Wikipedia is, at its core, a crowdsourced encyclopedia. This has its upsides and downsides, allowing a free repository of knowledge to exist for all, but one which has as many critics as fans. Wikipedia is written by a team of unpaid editors, as well as other individuals who contribute as and when they can. Everyone has biases to some degree, but most of the time Wikipedia presents the facts rather than opinion. At least on the surface.
Under the surface there is a war surrounding controversial topics waged on many pages, with editors and contributors drawing battle lines over what should be included and what should be excluded from individual articles. This is especially true of politics, religion, and other taboo subjects liable to cause an argument amongst people sitting around a dinner table.
One way to measure the level of debate attached to different controversial topics on Wikipedia is to track the number of reverts that take place. These are instances when one editor will completely undo another editor’s changes, reverting the page back to its previous state. The authors of a study published at Cornell University Library have used these statistics to compile a list of the most controversial Wikipedia pages across different language versions of the site.
What follows are a list of 10 of these controversial topics on Wikipedia, pulled somewhat at random. These are all subjects you’re likely to have an opinion on, and that opinion will differ greatly from person to person. You’ll think you’re correct in your assumptions, but other people will think they’re correct, even though you have very different views on the subject at hand. It should make for an interesting conversation, at the very least.
Sexual proclivity towards someone of the same gender as you is common and as old as the earliest records kept by humankind. But acceptance of homosexuality has varied throughout history and is now divided by country, religion, and political leaning. Which all adds up to a highly controversial topic argued about between people of differing beliefs and viewpoints.
Anarchism is a political philosophy based on a desire to create stateless societies where authority and hierarchies are eschewed in favor of individuals acting as equal members of a community. The controversy is borne mostly from different schools of thought all of which reside within the umbrella of anarchism. It’s quite ironic that anarchists can’t even agree amongst themselves.
The idea that a person’s race can indicate their level of intelligence is one that has existed since the early part of the last century. This idea has previously been used to justify colonialism and slavery and has more recently been used to score political points. The Wikipedia page exploring this controversial topic is rather epic, showing just how much has been written on the subject over the years.
The official account of the 9/11 attacks which took down the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 states that a cell of Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the Twin Towers. Despite (or perhaps because of) two wars being launched on the strength of this, many people think there is more to the story. The conspiracy theories are numerous and range from the bizarre to the (frankly) quite believable.
Muhammad is a historical religious and political figure who is believed by Muslims to be a prophet of God. People who practise Islam believe that the Quran is made up of the words of God as revealed to Muhammad. The controversial nature of the Wikipedia page dedicated to Muhammad derives from different religions having different beliefs about the man, his message, and his level of importance to the world.
Jesus is a historical religious leader who acts as the central figure of Christianity. Most Christian religions believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, while in Islam Jesus is considered a prophet. The controversial nature of the Wikipedia page dedicated to Jesus derives from different religions having different beliefs about the man, his message, and his level of importance to the world.
George W. Bush was the 43rd President of the United States of America, running the country between 2001 and 2009. His first term was dominated by the 9/11 attacks and the resulting War on Terror. Towards the end of his second term the U.S. entered a recession. Opinions on Bush and his policies differ depending on political points of view, and how he’ll be viewed in history is open to considerable debate.
Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine that originated in 1796. It’s based on the idea that repeatedly diluting a certain substance in water can create potent remedies. Many people believe in the power of homeopathy, but its virtues are not supported by the wider scientific community. Modern studies have shown a placebo effect occurring, but any more than that is open to interpretation.
Scientology is a religion created by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, and another controversial topic on Wikipedia. The Church Of Scientology is the largest organization promoting this belief system, with followers in many countries around the world. Many people do not believe that Scientology should be classified as a religion, but that hasn’t stopped millions of others from believing in the teachings.
Global warming refers to the rise in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere that has been taking place for the last few decades. While most scientists believe the rise is mainly due to the actions of mankind, some do not, believing instead that this is an entirely natural phenomenon. This is the basis for the controversy, with the two sides completely at odds over the causes and urgency of acting to reverse the process.
I had my doubts about writing this article for fear of offending anyone who has entrenched views on one or more of these controversial topics. But in the end I realized that is the point of the whole exercise. These subjects have all had numerous pages of copy dedicated to them and yet there is still disagreement amongst scholars and amateurs over what is factual and what is mere conjecture. Which makes them fascinating subjects to explore on Wikipedia and beyond.
Feel free to vent your spleen on any of the subjects mentioned above in the comments section below. But beware, someone else may have polar opposite views from you on the subject, so prepare to argue your case. Or you could, as I tend to, accept that people will believe what they want to believe, and arguing online is about as likely to produce a satisfactory outcome as would brewing tea in a pot made out of chocolate.