small.” It’s zero. If anything, this article is far too easy on homeopathy, which by any objective scientific examination is so scientifically implausible as to be, in essence, magic.

I guess I can now see why CAM boosters don’t like Wikipedia, but in reality I’m rather surprised, given the amount of dubious information that finds its way into Wikipedia, thanks to activists making edits. Indeed, that Wiki4CAM exists makes me rather happy. It almost restores my faith in Wikipedia. Almost. It’s especially gratifying to see that Wikpedia gets these guys worked up enough to write:

This is alarming!! Millions of people who use internet to search for alternative medicine are being systematically exposed to anti-CAM data. At the time when the world is rushing towards alternative medicine, the effort to sabotage the alternative medicine cannot be ignored.

The Wikipedia articles on CAM are not a true knowledge-base about any CAM therapy. It is primarily a place to post what CAM is not!!

Wikipedia is a wonderful tool and we are not against Wikipedia in any way. It is the quality of content about CAM therapies and undue skeptical intervention at Wikipedia, that has led us to create a secure environment for the CAM therapies in the form of wiki4cam.org.

Of course, any time you see the word “secure” in a discussion of forums in which to discuss CAM, it really means non-questioning, non-skeptical, and nonscientific. In other words, it means that greatest of all CAM values, “accepting.” We should just “accept” what CAM boosters say, with none of that nasty, scientific, skeptical questioning that real medicine has to endure before it can be accepted as legitimate and then even after. Indeed, the creators of Wiki4CAM are quite explicit about this:

This is why we need a place where the CAM community can build its own knowledge base without the undue interference of skeptics. We need a place where the CAM practitioners themselves write articles and create a true picture of its history, development, efficacy and positive research.

The CAM community needs to come together to create exhaustive articles about each CAM therapy. Hpathy.com will work to optimize the Wiki4CAM content so that the Wiki4CAM pages rank in the top 10 in all search results. We need to make our side of story available too.

This wiki is open ONLY to CAM practitioners. Wiki4CAM is technically supported by Hpathy.com, world’s leading homeopathy portal and we will try to ensure that this wiki gives the CAM community the most conducive atmosphere for creating its knowledge base. We strongly discourage skeptics from registering here. Anybody found posting any anti-CAM data will be quickly removed.

That’s right. They’ll post only the “positive” research about CAM and do their best to tweak the pages to score high on the search engines. That’s because science doesn’t matter. Negative evidence doesn’t matter, and Wiki4CAM will deal with it by simply wishing it away through iron-fisted censorship. Of course, I find it most hilarious that the homeopaths setting up Wiki4CAM explicitly and openly state that they will censor any “anti-CAM” (read: actual scientific) data posted to their Wiki. A more explicit statement of what CAM is about when it comes to science I have never seen. In marked contrast, we in the business of scientific medicine don’t have the luxury of censoring criticism of our therapies, whether those criticisms come from within or without medicine. We have to deal with them, whether they are good science or spurious. That CAM practitioners are too afraid to deal with skepticism and science shows that they are neither skeptics or scientists.

I suggest that any time any CAM advocate claims that his particular brand of woo is science- or evidence-based, that the response should be to refer that advocate to this Wiki and to point out that no discipline can possibly be considered “science-based” if it explicitly censors valid scientific criticism and bans the examination of data that do not support it. That’s an inherent part of science, facing up to scientific examination and criticism. And then laugh–because it is truly gut-bustingly hilarious to see this Wiki. Finally, it may be worth registering with this new Wiki anyway and seeing just how much actual science we can actually manage to get past the censors. Alternatively, we could take the merry prankster approach and have some fun with the concept. What do I mean? I mean seeing just how outrageously, wildly pseudoscientific we can get editing this Wiki. I mean pushing the envelope of woo to see if there is any limit to how ridiculous an article or edit these guardians of CAM will allow when they will not allow valid criticism based on science. My guess is: There will be virtually no limit. No one will notice, and I bet we could even get woo as amazingly, richly outrageous as DNA activation, with its bit about 10 additional “etheric” strands of DNA, into this new Wiki as though it were serious. Or even make stuff up and see if you can surpass DNA activation or quantum gyroscopic homeopathy.

Truly, this stuff parodies itself.