|Slogan||The Trustworthy Encyclopedia|
|Type of site||Internet encyclopedia project
|Registration||Optional (required to edit pages)|
|Created by||Volunteer contributors|
|Alexa rank||69,936; United States: 18,094 (April 2013[update])|
Conservapedia is an English-language wiki encyclopedia project written from a self-described American conservative and Christian point of view. The website was started in 2006 by homeschool teacher and attorney Andrew Schlafly, son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, to counter what he called the liberal bias of Wikipedia. It uses editorials and a wiki-based system to generate content.
Examples of the ideology of Conservapedia in its articles include accusations against and strong criticism of US President Barack Obama, strong criticism of the Democratic Party, criticism of evolution, criticism of a wide array of alleged liberal ideologies, criticism of Wikipedia's supposed liberal bias, criticism of the theory of relativity as promoting moral relativism, claiming a proven link between abortion and breast cancer, praise of a number of Republican politicians, praise of celebrities and artistic works that it views as "conservative" and/or promoting moral standards in line with Christian family values, uncritical acceptance of Christian doctrine such as Young Earth creationism and the divinity of Jesus, and asserting that the goals of a so-called homosexual agenda include indoctrination. Conservapedia's "Conservative Bible Project" is a crowd-sourced translation of the Bible which Conservapedia claims will be "free of corruption by liberal untruths".
The site has received negative reactions from the mainstream media, as well as from notable political figures, including commentators and journalists, and has been criticized for bias and inaccuracies.
History and overview
Conservapedia was created in November 2006 by Andrew Schlafly, a Harvard- and Princeton-educated attorney and a homeschool teacher. He started the project after reading a student's assignment written using Common Era dating notation rather than the Anno Domini system that he preferred. Although he was "an early Wikipedia enthusiast," as reported by Shawn Zeller of Congressional Quarterly, Schlafly became concerned about bias after Wikipedia editors repeatedly undid edits to the article about the 2005 Kansas evolution hearings. Schlafly expressed hope that Conservapedia would become a general resource for American educators and a counterpoint to the liberal bias that he perceived in Wikipedia.
The "Eagle Forum University" online education program, which is associated with Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum organization, uses material for various online courses, including U.S. history, stored on Conservapedia. Editing of Conservapedia articles related to a particular course topic is also a certain assignment for Eagle Forum University students.
Running on MediaWiki software, the site was founded in 2006, with its earliest articles dating from November 22. By January 2012, Conservapedia contained over 38,000 pages, not counting pages intended for internal discussion and collaboration, minimal "stub" articles, and other miscellany. Regular features on the front page of Conservapedia include links to news articles and blogs that the site's editors consider relevant to conservatism. The site also hosts debates in which its users may participate; subjects discussed include religion and politics. Editors of Conservapedia also maintain a page titled "Examples of Bias in Wikipedia" that compiles alleged instances of bias or errors on Wikipedia pages. It was, at one point, the most-viewed page on the site.
Editorial viewpoints and policies
Conservapedia has editorial policies designed to prevent vandalism and what Schlafly sees as liberal bias. According to The Australian, although the site's operators claim that the site "strives to keep its articles concise, informative, family-friendly, and true to the facts, which often back up conservative ideas more than liberal ones", on Conservapedia "arguments are often circular" and "contradictions, self-serving rationalizations and hypocrisies abound."
Comparison to Wikipedia
Shortly after its launch in 2006, Schlafly described the site as being competition for Wikipedia, saying "Wikipedia has gone the way of CBS News. It's long overdue to have competition like Fox News." Many editorial practices of Conservapedia differ from those of Wikipedia. Articles and other content on the site frequently include criticism of Wikipedia as well as criticism of its alleged liberal ideology.
Launching the online encyclopedia project, Schlafly asserted the need for an alternative to Wikipedia due to editorial philosophy conflicts. The site's "Conservapedia Commandments" differ from Wikipedia's editorial policies. Wikipedia's policies include following a neutral point of view and avoiding original research. In response to Wikipedia's core policy of neutrality, Schlafly has stated: "It's impossible for an encyclopedia to be neutral. I mean let's take a point of view, let's disclose that point of view to the reader", and "Wikipedia does not poll the views of its editors and administrators. They make no effort to retain balance. It ends up having all the neutrality of a lynch mob".
In a March 2007 interview with The Guardian, Schlafly stated, "I've tried editing Wikipedia, and found it and the biased editors who dominate it censor or change facts to suit their views. In one case my factual edits were removed within 60 seconds—so editing Wikipedia is no longer a viable approach". On March 7, 2007, Schlafly was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's flagship morning show, Today, opposite Wikipedia administrator Jim Redmond. Schlafly raised several concerns: that the article on the Renaissance does not give any credit to Christianity, that Wikipedia articles apparently prefer to use non-American spellings even though most users are American, that the article on American activities in the Philippines has a distinctly anti-American bias, and that attempts to include pro-Christian or pro-American views are removed very quickly. Schlafly also claimed that the Wikipedia policy of allowing both Common Era and Anno Domini notation was anti-Christian bias.
Licensing of content
Conservapedia allows users to "use any of the content on this site with or without attribution." The copyright policy also states, "This license is revocable only in very rare instances of self-defense, such as protecting continued use by Conservapedia editors or other licensees." It also does not permit "unauthorized mirroring". Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has raised concerns about the fact that the project is not licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) or a similar copyleft license, stating, "People who contribute [to Conservapedia] are giving them full control of the content, which may lead to unpleasant results.":4
The site has stated that it prohibits unregistered users from editing entries due to concerns over vandalism, disruption or defamation. Brian Macdonald, a Conservapedia editor, commented vandalism was intended to "cause people to say, 'That Conservapedia is just wacko.'" Macdonald has spent many hours daily reverting, in the words of Stephanie Simon of the Los Angeles Times, "malicious editing". Vandals had inserted "errors, pornographic photos and satire." For example, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was said to be "a strong supporter of torture as a law enforcement tool for use against Democrats and third world inhabitants".
Other editorial policies
Conservapedia states on its "Manual of Style" page that "American English spellings are preferred but Commonwealth spellings, for de novo or otherwise well-maintained articles are welcome." It prefers that articles about the United Kingdom use British English, while articles about the United States use American English, to resolve editorial disputes. Initially, Schlafly and other Conservapedia editors considered Wikipedia's policy allowing British English spelling to be anti-American bias.
The "Conservapedia Commandments" also require edits to be "family-friendly, clean, concise, and without gossip or foul language" and that users make most edits on their site quality edits to articles; accounts that engage in what it considers "unproductive activity, such as 90% talk and only 10% quality edits" may be blocked. The commandments also cite the United States Code as justification for legal action against edits that contain obscenities or are vandalism or spam. Conservapedia policies encourage its users to choose usernames "based on [their] real name or initials", and users that have usernames deemed "frivolous" by the admins are blocked; one of the site's criticisms of Wikipedia is "silly administrator names", which is claimed to reflect Wikipedia's "substantial anti-intellectual element".
Conflict with scientific views
Various Conservapedia articles have been challenged from a scientific perspective.
Although not all Conservapedia contributors subscribe to a young-earth creationist point of view—former administrator Terry Koeckritz stated to the Los Angeles Times that he did not take the Genesis creation account literally:9—sources have attributed the poor science coverage to an overall editorial support of the young-earth creationist perspective and an over-reliance on Christian creationist home-schooling textbooks. In an analysis in early 2007, science writer Carl Zimmer found evidence that much of what appeared to be inaccurate or inadequate information about science and scientific theory could be traced back to an over-reliance on citations from the works of home-schooling textbook author Jay L. Wile.
Conservapedia's article on evolution presents evolution as a naturalistic theory that lacks support and that conflicts with evidence in the fossil record that creationists perceive to support creationism. The entry also suggests that sometimes the Bible has been more scientifically correct than the scientific community. Schlafly has defended the statement as presenting an alternative to evolution.
An entry on the "Pacific Northwest Arboreal Octopus" has received particular attention. Schlafly has asserted that the page was intended as a parody of environmentalism. As of March 4, 2007, the entry has been deleted.
Conservapedia asserts that there is a proven link between abortion and breast cancer, while the scientific consensus is that the best studies indicate that there is no such association for first-trimester abortion. On March 19, 2007, the British free newspaper Metro ran the article "Weird, wild wiki on which anything goes", articulating the dismissal of Conservapedia by the Royal Society, saying "People need to be very careful about where they look for scientific information". A Los Angeles Times journalist noted Conservapedia's critics voiced concern that children stumbling on the site may assume Conservapedia's scientific content is accurate.
Conservapedia has also received criticism for its articles regarding the theory of relativity, particularly on their entry titled "Counterexamples to relativity", an article that lists examples purportedly demonstrating that the theory is incorrect. Attention was drawn to the article by a Talking Points Memo posting, in which they reported on Conservapedia's entry and stated that Andy Schlafly, Conservapedia's founder, "has found one more liberal plot: the theory of relativity".New Scientist, a science magazine, criticized Conservapedia's views on relativity and responded to several of Conservapedia's arguments against it. Against Conservapedia's statements, New Scientist stated that one is unlikely to find a single physicist that would claim that the theory of general relativity is the whole answer to how the universe works, and said that the theory of relativity has passed every test that the theory has been put through.:1
University of Maryland physics professor Robert L. Park has also criticized Conservapedia's entry on the theory of relativity, arguing that its criticism of the principle as "heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world" confuses a physical theory with a moral value. In a similar statement, New Scientist stated at the end of their article that::2
In the end there is no liberal conspiracy at work. Unfortunately, humanities scholars often confuse the issue by misusing the term "relativity". The theory in no way encourages relativism, regardless of what Conservapedia may think. The theory of relativity is ultimately not so much about what it renders relative—three dimensional space and one-dimensional time—but about what it renders absolute: the speed of light and four-dimensional space-time.
In October 2010, Scientific American criticized Conservapedia's attitude towards the Theory of Relativity, assigning them a zero score on their 0 to 100 fallacy-versus-fact "Science Index", describing Conservapedia as "the online encyclopedia run by conservative lawyer Andrew Schlafly, [which] implies that Einstein's theory of relativity is part of a liberal plot."
Many Conservapedia articles criticize values that its editors associate with "liberal ideology". The article "Liberal" once began with text originating from Schlafly personally: "A liberal (also leftist) is someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self-centered reasons. There are no coherent liberal standards; often a liberal is merely someone who craves attention, and who uses many words to say nothing."Leonard Pitts quoted it in a critical comment saying "You may judge Conservapedia's own bias by reading its definition of liberal". Conservapedia's entry on 'Liberal' has since been changed to begin with:
A liberal is someone who favors censorship of Christianity plus increased government spending and power, as in ObamaCare. Increasingly liberals side with the homosexual agenda, including same-sex marriage. Many liberals favor a welfare state where people receive endless entitlements without working. Liberals are often anti-Christian, or otherwise disagree with moral or social principles held by many American Christians. The liberal ideology has worsened over the years and degenerated into economically delusional views and intolerant ideology. Some liberals simply support, in knee-jerk fashion, the opposite of conservative principles without having any meaningful values of their own.
Schlafly said in an interview with National Public Radio that Wikipedia's article on the history of the Democratic Party is an "attempt to legitimize the modern Democratic Party by going back to Thomas Jefferson" and that it is "specious and worth criticizing". He also has claimed that Wikipedia is "six times more liberal than the American public", a claim that has been labeled "sensational" by Andrew Chung of the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star.
John Cotey of the St. Petersburg Times observed that the Conservapedia article about the Democratic Party contained a criticism about the party's alleged support for same-sex marriage, and associated the party with the homosexual agenda.
The Conservapedia entries on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama are critical of their respective subjects. During the 2008 presidential campaign, its entry on Obama asserted that he "has no clear personal achievement that cannot be explained as the likely result of affirmative action". Some Conservapedia editors urged that the statement be changed or deleted, but Schlafly, a classmate of Obama, responded by asserting that the Harvard Law Review, the Harvard University legal journal for which Obama and Schlalfy worked together, uses racial quotas and stated: "The statement about affirmative action is accurate and will remain in the entry". In addition, Hugh Muir of the British newspaper The Guardian mockingly referred to Conservapedia's assertion that Obama has links to radical Islam as "dynamite" and an excellent resource for "US rightwingers".
In contrast, the articles about conservative politicians, such as Republican former US president Ronald Reagan and former British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, have been observed as praising their respective subjects. Mark Sabbatini of the Juneau Empire considered the Conservapedia entry on Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate for the 2008 US presidential election, a "kinder, gentler" and "far shorter and less controversial" reference for one wishing to learn about Palin in contrast with the corresponding Wikipedia entry, which Sabbatini found to be plagued by disputes over inclusion of potentially controversial details about her life.
In July 2008, American Prospect associate editor Ezra Klein derided the Conservapedia article on atheism in his weekly column: "As Daniel DeGroot notes, you've got to wonder which 'unreasonable' explanations they rejected when formulating that entry".
The website sometimes adopts a strongly critical stance against figures that it perceives as political or ideological opponents. For instance, in May 2009, Vanity Fair and The Spectator reported that Conservapedia's article on atheist Richard Dawkins featured a picture of Adolf Hitler at the top.
The Conservapedia project has come under significant criticism for numerous factual inaccuracies and factual relativism.Wired magazine noted that Conservapedia was "attracting lots of derisive comments on blogs and a growing number of phony articles written by mischief makers". Iain Thomson in Information World Review wrote that "leftist subversives" may have been creating deliberate parody entries. Conservapedia has been compared to CreationWiki, a wiki written from a creationist perspective, and Theopedia, a wiki with a Reformed theology focus.Fox News obliquely compared it with other new conservative websites competing with mainstream ones, such as MyChurch, a Christian version of social networking site MySpace, and GodTube, a Christian version of video site YouTube.
Tom Flanagan, a conservative professor of political science at the University of Calgary, has argued that Conservapedia is more about religion, specifically Christianity, than conservatism and that it "is far more guilty of the crime they're attributing to Wikipedia" than Wikipedia itself. Matt Millham of the military-oriented newspaper Stars and Stripes called Conservapedia "a Web site that caters mostly to evangelical Christians". Its scope as an encyclopedia, according to its founders, "offers a historical record from a Christian and conservative perspective".APC magazine perceives this to be representative of Conservapedia's own problem with bias. Conservative Christian commentator Rod Dreher has been highly critical of the website's "Conservative Bible Project", an ongoing retranslation of the Bible which Dreher attributes to "insane hubris" on the part of "right-wing ideologues".
The project has also been criticized for promoting a false dichotomy between conservatism and liberalism and for promoting relativism with the implicit idea that there "often are two equally valid interpretations of the facts". Matthew Sheffield, columnist for the conservative daily newspaper The Washington Times and contributor to the conservative Media Research Center blog NewsBusters, argued that conservatives concerned about bias should contribute more often to Wikipedia rather than use Conservapedia as an alternative since he felt that alternative websites like Conservapedia are often "incomplete". Author Damian Thompson asserts that the purpose of Conservapedia is to "dress up nonsense as science".
Bryan Ochalla, writing for the LGBT magazine The Advocate, referred to the project as "Wikipedia for the bigoted". On the satirical news program The Daily Show, comedian Lewis Black lampooned its article on homosexuality. Writing in The Australian, columnist Emma Jane described Conservapedia as "a disturbing parallel universe where the ice age is a theoretical period, intelligent design is empirically testable, and relativity and geology are junk sciences."
Opinions criticizing the site rapidly spread throughout the blogosphere around early 2007. Schlafly appeared on radio programs Today on BBC Radio 4 and All Things Considered on NPR to discuss the site around that time. In May 2008, Schlafly and one of his homeschooled students appeared on the CBC program The Hour for the same purpose.
Stephanie Simon of the Los Angeles Times quoted two Conservapedia editors who commented favorably about Conservapedia. Matt Barber, policy director for the conservative Christian political action group Concerned Women for America, praised Conservapedia as a more family-friendly and accurate alternative to Wikipedia.
Wired magazine, in an article entitled "Ten Impressive, Weird And Amazing Facts About Wikipedia", highlighted several of Conservapedia's articles, including those on "Atheism and obesity" and "Hollywood values", amongst others. It also highlighted Conservapedia's "Examples of bias in Wikipedia" article, which encourages readers to contact Jimmy Wales and tell him to "sort it out."
Conservapedia's use of Wikipedia's format to create a conservative Christian alternative encyclopedia has been mirrored by other sites, such as Tangle.com (formerly GodTube), QubeTV and MyChurch, which adopted the format of the more prominent Facebook, YouTube and MySpace, respectively.
Wikipedia's co-creator Jimmy Wales said about Conservapedia that "free culture knows no bounds" and "the reuse of our work to build variants [is] directly in line with our mission". Wales denied Schlafly's claims of liberal bias in Wikipedia.
In April 2007, Peter Lipson, a doctor of internal medicine, repeatedly attempted to edit Conservapedia's article on breast cancer to include evidence arguing against Conservapedia's claim that abortion was a major cause of the disease. Conservapedia administrators "questioned his credentials and shut off debate". Several editors whose accounts were blocked by Conservapedia administrators, including Lipson, started another website, RationalWiki, a satirical wiki website with articles written from a secular, progressive perspective. RationalWiki's self-stated purpose is to analyze and refute "pseudoscience", the "anti-science movement", and "crank ideas", as well as to conduct "explorations of authoritarianism and fundamentalism" and explore "how these subjects are handled in the media."
According to an article published in the Los Angeles Times in 2007, RationalWiki members "monitor Conservapedia. And—by their own admission—engage in acts of cyber-vandalism."
On June 9, 2008, New Scientist published an article describing Richard Lenski's 20-year E. coli experiment, which reported that the bacteria evolved the ability to metabolize citrate. Schlafly contacted Lenski to request the data. Lenski explained that the relevant data was in the paper and that Schlafly fundamentally misunderstood it. Schlafly wrote again and requested the raw data. Lenski replied again that the relevant data was already in the paper, that the "raw data" were living bacterial samples, which he would willingly share with qualified researchers at properly equipped biology labs, and that he felt insulted by letters and comments on Conservapedia which he saw as brusque and offensive, including claims of outright deceit.The Daily Telegraph later called Lenski's reply "one of the greatest and most comprehensive put-downs in scientific argument".
The exchange, recorded on a Conservapedia page entitled "Lenski dialog", was widely reported on news-aggregating sites and web logs. Carl Zimmer wrote that it was readily apparent that "Schlafly had not bothered to read [Lenski's paper] closely", and PZ Myers criticized Schlafly for demanding data despite having neither a plan to use it nor the expertise to analyze it. During and after the Lenski dialogue on Conservapedia, several users on the site were blocked for "insubordination" for expressing disagreement with Schlafly's stance on the issue.
The dialogue between Lenski and Conservapedia is noted in Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution in a chapter concerning Lenski's research.
Conservative Bible Project
Conservapedia hosts the "Conservative Bible Project", a project aiming to rewrite the English translation of the Bible in order to remove terms described as "liberal bias". The project intends to remove sections of the Bible which are judged by Conservapedia's founder to be later liberal additions. These include the story of the adulteress in the Gospel of John in which Jesus declares "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone". The project also intends to remove Jesus's prayer on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing", since it appears only in the Gospel of Luke and since, according to Schlafly, "the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible". The adulteress story and the "forgive them" line are missing from many early manuscripts, and many modern textual scholars consider that they are not authentic parts of the gospels, though possibly historically valid.
The Bible project has met with extensive criticism, including from fellow evangelistic Christian conservatives.Rod Dreher, a conservative editor and columnist, described the project as "insane hubris" and "crazy"; he further described the project as "It's like what you'd get if you crossed the Jesus Seminar with the College Republican chapter at a rural institution of Bible learnin'".Ed Morrissey, another conservative Christian writer, wrote that bending the word of God to one's own ideology makes God subservient to an ideology, rather than the other way around.Joseph Farah, editor-in-chief of WorldNetDaily, stated: "I've seen some incredibly stupid and misguided initiatives by 'conservatives' in my day, but this one takes the cake" and "There's certainly nothing 'conservative' about rewriting the Bible".Creation Ministries International wrote "Forcing the Bible to conform to a certain political agenda, no matter if one happens to agree with that agenda, is a perversion of the Word of God and should therefore be opposed by Christians as much as ‘politically correct’ Bibles."
On October 7, 2009, Stephen Colbert called for his viewers to incorporate him into the Conservapedia Bible as a Biblical figure and viewers responded by editing the Conservapedia Bible to include his name. This was followed by an interview between Colbert and Schlafly on December 8, 2009.
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