No wiki woo woo

We sent the link to this story out yesterday in leftovers but Guy Chapman has written it up for us in a post worth reading. Thanks, Guy. 

If there’s one thing proponents of SCAM (Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine) cannot stand, it’s objective unbiased information. Wikipedia’s policies have long mandated against giving undue weight to fringe and pseudoscientific beliefs, and the SCAM brigade took it upon themselves to petition founder Jimmy Wales demanding that he change this. They posted a petition on Change.org.

The results were entirely predictable (see here for some of the reasons).

Jimmy’s response was superb:

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.

Well, that’s them told. Loved it. I do wish more curt and to-the-point responses like this would be made regarding purveyors of nonsense.

They can always go to a site that is more sympathetic to their aims such as wiki4cam, whose policies (unlike those of Wikipedia) forbid dissenting voices. Wiki4CAM’s thriving community of nearly four users have created over two hundred articles, with three edits last month alone.
By Guy Chapman

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  6 comments for “No wiki woo woo

  1. March 26, 2014 at 1:24 PM

    Having browsed through the comment section in response to Wales’ response, I’m curious about one of the commenter’s (see Debby Vajda) dissenting statements . Sorry about the long quote, but I think it’s worth posting.

    She says, “The prestigious, peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychological Association, Review of General Psychology, published a review of the research related to energy psychology in 2012 which included the following summary: “A literature search identified 51 peer-reviewed papers that report or investigate clinical outcomes following the tapping of acupuncture points to address psychological issues. The 18 randomized controlled trials in this sample were critically evaluated for design quality, leading to the conclusion that they consistently demonstrated strong effect sizes and other positive statistical results that far exceed chance after relatively few treatment sessions. Criteria for evidence-based treatments proposed by Division 12 of the American Psychological Association were also applied and found to be met for a number of conditions, including PTSD and depression.”

    So my question is: is there any credibility to this? I tend to put faith in the APA journals but I wonder if the commenter has her facts stated correctly.

    • March 26, 2014 at 3:50 PM

      We see this all the time (e.g. with homeoquackery). Here’s what’s going on:

      1. An inert intervention will, for reasons cogently discussed in Ioannidis’ famous paper, generate a small net positive evidence base. Publication bias also leads to a preference for publishing studies that are positive (which one in 20 will be, by random chance alone).

      2. The placebo effect is not the totality of the null hypothesis. Other factors, not ruled out in these studies, include expectation effects, observer biases, regression to the mean, natural course of disease and so on. The studies tend to be very small, conducted by the most zealous proponents, and focus on self-limiting diseases – evidence of effect directly proven by objective measurements tends to be scant.

      3. Studies of this sort cannot, by their very nature, refute the null hypothesis anyway, they can only indicate a field worth proper investigation. And of course when proper investigation is done and the effect vanishes, proponents will return and point to the initial studies as “proof”, because they do not follow the scientific method (where a hypothesis is tested) but the SCAMtific method (which seeks to confirm a hypothesis).

      At no point has any remotely plausible mechanism of action been advanced. It is conceivable that, like EMDR, this is basically a form of CBT, but the proponents will not usually entertain any hypothesis other than their own so will not accept any rational explanation.

      • Kevin F
        March 28, 2014 at 11:53 PM

        Why cannot studies of this sort refute the null hypothesis. I don’t believe in homeopathy for all the reasons other people don’t. I do research in the field of pharmacoepidemiology. I don’t understand why you say these studies cannot refute the null hypothesis. This is the entire purpose of doing studies, other than exploratory data analysis. As long as the study is powered properly, it should be able to provide evidence against the null hypothesis. This is true of studies in general, and I am not commenting on whether there are any homeopathy studies that are actually valid or prove anything. But if a homeopathy study cannot disprove the null hypothesis, what can? What studies are unable to prove is the alternate hypothesis, using prove in the strong sense of the word.

  2. March 26, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    Too sad we can’t say the same thing about the Spanish Wikipedia: http://www.skepticink.com/avant-garde/2014/03/26/wiki-woo/

  3. Travis
    March 26, 2014 at 9:02 PM

    I’m so glad such a large presence on the internet is sticking to the truth. wikipedia has been well established as an excellent starting point (at least!) for research and for it to be a skeptical, scientific website is one of the best things that can happen to the internet.

    The internet is where religions and pseudoscience go to die

  4. Richard
    March 28, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    This is wonderful news. Hurray for Wikipedia!

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