Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Conservatives Playing The Victim Card

Not exactly a news flash, I know. But Eve Fairbanks has a funny post on this evergreen. Part of it describes a National Review article whining about Wikipedia's "liberal bias."



To prove the existence of an anti-conservative cabal on Wikipedia, Miller cites two pieces of evidence:

1. David Vitter's sex scandal is mentioned in an earlier sentence on his Wikipedia page than Eliot Spitzer's is.

2. Jon Henke, George Allen's "new-media coordinator" during his 2006 campaign, feels that "on Wikipedia, we got our brains beat out" while, as Miller writes, "the [page] on Allen's Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, didn't suffer the same kind of treatment. 'His profile was glowing,' says Henke. In the end," Miller notes ominously, "Webb narrowly defeated Allen."

The National Review article is behind a pay wall. Probably just as well.


Adam said...

Those particular articles might not be the best examples, but sometimes Wikipedia reads like The People's History of the United States as opposed to Encylopedia Britannica.

Would you assume, as I do, that most of the power-users on Wikipedia probably skew to the left of the political spectrum? One particular example that strikes me is the Duke Lacrosse Scandal; there were a few more casual Wikipedia users who were writing the article with a more conservative slant (more doubt expressed about the credibility of the accuser, a debate over whether to post the accuser's name). The dispute was never resolved until the issue was settled in court, but the liberal defenders of what was essentially the mainstream media narrative (which I presume you don't buy is the same as the "liberal media" narrative, but put that aside for a moment) were indefatigable in their defense of their version of article, with maybe 2 or 3 liberal editors continuously removing and changing edits from a larger number of less dedicated conservative editors. If you feel like looking at the evidence in question, feel free to wade into the archives of the talk page, but I wouldn't recommend it if you value your sanity.

The point being that it is the most dedicated people whose version becomes the truth according to Wikipedia, and in many cases those people happen to be to the left of center politically. The Duke page was particularly spectacular because editing was closed temporarily by fiat of one of Jimmy Wales's close assistants and eventual by Jimbo himself. In the end, in fact, the liberals won.

The page for Crystal Gail Mangum, which had information about her beyond the Duke case (for instance, her earlier involvement in a criminal case) has been deleted. Visiting the page with her name now redirects you to the Duke Lacrosse case page. This seems a little funny to me, especially since the charges have been dropped and she has been proved to have lied about the events in question; there is no legal or moral imperative keeping Wikipedia from having a page on her that had its information sourced according to Wikipedia's policies (since information about her is all over the net, including on the websites of newspapers now, for instance this one). So the decision is a political one, and the hardest core of Wikipediaers got their way.

This is also true of subjects that relate only tangentially to politics. For instance, the coverage of the availability, way to obtain, effects, and sundry other information about psychedelic drugs is widely available on Wikipedia. Would a regular paper encyclopedia see fit to include "several speculative and as yet untested hypotheses" about an illegal psychedelic drug? Somehow I doubt it. But the hard-core constituency for editing pages about psychedelic drugs are people who use those psychedelic drugs, or at least who are interested in their use. Similarly the hard-core constituency for editing political articles (to a lesser extent than with the drugs, to be sure, but to some extent) is amongst liberals. There are surely exceptions to the rule and it is hard to see the slant as the result of some sort of organized cabal, it seems to evolve organically from the user pool. I contend it does exist, though.

bjkeefe said...


I suppose if one is far enough to the right on the political spectrum, then by definition, the majority of everybody else is left-leaning by comparison. Other than that, though, I would not assume that most "power-users" of (highly dedicated contributors to) Wikipedia are left-leaning. This is certainly not my experience. I grant Wikipedia is a bad place to look for information on current events that are politically contentious, but my overall impression is that Wikipedia works very hard toward a goal of neutrality. Perhaps Prof. Colbert's dictum that reality has a well-known liberal bias applies?

I don't think it supports your contention to bring up the specific case of the Duke lacrosse team incident. Wikipedians work from other sources, and in this case, almost all of the early publicly available information pointed in a direction that happened to turn out to be wrong. So, yes, one page out of millions was in error, for a while, I'll admit.

I would also point out that while early versions of the page may have reflected these inaccuracies, a look at the current version certainly shows the self-correcting nature of Wikipedia. Here is the opening sentence (emph. added):

The 2006 Duke University lacrosse case was a scandal that started in March 2006 when Crystal Gail Mangum,[1][2][3] a black stripper and escort, and a student at North Carolina Central University, falsely accused three white members of Duke University's men's lacrosse team[4] of raping her at a party held at the house of two of the team's captains in Durham, North Carolina, USA on March 13, 2006.

Hard to argue with that, isn't it? So, to reiterate: Yes, current events on Wikipedia are prone to "first draft of history" problems, not to mention edit wars and the occasional need to lock pages, but fairly quickly, things settle down to a recounting of events that most people can agree upon. That is my impression, anyway.

At risk of belaboring this example, I'll also point out that "Crystal Gail Mangum" appears right there in the first sentence. In between that, the redirection link (instead of just deletion of the page), the useful search results one gets from Wikipedia's search engine, and the three footnotes pointing to external sources that focus on her, I don't know how much more you can ask. Maybe you consider her false reporting of a crime an act so heinous that you feel she should have a dedicated page. I don't see her as that important in the grand scheme of things.

Wikipedia's policy appears to reflect this. From their policy page "Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not," here's an excerpt (emph. added):

News reports. Wikipedia considers the historical notability of persons and events. News coverage can be useful source material for encyclopedic topics, but not all events warrant an encyclopedia article of their own. Routine news coverage of such things as announcements, sports, and tabloid journalism are not sufficient basis for an article. Even when an event is notable, individuals involved in it may not be. Unless news coverage of an individual goes beyond the context of a single event, our coverage of that individual should be limited to the article about that event, in proportion to their importance to the overall topic.

From their policy page "Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons," here's some more:

Biographies of living persons (BLPs) must be written conservatively, with regard for the subject's privacy. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a tabloid; it is not our job to be sensationalist, or to be the primary vehicle for the spread of titillating claims about people's lives.

To your second example of what's included on pages describing psychedelic drugs, I don't agree that this, either, supports a hypothesis of Wikipedia being left-leaning overall. Again, I suppose if one is a conservative with a baseline stance of "all drugs: evil," then any reference to drugs that alludes to desirability will be cast as the output of a bunch of DFHs.

Whether you consider it appropriate for a purported encyclopedia to describe "several speculative and as yet untested hypotheses" is a matter of taste, I suppose. My own feeling about the particular page that you linked to is that there is some worth in this section -- it's an area of interest, of apparent active research, and it has been made clear that what's being reported is not yet established fact.

More generally, it seems to me that acknowledging that some people find taking drugs enjoyable is nothing less than telling the truth. We've been doing it, as a species, for all of recorded history. To deny this, or even to suppress it, would be to show more of a bias than to state it.

Finally, let's consider some pages that certainly ought to reveal left-leaning tendencies, if they exist. Have a look at the entries for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, for example. I didn't read them end to end, but from skimming them, I don't know how much more impartial these pages could sound.

If you want to cite some other examples, I'd be willing to take a look, but for the time being, I don't think you've made much of a case. I remain convinced that for whatever warts Wikipedia might have, it does not have a general problem of liberal bias.

Adam said...

I am far too drunk to mount a cogent defense... I was at the awesome game where the Mets won 3-2 in 14 innings.

So yea, drunk.

Anyways, I don't find anything wrong with the fact that wikipedia tells you how to get high in ways that are illegally using legal products, but clearly the drug pages are more love letters to the substances of the abusers than they are enclyopedic articles that describe law, botany, etc. Tell me this page is not run by potheads. I'm far too shithoused to put together good counterexamples to where you challenge me, but I'll write about them when I'm in a better frame of mind.

But, one rant: if wikipedia's policy is that you have to cite stuff with the mainstream media (at least when covering current events) then doesn't wikipedia always de facto revert to the MSM line, which I don't want to argue about, but which some people see as being liberally biased, then wouldn't that mean that wikipedia's coverage of current events is basically a mirror of the "liberal mainstream media." Right?

bjkeefe said...

How do you stay drunk at a 14-inning ballgame when they stop serving after the 7th?

Pointing to a page about 420 and acting surprised that it was put together by potheads may attest to your BAC. I'm not sure what else it shows, but ... liberal bias? Really?

News flash: conservatives smoke pot, too. And enjoy plenty of other drugs. Ask anyone named Bush.

And please. It's one page. Shall I say that the love shown on this page suggests that Wikipedia has an NRA bias?

You don't want to argue about the claim that the MSM is liberally biased? You'd just like to make the claim and have it lie there unquestioned? Like something that the dog that no one in the room owns just dropped out of his hindquarters onto the rug that no one in the room owns?

In that case, I refer you to the first sentence of my previous comment.

I also question this supposition of yours: "... if wikipedia's policy is that you have to cite stuff with the mainstream media (at least when covering current events) ..." Can you point me to a page that says this?

And even if I were to believe that claim, I know that Fox News, The Washington Times, NRO, etc., are regularly used as references by Wikipedians. So, are these organizations part of the liberal MSM, too?

Adam said...

You bring a flask of whiskey and stash it in some unlikely to be searched compartment of your backpack.

Saves a lot on beers... which are like $8 at Shea.

bjkeefe said...

That was my guess, but one hesitates to speculate about criminal activity.


Adam said...

It is not immoral to disobey an unust law. I believe it was St. Augustine who said "an unjust law is no law at all."

BTW, since I'm going to be going to a lot of Mets games, I ordered this bad-boy which, although of a smaller capacity (only holds 2+ shots) should be less of a hassle on nights when I don't want to get quite as lit up. And it's just friggin' sweet.

bjkeefe said...

I quite agree about the morality. I was more concerned with pragmatic aspects. My recent trips to major league ballparks have convinced me that ballpark security has become nothing more than another division of DHS.

Nice-looking flask, if distressingly lacking in capacity. I remember back in the day when transistor radios were the size of hardback books, and seeing people unscrewing the aerials off their "radios." Miniaturization has its drawbacks, doesn't it?

Adam said...

The security at Shea is relatively lax if you don't have a bag, and even if you do the bag checks are not that thurough. But if you don't have a bag then the security is just a pat down where I've never had them have me take anything out of my pockets. Unlike at Yankee Stadium they don't make you even show them your cell phone or other electronics so this flask is almost a sure thing... limited capacity notwithstanding.