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Wikipedia’s Zealots

It seems Intelligent Design isn’t the only thing that Wikipedia distorts and censors…

Wikipedia’s zealots

The thought police at the supposedly independent site are fervently enforcing the climate orthodoxy
Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post Published: Saturday, April 12, 2008

As I’m writing this column for the Financial Post, I am simultaneously editing a page on Wikipedia. I am confident that just about everything I write for my column will be available for you to read. I am equally confident that you will be able to read just about nothing that I write for the page on Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia page is entitled Naomi Oreskes, after a professor of history and science studies at the University of California San Diego, but the page offers only sketchy details about Oreskes. The page is mostly devoted to a notorious 2004 paper that she wrote, and that Science journal published, called “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” This paper analyzed articles in peer-reviewed journals to see if any disagreed with the alarming positions on global warming taken by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position,” Oreskes concluded.

Oreskes’s paper — which claimed to comprehensively examine all articles in a scientific database with the keywords “climate change” — is nonsense. As FP readers know, for the last 18 months I have been profiling scientists who disagree with the UN panel’s position. My Deniers series, which now runs to some 40 columns, describes many of the world’s most prominent scientists. They include authors or reviewers for the UN panel (before they quit in disgust). They even include the scientist known as the father of scientific climatology, who is recognized as being the most cited climatologist in the world. Yet somehow Oreskes missed every last one of these exceptions to the presumed consensus, and somehow so did the peer reviewers that Science chose to evaluate Oreskes’s work.

When Oreskes’s paper came out, it was immediately challenged by science writers and scientists alike, one of them being Benny Peiser, a prominent U.K. scientist and publisher of CCNet, an electronic newsletter to which I and thousands of others subscribe. CCNet daily circulates articles disputing the conventional wisdom on climate change. No publication better informs readers about climate-change controversies, and no person is better placed to judge informed dissent on climate change than Benny Peiser.

For this reason, when visiting Oreskes’s page on Wikipedia several weeks ago, I was surprised to read not only that Oreskes had been vindicated but that Peiser had been discredited. More than that, the page portrayed Peiser himself as having grudgingly conceded Oreskes’s correctness.

Upon checking with Peiser, I found he had done no such thing. The Wikipedia page had misunderstood or distorted his comments. I then exercised the right to edit Wikipedia that we all have, corrected the Wikipedia entry, and advised Peiser that I had done so.

Peiser wrote back saying he couldn’t see my corrections on the Wikipedia page. Had I neglected to save them after editing them, I wondered. I made the changes again, and this time confirmed that the changes had been saved. But then, in a twinkle, they were gone again! I made other changes. And others. They all disappeared shortly after they were made.

Nonplused, I investigated. Wikipedia logs all changes. I found mine. And then I found Tabletop’s. Someone called Tabletop was undoing my edits, and, following what I suppose is Wikietiquette, also explained why. “Note that Peiser has retracted this critique and admits that he was wrong!” Tabletop said.

I undid Tabletop’s undoing of my edits, thinking I had an unassailable response: “Tabletop’s changes claim to represent Peiser’s views. I have checked with Peiser and he disputes Tabletop’s version.”

Tabletop undid my undid, claiming I could not speak for Peiser.

Why can Tabletop speak for Peiser but not I, who have his permission?, I thought. I redid Tabletop’s undid and protested: “Tabletop is distorting Peiser. She does not speak for him. Peiser has approved my description of events concerning him.”

Tabletop parried: “We have a reliable source to this. What Peiser has said to *you* is irrelevant.”

Tabletop, it turns out, has another name: Kim Dabelstein Petersen. She (or he?) is an editor at Wikipedia. What does she edit? Reams and reams of global warming pages. I started checking them. In every instance I checked, she defended those warning of catastrophe and deprecated those who believe the science is not settled. I investigated further. Others had tried to correct her interpretations and had the same experience as I — no sooner did they make their corrections than she pounced, preventing Wikipedia readers from reading anyone’s views but her own. When they protested plaintively, she wore them down and snuffed them out.

By patrolling Wikipedia pages and ensuring that her spin reigns supreme over all climate change pages, she has made of Wikipedia a propaganda vehicle for global warming alarmists. But unlike government propaganda, its source is not self-evident. We don’t suspend belief when we read Wikipedia, as we do when we read literature from an organization with an agenda, because Wikipedia benefits from the Internet’s cachet of making information free and democratic. This Big Brother enforces its views with a mouse.

While I’ve been writing this column, the Naomi Oreskes page has changed 10 times. Since I first tried to correct the distortions on the page, it has changed 28 times. If you have read a climate change article on Wikipedia — or on any controversial subject that may have its own Kim Dabelstein Petersen — beware. Wikipedia is in the hands of the zealots.

[email protected] – Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and author of The Deniers (Richard Vigilante Books). www.energyprobe.org

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12 Responses to Wikipedia’s Zealots

  1. Yet another reason why Wikipedia is not considered a viable source of citation for any serious research.

    Beware of Wikipedia.

  2. Wikipedia is THE place for the lazy and faint of heart. A better name is “OpEdpedia,” with a byline of “First on Google.”

  3. Wikipedia is remarkable in many ways but it sure doesn’t have the reputation for objectivity of real encyclopedias like Britannica.

    A general rule that applies in this case is “you get what you pay for”. When you pay your editors $0 you can’t expect much. One should always be highly suspect of things that come without warranty and doubly suspicious of anonymous sources. Wiki is all of these.

  4. Not surprising. Wikipedia is notoriously biased on any front of the cultural battle line. Their stuff on Mathematics and Computability and Finance is pretty good, and I reference it fairly often. Even their philosophy is pretty decent.

    Everything else is authoritarian-as-default-and-therefore-”neutral”-POV.

  5. I tried to update their definition of ‘propaganda’ (which, you see, is only done by pro-war rightists) with examples of anti-war and anti-capitalist propaganda. The Zealot Patrol erased them a dozen times, so I quit going to the Wiki-Swamp.

  6. 6
    Larry Fafarman

    I gave up on Wickedpedia a long time ago. Here are some of the atrocities committed by the Wickedpedian control-freak administrators –

    (1) Censored a link to a Discovery Institute rebuttal of a long criticism of the DI’s report that charged that the ID-as-science section of Judge “Jackass” Jones’ Dover opinion was ghostwritten by the ACLU.

    (2) On the biography of Cheri Yecke, they censored links to my personal blog while allowing links to the personal blogs of Sleazy PZ Myers, Fatheaded Ed Brayton, and Wesley “Ding” Elsberry. The reason given: my blog is “crappy” while their blogs are “notable.” Wikipedia rules say that personal blogs are not supposed to be cited at all, but if they allow some personal blogs, they should allow others.

    (3) Rewrote the “banned books” article just to avoid listing “Of Pandas and People,” the book that Judge Jones banned from Dover classrooms.

    My blog has dozens of articles that slam Wickedpedia, most of them under the following post-label lists:




    The following post-label lists are for posts about Cheri Yecke:



  7. This is precisely why my religious studies professor told me, “For the love of all that is holy and good, never ever cite Wikipedia as a source.”

  8. Some critique of BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER:
    The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, N. Oreskes, 2004

    “In 2007, Christopher Walter, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley reviewed critiques of Oreskes’ 2004 paper, also citing scientists who disagree with Oreskes.
    “Consensus”? What “Consensus”? Among Climate Scientists, The Debate Is Not Over”, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, Thursday, 19 July 2007, Science and Public Policy Institute, 21 pp.

    Klaus-Martin Schulte reviewed 539 papers on “global climate change” from the Web of Science from January 2004 to mid-February 2007, updating research by Oreskes. Scientific Consensus on Climate Change? Schulte, Klaus-Martin, Energy & Environment, Volume 19, Number 2, March 2008 , pp. 281-286(6)

    ”In the present review, 31 papers (6% of the sample) explicitly or implicitly reject the consensus. Though Oreskes said that 75% of the papers in her former sample endorsed the consensus, fewer than half now endorse it. Only 7% do so explicitly.”

    Oreskes had criticized Klaus-Martin Schulte over an authorized draft. Schulte demanded an apology publicly rebutting her charges. Open Letter in Response to Namoi Oreskes’ Criticisms, Klaus-Martin Schulte, Science and Public Policy Institute September 3, 2007″

  9. It is sad really because wikipedia really was a good idea. Ultimately the problem seems to be that is suffers from vandalism with people posting all sorts of rubbish/spam, so there needs to be a way to edit that out, unfortunately you get morons like this that can’t actually tolerate a difference of opinion.

    I’m not sure anything can be done about it unfortunately, unless you can find some way to get rid of the vandals.

  10. I didn’t know anyone actually cited Wikipedia. I would think that an open source encyclopedia would be a strict no-no as far as citations.

    I’ve always considered it as a great place to go to get a crash course in any subject in about five minutes–nothing more. Well, sometimes the Wikipedia article citations are a great starting point to find other, more credible, sources.

  11. Hmm:

    Maybe Wiki is trying to tell us a bit about what happens when the denizens of the cave of Plato try to define what “knowledge” is. Plainly, on a lot of hot topics, a critical mass of the deluded — many anonymous (a la Wiki), some in the robe of the professor, some sitting on editorial boards for more official encyclopedias than Wiki [Even Enc Brit has its moments . . .], some in science institutions and some on the judicial bench or in houses of assembly –is now trying to control what is seen as “knowledge.”

    Wikipedia is a sad illustration of what has gone wrong with our civil discourse in our civilisation.

    The mirror is telling us something . . .

    GEM of TKI

    PS: having noted all of the above, once you calibrate for bias, Wiki is often useful as a first stop off point for a 101-level initial look and as a point of departure for onward investigation. Remember too that search engine results are routinely being censored, including some of the most popular. Not to mention textbooks, pro grade reference works in general, and even peer reviewed literature, starting with the top tier journals Sigh . . .

  12. 12
    Larry Fafarman

    Jason Rennie said,

    Ultimately the problem seems to be that is suffers from vandalism with people posting all sorts of rubbish/spam,

    Censorship by Wickedpedian control-freak administrators is a much bigger problem (see my comment #6). The vandalism problem is to a great extent self-correcting — the censorship problem is not.

    I made the following proposal for handling most disputes on Wikipedia: just post a brief statement of the disputed item along with a statement that the item is disputed and links to external websites (could also be Wikipedia discussion pages) where the item is discussed or debated. That way there is no appearance of endorsement by Wikipedia and the Wikipedia articles are not cluttered up with long debates over disputed items. My proposal was ignored. The Wikipedia ways of handling disputes are big edit wars and arbitrary censorship by control-freak administrators.
    blackjack000 (#10) said,

    I didn’t know anyone actually cited Wikipedia. I would think that an open source encyclopedia would be a strict no-no as far as citations.

    Well, you better learn to think otherwise. A law professor’s blog dated February 5, 2007 (the numbers must be even bigger now) says,

    Last week, we blogged stories on whether students or courts should cite, and law professors should write for, Wikipedia. The New York Times reports that “[m]ore than 100 judicial rulings have relied on Wikipedia, beginning in 2004, including 13 from circuit courts of appeal, one step below the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court thus far has never cited Wikipedia.)”

    I asked my crack research assistant, Drew Marksity, to determine how many times law professors have cited Wikipedia in law review articles. Using Westlaw’s JLR database, Drew found that 545 articles cite Wikipedia. (An additional 125 articles mention Wikipedia but do not cite it as authority.)

    – from

    Those are the authoritative citations just in the field of law alone.

    Also, the following posts on my blog discuss legal citations of Wikipedia —



    The authoritative citations of Wikipedia and blogs by court opinions, scholarly journal articles, the established news media, etc. are a big reason why we need to fight arbitrary censorship on the Internet.

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