William Beutler on Wikipedia

Is “Atlas Shrugged” Getting Fair Treatment on Wikipedia?

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on April 3, 2009 at 12:55 pm by William Beutler

Lead-ins don’t get much more intriguing than the one for an essay by EJ Moosa for a libertarian website (and subsequently picked up by Instapundit), titled “‘Atlas Shrugged’: Why has Wikipedia Removed Key Elements?”:

    What happens when you combine “1984” by George Orwell and “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand? You get a Wikipedia entry that begins to redefine what the key elements are. You get a level of censorship that defies belief. Why is this occurring?

OK, I’m hooked. The article specifically refers to a version of the article about the doorstop of a novel on Monday, so take for instance the last version of the article as it appeared on Sunday night. So what’s the specific complaint? Allegedly, there is

    a major theme that is missing: The Failure of Government.

    Search for the “Anti Dog Eat Dog rule”. Or for the “Equalization of Opportunity” bill. … Any references to them are gone from the Wikipedia entry. Search for any of the legislation passed to control private enterprise. It’s no longer there.

    What is the reason that the references to these failed government actions have been deleted from the Wikipedia page on “Atlas Shrugged”? I have my theories. I would like to hear yours

Using the handy WikiBlame tool, I decided to check the past 1,000 versions of the page for occurrences of the phrases “Equalization of Opportunity” and “dog-eat-dog” (“dog eat dog” as well, just to be sure). In fact these phrases have occured just twice and once, respectively, since July 2007.

Back in August 2008, someone added 3,200+ words of commentary that included mention of both fictional laws, Googling some of the text, was clearly unattributed from CliffsNotes. Even if it wasn’t plagiarized, it was still far too long for a Wikipedia summary, and was therefore reversed (or “reverted,” as Wikipedia says).

Then a few days later, someone added approximately seven hundred words of what appears to be a rant about the Illuminati, which also mentioned Equalization of Opportunity. Somewhere there may be a wiki for ravings about the Illuminati, but Wikipedia is not it. And so it was quickly removed as well.

But here’s the funny thing: after the Moosa essay appeared, someone got in and edited the article in question:

    The “Anti-dog-eat-dog” rule, as passed by the National Alliance of Railroads, is an example of this mooching becoming codified into law.

This time, it’s even cited to CliffsNotes. And so far it has remained. It’s not perfect, but I certainly don’t get the impression that anyone is trying to obscure the meaning behind “Atlas Shrugged,” let alone is anything like censorship happening. EJ Moosa would have been better served actually investigating the situation, rather than just asking questions and reaching for Orwell on his bookshelf.

Far from censorship, I’d say quite the opposite is happening: the article is longer than most at some 7,000+ words describing the novel in a variety of ways. If anybody is keeping this page from telling the whole story about Rand’s magnum opus, the blame lies squarely with her biggest fans.