Thursday, May 31, 2012

WikiWomen's Edit-a-Thon 2 (and my views on gender)

 Been having an on-going conversation with Sarah Stierch from the Wikimedia Foundation Community.  You might remember her from her work at the Smithsonian archives where she had the first WikiWomen's Edit-a-Thon. 
She is having another, this time on the west coast at Wikipedia headquarters in San Francisco.  All the information you need is available at this link.  

I'm unsure if I will be able to attend, I may be out of town that weekend.  But I will be there in spirit if nothing else.  

I've been pretty public that I don't care if the editor is male or female, I just want people on board that do a good job, follow the rules, ask for feedback, accept helpful criticism with a smile, and oh yeah, don't flake.  The quality of their edits is more important than their gender. 

Sarah mostly agrees with me, but raises one really important point.  "I do believe though that if we do want to write the sum of all the world's knowledge we have to do it with all genders participating."

She is exactly right, I'm sure someone will find the percentages pretty quickly for me, but I think only 9% of Wikipedia editors are women.  That's pretty sad.  Women want to be represented as equals yet they aren't stepping up?  I know Wikipedia is concerned with these numbers, and are willing to listen.

Some say that women don't edit Wikipedia because they have been harassed by men.  (citation needed)

The following is my opinion.  I've never been harassed, discouraged or reverted by anyone on Wikipedia because I'm a woman.  It is very possible that it is unknown that I'm a woman unless they go to my user page when they will quickly discover from all the pictures of me that I'm very much female.  

Keep in mind that just because it has not happened to me, does not mean it doesn't happen.  In my experience I can say that this holds true in the skeptic world as well, I've never had any negative experiences with-in our community because of my gender.

I've been giving this a lot of thought and I'm not sure how valuable my opinion is on this subject, but I'm wondering if I have a different threshold of what is harassment and discrimination than younger women?  I'm about to be 50 this summer and have lived through some not so nice times where I was shut up, talked over and worse because I was a woman trying to get my point across.  I attended school where it was required for me to take homemaking (sewing and cooking) classes.  I wanted to take drafting but it was filled with boys and I knew I would have been uncomfortable.  The world I grew up in is NOT the world I'm experiencing now.

I know what sexual harassment feels like.  I have a Harley, I play pool.  Those worlds are still a bit behind, but they have improved a lot.   

Then again, my mother would probably laugh at what I call harassment.  She wasn't even allowed to wear pants, the idea of riding a motorcycle was impossible to her.  What I have gone through was nothing compared to what she went through.  And if we looked back to my grandmothers life she would think my mom was totally liberated compared to what she went through.  So I'm wondering if these on-going discussions about gender might just be a matter of relativity.  

If women are being harassed on Wikipedia because they are female then on a case by case basis that should be dealt with.  As well as in the skeptic universe.  No one should feel uncomfortable at a conference, male or female, but we need to be clear.  Talking behind the backs of our male speakers or attendees does not give the man a chance to clear his name.  If there is a problem, get it out in front and discuss it.  He should be able to defend himself.  Same on Wikipedia, if there seems to be harassment then they should be called on it.  Give them a change to apologize and explain themselves.  Then move on.  If the behavior continues then the discussion and consequences should escalate.

So there is my two-cents for what its worth.  I would love to see more women editors.  I would also love to see more diversity in age, culture, language, people with children and anything else that makes for a well-rounded group of people.  

We need a lot more female Wiki editors.  But even more, we need people who care, who do good work and won't flake.  Please join us today, contact me at 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Jerry Andrus - a Universal Icon - Lets get started!

Jerry Andrus - Skeptic's Toolbox 2004 - from my camera

My current project is to improve/rewrite the faculty pages for the Eugene, Oregon Skeptic's Toolbox pages, as well as to create the Toolbox page.  I've discovered during my research on re-writing the Jerry Andrus page that there exists many YouTube videos about or by Andrus in languages other than English.  Yet Jerry's current page is only available in English.

What a shame.

I have discussed many times that the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project is far too important to remain in English only.  Yet, I lack the skills necessary to read/write in other languages.  You don't know how frustrating that is for me, but it just shows how important it is to find editors who can.

In the call-out linked above where I discuss the need to expand our outreach to controversial topics outside English, I've not received a single email volunteering to help.  When I've approached Facebook "friends" who have other languages other than English (I tried a personal message to 30 people) when I got a response (7 people) I was mainly told "sorry, but I don't read/write well enough in that language."  (insert deep sigh here)  I think they were worried that they lacked the technical knowledge to translate a page on like "evolution" into their native language.

Possibly so.  So now I'm trying an easier subject to focus on. 

I'm thinking that Jerry Andrus may be a great place to focus our efforts when we do find those editors.  For those of you who did not know Jerry, he was a genius.  A gentle man, who could not tell a lie and wanted more than anything to show others his amazing optical illusions.  These illusions are universal, made with simple household objects, string, cardboard and tape.  Something a child anywhere in the world could copy and improve on with little instruction other than that spark to get them started.

And what a spark!  Teaching people about optical illusions teaches them how easily the brain can be fooled, which may inspire them to begin to think critically in other areas.

What I'm suggesting is that we find people willing to edit in their language and start with the existing videos.  All the articles I'm finding on Andrus would need to be translated into that language as well, possibly they have already been created?  The Did You Know? front page of Wikipedia project exists in all languages as well, and it would be a great push to get people who would normally not search out his page, to discover it. 

This would be a time consuming effort, but I guarantee an important project in bringing the skeptical message to anywhere an Internet connection exists.

Here are just a few of the videos I've found of Andrus performing...

We have just finished the 6th Skeptic World Congress last week in Berlin.  Surely we had attendees wanting to get involved in improving skepticism in their native languages?

So I'm suggesting if you personally don't read/write in a second language can you pass this on to someone you think might want to get involved?  Help me find a way to get this project out to skeptic groups outside the English speaking world.  And lets get started.

BTW - really could use some help finding sources for the Skeptic's Toolbox page (in English).

Please contact me at

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Google Knowledge Tool - Breaking News!

Our resident skeptical crowd-sourcing genius Tim Farley has just released a blog about the Google Knowledge Tool.  I had not heard of it, and even if I had it probably would have taken months before I realized its importance on this project. 

Tim Farley's "Google Knowledge Graph benefits from skeptic Wikipedia efforts"

Still early news, we are not sure how the image is selected.  Or how the suggested pages are selected. 

Play around with this, the relationships are so interesting. 

Not only does this raise the We Got Your Wiki Back! project to amazing importance levels.  We need to make sure to provide skeptical citations on all the paranormal pages.  James Randi must be a suggested hit for every psychic.  Steven Novella should be a hit for Dr. Oz.  Sikivu Hutchinson has a great Wikipedia page, but nothing appears for her on the Google Knowledge Graph.

Still awaiting more information about how this new Google tool works.

But its still extremely exciting!

Monday, May 14, 2012

So you want your own Wikipedia page - Now What?

I get a lot of requests from people who think they should have a Wikipedia page, or their project or whatever.  Instead of writing out one more email explaining how to go about it, I'll just write it down once and save it as a post that I can forward every week.

I'm going to try and keep this general and will use the word "pickles" instead of the words; podcast, blog, person, place, thing, book, radio show, artwork, magazine or whatever else.

Firstly pickles must be noteworthy.  Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.  It is designed for people to go and look up whatever is on their mind, globally.  Being in Wikipedia is pretty darn cool, and can be pretty powerful (that goes both ways, see below about criticism).  If everyone was allowed to have a Wikipedia page, where friends could write about pickles and you could control what information went up about pickles then that would not be Wikipedia.  It would be Facebook.  The last time I checked, they were still two different things.

Wikipedia is very strict about what is noteworthy.  They get to write the rules.  I could do what most WP editors do and just link to the WP noteworthy page.  But I'm not, I doubt you will read it, otherwise you would be approaching me with "I've read the noteworthy page on Wikipedia already, and pickles fits all those requirements, can you help me?"

Noteworthy means that you have secondary citations from other noteworthy (that means they already have WP pages themselves) pickles.  And you need many citations.  Speaking out at the city council meeting, reading a poem at a meeting, having a popular business are not going to cut it.

I hear the "pickles has a ton of FB followers, blog hits, subscribers" argument all the time.  I've read this on talk pages for psychics too, "why are you being so mean to Sylvia Browne, she has so many fans?"

The answer is simple, just being popular won't cut it on WP, again that would be twitter and Facebook.  I'm sure porn sites get a ton of views also, but they don't have a WP page.  WP is an encyclopedia for noteworthy topics, not a fan club.


We are the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia team.  If you want our attention, pickles needs to satisfy the skepticism angle.  You would be surprised at the things people want help with.

Also, we are extremely busy people. I'm sure you are also, otherwise you would be on the GSoW team. Please do not insult us by assuming that we are just sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for a suggestion to come in.  We are all unpaid volunteers trying to do the job that needs to be done for skepticism.  Yes, it is that important.  Your pickles does not have the outreach GSoW has, not even close. We reach Millions of readers World-Wide in a year, can pickles say that?

We do not churn out pages overnight.  It can take weeks or months (generally 3-4 weeks if all goes well).  We do not turn out crappy stubs, we launch well-written carefully vetted pages.  We want to be proud of what we release, and we don't plan on doing something under pressure.  We read every citation we are given.  We put pickles on Google alert so we can find fresh material.  We also search all over the Internet for things you might have forgotten to mention. We write to organizations to back up citations, we go to a lot of work to get these written correctly.

We do not hide criticism.  In fact we want some criticism on pickle's page.  Wikipedia likes that, once the page is launched then other editors will edit the page,  trust me they will insert the criticism.  

We also hear that well meaning (but misinformed) people will try to encourage you to write your own page, guess what you aren't allowed to do that.  If so, every psychic and heehaw would have their own page.  WP does not want advertising on WP and that is what you would be doing, just another fan page.  If the GSoW team discovers that you are doing this, and you do not have the citations to prove you belong on WP then we are very likely going to take pickles page down.  We are looking out for what is best for WP and our community.  If everyone gets a page, then all of the pages are diminished.

Our other goal is to find more editors to help with this project.  Are you going to find me more editors?  Are you yourself going to join (and not work on your page, but others you are not connected with?)

Many times we search out pickles that do not ask for a re-write or a page.  That happens all the time, we have to talk them into helping us out, sometimes they are just shy about it.  They think of it as a ego thing.  Yes, in a way it is.  But we don't think of it that way.  We are looking at the big picture.  If pickles deserves a Wikipedia page, then pickles should have a page.  The world is watching us, looking at our pickles and wondering who and what we are.  Wikipedia is the perfect tool for skeptics because every claim must have proof.  It is not ego, it is common sense.  If our pickles don't have respectable pages, and they are in the media's eye, then what does that say about us?  Shame on us if we don't have our own backs!

All this said, we do encourage you to contact us with ideas for articles/rewrites or just things that are not correct on a page you have read.  We love that, we are here to help.  I know I probably sound snarky, if you only could read my email requests you would understand. ;-)  If what you are suggesting to be fixed is a small quick thing then I will find someone to fix it, or better yet, teach you how to do it yourself.  It isn't that difficult.

So please do not let my frustrations discourage you from writing to me.  But please research a bit first.  And consider that maybe you should be involved in this project.

Please join us in supporting our own community.

Write to me at - (but read this first)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Borley Rectory - Harry Price and Brian Dunning

I love ghost stories.  If you love ghost stories too, but also like getting the facts straight, then this is the project for you.

I came across this Skeptoid episode tonight "Borley Rectory: the World's Most Haunted House?
Were the events at Borley Rectory a real haunting, or the product of a hoaxster" and started looking into the Wikipedia pages for the Rectory as well as for Harry Price whom Dunning claims made it all up. 

 The Rectory Wikipedia page is full of stories and even a ghost picture.  The "hauntings" and "investigation" make up the majority of the article.  No mention of anything that Dunning discovered in his research.  

The Harry Price Wikipedia page is the same.  He is listed as a paranormal investigator and author.  The only mention of "hoax" was under his picture, and that was because the portrait was taken by William Hope who was a hoaxer.  (who is also listed as a paranormal investigator at his page)

There seems to be some disconnect with all these pages and the research Brian Dunning did on his article. 

Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia is just that, we need to make sure that Wikipedia is correct.  If Dunning's research is incorrect then he needs to be told and I'm sure he will retract.  If Dunning is correct then these Wikipedia pages are in bad need of an over-haul.  

I do remember listening to a much more recent episode of Skeptoid when Dunning answers the question of why he loves doing these podcasts week after week for so many years.  He mentioned the Borley Rectory episode as one of his favorites because he was able to discover that the "spirit writing on the wallpaper" was actually people writing on a roll of wallpaper spread out on a table.  He also discovered that there was no evidence of the stories prior to Harry Price.  

Reading through the comments on the Skeptoid website I noticed one from someone who lived near the Rectory that said that the current residents are sick and tired of people trampling all over their property looking for ghosts.  That is really true, these stories are fun, but real people are harmed by them.  Can you imagine living in a really neat old house and having people standing outside your windows at night with EVP recorders and tossing stones at your windows?  That just isn't right. 

Brian Dunning offers several citations on his blog showing where he got his research from.  Good skeptics should never accept anything at face value.  Science tells us we should replicate findings and see if we get the same results. 

Surely there is one lover of ghost stories out there that would like to make a project of this?  Look into Dunning's research and see what conclusion you come to, keep an open mind like all good scientists should.  If the Wikipedia pages need to be rewritten, then we will take care of that.  Just let me know what you discover. 

So you want to get involved - now what?

I do a lot of outreach all over the skeptical world, trying to explain this project.  I'm always surprised to find people who have never heard of this project, and why editing Wikipedia is even important.  But I'm sure there is a lot of educating I need to do.

So every few days or so I get an email from someone who asks "how can I help?" and each time I write up a special email just for them telling them how to help.  I haven't been keeping really good count but it seems that at least half never respond again.  And of those that do respond maybe a half again only get as far as making a Wikipedia account, then they drop off the face of the Earth.

I'm left with about 25% of people who follow through.  And that is really cool because that is really want we need, people who don't flake and are here because they want to be here, understand the project and are enjoying themselves.

To all the people who don't pan out, thanks for your interest. Please remember us with a kind heart and maybe someday you will have the desire to become involved.

<quick story> - One woman that is a member of CFI, heard about this project because she saw a notice about a Cafe Inquiry lecture I was about to give.  She wasn't interested, but remembered it.  Then she went to an event (that shall not be named because I don't want to draw attention to it right now).  She was amazed at what was happening to the Wikipedia page for that event, she tried to edit it but quickly got over her head and was nearly banned.  She remembered me,  Lei and I got onto it and managed to eventually get the page into shape.  The woo crowd was using it as a platform to support their side.  The woman who first drew my attention to the page still writes to me with updates and totally supports us.  She does not have to become an editor to totally "get it" and has done a lot to help.  </end story>

So you think you want to help with the project as an editor.  Here are the steps you need to take, as well as what to expect.

1. you need to open up a Wikipedia account.  Here is an excellent blog from Tim Farley giving easy instructions. 

2. Read this blog.  You don't have to read everything, but I expect that you will "get it" and should understand the project.

3. Go to Wikipedia and click on everything blue you see.  All the links at the top, bottom and sides.  You don't have to completely understand what you see, but you should be aware of these options.

4. Write back to me with your Wikipedia account name.  You should also friend me on Facebook (Susan Gerbic)  I'm going to ask you what you want to do.  I don't tell people what to edit, you need to decide. This is another reason why you need to read the blog.  There are a ton of ideas all over the place.

If you just want to hang out and edit here and there, that is useful and great training.  Here is another blog by Tim Farley that teaches you how to do this

When you are ready to start editing more difficult pieces, and/or re-write a page then you will know when you are ready.  No one is going to assign a task for you (if you really push we might steer you somewhere) and I or some of my other editors will step in if you are overwelmed, and provide assistance whenever you need.

What we do not want you trying to do is to write a new Wikipedia page, that can take months to do correctly and will need thought and feedback.  Yes, it is possible to throw up a page in a few minutes, but that is not what we advocate.  We launch our pages and re-writes all in one swoop to create excitement and get people interested in the before and afters.  We also try to get the newly launched page on the front page of Wikipedia as a Did You Know? project.  We have also found that sometimes people think they will come back to the page they published, and then do not.  No one wants more orphans roaming Wikipedia, we have enough stubs as it is. 

We also do not advocate jumping into a thorny editing mess that is highly watched by believers and skeptics.  Some pages are careful balancing acts that though months of discussion have reached a consistence with the editors.  No one wants a new zealot editor to charge in and start changing things around.  If you want to edit pages like $cientology, Mormans, medicine, astrology, global warming, evolution and Jesus Christ, well more power to you.  Please approach me first and lets talk about having realistic expectations.

I do want everyone to know that a lot is going on behind the scenes, several highy-trafficked pages that are carefully watched by both sides are even now being changed to reflect more scientific thinking.  I can't write about the changes as this blog is very public and I don't want edit wars.  Just know that we really need all kinds of help, and though this project is only one-year old, a ton has already been done and lots more planned.  This is an exciting time to help.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

We Got Your Wiki Back! - Kendrick Frazier

Make sure your sitting down.

I'm so proud of editor Lei Pinter I could shout.  This woman has Got It!  She totally understands what the We Got Your Wiki Back Project! is all about.

The whole goal is to improve the pages of our skeptical spokespeople in order to tell the world that our people are noteworthy, respected, intelligent and real people.  We aren't boring scientists working on the fringe of science.  When Mr. America asks his wife "who is this guy on TV and why should we care what he is saying?" we need to make sure that when the name is searched and they end up on Wikipedia (you know that is going to be the first place they go) they will discover quality.  Remember our spokespeople represent us too. 

The Wikipedia page that Lei started out with was bare bones.  Dull.  So vacant that I would expect a bum would be sleeping in one corner with a newspaper over his head, and not a clean newspaper either.

Here is what she found when she decided to re-write his page. Kendrick Frazier April 23, 2012.

The images she got Kendrick to upload tell a story all by themselves.  They are loving, intelligent and look like a man that any one of us would want to hang out with.

The text tells a rich story as well, this man has done so much in his life and is still more active than most of us.  Reading over the page I had no idea there was so much to this man.  How dare the old page say that he might not be notable enough to have his own Wikipedia page.  Shame on the skeptical community for allowing this to happen.  This flag went up November 2009! 

What kind of respect do we have for ourselves?

So I know your sitting down now.  Here is the brand new page.  Kendrick Frazier

Thank you Lei, you really came through in a big way.

If you are reading this and think that you would like to become involved.  There are hundreds of ways to do so.

First, open up an account on Wikipedia.
Second, read my entire blog
Third, contact me at

We will make it happen and you can be a hero like Kendrick and Lei.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We Got Your Wiki Back - Robert Ingersoll!

One thing leads to another.  After spending so much time on the re-write of Tom Flynn's Wikipedia page, I realized that I was learning a lot about Robert Ingersoll.  Tom mentioned, too bad that the Birthplace museum's Wikipedia page is in such bad shape, I've never known that you could have a stub of a stub". 

I didn't even know there was a WP page for Ingersoll's birthplace.  Here is how the page appeared a few weeks ago. 

Tom gave me all kinds of pictures which took me the longest getting them all organized on the page.  I'm still not happy with the picture layout, but that is the beauty of Wikipedia, someone else can play with the images. 

I learned that Ingersoll only lived in this house 4 months.  But it is the only Ingersoll residence still existing. 

Another interesting piece of trivia.  When you watch the museum video you will see people getting off a bus, going inside and looking around at the artifacts.  As I was watching this video I said "hey I know that guy, and that one... and that one also... hey I know all these people, they were at the CFI summer conference I was at 2002!"  That is too funny.  I was supposed to be on that same tour but during the 2-week conference I discovered SURPRISE my husband had left me.  So I had to rush home to California and change the locks on the doors.  That would have been really funny if I had been watching the video and suddenly I appeared. 

Here is the freshly published version

And here is the stat tool to watch the hits for the page.

TThere is tons of work waiting to be done.  Just imagine how amazing I must be at Trivial Pursuit (if the topics are about anything concerning the skeptic world) 

Please join us

Write to me at after you have opened up a Wikipedia account, and read through this blog.  I'm willing to train and mentor.