Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information about the source’s financial connection. The term astroturfing is derived from AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to resemble natural grass, as a play on the word “grassroots.” The implication behind the use of the term is that instead of a “true” or “natural” grassroots effort behind the activity in question, there is a “fake” or “artificial” appearance of support. (source: you guessed it, Wikipedia)
And who is the most well-known astroturfing entity that is publicly visible and is used by millions every day for what they think is good information? Wikipedia!
And you thought you knew Wikipedia! And you may even have donated money to Wikipedia every year–like I have been–thinking it is for an open database of great information that knowledgeable people edit and update. Right? Wrong.
Wikipedia is Astroturfing
According to the above TEDx, Wikipedia is Astroturfing and indeed, it is. I had my own share of miserable experiences in trying to update certain pages on nutrition, which miss a lot of information. My experience was this:
- I tried to edit by adding a sentence about new research with the latest academic publication on the LCHF/ketogenic diet used in a clinical trial showing that people with type 2 diabetes were able to start reversing their diabetes, could stop using insulin, and some even their other medications, and those overweight lost a lot of weight–it is an open-access article you can download from here.
- The sentence I added was deleted before I could sit back and take a breath
- I repeated adding that sentence in a different way, thinking that, perhaps, the words I used were not clear
- The sentence was removed immediately
- I thought that perhaps I did something wrong so I read the guidelines–I am not new to Wikipedia; I have even created a page long time ago (I think “long time ago” is important here) so I knew the rules, I followed all guidelines and added my entry again, adding name stamp, date stamp, the usual stuff, which I have forgotten to add with the previous entry. I thought “OK, I got it right this time”
- The sentence was removed immediately and I received a warning that if I try to add that again, I will be banned from any edits of Wikipedia.
Unbeknownst to me, as I was trying to add this sentence and citation, two other scientist colleagues tried to add similar things to the same page though not this citation. We talked after and discovered that none of us was able to make any edits to update that nutrition page with currently published information.
What the heck as going on? In the meantime I received the annual begging letter reminding me that I have not yet donated to Wikipedia this year. I used to donate every year.
The Case of Dr. Malcolm Kendrick
Dr. Malcolm Kendrick is such a strong name in the field of nutrition that even google corrects my spelling, yet what did Wikipedia do? User:skeptic removed him from Wikipedia because:
Malcolm Kendrick is a fringe figure who agues(sic) against the lipid hypothesis. He denies that blood cholesterol levels are responsible for heart disease and in opposition to the medical community advocates a high-fat high-cholesterol diet as healthy. Problem is there is a lack of reliable sources that discuss his ideas. His book The Great Cholesterol Con was not reviewed in any science journals. Kendrick is involved with the International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics, I suggest deleting his article and redirecting his name to that. Skeptic from Britain (talk) 20:29, 2 December 2018 (UTC)
Do you smell any bias here by any chance? I smell Astroturfing burning actually; you can see the full blog Malcolm wrote here. This also explains why I and my colleagues were unable to add a sentence with citation to the nutrition page.
Don’t Donate to Wikipedia!
So what happened to the begging letter I received? No, it didn’t hit the delete button. I actually responded to it. I told them what I think of them and added that they should not expect any money from me in the future. In fact, I will never click on Wikipedia link again. NEVER EVER AGAIN!!!
Comments are welcome, as always, and are moderated for appropriateness.