Thursday, January 31, 2013

Homeopathy - An open letter to Jimmy Wales

One of the Guerrilla Skepticism editors (Vera) turned me on to this awesome article about homeopathy.  The author is Jimmy Wales.  In case you don't know, Jimmy Wales is the founder of Wikipedia. 

Apparently Wales feels that homeopathy is a scam and taking it instead of real medicine is dangerous. He wants to know what can be done about homeopathy.

Then he writes that the homeopathy Wikipedia page editors have "eloquently explain[ed] what this means: "Mathematically, in order to have a reasonable chance to obtain one molecule of the original extract, the patient would have to consume an amount of the remedy roughly 10^321 times the number of atoms in the observable universe."

Right on Wikipedia editors!  We spend a lot of time trying to get the article as close to perfect as possible.  Just take a look at the "talk" tab (located on the right upper side of the page) and you can see the never-ending discussion about everything.  The discussion on whether or not to have the word "quackery" in the lede went on for months. There are several homeopaths that frequently engage in the discussion on talk, so the discussions get quite interesting.  

If you are one of the 140K people who visit the English homeopathy page this month, you will be greeted with this first paragraph...

Homeopathy Listeni/ˌhmiˈɒpəθi/ (also spelled homoeopathy or homœopathy; from the Greek hómoios- ὅμοιος- "like-" + páthos πάθος "suffering") is a system of alternative medicine originated in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his doctrine of similia similibus curentur ("like cures like"), according to which a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people will cure similar symptoms in sick people.[1] Scientific research has found homeopathic remedies ineffective and their postulated mechanisms of action implausible.[2][3][4][5] The scientific community regards homeopathy as a sham;[6] the American Medical Association considers homeopathy to be quackery,[7][8] and homeopathic remedies have been criticized as unethical.[9]

If the reader feels the need to continue reading past the first paragraph, they will be treated to the entire history of homeopathy as well as quotes like the one Wales stated.   If someone insists on using homeopathy after reading this Wikipedia page, then I don't think anything will convince them.

And before you get all gloomy about all the people who still take homeopathic products, remember most people don't use them.  Most people understand that homeopathy is quackery.  Maybe they don't know what homeopathy is, but once it is explained, they usually say "that's nuts".   We skeptics are too close to the issue, we see and hear about these stories because we are interested in the topic.  It feels like we spend all our time rolling our eyes and raising our blood pressure over these discussions, but really we are winning this war on pseudoscience.  We are, trust me.  We still have a long way to go, but we have the tools to do so.  We just need help to get it done, and done in a way that it is settled. 

Wales states in his conclusion, "Who should I talk to about this in order to encourage the creation of a campaign to stop this?  This is not my primary area of interest and so I am not the right person to lead it myself.  But I would like to help."

My answer to him is this.  "Jimmy you have already done more than anyone could possibly dream that can be done.  You created the most amazing resource in the world.  I mean that, not only in English but in every language possible. The English homeopathy page alone gets over 140K views EACH MONTH.  That is a lot of people being educated about homeopathy.  Thank you.  Allowing us editors to 'do our job' and keep these articles honest and correctly cited is enough.  I can't imagine what else you can do, my brain is teeny tiny compared to your mighty brain, if you come up with something please oh please let us in on it, we want to help."  

We can't all do something as amazing as Wales and create the most useful and amazing resource on the Internet.  Most people commenting on his blog suggest things HE CAN DO.  I know he asked, but really its our turn now.  Don't point fingers at other people who are currently involved, like James Randi and the 10:23 campaign.  We can all do something.  Pick your topic, psychics, vaccines, cryptozoology  or whatever gets your heart rate going.  You can work with the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia team (we train) or hundreds of other ways to take care of these issues.  Quit bitching in your beer, rolling your eyes and DO SOMETHING!

Write to me at if you are interested in helping out with the Wikipedia project (all skill levels are needed, and we also need languages other than English, did I mention we train and mentor too?)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

We keep on turning them out - Updates in the world of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia

A lot has been completed by the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia team in the last couple months. Here are the updates.


Erich von Däniken received a re-write by editor Luís Pratas. 
Erich before  
Erich after 
what a difference, the page receives about 2,500 views each month, so very important it is in great shape, complete with the skeptical message.

Luís Pratas also re-wrote the page for Indigo Children, and while he was researching the topic to include as much Portuguese content as possible he wrote a page for this group that operates in Portugal called Indigo House.   The Indigo Children's page is one of the most popular on Portuguese Wikipedia with over 400 views a day.  It is ranked at 4,149 most popular for November 2012. 

As an aside, the English Indigo Children page (which is well-written IMO and includes a quote from Bob Carroll) receives an amazing 2,000 views a day

And one more... this new release from Luís Pratas,  Power Balance.


Herman just joined our team and started translating Bob Carroll's personal WP page for us. 


Paul Kurtz's page got a makeover.  Before the re-write.


Mark Boslough's page got a makeover
Here it is Before.

A brand new released page for Stuart Firestein.  The even cooler part was that we managed to get Firestein's page on the front page of Wikipedia for 8 hours.  That added a few thousand views from people outside the skeptical world.  


Monday, January 7, 2013

The Burzynski Clinic on Wikipedia

Regular readers of this blog will remember my mentioning Bob Blaskiewicz as a person to watch in our community.  He is one of the very few people out there doing the real work to combat pseudoscience. Currently he has organized a group of people (but he is still doing most of the work) to present Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski with a unique 70th Birthday present on Jan 23rd.  Bob is asking for donations that will go to the St. Jude Children's Hospital in Houston, TX.  Then Bob is going to ask Burzynski to match that amount.  This is something we can make happen, a statement that will make the news. 

Once the media picks up this story, then guess what, we can cite it on the Burzynski Clinic's Wikipedia page. 

Does that mean anything?  Are people reading that page? 

Lets look at the stats... December 2012 it appears that 17,607 people accessed his Wikipedia page. Who are these people?  No idea.  But I bet a chunk of them are people thinking about treatment in his clinic.  They do an Internet search and the Wikipedia link is one of the first ones that appears.  We know that desperate families continue to trust the Burzynski Clinic, what we do not know is how many families have been scared off once they read the lede for the page.  I don't know about you but if I read this, "There is a scientific consensus that antineoplaston therapy is unproven and of little promise in treating cancer." I might rethink a visit to the clinic. 

Our work in skepticism can be very frustrating, we hear stories all the time about how people have fallen for psychic scams and these medical horror stories.  People never seem to learn, and there is always another angle for a fraudster to make a buck. 

Please don't give up hope.  We do make a difference.  Please read through some of these patient histories that Bob has listed on his blog.  But be careful, these are emotional stories Bob has pulled together mostly from family blogs where they chronicle their loved one's illness.   Educate yourself, share with your contacts and if you have any access to the media please make them aware of this story. 

Once these stories are printed (or aired) I have a whole section I want to add to the Burzynski Wikipedia page. Please forward the links to me,

My previous blog concerning the Burzynski Clinic.