The Loom

Never Mind Those Kangaroo Fossils

Perhaps the notion of conservatives building an alternative to Wikipedia that includes many “scientific” entries based on creationist books aimed at seventh graders sounds like some bizarre hoax. For those who doubt, there’s now audio evidence.

National Public Radio ran a segment yesterday in which they interviewed the founder of Conservapedia, Andrew Schlalfly. The interviewer, Robert Siegel, got right to the point. He described Wikipedia’s entry on kangaroos, which includes details about extinct species of kangaroos known from fossils. [Update: Maybe he was looking at the Macropod entry.] Then he read from the Conservapedia entry, which contains nary a mention of fossils:

According to the origins theory model used by creation scientists, modern kangaroos, like all modern animals, originated in the Middle East and are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah’s Ark prior to the Great Flood.

“A typical difference between Conservapedia and Wikipedia?” Siegel asked.

Schlafly replied: “…it reflects Conservapedia’s willingness to present topics and treatments of subject that is embraced by many conservatives and many members of the American public.” (transcription mine)

You can hear for yourself here.

(Incidentally, Conservapedia shows no signs of withering away. It gets more visitors than Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly’s sites, and claims to 3.3 million visitors.)

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    March 14, 2007

    The dangers of in-breeding exemplified – and I mean that on so many levels. This should lend an even greater aura of stupidity to those Home-Schooled Creationist “Science” projects.

  2. #2 Richard Carter, FCD
    March 14, 2007

    You have to wonder how many of their 3.3 million visitors have just popped by to have a laugh.

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    March 14, 2007

    I consider it highly likely that hundreds of thousands of those visits were PZ Myers’s fault.

  4. #4 DragonScholar
    March 14, 2007

    Not a single mention of evolution, but several religious theories. It’s literally an encyclopedia that’s not encyclopedic.

    Blake, Conservapedia is getting mentioned all over the net in science and progressive arenas. It also got several entries at Fundies Say the Darndest Things. So it may well be that a lot of the hits are rubbernecking and mockery.

  5. #5 migg
    March 14, 2007

    If I remember correctly, they were very proud when their traffic went up for the first time and even commented on the front page (I think they got more hits in one day than in their previous history) . It was the next day after their site showed up on science blogs.

  6. #6 Scott Belyea
    March 14, 2007

    I’ve got to stop going there for a bit of amusement during boring conference calls. I’m just fluffing up their stats.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey
    March 14, 2007

    DragonScholar:

    No dispute about the rubbernecking and mockery part. I would like to see Conservapaedia’s server logs and find out where their hits are coming from, but I don’t think those will be so readily available. IIRC, Schlafly said in an interview that tens of thousands arrived via Ed Brayton’s blog, but given the raw readership numbers involved, I’d say PZ Myers is a likelier culprit.

    I watched the Conservapaedia thing unfold from behind my laptop screen, and unless I’m very much mistaken, a commenter at Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars heard about it over a chat session and passed the word along to Brayton, who then wrote a mocking post about it. The message spread to several other ScienceBlogs, eventually including Pharyngula, and at about the same time showed up at Shakespeare’s Sister. Pud the Spud at Shakespeare’s Sister (22 February) heard from The Vanity Press (same day) who heard from the Canadian Cynic (earlier on the 22nd) who got it from PZ (21 February). Jon Swift, who cross-posted to Shakespeare’s Sister on the 22nd, linked to posts at Pharyngula; The Questionable Authority; Afarensis; Dispatches from the Culture Wars’ Deltoid; Respectful Insolence; Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge; The Loom; and Good Math, Bad Math.

    I suspect that a great many people became aware thanks to PZ (on the science side) and Swift (for political junkies). Considering who wrote first, I’d say it’s justifiable to claim that ScienceBlogs made Conservapaedia.

    (And yes, I’m trying to start a spelling meme here. Help me out, won’t you?)

  8. #8 steve_h
    March 14, 2007

    Just look at special pages > popular pages.

    “Kangaroo” is in sixth place. Most of the top entries are obviously those that people think may be good for a laugh or have been identified as such on other web sites.
    eg 26. “Pacific Northwest Arboreal Octopus” (removed some time ago)

  9. #9 Kristine
    March 14, 2007

    Just a side note – isn’t Andrew Schlalfly the poor latch-key kid abandoned by his ultraconservative mother, who went to law school and then traveled the country to preach that all women should just stay home and be mothers? ;-)

  10. #10 Jody
    March 14, 2007

    Kristine, yes. He’s also the gay son, which I just find endlessly amusing.

  11. #11 Brent Michael Krupp
    March 14, 2007

    It is important to note that these people aren’t conservatives, they’re morons. Creationist doesn’t equal conservative and it makes my mildly conservative self sick to even see the word applied to these fools. They may be conservative in other respects but throwing out all of modern science isn’t conservative by any stretch.

  12. #12 MelM
    March 14, 2007

    The story also appeared on the Richard Dawkins blog. I checked it out then and found this enlightening material in the World History Lecture One article:

    When did mankind first begin? There is no reliable evidence of man existing before 3500 B.C.

    We can also extrapolate backwards from modern populations to estimate that only about 300 million people existed in the world at the time of Christ, and extrapolating backwards further yields only one family in the year 3300 B.C.

    History books speculate at length about “prehistory”, which predates writing. But there is no reliable evidence to support this speculation, and not worth spending time on. There is no reason to think that man existed for thousands of years without ever expressing himself in written form.

    So where did civilization begin? In a region known as Mesopotamia, which is Greek for “land between the rivers.”

    Genesis 2:8-17 (NAS) describes the beginning in Mesopotamia as follows: “The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed…Using the ages mentioned in the Bible and counting backwards, biblical scholars have dated this as about 6000 years ago, or about 4000 B.C.

  13. #13 Duncan Buell
    March 14, 2007

    What I heard from Schlafly yesterday on NPR is what I heard from Ronald Reagan (in so many words), from ex-Senator Santorum, and from many other ultraconservatives. Namely, that what matters is what people believe, not what happens (inconveniently?) to be the facts. And unfortunately, Lincoln was not entirely correct: *believing* that a tail is a leg is sufficient if you’re the one who gets to write the science textbooks.

  14. #14 Gerry L
    March 14, 2007

    That “World History Lecture One” (above)is almost precious — or it would be if it were a joke.

    It reminded me of Richard Lederer’s “World History According to Students” (http://www.innocentenglish.com/history-mistakes.html) compiled from mistakes found in student papers. (My favorite line is “Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100-foot clipper.”)

    Maybe they call themselves “conservatives” because they believe they can conserve brain cells by not using them.

  15. #15 Jud
    March 14, 2007

    Jody said: “He’s [Andrew Schlafly] also the gay son, which I just find endlessly amusing.”

    No, Jody, that would be incorrect. I went to law school with Phyllis Schlafly’s gay son, who is not Andrew. He was a perfectly pleasant fellow personally, though I find what I’ve read of his politics (quite similar to his brother Andrew’s) odious. Whatever his politics, he deserves far better than to serve as an endless source of amusement for someone simply because his personal sexual orientation runs counter to his family’s (including his own) political philosophy.

  16. #16 Fred from Pescadero
    March 15, 2007

    Is that two kangaroos (as in Genesis 6:19) or fourteen kangaroos (as in Genesis 7:2)? Are kangaroos “clean”?
    :-)

  17. #17 Matt
    March 15, 2007

    They’ve also had a fair amount of traffic from this article which got linked on Fark last week.

    Their traffic is high because of the train wreck factor, I think.

  18. #18 BC
    March 15, 2007

    Regarding the Conservapedia hits: It sounds like people took notice and started ridiculing Conservapedia around Feb 21. I looked up the alexa information on the site. What I found was virtually no hits before Feb 20, followed by a huge spike in traffic peaking around March 1st, and declining with a few smaller peaks since then. Based on that, I’d say most of his traffic is from people going to see the train-wreak. The traffic of the last 3 weeks accounts for the vast majority of the website’s traffic – so much so that you can barely even tell that the website had any traffic before Feb 19.
    http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?q=Conservapedia.com&url=Conservapedia.com

  19. #19 BC
    March 15, 2007

    The other interesting thing is that religious conservatives always like to claim that they are pro-science (they just want “all sides” to get a “fair hearing”). Well, let this be exhibit A in knocking down that little myth.

    The question is – which has worse information: wikiality.com or Conservapedia?

  20. #20 Sarda Sahney
    March 15, 2007

    The Conservapedia doesn’t sound far off of the Uncyclopedia. This is their hilarious entry on Richard Dawkins: http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins

  21. #21 Masklinn
    March 15, 2007

    Sarda, I think that ED (Encyclopedia Dramatica) is much much closer to Conservapedia than UC. In fact, some Conservapedia articles look pretty much as if they’d been copy/pasted from ED.

    Examples:
    Richard Dawkins: http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/index.php/Richard_Dawkins
    Evolution (brilliant article): http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/index.php/Evolution
    And Kangaroo: http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/index.php/Australia#Kangaroo:_because_giant_rabbits_aren.27t_scary

  22. #22 truth machine
    March 15, 2007

    Conservatives will never be able to counter the claim that conservatives are generally stupid as long as Conservapedia and the Republican call-in line to C-SPAN exist.

  23. #23 truth machine
    March 15, 2007

    Whatever his politics, he deserves far better than to serve as an endless source of amusement for someone simply because his personal sexual orientation runs counter to his family’s (including his own) political philosophy.

    No, the odious hatred and hypocrisy of him and his family deserve much worse than amusement.

  24. #24 truth machine
    March 15, 2007

    They may be conservative in other respects but throwing out all of modern science isn’t conservative by any stretch.

    It’s no stretch at all, because there’s no coherent set of principles associated with the term “conservative”.

  25. #25 George Cauldron
    March 15, 2007

    I am distressed to see that Leviticus says nothing about whether or not eating kangaroos is kosher.

    What ‘kind’ are kangaroos? We need to know these things!

  26. #26 George Cauldron
    March 15, 2007

    They may be conservative in other respects but throwing out all of modern science isn’t conservative by any stretch.

    It is now. WHOOPS!

  27. #27 sparc
    March 15, 2007

    11.8% Conservapedia visitors are from Germany. Thus, we are second following the US. I guess this is due to the fact that Germany’s leading magazine Der Spiegel had an on-line article about it. The German version ( http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/0,1518,469404,00.html ) appeared on March 2nd, an English translation ( http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,469969,00.html ) on March 6th.
    From the article:

    The intelligence of the creators of Conservapedia, however, is at times questionable, for example if one compares the length of the entry on the Bible (about 1,300 characters) with the 47,000- character article on Dan Brown’s novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’

  28. #28 djlactin
    March 15, 2007

    … i have a horrible fantasy…
    global catastrophe…mass extinction, humans included… alien anthropologists excavate earth, manage to decode all that remains of human ‘knowledge’: conservapedia.

    ‘gaaaak!’ they exclaim! ‘no wonder!’

  29. #29 Blake Stacey
    March 15, 2007

    BC:

    Thanks for the added details, which at least agree with the “ScienceBlogs made Conservapaedia” hypothesis. I suspect the first peak is due to ScienceBlogs, the second (around 1 May) to media articles including the German Der Spiegel, and the one just after 5 May perhaps to the English Der Spiegel, among others. (Anybody who knows more than I do about investigating such things care to confirm or deny?) Interestingly, according to Google Trends, not enough people have been searching for the site name to be able to draw graphs. I suspect discovery of Conservapaedia has been rather heavily link-driven.

    Note: I wasn’t quite juvenile enough to deluge them with parodic articles, but I’m more than adequately childish to want to fill the Net with a British spelling of their site name. AE away!

  30. #30 Scott D. Coulter
    March 15, 2007

    @George Cauldron: I’m not Jewish and I don’t eat kosher, but Leviticus does, in fact, answer your question. Kangaroos chew the cud but do not have a split hoof, therefore they are not kosher.
    –sdc

  31. #31 KeithB
    March 15, 2007

    How come I can’t find any “details about extinct species of kangaroos known from fossils” on the link Carl provided?

  32. #32 Carl Zimmer
    March 15, 2007

    KeithB [30]: Good catch. I think NPR was referring to the Macropod entry. Daggers indicate extinct species.

  33. #33 KeithB
    March 15, 2007

    I am afraid to look to see what the conservapedia’s article on “MacroPod” says!
    8^)

  34. #34 Ross
    March 15, 2007

    Most of the stuff on “Richard Dawkins” on the site uncyclopedia (link a few comments above) has been copied without attribution from the book “Darwin’s Watch” by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen. Stewart and Cohen are real scientists and Pratchett writes the hugely popular Discworld books. This book sets out to educate people in science by imagining an alternative world in which Darwin went religious and the efforts of wizards to go back in time and make things happen correctly.

  35. #35 Tex
    March 15, 2007

    It is hard to know exactly which kinds of animals Noah thought were ritually clean, and whether he should, therefore, take on board one pair or seven pairs, since the knowledge of clean animals was not revealed to Moses until well after the Jews left Egypt, at least 400 years after the flood. It’s right there in Leviticus, with all of the other rules for clean living.

    Come on y’all! I know it is hard to keep up with all of this idiocy, but all you really have to do is read your Bible, preferably in the original King James version.

  36. #36 Gregor
    March 16, 2007

    Tex
    It’s easier if you realize that the “7 pairs” of clean animals is from one version of the myth written after the exile and the “2 of every animal” was from a different version from a different time.

  37. #37 John Pieret
    March 16, 2007

    Andy was once a semi-regular in the talk.origins newsgroup where he had … to say the least … interesting ideas.

  38. #38 dogu4
    March 20, 2007

    One has to wonder what an avowedly liberal *pedia would look like…I’m afraid there would be some pretty ugly stuff there too, gender equality and social engineering fiascos, cherry picking history and an abundance of fawning praise for primitive nature religions without much understanding of those realities. I have some conservative notions myself and they have nothing to do with religion, about which I know enough to know that it’s not reality-based enough for me. That said, I wish conservapedia well since the more info that amass, the better the example of stupidity from which I hope we can learn.

  39. #39 Mike
    March 24, 2007

    Inevitable and obvious, but still amusing, someone has registered “www.moronapedia.com” which immediately redirects to conservapedia.

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