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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Righteous Anger (or just bafflement)

I think virtually all people these days with access to the internet know of Wikipedia. Most people are also at least vaguely aware of the multitude of other wiki-style 'pedias' that have developed, including, for example, Wookieepedia for all things Star Wars. There is one such online encyclopedia, however, that is not as innocuously harmless (nor as cleverly named), and that is Conservapedia. My friend, Wisefly requested that I do a blog post discussing Conservapedia, as he decided my blog had healthy levels of liberal bias and social commentary that he didn't want to inject into his blog. As I am always flattered to get requests, I of course have decided to oblige.

To start off with, I think it is kind of ridiculous that the start of Conservapedia came about due to a student of its founder, Andrew Schlafly, using the Common Era style of dating (BCE and CE instead of BC and AD) after having seen it on Wikipedia. It is worth noting that the Common Era method of dating is identical to the Anno Domini method aside from the abbreviation used, so, while it is understandably a silly thing, is hardly anti-anything. Schlafly, however, took this to be evidence of the "liberal, anti-Christian, and anti-American bias" of Wikipedia and decided that something had to be done about it (in other words, create his own pocket of the internet where his own version of reality could reign supreme).

I have been unable to find an original source for this quotation, but I think it sums things up nicely: "Reality has a liberal bias." I mean, Wikipedia is not a political organization. It is an organization ostensibly based solely on verifiable fact, and makes every effort possible to remove bias of any sort. While it is impossible to remove all bias from writing, especially about controversial subjects, living persons, and competing entities, there is a strong effort to do so. I certainly don't troll the pages of Wikipedia looking for ideological confirmation of my deep-seated belief structure. That is not the point of an encyclopedia. To see the intense divorcement from reality that Conservapedia endures, one simply has to look at a couple articles. One particularly telling one is the Conservapedia article on Barack Obama. Within the first sentence, they use the word allegedly about his birth place and date (no doubt a shout-out to the crazies who insist that Barack Obama is not American and thus cannot be President). It then goes on to claim that Obama is an apparent Muslim (from whence did this become apparent?) who could use the Koran to be sworn into office. There is a reference, but if one decides to actually check what the reference is, not only is it from the Christian Science Monitor, it isn't even about Barack Obama. Instead, it is an outraged story about a congressman who actually is a Muslim wanting to use a Koran when taking his oath of office. I tried to read the rest of the article, but simply couldn't make it through (although the assertioan that Obama uses mind control was pretty hilarious).

It is unfortunate that people rarely follow references, because Conservapedia has a habit of giving references that are only tangentially related or directly contradictory to the statement they are making. For example, the article on PZ Myers used to state "In January 2008, Myers participated in a debate with Discovery Institute fellow Geoffrey Simmons on KMMS. He was unable to counter criticisms of the fossil record, in particular the absence of transitional forms in the whale fossil record. Geoffrey was invited back for an hour long talk the next week. PZ Myers now refuses to debate creation scientists." The reference given, however, was for a Youtube video hilariously (and accurately) titled, "PZ Myers destroys Geoffrey Simmons" (or something to that effect, the verb used may have been 'crushed' but unfortunately the video is no longer available). I am actually marginally impressed that Conservapedia has been somewhat mollified and now only states the first sentence.

Anyway, I could keep going, but it seems rather futile. Conservapedia is an insane mockery of an encyclopedia, divorced from reality and full of its own self-satisfied importance. It can be handy for a chuckle, though, and if you ever just need to shake your head in bafflement, peruse an article on Conservapedia. The most blood-boiling ones tend to be about either evolution or politics.

10 comments:

Jolly Bloger said...

I wonder to what extent the Conservapedia people are using deliberate propaganda. Surely there must be a large number who truly believe their side is right, and our side is not just wrong, but actually evil in an absolute sense. They must be terrified at every moment.

Minor nitpick: Christian Science Monitor, as I understand it, is Christian in name only, and is a fine, reputable news source.

Mozglubov said...

In regards to the Christian Science Monitor: I've heard that too, but I've also seen some pretty poor articles published by them (unless I am confusing them with other news organizations, which is entirely possible). I don't read them often enough to pass full judgement, which is why I tried not to give any sort of value judgement (although I guess that was implied in how I worded it, so nitpick granted).

As for us being part of absolute evil, I think it is a combination of sure belief and lies. It's just hard to tell where one stops and the other begins.

wisefly said...

Woot! For those who might believe that politics might always be subjective, read some of their articles on irrefutable science! Be sure also to read their article on relativity! Aside from the murky explanation obviously written by someone who has no idea about the math involved, there is also a "Political Aspects" section, stating that "There is a correlation between enthusiasm for the theory of relativity and political views." Wow!!

Paul Kishimoto said...

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias," was famously used by Stephen Colbert in his address to the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

Mozglubov said...

Was Colbert's comment the original incarnation of that statement, or was he quoting something? I thought people had been saying (at least approximately) that for a few years before at least.

Andrew said...

Great blog. I do believe Colbert came up with this on his own. If not, he most certainly popularized it.

Another hilarious article on Conservapedia is the one regarding gun control. They cannot take down the fact that America has a paltry 11,000 gun crimes per year because it has a valid citation attached. This is compared to, say, the UK, which has experienced a rapid rise in crime to ~600 gun crimes per year due to strict gun control.

Gotta love Wikiality.

Mozglubov said...

Thanks Andrew, I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I do find the gun control thing pretty baffling, too... in fact, I guess I would be hard-pressed to find something in the hardcore conservative world-view that isn't baffling. Any suggestions?

Zeno said...

My goodness, if I known about this post, I would not have needed to write my own. Yours was more timely and right on target!

Mozglubov said...

Why thank you, Zeno! I have become quite a fan of your blog since I found it a while back, so it is rather flattering that you approve of mine.

BrianS1137 said...

Re: the relativity article, this part was the hilarious: "The Theory of Relativity enjoys a disproportionate share of federal funding of physics research today. In at least one case that research has been unsuccessful. The $365 million dollar LIGO project has failed to detect the gravity waves predicted by relativity." And the bit about time dilation is good for a laugh as well...

For more math-related hilarity, you can see a math course that they offer here. At first, I was wondering why they highlighted Bernhard Riemann of all people until I clicked on his link - he was homeschooled of course!

One of my officemates is related to Andrew and Phyllis Schlafly (and has the same name!), although his side of the family is liberal Catholic and, thankfully, not insane.