What's the Difference Between Wikipedia and Conservapedia?
In November 2006, Andrew Schlafly and his class of 58 home-schooled students at Eagle Forum University launched Conservapedia, which he described as the “Fox News” version of the popular online-encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. Although Conservapedia’s 6500 articles is dwarfed by Wikipedia’s 1.7 million, it is growing rapidly, and it is one of the busiest conservative sites, even more than billoreily.com. Nonetheless, it is valid to ask: why does the world need another inaccurate online encyclopaedia? After all, anyone can edit Wikipedia. Schlafly retorts that whenever “conservative” changes are made to Wiki entries they are quickly undone by the camarilla of left-wing editors. Schlafly estimates that Wikipedia is six times more left-wing than the American mainstream.
Conservapedia justifies its existence by representing itself as an alternative to the purported liberal, anti-American and anti-Christian Wikipedia. These and other charges are expounded upon in Conservapedia’s burgeoning list of Wikipedia’s alleged biases. These include the use of British spelling, Common Era notation for dates, and skepticism about biblical stories (of the Flood and Creationism, in particular). While Wikipedia is international and secular, Conservapedia is American and religious. It is no accident that rules for editing Conservapedia’s articles are called “commandments” and its logo is the American flag. At its most basic level, the Conservapedia/Wikipedia rivalry marks another struggle in America’s Kulturkampf. The juxtaposition of history articles from Conservapedia and Wikipedia reveal the gulf that divides the two.
The lectures begin with prehistory, which Schlafly suffuses with “Young Earth Creationism.” According to Conservapedia, dates for the Neolithic Age and other periods in prehistory are “controversial, and historians have a bias for giving them older dates than proven by archaeology.” He emphasizes that the first known civilization is only five thousand years old, and his revisionist demographics extrapolates that there was only a single family in 3300 BCE. The biblical account of the “Great Flood” is taken seriously by Conservapedia, which notes that 60% of Americans share its opinion.
On the other hand, Wikipedia conforms to the conventional view of prehistory and does not compress the period into a few thousand years. To Conservapedia’s chagrin, Wikipedia categorized “Young Earth Creationism” as a pseudoscience. In addition to that offense, Wikipedia places the “Great Flood” within its mythology section. It is skeptical of a global deluge, and instead puts forth alternative theories, such as local flooding and tsunamis. It is clear from the very beginning that Wikipedia embraces a scientific and rationalistic approach to history, contrasted to Conservapedia’s adherence to a biblically influenced Weltanschauung.
This dichotomy manifests itself in their entries on early Christianity. The World History lectures at Conservapedia provide information on many of the world’s major religions, but not surprisingly, its most extensive coverage is of Christianity. Conservapedia is unapologetic: “the ancient world had several founders of great religions, but only one performed miracles: Jesus of Nazareth. His resurrection is the single greatest event in the history of the world.” Conservapedia’s account of Jesus’ life is heavily influenced by the four gospels, especially John’s, which is “the greatest writing in the history of the world.” Wikipedia mentions that most historians believe the gospel of John to be of questionable reliability, since it was written so late (90-100 CE) and likely by an “unknown non-eyewitness.” Conservapedia comports to the more traditional view that John the Evangelist wrote it. The website offers the excuse that “as long as something can be improved and developed further, there may not be any reason to publish it prematurely.”
Jesus himself is a source of contention between Conservapedia and Wikipedia. In its entry for Jesus, the former states matter-of-factly:
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and was subsequently crucified for His work and teachings. Jesus voluntarily accepted this fate and delivered over His spirit on the cross for our sins. Three days later He rose from the dead and appeared to others.
The article is brief and simple; it is less than 300 words long. It presents only a single view of Jesus and does not question his divinity.
Wikipedia’s entry is massive and tries to include many different perspectives, from Islamic to Gnostic, to scholars who even deny his existence, and others. Within the article is a heading entitled “Questions of reliability,” which casts doubt upon the gospels as a source, and questions the plausibility of miracles and the divinity of Jesus. Given the subject's controversial nature, Wikipedia makes every effort to include myriad viewpoints.
Another obvious conflict between the two Internet encyclopedias is the way they treat the Renaissance. In its list of “Examples of Bias in Wikipedia,” Conservapedia's eighth complaint is: “Wikipedia's entry for the Renaissance denies any credit to Christianity, its primary inspiration.” This statement is true; Wikipedia credits classicalism and humanism (which is portrayed as the polar opposite of religiosity) with the achievements of the Renaissance. Christianity is barely mentioned. Due to this omission, Conservapedia harangues its larger rival:
The Renaissance was led by devout Christians who looked to Jesus for inspiration. None of the leading Renaissance artists or writers were atheists or anti-Christian. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were as Christian as anyone. Their Christian faith was the wellspring for their creativity and intellectual achievements.
The entry goes on to cast doubt on the existence of humanism, as “the philosophical term was not used during the Renaissance,” and more bluntly, “there was nothing at all anti-religious or humanist about the Renaissance.” To back up this claim, Schlafly provides the ballpark claim that 90% of all of the achievements of the Renaissance were “inspired by Christian beliefs and faith”; to say otherwise is “unchristian historical revisionism (an alteration of history for improper purposes).”
The modern era is no less fraught with controversy than earlier times. American history is an especially sensitive subject, and Conservapedia makes an effort to present it in a favorable light. One example can be found in Conservapedia’s lecture on imperialism in the 19th century. Although the entry is fairly balanced, listing both the beneficial and adverse effects of imperialism, Conservapedia equivocates about the American conquest of the Philippines. Was it an act of imperialism? “Perhaps.”
Wikipedia evinces no such hesitation. The Wiki portrayal of the conquest of the Philippines differs dramatically. The Philippine-American War took place during the years 1899-1902. It was a brutal and long colonial war, which Wikipedia blames for the loss of up to a million Filipino lives. The war intensified after the Filipino Army abandoned conventional warfare, and adopted guerilla tactics. According to Wikipedia, the Americans responded by setting up concentration camps, razing villages and massacring POWs.
Conservapedia justifies these barbaric acts: “the insurgents were brutal and unrelenting in their tactics and the American commanders concluded that they simply had to kill them all to suppress the rebellion.” Wikipedia is skeptical of the insurgents' alleged brutality, and mentions that many American POWs and the Red Cross applauded the Filipinos' observance of the rules of war. Nonetheless, Conservapedia declares that “the Philippines are probably a free and Christian nation today as a result of that decision not to let the insurgents take control of it.” Actually, the Philippines was already a Catholic nation, and it is not clear how American colonization made the Philippines more free than if it had its independence in 1898.
Conservapedia’s bias in favor of the United States is evident too in its treatment of World War II. The war is presented from an entirely American point of view, and highlights only battles Americans fought. Schlafly unabashedly states,
Just as the American soldiers had defeated Germany in World War I, the Americans did it again. Operation Overlord was the code name for the massive challenge of retaking Continental Europe, liberating France from the Nazis, and conquering Germany itself. It began on “D-Day”, June 6, 1944, with the largest invasion in the history of the world when the Allied forces did a surprise landing at Normandy.
The entry ignores the massive contribution the USSR made in the war, and the fact that the US could have hardly invaded Europe had not the majority of the Wehrmacht been tied down on the eastern front. Wikipedia attempts to portray all sides of the war, and organizes its headings by the myriad large theaters, including the all important Eastern front. Wikipedia’s claim to objectivity in this instance is unfortunate as it leaves the misleading impression that all theaters were equally important.
The Cold War is yet another obvious point of contention. Conservapedia takes a hardline conservative stance. Take the account of US relations with Cuba. According to Conservapedia, Castro “became a ruthless communist dictator who brutally suppressed all opposition and ended free speech and free enterprise on the island of Cuba.” This unsavory regime should have been toppled by the Bay of Pigs invasion, but John F. Kennedy allowed it to fail by withholding air support. In addition, the plans had been leaked by someone within the White House.
Wikipedia’s version of events differs drastically. Castro was a nationalist leader, but fear of an American invasion forced him into the arms of the USSR. It was only in 1961 that Castro declared Cuba a Marxist-Leninist state. Wikipedia contradicts Conservapedia’s assertion that Cuba became “more aggressive” after the attempted invasion; instead, Castro was increasingly worried of being overthrown. The Americans had practiced war games that simulated an attack on Cuba and the removal of “Ortsac” (Castro spelt backwards), and offered assistance to rebels under the aegis of Operation Mongoose. Furthermore, Wikipedia claims that the Bay of Pigs landing failed because of the CIA’s incompetence, not Kennedy’s. The CIA had placed the Cuban exiles too far away from the mountains, and there was no popular uprising.
Wikipedia does try to be unbiased and provide different interpretations, and to a large degree, it succeeds in this endeavor. This does not mean that Wikipedia is perfect; Conservapedia rightly criticizes its rival's “gossipy” nature. Why does Wikipedia need hundreds of different entries for “Moby”? Both encyclopedias are afflicted by the same problems that are inherent to all “wiki” online encyclopedias, and that is inaccuracy and anonymity. Recently, the Wikipedia editor “Essjay” was revealed a college drop-out and not a college professor as claimed. Neither work is as reliable of course as the Enclopedia Britannica.
comments powered by Disqus
Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 4/27/2007
I just took a read in the article about atheism of the "conservapedia". It has 20 references in footnotes, and most of them come from apologetic fundamentalistic evangelical sites...¿you call that "better"?
Adam Carman - 4/26/2007
Nowhere in the quote you just gave is Catholicism even mentioned so I don't think you have any reason to say that Conservapedia is promoting the Catholic view. As I recall, that was the argument used in the case in question--that and the fact that one mother shouldn't dictate the reading choices of everybody's children. However, you are right to note that Christians are divided on many issues (Harry Potter certainly being one of them).
Kenneth E Turner - 4/25/2007
What this article did not address is that there is NO one Christian world view, and the characterization is rife with its own biases. Conservapedia shows a bias towards Catholicism in their Harry Potter entry:
On October 3rd, 2006,Georgia mother Laura Mallory attempted to get the books (Harry Potter) banned from schools because she felt they promote witchcraft. However the Board of Education denied Mrs. Mallory's request, as the banning of Harry Potter would necessitate in the banning of all books with reference to witches, including plays like Macbeth and even a children's story like Cinderella.
The implication being that The Vatican's view is the correct Christian one, not the Evangelical view. Conservapedia does not offer the Christian view, but instead just one of the multitude in a population of widely diverse views. What is the Official Catholic Church's dogma regarding pride?
Andy Schlafly - 4/23/2007
Well said, Mr. Hughes!
Wikipedia, like modern liberal views themselves, is free Kool-Aid for the uninformed. It's inevitable that people will want something better.
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 4/23/2007
Wikipedia is fine for picking up the spelling of a place name or a person, or maybe a birth date, etc., but it's historical slant is red as can be, quite apart from what it thinks about the Old Testament. Views on the Book of Genesis do not demarcate the divide between most conservatives and liberals any more, if they ever did. Liberals have lost the support of many more people than just the hardy band of Bible-toters.
Andy Schlafly - 4/22/2007
Thank you for a thoughtful analysis, which includes some humor as a bonus. This is the best analysis that I have seen among many comparisons of Wikipedia to Conservapedia, which I helped found.
One minor correction: the homeschool course and inception of Conservapedia had nothing to do with Eagle Forum University, which merely links to Conservapedia.
The real problem with Wikipedia is its undisclosed bias. Random errors are to be expected and are rarely a problem. But undisclosed bias misleads unsuspecting users.
Regardless, thanks again for your fine work.
- Field Report: What I learned by attending a workshop on Korean history
- Historians suggest ways California can integrate gay history into the school curriculum
- Now it’s Andrew Bacevich’s turn to do a MOOC
- Historian enlists Plato in campaign to win converts to an exciting way to teach history
- Teachers walkout in Colorado over AP history controversy and pay