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Wikipedia Co-Founder Blasts “Appallingly Biased” Wikipedia Entry on Intelligent Design

Photo: Pocket watch, an image Wikipedia links with intelligent design because it’s meant to suggest an association with William Paley and the antiquated “watchmaker analogy”; by Hannes Grobe (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to intelligent design, Wikipedia and its axe-grinding editors are ridiculously biased and unfair. And guess what? Even Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger agrees. He wrote as much last week on the Talk page for the Wiki article on ID, under the heading, “My $0.02 on the issue of bias”:

As the originator of and the first person to elaborate Wikipedia’s neutrality policy, and as an agnostic who believes intelligent design to be completely wrong, I just have to say that this article is appallingly biased. It simply cannot be defended as neutral. If you want to understand why, read this. I’m not here to argue the point, as I completely despair of persuading Wikipedians of the error of their ways. I’m just officially registering my protest. —Larry Sanger (talk) 05:30, 8 December 2017 (UTC)

A philosophy PhD, Dr. Sanger worked with Jimmy Wales to found Wikipedia in 2001. He is a self-described “zealot for neutrality,” and reasonably concludes that Wikipedia’s content on intelligent design is anything but neutral. This is the man who came up with the name “Wikipedia.” He further introduces himself on his Talk page:

I’m no longer associated with Wikipedia, which I co-founded. (I named it, crafted much of the policy that now guides the project, and led the project for its first year. As Jimmy Wales declared on March 25, 2002, a week before I resigned, I was “the final arbiter of what the consensus is” on Wikipedia.)

A thoughtful reader discovered Sanger’s candid comment after he (the reader) sought to edit the entry on ID. He says he corrected the absurdly biased opening sentence, only to find his edits almost instantly reversed, “within one minute.” The first sentence of the entry reads:

Intelligent design (ID) is a religious argument for the existence of God, presented by its proponents as “an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins”,[1][2] though it has been found to be pseudoscience.[3][4][5]

This matters for an obvious reason: countless people curious about ID receive their introduction to the subject via a Web search that starts, thanks to Google, with a visit to the Wikipedia article. Many will stop right there. Many science reporters and others in the media — heck, many professional scientists — seem to have informed themselves on the topic by going no further than Wikipedia.  You don’t have to be a neutrality “zealot” to understand that evidence of design in nature (not the “existence of God”) poses a question of huge, urgent interest, that serious scientific (not religious, or pseudoscientific) arguments are made for ID, and that it does a terrible disservice to public awareness to so grossly mislead readers. (And not only readers. Don’t forget anyone who uses Amazon’s Alexa.) That is the case even if ID is ultimately wrong, or “completely wrong,” as Sanger puts it.

In a long and carefully argued essay, “Why Neutrality?”, he laments, “There’s a great latent demand for neutral content, and the demand is unmet.” And that is no doubt true. However, at Wikipedia, a masked mob of pseudonymous trolls has taken over and the public’s “latent demand” is permanently blocked from being satisfied. As I’ve pointed out, many editors hardly bother to hide their ideological bias.

An interesting article at the news site Vice gives the background on Sanger’s involvement with Wikipedia.

It was Sanger, then, who synthesized emerging “wiki” technology with Nupedia’s original vision. Sanger came up with the name “Wikipedia,” wrote its founding documents, and spent the next 14 months as the site’s sole paid editor and philosophical leader. But as word about the project spread throughout web, Wikipedia and Sanger were inundated with new users, some of them trolls, who plagued Sanger with “edit wars” and resisted input from experts. In 2002, Sanger left Wikipedia and became an outspoken critic of the site, criticizing its quality and the disregard many users displayed for experts.

Indeed. We’ve already recounted how distinguished paleo-entomologist Günter Bechly, after coming out for intelligent design, found his entry deleted. This was following a surreal online editorial discussion led by an editor going by the pseudonym Jo-Jo Eumerus. Jo-Jo is a self-described 23-year-old “boy” from Switzerland with a dual online identity as a 500-year-old wizard. Under this other identity, the wizard Septimus Heap, Jo-Jo explains of himself that, having been “diagnosed with Asperger syndrome,” he “sometimes [has] problems with society due to this.” Certainly he had a problem with Günter Bechly. The editors claimed the move to delete the entry was the result of their sudden realization that Bechly isn’t “notable” enough for Wikipedia. The notability argument is a joke, and even Darwinists conceded that Bechly was deleted for his support of ID.

It was Jo-Jo who made the final decision to permanently pull the plug on Dr. Bechly’s entry. The disparity in expertise — wizard versus paleo-entomologist — is blindingly obvious. Bechly changed his views on evolution and ID while serving as a curator at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, where he amassed an extremely impressive scholarly record studying the evolution of dragonflies over tens of millions of years. As Jo-Jo says of his own daily activities, “Nowadays, I mostly spend my time with World Building projects and seeing a bit forward with life.”

For more on Bechly’s turn to ID, see here:

Another ID scholar, Walter Bradley at Baylor University, suffered comparable treatment at the hands of the fantastical pseudonyms editing Wikipedia. Manhandled by entities including Freakshownerd, Apollo The Logician, and Theroadislong, Dr. Bradley was not erased but he did see his entry disemboweled, reduced to nearly nothing.

You can’t fight back because people like Jo-Jo, Freakshownerd, etc. seem to have unlimited time at their disposal to revert edits they don’t like, over and over and over, at lightning speed. The sociology is interesting, but so is the psychology. As Larry Sanger recounts his experiences, Wikipedia from the start attracted not only trolls as editors, but trolls with, in some cases, mental problems.

There was one guy called 24, but I suspect that he was literally insane. He wrote some really wacked-out stuff. And there’s there another one called LIR. That person was… abrasive is not the right word, and [them] being confrontational wasn’t the problem. It was them doing so needlessly, for no good purpose other than to stir the pot. Because [Wikipedia] was wide open, and anybody could participate, there were people who would spent a lot of their time wasting everyone else’s time. I doubt that many of those people are just “bad,” they might just be abrasive, confused… “mentally unhinged,” in a few cases.

Having all that leisure to volunteer in “editing” online encyclopedia articles might correlate with being retired, or a dedicated hobbyist, or it could correlate with being on the margins, someone with “problems with society,” “confused,” “wacked-out,” “unhinged,” even “insane.” I apologize if this sounds unkind. But high-functioning people — employed or with other serious responsibilities, with friends, families, community commitments, and more — are not ideally suited to be Wikipedia editors or to engage in the endless editing wars that go along with it.

And this, again, is how a large segment of the public is introduced to the subject of intelligent design. The page received 30,494 views in the past 30 days alone. It’s not only the ID entry and related articles that are twisted by bias and inaccuracy, of course. But design, as I said, poses an ultimate question that scientists and philosophers have been discussing for millennia, and will go on discussing. That is not true of many other controversial subjects on Wikipedia.

It’s a real shame. As Larry Sanger says, we “despair of persuading Wikipedians of the error of their ways.” Sadly, there’s not much you can do about it — other than to warn your friends, family, and other contacts to be wary and consult other sources. And that I certainly urge you to do.

Photo: Pocket watch, an image Wikipedia links with intelligent design because it’s meant to suggest an association with William Paley and the antiquated “watchmaker analogy”; by Hannes Grobe (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.