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An attempt to “Null”-ify Wikipedia on science

Love it or hate it, Wikipedia is a main go-to rough and ready source of information for millions of people. Although I’ve had my problems with Wikipedia and used to ask whether it could provide reliable information on medicine and, in particular, alternative medicine and vaccines, given that anyone can edit it, I now conclude that Wikipedia must be doing OK, at least in these areas. After all, some of the highest profile promoters of alternative and “integrative” medicine hate Wikipedia, to the point of attacking it and concocting conspiracy theories about it.

When Wikipedia was founded in 2001, I was skeptical. The concept of an online “encyclopedia” that anyone with Internet access could edit was one that seemed custom-made for abuse by cranks, conspiracy theorists, and quacks. My skepticism grew, at least early on, as I came across articles on Wikipedia about topics I knew a lot about and as a result found many errors. However, nearly 20 years later, I am happy to admit that, for the most part, I was (mostly) mistaken in that many of the topics near and dear to my heart, particularly related to science and alternative medicine, have been covered on Wikipedia much more accurately than I had expected. Evidence of how much improved Wikipedia’s treatment of alternative medicine is comes from my recent observation of people who are frequent topics on this blog (and not in a positive way) complaining mightily about Wikipedia and spinning conspiracy theories about why their Wikipedia entries do not portray them as they view themselves. Last week, for instance, the Chopra Library for Integrative Studies & Whole Health (ISHAR) Tweeted in response to Jimmy Wales, one of the founders of Wikipedia:

True, the article that Ryan Castle, Executive Director of ISHAR, linked to is nearly two years old, but it’s not the only article written by proponents of alternative medicine complaining about Wikipedia. I’ll use it as a starting point, though:

Deepak Chopra, M.D. is an unlikely candidate for a “minor” article, being a famous figure in health, mind-body wellness, and consciousness studies, as well as the author of more than 80 books, including 22 New York Times bestsellers. His medical training is in internal medicine and endocrinology, and he is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and an adjunct professor of Executive Programs at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, Columbia University, and a Senior Scientist at the Gallup organization. For more than a decade, he has participated as a lecturer at the Update in Internal Medicine, an annual event sponsored by Harvard Medical School’s Department of Continuing Education and the Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Or, as his Wikipedia biography proclaims: Deepak Chopra is despised by all scientists as a dangerous fraud who sells false hope and spouts gibberish.

Reading this complaint, I had to go straight to the source: Deepak Chopra’s actual Wikipedia entry. I must admit that I was surprised at how mild it was. Yes, the article does mention that Dr. Chopra has been criticized by scientists for peddling pseudoscience, in particular his abuse of quantum mechanics, but it totally ignores Dr. Chopra’s equally egregious misuse and mischaracterization of epigenetics. As is the case with most Wikipedia articles, a pretty neutral tone was maintained throughout. Indeed, this is about the harshest passage in the entire Wikipedia entry:

The ideas Chopra promotes have been regularly criticized by medical and scientific professionals as pseudoscience.[17][18][19][20] This criticism has been described as ranging “from dismissive [to] damning”.[17] Philosopher Robert Carroll states Chopra attempts to integrate Ayurveda with quantum mechanics to justify his teachings.[21] Chopra argues that what he calls “quantum healing” cures any manner of ailments, including cancer, through effects that he claims are literally based on the same principles as quantum mechanics.[16] This has led physicists to object to his use of the term quantum in reference to medical conditions and the human body.[16] Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has said that Chopra uses “quantum jargon as plausible-sounding hocus pocus”.[22] Chopra’s treatments generally elicit nothing but a placebo response,[7] and have drawn criticism that the unwarranted claims made for them may raise “false hope” and lure sick people away from legitimate medical treatments.[17]

I would argue that the above criticisms are pretty mild compared to the damage that Dr. Chopra has done to medicine through his promotion of quantum nonsense and championing the “integration” of alternative medicine into medicine. In any event, nowhere to be found in Wikipedia is any mention of Dr. Chopra supposedly being “despised by all scientists as a dangerous fraud,” just citations of criticism leveled at him by Richard Dawkins, other scientists, and skeptics. None of that stops Castle from launching into an appeal to authority:

Whether or not I share all of his views, I consider Deepak Chopra to be a legitimate figure in the medical and scientific field. As a member of the scientific community I do not endorse the claim that Deepak Chopra must be dismissed or condemned by that group. I am familiar with examples of Deepak Chopra’s work that are, to my knowledge, as well supported and valuable as those of many other accepted figures in science. Signed,
  • Steven R. Steinhubl, MD, Director, Digital Medicine, Scripps Translational Science Institute
  • Stanley A. Klein, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley
  • Stuart Hameroff, MD, Director of Center for Consciousness Studies, Emeritus Professor: Department of Anesthesiology, Emeritus Professor: Department of Psychology
  • Menas Kafatos, PhD, Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor of Computational Physics, at Chapman University.
  • Neil Theise, MD, Professor of Pathology and of Medicine at the Beth Israel Medical Center of Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • Pim van Lommel, MD, Cardiology, Rijnstate Hospital, Arnhem, University of Utrecht
  • Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD, Joseph. P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Vice-Chair, Department of Neurology, Director, Genetics and Aging Research Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Bernardo Kastrup, PhD (Computer Engineering), CERN (formerly), Philips Research Laboratories (formerly) Eindhoven, The Netherlands
  • Sheila Patel, MD, Director, Mind Body Medical Group
  • Paul J. Mills, PhD, Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health, Professor of Psychiatry, Director, Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health, Director/Clinical Research Biomarker Laboratory, Co-Director, Translational Research Technologies, Clinical and Translational Research Institute, University of California, San Diego

The full statement, posted to the ISHAR website, is here.

Of course, from my perspective, the endorsements cited by Castle are evidence of how much pseudoscience of the type that Dr. Chopra has promoted for decades has infiltrated medical and other academia, such that academics like the ones listed above have fallen under the spell of Dr. Chopra’s quantum nonsense. I’ve documented this before, referring to a highly dubious “clinical study” of how the mind can supposedly “reprogram our DNA” through epigenetic mechanisms. As I’ve described before, Dr. Chopra is very good at selling the delusion that his New Age woo based on Ayurveda and other ancient Asian mystical belief systems, such as traditional Chinese medicine, is science-based.

Naturally, to Castle, it’s a small cabal of skeptics that is “assassinating” Chopra’s character:

The body of editors who are dominating Deepak Chopra’s biography page are a dozen or so skeptics* who are so extreme in their views that they resort to online activism, many of whom consider the concept of spirituality or a mind-body connection to be a threat to human intelligence. They consider Deepak Chopra to be the embodiment of these concepts and so treat his biography as an opportunity to explain how foolish and dangerous his beliefs are.

No, not really. First, it’s not “extreme” to view Dr. Chopra as a peddler of pseudoscience. There’s plenty of evidence to support that contention, some of it published right on this very blog. Castle tries mightily to paint a picture of a small number of biased Wikipedia editors out to smear his boss by citing conversations on the talk page for Chopra’s Wikipedia entry. In actuality, doing so only illustrates a point about Wikipedia: It’s open and pretty transparent, with discussions among the editors being available to someone like Castle to complain about, which he does by citing a bizarre example, claiming that the Wikipedia entry for Jack Kevorkian is more neutral than the one for his boss, with more positive references than the one for Dr. Chopra.

Gary Null vs. Wikipedia on Deepak Chopra

It isn’t just Castle, whose defense of Dr. Chopra is understandable given that he works for him. Others who share Chopra’s view of medicine and belief in alternative medicine have also leapt to Chopra’s defense. In particular, Gary Null (whom we’ve discussed before) is, if anything, even more vociferous in his attack on Wikipedia, having made it a common theme in his show and writings over the last several months. In fact, over the last couple of months, he’s posted two articles railing about Wikipedia’s treatment of Deepak Chopra, “Wikipedia Skeptics’ Crucifixion of Deepak Chopra” and “Why Does Wikipedia Want to Destroy Deepak Chopra?” A common theme in these articles is that Wikipedia is dominated by evil skeptics who hate Deepak Chopra and want nothing more than to use Wikipedia to smear him. (“Crucifixion”? That’s a fine bit of hyperbole, because having an unflattering Wikipedia entry is just like being nailed to a cross.) Of course, he blames atheists, because of course he does:

Modern day Skeptics who dominate Wikipedia’s content on non-conventional medicine, body-mind science and parapsychology have zero tolerance for theories that suggest the mind can directly influence health and treat certain diseases. In fact, theories that human consciousness, which underlies our subjective experiences of the world, may be non-localized, or independent and not contingent on brain chemistry is anathema according Skeptic’s scientific materialist view of reality. Although the religion of Scientism is less than a hundred years old and is now being fueled by the emergence of New Atheism during the past couple decades, what we today call mind-body medicine goes back to at least the first millennium BC if not earlier. In the East, meditative techniques to explore the nature of consciousness has been a 3,000-year scientific experiment. Its results have been reproduced innumerable times among its practitioners over the centuries and the results are almost always the same for those who are the most accomplished in these psycho-somatic and psycho-spiritual practices. The simple fact is that modern science knows far more about atoms, electrons and the Big Bang than it does about the human mind and consciousness. Every new discovery in the neurosciences opens up new questions. The reductionist opinion, fully embraced by Skeptics and Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, suggests the mind and consciousness are nothing more than the firings of neurons and secretions of neurotransmitters all taking place in the brain; yet neuroscience has no means to explain subjective experience itself. In fact, Skepticism, and the new secular religion of Scientism in general, has been so habituated to only observing and measuring objective reality, that subjective experience, which gives rise to intuition, precognition, discernment, insight into phenomenon to discover meaning, and the capacity of the conscious mind to direct and focus in upon itself in order to affect the body’s biological processes are disregarded as delusions and nonsense.

These are, of course, the same sort of arguments that Chopra uses, specifically, the part about how there “must be more” than the brain responsible for consciousness. It’s basically Cartesian mind-body dualism, the belief that the mind is immaterial and not part of the body. Steve Novella, among others, has discussed many times why science doesn’t support the concept of dualism as an explanation for consciousness. It’s all basically an appeal to ignorance, in which Null essentially argues that, because neuroscience can’t explain everything about consciousness and subjective experience (yet) and we supposedly have thousands of years of experience with “mind-body medicine” and meditation, Chopra’s quantum woo that he uses to explain consciousness shouldn’t be dismissed as pseudoscientific. It is, of course, an intellectually lazy argument based on a logical fallacy.

In his other article, Null even mentions some familiar people (at least people familiar to regular readers of this blog):

One blatant example is Dr David Gorski, a prominent Skeptic, co-founder of the Skeptic supported Science-Based Medicine blog, and a saint among Guerrilla Skeptics. For over a decade, Gorski has shown a personal vendetta against Chopra and consistently writes ferocious essays against his role as a leading international figure in the alternative medical field. Our own investigations through an array of sources provides feasible evidence of Gorski’s early career in blogging venom against non-conventional medicine, including anonymously editing on Wikipedia. Eventually he reached administrator status before departing to focus on other Skeptic propaganda efforts, all which continue to provide fodder for the Guerrilla Skeptics and other biased Wikipedia editors.

Gorski is an adamant proponent of the oncogene paradigm of cancer causation and conventional medical cancer treatments. Notably neither Gorski nor Wikipedia mention that Chopra accepts chemotherapy’s role in the fight against cancer. However, at the same time, Chopra advocates strongly for conventional treatments being integrated with alternative immune-building and stress reduction regimens, including meditation and yoga, switching to a healthy diet, supplements, traditional therapies such as Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, etc. That is the very definition of complementary and integrative medicine now supported by federal health agencies and an increasing number of medical schools that include alternative health courses in their curriculums. Skeptics on the other hand oppose all forms of syncretism between pharmaceutical-based medicine and natural alternative treatments, which they deceptively portray as a threat to public health. Yet the oncogene theory, on its own grounds, no longer provides a realistic explanation for gene mutation; increasingly scientists agree on the role of exogenous environmental factors – such as toxic chemical and radiation exposure, poor diet, chronic stress, etc. — that interfere with cellular metabolism and hence giving rise to weakened conditions whereby mutagenic genes can proliferate. Even Gorski has accepted the recent shift to reconsider a theory first proposed by Dr. Otto Warburg that cancer is fundamentally a metabolic disorder.

For those who might not be familiar with Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia (GSoW), it’s a group founded by Susan Gerbic dedicated to making sure that Wikipedia entries on topics related to skepticism and science are firmly science- and evidence-based. As such, it’s basically a major bogeyman to people like Chopra and Null. As for whether Gorski is a “patron saint” of GSoW, I have no idea. Heck, I’m not even sure that either of us—wink, wink—is all that prominent a skeptic. In any event, obviously we do oppose the “integration” of pseudoscience and quackery into medicine in the form of the specialty of “integrative medicine” or “integrative health.” That is, of course, why we oppose people like Dr. Chopra and Mr. Null, and we don’t care that “federal health agencies and an increasing number of medical schools that include alternative health courses in their curriculums.” Actually, strike that. we do care. We’re very alarmed by the embrace of quackery and pseudoscience by the federal government and so many academic medical centers in the form of “integrative medicine”. In fact, we’ve written about why we consider this infiltration of pseudoscience into medicine to be a threat to medicine more times than we can remember. It’s a recurring theme on this very blog.

Particularly amusing to me is another argument in the same article. Longtime readers of this blog might remember that I discussed Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo bilateral mastectomies because she carried a BRCA1 mutation, which put her at a high risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, in the context of Sayer Ji’s rant about how she shouldn’t have done that and his denial of genetics as a cause of cancer. Basically, I pointed out that Jolie’s decision was rational and defensible based on what we know about BRCA1 mutations and breast cancer risk.

Not to Mr. Null:

The problem is that the evidence is not conclusive; undoubtedly, Gorski missed a lot of research otherwise available to him. A meta-analysis of 66 published papers on the BRCA gene mutations published in PLos One concluded, “in contrast to currently held beliefs of many oncologists and despite 66 published studies, it is not yet possible to draw evidence-based conclusions about the association between BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 mutation carriership and breast cancer prognosis.” A later study published by Lancet Oncology looking at women 40 years and younger carrying either of the BRCA genes found “no clear evidence that either BRCA1 or BRCA2 germline mutations significantly affect overall survival with breast cancer after adjusting for known prognostic factors.” In fact, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that a rarely tested variation of the BRCA gene, K1183R, showed an INVERSE cancer risk.

This is an even more ridiculous argument than Mr. Null’s other arguments. In the original posts, nothing was said regarding the aggressiveness of the breast cancers associated with BRCA1, only that certain BRCA1 mutations are associated with a very high risk of developing breast cancer, which they undeniably are. Mr. Null is burning a straw man so large that I’m sure the fire can be seen by the crew of the International Space Station, while cherry picking a single BRCA1 mutation that might be associated a lower risk of breast cancer. Let’s just put it this way. Mr. Null’s knowledge of cancer and genetics does not impress me. Here’s a hint. There are dozens and dozens of known variants of BRCA1. Most are of unknown significance. Some are well-established as greatly increasing the lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It’s not too far-fetched to think that one or maybe a few of them might decrease the risk of breast cancer, given how important the BRCA1 protein is in pathways leading to cancer. Mr. Null seems to think that we treat all BRCA1 mutations the same. We most definitely do not.

Mr. Null also sets an equally large strawman on fire, to the point where the combined fires from the last straw man and this one could likely be seen from the Moon, ranting about how most new chemotherapy drugs aren’t much of an improvement over existing chemotherapy drugs, if any, as though we’ve ever argued that they are. In fact, I myself have written about the problems with new cancer drugs and FDA accelerated approval, particularly how the FDA is, if anything, a bit too quick to approve drugs with little benefit using this mechanism. You’d never know it from Mr. Null’s portrayal of me as a pharma drone who unquestioningly worships big pharma. Of course, to people like Gary Null, anyone critical of alternative medicine must be a pharma shill.

Gary Null vs. the rest of Wikipedia

Mr. Null doesn’t limit expressions of his unhappiness with Wikipedia to its treatment of Deepak Chopra. He’s also unhappy that Wikipedia doesn’t peddle antivaccine pseudoscience, railing against Wikipedia’s vaccination “bias” and referring to it as a “vaccine propaganda regime“, saying that it “serves as a propaganda arm of pro-vaccination advocacy groups, the federal health agencies and Big Pharma.” Both articles are riddled with antivaccine misinformation, pseudoscience, and conspiracy theories easily identifiable by regular readers of SBM. Elsewhere he complains about Wikipedia’s “culture of institutional bias,” warns about “Wikipedia skeptics,” claims that “Wikipedia skeptics” are out to “suppress the dissemination of high quality health and medical studies“, and refers to Steve Barrett and Wikipedia as “poison mongers“. You get the idea.

Null goes beyond just complaining

Not content just to complain about his perception of bias in Wikipedia, Gary Null has also decided to enlist his lawyer Neal Greenfield to demand removal of his Wikipedia entry, first with a letter dated March 14, 2018 and then with a final demand for removal of “Biography of Gary Null” from Wikipedia, dated May 31, 2019. Given that it’s been a few months since that last letter, I’m guessing Wikimedia Foundation has ignored him, as his Wikipedia entry is still there.

It’s here that I’ll reveal that Null’s apparent obsession with Wikipedia took a rather bizarre turn three months ago. You might recall that in August Steve Novella deconstructed an article by Null attacking science-based medicine, much as I did for a similar attack by Null from last year. Shortly after Steve’s post went live, I received an email from Mr. Greenfield sent to my work email address. (Never mind that I didn’t write the post.) It was a cease-and-desist letter demanding that I remove…some content or other…from my blog. It was a standard issue legal threat of the sort that all too many many skeptical bloggers who write about alternative medicine, vaccines, and the like, receive every so often, complete with little or no description of which articles and/or what exactly it was that Null thought to be defamatory or false. What amused me was how, after a passage lauding Null as a famous consumer advocate and educator, Greenfield went on to write:

You, on the other hand, choosing to ignore or deny these facts, have undertaken a long personal vendetta and in the process have been engaging in acts of defamation by making statements without factual basis or based on unverified hearsay for the purpose of harming Dr. Null’s reputation. Whether in his Wikipedia so-called biography or in your own various writings you have referred to Drs. Null as a quack in every conceivable context and spread vicious lies about him, including that he promotes pseudoscience, was almost killed with his own supplements and that others were hospitalized, that he is an AIDS denialist, that Union Institute and University is a “correspondence college” that was not accredited to grant the degree received, accusing him of not supporting science, alleging his positions are motivated by profiteering, among others. We are still reviewing the full extent of your defamatory acts, both those that you wrote and those that you spread or republished knowing their falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth.

That’s right. Apparently the famous Mr. Null and his hapless lawyer Mr. Greenfield think that I either wrote or contributed to his Wikipedia biography. I laughed out loud when I read that passage. Yes, years ago, I did create a Wikipedia account, but ultimately after looking at what it took to edit Wikipedia decided it wasn’t for me after having done essentially nothing. Certainly, I had nothing to do with Null’s Wikipedia entry, but such is his conspiracy mongering that he thinks I must have written or contributed to it. (I double-checked by logging on to my Wikipedia account for the first time in a very long time. Besides being surprised that my account was still there and my login worked, I verified that my memory was correct. I had made no contributions.) I also perused this blog and my other blog, and it turns out that I haven’t really written about Mr. Null all that many times over the course of my 15 years as a blogger.

So what about Mr. Null’s claim above that he has “evidence” that I used to edit Wikipedia? My guess is that it relates to a very old bit of misinformation about me, specifically that I am in nefarious reality “MastCell,” a pseudonymous Wikipedia contributor (and, apparently skeptic) active in editing Wikipedia entries related to medical science and pseudoscience. (Here are two blog posts laying out the conspiracy theory in excruciating detail. It appears to be based on a joke about whoever MastCell is said when someone speculated that he might be me.) I am not MastCell (what a strange sentence!), but Mr. Null will obviously never believe it. Of course, it’s also possible that he thinks I’m a different pseudonymous editor other than MastCell, but I am neither MastCell nor any other pseudonymous editor of Wikipedia. Again, not that Mr. Null or any of the others attacking Wikipedia will ever believe me.

In any event, I did what I always do when I receive one of these. I had my lawyer respond with a letter politely asking Mr. Greenfield to list the titles, URLs, and dates of each blog post he considered defamatory and then to highlight the specific text he considered defamatory. A month went by, and I received no response. Issue resolved, or so I thought.

Then, about a month ago, I received an email from the Wayne State University attorney’s office. It was a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for emails by me to…well, let me just list what he wants:

  • My communications with Dorit Reiss, Professor at Hastings College of Law, from 2015 to present.
  • My communications with Dr. Steven Novella, Professor at Yale University School of Medicine, from 2015 to present.
  • My communications with Dr. Nina Federoff from 2015 to present.
  • My communications with Stephen Barrett.
  • My communications with Jon Entine, Founder and Executive Director of the Genetic Literacy Project, and Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, from 2015 to present.
  • My communications with Dr. Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, from 2015 to present.
  • Any information relating in whole or in part to The Guerilla Skeptics, and my communications with the co-founders of the group, Susan Gerbic and Tim Farley.
  • Any information relating in whole or in part to the Wikimedia Foundation, and my communications with Jimmy Wales.

I laughed out loud—heartily—when I read the last part. Jimmy Wales? Mr. Null thinks I communicate with or about Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia? He thinks that Wales personally intervenes regarding individual Wikipedia entries? He thinks that I might actually know Jimmy Wales? Would that were the case!

As for the rest, I had no idea who Nina Federoff was and had to Google her, and elsewhere in the letter Mr. Null also asked for communications with Gary Ruskin, whom I despise. In any event, I haven’t seen the emails collected to satisfy this FOIA request yet, but a quick search of my own Wayne State email account suggests that, unless I missed something, all that Mr. Null and Mr. Greenfield will learn is that I did in that time frame use my minor pull with Dr. Offit to persuade him to accept an invitation from a medical student group for which I’m faculty advisor to give a talk, that at the post-talk late lunch at a local restaurant I accidentally dropped and broke a mug given to him by the student group as one of his gifts for appearing, and that I was extremely embarrassed and apologetic about my fumble. That’s probably the most embarrassing thing this not-so-dynamic duo will find. Certainly, they will find no evidence that I ever communicated with Jimmy Wales, that I contributed to Mr. Null’s Wikipedia entry, or that I conspired with any of the people listed above to do whatever nefarious deeds they think I’ve been doing. I’m guessing that, once he gets those emails, Mr. Null will probably find a way to spin them on his show to make me look bad, but he’s going to have some pretty thin gruel to work with.

Woo versus Wikipedia

A pretty good measure of how well a source is doing when it comes to covering alternative medicine, vaccines, and pseudoscience is how proponents of alternative medicine react to it. Such proponents, like Dr. Chopra and Mr. Null, hate their Wikipedia entries and entries about their preferred alternative medicine and views on vaccines, and I haven’t even gotten into Mike Adams, whose epic conspiracy-laden unhinged rants about Wikipedia have to be read to be believed. For example, Adams has republished several of Mr. Null’s anti-Wikipedia articles, including articles by Helen Buyniski, who works at PRN.FM, Mr. Null’s radio station, to augment his rants against Google and Facebook, while Dr. Joe Mercola has posted articles attacking Wikipedia as biased as well.

I was a skeptic of Wikipedia at first (albeit, I point out to Mr. Null, never a “Wikipedia skeptic”), but now I grudgingly conclude that if people like Deepak Chopra, Mike Adams, Gary Null, and Joe Mercola hate Wikipedia’s coverage of them, alternative medicine, medicine, and vaccines so much, maybe Wikipedia’s doing a pretty good job after all, at least with respect to these topics.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

51 replies on “An attempt to “Null”-ify Wikipedia on science”

Hello Saint Orac! Bless us, Dude.

Mr Null’s Wikipedia fixation would be entirely hilarious IF he didn’t legally harass SBM supporters and waste taxpayers’ money on FOIA requests.
A while ago, he sued Wikipedia for 100 million USD (and lost) and a blogger, physicist Lee Phillips for 10 million USD + 3 million ( and lost) Quackwatch.

I think that his lawsuits, exposes and letters are merely stunts to appeal to his followers who might read his Wikipedia bio. Honestly, it’s devastating: it mentions his peculiar brand of pseudoscience in detail and his suspicious education. While he attributes his to prejudice by editors, IN REALITY, they’re just reporting what they found via sources other than his own adverts.** If Wikipedia were to profile someone like someone like Orac,, or even me, they would include which universities we attended and what degrees we acquired- anyone would be able to learn about these institutions through other sources. In Mr Null’s case – well, the schools are neither standard nor beyond reproach. Bios might include places where the subject worked that are verifiable- in his case, he has had his own businesses complete with self-appointed titles. Basically, if you look beyond his own descriptions, it is rather piss poor.

** his presents video bios at his websites that laud his accomplishments and uses his show to brag about his amazing science ( research, cures, professorships, directorships) which are NOT found elsewhere.

Let me include an instance of his autobiographical ‘veracity’ which I recently found:
in his video ( easy to find) How To Live Forever in the first 3 minutes, he lists his “PhD” in “Nutrition and Public Health Science” AND his second doctorate in Psychology which is listed NOWHERE else- although the Quackwatch article about him includes a free floating “MS” ( not shown anywhere else) which Dr Barrett brings up to his lawyer.

Every aspiring martyr loves a cause. I suspect that attracts more than a few to become AV activists. If not that they’d find another cause that attracts them, or more than just one.

Null has ill-gotten $$ and can afford frivolous lawsuits, and he’ll continue until it costs him more than he values his enjoyment of spite and whatever income he gains from the publicity. Has anyone filed and collected a SLAPP-BACK from him?

A guy called Rome Viharo (Wikipedia username Tumbleman and multiple sockpuppets, see tried for ages to whitewash the Chopr article, assisted by “Askahrc” (, who I am confident self-outed as Ryan Castle. The former is banned entirely, the latter topic-banned. That has, needless to say, had no effect whatsoever on their desire to Right Great Wrongs, using Wikipedia to fix the fact that the relevant scientific community considers Chopralalia to be a particularly incoherent form of quantum flapdoodle.

Guy Chapman,

Rome Viharo has returned to Wikipedia. He is using a Russian username to evade detection. “Зенитная Самоходная Установка”. Viharo was interviewed by Gary Null in 2018, he now works for Gary Null.

Here is Rome Viharo’s latest sock-puppet. Attempting to remove criticisms of Null from his Wikipedia article.

Blocked 18 Nov as a sockpuppet. But quack-friendly admin Bilby has led the charge to exclude QuackWatch as a source of analysis of Null’s credentials, a big win for the rancid charlatan.

@ Guy Chapman:

Here’s something ELSE sceptics should look into in that bio:

that the idiot is “faculty at FDU”
I know that there is an official looking seal stating this
BUT hearing him for years, I doubt it because
— he brags about spending winters in Florida, first South Beach then Naples for more than two decades.
— I can’t prove it but, years ago his woo-fraught nurse ( Luanne Pennisi) taught a class there ( also google her name and FDU) and he was to guest lecture for her with other “doctors”. Much ado about that over the airwaves and then, nothing more said. Not sure what year this was.
This isn’t the worst school in the world and I doubt he ever worked there for any real period of time. There must be a way to investigate this. What would the U say? Is he faculty?
If you know any Wiki editors. float this around.

I have always been irritated that every botanical entry on Wikipedia without fall has a section credulously documenting every quack medicine use of the plant. E.g. “Hydrangea root and rhizome are indicated for treatment of conditions of the urinary tract in the PDR for Herbal Medicine and may have diuretic properties.” Every time I see that my belief is reinforced that Wikipedia will not long be a generally reliable reference.

Back in the early days of Wikipedia (2004-2005 ish) my ecology seminar professor decided that our final project would be to write a wikipedia article on whatever topic we’d picked for the seminar. I wrote a lovely (IMO) article, with many scientific citations, on the ecological impact of GMO crops.

It managed to stay up about 6 months before it was replaced with a completely different article with about half as many citations. (Neither article was particularly pro- or anti- GMO.)
I was irked.

Some of that is because Wikipedia is more of a general encyclopedia than a medical encyclopedia. That some people believe a plant is useful for something is technically information about the plant, even if it’s not effective for that use. An article saying that people drink tea made from a plant’s roots to cure headaches is technically true – the people do drink tea and they do think that tea will cure them, even if it doesn’t work.

The really interesting thing is, because I’m neither a doctor or a scientist and in fact dabble in writing fantasy stories, I actually find that kind of information useful for my writings. Sometimes it’s really nice to be able to check what people think certain plants are good for and why, not to mention I find that sort of thing fun to learn about because it’s part of the history (even if it’s just folk history) of our knowledge of something in a lot of cases.

Not after I find them they aren’t. Most of these are cited to predatory journals.

Thanks for a very amusing Monday morning! I have to go now; time to join my fellow Skeptics for worship at the Great Skeptics Temple–It’s St Wikipedia Day after all and we have work to do. Null (and his evil twin Void) are always good for a laugh, if nothing else.

Reform of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is long overdue.

”FOIA harassment is not just an attack on academic freedom—it’s also an attack on speech. It’s just another tool to intimidate and ultimately silence someone with whom the aggressor disagrees.

I’ll even take the argument a step farther: What FOIA harassment is really all about is punishing unorthodox thought. It’s one thing for institutions to discipline professors for what they say in public. That’s reprehensible enough, as I’ve argued more than once on this blog. But it’s even worse when people attempt to destroy an “enemy” using what that person wrote in private e-mails to friends and colleagues. (Yes, I know e-mails from state-owned accounts aren’t exactly private, but they weren’t intended to be public either.)

Of course, attacks on speech are always really attacks on thought, as the Framers understood very well. If you’re free to believe what you want, but you’re not free to say what you believe, then you’re not really free to believe what you want.

I’m not sure how we can counter these latest high-tech assaults on our academic and intellectual freedom. A good start would be for higher education leaders, beginning with the premise that professors are not public officials, to argue for broader exceptions to FOIA laws in the case of faculty members. At the very least, individuals or organizations seeking access to professors’ e-mails and other records should have to show just cause or at least demonstrate a compelling public interest.”

Somehow I can’t see Null’s hurt feelings (or belief that his income has been harmed by criticism) as a compelling public interest justifying FOIA harassment.

One of the things I’ve learned over many years is the saying: “trust but verify.” Not just with medicine but any topic if I read something, for instance, in our local newspaper regarding a speech given by a politician and deem it important I will try to find the actual speech on the internet and usually do. I’ve written a number of articles refuting claims by antivaccinationists, often finding how they take one sentence out of context from a journal article or even claim the opposite of what the article does, many of these articles can be found on the internet. So, as you show by going to the actual Wikipedia article, anyone reading what others wrote about it should check for themselves. Unfortunately, the vast majority won’t. Being informed, making rational decisions, takes time and effort.

At PRN: the top of the home page is a black bordered title- “Wicked Wikipedia” ( Oh, such skill with the English language!)

I venture that Mr Null & Co know that their efforts will probably go nowhere in the courts BUT they have to address that bio to followers/ potential customers. Recently, Null has had a long time venue, WBAI, suspended and was not allowed to speak at RFK jr’s Harlem soiree ( he was there he claims- must have flown in from his retreat in Texas) and now, sceptics attack him.
He must be steaming mad because most of his recent shows include long recitatives of his many accomplishments in research, teaching, counselling, debating, radio work, athletic competition and general know-it-all-ism. He plays long clips of his speeches and posts videos ( in which you can see his methods which I’ve described elsewhere).

Wikipedia is unacceptable to self-promoters because they CANNOT use it as PR.

He does seem very distressed with the idea that you support treating cancer patients according to scientific evidence.

I wonder if the difference in views also has to do with the fact that you actually have to see the results of non-science-based advice, and he doesn’t.

The War on Wiki continues…

Hilariously, on today’s show ( towards the end) the Null-macher reports that Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation have blocked e-mails ( letters, articles) from his lawyer pal/ minion, Neal. He demands a congressional investigation and for the California Attorney General to look into W taking away it’s non-profit status etc etc. There will be legal action to Wales and all board embers as well as editors/ administrators.
That’ll show them.

@ Orac:

If you tune into the last few minutes of today’s broadcast, you can actually hear Neal speak! In my expert opinion, he sounds like a wanker. a whiny little one too.

It doesn’t take Deepak Chopra to dismiss Wikipedia as a source of accurate information, scientific or otherwise. But scientific in particular.

Scientific statements given to a reader without background and context are a doctrine, no different than the revealed doctrine of a religion. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts, advanced topics cannot be understood by the layman -as science- without the requisite formal background. This includes quantum anything which is why social media is filled with junk science articles and Wikipedia can be counted as among it. Fine for entertainment and clicks, no substitute for a professionally edited journal. The degreed professionals including Chopra have earned the privilege of being heterodox as their peers have the privilege of challenging them, but that cannot happen in the layman’s media where we don’t know whether the person dismissing Chopra as a fraud is a physician, physicist, or angry juvenile upset that the ayurvedic-quantum method did not cure his acne. Scientific rigor and equal access are mutually exclusive.

I disagree. There are many levels of understanding any subject, and while a deep expertise does require years of study, it doesn’t have to require an advanced degree. The most knowledgeable person about the rattlesnakes of the American Southwest was a postal worker. A postal worker who dedicated 50 years of his life to studying snakes. He literally wrote the book.

And not everyone needs to understand a subject super deeply. A person can understand and make thoughtful decisions about vaccination without having to understand the difference between the MHC I and MCH II pathways (for example). Does the vaccine designer need to know that? Yes. Does the vaccine recipient? Not really.

In 6th grade my school had a class on “study skills” that included “how to do research”. This involved several visits to the library where we learned the difference between primary and secondary sources. All encyclopedias are inherently secondary sources. That doesn’t mean they’re worthless. It means that they are a starting point.

I am a scientist. I am highly educated and trained in my field. I still use Wikipedia on occasion. Today, for example, I used it to look up depyrogenation, because I wasn’t familiar with the term. Now I know that it means “to remove materials that may cause a fever”, and from that I know enough to go look up more specific papers and regulations.

And here’s the thing: no one starts as an expert in any field. We all have to grow in our knowledge and understanding. You don’t do that by throwing Maxwell’s equations at a fourth grader who wants to learn about circuits. You start with the distilled basics and work out from there to the fine details.

You’re so correct:
Wikipedia should be a starting point that informs people enough to be able to discard useless ideas/ personae and seek out more valuable in-depth material on a subject. Sceptics want to provide science based material that can serve as an entry point for interested readers. Just like RI.

In the above example, Null insists on changes to his bio that obfuscate his actual credentials and point of view: he claims he has a doctorate and he’s not an hiv./ aids denialist despite having written books and made films that say the converse. Wikipedia editors rightly make note of these views, citing outside sources ( e.g. Kalichman). as well mentioning as his anti-vax activities (speeches, films etc) and odd degrees.( see also “Does Gary Null Have a Real PhD?” Lee Phillips)

Deepak Chopra can insist that he IS an actual doctor who was trained and licensed and perhaps that may influence his audience that he is an expert THEREFORE his spiritual ideas are backed by SBM BUT Wikipedia shows his history and his later forays into New Agey poppycock. People don’t pay for his seminars/books to learn SBM.

Actually, Deepak Chopra IS an actual honest-to-goodness MD physician. completed a US residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in endocrinology. That’s part of what irritates me about him so much. He should know better.

Interestingly, Dr Chopra can almost have it both ways:
— he can speak as a physician and
–as someone who went beyond the narrow confines of SBM when he “got woke” to Ayurveda
So if he’s criticised by sceptics he can refer to his background in medicine AND also appeal to New Agers because he ( in a manner) rejected reductionalistic, materialism ( or whatever they’re calling it these days).
almost as if his secondary career as New Age Guru/ writer is a natural progression from SBM.

or whatever they’re calling it these days

If only the Rectification of Names had taken hold, this would simply be “Bad Fazzm.”

I am also a scientist, and while I do agree that you do not have to be an expert to know the benefits of vaccinations, you at least have to know who the experts are. Your family doctor will do and they will all tell you the same thing. Wikipedia does not distinguish between the person who says you should be vaccinated and the person who says you should wear a crystal to ward off disease; instead it relies on the same “social proof” that pseudoscience relies on. There’s no comparison to a Britannica article which may be a secondary source but it was compiled by legitimate educators who stake their renown on accuracy before setting it to print.

Note that other than certain devout and insulated religious communities organized antivaxxers did not exist before the internet and the phenomenon of fake journals and anyone being able to represent themselves as an expert. (Disclosure: I am a vax-libertarian who does not believe the benefits of mandatory vaccination overcome the harmfulness of a government being able to forcibly compel its citizens to accept any medical procedure.) Now, vaccine compliance is quite high in the communities with little education or reliance on internet resources, and lower in the communities “where all the children are above average” and everyone has a gluten-free blog.

“organized antivaxxers did not exist before the internet”

Citation needed. Because they did. There have been people against vaccination as long as there have been vaccinations.
But you don’t have to take my word for it! (In the words of one of the great promoters of literacy in the past 30 years.)

This episode of “This Podcast Will Kill You” does an excellent job of explaining the history and current situation of anti-vaccine movements in the English-speaking world. Oh, and look at that, they (the two PhDs who host the show) have tons of citations!

Anyone can learn how to learn. Anyone can learn how to differentiate good sources from questionable ones. All it takes is curiosity and desire.

Many of Wikipedia articles on science include extensive reference lists. Nothing wrong with summarizing what is known when backed with valid references.

I’ve read numerous competent Wikipedia articles.

People who dismiss Wikipedia (including many alties and antivaxers) haven’t noticed or don’t care about articles that are abundantly referenced with quality sources. It’s akin to sneering at “blogs” while not paying attention to the quality of the writing and referenced research.

I had an extended on-line set-to recently with an antivaxer whose M.O. consistently almost entirely of attacking sources without dealing with the studies and other facts they presented. All sources were scornfully tossed aside for being a “blog”, “pharma funded” (never mind the lack of evidence for such a claim) or for being mean and uncivil* towards antivaxers.*

*the remaining M.O. of this person involved a liberal use of ad hominems. Such folk have a poor sense of irony.

That Wikipedia has footnotes in sources doesn’t help you much if you do not have the background to understand the sources and have to take the word of the Wikipedia editor that they are indeed quality sources and that they mean what he says they mean. It comes down to the person with the most motivation and most time on their hands to make the last edit being the authority. No shortcuts!

In the area of medicine it is particularly unworthy being medicine is not a science, it is a healing art and some version of “Dr. Google” is no substitute for a trained and experienced physician. A lot of harm has been done by laymen researching their symptoms on the internet, they all come back as “cancer” and almost never are.

@ Anonymous

You write: “That Wikipedia has footnotes in sources doesn’t help you much if you do not have the background to understand the sources and have to take the word of the Wikipedia editor that they are indeed quality sources AND medicine is not a science, it is a healing art and some version of “Dr. Google” is no substitute for a trained and experienced physician.”

First, what do you think is taught in medical school? They have texts and articles based on science, including extensive reference lists. Medicine is NOT a “healing art”, though, because the human body is quite complex and no physician can possibly know even ALL we know currently and various signs and symptoms can indicate more than one cause, I almost always get a second opinion. It might interest you to know that where autopsies were performed, the diagnosis given the patient was wrong 25% of time. While this didn’t always cause the patient’s death, it certainly didn’t help. And almost ALL doctors I know subscribe to several medical journals, which, of course, report the latest scientific findings.

Second, if you are incapable of understanding the sources, then not only Wikipedia; but Encyclopedia Brittanica, even Scientific American would be a waste of your time. So, what do you base your decisions on regarding everything from vaccines to climate? Newspaper articles, TV, blogs??? If a Wikipedia articles gives references to peer-reviewed science journals, papers and books by respected scientists (you can Google the authors’ names to see who they are), then, while not perfect, it is a better resource than blogs, newspapers, TV, Do you ever get a second opinion from another doctor?

You write: “A lot of harm has been done by laymen researching their symptoms on the internet, they all come back as “cancer” and almost never are.”

Absolutely correct, Google university is NOT a wise resource for people who don’t understand the basics of science and logic. However, there are valid websites and peer-reviewed scientific journals available. But one has to understand NOT to rely on one or two studies. However, again, where do you get your information? What do you base your decisions on?

By the way, there are a number of good websites that teach the basics of science. I won’t bother listing any as I doubt you are interested.

”It might interest you to know that where autopsies were performed, the diagnosis given the patient was wrong 25% of time. While this didn’t always cause the patient’s death, it certainly didn’t help.”

No doubt there are studies with similar findings (a 2012 paper from Norway found that there was a major change in assigned cause of death in 32% of cases). In my own experience, important antemortem clinical diagnoses are essentially correct in the overwhelming majority of cases, while unexpected autopsy findings tend to be incidental (i.e. tumors that did not kill the patient). Discrepancies between clinical diagnoses and those rendered in the autopsy report have narrowed markedly since the advent of advanced imaging techniques and other testing.

Published articles bemoaning the decline in autopsy rates are hardly ever authored by practicing community pathologists. Those who urge more frequent autopsies are typically clinicians such as internists, or academic pathologists who rely on residents to do the dirty work, coming around when the autopsy is finished to poke at already dissected organs and make wise pronouncements.

The cynical community pathologist has spoken. 🙂

Wow! In your own experience??? First, how many of your patients had an autopsy, percentage? Second, this blog deals with science-based medicine. Perhaps you don’t understand that science is NOT based on individual observations. Do you keep a running tally of all your patients who died, how many had an autopsy, how many flawed diagnoses? Third, of course published articles aren’t authored by “practicing community pathologists,” How many of them do scientific studies, have the time or resources? And the evidence is overwhelming that the U.S. conducts far fewer autopsies than European nations because of our for-profit health care system where paying for autopsies reduces profits.

No need to get all huffy, Joel.

I did note a study from Norway that corroborated your observation, so at least in some populations there’s backing for the idea that a significant percentage of antemortem clinical diagnoses of cause of death are “wrong” based on the final autopsy report.

However I have not observed such radical alterations in my career as a pathologist or based on what I’ve seen from autopsies conducted by other members of my pathology group. So I’m somewhat skeptical regarding generalizations about “error” rates.

“Do you keep a running tally of all your patients who died”

I’m not sure what this means. All of my autopsy patients were dead (at least, none had pupils reactive to light or accomodation). 🙂

“of course published articles aren’t authored by “practicing community pathologists,””

While most are authored by academic pathologists, there are quite a few studies done by private practice pathologists, especially those in larger groups. Anyway, I think you missed my point. Those physicians who wail about declining autopsy rates seldom must perform autopsies themselves. The pathologists who do, wind up spending several hours setting up the procedure, doing an external exam, performing evisceration (sorry kiddies), sectioning and dissecting organs and taking tissue for microscopic examination (typically these jobs get tacked on to one’s already busy day). Then there’s time spent later examining slides, reviewing the medical record, researching and formulating an autopsy report. No matter where you practice, financial compensation for autopsies is pretty minimal.
In a significant percentage of cases, autopsies are requested not because there are serious questions about cause of death, but because families just can’t understand how Grandma could’ve died at the young age of 82 (despite her being morbidly obese, having diabetes, a history of heart failure, stroke and renal insufficiency, among other significant medical problems) or see the potential for a medical malpractice suit.

Add in the declining number of situations where there’s a major surprise at autopsy regarding cause of death, and it’s no wonder that community pathologists generally are not enthusiastic about boosting autopsy rates.

Hope that’s made things a bit clearer for you.

@ Dangerous Bacon

Yep, goof on my part. Of course, all your patients are dead; but do you know what percentage of autopsies were carried out on each of the doctors whose patients you did autopsies on?

Yep, autopsies cost money and have been decreasing over the years. One German review of a large number of studies found: “With discrepancy rates between premortem and postmortem diagnoses remaining steady over the years at around 10%, most clinicians and pathologists continue to regard autopsies as necessary. The autopsy rate can be increased by maintaining standards in carrying out and reporting on autopsies. On the legislative side, changes are being introduced by which autopsy is recognized as a quality assurance tool and conditions set out for improved financial compensation. At the present date, various techniques of post-mortem examination can supplement but not replace conventional autopsy.” [Christian Wittekind, Tanja Gradistanac (2018). Post-Mortem Examination as a Quality Improvement Instrument. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International; 115: 653-8]

So, lower than 25%; but, still, 1 in 10 is not something one should settle for. And Germany probably does more autopsies than U.S.

A comprehensive review, which found a range of errors, can be found:

Gordon D. Schiff et al (2005 Feb). Diagnosing Diagnosis Errors: Lessons from
a Multi-institutional Collaborative Project. In Henrikson et. Advances in Patient Safety: From Research to Implementation (Volume 2: Concepts and Methodology). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Available at:

See also: Johns Hopkins Medicine (2013 Apr 23). Diagnostic Errors More Common, Costly And Harmful Than Treatment Mistakes. Available at:

In reviewing malpractice claims, “They found that of the 350,706 paid claims, diagnostic errors were the leading type (28.6 percent) and accounted for the highest proportion of total payments (35.2 percent). Diagnostic errors resulted in death or disability almost twice as often as other error categories. . . They also found that more diagnostic error claims were rooted in outpatient care than inpatient care, (68.8 percent vs. 31.2 percent) but inpatient diagnostic errors were more likely to be lethal (48.4 percent vs. 36.9 percent).”

I have lots more. Again, whether 25% or 10%, even 10% is unacceptible and several studies did find 25% or more.

In the continuing war on Wikipedia…

Today, ( PRN) presents an article The Promotion of Scientific Bias on Wikipedia ** which reveals insider information – messages between editors/ administrators about woo and its advocates. There is actually a statement saying that “we don’t want no altie crap over here” ( paraphrase) and actual insults and derision about Dr Chopra and Mr Null. Sceptical sources are cited such as Dr Barrett, RI and Dr DG!*** Those editors DARE to include blogs! Those Monsters! etc etc etc ****

During the end of the nearly endless recitative recording, Null asserts that the lawsuits are a-coming. Neal is so busy!

** so it’s biased towards science ?
*** probably the ringleader
**** this is the dirt he has? SRSLY.

The Progressive Radio Network was founded by, guess who, Gary Null.

@ Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH:

Because he used a terrestrial station with a STRONG signal ( NYC’s WBAI, a non-profit Pacifica outlet) that let him broadcast his infomercials for free until he was tossed out ( possibly because of his hiv/aids denialism or other pseudoscience) so he created his own computer radio network. He was later allowed back on because he raised money well. Now, WBAI may broadcast only national Pacifica programming not local content.

He really hates Wikipedia because it doesn’t allow his own PR in his bio but relies upon information such as that compiled by Dr Barrett and others like Orac. He especially doesn’t like being called an hiv/aids denialist or having his education critiqued AS IT RIGHTLY SHOULD BE.

I’m sure that if you revealed where you got your degrees ( which isn’t necessary) it would be from universities that were standard , accredited placed, perhaps even well-known; same goes for Orac or even me,
But Null’s degrees are.. er… special cases ( see Quackwatch, Wikipedia articles and Lee Phillips’ ” Does Gary Null have a Real PhD”). So he’ll sue everyone for saying so.

@ Denice

My degrees:

1968 B.A. University of Hawaii. Major: Political Science, minor Social Psychology
1970 M.A. Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada: Social Psychology
1975 M.Sc University of Gothenburg, Sweden: Applied Psychology, actually higher than Masters, professional degree for Clinical & Counseling Psychology. In Sweden PhDs are research degrees, so law degrees not as in U.S. Jurist Doctor, etc; but course content and other requirements same as PhD in clinical psychology in U.S. except dissertation, though a research paper, review, etc. required.
1983 PhD University of Gothenburg, Sweden: Educational & Social Psychology
1987 MPH University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston: Community Health
1989 M.S. University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston: Biostatistics & Epidemiology
Plus three year Post-Doctoral Fellowship from National Institutes of Health, applying social psychology to preventing cardiovascular disease.

All of my degrees included numerous courses on research methodology, philosophy of science (how we know we know, how causal arguments are made), and statistics and, of course, social psychology included how attitudes are formed and changed. Except for the MSc in Applied Psychology, all other degrees were research training degrees. I did the Applied degree in Psychology and one year internship to develop better interviewing skills and rapport & understanding how people make judgments, etc, never intended a career in clinical psychology, though I did obtain Swedish license.

My main problem is that I prefer learning and traveling to doing (Peter Pan Syndrome, little boy who never grew up), thus, PhD & four Masters degrees. I still devote several hours per day reading on various subjects; however, mainly infectious diseases, history, current status, antibiotic resistance, etc and health policy, including international studies; but variety of other subjects, from history and biography to climate change. Among other things, after having lived in Japan, taught conversational English, read up on Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Shintoism, now currently reading several books on Islam and Middle East.

I live alone with a great dog I got from a rescue group, Australian Shepherd, so have lots of time to do what I want. Unfortunately, having never smoked, never drank, never used recreational drugs (don’t even like taking aspirin, ibuprofen), vegetarian most of my life, last 10 years 99% vegan, and always exercised (lousy athlete; but excellent condition for my age, including swimming, biking, jogging, moderate weigh-lifting), have outlived almost all my long-time friends, some going back to when I was nine. So current schedule, walk dog one mile briskly twice daily, play in backyard with frisby, read at least two hours, go to YMCA six days a week, weight-lift, swim, stationary bikes, a bit of socializing, sometimes go to lunch with someone, one day per week shopping, etc. Having some minor health problems, so not writing; but, hopefully, they will be overcome and will resume writing, mainly articles debunking anti-vaccinationists, spiritual cousins of the flat-earth society.

I’ve lived and worked, studied in five other nations, including almost 10 years in Sweden, 2 in Canada, 8 months in Japan, 6 months in Philippines, and 6 months in Israel. I am currently also trying to find an introductory course in Arabic, would love to learn alphabet, pronunciation, and, perhaps, 1,000 words, basic grammar. The YMCA I go to daily has a number of super nice people from Middle Eastern nations. I’ve thought of enrolling in Community College course; but driving time & distance and course content would be too much at my age. If not, I’ll get a DVD course. I’m fluent at Swedish, can read French and German, and used to be able to carry on simple conversations in Japanese and Hebrew, but long lost ability.

But, when I write an article, I document with extensive references, so even if I only had a high school education, it is the content of what I write together with references that determine its validity, not my degrees. One of my all time favorite authors is Eric Hoffer, who wrote: The True Believer, a longshoreman with, at most, a high school degree.

Among other things, after having lived in Japan, taught conversational English, read up on Buddhism, Zen Buddhism….

Just because I’m inclined toward the Korean Seon school (well documented by Robert Buswell), I will note that Japan has several variants of Chán; this is a rather intricate subject.

@ Joel:

Well, I figured as much.

Yet amongst scoffers, what you say is automatically dismissed AS IS material from the CDC, universities around the world, Orac or even me.
BECAUSE they don’t know better.

I often wonder as a student of psychology, what we should make of adults, some of whom are technically “well-educated” and appear to be able to live independently with careers, marriages, children but cling to highly unrealistic ideas like the vaccine/ autism connection:
is this a variety of isolated delusion? I would separate it from relatively common unrealistic beliefs that many people hold ( ghosts, Nessie, UFOs, Sasquatch, other political/ social conspiracies) BECAUSE it does affect their everyday lives: they don’t vaccinate children, they subscribe to odd diets, etc.
Or is it a symptom of another condition?

@ Denice

One explanation is that “well-educated” people doesn’t mean educated in scientific methodology and reasoning. Second, I consider myself reasonably intelligent, of course, not a “genius” like Trump; but if someone were to give me several plans for building a bridge, I’ve NEVER studied structural engineering, so I don’t have the basics to decide which is better. Even someone with advanced degrees in engineering, chemistry, etc. don’t have the basics of infectious diseases, history, current status in world, immunology, microbiology, epidemiology, etc. And they don’t understand, accept, that science isn’t based on one or two studies. Even the best of studies can be influenced by uncontrolled variables, which is why one looks at as many studies as possible in a particular area before forming an opinion, which should NEVER be ABSOLUTE; but based on probability, benefit/cost, etc. In addition, in the complex world we live in, psychologically, many people need to have things in black and white. Antivaccinationists aren’t against vaccines, just want them to be 100% effective and 100% safe. Then they get reinforced by echo chamber websites. And, out of sight, out of mind. I grew up knowing people with steel braces, in wheel chairs, even someone in an iron lung, from polio, the success of vaccines dulls the awareness of how many diseases are but a plane flight away. I could come up with more reasons; but the above should suffice. And why is it so hard to change their minds. Read Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s “Mistakes were made (but not by me)” which discusses why once people form an opinion (regardless of how it was formed), even if harmful to them, just how difficult it is to change. Both are well-recognized professors of social psychology. The book is both informative and a great read.

And the absolute best book that I know of is Merwyn Susser’s “Causal thinking in the health sciences”. Used copies available on Not an easy book; but shows just how difficult it is to arrive at causal arguments and they are NEVER absolute.

If your background is psychology, another excellent book is: Abraham Kaplan’s “The Conduct of Inquiry.”

Both were texts I had, classics; but still refer to.

Your Friday Dose of Wikipedia?

Unfortunately, the Nullification of Wikipedia continues…
on today’s show ( 25 minutes in- end) , the Grand Poobah of Woo ** discusses the Wahabism of sceptics/ SBM writers in his latest in-depth expose of those guys, Drs SN and DG, involving much derision of their “shoddy’ methods, “nonsense” and low level of ability*** YET these dudes get quoted in Wiki bios; they to universities to convert students!. They dismiss CAM and replace it with the Spanish Inquisition, the Gulag Archipelago or various forms of radical Islam ( like the Wahabi, Al Quada or the Ayatollah). Dr N even said that a sceptic doesn’t have to be a medical expert or physician , these AMATEURS serve as editors at Wikipedia criticising experts in medicine like him, How can non-experts fathom the intricacies of Medicine- Null asks? How can they understand and debate science? ****
At any rate, this goes on and will be continued ( endlessly) ; the written form is not up on PRN yet.

** I must restrain myself from automatically translating my comment entirely into LOL Speak
**** self- awareness is not his strong suit

We were at dinner discussing a topic when our 12-year-old son said something (I forget what it was) and I responded with, “You edit Wikipedia pages?” He confirmed it, stating that it was easy to sign up for an account and start changing things! He is now 26 and I called him just now asking if my memory was correct and he once again confirmed it. He said he mostly corrected punctuation. 12 years old. Wikipedia. I’ve been a wiki skeptic ever since.

@ EG Gordon

I am a SKEPTIC in capital letters which is why if a topic is important to me I check out the references. However, Wikipedia has implemented a policy where certain topics/articles are NOT allowed to be modified without additional safeguards and editors and others monitor changes. You are basing your opinion on what occurred 14 years ago. Again, if a Wikipedia articles is well-documented, then, when posting something online I refer to it because not everyone has access to some of the papers referenced. I often drive to local university and either scan in or photocopy papers. In addition, if you use Wikipedia often you should have noticed at the top of some articles that they state not well-referenced or appears biased, requesting additional input.

Recently my local newspaper printed an opinion piece on Medicare for All, giving, among other things the total cost over 10 years based on one study that has been shredded due to its poor methodology. However, even if one accepts the high amount from that study, what is not included in the opinion piece is the projected cost of health care with our current system which is much much higher. This is something I’ve noticed over many years, not only opinion pieces but even books, magazine articles, etc. often give evidence without a “compared to what.” For instance, with vaccines, a strain of mumps, Urabe, was found to cause a few cases of aseptic meningitis, something played up by antivaccinationists. What they don’t mention is that aseptic meningitis is a benign condition, a few cases needing a day or two hospitalization with no long term damage AND the natural mumps virus causes a much higher number of cases. It was found that another mumps strain, Jeryl-Lynn, did NOT cause aseptic meningitis, so it is the one used nowadays in U.S., Canada, UK, etc. The point is that if the Jeryl-Lynn strain had not been developed, the Urabe strain, compared to the natural mumps virus, was far superior, Benefit/Cost ratio.

So, it isn’t just Wikipedia, it is everything that needs to be skeptically read. Sometimes I use a Wikipedia article just for its reference lists to add to references I already have.

Have you ever used Brittanica? How do you know the article you read wasn’t biased?

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