The Place of Issues (according to their edits and editors)

Research Question

The research inquires into the composition of issues on Wikipedia by contributors, and consequences for the (possibility) of carrying out public debate and controversy. Using link analysis, we mapped a network (or ecology) of articles surrounding Global Warming, and performed further analysis on a number of significant articles within it. In particular, we were interested in activity measures for highlighting where in the network debates (might) take place, as well as activity measures over time, in order to discover whether debates had moved from one article to another. Additionally, we were interested in the issue commitments of individual editors - the various Wikipedia contributors highly active within the larger Global Warming network. Do editors stick to a single article, or do they have preferred sets of articles? Such preferences would perhaps make it possible to 'profile' articles within the larger network, and offer a way to track the movement of debates across articles. Might the activity of a group of editors across a number of articles indicate a coordinated effort, or perhaps a particular distribution of the debate?

Methods and Findings

Global Warming Wikipedia Network

  • Scrape the article 'Global Warming' for bi-directional links within Wikipedia (articles that both link to 'Global Warming' and are linked back to by it).
  • Scrape each of the resulting URLs for links to Wikipedia articles, outputting relational database.
  • Visualize with ReseaLu, highlighting articles used in further analysis.


The diagram displays the ecology of articles surrounding Global Warming on Wikipedia, based on links between articles. Nodes are sized according to number of links, shaped according to their role in the network (hubs appear in purple), and distributed according to their in- and outdegree centrality.

Thus one sees that the article Global Warming acts as a central node, connecting a dense cluster of articles related to climate change science (e.g. temperature records, key reports and concepts), to a looser, more heterogeneous network of articles, including some of the terms most popularly associated with the issue (Climate Change, Carbon Dioxide, Ozone Depletion, Kyoto Protocol and Renewable Energy). Notably, among this latter group are articles explicitly about the climate change debate: e.g. Scientific Opinion on Climate Change, Global Warming Controversy and Solar Variation (considered by the Wikipedian who created the article as "competition for 'global warming' theory").

One interpretation of the network comes from the hypothesis that structurally, Wikipedia networks may represent the free encyclopedia's desire to resolve controversy (an aim embodied, for example, in the NPOV policy, or 'Neutral Point of View'). From this perspective, one sees a separation of the popular debate surrounding the existence and causes of Global Warming from apparently factual articles. In further analyses (below), we asked whether the creation of certain new articles may be viewed as a form of controversy management, one that is specific to Wikipedia but may reflect similar processes brought to light in sociological studies of science and technology (Latour and Woolgar, 1979).


Network Topology: Article Activity

How is activity (in terms of the number of edits) distributed within the network?

For the analysis, we chose a sample of 16 articles strongly linked to the entries on Global Warming and Global Warming Controversy. The total number of edits per article were tallied, outputting an indication of the distribution of article activity within the network.

As may be expected, activity is distributed unevenly within the network, with the articles Global Warming, Kyoto Protocol and Global Warming Controversy being edited the most.

Network Topology: Article Activity Over Time

Question How have levels of activity changed over time, and what relationship may these have with Wikipedia's approach to dealing with debate and controversy?

For each article, tally number of edits per month from November 2001 to July 2009.

In first instance, the visualization appears to indicate generic Wikipedia editing trends, such as the overall increase over the years, or the relative decrease in activity in the months of June and December, as well as an 'incubation' period between an article's creation and its maturation, with initial editing and a period of inactivity followed by more regular editing. More importantly for the analysis at hand, however, the heat map may be used to signal significant moments in Wikipedia's 'management' of the issue of Global Warming. For example, the high levels and subsequent decline of activity for the Global Warming and Global Warming Controversy articles in the first half of 2007 correspond to edit wars and the 'protection' of both articles (where protection refers to varying degrees of disallowing edits). Meanwhile, the creation of the article Scientific Opinion on Climate Change in September 2003 was followed by a decline in activity in the articles Global Warming and Climate Change. This event, in which it could be said that controversy was effectively managed and displaced, is explored below.

Issue Composition: Debates and Displacements



Editors and their Issues: Top editors in the Global Warming network


Bot Dependency in the Global Warming Network



I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
BotActivity.pngpng BotActivity.png manage 101 K 10 Jul 2009 - 09:06 CarolinGerlitz  
BotActivity2.jpgjpg BotActivity2.jpg manage 211 K 10 Jul 2009 - 13:23 CarolinGerlitz  
BotActivityinPerc.pngpng BotActivityinPerc.png manage 178 K 10 Jul 2009 - 09:08 MichaelStevenson  
BotDependency..pdfpdf BotDependency..pdf manage 120 K 12 Jul 2009 - 20:57 CarolinGerlitz  
BotDependency.pngpng BotDependency.png manage 153 K 10 Jul 2009 - 15:41 CarolinGerlitz  
Climate_Change_Wikipedia_Top_Users_relative_print_copy.pngpng Climate_Change_Wikipedia_Top_Users_relative_print_copy.png manage 437 K 10 Jul 2009 - 09:31 MichaelStevenson  
Debates_and_Displacement_Wikipedia_copy.pdfpdf Debates_and_Displacement_Wikipedia_copy.pdf manage 2 MB 28 Aug 2009 - 10:11 MichaelStevenson  
Debates_and_Displacements.pngpng Debates_and_Displacements.png manage 114 K 10 Jul 2009 - 15:41 CarolinGerlitz  
EditorMigration.pngpng EditorMigration.png manage 114 K 10 Jul 2009 - 09:08 CarolinGerlitz Editor Migration at the launch of Scientific Opinion on Climate Change
Evolution.pdfpdf Evolution.pdf manage 1 MB 12 Jul 2009 - 20:48 CarolinGerlitz  
Evolution.pngpng Evolution.png manage 726 K 10 Jul 2009 - 15:44 CarolinGerlitz  
TotalNumberofEdits.pdfpdf TotalNumberofEdits.pdf manage 127 K 09 Jul 2009 - 20:58 CarolinGerlitz  
TotalNumberofEdits.pngpng TotalNumberofEdits.png manage 98 K 10 Jul 2009 - 09:07 CarolinGerlitz  
Users.pngpng Users.png manage 155 K 10 Jul 2009 - 15:42 CarolinGerlitz  
WhereAreTheBots.pngpng WhereAreTheBots.png manage 224 K 10 Jul 2009 - 15:47 CarolinGerlitz  
WhereAreTheUsers.pngpng WhereAreTheUsers.png manage 178 K 10 Jul 2009 - 15:42 CarolinGerlitz  
Where_are_the_Users.pdfpdf Where_are_the_Users.pdf manage 515 K 12 Jul 2009 - 21:06 CarolinGerlitz  
global_warming_wiki_network_copy.pdfpdf global_warming_wiki_network_copy.pdf manage 522 K 10 Jul 2009 - 15:32 MichaelStevenson  
global_warming_wiki_network_copy.pngpng global_warming_wiki_network_copy.png manage 1 MB 10 Jul 2009 - 15:34 MichaelStevenson  
Topic revision: r18 - 29 Oct 2012, ErikBorra
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