HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

The scourge of Wikipedia

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2017/03/07

Searching my files, I see that Wikipedia has featured quite often on my blogs; the article titles illustrate some of the stimuli:

Knowledge, understanding — but then there’s Wikipedia;  The Wiles of WikiHealth, Wikipedia, and Common Sense; Facebook: As bad as Wikipedia, or worse?Lowest common denominator — Wikipedia and its ilkThe unqualified (= without qualifications) gurus of Wikipedia; Another horror story about Wikipedia; The Fairy-Tale Cult of Wikipedia;  Beware the Internet: “reviews”, Wikipedia, and other sources of misinformation.

Four decades ago, as the Internet was coming into general use, the anticipated benefits and drawbacks were being discussed quite assiduously, at least in academe. Enthusiasts pointed to the advantages of low-cost, rapid publication of research; skeptics wondered what would happen to peer review and quality control. But I am not aware of any voices that foresaw just how abominable things would become as the cost of blathering on-line is virtually zero and there is no control of quality, no fact-checking, no ethical standards, and pervasive anonymity. No one seems to have foreseen the spate of predatory publishing of purportedly scientific research.

It has always been almost impossible to undo the consequences of lies, as too many people believe that the presence of smoke always proves the presence of fire; now, in the Internet age, it has become totally impossible to eradicate the influence of lies because of the speed with which they spread. I have too many friends who pass along stuff that strikes me immediately as unlikely to be true, and that reveals to be not true, yet this stuff comes to me no matter how often I ask my friends to check snopes first.

I don’t use Twitter, Snapchat, or any other social media, though I am formally listed in LinkedIn and Facebook after I didn’t want to offend friends who asked me to join. Having tried Facebook and found it nothing but time-wasting obsession with trivia, I tried to disconnect from it. It wasn’t straightforward, but eventually I seemed to have succeeded as a screen assured me that I had successfully closed my account. But the next statement undercut that: I was assured that any time I wanted back in, I could log on with my old password and would fine all my material still there. When Facebook boasts of its huge membership, I wonder how many of those they count belong to my group, people who don’t use it at all and tried to get off.

At any rate, I recognize purely as a outsider how the damage done on the Internet is abetted and exacerbated by Twitter, with its encouragement of thought-bites to shorten attention spans even more, or by something like Snapchat where evidence disappears as soon as the alternative fake news has been disseminated. The contemporary political hullabaloo about fake news and alternative facts brings home that a sadly significant portion of the population exercises no skepticism or critical thought when statements are emotionally congenial.

All this is whistling in the wind, so I was pleased to find a large-circulation British newspaper laying out the faults of Wikipedia in considerable detail: “The making of a Wiki-Lie: Chilling story of one twisted oddball and a handful of anonymous activists who appointed themselves as censors to promote their own warped agenda on a website that’s a byword for inaccuracy”.

Admittedly, the Daily Mail is no TIMES, and some of its content competes with tabloids and the ilk of National Enquirer; and its ire was aroused not by the intellectual damage done by Wikipedia but by a smear that labeled the Daily Mail as an unreliable source — shades of pots and kettles.

The Daily Mail story, credited to Guy Adams, deserves wide dissemination for its valuable analysis that includes detailed biographical information about someone who might well be iconic of trouble-making trolls on the Internet; and for its exposure of how Wikipedia is impervious to correction, is controlled by largely anonymous and often self-appointed “editors”, and is rather scandalously dishonest about its finances: the governing Foundation, which advertises itself as non-profit and solicits for donations on many Wiki pages, has about 280 staff with average salaries of ~$110,000, a former executive director having garnered ~$320,000.

The British Guardian did neither itself nor the public a service by covering the Wikipedia dissing of the Daily Mail by treating Wikipedia as though it were more factually reliable and more ethical than it is: Jasper Jackson, “Wikipedia bans Daily Mail as ‘unreliable’ source” (8 February 2017). People who have tried to get errors corrected on Wikipedia are unlikely to agree that “No matter how hard Wikipedia’s volunteers work, wrong and sometimes defamatory entries will inevitably appear, with editors engaged in a game of whack-a-mole to correct them” (Jasper Jackson, “‘We always look for reliability’: why Wikipedia’s editors cut out the Daily Mail”, 12 February 2017). Some of the editors work to preserve the defamatory stuff. See my blog posts cited above for illustrations.


15 Responses to “The scourge of Wikipedia”

  1. S. Risch said

    There is a brand new documentary about Wikipedia and the suisse historian Dr. Daniele Ganser…very interesting!

  2. Dobbb said

    Good to hear from you again Henry.
    The Daily Mail has the advantage of being most popular (large print circulation) and financially successful such that it is not empoodled to the various forces of darkness to the extent others are. And they consequently actually have some very good health content, for instance the other day an exposé of dental amalgam harmfulness which other “news” outlets would only sneer about.
    I think you over-darken the reality. A high proportion of people now recognise that a lot of “authoritative” content is just corporate propaganda. Hence the rise of Breitbart despite its considerable flaws.
    The many that still believe are largely just sheeple anyway. The forces of darkness are having to go into desperation mode with constant pretences of “fake news” to distract suspicion away from their own real fakery! Google recently disappeared from its search results but got slammed down for doing so. A search engine indulging in deliberated selection is seriously risking its credibility and heading for the bin.

  3. Dobbb said

    The Guardian is a very reliable source of total claptrap so it understandably sides with wickedpedia on this matter (and against the D Mail).

  4. David Crowe said

    The main problem with Wikipedia is that it has quickly obtained a monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge. The idea that ordinary people will cause it to tend towards greater and greater reliability might work on geographical details, but fails miserably on any controversial issue. It is a great platform for bullying, where a small number of highly motivated insiders can control its agenda.

    • Viktor said

      David Crowe, a long time I admire your work. I was thinking, have you ever had the honor to work with President Thabo Mbeki?

      • I did try to get in touch with former President Mbeki via his foundation, a few months ago, but never received a reply. I was proposing to interview him, coordinating with Joan Shenton and others.

  5. Roger Swan said

    Dear Professor Bauer, I know what you mean but does the following offer a more positive take on Wikipedia? In his book Postcapitalism A Guide to Our Future, Paul Mason writes:
    “Postcapitalism is possible because of three impacts of the new technology in the past twenty-five years…Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organizations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information producer in the world – Wikipedia – is made by 27,000 volunteers, for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3 billion a year in revenue.”
    Of course any transition from old to new will not smoothly flow without bumps, reversals, sell-outs and double crosses! But is the correct vision there at least, as long as we can hang on to it?

    • Henry Bauer said

      Roger Swan:
      The problem is that there is no quality control.
      Sampling what is on display on the Internet shows that discourse is swamped by people whose driving ambition is to have other people share their beliefs. For an encyclopedia, you want disinterested, scrupulously evidence-respecting people.
      Wikipedia will remain totally unreliable on any topic over which there is even a wisp of difference of opinion. As in politics, the most fanatical people have the drive to spend their time pushing their viewpoint.
      Wikipedia’s protocols do not allow the possibility of genuinely impartial disinterested arbitration.
      The old encyclopedia business had at least minimum standards of expertise for its contributors, and articles showed the names (or initials) of their writers so readers could further check credentials and biases.
      Wikipedia has none of that. It represents the “lowest common denominator” on uncontroversial matters and on controversial ones represents what the most fanatic partisans believe.

      • Roger Swan said

        Professor Bauer: Thank you for your thoughtful response to my note. Clearly the current Neo-liberal capitalist paradigm (Zombie Capitalism for Prof. Henry Giroux, Cancer Capitalism for Prof. John McMurtry) will respond, as a matter of course, against any attempt to thwart its inbuilt mechanism programmed to achieve Global hegemony. It is the Mother of all Ponzi schemes! But I think Mason’s point was that Wikipedia was representative of the sort of economic activity that was introducing a “poison pill” into the present Neo-liberal body politic. A configuration that offered a peaceful way – relatively speaking! – to transition forward and out of our present difficulties. Perhaps Wikipedia, as presently configured, is irredeemable. Who knows? If Mason is on the right track then Wikipedia – and it may take a Wikipedia 2.0 – will attract the sorts of adherents that, faced with the sort of Trump-like barrier that a totally Neo-liberal compromised Wikipedia 1:0 might represent, will have the smarts to find a way around it. If not then we’re truly fucked! I find the following story instructive. You may know of it. At least you will understand the Science involved more readily than me. Until the 1970 edition of the print Encyclopaedia Britannica Professor Herbert Dingle contributed the entry, “Relativity: Philosophical Consequences”. He had also published a book, “The Special Theory of Relativity”. He was a highly distinguished Astrophysicist. At some point around this time he had an epiphany. He published the book, “Science at the Crossroads”, in which he claimed to have found a philosophical contradiction in Einstein’s particular presentation of Relativity, which concept Dingle never doubted. From that point on he was “Persona non Grata”, pace Professor Duesberg. The Encyclopaedia Britannica let him go as their scholar for what, “Einstein Schmoozing”? We live in strange times. When once we felt that HIV/AIDS dissidents might naturally agree on all other matters we now find that that is not true. It is not an easy thing to contemplate, nor find a way through – but what alternative is there? You, your books and your delight in bringing Science to bear on arcane topics have been an inspiration to me. For others, perhaps, not so much! A recent ‘opponent’ on a FB thread of mine to do with HIV/AIDS, eschewed even looking at your truly magnificent, paradigm-shifting bibliography ‘’, that I had recommended to her, on the grounds that you had an interest in Nessy! Up here in Canada, Paul Hellyer, one of our most articulate critics of the Neo-liberal debt-money system is easily dismissed because he has an interest in UFOs! But there is no alternative, we have to keep plugging away. Thank you for your plugging Professor Bauer!.

      • Henry Bauer said

        Roger Swan:
        Some sad social facts you mention: Independent thinkers (Dingle, Duesberg, etc. etc.) tend to be excommunicated, ignored, banished.
        Dissidents, being independent thinkers, don’t always agree with one another; organizations splinter and schism.
        I also used to think that discriminated-against people empathized with one another, was shocked to find the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism among African-Americans. . . .
        Guilt by association is a standard polemic device. Since I’m sure Nessies are real, therefore I can’t be right about HIV/AIDS or anything else.

        It’s not common for people to look into evidence before forming opinions. Critical thinking is a rarity. I recently re-read John C. Burnham, How Superstition Won and Science Lost (Rutgers University Press 1987; Chinese edition, Shanghai: Scientific and Technological Education Publishing House 2005), whose provocative title is justified by the book’s content, which describes how “Contemporary science is believed in by a credulous public rather than understood by an informed one”.
        The media, the general public, policy makers, take on trust official declarations about science and medicine, irrespective of whether the evidence supports the official views.
        So Wikipedia and other unreliable sources are quite dangerous, in an environment where too many people believe what they read and hear even if it’s a 6 am tweet from a paranoid narcissist.

      • Roger Swan said

        Delightful Professor! Thanks for the Burnham reference.

      • I doubt that things were much better when there was competition in the encyclopedia market (Brittanica etc). I know that I was always forbidden to use encyclopedia articles in school, and my parents (both academics) would not have one in the house. So I’ve never really reviewed these dinosaurs of information for bias, but somehow I imagine that the ones produced in America didn’t include controversial information about America’s slaughter of native peoples’ for example. And I’m sure they would never challenge the prevailing views on vaccination or other medical dogmas.

      • Henry Bauer said

        David Crowe:
        Sure, encyclopedias enshrined the biases of the conventional wisdom. But Wiki is a free for all and provides huge exposure for all who have axes to grind, with no even minimal guarantee of rudimentary fact-checking.
        Of course I’m not disinterested commentator, because I was awakened to this when an AIDS-Truther created my entry on WIKI. WIKI’s rules do not allow me to correct errors in my bio, and friends have been unable to, because the original creator keeps close watch and immediately negates corrections with further innuendos. Thus inferences that depend on dates remain even though the actual dates make the inferences impossible.

      • I guess it’s the difference between corporate propaganda and fake news, or something like that. I agree that Wikipedia has created unique opportunities for misinformation.

      • Henry Bauer said

        David Crowe:
        In any case, CAVEAT EMPTOR; let the reader/buyer beware. Don’t believe everything you read.

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