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Wiki Wars


Wiki WarsAmy L. Lansky, PhD Amy L. Lansky, PhD, is the author of Impossible Cure:
The Promise of Homeopathy
( www.impossiblecure.com ), a comprehensive introduction to homeopathy that includes the story of her son’s cure from autism. Amy has been a member of the NCH Board of Directors since 2003 and can be reached at lansky@impossiblecure.com

The foes of homeopathy have been active since the time of Samuel Hahnemann. So today’s campaigns of misinformation about homeopathy are certainly nothing new. What has changed is the world we live in and the ways in which information spreads. There are both upsides and downsides to modern media.

  On the one hand, those who cannot accommodate homeopathy into their mindsets use the internet to spread misinformation (or worse) both widely and quickly. They have been effective in inflating the perception of their numbers and corralling the largely clueless media. As a result, public policies and opinions regarding homeopathy have been damaged, especially in the UK. On the other hand, homeopathy can use the same tools to fight back.

  Our battle is tougher though for several reasons. First, the media trusts conventional medicine, not medical alternatives, and most editors are unwilling to irritate their drug company sponsors. Second, knowledge of homeopathy is pretty sparse (in the U.S., anyway), so we don’t have much traction. Third, homeopaths are few in number and the community doesn’t have the money to mount large-scale media campaigns (though the NCH has been surprisingly effective in making inroads, thanks to our media specialist, Peter Gold). Unfortunately, homeopaths also tend to be insular, unwilling, and often unable technically to mount an effective response. Since the legal status of homeopathic practice is unclear in most states, many homeopaths have an added incentive to keep a low profile.

We have potent weapons

But we do have two things on our side: the widespread failure of the allopathic medical system (which even the public readily understands and feels now) and the fact that homeopathy works, is cost-effective, and can cure things conventional medicine cannot. These are potent weapons. They are what has kept homeopathy alive for the past two hundred years, despite adversity.

  Now, I wish I could say that all threats to homeopathy can be overcome. Sometimes, they cannot. But sometimes, even if we can’t win a battle, we can do an “end around.” Such is the case with Wikipedia.

A noble concept but...

  Wikipedia is an internet-based encyclopedia that is entirely created and edited by its users. The concept was dreamed up by computer scientists and has been a fairly successful experiment in open collaborative knowledge sharing. The Wikipedia site has emerged as a leading “go-to” location on the internet to find out more about any subject. A coterie of self-appointed, volunteer “editors” polices the articles so that gross violations do not take place. When disagreements arise, a behind-the-scenes “talk page” associated with each subject page is used to iron out differences. In theory it should all work out because people are reasonable, right?

  Wrong. It turns out that many people are not reasonable. They have big axes to grind, especially on controversial subjects. Even on not-so-controversial subjects, a person with a vested interest can overtake a Wikipedia page. For example, a friend of mine, internationally-known in a small niche area of earth science, told me about a page that had been used to smear a colleague. The content had been mangled technically and had become dedicated to maligning the individual and his work. The attacked researcher was likely totally unaware that this had happened.

  The moral of this tale: a single individual or a small set of individuals, if they have dedication and plenty of time to burn, can overtake a Wikipedia page with misinformation. Unless the “other side” is willing to devote a full time effort to combat the problem, there is very little that can be done. Any change they make will be undone the next day. Naturally, most credible sources of information have lives and careers and cannot devote all of their time to never-ending Wikipedia wars. This is what has happened to the Wikipedia page on homeopathy. The quackbuster forces, amply funded by covert external sources, have moved in and taken over.

Exercise in frustration

Here is an example of what someone has in store if they wish to combat this predicament. My husband, who occasionally contributes to Wikipedia, tried to add a simple link to the NCH on the homeopathy page. This seemed only natural, since the NCH is the leading homeopathic organization in the U.S.; there are links to quackbuster organizations on that page—why not the NCH? Soon, an avalanche of activity on the homeopathy talk page ensued.

  First, there was the argument: why add this link and not a link to every other homeopathic organization in the world? Second, it was argued that since my husband is married to a board member of the NCH, he is biased. By the way, my husband’s last name is not the same as mine. Someone had done their homework to discover his connection to me. The very next day, my own biography page on Wikipedia was attacked. Even though it was two or three paragraphs long and contained neutral information such as my education, book, and papers, it became one of the “most edited” Wikipedia pages for a few days.

  After all of this, I conferred with someone who is a well-known editor on Wikipedia. Upon examining the situation, it was his opinion that nothing could be done. Any addition to the homeopathy page would be roundly trounced. And any person who contributed to the page who had anything whatsoever to do with homeopathy would be viewed as “biased.” In fact, for a period of several months, Dana Ullman tried his best to tackle the Wikipedia situation. Unfortunately, because he is a well-known homeopathic author, he was deemed biased and incendiary and ultimately banned from participation.

  Do you think the same would have happened if a well-known conventional doctor tried to add content about his specialty? I think not. His information would be considered “factual.” Dana’s information was deemed “biased,” simply because it was about homeopathy. Ironically, the information of the quackbusters is not considered biased because they are considered “neutral outsiders.”

The lowdown

Health freedom activist Tim Bolen has recently written an article about the online quackbuster activities (see www.bolenreport.net). These forces have used the power of various internet features (for example, self-referencing rings of links) to create an exaggerated perception of their power and numbers. And they have mounted similar attacks on other Wikipedia pages too—for example, the page on chiropractic and those of other alternative modalities.

  In my view, the credibility of Wikipedia will eventually suffer because of this phenomenon. I have heard that Wikipedia higher-ups are aware of the problem and are at a loss as to what to do. Remember that the next time you go to Wikipedia for information!

Create buzz!

What we can do, though, is create buzz of our own, through the same mechanisms that the quackbusters use. For example, we can also create “rings” of links among homeopathy-supportive pages. Every homeopath should include links to organizations like the NCH, and then these organizations can include links to each other and to member homeopaths. Link, link, link! This will drive good information about homeopathy up in the Google rankings. Second, we should all get involved in social networking or other online activities and talk homeopathy up. If homeopathy has helped you, let people know! Make a YouTube video. Start a blog. Add your story to the “cure stories” database on my own web site (www.impossiblecure.com). People are often moved more by personal stories of healing than by scientific studies. You can make a difference. Third, let your voice be heard! When you read misinformation about homeopathy in magazines, newspapers, or elsewhere, contact the editor and let them know that homeopathy works. Give them contact information for the NCH if they’d like to investigate further.

   The NCH plans to beef up its web site further over the next year and to add a social networking facility similar to Facebook. We need your help, your participation, and your financial support. Keep spreading the word, spend your energy on the battles we can win, and keep the faith in homeopathy!