Monday, August 11, 2008

Alternative medicine and Wikipedia

A group of alternative medicine practitioners have announced that they are going to start their own wiki to counter Wikipedia which is not sufficiently positive about alternative treatments. They complain that people who read Wikipedia articles on alternative medicine are being “systematically exposed to anti-CAM data.” I’ll let that phrase speak for itself. I’m not going to examine in detail the incredible idiocy and willful ignorance on display here other than to note that they have stated that any anti-CAM data on the wiki will be swiftly removed. This will apparently occur regardless of the truth, falsity or verifiability of the data in question. There is an excellent post over at The Lay Scientist discussing this detail. I’m also not going to discuss how the first group to come to mind to also try to start their own Wiki was extreme right wing Christians.[i]
What I’m actually going to address is a related issue. Some of the commentators who have remarked on this new wiki have in passing attacked Wikipedia. For example, in the otherwise excellent post I linked to above, the author felt a need to say that the alternative medicine proponents "have finally grown tired of trying to insert their claims into the sewerage system of the collective consciousness that is Wikipedia." This is unfair to Wikipedia and to the hundreds of editors who work on Wikipedia’s articles about fringe ideas.
It is a testament to how well Wikipedia functions that extremist groups that are unable to handle Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy are not able to successfully subvert Wikipedia articles. They have been forced to go elsewhere to promote their extreme minority viewpoints. This is an example of Wikipedia succeeding. This isn’t complete success: Ideally, these people would stay and help make actually neutral articles. But the reader can be confident that for most major alternative medicine claims such as homeopathy and magnet therapy, the articles will accurately reflect what scientific studies have discovered about the topics whether positive or negative. The articles will include the claims made by practitioners and will neutrally discuss what the scientific community thinks of those claims.

[i] However, I cannot resist pointing out that Conservapedia has recently decided that Leif Ericson never came to America. Apparently, claims that he did are part of a liberal plot to undermine the achievements of the Christian explorer Christopher Columbus. I’m not making this up. And before anyone comments, yes I know that Ericson was almost certainly Christian.

While I’m pointing out absurdities on Conservapedia, they also recently announced on their mainpage that “41 students have already signed up for Conservapedia's in-person class this fall, perhaps making it the largest pre-college American History class in the world." Again, I’m not making this up. And moreover, they seem to think that a large student/teacher ratio is a good thing.

Edit on January 28, 2009: The linked to edits at Conservapedia are apparently no longer functioning. I am currently attempting to determine if this is due to Conservapedia's running server problems or if it is due to deliberate attempts to send them down the memory hole. I will post a followup entry when I have more information.

1 comment:

Steve Hollings said...

I ran across your post and checked out the NCCAM wiki for myself. NCCAM is short for the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. Apparently, it's the government branch that handles CAM.

When reading, I had a hard time telling apart the Organization and History section from the Criticism section. Wow. Who would have thought? Although their response isn't ideal, the New Agers may be on to something.