The cryptid complications of Wikipedia's editing policies

This is (apparently) a great war simmering between Wikipedia editors and cryptid hunters. Cryptid enthusiasts, such as those who haunt r/Cryptozoology, accuse the open-source information website of being biased against their beloved beasts, dismissing such things as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster with pejorative descriptors of "pseudoscience" (Or, worse — "folklore").

Wikipedia editors, on the other hand, argue that, well, cryptids are pseudoscience; literally all of the sources available on them fit the site's definitions of "poor quality" pretty unambiguously. Of course, the way that Wikipedia classifies these things (i.e., "folklore" versus "cryptid") can also impact the search results from things like Google or ChatGPT, which in turn hinders the ability for other people to research the subject, and potentially find or create more approvable, higher-quality sources to back their, um, well, pseudoscience.

Slate tried to get to the center of this controversy — and it's an interesting discussion.

The answer is not necessarily to gatekeep what is and isn't a cryptid," said Cristina Van Epps, who co-hosts the popular Cults, Cryptids & Conspiracies podcast with her friend Chelsea Miller, and typically takes the skeptical point of view. Before they make a cryptid episode, they usually check the topic on Wikipedia and review the collection of sources collected at the bottom of an article. Their listeners will also suggest a cryptid to cover by linking to its Wikipedia page. So when Wikipedians reclassify a creature as folklore rather than a cryptid, then that subject no longer has the same visibility for information seekers.

Rather than "gatekeep" the cryptids, Van Epps and Miller suggested the page instead feature a disclaimer saying that the topic it not accepted by mainstream science. That's exactly the kind of language that appears on the Bigfoot article, which is sprinkled with descriptors like pseudosciencehoaxfolklore, and wishful thinking. But these words infuriate serious Bigfoot believers, who claim that Wikipedia should be softer and more neutral in its language.

According to experienced Wikipedians, the best way to counter a neutrality argument from the Cryptids Are Real side is to focus on Wikipedia's core policies, especially the requirement to reflect reliable sources. "We call it is pseudoscience because that's what the citations tell us to use. We're not making up the word," said Susan Gerbic, who leads Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia, a volunteer association of editors who seek to monitor the site's content for claims that go against the body of scientific evidence. "The sources that you have to use [on Wikipedia] have to be secondary, notable, and have journalistic integrity," she said.

Like I said, there is an interesting issue at play here. The value of Wikipedia is supposed to be in the communal acceptance of truth — a source of information based on a decentralized consensus, rather than a single, institutional authority that may have its own agenda or biases. Cryptid enthusiasts, like anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, take issue with this, essentially arguing that Wikipedia's editors are simply replicating the elite institutional authorities that have historically suppressed knowledge to support their own agendas or biases. And certainly, there are some fringe ideas that were once unsupported by high quality sources that have such become legitimized and more mainstream.

There's also an interesting debate here about whether the term "cryptid" itself is a pseudo-scientific label that establishes an unearned air of legitimacy, or if these creatures should be rightfully distinguished from other forms of folklore.

Why Wikipedia Is So Tough on Bigfoot [Stephen Harrison / Slate]