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Making the world a more rational place with Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia

Fighting the online battle against the Dark Side.

When I was a kid, I believed in alien abductions, the Bermuda Triangle, psychics, ghosts, and all types of pseudoscience. That was in the pre-internet world; there was no easy way to find good information to contradict the misleading material on TV and in books. How anyone could do an about-face on these issues in that primitive, low-information time is a wonder.

These days, thanks to the internet and the global, editable online encyclopedia with almost six million English language entries, Wikipedia, there’s a world of information at everyone’s fingertips. So of course everyone is better informed, right?

Unfortunately, a huge load of the data we’re deluged with is outright garbage. Companies peddle products which don’t and can’t work (e.g. Power Balance bracelets, crystal energy charms, radiation shields). Goop sells dangerous items like coffee enema machines, jade eggs, and promotes Anthony William, the “Medical Medium” who Gwyneth Paltrow claims can give valid health advice through “the voice of a divine force called Spirit.” YouTube is full of videos claiming to prove people have never gone to the Moon, that vaccines are dangerous, and even that the Earth is flat.

If you’re the sort of person who understands this type of stuff is bullsh*t, and you want to help others but you’re frustrated arguing with your friends on social media, consider joining the Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia.

The GSoW is an international group of volunteers dedicated to improving Wikipedia in the ways that matter most. We write or improve existing articles concerning science, pseudoscience, and scientific skepticism, in English and, maybe more importantly, in many other languages.

The GSoW add valid material and references, and remove unsubstantiated claims. We do everything from making small enhancements, like improving existing text, to writing entire articles from scratch. The team’s topics of interest are varied, and include bios of purported psychic mediums, documentaries, scientists, alternative medicine, skeptical movement issues, and even space travel. In fact, we did a re-write of the article for the first and only (unappreciated) astro-cat, Félicette.

And we do it by strictly following Wikipedia’s rules. The team is trained to edit in such a way that our work avoids being challenged and removed (removed changes are a problem commonly faced by untrained editors).

The importance of quality information on Wikipedia should be obvious. In the English-speaking world alone, Wikipedia is the fourth most visited website, only trailing Google, YouTube and FaceBook. A subject’s Wikipedia article is usually at or near the topic of Google and other search engine results, so someone on the fence about an unsubstantiated claim might be dissuaded from taking on an irrational belief just by reading a well-written and cited entry.

The Guerrilla Skeptics deliver accurate information to millions of people searching for it. Since joining the GSoW team in late 2016, the 20 articles I’ve rewritten or created from scratch have received over two million pageviews, and continue to increase at a rate of about 108,000 per month. Since the project began in 2010, its members collectively have been responsible for 1,210 brand new articles and major rewrites, with more than 50 million pageviews, increasing by 1.2 million per month.

In contrast, the average U.S. nonfiction book sells less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime. Keep in mind, too, that these totals include only brand new articles and major rewrites, not the much larger number of smaller, but no less important improvements made to countless other articles.

The Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia do our best to promote science and reason and help fight the spread of nonsense, using one of the most powerful knowledge platforms available. And maybe just slightly less important than that, being a part of the GSoW team provides its members with a personal sense of accomplishment, knowing we make the world a more informed and (we hope) a slightly more rational place.

So if the GSoW sounds like a good fit for you, we’ll train and mentor you (it’s all done online) so you’re prepared to effectively contribute. Email us at GSoWTeam@gmail.com, and listen to our latest audio promo here!

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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