Thursday, March 08, 2007

Conservatives launch right-wing version of Wikipedia
A conservative rival for Wikipedia?

Earlier this week I stumbled across something called Conservapedia,
which, at first glance resembles Wikipedia. It is laid out exactly the
same way and uses similar fonts and colours. Furthermore, just like
Wikipedia, anyone can add and edit entries after registering with the

But that's about as far as the similarity goes. On its home page,
Conservapedia claims to be "a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia,
which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American". Conservapedia
contains entries that reflect creationist thinking on evolution and
lend support to critics of global warming.

Shortly after I found the site it was also discovered by a group of
anti-Intelligent Design bloggers. They took it upon themselves to poke
fun at the entries and correct much of the science. "Most of the
science on the site is either shallow and useless or downright wrong,"
says Paul Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota in Morris
who runs the popular blog Pharyngula.

This flurry of activity lead the site's administrators to change the
edits back and also to ban over 60 IP addresses and users from the
site (compared to just 6 before it was discovered). The reasons given
by the administrators included "obscenity", "vandalism", "violation of
the rules", and ''inappropriate disparagement of God''.

Conservapedia was created by one Andy Schlafly, attorney and son of
the prominent conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. I contacted him
to ask about removing the posts. "I was very upset," he said. "The
level of vandalism and obscenity was shocking."

Schafly describes the site as "a new way of learning about history
and science". He originally created it together with the 58 students
that he teaches at a home school and he suggests it could ultimately
be used by teachers to as a reference point, because of effort to keep
it clear of "obscenity". But another reason for creating it was what
Schlafly calls the "dissatisfaction and bias" in Wikipedia. "The
administrators are overwhelmingly liberal on Wikipedia," he says.

Joshua Rosenau, a graduate student in evolutionary biology at the
University of Kansas and contributor to Science Blogs claims the site
has a darker side. "On some level it's also reflective of a harmful
attitude that some people – especially those on the far right – tend
to have about science and truth," he told me. "They are re-defining
their own truth and seem to think facts are malleable."

Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, is more philosophical about the
affair. "Free culture knows no bounds," he told me in an email. "We
welcome the reuse of our work to build variants. That's directly in
line with our mission."

Celeste Biever - technology reporter, New Scientist.

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