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Fixing Wikipedia’s “EFT” Article

Below is an article I wrote about Wikipedia’s biased and misleading EFT entry. Over the past decade, efforts to correct the Wikipedia entry have failed.

-Dawson Church

Many years ago, a group of skeptics seized editorial control of most of the CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) pages on Wikipedia.

Among the topics they control are homeopathy, energy psychology, and acupuncture.

Up till around 2003, most such Wikipedia articles were written by experts in their fields. The skeptics deleted those articles, including the entry for EFT, and wrote their own.

They tag EFT and other therapies they dislike as “pseudoscience,” and whenever experts attempt to correct them, for instance by adding a description of a study newly published in a peer-reviewed journal, the skeptics suppress the amendment. To support their arguments, they selectively violate Wikipedia’s own rules by citing skeptical web sites and non-peer-reviewed (and non-credible) sources such as the Skeptical Inquirer magazine and Quackwatch.

A popular misconception is that anyone can edit a Wikipedia page; in reality many entries are controlled by informal committees of editors, who can band together around a common philosophy, such as closed-minded hostility to CAM, anti-scientific skepticism, or the promotion of organizational agendas by political parties and drug companies.

An article by homeopath Dana Ullman in the Huffington Post shows that it is impossible to make factual corrections to the pages controlled by unscientific skeptics. A summary by Orthomolecular Medicine reviews some of the many articles about Wikipedia bias. Helen Buyzinski, an investigative journalist, has exposed how Wikipedia is controlled by spin-doctors and anything but objective. An article by Dr. Joseph Mercola shows how institutionalized Wikipedia’s bias has become, and why it’s impossible to get evidence-based information on medicine or healing there.

The skeptics are organized as Wikiproject Skepticism, and they have vandalized hundreds of entries.

Skeptics and corporate editors have appointed themselves as gatekeepers for countless Wikipedia pages, cutting off debate by “protecting” these pages from updates by editors other than themselves. This deprives the encyclopedias readers from receiving authoritative, balanced and objective coverage of a topic written by experienced and qualified experts.

Another tactic of the Wikiproject Skepticism editors has been to delete or vandalize the biographies of respected scientists, authors and researchers in the fields they attack. For instance, they have deleted the biographies of Donna Eden and Dawson Church, and repeatedly vandalized the biographies of Russel Targ and Rupert Sheldrake. Sheldrake is one of the contributors to a new site called Skeptical About Skeptics which outlines the problem

Having demonstrated their worldview by tagging EFT as “pseudoscience” in the Wikipedia entry, how do they then deal with the inconvenient fact that there are scores of clinical trials demonstrating EFTs efficacy, and over 100 papers published in peer-reviewed medical and psychology journals?

Their solution is to simply not mention them in the article, selectively applying Wikipedia rules.

Review articles are permitted by Wikipedia’s rules, but the skeptics disallow any mention of review articles written by experts, claiming they have a conflict of interest (never mind that such conflicts have cleared the rigorous standards of the American Psychological Association (APA) and other journals), while posting excerpts of partisan review articles by critics not trained in these methods.

Wikipedia allows the reader to peer behind the entry to the history of additions and deletions to the article, and the skeptical editors are perfectly clear, in these discussions, about their worldview. When new studies are published in peer-reviewed medical or psychology journals, the editors state that they should not be included in the Wikipedia article, since this might lend credibility to EFT which in their eyes it does not have. This circular reasoning prevents normal updates to the entry.

The skeptics violate key Wikipedia rules, are numerous, and collude to lock other editors out.

An article by Robert Curry summarizes the main points of a video showing a presentation by Susan Gerbic. Gerbic operates a team of “guerrilla skeptics” to vandalize Wikipedia entries on topics they don’t personally like. This includes CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine). Among Gerbic’s statements on the video is that she operates a team of 90 carefully vetted Wikipedia editors [minute 4:22] and is supported by the well-funded James Randi Educational Foundation [66:12]. According to Curry’s summary:

“These editors collude (off-wiki) in secret groups on Facebook [40:44] to take control of targeted Wikipedia pages.[35:25)

“In her talk and at conferences, Gerbic freely admits that she is actively ‘crowd sourcing’ [1:49] to recruit, train and mentor new editors.[27:01] She also explains how…’her’ editors should also edit local topics or their high school on WP outside their ideology to avoid being banned for being a single-purpose account or SPA.[29:20].

“Gerbic is clearly very proud that her team changed the homeopathy page ‘drastically’ and managed to insert the word ‘quackery’ into the lead section on the main homeopathy article [35:49] … Gerbic refers to her work “improving the page” in airquotes [16:36] and later states that she “rewrote … er improved” the page.[19:22] … Another term “creative editing” [7:29] is the reverse.

“Gerbic is pleased to inform us that she and her team have been able to frustrate editors with opposing views to the extent that editors have given up editing Wikipedia.[32:15] One way of controlling the content is by redefining reliable sources. For example, any sceptical journal like the Skeptical Inquirer, which does not conduct peer review or print opposing views is deemed a reliable source.

“In her talk [at 3:58] Gerbic says that you can “… change the rul (rules) … er … page”. I think this Freudian slip reflects the underlying agenda, which is to distort the entire project…”

They elevate their own opinions above the facts.

There is no mention in the Wikipedia article on EFT, or the behind-the-scenes discussions on the Talk pages, of the standards for empirically validated therapies published by the APAs Division 12 Task Force.

There is no reference to the evidence-based criteria embraced by the US government’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), or any description of the randomized controlled trials that have demonstrated EFTs efficacy for PTSD, depression, pain, anxiety, phobias, and other conditions.

None of the authors of the article seems to even be aware that such standards exist. None of the Wikipedia editors have any training or certification in EFT. They do not appear to have read the full copies any of the research published in peer-reviewed journals, and their comments indicate that they are unable to interpret the statistical analyses found in a scientific paper.

One of these gatekeepers calls EFT “claptrap,” and deletes references to balanced peer-reviewed review articles in journals published by the APA. Having individuals who are not only ignorant, but hostile to scientific enquiry, write an encyclopedia entry on an evidence-based healing modality used by several million people, is like asking the Vatican to write the entry on birth control.

You get an opinion, but you don’t get the facts.

Imagine a decent encyclopedia, perhaps the Encyclopedia Brittanica, writing an article by assembling an editorial team with complete ignorance of the topic, hostility to the field, scientific illiteracy, and no relevant academic qualifications. If the article’s topic was the nature of the solar system, the team would contain not a single astronomer, physicist, or geologist, and every member would belong to the Flat Earth Society.

Absurd though it may seem, that’s how the Wikipedia entry for EFT is created. Wikipedia’s bias against natural and alternative medicine has been noted by several journalists. Articles note the exent of the problem, which extends to the entries on acupuncture, chiropractic, and energy medicine.

As comedian Tina Fey remarked, “When you’re contemplating open-heart surgery, imagine your reaction to a guy who says, ‘I don’t have any of those fancy degrees from Harvard Medical School. I’m just an unlicensed plumber with a dream. Now hand me the scalpel.”

In her book Stonewalled, award-winning former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has a section on Wikipedia. She’s talking about “The Astroturf Effect” which is defined as “when special interests disguise themselves and write blogs, publish letters to the editor, produce ads, establish Facebook and Twitter accounts, start nonprofits, or just post comments to online material with the intent of fooling you into believing an independent or grassroots movement is speaking…. The whole point of astroturf is to give the impression there’s widespread support for an agenda when there’s not.” She says:

”Beyond the exploitation of nonprofits, there’s Wikipedia: astroturf’s dream come true. Billed as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” the reality can’t be more different. Anonymous Wikipedia editors acting on behalf of corporate interests co-opt and control pages to forbid or reverse edits that threaten their agenda. Two steps ahead of everyone else, the agenda editors wield the most powerful editing authority, having joined Wikipedia years ago and worked their way to the top of the editing power structure. They skew and delete information, blatantly violating Wikipedia’s own established policies with impunity, always superior to the poor schlubs who believe “anyone can edit” Wikipedia–only to discover they’re blocked from correcting even the simplest factual inaccuracies. Some of Wikipedia’s conflicts of interest are exposed by a group called www.Wikipediocracy.com, which states that it exists to “inoculate the unsuspecting public against the torrent of misinformation, defamation and general nonsense that issues forth from one of the world’s most frequently visited websites.”

“And then there are the powerful pharmaceutical interests that deftly use Wikipedia to distribute their propaganda and control the message. They maniacally troll specific Wikipedia pages to promulgate positive but sometimes-false information about medicines, vaccines, and their manufacturers, and delete negative but often-true information about the same topics….”  

Powerful corporate interests, such as the Koch brothers who have funded many far-right-wing political causes, employ teams of editors to prevent unfavorable Wikipedia coverage, according to a sting by the Daily Kos website. Writer Robert McLuhan provides a number of examples in his blog of how the Wikipedia pages rewritten by skeptics distort the facts to de-legitimize scientific research while elevating un-informed, hostile, and ignorant speculation to the level of fact, especially when it comes to alternative medicine. Natural News has run a series of articles showing how Gerbic and others manipulate and falsify Wikipedia entries to reflect their anti-scientific worldviews.

Harvard University warns students against relying on Wikipedia. The site is riddled with “pranks, hoaxes and manipulation.” A professor of mathematics reviewed Wikipedia’s entries for basic math and characterized them as “a hot mess of error, arrogance, obscurity, and nonsense.” An explose in the Atlantic Monthly is called, and has numerous instances of, “How Wikipedia is Hostile Toward Women.”

When Wikipedia articles are written by qualified experts, such as the entries for a method called Schema Therapy, or the entry for Emotionally Focused Therapy, they are excellent and informative. Dawson Church, David Feinstein, and other experts have written a new Wikipedia entry which is objective, balanced, and informative, and we hope to replace the “sun revolves around a flat-earth” version with this expert version.

If you’d like to help with this effort, it’s ESSENTIAL that you become familiar with Wikipedia’s rules FIRST.

The Talk pages behind the EFT entry show many attempts by well-meaning practitioners to set the record straight – all of them unsuccessful. This is because they attempted to play the Wikipedia game without first learning the rules. You can get a quick education the rules by reading this Google document.

After you’ve educated yourself, please feel free to join the discussion!