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Climate Change Editing Battle Waged on Hurricane Sandy's Wikipedia Page


"...can't be vigilant against climate change's mention in the Hurricane Sandy article forever."

Ken Mampel (Image via Popular Science)

You've probably never heard of Ken Mampel, but you might have seen some of his writing, especially if you went to Wikipedia to learn more about Hurricane Sandy.

Mampel was found to be one of the most active authors on the collaboratively written encyclopedia page on the storm that devastated the East Coast early last week. While scientists since the beginning of the storm were answering questions about the its potential connection with man-made global warming and politicians began discussing it later in the week, the Wikipedia page was void of climate change or global warming discussion even though it was become more prevalent in the media.

Popular Science's Dan Nosowitz looked into why Wikipedia's Sandy page remained silent on the issue. Here's what Nosowitz wrote (Editor's note: emphasis added):

Late in the evening of November 1st, a new section appeared at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, titled "Connection to global warming." It was the first mention of climate change the article had had, and laid out the response from climate scientists, mostly stating that climate scientists don't really know if the hurricane was caused in part or whole by climate change. I emailed Ken, who goes by the name Kennvido on Wikipedia, to get a response, and he wrote back: "thanks deleted again and told them to go discuss Sandy on the global warming page." I reloaded the page and confirmed: Ken had eliminated any discussion of climate change. A few minutes later, I reloaded and the section was back, only with a big block warning, telling me that "The neutrality of this article is disputed." By 10:23, that warning read: "An editor has expressed a concern that this Section lends undue weight to certain ideas, incidents, controversies or matters relative to the article subject as a whole. Please help to create a more balanced presentation."

Nosowitz wrote that Mampel (who operates under Kennvido as a Wikipedia editor) and others were removing posts about global warming and the hurricane with the arguments stating that the hurricane's page was "not the place to push global warming when no evidence exists that this was a cause."

Mampel, who is currently unemployed and doesn't have a scientific background, said in an interview with Nosowitz, "I don't believe that climate change bullcrap."

At the time of this posting, a small section under the meteorological category discusses its relation to global warming.

Nosowitz eventually goes into the ins and outs of Wikipedia editing, which includes a variety of rules and often a "healthy back-and-forth amongst the contributors." You can see the revision history for the Hurricane Sandy Wikipedia page here. Even Wikipedia Foundation's Head of Communications Jay Walsh weighed in on the Hurricane Sandy editing for Nosowitz:

Walsh talked about a "good faith" versus "bad faith" edit: Ken Mampel really thinks he is improving that page by eliminating an unclear passage about climate change, so that's a "good faith" edit. Which, for Wikipedians, means the system is working.

Still, Nosowitz worries about those who might have missed out on the global warming discussion on the site. He wrote that it's a weakness of Wikipedia that anyone can edit (although eventually editing on this section became closed to new writers for the site) and at the same time the solution to this issue is that others can chime in an edit as well.

"Mampel can't be vigilant against climate change's mention in the Hurricane Sandy article forever," Nosowitz wrote. "In fact, he couldn't keep climate change off the page for an entire week--somebody else will keep adding that section until Mampel gives up."

Be sure to check out Nosowitz's full article regarding his interview with Mampel and Wikipedia editing as a whole for more details here.

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