Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Internet Wingnut Is Something to Be

Scientist-emeritus Jennifer Marohasy and fearless, independent journalist Andy Bolt (who, unlike those poor sods at The Age, doesn't have to toe an editorial line on global warming and is at little risk of finding his opinions on other issues in conflict with those of his proprietor) are singing the praises of Lawrence Solomon, whom you've only just heard of. Solomon is a journalist at Canada's National Post and he's won acclaim for reporting, last Saturday, on how his attempts to correct an "inaccurate" Wikipedia page were thwarted by a "global-warming zealot".

As I'm writing this column for the Financial Post, I am simultaneously editing a page on Wikipedia. I am confident that just about everything I write for my column will be available for you to read. I am equally confident that you will be able to read just about nothing that I write for the page on Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia page is entitled Naomi Oreskes, after a professor of history and science studies at the University of California San Diego, but the page offers only sketchy details about Oreskes. The page is mostly devoted to a notorious 2004 paper that she wrote, and that Science journal published, called "Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change." This paper analyzed articles in peer-reviewed journals to see if any disagreed with the alarming positions on global warming taken by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position," Oreskes concluded...

...When Oreskes's paper came out, it was immediately challenged by science writers and scientists alike, one of them being Benny Peiser, a prominent U.K. scientist and publisher of CCNet, an electronic newsletter to which I and thousands of others subscribe. CCNet daily circulates articles disputing the conventional wisdom on climate change. No publication better informs readers about climate-change controversies, and no person is better placed to judge informed dissent on climate change than Benny Peiser.

If you're like me, you've never heard of Benny Peiser either - turns out he's a social anthropologist "with particular research interest in human and cultural evolution [whose] research focuses on the effects of environmental change and catastrophic events on contemporary thought and societal evolution." With those qualifications and research interests, it's no wonder he's so well placed to judge informed dissent on the subject of climate change.

Solomon contacted Peiser, was told that the Wikipedia page had got its facts wrong - particularly on Peiser - and decided to set the record straight:

For this reason, when visiting Oreskes's page on Wikipedia several weeks ago, I was surprised to read not only that Oreskes had been vindicated but that Peiser had been discredited. More than that, the page portrayed Peiser himself as having grudgingly conceded Oreskes's correctness.

Upon checking with Peiser, I found he had done no such thing. The Wikipedia page had misunderstood or distorted his comments. I then exercised the right to edit Wikipedia that we all have, corrected the Wikipedia entry, and advised Peiser that I had done so.

Peiser wrote back saying he couldn't see my corrections on the Wikipedia page. Had I neglected to save them after editing them, I wondered. I made the changes again, and this time confirmed that the changes had been saved. But then, in a twinkle, they were gone again! I made other changes. And others. They all disappeared shortly after they were made.

That's right, Solomon started a Wikipedia edit war. On one side, Lawrence Solomon, determined defender of truth on the other:

...Someone called Tabletop was undoing my edits, and, following what I suppose is Wikietiquette, also explained why. "Note that Peiser has retracted this critique and admits that he was wrong!" Tabletop said.

I undid Tabletop's undoing of my edits, thinking I had an unassailable response: "Tabletop's changes claim to represent Peiser's views. I have checked with Peiser and he disputes Tabletop's version."

Tabletop undid my undid, claiming I could not speak for Peiser.

Why can Tabletop speak for Peiser but not I, who have his permission?, I thought. I redid Tabletop's undid and protested: "Tabletop is distorting Peiser. She does not speak for him. Peiser has approved my description of events concerning him."

Tabletop parried: "We have a reliable source to this. What Peiser has said to *you* is irrelevant."

Tabletop, it turns out, has another name: Kim Dabelstein Petersen. She (or he?) is an editor at Wikipedia...
Thanks to Solomon's article in the National Post, the (Solomon instigated) edit war came to the attention of higher authorities at Wikipedia:

I should NOT be reading about content disputes on Wikipedia in my Saturday National Post!

  • There is a existing process for resolving content. See Wikipedia:Dispute resolution for full details.
  • I've already seen and dealt with a case regarding content disputes that have made it to national media (see the Pat Binns dispute). Enough is enough especially when the edit war over this page gets on my daily newspaper! If I continue to see a edit war, I will recommend this page be protected, until we sort out what's going on. I've already contacted an admin, and I suggest the two of you cool it off.

ThePointblank (talk) 10:38, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

The editor in question doesn't seem to want to discuss his edits. But keeps putting in information that is prohibited by amongst others WP:BLP, WP:NPOVWP:SPS. The onus of convincing others that their contributions uphold these guidelines lies on the contributer. If you have anything specific that you find questionable about the reverts - then i suggest that you comment on the specifics. And please don't tag the regulars. --Kim D. Petersen (talk) 10:55, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

Solomon didn't win himself any credibility with the Wikipedia contributors by continually referring to Kim D. Petersen as "she" after naming "her" in his article when a check of Kim D. Petersen's profile would have shown that the proper pronouns to use were "he" and "his".

Solomon finishes his live blogging of the edit war with this warning:

While I've been writing this column, the Naomi Oreskes page has changed 10 times. Since I first tried to correct the distortions on the page, it has changed 28 times. If you have read a climate change article on Wikipedia -- or on any controversial subject that may have its own Kim Dabelstein Petersen -- beware. Wikipedia is in the hands of the zealots.

Judging from Solomon's own conduct, that warning should equally be applied to climate change articles in the Canada National Post, and articles on any controversial subject that might have its own Lawrence Sullivan. The same cautious approach is warranted when reading the posts of bloggers who publish links from readers' tip offs without doing a little background checking.

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