I’ve been hesitant to mention Conservapedia on this site before – I don’t want them getting any more publicity – but if PZ Myers is talking about it, we might as well too. A little background, and a small video: Andy Schlafly founded Conservapedia as a “Christian” alternative to Wikipedia, a site that would allow children and their parents to educate each other on creationism and other fundamentalist beliefs. At first blush – and with the pleasant music – the goal sounds noble:
The fact of what Conservapedia has become, however, is entirely different. The traffic and page-views that Andy brags about in the video have, almost without exception, been brought in by liberal blogs like myself, many of which, back in February 2007, wrote about Conservapedia and mocked it. The result was that Conservapedia’s user base quickly came to pit a never-ending stream of liberal and moderate contributors, brought in by the blogs, against a hard core of true believers. For a time, Conservapedia as a result became something of a “debate site.”
In Conservapedia’s reaction to this trend lies its damnation. Rather than make an honest attempt to initiate cross-party line discourse, Conservapedia deputized its homeschooler children – giving them the power to block “disruptive” editors – and encouraged them to think of liberals and moderates as “disruptive,” and categorically wrong, not even entitled to the right to present their viewpoints. The site leaders fostered an us/them dichotomy, pushed it on the homeschoolers, and encouraged them to buy into it. The result has been rather like that predicted by the Zimbardo prisoner/prison-guard experiment: as the homeschoolers participated more in the myth of the evil liberal, they came to believe more in their own persecution, blame it more on the mythical evil liberal, and believe more strongly in the irrebutable correctness of their own viewpoints.
The unfortunate result is that Conservapedia has trained a class of homeschoolers not just in a fundamentalist ideology, but more importantly, it has trained them to use power, and use it zealously, to enforce that ideology upon others. The homeschooler “prison-guards” have been trained, by Conservapedia, to abhor the marketplace of ideas as “censorship,” and to valorize ignorance. Schlafly has not just tried to train insulated and over-protected citizens; rather, he’s tried to train drones. I only hope he hasn’t succeeded.