Note: Tim Farley has written a very nice analysis of this matter and its wider implications over at Skeptical Software Tools.
In March 2014, Wikpedia Founder Jimmy Whales responded to a petition to change Wikipedia policies to make it easier to advocate for alternative medicine and holistic healing therapies. Pro-alt-med petitioners feel that the sourcing and weight requirements (and their enforcement by the editing community) on Wikipedia are an unfair burden that they say is bullying them away from editing the encyclopedia:
This is exactly the case with the Wikipedia pages for Energy Psychology, Energy Medicine, acupuncture, and other forms of complementary/alternative medicine (CAM), which are currently skewed to a negative, unscientific view of these approaches despite numerous rigorous studies in recent years demonstrating their effectiveness. These pages are controlled by a few self-appointed “skeptics” who serve as de facto censors for Wikipedia.
The part of Wikipedia operation that the petitioners take issue with is the Fringe policy, as well as the Reliable Source and Due Weight policies. The Fringe policy states:
Wikipedia article should not make a fringe theory appear more notable or more widely accepted than it is. Claims must be based upon independent reliable sources. A theory that is not broadly supported by scholarship in its field must not be given undue weight in an article about a mainstream idea,and reliable sources must be cited that affirm the relationship of the marginal idea to the mainstream idea in a serious and substantial manner.
So, to sum it up…
Wikipedia needs to institute an exception to its policies concerning Fringe, Reliable Sources and Undue Weight so that advocacy editors for alternative therapies can promote them alongside treatments who are themselves able to meet the stricter requirements.
Why this Pleading is Special
The Special Pleading here is a little more obvious than is often the case, as a clear exception is being proposed: that proponents of a special topic be exempted from the criteria met by other editors.
The petition continues:
They clothe their objections in the language of the narrowest possible understanding of science in order to inhibit open discussion of innovation in health care. As gatekeepers for the status quo, they refuse discourse with leading edge research scientists and clinicians or, for that matter, anyone with a different point of view. Fair-minded referees should be given the responsibility of monitoring these important areas.
Emphasis added. In addition to the exceptions to the usual burden for reliable sources and due weight given topics, which the petitioners would see administered by sympathetic “referees,” another major gap in understanding exists…
The petitioners do not understand that it is not the place of an encyclopedia to change the “status quo.” Scientific consensus is shaped by robust results, repeated through a collaborative effort by the larger scientific community. Change the world with your breakthrough ideas and repeatedly confirmed results, and the encyclopedias will follow. Attempting to reverse the process, as is being tried by these frustrated editors, will not get you there any faster.
“For only the second time so far this year, the Voynich manuscript has been decoded.” – Dr. Eve Siebert
The Voynich manuscript is “an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system,” carbon dated to the 15th century CE. Another set of researchers are claiming to have decrypted it, as Siebert describes on Virtual Skeptics:
Multiple exceptions are being proposed by this pair of researchers.
The researchers begin by claiming to have “positively identified” illustrations of plants, whose identities have not been established (in part due to some illustrations exhibiting characteristics of multiple or mutually exclusive species of plants).
The new date proposed by the linguistic researchers, 1521 – 1576 CE, disagrees with the carbon dating of the manuscript.
If a problem emerges with the expected translation, as with “hellebore”, a modifier from another language is assumed, and once that exception (the special pleading) is applied, the predictive model works perfectly again (circular reasoning is a logical feature outside the scope of this journal).
The special pleadings are also compounded by begging the question (or circular reasoning), an entirely different logical feature outside the scope of this journal, whereby each “translation” is used to confirm the next.
In the paper, one plant’s identification, “Hellebore,” was sourced to a blog article. This isn’t a special pleading, but if we were editing Wikipedia, it would raise some WP:RS flags.
The Turin Shroud may not be a medieval forgery after all, after scientists discovered it could date from the time of Christ.
The Italian team believes the powerful magnitude 8.2 earthquake would have been strong enough to release neutron particles from crushed rock.
This flood of neutrons may have imprinted an X-ray-like image onto the linen burial cloth, say the researchers.
In addition, the radiation emissions would have increased the level of carbon-14 isotopes in the Shroud, which would make it appear younger.
Why our pleading is Special
Possible de-aging of the shroud (or other artifacts) is considered “special pleading” because we are introducing an exception to the criteria by which age of an object is measured, based on a proposed (but not yet substantiated) mechanism by which the input criteria might have been corrupted.
If we could demonstrate that this mechanism occurs as described (i.e. a physical experiment yields predictable results), and further, that there is good reason to suspect we are not invoking this mechanism arbitrarily, then our pleading would no longer be special.
Note that while Thor has in fact visited us in theaters since the emergence of the aforementioned oarfish, he has since made a hasty retreat back from Midgard, and hasn’t been seen in theaters since. Any expert on Norse mythology (i.e. the Marvel Universe) would likely agree there is a consensus on that point.
“Wolf, Army of the Dead, all that…”
The wolf has made an appearance in Sochi with the help of Jimmy Kimmel, and I’d like to point Dr. Siebert to a certain popular AMC Robert Kirkman series.
Coinciding with Thor’s absence, his Avenging teammate will be facing an “unrelenting winter” of his own against Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes1 (Captain America’s third major movie role since 2011).
However, this explanation yields a complication. It appears that while Saturday is certainly close to the actual date, the wintery component doesn’t arrive until 4/4/14. So we’ll look forward to the end of the world then. Unless it’s a “spiritual apocalypse”…
Watch the Journal of Viral Advertising for more updates.
1No, I’m not putting a spoiler alert up for anything that happened more than nine years ago in the comics.
“You don’t have much content. I’d expect more from a ‘Journal’ publication.”
It’s true that the Journal of Special Pleading (JoSP) might seem, based on all outward appearances, to be a relatively new upstart blog. If this Journal were comparable to a brand new blog, one could reasonably arrive at that conclusion. However, it would be unfair to judge the content of JoSP purely based on the criteria by which most publications are measured, primarily because of the nature of the subject matter covered by this most prestigious journal. For a pleading to be “special,” it must first satisfy very stringent aspecific criteria. Such criteria sets it apart from an ordinary pleading, and makes them relatively hard to come by. So owing to this criteria, what might appear to be a mostly empty WordPress blog might actually be a comprehensive collection of the developments of a discipline.
Described as "a Journal of Schmience" on Dr. Eve Siebert's behalf.