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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Jimmy Wales on Homeopathy - A Mistake

by Jeff Wagg

February 5, 2013

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Donate I wasn't quite awake when I heard the news that Jimmy Wales, founder of the essential Wikipedia, had come out against homeopathy. I glanced quickly at the headlines, and before I'd read the article a single strong thought presented itself.

This is a bad thing.

It goes without saying that I'm not fan of homeopathy. I believe it should have died out with the four humors some centuries ago. And so, I should be wildly enthusiastic that any celebrity, even one who's only known to the Internet community, comes out against it.

But Jimmy Wales started Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is very important. It's at least half of my brain. Find me without my computer or phone, and you've found me without the ability to tell you the capital of Botswana or how may eggs the average yellowhammer lays (a little bit of bread and no cheese.)

And if I didn't know what homeopathy was, Wikipedia could make quite an impression on me.

The idea behind Wikipedia is simple: it's a crowd-sourced encyclopedia. Anything and everything of note ends up in there, with articles written and edited by the community. There are arguments and disagreements, but what we end up with is more or less an accurate picture of whatever the topic is. When compared against Britannica, Wikipedia was found to be about as accurate.

Because it's crowd-sourced, it seems to me that the any policy coming from Wikipedia and its founders should be neutral. Wikipedia isn't about putting its own ideas on the information; it's about the information approaching the truth through the work of the community.

And that's where, to my relief, I found the error in my thinking.

Wikipedia won't let just anything appear. It must be referenced in some way, and the ideas with the strongest support are the ones that become the core of any article. The ones with the strongest support are also the ones based in reality, and if an idea isn't based in reality, it's actually AGAINST Wikipedia's primary purpose—the dissemination of information far and wide.

Because of this, it stands to reason that "Wikipedia" would be against "Homeopathy." As well as all other forms of false medicine and paranormal straying. Yes, I'm going to say it: Wikipedia is a skeptical endeavor. It's attempting to examine the evidence, and letting the best explanation serve as the provisional conclusion. And like skepticism, it's always changeable if new evidence comes along.

The evidence for homeopathy is... not strong. Therefore, Wikipedia is against it, and I can't fault Wikipedia's founder for following what is written by others in the publication that he started. Oh, and here's what it has to say about homeopathy:
There is an overall absence of sound statistical evidence of therapeutic efficacy, which is consistent with the lack of any biologically plausible pharmacological agent or mechanism.
and
...scientists have long regarded homeopathy as a sham.
So, my own head finally on straight, I can say "Hooray" for Jimmy Wales coming out against a practice that bilks the public out of much-needed healthcare funding at best, and kills people at its worst. He's managed to do the right thing while staying true to the principles of Wikipedia.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning the fabulous Susan Gerbic one more time. She's one of the many people who make sure that Wikipedia stays as reality-based as possible. You can follow her endeavors here.

by Jeff Wagg

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