Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why Conservapedia Sucks

One of the privileges of contemporary first-world living is that you’re free to live in whichever version of reality you find most appealing. For instance, thanks to the miracles of talk radio, the internet, and ESPN, a sports fan can spend virtually all of his free time consuming sports news and watching sporting events. Those who are really into fashion or indie rock can spend hours every day reading blogs and watching YouTube videos even if they live in an isolated trailer in the middle of a desert where fashion and indie rock do not commonly occur. But the people who have perfected the art of living in an informational bubble are conservatives.

Conservatives have AM talk radio, they have Fox News, they have the vast network of blogs and thousands of conservative-leaning books, all of which makes it possible for a conservative to never consume any chunk of information that comes from the mouth of a liberal, or even a moderate. Granted, liberals have all of these things too, plus liberals can watch standup comedy without being upset. But conservatives aren’t satisfied with just an all-right-wing media environment, they want a right wing encyclopedia. And thus, from the mind of a man who came out of Phyllis Schlafly, we get Conservapedia.

Conservapedia has an origin story that parallels that of Fox News. Just as America’s favorite news network began as a response to the perceived bias of the “mainstream media,” Conservapedia started out because Andy Schlafly thinks that Wikipedia* has a liberal bias—at least, that’s the conclusion he came to after his edits to Wikipedia articles kept getting deleted by other editors. After spending a lazy Sunday afternoon poking around Conservapedia though, his edits getting deleted might have had less to do with an institutional socialist bias and more with Schlafly being two beers and a plastic connecting thingy short of a six pack.

Sure, not all of the content on the site is written by Schlafly, but he definitely wrote (and defends on the talk page forums) a bit where a Bible passage about one of Jesus’ miracles is used as an example for why Einstein’s theory of relativity is wrong. And he allows some rather dicey pages to exist, like the one for the “Homosexual Agenda” (the above screenshot is from that page, just in case it gets edited). That page follows the Conservapedia practice of citing only far-right sources, in this case books with titles like Crafting “Gay” Children and That Which Is Unnatural, which might be better than some other Conservapedia pages that don’t cite anything at all, like this page about why capitalism is number one.

The site is clearly still trying to figure out what the hell it is supposed to be. Clicking “random page” over and over sends you to extremely short entries for ideologically neutral subjects like skin and Indian states, then you find odd things like a fairly unorganized biography of Mel Gibson that doesn’t mention his recent nasty rant at his ex-wife, but does mention his charity work (although, hilariously, the article does say he’s “never at a loss for words”).

I’m assuming for now that Conservapedia isn’t high-level trolling like If it’s not, it’s pretty scary—or it would be, if it wasn’t so stupid. Fox News is one thing, opinionated journalism not being anything particularly new, but Conservapedia seeks to do something more fundamental. If the site’s editors are serious about competing with and maybe supplanting Wikipedia, they’re working to change the nature of facts itself. Snide, superior-sounding liberals are fond of saying, “The facts have a liberal bias,” but Conservapedia wants to create facts with a conservative bias by only drawing on certain sources and only caring about certain topics. People who set out to create objective sources of information like encyclopedias or “objective” newspapers should be motivated by a desire to just find out the facts no one can argue with and then reporting them in language that isn’t ideologically charged. Conservapedia doesn’t give a shit about objectivity and doesn’t even pretend to. Its purpose is to give conservatives a place to go where their viewpoint can be reiterated again and again. It’s not a reference guide, it’s a yes man.

Like Fox News, Conservapedia is constantly patting itself on the back for being more truthful than the liberals, who have something to hide. The site says, “Conservapedia provides information about the American people that liberal critics would rather hide: for example, nearly 50 percent of Americans reject evolution and embrace creationism.” Except well-known lefty site Wikipedia says, on its creationism page, that “according to a 2001 Gallup poll, about 45% of North Americans believe that ‘God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.’” It’s not that liberals want to hide the facts, it’s that just because a bunch of people believe in something doesn’t make it so.

And just because you say things are facts and that your website is an encyclopedia doesn’t make it so either, but Conservapedia is trying its hardest. They’ve recently expanded their project to change reality by changing facts by creating a new translation of the Bible that will eliminate the liberal bias former translations had and explain “the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning.” How this version is going to handle Acts 2:45 is beyond me.

In Conservapedia’s version of reality, Jesus is Ronald Reagan, the homosexuals are plotting against America, Mel Gibson is still best known for being a successful actor and director. In my version of reality, on the other hand, I’m still not sure Andy Schlafly isn’t the most committed troll in the history of the internet.

*Oddly enough, that entry on Wikipedia includes a quote from noted atheist Douglas Adams, who probably wouldn’t like Conservapedia very much.

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha I'm convinced that Conservapedia is a troll site.