RationalWiki had a wide reputation as a joke wiki, where skeptics and atheists — and adolescents — fully engaged in unrestrained snark. There are many reviews, but start with the Wikipedia article. It will be fun to compare that article to the favorite targets of the RatWikians and their allies, the Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia. Any socks there? Some much to research, so little time…. That one is for later. I immediately see POV-pushing in the editing….

This was reasonable, on the face, this was not, it involves synthesis, unless there is reliable source for the claim that criticism is because “beliefs” are challenged. That kind of claim is difficult even when reliable source can be found for it, it should be attributed … unless there was a formal study!

Lets start with a list of reviews. First, from Wikipedia:

At first glance, this source is misrepresented in the article. (note 13). What the article has is synthesis from the source. The source does not actually say that.

  •  Smith, Jonathan C. Critical Thinking: Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. John Wiley & Sons, 2017, pp 77. 9781119029489
  • Shvets, Alexander (October 2, 2014). Filev, D.; Jabłkowski, J.; Kacprzyk, J.; et al., eds. Intelligent Systems’2014: Proceedings of the 7th IEEE International Conference Intelligent Systems IS’2014, September 24–26, 2014, Warsaw, Poland, Volume 2: Tools, Architectures, Systems, Applications. Series: Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, Vol. 323Springer Publishing. A Method of Automatic Detection of Pseudoscientific Publications, page 533 et seq. ISBN 978-3-319-11310-4.

This is a conference paper, such are often not carefully reviewed. This is the sourced text:

In Intelligent Systems’2014, Alexander Shvets stated that RationalWiki is one of the few online resources that “provide some information about pseudoscientific theories” and notes that it attempts to “organize and categorize knowledge about pseudoscientific theories, personalities, and organizations”.

What RationalWiki does is to organize, not knowledge (Wikipedia does that), but snark, loosely based on very irregularly collected sources, often terminally weak.

This is a conference paper as well. The mention of RationalWiki is shallow, the authors do not appear to have done more than look at the stated purposes, and a hosted essay by Carl Sagan. The impression one would get from reading the article is not the impression I would see from the source.

  • Einspruch, Franklin (September 6, 2016). “Cultural Marxists Are Actually Pomofascists”The Federalist. Retrieved August 14, 2017

These are sources that mention a specific RationalWiki article to expose it or argue against it. No source so far is actually a review of the site, anything more than a passing mention. I’ll keep looking.

Dissertations are not generally considered reliable source, they would be primary sources. This dissertation simply mentions an idea taken from RationalWiki, and it describes the purpose of the site, with no analysis of whether or not the site actually accomplishes that purpose.

This went on with links showing that someone referenced RationalWiki in some way. Actual reviews? None (neither positive nor negative.)

Okay, I know to look at history. Did anyone attempt to add actual reviews? Wikipedia does not make it easy to search history. While that could easily be done from the database, no priority has been given it. Someone might take advantage of that and create a site with full-database search access. It would make certain kinds of wiki studies far easier!

I found a brief review that had been added and immediately removed, as it was a “blog” and thus “not reliable source.” This was only a superficial analysis of “site bias,” not actually controversial and not very informative.

There was an Articles for deletion discussion on RationalWiki. I find no assertion of source sufficient to establish notability. Passing mentions don’t count. It was kept, though there was much opinion to keep it as a redirect to the Conservapedia article. In the discussion I found these sources:

  • (page 2 is important. I couldn’t find this at first.)

Those are passing mention, really about Conservapedia. This was weak, but that’s Wikipedia. An admin takes a glance at a discussion, makes a snap decision, and unless someone cares enough to appeal it, there it goes, enshrined as a community decision (which it didn’t look like to me! Most wanted to see better sources. My own opinion as an inclusionist would do something very different…. )

Not considered reliable source, but an actual review! With details! This report describes RatWiki as it was when I was active there. Some of that atmosphere is still there. the report was by “Rational Wiki Exposed,” not exactly an encouraging author if one is looking for neutrality. But it was fairly sober.

Okay, I found a genuine revert war, starting with [ this edit], adding a review.  The user, an SPA, was warned for edit warring and disappeared. The source:

RationalWiki guts a reader’s attempt to correct its article on female genital mutilation

This is another source that is based on “RationalWiki is wrong on X.” This happens to be a topic I know a great deal about. Many sources misrepresent the position of Islam on the topic. What upsets people so much is not what is allowed or approved, and the majority opinion is that the extreme practices are prohibited. But this is not our topic here. The RatWiki article on this topic is far from the worst there.

I round a reference to the RW article where they brag report about mentions.

That quotes from many mentions. Indeed, it quotes from the book mentioned above:

Smith, Jonathan. Critical Thinking: Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, 2nd Ed. John Wiley & Sons, 2017. 9781119029489. Lists RationalWiki as a logical fallacy library.

This is hilarious. I’m not really sure what the author intended. The instructions are to “select an example of a logical fallacy.” So RatWiki is a place to find the expression of logical fallacies. The training that I can imagine is to teach students how to spot logical fallacies. If a site is merely a list of logical fallacies with examples given, there would be little or no challenge. Rather, each of those sites, it is highly likely, expresses logical fallacies. The site is not about logical fallacies, as such, it is political. If one’s political beliefs align with the beliefs of a source, one is far less likely to spot the fallacies.

Sound training will practice identifying logical fallacies in our own thinking or argument, or in the arguments and thinking of those we might agree with. I generally agree with the substance of what is on the Nizkor site. But there is at least one blatant logical fallacy on the home page. Can you spot one?

5.4 Group Exercise: Identify the FallacyIn this exercise, divide into two teams. Each team selects an example of a logical fallacy (from this chapter) from one of these websites:

Team 1 presents its example to Team 2. Team 2 has five minutes to identify it and explain it. If the explanation is acceptable to the moderator, Team 2 gets a point. Repeat for Team 2. Complete until each team has a chance to identify five logical fallacies. The team correctly identifying the most fallacies wins.

I have created a link for each site. How the exercise would be done is unclear. There is a form of logical fallacy, “straw man,” where one presents an argument that is allegedly the argument of another, but it is not actually what the other says, thinks, or believes. So if students pick a description of someone else’s argument, they would be explaining a fantasy. Much more interesting, I’d think, to identify logical fallacies presented as factual or logical, and RatWiki is full of those, it is practically the norm in some articles.  For extra credit, identify logical errors in the thinking of people you agree with, and for a doctorate, identify them in your own thinking, because everyone does this (at least until it is distinguished). A loglcal fallacy does not mean that the conclusion is wrong, set that right/wrong mess aside. It merely means that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. Something may be missing.

from other sources:

This refers to the RW article, Michael Prescott

(If Mr. Prescott sees this and requests that the link be removed, I’ll do it. Links raise Google ranking. Unfortunately, to study RationalWiki and create something verifiable, I need to place links, but I can find less convenient ways to do it, on request. I have not yet studied the Prescott article, but I’ve certainly seen worse on RatWiki!)

The public comments are interesting…. I decided to look at who created this article.

This then led me to more socks…. another day, another set of socks documented. There are certain red flags, easy to see, sometimes. Some identifications are not so easy, and there are probably some errors. The Smiths have no monopoly on snarky defamation.

to be continued ….