Barry Eitel

It turns out god and homeland are still the most controversial topics, even in the digital age, according to a new study that takes a hard look at the most debated topics on Wikipedia.

In case you have been living without an internet connection until today, Wikipedia is a crowdsourced encyclopedia that harnesses the communication powers of the internet to create one of the most in-depth and varied resources available in a variety of languages.

Many topics are the focus of so-called “edit wars.” There can be several reasons for this. Some topics naturally breed controversy (like Jesus or certain presidents…as opposed to, say, goats), while information about on-going current events can cause arguments.

Lead author Taha Yasseri is a huge fan of the site.

“Wikipedia is great! There is no doubt about it. You may argue that it’s not reliable, it’s incomplete, it’s biased, etc., and I might agree. However, despite all these issues, Wikipedia is useful, fast, practical and phenomenal!” he proclaimed on his blog. “Do you have any other example of a mass collaboration at the scale of Wikipedia with more [than] 40 million editors, having produced more than 37 million articles in more than 280 languages?”

The researchers aimed to evaluate the subjects caught in the crossfire of the edit wars.

“We present, visualize and analyze the similarities and differences between the controversial topics related to ‘edit wars’ identified in 10 different language versions of Wikipedia,” claims the study’s abstract. “After a brief review of the related work we describe the methods developed to locate, measure, and categorize the controversial topics in the different languages. Visualizations of the degree of overlap between the top 100 list of most controversial articles in different languages and the content related geographical locations will be presented.”

Controversy, naturally, shows much about culture and sociology.

“We discuss what the presented analysis and visualizations can tell us about the multicultural aspects of Wikipedia, and, in general, about cultures of peer-production with focus on universal and specifically, local features,” the abstract continues. “We demonstrate that Wikipedia is more than just an encyclopedia; it is also a window into divergent social-spatial priorities, interests and preferences.”

Religion and politics were often cited in the top 100 most-controversial topics; Islam, Jesus, Mohammed, atheism and Scientology are, understandably, debated with vigor. George W. Bush is the battleground for an edit war, as is Israel, Adolf Hitler and homophobia.

The list is basically full of the stuff you should never bring up at a cocktail party.