E5: How is science represented on Wikipedia, and why does it matter?

It’s a real scorcher of an episode this week as Calvin and Alex sit down with re:verb web editor and Carnegie Mellon PhD. candidate Ana Cooke to discuss her research on the arguments taking place within Wikipedia articles about climate change. We talk about why Wikipedia is such an important venue for public knowledge-curation, how certain kinds of language can color our perceptions of the certainty surrounding scientific facts, and how editors of the pages related to climate change found a working solution for representing both the scientific consensus and dissenting opinions. We also get down into the trenches of online polemics with Wikipedia editor and CMU Rhetoric alumnus Daniel Dickson-Laprade, who gives us a first-hand account of how debates on talk pages play out, recounts the time he successfully argued for the deletion of a scientifically faulty article, and reminds a certain popular author that just because you wrote Jurassic Park, that doesn’t mean you get to dictate how science works.

Cover Photo: Former Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe brings a snowball onto the U.S. Senate floor as “evidence” that global warming isn’t real. (image source)

Sources and Concepts Cited in this Episode

Bakhtin, M.M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays (M. Holquist, Trans.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. (on the concept of “dialogism”)

Michael Crichton’s “Aliens Cause Global Warming” speech (in which he coins the spurious term “consensus science”):


Ceccarelli, L. (2011). “Manufactured scientific controversy: Science, rhetoric, and public debate.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 14(2), 195-228.

IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) on Climate Change:


Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (2013). Laboratory life: The construction of scientific facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Martin, J. R., & White, P. R. (2003). The language of evaluation (Vol. 2). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (on the concepts of “dialogic expansion” and “dialogic contraction”)

McGee, M. C. (1980). The “ideograph”: A link between rhetoric and ideology. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 66(1), 1-16.

Oreskes, N., & Conway, E.M. (2010). Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. London, UK: Bloomsbury.

Pew Research Center. (14 Jan. 2016). “Wikipedia at 15: Millions of readers in scores of languages.” Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/14/wikipedia-at-15/

Safran, N. (20 Mar. 2012). “Wikipedia in the SERPs: Appears on page 1 for 60% of informational, 34% transactional queries.” Conductor. Retrieved from: https://www.conductor.com/blog/2012/03/wikipedia-in-the-serps-appears-on-page-1-for-60-of-informational-34-transactional-queries/

Xia, R. (20 Sep. 2016). “College students take to Wikipedia to rewrite the wrongs of internet science.” Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-wikipedia-science-classes-adv-snap-story.html

Wikipedia page on “Global warming”:


Wikipedia page on “Global warming controversy”:


Wikipedia page on the questionable “Oregon Petition” (famously “signed” by “Dr. Geri Halliwell,” a.k.a. “Ginger Spice” of the Spice Girls):


Alex Helberg