So, you supported the March for Science. Now what?

Susan Gerbic

Thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts gathered all over the world carrying witty signs, chanting science slogans, and making new friends. Others watched over social media, cheering on the crowds. Wonderful, we sent a message. We care about science, education, critical thinking, and the Earth. Okay, now what? We are all jazzed up and raring to go, but jazzed up to do what? And go where? Here is a unique answer to these questions. You join my project, stay home, and educate millions. and it won’t cost you a penny. All training is done at your own pace; you will make new friends all over the world and will be supporting science in the place where millions go to learn: Wikipedia.

You use this website all the time; have you considered the impact it has? Has it occurred to you that you yourself can edit this powerhouse of knowledge? For the moment, I would like you to forget all the negative things you have heard about Wikipedia. I’ve heard all those arguments also, and I can counter them with real answers. But for the moment, I would like you to hear me out.

The Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia project (GSoW) has been an editing team since 2011. In that time, we have touched thousands of pages and written or rewritten hundreds of pages all associated with scientific skepticism and science. Anyone can learn to edit Wikipedia on their own; you might already be an editor. What sets us apart from everyone else is that we handle all the training with unique tasks that teach a wide range of editing skills. We are a social group; we have our own Secret Cabal on Facebook where we know each other and discuss edits and motivate each other, learning new skills as we interact. We are doing this in all languages as well. And we are making major differences in improving scientific content in the place where the world is reading it.

Why is this important? Because we need to have the backs of the people who are on the front lines doing the science, being attacked by climate change deniers and alternative medicine practitioners. If we want people to know science history, to know about the people, projects, and organizations that have been doing the work, then someone needs to write the Wikipedia pages for people to find. When a well-written Wikipedia page exists, then it brings respectability to the person, and the media is more likely to contact this person when they need an expert opinion. How can we ask the world to respect the people and projects that represent us, when we don’t respect them enough to care? When it comes to Wikipedia, there is no “they,” it is only “us.” We need to have this and GSoW will teach you how.

Here is an example. The Wikipedia page for Archie Cochrane had eleven citations and the lede was one sentence long and said, “Archibald Leman Cochrane (1909–1988) was a Scottish doctor and pioneer of evidence based medicine.” It is “okay” but hardly anything respectable. After a GSoW editor rewrote the Wikipedia page, readers now learn that Cochrane was a prisoner of war during World War II, that his experiences there led him to develop randomized controlled trials, and that he is known as one of the fathers of modern clinical epidemiology. We have the term “Evidence-Based Medicine” because of this man. Now the page sports twenty-one citations and is more informative. In February 2014, a GSoW editor translated the English page into Dutch. and it has received 1,127 pageviews. The English Wikipedia page has received over 30,000 pageviews since it was rewritten.

One more example: in March 2013, GSoW created a brand-new page for oncologist and outspoken critic of alternative medicine, David Gorski. We have had to protect the page for years against vandalism by his critics especially from the anti-vax community. When actor William Shatner tweeted about an autism group that has anti-vax leanings, Gorski tried to enter polite conversations with Shatner explaining why Shatner’s support of the organization Autism Speaks was controversial. Gorski’s Wikipedia page views spiked. Shatner’s followers wanted to know who this expert was, and when they looked, they found a well-written Wikipedia page with fifty-six citations. Since GSoW wrote this page in 2013, it has received 62,706 page views.

GSoW has written or rewritten hundreds of pages on many topics such as vaccinations, astronomy, cryptids, skeptical-oriented books, the discredited teaching technique called facilitated communication, and its younger cousin Rapid prompting method. The pages for the two have received 142,114 page views. Our rewrite of spontaneous human combustion has received 1,244,705 page views since 2013. We work on the paranormal as well as the scientific; it is up to the interest of each GSoW editor what they want to work on.

Training can take weeks, but it is done online at your own pace. You are assigned a trainer that can assist you all the way through the training process. You are placed in the Secret Cabal on Facebook (yes, you need to have a Facebook account) and will mingle with your peers from all over the world. Currently over eighty-five editors socialize and learn in that space. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our public page on Facebook or our YouTube channel. There you will find hundreds of examples of our work, as well as interviews with our editors, lectures on GSoW, and some training videos.

Requirements to become a GSoW editor are the obvious ones of needing to have access to the Internet and Facebook and basic computer skills. All else is taught. You need to be a self-starter, interact well with people online, and be able to take constructive criticism about your work. Strong English skills are not necessary as everything is peer reviewed before it is made live. We have many editors whose first language is not English and go on to work on pages in their native language. And even more importantly, you need to be able to search for information without it being handed to you; you will note that I have not given you our contact information.

The work that GSoW does is extremely important. Not only to preserve our history, but to educate people who are looking for information about subjects that they are curious about. The work we do is accessed by millions of people. We are changing minds and you can as well. Reach out to us; we need you. The world needs you. March with us.

Susan Gerbic

Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and writes for her column, Guerilla Skepticism, often. You can contact her through her website.