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Ballotpedia is a website that provides information on United States elections and candidates for voters. It started out as a community-contributed site, but is now only edited by paid staff. It has information related to both US Federal government and US state governments, with a database of information on U.S. state executives, legislators, districts, candidates for such positions and ballot measures.
The website claims to be neutral and accurate. At the time of writing, the Media Bias/Fact Check page classifies it as "Least Biased" and "Factual Reporting: Very High". Of course, due to the nature of the site, it does sometimes show decidedly non-factual quotes from other sources (such as public figures). Despite this, the site was founded by the Citizens In Charge Foundation, a libertarian activist organisation. The site is currently run by a remarkably well-fed nonprofit called the Lucy Burns Institute, which is substantially funded by Koch Industries money, funnelled in via various corporate shells. Board members include Erick Erickson.
Although it looks like a wiki and uses MediaWiki as its CMS, it is not publicly editable. Up until 2016 there was a group of "carefully vetted members of the general public" who could edit with every edit first reviewed by staff.
Neutrality and its problems
The co-founder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, was an early consultant for Ballotpedia. Sanger left the leadership of Wikipedia in 2002, and has since become critical of Wikipedia not hewing to a strictly neutral point of view (NPOV). Sanger wrote a 2015 essay on NPOV for Ballotpedia, which presumably also explains Ballotpedia's position on NPOV. Although Sanger acknowledges the existence of "false balance" (balance fallacy), his example of NPOV for global warming is rather skewed away from adequately acknowledging the balance fallacy:
“”A majority of climate scientists believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW); exactly which scientists to include as “experts,” and thus which surveys to consider and what percentage endorse it, is a matter of debate. In any case, while there are some distinguished climate science experts who are skeptics [of AGW], a decided majority are not.
Sanger wrote this in 2015, but by 2004 it was already the case that there was scientific consensus and by 2010, it had reached 97-98% agreement among climate scientists that climate change was real and anthropogenic. and has since risen to >99%. Sanger was arguing that there was still a debate on the reality of climate change in 2015, when there wasn't one at all, i.e., the balance fallacy. Arguably, Sanger and subsequently Ballotpedia are NPOV extremists.
“”For example, suppose in a piece of writing, you discuss the measles vaccination controversy. If you’re going to write in accordance with the canons of science (and also rationality and objectivity, no doubt), then in my opinion, you will support the view that children should be vaccinated, period. But if what you write is going to be neutral with respect to current American society, you will have to withhold any such forthright claim. Rather, you’ll report that while a very large majority of doctors and scientists strongly advise vaccination, something like 9% of the population thinks that the measles vaccine is unsafe.
Sanger does not even acknowledge that the Centers for Disease Control says that the MMR vaccine is extremely safe and effective, or that deaths in the US from measles dropped from 503,282 pre-vaccine availability to 89 post-vaccine availability.
Neutrality is all well and good when dealing with easily verified facts, such as who and what is on an election ballot, what responses a candidate for office has given on issues, etc. However, once one starts getting into more complex issues such as science, medicine or general politics, neutrality becomes fraught with the balance fallacy (giving equal weight to refuted or crank ideas), and argumentum ad populum (a logical fallacy that occurs when something is considered to be true or good solely because it is popular).
So, let's throw a bunch of opinions on the wall and you can pick the one that you like.
Dead people voting
From 2014-2018, the staff worked to look like they were putting in more effort than they were. e.g. on the surface, the "Dead people voting news" page looks like it's filled with many news articles of actual cases of dead people voting, but it's just a Google news script of "Dead + People + Voting + [fill-in state]", which is a poorly conceptualized search without any real stories. Since 2018, the page redirects to a "Votes cast in the names of deceased people" page that gives equal weight to the views of the Heritage Foundation, the Government Accountability Office, the Pew Center on the States (Pew Research Center), and the Brennan Center for Justice.
Ballotpedia tries to portray the Heritage Foundation ("conservative") and the Brennan Center ("progressive") as simply views on opposite sides of the political spectrum, however the Heritage Foundation is known for spreading bullshit (e.g., climate change denial and evolution denial), whereas the Brennan Center is not. This is a case of the balance fallacy. Both the GAO and the Pew Research Center are nonpartisan.
- David A. Wohl (infectious disease specialist at UNC in Chapel Hill)
- The Union-Bulletin Editorial Board (journalists)
- St. Louis Post Dispatch Editorial Board (journalists)
- Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial Board (journalists)
- Maria Godoy (science journalist)
- Yifang Zhu, UCLA Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
- German Lopez (journalist)
- Paul Sax, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
- Jason Laughlin (science journalist) and Laura McCrystal (journalist)
- Kansas City Star Editorial Board (journalists)
- Los Angeles Times Editorial Board (journalists)
- Coachella CA Valley Independent Editorial Board (journalists)
- Salt Lake City Tribune Editorial Board (journalists)
- Elaine Batchlor, MD, rheumatologist
- Goldman Sachs (economists)
- Jonathan Lansner (journalist)
- Ron Saff, MD, allergist, board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility
- Palm Beach Post Editorial Board (journalists)
- Sioux City Journal Editorial Board (journalists)
- Monica Gandhi, MD, director of the UCSF Gladstone Center for AIDS Research
- Karen Levy (assistant professor in the department of information science) and Lauren Kilgour (doctoral candidate in information science)
- Ashton Forbes, a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging San Diego County's mask requirements (system architect)
- Joseph A. Ladapo, MD, PhD in health policy, surgeon general of Florida
- Phillip W. Magness (political science, public policy, economics)
- Andrew Cooper, the plaintiff in a lawsuit in Nashua, New Hampshire (newspaper reader)
- Greg Abbott (Texas Governor)
- A large group of MDs criticed a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.[note 1]
- Marc Siegel, MD, Professor of Medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center
- Allysia Finley (journalist)
- Philip Mauriello, Jr., an attorney representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging San Diego County's mask requirements
- Brantley Lyons, Montgomery City Councilmember
- Molly McCann, Of Counsel with Sidney Powell
- Antonio I Lazzarino, medical doctor and epidemiologist
- Trevon Logan, an economics professor at Ohio State University
- Steven Horwitz and Donald J. Boudreaux (economists)
- David Shane, physics professor
- Yinon Weiss (tech entrepreneur, bioengineer)
- David Shane (professor of physics)
- Manchester NH Alderman At-Large, Joe Kelly Lavasseur
- Kyle Wingfield (newspaper reader)
- The Wilson Times Editorial Board (journalists)
Holding expert opinions to be more authoritative and reliable is generally a good thing to do. Not every expert is correct, that's why scientists have disagreements. Consulting a range of experts often gets one closer to the truth or at least to avoiding bad outcomes. In the field of communicable diseases such as COVID, experts would come from the fields of epidemiology, public health, MDs who specialize in infectious diseases, and science journalists (who typically have a science degree and are trained to communicate science to the public). A simple MD (e.g., general practitioner), or an MD in an unrelated field (e.g., surgery) is not an expert in this case.
Here we can see that expertise does not matter to Ballotpedia either for within a position or between positions: only 5/21 opinions supporting and 2/20 opposing positions could be considered written by experts in the field. This is especially peculiar because of Sanger's view on how to present information on NPOV, as well as Sanger's creation of Citizendium, an expertise-based Wiki.
Views on the role of greenhouse gases in global warming
Ballotpedia's page on greenhouse gases in global warming was created on or before 2018 and has not been updated as of 2021 despite evolving science and the establishment of scientific consensus in 2004 or earlier.
- United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007)
- David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University (2015)
- Robert Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley (2002)
- Kerry Emanuel, director of the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2010)
- Judith Curry, former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology (2015)
- Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change . The NIPCC is a group created by S. Fred Singer and associated with the Heartland Institute, whose reports have been characterized as crankery
- John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (2015)
- Global Warming Policy Foundation (2011), a UK think tank/lobbying organization funded by dark money, which given the history of global warming denialism, most likely comes from he fossil fuel industry
Four positions are given for each. The 'support' positions include The IPCC (the summary conclusions of >400 climate scientists) and three individual climate scientists. The 'oppose' positions include opinions from two organizations affiliated with the fossil fuel industry (NIPCC via Heartland Institute and Global Warming Policy Foundation) and two from individual climate scientists. No real context is given for these opinions, and the opinion of >400 climate scientists is given equal weight with a single climate scientists. This is a false balance (balance fallacy).
- Zombies — undead people voting
- Ballotpedia cited a Reason article rather than the MDs' criticism itself. A correction was subsequently issued to the original PNAS article that did not change the conclusion. Neither Ballotpedia nor Reason folllowed up, but the original Reason article concluded, "The upshot is that however flawed the PNAS study is, the balance of the scientific evidence strongly suggests that widespread use of facemasks will significantly help reduce the spread of COVID-19."
- Ballotpedia: About, Ballotpedia.
- Ballotpedia, Media Bias Fact Check.
- The Lucy Burns Institute (Publishers of Ballotpedia, Judgepedia and WikiFOIA) and Her Right-Wing Bedfellows (Sara Jerving, PRWatch, 26 November 2012)
- Version Ballotpedia (archived from December 4, 2015).
- Ballotpedia:Editors Ballotpedia (archived from 16 Jan 2016 19:00:36 UTC).
- User list Ballotpedia (archived from July 30, 2016).
- Why Neutrality? by Larry Sanger (December 30, 2015) Ballotpedia.
- “Wikipedia is a broken system,” says co-founder Larry Sanger by Sophie Foggin (May 23, 2019) 150 Sec.
- Inside Wikipedia's leftist bias: socialism pages whitewashed, communist atrocities buried: "The days of Wikipedia's robust commitment to neutrality are long gone," co-founder Larry Sanger said. by Maxim Lott (February 18, 2021) Fox News (archived from February 18, 2021).
- The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change by Naomi Oreskes (2004) Science 306:1686. doi:10.1126/science.1103618.
- Expert credibility in climate change by William R. L. Anderegg et al. (2010) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(27):12107–12109. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107.
- Greater than 99% consensus on human caused climate change in the peer-reviewed scientific literature by Mark Lynas et al. (2021) Environmental Research Letters 16(11):1-7. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/ac2966.
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) Vaccine (Page last reviewed: September 9, 2020, 12:00 AM) Centers for Disease Control.
- Epidemics have happened before and they’ll happen again. What will we remember? A look back at past epidemics reveals progress in research and medicine as well as reminders of what still needs changing by Aimee Cunningham (October 27, 2021 at 12:00 pm) Science News.
- Dead people voting Ballotpedia (archived from 1 May 2014 04:23:08 UTC).
- Dead people voting Ballotpedia (archived from November 9, 2018).
- Votes cast in the names of deceased people Ballotpedia.
- Brennan Center for Justice (Last updated on April 29th, 2021 at 03:02 pm) Media Bias/Fact Check.
- Heritage Foundation (Last updated on March 15th, 2021 at 05:16 pm) Media Bias/Fact Check.
- Arguments in favor of mask requirements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020-2021 Ballotpedia.
- See the Wikipedia article on David Wohl.
- Maria Godoy NPR.
- Yifang Zhu UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
- German Lopez Vox.
- Jason Laughlin The Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Laura McCrystal The Philadelphia Inquirer.
- See the Wikipedia article on Elaine Batchlor.
- Jonathan Lansner The Orange County Register.
- Physicians for Social Responsibility demand masks be mandated in Florida (9:47 a.m. PDT July 10, 2020) Tallahassee Democrat.
- See the Wikipedia article on Monica Gandhi.
- Don’t Make College Kids the Coronavirus Police by Karen Levy & Lauren Kilgour] (Aug. 12, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET) The New York Times.
- Arguments against mask requirements during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020-2021 Ballotpedia.
- San Diego resident sues county over mask orders by Gary Warth (June 2, 2020 6:43 PM PT) The San Diego Union-Tribune.
- See the Wikipedia article on Joseph Ladapo.
- CV Phillip W. Magness
- Prominent Researchers Say a Widely Cited Study on Wearing Masks Is Badly Flawed by Ronald Bailey (6.22.2020 5:11 PM) Reason.
- Letter to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Noah Haber et al. (June 18, 2020).
- Correction for Zhang et al., Identifying airborne transmission as the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19 by Renyi Zhang et al. (2020) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117(41):25942-25943. doi:10.1073/pnas.2018637117.
- See the Wikipedia article on Marc Siegel.
- Allysia Finley The Wall Street Journal.
- See the Wikipedia article on Steven Horwitz.
- See the Wikipedia article on Donald J. Boudreaux.
- David Shane The Federalist.
- Yinon Weiss The Federalist.
- David Shane The Federalist.
- Greenhouse gases and global warming Ballotpedia (archived from November 7, 2018).
- Greenhouse gases and global warming Ballotpedia (archived from December 9, 2021).
- The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change by Naomi Oreskes (2004) Science 306(5702):1686. doi:10.1126/science.1103618.
- Greenhouse gases and global warming Ballotpedia.
- Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming; The NIPCC Report on Scientific Consensus by Craig D. Idso, Robert M. Carter, S. Fred Singer (2015) The Heartland Institute. ISBN 1934791571.
- Adversaries, zombies and NIPCC climate pseudoscience by Michael J. I. Brown (December 24, 2018) The Conversation.
- Debunking the Heartland Institute’s Efforts to Deny Climate Science National Center for Science Education.
- Not the IPCC (“NIPCC”) Report (28 Nov 2008) RealClimate.
- Global Warming Policy Foundation donor funding levels revealed: Accounts show extent to which secretive thinktank is funded by anonymous donors rather than income from membership fees by Leo Hickman (20 Jan 2011 12.29 EST) The Guardian.
- Bangkok hosts key climate summit (30 April 2007, 08:27 GMT) BBC.