Mostly I use Wikipedia for details on out-of-the-way topics that you wouldn’t think would be subject to bias—lately it has been to corroborate some background on Voltaire, for instance.
But not always—sometimes I use it as though a base stock, like you would in cooking, to develop a post on some contemporary issue. Others do this, too—pretty routinely—to provide backdrop for arguments they are making. People will develop points on some Internet forum or other, and validate them by appealing to Wikipedia.
It’s an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is—that’s how everyone thinks of it. As such, it is unbiased—that supposedly is its mission statement. Anyone can edit it (I’ve never quite understood how that works—well, I guess I do, but I’ve never been interested enough to attempt it, and the premise is that when anyone can do so the result will be complete and unbiased.) Not so, says co-founder Larry Sanger. Its unbiased ideal went out the window long ago. NPOV (neutral point of view) is a thing of the past. He says it here, on this post from his own blog. Wikipedia is badly biased.
He doesn’t say his co-creation is not factual. Nor does he say it is not objective. But it is not complete. It clearly sides with particular points-of-view. Larry offers about a dozen examples of clear bias, from politics, to science, to health, to religion in which the minority view is run off the road. They are “embarrassingly easy to find,” he says.
Sigh...this seriously compromises Wikipedia as a base. It is a leftist choir that is preaching there these days, and if you quote the source, which I do all the time, you will be getting a leftist point of view, with other viewpoints either overwhelmed or declared wrong. Disputes among experts such as doctors and scientists are papered over to give the impression that the “victorious” opinion is monolithic. It is not for an encyclopedia to do this, Sanger says. It is supposed to reflect all points of view. It is not to declare a winner. Is “the science settled” on some point or other? Understand that it may have been settled by decree.
One might suppose, given Sanger’s creation, that technology is his chief interest. It is not. (per Wikipedia!) It is philosophy, epistomology, and ethics. He is clearly disappointed in the path his innovation has taken. He didn’t mean it to be that way. In a world supposedly driven by knowledge, what could be better than to have all the details of anything at your fingertips for instant application to anything? He never anticipated that it would be hijacked by any one faction.
Maybe I should have picked up on this before—Wiki’s bias. I did, after all, quote Anton Chivchalov complaining* of how the Russian experts relied upon by courts of that land have been known to copy “various public sources about Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Internet, which naturally have an anti-cult bias.” Could Wikipedia have been the prime “public source?” There are a dizzying array of anti-cult Witness pages on that source—every petty little episode or imagined brouhaha is explored in minute detail, with “pro” views drowned out by the “cons.”
Recently, a few dozen scholars released a statement to Russian authorities in support of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Stop the police action against them, they said. They are obviously peaceful, so let them worship in peace. Putin said a year and a half after the ban that “Jehovah’s Witnesses are also Christians, and I don’t really understand why they’re persecuted.” Just a few months after the ban, he publicly praised a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Noviks from Petrozavodsk, calling them a “model family”—apparently without knowing what page he was supposed to be on. Leave the Witnesses be. “We are left with the impression that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are being punished for their success in gaining new adherents,” the statement from the scholars said.*
This is a bit much for the anti-cultists. Is it possible to assassinate the characters of these “scholars”—all associated with prestigious universities from around the world—so as to present them as crackpots? Some of them have been interviewed by jw.org—Christine King, George Chryssides, and Massimo Introvigne, for example.
Enter Wikipedia with its “anti-cult bias.” It tackles Massimo Introvigne.
There (born June 14, 1955, in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religion and intellectual property attorney. He is a founder and the managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), a Turin-based organization which has been described as "the highest profile lobbying and information group for controversial religions". .................In 1972, he joined conservative Catholic group Alleanza Cattolica.[better source needed] From 2008 to 2016 he has served as vice-president of the group................. he advocates doctrinaire positions that favour groups like Scientology." In the mid-1990s, Introvigne testified on behalf of Scientologists in a criminal trial in Lyon.................journalists described Introvigne as a "cult apologist", saying he was tied to the Catholic Alliance and Silvio Berlusconi's then ruling party. Introvigne responded that his scholarly and political activities were not connected................He was the Italian director of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula,............In 1997, J. Gordon Melton and Introvigne organized an event at the Westin Hotel in Los Angeles where 1,500 attendees came dressed as vampires...
Note the guilt by association. This is never okay with the anti-cultists until they do it themselves. He “advocates doctrinaire positions that favour groups like Scientology.” He has even testified on behalf of them. He is a “cult apologist.” (the less incendiary term, rejected by anti-cultists for just that reason, is “new religion.”) He hung out with Silvia Berlusconi, the businessman who committed the unforgivable sin of getting elected though not a politician and showing up that lot. And didn’t he draw a four year sentence for tax fraud? Introvigne responds by saying his scholarly and political activities are not connected, and—wink, wink—we know what that means. He threw a gathering in which guests came dressed as vampires! [a Halloween party, probably]
To be sure, the Introvigne entry (accessed 10/11/20) comes with a couple of “hatchet job” warnings, though not called that. “A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject,” therefore the article “may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia's content policies.” Also, it “may rely excessively on sources too closely associated with the subject potentially preventing the article from being verifiable and neutral.” Seeming a note of caution. But if co-founder Sanger’s observation is anything to go by, it is only in need a few like-minded hacks to jump into the fray and repeat the bad opinion.
Certain hot topics continually go back and forth on Wiki. One fellow commented on my blog to the effect that he regularly updated Wiki posts about JWs to keep them “honest”, and he had to do it constantly because opposers would change them right back to their hostile takes on matters. I got the impression that that was his assignment, but I could be wrong—he may just have been an independent defender of the faith. At any rate, he was worried lest I immerse myself into these things too much and that it wear me out, because among these critics are so many slimeballs. But as it turns out, I don’t immerse myself.
“Go to the Reddit site and read up on” whatever volatile accusation had caught Vic Vomodog’s fancy at the moment, he told me, adding “make sure to read all the comments.” But I truthfully replied that I had visited there from time to time—I even have a presence there (that I have tired of)—r/truetomharley, and I tell them to make sure to read all of my comments, and they tell me to...well...they decline my invitation.
But that’s reading. I have read some of their comments—I read a lot, to be sure. But to this day, I don’t think I have ever seen a complete video production, mostly because they are so self-important or tedious or hostile that the first minute is a turnoff—rarely do I get beyond a minute. It is my own bias—one can read in a minute what some smug and insufferable pedant will take 20 to develop via video.
Wikipedia has its place, but it has long fallen from its unbiased perch. Maybe the best way to appreciate its silly underbelly, which threatens to become the main event, is to look up some historical figure and discover a handful of paragraphs. And then look up a television series and see every single episode written up in endless detail, sometimes each meriting it’s own page. Just how much of Mr. Ed does one need to know?
*These points developed more fully in ‘Dear Mr. Putin—Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.”