The Wonderful World of Wikipedia

UPDATE: The error has now been completely eliminated from the article. Details below.

Guest post by James Padgett

As many readers are aware, the culture surrounding the climate change topic area of Wikipedia has been a microcosm of climate science for nearly a full decade.

This is not a compliment.

When you read the Climategate emails and see discussions of finding people to investigate and discredit your ideological opponents –  that is Wikipedia. When you read about the IPCC’s usage of the WWF and students in composing their Climate Bible (KJV) – that is Wikipedia. When you read about “climate scientists” conspiring to get other scientists fired for challenging the orthodoxy – that is Wikipedia.

In short, Wikipedia does not care about truth, and certainly not doubts, it cares about message.

And that’s what this article is about, how the truth, when made plainly clear, is suppressed in favor of misinformation that is on message.

WikipediaMessageError

Early last month I was browsing the Wikipedia article on the Soon-Baliunas controversy. The “mainstream” view on the topic is that the paper was so horrible that several editors resigned from Climate Research in protest. Those following the Climategate emails know that there was a strong and shady behind-the-scenes effort to both discredit the paper and show journals what happens to their reputations and hairlines when you dare to publish research contradictory to the “settled science.”

Part of this public relations process, of which Wikipedia is an integral component, involves rewriting facts, refocusing views and never ever giving in to rationality or reality.

How was this done in the Soon-Baliunas article? I don’t have the time or inclination to point out all the bias and opinion-herding in the article, but I’ll show you the sentence that initially caught my eye back in early December:

“The Soon and Baliunas paper had been sent to four reviewers during publication, all of whom recommended rejecting it.” (1)

Now isn’t that interesting? Why would they publish the paper if all of the reviewers recommended rejecting it? It certainly would be quite the scandal if that villainous Chris de Freitas pushed to publish it under such conditions.

A little digging shows that Wikipedia used to have the correct sentence – that none of the reviewers recommended rejecting it. In fact, an anonymous user tried to revert the article back to this correct version. The response was typical – change it back and then have one of the administrator gatekeepers, “MastCell,” protect the article from anonymous users. After all, the only people who could ever be correct are the Champions of the Earth.

But that wasn’t the end of it. That wouldn’t be a good demonstration of the obstinacy of the keeper of climate truth.

The few non-anonymous users who cared about the article being accurate pointed this out. Pages and pages of argument resulted, with the typical gatekeepers like Dave Souza and Stephan Schulz relying on a single source to make their claim, while ignoring numerous other sources, not to mention common sense, which contradicted their assertion regarding the reviewers.

What was their source?

An article in the Guardian by Fred Pearce.

What sources contradicted this?

Chris de Freitas himself publically showed this email (also here from Climategate), which would support my view – and he privately made it crystal clear to me that everyone recommended publication.

Of course, de Freitas would be biased….

But Clare Goodess, of the ever-reputable University of East Anglia, an editor who resigned over the incident, ambiguously intoned in a manner subject to much interpretation:

“The publisher eventually asked to see the documentation associated with the review of the paper – which had apparently gone to four reviewers none of whom had recommended rejection. Otto Kinne concluded that the review process had been properly conducted.” (2)

So instead of relying on common sense, original documents, and the statement, at the time, of an involved scientist certainly not supportive of the Soon-Baliunas paper, weight was given to Fred Pearce’s article which was written seven years after the fact.

Naturally, I was curious as to where Mr. Pearce received his information. He was friendly and helpful, despite his busy schedule with the holidays and Durban, and attempted to find the original source for the claim in his article. Unfortunately, he could not find the original source in his records. He does agree that the statement was, in his words, “almost certainly wrong” and theorizes that he may have misread Clare Goodess’ statement on the matter.

So that should settle it right? This article itself could be a “reliable source” to remove the error from Wikipedia. After all, Real Climate is quoted extensively throughout the climate change articles. Perhaps, but not when you have obsessive-compulsive activists who care more about their cause than their integrity.

However, this incident does bring some other questions to mind.

Andrew Montford, author of the Hockey Stick Illusion, was inquiring with Pearce about his source as well and was curious if Michael Mann had been the one to mislead Pearce. This is an interesting theory, and I had been wondering if this was the case myself both due to Mann’s behavior regarding this incident, his well-known inclination towards manipulating journalists, as well as the original wording in Pearce’s article, which was:

“But many on the 10-man editorial board agreed with Mann. They concluded that their colleague de Freitas had ignored the anonymous advice of four reviewers to reject the paper.”

There is no way to know for certain; it certainly isn’t clear. All I know is that Mann and his friends, and this is the short list, when confronted with a paper that challenged their own work, threatened to boycott the journal, tried to get the editor fired, tried to get the authors fired, and was even so juvenile as to file a complaint against the New Zealand Herald for not letting him publish his attacks against de Freitas.

Obviously, he is the quintessential climate scientist of our day – and I hope one day that Wikipedia gives him due credit as such.

Cheers,

James Padgett

=======================

UPDATE: Following a conversation on Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales’ talk page the error has been removed despite initial resistance from those who perpetrated the misinformation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Jimbo_Wales#Activism_at_Wikipedia.3F

Also, I’d like to thank Nona, who tried to correct the error earlier as an anonymous user.

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crosspatch

I have little faith in an “encyclopedia” that is a “consensus” opinion. Consensus is rarely correct.

….which is why all the whining about funding at WickedPedantia falls on deaf ears. Get some truth, fellers, and I might consider pressing the paypal button.

“Compliment”, not “complement”.
Wikipedia is like a Church, never better than the worst of its priests.

And btw …I once tried to correct Romm’s entry, so that it would reflect what Romm thinks of Romm.
It was impossible. In their eagerness to worship Romm, the obsessive watchers couldn’t listen to him either.

ANH

Right at the beginning you write
‘This is not a complement’ – I think that should be ‘compliment’

Toby Nixon

Not to be picky, but I think “This is not a complement” should be “This is not a compliment”.

Charles.U.Farley

Why would anyone expect to find such things as facts on the likes of wikipedia?
If just anyone can alter it, especially those with a motive as we’ve seen, then its worthless as a source of any information. Ditch it.

David Schofield

complement – compliment?

KenB

How long does it take Wikipedia to clean up this rats nest of misinformation, does it take court action to correct a simple thing where an appalling injustice is being done to Chris de Freitis. The worst is, that those behind the continual perpetration of wrong, know well what they are doing is wrong and should be culpable along with Wikipedia.

Cuthbert

As an ex-wikipedia admin, you could have summed this post up in about two lines. If Wikipedia is supposed to maintain a [[WP:NPOV]] policy why is William M. Connolley and a number of others who have clear conflicts of interest allowed to run roughshod over climate articles.
It took a number of years for community bans to be issued, but to this day they cannot understand the hypocrisy of disallowing [[WP:RS]] edits (because it doesn’t meet their famous concensus of 97% of scientists, which has a base of around 79 scientists), to their breach of impartiality and editing article for which they have a vested interest.
One only needs to look at the hot bed article;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientists_opposing_the_mainstream_scientific_assessment_of_global_warming
to see how many times, they have tried to delete the article as an unpleasant truth to the mantra that there are scientists who oppose the mainstream position.

Guam

Wikipedia should be listed by Anthony as an “unreliable source” for anything Climate related.
The skew in their articles is fairly extreme when examined dispassionately.
This revelation will be unsurprising to many I suspect.

ThePowerofX

[Using multiple screen names violate site Policy. ~dbs, mod.]

TBear (Sydney, where it has finally warmed up, but just a bit ...)

Nor is it a `compliment’, the Bear assumes …

a jones

Initially I was an enthusiastic supporter of Wikipedia which I then saw as being a great repository of information compiled from informed people around the world.
I was wrong. I am wiser now.
Its potential strength, that it could draw on many talents has also become its weakness: that certain persons can capture sections and ensure they promote their own view.
I have personally experienced this in trying to correct serious errors in technical articles which were not of any political import but were in effect ‘owned’ by their initial contributors who resisted any change very strongly.
It is a pity. What might have been a great force for advancing human understanding has all too often been perverted into a propaganda machine.
Although it has its uses I do not trust it on anything.
Kindest Regards

Doug UK

Great article.
Places Wikipedia exactly.
I smell dear old WC Stoat – ever the spin doctor. He is probably the hand inside the sock puppet – but he never misses a “trick”.

Shocking…not really, expected ethical behaviour from ‘the team’. Thanks James, save me from ever visiting that site again.

pete50

Well, you see. If you get it wrong when publishing the number of CO2 molecules that fit on the head of a pin, you will be in serious trouble with the climate inquisition. Heretics are bad news – they must not be allowed to get away with the slightest deviation. Matters of doctrine are not to be challenged by the climate pagans.

Steve P

“This is not a complement.”
s/b
This is not a compliment.

ANH

In the Fred Pearce article he says that the Soon/Balunias paper was published in Climate Research in January 2003. Then he says that Jones, Briffa, Wigley and Trenberth reviewed the paper, and sent their review (rejecting all the findings of the paper) to Climate Research asking for the paper to be disowned. But it had already been published before they did their review and so therefore had presumably been peer reviewed by others (unknown others) before publication.
So citing the Fred Pearce article as evidence that all 4 reviewers rejected it is obviously wrong as the reviewers mentioned in the article were doing their reviewing AFTER publication and so AFTER peer review had been completed.
So what you need is to find who the actual peer reviewers were (ie BEFORE publication) and get that information out.
Or have I missed something?

Good article James. I’m especially pleased to see more articles on this area – its often forgotten just how much of this is a propaganda and censorship conflict. Sceptics may by and large have the truth on their side and whilst that is the most important part of the battle it is only part of the whole story here.
My PhD research in fact focuses on online censorship and propaganda. I’m particularly concerned with issues over truth (and its naturally perceived malleable and every changing nature online/digitally), issues of identity/authority and communication/gatekeepers.
I’ve started releasing results of my initial research on my blog, prior to submitting in a more formal format for publication: I’ve established that it is possible to detect clear patterns of “churnalism bias” with regard to certain organisation’s press releases and the media outlets that regurgitate them. For anyone interested, here is my analysis thus far of three organisations that may be of interest:
The Environment Agency (particularly interesting for how well the BBC is represented…):
http://i-squared.blogspot.com/2011/11/ammo-churnalism-churning-environment.html
‘Frack Off’:
http://i-squared.blogspot.com/2011/11/churnalism-churning-frack-off.html
DEFRA:
http://i-squared.blogspot.com/2011/11/churnalism-defra-churn-guardian-is-in.html
I have a list of other organisations I will be “processing” from this week now the Winterval break is over. I won’t be sharing the names in as public a forum as this (though please DO contact me with suggestions) as I don’t want to give them advance warning: both DEFRA and the Environment Agency attempted to thwart my attempts by restricting my IP address’s access to their site after my Bots began scanning all of their press releases. Needless to say it didn’t stop me, but it adds additional time collecting all of the press releases and I have suspicions the EA tried hiding something from me as soon as they realised what I was doing (see the blog post for further details).
The data is a potential treasure trove by the way. I have made it publicly available for anyone else who wants to search it for more interesting patterns and replication. My hope is that I may inspire other people to follow the same methodology and crowdsource a massive amount of coverage of PR churnalism so we can at long last have a very accurate pattern of bias mapped and accounted for and demonstrated.

sophocles

James Padgett writes:
Obviously, he [Mann] is the quintessential climate scientist of our day – and I hope one day that wikipedia gives him due credit as such.
============================================================================
Given the state of the world’s defamation law(s), that day will probably be post mortem, ….unfortunately….

kim

Stoat rote don’t float my boat.
=========

Darkinbad the Brightdayler

Can’t argue with your thinking or conclusions. I had come to the conclusion a few years ago that most of the topics that I looked up on Wiki (on which I had some in-depth knowledge) were being edited to suit some other agenda or bias.
It becomes pointless, logging in and arguing with someone who is not prepared to accept any of the conventions of argument or debate.

Telboy

Who’d a thunk it? Wikipedia tainted! And what do bears do in the woods?

Someone once tried to start a thread documenting the most obvious wikipedia ‘errors’ http://www.populartechnology.net/2008/11/anti-wikipedia-resource.html but quickly gave up because he realized he would need an entire new wikipedia like system to contain it.

Make sure to let Jimmy Wales know why you aren’t donating to Wikipedia.
“Wikipedia is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation. Questions or comments? Contact the Wikimedia Foundation: donate@wikimedia.org

NovaReason

All of the points raised here are examples of why I only trust Wikipedia on totally non-controversial subjects, and even then, for nothing more than a starting point of research. It’s good for identifying terms related to a topic, and occasionally has a link to a few good articles in the references section. But as soon as controversy rears it’s ugly head, Wikipedia immediately becomes the most unreliable source of information I’ve ever even known to exist and purport itself to being a knowledge base.
Does anyone else chuckle at the advertisements for supporting Wikipedia, when they have a picture of a “long time editor” or something else along those lines, who looks like a Birkenstock wearing, card-carrying member of the People’s Democratic Republic of Cambridge?

More wobbly wiki !
Fred Pearce admits ‘rejection’ error re Soon and Baliunas, but lie continues on wiki.
http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/1/10/james-padgett-on-wikipedia-and-soon.html

H.R.

“This is not a complement.”
This works if you meant that your article gives the rest of the story that will be 180 degrees from your opening statement. Otherwise ‘compliment’ would work better ;o)

Frederick Davies

“This is not a complement.”
Compliment, I presume.
FD

Peter Miller

1984?

Ripper

What exactly was wrong with the S&B paper?

Anteros

Wonderful stuff.
I’ve had many common sense edits reverted within seconds on wikipedia.
I think more articles like this one are called for.
Perhaps focus on the behaviour of that ‘Weasel’ fellow?

Jim Butler

It’s amazing that this continues in broad daylight.
It’s a shame that we live in what has basically become a “10 second society”, meaning that if it takes more than 10 seconds of work to delve into something, people just won’t take the time to do it.
JimB

Fred Bloggs

Great job. Shows that Pearce is a gullible tool of Mann. By now anyone must know that Mann is not someone to be trusted with the truth.

Don’t forget the role of William Connolley as Wikipedia administrator until 2009, who has changed far more global warming related articles than anyone else there…

Eddieo

Are the owners of Wikipedia liable for libellous information on their website?

“That is not a complement.”
It’s not a compliment either.

Eventually someone will write the book on those scientists who have made their careers by “gaming the system” of science. It is likely to be a messy job, because it will be found that the perversion of true science goes far beyond just climate science, which many now know has failed ludicrously, into fields that are still looked upon as unassailable (“settled” is the word, right?). Most skeptics still don’t even understand that the “greenhouse effect” was fundamentally wrong because the radiative transfer theory underpinning it fails the test of thermodynamics.

Rick Bradford

Par 2: presumably ‘compliment’

The iceman cometh

Has anyone actually read Soon and Baliunas? I did, well before I was aware of any controversy. It is a review of previously published works (very plural, that ‘works’) Lots and lots of people had found evidence for it being warmer during that time often described as the Medieval Warm Period, and only one or two found that it might have been cooler. A huge range of proxies was considered, and the weight of evidence was strongly in favour of it having been warmer.
It is very difficult to be controversial in a review paper. Indeed, Soon and Baliunas is the only review that I know of which has been the subject of such extensive controversy. They just reported what others had found, no more, no less. If I had been a reviewer of the paper (which I could well have been) I would have approved it for publication without hesitation. If I had been the editor (which I would never have been), I would have been grateful for the contribution. But because they had found hundreds of publications who disagreed with the view of a few researchers, it has become a cause celebre in its own right, and Wikipedia is being blamed for furthering the cause.
I agree the Wikipedia story needs to be set right, and set right without further ado. No Manners are needed – the story is just plain wrong. What currently appears there defies all logic

Ben Kellett

James, good article and some points well made. However, I think we need to be careful that we don’t engage in similar rhetoric at the other end of the debate. Often I read comments from contibutors on this site where there is clearly no eveidence of balanced opinion. For example, I don’t know how many times I have read the claim that “warming as ceased” during the last decade. I find this quite incredible when we we have actually seen 8 out of 10 of the warmist years on record in the last decade. Ok, so this might have nothing to do with human actvity but the fact remains that over tha period in question, taken as a whole 1980 -2011, warming continues apace – human induced or otherwise.
This does not excuse Wikpedia or any proponent of AGW to suppress other opinions but let not the pot call the kettle black!

“This is not a complement.”
Should be This is not a compliment.”
Sorry, it just affronts my eye.
Otherwise, I agree with everything said here about Wikipedia.
In the future, the Wikipedia project will become a textbook example of the ideological manipulation and corruption of our times.

Tim Minchin

I’ve given up trying to edit Wikipedia.

There is a few typos on this article- the first two that I noticed were “This is not a complement” should be “This is not a compliment” and “A little digging shows that Wikipedia use to have the correct sentence – that none of the reviewers recommended rejecting it.” should be “A little digging shows Wikipedia used to….”

Skiphil

re: “This is not a complement.”
*compliment

Shevva

‘Obviously, he is the quintessential climate scientist of our day’ – Sorry but that has to be Al Gore or so he thinks.
And although it’s 4 years old now try :-http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/06/the_cult_of_wikipedia/
for an idea of the brain trust that is Wiki, now imagine it’s not one member of a cult but a world wide cult of ecofreaks bent on the destruction of the human race, except those wearing hemp underwear.

Marion

Totally agree James, I’m very careful as to what information I cite from Wikipedia particularly in relation to Climate Change.
Lawrence Solomon did an excllent article in the National Post on one such ‘gatekeeper’ – William Connolley, who was revealed in the Climategate mails to be one of the Real Climate team.
“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.”
http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/story.html?id=62e1c98e-01ed-4c55-bf3d-5078af9cb409
Connolley was later suspended from Wikipedia for his activities but it was a temporary suspension and I’m not sure how effective it was.

Bill Thomson

Should be “compliment” in second sentence.

Phil

The article in Wikipedia currently reads, ‘…partly because they found out that the four reviewers of the paper had recommended rejecting it,[29] although this view is disputed by an editor of the journal who states that the paper had “apparently gone to four reviewers none of whom had recommended rejection” [22]’