Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I'm not listening!

Many of us grew up with siblings- brothers or sisters with whom we had to learn to get along. Most of us, by this point in our lives, have probably learned to like our kin or, failing that, to at least tolerate them. Yet, this was not always so. For many of us there was probably a time when we fought like cats and dogs and went out of our way to cause trouble for our dear sibling. In addition there were the constant feuds and arguments: who got to choose the television channel, who had to do what chore, and of course who was right about some absurd question or other. Frequently, I'm sure, we can remember our sibling sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming, "I'm not listening!" after which they would begin frantically screaming, "La la la la..."

I was reminded of that most time-honored of practices the other day when I learned of the existence of a rather curious thing. Most or all of you are doubtless aware of Wikipedia, an online, user-edited encyclopedia. I use wikipedia rather frequently as a reference because it has a fantastic selection of obscure information. It also, more often than not, is pretty accurate although, as you might imagine, the "user-edited" part sometimes leads to some funny outcomes. If nothing else, wikipedia is a useful starting point, although one certainly shouldn't rely on it exclusively.

With this in mind, you will no doubt be excited to learn something: Wikipedia, apparently, has a liberal bias. I say that this is so because a group of enterprising young souls have taken it upon themselves to create a "fair and balanced" alternative that goes by the name "Conservapedia." I shit thee not. As the site itself explains* Conservapedia was started to correct a pernicious liberal bias in wikipedia including, but not limited to:

"Wikipedia allows the use of B.C.E. instead of B.C. and C.E. instead of A.D. The dates are based on the birth of Jesus, so why pretend otherwise? Conservapedia is Christian-friendly and exposes the CE deception."

"The entry for the Renaissance in Wikipedia refuses to give enough credit to Christianity."

"Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English speaking users are American. Look up "Most Favored Nation" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts the spelling to the British spelling "Most Favoured Nation", even there there are far more American than British users. Look up "Division of labor" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts to the British spelling "Division of labour," then insists on the British spelling for "specialization" also.[3]. Enter "Hapsburg" (the European ruling family) and Wikipedia automatically changes the spelling to Habsburg, even though the American spelling has always been "Hapsburg". Within entries British spellings appear in the silliest of places, even when the topic is American. Conservapedia favors American spellings of words."

"Edits to include facts against the theory of evolution are almost immediately censored. On Conservapedia, contributions that meet simple rules are respected to the maximum extent possible."

"The Wikipedia entry for the Piltdown Man omits many key facts, such as how it was taught in schools for an entire generation and how the dating methodology used by evolutionists is fraudulent."

So, in short: Wikipedia is bad because Christians are responsible for everything good, Americans speak the best English, and evolution is bad. Woo-hoo.

In the hopes of understanding all this a bit better let's do a side-by-side comparison of Conservapedia and Wikipedia and see what we get. We'll search both wikipedia and conservapedia for the same term and see what is produced. The terms of interest? Well, let's start with "faith."

A search of wikipedia yields this article, which begins as follows:

Faith is a belief, trust, or confidence, not necessarily based on logic, facts, reason, or empirical data, but based fundamentally on volition often associated with a transpersonal relationship with a deity, a higher power, a person, elements of nature, and/or a perception of the human race as a whole. Faith can be placed in a person, inanimate object, state of affairs, proposition or body of propositions such as a religious creed. [links omitted to preserve my sanity]

The article then continues in that vein examining a wide variety of issues related to faith in some detail. On the other hand, a search of Conservapedia reveals this article, which indicates in its entirety:

Faith is complete trust or confidence in an unseen, loving power. Its root is the Latin word "fidere", meaning "to trust".

Jesus was unique in preaching the significance of faith and it is exclusive to Christianity. No other religion is based on faith as distinguished from mere belief. Faith is mentioned 229 times in the Bible's New Testament. An example is Jesus observing the powerful healing faith of a Roman centurion: "Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" (Matthew 8:10)

The concept of faith is mentioned only twice in the Old Testament (KJV).

In the Koran, the concept of submission to Allah is mentioned 11 times, while the concept of faith in Allah is mentioned only once.

Some (particularly non-Christians) dilute the meaning of faith, depriving it of its power and significance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, for example, includes this watered-down definition of faith: "a system of religious beliefs."[1] Under this meaning, any and every religion has "belief" or "faith". But faith preached uniquely by Jesus obviously refers to something far more precise than any "a system of religious beliefs," and such faith has never been preached in the same way by non-Christian religions.

Hmmm... okay. Well, that was fun. Let's try another. How about evolution?

When we query wikipedia we get this article, which begins with:

In biology, evolution is the change in a population's inherited characteristics, or traits, from generation to generation. These traits are encoded as genes that are copied and passed on to offspring during reproduction. Random changes in these genes can produce new or altered traits, resulting in differences between organisms. Evolution occurs when these different traits become more common or rare in a population. This can occur randomly through genetic drift, or based on the reproductive value of traits through natural selection.

Under natural selection, organisms with traits that help them to survive and reproduce tend to have more offspring. In doing so, they will pass more copies of inheritable beneficial traits on to the next generation. This leads to advantageous traits becoming more common in each generation, while disadvantageous traits become rarer.[1][2][3] Over time, this process can result in varied adaptations to changing environmental conditions.[4] As differences in and between populations accumulate, new species can evolve. All known species are descended from a single ancestor through this process of gradual divergence.[1][5][6]

The theory of evolution by natural selection was first put forth in detail in Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species. In the 1930s, Darwinian natural selection was combined with Mendelian inheritance to form the modern evolutionary synthesis.[4] With its enormous explanatory and predictive power, this theory has become the central organizing principle of modern biology, providing a unifying explanation for the diversity of life on Earth.[7][8][9] [links removed to, once more, preserve my sanity]

It then continues for a considerable period of time discussing the basics of evolution, mechanisms for evolution, and even evidence for evolution, finishing up with a section on controversies.

When we turn to Conservapedia, we find this article which begins pretty well:

The Theory of Evolution, introduced by scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin in his book On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859, is a scientific theory that explains the process of evolution via natural selection. The basic principle behind natural selection, states that in the struggle for life, some organisms in a given population will be better suited to their particular environment and thus have a reproductive advantage, increasing the representation of their particular traits over time.

This intro, aside from lacking detail and emphasizing the "theory" bit isn't bad. Then, however, we get into the subsections which are real howlers. There's the section on the field of biology which begins with:

Evolutionists have no real evidence that macroevolution occurs and there is no consensus on how it allegedly occurs as can be seen below:

In the section on the fossil record we have this fantastic introduction:

Creationists can cite material showing that there is no real fossil evidence for the macroevolutionary position and that the fossil record supports creationism:

And, finally, the article ends in less than two pages with that fabulous old creationist claim about thermodynamics:

Evolution does in fact lower the entropy of the sum of the living DNA on this planet. The mechanism used by evolution to lower entropy is the collection and storage of information about trait survivability on strands of molecules called DNA. The theory of Evolution says that this information collects naturally through non-random selection from offspring variation.

Which is misleading and false and can be shown to be so with minimal effort.

So far, Conservapedia isn't stacking up too well. That's a shame, but at least it doesn't get vandalized, right?

Then again, to judge by the entry on St. Valentine's Day, I wouldn't bet on it:

Not meant for this guy --> Image:Img006.jpg

(He don't get laid on V.Day...everyone else does! Even MountainDew!) [Note: the link in the original entry was broken, so I added a picture I thought appropriate]

So what's my point here? Am I condemning conservapedia? Well, yes and no. I'm certainly pointing out that it is by far inferior to wikipedia on a content basis, but I have no philosophical problem with it. Free speech is free speech and, if they want to do this, I'm not gonna stop them. I dislike the blatant disregard for facts and learning but, hey, what else is new?

Mostly I just want to say that I'm sorry. I'm sorry that the uber conservatives feel the need to abandon the fight and go hang out in their own clubhouse where everyone agrees with them. I'm sorry I won't get the benefit of their input any longer, or the pleasure of hearing what they have to say. Most of all, I'm sorry that conservatives feel they have to do this.

Because at the end of the day, shoving your fingers in your ears and screaming "I'm not listening" just doesn't do the trick.

* Please note that, based on the length of time it requires for conservapedia pages to load, I think the server must be located on the Moon, if not some alternate universe entirely.

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