RationalWiki parodist owns up to creating Conservapedia “hit list” article

Last Friday Ken Layne of the Wonkette political satire blog broke a story about an article on Andrew Schlafly’s Conservapedia wiki called “Senate Democrats from States with Republican Governors”, which was interpreted by Ken and others as a “helpful list of Senate Democrats to assassinate, so Republican governors can appoint GOP replacements”. Although Conservapedia quickly withdrew the article claiming it was created by a vandal or parodist, the story had legs, and when I published an article speculating that Conservapedia’s subsequent outage was connected to the article, it was picked up by PZ Myers and others, and, through referrals, has become by far the most popular article this blog has ever had, with over 4,000 page impressions to date.

And now, as the fuss dies down, a certain longtime RationalWiki user, Stile4aly, has come clean. A regular RationalWiki user since May, 2007, Stile4aly is unrepentant. “I’m glad it lasted as long as it did as it clearly exposed CP’s willingness to accept implied threats against liberals.” But in the same sentence he describes it as “pretty subtle parody”. This sounds like trying to have it both ways.

It does not reflect well on RationalWiki that the site owners turn a blind eye to this. Many of Conservapedia’s articles, particularly those on homosexuality, atheism, and Barack Obama, genuinely reflect Schlafly’s fringe views (including his obsessive belief that Obama is secretly a Muslim), but if there are people going in and deliberately inserting the most outrageous material they can, Schlafly and his adminstrators like TK can always say, with some justice, that his site has been compromised by vandals. In this case, despite my initial feelings about the matter, TK was right and I was wrong.

I am frustrated by this culture of vandalism and parody. My history on Wikipedia where we have successfully overwhelmed all attempts to cause such harm has given me a keen appreciation of the advantages of open editing, but on a much smaller wiki which is apparently already subject to quite heavy infiltration by people who mean no good, how am I to persuade the Conservapedians, as I have been trying to do, that open editing is a viable direction to take? I believe that the Conservapedians could be persuaded that permitting open editing, within their site policies, as Wikipedia already does, would improve their encyclopedia and earn it a reputation for quality. I have tried to show them good evidence gathered by Aaron Swartz suggesting that edits from one-time, casual editors have played a major part in building Wikipedia’s high quality content. But they are unlikely to appreciate the strength of this argument when faced with deliberate and organized attempts to embarrass them by planting parodic content.

62 Responses

  1. Hello again Tony, and to everyone else who may be reading. I know I said in my last comment on your previous Conservapaedia-Rational wiki posting that I’d stop ranting, but I’ve become somewhat intrigued by this issue and find myself unable to show restraint when it comes to blathering about it.

    As stated, I’ve been following the recent scenario that has been playing out, finding whatever information I can from both wikis in question (in addition to a few third-party sites, such as yours) and I’ve made a few observations that I’d like to share.

    I feel that you may be being a bit harsh towards Rational wiki and its staff for allowing this sort of behaviour. It seems to me that the masses over at Rational wiki were not aware that the additions made to Conservapaedia were parody until it was revealed after the “outing” made by Stile4aly, although many had their suspicions. It would seem that Stile4aly was working by him/herself for their own purposes, not on behalf of Rational wiki. True, Stile4aly may be a member of Rational wiki, but I feel that a reprimand by Rational wiki staff might have taken the issue a step too far. It’s not exactly the responsibility of a site’s staff to take action against a member based on what they have done on another site, in my humble opinion anyway. That would be like Wikipaedia giving me the boot if they didn’t agree with the comment I’m writing at this moment.

    While reading Rational wiki user’s postings on this issue (on their site of course), I notice that they pointed out that the article had at least once been altered by one of their staff members. Surely this means that Conservapaedia’s staff were aware of the article before it came to public attention? But, as is the same with my comment above, the actions of one user can’t always be used to represent the site as a whole.

    Thanks to the wonders of cyber-stalking (sounds worse than I mean it to, although a better term eludes me), I did some digging around in Wikipedia and discovered the contributions log of the owner of Conservapaedia. There are only two edits that he seems to have made, and one was what I would consider to clearly be wiki vandalism, in the “Conservapaedia” article no less. Surely the bigger issue here is not when a user of one wiki vandalizes another, but when the -owner- of a particular wiki commits a similar act. However, the incident in question took place well over a year ago, so perhaps it is a bit unfair to compare it to the current situation.

    Rational wiki seems to be a good place for those who would vandalize Conservapaedia to meet, however I don’t believe for a second that the site itself was ever intended to be such a place. Rational wiki seems to be a site where people could come together to openly discuss their opinions of Conservapaedia’s content without fear of retribution from Conservapaedia’s staff. I see it as two sporting teams who don’t get along particularly well, if a player from one team throws a punch at a member of the other without their peers knowing in advance, surely the fault stops at that one player, not their entire team?

    Anyway, here ends my rantings of the conflict between the sites. I hope nobody was of the opinion I was alluding to some grand finale, I just wanted to share my random observations. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on both sites for the entertainment and, dare I say, insights into small-scale politics. Thanks for the latest article, it was certainly interesting.

  2. Andrew Schlafly has edited Wikipedia a little bit, as Andysch, as Aschlafly.

    As far as I can tell he has edited in good faith and well within Wikipedia policy. The content he has inserted has usually, if not always, been rejected, but that’s actually part of Wikipedia’s editing process. You don’t normally need to get prior approval before adding, altering or even removing content. Both of his accounts are in good standing and he is welcome to continue editing Wikipedia.

    If my words sound harsh, it’s because I think RationalWiki is doing harm to another wiki, and to the cause of wikis in general, by not actively condemning and discouraging the use of its own wiki to promote and discuss vandalism and parody on another wiki. There is no excuse for this, in my view. RationalWiki must put its house in order.

  3. Being right about how the whole web discourse has been cheapened and corrupted by the vandals and what I now call “Internet Terrorists”, isn’t much to brag about, Tony.

    In the 1980’s on the Usenet boards, we all posted our real names, exchanged personal info, like our phone numbers and addresses. If someone violated our privacy for “tricks” or to be mean, they were shunned and universally condemned. What has happened, since then, to cause good people, no matter their politics, to remain (mostly) silent about this abuse?

    Everything is all or nothing! The people who have posted here, on the several CP topics, literally disturb me. They are every bit as bad as the wing-nuts living in compounds up in Idaho or Montana, hording guns. The intolerance (hatred) of everything they don’t understand or like is palpable.

    I don’t go to the Daily Kos, or liberal boards, and berate them, introduce parody or insist they are wrong and must change their ways. And I cannot understand why users at Rational Wiki, or any other group do that. What is it that makes them sincerely believe they must stop – at any cost – a smallish, conservative project?

    I have gone back on intention of not entering into this dialog again. Judging from the 90+ posts in the other thread, it became exactly what I hoped it wouldn’t…something unseemly and rather icky-personal, as most such attempts at conversation on the Internet seem to do. You have even been compelled to moderate a blog that apparently wasn’t before. My Dad used to warn us that you shouldn’t discuss politics or religion with friends, let alone strangers. He was right, much as it pains me to realize that.

  4. “Internet Terrorists”, “wing nuts, hording gun”… Clearly, you don’t want a dialogue.
    For me, the central question raised in the previous debate was:
    ”if there is a factual inaccuracy in this wonderful encyclopedia project of yours, how is an editor to report it? Is it “harassment” to ask for the methodology of a particular analysis? Or should all content be simply accepted as written?””
    This wasn’t answered. And the ability to correct a factual inaccuracy is what makes a wiki different from a blog.

  5. I agree that the chronic factual inaccuracies of Conservapedia should be addressed. I hope TK will demonstrate that he does want a dialogue by responding to that concern.

    However the current case, with material of a highly contentious tone being deliberately inserted, makes it quite difficult for us to “take the moral high ground” here.

  6. Tony, a couple of points.

    Firstly, you say that “It does not reflect well on RationalWiki that the site owners turn a blind eye to this.” I’m not entirely sure what you expect them to actually do about this. Should parodists be banned for their actions on another site, outside of RW’s “jurisdiction” so to speak? Should any discussion of parody on CP be banned? Either would be impossible under the current site rules, and would never be accepted by the user base anyway. Just like on Wikipedia, the site owners do not set policy except in a very limited number of critical cases. Otherwise, site policy is decided on by the users themselves, and is mostly the result of emergent behaviour that has developed over the past 1½ year.

    Actually, we’re working on revising the site policies at the moment, and I think that the discussion is quite a good example of on-line consensus building, if I may say so myself.

    Secondly, you mention a “culture of vandalism and parody”. I’m not sure I accept that such a “culture” exists, but more importantly, I would ask you not to just accept Conservapedia’s assertion that they are the same thing.

    Simple vandalism, such as blanking pages or posting “U SUCK” everywhere or whatever it is vandals do these days, serves no particular purpose other than personal amusement, but on the other hand, it’s also relatively cost-free for the victim.

    Parody, on the other hand, can serve the purpose of highlighting and critisising important differences between what Conservapedia say and what they actually do. In particular, I think it’s very telling how little difference there is between some of the things that are deleted as parody, and some of the things that are written by Mr Schlafly or his sysops. In fact, if Mr Schlafly were treated like everyone else, chances are that his contributions would quickly get him banned as a parodist himself.

    In this case, the parody serves to reveal the fundamental bias and arbitrariness in both their editorial and their administrative policies, which would not be as apparent otherwise.

    Finally, you mention that “casual editors have played a major part in building Wikipedia’s high quality content”. That is absolutely correct, and it is also one of the most important differences between Wikipedia and Conservapedia. Wikipedia considers its editors its most important resource, and it provides the tools and the environment to enable them to contribute both to the content and to the maintenance of the wiki. Conservapedia, on the contrary, considers casual users at best a potential waste of time, and at worst a threat.

    This means that the change to open editing that you hope for will probably never happen, not so much because of the threat of parodists, but because this would require a complete shift in their fundamental management philosophy.

    -lanfranc (AKjeldsen on RW)

  7. Tony, you’re missing the larger context. I tried to give you a hand. We don’t condone vandalism, or parody, but the situation is bigger than that. Don’t presume to know the whole story.

  8. And three reminders. First, RationalWiki is not a centralized group. They have no control over what their affiliates do offsite. Second, when someone DOES do something like vandalism, or masquerading as a sysop, and then come to RW to brag about it, persons in the first group meet derision, and the second meet contempt. And finally, TK is not your friend. Cross him once, and see what I mean.

    Now. I admit that not everything RW does is “on the level.” But blaming them for vandalism without knowing the root of the conflict is a little like blaming Spartacus for the damage caused in the slave revolt. A little attenuated of a metaphor, but you get it.

  9. I agree that the chronic factual inaccuracies of Conservapedia should be addressed. I hope TK will demonstrate that he does want a dialogue by responding to that concern.

    Let me know how that goes. We tried politely for several months.

  10. Yes, it is hard to “assume good faith” when the very people contesting border-line or actual parody or inaccuracies are merely socks of the person adding it.

    Even a fairly bright Chimp can read that most of these “requests” are snide, accusatory, snarky ones. And when one joins our project, and their first post is one of argument or mean-spirited derision, that doesn’t exactly radiate good intentions.

    I have received emails or IM’s from many Rational Wiki editors, pointing out mistakes on CP. And those who have done so, in a friendly manner, know that I correct the ones I can verify.

    What makes a wiki a “wiki” is running Wikimedia software. The fact that the developers enabled it with so many different configurations, is proof there isn’t just one right way to run it. Christians and conservatives have the right to their “truth” every bit as much as atheists and liberals. To demand that Conservapedia forgo its own rights to accommodate others opposed to our values is insane thinking.

    We have been “under attack” for two years now. Daily, hourly, attack. Our ratio of active admins to editors is pretty low. Perhaps if the vandals, parodists and trolls at Rational Wiki stopped their activities, the general atmosphere would morph from siege mentality to something better approaching congeniality.

    I enjoy a good give and take. I have no time for argument-without-end. Conservapedia isn’t a blog or a board. It is a project to make a conservative and Christian friendly encyclopedia. Our haters want it to be about putting our faith and ideas on trial. Sorry, we will not accommodate that. I don’t think that position is unreasonable or that it indicates a dialog, about how articles can be improved, in line with our ideals, (not the ideals of liberals or atheists) isn’t welcomed. We were not created to be hounded or debated constantly. Surely anyone of good faith would accept that, and not come with the position, as many do, that we must justify our existence, or owe anyone a justification.

  11. I don’t think it’s correct to assume that I’m uninformed about Conservapedia. I’m well aware of the problematic site policies, the capricious sysop actions, and the wild accusations (terms like “internet terrorist” do not reflect well on TK).

    I’ve expressed concern at RationalWiki’s turning a blind eye to the harmful editing of Conservapedia. What I mean by that is that the wiki is openly and freely used by some of its editors to discuss their exploits in parody on Conservapedia. People who do that should be politely but firmly asked not to. Those who persist should be politely invited to go elsewhere.

    The notion that vandalism (“MOAR HITLER!” etc) and insertion of parody are distinct is not sustainable in my opinion. On Wikipedia we’re well acquainted with such editing, which we call “subtle vandalism” to distinguish it from the obvious sort. The intention of both is to cause harm by compromising the integrity of the content.

    Parody of Conservapedia is welcome, and often very salutory and effective. Just don’t insert it into Conservapedia.

    As I am not an active Conservapedia editor, the question of whether TK considers me his friend is a matter of indifference to me. I have no connection to Conservapedia and no intention of ever editing it again. I remain a strong and fervent critic of the entire enterprise.

  12. The intention of both is to cause harm by compromising the integrity of the content.

    Frankly speaking, Tony, I think that argument is undermined by the fact that Mr Schlafly himself regularly adds material that is essentially completely indistinguishable from much other material that is labelled “parody”. This difference, which highlights a very important lack of integrity in CP’s policies and content, would not be as apparent if the parody was not posted on CP itself.

  13. Tony, first off I am not unrepentant. I posted on RW that I do feel that the post was in poor taste, and for that I am sorry. That being said, the fact that it lasted as long as it did says something about CP’s tacit acceptance of hating liberals.

    As far as it being subtle parody, what I mean is that one couldn’t easily spot it as parody. You believed sincerely, and made the case for QWest being a legitimate user. What does that say about CP?

    Since outing myself I haven’t received any public or private attaboys for my efforts, nor is that why I did it. I didn’t do it “for the lulz.” I did it to make a particular point, and I believe I succeeded at that.

    If RW wants to sanction me for it, I’m fine with that. They can remove my sysop status (something granted to practically all users), put me in the vandal bin (which limits my editing ability), or ban me outright. I’m not unwilling to accept punishment if my peers so decide.

  14. TK: ”What makes a wiki a “wiki” is running Wikimedia software.”
    Well, you have shown that you can use the Wikimedia software to run a blog.
    Is this ”I have received emails or IM’s from many Rational Wiki editors, pointing out mistakes on CP. And those who have done so, in a friendly manner, know that I correct the ones I can verify.” your answer to the question
    ”if there is a factual inaccuracy in this wonderful encyclopedia project of yours, how is an editor to report it? Is it “harassment” to ask for the methodology of a particular analysis? Or should all content be simply accepted as written?”
    That doesn’t seem to have worked out for questionable claims in the articles on ”Breast Cancer caused by abortions” – or the whole ”letter to PNAS debate”. In fact, it didn’t work for a lot of unsubstantiated claims on conservapedia…

  15. Christians and conservatives have the right to their “truth” every bit as much as atheists and liberals. To demand that Conservapedia forgo its own rights to accommodate others opposed to our values is insane thinking.

    TK, I would never have thought to see you of all people take a relativist position. So does that mean that when Mr Schlafly makes e.g. (to take a matter close to my heart) the historically completely unfounded assertion that Norse Vikings never made it to Newfoundland, this is not a question of historical facts, but one of beliefs and values – of “his truth” versus “my truth”?

    If so, he’s really on the cutting edge of post-modern theoretical thinking here. I’m surprised, but also impressed.

  16. Tony, just once again I’m sorry to bombard your blog like this… it happened to me a few months back, I started a firestorm on the vax/autism debate, and got 900+ comments on a five-line post. It was weird. What can I say, sometimes you strike a nerve :).

    As to RationalWiki & vandalism, as a former ex officio bureaucrat (since retired), I can tell you that RationalWiki’s unofficial official policy on the matter was that, while we do condemn moronic junk like “MOAR HITLER,” etc., we’re in the business of creating a community, and so it’d be inappropriate not to let each individual editor make the site what he or she wants it to be. If some of them want to brag while editing substantive articles, that’s fine, as long as they understand that they don’t have RW’s support in doing so.

  17. lanfranc, while your point that Andrew Schlafly’s own edits often compromise Conservapedia is true as far as it goes, there are two differences.

    Firstly, it’s Schlafly’s own project. He gets to put what he wants on his own website.

    Secondly, Schlafly’s rubbish is placed there by him in good faith. He believes himself to be improving Conservapedia. A parodist doesn’t. He may believe that there is an ultimate good to be served, but that the proximate aim is to cause damage in order to facilitate the ultimate good.

    Wikipedia has inherited a lot of wiki policies from the days of Meatball and other wikis, and its policies can often be considered a guide to best practice for all other wikis. A germaine Wikipedia policy is Wikipedia:Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point (WP:POINT for short). The basic message is “tell, don’t show.” Compromising a wiki just to make your point is disruptive.

  18. Tony: “The basic message is “tell, don’t show.” Compromising a wiki just to make your point is disruptive.”

    Tony, I heartily agree. If it were possible to say “I believe X is wrong” without risking (indeed practically guaranteeing) a permaban then this would be a non-issue.

    There’s a bit of a chicken and egg issue here. TK claims that if there weren’t so much parody and vandalism then CP would be more open. Others claim that if CP wasn’t so closed then there would be less parody. Who knows, perhaps this is true. But ultimately the cognitive dissonance necessary to claim that CP allows discussion and that it’s a beacon of truth along with the complete stifling of contrary views and blatant falsehoods invites ridicule.

    The vast majority of this ridicule does not take place on CP. Much of the ridicule that takes place on CP is foolish and should stop (some of the bot attacks, or the MOAR HITLER type stuff). In the end, the only comparison I can make is to civil disobedience which is illegal, but necessary to point out when injustice is occurring.

  19. Many of us see CP as an affront because it purports to educated children with blatantly false information. Partisanship does not belong in education. Any education. If it didn’t pretend it was valid education it would probably be largely ignored.

  20. AmesG (Caius on Rational Wiki) wrote:
    “Let me know how that goes. We tried politely for several months.”

    Let the public decide what Rational Wiki was really trying to do, shall we?

    To address BlackPhoenix first, Stile4aly is a Sysop at Rational Wiki, he is nominally part of “the staff” and celebrated on the page where he “confessed” by one of the top Bureaucrats there: http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/User:Stile4aly

    Here is a thread at Rational Wiki from April,2007, where Tmtoulouse welcomes a pretty prominent vandal, “Icewedge” (who is also a sysop) and discusses and encourages the vandalism and disruption of Conservapedia: http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/User_talk:Icewedge/FirstSite

    Here is a very recent thread (January 30, 2009) from Rational Wiki where anyone but an apologist can clearly understand Tmtoulouse and AmesG (Caius) lend active support, or at least benign approval in a discussion about how a bot could disrupt the “Flagged Revisions” extension, and even speculate on who could make such a thing: http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Conservapedia_Talk:What_is_going_on_at_CP%3F#Speaking_from_the_dead:_CP_to_implement_flaggedrevs

    So we clearly see the words, tone and intent has changed very little in two years. Yes, they have found better ways to have a plausible denial, but that only works in a court, not for reasonable people being able to discern their true motives.

  21. Okay, chaps, the situation is that I’m rejecting a few of the worst postings. These are mainly things that I regard as off-topic feuding of the “look what so-and-so did” type. If we can keep the discussion to Conservapedia and RationalWiki matters, rather than personalities, I’ll be very grateful.


    Your host.

    Tony Sidaway

  22. Wow.

    First you take a swipe at me, say a comment of mine doesn’t reflect well on me, then you delete my post, which was very civil and sincere, explaining why I use the term “Internet Terrorists”?

    THAT is what you call “the very worst” of the postings?

    Well, it is your blog. Your house, your rules. Pity you don’t apply it retro to all the smears in the other CP threads.

  23. TK, you’d be hard pressed to argue that I condoned vandalism in my initial post on the subject. Quite the opposite. And you know as well as I do that RW has explicitly and strongly condemned the actual creation of bots. Academic discussion of their feasibility is another thing entirely.

  24. “Here is a very recent thread (January 30, 2009) from Rational Wiki where anyone but an apologist can clearly understand Tmtoulouse and AmesG (Caius) lend active support, or at least benign approval in a discussion about how a bot could disrupt the “Flagged Revisions” extension, and even speculate on who could make such a thing: ”

    TK, you’re failing to see the difference between a “could” and an “ought.” Just because something could happen doesn’t mean that it ought to.

  25. Of course, what TK conveniently forgets to mention is that being a sysop on RW is not a particular mark of status or influence. Practically everyone who registers an account and manages to stick around for more than a week without vandalising anything gets sysop rights.

    So the implication that an action taken by a sysop somehow reflects the position of RW as such is not correct.

  26. Yes, I understand, all of you are completely shocked there is gambling in Casablanca!

    My mistake to think those threads were anything other than academic, intellectual discussions of a theoretical nature. The fact that such bots were discussed on your wiki before, and the code for them placed on certain users sandbox pages, and that some indeed did vandalize Conservapedia, is…. merely… a….. coincidence…..

    Yes, lanfranc, but you forget to mention only those who are trusted are made sysops. You also forget to mention that unlike Conservapedia, sysop’s at RW can hide edits from regular editors, and even other sysops. So given that is a fact, sysops do have a higher status, regardless of the spin you like to put on that position.


  27. Rationalwiki’s FAQ has this question and answer:

    Doesn’t RationalWiki just exist to promote vandalism at Conservapedia?

    Analysing Conservapedia falls well within our mission statements and we refer to it quite often. We do not condone vandalism of other wikis.


  28. The news that disruptive bot construction and malicious use of bots have been discussed, and bot designs posted, on RationalWiki, is rather disturbing.

    I am a very happy member of a wiki that, like Conservapedia and RationalWiki, runs MediaWiki software. Can you not see how I would find the notion of such discussion rather upsetting?

    Such discussion has its place, I agree–if Conservapedia’s systems people read the thread they can weigh up the pros and cons. But the really upsetting thing is that the discussion is taking place among a community that has a record of promoting, condoning and defending malicious activity. A disturbing message is being sent here.

  29. TK, you know very well that we’ve never used bots. And as a guy who’s been cut in on EVERY major RationalWiki decision, I know that we’ve discussed it. And roundly rejected it at EVERY TURN.

  30. I don’t think you can all Aaron Swartz’s work “good evidence”. I know I’ve made a number of anonymous edits to non-controversial articles, from numerous IP addresses (my provider changes them often) contributing the type of substance Aaron describes. But I wonder how many of these caring and skilled unregistered users are also disillusioned, ex-registered-users who were driven out by the codre’s controlling controversial topics like global warming, anarchism, cuba and Iraq? Given the amount of contributions just a few hundred can make, a few more hundred of the disillusioned might also be doing quite a bit of the rest. To really replicate wikipedia, may take more than just an open editing policy, it may also require them to drive away a few hundred valuable contributers.

  31. Letting this through but please tone down the language in future. Use of words like “cronies” is unnecessary.–Tony Sidaway

    One of the paradoxes of RationalWiki is that it is avidly read by Conservapedia admins. In particular our WIGO page where we comment on what we perceive to be some of the crazier things that occur on Conservapedia. This is a well known fact and one of our site’s random mottoes is “Chief proofreader for Conservapedia”. Mistakes highlighted by RW are then corrected at CP. When Conservapedia has had problems in the past I believe that TMToulouse even offered his services to help them out. In fact many RW editors have made positive contributions to Conervapedia without ever once resorting to vandalism or parody. The discussion about the possibility of a bot attack on CP if they adopt the Flagged Revisions extension for MediaWiki should therefore be seen in that light, a warning that it may not be all that you think it might be. Does anyone seriously consider that if there were any sort of nefarious designs to mount such an attack that it would be done in broad daylight? A similar analogy would be white-hat hackers pointing out security flaws in Internet Explorer. Despite what TK and his cronies might bellow, RationalWiki is not the bridgehead of all attacks on Conservapedia, It is well known that a Finnish group often makes “raids” on Conservapedia and Anonymous have recently issued a threat. Let me state categorically that these groups have nothing to do with RationalWiki, although we cannot know whether their members are also editors.

    While RW’s detractors may claim that we have a “hatred for Conservapedia” and “wish to see its destruction” the truth is that for most RationalWikians, Conservapedia is a dozen daily comics and a soap-opera rolled into one. We have no need for vandalism as the major players (Andy and his admins) generate enough humor on their own without outside interference.

  32. Er, no source code for “vandal” bots has ever been posted on RationalWiki.

    This is a flat lie. Stop taking what TK says as true and going off from there. He is a liar.

  33. Stuart is right. Of course, RW has become so ingrained as the Great Enemy in the grand narrative of CP that we’re usually singled out, but with all the exposure that CP has had in the blogosphere, it’d be absurd to think that RW is responsible for all or even most of their vadalism. If you want to find the real sources, I rather suggest looking at places like Something Awful or EBaum’s World.

  34. As to the issue with the “flagged revisions” as the author of the point of contention I want to emphasize that it was written as a warning that they really need to think things through before they jump on the band wagon of new technology.

    The example I picked was the least harmful way that a dedicated vandal could harm CP if the extension was developed. I can think of 2 other ways that would grind the wiki to a halt. The extension leaves itself open to a denial of service attack akin to what happened with their “disk crash.”

    If I had gone into details about how to do this, written up the code and posted it then I could see people being justified in their complaints. I didn’t do any of these. I merely pointed out a specific example, the least worrisome one, about why it was a bad idea. If I had merely said “hey, guys this is not a smart idea” they would have leaped at it even faster assuming that my telling them it had problems was proof it would work perfect.

    We have tried warning them about these issues in the past, like with the IP range blocks removing several million users from even being able to create an account, or their policy of first name last initial just feeding trolls and vandals the ability to remove usable names that much easier. We are summarily ignored.

    The tech support at CP is certainly wanting..they do incredibly stupid and harmful things all the time to their site. Currently, they have botched up the special characters on their wiki. This has to do with the way the backed up database was restored. It has even blocked a sysops from being able to log on with their account. They have no idea how to fix it I am sure, there are several mysql queries you could run through the database that would fix it up, or you could have a bureaucrat rename the user. Essentially the back up and restore did not use the right character coding, but all the special characters will be written using the same “replacement character” you just need to search for that.

    I have also posted source code on how to optimize their database, which they really need to do.

    I will of course be ignored as per usual. But whatever. I am just an internet terrorist.

  35. Can you not see that displaying such an obsession with the technical workings of another wiki may be seen as hostile?

  36. It is an obsession only in so far that I pay attention to the technical workings of most sites I am involved in.

    I enjoy technology, I run the RW server. I have rewritten several large swaths of the Mediawiki program and added in a range of custom options and configurations.

    And for the record the coders at Mediawiki drive me nuts, most of the commenting consists of “wow this function is really jacked someone should like rewrite it sometime.”

    I am always on the look out for new ways to do things, and most importantly the wrong way to do things. It is not hostile it is actually empathy. I have moved RW to different servers several times. I am aware of everything that can go wrong. I have lost a weeks sleep and gone crazy trying to figure out what is causing problems let alone how to fix them. The special character issue was one I experienced myself the first time I moved servers. I also know what it is like to be the only person trying to solve these problems.

    It is lonely, frustrating, and most of the feedback you get is what else isn’t working. There is one guy at CP that is in the same position I am. It is the mysterious “cpwebmaster” and I bet he gets even less support than I do.

    Their is no hostility or obsession here. I am sympathetic and empathetic to anyone stuck trying to deal with these problems.

  37. Tony, its not just another wiki, its any wiki. Flagged Revisions is a flawed approach to combating vandalism on Conervapedia. They should adopt a closed registration system. When movie scriptwriters come up with feasible ways of a terrorist attack or bank heist are they encouraging the said actions? You can bet that what is discussed in the open at RW is probably also being considered by real villains. Although most editors have university degrees they do not claim to be the smartest people on the planet. I personally have identified a security flaw at major European airport. Do you think that I am the only one smart enough to have noticed this? If I thought that was the case then I wouldn’t have bothered informing the authorities who then took remedial action. Unfortunately the powers at CP appear to have poor wiki skills and a closed mind to technical advice other than from their own.

  38. Add poor management skills to the poor wiki skills. Honestly, the loss of one week of contributions to the wiki was addressed in such an high-handed way that any editor must get the impression that his work doesn’t count anything.

    When I was at that wiki blog, I tried to argue for more appreciation of the work done by numerous volunteers, as you still can see here: http://www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia:Desk/Abuse/Archive3

    IMO, the careless handling of well-meaning contributors is one of the biggest problems of conservapedia.

  39. Tony, I liked your arguments for open editing – I even made a pic to show your point:

    But the surreal turn of the discussion to the question ”how would Jesus blog” showed that this debate doesn’t bear any fruits.

  40. Incidentally, has anybody noticed Conservapedia’s nosedive on Alexa? I expect it’ll recover, but at the moment the figures are at an all-time low.

  41. Alexa lags, at the moment it is reporting data from the 27th which was right in the middle of their server down time when no traffic could reach them.

  42. Tony,

    I regret that you and I couldn’t discuss this more directly. I respect your work at WP and would regret if your impression of me is that of a puerile vandal. My email is listed at WP and RW. Please feel free to contact me.

  43. And once again, the basic problem remains: If there’s an obvious gaping WRONG statement on CP, how does a mere peon (or worse, one of the unclean and deceitful Liberal Tribe) go about fixing it without getting banned?

    CP’s problem is simple: They want the benefits of an open wiki (infinite free labor!) without the drawbacks (infinite free opinions!). Since Andy’s ideology is a delicate hothouse flower that can’t survive the harsh climate of reality, any “Liberal Bias” (facts) must be carefully walled off.

  44. It’s his website. If you know you’re not welcome there, don’t go there.

    Conservapedia isn’t a problem precisely because it’s articles are so notoriously awful.

    Here’s a picture from Alexa:

    Daily reach is an estimate of the proportion of internet users who visit a site at least once on any given day.

    Wikipedia has a massive daily reach: about 8.5% average. Most popular websites have a much smaller reach.

    Way below the big media sites like Guardian, Washington Post and Fox News (all three of which have similar Alexa ratings, average 0.3% daily reach), lower even than msnbc.com (0.04%), you get sites like rushlimbaugh.com, with a daily reach just over 0.01%.

    Below that, way below that, you get conservapedia.com, with a daily reach averaging about 0.002%.

    For a site that advertised its pretensions, in November 2006, to become “FOX News-like competition” to Wikipedia, Conservapedia has roundly failed.

    If you want to counteract the nonsense of Conservapedia, work on Wikipedia to make it even better. Conservapedia is on the road to nowhere if it keeps its current policies and management style.

  45. Come on! Conservapedia is as open as wikipedia when it comes to controversial topics, which is, of course, not open at all. wikipedia deviates from its standards on controversial topics, requiring registration, and often locking them. The cadres controlling those sites further deviate further, ganging up to revert material they disagree with, even though that material clearly exceeds the usual reference standards by actually being published in the peer review literature. The wikipedia culture has a large group of loyal honest contributers, but there is a subset with strong opinions of the progressive/marxist/anarchist slant that work together to control the controversial topics. The rest of the admins and “leaders” will submit to the mob rule. The reason that wikipedia is good, is because of the non-controversial articles, where special interest lay people and experts combine in a labor of love, to accumulate good summary’s and also accumulate all the tidbits and arcania that can pass a minimal standard. Because of the reference requirements, each article becomes like a home page for a subject, a good place to find links to elsewhere.

    Good luck accumulating tidbits and arcania on more than one side of the controversial articles. Now, Conservapedia wants focus on balancing the wikipedia on the controversial articles. They want to be their own cadres. The existance of RW proves that they couldn’t be open. Now, I probably tried Conservapedia for about a week and quickly found out that the articles already had their own owners backed by “the owner” and they didn’t really want to be “fair and balanced” like foxnews. I wanted to produce articles on the controversial science that presented the actual science and not just one point of view. That isn’t possible at either site, so since wikipedia has already established the critical mass on the non-controversial, labor-of-love subject matter and arcania. It wins. Evidently the open wiki approach doesn’t have a rules based, or culture based solution to the controversial subject matter. That’s a shame.

  46. The Wikipedia articles you named in your earlier comment were global warming, anarchism, Cuba and Iraq.

    I’ve worked on the global warming article. It’s pretty good. I think some people get the impression that it’s biased because they don’t understand that Wikipedia give a lot more weight to scientific evidence on subjects like that than to other sources.

    A look at the Cuba article shows that it was semi-protected last March to cope with long-term vandalism. To edit it you have to register a username and wait a few days until your account automatically gains the power to edit semi-protected articles. A look at the history of the page over the past few months suggests a lot of cooperative and productive editing with no unproductive disputes and no edit warring. But obviously I’ve only spent a few minutes looking at a quite longlives article.

  47. Tony,

    Obviously the William Connolley condre must no longer be at the global warming article. So you think a statement like this which calls into question all the model projections can be gotten in now?

    “Currently no GCM has succeeded in simulating a solar-cycle response of the observed amplitude near the surface. Clearly a correct simulation of a global-scale warming on decadal time scale is needed before predictions into the future on multi-decadal scale can be accepted with confidence.”

    Click to access solar-jgr.pdf

    Or recent results changing our perspective on the warming in Europe such as this:

    “These facts and our measurements, as well as recent reports on aerosol reduction over western continents [Streets et al., 2006] and the oceans [Mishchenko et al., 2007] show that solar dimming and the subsequent brightening – or rather solar recovery – is very likely related to changes in anthropogenic aerosols. With respect to the temperature evolution in central Europe, increasing aerosols were apparently effective in masking greenhouse warming after the 1950s [Wild et al., 2007], whereas the observed direct solar forcing due to the strong aerosol decline since the mid-1980s has reinforced greenhouse warming, although the reduction of absorbing aerosols (such as black carbon) might have dampened the reinforcement. … Overall, the aerosol and cloud induced radiative surface climate forcing over mainland Europe has been +1 Wm2 dec1 since the 1980s, and has very likely strongly contributed to the recent rapid warming in Europe.”

    Click to access Aerosols-Global-Warming-Study-2008.pdf

    Of course, quotes such as this last one don’t easily blend into an article, but in the hostile environment only one side gets allowed to go beyond a quote to provide perspective and understanding. Even if in some lapse into intellectual honesty, you manage to get a quote like the first in, if you aren’t there to constantly defend it, it will disappear. The crux of the issue for the AGW hypothesis, is that the direct effects of the increase in GHGs can only account for less than third of the recent warming. The rest depends on NET positive feedbacks, and the case for that depends on the models. There is a wealth of diagnostic literature on the models that make it clear that they are a long way from being able to be validated against less than 1W/m^2 globallly and annually averaged in order to attribute the recent warming and project the future climate. It is not even clear yet that the NET feedbacks to GHGs will be positive rather than negative. The solar activity hypothesis, must similarly await advances in understanding and in the model science.

    You can go ahead, and see if you can get this kind of information in. Unless things have radically changed, I doubt it.

  48. Taking your links in order:

    Tung and Camp in their introduction make a statement, quoted by you, which is a truism: General Circulation Models do not generally take into account the effects of the solar cycle, which are highly unpredictable but believed to be relatively small in nature.

    Ruckstuhl is covered under “alternative hypotheses” in Global warming controversy.

    If you think those items should be in the global warming article, which describes the scientific consensus on global warming, you have to demonstrate that their degree of acceptance in the scientific community is broad.

    I don’t think that’s too onerous. We can’t have people just stuffing material into article irrespective of their degree of acceptance. To do so would be to misrepresent the scientific consensus, contrary to the neutral point of view policy.

  49. I thought the title of the article was “Global Warming”, the science, not “Global Warming Consensus”, the politics. The nearly half the GCMs that do take into account the solar cycle, fail to represent the amplitude of the response seen in the observations, so they are probably under representing the non-cyclic solar response as well. Camp and Tung are well accepted. I don’t know the other authors that well, but, you are right there are additional screens for some peer review results that are not applied to others.

    In addition to Camp and Tung’s results, it is well accepted that the models simulate less than a third of the increase in precipitation associated with the recent warming, the models are years behind in the ice cap and the temperate zone snow melts, the models have a bias towards positive feedback clouds instead of negative feedback clouds in the tropics.

    If peer review results are required to dispute the consensus, shouldn’t peer review results be required to dispute the peer review results which dispute the consensus? It is a double standard. Keep in mind that the “consensus” is not supported by peer review results. There are no peer results on “very likely” or “90%” in the consensus statement. There is no demonstrated skill for the models in the peer review literature approching that needed for this small an energy imbalance.

  50. The scientific consensus is the science. To describe it as “politics” isn’t helpful.

    I’m afraid you’re falling into the common error of assuming that Wikipedia editing can be used to challenge, negotiate or redefine the scientific consensus. It cannot.

    There are plenty of journals, forums and academic conferences in which as a climatologist you can try to affect the scientific consensus by presenting new observations and analysis. Wikipedia is just an encyclopedia, nothing more.

  51. No, my error was not assuming the Wikipedia could be used to challenge the two year old consensus, but that the science could be used to challenge it. But the science could be used to challenge the IPCC even when it was brought to their attention, because the IPCC was not a peer review process, the authors were free to ignore the expert review.

  52. If you’ve edited Wikipedia, surely you’re aware of the “No original research” policy.

    In a nutshell:

    * Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source.

    * Articles may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources.

    If you have a beef with IPCC, take it up with them.

  53. Hmmm, Camp and Tung, even used the word “clearly” in their statement: “Clearly a correct simulation of a global-scale warming on decadal time scale is needed before predictions into the future on multi-decadal scale can be accepted with confidence.” Peer reviewed, what’s missing? Shouldn’t it go right next to the reports of IPCC multi-decadal projections?

  54. I think they’re probably overplaying the solar influence. They’re entitled to draw their own opinions from their data.

  55. Though this conversation is now old, I’d just like to pop in and yet again repeat the point that no-one minds right-leaning people having their own ‘encyclopedia’ – the problem is that it’s being used to educate children, and claiming to be ‘trustworthy’, while being filled with groundless nonsense and nutjob assertion – written by their own editors, in most part. I would point any reader to the Barack Obama article or the Hollywood breast cancer ‘mystery’ articles for reference. Both are simply blog entries by ASchlafly, and have no credibility whatsoever as encyclopediac articles. And the former is locked, so cannot be fixed.

  56. Yes, I think you have made yourself crystal-clear Dogged Persistence. Even though you are a Bureaucrat at Rational Wiki, your completely unbiased POV should be considered “unbiased”.

    You don’t object to a “conservative” encyclopedia so long as Conservapedia does not educate children, and if it does, its content should be judged by your own liberal, “unbiased” and “scientific” standards, and Conservapedia should allow you, or others of the same mind-set to “repair” it.

    I would submit that is the crux of all liberal complaints about CP. You graciously grant Conservapedia does indeed have a right to exist, but only if it accepts your methodology and conclusions.

    What the logical progression is, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t have a right to exist.

    That RW (and members who think like you) have made clear, what with its (sponsored/encouraged) constant and persistent disruption, argument-without-end, parody insertion and vandalism.

    It certainly makes one afraid for others who “offend” your sensibilities of what is “right”….say a game developer, your grocer, or a plumber, if your disagreement escalates to such proportions with them, as it has with Conservapedia!

  57. I’ve got to admit that DogP has a point about warping children’s minds with stupid falsehoods, TK. Conservapedia is so full of stupid tosh that it’s obvious to an adult, but people are probably recommending this rubbish to their children. I think Conservapedia needs, if it is to survive in the long run, to evolve a method of correcting factual errors and gross bias.

  58. TK, if you’re concerned about external influences, just close editing and make it a new CreationWiki. Otherwise, how can you complain when people on the outside do what is, from their perspective, helping?

  59. Parody/vandalism/disruption is now something you consider to be “helping”?


    “We had to destroy them in order to “save them”!

    Vandalism, parody, sponsored by one website against another, isn’t helping….and the people doing such, judging from their own posts other places, aren’t trying to help, they are trying to introduce chaos. And I would submit, AmesG/Caius, that it is disingenuous for you and Tony Sidaway to characterize sociopaths as “helpers”, or use the “I’m only trying to help the children!” excuse for that behavior.

  60. TK, I agree with you that what RationalWiki is doing cannot be classed as “helping” where it extends to encouraging and condoning sabotage.

    I think the two issues need to be separated.

    Conservapedia contains many obvious and gross falsehoods and errors. It needs to develop a method of correcting those errors or it will continue to have a very low reputation.

    RationalWiki has an ambiguous relationship with Conservapedia, both producing helpful pointers to the worst errors and failing to distance itself from the vandals and parodists.

    In the end, Conservapedia’s failings belong to Conservapedia. It is not RationalWiki, for instance, that still insists that Barack Obama is probably secretly a Muslim.

  61. […] A few weeks ago I had some interactions with the Conservapedia administrators, summarized here, after an inflammatory article was placed into Conservapedia by a vandal or […]

  62. […] for mutual discussion. Both of Tony’s articles (the first on the site in general; the second on its recent parody affliction) and the comments sections are must-reads for interested parties. To be sure, Tony gets a lot […]

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