Holistic Health and Wikipedia

I just came across a Change.org petition directed at Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, to more favourably feature holistic (read: alternative) health and medicine. The statement claims that Wikipedia’s current entries on many alternative practices are biased and misleading. The petition was stupid; Jimmy Wales answer, however, is brilliant. Check it out below:


Question:

Wikipedia is widely used and trusted. Unfortunately, much of the information related to holistic approaches to healing is biased, misleading, out-of-date, or just plain wrong. For five years, repeated efforts to correct this misinformation have been blocked and the Wikipedia organization has not addressed these issues. As a result, people who are interested in the benefits of Energy Medicine, Energy Psychology, and specific approaches such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Field Therapy and the Tapas Acupressure Technique, turn to your pages, trust what they read, and do not pursue getting help from these approaches which research has, in fact, proven to be of great benefit to many. This has serious implications, as people continue to suffer with physical and emotional problems that might well be alleviated by these approaches.

Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, left the organization due to concerns about its integrity. He stated: “In some fields and some topics, there are groups who ‘squat’ on articles and insist on making them reflect their own specific biases. There is no credible mechanism to approve versions of articles.”

This is exactly the case with the Wikipedia pages for Energy Psychology, Energy Medicine, acupuncture, etcetera, which are currently skewed to a negative, unscientific view of these approaches despite numerous rigorous studies in recent years demonstrating their effectiveness. These pages are controlled by a few self-appointed “skeptics” who serve as de facto censors for Wikipedia. They clothe their objections in the language of the narrowest possible understanding of science in order to inhibit open discussion of innovation in health care. As gatekeepers for the status quo, they refuse discourse with leading edge research scientists and clinicians or, for that matter, anyone with a different point of view. Fair-minded referees should be given the responsibility of monitoring these important areas.

I pledge not to donate to your fundraising efforts until these changes have been made.

Answer:

No, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful.

Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately.

What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t.


Many a red-herring in the activist question. I’ll be delving further into activism and their weasel phrases, biases, and entrapments in the next few posts. In the meantime, I’m sure you can spot a few from above: “narrowest possible understanding of science,” “gatekeepers for the status quo,” and “numerous rigorous studies in recent years demonstrating their effectiveness.”

From the readings of activists, you’d think that science was some unchanging four-hundred year old institution instead of the method that took us from the heliocentric model to the inflationary; from the humor model of bio-physiology to organ transplants, chemotherapy, surgery, antibiotics, and vaccines.

As is usual for this kind of unintentional comedy, the accuser accuses him or herself unwittingly.

6 comments

  1. All right, I’ll bite.

    How about that strawman by Mr. Wales. Don’t be biased bro, Jimmy’s response isn’t exactly “spot on.” He’s basically calling all Eastern doctors “lunatic charlatans.” I guess we can write off Chinese Medical Theory as being false because there haven’t been any scientific studies published in any “reputable” journals, even though there’s over 5,000 years of circumstantial evidence to back it up.

    The issue definitely isn’t with Wikipedia, as Jimmy eloquently(?) points out, but rather with the scientific establishment. I’ve read quite a few testimonials from scientists themselves about how corrupt the whole getting-published thing is. Here’s a quick result (one of many) from the google: http://www.sott.net/article/269910-The-corruption-of-science-How-journals-like-Nature-Cell-and-Science-are-damaging-science

    1. Yo B, had a feeling you’d bite on this one (not that that’s the reason I wrote it).
      I’m not sure what Chinese Medical Theory is; I assume you mean Traditional Chinese Medicine? I’ll continue with that assumption, please correct me if I’m wrong. Circumstantial evidence, whether 5 years or 5000 years is not enough to be ‘scientific’. Only doing the science is, i.e., as Jimmy points it, getting replicable work done. After all, if it’s replicable, that’s nature’s way of telling you it is true and personal opinion becomes irrelevant. The flat-earth theory had yet more thousands of years of practical evidence (all lake beds are perfectly flat to the eye) and that turned out to be false, as well as the humor theory of the human body, and many others. You may wish to read Skeptoid’s take on Traditional Chinese Medicine. In short, what the West has read of it is a biased, distorted version of it. The Chinese only resorted to such medicine when they had no other option (either out of ignorance or lack of medicine). Here is the link: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4259

      That is a nice article you reference, one I read before too, and I agree with most of it. The incentives in science right now are, indeed, distorted. The novel studies get disproportionate media coverage, replicative studies often get very little and are sometimes left to scientists to do on their own time and dime. But, the big-ticket issues in science (GMOs, medicine, astrophysics) usually get such studies done in time. I think you’d be interested in the work of Ioanndis (sp?) on replication in the medical sciences. He’s spent his career to showing how badly medical science gets it wrong, even when using the gold standard: randomized, double-blinded control studies. However, having illuminated these problems of science, the only solution is to remedy them (which is being done, albeit perhaps too slowly), not to assume that the ancients got the answers because they had circumstantial evidence, no matter how many years worth. The ancients got very few things right aside from the art of war. What are the odds that they got the most complicated organism in the known universe right when they couldn’t figure out water sanitation or that the Earth was round? The number might not be zero, but I bet it’s very close. Average life expectancy and quality of life is higher now than at any other point in history, so it follows that we are more adept at the work medicine thing, and we’ll be at it for decades or centuries more until we figure out.

      Corruption is a very strong word, and one I unequivocally disagree with. It might not be the best system (what is?), but it is far away better than circumstantial evidence, and always will be. As it stands, a lot of fixes are being put in place to ensure that the novelty of experiments aren’t the only factor assessed in the publication of a study, or the positivity of the study, and when these issues are eventually ironed out, the scientific establishment will be the better for it. Even with these so-called ‘corrupt’ practices, look at the progress being made even in recent decades. Things like cancer prevalence is down and life expectancy is up and going up. However, don’t be confused by his open embrace of the open-access science movement. It has its own drawbacks, and will require rigorous policing to keep in check, at which point, those folks that Wales refers to will invent more ‘corrupt practices’ of the sciences to keep the “narrowest possible understanding of science”. I guarantee it. It’s not all fairies and roses. Pay-for-review journals are springing up all over the place; reputation matters less so less rigorous standards may be put in place. Don’t assume it’s as easy as making it open-source will solve all of science’s problems. It will only create new problems for people to exploit and sell snake’s oil to people with the veneer of science. This trend has already begun (most positive homeopathic studies that show a response beyond placebo, for example).

      As usual, we agree on some things (science isn’t perfect, so let’s fix it!), but disagree on many more (doesn’t make any other system better). Anyway, I’m a little sleep-deprived– haven’t slept in a month so forgive any typo’s. Chat soon.

    2. Pick a practice within Chinese and Eastern medicine and together we can research whether that practice has been scientifically reviewed and what the science says…

  2. Something which tickled my skeptical senses is the lack of references to specific research that was being overlooked by wikipedia editors. Granted this is a petition so I wouldn’t expect them to delve into too much detail; even after reading a couple dozen comments on Wales’ reply and of the petitioners themselves I couldn’t find anything. Do you know what they’re referring to? It would certainly be interesting to read.

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