Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Peter Gleick and Wikipedia

You know I keep finding evidence of how important the We Got Your Wiki Back! project is.  Opened the San Jose Mercury newspaper this morning and saw a familiar name and face looking at me.  Peter Gleick sounded so familiar, then I remembered that he was one of the main lecturers at SkeptiCal May 2011.  I presented that year also and took a lot of pictures which oddly enough made it up on the Wikipedia pages of Yau-Man Chan and Bob Carroll.  I noticed that Peter Gleick had a nice Wikipedia page but was missing a picture so click click goes my camera and there goes up another image for Wikipedia.

Regular readers of this blog know I'm a major believer in making sure all our spokes people's pages are in good shape, with content as well as attractive looking.  No red type, awesome photographs that help tell the story and citations that actually say what the citation links to. 

Also I'm all for making sure that skeptical organizations are getting recognition where ever we can fit in a plug.  All three of the aforementioned have SkeptiCal mentioned in the caption.  IF SkeptiCal was noteworthy (not yet but hopefully soon) they would have their own Wikipedia page that would contain a live link so readers could link to.  And that works backwards as well, when SkeptiCal gets its own page, the past speakers will be listed somewhere on SkeptiCal's page with live links so people can click over to their page.  Don't you just love Wikipedia?  I dare you to visit a page and NOT click on at least one hyperlink.  Its like eating potato chips right?

Anyway, I posted the picture for Peter Gleick back in June 2011.  Now it seems his name is all over the place and people are scrambling to find out who he is.  The skeptical community already knew who he was, but as I keep saying we aren't improving Wikipedia for the choir, but for the rest of the world that is trying to find out who is who.  I especially find it funny that people are going to see Gleick speaking at a skeptical conference that generally is skeptical of the global warming skeptics.  That is going to confuse most people. 

Having a well-tended Wikipedia page really helps with his credibility.  His page needs more content (and probably more pictures) but for the most part it looks better than most. 

The lede (also called leed) contains this bit. 
On February 16, 2012 Gleick resigned in disgrace from the American Geophysical Union Task Force on Scientific Ethics after he confessed he had obtained and distributed documents from the Heartland Institute by impersonating a board member, and apologized.
I've already left a comment on the talk page that I believe the word "disgrace" should be removed.  This is how things are done on Wikipedia.  I can go in and just edit it out (the BE BOLD policy) but for the moment I'm just going to ask and see if whoever edited it in the first place can back up that word.  It sounds like opinion to me?  Maybe Gleick actually used the word disgrace somewhere?  If so then the word should remain.  

Now back to my main point, backing up my claim that people are visiting Wikipedia for more information.  Yes I know that his personal website is probably getting a lot of hits, but that isn't a neutral site and people know that.  They want someplace that will sum up the person, and that place is Wikipedia.

So what do the numbers look like?  Normally Gleick gets about 80 hits a day to his Wikipedia page.  Yesterday (remember this tool is off 24-36 hours in reporting numbers) the page got 3,774 views.  When I came home from work ready to write this blog I noticed the next day's numbers are already in.  3,130.  I'm leaving the link for you to watch the numbers hit as the story unfolds.  Exciting huh!

So what about the supporting cast?  Does the Heartland Institute have a Wikipedia page?  Apparently they do and Gleick is already mentioned on their page.  Someone is on it!  What do their hits look like since the story broke? They have seen a spike in traffic as well. 

Eugenie Scott and the NCSE might even see a spike in their hits.  Don't see anything for Eugenie Scott, and only a slight increase for NCSE.  But it is difficult to know what might trigger a wave of Wikipedia views.  Tomorrow Dr. Scott might be interviewed on CNN discussing the issue, we just aren't able to plan for everything.  Its like a giant pond with a stone thrown into the water causing a ripple effect with other Wikipedia pages seeing an increase in hits.  This is why we need to have their backs.

We need to be ready. 

Please help with this project.
Write to me at

BTW join me this April 21st at SkeptiCal (they have a great speaker list and some might just need their pictures taken.  Race me!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Join me at Cafe Inquiry Feburary 29 @ CFI Hollywood

Just a quick mention I will be conducting a workshop at CFI West in Hollywood, CA.  This will be a hands on workshop with some lecture and lots of do-it-yourself editing.  CFI has a WiFi connection that will allow users to learn basic to more advanced editing. 

The workshop is free!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bad Astronomer gets 2 hour makeover on Wikipedia

I'm really busy. I'm working on the examples that I will be using for the Cafe Inquiry workshop at CFI West on Feb 29, 2012.  At this workshop I am going to talk for a bit about this Wikipedia project and then allow people to edit real pages for the remainder of time.  My idea is to forward the participants a email with specific instructions of exactly what to edit.  Mainly the first few examples will be "copy this" and "paste exactly here".  I'm also giving them the reasons why they are doing what they are doing, and forcing them to add it to their watchlists.  I'm hoping they will go home and look at the watchlist again and look more in depth at their edit.

As I said, I am busy creating these examples and making sure they work correctly and the instructions are very clear.

I've written about Phil Plaits Wikipedia page many times here on this blog.  He is one of those skeptical spokespeople that keep popping up in the public's eye and I know every time he does there is a spike in his Wikipedia hits.  Currently he's generating about 3.5K hits each month.  A page we ought to have an eye on, right? 

I wondered if maybe I could write an example that could be used at the workshop.  Looking over his page I felt that the changes I wanted to make are too advanced for beginners to copy/paste.  I needed to move on to easier edits.  But I felt guilty about leaving Plait's page for the to-do list that its been on for ages.  So I decided I would invest 2 hours.  That's it!  Whatever I could accomplish in that time I would do.

I've just learned how to add filmography info to a Wikipedia page, and noticed Plait has a imdb link.  So I ventured over and saw that he has quite a few film credits but not like William B. Davis's page that took me 8+ hours to edit.  I'm not going to go into detail how to add tables like I did.  Put it this way, I learned by copying the info from a famous actors page and studied the pattern.  I played with it for awhile until I figured it out.  Its the kind of task you don't want to stop in the middle of, you get into a kind of rhythm with all the | and the |- and <br/>.

Once done I realized I had 20 minutes left.  I quickly uploaded an image I took when the IIG awarded Plait's "Bad Astronomy" show for critical thinking content.  Popped that image onto the page (there is a nice empty area caused by the Filmography table) and time was up.

I still don't like the lede.  As I've said before the sentence about him quitting his job in order to write a book is unprofessional.  It might be true but there must be a better way of saying it.  Phil Plait's page is going back on the to-do list.  Maybe someone will get there before me and continue working on his page?  Hopefully so.

Phil Plait Before

Phil Plait After

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What Skeptics can learn from the Mormons

Just ran across this interesting article on the Oh No Ross and Carrie! podcast Facebook page posted by fan Mike Thomson.  For the few of you out there who don't already know Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy and their very popular podcast, they visit paranormal venues "so you don't have to" then report back on the adventure to their listening audience.  One two-part story line chronicled their experiences with joining the Mormon church and actually going through the Baptism process, very eye-opening for us voyeurs.

Reading through this article I discovered that the Mormon Church is loosing its members, mainly because people are able to read all about the history of the church and its beliefs on the Internet.  Carrie mentioned that the young men in the missionary stage of their training are not allowed to be distracted by the Internet, they can visit the library for an hour once in awhile, but are not supposed to spend that time looking up doctrines or reading about the Church.

Elder Jensen who is the Official Church Historian is quoted as saying that all the leaders of the Church are aware of the problem of defections, and has a plan to counter the membership loss.  "Among other steps, it has hired an expert in search-engine optimization to raise the profile of the church's own views in a web search."

Humm very interesting.  Something all bloggers and webmasters are interesting in doing.  I'm wondering how is this working out for the Mormons?  So I propose to do a bit of Google searches for some key Mormon words, I want to see what are the top search sites.  I will report the answers as I discover them myself.  My question is ...Where does the Wikipedia page hit in comparison to the official LDS site hit? A follow-up question might be ...How many people are hitting these Wikipedia pages (obviously I don't know how many are hitting the LDS pages).  Then I'm going to take a general look at what the average reader might see on the Wikipedia pages.  

Because of Mitt Romney's bid for the Presidency, I would think that interest in Mormonism would be at a all-time high.  And the Internet would be the place to discover the answer to their questions.  

I'm really curious what we will find, but we are about to discover the answer together.  

Google Search 

-First hit is a paid ad by bi line is "Learn More About the Church of Jesus Christ. Chat with a Mormon!" which leads you to a very inviting page with a slideshow about various members.  The first story I was presented with was from a biker.  (riding without a helmet BTW) - answers general questions about Mormonism (official LDS site)

-Wikipedia page

-(Book of Mormon) Wikipedia page

January 2012 - Mormon was the ranked 2,340 of top hit page on Wikipedia with 78,971 total views.  There was a major hit on one day of 12,479 around January 27, 2012.  Wonder what happened that day? An average day usually is 1,500 hits.  

Wikipedia Content (a general look)

Its a very beautiful page, lots of images and very carefully written prose throughout the article.  There is no criticism of Mormonism anywhere I can find.  But it does seem to lay out the history and doctrines in a readable format.  I see no mention of South Park's parody of the religion, or the Broadway play.  Interesting.  I would not suggest anyone try and edit the page to include those, any change you might want to leave on the page should be written on the "talk" page.  I assume that anyone with little knowledge of Mormonism would be left with a positive feeling of the religion.  

Just noticed the section of the way the Church has treated black people in the past.  Apparently according to the Wikipedia article once the Church allowed ordaining men of African descent in the Priesthood it was met with "joy and relief".

I think it is safe to say that the page on Mormonism on Wikipedia carefully monitored by the Mormon Church.  

Google Search

-First is an ad from asking the question Multiple Wives - Do Mormons Practice Polygamy?

-Wikipedia site (general site discussing polygamy) 

Ranked 3,383 in top hits for January 2012 the page had 111,343 hits in January 2012.  No major spikes, about 3,000 views a day.  

Wikipedia Content (a general look)

Another well-written page that focuses on polygamy in many cultures with lots of history.  There are 4 good sized paragraphs devoted to polygamy in the Mormon church.

Google Search 

-First is the same advertisement we keep seeing from their bi-line is "Discover the facts and myths of Mormonism".  

-Second is which is a pro-Mormon site

-Wikipedia is third

-Images of Joseph Smith

The Stats
January 2012 the page had 81,577 hits

Wikipedia Content (a general look)
Nice looking image of Smith, another really well written page.  Again, nothing I noticed that could be considered critical of Smith, no mention of South Park or the Broadway play about Mormonism.  Another carefully watched page by the Church in my opinon.

The conclusion

Well it looks like the LDS Church has done a great marketing job, the first hit is always a paid advertisement for the church inviting people to visit and ask questions.  When a Wikipedia page is presented the content is neutral but leans to the positive.  I'm not condoning changing the Wikipedia pages as I doubt you would get anything to stick and it would become an edit war.  I'm just saying, these pages are carefully written, and the Mormon Church is doing a great job of appearing to give information and answer the hard questions.  

Looks like the LDS understands the We Got Your Wiki Back! project better than the skeptic community does.  With over 200K hits to these three Wikipedia pages each month I think they understand how important Wikipedia is.  Can we say the same?


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wikipedia and Skeptic Women

My first She Thought blog mentions Rebecca Watson, Debbie Goddard, Greta Christina, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Annie Gaylor, Sikivu Hutchinson, Susan Jacoby, Wafa Sultan and Ophelia Benson.