Do you feel like an encyclopedia should have a point of view? Are you dismayed by the fact that evolution is taught in schools, and creationism is not? Good news, brother! The Christian Right has set up a repository of knowledge just for you: Conservapedia, whose motto is, "the truth shall set you free."
Conservapedia is one of a growing number of websites that takes Wikipedia’s model of truth-by-aggregate and applies a sociopolitical ideology. It, in turn, has spawned another biased wiki, RationalWiki, a website responding to the Christian Right of Conservapedia with a bent on scientific rationalism and anti-conservative rhetoric.
The question raised by the rising number of ideologically-driven websites is, what can we call â€˜truth’ when it’s driven by a partisan point of view or agenda?
Conservapedia is filled to the brim with encyclopedic entries expressing the far Right’s point of view. The founder of the site, New Jersey-based history teacher and lawyer Andrew Schlafly, began the enterprise as an exercise for one of his classes in 2006. It has since ballooned and garnered attention from pundits and journalists alike, ranging from bloggers on both sides of the political spectrum to commentators on Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show" and National Public Radio.
In a March interview with Robert Siegel on NPR entitled "Data for Birds of a Political Feather?", Schlafly said that Wikipedia has a liberal bias "six times greater than the level of liberal bias in the American public, according to studies that we’ve done."
Conservapedia’s intent, Schlafly said, is "to present topics and treatment of subjects that are embraced by many Conservatives and many members of the public."
It’s impossible for encyclopedias to be neutral, he concluded.
And yet, a quick turn to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1971 edition), found that encyclopedias are defined as comprehensive reference works "containing articles on a wide range of subjects or on numerous aspects of a particular field, usually arranged alphabetically."
Wikipedia has taken that idea and released it to the digital mob, allowing a collective, and arguably nonbiased, truth to be presented. Conservapedia’s founder has rejected the notion of an unbiased encyclopedia, and has created a website which presents all things from the Christian Right perspective.
For instance, the day Alberto Gonzales resigned, Conservapedia’s front page ran a blurb framing the event as a left-wing attack: "Alberto Gonzales resigns, after months of political witch-hunts on the part of deceitful Liberals. President Bush said he reluctantly accepted the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose â€˜good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.’" The blurb is followed by a link to CNN’s report of Gonzales’ resignation.
Conservapedia’s articles feature a good deal of bias, consistent with Schlafly’s stated intent for the site. The articles are structured the same way as a typical Wikipedia entry, featuring extensive footnoting for most, but not all, of the entry’s assertions.
In the entry for "breast cancer" for instance, Conservapedia’s stated risk factors include diet, race, family history and abortion. Of those risk factors, the assertion that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer is not footnoted, and this omission prompted the creation of another wiki with a bias.
According to the
Lipson created RationalWiki, which like Conservapedia wears its bias on its sleeve, with three main ideas: "Analyzing and refuting the anti-science movement, ideas, and people; Analyzing and refuting the full range of crank ideas," and "explorations of authoritarianism and fundamentalism."
Unlike both Wikipedia and Conservapedia, RationalWiki admits to being a place to publish original research. It also, like Conservapedia, has a clear bias, as outlined in its "about" page: "As a site we have a point of view, and that point of view is that the scientific method and the information gained from its application is better than almost anything else humanity has come up with."
Its Community Standards page states outright that the site is a "mobocracy," adding, "We are ultimately an expression of the active editors on this project."
As is Conservapedia, and, ultimately, Wikipedia as well. The only difference between these three sights is what the active editors chose to express and how they chose to express it.