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Statisticians Investigate Political Bias On Wikipedia 221

Posted by Soulskill
from the sports-articles-always-lean-whig dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Global Economic Intersection reports on a project to statistically measure political bias on Wikipedia. The team first identified 1,000 political phrases based on the number of times these phrases appeared in the text of the 2005 Congressional Record and applied statistical methods to identify the phrases that separated Democratic representatives from Republican representatives, under the model that each group speaks to its respective constituents with a distinct set of coded language. Then the team identified 111,000 Wikipedia articles that include 'republican' or 'democrat' as keywords, and analyzed them to determine whether a given Wikipedia article used phrases favored more by Republican members or by Democratic members of Congress. The results may surprise you. 'The average old political article in Wikipedia leans Democratic' but gradually, Wikipedia's articles have lost the disproportionate use of Democratic phrases and moved to nearly equivalent use of words from both parties (PDF), akin to an NPOV [neutral point of view] on average. Interestingly, some articles have the expected political slant (civil rights tends Democrat; trade tends Republican), but at the same time many seemingly controversial topics, such as foreign policy, war and peace, and abortion have no net slant. 'Most articles arrive with a slant, and most articles change only mildly from their initial slant. The overall slant changes due to the entry of articles with opposite slants, leading toward neutrality for many topics, not necessarily within specific articles.'"
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Statisticians Investigate Political Bias On Wikipedia

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  • What can be done to avoid political bias and how do we do it consistently?
    • I would suppose that if you were to use the same statistical methods described in the article, periodically refreshing your corpus with new input from the federal register, and ran an analysis on what you wrote, you could get a score that you could use as feedback on your attempt at neutrality. Write what you want to write, pass it through the analysis, then edit until the analysis shows it as neutral. What do you think?

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        I think it's impossible to be "unbiased". Even when I was editing articles about HD Radio or DRM radio, I discovered both articles were heavily-biased (against HDR and for DRM). I tried to remove the bias, but now I suspect it's biased the opposite way. This is why I think reporters who claim to be "unbiased" are foolish. The bias sneaks in, even if it's just through omission of relevant stories (such as supposedly unbiased CNN showing a republican primary poll with 2nd place mysteriously missing; the 2

    • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:34AM (#40153981)

      What can be done to avoid political bias and how do we do it consistently?

      Don't write about political topics that are relevant to you?

      For example writing about modern civil rights (gay marriage, gun rights, etc) in the USA is going to get a intention and/or unintentional bias from me.

      However if I research and report on the political situation in France, where I have no dog in the fight, I'll probably end up pretty much unbiased.

      Its a big interconnected world... there's really no reason for locals to have to write biased filler about local issues.

      Doesn't have to be geographic. I have no personal interest in the gay marriage thing, not being gay or close to those in their subculture and not being hyper-christian, so I can be extremely unbiased about the topic. This SHOULD work, but it fails anyway, because my completely unbiased view unsurprisingly seems to match the (few) non-cowardly (D) and oppose almost all the neo-(R) so I'll be accused of being "politically biased" based on results, although I obviously don't have any reason to care that would influence the process of writing about it. Think of how everyone naturally decides that slavery was a dumb idea now, but it was a hot political football around 1860 or so in the USA.

      There's some other hints, like if you find evidence of sloganeering in your writing you're probably doing it wrong.

      • by Guppy06 (410832)

        Don't write about political topics that are relevant to you?

        One slight problem with this idea...

        However if I research and report on the political situation in France, where I have no dog in the fight, I'll probably end up pretty much unbiased.

        Why would you?

        People only contribute to articles on topics that interest them (witness all the video game and anime/manga articles). How many topics are there that actually interest you, but for which you hold no bias?

      • by tnk1 (899206) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @12:45PM (#40156715)

        Bias is an interesting phenomenon. I can be a fundamentalist Christian and think all gays are going to Hell to burn in eternal torment and still be okay with gay marriage as a civil situation since its not like the government can actually force me to accept that they are truly married in a Christian sense.

        Alternately, I could also be atheist or agnostic, believe that being gay is perfectly acceptable and normal but still wonder just what the point of gay marriage is actually supposed to be, from a state perspective.

      • by jmorris42 (1458) *

        > For example writing about modern civil rights (gay marriage, gun rights, etc) in the USA is going to get a intention and/or unintentional bias from me.

        It is worse. Just using those phrases implies a bias. NPOV is a very difficult thing, few could actually attain it and even fewer would actually be interested in the result. No, what most people want is their beliefs confirmed in such a way that they are assured that what they believe is the only Truth, thus defined as 'neutral'. The Truth has no Age

    • by bbbaldie (935205)
      What can be done to avoid political bias and how do we do it consistently?

      About the only way I can think of is to avoid politics altogether. Too bad we can't determine a man's heroics or douchebaggery without first determining if he's a liberal or a conservative. By the time we figure that out, most of the time, we've already decided his (or her) worth. Sad.

      • by SomePgmr (2021234)

        Too bad we can't determine a man's heroics or douchebaggery without first determining if he's a liberal or a conservative.

        I don't know if that's strictly true. I have a whole lot of respect for individual's personal histories without thinking they'd make good politicians, or that they would best represent my personal opinions.

        For situations like the wiki, I think it's just a question of intellectual integrity. I'd agree that nobody is perfect and bias will sneak in, but we can try to suppress that (when we're being honest) and overcome the remaining difference with lots of eyeballs.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @09:10AM (#40154233) Journal

      You can't. Even if you write purely factual prose, it's slanted toward's the left. Reality has a well known liberal bias.

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      You can't. Really, the best thing you can do is simply acknowledge your bias beforehand. This way you come across as being more honest. Some people might see your initial admission and skip reading what you write, but you wouldn't have wanted them to read you anyway because, if they are that polarized or radical, they would in all likelihood have attacked your ideas anyway. It might also have the effect of getting people who would otherwise have skipped right over your article to decide to read it. Bec

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:15AM (#40153877)

    Or shall we remind them that the English Wikipedia is not only about U.S., and the word 'republican' and 'democrat' have other meanings too?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:25AM (#40153931)

      Would it kill you to read the paper?

      We obtain a list of 111,216 articles. We then eliminate these articles that cover countries other than the United States.
      [...]

      For each of these articles, we construct a slant index by applying the methods and estimates developed by Gentzkow and Shapiro (2010), hereafter G&S. G&S select 1,000 phrases based on the number of times these phrases appear in the text of the 2005 Congressional Record, applying statistical methods to identify phrases that separate Democratic representatives from Republican representatives, under the model that each group speaks to its respective constituents with a distinct set of coded language. In brief, we ask whether a given Wikipedia article uses phrases favored more by Republican members or by Democratic members of Congress.

      And the corresponding footnote:

      The words “republican” and “democrat” do not appear exclusively in entries about United States politics. If a country name shows up in the title or category names, we then check whether the phrase “United States” or “America” shows up in the title or category names. If yes, we keep this article. Otherwise, we search the text for “United States” or “America.” If these phrases do not show up more than 3 times in the text, this article is dropped. This process keeps articles such as “Iraq War” but drop articles related to political parties in foreign countries.

      Researchers do think of this stuff, you know.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:54AM (#40154109) Journal
        'America' appears 7 times in the article 'Irish republicanism' (3 times as 'America' 4 in 'American') and so by their metric (must occur 3 or more times) it would go in, in spite of being nothing at all to do with the US political party of the same name.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Dachannien (617929)

          Every statistical process has outliers, and one way to deal with those outliers is to have a sample size large enough (oh, say, 111,000 articles) to practically eliminate the effects of those outliers.

        • by pipatron (966506)

          That's why they used 111000 articles, you will of course get an amount of statistical noise and articles that doesn't make much sense. That doesn't mean the conclusion is wrong, it just means it's not exact. I'm sure you are aware of that though, judging from even knowing about stuff like "word frequency analysis". :)

          I haven't RTFA but it's very likely that they checked a random sample manually, and used the results from that to weigh the results from the larger set.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Did you even read their metric?

          Let each input line consist of the article title, followed by all category names (tab-separated or whatever). The countrynames regex matches any country name. The following AWK script approximates their algorithm (yes, I know egrep misses multiple matches on one line -- but you get the idea).
          {
          if ($1 ~ countrynames) {
          if ($0 ~ /United States|America/) print $1;
          } else {
          title = $1;

      • Would it kill you to read the paper?

        Probably not, but here at Slashdot our thinking is: why take the risk?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EdgePenguin (2646733)

      Indeed; I should imagine that those who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War have little in common with Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, and neither have much in common with the former Iraqi Republican guard.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Shavano (2541114)
      Doesn't matter. The filter that selects political articles for keyword analysis doesn't have to be perfect to find statistically valid correlation.
  • by TorrentFox (1046862) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:19AM (#40153901)

    One guy may say that the sun is green, the other guy may say it's purple. Having both of them in the same article does not make it neutral.

    • One guy may say that the sun is green, the other guy may say it's purple. Having both of them in the same article does not make it neutral.

      It depends on what your definition of "neutral" is. If it's making sure that all major points of view get equal mention and if Green and Purple are the two major points of view then it may well be "neutral".

      Of course, there are many other definitions of "neutral" for which your example would not make then neutral.

    • You're trying to make neutrality of opinion an absolute measurement; everybody gets an equal say and everybody gets to air their beliefs. Which is as close to neutrality as is realistically possible for the simple reason that neutrality of opinion is no more or less relative than the different biases that exist.
    • by drainbramage (588291) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @09:04AM (#40154183)

      The first accountant shoots and misses a meter high.
      The second accountant shoots and misses a meter low.
      The third accountant says "Got it"!
      ------------------
      It looks like another paid for study that proves what they were asked to prove.
      They only had to determine which data points would produce the required end point.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192)

      Exactly. A neutral article will be biased towards the position that is actually true. An article that treats all opinions equally is biased in favor of the positions that are untrue.

      • by Theophany (2519296) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @09:51AM (#40154607)
        You make the erroneous assumption that the biases are empirically provable or that opinions are in some way absolute rather than normative, which is not always the case. (Actually, in politics this is never the case, they all distort facts beyond any limitations of meaningfulness to suit their own agendas.)
      • by BMOC (2478408)

        An article that treats all opinions equally is biased in favor of the positions that are untrue.

        Since when do opinions factor into any logical definition of truth?

        We'd best just accept that everyone has a bias in their opinion, and that makes no statement to the validity of their worldview when applied to everyone else.

      • by 1s44c (552956)

        Exactly. A neutral article will be biased towards the position that is actually true. An article that treats all opinions equally is biased in favor of the positions that are untrue.

        You are not taking into account Wikipedia's abject hatred of truth. It cares only about what has been reported elsewhere by publications that are also biased. See WP:TRUTH.

    • by jrumney (197329)

      One guy may say that the sun is green, the other guy may say it's purple. Having both of them in the same article does not make it neutral.

      And given that it is a well known fact that reality has a liberal bias, clearly the results of this study indicate that Wikipedia has a strong republican bias.

      • by phlinn (819946)
        "And given that it is a well known [opinion among liberals] that reality has a liberal bias..." FTFY.

        I may have missed a joke here depending on why you italicized, but since I've frequently see that actual sentiment, I can't assume so.
    • by CastrTroy (595695) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @10:14AM (#40154805) Homepage
      This is the same problem we have in the news. Reporters (some anyway) want to be seen as non-biased, so they give equal time to both supporters and non-supporters of global warming, and therefore the general public thinks that there is actually some kind of debate in the scientific community over whether or not global warming is really happening. Same goes for evolution and a lot of other topics. Sometimes it even gets a little out of hand, like this Anderson Cooper interview [youtube.com] where he has some non-educated person who just embarrasses herself on national television, because they insist on having someone from the other side of the issue talk about it, and she was the only person stupid enough to try to defend the point of view. Ignoring the other side of the debate is fine if the other side of the debate is provably wrong.
    • by 1s44c (552956)

      One guy may say that the sun is green, the other guy may say it's purple. Having both of them in the same article does not make it neutral.

      The sun may well be green to one observer and purple to another depending on their movement relative to it. Look up red/blue shift.

      I agree with what you are saying, just disagreeing with your example of it.

    • by emarkp (67813)

      And of course, it's hard to measure the bias of pages that have been deleted [wikipedia.org].

    • "Some think that the Sun's output in visible light peaks in the yellow. However, the Sun's visible output peaks in the green": http://solar-center.stanford.edu/SID/activities/GreenSun.html [stanford.edu]

    • In this particular case, it's not even in the same article - rather, there is a roughly equal amount of articles which say that sun is green and those which say that sun is purple.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      One guy may say that the sun is green, the other guy may say it's purple The other ~7 billion people of the world say it's yellow. Having all of them in the same article does make it neutral.

      Especially when you find out why the two people odd people disagree with everyone else. It gives a place of study, either on the common perceptions of everyone that the sun appears mostly yellow although it is radiating all colors or the specific individuals that may be color blind or psychologically unstill.

  • [Citation Needed]
  • Libertarian bias? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EdgePenguin (2646733) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:28AM (#40153945) Homepage

    Surely they need to investigate libertarian bias (especially seeing as Wales himself is, how should I put this, a raving Objectivist nutjob). The fact that libertarian beliefs overlap with democrat and republican beliefs can explain the two separate slants with one single hypothesis.

  • This is a neat study but I feel like the foundational assumptions are subjective and a little flawed.

    (civil rights tends Democrat; trade tends Republican)

    Could that be simply because Democrats invent/introduce/overuse new phrases and talking points for civil rights and Republicans invent/introduce/overuse new phrases and talking points for trade? For example, you'd probably hear Democrats say "Equal Opportunity Employment" or "Affirmative Action" a lot and you'd probably hear Republicans say "Laissez-faire" or "Free Market" a lot. What would be the antithesis of these phrases for the other side? I would posit that it's entirely possible that these articles are not on average biased and instead are merely explaining and using the phrases that each party has employed to tackle their number one priorities.

    On top of that, I didn't see anything that seemed to indicate that they used windowing to determine when a phrase was opposed to the phrase they were using. For example if you found that the acronym ACORN indicates a Democratic slant but there's a whole section on its Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] full of negative criticism despite them using 'ACORN' frequently in that section. Would this section be identified as a Democratic slant?

    Where is this G&S word bank? Where is the list of results so I can look up the ACORN article's scores?

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:32AM (#40153975)
    I would have assumed a fairly even distribution with Wikipedia so the results weren't that surprising. I'd be more interested in using it to find bias in the media. There are obvious cases of bias such as Fox but I've noticed a gradual move towards the right in groups like CNN who seemed in the past Democratic in it's leaning. I've found more open reporting from comedians these days. Some subjects only the comedians take on that the media avoids or barely mentions. One interesting trend I noticed early on is all media sources including supposed left wing groups call the President Mr Obama while Bush was generally called President Bush and I can't remember him being referred to as Mr Bush. Traditionally the media always calls a sitting President by the title President and expresidents are generally referred to as Former President. Pay attention when you listen to the news and see if I'm right. Both Bushs and Clinton are referred to as former Presidents far more often than Obama is called President Obama.
    • by tomhath (637240)

      CNN used to be blatantly biased against President Bush. After he left office their coverage might have become less biased; I wouldn't know though since I became disgusted with CNN several years ago.

      As far as referring to the men as "Mr." vs. "President" I don't see any difference in coverage. Most writers will mix it up within an article to avoid repetition.

      • by 1s44c (552956)

        Strange. I always saw CNN as pro-war, anti-middle east ( all of it ), and quick to oppose anyone who contradicted US government views on anything. To some extent it appeared to treat the rest of the world as a bunch of fools crying out for US help in every situation. I certainly didn't notice it being against Bush.

        I gave up even trying to watch it as it appeared to be more a propaganda exercise than a news channel.

        • The media likes to cover wars, especially ones against people who don't look like us as it gives them better ratings. As I don't have cable I don't know whether CNN was for or against Bush. The few times I have seen cable news (on business trips) CNN seemed to be by far the best one to watch, as I would rather go slam my heat in a car door than watch Fox News or MSNBC. I have watched both of them a couple of times and I it was painful. My ideal preference would be to watch BBC World but that seems to be a f
    • by Quila (201335)

      I would have assumed a fairly even distribution with Wikipedia so the results weren't that surprising.

      I never expected even distribution. Those in charge tend to be liberal, and they will guard liberal articles that are important to them. You are a mere peon editor, so trying to insert factual information or even make the watched article consistent with the rest of Wikipedia will not be allowed. You will be reverted three times with no explanation, and any attempt by you to undo the vandalism will run you u

    • I've found more open reporting from comedians these days.

      Take this as a sign of your biases, then, you probably like what the comedians are saying. Comedians, such as Jon Stewart, are fully happy to distort the truth, selectively report, anything for entertainment value. When he is called out on it, Jon Stewart doesn't deny it, he says, "hey, I'm a comedian."

      If you think comedians are giving you 'more open reporting' it's a problem with you, because they are not even trying to do that.

    • Seems like the "Former President" so-and-so has fallen out of favor. Almost all media outlets just call them all President these days. I find it annoying, though. Regarding CNN, I think you are thinking of MSNBC. They were pretty slanted. CNN was too boring to be slanted.
  • WAIT! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:36AM (#40154001)
    How on earth can 2 scientists be so naive as to think there are only 2 political points of view... and then to measure for those 2 points of view? They basically took talking points from our 2 main parties and then measured how often each showed up in an article. I'd argue that the Republican and Democrat points of view are one and the same. They disagree on very minor, but very polarizing points of view that give them something to argue about in an election. Most of the subjects they were surprised to see no slant on, both parties agree on... foreign policy, war, peace... How has our current president acted any different than the last one? Or the last 10 for that matter? Abortion? Does anyone really care other than extreme feminists and extreme Christians?

    We have one ruling political party in this country that masquerades as two. They measured bias in those articles... far more than they realize. Bias towards the statuesque and our 1 party system.
  • by Hentes (2461350) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:44AM (#40154045)

    The frequency of using individual words is far from an actual political bias.

    • Well, I could understand if some language gets more use by one party or another, but that's linguistics, not bias. If you assume everyone with a texan drawl is a dyed-in-the-wool republican and you see a lot of articles with that Texan drawl, you can't assume that those articles are biased towards republicans. Because the Texan republicans can still write with a NPOV. They can be professional and, you know, fair. Even when they speak funny.

      Hey, it's possible. (plus, there's this place called Houston).
    • That's what people from the Democrat party always say, you dirty hippie filthy liberal!!

      Of course, ethnically sensitive people who respect Gaia would never stoop to the level of rednecks, hicks, and all those other racist sea-kitten-haters. Those Repooplicans.
      • by Hentes (2461350)

        True, there are some words that have an inherent bias, but those aren't really used in Wikipedia articles. Words like hippy, liberal or racist are only biased in certain contexts. The researchers didn't search for actually biased words, but did an algorithmic wordcount in political writings to identify the 'bias' of each word, which I think is far too inaccurate for the confident conclusions they have drawn.

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:48AM (#40154067)

    Europe has a clear political bias too (we're left wing socialist surrender monkeys), and we're quite happy about that. So, please America, leave our wikipedia alone. Thanks.

    If I think that wikipedia is politically neutral, then this investigation will show it has a bias for the Democrats.
    If wikipedia is neutral between Democrat and Republican views, then I will think it has a strong right wing bias.

    The problem with this kind of reserach is that it might either undermine Wikipedia as a source in general (when finally the world seems to agree that the qualiy of wikipedia is just as good as any encyclopedia), or worse: it leads to changes in the contents to neutralize the supposed bias. This investigation has no benefits for wikipedia, or for free information.

  • Seems to me that "Democrat" or "Republican" are USA-specific terms - not sure what's 'global' about that bias? ;-)

    Not much use exploring articles about political biases in civil rights articles in the UK using "Democrat" and "Republican" as terms. "Labour", "Scottish National Party", "Plaid Cymru","Liberal" , and "Conservative" (amongst others) might be more useful.

    Ok, so I guess it is a good test of an example, whether USA specific articles on the English language have a political bias. Not sure it says m

    • by jrumney (197329)

      Not much use exploring articles about political biases in civil rights articles in the UK using "Democrat" and "Republican" as terms. "Labour", "Scottish National Party", "Plaid Cymru","Liberal" , and "Conservative" (amongst others) might be more useful.

      LIberal ...?

  • by N0Man74 (1620447) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @09:21AM (#40154337)

    I'm glad it didn't turn out to be a liberal bias. I would tire quickly of the phrase "Liberal Pedia" constantly from Conservatives.

    Though, it still might not stop Fox.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @09:32AM (#40154453)

    Bias is rhetoric. Apodixis: A rhetorical device that stealthily inserts a false pretense of general knowledge. For example "As everyone knows..."

    Or, as this article does: "expected political slant - civil rights tends Democrat"

    Republicans broke the Democrats filibuster of the Civil Rights Laws of the 60's. The Republican Party was formed for the sole purpose of overturning Democratic Legislation that allowed slavery to expand into the Western Territories. The first Republican President freed the slaves. Every Governor of every state that let loose the fire hoses on and dogs on minority students was a Democrat.

    Study rhetoric, and don't fall for it. We are most vulnerable to the rhetoric we cheer for. That's where we should put most of our scrutiny.
    Being tricked by adversary is bad enough, being tricked by someone you support is truly insulting.

    • Republicans broke the Democrats filibuster of the Civil Rights Laws of the 60's.

      Everett Dirksen [wikipedia.org] was a republican congressman that grew up in the extremely racially charged town of Pekin, Illinois. I grew up nearby, and Pekin is still regarded as one of the most racially divided towns today, but they have made a lot of progress. At least they got rid of the previous high school mascot (changed from the "Pekin Chinks" to the "Pekin Dragons").

      Dirksen is the one who brought forward the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [wikipedia.org].

      You can't go through the Illinois school system without hearing about what Di

    • And somewhat more recently, in the 80s it was the Democrats who pushed the tougher drug laws on crack, which have resulted in the unjust imprisonment of millions of blacks.
    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      Well that explains why blacks overwhelmingly vote Republican. Republicans love blacks and would never betray them for white votes, plus Republicans are so honest they would never use passive-aggressive rhetorical tactics like the lie of omission.

  • by hessian (467078) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @09:40AM (#40154521) Homepage Journal

    There's also choice of topic, slant of the article and what is included or excluded.

    I see, for example, they excluded the chart with the average IQs of all nations.

    Slant of article is tough to define, but it's your approach to the topic. "Self-Appointed 'Neighborhood Watch' guy shoots innocent teen" or "Angry Teen with marijuana possession offense attacks neighborhood watch official."

    As long as there are people, there will be political bias, and Wikipedia still leans left because the people behind it are mostly students.

  • by TerryCary (809450) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @09:43AM (#40154545)
    Apodixis: A rhetorical device that stealthily inserts a false pretense of general knowledge. For example "As everyone knows..." Or, as this article does: "expected political slant - civil rights tends Democrat" The Republican Party was formed for the sole purpose of overturning Democratic Legislation that allowed slavery to expand into the Western Territories. The first Republican President freed the slaves. Every Governor of every state that let loose the police, the fire hoses and the dogs on minority students was a Democrat. Republicans broke the Democrat's filibuster of the Civil Rights Laws of the 60's Study rhetoric; don't fall for it. We are most vulnerable to the rhetoric we agree with. So, that's where we should put most of our scrutiny. Being tricked by an adversary is bad enough, being tricked by someone you support is truly insulting.
  • Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.... not the encyclopedia that any American can edit.
    Why do the authors think the "Democrats" and "Republicans" labels are standard measures of the left-leaning and right-leaning policies?

    Considering most people accept that the U.S. is more conservative and right-leaning than the majority of the world (even Americans tend to think most of the world is too far on the left), if the article finds Wikipedia to be a fair balance between (U.S.)Democrats and (

  • by Urban Garlic (447282) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @10:03AM (#40154703)

    Bias can sneak in because of changes in terminology, presumably in both directions, although I've noticed it more on the right these days. As Robert Anton Wilson famously observed, you can go from liberal to conservative without changing a single idea if you wait long enough -- the reverse is also true, depending on the domain in which you have your ideas.

    For instance, an article about taxation written in the 1990s might be considered neutral in its time, and talk about the "inheritance tax" a lot. Fast forward ten years, during which the term "death tax" has come into prominence, and the old term "inheritance tax" is only used by fogies and liberals. The textual analysis of the unchanged article will now score it as "liberal", because the terms of the debate have shifted.

    This can happen with policies, too -- I remember when a carbon tax was considered a compromise position between liberals, who wanted to directly regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and conservatives, who felt that some kind of market mechanism would provide useful flexibility. Carbon taxes were a technocratic, ideologically neutral solution when they were proposed, but now they're seen as liberal social engineering.

    It doesn't always go rightward, of course, some debates have been successfully re-framed by the left, as well, I think -- "global warming" used to be a neutral descriptive term, but the warming isn't uniform, so "climate change" is the preferred term, and I think it's mostly conservatives who use the term "global warming".

    That ought to blow up my karma for a solid year...

  • Does anyone else find it odd that this paper has been submitted to American Economic Review [usc.edu]?

    Perhaps this validates the point of the paper in that if we had the title "Economists Investigate Political Bias On Wikipedia" we would have gone in with different feelings about the whole thing.

  • by Jiro (131519) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @10:36AM (#40154999)

    I think the major flaw is that this seems to be assuming that bias on Wikipedia is done in the same way as bias elsewhere. Someone who wants to bias a Wikipedia article has to do so within the confines of rules which help prevent some kinds of bias more than others.

    For instance, one of the most common ways to bias a Wikipedia article is undue weight--you include negative information and exclude positive information, or vice versa. This sort of bias doesn't use coded language (thus making it invisible to this study) and while it is still against Wikipedia rules, Wikipedia does relatively poorly at stopping it.

  • I've seen far too many contemporaneous and historical political pages being modified for political purposes, usually to water down or outright whitewash a scandal. Heck, even some scientific content I wouldn't bother reading on Wikipedia if there was a strong enough political angle; e.g. climate change or the nuclear industry.

  • There is a basic error in this idea that because there are roughly equal amounts of "slant" towards various partisan ideological points of view that this somehow adds up to being "neutral". Objectively neutral would be straight to the facts without ideological slant at all, if that's even possible given the nature of the subjects.

  • What are some examples of "typically Democrat" and "typically Republican" phrases?

    I skimmed the links but didn't find anything there.

  • They even have an article on Examples of Bias in Wikipedia [conservapedia.com] to prove it. It's their 9th most viewed page. Because proof for Conservapedia whatever they pull out of their asses.

    Their second most viewed page is THE HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA. See the full list [conservapedia.com]. It's unusual that only one of their top ten is about homosexuality. In the past as many as seven of the top ten most viewed pages have been about it.
  • Though probably not intended as such, this confirms that English-language Wikipedia articles have US-centric (that is, rampant right-wing, as both Republicans and Democrats are right-wing by non-US standards) bias.

  • Anything that does not have an extreme right wing bias is identified as having a left-wing bias by the "fair and balanced" crowd. You want fair and balanced, stick to Conservapedia. That's what it's there for.
  • Doesn't this study assume that the US congress is inherently neutral? For this to work that would have to mean that the phrases used by the democrats represent an absolute average of human left wing sentiment and the phrases used by the republicans represent an absolute average of human right wing sentiment. If one were to hypothesise that the US congress has it's own inherent bias then this study is not measuring absolute bias but only a comparative bias, ie. does wikipedia have the same bias as congress.

Never appeal to a man's "better nature." He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage. -- Lazarus Long

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