Guerilla skepticism on Wikipedia: how should Christians and conservatives respond?

The Messianic Drew urges us to watch the first 27 minutes of this lecture featuring skeptic and anti-paranormalist Susan Gerbic. He wants us to see how skeptics are monitoring and policing wikipedia entries to give it a skeptical bias.

Here is Gerbic’s thesis:

We use Wikipedia to shape the public’s view of paranormal topics. We already know that shouting and belittling believers is not the way to go about changing minds. Guerilla skepticism is the act of inserting well-documented well-cited information into Wikipedia. We still follow all of Wikipedia’s guidelines. We are also trying to improve the history of the scientific skeptical movement and document it. It allows editors to edit from home without being confrontational with people.

The Messianic Drew wrote about the lecture on his blog.

Excerpt:

Gerbic is absolutely right. People generally trust Wikipedia, and do not view it with the same degree of scrutiny with which someone would view an atheist website.

If you are a rising Christian apologist, but don’t have the time, money, or experience to publish in professional journals or debate atheists on stage, that’s fine. The Internet is a great place to conduct apologetics. Instead of wasting your time arguing on message boards or social media (like Facebook), why not learn to edit Wikipedia? It costs nothing but time, and it reaches an audience far more open-minded than anyone you will debate online. Remember that people trust Wikipedia as a reliable source of information, something not lost on Gerbic.

Gerbic’s tactics have worked due to organization. Wikipedia has mobs of tens of thousands of editors. Gerbic’s group is a small, but highly focused army of 90 editors, and it has changed the face of Wikipedia’s paranormal pages, as well as its pages on famous skeptics, creationism, and evolution. As far as I know, there is not one single Christian apologetics organization that focuses on Wikipedia. Not one. Zilch. Zip. Zero. This needs to be fixed.

He has a whole bunch of ideas on how Christians can get on this, and he has examples of what the skeptics have been doing (before and after edits) on specific pages.

Now Drew was telling me about this video and his idea last night, and I had two objections. First, I told him that Wikipedia is a cesspool of secularism and leftism that is policed by thuggish fascists. I got this impression by reading about Wikipedia’s suppression about intelligent design on the Evolution News blog. Second, I told him that no one respects Wikipedia as a source. I never use Wikipedia as a source for anything, I prefer to link to the peer-reviewed journal articles or to reputable news sources.

Drew came back with two responses that have swayed me back from opposition to indifference. First, he said that like it or not, people do use Wikipedia to get basic information about things they are interested in. Google search even displays information from Wikipedia entries in the searches. Second, he pointed out specific edits that he had made to specific pages that were not deleted, even after a few days. And these were impressive edits, linking to sources critical of skeptics and skeptical ideas.

We were discussing this on Facebook, and many people started off by objecting to Drew’s plan to have Christians (and conservatives could also do this) systematically monitor and edit Wikipedia pages. A band of Wikipologists, if you will. I know that J. Warner Wallace tweeted his post, and Nancy Pearcey and Mike Licona both posted it on their Facebook pages. So I wanted to ask my readers: do you think that Christians should imitate these guerilla tactics on Wikipedia? Why or why not?

If you want to get involved with this, message me on Facebook, by the way.

11 thoughts on “Guerilla skepticism on Wikipedia: how should Christians and conservatives respond?”

  1. I agree with Drew. Wikipedia is usually the first page that pops up on any given topic when searched for online, and it tends to be the default (and often only) source average people use when investigating a topic of interest.

    If our task as Apologists is, like Paul, to “go where people are”, then Wikipedia is pretty much ground zero. How many people investigate topics related to Intelligent Design only to come to the conclusion that is quackery because of the highly skeptical nature of Wiki articles concerning it? The organized atheist army has ferociously protected their turf on any issue related to evolution on Wikipedia, and as a result the ID message has a very difficult time breaking through to the average member of the public. If this begins to happen more to pages related to Apologetics, which the atheists seem to be organizing for, then that will be a catastrophe for the Christian message in the public square.

    If we fail to fight back, then what will happen is assured: atheists will continue to increasingly define the boundaries of debate, casting theists and design theorists as quacks and themselves as arbiters of reason. They will be the “new normal” to anybody that bothers to look these topics up in a passing way. If we do fight back, however, in the same organized and aggressive fashion as the atheists, while using good behavior and all the Wikipedia guidelines, then two things are liable to happen, both good:

    1. We create a sense of balance on these issues on Wikipedia and stop letting atheists define what is “normal” on the world’s most-trafficked information website.

    or

    2. We start an editing war between ourselves and atheists that gets so heated that Wikipedia is forced to step in and make their editing policies more fair and less subject to agenda-driven organization. There have already been whispers of their need to do this, and if we force the issue by fighting back then that is could be a very good thing. Yes, it COULD just solidify their gains if the chips fall the wrong way, but that would be no worse than the status quo, and more likely than not a robust theistic presence would make any reforms far more fair to our side than we currently enjoy.

    I think this is a remarkably good idea, and a way that even an average person could have an enormous impact for the Kingdom of Christ. The Wikipedia editor that refuses to allow unfair atheist propaganda to go unchallenged would be making far more of an impact for the Kingdom than spending time arguing in some obscure online forum somewhere, without a doubt.

    I think this effort should definitely be high on the Christian agenda. Why, after all, should we let atheists unfairly define us to the world?

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  2. Thank you for posting this! Two points:

    1. You are an idiot if you trust Wikipedia as a reliable and unbiased source of information
    2. There are a LOT of idiots out there (and they run our country)

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  3. When I read about Drew’s insight, I thought of J Warner Wallace who advises us not to fight hard, but fight smart. New atheists on blogs and forums are recalcitrantly stubborn in holding onto their views. But there are many, many more open minded people just on Wikipedia.

    There’s a parallel to politics. The people who need to be won are not the devoted partisans, but people in the middle. Go after them with solid substance but a moderate tone. On Wikipedia, that simply translates to contributing by the rules, and trusting that the Judeo-Christian principles of fair-mindedness and charity are not actually lost on those who hold power in that community.

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  4. I only ever use Wikipedia for mundane stuff, but never anything more. I just had a look at the entry for “Intelligent Design”. Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve read something so obviously biased trying to pass itself off as education. This article was clearly written by an atheist.

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  5. Drew is right!

    If Christians take a hands-off attitude toward Wikipedia it will become even more biased against Christ, and those who refer to it will be deprived of the salt and light that is the truth.

    Think of the efforts Drew is encouraging as an “anti-defamation league.” Anti-Semitism would go unchecked in this world without them. Likewise, anti-Christianity needs to be checked.

    Efforts toward this end can be both organized and individual. It’s the individual, “un-branded” efforts, however, that will do the most good. This is because any success by Christian organizations will be highlighted in the news media. This is because when skeptics do it, the mainstream media doesn’t care, but when Christians do it all the hounds will be let loose on “the violation of church and state,” etc.

    Drew is not only right, the consequences of ignoring him are greater darkness in this world. Satan wants Christians retreated from the world and huddling with each other. Christ wants His people being salt and light in every corner of this earth.

    Call them “Drew’s Army” and unleash them!

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  6. I’m listening to the argument and I’m hearing some good points. And I don’t like to cede any ground, but I still can’t escape the fact that Wikipedia is in fact what WK described, “a cesspool of secularism and leftism.” Not only that it is a shifting cesspool. It’s like flinging mud on a wall… oh look, there is all this mud on the wall, we can counter some of it by sticking something good up there and working to keep it in place.

    My experience with the site “answers.com” leads me to believe it’s probably a waste of time. I made a lot of edits there. All of which were accurate, sourced, and within the rules and they would stay in place from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, but they would inevitably get blown up or subverted by users and editors.

    If, and it’s a BIG IF, you could get a large team working on it, stay focused and vigilante, you might be able to do something with it. But then, how would you know that anything you have done has any positive effect?

    We need revival. We need a renewing of minds. We need our culture to turn away from its destructive secular path. I just don’t think its going to happen via Wikipedia.

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    1. James A. Weaks,

      I agree with you that we need revival. And I agree with your implicit point that we as Christians must first repent if we ever expect the world to change. For example, we’ll never stop society from embracing “gay marriage” unless we ourselves start taking marriage much more seriously.

      That said, revival will make us brighter light and stronger salt. We must be applied as preservative (salt) and disinfectant (light) to the surrounding culture, or else our revival has not been real.

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    2. James,

      Consider the following example. Let’s say William Lane Craig appears on a CNN segment against a popular atheist, or gets some big exposure due to some widely-seen debate. A curious person decides to google William Lane Craig, and of course the first “informational” page that appears in the search results is his Wikipedia article. The average person will read Craig’s Wikipedia entry and make up their mind whether or not to pursue Craig’s work further based on what they read there. The average person will NOT read any other source on Craig other than his Wikipedia page.

      Now, if Craig’s Wikipedia page gets “taken over” by these organized bands of Wiki-skeptics and becomes full of the same kind of negative, dismissing information that you see on pages related to Intelligent Design, then that person will dismiss Craig as a crank and the entire range of his Apologetic argument as not worth listening to. This extends to individual arguments as well. What if somebody hears about the Kalaam Cosmological argument from a co-worker and decides to google it, only to open its Wiki article and find out it’s been “thoroughly refuted” and thus conclude they need to investigate no further? Wikipedia is seen by the average person as perfectly authoritative. Even if they give lip service to its unreliability, in practice they still use it as the starting gate for almost any new subject they are interested in and will read no further if they are put off by what they see in that initial encounter.

      If we abandon Wikipedia to these organizing skeptics, then we are simply allowing them to frame theism, our Apologetics, and our Apologists for people who by definition don’t yet have enough information to see through the tactic. “Oh, nevermind, this Craig guy is obviously a quack, why should I listen to him? I’ll go back to my Angry Birds now.” Proclaiming Wikipedia a cesspool of secularism that should just be ignored will not magically change people’s behavior in terms of how they start learning about a given topic. To abandon Wikipedia to the skeptics is to make the same dreadful mistake Christians made by retreating into the closets of Fundamentalism in the mid-20th Century and abandoning the University, the repercussions of which have been devastating. It would be the same mistake we made by abandoning popular entertainment and journalism as well. The secular left controls all these institutions right now and the slide their victory has produced in our culture has been tremendous. Christians let these institutions fall to the bad guys and are now under incredible cultural attack as a result. Making the same mistake with something as powerful and universally-used as Wikipedia would just be further eroding our ability to communicate to the non-believer or to the person questioning their faith.

      You say we need revival and renewing of minds. I could not agree more. But how can people renew their minds if they are discouraged from the effort right off the bat by a relentlessly negative first impression? The sad fact is that almost everybody starts their inquiry into any given subject through Wikipedia. Abandoning Wikipedia is abandoning the average, ignorant person to the skeptics, who will simply inform them from the start, in a way most find authoritative, that our side is not worth listening to.

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  7. I think this is probably a good idea. Why cede such a popular site to misinformation? People read it, so it matters.

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  8. I had a few days to ponder over this post. To be honest, I think the reasons why there are divergent answers on this comes down to what questions are being asked regarding the nature and the method of guerrilla skepticism

    1) Should guerilla skepticism be viewed as a wartime and ideological propaganda movement between “blocs”? This appears to be the view of Messianic Drew.

    2) Should guerilla skepticism be viewed as a counter-insurgency/insurgency model? This appears to be WK’s view – because to me, his objection to GS is that Wikipedia is a cesspool of secularists and atheists sounds awfully like something that can be applied from FM 3-24.

    I think both viewpoints are legitimate.

    At the end of the day however, the Internet is not going to be as persuasive as live persons who can be interacted with. This is the part where the “fight smart” part needs to come in. Yes, some sort of counterpoint to wiki’s typical naturalist streak needs to be have for those who may have intellectual curiosity that needs to be met. But Christianity is, to quote John Mark Reynolds, a text-based religion and relies heavily upon linear argumentation – and the culture has largely lost linear thinking skills – which is why people actually need Wiki in the first place instead of reading up a subject independently or go to a university library to read up on a subject.

    I would say wiki GS is infinitely more valuable than internet forums/chatrooms/youtube comment sections interaction and is a cause worth supporting. But (2) must also be kept in mind when deciding how much effort to be poured in to snipe Wiki edits. For those who can contribute to apologetics beyond being keyboard warriors, focusing on person-to-person interaction would be a better idea.

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