Quack attack on Wikipedia

Early on in its history, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with Wikipedia as a project or reference source. To put it mildly, I viewed the very concept behind the project with a great deal of skepticism, some of which was voiced nine years ago when a medical Wikipedia was proposed. In particular, the fact that anyone could become an editor and edit articles seemed to me to be a recipe for disaster. After all, it’s the cranks and pseudoscientists who have a lot more time on their hands to edit than most experts, and they tend to be far more passionate about their favorite pseudoscience or quackery than the experts. I thought there’d be a lot of pseudoscience in a lot of articles.

Fortunately, my fears weren’t realized, at least not to the extent that I thought they’d be. Wikipedia has its problems, but there’s less pseudoscience in it than I had feared there would be. Wikipedia has standards and a cadre of regular editors who generally do a decent job enforcing standards. After all, if they didn’t, quacks wouldn’t feel the need to start their own wikis. Also, I must admit that Jimmy Wales, one of the founders of Wikipedia, has the appropriate attitude towards medical quackery and pseudoscience. Indeed, his response to a Change.org petition from a bunch of quacks complaining about Wikipedia’s treatment of “energy psychology” was indeed heartening. Indeed, the exaggerated outrage of quacks and cranks in response to Wales’ statement was epic. Even so, for topics that are prone to pseudoscience and quackery I always advise people to take Wikipedia entries with a grain of salt and seek to verify any statements of fact there using other sources.

Be that as it may, the anger of quacks due to Jimmy Wales’ Orac-like attitude towards medical pseudoscience and quackery, as well as due to their perception of unfair treatment by Wikipedia, continues to this day, a year after Jimmy Wales’ rejoinder to that Change.org petition. I learned this because I’m on the mailing list for what is arguably the wretchedest of the wretched hives of scum and quackery that populate the dark corners of the Internet, NaturalNews.com, and this time around it tells me of a hilarious Kickstarter project urging me to “support the book that exposes the bias on Wikipedia and takes a stand for the truth about alternative health.”

The gauntlet is thrown down:

Wikipedia is on a misinformation campaign against alternative health and the healing arts. The public needs to know it. Natural health deserves fair representation.

We’re going to set the record straight. We need your help and invite you to get involved in the process. Please check the various reward levels to discover how to participate…

Because of its massive search engine authority, Wikipedia entries often rank #1 in Google for specific health related searches. It is often the first information someone reads about a particular topic.

Given that high search engine results are often equated with high credibility, the public is likely to believe the falsities they are exposed to on Wikipedia.

Because Wikipedia promotes itself as an “encyclopedia” (with the goal to replace Encyclopedia Britannica) people often believe that what they are reading must be true.

The examples cited in the campaign made me chuckle. For example, there is this entry on homeopathy:

Homeopathy on Wikipedia.

Homeopathy on Wikipedia.

See what I mean? There’s nothing there for even Orac at his most “militant” to disagree with. Homeopathy is pseudoscience. Ditto naturopathy:

Naturopathy on Wikipedia

Naturopathy on Wikipedia

Of course, naturopathy is indeed replete with pseudoscience and potentially dangerous treatments. So what’s the problem? For these two examples, there is none. Now let’s take a look at this one:

Neurolinguistic Processing on Wikipedia

Neurolinguistic Processing on Wikipedia

This, it would appear, is what hit close to home. I say this because the man responsible for this particular Kickstarter campaign is Mike Bundrant. I had never heard of him before, but it didn’t take long for me to learn a bit about him. It turns out that he’s the co-founder of the iNLP Center, which is an NLP training center that produces NLP practitioners. NLP, for those of you who might not be familiar with it, is indeed what is described in the Wikipedia entry above. It is a system developed in the 1970’s. It’s based upon the idea that success can be achieved by modeling the language, behavior, and thought patterns of successful people. The last 40 years have taught us, however, that NLP is pseudoscience that has failed every test of its core precepts. It is, as Donald Clark put it, no longer plausible.

Depressingly, Bundrant appears to be a regular blogger at PsychCentral, which to me would be the equivalent of letting a creationist blog for Panda’s Thumb or letting Andrew Wakefield blog for Science-Based Medicine. He’s also a regular blogger at Mike Adams’ NaturalNews.com, which should tell you all that you need to know about him. Let’s just put it this way. If you think you run a science-based website and you have a blogger who regularly blogs for Mike Adams, you don’t.

If you have someone on your staff who writes something like this, you don’t:

Is Wikipedia really open collaboration of non-biased researchers who operate on an egalitarian, volunteer basis?

Not so much. The truth is far more interesting than that. Surely there are well-intended and neutral volunteers who write for Wikipedia. And there also exists a darker web of editorial trolls.

Authoritative editors get paid to post slanted information in favor of corporate interests.

Editors with an agenda seek revenge by posting outrageous, slanderous lies about people and disciplines they don’t like.

Hackers go wild on Wikipedia for SEO purposes and the pure joy of vandalism.

Ah, yes. The pharma shill gambit and claims that editors are posting lies about people they don’t like, just as quacks like to post lies about people who refute their pseudoscience. (Yes, we’re talking projection here, people.)

In any case, Bundrant is asking for $67,100 to complete and publish his book. As of last night, there were only less than $2,000 donated. What Bundrant claims that his book will do is this:

  • Expose false information, distortions and omissions of relevant information regarding specific alternative health modalities (listed below).
  • Prove Wikipedia’s multiple pseudoscience claims wrong.
  • Expose the hypocritical conflicts of interest and blatant bias of Wikipedia editors.
  • Show how attempts to correct false information on Wikipedia are systematically stonewalled by higher ranking editors with an agenda of their own.
  • Show how Wikipedia’s treatment of the healing arts is a clear violation of its own editorial policy.

Some of the alternative health modalities that Bundrant plans on defending against the alleged depradations of Wikipedia editors include:

  • Anti-GMO Movement
  • Alternative Medicine
  • Autism and Vaccines
  • Holistic Health
  • Detoxification
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Herbalism
  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Ayurvedic Medicine
  • Homeopathy
  • Chiropractic
  • Energy Medicine
  • Applied Kinesiology
  • Craniosacral Therapy
  • Iridology
  • Naturopathy
  • Reflexology
  • Therapeutic Touch
  • Orthomolecular Medicine
  • Rolfing
  • Yoga
  • Reiki
  • Therapeutic NLP
  • Energy Psychology
  • Therapeutic Hypnosis

Wow. That’s just about every quackery and medical pseudoscience I can think of, with perhaps the exception of traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and shamanism. Whatever. I’m half tempted to donate to the Kickstarter fund because I think this book should be awesomely bad in a hilarious way that almost makes me think it should be written and published. I mean, come on! He’s asking for $23,000 for a “PhD level research team” to be employed for six months. Things must be worse than I thought for PhDs if you can engage a team of them for six months for a mere $23,000. That’s chickenfeed.

But don’t worry, Bundrant knows what he’s about:

With this project, the biggest challenge is scope creep. Wikipedia has been a thorn in the side of so many in the alternative health and healing communities. Everyone will want to be represented in this book. We’ll do our best to represent the fields that we can, and will need to monitor the project so that it doesn’t become too large to deliver well and on time.

Actually, it looks as though Bundrant has already fallen victim to scope creep. That’s a big list of quackery he intends to “set Wikipedia straight” on. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Bundrant makes his target by the deadline. He needs to raise $67,100 by May 6. His start hasn’t been that ostentatious thus far.

Wikipedia is generally a very good resource, maintained by a cadre of dedicated editors. It’s not perfect, and for controversial issues or topics where a large crank or quack contingent is active can be problematic, with edit wars and constant attempts to insert pseudoscience. That someone like Bundran can be so outraged as to try to write a book trashing Wikipedia for maintaining standards with respect to alternative medicine tells me that Wikipedia, for all its faults, must be doing something right.