Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Is Wikipedia Fake News: Can Wikipedia be Cured?

Is Wikipedia 'fake news'? Does Wikipedia contain 'fake news'? How would we know?  Well, first of all, we need to understand the concept of fake news, and distinguish clearly between fake news and lies, truths, facts, non-facts, and bullshit. Perhaps we should begin with 'bullshit'.  Harry Frankfurt's essay, "On Bullshit" explores that concept in detail, and also in a nutshell.  "Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about." Frankfurt distinguishes clearly between lies - the presenter clearly does not believe what they are saying, and bullshit, where the speaker is simply talking about which they know little.

Frankfurt does not actually define 'facts' nor 'truth', although he does point out that "It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth." and "The bullshitter ... does not reject the authority of the truth... He pays no attention to it at all...  bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are." Frank does not make the mistake of assuming that 'facts' exist, instead commenting that "One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable." He ends with this phrase "sincerity itself is bullshit".

Maybe facts simply do not exist. What exists are beliefs. Dead things have no facts. Live things have beliefs. Beliefs can be accepted, challenged, even changed.

What we believe are facts are, in fact, simply what we believe. What we present as facts, might be what we believe - but they might not, as in this diagram.

Truths are what we believe. We speak truths when we speak what we believe. Everyone has their own truths, which can change over time. Lies are things we say that contradict what we believe. Lies are opportunistic, they change according to current situations. Bullshit is what we present as truth, when we have a need to extend our speech beyond our knowledge, beyond our current beliefs. When we bullshit, we sometimes know we are 'stretching the truth', but we don't consider it lying. Facts are irrelevant, not existing independent of belief.

But none of this is news.

News only exists when someone else reports what happened, or what was said.

Wikipedia, for example, does not want writers who tell us what they believe.  Wikipedia wants references. Wikipedia wants to know what someone in authority said, and who they are, and when and where they said it. Note: Wikipedia does not care if the authority was stating their truths, their lies, or simply bullshitting.  It's not considered important. Wikipedia is based entirely on news. Who said what, where and when. However, unlike many news sources, Wikipedia ignores 'why'.

Wikipedia is a news source, old news and new news.  But is it fake news?  Does Wikipedia contain fake news? What is fake news?  Well, we can ask Wikipedia, and read that "Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically." That's one definition. But it's not a particularly good one.  Fake news, according to Wikipedia is simply a lie, a deliberate, known untruth.

Much of the fake news currently on display is outside of the definitions of truths, lies and bullshit. The fake news stories that made headlines, that drove the news about fake news were not "with intent to mislead" in any real sense. In some cases, they are presented with intent to inform.

Satire is fake news.  It is a story, presented as fact, often written clearly as impossible or non-fact, but written to open our eyes. The purpose of satire is not to be funny, but to help us understand nonsense presented as truth.

But there is another, important type of fake news. We might call it 'fake news'.  Fake news is when someone writes a fake story, and presents it as news.  But, we need to ask, what is news?

News is simply what is presented to get money from advertisers. What advertisers will pay for, is news.  If the advertisers won't pay for it, it won't sell, it's not news.  No news source makes it's money from people buying the news. Money is made from advertisers. If you are not supported by advertisers - your news agency goes broke.

A 'fake news website' is a site that creates nonsense news to attract hits and sell advertising. In many cases, the fake news authors don't distinguish at all between truths, lies, and bullshit - because they simply don't care.  Many fake news websites only care about advertising and will publish anything they believe will bring clicks, possibly go viral, and make lots of money.

There are, however, other fake news websites, that actually care about their content. There is, like the gradient between truth, bullshit, and lies, a slightly different gradient for 'fake news reporters'.

Viewing the diagram above, it's not hard to realize that ALL news is, to a certain extent, 'fake news'. The news we get is deliberately written to sell ads.  If it does not sell ads, it's not news - except for the middle group, which are written to spread lies, and uses the news platform to present the fake news.  On the far right, we have nonsense news stories, written as clickbait, to sell advertising.

Where does satire fit into this diagram? In the middle.  Satire contains deliberate lies, ostensibly to make us aware of the truth. But satire, in order to sell, in order to be successful, must sell their lies well.

Is Wikipedia 'fake news'?  Wikipedia has no advertising. Does that make it exempt from fake news? Actually, no.  Wikipedia is written by 'well meaning' people, who want to sell their truths. But there's a problem. Most Wikipedia authors are simply not experts in what they write. They may be experts in research, or in writing, but generally they are not experts in the topics they write about. How do we know this?  It's actually against Wikipedia policy for an expert to write in their field of expertise. To quote Wikipedia, "Wikipedia articles must not contain original research (OR).... The prohibition against OR means that all material added to articles must be attributable to a reliable, published source, even if not actually attributed."

Is Wikipedia bullshit?  No.  But it certainly contains bullshit.  For one, a "reliable, published source" is not well defined. Anyone might claim to quote a reliable published source - and anyone else might claim it is not a reliable published source. Reliable publishers have been shown, many times over, to have published nonsense - aka bullshit.

Here, I offer evidence.  I have chosen a single Wikipedia article, to demonstrate the fake news, and bullshit potential present in Wikipedia.


Wikipedia has an entry for cure.  It has been entered and updated by hundreds of well meaning volunteers - and many interested parties. It might be updated again several times by the time you read this post. But with this entry, CURE, Wikipedia faces a simple problem. There are no experts on 'cure'. None. There are doctors who attempt to cure, and sometimes succeed. There are many people looking for cures, fund raising for cures, testing products and techniques as cures, and even many people finding cures, but there is not a single expert on the concept of cure.

Medical reference books, for the most part, do not define cure. MERCK, Lange's, and Harrison's treatment guidelines do not define cure and do not use the word cure consistently.  The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency that approves medical cures, provides a glossary of terms, but it does not provide nor follow any definition of cure. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also provides a glossary on their website - but it does not contain the words 'cure, cured, cures, nor incurable'. Most current medical dictionaries do not contain the word 'cure'. When they do, the definition provided is simplistic to the point of nonsense. Most medicines make no claim to cure, and cannot cure any illness. Many illnesses can be cured, but not by medicines.

So what is a Wikipedia author to do?  Make things up.  Bullshit. And proof that the authors are making things up becomes more obvious, the closer you look.

The first phrase in the current entry for 'cure' on Wikipedia says "A cure is the end of a medical condition;".  It sounds so simple, it must be obvious, right?  But read further.

Down the page, you will find the word 'incurable', and farther down, a link to a list of 'incurable diseases', Take note, the list of Incurable Diseases has re-appeared after being banished from Wikipedia because it contained too much nonsense.  It's back, with more of the same.

The list of incurable diseases says: "Common Cold - The common cold is a disease that mutates too frequently, and is rarely fatal,[3] for a vaccine or cure to be created.[4]". Now first of all, the use of English in this sentence is faulty to the point of nonsense if read literally. I think the author is trying to say "The common cold is a disease that mutates too frequently for a vaccine or cure to be created."

The first reference [3] - Wikipedians love references, is to the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, where it clearly states "Most adult Americans suffer from one to four colds per year,". but.... If an adult suffers more than one cold, certainly if they suffer more than one cold in a year - then the first cold, the first medical condition 'ended'.

Which contradicts the list of incurable diseases.  Either the list of incurable diseases is wrong, or the entry for cure is wrong, or they are both wrong.  They can't both be right. Now, as a serious student of the word 'cure', I can and will untangle this, but Wikipedia does not publish OR.

The second reference [4] is a link to a web article by "Business Insider", who describes themselves thus: "Business Insider is a fast-growing business site with deep financial, media, tech, and other industry verticals. ... the site is now the largest business news site on the web." Business Insider is NOT a medical authority, and certainly not an authority on cures, nor incurable diseases. The article does not state that the common cold is 'incurable', it does not use the word incurable at all, in fact, the web link to the article is "/how-to-cure-a-cold", although the article is titled "Why We Don't Have A Cure For The Common Cold".  It is written by a journalist, an editor, not a doctor. But in Wikipedia, it's a 'reliable source'. The author also confuses the concept of curing 'a cold' - which anyone can accomplish, with 'curing the disease we call the common cold', which no-one can accomplish.

The first phrase, of the first sentence, of Wikipedia's entry on cure is contradicted by the rest of the article. Even though all are, in theory, supported by reliable references.  But, let's read on. What else does the first sentence say? Well, actually, it goes on for quite a while, and seems to say quite a lot.

The Wikipedia entry for cure continues with "the substance or procedure that ends the medical condition, such as a medication, a surgical operation, a change in lifestyle, or even a philosophical mindset that helps end a person's sufferings; or the state of being healed, or cured."

Seriously now. The first sentence in the Wikipedia entry for cure contains - (if my quick count is correct) forty-eight words. The first sentence of the Wikipedia definition for 'cure' contains two phrases, separated by a semicolon, which contradict each other. First, Wiki says that cure is "the end of a medical condition", and then it says cure is "the substance or procedure that ends the medical condition". The Wikipedia entry for 'cure' clearly mixes TWO different definitions of cure, and the article then mixes and matches the definitions, as various authors provide information from 'reliable sources'. Wikipedia does learn, and we might hope that someday there will be two  or more entries for cure. But I'm not holding my breath.

But wait, there's more.  The sentence, again, is nonsense. It clearly says, for example, that a cure is "or even a philosophical mindset that helps end a person's sufferings; or the state of being healed, or cured."

Read that carefully.  It says that 'a cure is.. something... that helps end the patient's sufferings'. Is a cure then end of a medical condition? Or is it just the end of their suffering?

Or perhaps, cure is "the state of being healed, or cured"?  Perfect.  If we want to define 'cure', we just say that a cure is something that makes a patient 'cured' and a cure exists when the patient has been cured.

I could go on.  I often do. The Wikipedia entry for 'cure' is simplistic nonsense.  Bullshit. The more the authors attempt to explain 'cure' the more tangle they become, in their own research and discussion. The Wiki article on 'cure' contains many statements that are simply wrong - at best, or lies at worst?  Some examples:

"A remission is a temporary end to the medical signs and symptoms of an incurable disease."
 - Therefore, it's not possible to have a 'remission' unless the disease is incurable?

"Inherent in the idea of a cure is the permanent end to the specific instance of the disease.[4][5] When a person has the common cold, and then recovers from it, the person is said to be cured, even though the person might someday catch another cold."
 - is the common cold curable? Or incurable?

"The proportion of people with a disease that are cured by a given treatment, called the cure fraction or cure rate is determined by comparing disease-free survival of treated people against a matched control group that never had the disease.[1]"
 - duh. the common cold is 'cured' without a given treatment. So there is no cure rate for the common cold?
 - duh.  The terms 'cure fraction' and 'cure rate' are terms used for 'incurable' diseases, like cancers, and other diseases where a cure cannot be proven.  If a cure can be proven, there is no need for the concept of 'cure rate'. The link in the phrase 'disease free survival' does not take us to a page for disease free survival, instead we arrive at a page "Survival Rate", which begins with this phrase: "This article has multiple issues." Try to not be surprised.
 - cure rate does not measure the cure rate of the patient, nor the cure rate of the disease, it measures the cure rate of the treatment. It's nonsense. We might, for example, treat an abscessed tooth with a punch in the jaw and then measure the 'cure rate' of punching abscessed tooth patients in the jaw, by counting the patients whose abscess goes away and are still alive.

The CURE entry goes on for some time discussing ''cure rate" as if it related to cure.  Frankly, cure rate is simply a highly logical rationalization for 'we don't know if it was cured'', which might be more accurately named 'cure wait'.  eg. Wait 5 years, count who is still alive and call that the 5 year cure wait.

Near the bottom of the article, the Wiki CURE entry lists a single example of a 'cure'. "The most common example of a complete cure is a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics." However, the link to the article provided is broken. It appears that the article was removed, or replaced by an article that does not contain the quote. The revised article on the site linked, if it is the same article, now says "Except for some infectious diseases that we cure with antibiotics, there are almost no diseases where we take them away and they never come back again." If we want to find real examples of cure, provided by trusted resources we can find them in two places.  First, medical reference books like MERCK, Lange's and Harrison's generally avoid the word 'cure', but the do occasionally use the word cure, and document how to test for a cure.  Second, although over 95 percent of medicines sold do not cure, and make no attempt to cure, there are a few medicines that clearly claim to 'cure' on the product label, and the claim has been approved by the US FDA.

But that, in a nutshell is the first true  statement about cure. The only diseases that can be 'cured' by modern medicines are diseases caused by parasites - bacteria, fungi, viruses, which are cured by medicines that kill the parasite.  There are no other cures that are scientifically documented in modern medicine, because there are no other cures that can be tested by a scientific technique. Science fails to find cures - even when they are present. Science often claims there is no cure for the common cold, but recognizes that the common cold is cured by health, that healthy people suffer fewer colds, and cure them faster.

There is another truth about cure.  We can use it to find cures, to test cures, to document cures. But you won't find it in Wikipedia,because you can't find it in any medical reference book today, nor in any 'reliable published source'.

The cure for any illness is to address the cause. 

An illness is cured, when the cause has been successfully addressed. If the cause returns after a cure, like the cause of the common cold - the patient gets a new illness, not a return of the old illness. 

The Wikipedia article on cure?  Simplistic.  Self contradictory. Does it contain 'lies'?  I have no evidence of lies. I cannot prove that any of the statements it contains are the opposite of the beliefs of the authors. But it is certainly fake news. Nonsense. Self contradictory. Bullshit, as defined in Harry Frankfurt's essay. People speaking or writing beyond their current knowledge.

to your health, tracy

ps. There are many useful articles on Wikipedia. I use Wikipedia a lot to find information and sources. But I am always aware that much of Wikipedia is fake news written by non-experts, and that expert opinions, also known as "original research" is forbidden. Many posts on Wikipedia are similar to the article on 'cure' - I suspect some are worse.

ps, ps.  The Wikipedia article on CURE, as well as the list of INCURABLE DISEASES, make no useful distinction between a disease (a class of illnesses) an illness - a specific case of illness, and a medical condition - a much broader concept which includes things like broken arms, gunshot wounds and amputated legs.  A disease - a general concept, cannot be cured. There are three clear and simple meanings of cure, which can be understood when we clarify what we are curing.  An illness, a specific case of a disease, is cured by addressing the cause. A medical condition like  broken arm can be healed - that's a type of cure.  An amputated leg can be healed to close the wound, but not cured.  Finally, we can cure disease before it happens, just as we can 'cure the cat of jumping up on the table'.