About Wikipedia’s handling of controversial topics…like climate science

Summary:  This is a hat trick.  About effective propaganda.  And climate science.  And more evidence that Wikipedia cannot be relied upon as an information source regarding controversial matters — or any work of importance.  (It’s always useful as a first place to look and source of links.)

Contents

  1. Wikipedia Is A Stunning Example Of How The Propaganda Machine Works“, Lawrence Solomon, National Review (reposted by CBS), 8 July 2008
  2. Wikipedia’s climate doctor“, Lawrence Solomon, National Post, 19 December 2009 – “How Wikipedia’s green doctor rewrote 5,428 climate articles.” 

Update:  an email reply by Wikipedia Editor Pierre Grés to Dennis Kuzara’s complaint about bias of Wikipedia Administrator William Connolley, posted at Watts Up With That, 19 December 2009 (see the actual Wikipedia file on this here):

“In September 2009, the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee revoked Mr. Connolley’s administrator status after finding that he misused his administrative privileges while involved in a dispute unrelated to climate warming.”

We’ll learn much about Wikipedia’s honesty by what happens now to the dozens of articles seriously distorted or outright suppressed by Connolley. Is this a structural problem with Wikipedia, or just a bad apple in the barrel?

Excerpts

(1)  “Wikipedia Is A Stunning Example Of How The Propaganda Machine Works“, Lawrence Solomon, National Review, 8 July 2008

Ever wonder how Al Gore, the United Nations, and company continue to get away with their claim of a “scientific consensus” confirming their doomsday view of global warming? Look no farther than Wikipedia for a stunning example of how the global-warming propaganda machine works.

As you (or your kids) probably know, Wikipedia is now the most widely used and influential reference source on the Internet and therefore in the world, with more than 50 million unique visitors a month. In theory Wikipedia is a “people’s encyclopedia” written and edited by the people who read it – anyone with an Internet connection. So on controversial topics, one might expect to see a broad range of opinion.

Not on global warming. On global warming we get consensus, Gore-style: a consensus forged by censorship, intimidation, and deceit.

… Turns out that on Wikipedia some folks are more equal than others. Kim Dabelstein Petersen is a Wikipedia “editor” who seems to devote a large part of his life to editing reams and reams of Wikipedia pages to pump the assertions of global-warming alarmists and deprecate or make disappear the arguments of skeptics.

I soon found others who had the same experience: They would try to squeeze in any dissent, or even correct an obvious slander against a dissenter, and Petersen or some other censor would immediately snuff them out.

Now Petersen is merely a Wikipedia “editor.” Holding the far more prestigious and powerful position of “administrator” is William Connolley. Connolley is a software engineer and sometime climatologist (he used to hold a job in the British Antarctic Survey), as well as a serial (but so far unsuccessful) office seeker for England’s Green party.

And yet by virtue of his power at Wikipedia, Connolley, a ruthless enforcer of the doomsday consensus, may be the world’s most influential person in the global warming debate after Al Gore. Connolley routinely uses his editorial clout to tear down scientists of great accomplishment such as Fred Singer, the first director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service and a scientist with dazzling achievements. Under Connolley’s supervision, Wikipedia relentlessly smears Singer as a kook who believes in Martians and a hack in the pay of the oil industry.

Wikipedia is full of rules that editors are supposed to follow, and it has a code of civility. Those rules and codes don’t apply to Connolley, or to those he favors.

… Trumping Wikipedia’s stated rules, Connelly used his authority to ensure Wikipedia readers saw only what he wanted them to see. Any reference, anywhere among Wikipedia’s 2.5 million English-language pages, that casts doubt on the consequences of climate change will be bent to Connolley’s bidding.

(2)  Wikipedia’s climate doctor“, Lawrence Solomon, National Post, 19 December 2009 – “How Wikipedia’s green doctor rewrote 5,428 climate articles.”  Excerpt:

The Climategate Emails describe how a small band of climatologists cooked the books to make the last century seem dangerously warm. The emails also describe how the band plotted to rewrite history as well as science, particularly by eliminating the Medieval Warm Period, a 400 year period that began around 1000 AD.

The Climategate Emails reveal something else, too: the enlistment of the most widely read source of information in the world — Wikipedia — in the wholesale rewriting of this history.

… Connolley took control of all things climate in the most used information source the world has ever known – Wikipedia. Starting in February 2003, just when opposition to the claims of the band members were beginning to gel, Connolley set to work on the Wikipedia site. He rewrote Wikipedia’s articles on global warming, on the greenhouse effect, on the instrumental temperature record, on the urban heat island, on climate models, on global cooling. On Feb. 14, he began to erase the Little Ice Age; on Aug.11, the Medieval Warm Period. In October, he turned his attention to the hockey stick graph. He rewrote articles on the politics of global warming and on the scientists who were skeptical of the band. Richard Lindzen and Fred Singer, two of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, were among his early targets, followed by others that the band especially hated, such as Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, authorities on the Medieval Warm Period.

All told, Connolley created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles. His control over Wikipedia was greater still, however, through the role he obtained at Wikipedia as a website administrator, which allowed him to act with virtual impunity. When Connolley didn’t like the subject of a certain article, he removed it — more than 500 articles of various descriptions disappeared at his hand. When he disapproved of the arguments that others were making, he often had them barred — over 2,000 Wikipedia contributors who ran afoul of him found themselves blocked from making further contributions. Acolytes whose writing conformed to Connolley’s global warming views, in contrast, were rewarded with Wikipedia’s blessings. In these ways, Connolley turned Wikipedia into the missionary wing of the global warming movement.

The Medieval Warm Period disappeared, as did criticism of the global warming orthodoxy. With the release of the Climategate Emails, the disappearing trick has been exposed. The glorious Medieval Warm Period will remain in the history books, perhaps with an asterisk to describe how a band of zealots once tried to make it disappear.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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16 thoughts on “About Wikipedia’s handling of controversial topics…like climate science

  1. “Information must be free…” But unfortunately you get what you pay for.

    What I am concerned about as we enter into this world of cloud computing is the integrity of the data. The printed word upon the page once writ can never change. Unfortunately, once that printed word is uploaded into the internet/cloud/google, it can be modified; and who is to know better except our faulty memories or other posts referencing that item. You don’t even have to redact or modify it – just break the link with a 404 – File not found error or put it so far down the search engine list its ignored. Count your blessings that people are willing to spend their time to correct the record for free as well on Wikipedia. That’s why I have become a bibliophile – if only to preserve those words for a few hundred more years. Hopefully we don’t fall into a Farenheit 451 dystopia where librarians are labeled insurgents by some Orwellian Ministry of Truth/Information.

    Doubleplusungood.

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  2. drsteph: google and internet archive will hold onto anything you want, and you can append a checksum to the work to forestall unwanted edits (or at least make edited versions obviously suspect).

    i personally am very optimistic about the intersection of rapidly increasing personal data storage and display price/quality trends for global literacy rates.

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  3. Lesseee here….you wrote an article about propaganda by…wait for it….quoting editorials from one single source of the well-funded sources of propaganda from big business. You’re not incompetent. You’re just stupid.
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    FM reply: Do you have anything to support your accusations? In these articles Solomon gives quite a bit of supporting data. Do you have any rebuttal?

    “You’re just stupid.”

    You give empty assertions followed by an insult. Why should we take this comment seriously? Esp given the long history of well-documented complaints about Connolley’s imposing his views of the climate science on Wikipedia (e.g., “Know It All — Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?“, Stacy Schiff, The New Yorker, 31 July 2006).

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  4. The Wiki articles are inetresting. Thanks for posting them. It made me think fo a conversation I had with my 13 year old nephew, in which he said that Wiki is careless about fact checking, and so he couldn’t use it for researching his homework.

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  5. This could be useful. When all books are on Kinder and the paper versions composted , we can edit .Shall we start with the Bible ?
    God made the World in 4 billion years . He told the Children Of Israel they could have Iraq instead , land of oil and money .

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  6. Drsteph, couldn’t agree more with your concerns about the integrity of data in this new age of bytes, electrons, and endless ones and zeroes. The potential for fraud is immense; one reason why sometime-luddites like this writer continue to use old-fashioned pen and paper, and read/own books, and pay bills by check, and not online.

    The saga of Wikipedia and William Connolley is nothing if not Stalinist. Premiere Stalin outlawed history which did not conform to his vision of the USSR or himself, and thus a generation or more of Soviet historians wrote not to satisfy truth and their own curiousity, but the dictates of the “Man of Steel.” Alter the time, place, subject, and substitute Connolley’s name for Stalin’s, and the situation is quite similar. Chilling.

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  7. Given that partisanship is an existential condition of people in a democracy, and given that Wikipedia is a democracy of writers and editors, how could activism such as Mr. Connolley’s be prevented? How do we know there is not an AGW-skeptic version of Mr. Connolley acting in parallel with him, adding their own particular point-of-view to just as many articles?
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    FM reply: You’re kidding, right? We know that by reading Wiki’s articles and seeing that the presentation is totally one-sided. Also, the point of this issue is that Wiki only pretends to be a democracy: with respect to climate science, Connolley was a king (in a medieval sense: so long as supported by fellow administrators).

    More broadly, many conservatives alledge that the Wikipedia structure is biased to the left — a democracy in the sense of primaries in the democratic or republican parties.

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  8. From FM reply to #9: “Also, the point of this issue is that Wiki only pretends to be a democracy: with respect to climate science, Connolley was a king (in a medieval sense: so long as supported by fellow administrators)

    After reading the entire article I now see what you mean. You are right that Connolley, as a Wikipedia “admin”, had greater power than a Wiki “editor”. Apparently, the structure of Wikipedia is less “democratic” than I thought.

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  9. FM on #9: “many conservatives alledge that the Wikipedia structure is biased to the left”

    I’ve been using Wikipedia for some time now and I must say that I really don’t see this. I’ve seen Wikipedia articles that could have a left-wing point of view, and I’ve also seen articles that could have a right-wing point of view. Arguing that an entire vast collection of articles concerning anything humans are curious about is “biased to the left”, is an easy statement to make, and hard to disprove. Nevertheless I will try:

    (Wikipedia: “Ronald Reagan“)
    Here we have a very long, mostly positive article about Ronald Reagan, which calls him the most influential president since FDR, and has all the heartwarming details about his marriage and children, of the kind that conservatives seem to care so much about. (You would have to follow the “Ron Reagan” link to discover that his son Ron is a big liberal who opposed the invasion of Iraq.) In the section about Reagan’s first term, if you scroll down a bit to the subsection “Escalation of the Cold War”, there is a brief description of SDI, but no talk about its ridiculous cost, and only the barest mention of its lack of proven effectiveness. Indeed, in the subsection on his Domestic & Political Legacy, we learn all about the “Regan Democrats”, his leadership of the conservative movement, his long list of honors – reported in depth, and his warm, grandfatherly image, but there is only one sentence about the record-breakingly massive deficits that Reagan ran in order to escalate the Cold War.

    In short, if someone wanted to argue that Wikipedia had a right-wing bias, they could probably find plenty of support for that too. For this reason, I am skeptical of claims that Wikipedia has an inherent left-wing bias. Until proven otherwise, I’ll continue to believe that it’s just an enormous collection of articles about everything and anything, which contains the marks of as many separate political agendas as there are editors and admins.

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  10. atheist,

    Obviously, you didn’t you read the article. If you had, you would realize why your comment that Wikipedia “contains the marks of as many separate political agendas as there are editors and admins” is pointless.

    I am an editor at Wikipedia who has been frequently deleted or heavily edited when inserting pure statistics and numbers into articles on government spending and its effects. There is a definite power structure of the editors and administrators at Wikipedia that is tilted to the left.

    One can indeed find articles about individuals or obscure topics that have a right-wing bias. However, it is in the popular, politically charged topics of the day that Wikipedia displays its great liberal bias. I submit there is a distinct liberal bias at Wikipedia in the main articles on the topics of government spending, Medicare, Medicaid, taxes, tax cuts, U.S. federal deficits, and climate change.
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    FM reply: Thanks for this comment. First person evidence is always valuable.

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  11. re #12 — It’s an evergreen theme, “the media/wikipedia/Higher Education/Hollywood is biased”.

    Everybody partakes. Everybody believes the media/wikipedia/society is biased against them. The conservatives have been arguing at least since the days of Nixon that the media has a left-wing bias *, the liberals have been saying at least since the 80’s that the media has a right-wing bias **. Of course, one should never forget that the blacks think the media has an anti-black bias ***, while the white nationalists think the media has an anti-white bias ****. I know what I think about the bias of our lousy right-wing-owned media structure.

    But can we all be correct? Does the media call anyone who questions Barack Obama a traitor, and love only liberals? While simultaneously creating unfair double standards against Obama and being a lapdog for George Bush? Does the media environment delight in attacking blacks on behalf of the white power structure, while simultaneously hating the white power structure and secretly working on behalf of the blacks? When my girlfriend quips, “you’re arguing with the TV again”, is her mockery unfair?

    It’s a nearly un-falsifiable ***** claim. It seems like a trump card to any debate, because it invalidates your opponent’s argument without requiring proof. Besides being a trump card, it also functions as a bandage, helping us to heal from the wounds of debates and convince ourselves that what we suffered from was nothing but bias. Finally, it can lead us to feel victimized and shut out from society – perhaps even more victimized and shut out than we actually are.

    I feel the bias as acutely as anyone, but I try not to use it in debate.

    * “Preferring Liberals In Both Parties“, Media Research Center, L. Brent Bozell, Dec. 15, 2009 — excerpt:

    “It’s a simple formula, really. Anything that moves the GOP away from the Ronald Reagan vision is a good thing; any GOP “leader” who has the “courage” of his liberal convictions is a “maverick” to be saluted. And any Democrat or independent who dares question Obama’s socialist agenda is a traitor.

    ** “Auld Lang Syne: Farewell to another decade of “liberal media bias”“, Media Matters for America, Eric Boehlert, Dec. 22, 2009 — excerpt:

    “I know which [claim] I’d nominate in hopes of highlighting the absurdity … ‘liberal media bias.’ Y’know, the same “liberal media” that over the previous decade unleashed its venom on Al Gore, morphed into George Bush’s lapdog cheerleaders, and created unfair double standards for covering the new Democratic president, Barack Obama.

    *** “Truth, Lies and Subtext“, Bob Herbert, NYT, May 19, 2003 — excerpt:

    “But the folks who delight in attacking anything black, or anything designed to help blacks, have pounced on the [Jayson] Blair story … The problem with American newsrooms is too little diversity, not too much. Blacks have always faced discrimination and maddening double standards …”

    **** “Liberal Media Bias and the Myth of White Racism“, “White America” website, Ian Jobling, 5/15/09. Excerpt:

    “McGowan paints a portrait of a media establishment that obsessively promulgates what I will call “the myth of white racism” at the expense of objectivity and accuracy. … To bolster this myth, the media establishment eagerly seeks out incidents that reveal white racism.

    ***** “Falsifiability“, Definition of word, Wikipedia link..
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    FM reply: This strikes me as confused. There have been many studies using objective criteria to determine media bias. Word studies, such as frequency with which people described (often as “right wing”, seldom as “left wing”). Use of party identification lables (Republicans are usually so described in scandals or crimes; party ID of Democrats seldom give). Career paths (many in news business have history of activism or even employment in the Democratic Party).

    The confusion — quite deliberate IMO — results from conflating “Democratic Party” and “liberal”. Two very different things.
    * The Demo Party has big-business interests, which the media support.
    * Our current wars are a bipartisan affair, as shown by voting records and support by Demo Party leaders like Hillary.
    * Demo Party in-fighting is reflected in the media.

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  12. FM: There have been many studies using objective criteria to determine media bias. Word studies, such as frequency with which people described (often as “right wing”, seldom as “left wing”). Use of party identification lables (Republicans are usually so described in scandals or crimes; party ID of Democrats seldom give). Career paths (many in news business have history of activism or even employment in the Democratic Party).

    Fabius, maybe it is time I looked at one of these studies. Do you have a link to one of them (hopefully, a short one)?

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  13. Both of the traditional parties are breaking down, or at least going through big changes. Many republicans are not so conservative, nor democrats so liberal, as the media would like for us to believe.

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  14. On the topic of wiki climate supremo William M Connolley
    Re: My experiences when attempting to make changes on Wiki by Andrew Judd

    Wiki is preventing a true description of the ‘greenhouse effect’ being shown on Wiki. Wiki wants you to believe that the atmosphere heats the Surface. Anybody attempting to show that the surface heats the atmosphere will be banned. As required by Wiki my comments were supported by the references already on the page. (link to Wikipedia source)

    I went as far as to phone up the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory Senior Scientist, Yochanan Kushnir Ph.d, who wrote reference 9 and he confirmed that the surface heats the atmosphere, and the surface is warmer because the atmosphere slows down the heat loss from the surface and the colder atmosphere cannot heat the hotter surface. That was the main point that I wanted to get onto the Wiki page.

    Wiki administrator Dave Souza who may well be Connolley since Souza cannot possibly be the ten year retired local authority architect he claims to be with the energy of a fifteen year year old to prevent changes, said I had an odd unsupported opinion that the atmosphere heats the surface and was always intrumental in getting me sanctioned.

    After I was banned my wife informed the editors that Dr Kushnir fully supported what I had said and even after this editor Dave Souza kept up the obfuscation that Kushnirs telephone comments were not valid for Wiki. Souza referred to my wife as das Weib when he reported her. Obviously he knew the abusive content of that expression when used to describe another mans wife. My wife was banned.

    Connolley appears to be the chief abuser of anybody who attempts to make unapproved changes, but he has other names he can use to ensure no disputing editor can make changes. Connolley did a write up of his behaviour with me on his blog where he kept up the insulting behaviour in the comments continually saying i did not know what i was talking about.

    Fairly well known climate scientist James Annan called me a loon, and on his blog when i asked for an explanation he deleted the comment and said ‘do go away silly troll’. He followed up with more comments on Connolleys blog that if he told me what he did on the internet he would have to kill me. Connolley thought this was all a big joke. (link to sciencesblogs)

    These people behave like children but evidently they have some power to alter our reality. Other editors have tried to make similar changes and been banned. (Wikipedia link) The whole experience was very odd and it was only later that i found out this had all happened before and Connolley was a well known activist. Please feel free to use this information as you wish

    Regards,
    Andrew Judd

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