Wikipedia Is Badly Biased

The Uncyclopedia logo. Maybe more appropriate for Wikipedia itself now.

Wikipedia’s “NPOV” is dead.1 The original policy long since forgotten, Wikipedia no longer has an effective neutrality policy. There is a rewritten policy, but it endorses the utterly bankrupt canard that journalists should avoid what they call “false balance.”2 The notion that we should avoid “false balance” is directly contradictory to the original neutrality policy. As a result, even as journalists turn to opinion and activism, Wikipedia now touts controversial points of view on politics, religion, and science. Here are some examples from each of these subjects, which were easy to find, no hunting around. Many, many more could be given.

Wikipedia’s favorite president?

Examples have become embarrassingly easy to find. The Barack Obama article completely fails to mention many well-known scandals: Benghazi, the IRS scandal, the AP phone records scandal, and Fast and Furious, to say nothing of Solyndra or the Hillary Clinton email server scandal—or, of course, the developing “Obamagate” story in which Obama was personally involved in surveilling Donald Trump. A fair article about a major political figure certainly must include the bad with the good. Beyond that, a neutral article must fairly represent competing views on the figure by the major parties.

In other words—and this is the point crucial to evaluating an article’s neutrality—a neutral article is written not to take sides on issues of controversy. It does not matter whether one or both sides believe their point of view is totally factual and supported with incontrovertible proof. How many times, in politics and in many walks of life, have we seen controversies in which both sides can cite apparently rigorous studies, or chapter and verse, or original source material that, they claim, show their view is absolutely certain? In such cases, a neutral resource like Wikipedia is bound by policy not to take a side. Yet it does.

Political scandals are a good example where sources are carefully lined up on both sides. There were many controversies over “scandals” plaguing Obama’s presidency. But in fact, the only scandals that I could find in Wikipedia’s Obama article were a few that the left finds at least a little scandalous, such as Snowden’s revelations about NSA activities under Obama. In short, the article is almost a total whitewash. You might find this to be objectively correct, if you are a Democrat; but you cannot claim that this is a neutral treatment, considering that the other major U.S. party would, citing other ostensibly credible sources, treat the subject very differently. On such topics, neutrality in any sense worth the name essentially requires that readers not be able to detect the editors’ political alignment.

Not Wikipedia’s favorite president

Meanwhile, as you can imagine, the idea that the Donald Trump article is neutral is a joke. Just for example, there are 5,224 none-too-flattering words in the “Presidency” section. By contrast, the following “Public Profile” (which the Obama article entirely lacks), “Investigations,” and “Impeachment” sections are unrelentingly negative, and together add up to some 4,545 words—in other words, the controversy sections are almost as long as the sections about his presidency. Common words in the article are “false” and “falsely” (46 instances): Wikipedia frequently asserts, in its own voice, that many of Trump’s statements are “false.” Well, perhaps they are. But even if they are, it is not exactly neutral for an encyclopedia article to say so, especially without attribution. You might approve of Wikipedia describing Trump’s incorrect statements as “false,” very well; but then you must admit that you no longer support a policy of neutrality on Wikipedia. More to the point, Republican, Trump-supporting views are basically not represented at all in the article on Trump.

I leave the glowing Hillary Clinton article as an exercise for the reader.

On political topics it is easiest to argue for the profound benefits—even the moral necessity—of eliminating bias in reference works. As I argue in my 2015 essay, “Why Neutrality” (updated in Essays on Free Knowledge) we naturally desire neutrality on political and many other topics because we want to be left free to make up our own minds. Reference, news, and educational resources aimed at laying out a subject in general should give us the tools we need to rationally decide what we want to think. Only those who want to force the minds of others can be opposed to neutrality.

“Prior to prohibition, cannabis was available freely in a variety of forms,” says Wikipedia, helpfully.

Wikipedia can be counted on to cover not just political figures, but political issues as well from a liberal-left point of view. No conservative would write, in an abortion article, “When properly done, abortion is one of the safest procedures in medicine,” a claim that is questionable on its face, considering what an invasive, psychologically distressing, and sometimes lengthy procedure it can be even when done according to modern medical practices. More to the point, abortion opponents consider the fetus to be a human being with rights; their view, that it is not safe for the baby, is utterly ignored. To pick another, random issue, drug legalization, dubbed drug liberalization by Wikipedia, has only a little information about any potential hazards of drug legalization policies; it mostly serves as a brief for legalization, followed by a catalog of drug policies worldwide. Or to take an up-to-the-minute issue, the LGBT adoption article includes several talking points in favor of LGBT adoption rights, but omits any arguments against. On all such issues, the point is that true neutrality, to be carefully distinguished from objectivity, requires that the article be written in a way that makes it impossible to determine the editors’ position on the important controversies the article touches on.

Gospel reliability is “uncertain,” Wikipedia says, neutrally.

What about articles on religious topics? The first article I thought to look at had some pretty egregious instances of bias: the Jesus article. It simply asserts, again in its own voice, that “the quest for the historical Jesus has yielded major uncertainty on the historical reliability of the Gospels and on how closely the Jesus portrayed in the Bible reflects the historical Jesus.” In another place, the article simply asserts, “the gospels are not independent nor consistent records of Jesus’ life.” A great many Christians would take issue with such statements, which means they are not neutral for that reason alone. In other words, the very fact that many Christians, including many deeply educated conservative seminarians, believe in the historical reliability of the Gospels, and that they are wholly consistent, means that the article is biased if it simply asserts, without attribution or qualification, that this is a matter of “major uncertainty.” Now, it would be accurate and neutral to say it is widely disputed, but being “disputed” and being “uncertain” are very different concepts. It is in fact a controversial view that the historical accuracy of the Gospels is uncertain; others disagree, holding that, upon analysis, it is not a matter of significant uncertainty. In other respects, the article can be fairly described as a “liberal” academic discussion of Jesus, focusing especially on assorted difficulties and controversies, while failing to explain traditional, orthodox, or fundamentalist views of those issues. So it might be “liberal academic,” but it ignores conservative academic and traditional views. Therefore, what it is not is neutral, not in the original sense we defined for Wikipedia.

Of course, similarly tendentious claims can be found in other articles on religious topics, as when the Christ (title) article claims,

Although the original followers of Jesus believed Jesus to be the Jewish messiah, e.g. in the Confession of Peter, Jesus was usually referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Jesus, son of Joseph”.[11] Jesus came to be called “Jesus Christ” (meaning “Jesus the Khristós”, i.e. “Jesus the Messiah” or “Jesus the Anointed”) by later Christians, who believe that his crucifixion and resurrection fulfill the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.

This article weirdly claims, or implies, a thing that no serious Biblical scholar of any sort would claim, viz., that Jesus was not given the title “Christ” by the original Apostles in the New Testament. The Wikipedia article itself later contradicts that claim, so perhaps the editors of the above paragraph simply meant the two conjoined words “Jesus Christ,” and that Jesus was rarely referred to with those two conjoined words in the New Testament. But this is false, too: the two words are found together in that form throughout the New Testament.

But the effect of the above-quoted paragraph is to cast doubt that the title “Christ” was used much at all by the original Apostles and disciples. That would be silly if so. These supposed “later Christians” who used “Christ” would have to include the Apostles Peter (Jesus’ first apostle), Paul (converted a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion), and Jude (Jesus’ brother), who were the authors of the bulk of the epistles of the New Testament. The word “Christ” can, of course, be found frequently in the epistles, including very early epistles, thought to be the first texts written about Jesus.3 Of course, those are not exactly “later Christians.” If the claim is simply that the word “Christ” does not appear at all or much in the Gospels, that is false, as a simple text search uncovers dozens of instances in all four Gospels,4 and about 550 instances in the entire New Testament. If it is used somewhat less in the Gospels, that would be a reflection of the fact that the authors of the Gospels were, argumentatively, using the Hebrew word “Messiah” to persuade Jewish readers that Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish messiah. But the word means much the same as the Greek title “Christ”: the anointed one, God’s chosen. So, in any event, the basic claim here is simply false. He is called “Jesus Christ” (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) in the very first verse of the New Testament (Matthew 1:1) and in the first verse of the gospel sometimes thought to be the first-written, Mark (1:1), as well.5

Or if the claim were that Jesus was not understood to be the Messiah or Christ in his own lifetime before being crucified, we need not quibble about that (though it is easy enough to cite the gospel claims that Peter believed him to be the Christ; see, e.g., Mark 8:29). The book of Acts and the epistles make it abundantly clear that the Apostles, setting up the earliest churches, thought Jesus was the Messiah—indeed, the Son of God.

Clearly, Wikipedia’s claims are tendentious if not false, and represent a point of view that many if not most Christians would rightly dispute.

It may seem more problematic to speak of the bias of scientific articles, because many people do not want to see “unscientific” views covered in encyclopedia articles. If such articles are “biased in favor of science,” some people naturally find that to be a feature, not a bug. The problem, though, is that scientists sometimes do not agree on which theories are and are not scientific. This point is perfectly obvious to anyone who actually follows any lively scientific debate at all closely. On such issues, the “scientific point of view” and the “objective point of view” according to the Establishment might be very much opposed to neutrality. So when certain people seem unified on a certain view of a scientific controversy, then that is the view that is taken for granted as the Establishment one, and often aggressively asserted, by Wikipedia.

Neutral information, representing a scientific consensus with no dissent, I’m sure.

The global warming and MMR vaccine articles are examples; I hardly need to dive into these pages, since it is quite enough to say that they endorse definite positions that scientific minorities reject. Another example is how Wikipedia treats various topics in alternative medicine—often dismissively, and frequently labeled as “pseudoscience” in Wikipedia’s own voice. Indeed, Wikipedia defines the very term as follows: “Alternative medicine describes any practice that aims to achieve the healing effects of medicine, but which lacks biological plausibility and is untested, untestable or proven ineffective.” In all these cases, genuine neutrality requires a different sort of treatment.

Again, other examples could be found, in no doubt thousands of other, less exciting topics. These are just the first topics that came to mind, associated as they are with the culture wars, and their articles on those topics put Wikipedia very decidedly on one side of that war. You should not be able to say that about an encyclopedia that claims to be neutral.

It is time for Wikipedia to come clean and admit that it has abandoned NPOV (i.e., neutrality as a policy). At the very least they should admit that that they have redefined the term in a way that makes it utterly incompatible with its original notion of neutrality, which is the ordinary and common one.6 It might be better to embrace a “credibility” policy and admit that their notion of what is credible does, in fact, bias them against conservatism, traditional religiosity, and minority perspectives on science and medicine—to say nothing of many other topics on which Wikipedia has biases.

Of course, Wikipedians are unlikely to make any such change; they live in a fantasy world of their own making.7

The world would be better served by an independent and decentralized encyclopedia network, such as I proposed with the Encyclosphere. We will certainly develop such a network, but if it is to remain fully independent of all governmental and big corporate interests, funds are naturally scarce and it will take time.

Here is a follow-up article (June 2021).
And here is another (June 2023).

  1. The misbegotten phrase “neutral point of view” is a Jimmy Wales coinage I never supported. If a text is neutral with regard to an issue, it lacks any “point of view” with regard to the issue; it does not take a “neutral point of view.” My preferred phrase was always “the neutrality policy” or “the nonbias policy.”[]
  2. On this, see my “Why Neutrality?“, published 2015 by Ballotpedia.[]
  3. Both in the form “Jesus Christ” (e.g., 1 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:1) and in the form “Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2). “Christ” is found throughout three epistles widely held to be among the first written, including Galatians and 1 Thessalonians, and twice in James.[]
  4. I mistakenly conceded this false point in an earlier draft of this article, after not searching enough. Greek nominative and accusative Χριστόν and genitive Χριστοῦ can be found throughout.[]
  5. If you look at the footnote Wikipedia cites in support of its weird claim, you will find a sensible, not-misleading, and relatively neutral article by Britannica, the context of which makes it perfectly clear that the authors were not making any claim about the use of the title “Christ” but instead the two-word combination “Jesus Christ,” as applied directly to Jesus in his own lifetime. It seems likely that that two-word name was used rarely, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with his having the title “Christ,” but a reflection of the fact that “Ancient Jews usually had only one name, and, when greater specificity was needed, it was customary to add the father’s name or the place of origin.” Wikipedians copying from Britannica may have missed that bit.[]
  6. That it was Wikipedia’s original notion, see the Nupedia “Lack of Bias” policy, which was the source of Wikipedia’s policy, and see also my final (2001) version of the Wikipedia neutrality policy. Read my “Why Neutrality?” for a lengthy discussion of this notion. Both articles appear in slightly revised and footnoted versions in my recent book.[]
  7. UPDATE: In an earlier version of this blog post, I included some screenshots of Wikipedia Alexa rankings, showing a drop from 5 to 12 or 13. While this is perfectly accurate, the traffic to the site has been more or less flat for years, until the last few months, in which traffic spiked probably because of the Covid-19 virus. But since the drop in Alexa rankings do not seem to reflect a drop in traffic, I decided to remove the screenshots and a couple accompanying sentences.[]




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Please do dive in (politely). I want your reactions!

285 responses to “Wikipedia Is Badly Biased”

  1. James

    Your point about ‘bias’ against Trump is not taking into account that someone can say demonstrably false things, which is why it mentions false so many times. In addition, even the bible contradicts its self (let alone the testaments), which is why Jesus’ story was deemed as confusing. Just because someone takes offense to what is a pretty unbiased view does not mean its false.

    With your example of MMR and global warming articles – presenting false information is not neutrality. Of course like with journalism and most encyclopedias you will have bias with the currently available information, which you will find is funded by the ‘establishment’. This research is later verified and reviewed and adopted. In addition your claim of not presenting the view is false. This is covered inside of the ‘public opinion’ articles on global warming which covers the other side. Unfortunately (believe me I’d love global warming to be a hoax) its just that – opinion, and flawed studies funded by the ‘establishment’.

    This article feels like its blowing smoke and shouting fire.

    1. James, it is your opinion that Trump has said many “demonstrably false things.” Many others deny that you can demonstrate this. Hence, if you write an article about a politician according to which you can easily tell that it was written by those who oppose him, the article is biased against the politician.

      Similarly, it is your opinion that the Bible contradicts itself (so spelled). There are many Christians and theologians who disagree, who maintain that apparent contradictions are due to failures of correct interpretation and contextualization. (I happen to think they’re probably right on that, by the way.)

      Now, you can disagree about what the facts are, and you can maintain that the facts are demonstrable. But you cannot also maintain that stating those alleged facts without attribution, and in a way that discounts other common views, is neutral. Rather, you are forced to the conclusion that you oppose neutrality as a policy for encyclopedias. That is your prerogative, but it has been Wikipedia’s explicit policy from the beginning (as I can tell you, since I wrote the policy).

      1. James

        Thank you for replying Larry.

        From what I understand you are getting at how the differing interpretations of the facts can produce different understandings of what is going on, and therefore these interpretations should be displayed. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

        If my understanding is correct then I agree with you in a certain sense, however laying out all the facts becomes a problem because interpretation of facts is subjective. I could argue that Trump is getting rid of corruption if I see his attempts to remove people in power as being corrupt (which you can find evidence for), but you could also argue that he is introducing corruption (which, again, you can find evidence for) to the US. Adding both views to an article would be informative – however what about another argument that Trump is like any other politician? Maybe in more subjective (I would argue it is not subjective) cases such as above it is more plausible, however I can’t imagine putting all the views above on the same footing (which is what would happen if you just said it like Trump said x). If we are going by this logic then I can see how it is just my opinion he has said false things.

        On different topics such as the MMR vaccine we can safely say it is safe, and giving the same footing to the anti-vaccination stance would present an issue because they discount a large amount of studies on the basis of them originating from big pharma (aka the ‘establishment’). If someone who wished to know more about the subject searches for MMR they would be presented with two conflicting points of views as equally valid. The topic should be covered about how this exists but not necessairly presented equally (as it is not).

        What I am trying to get at (in this comment) is that neutrality can be defined two ways – providing interpretations of the facts, or presenting the most correct information. In which case your article makes more sense, jut remember not all opinions are created equal and should not be presented as such.

      2. biased audience

        Faith matters are most biased things that there are out there. Christians do not need to read Wikipedia to find faith. If there are billions of people, who are saying, that Earth is flat or that 2+2 =5, and this nonsense is written in encyclopedia, it might be neutral to mention these things, but useless from the viewpoint as a catalogue of scientific material. What’s the point to such collection of knowledge?

        Encyclopedic information will be always biased – it has been biased in past and that information is needed for someone in distilled form(where NPOV or neutrality are making encyclopedia less encyclopedic). That is something, that is deeply rooted in human nature. I am all for that information, that is written in any type of encyclopedia, is biased towards science(or clearly defined what is audience) – not based on neutrality. So, for me neither wikipedia or Encyclosphere, that is based on neutrality or NPOV would serve any purpose. For me it is perfectly fine, that I can read that Trump is not angel sent from Heaven and that he is in his place as a son of a B, as a reaction of what Democratic party has done before and neutrality would not serve me or anyone else any help to dissect through that nonsense, what is regarded neutral about him and get through what is going in US. I, just like most of people, already have my own opinion about Trump and no encyclopedia would change that.

        I’m confused – why there is such need for Encyclosphere, that will apparently start as Wikipedia and eventually would end up as Wikipedia as well? I mean – you were at the beginnings of Wikipedia and how this new thing is going to differ with exactly the same idea in the start? You might be in control in the early beginnings, but later – probably same fate as with wiki, because majority of involved are people that have their own biases – and not robots or copies of you. Seems quite futile to me.

        IMO, if you want to build encyclopedia, build it with bias – and clearly state to whom it is meant, because neutrality is another way of pleasing anyone(which in the end pleases no one). Here is example, where neutrality is fail – Christians would need their own Biblopedia for themselves, that would be biased towards Christians, as neutrality or NPOV would be useless to them in their search of answers.
        Actually that is really easy thing to do – with the help of AI, it is possible to create encylopedia with different biases. I am all for that humans can choose their biases and consume them. Also, I might be interested in that type of experiment to see who would fail and who would succeed.

        As for Christianity as topic – here is the problem if you are mentioning that christian opinion matters – neither christians or theologians are stepping out of their boundaries outside of their bubble, so in scientific sense what they are thinking about Christianity doesn’t matter at all. Their faith does not allow them to look on their religion with self-criticism and stay in bubble. It is the problem of any faith.
        Christianity as a topic in early history involves a lot of Jewish history and history about Jewish sects, where the one represented by Jesus(or his uncle) eventually evolved into Christianity, in times of ancient Rome, where rebellious Jews were settled among Greeks. It seems, that Judaism is also recent change, as at some point more ancient Gnostic ideas were experimented with, leaving only some traces in Judaism and Christianity – all of these topics provided by christian viewpoint are useless to rest of us, who wants to find truth – and not the same truth, that is provided by faith.

        1. It’s simple really. When it comes to complicated topics states the facts. State the controversy on those facts and the refutation if available of that controversy. When you editorialize the facts you are no longer an encyclopedic writer but a propagandist.

  2. […] co-founder Larry Sanger penned a blog post last week declaring that the site is “badly biased,” “no longer has an effective neutrality […]

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  6. Simon Weiner

    Yes – I agree – WikiP favors a clear agenda – it’s a shame – used to be a really great product -which I contributed to. Be well.

  7. Acerphoon

    Certainly true.

    The neutrality has gone out of the window a long time ago. – This can be seen on many examples. I remember one, which I found very weird.
    It was a rather irrelevant topic, but it still had the same problem: It was about “White-washing in movies”, meaning that historically colored people were played by white people.
    When the same thing was done for blacks, as in “Black-washing in movies”, the entry was deleted. No real reason was given.
    Of course, it seems like a non-issue, but it really striked me as weird.

    Often you will find the conclusion and opinion that you need to have right at the beginning of an article. With some articles starting directly with the message: “X is a debunked conspiracy theory” or something similar, leaving no room for forming your own opinion on the matter.

    It may be true of course, but it isn’t neutral in any way.

  8. x

    Wikipedia could easily choose to provide alternative pages that contain information written by the alternative viewpoint, IF they would prefer not to be a tool of indoctrination.

  9. Bob Harvey

    Bravo, Larry. This has gone unspoken for far too long. Thank you for speaking out. As a parent, I have to frequently be the filter for an “online resource” presented to my children as an unbiased source of truth. Were that it was so. Thank you.

  10. Reliable Source

    The primary means of eliminating neutrality (NPOV in Wikipedia jargon) is by “consensus”, i.e., a far left-leaning majority of active editors, deciding what does and does not constitute a Reliable Source (RS). Once all the conservative sources are eliminated from use, Wiki-truth becomes whatever the liberal outlets write.

    There has been a (now pretty much completed) evolutionary selection process by which conservative editors are disillusioned or banned as they accumulate conflicts with aggressive leftist editors. Banning the disputants from both sides might seem fair but it only drives the liberal/conservative ratio ever higher since it progressively (sic!) weeds out non-leftists while leaving plenty of unbanned leftists to dominate to an even greater extent with fewer conservative voices around. This has been in process for roughly 15 years and we are in the end-state, a “garden of pure ideology”.

    If one does try to add non leftist-approved content or revert ridiculously slanted material added by the leftist Hive, there is interminable Wikilawyering to prevent it, and one has to be expert at navigating the minefield of legalistic Wikipedia rules to cast any changes in ways that are robust against POV attacks. Even then, there will always be several leftists in line to aggressively reverse any edits they politically disapprove of, regardless of Wiki rules. Rules are to constraint the right, they functionally don’t apply to the left. Seen this anywhere outside Wikipedia lately? It’s the same there, but with more moral righteousness.

    1. Agreed with pretty much all of this.

      It’s the self-righteousness of Wikipedians as they engage in wikilawyering and tone police, etc., that is particularly galling. The hypocrisy is awful. I view it as something like a cargo cult. The rules are treated as totems, the spirit and original meaning long since forgotten. Active contempt for neutrality (properly so called) is one example, but only one.

      I have written a paper, but never quite finished, on exactly how Wikipedia’s “consensus” decisionmaking process really lies at the heart of its unique and special kind of dysfunction.

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