Not the Ducks! – Quacks, Wikipedia and True Scientific Discourse

You won’t believe how handy Wikipedia is to a medic in training, sometimes you just need to look something up. A condition, a drug or a procedure, and you don’t have a book to hand. And often you may not know which book the procedure is detailed, so what do you do?


See while Wikipedia is a public encyclopedia, it’s science sections are at least rigorously maintained. So if you need the basics you can just look it up. It’s good enough for a basic answer, if you need more details? Well, then you bust out your text books.

But here is the thing, Wikipedia is only medically accurate if and only if it is subject to the rigorous coverage by real scientists rather than quacks. And this chafes the quack brigade.

So much so that they have a petition up.

And it’s laughable if it wasn’t terrifying. Wikipedia is the go to source of information for anyone. How many people when faced with something new turn to Wikipedia to find out what it is?

Now imagine if we poison the source of information? This is from the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology.

In it’s own words, ACEP members are dedicated to exploring, developing, researching and applying energy psychology methods to alleviate human suffering, enhance human performance and access human potential. Energy psychology interventions address the various aspects of the human ‘subtle energy system’ including: Energy pathways: meridians and acupoints Energy centers: chakras and vortices Human Energy Field: the human biofield or ‘aura’ ACEP seeks to establish the credibility and efficacy of energy psychology methods through its programs of certification, education, ethics, humanitarian aid and research.

Which is weapon’s grade nonsense pretending to be psychology. And the terrifying thing is that it pretends to offer humanitarian aid.

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 Unfortunately, much of the information related to holistic approaches to healing is biased, misleading, out-of-date, or just plain wrong.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.

When we speak about holistic medicine it is the usage of quacks to sneak quackery under the guise of medicine. It’s a great way to drum up business and keep quackery safe from the iron fist of evidence based medicine. So alongside your antibiotics you may have your chiropractic  adjustment and be none the wiser that one kills bacteria, the other is a massage.

Let’s be clear, these things work by magic. Our body does not have an “energy field” like that portrayed by the quacks. None of these things have a physiological basis and many of these prevent people from getting actual help from trained professionals rather than people who flog the Eastern equivalent of the four humours as fact.

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.”

Except we are trying to replace Evidence Based Medicine with bullshit and treat the two as equal. This is not like fanboys defending a non-objective piece of Wikipedia or patriotic wiki entries. This is about science. To demand such equality would be like allowing creationists equal time on evolution or flat earthers to edit astronomy pages.

The fact of the matter is, there is no evidence to support the unscientific claims of the so called alternative medicine groups and posting such information is not only inappropriate but incorrect and would further the ignorance of people rather than educate them.

This is exactly the case with the Wikipedia pages for Energy Psychology, Energy Medicine, acupuncture, and other forms of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM), 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.

There is no scientific view to these approaches. When tested against a placebo these approaches show no difference and many of these detract from genuine treatment and encourage people to think that they are an alternative. Like Vanilla or Chocolate.

In reality it’s Vanilla or Air. And in some cases it’s Vanilla or Cyanide. There are alternative medicine “schools” that are frankly deadly. Allowing a non-critical approach to information ignores the fact that scientific criticism does exist which is why these methods are considered bunk. And before people say the “mercury” thing is rare, there have been cases of Mercury enemas and ingestion too.

Sure, call our understanding of science narrow. No one’s ever proven the physiological basis of Energy Medicine and considering it pretty much is anything from “energy transfer” and “crystals” to “remote healing”. And these people want to flog it as the equivalent of real evidence. Here’s the thing, if they actually proved the physiology of their methods then they would have revolutionised medicine.

Lucky for the Nobel Committee they have no evidence.

Science is not fair. You don’t get a “turn” to play scientist and push your theory. Science is based on evidence and the CAM/Alt. Medicine/Quacks have none. It’s not censorship, it’s the truth and the truth hurts.

None of what they want works, it’s a waste of time and using it to treat the sick is a waste of lives. And it is the utilisation of the desperation and ignorance is to benefit from people who simply want help. And this is me being “fair”.

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

That’s nice.

Jimmy Wales had this to say…

“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.”

I know the response is the age old wail of “FDA and CDC are in cahoots with big pharma which prevents us from proving our results”.


  1. says

    I’ve been an editor at the Wikipedia since September, 2005. This has been an ongoing issue since at least then: despite very, very clear policies about fringe theories, reliable sources and scientific consensus, the purveyors of quack still demand that they be given an uncritical, unquestionable platform.

    My apologies for dumping this into your moderation bin, but here are the policies:

    Fringe theories
    Neutral point of view
    Reliable sources
    Reliable sources (medicine) (yes, it even has its own, specific standards.)
    Scientific consensus

    And, because so many of the purveyors of pseudoscience violate this one,
    Conflict of interest

    The problem is that the homeopathic “practitioners” and chiropractors and acupuncturists and urine therapy advocates are used to spouting nonsense and having it swallowed whole. They never get challenged, and get petulant when actually held to standards of quality.

  2. angharad says

    If the Tapas Acupressure Technique is about eating tasty Spanish food and getting a massage then I’m all for it – as a pleasant way to spend my lunch break that is. If it were possible to fix my health that way I could have thrownaw my pills years ago.

  3. dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!" says

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

    C’mon Jimbo, tell us how you really feel.

  4. says

    Very well written. This has always been my problem with Wikipedia: editors who are truly experts in their field have no more sway than those who are at best ignorant and at worst misleading.

  5. says

    @Ian Chard #5 – “This has always been my problem with Wikipedia: editors who are truly experts in their field have no more sway than those who are at best ignorant and at worst misleading.”

    It is more a strength than a weakness, I think. The Wiki community just does not have the resources to check the credentials of every editor; reflect on how many woo peddlers, quack pushers and outright charlatans insist that they are “truly experts in their field.”

    Wikipedia has a large number of policies that do a reasonably good job of guiding editors. Yes, woo and pseudoscience get posted, but usually it gets removed pretty quickly by editors who know the policies. And speaking as a member of the Wikipedia community, we would value your skills if you would like to contribute to the war against nonsense.

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