July 29, 2022 - 11:49am

Wikipedia has changed the definition of ‘recession’ and locked the page from further edits. These changes were made during the week that the White House proposed a re-definition of recession to mean something other than two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.

Until July 11, the world’s largest online encyclopedia included in its definition of a recession ‘two negative consecutive quarters of growth’ with users free to make alterations:

Screengrab from July 11

But as of July 25 any mention of ‘two negative consecutive quarters of GDP growth’ was removed from this section. A Wikipedia administrator then froze the edit feature, blaming a ‘persistent addition of unsourced or poorly sourced content,’ with a warning that the page may have been ‘affected by a current event’. For a period of time, the new definition was locked in: 

Wikipedia’s edit history shows that, up until July 27, users were making significant changes to the definition of recession with any mention of two consecutive quarters of negative growth scrubbed from the page.

In a now-deleted section, one Wikipedia user writes that the definition was change to reflect the ‘change in posture and thefinition [sic] at the United States since the White House’s experts are expanding the meaning of it’.

These changes were made during the week that the White House published a blog querying the existing definition of a recession. ‘Two consecutive quarters of falling GDP,’ the editorial stated, ‘is neither the official definition nor the way economists evaluate the state of the business cycle…’. Full text below:

What is a recession? While some maintain that two consecutive quarters of falling real GDP constitute a recession, that is neither the official definition nor the way economists evaluate the state of the business cycle. Instead, both official determinations of recessions and economists’ assessment of economic activity are based on a holistic look at the data—including the labor market, consumer and business spending, industrial production, and incomes. Based on these data, it is unlikely that the decline in GDP in the first quarter of this year—even if followed by another GDP decline in the second quarter—indicates a recession.
- White House

This editorial was published exactly one week before US GDP figures were published. In what may have been in anticipation of the publication of the figures, the commerce department announced on Thursday that the US economy shrank over the last three months, marking two consecutive quarters of negative growth. 

White House officials have tried to limit discussions about a recession, suggesting that many parts of the economy remain strong. Earlier this week President Joe Biden responded to the figures by claiming that there had been the “strongest rebound in American manufacturing in over three decades” before adding that “it doesn’t sound like a recession to me” after the GDP figures were published.

It was, however, Joe Biden in 2020 who tweeted: “I helped pull this country out of a recession before — and, as president, I’ll do it again.”

In an interview with UnHerd last year, Wikipedia co-creator Larry Sanger warned that he no longer trusted the website he created. He said that on key issues, Wikipedia was “simply mouthing” the view of the global establishment:

If you look at the articles that Wikipedia has, you can just see how they are simply mouthing the view of the World Economic Council or World Economic Forum, and the World Health Organisation, the CDC and various other establishment mouthpieces like Fauci — they take their cues from them…There’s a global enforcement of a certain point of view, which is amazing to me as a libertarian, or a liberty-loving conservative.
- Larry Sanger, UnHerd

James Billot is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.