Believe it or not, this really is a website.Originally Posted by Toronto StarConservative wants to set Wikipedia right
Andy Schlafly calls his competing version 'fair and balanced.' It reads like anything but
Mar 11, 2007 04:30 AM
Is Conservapedia aiming to be for the Internet encyclopedia what Fox News Channel was for cable TV?
"Well," says Andy Schlafly, Conservapedia's founder, thinking for a moment, "Yes, it is!"
The website is on the same trajectory, at least. Fox stepped onto the national scene decrying liberal bias in the media and hyping conservative points-of-view, all the while calling itself "fair and balanced."
Conservapedia is doing the same, launching as it condemns Wikipedia, the wildly popular Internet encyclopedia that pretty much anyone can contribute to, for being skewed liberal, and against religion and America.
"Wikipedia has been taken over by liberally biased editors," Schlafly declares. "It's mobocracy."
The result, he says, is that "if anyone tries to put in facts that are friendly to Christianity or American history, those facts are likely to be diluted or censored by the mob."
Not everyone agrees with the assessment, but Schlafly, an attorney, says he experienced it personally, and decided that right-leaning people like himself needed an alternative.
Conservapedia keeps a running list of 32 examples of what it calls "bias" in Wikipedia, including tagging dates as B.C.E. instead of B.C. and as C.E. instead of A.D., a practice it says is "anti-Christian;" using British instead of American spellings; or, in an entry on the Renaissance, denying "any credit to Christianity.
Look up a topic on Conservapedia and you'll often get a search result that tows a Christian religious line, even if the subject has, at first glance, little to do with religion.
Type in kangaroo, for instance, and you'll find this: "According to the origins model used by creation scientists, modern kangaroos, like all modern animals, originated in the Middle East and are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah's Ark prior to the Great Flood." A line about evolution is tacked on at the end.
An entry on vaccines – a subject Schlafly's mother Phyllis, a prominent conservative activist, has written about – talks about one developed for the human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer. Included is this line: "Some Christian groups have objected to the use of such vaccines since they could potentially encourage promiscuity in children."
Similarly, the entry on homosexuality in Conservapedia is led by biblical views on its sinfulness and disproving any genetic basis or appearance among animals. Wikipedia's entry is extensive, including a separate lengthy article on religious views.
Perhaps fittingly, then, Conservapedia's policies are called "commandments."
The site was born with the help of a large group of home-schooled teenagers Schlafly assembles near his home in northern New Jersey to teach such topics as world history and economics.
Like Wikipedia, Conservapedia is based on the "wiki" concept, which allows users to add and change content themselves.
Since launching three months ago, it has accumulated 3,800 articles and counting, compared to nearly 1.7 million on Wikipedia. In recent weeks, however, its notoriety has exploded among bloggers. "We had a lot of vandalism, which was shocking," Schlafly says. "And I thought liberals believed in free speech!"
Schlafly makes a number of claims about Wikipedia. The most sensational is that Wikipedia is "six times more liberal than the American public."
How does Schlafly know? He takes a list of a few hundred Wikipedia users who have self-identified as liberal compared to those who say they're conservative – about three times more. He multiples this by the fact that, he says, twice as many Americans identify themselves as more conservative than liberal, to come up with the number.
The problem is that of the 75,000 Wikipedia users, only a few hundred have self-identified – hardly a solid base on which to make a calculation.
He agrees that it's not a scientific, ``but it's the best means we have, and no one has disputed that Wikipedia editors are more liberal."
That appears to be true. Simon Pulsifer, who works at a word-recognition software company in Toronto, was, until recently, Wikipedia's most prolific participant, contributing thousands of articles and editing tens of thousands of others.
He says most "Wikipedians" are left of the American norm. That's partly because they largely come from a more liberal demographic, he says: the young and fairly well educated.
Pulsifer considers himself left wing and has worked on campaigns for the New Democratic Party, including that of MP Olivia Chow.
However, he says Wikipedia's process of open scrutiny hopefully means that neutrality prevails. He adds that he's strived to be neutral in submitting articles but has been taken to task by others.
For instance, in an article he wrote about the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, he included a study he found on why privatizing the agency would be bad for the province. Other editors later challenged his bias and included information supporting privatization.
"So it's a more balanced view in the article now," he says. "That happens thousands of times a day across Wikipedia."
The claims of bias "are not supported by the facts," Jimmy Wales, one of the founders of Wikipedia, told the Star in an email from Japan, where he is travelling.
Wales, a fan of famous conservative writer Ayn Rand, criticized Conservapedia for not adopting a "free licence" that allows anyone to copy and redistribute content, a main tenet of Wikipedia.
"People who contribute (to Conservapedia) are giving them full control of the content, which may lead to unpleasant results," he wrote.
Schlafly says his site simply hasn't yet decided on its copyright rules, but adds, "We support broad reuse of our material in a manner similar to Wikipedia."
Certainly Schlafly has a major influence on the conservatism expressed in Conservapedia.
For instance, Wikipedia's entry on the controversial subject of abortion is a 6000-word opus on all aspects including the effects on health, with sub-articles on the moral, legal and political perspectives. Conservapedia's entry is one-quarter of the size, and fully 80 per cent of it dwells on the health risks, including breast cancer.
Is the article balanced? "I think so," Schlafly maintains. "It's factual."
But it's clearly not neutral. "They will probably come away with the idea that abortion is bad," Schlafly concedes. "They'd be surprised by the facts contained in the entry."
Wikipedia's policy is to be neutral. There is no such rule at Conservapedia. "An encyclopedia should be factual," Schlafly says.
Should it be neutral? "I don't know what you mean by neutral. It's neutral to the facts."
Not everyone agrees, even those who come from the right.
"It looks like this outfit is far more guilty of the crime they're attributing to Wikipedia," says Tom Flanagan, professor of political science at the University of Calgary and both a fiscal and social conservative.
"I wouldn't use this thing at all."
He calls the examples of bias in Wikipedia cited by Conservapedia "quixotic and narrow."
"So somebody has found fault with a few dozen entries out of millions. So what, really!"
It's a tool for the religious, more so than the conservative, Flanagan argues. For instance, one of the most influential conservative thinkers, economist Frederich Hayek, is given thousands of words in Wikipedia but just a paragraph in Conservapedia. "If there was a liberal conspiracy, why a glowing article on Hayek?" Flanagan asks.
And, Flanagan points out, there isn't an article on prominent conservative writer and pundit David Frum, or on Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
After looking at the entry on kangaroos, Flanagan laughs, "This is loony tunes stuff."
But these are still early days for Conservapedia. In a decade, Fox News grew into the dominant force in American cable news, and now has more viewers than CNN.
Could Conservapedia do the same? For some insight, you could check out its entry on its stated role model.
"Fox News was started in 1996 in response to the other cable news channels which all had obvious liberal biases," the article reads.
It then talks about Sean Hannity, one of the network's most outspoken and opinionated hosts.
"Fox News claims to be `Fair & Balanced,'" the entry continues. "It has many people on it who work to spread truth such as Sean Hannity."