Tim Farley, be honest about activism on Wikipedia (Jan/2014)

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An inconvenient truth for Tim Farley?

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Tim Farley does not seem to want to be honest about what’s been happening on Rupert Sheldrake’s article on Wikipedia regarding editor suppression. 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).

Neither does Wikipedia, Jimbo Wales, RationalWiki, and a large host and swathe of skeptic blogs, Facebook pages, and tweets.

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

What has been happening on Wikipedia with skeptic activism is a pretty nasty case of editor suppression.

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 trick’ editor suppression tactics on Wikipedia, and turning Wikipedia into a battleground in their cultural war with any and all things “woo”.

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 and adopt easily.

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.

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  things on his blog 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.

Technically, Wikipedia does not ‘attempt’ to present a neutral and accurate representation of the world. Everyone has their own interpretation of what Wikipedia is supposed to be, or become.

Wikipedia does specifically state that it seeks to present a neutral point of view as a “voice” of the encyclopedia, across any and all topics and subjects that are notable in the world. This means any ideology or worldview. The way skeptic editors abuse other editors on Wikipedia they perceive as “woo” resembles more bigotry than any true editorial concern.

My criticism of Tim’s participation is based not on his ideology, but on his behaviors and intentions around editor suppression on Wikipedia, and his attempts to misinform the public about what they are.

More importantly, Tim is a self declared activist. As an activist, he encourages skeptics to “squat” on certain articles on Wikipedia, of which they are clear antagonists, as in the case of certain biographies of living people. Their treatment of other editors, and other notable individuals they antagonize, is it’s own unique conflict of interest.

Editor suppression tips from Tim Farley

Tim goes on to mention a SPA, or a ‘single purpose account’ that could show a conflict of interest. Something any agenda editor would want to avoid, obviously. Tim suggests skeptic editors should avoid the appearance of operating as a single purpose account.

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 to avoid suspicion if you are an antagonist of a subject article. Cover up your tracks.

A skeptic activist editor by the name of 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.

After Wikipedia, We Have a Problem was published, Wikipedia editor Manul adopted a script on Wikipedia that allowed their account to make simple changes to various types of articles with a bot, creating the illusion of participation across many articles when organically – their natural edits focus on skeptic topics or issues.

After Wikipedia, We Have a Problem became more influential, other Wikipedia editors on Wikipedia began to share it when they were being targeted for suppression by Vzaak.

Shortly thereafter,  Vzaak changed their editing name to Manul.

Consider, Manul initiated their Wikipedia editing clearly as an SPA for skeptic activism.

I’m surprised that Manul’s own SPA on the Sheldrake article never came into question on Tim’s blog, as he is often quick to embarrass targets of skeptic activism for the slightest of activity on Wikipedia.

Ironically, Tim’s blog’s last question on the subject is from my point of view remarkably ironic, and I quote;

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

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.

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