Monday, August 31, 2015

Wikipedia deserves an Award! They Annoyed the DI! Yea!

The Discovery Institute does not like Wikipedia, what a shock!  Since when does the Discovery Institute like anything, or anyone, who doesn't grant them every concession they seem to feel is somehow owed to them?  Disagree?  Well think about two cases in point, Intelligent Design (ID) and the Dover Trial.

When it comes to Intelligent Design who wants it to be taught alongside real scientific theories as if it had any actual science behind it?  Exactly!  They keep demanding to be allowed at the science lectern through tactics that never seem to include performing any actual science.  Think about their tactics "Teach the Controversy", "Evolution is only a Theory", Strengths and Weaknesses", "Academic Freedom", to name a few.  Any actual science involved?  It's all marketing and politics.  Currently their "official" position is that they don't want it to be taught.  I don't buy that, their own guiding documents doesn't say that -- its just another tactic.  I think they don't want it to be taught yet.  First they want to weaken science and science education, then they can more easily market their theistic-ally friendly ideas without ever having to do actual science.

And how about Dover, more specifically the Federal Judge.  Who was it touting a slam dunk when a Conservative Judge, appointed by a Republican President, was announced.  It must have thrilled them to the core.  As mentioned in several books, their confidence level of winning the Dover Trial went up considerably at that point.  Lauri Lebo quoted one of the contributors over on Wild Bill Dembski's blog, Uncommon Descent, describing Judge Jones:

"Judge John E. Jones on the other hand is a good old boy brought up through the conservative ranks. He was state attorney for D.A.R.E, an Assistant Scout Master with extensively involved with local and national Boy Scouts of America, political buddy of Governor Tom Ridge (who in turn is deep in George W. Bush’s circle of power), and finally was appointed by GW hisself. Senator Rick Santorum is a Pennsylvanian in the same circles (author of the “Santorum Language” that encourages schools to teach the controversy) and last but far from least, George W. Bush hisself drove a stake in the ground saying teach the controversy. Unless Judge Jones wants to cut his career off at the knees he isn’t going to rule against the wishes of his political allies. Of course the ACLU will appeal. This won’t be over until it gets to the Supreme Court. But now we own that too. "
Once the trial started, they started circling the wagons.  When the verdict was handed out, Judge Jones was vilified, called an Activist Judge, and is regularly whined about by the DI still today, 10 years later.  What changed?  Judge Jones upheld the law and didn't let the DI get away with anything.  What did they try and get away with, you might ask?  Well if you read the transcripts, a lot.  They tried to offer opinion as facts, contested assertions as if they were facts, they tried to squash the testimony of prosecution witnesses because they knew just how devastating their testimony would be, they tried to re-define science and evolution to make their particular kool-aid more palatable.  The list gets pretty long, but Judge Jones held them up to the light of day, and their little heart shriveled right up.  It doesn't seem like they have learned anything in the last 10 years.

Such is a common theme.  When you play nice with the DI, they say nice things about you.  The problem is that their idea of playing nice is you do what they want, you say what they want you to say, and by no means ask or say anything that might be interpreted as critical of the DI or their pet ideas.  If you cross them, they get out one of the pack of toothless Chihuahuas to attack you, most often little casey luskin or davey 'klingy' klinghoffer.  If you think I kid, do you remember little casey's diatribe attacking a quilter who dared win an award with a quilt entitled "Myths of our Time: Intelligent Design.".  Any time someone says critical stuff about ID, the DI has a knee-jerk reaction to defend it!  They do it all the time (Evidence of Evolution and Selection, DI's knee-jerk anti-ID whine, The Discovery Institute responds on Ohio HB 597, are a few examples.) 

Before getting specific with their issues with Wikipedia, let's talk a little about it.  It is one of the most popular websites in the US, with good reason.  I know, I use it all the time.  Now, what I wouldn't use it for is a reference for an academic paper, even though a 2005 study by Nature declared that Wikipedia is as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.  Now that being said, I would also not use Encyclopedia Britannica for an academic paper either.

It might sound strange, but we are talking about encyclopedias, which are great for bringing together information, but it's the source of the information in the encyclopedia that is a better reference than using the encyclopedia itself.  I grew up with a set of encyclopedias and in elementary school and high school they were in constant use.  However, in college and for my Master's Degree I used a number of sources, the authoritative source for information, not second or third hand like an encyclopedia.  Encyclopedia's are great for quick reference, but not the authoritative source for anything.

While the study said Wikipedia and Britannica were equal in accuracy, there are differences between the two.  Wikipedia does use an open-source model for editing that does seem to lack some level of author non-repudiation and editorial control.  I think the early assumption was based on people being honest, but too often they re-discovered that isn't always the case.  There have been a number of cases where one particular point-of-view tried to hijack Wikipedia pages, there have even been lawsuits about it when someone tries to remove what they feel is damaging information about themselves or their organizations.  So they have had to implement various processes to help keep folks honest.  But still problems do happen.  It doesn't invalidate Wikipedia as a reference, but it does require some care.

Just for fun I popped over the PubMed to see how many times Wikipedia was used as a reference . . . also Britannica, just to be fair.  I found 295 references of Wikipedia and 3 of Encyclopedia Britannica -- however, looking over the abstracts I didn't see them being used as references, but the papers were about them.  Here are two examples:
While PubMed doesn't list the sources in their abstracts, you can tell by the abstracts that the articles were about Wikipedia and Britannica.  Certainly would make me realize that the scientific community also doesn't use encyclopedias as the authoritative source for information.  Guess any complaints in that department would be foolish, since that's not how encyclopedia's are used.

A recent article in PLOS ONE "Content Volatility of Scientific Topics in Wikipedia: A Cautionary Tale".  The authors looked at three politically controversial subjects:  Acid Rain, Evolution, and Global Warming and four non-politically controversial subjects: heliocentrism, general relativity, continental drift, and the standard model in physics.  What they looked at was the number of edits and even the number of words in the edits.  Luckily Wikipedia keeps track of the edits and makes that available for review.  What they discovered should have surprised no one, politically controversial subjects get edited more often.  Gee really?  Are you surprised?  I wasn't.

Now before we go on, I want to point out they didn't look at scientifically controversial subjects, but politically controversial subjects.  We all know there is no scientific controversy about these subjects, especially evolution.  Much to the annoyance of the DI.

OK, so there is no surprise for us, politically controversial subjects get edited more often.  It's just like people having conversations, politically controversial subjects tend to be talked about more and with more emotion.  Wikipedia edits can become like arguments, where people are trying to talk over each other.  If you happen to hit a topic during one of these edit wars, you might end up with material that is less than . . . shall we say  . . . objective.

Wikipedia does try to remain neutral and provide a place for experts to maintain information.  They don't always succeed, which is why my cardinal rule is always to check my sources!  Wikipedia does a good job of identifying the source of material and listing it at the end of each entry.  But before diving into what casey and the DI say about it, I want to mention one last thing on neutrality.

While Wikipedia does its best to remain neutral, it does not make the same mistake that many journalists make in claiming neutrality.  All too often a journalist, in an effort to be neutral, will provide an equal coverage to two opposing views.  There are times that is appropriate, but there are also many times when it is not appropriate.  For example on civil rights, would you provide equal coverage to a civil rights march and a Ku Klux Klan rally?  I don't think so.  While the two views are opposite, they are not equal by any means.  Journalistic 'neutrality' all to often is taken to mean equality.  Here is Wikipedia's own policy on Neutrality: [I added the underlines]
"Neutrality requires that each article or other page in the mainspace fairly represents all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint. Giving due weight and avoiding giving undue weight means that articles should not give minority views as much of or as detailed a description as more widely held views."

We see this frequently in papers, online, and even on-air articles between the political controversy between intelligent design and real science.  Reporters giving people like the DI equal time, even though they have yet to earn it scientifically.  Well Wikipedia does not emulate journalism and does it's best to insure that even controversial topics have some reliable sources, especially when it comes to science.

The PLOS ONE article looked at Evolution, for fun I looked up Intelligent Design in Wikipedia and I bet the very first line pissed off the DI to no end:
"Intelligent design (ID) is the pseudoscientific view that 'certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.' "
Also for fun I looked back in the recent edits and saw that someone was trying to change "the pseudoscientific view" to "a hypothesis of origins, considered by some to be pseudoscientific".  This particular editor claimed that would make the description:
" . . .more neutral, and a more accurate description. (Even evolutionists have been known to express belief in possible design behind evolution)"
Someone came along shortly thereafter and restored the original "the pseudoscientific view".  While it might be fun dissecting the differences between the two, a quick read shows that the attempted edit would not make things more neutral, but water down the issue of pseudoscience and assign what sounds like an unearned 'hypothesis' to ID, important differences when looking at things like intelligent design, astrology, or parapsychology.  So it's easy to see why the edit didn't stand.  Look at pseudoscience on Wikipedia (about 3/4's of the way down the page) it could have been written for ID!  Equal standing is earned, and one of the ways to earn it, especially for science, is what are scientific theories and what are not.  No matter what standard Wikipedia uses, if the DI doesn't get treated like real science, they will be attacking the source instead of correcting the deficiency!

I can also see, by the edit history, that in early July there were a number of rapid edits that caused Wikipedia to declare ID as a 'Disruptive Edit'.  Declaring such changes the editing policy to try and damp down the edit war, which is remarkably similar with a 'flame war', minus the profanity.  I am starting to get a feeling of what probably happened.  The DI got busted violating the various rules that govern Wikipedia.  And having gotten busted, are trying to make Wikipedia the bad guy.  I am starting to see nothing more here than the DI playing the Victim card once again.

Let's see little casey goes on . . . Wikipedia biases, partisan,  . . . obviously casey, and that means his bosses at the DI, doesn't like Wikipedia. Sounds like Wikipedia, and the editors, wouldn't let little casey and his friends . . . OK, here I have to quote the little guy:
 "I say this based upon years and years of people contacting me who tell of having tried to make bland, benign, reasonable edits and who then saw those changes immediately deleted by pro-Darwin editors. "
Bland, benign, and reasonable edits?  To paraphrase a favorite movie, I don't think those words mean what little casey thinks they mean.  I wonder if little casey would claim this is one of those 'bland, benign, and reasonable edits'?  One of the early edits to the Wikipedia page on Evolution changed a line to say this:
"It is worth noting that the theory of evolution is not falsifiable, hence not a scientific theory at all, since it includes the claim that God did not intervene in evolutionary history by creating new forms of life." 
I am sure the author feels his edit was bland, benign, and reasonable, but since the Theory of Evolution makes no such claim, his edit was corrected as short time later.  I bet little casey would have loved reading that one!  Take some time and go look at the edit history of any topic that interests you.  I think you might be surprised, especially in popular or politically controversial subjects.  When you look back at the edit history for items that might be of interest to the DI, I bet you will see lots of stuff the DI doesn't like!  I took a quick peek at the Sternberg Peer Review Controversy  and saw a number of edits that would have subtly, and some not so subtly, changed the page to make it sound more like how the DI tries to sell it, rather than the reality of the controversy.  Little casey claimed not to edit Wikipedia himself, but I would be hard-pressed to believe someone at the DI doesn't try.

So the bottom line seems to be that Wikipedia refuses to let the DI sell their pseudoscience, and in not doing so, earned the ire of little casey.  Is Wikipedia perfect?  No, but as a reference, it's as good as the gold standard of encyclopedias, Britannica.  The fact they are doing things that annoy the DI is just gravy!  Keep it up Wikipedia! 


  1. Great commentary sir.
    I also used a set of encyclopedias Dad bought for my brother and me way back in the later 1950's. Dad always said education was very important. We didn't have the Britannica set, it was another company whose books we had, they did send out a year in review book every year until he stopped getting those books. I used them as I use Wikipedia today, as a starting place. I look up things at either of those sources then go from there. Yes, Wiki like many of the entries in a good encyclopedia do give references and those have the really good stuff.
    By the way, I found this blog of yours from a comment you posted to the Sensuous Curmudgeon.

  2. Thanks David. Glad you enjoyed it. If memory serves, we had the New Book of Knowledge rather than Britannica, at least into Jr High. We had a different set later, but I can't remember the name. And, like you, I used it pretty much like I use Wikipedia today. I read SC pretty religiously [pun intended]! I don't know how he finds the time for all he posts!