Posted on July 11, 2011
Most political disputes are contentious. But, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in my mind, is probably the most contentious of modern political conflicts. Given the toxic brew of territory, rights, religion and violence, it is a dispute that has endured across generations and there has always been a sizable minority holding hard uncompromising positions on each side of this conflict. I am not enough of a political maven to fully understand why this conflict holds so central a place on the global stage but it just does. Wikipedia had once listed its page on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as among the most controversial ones as judged by its editors based on repeated instances of edit wars. The more controversial an issue, the higher is the number of instances in which editors who disagree about the content of the page repeatedly override each other’s contributions, rather than trying to reach a consensus and resolve the dispute.
So, maybe, one can kinda sorta measure the contentiousness of an issue by examining how often a person who views a Wikipedia page on the issue feels compelled to “correct” it by clicking on the edit button and changing the page. So, the question is: how does animal rights compare against the most controversial of all political issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The Wikipedia page on animal rights draws fewer views than its page on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It turns out, however, that the animal rights page generally provokes just as large a fraction of its readers to “correct” it as does the page on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Plotted below is the number of edits of each of the two Wikipedia pages for every 100,000 views for the last two years from May 2009 to May 2011. A point on the graph for any given month represents the number of edits per 100,000 views during the three month period centered on that month. There is reliable page view data available only since April 2009 and so, our plot cannot go farther into the past than May 2009. Between October 2009 and April 2010, the animal rights page was semi-protected to allow only confirmed users to edit the page (the reported reason was excessive vandalism). So, I decided not to process any data for this period. That is why there is no data in the plot from September 2009 to May 2010. Finally, since edits such as typos, formatting and rearrangement of text without modification of content is not indicative of contentiousness, I do not include such edits (called minor edits by Wikipedia) in the plot.
As a Wikipedia page matures, edit wars subside and it is to be expected that the number of edits per view keeps declining over time. However, it comes as a mild surprise to me that there is about as much contentiousness on the issue of animal rights as there is on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Except during a few months before the 2010 elections, the animal rights page has generally been similarly contentious as the page on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some of the edits reflect divisions within the animal advocacy movement and some reflect significant disagreement between animal people and the rest of the world. This level of contentiousness may be just some weird quirk manifested only on Wikipedia and one that does not exist in real life. Or is it actually real? What do you think?