In its relatively short life online, reference Web site Wikipedia has endured numerous shots from corners ranging from the generally staid Encyclopedia Britannica to a former aide of the late Robert F. Kennedy. Now it’s lined up in the sites of a new foe — a group of high school students with a conservative and religious bent.
A new Web site called Conservapedia, founded by New Jersey home-schooled students and based on conservative and Christians principles, hopes to counter what they believe is “liberal bias” on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is one of the most popular sites on the Web.
The founders of Conservapedia say their site is designed to offer an alternative to Wikipedia, which they say is far too liberal with plenty of “anti-Christian and anti-American” sentiments.
Conservapedia, they say, offers a historical record from a Christian and conservative perspective.
The site, launched by 58 students in November and spearheaded by their world history teacher Andy Schlafly, an attorney and son of the prominent conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, is designed to promote pro-American and Christian values.
Conservatives have long derided Wikipedia’s editing process, which they say has an inherent bias by its “liberal” team of volunteer editors. Although entries are open for anyone to edit, conservatives say many editors act as political and religious censors, while imposing their own philosophical prejudices on entries.
“I’ve tried editing Wikipedia, and found that the biased editors who dominate it censor or change facts to suit their views,” Schlafly told LinuxInsider. “In one case, my factual edits were removed within 60 seconds — so editing Wikipedia is no longer a viable approach.”
Pervasive Political Posturing
Among Schlafly’s criticisms of Wikipedi is overt political posturing by liberal editors on the site, which he claims has made the entries almost unmanageable for researchers hoping to glean any factual information.
“They omit so many facts and instead concentrate on long-winded discussions of trivial issues,” said Shlafly, who went on to cite examples ranging from the reasonable — biased terms such as the “wrath of Father Capitalism” can be found in entries — to the xenophobic: “Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English-speaking users are American.”
Schlafly believes Conservapedia has enough support to grow into an important resource for teachers and students, while providing a voice for alternate views.
“It is already one of the largest and most reliable online educational resources of its kind,” he said.
Interestingly, the Web site is a complete knockoff of its nemesis Wikipedia in terms of design. Schlafly said a student chose the design and couldn’t provide any particular reason why it was created in Wikipedia’s image.
The Case Against Wikipedia
Schlafly is not the only one to find fault with the online encyclopedia. There have been other gripes about the open and untethered nature of the Wikipedia editing process in the past.
John Seigenthaler Sr., a journalist and former aide to Robert F. Kennedy, blasted the site in 2005 for falsely suggesting he had been accused of involvement in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy in the 1960s.
The grandfather of all encyclopedic resources, the Encyclopedia Britannica, lashed out against the accuracy of the site’s information after a survey suggested it was just as accurate as any traditional encyclopedia.
A Handle on Vandals
However, the new conservative wiki-based encyclopedia is attracting its share of jeers from the blogosphere, as many vandals have taken to posting phony articles on the site. So far, Conservapedia doesn’t have the resources its counterpart has to vet all this information.
“These liberal vandals claim to support free speech, but they are trying to censor what we are doing here,” said Schlafly.
Mark Frauenfelder, a popular blogger who cofounded Boing Boing, says he doesn’t advocate the vandalism but noted that Conservapedia “is a gold mine of unintentional hilarity.”
“I think that they are well within their right to try to do something, but conservatives taunting the other side are going to open up a lot of problems,” he said.
The Blogosphere Speaks, Laughs
The blogosphere has had a good laugh at the site so far, Frauenfelder says, as many people are often confused over the growing list of phony posts that end up parodying conservatives.
“I suspect it is happening a lot,” he said. “These Steven Colbert-style parodies are making it hard to tell if someone is being serious. They make the conservative viewpoint sound outrageous and end up ridiculing them.”
Frauenfelder also says it is ironic that Conservapedia believes there is a cabal of editors with liberal biases, but they come out and wear their own bias on their digital sleeves.
“If you want to publish something on Wikipedia, at least you don’t have to worry that [it] is some weird reactionary encyclopedia,” he said.
Wikipedia Founder’s Blessing
Users would likely think Conservapedia, for all the charges of bias it makes, would take great care to keep its own house in order. However, several searches of mainstream topics show their own tendency to editorialize.
A passage in the entry on global warming hits a familiar conservative note, suggesting humans aren’t capable of adversely affecting the environment, while claiming scientists who often cite emissions of CO2 gases for a resulting greenhouse effect “are motivated by a need for grant money in their field of climatology.”
For his part, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is taking a laissez-faire approach to the competition. “Free culture knows no bounds,” he said. “We welcome the reuse of our work to build variants. That’s directly in line with our mission.”