Friday, February 23, 2007

The Alternate Universe, Documented

You know about Wikipedia, a vastly successful and useful kind of on-line encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Studies have found its error rate to be slightly higher than Britannica's, but on the other hand it may take decades to make a change in Britannica, whereas Wikipedia can be fixed as soon as sombody sees an error.

A wiki, in case you haven't been in on this, is a kind of web site that the user can modify. At first they were mainly used as a kind of whiteboard for groups, where everybody could leave notes or update the plan or whatever, but with Wikipedia the form grew to maturity. It's a crazy idea, on the face of it, that just anybody can write the encyclopedia, but ... I've made changes to it, haven't you? Where you might expect it to degenerate into vandalism and grafitti, there are just enough rules, just enough checks on the behavior of users, to keep the thing in good shape. Oh, there are errors and abuses, but in general everyone relies on it as a pretty good source of information on a gazillion topics.

Problem: it's got too many facts. Too much reality, not enough faith.

So now there's Conservapedia. As they say:
Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian “C.E.” instead of “A.D.”, which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance. Read a list of many Examples of Bias in Wikipedia.

Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America. Conservapedia has easy-to-use indexes to facilitate review of topics. You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise answers free of “political correctness”.

Actually, Conservapedia is good if you want to avoid all kinds of correctness.

Like, this is from their authoritative discussion of the Theory of Evolution:
Supporters propound upon the Theory of Evolution as if it has scientific support. They switch tactics when pressed against the wall with solid scientific proofs against the Theory of Evolution by stating that evolution is “only” a theory. Using this flip-flop approach they try to have it both ways. They claim scientific support when none exists, and they claim it is only a theory when the theory straddles them with outlandish, impossible conclusion that violate scientific truths.

Nobody can tell how much of this is parody and how much is for real. The rightwing site Townhall recommends it, they seem to think it's for real. I think it is.

I'm having some trouble getting the site to come up this morning, mmm I suppose there are just so many people using it as a reference.

Some of the folks at Science Blogs are having fun with this. For a joke they edit the Conservapedia with actual scientific facts and then wait to see how long it takes for it to get changed back. Or even for the contributor to get banned from the site. It's usually just a matter of several minutes.

Just a fascinating idea. Create your own reality, and then annotate it in minute detail. Let's watch how this works over the next weeks and months.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Democrat Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who built a centrist image, abandoned his bid for the presidency on Friday after struggling against better-known, better-financed rivals."

Great news! Centrist Democrats realize they can't survive, meaning a moderate Republican will probably be our next President.

Instead of alternating between Democrat and Republican, as is the histoical pattern, Americans continue to roundly dismiss liberalism. The new pattern will be to alternate between conservative and moderate Republicans. This will eventually evolve into two parties, leaving the lunatic fringe in the dustbin of history.

February 23, 2007 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the heck does that have to do with the subject at hand? Hey, mice...what is with all of the nonsequeters? The fact that Tom Vilsack is no longer a Democratic candidate for the presidency has nothing but nothing to do with the issue raised in the latest post!

February 23, 2007 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Dr X said...

I haven't been able to access Conservapedia since early yesterday. It's being destroyed by Satanic forces.

February 23, 2007 4:01 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

It was slow this morning, but if I went away and did something else, the page would eventually be loaded when I got back.

Let me guess: those thrifty conservatives probably aren't paying a whole lot for a server and bandwidth.

JimK

February 23, 2007 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was having trouble loading it yesterday too but, like Jim, minimized and came back later and it was up.

Of note, in it's "about us" section, is that the thing was started as a student project by a group of homeschooled kids.

Looks like the kids have the looney left nervous.

February 24, 2007 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well they're not doing a very good job on their project as they've left the disclaimer page blank since December 1, 2006. I hope they have a good insurance policy in case someone is harmed by the information they provide.

February 24, 2007 7:29 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Interesting phenomenon that Wikipedia thing...

My initial reaction to reading this is to think these conservatives rather silly. What caused me to take notice was this,

"On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian “C.E.” instead of “A.D.”, which Conservapedia uses."

Please!!!!! C.E. stands for Common Era, which along with B.C.E. (Before Common Era) are designations in time popular among some jews. How this is "anti" Christian is a mystery to me...

Still, Wikipedia does have its problems, as noted in the education section of the NY Times in an article dated 2/21/07 and written by Noam Cohen. The title, "A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source" explains what happened at Middlebury College and what the History Department faculty did in response. (hat tip: the article was forwarded to me by a librarian friend of mine in CA)

And then there is a guest column in the Washington Post by University of Chicago professor Cass Sunstein (dated 2/24/07, p.A19; "A Brave New Wikiworld") which appears to be more positive than the History Dept at Middlebury College. The bio-blurb at the end of Sunstein's column reads, Cass R. Sunstein teaches at the University of Chicago and is the author of "Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge."

What do I think of Wikipedia? If a user remains aware of the limitations of such a forum, and uses it as a stepping off point (rather than the start and finish of any search), then I think it has alot of potential. I know use it check basic facts, like who directed "On the Waterfront" for example.

February 24, 2007 8:05 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

I agree with you, Orin. Citing it when it can change moment to moment is problematic, but other than that, it seems to be a remarkably robust and stable production of the democratic and libertarian impulse. The Conservapaedia is a joke by comparison, but who knows? There used to be a reputable conservative political philosophy; maybe there will be again. I hope so.

February 24, 2007 8:23 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Dana,

What I find most interesting is the apparent divide amongst academics, what with the History Dept at Middlebury College on one side and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago on the other.

The other thing you mention might just be the "Achille's Heel" of this use of the internet: citing a URL as a source. Anyone that has spent any time on the net knows that this can change at any time, where a book, magazine, or academic journal can be cited, and the reference can with a much greater degree of reliability be looked even with the passage of a considerable amount of time.

Finally, Dana writes,

The Conservapaedia is a joke by comparison, but who knows?

As a reaction to Wikipedia? I think I would have to agree...I do wonder if more than a little envy at Wikipedia's success is at work here.

There used to be a reputable conservative political philosophy; maybe there will be again. I hope so.

Ever heard of Tocqueville? If I were to recommend a single book to better understand the US better, on every level, then it would have to be Democracy in America (the J.P. Meyer/George Lawrence edition is one of the better editions; don't buy or read any abridged version, like the Richard Heffner ed. because it emasculates Tocqueville's beautiful prose).

Tocqueville even has insights on the Culture Wars...iamgine that, and before the last "cultural" war, i.e. the War Between the States.

February 24, 2007 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excerpts on wikipdeia's entry on CE:

"The Common era, also known as the Christian era or the Current era (abbreviated to CE), is the period of measured time beginning with the year 1 on the Gregorian calendar. The notations CE and BCE (Before the Common Era) are alternative notations for AD (anno Domini, Latin for "in the year of (Our) Lord[1]") and BC (Before Christ), respectively. The CE/BCE system of notation is chronologically equivalent to dates in the AD/BC system, i.e. no change in numbering is used......

The term common era is preferred by some as an alternative to the more overtly religious AD and BC, since Common Era does not explicitly make use of religious titles for Jesus, such as Christ and Lord, which are used in the AD/BC notation. Some criticize Common Era notation as a euphemism that does not alter the pivotal year one still centering on the life of Jesus. Many others criticize the notation as an unnecessary attempt at political correctness."

I disagree, Orin, that the phrase isn't anti-Christian. You don't have to be a Christian to recognize the historical signicance of Christ's birth. To continue to use the event as the turning point in history but to whitewash it as a reference to de-emphasize that connection is to try to steal something from Christianity to which it is entitled- historical relevance. It's similar to Winter Celebrations instead of Christmas concerts or replacing masculine pronouns in scripture.

As far as wikipedia goes, its a good tool. Any astute reader will look at the references. They point to alot of great references. Still, there are a lot of ways the bias of the contributors can creep in. Unfortunately, one is if conservatives don't contribute. It seems to me the discussions of issues are mostly even-handed.

Actually, I have noticed several occassions when something is being discussed on this blog and a few days later, the wikipedia entry is amended. I always wondered if that was Jim. Any truth, JK?

Anyway, not only can anyone amend, wikipedia also has other quality control procedures to prevent abuse.

And I don't see the problem with this conservative version these kids set up. It's not like its POV isn't trumpeted by its title. If liberal loonies don't like it, they can do what they also do...

imitate.

February 24, 2007 10:41 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Actually, I have noticed several occassions when something is being discussed on this blog and a few days later, the wikipedia entry is amended. I always wondered if that was Jim. Any truth, JK?

No, not me. I have edited the parts on different aspects of swarm intelligence, it wouldn't occur to me to change the stuff we talk about here. It's not that interesting to me.

JimK

February 24, 2007 10:46 AM  
Blogger Randi Schimnosky said...

Anonymous said "You don't have to be a Christian to recognize the historical signicance of Christ's birth. To continue to use the event as the turning point in history but to whitewash it as a reference to de-emphasize that connection is to try to steal something from Christianity to which it is entitled- historical relevance.".

Jesus is a fictional character.
There are no historical references to him independent the bible. Christianity isn't entitled to the undue recognition of A.D. and B.C.
Most of the world does not believe in Jesus.

February 24, 2007 1:17 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Orin,

I agree. I meant in relation to Wikipedia. Initially I thought it was a "Daily Show" spoof.

As of now, I don't think you can recall a cached Wiki page. But I don't suppose that will be impossible to do someday soon. Of course, one could always print out the page and use that as a reference in a bound journal as long as there is an archive somewhere.

This is where Anon, even when he isn't being hateful and hostile, shows just how thoughtless and out of touch he really is.

Let's just assume, for argument's sake, that Jesus existed. I have no problem with that. I see him as a good Jewish boy, as most Jews do. I have no problem with recoognizing that our recognition of this historical experience, whether it happened or not, is world-historical in impact. I have no problem with teaching children that, either.

My problem lies with using the old notation, BC and AD, as a calendrical notation for myself or the country as a whole or the planet, for that matter. For the same reason I never write "Jesus Christ" (as I have now!). "Christ" means "messiah" in Greek. It was not his last name. His name was Jesus son of Joseph. Today he would be called Jesus son of Mary and Joseph. Since I don't accept his messiahship, I won't call him that, and failing to do so is not insulting to believers. Similarly, I can't use "B.C." nor could I ever use A.D. because he ain't my lord.

Why, Anon, is that so hard for you to comprehend? Why are you the sensitive one here? Believe what you may, but you have no right to be insulted when others, the majority, disagree with you.

February 24, 2007 5:09 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

From the conservative philosopher, Andrew Sullivan, on Conservapedia:

A reader writes:

I ended up surfing over to conservapedia.com for a good laugh after I saw it posted on your blog. I came across the following sentence while reading their "Examples of Bias in Wikipedia"

"For example, even though most Americans (and probably most of the world) reject the theory of evolution, Wikipedia editors commenting on the topic are nearly 100% pro-evolution. Self-selection has a tendency to exacerbate bias in the absence of affirmative steps to limit it."

I don't know if it strikes you or anyone else as funny that a group of conservatives has used a reasonable definition of natural selection - "a tendency to exacerbate bias through self-selection" - to refute, er, evolution.

A small joke, I guess. The bigger joke is that conservatism is now allied to creationism.

February 24, 2007 11:11 PM  
Anonymous ut-oh, TTF is wrong said...

On the wikipedia topic, Saturday Washington Post has an interesting piece in the op-ed section on it. According to the writer, wikipedia was cited four times more often than Encylopedia Britannica in legal cases last year.

Also, there are apparently numerous imitations like "conservapedia" with particular focus.

On to Randi:

"Jesus is a fictional character."

Few historians believe that.

"There are no historical references to him independent the bible."

Untrue. There are numerous references to him in "gospels" that aren't part of scripture and mention by ancient historians such as Josephus. This would be plenty sufficient proof for any other historical figure. There has been a campaign over the last couple hundred years by a minority of academics to deny this. Read the forward to Anne Rice's book, Christ the Lord, detailing her revelations in historical research.

Of course, on a rather obvious point, he wasn't a political figure so you wouldn't have the same kind of records you have of other characters in his life, such as Herod.

"Christianity isn't entitled to the undue recognition of A.D. and B.C."

Christians set up the calendar most commonly used. Historic fact. Why shouldn't that be recognized?

"Most of the world does not believe in Jesus."

Not exactly true. While his deity is not endorsed by the majority, he is held in high esteem by other major religions than Christianity. Certainly, none of them deny his existence or significance.

As for the Dr:

"Let's just assume, for argument's sake, that Jesus existed."

I think most do.

"I have no problem with that. I see him as a good Jewish boy, as most Jews do."

Is he a good Jewish boy if he said he was God? I know, you don't think he really said that, but, say he did, would he still be a good Jewish boy, in your opinion?

"I have no problem with recoognizing that our recognition of this historical experience, whether it happened or not, is world-historical in impact. I have no problem with teaching children that, either."

Indeed, history would be a little hard to teach or understand otherwise, wouldn't it?

"My problem lies with using the old notation, BC and AD, as a calendrical notation for myself or the country as a whole or the planet, for that matter. For the same reason I never write "Jesus Christ" (as I have now!). "Christ" means "messiah" in Greek. It was not his last name. His name was Jesus son of Joseph. Today he would be called Jesus son of Mary and Joseph. Since I don't accept his messiahship,"

Why not? Is it Jesus who you don't think qualifies or do you not believe in the Messiah at all?

"I won't call him that, and failing to do so is not insulting to believers."

I agree. It's not necessarily insulting just to disagree.

"Similarly, I can't use "B.C." nor could I ever use A.D. because he ain't my lord."

Come on. It's a common historical designation. Given so little thought, it's almost like taking his name in vain.

But the conscious effort to remove references to Jesus from our culture is an attack of a kind. Will we start removing historic names from geographic places next? Will Corpus Christi become Darwingrad?

"Why, Anon, is that so hard for you to comprehend?"

Oh, it seems well comprehended.

"Why are you the sensitive one here?"

The topic came up. It was addressed. Who was sensitive?

"Believe what you may, but you have no right to be insulted when others,"

I didn't see anyone saying they were insulted. They just recognized an anti-Christian desigation.

"the majority, disagree with you."

If you're talking BC/AD, I think you're in the minority, Dr.

February 25, 2007 4:07 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Actually, Anon, I don't believe I'm in the minority.

If Jesus thought he was God, then, no, he wouldn't be "a good Jewish boy." As you point out, he never said that.

No, I don't believe Jesus was a messiah nor that anyone else is. History is replete with people who claimed themselves to be, or were revered to have been. Apocalyptic religions lend themselves to such occurrences, don't you think?

"A.D." WAS a common historical designation among western, Christian scholars. So? Times have changed, and just as the Pope and the Protestant clergy don't encourage the slaughtering of Jews anymore, our diverse society uses more accurate and acceptable terms for its scholarship. That does not change the fact that the calendar refers to Jesus' birth, even if incorrectly, according to most scholars. One would think Christians would be embarrassed by that, but, hey, you can't have everything.

I have no problem with those recognizing my people as the source of "The Ten Sayings," either, and I am very happy to give credit to Hammurabi and others who preceded him but didn't have quite the publicity and marketing teams as we had :-)

February 25, 2007 9:50 AM  
Blogger digger said...

On the dating system, I prefer to use A.U.C., or "from the founding of the city", referring to the foundation by Romulus and Remus. If may math is correct, this is the year 2561 A.U.C. or MMDLXI A.U.C. Though I think the Romans would have referred to it as the year of the consulship of Cheney and Rove.

Anonymous,

Are you sure that Josephus made referecnes to Jesus? I can't prove he didn't but I though I read somewhere that Josephus makes no references at all to Christ or Christianity. Do you have a reference.

As a piece of advice, I'm not sure that you should refer to those non-canonical gospels as proof that Jesus existed. They say some things that current Christianity finds pretty heretical. Much theology of the early Christian doctors was aimed at non-canonical gospels and letters. And using it to demonstrate anything just completely messes with the idea of scriptural authority.

BTW, I responded to your questions about Romans Chapters 1 and 2 in the thread called "A Platoon of Lesbians" but never heard from you.

rrjr

February 25, 2007 10:27 PM  
Blogger Randi Schimnosky said...

Anonymous said "Of course, on a rather obvious point, [Jesus] wasn't a political figure so you wouldn't have the same kind of records you have of other characters in his life, such as Herod.

While [Jesus's] deity is not endorsed by the majority, he is held in high esteem by other major religions than Christianity. Certainly, none of them deny his existence or significance."

That's funny! Jesus wasn't a political figure?! According to the bible he couldn't have been more of a political figure. Christians claim he was one of the most influential persons in history and you say he is held in high esteem and as significant by other religions yet you admit there are no records of him independent the Christian fairy tales (canonical or not). You contradict yourself when you say there aren't good records for his existence but that other religions hold him in high esteem and don't doubt his existence and significance. If he was significant there would be records of him independent the bible and there are not. He was a fictional character. And the Koran says Jesus and his kind are pigs and monkeys - obviously he's not held in high esteem by that religion.

Anonymous said "Christians set up the calendar most commonly used. Historic fact. Why shouldn't that be recognized?".

If you simply want to recocognize that the calendar was designed by Christians you use a designation that shows that, not designations of the supposed life and death of Jesus. Why should we give historic prominence to something there is no proof ever existed? The fact that the calendar was designed by Christians is an arbitrary quirk of history of insufficient significance to say it deserves historical relevance.

February 26, 2007 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Phentermine said...

Nice design of blog.

August 13, 2007 3:25 PM  

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