Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hide your name on Wicked Pedia by Laurence Solomon

Last week, in my column on Wikipedia’s zealots, I described how the website’s editors patrol the website’s pages to enforce the conventional wisdom on climate change. Anyone skeptical of the United Nations’ take on global warming gets swarmed — Wikipedia’s enforcers neutralize him and his comments or take him out completely. The Wikipedia site in this way has become a paragon of modern propaganda, operating under the illusion of Internet openness and respect for democratic process, while in reality inhabiting a fantasy world in which up is down and words mean whatever you want them to mean.

My column focused on a Wikipedia page for a U.S. scientist named Naomi Oreskes who had surveyed a major scientific database and amazingly found not one study -- zero -- that questioned the UN view of climate change. Many science writers and scientists immediately challenged Oreskes’s findings, among them a British scientist named Benny Peiser. Wikipedia editors whitewashed criticism of her study — thoroughly discredited though it was — and for good measure they trashed Peiser. I attempted to edit the Wikipedia page to note some of the criticism of Oreskes’s study, and to remove incorrect information about Peiser. My changes were repeatedly eradicated by a Wikipedia editor. I then wrote about my experience with Wikipedia in my column in the National Post.

To counter my criticism, the Wikipedia editor posted a rebuttal on the National Post’s blog, which I and a few other Post editors manage. I must confess that I took a mischievous delight at the thought of instantly deleting the rebuttal in revenge -- something I am able to do. But that is not the culture in a newspaper. The Wikipedia editor’s comments are allowed to stand, and readers are allowed to assess them.

The Wikipedia editor justified his decision to remove my edits by saying that “these kinds of edits are routinely reverted, especially when done on a biography of a living person — and doubly so — when the only documentation for the claims is an anonymous editor’s claim that ‘he got this from Peiser himself.' (Yes — Mr. Solomon didn’t identify himself).”

This is a bizarre assertion. I identified myself in the many exchanges, repeatedly, as “Lawrence Solomon.” It turns out this style of identification can offend and exasperate Wikipedians. The proper identification in the World of Wikipedia, a patient Wikipedian later informed me, begins with four tildes, as follows, ~~~~. This code then triggers the insertion of a Wikipedian-approved identity.

To be properly understood, the Wikipedia editor’s assertion about my acting anonymously must be cast in a deeper relief. In my world, the newspaper and public policy book publishing world, all works are signed. Readers readily know who wrote what and they can make judgements based on the credibility and reputation of the writer. In the World of Wikipedia, no articles are signed and anonymity reigns. Pseudonyms such as Tabletop and Coppertwig are the rule. Nothing is transparent.

And much is dark. Apparently, there is a very good and practical reason to maintain anonymity in Wikipedia. It can be Wicked Pedia. As Major Bonkers, a senior Wikipedian who befriended me advised, “you appear to be editing under your real name. I have to say, based on my own experience that this could be a mistake; it’s relatively easy for a computer’s address to be traced to a geographical location and Google can start filling out the gaps. I’ve seen rival editors come out with ‘I know where you live’-type comments and worse. Whilst most of us are rational, sensible people, there are also people out there who are complete nutcases. Not that I want to put you off!” Gb, another kind Wikipedian, and one who has a high rank in the Wikipedian hierarchy, advised me to “take Major Bonker’s suggestion to heart — if you’re planning on sticking around, using your real name may not be ideal.”

Of course, it is too late for me to become anonymous. References to my Wikipedia’s zealots column now appears on several hundred blogs, along with my name. But how odd a thought that a writer would want anonymity. Or maybe not so odd. In the real world, those who want anonymity are either ashamed of their conduct — say, poison pen writers — or fear for their safety — say, writers inside China criticizing their government. In the world of Wicked Pedia, the same two reasons rule.

Financial Post

As I'm writing this column for the Post, I am simultaneously editing a page on Wikipedia. I am confident that just about everything I write for my column will be available for you to read. I am equally confident that you will be able to read just about nothing that I write for the page on Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia page is entitled Naomi Oreskes, after a Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California San Diego, but the page offers only sketchy details about Oreskes. The page is mostly devoted to a notorious 2004 paper that she wrote, and that Science magazine published, called "Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change." This paper analyzed articles in peer-reviewed journals to see if any disagreed with the alarming positions on global warming taken by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position," concluded Oreskes.

Oreskes's paper -- which claimed to comprehensively examine all articles in a scientific database with the keywords "climate change" -- is nonsense. As Post readers know, for the last 18 months I have been profiling scientists who disagree with the UN panel's position. My Deniers series, which now runs some 40 columns, describes many of the world's most prominent scientists. They include authors or reviewers for the UN panel (before they quit in disgust). They even include the scientist known as the Father of Scientific Climatology, who is recognized as being the most cited climatologist in the world. Yet somehow Oreskes missed every last one of these exceptions to the presumed consensus, and somehow so did the peer reviewers that Science chose to evaluate Oreskes's work.

When Oreskes's paper came out, it was immediately challenged by science writers and scientists alike, one of them being Benny Peiser, a prominent UK scientist and publisher of CCNet, an electronic newsletter to which I and thousands of others subscribe. CCNet daily circulates articles disputing the conventional wisdom on climate change. No publication better informs readers about climate change controversies, and no person is better placed to judge informed dissent on climate change than Benny Peiser.

For this reason, when visiting Oreskes's page on Wikipedia several weeks ago, I was surprised to read not only that Oreskes had been vindicated but that Peiser had been discredited. More than that, the page portrayed Peiser himself as having grudgingly conceded Oreskes's correctness.

Upon checking with Peiser, I found he had done no such thing. The Wikipedia page had misunderstood or distorted his comments. I then exercised the right to edit Wikipedia that we all have, corrected the Wikipedia entry, and advised Peiser that I had done so.

Peiser wrote back saying he couldn't see my corrections on the Wikipedia page. Had I neglected to save them after editing them?, I wondered. I made the changes again, and this time confirmed that the changes had been saved. But then, in a twinkle, they were gone again! I made other changes. And others. They all disappeared shortly after they were made.

Nonplused, I investigated. Wikipedia logs all changes. I found mine. And then I found Tabletop's. Someone called Tabletop was undoing my edits, and, following what I suppose is Wiki-etiquette, also explained why. "Note that Peiser has retracted this critique and admits that he was wrong!" Tabletop said.

I undid Tabletop's undoing of my edits, thinking I had an unassailable response: "Tabletop's changes claim to represent Peiser's views. I have checked with Peiser and he disputes Tabletop's version."

Tabletop undid my undid, claiming I could not speak for Peiser.

Why can Tabletop speak for Peiser but not I, who have his permission?, I thought. I redid Tabletop's undid and protested: "Tabletop is distorting Peiser. She does not speak for him. Peiser has approved my description of events concerning him."

Tabletop parried: "we have a reliable source to this. What Peiser has said to *you* is irrelevant."

Tabletop, it turns out, has another name: Kim Dabelstein Petersen. She (or he?) is an editor at Wikipedia. What does she edit? Reams and reams of global warming pages. I started checking them. In every instance I checked, she defended those warning of catastrophe and deprecated those who believe the science is not settled. I investigated further. Others had tried to correct her interpretations and had the same experience as I -- no sooner did they make their corrections than she pounced, preventing Wikipedia readers from reading anyone's views but her own. When they protested plaintively, she wore them down and snuffed them out. By patrolling Wikipedia pages and ensuring that her spin reigns supreme over all climate change pages, she has made of Wikipedia a propaganda vehicle for global warming alarmists. But unlike government propaganda, its source is not self-evident. We don't suspend belief when we read Wikipedia, as we do when we read literature from an organization with an agenda, because Wikipedia benefits from the Internet's cachet of making information free and democratic. This Big Brother enforces its views with a mouse.

While I've been writing this column, the Naomi Oreskes page has changed 10 times. Since I first tried to correct the distortions on the page, it has changed 28 times. If you have read a climate change article on Wikipedia -- or on any controversial subject that may have its own Kim Dabelstein Petersen -- beware. Wikipedia is in the hands of the zealots.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute, and author of The Deniers. Email:

This is the second in a continuing series.

- from here -

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