Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Housekeeping notes: Logical Fallacies and RationalWiki

There have been a couple of significant changes to this website to provide more information to the reader in the ongoing discourse of skepticism vs. irrationality. And by irrationality, of course, we mean anything pseudoscientific.

First, the Logical Fallacies FAQ has been thoroughly updated to make some sections more easy to read, add some better examples of the fallacy, and new external links. Also, in the sidebar, you can download the whole FAQ into a pdf file for use later. There are more detailed descriptions of logical fallacies out in the internet, but most of them are intense and detailed descriptions of the logic behind the illogic. Most of us, as readers of blogs, tend to have a limited amount of time, so having a quick reference on various fallacies should help get through various articles quickly.

Which leads to the next big change. Henceforth, external links used to describe terms, especially in science and pseudoscience, will use RationalWiki (RW). I have never liked Wikipedia, though I have been editing it for a few months, because I think scientists need to at least attempt to make it more scientifically neutral (which means if you have valid evidence, write it).

Wikipedia has developed into a monster that pretends to provide accurate information, but in many cases it has not. For example, just read the the highly biased acupuncture article that is owned by some anti-science editor named Middle 8, who obviously is not a  scientist, but he claims to be one. It’s like claiming to believe in evolution, but really being a creationist. No real scientist would accept the nonsense that is the foundation of acupuncture.

The RationalWiki article on acupuncture, on the other hand, states very clearly that: 

Acupuncture is a form of medicine based on sticking needles into people. Acupuncture is often described as “gateway woo[1] because of the increasing amount of scientists and medical centers accepting it a respectable treatment. While many doctors don’t believe in chi or meridians, it is widely believed that acupuncture is more effective than a placebo, despite a serious lack of randomized clinical trials. This belief is apparently because needles have less of a “magic” vibe than other forms of woo. Despite wasting good money, acupuncture researchers have yet to show consistent, statistically significant, and relevant effects in proper clinical trials.[2]

That is succinct and points out the obvious weaknesses in acupuncture. Acupuncture is based on nonexistent and implausible mechanisms. It claims to be more effective than a placebo, though there’s not a lot of evidence that supports that conclusion. Finally, acupuncture has shown that it is nothing more than a pseudoscientific belief despite the wasting a lot of money to try to show that it something. Compared to the poorly written, and pro-accupuncture bias of the Wikipedia article, the RW version is clean and to the point. Science based medicine shows that acupuncture is a waste of time and money, and does nothing to promote the well-being of patients.

RW does not pretend to be Wikipedia, and that quality is a good thing. In fact, RW states its purpose in the main page:

Our purpose here at RationalWiki includes:

  1. Analyzing and refuting pseudoscience and the anti-science movement.
  2. Documenting the full range of crank ideas.
  3. Explorations of authoritarianism and fundamentalism.
  4. Analysis and criticism of how these subjects are handled in the media.

But what is really interesting is that RW attempts to offer something that can’t be found in other Wiki’s (including the elephant in the room, Wikipedia). It does this by comprehensively stating its goals:

  1. RationalWiki is not an encyclopedia
  2. RationalWiki is not neutral point of view
  3. RationalWiki is original research
  4. RationalWiki does have a sense of humor
  5. RationalWiki can be serious

According to them, an RW “article is not afraid to clearly state that some idea is bullshit.” This is the place where Wikipedia fails. It tries so hard to pretend to be neutral (and it rarely succeeds), that it becomes almost politically correct in trying to be “fair” when it comes to pseudoscience articles. 

So going forward, RationalWiki is going to be the default link for anything that requires further explanation. I will still link to peer-reviewed medical articles and more in-depth blogs that become “further reading” for those interested. There are still some technical articles on Wikipedia that are extremely well done and deserve to be appropriate links. But, Wikipedia needs to be read with a very critical, maybe even skeptical eye. And ignore the the amateur editors like Middle8.

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