Tim Farley, be honest about activism on Wikipedia



An inconvenient truth for Tim Farley?


Tim Farley does not seem to want to be honest about what’s been happening on Rupert Sheldrake’s article on Wikipedia. Neither does prominent skeptic Jerry Coyne in his article in the New Republic. Either does Susan Gerbic, leader of the skeptic activist organization Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW).

According to Tim Farley, Susan Gerbic, and Jerry Coyne, what’s been happening on Sheldrake’s article is the result of dedicated and disinterested Wikipedia editors who are simply battling with pro pseudoscience and Sheldrake ‘fanboys’ tirelessly with the full support of Wikipedia’s pillar of neutrality. That’s simply a factually incorrect statement for any of them to endorse.

I know Tim Farley and skeptic activism has done some good work, and many of the issues he has played a role in exposing I actually endorse, especially the issue of child vaccinations. The problem I have with Tim and skeptic activism is the usage of ‘dirty tricks’ on Wikipedia they use to make their case in a cultural war. It’s harmful.

I’m hoping Tim Farley can be transparent and reflective about what’s happening. In principle, what is happening there is wrong. It’s political and social activism and it’s extending the skeptical movement beyond its sphere of relevance into something a bit darker. That’s the issue I’m raising concerns with. I speak as a pro science progressive, a rational agnostic and humanist. Like Tim Farley, I’m a fan of space, science, and jazz. I’m a white male professional in my 40’s. I’m in his demographic. I’m the type of person he should want his arguments to target.

In reality, and as the evidence clearly shows in the many links and diffs used on this site – what happened on Rupert Sheldrake’s biography was indeed harassment by skeptic activists on Wikipedia towards other editors on the article. It’s not a judgement or indictment of the skeptical movement. It’s simply what the evidence shows. It is the clear case of detractors of a living person taking over the voice of his biography so it reads like their personal point of view.

The validity of their point of view is irrelevant. What is relevant is that dirty tricks are being used to get it published on Wikipedia and all of them want to cover up that ‘inconvenient truth’.

Tim Farley makes great claims of this in his blog entry on Dec 11th, writing…

 I am working on a longer post that digs into the entire history of how Rupert Sheldrake and a handful of paranormal bloggers created this manufactroversy. (Spoiler alert: it’s largely due to misunderstandings of how Wikipedia works).

I really look forward to reading that when he makes it available. Based on the evidence I have, I somewhat wish to caution him about extending his voice too far here, so as not to open himself up to complete and utter discredit.


Isn’t skeptic activism a conflict of interest too?


Tim Farley writes a number of shocking things on his blog that makes the exposure of this issue almost too easy. Tim’s a pretty media saavy guy, he knows his environment at a decent level. He gets how to work Wikipedia. On his blog he writes about the Conflict of Interest policy.

Wikipedia attempts to present a neutral and accurate representation of the world. But naturally there are those who would seek to distort this to suit their own ends – be those commercial, political or even pseudoscientific.

Tim suggests it can be commercial, political or even pseudoscientific, but fails to mention that its *anything* that is not portrayed in a neutral and disinterested manner. This means any ideology or worldview. That any worldview could take control of the word neutrality and have them apply it solely to their own agenda is not a direction I think Wikipedia was ever intended to take. For any group not to simply be aware that they are the proud owners of an ideology an entirely other complicated matter.


Dirty Trick Tip #2 from Tim Farley


Tim goes on to mention a SPA, or a ‘single purpose account’ that could show a conflict of interest.

To avoid this issue ever occurring to skeptic activists online, Tim suggests

I always advise skeptics to avoid the perception of being an SPA by contributing to non-skeptic-related parts of Wikipedia. Although there is no hard-and-fast rule against being an SPA, accounts which behave this way are often justifiably the target of suspicion of conflict of interest.

So Tim himself is upfront on how to game Wikipedia. Skeptics can mask their own COI by simply editing a few other articles in addition to their target articles in question. I’m wondering if Tim believes that advice is relevant to any SPA or just SPAs that serve sceptic activism.

I’m surprised that Vzaak’s own SPA on the Sheldrake article never came into question. Vzaak joined Wikipedia in July 2013. The first 200 edits alone were directly to Sheldrake’s article. The next 1500 edits or so were all predominantly skeptic articles. See for yourself. Does it matter if Vzaak was a member of GSoW? Hardly. The issue is skeptical activism extending beyond it’s sphere of relevance and into something darker.

You can tell Vzaak took Tim’s advice because here and there you will find random sprinkles of editing articles on classical composers. The interesting question is what is Vzaak hiding?

Ironically, Tim’s blog’s last question on the subject is from my point of view remarkably ironic – and I shall just leave it as it’s own reflection as evidence that skeptic activism on Wikipedia really needs a good look in the mirror.

Could the accuser be guilty of the very thing they accused?

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