Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Society for Psychical Research’s new Psi Encyclopedia

As I know from my own experience, it is unwise to rely on Wikipedia for anything psi-related, driven as it is by pseudo-sceptics determined to cast the subject in as negative a light as possible.  This is extremely detrimental because of Wikipedia’s status as the default online knowledge resource.  Craig Weiler’s book Psi Wars: TED, Wikipedia and the Battle for the Internet addressed the unsavoury business of those antagonistic to psychical research distorting content associated with it.   He eloquently showed how a core group, ‘Guerrilla Skeptics', aided by a number of independent editors sharing its general outlook, had between them rendered Wikipedia’s psychical research and parapsychology pages untrustworthy.

That is why the SPR’s new Psi Encyclopedia, which has just been launched in tandem with its new website, is to be welcomed.  Unlike Wikipedia the undertaking is not crowd-sourced, a method that is fine in theory but unfortunately gives the upper hand to those who have most stamina pressing the delete key, to the detriment of balance.  Rather it takes the form of invited articles, often lengthy and detailed, written by experts who, unlike many Wikipedia contributors, are named.  They have endeavoured to present a rounded picture, acknowledging fraud and error where demonstrated, but minus the reflexively negative agenda so damaging to Wikipedia’s coverage.

The encyclopaedia’s ‘about’ page lists four different types of entries: there are broad overviews; articles breaking those overviews down into smaller themes to be examined in greater depth; case studies; and lists.  These categories combine to provide information to suit a wide range of needs.  Apparently at launch the site’s total word count was half a million words, with a lot more to come.  A very useful section is ‘New to Psi Research?’, describing major areas and linking to specific articles.  As someone who regularly handles students’ enquiries I anticipate that the encyclopaedia is going to make my job a lot easier.

One may not agree with everything in it – psychical research is a lively affair after all – and those who are hostile will naturally moan about a lack of ‘balance’ (as they see it, i.e. not conforming to their particular view); but one can be confident that at least the information has been carefully compiled to be as accurate as possible and is designed to inform rather than mislead.  The editor has provided a contact form and will be glad to receive feedback, suggestions for additional topics, and offers from suitably qualified writers to contribute.  This is a work in progress but early comments have been overwhelmingly positive, and in the years to come it will undoubtedly prove to be the standard source for reliable online information on psychical research.  Project funding came from the late Mr Nigel Buckmaster, and the entire field owes him a huge debt for enabling the Psi Encyclopedia to become a reality.