Animal rights as contentious as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

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 are 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 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 real? What do you think?


Leslie Goldberg

First off, bravo on your blog. I plan to follow it.

Based on my own experience with friends and family, animal rights is a hugely contentious topic. The folks most defensive, most angry are the "animal people" who are omnivores. I believe these people who deeply love their cats, dogs, birds, rabbits are fighting very hard to not know, what they do know. The guilt is, I suspect, overwhelming if they were to let themselves feel it. That's why they DO NOT want to hear from me.

One of my friends who is most defensive and most angry has a real bond with animals. She loves them and they love her. She once lured a terrified sparrow who'd flown into my house by making sweet soothing sounds. I turned around and she had it in her hands. She keeps rabbits and when one of them dies (which they are wont to do with some frequency) she goes to bed for a week grief-struck.

This friend is now probably an ex-friend. She hasn't spoken to me or corresponded since I send her a forward of an article on the HSUS deal with the egg producers.I stupidly thought she'd be as happy as I was.

Oh well.


Yes, AR is an extremely contentious topic. From the interactions and reactions I've seen on both the Web and in real life, only abortion compares to the sheer emotion and stridency of those on either side of the debate. It also should be noted that animal use interests have used facebook and other social working websites to mobilize just as much as pro-animal groups have, it's no doubt their calls-to-arms for their members are behind some of the "edit wars."


Hi peace! You are absolutely right that animal use interests may have mobilized their people and generated some of the edit wars. In fact, some of the edit wars do show signs of organized opposition to AR.


It's hard to tell if the contention is mostly within the AR movement or just in the general population. It's unfortunate if it is the former.

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