Climategate and Wikipedia

More climate research manipulation, this time on the most used and the most easily-abused source of popular information, Wikipedia:

The Climategate Emails describe how a small band of climatologists cooked the books to make the last century seem dangerously warm.

The emails also describe how the band plotted to rewrite history as well as science, particularly by eliminating the Medieval Warm Period, a 400 year period that began around 1000 AD.

The Climategate Emails reveal something else, too: the enlistment of the most widely read source of information in the world — Wikipedia — in the wholesale rewriting of this history.

The Medieval Warm Period, which followed the meanness and cold of the Dark Ages, was a great time in human history — it allowed humans around the world to bask in a glorious warmth that vastly improved agriculture, increased life spans and otherwise bettered the human condition.

But the Medieval Warm Period was not so great for some humans in our own time — the same small band that believes the planet has now entered an unprecedented and dangerous warm period. As we now know from the Climategate Emails, this band saw the Medieval Warm Period as an enormous obstacle in their mission of spreading the word about global warming. If temperatures were warmer 1,000 years ago than today, the Climategate Emails explain in detail, their message that we now live in the warmest of all possible times would be undermined. As put by one band member, a Briton named Folland at the Hadley Centre, a Medieval Warm Period “dilutes the message rather significantly.” . . .

One person in the nine-member Realclimate.orgteam — U.K. scientist and Green Party activist William Connolley — would take on particularly crucial duties. Connolley took control of all things climate in the most used information source the world has ever known -Wikipedia. Starting in February 2003, just when opposition to the claims of the band members were beginning to gel, Connolley set to work on the Wikipedia site. He rewrote Wikipedia’s articles on global warming, on the greenhouse effect, on the instrumental temperature record, on the urban heat island, on climate models, on global cooling. On Feb. 14, he began to erase the Little Ice Age; on Aug. 11, the Medieval Warm Period. In October, he turned his attention to the hockey stick graph. He rewrote articles on the politics of global warming and on the scientists who were skeptical of the band. Richard Lindzen and Fred Singer, two of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, were among his early targets, followed by others that the band especially hated, such as Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, authorities on the Medieval Warm Period.

All told, Connolley created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles. His control over Wikipedia was greater still, however, through the role he obtained at Wikipedia as a website administrator, which allowed him to act with virtual impunity. When Connolley didn’t like the subject of a certain article, he removed it — more than 500 articles of various descriptions disappeared at his hand. When he disapproved of the arguments that others were making, he often had them barred — over 2,000 Wikipedia contributors who ran afoul of him found themselves blocked from making further contributions. Acolytes whose writing conformed to Connolley’s global warming views, in contrast, were rewarded with Wikipedia’s blessings. In these ways, Connolley turned Wikipedia into the missionary wing of the global warming movement.

The Medieval Warm Period disappeared, as did criticism of the global warming orthodoxy. With the release of the Climategate Emails, the disappearing trick has been exposed.

This also raises questions about the nature of Wikipedia. Yes, it assembles a vast amount of information and makes it easily accessible. But since virtually anyone can change that information, unreliability is built in. (Let all students beware.) I understand the theory behind it, how it is self-correcting by drawing on collective knowledge. But isn’t it really predicated on the assumption that knowledge is a social construction, conveniently giving a platform for that to happen? What do you think about Wikipedia?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Wow – this “climategate” scandal seems to be really heating up!

  • Pete

    Wow – this “climategate” scandal seems to be really heating up!

  • Carl Vehse

    In addition to Wikipedia, Google and YouTube have also been exposed for their liberal bias. One can also search newsbusters.org for other articles about Google’s and Youtube’s liberal bias.

  • Carl Vehse

    In addition to Wikipedia, Google and YouTube have also been exposed for their liberal bias. One can also search newsbusters.org for other articles about Google’s and Youtube’s liberal bias.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Any student of mine who turns in a paper citing Wikipedia has to rewrite their paper. It is a nice reference for non-controversial topics, but even then the data needs to be independently verified.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Any student of mine who turns in a paper citing Wikipedia has to rewrite their paper. It is a nice reference for non-controversial topics, but even then the data needs to be independently verified.

  • Catherine

    At my college, several of the professors give an automatic failing grade for a paper sourced by Wikipedia, and I’m inclined to agree with this standard.

  • Catherine

    At my college, several of the professors give an automatic failing grade for a paper sourced by Wikipedia, and I’m inclined to agree with this standard.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    It seems to me that I remember a certain government who used “free” and “independant” news sources to fabricate reality and enslave populations. Now let’s see, who was that…

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    It seems to me that I remember a certain government who used “free” and “independant” news sources to fabricate reality and enslave populations. Now let’s see, who was that…

  • DonS

    The reason Wikipedia is not self-correcting is because its editors tend to block out conservative points of view, as is evidenced by this story. Wikipedia is useful only as a starting point — you can get up to speed on a subject and check out the sources it cites. You can cite it in a blog post. But to cite Wikipedia as an authority for anything in a research paper or article is not scholarship.

  • DonS

    The reason Wikipedia is not self-correcting is because its editors tend to block out conservative points of view, as is evidenced by this story. Wikipedia is useful only as a starting point — you can get up to speed on a subject and check out the sources it cites. You can cite it in a blog post. But to cite Wikipedia as an authority for anything in a research paper or article is not scholarship.

  • Josie

    Love & Hate it equally. Its convenient and gives accurate enough info on basic stuff…also leads to other info we would not have normally considered in our research. BUT, its so frustrating when trying to teach a 10yr old how to do proper research and all he wants to do is find it on Wiki. and call it good. Glad to hear that college profs don’t allow it…will let my son know this important fact!

  • Josie

    Love & Hate it equally. Its convenient and gives accurate enough info on basic stuff…also leads to other info we would not have normally considered in our research. BUT, its so frustrating when trying to teach a 10yr old how to do proper research and all he wants to do is find it on Wiki. and call it good. Glad to hear that college profs don’t allow it…will let my son know this important fact!

  • tonhou

    It is my view that any information source is suspect until verified/cross referenced with a range of sources, whether it be Wikipedia, Brittanica or a news site. Each is likely to have a biase, each is likely to have errors.
    For those who do genealogical research this is well known. (Original documents in this area are the only reliable information – birth certificates, marriage certificates.)

  • tonhou

    It is my view that any information source is suspect until verified/cross referenced with a range of sources, whether it be Wikipedia, Brittanica or a news site. Each is likely to have a biase, each is likely to have errors.
    For those who do genealogical research this is well known. (Original documents in this area are the only reliable information – birth certificates, marriage certificates.)

  • Bruce Gee

    MetaLutheran (http://metalutheran.blogspot.com/)
    tells a story about arguing some scientific fine point with someone, when the other person cited, incorrectly, a Wikipedia source to make his point. Metalutheran pointed out that he had actually been the person who had written the Wikipedia source the guy was citing. Stuff like this you can’t make up.

  • Bruce Gee

    MetaLutheran (http://metalutheran.blogspot.com/)
    tells a story about arguing some scientific fine point with someone, when the other person cited, incorrectly, a Wikipedia source to make his point. Metalutheran pointed out that he had actually been the person who had written the Wikipedia source the guy was citing. Stuff like this you can’t make up.

  • CJ

    Wikipedia is a great starting point, especially for non-controversial topics, and good for giving broad overviews on most topics. But, like any encyclopedia written by humans, it’s a starting point and can’t replace in depth research. It’s very useful, so long as you keep in mind its strengths and weaknesses, like all sources of information. Tonhou gets it right on.

  • CJ

    Wikipedia is a great starting point, especially for non-controversial topics, and good for giving broad overviews on most topics. But, like any encyclopedia written by humans, it’s a starting point and can’t replace in depth research. It’s very useful, so long as you keep in mind its strengths and weaknesses, like all sources of information. Tonhou gets it right on.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I don’t get it. “The Medieval Warm Period disappeared, as did criticism of the global warming orthodoxy.” Is this supposed to mean that the Wikipedia article on the Medieval Warm Period “disappeared”? Because it obviously didn’t.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I don’t get it. “The Medieval Warm Period disappeared, as did criticism of the global warming orthodoxy.” Is this supposed to mean that the Wikipedia article on the Medieval Warm Period “disappeared”? Because it obviously didn’t.

  • Joe

    I think the problem with Wiki is passion. I have read things on Wiki that I know are not accurate but I generally don’t care enought to take the time to edit it. Only one time have I made an edit; the article on Hamm’s beer in correctly stated that Pabst Brewing Co. was purchased by Miller Brewing. That’s just not true so I changed it.

  • Joe

    I think the problem with Wiki is passion. I have read things on Wiki that I know are not accurate but I generally don’t care enought to take the time to edit it. Only one time have I made an edit; the article on Hamm’s beer in correctly stated that Pabst Brewing Co. was purchased by Miller Brewing. That’s just not true so I changed it.

  • Nathan

    I think Wikipedia is great, and recently did a conference presentation about how it could be used effectively in classes:

    http://eprints.rclis.org/17452/

    It is a super resource in many ways, and especially to get people thinking critically about the nature of authority, and evidence.

    I submit that if you find yourself using Wikipedia, you should seriously consider contributing to it on ocassion, esp. re: articles you are knowledgable about. It really is easy to do – you don’t even need to sign in.

    Is Wikipedia as bad as this article makes it out to be? I don’t think so. I note tODD’s point.

    Also – can Wikipedia be so bad when the reporter from the National Post was able to determine from Wikipedia’s own pages (all of the edits – and info about who made them [at the very least the IP addrss] – are saved and available for anyone to look at online – as a social media watcher has recently quipped: “Transparency is the new objectivity”) all that stuff about William Connolley?

    We can complain if we like: but all of this happens in the wide open. Where else does that happen?

    If we don’t like Wikipedia, perhaps we should either a) not use it at all, or b) get involved.

    -Nathan

  • Nathan

    I think Wikipedia is great, and recently did a conference presentation about how it could be used effectively in classes:

    http://eprints.rclis.org/17452/

    It is a super resource in many ways, and especially to get people thinking critically about the nature of authority, and evidence.

    I submit that if you find yourself using Wikipedia, you should seriously consider contributing to it on ocassion, esp. re: articles you are knowledgable about. It really is easy to do – you don’t even need to sign in.

    Is Wikipedia as bad as this article makes it out to be? I don’t think so. I note tODD’s point.

    Also – can Wikipedia be so bad when the reporter from the National Post was able to determine from Wikipedia’s own pages (all of the edits – and info about who made them [at the very least the IP addrss] – are saved and available for anyone to look at online – as a social media watcher has recently quipped: “Transparency is the new objectivity”) all that stuff about William Connolley?

    We can complain if we like: but all of this happens in the wide open. Where else does that happen?

    If we don’t like Wikipedia, perhaps we should either a) not use it at all, or b) get involved.

    -Nathan

  • Nathan

    “But isn’t it really predicated on the assumption that knowledge is a social construction, conveniently giving a platform for that to happen?”

    Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia and one of the main brains behind Wikipedia’s core policies, is a philophical realist (http://www.larrysanger.org/FateOfExpertiseAfterWikipedia.pdf ). Jimbo Wales was inspired by Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy (http://reason.com/archives/2007/05/30/wikipedia-and-beyond ). Here is some more from my paper about Wikipedia:

    “First, a little background on Wikipedia’s three core policies (these trump “guidelines”), which are the most significant part of its “Five Pillars” . The three core policies are: 1) neutral point of view, 2) verifiability, and 3) no original research. To say that “articles must be written from a neutral point of view” means that all “significant” views must be represented fairly, proportionately, and without bias. “Verifiability” means that “material likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source” (like peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses, university-level textbooks, magazines, journals, books by respected publishers, mainstream newspapers and electronic media). “No original research” just means that any original acts, assertions, arguments, theories, ideas, opinions, speculations, analysis and synthesis need to be published in reliable sources first (it doesn’t matter how respected you are in your field)

    Using these three core policies (and others, though less so), Wikipedia strives to give the reader a sense of the shape of – or a fair characterization of – disputes about topics. In other words, it helps us locate the views among experts that are seriously influential and compete in the marketplace of ideas. Wikipedia believes that by “describ[ing] disputes, [and] not “engage[ing] in them”* , they can help create a “growing consensus over a neutral representation of information”**, even as they freely admit that consensus over what constitutes this*** is not always possible. In short, they do not want to “leave the reader confused as to what the academic consensus on a subject might be.” And of course, in any discipline or area where there is claim to consensus about something, reliable sources themselves, and not Wikipedia editors, must be the ones speaking….”

    (cont)

  • Nathan

    “But isn’t it really predicated on the assumption that knowledge is a social construction, conveniently giving a platform for that to happen?”

    Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia and one of the main brains behind Wikipedia’s core policies, is a philophical realist (http://www.larrysanger.org/FateOfExpertiseAfterWikipedia.pdf ). Jimbo Wales was inspired by Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy (http://reason.com/archives/2007/05/30/wikipedia-and-beyond ). Here is some more from my paper about Wikipedia:

    “First, a little background on Wikipedia’s three core policies (these trump “guidelines”), which are the most significant part of its “Five Pillars” . The three core policies are: 1) neutral point of view, 2) verifiability, and 3) no original research. To say that “articles must be written from a neutral point of view” means that all “significant” views must be represented fairly, proportionately, and without bias. “Verifiability” means that “material likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source” (like peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses, university-level textbooks, magazines, journals, books by respected publishers, mainstream newspapers and electronic media). “No original research” just means that any original acts, assertions, arguments, theories, ideas, opinions, speculations, analysis and synthesis need to be published in reliable sources first (it doesn’t matter how respected you are in your field)

    Using these three core policies (and others, though less so), Wikipedia strives to give the reader a sense of the shape of – or a fair characterization of – disputes about topics. In other words, it helps us locate the views among experts that are seriously influential and compete in the marketplace of ideas. Wikipedia believes that by “describ[ing] disputes, [and] not “engage[ing] in them”* , they can help create a “growing consensus over a neutral representation of information”**, even as they freely admit that consensus over what constitutes this*** is not always possible. In short, they do not want to “leave the reader confused as to what the academic consensus on a subject might be.” And of course, in any discipline or area where there is claim to consensus about something, reliable sources themselves, and not Wikipedia editors, must be the ones speaking….”

    (cont)

  • Nathan

    …I think given the vision that is Wikipedia, this is actually pretty sensible (realistic), and it is more sophisticated than you might think. Wikipedia freely admits that no one is really without bias, but editors are to strive to understand and represent other’s views fairly (“who believes what, and why, and which points of view are most common”) Re: verifiability, they bluntly admit that “the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.” Elsewhere, they talk about how viewpoints held by limited minorities do not belong in Wikipedia even if they are true and whether or not you can prove it (except maybe in an “ancillary article”) . Re: original research, there is no ground-breaking stuff. They say, “If you are able to prove something that few or none currently believe, Wikipedia is not the place to première such a proof.”

    Relevant footnotes from above:

    * – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view/FAQ, accessed Oct. 30, 2009. They also add here, quite philosophically: “If there is anything possibly contentious about the [NPOV] policy along these lines, it is the implication that it is possible to describe disputes in such a way that material from all reliable sources is presented comprehensively and neutrally. Whether this is possible is an empirical question, not a philosophical one.” (italics mine) I take some issue with that last sentence, believing that doing this is something that we should strive for, although we will never be able to know with any real certainty if we have really reached this goal. Jim Wales says that “[a]n article is neutral when people have stopped editing it”. Quoted in Maehre, Jeff “What It Means to Ban Wikipedia.” College Teaching 57.4 (2009): 229-236. EBSCO MegaFILE. EBSCO. Web. 12 Nov. 2009. Or, it could that one of the people arguing in the Wikipedia discussion pages has given up from frustration, exhaustion, or a lack of time to devote to Wikipedia.

    (cont)

  • Nathan

    …I think given the vision that is Wikipedia, this is actually pretty sensible (realistic), and it is more sophisticated than you might think. Wikipedia freely admits that no one is really without bias, but editors are to strive to understand and represent other’s views fairly (“who believes what, and why, and which points of view are most common”) Re: verifiability, they bluntly admit that “the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.” Elsewhere, they talk about how viewpoints held by limited minorities do not belong in Wikipedia even if they are true and whether or not you can prove it (except maybe in an “ancillary article”) . Re: original research, there is no ground-breaking stuff. They say, “If you are able to prove something that few or none currently believe, Wikipedia is not the place to première such a proof.”

    Relevant footnotes from above:

    * – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view/FAQ, accessed Oct. 30, 2009. They also add here, quite philosophically: “If there is anything possibly contentious about the [NPOV] policy along these lines, it is the implication that it is possible to describe disputes in such a way that material from all reliable sources is presented comprehensively and neutrally. Whether this is possible is an empirical question, not a philosophical one.” (italics mine) I take some issue with that last sentence, believing that doing this is something that we should strive for, although we will never be able to know with any real certainty if we have really reached this goal. Jim Wales says that “[a]n article is neutral when people have stopped editing it”. Quoted in Maehre, Jeff “What It Means to Ban Wikipedia.” College Teaching 57.4 (2009): 229-236. EBSCO MegaFILE. EBSCO. Web. 12 Nov. 2009. Or, it could that one of the people arguing in the Wikipedia discussion pages has given up from frustration, exhaustion, or a lack of time to devote to Wikipedia.

    (cont)

  • Lauren

    I can personally attest to Wikipedia’s bias.

    I’ve deleted a nasty picture and got this response:

    December 2009

    Please do not delete content or templates from pages on Wikipedia without giving a valid reason for the removal in the edit summary. Your content removal does not appear constructive, and has been reverted. Please make use of the sandbox if you’d like to experiment with test edits. Thank you.Modernist (talk) 22:57, 17 December 2009 (UTC)

    I freely admit that I probably should have given a reason, but nevertheless, the picture was dirty enough that anyone would see why the picture was removed.

  • Lauren

    I can personally attest to Wikipedia’s bias.

    I’ve deleted a nasty picture and got this response:

    December 2009

    Please do not delete content or templates from pages on Wikipedia without giving a valid reason for the removal in the edit summary. Your content removal does not appear constructive, and has been reverted. Please make use of the sandbox if you’d like to experiment with test edits. Thank you.Modernist (talk) 22:57, 17 December 2009 (UTC)

    I freely admit that I probably should have given a reason, but nevertheless, the picture was dirty enough that anyone would see why the picture was removed.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Lauren (@16), in what way is that evidence of “Wikipedia’s bias”?

    You deleted a picture you considered “nasty” and didn’t even give a reason for it. Someone else — please note, he was not “Wikipedia” himself, just another person like you making edits — disagreed with your action and used template language to revert your changes.

    “The picture was dirty enough that anyone would see why the picture was removed.” Your claim is obviously proved false by your own story.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Lauren (@16), in what way is that evidence of “Wikipedia’s bias”?

    You deleted a picture you considered “nasty” and didn’t even give a reason for it. Someone else — please note, he was not “Wikipedia” himself, just another person like you making edits — disagreed with your action and used template language to revert your changes.

    “The picture was dirty enough that anyone would see why the picture was removed.” Your claim is obviously proved false by your own story.

  • http://merepilgrims.blogspot.com PD Mayfield

    makes me think Wikipedia needs some kind of text criticism that enables viewing the edits/changes to an article.

  • http://merepilgrims.blogspot.com PD Mayfield

    makes me think Wikipedia needs some kind of text criticism that enables viewing the edits/changes to an article.

  • Lauren

    tODD, it was a picture of a real person(not a statue) in the buff. Stuff like that should not be on there. I agree with you that I should have given a reason, but nevertheless, the picture had to go.

  • Lauren

    tODD, it was a picture of a real person(not a statue) in the buff. Stuff like that should not be on there. I agree with you that I should have given a reason, but nevertheless, the picture had to go.

  • Nathan

    PD Mayfield,

    It does have that. Please read above.

    ~Nathan

  • Nathan

    PD Mayfield,

    It does have that. Please read above.

    ~Nathan


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