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THE NATION

A conservative's answer to Wikipedia

Seeing a liberal bias on the online encyclopedia, he starts Conservapedia -- to provide another take on facts, he says.

June 19, 2007|Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writer

Schlafly, the son of Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly, is a Harvard-educated attorney who practices in Chester, N.J. He does not know most of Conservapedia's contributors; they're spread out across the world and communicate through online pseudonyms. He promotes writers he finds trustworthy to be systems administrators, who are able to block editors and protect certain articles from changes.

Even among this elite group, there's no ideological conformity. Terry Koeckritz doesn't take the creation account in the Book of Genesis literally, but he enjoys the site and spends hours writing articles on topics such as Fox News.

"It is what it is," said Koeckritz, 56, a computer consultant in Reno. "A family-friendly, Christian-friendly encyclopedia."

That makes it an interesting window into a foreign world for college student Tasha D. Jones, 24, who says she loves to browse random pages and see how writers have inserted Biblical quotes or framed historical events in religious terms.

"It gives me a better understanding of how people feel religion relates to our lives," said Jones, who attends Sacramento City College and has contributed articles on lemons, mangoes and other nonpartisan topics.

The articles change constantly, as most are open to editing by anyone online; on a recent day, a few showed dissenting views. An entry about kangaroo origins, for instance, stated that most scientists believe in evolution. (It was the last line in the entry, after a lengthy discussion about which marsupials Noah may have brought aboard his ark.)

In other cases, a glance at the entry's history -- which shows editing over time -- makes clear how quickly dissenting views are deleted. Dr. Peter A. Lipson, an internist in Southfield, Mich., repeatedly tried to amend an article on breast cancer to tone down Conservapedia's claim that abortion raises a woman's risk. The site's administrators, including Schlafly, questioned his credentials and shut off debate.

After administrators blocked their accounts, Lipson and several other editors quit trying to moderate the articles and instead started their own website, RationalWiki.com. From there, they monitor Conservapedia.

And -- by their own admission -- engage in acts of cyber-vandalism.

In recent months, Conservapedia's articles have been hit frequently by interlopers from RationalWiki and elsewhere. The vandals have inserted errors, pornographic photos and satire, including this addition to an entry on Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales: "Mr. Gonzales is a strong supporter of torture as a law enforcement tool for use against Democrats and third world inhabitants."

The vandalism aims "to cause people to say, 'That Conservapedia is just wacko,' " said Brian Macdonald, 45, a Navy veteran in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who puts in several hours a day on the site fending off malicious editing.

Such aggression has reinforced the view among some Conservapedia writers that left-wingers are out to suppress their free speech.

"I had heard it spoken of, but it had never really hit home before just how hostile they are," said a 15-year-old in New Jersey whose mother asked that her name not be used.

The girl, who is home-schooled, wrote an article for Conservapedia on Irish dancing and uses the site to research papers. But the biggest lesson she's taken away as a young conservative is: "There are people who want to destroy us."

stephanie.simon@latimes.com

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