Attention American conservatives: Wikipedias are grouped by language, not by nation

Another day, another conservative commentator ‘discovering’ that Wikipedia is a bastion of left-wing liberal thinking. In this case, Lawrence Solomon, a climate change denier with a tenuous grasp on reality, is getting all bent out of shape that his attempts to insert oil company propaganda into Wikipedia are being reverted. He reaches the very tired and predictable conclusion that Wikipedia is left-leaning and biased against conservatives.

In actuality, Solomon just isn’t using the right frame of reference. He’s making the rookie mistake of assuming that the English Wikipedia is the American Wikipedia. It’s not. The Wikipedias are grouped by language, not by nation. This is a huge distinction: for instance, the Portugese Wikipedia has more readers and editors in Brazil than in Portugal. The English Wikipedia thus primarily serves not only the residents of the United States, but also the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, etc., and is also widely read and edited by hundreds of millions of people in other nations where English is used and taught as a second language.

That’s right, the English Wikipedia is even heavily read and edited in countries where English is not the first language of the vast majority of the inhabitants. The reason? Simply put, the English Wikipedia is the best one. It has the most articles, the most editors, the most comprehensive coverage, by far the most readership, etc. The German Wikipedia ranks a distant second. So even if English is not your first language, so long as you have a decent level of literacy in English (which many people do), the English Wikipedia is more useful to you than the one in your native language.

The English Wikipedia thus reflects a global perspective rather than a purely American perspective. This is where all of the complaints of the American-centric conservatives who claim that the English Wikipedia is biased fall flat on their face. The United States is a very conservative nation relative to most other nations. What we consider liberal is considered moderate or even right-wing in other nations. What we consider conservative is considered unthinkable in many nations. For instance, just try to find another developed nation that lets thousands of its citizens die each year of treatable diseases because they treat health care as a privilege for the rich who can afford it rather than as a basic human right. The United States pretty much stands alone in that barbarism.

A lot of really stupid things that we have manufactured controversies over here in the United States, like climate change and evolution, aren’t controversial at all from a global perspective. The English Wikipedia simply reflects that. It’s not a case of censorship of conservative opinions, but a conscious rejection of extreme viewpoints that very few people on a global scale hold. If you can’t handle that, go back to your Fox News, where you’ll never hear anything you disagree with. Meanwhile, Wikipedia is going to be doing what it’s always done, offering up a neutral point of view, which emphatically does not mean an American point of view.

9 Responses to “Attention American conservatives: Wikipedias are grouped by language, not by nation”

  1. T2A` Says:

    Well, duh. The world doesn’t exist outside of American for most Americans. What did you expect? D:

  2. Mac Davis Says:

    I think you have been eager to attack his words, and not his idea. Political left and political right exists in the rest of the world. He’s just used to calling them liberals and conservatives. I’ve been an editor on Wikipedia for years now, as you, and have been happy with the upholding of WP:NPOV. Although I may have disagreed with the way things might be written or handled, I think we do a pretty good job all in all.

  3. jeem Says:

    All in all, American conservatism strikes me as a very self-centered political philosophy, and this latest bit of whining just reinforces that conclusion. Solomon must have assumed that his own POV was inherently neutral – a rookie mistake – and because his bits got reverted it must be because there’s a sinister liberal conspiracy at work. I don’t think he’s even considered that maybe edit warring is a bad approach, that the consensus of editors is against him, or that he could be something other than the final arbiter of neutrality.

    It’s worth noting, though, that a similar situation played out on intelligent design-related articles. As a result, we have Conservapedia, the encyclopedia that thinks that UK spellings are anti-American. (cf. BBC interview March 2007)

    [Also: title should be “Attention”, not “Attenion”. Wish I had an edit button for that.]

  4. Cyde Weys Says:

    jeem: Thanks for pointing out the spelling error in the title. I’ve corrected it. I don’t know how I missed it.

    Your points on American conservatism are pretty much bang-on. We even have the Fox News Network which exists solely to make up its own reality so that conservatives can call themselves “fair and balanced”. It’s entirely possible to live in a bubble — watching Fox News, listening to Rush Limbaugh, reading Red State and Little Green Footballs — and get fed so much crap you don’t even know what the full range of opinion on anything even is. That’s the background these people who claim that Wikipedia are biased are coming from. No wonder they run off to create their own little biased encyclopedia, which is often hilariously biased.

  5. Sage (User:Ragesoss) Says:

    Fortunately, even among American conservatives (including the fundamentalist Christian variety), such a jaundiced view of Wikipedia isn’t too common (yet?). Here’s an article in Human Events, by a student at Bob Jones University no less, with a downright reasable take on Wikipedia:

    The tone is a little negative, but at least this writer seems to have a basic grasp of how Wikipedia works.

    (Solomon, by the way, is Canadian, but he still fits the reality-denying mold of right-wing America.)

  6. Cyde Weys Says:

    Solomon is Canadian? Well, crap. Consider most of my post directed at American conservatives who are saying the exact same things, then.

    It makes sense though — Canada is one of the few countries likely to benefit from global warming.

  7. hgej Says:

    It could however be argued that levels of coverage in wikipedia are highly dependant on how much interaction you have had with england. Levels of coverage of say the old french empire are fairly limited.

  8. Ed Says:

    Cyde Weys, you’re spot on on your comments about wikipedia.
    You’re not only right about the american conservative issues, you’re correct about all the rest.
    Being a Portuguese myself living in England I can confirm that.

  9. Cyde Weys Says:

    hgej: Yes, you are correct. For certain specific/esoteric areas of coverage, other languages will have more information than the English Wikipedia. On the balance of all topics, though, the English Wikipedia is superior.

    Ed: Why thank you! I’ve been doing this Wikipedia thing for awhile, so I’ve had the opportunity of making lots of observations of it.