The cryptid complications of Wikipedia's editing policies

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I would chime in on this argument, but, I’d probably just end up putting my big foot in my mouth.


Tag the articles with the category cryptid, and then throw that in the pseudoscience category.


Do you have an example of this?

People often defend nut jobs by saying things like, “well everyone thought Galileo was crazy too” as though that somehow means all people who seem crazy are right. Not even getting into what a mischaracterization of the Galileo story that is, the point is the evidence was on his side.

Cryptid hunters have shit for evidence. That’s the bottom line. When they can produce more than the same blurry photo from 1972 that is an admitted hoax, or a clump of fur that tests as black bear, then we’ll listen to them. Until then, Wikipedia is absolutely doing the right thing by holding the line on this. Until you have evidence that isn’t shit, you are a pseudoscience. It’s a very clear line to draw in the sand.


Wikipedia is not going to stop “gatekeeping”

That’s what they do—that’s what it is :confused:


Science is not gatekeeping. It’s determining what is correct using the only method proven to work. I think it’s totally reasonable for Wikipedia to hold an editorial policy of labelling non-science things as non-science.

It would be gatekeeping if they disallowed the cryptid stuff on the platform. They don’t. Nor are they determining what is real and fake. Science is.


Relevant XKCD


:unicorn: :fairy: :dragon:


See! They have their own wiki with Bigfoots and Nessies!

walking GIF


Plate tectonics is the first example that comes to mind.

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It’s not Wikipedia’s job to guess which of today’s wacky ideas will someday be supported by “high quality sources” that do not yet exist :confused:


Try as I might, I can’t see any “interesting issue at play here”. Wikipedia is not the source of any objective truth, it is a compendium of the current generally accepted state of knowledge. Bigfoot is generally accepted to be folklore, therefore that’s what Wikipedia says. End of story.


That often gets brought up in arguments about pseudoscience, but I think it’s a bad example. Yes, the scientific community didn’t accept Wegener’s proposal of it in 1912, and now we accept plate tectonics, but it isn’t that the scientific community decided that Wegener “was right” but rather that later scientists like Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp in the 1950s came up with better versions of the theory that actually had a meaningful mechanism, which Wegener never did. Wegener deserves some credit for having a basic idea that turned out to be more or less right in the end, but science isn’t just about having the right basic idea – it is about explaining why the idea is right. It’s not unlike the various pre-Darwinian scientists who proposed a form of evolution. Yes, they were right that evolution happens, but without the idea of natural selection, they had no real mechanism of how evolution could occur.


Exactly. And the bottom line is that, once again, the evidence was on his side.

An easy way to tell pseudoscience from a real phenomena is whether the evidence improves over time or remains crappy. Cryptids are firmly in the latter camp, as illustrated by the xkcd cartoon upthread. No matter how much time passes and how many cameras we fill the world with, there’s been zero improvement in the quality of evidence. Another good example is UFOs. Nobody ever manages to catch more than a blinking light or a lens flare, no matter how good cameras get. What that means is, there’s no there there.

As instrumentation improves, noise goes down and signal goes up. If your data is still too noisy to be meaningful by now on these kinds of things, it’s because your signal is all noise.


That is not what they are doing. They are aligning with the consensus of science. No serious primatologist thinks there’s any chance Big Foot is real, for example. There’s no plausibility to the hypothesis, no quality evidence pointing in that direction, and there’s been no shortage of people looking. Big Foot does not exist. Science can be very confident saying that. Nothing is ever 100% in science, but at some point you have to call it. It has become an extraordinary claim, and thus requires extraordinary evidence to change the scientific consensus.

If I tell you there’s a teapot orbiting Mars, but there’s zero evidence for that, and NASA has said there isn’t because they’d have seen it with their probes, that’s pseudoscience. I’m making a claim with no evidence, and an extraordinary one at that. I can swear that evidence will appear someday of said teapot if you’d all just hear me out, but that isn’t science.

Wikipedia’s job is to try and ensure quality information. That’s what they are doing. Claiming Big Foot might be real is no different than a Trumper claiming he won the election. The quality of evidence is the same.


I think part of the problem is that Wikipedia’s success means that many people expect it to be something it cannot and should not be.

Wikipedia a great replacement for the printed general-purpose encyclopedias of old. However it is hopelessly bad at replacing all reference works, let alone other forms of non-fiction. Only a tiny fraction of all the things that interest someone somewhere belongs into an encyclopedia.

Ah no, see the thing there is that the aliens are the ones who provided us with the improved camera technology in the first place and they include filters that automatically blur or otherwise obscure any images of aliens or alien craft.

And Bigfoot is of course an alien as is obvious from the blurred nature of any footage of Bigfoot and the clear images of Bigfoot emerging from an alien craft in the stone carvings of the Mayincatecs … [is immediately leaped upon by 500 angry cryptid-hunters each shouting their own incomprehensible claim about the real nature of Bigfoot].

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It seems unfortunate that the author took what could have been an interesting investigation of categorization and failed to break free of framing the story mostly in terms of a fight between cryptid enthusiasts and wikipedia editors over how real bigfoot is.

It’s especially frustrating because, at times, it touches on details that would be really useful in examining the categorization questions: take, for instance, some of the examples given for the ‘cryptid cull’: how does striking both thylacines and will-o’-the-wisps from the cryptids list; despite those two being non-cryptids in utterly different ways, not strike you as a more interesting phenomenon than jus totting them up as two in the list of those slain by the gatekeepers?

Thylacines presumably have a sliver of cryptid-cred in that I’m sure someone believes them to be less extinct than commonly suspected; but they fall off the list by virtue of being well inside the realm of mainstream biology and well supported by traditional scientiifc evidence; rather than because the evidence is so thin and low quality that they can’t even be retained in the fringe area of ‘cryptozoology’. Will-o’-the-wisps; on the other hand, have impeccable credentials as a folklore artifact; but have trouble making it as cryptids when even their enthusiasts often don’t have an animal in mind(rather than various optical oddities, bioluminescence, etc.) as an explanation for the various reports. Then you’ve got jackalopes: also impeccable folklore stuff, since you’ve got a weird little taxidermy niche, some local culture and tourism angles, and so on; but vanishingly thin evidence that the popularity of a particular piece of novelty taxidermy implies a novel animal rather than two well known ones getting bodged together.

Then the piece even explicitly mentions categorization as a search-space limiting phenomenon(but as though this is somehow sinister or unexpected, rather than being a fundamental feature of categorization: inclusion and exclusion toward coherence); but wanders off into some hand-wringing about people who are lazy about their training sets rather than taking that point up.

Then there’s even a ‘conclusion’ where the author specifically notes that there are a lot of interesting folklore bits around various cryptids(the python festival, east coast/west coast bigfoot feuds) that go undocumented; and proceeds to blame ‘the aforementioned gatekeeping’ rather than, say, examine the possibility that pressure against classifying cryptids as ‘folklore’ in an effort to make them more science-y might be inhibiting the compilation of folklore material; where they classified as folklore artifacts.

It’s frustrating because the problems of building ontologies that are useful is much deeper and more interesting than just treating them as a cultural shoving match decided purely by power(especially if you can’t at least do that with the playful provocativeness that some of the better postmodern deconstructionist types brought to the task); but this one seems to have missed that particular forest even as it bumped into a number of trees.


Because cryptozoology has messy and vague definitions and cryptids almost always have significant folklore history, the limitations of a “science vs pseudoscience” argument is limiting and rather dumb. Bigfoot is a cultural icon. Folklore stories about the Jersey Devil can’t be readily categorized as truth or fiction. They just ARE. Folklore, cultural icons, and fictional characters are on Wikipedia so there is no reason to have different rules for cryptids unless a person is trying to state something that isn’t supported.

The wikipedia editiors re: cryptids go too far. As an example, I attempted to add content to the entry for the Lizardman of Scape Ore Swamp. Sure, it’s local folklore. My edits which included the definitive book by Lyle Blackburn (who details the chronology from newspaper reports and interviews) was deleted because it was not a suitable source (partly because Blackburn seems “pro-cryptid” - a bogus argument, and partly because certain editors take the attribution rules beyond reason). That’s a poor approach because the legend is an important part of the town history people should know. Clearly, everything tangentially related to “cryptids” was labeled pseudoscience (folklore is not pseudoscience) and trashed instead of considering the broader context as well as the way the information was framed (not as science).

We are in a post-cryptid world where more people are embracing “pop cryptids” and fewer are looking for actual mystery zoological animals.

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Kenan Thompson Popcorn GIF by Saturday Night Live