The Loom

Sources, sources

Behold conservapedia, which calls itself “an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America”–and where we don’t like Wikipedia at all. My fellow Sciencebloggers have been finding all sorts of factual troubles with the site over the past few days. I didn’t think I had all that much to add, until I started entering a few basic science terms in the search engine and detected a certain pattern…


The study of the earth’s history as revealed in the rocks that make up the earth.[1]

1. Wile, Dr. Jay L. Exploring Creation With General Science. Anderson: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 2000


A weakened or inactive version of a pathogen that stimulates the body’s production of antibodies which can destroy the pathogen.[1]


1. Wile, Dr. Jay L. Exploring Creation With General Science. Anderson: Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 2000


Two or more atoms that have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons.

1. Wile, Dr. Jay L. Exploring Creation With Physical Science. Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 1999, 2000


A non-cellular infectious agent that has two characteristics: It has genetic material inside a protective protein coat, and it cannot reproduce itself.[1]


1. Wile, Dr. Jay L. Exploring Creation With Biology. Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 1998

What is Apologia Educational Ministries you ask, the ultimate source of scientific information for conservapedia? Their web site sells lots of books for homeschooling, and also includes hand outs that declare,

The Bible Indicates That Humans and Dinosaurs Lived Together. Is there any evidence for this? YES!

Is this what conservatives consider sound science? Is this…wait…what’s this?


Parasitism is a form of symbiosis where the parasite benefits and the host is harmed. While it used to be thought that parasites were very simple creatures generally with little impact on their ecosystems, biologists now understand that parasites can be very sophisticated, precisely evolved to take advantage of their hosts and that parasites can have significant effects on their environment and on their host’s evolution. A common parasite in humans is Toxoplasmosis. [1].


1. Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex

I guess there’s always hope…

[Amazon link shamelessly mine]

Update, Thursday 2/22 10 am: Below the fold, I trace the struggle for Conservapedia’s soul!

Here’s why I love our open source age. We can watch a struggle for Conservapedia’s soul take place. In the comments, Dave Carlson drew attention to a striking change in the entry for parasites. Like Wikipedia, Conservapedia lets the world peer into the discussion behind the changes. Let’s take a look:

On January 3, “DeborahB” wrote the first parasite entry.

An organism that feeds on a living host.[1]


1. Wile, Dr. Jay L. Exploring Creation With Biology. Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 1998

Then last week on February 15 “JoshuaZ” broke out of the “exploring creation” mold and changed the entry to the one I quoted above, “expanding, replacing inaccurate definition with accurate one.” For a reference, he included Parasite rex.

That’s the definition I saw yesterday when I blogged on it. Then, hours later, “LOrDsSeRvAnt” changed it to the following:

A parasite is an organism that has become dependent on other life forms as a result of the fall. There were no such thing as parasites before the fall, it was only afterwards that they became numerous and now almost every non-parasitic animal on earth has parasites unique to them.

In the history discussion, LOrDsSeRvAnt wrote:

Zimmer is an evolutionist! you can’t trust that guy.

Half an hour later, JoshuaZ stepped in and changed it back to the previous version, with the note,

revert. claim about “fall” was unsourced, nowhere in conservapedia guidelines does it say one can’t use an “evolutionist” as a source or that they can’t be trusted

For the moment, JoshuaZ is prevailing.

The important issue here is not me (although I don’t mind someone spreading the word on my book) but rather how we judge scientific information. LOrDsSeRvAnt is making a mistake that’s all too common these days. He or she seems to think that all you need to do is put a mark on someone–“evolutionist” in this case–and then everything he or she says must be wrong because he or she says it. And anything that is opposite to the marked person’s claims must be right.

In fact, what LOrDsSeRvAnt really ought to do is test my claims by looking at the scientific literature that I cite, or leading college-level textbook such as Foundations of Parasitology. Of course, LOrDsSeRvAnt may not be very happy to discover no mention of “the fall” there, and lots of information on the evolution of parasites. But I can’t help that.


  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    February 21, 2007

    Nicely done. I was all ready for the thundering denunciation.

    I guess Those Folks just don’t write about parasites. I also suspect they haven’t read “Evolution” or “At the Water’s Edge” in order to figure out what a godless evilutionist you really are deep down …

  2. #2 J-Dog
    February 21, 2007

    You are probably the ONLY real science source they use! I say you got TOTAL bragging rights here at SciBlogs!

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    February 21, 2007

    Oh, I don’t know…do you really want to be lumped in with the other sources they use?

  4. #4 Dave Carlson
    February 22, 2007

    Hmmm. . .when I click the link what I get is, “A parasite is an organism that has become dependent on other life forms as a result of the fall. There were no such thing as parasites before the fall, it was only afterwards that they became numerous and now almost every non-parasitic animal on earth has parasites unique to them.”

    The edit history reveals that somebody named LOrDsSeRvAnT (oh my!) changed the parasite page because “Zimmer is an evolutionist! you can’t trust that guy.”
    How. . .unsurprising.

  5. #5 Dave Carlson
    February 22, 2007

    Looks like it’s been changed back. I wonder how long that’ll last.

  6. #6 Marlene S. J.
    February 22, 2007

    “The Bible Indicates That Humans and Dinosaurs Lived Together. Is there any evidence for this? YES!”

    Reminds me of a video on Youtube I saw, with Dr. Kent Hovind, called “Creation Science Evangelism – Dinosaurs and the bible:

    Whats really scary isn’t actually his lame jokes, but how people react to the stuff he’s brainwashing them with.

  7. #7 outeast
    February 22, 2007

    Hmm. In the shop where I bought PRex it was shelved sandwiched between Deepak Chopra books; now it’s sharing virtual shelfspace with ECwB… I sense a pattern emerging…

  8. #8 migg
    February 22, 2007

    Scott Belyea – how can you say Those Folks don’t write about parasites? Check the full history of the entry. First version was: “An organism that feeds on a living host” and reference of course Wile, Dr. Jay L. ”Exploring Creation With Biology” Apologia Educational Ministries, only somebody changed it saying that that definition was wrong 🙁

  9. #9 Henry Gee
    February 22, 2007

    Heck, I was right after all — Jesus DOES want me for a tapeworm, miserable sinner that I am.

  10. #10 apeneck
    February 23, 2007

    I count myself as more conservative than just about anybody on earth. I’m also a die-hard evilutionist, and an atheist as well. We’re not all like those clowns.

  11. #11 djlactin
    February 27, 2007

    “If there really is anything to this reincarnation thing, in my next life I want to come back as a tapeworm, because, man this is where I take it easy!” — Jack Handey

  12. #12 Jeremiadist
    February 28, 2007

    It should be clear to the attentive reader that LOrDsSeRvAnT is a troll. Poe’s Law (see's+Law )always wins.

  13. #13 RandomWitticism
    March 1, 2007

    You can’t create a user account on conservapedia! I checked the log/create account link, the help topic for creating accounts and some other stuff, only thing I could find was a small blurb saying email the eagle forum to have them create and account for you

  14. #14 Michael Hopkins
    March 5, 2007

    Many Wikipedia editors do worse than this, and they do it more maliciously.

  15. #15 Carl Zimmer
    March 6, 2007

    Michael, what do you mean by “worse,” in the context of my example? And how do they do it more maliciously? If you’re going to make accusations, you need to give examples.

  16. #16 Marlene
    March 7, 2007

    Is there anyone who can recommend a good book about the history of the “evolutionist-creationist-conflict” up until now?

  17. #17 Nathan James
    March 11, 2007

    While I was home-schooled I was forced to explore Creation with general science, a truly horrifying experience. The text is written and organized in a sloppy and unprofessional manner, the experiments were generally lame and uneducational, every few pages were punctuated with paragraph-long digressions about God’s glory — all pretty much standard fare for a creationist textbook. But Wile went seriously beyond the call of duty with a laughably ignorant “refutation” of global warming that, I believe, relied on the argument that, if one were to turn the thermostat up only a couple of degrees, one would have difficulty feeling the difference.

    Just to reiterate, Exploring Creation with General Science is supposed to be a SEVENTH GRADE textbook (according to — notice the arrogant jab at public school textbooks!) Could this mean that Conservapedia’s science pages are largely being edited by seventh graders?

  18. #18 Andrew Travis Pantazi
    March 15, 2007

    Mr. Zimmer, I respect the fact that you are willing to research both sides of the story by looking at conservapedia and I generally have a respect for people who take a career in science. However, I am a Christian, conservative, home-schooled student who studies Wile’s books and I don’t think that it is right for you to insult someone just because you disagree with him on his beliefs. Macroevolution is classified as an unconfirmed hypothesis, Dr. Wile feels that more evidence leads him to believe that scientifically the idea of an intelligent design is more secure. I also remind you that Dr. Wile received an ovation stating he was an outstanding teacher at the University of Chicago. Other positive accomplishments include:
    Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry from the University of Rochester in New York
    B.S. in chemistry from the University of Rochester in New York
    He is a former assistant professor of chemistry at Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana (1992-95)
    He is a former instructor of science at Indiana Academy of Science, Muncie, Indiana (1990-92)
    He is a member of the American Chemical Society
    He is a member of the American Physical Society
    He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
    I am not trying to convince you to agree with his beliefs but to at least respect that he is a prestigious and accomplished scientist, not just a radical conservative who tried to put text books together without any knowledge.

    Thank you for your time,
    Andrew Travis Pantazi

  19. #19 Meade
    March 16, 2007

    I agree with Mr. Pantazi that everyone is entitled to his opinion/beliefs, just not his own facts. In reviewing Dr. Wile’s credentials, as presented by Mr. Pantazi, I note that he is not a biologist, and so have no basis for believing that his insights into one of the central tenets of biology are more valid than those of a lawyer, say. Outside of one’s areas of expertise, everyone is a layman. For example, I have a Ph.D. in microbiology, but don’t feel I have the expertise to address the technical merits of string theory. If authoritative pronouncements from people without relevant credentials count, I guess every barber and taxi driver with an opinion to share sould be considered and expert in economics, or foreign policy, or…..

  20. #20 djlactin
    March 18, 2007

    Mr Pantazi:

    You are falling for a ruse that has been drilled into your brain since you were too young to question it: ” the argument from authority.” you have been conditioned since childhodd to accept the pronouncements of people who are bigger than you. So without questioning, you argue: “Wile is educated; therefore he is correct.”
    Confused? Well. I’m a trained evolutionary biologist. I say that Wile is wrong. What do you reply?

  21. #21 David
    March 23, 2007

    Check out my entry on Nylon-eating bacteria:

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