Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Fanboy Editing: the James Randi BLP

James Randi is the grand old man of the skeptics movement (i.e. the people who claim they speak for rationality and who debunk anything paranormal*) - co-founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) which now calls itself CSI (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry; though their URL hasn't changed), founder of the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF), advisor to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, etc. But we aren't writing about Randi the man, we are talking today about his Wikipedia BLP ("biography of a living person"), which has been edited by a who's who of Wikipedia "names."

An Edit History

The James Randi article has existed on Wikipedia since October 29, 2001 when it was a simple stub; it is now a 90 kilobyte monster that reads more like a clever hagiography than a balanced encyclopedia entry. People like Modemac, David Gerard, Susan Gerbic ("Guerilla skeptics") before she was SGerbic, Edward R. Fitzgerald (Beyond My Ken) and a raft of IPs have edited that article in the fifteen years it has been on en.Wikipedia. The point we are interested in was last summer, when an IPv6 address began adding material. That address was 2601:589:0:26e8:5de4:4d15:e373:655, which this website claims is either in Mount Laurel, New Jersey or Fort Myers, Florida; either way they were using Comcast as their internet service provider. The Fort Myers location is on the other side of the Florida peninsula from the Fort Lauderdale headquarters of the James Randi Educational Foundation. Weirdly enough, whomever was editing wrote things like "I entered the value of my MacArthur grant" and "I added my professional affiliations" in the edit summaries making it sound like they were Randi; if that was true, then Randal James Hamilton Zwinge (his true name) has fallen into the secret Wikipedia tradition of people editing their own BLPs. Bishonen (true name unknown) attempted to contact the IP on its talk page:

Hi, 2601:589:0:26E8:5DE4:4D15:E373:655. Thank you for the good copyedits to the article James Randi. I wondered about this removal of content that you did, especially the edit summary. Are you saying you are Randi? If you are, we're very honored, and can you prove it? Regards, Bishonen | talk 19:54, 22 July 2015 (UTC).

There was no response. Within five minutes Bishonen was on AN/I (Administrators' Noticeboard/Incident), beginning one of the great starstruck, yet bitter, conversations of our time:

An IP is editing James Randi rather fast. I may be naive, but I think he may be Randi, especially considering this edit summary. I've posted on their talk, and also made a null edit to the article asking for response, but I guess the person doesn't know about talkpages or histories. If it's Randi, I would really like to talk to them, especially before people start reverting and blocking him. Any suggestions? I'm a little extended at the moment reverting the storm of socks of User:Kutsuit who follow me around and revert all my edits — I'd much rather talk with Randi, I must say. A little help reverting, please? Bishonen | talk 20:09, 22 July 2015 (UTC).
Wow, this summary does suggest we are graced by the presence of the great man himself. Mr Potto (talk) 20:12, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
This one even more so. That was the link I meant to give. I guess I'm too star-struck to make a proper diff. Bishonen | talk 20:22, 22 July 2015 (UTC).
My concern is people may start reverting as "unsourced", not to mention blocking. :-( Bishonen | talk 20:25, 22 July 2015 (UTC).
And possibly should, since any IP can type "my" and possibly impersonate anyone they want. General Ization Talk 20:27, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
(edit conflict)As cool as it would be to see James Randi editing (assuming it is him), I'm conflicted because I normally act on the assumption that subjects should not edit articles about themselves. That said, his edits thus far appear to be minor phrasing, only removing material that is no longer applicable (like a planned-then-cancelled book). I'm not seeing any reason to revert other than "subject editing article," but they're edits that anyone else could have reasonably made. Ian.thomson (talk) 20:31, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
I'm pretty familiar with the man and his work, and those edits look genuine enough to me to not be the work of a faker. And though editing one's own biog is generally frowned on, the edits look modest, fair and factual (as, in fact, is Mr R himself ;-) Mr Potto (talk) 20:39, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
This needs a source but other than that the edits are uncontroversial and do not need reverting, no matter who the IP is. --NeilN talk to me 20:40, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
I've implored him to respond on his (the IPs) talkpage, but it's like most noobs: they don't know they have a talkpage, or that the page they've been editing has a history. And IP's don't even get an alert, do they? Yes, they're fine edits. I hope nobody goes wikilawyer on them. Bishonen | talk 20:42, 22 July 2015 (UTC).
Ceasing to be star struck and simply looking at edit quality is all that is important here. Fiddle Faddle 20:45, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
There's a charming comment, Fiddle Faddle. Did I mention they are fine edits? Of course I looked at them carefully before posting on ANI. Bishonen | talk 20:50, 22 July 2015 (UTC).
I feel as if I have offended you, which was not my intent. Perhaps I was stating the obvious, yet sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. I shall now go and hide under my favourite rock. Fiddle Faddle 20:55, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
For what it is worth, the IP geolocates to Florida[328] and it appears that Randi lives in Florida.[329] --Guy Macon (talk) 21:10, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
All of the putative Randi's edits have just been reverted. General Ization Talk 21:50, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Yes, by Winkelvi. I reverted back and referred him to ANI, but rather than look here he reverted again. Great. I'm really tired of idiots for today. I'm going to bed. Bishonen | talk 22:04, 22 July 2015 (UTC).
────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────What's the deal with the assumption the anon IP is James Randi? How silly to believe "celebrities" are exempt from BLP policy regarding unsourced content. And a lot of it filled with peacock terminology to boot. If it is him (and we don't know for sure if it is), he's no different than any other editor in Wikipedia when it comes to policy. And...what if he did register an account? Isn't all of this speculation actually WP:OUTING and also a violation of policy? Perhaps he doesn't want us to know it's him. Perhaps he does. Perhaps it's not him but his spouse. Perhaps it's his next door neighbor, or bridge partner, or best friend? Perhaps all of this speculation is ridiculous. And since you're throwing around personal attacks by way of childish name-calling, Bishonen, the only "idiot" I see here is the editor(s) who think the possible interaction with a celebrity means anything at all. Gawd. -- WV 22:09, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
If "he" (and I'm as skeptical as they come) didn't want to known to be the editor, he wouldn't be typing "me" and "my" in his edit summaries. FYI, I reverted your warning to the editor about OR. We don't know yet that "no reliable, published sources exist"; the IP just didn't supply them. At this point, {{uw-unsourced1}} might be appropriate, but a warning about OR is not. General Ization Talk 22:14, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Whatever. Whomever the IP is, they are still violating BLP policy. And if they want to continue to contribute content, they need to be aware they are violating policy and content contributed that is not sourced (especially so much of it) needs to be removed immediately. Because, after all, the article is still a BLP and we have rules for a reason. -- WV 22:16, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
@Winkelvi: Bishonen shouldn't have implied you were an idiot and should immediately clarify or retract that statement. It was hopefully not directed at you, but it doesn't read well.
The reason folks think it's him are the edit summaries in the two diffs linked at the top of this thread: [330] and [331]. Obviously far from dispositive, but because we assume good faith, let's assume the IP isn't lying in those edit summaries. That's not to say that unsourced edits should be accepted--they shouldn't--but that there's no reason to speculate as to who else it could be. As far as outing, it doesn't apply when the editor tells us who they are. agtx 22:19, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Winkelvi appears to be stepping of to an edit war in order to enforce their POV regarding these edits, instead of discussing them, as is required. They are up to 3 reverts at this time. BMK (talk) 22:22, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
I don't have a POV about the edits, I have a POV about policy. And continually adding the unsourced content back into the article is a violation of policy. Removing unsourced content from a BLP is not a violation of policy. -- WV 22:25, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
And WV (3 reverets) just templated me (2 reverts) for edit warring. Pot/kettle/black. BMK (talk) 22:27, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
No, Winkelvi is right. Since when do we allow subjects to dump a mass of unsourced awards (and some closely paraphrased text) into their bios? Move the text to the talk page and find proper sources for it. --NeilN talk to me 22:29, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Neil, don't get your pants all twisted. If the IP is Randi, it doesn't help Wikipedia much by treating him as if he an Ememy of the People, instead of explaining to him the problems and guiding him to sort them out. If he is Randi, than getting permission from his own foundation to license the material is a snap, and sourcing a piece of cake. Since none of the material was defamatory, bringing down the BLPhammer is inappropriate, and not what the BLP policy was intended for. BMK (talk) 22:42, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Despite your assurances, sourcing is not a piece of cake. See my and NQ's posts below. Never mind the issue of weight. --NeilN talk to me 22:51, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
You miss my point - a piece of cake for him, assuming he's Randi. Have you asked on the IP's talk page? Have you dropped an email to the Foundation? Do you think it's possible that we could AGF that it is Randi, and that's he's simply unfamiliar with our ways and needs assistance, instead of assuming that someone decided to pretend to be Randi and add perfectly innocuous material to his article? (Why?) BMK (talk) 23:00, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
When I turned up empty on sources for the society memberships, I looked up his entry on Marquis Who's who and emailed him for confirmation but the personal email address listed does not seem to exist anymore. Like I said on the talk page, I've emailed the foundation after the IP inserted the copyrighted material. - NQ (talk) 23:12, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
That's great, hopefully they can clear up some questions, like was the IP Randi or not, and will the Foundation license the copyrighted material. Will you report the results on the article talk page? (I'm assuming this AN/I report will have scrolled off by then). BMK (talk) 23:21, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
NQ just removed the text contributed by the IP as a copyvio (yet another wrinkle). General Ization Talk 22:31, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
You all need to read the current KWW/TRM ArbCom case, where it is being established that the sourcing doesn't necessarily have to come with the immediate edit, that time should be given when appropriate to allow sourcing to be provided, especially when the material is not defamatory. Considering the signs, which are extremely good, that the IP is Randi, then sourcing should be quite easily come by for him. Why not, in the meantime, mark the material with a "fact" tag, and wait for the IP/Randi to respond to the template you left on their talk page. BMK (talk) 22:33, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
If Arbcom wants to nuke WP:BURDEN then we'll handle that if it passes. I've spent a good chunk of the last hour trying to find proper sources for his society memberships - it's not easy. --NeilN talk to me 22:39, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Tell me about it. I've searched almost all the databases I have access to for a reliable source and I came up empty. - NQ (talk) 22:46, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
  • fwiw, about whether it is Randi or not... this edit summary says: ": I entered the value of my MacArthur grant." and this one says: "I deleted the reference to the Skeptic Magazine contribution I used to do" So I take that as a declaration that the IP = James Randi. Could be someone lying but AGF.... Jytdog (talk) 22:50, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
This AGF observation still means nothing. If it is him, he still has to abide by policy and the article still needs to be written according to policy. Why is this even being discussed as if we should wink-wink/nod-nod and let BLP violations go because the article subject has added content? -- WV 22:57, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Then by all means, let's treat him like a piece of shit and not help him to master the process. BMK (talk) 23:02, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
If following policy regarding BLPs and the language contained within the canned warning left on his talk page about being certain to include reliable references with content added is treating someone "like a piece of shit", then take it to the appropriate noticeboard. -- WV 23:06, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
I see what you mean, clearly the entire structure of the encyclopedia would implode if we didn't follow every single rule to the exact letter immediately with a jerking knee, without consideration for the situation, circumstances or content. I also see now why it is your name appears as a subject on the noticeboards so often. That, at least, is useful to know. BMK (talk) 23:10, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
This is absolutely bizarre. An editor has just replaced +10,290 characters into the article without a single piece of verification. Are biographies exempt from what I thought was the ultimate policy of this project?DrChrissy (talk) 23:20, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
C'mon, Dr. Chrissy, anyone familiar with your history knows that's not why you're here. BMK (talk) 23:38, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
I'm sorry - just what is that supposed to mean? I have no idea what you consider my history to be, but have you heard of Assume Good Faith?DrChrissy (talk) 23:43, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Turning a situation not about me into something about me as a way to win an argument; how entirely helpful and productive. Of course, I'm being sarcastic. If your comments aren't treating someone "like a piece of shit", I don't know what is. But yes, let's get all worried about whether or not we are behaving wrongfully against someone we are assuming is a celebrity (even though we still don't know who the anon IP is) and treat established editors (who are merely trying to keep an article within the boundaries of policy) like worthless targets and villains. Talk about effed up priorities. And, yes, DrChrissy, completely bizarre. -- WV 23:26, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
But this situation became about you, at least in some respect, because of the way you behaved: didactic, closed off, bureaucratic and totally lacking in AGF. It's not bad to act in that manner about obvious vandalism, or promotionalism, or defamatory BLP material, but this wasn't one of those situations, and you behaved as if it was, without consideration of the circumstances or what the best response would be. Your knee jerked, you set your course, and you would not be swayed. That's not good editing, that's very bad editing, bad for the project. You think you know what's what, but you're not there yet, not by a long shot. BMK (talk) 23:38, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
I really don't feel you should be lecturing another editor about AGF after the edit you just made about me!DrChrissy (talk) 23:46, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
"But this situation became about you". No, it didn't and it never has been. But keep telling yourself that if you must. Although why you would is "beyond my ken". "that's very bad editing, bad for the project" What's bad for all of us is your insistence on making this about editors rather than edits (the comments you made to DrChrissy above included). Now, if you're done criticizing editors, I'm happy to discuss content, policy, etc. with you. If not, then I'm done discussing with you because it's really just all a waste of time and bytes and does nothing productive. Unless, of course, you have a legitimate complaint about me. In which case, you are free to start a new discussion on same at this noticeboard. Otherwise, please drop the darts and arrows and walk away. -- WV 23:48, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
I just reinstated the IP edits, with the edit summary "reinstating edits from IP editor; no problem letting them remain for a short time while IP editor's identity is sought to be confirmed or clarified." In response to a criticism of the revert on my talkpage, I'll copy here what I wrote there: "Several editors have suggested that the IP editor appears to be Mr. Randi himself, or perhaps someone working closely with him. Given that there appears to be no dispute as to the accuracy of the edits, I perceive little downside in leaving them in place for a short time while the editor is being asked to check in on his talkpage. In these circumstances, and consistent with the views of others expressed at ANI, the upside of treating a BLP editor with courtesy in the event that it turns out to be the article subject, outweighs the downside of allowing the edits to remain for a day or two if it turns out it is not." Newyorkbrad (talk) 23:20, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
Brad: Thanks for that very common sense approach. BMK (talk) 23:23, 22 July 2015 (UTC)
 And what was it that James Randi or one of his employees was sticking in? Oh, things like:

1977: James Randi was nominated as “Visiting Magician of the Year” by the Academy of Magical Arts & Sciences at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

1981: Mr. Randi received a certificate of appreciation from the MIT Club of Boston, and the designation of Grand Master of Magic from Hocus Pocus Magazine. Also in 1981, asteroid “#3163 Randi” was named by the International Astronomical Union. Randi has always been an active amateur observer. His friend Carl Sagan encouraged his interest.

1983: Mr. Randi received the Blackstone Cup of the International Platform Association as Outstanding Speaker in his category for his lecture, Science & the Chimera, and became the only second-time recipient of this award in 1987.

1984: The Bay Surgical Society of Los Angeles granted Honorary Membership to Mr. Randi following his lecture to the group on pseudoscience and quackery in medicine.

1986: Mr. Randi was made a Fellow of the prestigious John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, an honor awarded him for his work in investigating claims of supernatural, occult and paranormal powers, in particular his exposures of the TV evangelist/healers and “psychics.” He received a grant of $272,000 to assist him in these continuing endeavors. Also in 1986, the Israeli Society for Promoting the Art of Magic conferred membership on James Randi, and Assembly 22 of the Society of American Magicians gave him their Award of Merit: “in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the Art of Magic and for exemplary promotion and defense of the Art of Magic.”
2009: From the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Randi received their In Praise of Reason Award.

2010: Mr. Randi was elected a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and an Honorary Member of the New York Academy of Sciences.
 He truly lives up to his old stage name, "The Amazing Randi."


This came out of two threads on the Wikipedia Sucks! forum threads, one on the BLP, the other on skeptics in general. I'd like to thank Eric Barbour for his eagle eye, and Flip Flopped for their questions.


* Meaning psychic phenomena, cryptozoology, unidentified flying objects, alien abductions, ghosts, ghost photographs, haunted houses, poltergeists, Fortean phenomena, and other interrelated weirdness. To the skeptic, it's all lies, delusions, scams, and foolishness best avoided.


  1. Yuck! So many Wikipedians falling all over themselves hoping they were communicating with The Amazing Randi. For those who don't follow Wikipedia politics NewYorkBrad (real name Ira Matetsky) got the last word because he is like unto God on Wikipedia. He was on ArbCom, the Wikipedia discipline committee, for many years.

    That AN/I thread gets better every time I read it. :D Don't we all love reading AN/I?

    1. You want to see the AN/I without wonky spacing, a better layout is here: http://wikipedia-sucks-bad.blogspot.com/2016/04/dumping-ground-for-james-randi-blp.html

  2. Susan Gerbic admits she sockpuppets Facebook accounts in this 2015 podcast interview, 21 minutes in: http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-reality-check/e/trc-367-susan-gerbic-of-gsow-industry-funded-studies-deaths-40534090?refid=asa&autoplay=true

  3. That conversation shows how WP's administration has been taken over by atheist, "pro-science" geeks.