Source Article by Dr. Joseph Mercola:
Is Wikipedia stealing the news? Part 1 of 2 — A special edition of Ghost in the Machine series, Part 7
You may think Wikipedia — originally funded with revenue from soft-core pornography1 — is the best thing since Cliff Notes, with quick and easy access to all the facts and news you ever needed to know. Some believe Wikipedia is even better than Encyclopedia Britannica; indeed, Wikipedia’s founders intended it to be a replacement for it. But is Wikipedia really a trustworthy source?
Wikipedia is not a reliable source
Interestingly enough, while Wikipedia has become the world’s most powerful thought leader — controlling a vast amount of internet information and being used to determine the credibility of experts across most fields — Wikipedia itself warns it is NOT a reliable source. It states:2
“Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Wikipedia can be edited by anyone at any time. This means that any information it contains at any particular time could be vandalism, a work in progress, or just plain wrong.
Biographies of living persons, subjects that happen to be in the news, and politically or culturally contentious topics are especially vulnerable to these issues. Edits on Wikipedia that are in error may eventually be fixed.
However, because Wikipedia is a volunteer run project, it cannot monitor every contribution all of the time. There are many errors that remain unnoticed for days, weeks, months, or even years. Therefore, Wikipedia should not be considered a definitive source in and of itself.”
Despite this blatant admission of unreliability, Wikipedia is the go-to site for Google quality raters to assess the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of an author or website. There’s also evidence showing Wikipedia is edited by people with a very specific agenda, and anyone who tries to clarify or clear up inaccuracies on the site is simply blocked.
Wikipedia is ruled by skeptics with biased agendas
Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, for example, has repeatedly tried to “correct provably false facts” about her background on Wikipedia, only to be told she’s not a reliable source and having her edits overridden by anonymous editors that guard her page, making sure her award-winning work is kept hushed and her character portrait tarnished.3
Anyone looking at Wikipedia to assess Attkisson’s expertise as a journalist — without already being familiar with her stellar body of work — would walk away thinking she’s an unreliable source, when in fact she’s one of a very few impeccable truth-tellers of our time.
Other examples of “sanitizing” certain pages and tarnishing others can be found in a June 28, 2015 article4 in The Epoch Times. As noted by Deepak Chopra in a 2013 article:5
“Thanks to the Internet, skepticism can spread with the speed of light, carrying in its wake all forms of unfairness and bad faith. A distressing example has been occurring at Wikipedia, where a band of committed skeptics have focused their efforts to discredit anyone whom they judge an enemy …
[S]keptics … have become so skilled at thwarting anyone who disagrees with their point of view that a small swarm of skeptical editors is capable of outnumbering, bullying, and even banning all those who oppose them.”
Similarly, British journalist and author Robert McLuhan, who covers consciousness, spirituality and psi research, had the following to say about Wikipedia in 2013:6
“Recently I’ve been poking around on the site to see how psi topics are presented. My impression is that a novice would come away with a pretty jaundiced view. It’s obvious that sceptics are busily re-editing articles in their favour, and a reader has kindly sent me a link that shows how they do this.
It’s a project called Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia,7 run by Susan Gerbic, who recruits sceptics to give pages a makeover, both those that publicise their own side (ie debunkers, key sceptic figures, etc) and also the opposition’s (celebrity psychics, paranormal claimants, etc).
This is a specialised activity and Gerbic’s blog8 gives tips and techniques. Recently she’s gone global, getting sceptics to edit foreign language pages.”
According to Wired, the Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project had at least 120 editors as of 2018.9 For an inside look at what many Wikipedia editors seeking more neutral coverage are up against, read this six-part series on The Weiler Psi blog.10 To learn even more, check out Wikipediocracy11 — an entire organization dedicated to exposing the many problems and hypocrisy of Wikipedia.
Even Lawrence (Larry) Sanger, who co-founded Wikipedia in 2001, bailed ship the very next year,12saying “trolls sort of took over” the site, that “The inmates started running the asylum,”13 and that “In some fields and some topics, there are groups who ‘squat’ on articles and insist on making them reflect their own specific biases.”14,15
In 2012, evidence also emerged revealing a Wikipedia trustee and Wikipedian in Residence were being paid to edit pages on behalf of their clients and secure their placement on Wikipedia’s front page in the “Did You Know” section,16 which publicizes new or expanded articles17 — a clear violation of Wikipedia rules.
Study conclusion: Wikipedia wrong on 90% of medical advice
If you ever use Wikipedia for health information, take heed, as this may be a costly and potentially dangerous tactic. An important May 27, 2014, article18,19 in Time magazine addressed this, reporting on a study20,21 looking into the veracity of medical claims made on Wikipedia. As reported by Time:
“A team of U.S. scientists said they found ‘many errors’ in Wikipedia articles concerning the 10 costliest medical conditions. The researchers cross-checked Wikipedia entries on coronary disease, lung cancer, hypertension and back pain, among other ailments, against the latest research from peer-reviewed journals.
Nine out of 10 entries analyzed on the crowd-sourced encyclopedia contained assertions that were contradicted by the peer-reviewed sources …
‘Health care professionals, trainees, and patients should use caution when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care,’ wrote the study’s authors … The authors laid particular stress on medical professionals; a recent study22,23 found that 50 percent of physicians admitted using Wikipedia as a reference source.”
Wikipedia hates holistic medicine
Meanwhile, the Guerilla Sceptics have deleted expert articles on homeopathy,24,25,26,27 energy medicine and the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), just to name a few, replacing them with entries that present these topics as various forms of “pseudoscience,” disregarding the peer-reviewed scientific evidence that supports them.
Even the president of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine reports he was prevented from posting positive information about antiaging derived from the academy’s own research.28 One blatant example of how Wikipedia twists content with slanted and biased presentations is the entry for the founder of homeopathy, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann.29
Rather than simply describing Hahnemann as a physician best known for creating the system of alternative medicine called homeopathy, they attribute to him the creation of “the pseudoscientific” system (with a hyperlink to pseudoscientific) of homeopathy.
There’s nothing objective about this entry, and it’s quite clearly designed to manipulate public opinion about homeopathy, seeing how research showing the efficacy of homeopathic medicines has been published in several of the world’s most respected medical journals.
Overall, you’re not going to find out the truth about alternative medicine on Wikipedia — in large part due to the intense bias of its co-founder, Jimmy Wales, who is openly hostile against holistic medicine, and who in 2014 rejected and derided a Change.org petition to bring in more positive discussion of holistic medicine on Wikipedia.30,31,32
Understand how Wikipedia operates and how it’s being used
Truth be told, Wikipedia is dependent on your lack of knowledge about how they really operate — and the fact that they post a disclaimer stating readers should not trust everything they read on Wikipedia.
Taking advantage of your desire for a quick, let-them-do-the-work information search, their goal is to shuttle your thoughts, opinions and knowledge into a silo that doesn’t allow anything in except what they put in there. And, despite their claims of neutrality, what they’re putting on their site is some of the most biased information you’ll find anywhere in media today.
Worse, they’ve partnered with Google so your searches will go straight to Wikipedia, or at the very least high on the Google search page. Wikipedia’s cozy relationship with Google is not just curious (considering Google’s quality raters are told to treat Wikipedia information as the gospel of truth); it’s dangerous to free thought and free speech on the internet.
Case in point: Do a Google search33 on Wikipedia and you will see that Google allows top placement for answers to questions about Wikipedia — such as: Is Wikipedia fake information? Does Wikipedia tell the truth? How reliable is Wikipedia? — created by Wikipedia itself. Talk about letting the fox not only guard, but run, the henhouse!
How are readers to know what’s true and what’s fake about Wikipedia when Wikipedia is its own fact-checker?34Perhaps a better question might be: Just how much does Google’s $2 million donation35 to Wikipedia figure in to how Google answers questions about Wikipedia in its search engines?
Wikipedia also gets funding from the likes of George Soros, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg — all individuals who are notorious for stamping out free speech, free thought and objective exchanges of information.
They’ve also gained the favor of institutions of higher learning that once banned Wikipedia as a source, but now promote them, and have chummied up with one of the oldest, most-respected news leaders in the U.S., the Poynter Institute, which I’ll discuss in further detail below.
Now, instead of asking the questions behind the questions and doing their own original investigative journalism, the media is allowing these outside-funded entities — Wikipedia and Snopes, along with so-called “fact-checkers” in the form of a group called The International Fact-Checking Network36 — to do their jobs for them.
What’s particularly tragic is the fact that the Fourth Estate — the last bastion of a free world with real news — doesn’t even seem to realize the power they’ve handed over to anonymous agents with zero accountability.
Wikipedia as a generator of news
In recent years, it’s become clear Wikipedia is not just a simple repository of encyclopedic information but an actual generator of breaking news. A May 1, 2019, Newswise article37 talks about this trend, saying that it looks like Wikipedia may be the “new” media, generating news (often in real time) but without the codes of ethics that conventional news sources have historically adhered to. As reported by Newswise:
“Dr. Bunty Avieson from the University’s Department of Media and Communications has examined Wikipedia as a breaking news source, in a new research paper38 published today in prestigious internet studies journal First Monday.
‘When a major global news event occurs, such as the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka or the Christchurch shootings, Wikipedia contributors from around the world come together in a virtual ‘newsroom’ to craft a narrative, followed closely by readers seeking the latest information,’ she said.
Her research found in any given month, the site’s most popular articles — both in number of views and number of edits — are those that report breaking news … Avieson’s research also highlighted some of the consequences of using Wikipedia as a source of news:
‘Wikipedia contributors don’t undertake the core role of journalists, which is to produce new work. Contributors’ news gathering practices are solely ‘aggregation and assemblage’ …
‘Similarly, in terms of professionalism, contributors don’t answer to journalism codes of ethics and the hierarchy that has formed is based on seniority and meritocracy, where editors gain administrative privileges according to the culture of Wikipedia. This raises some ethical concerns.’”
In a twist of irony, Wikipedia uses real news to create “new” news. The problem with this is that Wikipedia also stands as a repository of all they believe is worthy of knowing, and any information that threatens their tunnel-visioned world is simply edited out.
Why you should never rely on Wikipedia
According to the book, “The Wikipedia Revolution,”39 at its inception, co-founder Wales said Wikipedia’s only “nonnegotiable” policy would be its neutral point of view. Ideas and facts were to be presented “in such a fashion that both supporters and opponents can agree.”
Yet Wikipedia is far from neutral. Today, there is only one point of view, and that is Wikipedia’s viewpoint, which in turn is influenced if not outright dictated by industry and funders with no room for opposing views.
Unfortunately, while colleges used to ban40,41 students from citing Wikipedia and Snopes in their papers due to it being riddled with “mistakes and sometimes deliberate falsehoods,”42,43 many now encourage it — a trend that will ensure the perpetuation of bias into a new generation of professionals.
In 2011, Mark E. Moran wrote an article44 about “The Top 10 Reasons Students Cannot Cite or Rely on Wikipedia” for Finding Dulcinea, Librarian of the Internet. It’s an excellent compilation of why you cannot rely on Wikipedia, and while several years old, it’s more than relevant today. Among these 10 reasons, Moran cites:
You must never fully rely on any one source for important information
You especially can’t rely on something when you don’t even know who wrote it
The contributor with an agenda often prevails
Individuals with agendas sometimes have significant editing authority
Accurate contributors can be silenced
Some industries allowed to control own Wikipedia presence
Again, the main problem with Wikipedia is that its “facts” are carefully cherry-picked to support a particular agenda. It doesn’t tell both sides of any given story. By so doing, they are destroying investigative journalism, which at its core is about questioning prevailing “facts” to get insight into the story behind the story.
Good journalism asks questions beyond a presentation of facts. A lawyer cannot win a case presenting just the facts. More often than not, intention and motivation need to be taken into account. This is where Wikipedia fails — yet they’ve convinced the very people who should know better (academia and news media) that everything anyone needs to know is on a Wikipedia page.
In “The Wikipedia Revolution,” author Andrew Lih reveals IBM has a senior staffer who polices Wikipedia’s references to IBM 24/7.45 Meanwhile, many public figures and industries are banned from editing their own pages — including me.
Equally disturbing is the fact that Wikipedia is now teamed up with “fact-checkers” around the world, led by the Poynter Institute, an Associated Press-affiliated, long-standing mentor institution and school for journalism whose motto is: “Democracy needs journalism. Journalism needs Poynter.”
Earlier this year, Poynter compiled a list46 of 515 “unreliable” websites, including 29 conservative media outlets, based on “fake news” databases created by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Merrimack College, PolitiFact and Snopes, among others.47 Poynter also called on advertisers to blacklist the named sites, as advertising dollars is what keeps them going.
On May 2, 2019, after significant backlash,48 Poynter issued a retraction,49 saying they had found “weaknesses in the methodology” used to create the list. In two May 1, 2019, Tweets, Stephen Gutowski50 — a staff writer for The Washington Free Beacon who covers U.S. politics and in 2016 received the Gun Rights Policy Conference’s Journalist of the Year award51 — wrote:52
“I see the @FreeBeacon is still included in @Poynter’s list. I know for a fact that their staff shares my reporting so I’d love to hear any explanation for why my work and the work of my colleagues is now being deemed unreliable without so much as a single accusation of inaccuracy …
What a disgusting exercise in bad faith from an organization that’s supposed to be about improving and promoting journalism. Instead, they’re creating tabloid-level listicles to smear reporters without offering even a single piece of evidence. Shame on you, @Poynter.”
However, while Poynter issued a statement saying, “We regret that we failed to ensure that the data was rigorous before publication, and apologize for the confusion and agitation caused by its publication,” it appears the blacklisting is still occurring, through the joint efforts of its International Fact-Checking Network and known free speech deniers Google, Facebook and Snopes.
Wikipedia-Google-Poynter — A censorship trifecta
You may wonder how the Poynter Institute,53 the mission54 of which is “to fortify journalism’s role in a free society [by championing] freedom of expression, civil dialogue and compelling journalism,” could allow itself to partake of the poisoned apple of subjective censorship and systematic elimination of free thought and freedom of expression.
It does, and it’s important to understand how Poynter not only enables this silencing of free speech, but ultimately is a partner in this effort. In a nutshell, Poynter is a partner with Google, and Google is partners with Wikipedia by virtue of its investments.
October 26, 2017, Google, which funds Wikipedia, announced55 its partnership with Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, which aims to bring together and support fact-checkers across the world56 by promoting best practices and information exchange, monitoring trends, tracking the impact of fact-checking, providing training and advocating for increased fact-checking.57
The Network also holds an annual fact-checker’s conference called Global Fact.58,59 Among this year’s participants were Facebook (which uses Wikipedia for its fact-checking), Google, Snopes’ David Mikkelson and YouTube.60
Again, as with Wikipedia contributors and editors, the vast majority of fact-checkers do not have a traditional journalism background, nor are a majority of fact-checking sites run by established media. Increasingly, then, news — and the fact-checking that used to be part of a journalist’s job description — is being outsourced to individuals who aren’t journalists and aren’t trained to think and act like one.
Boycott Google and support independent media
The situation we face today is quite remarkable. Not only has investigative journalism gone the way of the dinosaurs, but Wikipedia, which since its inception in 2001 has proven to be among the least reliable of sources on certain topics, is now being pushed to the foreground as a premier source of breaking news and authentication of expertise and reliability by an internet monopoly, Google, which is leading the charge on global censorship of information that might tarnish the most destructive and dangerous industries on this planet.
It doesn’t get a whole lot worse than this, which is why the myth of Wikipedia’s supremacy needs to be revealed for what it is — a bias-driven agenda to shape public opinion and thought — and Google’s monopoly needs to be broken.
While the U.S. Department of Justice is slated to investigate Google for breach of antitrust laws,61 we cannot afford to simply hope and wait for the DOJ to break it up. If we work together to boycott them, Google will crumble under its own weight.
Boycott Google by avoiding any and all Google products:
Stop using Google search engines. Alternatives include DuckDuckGo62 and Startpage63
Uninstall Google Chrome and use the Opera browser instead, available for all computers and mobile devices.64 From a security perspective, Opera is far superior to Chrome and offers a free VPN service (virtual private network) to further preserve your privacy
If you have a Gmail account, close it and open an account with a non-Google affiliated email service such as ProtonMail,65 and encrypted email service based in Switzerland
Stop using Google docs. Digital Trends has published an article suggesting a number of alternatives66
If you’re a high school student, do not convert the Google accounts you created as a student into personal accounts
Sign the “Don’t be evil” petition created by Citizens Against Monopoly
How to find Mercola.com articles moving forward
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Use the internal Mercola.com search engine when searching for articles on my site.
Is Wikipedia stealing the news? Part 2 of 2 — A special edition of Ghost in the Machine series, Part 8
Here, in Part 2, we continue unraveling the history of how Wikipedia — a self-declared unreliable source — has morphed into one of the most relied-upon sources for quality assessment of other authors and media, and is being used as a creative tool in the movement toward totalitarian censorship across the globe.
Author credibility is a fundamental component of journalism
While it may be tempting to just throw your hands in the air and resign yourself to the fact that true investigative journalism is dead, doing so will ensure the downfall of democracy, and with it freedom of thought and speech. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever to refamiliarize yourself with some of the fundamentals of journalism.
Clearly, the credibility of an author, regardless of the media format, is of importance1 when trying to determine the veracity of a given topic, keeping in mind that even experts in the same field will often reach different (and perhaps opposing) conclusions.
Not every expert will have read and evaluated the exact same evidence, for example, leading to differences in interpretation of data. This is normal and unlikely to change, as it is human nature to draw conclusions based on our own breadth of experience and knowledge.
It’s then up to the reader to make up their mind about which of the two or more experts they believe is most correct — a choice that in turn is dependent on the reader’s own prejudices and knowledge base. That said, it should be fairly obvious that no one individual, or even group of individuals, can be the final arbiter of which expert opinion is “the truth.”
However, that’s exactly the position in which Google and Wikipedia have inserted themselves. They now decide who they think is right and which position is the correct one, and they simply censor out the opposing views.
Why is least credible source used to evaluate credibility?
Considering the fact that one of the primary factors that come into play when determining the credibility of an author is to check his or her credentials, affiliations and previous writings,2 how can Wikipedia be recommended as a credible source when the information is posted and edited by anonymous individuals — some of whom have extreme, yet undeclared nontransparent biases?
How is it that Google, the largest monopoly in the world, promotes Wikipedia as an authority for every possible type of information by listing them first in search results? And how can Google use Wikipedia — none of whose anonymous authors have any credibility whatsoever3 — as a primary tool for its quality raters to establish credibility of online material4,5 As noted in a 2014 American Press Institute article:6
“One of the most important ways journalists and news organizations earn the trust of the public trust is by being transparent about who we are and the work we do. We attribute information to the source to show provenance.
We have bylines and credits to provide a sense of ownership and accountability. We offer opportunities for people to respond to what they read, hear and see. We invite the public to report errors and request corrections, and we publicly admit our errors.”
Wikipedia fails to fulfill the very basics of trustworthiness — the ability to evaluate the credibility of its authors. And it admits as much. On its website, Wikipedia clearly states:7
“Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Wikipedia can be edited by anyone at any time. This means that any information it contains at any particular time could be vandalism, a work in progress, or just plain wrong.
Biographies of living persons, subjects that happen to be in the news, and politically or culturally contentious topics are especially vulnerable to these issues …”
Who funds and supports Wikipedia?
While Wikipedia claims to get most of its funding from public donations, the “real money” — i.e., million-dollar donations — comes from the likes of George Soros, the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, Apple, Bank of America, AT&T, Google, Coca-Cola Co. and dozens of other high-profile industry and individual donors.8,9
Wikipedia’s projected operating budget, per its 2014-2015 plan,10 was $58.5 million, and a December 18, 2014, makeuseof.com article11 reported the company currently had $28 million in reserves plus $23 million in investments. Since then, a lot more money has flooded through the Wikigates.
•September 2018, Amazon.com — the world’s largest online retailer — donated $1 million to Wikipedia’s endowment fund.12,13 The Wikimedia Endowment14 helps fund Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons (“a repository for free photographs, diagrams, maps, videos, animations, music, sounds, spoken texts, and other free media”), Mediawiki, Wiktionary (a free online dictionary) and, of course, Wikipedia itself.
While this million-dollar donation makes Amazon one of Wikimedia’s largest corporate contributors, Amazon is not listed as a Wikimedia benefactor.15,16 In a statement to Tech Crunch,17 Amazon said, “Alexa leverages hundreds of sources to answer questions, including Wikipedia. The Alexa team shares a similar vision with Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation: To make it easier to share knowledge globally.”
Seeing how people are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence “helpers” such as Alexa to answer questions of every sort, Amazon’s alliance with Wikipedia is of clear concern, since people probably will not even take the time to look up any other views than what’s offered by AI.
•October 2018 Wikimedia Foundation announced18 a $2 million gift to the Wikimedia Endowment from George Soros. “His gift will help us ensure the sum of all knowledge remains free and open for the benefit of generations to come,” said Katherine Maher, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. Yet, like Amazon, Soros does not appear on Wikimedia’s benefactor page.19
The same press release20 noted that “Since the launch of the endowment in January 2016, the campaign had raised over $26.5 million from generous donors, philanthropists and Wikimedia community members.”
•December 2018, Facebook donated $1 million.21 Coincidentally, Facebook launched a new feature around that same time that uses Wikipedia’s database as an aid in giving users “more information about the source of an article” they may be reading.
•January 2019, Google contributed $2 million to the Wikimedia Endowment, and another $1.1 million to the Wikimedia Foundation itself.22 Together, Wikipedia and Google are also working on Project Tiger, which will expand Wikipedia’s content into more languages. In a blog post, Google president Jacquelline Fuller wrote:23
“While efforts to empower editors will help them continue to add more information and knowledge to the web, we also aim to support the long-term health of the Wikimedia projects so they are available for generations to come.”
In other words, biased Wikipedia editors will receive even more support, and with the backing and injections of funding from Google, Wikipedia will be in an excellent position to further the stranglehold on natural health and other “contentious” topics in years to come.
Wikipedia history you probably don’t know about
Some of the shadier history24 of Wikipedia that most people don’t know about includes the fact that Wikipedia was launched with revenue from co-founder Jimmy Wales’ dot.com Bomis, a soft-porn site that also dabbled in other male-oriented content such as automobiles. In 2013, Business Insider reported:25
“While Wales claims that the ‘mature audience’ section of the site provided a mere ten percent of revenues for the site, the Wikipedia entry on Bomis26 suggests that quite a bit of effort was put into providing such content …
Bomis Premium was a section of the site that let users pay for exclusive X-rated content. The site also hosted nekkid.info, a place ‘to see sexy naked women,’ and ‘The Babe Engine,’ an image search engine dedicated to finding pictures of attractive women …
Bomis was pivotal to the early years of Wikipedia. The initial bandwidth and server needs for the site were ‘donated’ by Bomis, and when Wales moved his family and site to Florida he ‘would hand deliver a check from Bomis to keep Wikipedia’s Tampa servers running.27’”
Sanger warns of child pornography on Wikipedia
In April 2010, Fox News reported that co-founder Larry Sanger — who left Wikipedia in 2002, the year after its inception28 — had sent a letter to the FBI, saying Wikimedia Commons, the parent company of Wikipedia, was “knowingly distributing child pornography.” According to Fox News, Sanger told the agency that Wikipedia “is rife with renderings of children performing sexual acts.”
Sanger is said to have specified two categories of entries featuring child porn. The entry for “Pedophilia” was said to contain “25 to 30 explicit and detailed drawings of children performing sexual acts,” and “Lolicon” allegedly contained “cartoons similar in detail and depiction.” Today, only “Lolicon” incudes a single anime-type drawing depicting “lolicon art.”
In a follow-up investigation (initially published June 25, 2010, and updated October 22, 2015) Fox News reported29that Wikipedia “has become home base for a loose worldwide network of pedophiles who are campaigning to spin the popular online encyclopedia in their favor and are trying to lure more people into their world.”
Chronology of Wikipedia’s internet takeover
If you’re interested in learning more about Wikipedia, its history and inner workings, pick up a copy of Andrew Lih’s book, “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia.”30 In it, Lih asks, “If Wikipedia is a minefield of inaccuracies, should one even be tiptoeing through this information garden?”
It’s a fair question, for sure, and I detailed many of the objections to using Wikipedia in Part 1 of this article. Here, we’ll continue the historical overview of Wikipedia with a summarized chronology of how Wikipedia took over the internet and became one of the world’s most-trusted news sources even though its authors are not journalists and work under the cloak of anonymity.
In a 2005 article in The Register, bearing the headline and subhead “Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems. Yes it’s garbage, but it’s delivered so much faster!” Andrew Orlowski writes, in part:31
“ … Jimmy Wales has acknowledged there are real quality problems with the online work. Criticism of the project from within the inner sanctum has been very rare so far, although fellow co-founder Larry Sanger … pleaded with the management to improve its content by befriending, and not alienating, established sources of expertise. (i.e., people who know what they’re talking about.)
Meanwhile, criticism from outside the Wikipedia camp has been rebuffed with a ferocious blend of irrationality and vigor that’s almost unprecedented in our experience: if you thought Apple, Amiga, Mozilla or OS/2 fans were er, … passionate, you haven’t met a wiki-fiddler. For them, it’s a religious crusade.”
‘An encyclopedia is best judged by its weakest entries’
Orlowski in turn cites a “dazzling” blog post by Nicholas Carr (author of “What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”), in which Carr notes:32
“In theory, Wikipedia is a beautiful thing — it has to be a beautiful thing if the Web is leading us to a higher consciousness. In reality, though, Wikipedia isn’t very good at all … at a factual level it’s unreliable, and the writing is often appalling. I wouldn’t depend on it as a source, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to a student writing a research paper.”
After quoting an entry on Bill Gates, Carr says, “Excuse me for stating the obvious, but this is garbage, an incoherent hodge-podge of dubious factoids … that adds up to something far less than the sum of its parts.” His review of Jane Fonda’s entry gains even less favor. Carr writes:33
“This is worse than bad, and it is, unfortunately, representative of the slipshod quality of much of Wikipedia … When will the great Wikipedia get good? Or is ‘good’ an old-fashioned concept that doesn’t apply to emergent phenomena like communal on-line encyclopedias? The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional. We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia …
This is not just a competition between sites, but a competition between business models. The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls ‘we, the media,’ a world in which ‘the former audience,’ not a few people in a back room, decides what’s important.”
In a comment to one of his readers, Carr restates his case, saying:
“[A]n encyclopedia can’t just have a small percentage of good entries and be considered a success. I would argue, in fact, that the overall quality of an encyclopedia is best judged by its weakest entries rather than its best. What’s the worth of an unreliable reference work?”
2010: Wikipedia’s war on holistic medicine becomes apparent
Around 2010, Wikipedia’s disgust with all things holistic became blatantly apparent as the site began trashing the pages of natural health doctors and holistic websites. In a May 2010 press release,34 Orthomolecular.org details the fruitless efforts of Dr. Max Gerson’s grandson and biographer, Howard Straus, to flesh out Wikipedia’s page on Gerson’s life and work:
“[Gerson] is widely known for the nutritional cancer therapy that bears his name … Straus tells … of some interesting experiences he has had with Wikipedia bias: ‘Some years ago, on seeing that the pages for Dr. Max Gerson and the Gerson Therapy were only stubs (short place-holders with little information on them), I took it upon myself to flesh out the pages.
I thought Wikipedia was fairly neutral on balance, so I put in all the information that I could, and kept it factual with references, citations, and literature links. Within a month, the following had happened: The information was labeled as ‘biased’ and ‘unreliable’ because I am Dr. Gerson’s grandson and biographer.
There appeared a big red flag at the top of the article labeling the articles neutrality ‘dubious.’ The photograph I posted was removed. Provable, referenced facts, with dates and places, all suddenly became ‘claims,’ even quotes from no less than Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer, M.D., who famously said:
‘I see in Dr. Max Gerson one of the most eminent geniuses in medical history.’ Dr. Schweitzer and his wife were patients of Dr. Gerson, making this a first-hand account from a rather reliable source.
All my links, references and citations were removed. They were replaced by links to the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute, which offer only criticism of the Gerson Therapy. Even quotations from published scientific papers were removed. Attempts to rectify these actions were immediately overwritten.”
Now, remembering the criteria for a credible source, Gerson’s biographer surely ranks higher than an anonymous editor. As mentioned earlier, other experts surely have the right to disagree with Gerson’s techniques and methods, but his page is not the proper place for that discourse.
Corporations take advantage of anonymous editing
A 2011 article on Royal Dutch Shell PLC by John Donovan — a website dedicated to “holding the company to account” — highlights the growing scandal of Wikipedia editors being paid by corporations to clean up their Wikipedia pages, removing and suppressing unwanted information:35
“Unfortunately, many contributors to Wikipedia … take full advantage of the fact that it is possible to edit Wikipedia corporate articles completely anonymously for financial reward, removing or suppressing negative information …
Editors of non-corporate articles are individuals attracted out of genuine interest, often with expertise in the particular subject. It is a completely different matter when corporate articles are surreptitiously modified by employees of a featured corporation, or by specialists supplying an online reputation clean-up service to the corporation. There are numerous firms offering this service.
Because of the huge popularity of Wikipedia, the content of a Wikipedia article about a business is important because it can have a positive or negative impact on the reputation of the business. This in turn can impact on its value …
[Wikipedia] is … deeply flawed in relation to articles that have a commercial connotation … The editing of such articles is mired in widespread deception, trickery and cowardly tactics …
Removal of negative information means that the public, including current and potential shareholders, are presented with incomplete, censored information, providing a distorted picture of a featured company.”
I am not a lawyer, but under the circumstances, if I was working for Wikipedia, I would be concerned at the possibility of class action law suits against Wikipedia by parties who have purchased shares based on such misleading/incomplete information published by Wikipedia.”
2012: Wikipedians raise the alarm
A year later, the issue of corruption within Wikiland became even more apparent. In October 2012, The Next Web ran an article36 about “Wikipedia’s dark side: Censorship, revenge editing and bribes …” and CNET.com reported the finding that certain high-level Wikipedia contributors were being paid to promote content:37
“Concerned Wikipedians raised the alarm … that two trusted men — one a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation UK, the other a respected Wikipedian In Residence — are allegedly editing Wikipedia pages and facilitating front-page placement for their pay-for-play, publicity-seeking clients …
Wikipedians In Residence are not allowed to operate if there are conflicts of interest and are not allowed to edit the pages of the organization they liaison with …
If PR editing from Wikipedia’s representatives — paid or not — were to be openly tolerated, Wikipedia’s reputation will most certainly be harmed in a way that is different from the harm done from vandalism or covert PR editing.”
2014: Wikipedia’s contempt for holistic medicine reaffirmed
While holistic practitioners and websites had complained for years that they were being censored, Wales’ bias against alternative medicine became crystal clear in March 2014, when he denied and ridiculed a petition signed by 8,000 people asking for a more neutral presentation of holistic medicine on Wikipedia, saying in part:38
“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. What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse.’ It isn’t.”
In a Huffington Post blog dated May 15, 2014, Deepak Chopra writes:39
“Many of you may already know how vocal I have been in the past year regarding Wikipedia’s bias covering such topic matters as mind body studies, new science, and of course my friend Rupert Sheldrake’s biography page.
Since Rupert and I began to speak out about the level of abuse and outright vitriol occurring on these articles, many more individuals and organizations have also stepped forward, highlighting a similar problem, including Nobel prize winning laureate Brian Josephson.40
Key facts or relevant events in our lives or research are being omitted, efforts to include them in the articles by neutral editors are being met with harassment, defamation and personal attacks.
Skeptic activists on Wikipedia are on a campaign to discredit notable biographies that deal with any form of alternative viewpoints and because I am a highly public proponent, my own article has been made into a ‘ground zero’ for these same skeptics who have sought to discredit my name and work for over 15 years.
Making the matter even more ridiculous, many of these skeptic activists willfully misrepresent the facts, especially regarding how many of the advancements of Integrative medicine are now in the mainstream, and are far from the ‘fringe’ label with which they seek to discredit all integrative work.
Yet these subjects are zealously controlled by a band of openly and aggressively opinionated skeptics who do not reflect mainstream attitudes, but rather contribute extreme views of science, seeking to frame the work of pioneers in this area as fringe charlatans who cannot be taken seriously by any informed or educated reader.”
Another 2014 article41 in the Huffington Post, written by Dana Ullman, MPH, CCH — one of America’s leading advocates for homeopathy and author of 10 books — points out that the two most controversial subjects on Wikipedia, in four leading languages: English, French, German and Spanish, are the entries on “Jesus Christ” and “homeopathy.”
As noted by Ullman, the Wikipedia article on homeopathy is heavily biased against it. The aggressive bias against homeopathy is really just a symptom of a deeper problem at Wikipedia, as most articles on topics that challenge dominant conventional views get unfair treatment.
2015: Forbes declares Wikipedia left-leaning and biased
“Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica: Which has more bias?” asked Forbes’ Michael Blanding in January 2015.42
“History, they say, is written by the victors, and can read very differently depending on who is telling the tale. Even modern-day issues such as immigration, gun control, abortion, and foreign policy are open to fervent debate depending on who is doing the opining.
Over the years, Britannica has handled this uncertainty by seeking out the most distinguished experts in their fields in an attempt to provide a sober analysis on topics; while Wikipedia has urged its civilian editors to maintain what it calls a neutral point of view (NPOV).”
Alas, it’s become quite clear neutrality is not Wikipedia’s forte, and according to the paper43 “Do Experts or Collective Intelligence Write with More Bias? Evidence from Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia” by Shane Greenstein and Feng Zhu, a comparison of 4,000 articles that appear in both encyclopedias reveal Wikipedia is far more biased, with 73% of the article containing political buzz words, compared to 34% in Britannica.
“In almost all cases, Wikipedia was more left-leaning than Britannica. Dividing articles into categories, the researchers found, for example, that stories on corporations were 11 percent more slanted toward Democrats, while observing similar leanings on topics such as government (9 percent), education (4 percent), immigration (4 percent), and civil rights (3 percent),” Blanding writes.44
WikipediaWeHaveaProblem.com45 is a first-person case study into the phenomenon of so-called “wiki-wars,” detailing how Wikipedia’s army of skeptics suppress opponents. Opponents are referred to as “woo,” “fringe pushers” or “pseudo-scientists.” Such pejoratives are often used to frame the point of view the skeptic disagrees with in order to suppress support and build “consensus” against it.
‘First in internet searches, last in reliability’
In a February 2016 commentary by Howard Straus published by the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, he notes:46
“Wikipedia is very often among the first results that pop up on queries like, ‘What is the population of Kazakhstan?’ … To questions like this, with little or no commercial impact, and no scientific or political controversy surrounding them, Wikipedia sometimes offers decent answers.
But venture into natural healing or alternative medicine and the answers become totally skewed in favor of corporate medicine. Naturally, Big Pharma is one of those entities willing to pay to control the flow of information. Those pages are not identified as being advertising or propaganda.
This writer and many others in the field of alternative medicine and natural healing have experienced Wikipedia bias personally when contributing well-documented, carefully researched articles to the site, only to have them be radically altered and deleted, by anonymous ‘editors,’ then being banned from further editing or contributions. This is impossible to reconcile with a free flow of information …
At first, it was interesting to see uncensored information flow through the site, and even contribute to it. Then corporate America realized that Wikipedia, and similar sites, were distributing information they had carefully and thoroughly suppressed in the media, and set about correcting that omission.
Soon, Wikipedia entries about natural healing, holistic medicine, and other subjects began to resemble publicity blurbs from Monsanto, or Merck, or the NIH.”
In “Fixing Wikipedia’s EFT Article,”47 Dawson Church, Ph.D.,48 — a leading expert on The Emotional Freedom Techniques who has done much to enlarge and support the scientific investigation of this healing technique — provides a great summary of how skeptics and bloggers such as Quackwatch have taken over.
“You get an opinion, but you don’t get the facts,” he says. Skeptics long ago seized control of Wikipedia operations under the Wikiproject “Guerilla Skepticism” and continuously delete information that runs counter to their way of thinking, including information from verifiable experts in those fields.
According to Wired, the Guerilla Skepticism project had at least 120 Wiki editors as of 2018,49 and over the years, they have vandalized hundreds of articles, Church says.50
Stanford University and University of Maryland researchers also dove into the fray in 2016, publishing a paper on “Disinformation on the Web: Impact, Characteristics, and Detection of Wikipedia Hoaxes,”51 for the annual International World Wide Web Conference. “Wikipedia is a major source of information for many people. However, false information on Wikipedia raises concerns about its credibility,” the authors state.
In this paper, the three authors dissect a more specific credibility problem and misinformation threat, namely outright hoaxes, where articles are crafted about nonexistent individuals or events that never actually took place. As a source of such outright hoaxes, Wikipedia deserves a firm place on any listing of fake news sources.
2017: Enter fact-checking and its hubris
In the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, with accusations of fake news influencing its outcome getting significant media attention, self-proclaimed “fact-checking” groups and organizations creating lists of alleged fake news sites took off. In April 2017, Wikipedia launched Wikitribune — a crowd-funded, independent news platform dedicated to combating fake news with paid journalists and free volunteers.52,53
Within months, Facebook announced it would use Wikipedia to fact-check posts and sniff out fake news. As reported by Mashable,54 “Now, when Facebook users see articles on News Feed, they can click on a little ‘I’ button and see the Wikipedia description of the publisher.”
In March 2018, YouTube followed suit, announcing it too would use Wikipedia for its fact-checking.55 If you’ve read this far, the problem with this strategy will be readily apparent.
Experts in unpopular (read unconventional) fields have all had their Wiki pages vandalized and trashed, preventing anyone using Wikipedia from getting an objective view of their credibility. Also, let’s not forget that the “facts” of any given “news” report on Wikipedia can be provided and altered by anyone — including anyone with a political agenda.
As just one example, in an HCC Libraries Online post56 about fact-checking, under the “What About Wikipedia?” section, there’s a link to a 2014 article in The Verge,57 which tells the story of how a Twitter bot that surveils Wiki edits by Russian government IP addresses spotted edits to Wikipedia’s page about the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
According to the report, the word “terrorists” was replaced with “Ukranian soldiers,” and the edit was allegedly “linked back to someone in Kiev at VGTRK, Russia’s state-run TV and radio network.” Again, this is proof positive Wikipedia is not the place for objective news gathering. Doing so could lead you into dangerously misleading territory.
Arbiters of truth or cogs in censorship wheel?
Who’s fact-checking the fact-checkers and monitoring the monitors? In the end, the idea that a group of individuals can be independent and objective arbiters of truth falls short, for the simple reason that bias inevitably creeps in, especially if there’s big money (or any other kind of incentive or motivation) involved. Fact-checking quickly and easily morphs into biased censorship, which certainly does not help the public at large.
Case in point: Indiana University has created a fact-checking guideline58 for the world to use. It’s being used by countless universities and public libraries to educate people how to discern real news from fake news. Among the fact-checking resources they recommend is none other than Snopes,59 which has repeatedly been shown to be grossly unreliable — especially when it comes to health.
Unfortunately, while colleges used to ban60,61 students from citing Wikipedia and Snopes in their papers due to their being riddled with “mistakes and sometimes deliberate falsehoods,”62,63 many now encourage it64 — a trend that will ensure the perpetuation of bias into a new generation of professionals.
Indiana University itself specifically identifies Mercola.com as a purveyor of “fake and misleading medical advice” in its guidelines, going so far as to claim my content is “dangerous.”65 I’m listed no less than three times on their fake news resource page, including under the “Known fake, parodic and misleading news sites,” right along with The Onion, accurately listed as “One of America’s premier parodic news sites.”
Mercola fulfills fact-checking guidelines yet is decimated
My explicit inclusion in Indiana University’s fact-checking guidelines is befuddling, considering Mercola.com actually scores very positively by the very guideline presented. Obviously, they have not actually looked at my website or followed their own guidelines to make their (very public) determination of my work.
If you look at the questions66 the guideline tells you to answer, not one would indicate that Mercola is fake news, yet I’m specifically named as an example of fake news:
- You can’t verify its claims — A fake news article may or may not have links in it tracing its sources; if it does, these inks may not lead to articles outside of the site’s domain or may not contain information pertinent to the article topic.
- Fake news appeals to emotion — Fake news plays on your feelings — it makes you angry or happy or scared. This is to ensure you won’t do anything as pesky as fact-checking.
- Authors usually aren’t experts — Most authors aren’t even journalists, but paid trolls.
- It can’t be found anywhere else — If you look up the main idea of a fake news article, you might not find any other news outlet (real or not real) reporting on the issue.
- Fake news comes from fake sites — Did your article come from abcnes.com.co? Or Realnewsrightnow.com? These and a host of other URLs are fake news sites.
The case of Sharyl Attkisson
I am not the only one with a target on my back, though. In previous articles, including “Google buries Mercola in their latest search engine update, Part 2 of 2,” I’ve discussed the vandalism and misuse of the Wikipage for award-winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson.
In two recent posts on her website, she details the problems with Wikipedia — highlighting co-founder Sanger’s disillusionment with his creation67 — and her ongoing struggles to regain control over her own biography.
Below, I’m quoting a large portion of her June 22 post, “The Weaponization of Wikipedia.”68 It’s a far longer than normal quote, but I think it’s important, and I want you to read it to understand just how absurd the situation is, and why you simply cannot use Wikipedia biographies to assess credibility, expertise or even biographical background in many cases:
“The egregious vandalism and misuse of my biography page by Wikipedia agenda editors continues. I understand that cases like this matter little except to those who are libeled. However, I would argue that they are important to the extent they represent what’s going on across the increasingly-troubled Wikipedia platform.
Wikipedia has been ‘weaponized.’ Anonymous political and special interests control pages on behalf of paid clients. Devoted ideologues use their authority on Wikipedia to censor and controversialize ideas with which they disagree. There are attacks, libel, biases, false information and censorship … And there’s nothing anybody can do about it …
For example, when I politely inquired … as to why someone had deleted my most recent Emmy nominations and awards, it launched a tortuous month-long debate … In the end, the discussion ended with: paralysis. The Wikipedia editors decided there was so much disagreement over this simple, easily-resolved point, that nothing should be changed …
And then there’s simply the absurd. One lengthy discussion about me on Wikipedia’s talk page (attached to my biography) actually involved why it was supposedly okay to attribute a direct quote to me, though I had never said it. After all, said the Wikipedia agenda editors, Snopes reported I said it, so even though I didn’t say it, it is okay to claim that I said it. ‘It’s all the same,’ claimed Wikipedia’s agenda editors.
Another absurd discussion among the Wikipedia editors controlling my biographical page talked about how they could tell how ‘I feel’ based on items I retweet. Yet I’m pretty sure the Wikipedia agenda editors realize that people often retweet items with which they disagree or on which they have formed no particular opinion … My twitter profile even explicitly states that retweets do not imply agreement.
And when I politely pointed out to Wikipedia editors an item of low hanging fruit that needed correcting — the false birth place they had listed for me — it unleashed a torrent of attacks and speculation by the uniformed Wikipedia editors such as “Why would she deny where she was born?” …
In other words, Wikipedia editors will unskeptically rely on false, published information from strangers … but then express unabashed suspicion of the source herself providing facts and offering documentary proof. As Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger noted after separating himself from his original creation: Wikipedia is ‘broken beyond repair.’69”
Freedom of thought no more
In a January 2019 post on his website, Wikipedia co-founder Sanger decries that:70
“[T]he Silicon Valley behemoths have decided to move beyond mere moderation for objectively abusive behavior and shutting down (really obvious) terrorist organizations, to start engaging in viewpoint censorship of conservatives and libertarians.
As a free speech libertarian who has lived online for much of my life since 1994, these developments are deeply concerning. The culprits include the so-called FAANGcompanies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google), but to that list we must add YouTube, Twitter, and Microsoft … The only thing we can do about this systematic monitoring and control is to stop letting the tech giants do it to us.”
He goes on to list an 18-point plan for how you can do just that, starting with eliminating Chrome, Google Search, Gmail and iCloud to sync your phone and computer data.
Up next: Decentralization
In a March 2019 article on Wired.com,71 Sanger proposes “a declaration of digital independence,” which includes not only decentralizing social media but also an entirely new online encyclopedia, “Everipedia,” that is open to all publishers and all users, and in which everyone gets to publish their thoughts and opinions. He writes:
“This April, Everipedia will be launching one of the easiest-to-use blockchain-based editorial tools. This opens the network beyond those who have special permissions, qualifications, or abilities.
It eliminates subscription services, ‘pay-to-play’ websites (like many Google services, which are built on user contributions) and blockchains, academic or industry groups, etc. It also, in my opinion, eliminates networks that ordinary users don’t have a chance of setting up.”
Just as Sanger has realized a decentralized system is the best way to create a new, more bias-resilient version of Wikipedia,72 others have realized a decentralized web is the answer to Google’s monopoly, growing censorship and rapidly deteriorating privacy online.
A June 3, 2019, article73 on Mediapost.com presents the ideas of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf and Brewster Kahle — three early web inventors — who are actively trying to devise ways to “protect and rebuild the open nature of the web.”
Berners-Lee, credited with inventing the World Wide Web, had originally envisioned it as an open source space. Realizing how private corporations have locked it down, he’s now working on another, decentralized, internet solution.74 As reported by Mediapost.com:75
“’We demonstrated that the web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done,’ Berners-Lee told Vanity Fair. The web has ‘ended up producing — [through] no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform — a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.’
So, they’re out to fix it, working on what they call the Dweb. The ‘d’ in Dweb stands for distributed. In distributed systems, no one entity has control over the participation of any other entity. Berners-Lee is building a platform called Solid, designed to give people control over their own data.
Other global projects also have the goal of taking take back the public web. Mastodon is decentralized Twitter. Peertube is a decentralized alternative to YouTube. This July 18 – 21, web activists plan to convene at the Decentralized Web Summit in San Francisco …
Last year’s Dweb gathering convened more than 900 developers, activists, artists, researchers, lawyers, and students. Kahle opened the gathering by reminding attendees that the web used to be a place where everyone could play.
‘Today, I no longer feel like a player, I feel like I’m being played. Let’s build a decentralized web, let’s build a system we can depend on, a system that doesn’t feel creepy’ he said …”
The censorship dragnet currently sweeping the World Wide Web is nothing if not profoundly dangerous. It threatens some of our most basic human rights and freedoms — not just freedom of speech, but freedom of thought; the very notion that an individual has the right to evaluate data and draw their own conclusions. As noted by Sanger in a May 28, 2019, tweet:76
“[T]here is no agreement upon many facts of political, religious, etc., importance, and it is silly of us to pretend otherwise. In fact, insistence that authorities may declare for the rest of us what must be considered factual is very dangerous indeed.”
Read the full Part 2 article at Mercola.com.
48, 52 The Hill May 3, 2019