RationalWiki guts a reader’s attempt to correct its article on female genital mutilation

JAC: I haven’t used RationalWiki very much, as its articles are not only not as thorough as those in Wikipedia (though some day Greg will produce his long-awaited post, “What’s the matter with Wikipedia?), but also appear slanted toward the Authoritarian Left. Although created to counter the odious Conservapedia site, it seems to have swung too far in the opposite direction—towards censorship of Incorrect Thought. Wikipedia says this about the site:

RationalWiki is a wiki written from a skeptical, secular, and progressivist perspective. It was created in 2007 as a counter to Conservapedia after an incident in which contributors attempting to edit Conservapedia were banned. Since then, it has developed into a wiki that criticizes “crank” ideas, pseudoscience, and fundamentalism. Ideologically, RationalWiki typically argues in favour of freedom of religion, atheism, feminism, and LGBT rights, and it criticises conservatism and right-libertarianism. RationalWiki frequently uses sarcasm and humor in its articles. Unlike many wikis, RationalWiki has no formal system for electing sysops, and most users who are thought to have good intentions are given the tools.

But the skepticism has been tainted by authoritarian leftism, something amply documented by reader Aneris, who attempted to fix RationalWiki‘s article on female genital mutilation (FGM). Its original article (the one that’s still there) did everything it can to dissociate the practice of FGM from Islam, even though, as reader Heather Hastie documents on her website, at least four schools of Islam either recommend the practice or deem its obligatory. There have also been fatwas saying that the practice is Islamic, and the vast majority of women mutilated in this way are Muslims whose families follow the practice. Only the blinkered, or those who excuse Islam of all malfeasance, could deny the close association of the practice with Muslim belief.

Below Aneris’s recounts his/her unsuccessful attempt to get RationalWiki to give the fact about FGM instead of an Islam-exculpating ideological take. He rewrote their article, only to discover that his additions were quickly and completely expunged. Why? Because they associated FGM with Islam. I doubt there would have been the same reaction had FGM been a habitual practice of evangelical Christianity.

by Aneris

Some wikis document fictional universes like that of Harry Potter, Star Wars or Creationism. The “RationalWiki” documents the beliefs of what is perhaps imperfectly called (authoritarian) “Regressive Left” or “Social Justice Warriors”. Jerry’s recent post about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) motivated me to look into the matter and also see where those “Regressive Leftists” are coming from, and perhaps suggest improvements to their RationalWiki article. I wound up writing a section for them.

I try to make a difference, but typically find that what is deemed “true” is not determined by sources and evidence, but by a spontaneous majority that merely wins the “edit war”. Alas, FGM was just such a case. I sacrificed style for direct quotations in the belief that this would provide a solid evidential basis; however, I found everything I wrote was deleted quickly – including about a third of all sources of the article, down from 39 to 24 (this doesn’t mean much in itself, but gives a rough idea).

Before I touched it, the article already contained a small section on FGM and Islam, but that has now been purged as well. The reason given, and they’re serious, is this: “terribly written section with random unsourced statements […]”. But the icing on the icing on the cake is that such Regressive Leftists deny what they are doing. The RationalWiki is adamant that neither Social Justice Warriors nor Regressive Leftists really exist. The current article, one that would please even Reza Asla, can be viewed here.


  1. Scott Draper
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really like RationalWiki. I prefer to get the facts as much as possible without editorial comment.

  2. Randy Schenck
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting to know that something like Wiki, that was and is the largest encyclopedia in the world would evolve like this. Too bad but predictable. Why should the internet be at a higher standard than talk radio or the tube? At least we can avoid the likes of rationalwiki and I believe I will.

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted February 13, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Just to avoid confusion, RationalWiki is unrelated to Wikipedia (which is what I assume you’re referring to as the largest encyclopedia in the world). Anyone can start a wiki about anything: it’s simply a set of tools to create a set of linked articles with an editable interface. Wikipedia was the first and largest, but it’s just one of many wikis, and it has no editorial connection with any of the others.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 13, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        There is, for example, Wikia.com.
        “Wikia hosts several hundred thousand wikis using the open-source wiki software, MediaWiki” to quote Wikipedia.

        For example, want to find a wiki on (thinks…) the lamest TV scifi series ever – Lost in Space? (Quick google). Yup, it’s there: http://lostinspace.wikia.com/
        Who woulda thunk it?


  3. JD
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Rational wiki is to rational what Creation Science is to Science. No one should take either seriously. They’re both sites exposing extreme ideologies and both are irrational.

  4. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    A while ago I was looking up ‘Social Justice Warrior’ to learn more about it, and I chose the link to Rational Wiki. I think that posting is a very good example of what is being brought up here, as it describes the SJWs in rather glowing terms and the critics that are described are what i would consider the basest scum on the internet (IMO). What is telling is that nowhere is there a single mention of the rather wide camp on the left who are also very concerned about the SJWs.
    I would trust a Wiki site more if it gave a more balanced view over matters of opinion, and this omission, which is big enough to drive a truck through, is very telling.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted February 14, 2016 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      Whenever I hear the phrase Social Justice Warrior I try out the alternate phrase Social Justice Armchair Warrior to see if it fits better.

      There are undoubtedly people who campaign vigorously using their own effort and money to improve social justice – and there are those who just talk about social justice and consider their job done. Warriors and Armchair Warriors.

  5. Dave Allen
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Here is my article on their page on Evolutionary Psychology.

    In short – it’s crap.


  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Circa 2010 (give or take a year) I discovered that the Rationalwiki article on “Holy Grail” stated that according to legend this cup was taken to England as “one might expect” given that the legend was invented by English.

    WRONG!! The legend of the Holy Grail originated in FRANCE while specifically located the Grail in England, probably (though not certainly) because it was known that England was independent of the Roman Catholic church during the time period of the Arthurian stories. Every responsible Arthurian scholar (there are many bad ones) knows this!!

    (The earliest Arthurian stories were written in England, but the Grail enters the stories in a Frenchman’s contribution, Chretien de Troyes.)

    I notified the editor who had entered this with a very polite note, and got an amazingly rude reply. Wikipedia’s rules of civility in communicating with other editors don’t apply there. (You can get suspended from Wikipedia for being excessively rude to other editors even if your article edits are quite good.)

    I remain relatively proud of my extensive contributions to the rationalwiki article on Karen Armstrong.

  7. jay
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Reminded of a recent demand by Rutgers students in opposition to conservative blogger and tech guy Milo Yiannopoulos

    “[Rutgers groups] should not be inviting anyone like Yiannopoulos because what we stand for is inclusion and diversity,” student activist Nyuma Waggeh …”

    slavery is freedom, war is peace.

    Daniel Greenfield has written (horrors I sometimes read Greenfield!) that since the evolving leftish concept of utopia involves complete harmony, cooperation and lack of conflict… the only way to accomplish this is the complete banishment of conflicting ideas. Their ‘freedom’ is actually a complete subjugation to the group ethos of the moment.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted February 14, 2016 at 4:07 am | Permalink

      Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516. Utopia was very progressive and argued for common ownership and the pursuit of pleasure for a Utopian society, possibly using the ideas of Epicurus.

      However he was unable to distance himself from his religious beliefs and held that certain ideas would have to be banned. He argued that Utopians would have to impose strict punishment, including slavery, on anyone who denied the existence of divine providence or the afterlife. Banishment of conflicting desires, indeed.

  8. cc29
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    From reddit, two threads (from the same person) about other editors having problems at RationalWiki



  9. Posted February 13, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    The RatWiki page is not self-consistent. It starts by saying:

    “[FGM] … is an horrific cultural barbarism seen primarily in sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa.”

    Later it gives the prevalence of FGM in Indonesia as 86-100%. Given that Indonesia is a populous country of 250 million people, that will be one of the “primary” locations.

    No prizes for guessing what the dominant religion is in Indonesia.

    [I wonder whether an SJW might read this comment and “fix” the article.]

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted February 13, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      That one struck me too.

      Of course, it was Aslan who said that it was primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.

  10. Posted February 13, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    RationalWiki started its slide to the dark side around the same time as the divide created by elevatorgate, and atheism plus.

  11. Rob
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The tone of some of the RationalWiki articles disqualifies them from being shared with the very people who would benefit from the content.

    I’ve found good, succint content there, that would be beneficial in conversations on those topics, but the snark is completely off-putting to someone who might initially disagree with the information. So, in essence, they end up preaching to the choir, and ignoring the audience they could be benefitting.

    • Harrison
      Posted February 13, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Virtue signalling is the big wrench that’s been thrown into the workings of secular outreach.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see much use for the incongruous use of “alternative encyclopedias”. Sure, if your interest is so large that it will occupy an area out of proportion (like how Wookipedia would swamp other movie stuff, at a guess), it may have some limited use.

    I don’t think rationality is such an area. Nevertheless I have found myself linked to RationalWiki at times. So I guess that is a meh from me, neither surprised nor hurt by having irrationality at the helm. C.f. how Wikipedia has a layer of religious ‘history’ to get pass before you get to the real history of it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 13, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      I can very well imagine that a detailed wiki-for-the-experts on, say, taxonomy of mammals, or British steam locomotives (one of my interests), or the history of mountaineering, or ten thousand other topics, would be so big that Wikipedia wouldn’t want to host it.

      Hence ‘alternative’ wikis do have their place. And they needn’t face prohibitive costs since they wouldn’t need the bandwidth that Wikipedia does.


  13. Posted February 13, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    The link behind authoritarian (to Linda Calhoun’s review here on this very blog site sums it all up.

    Altemeyer describes the personality traits of high RWAs as submissiveness, fear, self-righteousness, hostility, lack of critical thinking, compartmentalized thinking, double standards, and feeling most empowered when in groups. He describes the lack of logic in their thinking; when they like the conclusion, how that conclusion was arrived at is irrelevant. When they like the behaver, the behavior is acceptable; when they dislike the behaver, the behavior is not.

    He then goes on to describe high Social Dominators. These people want power, and they don’t much care how they get it. “The end justifies the means” is their guiding principle.

    This means in practice that articles in one direction write themselves, need no sources, allow that wide contexts can be included and construed. Every random tweet counts and so forth. And on the flipside, when the direction is not liked: information is removed; the context must be narrow; they put their nitpicker hat on; souces are disputed and then removed, and then the rest is removed for not having sources. Also abuse happens to discourage form editing in the “wrong direction”.

    It’s a powerful display how this whole ideology operates.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Good for you, Aneris!

    I try to speak up too but given my current health and stress level I feel really guilty that I can’t.

    I’m glad you did!

    • Posted February 14, 2016 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! And get well! 🙂

  15. Black_Rose
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    So the website is slanted towards the authoritarian left?

    That website has a derisory article about “Stalin apologetics”. It is not “authoritarian left” if it is contemptuous towards tankies.

  16. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    I’d tumbled into that RationalWiki on a few occasions too. wasn’t very impressed by it.

    • Black_Rose
      Posted February 13, 2016 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      I generally like its snarky tone on articles about creationism and other forms of pseudoscience.

  17. Diane G.
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Great attempt, Aneris! And having your lack of success reported here serves to increase the public’s general knowledge about the so-called RationalWiki.

    • Posted February 14, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      Thanks a lot! It used to be a good site for debunking creationism and other woo, but it’s clear to me that the reputation has suffered a lot over time — unsurprisingly.

  18. Posted February 14, 2016 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    If I understand the underlying question correctly, it is whether FGM is (a) an Islamic thing or (b) a cultural thing. I am not really an expert in the matter, but it occurs to me that religion is a subcategory of culture, so the “or” seems misguided from the get-go.

    Even if the question is accepted as meaningful, it would be best to establish shared criteria for “being an Islamic thing” first and only then try to answer the question. Would it be enough to observe that some Muslims practice it, or does it have to be most or even nearly all of them? Would it be enough that only Muslims practice it, or does it have to be restricted to Muslims? Is it enough for some clerics to support it, or would it have to be a command in the Quran?

    Point is, reasonable people can reasonably disagree on whether FGM is an Islamic thing if their criteria for being an Islamic thing are slightly different. It may not be super-productive to enter into the discussion with somebody whose criterion is different by implying up-front that arriving at a different conclusion than oneself demonstrates that they are ideologically biased [ SJW / regressive left / islamophobes / racists ] (strike whatever isn’t your bogeyman).

  19. kall
    Posted February 14, 2016 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Rationalwiki is everything, but not rational…

  20. Posted February 14, 2016 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I used to frequent their site quite often, mainly to check out articles on people that no rational person could agree with or like – mostly fundies, right wing wackos, etc. I have noticed a huge change in the severe slant to the left on that site in the last year or so. I remember reading Noam Chomsky’s page and now, a year later, anything even remotely critical about him has been removed. The exact opposite for Sam Harris. It now even refers to Cenk Yugur being the champion of reason and “taking off the gloves” in his on going argument with the evil Harris.
    I used to like that site and have even donated money to them in the past. Those days are long over. I don’t use that site very much any more and I certainly won’t be giving them any more money.

    • Posted February 14, 2016 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      The Sam Harris article was written in this current state by a literal self-described Greenwald supporter (fact). It is of course uncorrectable, too.

      I manage to like both Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris and think they are at odds for the wrong reasons. I would also not consider Noam Chomsky a “regressive leftist”, he despises postmodernists as much as Alan Sokal et al does. Chomsky does perhaps care too little about religion, but I never saw him as a religious apologist or accommodationist. The thing simply doesn’t seem high on his list.

      Given his views on propaganda (which appear correct) and his extensive knowledge of US foreign policy, I think he is justified in his opinion that the US doesn’t care much about human rights and only uses it if it can be put to service for other reasons. The now casually named “Chomsky Rule” is also not entirely unwarranted, either. We do have the tendency to write off thousands deaths from bombs and drone strikes as colateral damage, then wonder why this fuels anti-west sentiments in some parts of the world.

      My problem with such contentious matters is not opinions or even an editorial point of view. Every halfway intelligent person can deal with this. My problem is reporting bias, omitting and actively removing sources, rampant confirmation/reporting bias, hiding sources and then filling this up with complete fabrication and eventually propaganda. And of course hacking and subverting the very methods that are meant to prevent that people fool themselves. Plus of course the postmodern pseduoscience that also found its way into the RW in countless articles.

  21. Posted February 14, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    From the few entries that I read, I thought rationalwiki was really disappointing, and much more about ideology than rationality.
    It indeed has no real point existing next to wikipedia, aside from propaganda.
    It’s a coincidence that this article appears now as no sooner than yesterday I was googling Greg Cochran to know what other scientists thought about his ideas, and I fell on this article : http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gregory_Cochran
    Without even knowing Cochran’s work you can see how the reasoning is dishonest and fallacious.

  22. romeviharo
    Posted February 15, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Rational Wiki has additionally become a staging ground for personal attacks and other abuses.


  23. KD
    Posted February 15, 2016 at 7:40 pm | Permalink


    1.) All religions are the same;

    2.) All customs held to be barbaric, disgusting or revolting by Western European sensibilities can have nothing to do with religions, they are simply local quirks;

    3.) BTW, all cultures are the same;

    4.) Any practices held to be barbaric, disgusting or revolting by Western European sensibilities can have nothing to do with local cultures, they simply reflect aberrant individuals, not the practices of wholesale communities over generations.

    If you follow these 4 rules, and label violators of 1.) and 2.) Islamophobes, and 3.) and 4.) cultural racists, leftists will never call you nasty names.

    Remember, never try to cite empirical facts to justify your position, call your opponents names, and try to shame and censor them into silence.

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