A shift in the cyber meaning of “pro-life”?

Dictionaries are important. When dictionaries change there can be wide repercussions. For example, when the standard reference point for American English back in the day, Webster, changed their basic approach, their lexicographical theory, as it were, from being being proscriptive (saying what a word means and ought to mean) to being descriptive (saying how a word is being used), the ground for the meaning of words and communication started to get squishier.

Back in the day when I was studying German, I learned about the differences in the definitions of the same word in dictionaries made in West Germany (in the free West) and East Germany (under Communist domination). Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a particular term that had disparate meanings on either side of the Iron Curtain, but imagine how commies would want to have certain political and economic terms tilted in a favorable or unfavorable direction.

Today I read an entry on Life News:

Wikipedia May Redefine Term “Pro-Life” in Every Abortion Entry
by Ryan Bomberger

Yesterday, official discussion ended in Wikipedia’s effort to possibly redefine the abortion debate according to its contributors’ worldviews.

Wikipedia, which ranks 6th in the United States and globally as the most accessed website, is not known for its accuracy nor impartiality. [On the other hand, if a printed book gets something wrong, it will still be wrong tomorrow.  Wikipedia can be corrected.] From reporting people dead before their death (Ted Kennedy, Miley Cirus, Sinbad) to defaming the famous (Bill Gates, Rush Limbaugh, Fuzzy Zoeller) to contributors posing as authoritative figures and then being debunked (supposed professor of religion exposed as 24 year old college dropout) the online encyclopedia is a constant source of controversy.

Wikipedia’s bias toward abortion is nothing new. Conservapedia (which itself reveals bias and incomplete information) lists a handful of examples that only scratch the surface of Wiki’s glaringly evident pro-abortion advocacy. A more recent example of the absurdity of contributor-bias is Wikipedia’s Maafa 21 entry. It asserts that the film “has been praised by pro-life activists and condemned by historical scholars, pro-choice activists, and other writers…”

Apparently, pro-life activists are not historical scholars, or medical professionals, or professors, or other types of educators…just nebulous “activists”.

The article then avoids any of the actual substance of the thoroughly researched documentary and instead relies upon mostly unattributed assertions or feelings about Planned Parenthood. Most noticeably, however, is the ratio of Support versus Criticism in the entry with 5 sentences supporting the documentary and 20 criticizing it. Nowhere in any of the criticism is any actual assertion proven wrong in Maafa 21.  [Perhaps more people with credentials should get involved with Wikipedia?]

The closest the pro-abortion critics come to denying anything specific is in the false accusation that the Negro Project was cast as an abortion initiative, when clearly the documentary (if any of the contributors actually watched the film) presented the initiative as a failed birth control initiative.

Within its official “discussion”, numerous options are provided in changing the vernacular Wikipedia will pursue in addressing abortion in the United States. Its bias toward the ever genteel sounding “abortion rights” is summed up in one assertion found under “Arguments regarding Support for the Toleration of Abortion/Opposition to the Toleration of Abortion”, stating: “virtually no one is in favour of abortion per se”. Yes, Wikipedia, there are many who are in favor of abortion-on-demand for any reason and at any point in a woman’s pregnancy—Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NOW, International Planned Parenthood Federation, ACLU et al.

Wikipedia never opted to include the labeling choice “Opposition to care for both women and (born/unborn) child” versus “Support for care for both women and (born/unborn) child”, pro-abortion and pro-life respectively. It goes to show how myopic a Wikipedia worldview of abortion is and continues to be. Liberals always define the pro-life side as “in opposition” to or “anti” something. These gatekeepers of voluminous misinformation have the audacity to point to mainstream media’s depiction of each side of the abortion debate as proof that they should follow suit.

Invoking the AP, NY Times, CBS News, NPR and other blatantly biased news networks’ use of “anti-abortion” and “abortion rights” to define each side apparently doesn’t immediately strike these self-described “neutral administrators” of the inherent bias.

Bias is the natural result of agenda-driven funding. Wikimedia Foundation’s short list of major donors includes two of the largest population control organizations: the Ford Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. Both of these organizations have poured hundreds of millions into population control efforts including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the International Planned Parenthood Federatio–the world’s largest killers of the unborn. In fact, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, is a recent Board Member of the Ford Foundation.

Funny. Like so many other crucial and relevant details, that fact isn’t mentioned on Wikipedia.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    Any lay person, man , woman, student, or any priest or sister can edit or put an article on Wiki. Some people in my family have done this, and some of my students have done this. Now that you have pointed out this problem, Fr. Z, I highly encourage those who are more expert in the area of pro-life than myself to add to the existing articles or create their own. We can do something about this. As to the dictionary, I suggest writing to those who moderate that as well. This is something which is changeable. Thanks for the heads-up.

  2. jasoncpetty says:

    Seconding Supertradmum. Pick an article or three and check them once a week.

    The headline of this LifeSite article doesn’t match the text. Where is it shown that “Wikipedia May Redefine Term ‘Pro-Life’ in Every Abortion Entry”? There are some insinuations that various characters have seats on the Wikimedia Foundation, but . . .

  3. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    The responses surprise me: why are we trying to turn up the amplifier, so that we make more noise than they do? We can surely pray for the conversion of these people, but why would we attempt to fight their prejudices on turf which they control so completely? Surely the goal should be to refuse to patronize wikipedia at all, but not so that we can set up our own site which does the same thing. Have we learned nothing from Doug Kmiec and company?

  4. plemmen says:

    None of this is surprising considering the social and political climate in the world today, especially here in the US. The Cultural Marxists, whose aim is to change the public perceptions of everything to fit their own world-view and bend the political dialog to their own ends (the creation of a Marxist totalitarian state which regulates and determines all actions by anyone), redefine terms to their own end. This is the origin of “Political Correctness” and once a population is comfortable with the “new” definition of terms and reject any definition that doesn’t fit that which is acceptable to “the collective” , free thought and the ability to dissent is gone as are all liberties.
    Socialism is only a stepping stone and Hegelian Dialectics is a methodology that is very effective in a society that has had “PC” as the norm for over twenty years. I have written extensively about this on my blog (you can get there by clicking on my name above).

  5. Scarltherr says:

    I have long cautioned my students that wikipedia is not an acceptable source. More reason to continue to refuse it n bibliographies. Thanks Fr. Z.

  6. Scarltherr says:

    I have long cautioned my students that wikipedia is not an acceptable source. More reason to continue to refuse it in bibliographies. Thanks Fr. Z.


  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    While Wikipedia can be useful as a starting point for non-controversial research, it is worthless for anything that is even faintly political or the subject of liberal rabble-rousing.

    I suppose it’s a charitable impulse to go on Wiki and correct articles or submit pro-life material.

    HOWEVER, the problem is the editors. Anything you put on Wiki that bucks the pro-abortion, radical leftist line will be deleted by the editors and you will be locked out and your account deleted. Or, worse, the editors will meddle with your article and change the contents.

    One scandal the story does not mention is that Wiki had one of the ‘global warming’ professors in England as an editor. He went through hundreds of articles (I have heard that it was more than 1,000) and deleted anything that cast doubt on anthropogenic global warming, including scholarly articles and any references to them. The mistake he made was bragging about it in one of the Emails that later became public.

    I think you’re wasting time messing with Wiki — and I agree with Scarltherr but take it one step further — any citation to Wikipedia = a failing grade.

  9. Mrs. O says:

    I didn’t realize that about Webster – good to know. The next time I run across a whole set of Encyclopedias for sale, I am buying them. Wiki is easy. Maybe too easy. I have noticed a bias and have also noticed how some will not allow some electronic sources to used in term papers. That is good as they have to end in “edu” or such if you use them off the net. I hope they get what they want. But maybe it is time to get away from Wiki.

  10. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Actually, I would like to commend wiki, despite the unavoidable bias, for its coverage of catholicism in its English edition…when I compare their coverage to what northern European newspapers and journalists present as church history, wiki is a million times fairer…so let’s continue to contribute to its entries. It’s a great service to humanity.

  11. discipulus says:

    “Wikipedia, which ranks 6th in the United States and globally as the most accessed website, is not known for its accuracy nor impartiality”

    That can be proved by reading the entry for Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordlione, Bishop of Oakland, CA;

    “On September 20, 2009, Bishop Cordileone offered a Missa Pontificalis, or Pontifical High Mass, in the Tridentine rite at Saint Margaret Mary Church in Oakland. This was the first time a Missa Pontificalis was offered in Northern California since the 1970s liturgical changes.”

    Actually, then-Bishop Vingeron also offered a Missa Pontificalis on October 20, 2007, on my Confirmation day. That is not the only mistake I have found, as I have found alot of others as well. But the one mentioned above is the most notable that I found so far.

  12. mriopel says:

    As with anything on the internet, Wikipedia must be viewed with a skeptical eye. Never, ever to be used as a [final or definitive] research tool.

  13. MPSchneiderLC says:

    I edited one entry that said “pro-choice (also known as pro-abortion)” and two lines later “anti-abortion (also known as pro-life)” to “pro-life (also known as anti-abortion)” with a note that we should call both by what they want to be called and include equal epitaphs. It stayed up for a while. Unfortunately many other articles are more heavily watched (my edits on crisis pregnancy center were deleted in a hour by someone who admits being a radical fwminist in her profile).

    It goes down to the whole question of where is objective truth? Who yells lounder or whom corresponds to reality?

    If we want “fairness,” according to a modern secular standard, we can’t ask them to go too far the other way. In general most saint pages are edited versions of the articles form the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia and even “The Crusades” is relatively fair.

  14. Tammy says:

    Quote: “Apparently, pro-life activists are not historical scholars, or medical professionals, or professors, or other types of educators…just nebulous “activists”. ”

    We dont need to wait for the liberal media to do this to us – we already do this to ourselves. I have worked as a Nurse for 26 years in Maternal Child Health including (Neonatal ICUs in 5 states) and a small amount of adult end-of-life care. When I (respectfully and reasonably) contact / comment on blogs / articles about medical misinformation, I am met with prolifers ignoring, disrespecting and accusing me. I hve honestly been treated so badly by prolifers that even though I still believe in the sacredness and sanctity of life, I no longer choose to use that term to describe myself.

    Im forever astonished at the hostility I recieve when I give people information that would lalow them to more accurately speak to the topics at hand be they hospital routines and custome or the pathophysiology of issues being discussed. We have the truth and need to speak the truth and the TRUTH will set us free. If our prolife apologetics are filled with misinformation and exaggeration, it looks like we dont even believe our own message. The absolute truth IS enough to win this battle and the truth never needs to be embellished.

  15. Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    [Perhaps more people with credentials should get involved with Wikipedia?]

    As a professional historian with a PhD from Berkeley (gasp!), I have often thought about this. There is a deep problem with the way Wikipedia works that makes such an effort systemically futile unless the issue is one of hard science. The issues are two:

    1. No original research can be posted. This means that, in many cases, the credentialed expert is forbidden to use his own professional research. It also means that any old book, no matter how out of date can be cited for “facts.”

    2. The POV (point of view, i.e. “biased”) bugaboo. This means that when something that is accepted as true by virtually every medievalist is quoted, there has to be equal time for ill-informed popular opinions and out of date scholarship. Esp. if the currently scholarly consensus fails to put Catholicism (and Christianity) in a bad light.

    The combination of regular deletions of “POV” and original research means that no credentialed scholar would bother with a page they could not lock.

  16. Martial Artist says:


    You write:

    we should call both by what they want to be called….

    If, by “what they want to be called,” you are referring to those who support the legality of abortion, I must, most strenuously, disagree with your assertion.

    It has long been understood that he who defines the terms controls the argument. We communicate in words. Words have meanings, both denotational and connotational, they express ideas. Ideas have consequences, certainly logical ones, and not infrequently moral ones. The term pro-choice is a euphemistic usage, designed to evade or disguise the reality that what is being discussed is, in stark reality, the willful, voluntary taking of the life of an unborn baby. If I acquiesce or cooperate in the use of such a misnomer I am abandoning reality (i.e., truth) in favor of a deliberate falsehood. There are, at minimum, three human persons directly affected by an abortion—the mother, the child and the father (I exclude the abortionist, not because that person is not affected, but for clarity in where the deception occurs). Yet, the choice that is implied in the falsehood is that only one of the three directly affected parties to the procedure is to be allowed to exercise choice in the matter.

    Especially as Catholic Christians, it is incumbent upon us always to speak the truth. To do otherwise is to cooperate in the sin of lying. I do not know whether my acquiesence in using that misnomer, thereby encouraging another person in believing such a lie, constitutes material support for an intrinsic evil, but I do know that if I do so I am sinning, because I thereby encourage another person to believe that lie. I cannot imagine that doing so is not sinful.
    – At least as far back as Confucius, IIRC.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  17. plemmen says:

    Use the entry for me in Wikipedia as an example. By reading it you will get the impression that I am in prison for being a military imposter and was arrested in Iraq doing so.
    I am not in prison, was never imprisoned (or even indicted) as an imposter nor arrested in Iraq. If one follows the linked citations, most (not all) are dead. I WAS in Federal Prison, convicted of bank fraud, for depositing checks from business partners (for labor, effort and as reimbursements for bribes paid on their behalf) that turned out to be fraudulent. That does not mean I wasn’t a criminal, I was. It just means that Wikipedia has chosen to portray me in a different manner from the truth. As a (former) criminal, I apparently have no right of redress, for every email and inquiry I have made regarding correcting their entry has been ignored. I have even gone to the extent of sending them the documentation of the indictment, the court transcript and sentencing agreement, to no avail. Disgusting!

  18. Elizium23 says:

    I am a longtime editor at Wikipedia, and I would like to point out some details.

    The blogosphere seems to have picked up this current discussion and run with it. The current discussion at Wikipedia is very, very specific: it is about the titles of articles directly related to abortion. The article title is what you see in large type, bold print at the upper left of every Wikipedia page. This is not about how editors or articles will refer to abortion in the article text. Editors are still free to use discretion and consensus in coming up with descriptive abortion-related terms.

    Since February 2011, abortion-related articles have been under General Sanctions at Wikipedia. This means that administrators can hand out discretionary blocks and bans, and edits related to abortion are under a restrictive “1-Revert Rule”. 1RR means that if two or more people fight over the content of an article by “reverting” rather than discussion, they can be blocked from editing for a period of time.

    Since abortion is such a divisive topic, and since it is under General Sanctions, and since I am unable to remain neutral about the topic, I generally recuse myself from editing anything abortion-related. Nobody on Wikipedia has a “boss” or supervisor telling us where to use our volunteer time improving articles or discussing them, and I choose to use most of my time fighting vandalism.

    I think that most people are mostly unaware of the vast bureaucracy that drives Wikipedia, or the policies that are supposed to govern our actions. Two relevant policies here are NPOV, a Neutral-Point-of-View, and CONSENSUS, which governs how decisions are supposed to be made. NPOV means that Wikipedia is not supposed to take sides or present one viewpoint as correct. We are supposed to report what secondary reliable sources say about a topic. We are supposed to present viewpoints with appropriate weight based on their popularity and scholarship. We are not supposed to use polls or democratic voting for decision-making, we are supposed to use policy-based arguments and discussion for decisions.

    There are multiple avenues for dispute resolution; the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) forum is a last-resort, very formalized, and run by elected volunteers. There are currently 13 active ArbCom members. Their decisions are binding on the whole community and enforced by blocks and bans.

    I have described the ideal fantasy of how Wikipedia works. Naturally, the way things happen in reality are different. Good editors are blocked because they trip over a rule. Good editors are scared away by heated discussions or edit wars. Articles get neglected because of the sheer ratio of articles to editors is staggering, and nobody notices when articles decay. I recently removed some garbage from an article that had not been noticed for two years. NPOV is used as a wedge to jam in all kinds of crazy viewpoints. Articles on Christianity are especially vulnerable to this. There are people debating whether Jesus existed at all, and what Josephus had to say about it. Whether the Crucifixion really happened. Why the article on Easter is a description of the Christian festival when there are so many pagan and secular viewpoints to represent. The type of undergarments that celebrities did or did not wear in public, and how many news articles need to cover that before it is deemed notable for inclusion.

    I don’t really think this is a question of Wikipedia’s funding. We don’t have sponsors whispering in our ear what kind of edits to make. I believe it is mostly a function of the type of person attracted to a life of editing Wikipedia, minus those who are chased away once they find out about the bureacracy and drama inherent in getting anything done there. The type of person who is interested in Wikipedia is likely to come from the Free Software movement; everything on Wikipedia is licensed by Creative Commons and freely redistributable. Let’s just say that there are not a lot of conservative, religious types who are interested in Free Software. Credentials and close ties to an issue do not help you at Wikipedia. In fact, close ties to an organization can hurt you, due to their policy against Conflict of Interest (COI). Scholars are welcome to edit there, but discouraged from citing themselves.

    And it’s a thankless job. In four and a half years of daily contributions, I haven’t been paid, I haven’t gotten any perks. In 2010, I got a message from someone wishing me a Merry Christmas. I don’t have any ambition to be an administrator there, because administrator tasks would just take away time from constructive editing that I like to do.

  19. From “Pro-life” to “anti-abortion”? Isn’t that just the AP Style?

    Besides, even among pro-lifers, the two terms are not synonymous. Pro-life is also anti-contraception, &c.

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