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Sheldrake and Wikipedia

Some readers will recall a couple of posts I wrote a few months back about so-called ‘guerrilla skeptics’, the folk who aim to stamp out any favourable reference to what they stigmatise as ‘pseudo-science’ and ‘occultism’ on Wikipedia (here and here).

Most, although not all, of the comment that followed was along the lines that Wikipedia is a lost cause, so why bother trying to do anything about it? These ideologues are much more committed than we are, so it would do no good, the argument goes. My personal feeling was that actually some kind of fight-back is unavoidable in the long term.

A few weeks later I met Rupert Sheldrake at an event, and found he was of the same mind. In fact he was dead keen to get on and do something, and wrote about it in his regular newsletter. That triggered an attack on his own Wikipedia biog page, changing the profile from one of a well-credentialled biochemist into that of a despised pseudo-scientist. Attempts were made to resist, but these guys are well organised, and very practised at interpreting Wikipedia’s large array of policy guidelines as a means to impose their intolerant viewpoint. Like clever, unprincipled courtroom lawyers, you might say. (Anyone who has a serious amount of time to waste can follow the ins and outs on the talk page.)

The wiki-sceptics may have won that battle but it doesn't mean they won the war. I was away at the time, so had to watch from the sidelines. I’ve since been busy with other things. But Craig Weiler has been following the events, and has just written this excellent analysis of the affair so far. It will be interesting to see how things unfold from here.


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I hop Rupe can overcome the weight of Skeptical subversion on wiki, but i doubt it.

As other have said before, the Skeptikal Guerilla wiki army (or dump~monkeys as i like to think of them) are highly motivated to keep on going and going and going, ad infinitum, ad nauseum - like machines. Maybe they're trying to live up to their own self image as meat robots?

meanwhile, those who don't have such a psychologically disturbing make-up are happy just to watch from the sidelines, wondering when the weight of evidence will finally drown them all, or (and more likely) they end up in a SkeptiK (un)civil war.

Annoying, yes, entertaining? increasingly so.

good article :)

I think that the fact that Wikipedia is so vulnerable to this sort of behaviour should be publicised more widely.

Then it might be shamed into some sort of policy change.

Like it or lump it, despite the fact that many joke about its reliability accross the board. Many people still rely on it as a quick way of researching 'facts' on an ad hoc basis. And I'd be willing to bet that few do any cross-checking - especially kids.

"well-credentialled biochemist...[became]... despised pseudo-scientist".

"The wiki-sceptics may have won that battle..."


Robert this's a bit like the cabals who've been getting away with centuries of stock market manipulation precisely by being incredibly discrete.

The sceptic crowds like to make out it isn't about the personalities purely the science so I suggest when some smart arse blatantly confirms not only it IS about the personalities but also they DO arse with opposition biographies this isn't for our benefit but their own compensating them for the sick panicky feeling their world view's finally run out of time to exterminate its rivals.

"My personal feeling was that actually some kind of fight-back is unavoidable in the long term."


It's the yin/yang thing an' I suggest these things arise and fall much more naturally than many people suspect.

When the Arab Spring began it had the Blackberry Network the Internet everything modern technology could offer yet what happened?

On the other hand the fall of Eastern bloc Communism had little more than word of mouth going for it certainly no internet or mobile phone networks yet quite literally the night before it happened neither the CIA or I suggest the people who carried it out had the slightest clue the Berlin Wall was go'n'o fall but fall it did along with all the other dominoes.

Personally I don't think a multicultural society's when all the cultures and all the societies all believe do say look and think exactly the same.

Ditto having innumerable contrasting and even conflicting ways of interpreting the world's like having ultra violet and infrared technology alongside visible spectrum light sound taste and olfactory based ways of deriving data.

The more the merrier.

Hi - yes, Wikipedia really bothers me! I read a lot of the older "survival" books which are available free or cheap on the Kindle, and often need to look up a somewhat obscure name. If the name has an entry in Wiki, it's invariably full of pseudoskeptical crap rather than just the basic facts, which are all I wanted.

By the way, I've been lurking on your site for a while but this is my first post. I read "Randi's Prize" a couple of months ago and it has really led me into some new and fascinating areas of study. THANKS!

'I read "Randi's Prize" a couple of months ago and it has really led me into some new and fascinating areas of study.'

Great! What every author wants to hear :)

I thought Wikipedia was in trouble?

I just finished reading Sheldrake's "Science Set Free" and have come away with the impression that Sheldrake is a man 50-100 years ahead of his time. Here is a real scientist who has taught at leading universities in the UK as well as Harvard. He is taking the first steps toward developing a science based not on Mind, meaning all of reality beyond the material, which is everything that is truly important: imagination, hope, morality, etc. I highly recommend the book.

I have to admit feeling pretty depressed about the whole situation.

The internet seems to be developing into a kingdom of information, ruled over by fanatical atheists and materialists.

The media (at least in the UK) are also promoting a staunchly atheist-materialist message.

Celebs in the UK such as Ricky Gervais, Derren Brown, Dara O'Briain and Stephen Fry, are also sending out the gospel of atheistic materialism.

The most well-known media scientists - Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox etc. are similarly advertising hardcore atheistic materialism.

From every quarter, the message is the same: we are meat robots, living in a meaningless universe, and when we're dead, we're dead. So eat, drink, shag, and party your arse off, because that's all there is.

I'm having a bad time at the moment, and I'm despairing at the world; there seems to be nothing left for humanity but to accept the ultimate nihilism of existence, and to engage in endless, mindless materialist consumerism, Anyone who sees any other purpose in life is being shouted down.

Someone please tell me I'm mistaken; I could do with a lift!

Unfortunately, Rupert, you're not mistaken in your observations re skeptics (I saw that situation coming decades ago, but stupidly persuaded myself I was worried about nothing - until recently). And I understand your latter ones two, and the two are linked.

It's not ALL doom and gloom though.

More later if I get time, between doing things that I'd really rather not be doing!!! ;)

Rupert, the sceptics are wrong, we survive of that I have absolutely no doubt. Stop listening to the likes of Brian cocky cox and his like, he is just another popularity seeker who hasn't looked at the evidence or if he has he's read it upside down. Don't despair at the world it's always been just as crap as it is cool make up your mind to try to be positive. You are your thoughts in effect and if you train yourself to think positively you will become happier and focus on the good things in life. Sorry if this reply looks like it's been written by a robot but my computer is in bits and I can't get the hang of this, my sons I pad. Best wishes

Ditto to all that!

And here's another positive, at least, although you may find it a little perverse...

The whole reason you're able to feel p*ssed about the things you mention, Rupert, is that you RECOGNISE the distinction between 'right and wrong' and you've become developed enough morally to do so. And you're therefore able to discern negative and positive behavioural patterns in yourself and others. Many, many people don't have that luxury and so they just blunder forwards, largely unaware of the whole process!

That people are prepared to resort to such disgusting underhand methods, tells me all I need to know.

Steve's right, Rupert. You should be grateful you've got your head above the slime. Many celebs are hogtied to a quotidian consumerist culture which has no conception of higher truths.

May I ask how this this free inquiry and science? Science is a method of inquiry we should never be arrogant enough to think we know it all if we thought that way we wouldn't be flying airplanes or using the Internet. These wiki sabotage jobs are no different then the Church of old manipulating and adding or deleting passages in the a bible to promote their agenda. Makes me absolutely infuriated!

"The most well-known media scientists - Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox etc. are similarly advertising hardcore atheistic materialism."

actully rupert, DeGrasse Tyson has stated in an interview that he is often portrayed as an atheist but is in actuality agnostic. i believe he mentioned wiki as describing him as an atheist.

i always felt that he may be most open to considering a wider world view.

i'm patiently waiting for eminent scientists (maybe at the twilight of their professional careers) to grow a pair and come out in defense of beleaguered colleagues such as sheldrake.

Thanks for your responses, gentlemen. I was having a bad day. I don't allow myself to be influenced by the materialists, it's just that sometimes I feel like a freethinker living in the Stalinist-era USSR, surrounded on all sides by fanatical Party commissars and informers who control the media and act as the Thought Police, and who seem to be growing ever more powerful.

Materialism certainly seems to be like early communism; those with the loudest voices are proclaiming the immanent arrival of a Golden Age once we renounce belief in God, soul and spirit, and embrace a meaningless universe.

Yeah, right.

Apropos Neil Tyson, my understanding of his worldview was influenced by seeing a poster featuring a purported quotation from him, which reads:

"The good thing about science is that it's true, whether or not you believe in it."

This sounds like the sort of codswallop that a scientism cultist, not a scientist, would come out with - the belief that science is some sort of "thing" (or maybe, some sort of "religion") that is "true" - instead of realising that science is a method of inquiry.

If Tyson actually said the above then it was a mistake, in my opinion. But if he's open-minded enough to admit agnosticism, then I forgive him. I like the guy as a communicator and populariser of science.

Tyson is very much a fan of 'science' and science literacy and that quote above can easily have escaped his lips ... that boy-scout enthusiasm that betrays a conflation between the method, it's discoveries and the institution(s).

the 'septic gorillas' (see what i done there;)
may be grasping at straws, thrashing about in a death spasm - long form & such. we'll see.

i am by nature (or training) hopeful that balance will be restored in the universe.

i am also happy that there are tons of interesting blogs and podcasts that delve into the anomalist side of things reasonably, intelligently and humourously.

"The most well-known media scientists - Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox etc. are similarly advertising hardcore atheistic materialism."

Stephen Hawking quote on God:

From "There is A God" by Anthony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese (2007). From the Preface, XXIII, and see Note 15 at the back, p. 216:

"[I] believe in the existence of God, but that this divine force established the laws of nature and physics and after that does not enter to control the world."

Varghese was told by the physicist Gerald Schroeder. From the Hebrew weekly newspaper "Jerusalem", December 22, 2006, p.28.

Rupert, I can empathise with how you feel. It really does seem in many ways that the bigoted sceptics and aggressive materialists are winning the "culture war". I certainly get the impression that many people in my age group or similar (I'm 25) seem to take, at the very least, an indifferent attitude to the concept of spirituality and the paranormal. It's not necessarily because they're hostile to it (although some are), it's that they trust the opinions of the media sceptics and scientists who say that it's all bunk. So they see little point in exploring it and don't see that it has any relevance to their lives, or, indeed, modern society. In that sense, the sceptics and materialists are being very successful.

Still, I'd like to think there is hope. We have scientists like Sheldrake and Radin plodding away, we have communities like this one, where people come together to read thoughtful posts pertaining to the paranormal. Perhaps, as Robert suggests, some sort of fightback is needed. Not an aggressive fightback, no underhanded tactics or namecalling - leave that to the bullying pseudo-sceptics. But perhaps we need to stand up to the bullies more than we are doing?

My 'psychic pride' ideas are at the moment a vague pipe dream, but maybe one day, psychic ability will be seen as totally natural and accepted by the majority.

Also, if you've been feeling down, might I actually suggest a bit of partying and drinking if that floats your boat. I think one can certain be very spiritual and still enjoy the pleasures of alcohol and parties. (I do.) Moderation is the key, of course. I would call myself a moderate drinker, and often go for several months without touching a drop, yet there are also times when I do like to drink with the intention of getting drunk. I'm still fairly young, and it's fun. :)

Little bit of trivia here: Susan Blackmore, who started out as a proponent and then switched to sceptic, was once quoted as saying that the proponents "throw better parties" than the sceptics. That's as good a reason as any to join our side! From what I've seen of proponents and those interested in the paranormal in general, I think we're a rather fun bunch!

@ Michelle Gibson

Thanks Michelle. At nearly 60 I fear I'm a bit too old for partying (not that it was ever my thing), but I've settled down tonight with a glass of red wine and a re-run of one of my favourite movies: "The Fisher King", Terry Gilliam's magical tragi-comedy about redemption and forgiveness. I'm feeling better already!

A friend of mine who started life as a Christian Fundamentalist and is now a Born-Again "Skeptic", did not enjoy his first - and only - "Skeptics In The Pub" meeting. He told me that nobody there seemed to have a sense of humour! (Well, wouldn't you be grumpy if you believed you are a pre-programmed meat robot in an accidental universe, living a meaningless life until your immanent eternal extinction?)

I guess we "crackpots" and "woo-woo merchants" who believe in an intelligence behind the universe, a point to our lives and the possibility of endless adventures as eternal consciousness, have to cope with the inevitable side-effect of such craziness - an enhanced capacity for happiness. Serves us right, eh?


That's an interesting quotation from Hawking - he caused a big brouhaha recently with his book "The Grand Design" in which he claimed the universe arose from nothing with no need for God. And yet in the earlier Flew/Varghese book he seems to embrace deism.

One wonders why he has gone from deism to atheism: does he think this will raise his popularity amongst the young, or has he suddenly discovered some massive flaw in his earlier reasoning?

I wouldn't think that Hawking is the type to be concerned with popularity, not at his age at least (although I could be wrong.) I think it's more likely that he just changed his mind, for whatever reason.

That sounds like an enjoyable way to spend the night, Rupert! Some films just never fail to cheer you up. Similarly with music; there are certain songs that always put me in a good mood, no matter what.

The pseudo-sceptics get me down too, especially when I run into the bullying and insulting types. But at least we have our own little spaces on the internet where we can share mutual support, advice and knowledge. I very much enjoy Paranormalia and Michael Prescott's blog, and The Daily Grail is an interesting place too. I find Robert and Michael to be most balanced, open-minded and objective when writing on these topics.

This transformation from ardently religous to confidently 'skeptical' seems to occur from time to time. It often seems that such 'converts' are quite aggressive and certain of their position in discussions and there is often quite a bit of ridicule too.

Perhaps it is a need for certainty which drives people to this position. Personally I am learning to be comfortable with uncertainty in matters of psi and spirituality.

Rupert McWiseman
"The media (at least in the UK) are also promoting a staunchly atheist-materialist message.

Celebs in the UK such as Ricky Gervais, Derren Brown, Dara O'Briain and Stephen Fry, are also sending out the gospel of atheistic materialism.

The most well-known media scientists - Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox etc. are similarly advertising hardcore atheistic materialism."

It's amusing in a way because the belief in Ghosts etc amongst the public, is rising.

Yes Llewellyn.

To quote Guy Playfair: -

“People are interested in paranormal experiences not, as Russell Targ once remarked, because they are reading about them, ‘but because they are having them’.”

That’s despite having the waters muddied by rather over sensationalised reports in the media, practically useless (and, frankly, often dishonest) paranormal ‘investigation’ programs and (ahem) the rather Pythonesque skeptical literature, including of course, skeptical treatment of the paranormal on Wikipedia.

Indeed the latter does rather resemble the Monty Python 'Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook' sketch. It’s a metaphor that I find myself returning to again and again. Use the skeptical literature to ask the way to the station, so to speak, on any paranormal subject and you could well end up actually saying ‘please fondle my bum’ – or something worse.

For your amusement, here are a few fascinating ‘facts’ that you can glean from Wikipedia re the ‘paranormal’: The late medium Doris Stokes served a prison sentence in 1944 for “conspiracy to pretend that she was in touch with spirits”, didn’t you know that? (she didn’t – she wasn’t even practising as a medium then). Also both Charles Richet and Cesare Lombroso had sexual affairs with Eusapia Palladino, (there’s no evidence for that as far as I know). And, don’t laugh, Robert McLuhan is (amongst other things) a ‘spiritualist’ who ‘denies global warming’.

However: Although I would agree that this, undoubtedly often deliberate, inaccuracy needs to be addressed - not least, by publicising it, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it is in, in reality, only one half of the problem. On the other side of the coin there is the rather appalling fact that the only time Psi research has been funded by a government agency, it was for nefarious military purposes. I could easily labour the point here but, suffice to say, I do not believe that this subject has been well treated by the human race, in the main, historically. That is, of course, if you give any credence to the fundamental principle of, say, mediumship – that low moral standards are anathema to it, and that it can never function well in their presence.

That is the problem – not just the fact that some people who just happen to be labelling themselves ‘skeptics’ are playing egotistical, ideological games with these issues in a modern context. Human beings have been doing that since time immemorial – whatever mixture of personal or group drives they may have been clothing the process with.

To me this debate has often seemed like a soccer match between seven-year old boys on an adult pitch. The ball is nowhere in sight (it could well have been kicked off the field without anyone noticing), and all you can see is a small, densely packed crowd of people jostling and pushing from one end of a rather large space to the other.

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