February 13, 2010
Who am I? Whenever I wonder, I check in on Wikipedia, to get the latest surmise. At different times I’ve been described as a writer, blogger, coffee-shop owner, global warming denier, astroturfer and entrepreneur. One description I haven’t usually found on Wikipedia, at least not over the last 18 months — is of me as an environmentalist, the only occupation I’ve continually engaged in over the last 30 years.
“Insuffecient [sic] evidence to call him environmentalist,” explained Raul654, one Wikipedian, in rejecting another Wikipedian’s description of me as an environmentalist as inadequate. The rejected Wikipedian had cited references to me as an environmentalist in the Financial Post, The American Spectator, and The Washington Times.
In rejecting the environmentalist description, Raul654 was supporting the views of William Connolley, a Wikipedia administrator (since demoted) who has long controlled Wikipedia content dealing with global warming, and who had been the first to ban references to me as an environmentalist. “Removed environmentalist — sources not good enough and issue in severe doubt,” Connolley had explained as justification.
My status as an environmentalist in severe doubt? I helped found Energy Probe Research Foundation, one of Canada’s oldest and largest environmental groups, as well as its most popular, according to Amazon’s Alexa metric. I am one of Canada’s longest-standing critics of nuclear power and its longest-standing advocate for conservation and renewable energy. The media has quoted me or written about me in my capacity as Energy Probe spokesman literally thousands of times. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last year referred to me as a “charter environmentalist.”
Yet Connolley et al. do not want Wikipedia readers to see me as an environmentalist, presumably because they can’t accept that a card-carrying environmentalist would disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy on global warming.
Whenever a sympathetic Wikipedian described me as an environmentalist in a Wikipedia posting, Connolley et al would soon reverse it, regardless of the evidence. On one occasion, a Connolley opponent showed evidence from The Canadian Encyclopedia to bolster the claim that I’m an environmentalist. On another, a Canadian environmental encyclopedia was cited. Other evidence came from books. Others still from my fellow environmentalists, who accept me as an environmentalist, even when they happen to disagree with my positions.
Nope, nope, nope, nope, said Connolley et al. None of these sources are good enough, they decided. “Self-described environmentalist” is more like it, Connolley suggested.
The laughable dispute over this petty issue has now involved hundreds of posts since it began 18 months ago, on the Wikipedia site and others onto which it spilled. It points to Wikipedia’s ingrown information-gathering system and its determination to discredit anyone who is a global warming sceptic.
Because Wikipedia tends to use only information in electronic form, and because it discriminates against editors who do original research, Wikipedia articles often amount to amalgams of bits and pieces of information that turn up in Google searches, cobbled together by guesses at what the bits mean. At one point, anyone visiting my Wikipedia page would have seen a large section on me as a coffee entrepreneur — some who sided with Connolley suspected that I was really a coffee-shop owner who ran an environmental group out of his establishment, one proof being that Energy Probe and the coffee shop had the same phone number.
Here’s the real scoop. As a fundraising venture, Energy Probe set up an online coffee business called Green Beanery. Initially, Green Beanery did operate out of Energy Probe’s offices, but it has since grown and needed to move out. Green Beanery now operates its online business, as well as two bricks-and-mortar retail stores out of two locations, including a coffee shop and equipment store in downtown Toronto that Wikipedia focused on.
Another conspiracy pointing to me not being a bona-fide environmentalist — this one appearing on Connolley’s personal website — had me pirating the Energy Probe name after the real Energy Probe went out of business. The “evidence” for this pirating, it appears, stemmed from someone discovering a defunct Energy Probe website, which presumably I had pirated. The real scoop: Energy Probe reorganized its website and now operates at a new URL. Most of the links at the old site are now dead.
Who am I today? Well, for once I have no way of knowing. Wikipedia has put my page on probation. Another, more important question: What is Wikipedia? For that, we have the answer.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute and author of The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud.