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Disputes over Content of Wikipedia Articles Reflect a Country’s Geopolitical Instability

Press Release No. 230/2011
8 July 2011
Heidelberg scientists transpose insights gained from biological network research to the internet

Disputes over the content of articles in the internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia can serve as an indicator for the political stability of a country. This was proposed based on a “Wikipedia Dispute Index” developed by researchers working at Heidelberg University. This index measures the frequency of pages linked to a country that are disputed by users of the online encyclopedia. The ranking of countries based on this index is similar to other, much more complex indices relating, for example, to governance or the economy. To calculate the index, the scientists used methods similar to those applied to biological networks and applied them to the cross-linked information in Wikipedia.

“Our investigations show that the analysis of cross-linked information from sources like Wikipedia can be an interesting, useful and innovative way of supplementing indicators in other areas that require a much more elaborate set-up,” says Prof. Robert Russell of Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence CellNetworks. For the analysis of dynamic networks the researchers draw upon methods from various disciplines, such as biology, physics or the social sciences. For instance, as Prof. Russell explains, the evaluation of certain search terms on the internet can indicate the outbreak of an influenza wave.

The internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia is made up of cross-linked articles that can be edited by anyone at any time. Articles whose impartiality is disputed are marked accordingly. Disputes among Wikipedia authors allowed Prof. Russell’s research team to see how often a country turns up in connection with a controversial Wikipedia article. The biggest contributors to this Dispute Index tend to be debates in pages about present-day or historical events and people; those pages where content varies greatly depending on the authors’ political viewpoint. There are, however, also less direct factors, such as the debate in the article about adultery.

“The evaluation of our ranking for the most cross-linked countries suggests that debates in Wikipedia correlate with regional instabilities all over the world,” Prof. Russell explains. “Here our Dispute Index is in very good agreement with indicators that are much more difficult to elaborate and are usually based on a combination of different political and economic metrics. The Index is not entirely free of subjectivity, but it is easy to calculate and is independent of complex data capture or expert questioning.”

According to Prof. Russell, data for a total of 138 regions or countries are available in sufficient measure to calculate the newly-developed geopolitical indicator. These new results from Heidelberg have been published in PLoS ONE. They have also provided a website ( enabling them to evaluate the changes in ranking scores over time.

Original publication
G. Apic, M.J. Betts & R.B. Russell: Content Disputes in Wikipedia Reflect Geopolitical Instability, PLoS ONE 6(6): e20902. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.002902

Prof. Dr. Robert B. Russell
Cluster of Excellence CellNetwoks
Bioquant Centre
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