What is this with Scientology & Wikipedia?

In May 2009 a lot of media reports claimed that “Scientology was banned from Wikipedia”. Nothing is further from the truth, as usual, when it comes to reporting about Scientology. It took a while to grasp what happened but here we go. The following is a very short explanation and I preventively apologize to Wikipedians for simplifying things for the sake of a better understanding.

Wikipedia.org is a website that hosts about 2 million English articles about any conceivable subject in the world. Amongst those are several articles that deal with Scientology or related subjects. Anyone can edit in Wikipedia, i.e. change the articles in alignment with a complex set of Wikpedia Policy such as “WP:RS” that says that any fact statement in an article has to be backed up by a reliable source. “Reliable source” (RS) then is defined as secondary literature such as news articles or peer-reviewed expert opinions. Documents such as certificates, diaries, religious scripture are not or only exeptionally allowed as sources for the articles. So far, so good.

In real life articles in Wikipedia are subject to the editor’s opinion, personal viewpoints etc that color his/her edits accordingly. In an effort to control this Wikipedia does not allow representatives of organizations to edit their own articles.

As “anyone can edit” Wikipedia does not require to give any credentials or personal data to become an editor. Nameless editors however get registered with the IP address (internet connection) their computer is using at the time of the edit. Registered users can choose a nickname. The more edits a user does the more “status” he/she gets on Wikipedia (which should indicate that the “top editors” of Wikipedia are either very rich, on social welfare or without a job/student, i.e. they seem to have a lot of time to research and increase article content).

In December 2008 a committee of high status, elect editors of Wikipedia took on a task to investigate why articles about Scientology have a lot of noise surrounding them, for example lots of changes back and forth and hostile “discussions” about the articles. Their investigation revealed a pro- and an anti-Scientology faction heavily violating another of Wikipedia’s Policy: “Neutral Point Of View”. In short this means, editors should be “neutral” about the subject they write about (Not “disinterested” or “careless” though it could be understood that way).

As a result of the investigation the above committee, formally called the “Arbitration Committee”, ruled to ban 13 pro-Scientology and 15 anti-Scientology editors from further editing any Scientology remotely connected with “Scientology” (about 430 if my count is right), with the purpose to remove the debatants from the article area. This ban is enforced by another group of uebereditors (called “Administrators”) that have the power to cancel accounts and block internet computers from logging onto Wikipedia.

Also, the 12 ArbCom members decided to block any edits coming from computers that are connected to internet lines that are rented or owned by the Church of Scientology. This part of the ruling somewhat lacks evidence that the Church of Scientology has been involved in editing articles on Wikipedia (not that the media would care about this minor detail) but consequently IP addresses officially registered by the Church of Scientology are now supposed to be blocked. So anyone working inside a Church of Scientology would be technically blocked from editing the articles (unless he/she uses a wireless internet line or jumps over to Starbucks to log on from there). The whole “ruling” will be reviewed in six months. Meanwhile banned editors could – if they chose to – register under a different name and continue editing as before. This is what seems to be happening in the article now (June 2009).

And what is the viewpoint of the Church of Scientology?

Who cared to ask the Church about their viewpoint on the above “ban” was sent a statement of the Church of Scientology International that said the following:

STATEMENT ON THE WIKIPEDIA CASE

This is a routine internal action by Wikipedia to clean up its editing process. We understand that postings from the Department of Justice and CIA have also been blocked from time to time. This is not new. However, more importantly is the fact that Wikipedia finally banned those who were engaged in unobjective and biased editing for the purposes of antagonism as opposed to providing accurate information. We hope the decision will result in more accurate and useful articles on Wikipedia as the site evolves. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to know about Scientology should visit scientology.org where they can find more than 300 individual videos, totaling over 4 hours of information.

And now what?

The Wikipedia committee took somewhat over six months to decide to restrict the editing rights of Wikipedia editors for somewhat under six month. I say: The Wikipedia concept of anonymous editors does not work for polarized subjects, namely religious, philosophic or political issues. It also does not work for brands whose competitors want to screw their competition.

if you want to learn something about Scientology go to the source, like scientology.org or whatiscientology.org.

References / more information:
The “Arbitration Commitee” ruling, 28 May 2009
The Register “Wikipedia Bans Scientology”, 29 May 2009
The Register, ArbCommember resigns after being caught violating Wikipedia rules, 26 May 2009
Wikipedia about Wikipedia

Scientology.org

6 Comments

  1. Howdy, Louanne!

    If you were able to post, the IP scheme must have changed. Did you read that arbitration ruling?

    “2) All IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates, broadly interpreted, are to be blocked as if they were open proxies. Individual editors may request IP block exemption if they wish to contribute from the blocked IP addresses.”

    This is from the link you had provided, towards the bottom.

    Of course there is a “Catholic IP range”. Related to this thread, it’s any IP range owned and operated by the Catholic Church. As an example, the Vatican owns the following IP ranges:

    193.43.102.0 193.43.103.255
    193.43.128.0 193.43.133.255
    212.77.0.0 212.77.31.255

    He was noting that any IP range owned by the Catholic church has not been banned. If you are able to use wikipedia, it is outside of their ban intentions.

    I don’t think the concern was with “overly positive” and “overly negative” edits- bias, for and against, was the problem.

    This type of ban, for an entire range is rare, of course, and few organizations are actually blocked. The focus is normally on individual users, but the use of “sock puppets” resulted in this banhammer.

    Just to get all the facts out there.

    Mark

    • Mark,

      these computers and lines have been at my church for years and years and they were certainly not changed in the last months (I wish, what they have there is not exactly state-of-the-art).

      I did read the arbitration ruling and as I noted earlier that part is the grossest piece of nonsense I ever read on Wikipedia. Not only has the Church not been contacted by this committee (as it turned out somewhere on the discussion pages there) but also there had not been any evidence for abuse of IP addresses “owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and it associates” for Wikipedia edits (BTW, there must be thousands of different internet lines, considering that most groups, missions and churches have at least one).

      It’s bullshit, simply stated. Those committee members were too lazy or coward to ask anyone in the church (or give a warning if foul play was suspected) but created a decision that has no effect at all in real life.

      But you are right, luckily enough such cowardice is not common in Wikipedia.

      – L

  2. #Comment by bigdaddy on July 12, 2009 4:12 pm

    “wait a sec… wasn’t wikipedia ur sauce for the definition of cult? why was wp acceptable to u then?”

    Because it covered all three possible insinuations of the word: pro, con, neutral. And “cult” is not a philosophical subject. I wouldn’t trust the articles about the Catholic Church or about Bill Clinton though.

    “on tpic, all ip ranges from the cos are banned from posting. so if ur posting from the cosm ur blocked. case in point.”

    False. I tried editing some irrelevant article from inside my Church and it worked. I went to a Scientology Mission nearby and it worked again. This is just bullshit, believe me.

    “ur question about catholics reinfocrs my point. u can edit wp from a cath ip range. why the difference?”

    There is something like a “cath ip range”? Hard to believe.

    I think this discussion is missing the point. The point IMHO is that Wikipedia blocked the authors of overly positive and overly negative contributions to Wikipedia articles about Scientology. This could have been a good thing but I think they a) missed a lot of them and b) the fact that any editor can just come back with a new name and continue pushing his/her agenda prevents neutral articles. Also the absence of verified and official accounts is just detrimental to unbiased articles. So I don’t trust them.

    – L

  3. wait a sec… wasn’t wikipedia ur sauce for the definition of cult? why was wp acceptable to u then?
    on tpic, all ip ranges from the cos are banned from posting. so if ur posting from the cosm ur blocked. case in point.
    ur question about catholics reinfocrs my point. u can edit wp from a cath ip range. why the difference?
    bg

  4. “The Wikipedia concept of anonymous editors does not work for polarized subjects, namely religious, philosophic or political issues”

    Please explain the difference…
    why can the Catholic Church still post? The Christian Church? The CoS (referring to the Church of Satan, the acronyms are just a coincidence)

    These certainly have detractors, and very many public figures dedicated to dismantling each one. But, in the face of opposition, each of those Churches have retained their posting rights. What is the difference?

    _FallRoot

    • FallRoot,

      a) how do you know that “the Catholic Church” is posting on Wikipedia? Wouldn’t that rather be individual Catholics?
      b) to my knowledge the “Church of Scientology” did not post on Wikipedia at all. So this whole ban discussion was just utter bullshit.

      The Wikipedia concept is not working for polarized subjects. As long as editors can hide behind most ridiculous screen names and can come back any time after they have been “banned” by just re-registering there won’t be a good chance for neutral articles. Additionally it is evident that there is no protection against likewise anonymous “Administrators” with an agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I like Wikipedia, but I would never use it as a reliable source for religious, philosophic or political subjects.

      – L


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