I was a Conservapedia Administrator

Philip J. Rayment

Problems

Con­serva­pedia claims to be a better encyclopaedia than Wikipedia, because it doesn't have Wikipedia's faults. To some extent, that is true. It certainly avoids Wikipedia's bias against Christian things. However, Con­serva­pedia has faults of its own, and that includes non-trivial ones. Because of my frustrations with Con­serva­pedia, I've written this to document the problems and what I perceive to be their causes.

What I'd like for Conservapedia

Unlike many at RationalWiki (chapter 5) and elsewhere who would like to see Con­serva­pedia fail at its goal, like some others I wanted it to succeed at what it ostensibly is—a good, accurate, family-friendly encyclopaedia suitable for students written from a "conservative" or Christian point of view.

Unfortunately, I simply cannot see that happening, and my opinions have changed. See more below.

"Liberal" explained

For an Australian, at least, the use of the term "liberal" on Con­serva­pedia seems odd, as it is not often used in the same way in Australia as in America. It seems that in America, "liberal" is used both of anybody who is politically left-wing and anybody who is theologically liberal.

Anti-liberal Bias

I'm not opposed to bias per se. Everyone is biased according to their worldview, but it's possible to minimise that bias and keep an ob­jective mind about things. Critics often accuse Con­serva­pedia of hypocrisy, because Con­serva­pedia, whilst criticising Wikipedia for bias, is also biased. I've responded to such charges by (correctly) pointing out that Wikipedia's problem is not bias per se, but having bias whilst claiming to be neutral. Con­serva­pedia, in contrast, ack­now­ledges its bias.

Unfortunately, although that point of logic is true, it's also true that bias on Con­serva­pedia against "liberals" is extreme.

One editor, explaining their reason for leaving, bemoaned the lack of content on major subjects, and offered their opinion as to why:1

Nobody seems to want to actually write encyclopedia articles. Certainly not among the leaders. Instead they seem to spend all their time having debates2 or attacking biologists or writing pseudo-articles like Liberal bias or Hollywood Values.

That is only part of the answer. The other part is that, through paranoia and heavy-handedness, the admin­istra­tors succeed in driving away almost all good editors, except those who think the same way they do.

Vandalism

Any web-site available for people to post messages suffers from idiots trying to be funny in their own minds. This includes people posting profanities, porno­graphic pictures, deleting content, trying to stir up anger (known in the cyber-world as "trolls"), and advertising their own web-sites.

High-profile web-sites such as Wikipedia naturally attract more vandals than less-conspicuous sites. Con­serva­pedia has had a fair bit of publicity, and al­though not as well-known as Wikipedia, probably suffers proportionally much more vandalism than does Wikipedia. This is, to a fair extent, because Con­serva­pedia, being Christian, threatens their worldview.

However, I also believe—and often argued this point with the other senior admin­istra­tors—that Con­serva­pedia's overly-harsh stance against editors invites much of the vandalism (although that doesn't justify it, of course).

Problem Administrators

I examine the problems with the admin­istra­tors in chapter 4. One admin­istra­tor in particular caused considerable angst, and I relate the events surrounding him in chapter 6. It also illustrates some of the lack of objectivity shown by some other admin­istra­tors.

The Buck Stops Where?

Ultimate responsibility for the site rests with the creator and owner of the site, Andrew (Andy) Schlafly. However, the problems are not just ones that Andy needs to accept ultimate responsibility for. He himself is part of the problem, as I explain in chapter 3.

My new approach to Conservapedia

In mid-June 2008, I started writing this. I also realised two things.

One, I wasn't sure that I wanted to continue on with Conservapedia. The problems that it had were only getting worse. The user and former admin­istra­tor named Fox had openly questioned all the anti-liberals articles, and when he got no response to that, started creating a few more to highlight the absurdity of them. This quickly earned him a demotion back to ordinary editor, yet most if not all of his new articles were allowed to stand!

Three days after I started creating these pages, one of the more senior admin­istra­tors, DanH, resigned in protest over the Barack Obama article. Another admin­istra­tor had told me in an e-mail that he was also dissatisfied and was considering resigning in protest. I wondered if I should too, but also realised that such an act of protest was not seen by Andy or other admin­istra­tors as cause to reconsider. In fact, one admin­istra­tor didn't realise DanH had left, and later asked what happened to him. And another admin­istra­tor even blamed me for his departure!

The second thing I came to realise was that Andy would not remove my admin­istra­tor status. My thinking on this was helped by someone on RationalWiki also expressing this view. The reasoning is that Andy cannot admit that he is wrong, and to remove my admin­istra­tor status would be an admission that he was wrong about me. This may or may not be true: Andy has, although only rarely, admitted he was wrong about something, and he had removed Fox' admin­istra­tor status, as well as that of a few others, although in most cases they turned out to truly be trouble-makers.

However, having arrived at the point where I would be content to separate from Conservapedia, I decided that my course of action would be to confront Andy head on. Either I would win out, and Conservapedia would be improved, or I would have my admin­istra­tor privileges removed, and perhaps be blocked, in the process. Either outcome could be considered a good outcome.

A short absence

I had an absence from Conservapedia for a while in July and the first half of August. When I returned, I wrote a message on my talk page explaining my absence. Apart from my wife's health at the time, one of the reasons I listed, almost in passing, was "An increasing dissatisfaction with Conservapedia". Without asking further what I was dissatisfied about, Andy jumped on that comment, and, perhap understandably, got defensive.

So I took him on over the Catholic views of evolution article. I discuss this briefly on the page about Andy (chapter 3).

My new plan

As I explained above, I wanted Conservapedia to succeed. And I would still want that, as long as it was what it purported to be.

However, it is not, and never will be, an encyclopaedia. It gives Christians, creationists, and conservatives a bad name by operating in ways that do not match Christian and conservative values. As long as it is like that (and it shows no signs of improving), I want it to fail.

Unfortunately, there was no other English-language Wiki general encyclopaedia to take its place as a voice for Christian views. So I decided to start one. This finally came about in March 2009, and can be found here.


  1. The user was Daphnea and the links in her(?) quote are hers. The link for "attacking biologists" was to the discussion on Richard Lenski's research (see chapter 3).
  2. Daphnea linked to Debate:Should pharmacists be forced to fill legal prescriptions they personally object to on moral grounds? and Debate: Are Catholics Christians?.

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Timeline

22nd November, 2006

Conservapedia is created

17th March, 2007

I join Conservapedia

3rd April, 2007

I am made an Administrator

25th April, 2007

First Admin. e-mail group.

25th May, 2007

Ed Poor proposes me as "template manager".

5th January, 2008

Letter to Andy about wise counsel

28th April, 2008

Bugler joins Con­serva­pedia

around June, 2008

I'm feeling more and more uncomfortable with associating myself with Conservapedia.

11th June, 2008

Bugler gains block rights.

17th June, 2008

I start writing these pages.

20th June, 2008

DanH quits.

31st December, 2008

Bugler loses rights.

1st January, 2009

CPAdmin1 quits.

2nd January, 2009

Bugler outs himself.

22nd March, 2009

I resign