Research:Science Controversies in Portuguese Wikipedia: The Case of Global Warming

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Duration:  2014-01 — 2014-09
Open access project  Open access
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This page documents a research project in progress.
Information may be incomplete and change as the project progresses.
Please contact the project lead before formally citing or reusing results from this page.

This page, in a nutshell. The aim of this study is to investigate how the global warming controversy is performed in Portuguese Wikipedia.

There is a strong consensus among scientists studying climate change: 97% of them say the global surface temperature is warming due primarily to greenhouse gases emitted by several human activities. Nevertheless, climate change is the subject of an intense public controversy – some contrarian voices dispute several aspects of the mainstream claims.

The aim of this study is to investigate how such a peculiar controversy is performed in Wikipedia, a free collaborative encyclopedia that, unlike other reference works, does not require expertise of its editors. Do global warming related articles reflect the scientific consensus? Is there any space left for the claims of the contrarians? These are some of the questions this study intends to answer. In order to do that, we will carry both a quantitative and a qualitative study of a sample of global warming related articles in Portuguese Wikipedia.

I intend to approach my research problem with the conceptual tools provided by Actor-Network Theory[1], which have been shown suitable for addressing both the resolution of science controversies[2] and the sociotechnical environment of Wikipedia.[3]

I'm Bernardo Esteves and this research is part of my doctoral thesis in History of Sciences and and Techniques and Epistemology at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, under the supervision of Henrique Cukierman.

Related research[edit]

Aligned with Actor-Network Theory, in this study I consider Wikipedia as a sociotechnical system composed of a network of human and non-human actants negotiating the evolution of the articles and the management of the encyclopedia. I draw on previous research investigating Wikipedia under similar light.[3][4][5][6][7][8] I also draw on the available literature considering climate change related articles in Wikipedia[9][10] and, more specifically, the case of William M. Connolley.[11] Last but not least, I draw on studies investigating controversy and conflict resolution among wikipedians.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18]

Most studies referenced above focus on English Wikipedia only. But patterns of usage of the system may vary significantly between different communities of users. Portuguese Wikipedia editors have been shown, for instance, to have different patterns of interaction comparing to other languages’ wikipedians.[19] Therefore, the conclusions of the cited literature may not always apply to PT-Wikipedia and I should be cautious while considering them in this study.

There is a modest but growing body of research devoted to PT-Wikipedia. Even though few studies relate directly to what I intend to investigate in this study, I draw also on this specific literature in order to understand patterns of edition of PT-Wikipedia users.[20][21][22] As far as I know, the articles reporting preliminary results of this research were the first to address climate change in PT-Wikipedia.[23][24][25]


In order to address my research problem, I intend to carry a quantitative and qualitative study of a sample of climate change related articles in PT-Wikipedia.

Quantitative study[edit]

The quantitative study will investigate a number of parameters in the revision history of a sample of articles considered until December 31, 2013. The sample includes all articles labelled under the Template:Global warming[26] and those included in the Category:Climate change (and its subcategories).[27] The sample consists of 93 articles as of February 14, 2014. I intend to investigate the following parameters and to look for correlations between them:

  • Number of days of existence
  • Size (bytes)
  • Average number of modified bytes per edit / Total number of bytes in the article
  • Number of references
  • Total number of edits
  • Number of edits per month
  • Number of edits per IP / registered users / bots
  • Number of editors
  • Number of edits per user
  • Number of edits in the talk page
  • Number of edits in the talk page per number of edits in the main article
  • Number of watchers
  • Number of reverts
  • Number of days under protection (%)
  • Number of days under a template that might signal controversy or neutrality issues (%)
  • Page views in 2013

I intend to compare the results with the average values for all PT-Wikipedia articles. I also intend to compare them with a smaller sample of articles addressing other science related controversies and with a smaller sample of articles deemed controversial by the community of users of PT-Wikipedia.

I also intend to compare the patterns of edition of climate change related articles with other versions of Wikipedia (English, German, French and Spanish). For this comparison I will work with a smaller sample limited to the three most heavily edited climate change articles (“Global warming”, “Greenhouse effect” and “Kyoto Protocol”).[24]

Qualitative study[edit]

In the qualitative study, I will monitor the whole revision history of the three most heavily edited climate change articles and their talk pages. I will look for interventions that might help understand how the users negotiate conflicting points of view concerning the attribution of climage change.

I will try to interview the most active contributors to those articles and their talk pages. Users will be contacted through their talk pages. Those willing to participate will be sent a questionnaire focusing on aspects such as the source of the information they are contributing to climate change articles, their perception of the climate change controversy and their perception of the way it is being portrayed by PT-Wikipedia.[28] Interviews will adhere to the ethical guidelines recommended to Wikipedia researchers.[29]


This is an ongoing study. Preliminary results have been reported in conference papers.[23][24][25] New results will be reported when available.


  1. Latour, Bruno (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  2. Latour, Bruno (1987). Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society.Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  3. a b Niederer, Sabine; Van Dijck, José (2010). "Wisdom of the crowd or technicity of content? Wikipedia as a sociotechnical system". New Media & Society 8: 1368-1387.
  4. Geiger, R. Stuart (2011). The Lives of Bots. In: Lovink, Geer; Tzacz, Nathaniel (Ed.) Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures. p. 78-93.
  5. Halfaker, Aaron; Riedl, John (2012). Bots and Cyborgs: Wikipedia's Immune System. IEEE Computing, v. 45. n. 3. p. 79-82.
  6. Livingstone, Randall M. (2012). Network of Knowledge: Wikipedia as a Sociotechnical System of Intelligence. PhD dissertation. University of Oregon.
  7. Famiglietti, Andrew A. (2011). Hackers, Cyborgs, and Wikipedians: The Political Economy and Cultural History of Wikipedia. PhD dissertation. Bowling Green State University.
  8. Chen, Sun-Ling (2011). The Wikimedia Foundation and the Self-governing Wikipedia Community: a Dynamic Relationship Under Constant Negotiation. In: Lovink, Geer; Tzacz, Nathaniel (Ed.) Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures. p. 351-369.
  9. Lindsey, David (2010). Evaluating quality control of Wikipedia’s feature articles. First Monday. v. 15, n. 4.
  10. Rasoamampianina, Vanessa Aliniaina (2012). How is encyclopaedia authority established? PhD dissertation. University of Glasgow.
  11. O'Neil, Mathieu (2011). Wikipedia and Authority. In: Lovink, Geer; Tzacz, Nathaniel (Ed.) Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures. p. 309-324.
  12. Viégas, Fernanda B; Wattenberg, Martin; Dave, Kushal (2004). Studying cooperation and conflict between authors with history flow visualizations. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems. Vienna: ACM Press. 575-582.
  13. Kittur, Aniket et al. (2007). He Says, She Says: Conflict and Coordination in Wikipedia. Proceedings of the 2007 SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. p. 453-462.
  14. Vuong, Ba-Quy et al. (2008). On ranking controversies in wikipedia: models and evaluation. Proceedings of the international conference on Web search and web data mining. p. 171-182.
  15. Sumi, Róbert et al. (2012). Edit wars in Wikipedia.
  16. Kaltenbrunner, Andreas; Laniado, David (2012). There is No Deadline – Time Evolution of Wikipedia Discussions. Proceedings of the Eighth Annual International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration – WikiSym ’12.
  17. Yasseri, Taha et al. (2012) Dynamics of Conflicts in Wikipedia. PLoS One. v. 7, n. 6.
  18. Yasseri, Taha et al. (2013) The most controversial topics in Wikipedia: A multilingual and geographical analysis. Social Science Research Network.
  19. Ortega, José Felipe Soto (2009). Wikipedia: A quantitative analysis. PhD dissertation. Universidad Rey Juan Carlos.
  20. Esteves, Bernardo; D’Andréa, Carlos Frederico de Brito (2011). A gripe suína na Wikipédia em português: análise da dinâmica de edições e qualificação do conteúdo de dois artigos. InTexto. v. 1. n. 24. p. 192-208.
  21. D’Andréa, Carlos Frederico de Brito (2011). Processos editoriais auto-organizados na Wikipédia em português: a edição colaborativa de “biografias de pessoas vivas”. DSc dissertation. Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.
  22. Johnson, Telma (2009). Nos bastidores da Wikipédia lusófona: Percalços e conquistas de um projeto de escrita coletiva on-line. DSc dissertation. Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.
  23. a b Esteves, Bernardo; Cukierman, Henrique (2011). Consenso e controvérsia na Wikipédia: um olhar sociotécnico sobre o verbete ‘Aquecimento global’. Anais. Scientiarum IV. p. 656-662.
  24. a b c Esteves, Bernardo; Cukierman, Henrique (2012). The climate change controversy through 15 articles of Portuguese Wikipédia. Wikipedia Academy 2012: Research and Free Knowledge.
  25. a b Esteves, Bernardo; Cukierman, Henrique (2012). A controvérsia sobre as causas do aquecimento global em 15 artigos da Wikipédia lusófona. Anais do 13º Seminário Nacional de História da Ciência e da Tecnologia.
  26. Predefinição:Mudança do clima.
  27. Categoria:Mudanças climáticas.
  28. The questionnaire is available in a subpage linked to my user page:


Feel free to send me an e-mail: estevesb at yahoo dot com