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Essay:Why notability is stupid and I hate it

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Essay.svg This essay is an original work by FuzzyCatPotato and Reverend Black Percy.
It does not necessarily reflect the views expressed in RationalWiki's Mission Statement, but we welcome discussion of a broad range of ideas.
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Feel free to make comments on the talk page, which will probably be far more interesting, and might reflect a broader range of RationalWiki editors' thoughts.

People sometimes try to vaporize articles as "not notable enough".[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] This is stupid, and we hate it. Instead, we should have articles on as many missional subjects as possible.

Problem[edit]

A 2015 survey of the top 10 links (91% of clicks) in Google and Bing searches (95% of search engine market) for 15 popular conspiracy theories (all 10+ years old and widely-debunked in scholarly & popular literature) found that 50.7% were conspiratorial, 29.7% were debunking, and only 14.9% were neutral.[8] Thus, skeptics make up a minority of the information seen by the public.

Another study found that nonskeptics are more likely to share webpages than skeptics, while skeptics are more likely to comment.[9] Again, skeptics remain less visible than nonskeptics.

Thus:

  • In optimal cases (old topics with widely-known and fully-fleshed-out claims & rebuttals (ie, "notable" topics)) skeptics lose. Articles on notable topics help prevent this.
  • In suboptimal cases (new topics with insularly-known and partially-fleshed-out claims & rebuttals (ie, "unnotable" topics)), skeptics lose even more. Articles on unnotable topics help prevent this.

Impact[edit]

Project Blue Beam or Neumayer Station or Vigilantcitizen.com or innumerable other crazy (yet marginally notable) topics make crazy claims. Yet few people know they exist and even fewer people have the time, knowledge, and desire to refute them.

However, even relatively unknown misinformation can still hurt people. Even a single faith healer can harm others. Furthermore, as people begin to accept conspiratorial and pseudoscientific beliefs (even generally unknown ones), the values of skepticism and science are undermined and people are more susceptible to additional flawed ideas (crank magnetism). Consider Alex Jones, who uses one conspiracy theory (eg, anti-vaccination) as evidence for another (eg, the NWO).

As people individually come into contact with these theories and seek a refutation, RW's unique position of high-visibility and easy-debunking makes it suited for rebuttals. Deleting on notability grounds (in the strict style of Wikipedia) removes a significant subset of misinformation from RationalWiki's mission, even though it's still harmful and still relevant.

Solvency[edit]

RationalWiki unwaveringly provides much needed attention to the cranks that "respectable" sites only provide a platform to by mistake. The lack of an active skeptical counter to their mumbo-jumbo trash makes it hard to learn anything about these fringes without leaving the Sane Web and setting foot in the Disinformation Swamp oneself ("on their terms" no less), often naively unprepared for their tactics. Popping a crazy idea into Google and finding a flood of claims (without a single skeptical rebuttal) is enough to convert surprisingly sane people to fringe causes.

The mainstream "the-woo-is-lava" policy leaves the field open for cranks. When we don't criticize their theories, cranks point to the "total lack of mainstream reply" as evidence for how perfect, unassailable, and innovative their "interpretive models" must be. When we don't point out their roadblocks, cranks feed the pseudoscientific "...any minute now!" mentality that handwaves away critical flaws. When we don't defend our science, cranks take cheap shots against mainstream models.

Nobody can remember everything. Skepticism is hard when you have nothing to base it upon. And that is why there must be one shining Google result among the misinformation surge: to give anti-cranks a starting point. Our response need not be the be-all end-all Rebuttal of the Gods -- it need only let people start the process of critical thought.

RationalWiki does not - and should not! - fear the stench of any and all fringe movements and claims. Instead, it is a necessary, even vital, source of information drudgery up Nonsense Creek. RationalWiki works as intended just because it is purposefully immersed in fringe-dung in absurd supply.
Reverend Black Percy, Dig Your Own Grave And Save! (4th ed.)

RW is in a unique location to help skepticism survive.

  • RW is the most visible conspiracy-debunking website,[8] and could reasonably be believed to be the most visible skeptic website. RW often appears on page 1 to 2 of a Google/Bing search, especially on topics which haven't hit the news. RW furthermore often appears above unskeptical websites, granting it information priority.
  • As experience with creationism shows, claim-making requires less effort than claim-refuting. RW has an in-house network of articles (such as fallacies, conspiracy theories) that allows it to debunk with decreased effort and increased power. This makes it easier to draw connection between similar flaws of similar bullshit, and thus better debunk even new bullshit.
  • As a wiki, RW uses the work of thousands of people with no defined time limit, rather than a singular editor or team of editors with a deadline. This reduces individual research burdens and increases rebuttal quality.
  • As a wiki, RW can easily update pages as research and bullshit claims change. A blog may be able to do this, but since the information it presents is time-linked, only updates for new pages will be noticed; almost all publications cannot do this.
  • As a wiki, with constant new/interested/gullible/skeptical eyes, RW can more easily overcome "categorization bias" or "PRATT bias", in which a skeptic editor considers more and more things as (incorrectly) already having been refuted elsewhere or so dumb as not to merit refutation (ignoring that other people do not have the skeptical background of said editor).

To illustrate, imagine a hypothetical: Somebody online argues that vaccines are bad because they're unnatural.

With a reference of the statement and two quick links to Anti-vaccination movement and Appeal to nature, a RWian can effectively debunk them and have that debunking be publicly visible.

Comparatively, a singular blogger/author would need to either have completely debunked both concepts in-article or in a previous article, and is unlikely to get any views from non-subscribers/readers.

Site importance[edit]

Perhaps more importantly, as User:tmtoulouse notes, RW can thrive only in that twilight zone between moderately-well-known and totally-unknown beliefs. Moderately-well-known beliefs already have news coverage and so RW is both redundant and can't get first-page-level attention. In contrast, unknown beliefs have so few adherents that RW almost certainly won't get attention. It is the beliefs with "marginal notability" that RationalWiki must be most invested in.

Internal checks[edit]

Upholding a quality wiki-formatting policy, based around staples like good sources (e.g. mention in newspapers), disallowing stubs and actively soliciting expansion of short articles, and disallowing orphans and more properly tying articles together via (e.g.) "See also" and "Categories", and the existence of the tacit voting process by the community in which more important issues are edited more and improved more, all constitute enough check to prevent rampant unnotability.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]