The rise in popularity of the online, collaborative reference Wikipedia has posed a challenge to librarians and teachers who are trying to teach rigorous research methods to high school students. But while these educators have directed their students to use more traditional sources or, at least, to read Wikipedia with skepticism, one teacher decided the solution was to let his students write their own encyclopedia.
That teacher was Andy Schlafly—son of the famous culture warrior Phyllis Schlafly—the class was a group of home-school students, and the result, Conservapedia, immediately become the Internet equivalent of a laughingstock. The problem according to Schlafly was not Wikipedia’s fundamental unreliability—by design, there is no authoritative editing and factual inaccuracies may creep in despite a vigilant volunteer base—but its supposed bias against America and Christianity. Thus, Conservapedia’s obsession with right-wing politics, evolution, and homosexuality.
In spite of the ridicule, Schlafly and his young followers soldiered on, and they are still at it today. Eagle Forum just released a video promoting Conservapedia as an affirming alternative to the Wikipedia world:
STUDENT: They have an article about evolution, and when conservative or Christian editors tried to add information to that about the other side of the argument and the argument for creationism or Intelligent Design, it was censored or taken out of there.
SCHLAFLY: On Conservapedia, you’re going to get the other side of that. You’re going to get evidence against evolution. Same thing for homosexuality. We bring in all the health harm that’s caused by homosexuality, all the biblical quotes against it—you get that on Conservapedia. You’re not going to get that sort of fair treatment on the Wikipedia entries.
“I don’t have to live with what’s printed in the newspaper. I don’t have to take what’s written in Wikipedia,” said Schlafly. “We’ve got our own way to express knowledge.” Whether it’s the use of “A.D.” instead of “A.C.E.” to mark dates, or anti-gay propaganda instead of science, Schlafly’s “way of knowing” offers the Religious Right familiarity, and a respite from the oppressive world of newspapers and reference works. Or, as Stephen Colbert termed it, their own Wikiality.