News & Politics

Censor of the Year: Wikipedia

Internet screenshot, Wikipedia home page

Each February 12, the scientific community celebrates the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday as both Darwin Day and Academic Freedom Day. The Discovery Institute also celebrates by naming a “Censor of the Year,” and on Monday they announced that “award” goes to none other than “the free encyclopedia,” Wikipedia.

The site’s editors have engaged in a shameless campaign against the scientific theory of Intelligent Design (ID) and its proponents, drawing censure even from Darwinists and one of the sites’ co-founders.

“Everyone seeks their information online and everyone assumes, ‘Wikipedia, they’re objective!’ and it’s not objective at all,” David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and editor of Evolution News and Views, told PJ Media. He noted that the very first entry in a Google search for “Intelligent Design” is the Wikipedia page, which has no fewer than three lies about ID in its very first sentence.

“Intelligent design (ID) is a religious argument for the existence of God, presented by its proponents as ‘an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins’, though it has been discredited as pseudoscience,” the Wikipedia entry states.

First, ID is not a religious argument, but a scientific one. As Stephen C. Meyer pointed out in the new book Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, “the theory of intelligent design, unlike creationism, is not based upon the Bible.” Rather, it “is based on recent scientific discoveries and what we know about the cause-and-effect structure of the world — specifically, what we know about patterns of evidence that indicate intelligent causes.”

Secondly, ID does not try to prove “the existence of God.” Rather, Klinghoffer explained that it attempts to prove “design in cosmology and biology.” The theory does not identify the designer, but only posits that design, rather than random chance, better explains the order behind life and the cosmos.

Finally, Klinghoffer insisted that ID has not been disproven, and especially not “discredited as pseudoscience.” Is it pseudoscientific to point out that genetic code is remarkably complex, similar to computer code? The biologist Douglas Axe performed experiments revealing that the DNA for even one of the more basic functional proteins is extremely unlikely — only one sequence in 1077 would code for a functional protein.

If ID were “discredited as pseudoscience,” why would atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel recommend Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Design for 2009’s book of the year? Nagel wrote, “Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.”

Even so, Wikipedia flatly dismisses ID, and Amazon’s Alexa quotes this false definition verbatim.

Meeting Alexa at the Discovery Institute offices

Posted by Center for Science & Culture on Thursday, November 30, 2017

The problem goes far beyond the entry for “Intelligent Design,” however. On every entry for an intelligent design proponent, the site does not fail to describe the theory as “pseudoscientific.” Last year, Wikipedia removed the page for notable insect paleontologist Günter Bechly, seemingly for his position on ID. Walter Bradley, a Baylor University professor and ID scholar, saw his entry whittled down, with many accomplishments erased.

Bechly’s removal sparked an outrage even among ID critics. Matt Young, at the Darwinist blog Panda’s Thumb, conceded that if Bechly had kept his ID support “under the radar” his Wikipedia entry would likely have been “safe.” Omer Benjakob, in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, quipped that “if Blechly’s article was originally introduced due to his scientific work, it was deleted due to his having become a poster child for the creationist movement.”

Alex Berezow, a founding editor at RealClearPolitics, proved the most scathing. After noting that Bechly’s “biography on Wikipedia has been deleted. Poof. Gone. It’s like he never existed,” Berezow explained why. The German paleontologist “is guilty of committing a thought-crime, and his sentence is to be purged from the Internet. This is deeply troubling, and any true free speech and free thought advocates should be alarmed.”

Even Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia who personally rejects intelligent design, condemned the Wikipedia entry on ID.

“As the originator of and the first person to elaborate Wikipedia’s neutrality policy, and as an agnostic who believes intelligent design to be completely wrong, I just have to say that this article is appallingly biased,” Sanger wrote. “It simply cannot be defended as neutral.”

“I completely despair of persuading Wikipedians of the error of their ways. I’m just officially registering my protest,” the co-founder declared.

So who is behind the Wikipedia bias against ID? The revision history for the entry proved quite revealing.

PaleoNeonate, a self-described “agnostic with naturalist pantheistic tendencies, who has long ceased to believe in the supernatural,” proved quite vigilant in preventing any change to the ID page. On October 27 at 6:41 p.m., a user removed the word “religious” from the entry calling ID a “religious argument.” At 6:43 p.m., PaleoNeonate put “religious” right back in.

In the debate over whether or not Bechly’s page should be removed, editor “Jo-Jo Eumerus” made the final decision to remove the notable paleontologist. This editor described himself as “a currently 23-year old male from Switzerland,” and included a graphic of himself as a wizard “from a time 500 years ago.” He admitted having been “diagnosed with Asperger syndrome” and “sometimes [has] problems with society due to this.”

“It’s crazy that this is the authoritative source of information for everyone who uses the Internet,” David Klinghoffer told PJ Media.

Wikipedia markets itself as a people’s encyclopedia. “Anybody can edit — that’s true for about two minutes,” Klinghoffer said. “The pseudonymous editors of Wikipedia are on hair-trigger alert for any pages that they care about. They’re there within two minutes or less and they revert your change. You can’t beat them.”

Klinghoffer suggested that this turnaround time is “sociologically interesting,” as it suggests that Wikipedia editors “must not have other occupations.” He frankly admitted, “I don’t have time to battle these people, so they automatically win.” Therefore, “there’s no accountability,” unlike for an old-fashioned encyclopedia.

The message came across loud and clear: the online encyclopedia is dead set on quashing any criticism of Darwinian evolution.

While Wikipedia may be uniquely deserving of the “Censor of the Year” award, the Discovery Institute has awarded four others.

In 2014, University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne won the censor award for encouraging Ball State University in Indiana to formally ban ID teaching. Coyne and the Freedom From Religion Foundation targeted Ball State physicist Eric Hedin, who had taught a course that included a bibliography with books supporting and opposing ID. “Scientists know that speaking openly about weaknesses in Darwinian theory or intelligent design as an alternative can mean the end of a vulnerable scholar’s career,” Stephen Meyer said at the time.

Neil deGrasse Tyson took the censor award in 2015, for his miniseries “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” which President Obama went out of his way to endorse. Tyson’s series rewrote the history of science, presenting faith as an obstacle to discovery. The show promoted panspermia and even compared climate change skeptics to Nazis or Holocaust deniers.

The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) Commission on the General Conference took the censor crown in 2016, after it rejected the Discovery Institute’s application to participate in the General Conference. The UMC’s social principle on science and technology declares that “science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.”

The real outrage came when Heather Hahn, of UMC’s news service, explained the reasoning behind the rejection. “Because intelligent design starts with a belief in a designer, who as Jesus said should not be put to the test, it doesn’t offer testable hypotheses the way evolutionary biology does,” Hahn wrote. Not only was this statement hilariously false, but Hahn included a link to Luke 4, where the devil tempts Jesus. Was she suggesting the Discovery Institute is the devil?

Last year, the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart, Germany — which slowly forced Günter Bechly out, following his public embrace of intelligent design — won the censor award.

Klinghoffer admitted that each of these previous winners would not identify themselves as a censor, but the Wikipedia editors might. “In those cases you don’t have quite the smoking gun, but here you have confirmation,” he said, citing the outrage of ID opponents at the deletion of Bechly’s Wikipedia page.

This outrage needs to be remembered, and the Discovery Institute’s censorship award should serve as an important reprimand to the Internet encyclopedia.

All the same, Klinghoffer did not say Wikipedia was worthless. “You can rely on Wikipedia for things that nobody cares about. If you want to know the population of Peoria, you can absolutely trust Wikipedia, but for anything that people are invested in and care about, you can’t trust it,” he said.

Whenever you look up a controversial issue on Wikipedia, take the results with a grain of salt.