Neutral point of view/draft

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

This is an old page--the draft has been developed into an article, which can be edited en:Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view.

The following is the second draft of text to put on en:Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view. (I propose to move the present text to some page such as [[Neutral point of view--old text]].

It's very important that you give your feedback on this. I have tried to state this in such a way that mentions and does justice to what various people have written about the policy, but I probably haven't raised all the objections that need to be raised. Will you please, therefore, help make sure that this represents your understanding of the neutrality policy, or that your objections to it, if you have any, are fairly characterized? --Larry_Sanger


Contents

Executive summary

Wikipedia has an important policy: roughly stated, you should write articles without bias, representing all views fairly. Wikipedia uses the words "bias" and "neutral" in a special sense! This doesn't mean that it's possible to write an article from just one point of view, the neutral (unbiased, "objective") point of view. That's a common misunderstanding of the Wikipedia policy. The Wikipedia policy is that we should fairly represent all sides of a dispute, and not make an article state, imply, or insinuate that any one side is correct. It's crucial that we work together to make articles unbiased. It's one of the things that makes Wikipedia work so well. Writing unbiased text is an art that requires practice. The following essay explains this policy in depth, and is the result of much discussion. We strongly encourage you to read it.

Introduction: the basic concept of neutrality and why Wikipedia must be unbiased

A key Wikipedia policy is that articles should be "unbiased," or written from a "neutral point of view." We use these terms in a precise way that is different from the common understanding. It's crucial to grasp what it means to be neutral (in this sense)--a careful reading of this page will help.

Basically, to write without bias (from a neutral point of view) is to write so that articles do not advocate any specific points of view; instead, the different viewpoints in a controversy are all described fairly. This is a simplistic definition and we'll add nuance later. But for now, we can say just that to write articles without bias is to try to describe debates rather than taking one definite stand.

Why should Wikipedia be unbiased?

Wikipedia is a general encyclopedia, which means it is a representation of human knowledge at some level of generality. But we (humans) disagree about specific cases; for any topic on which there are competing views, each view represents a different theory of what the truth is, and insofar as that view contradicts other views, its adherents believe that the other views are false, and therefore not knowledge. Indeed, Wikipedia, there are many opinionated people who often disagree with each other. Where there is disagreement about what is true, there's disagreement about what constitutes knowledge. Wikipedia works because it's a collaborative effort; but, whilst collaborating, how can we solve the problem of endless "edit wars" in which one person asserts that p, whereupon the next person changes the text so that it asserts that not-p?

The solution is that we accept, for purposes of working on Wikipedia, that "human knowledge" includes all different (significant, published) theories on all different topics. So we're committed to the goal of representing human knowledge in that sense. Something like this is surely a well-established sense of the word "knowledge"; in this sense, what is "known" has changes constantly with the passage of time, and when we use the word "know" in the sense, we often use so-called scare quotes. In the Middle Ages, we "knew" that the Earth was flat. We now "know" otherwise.

We could sum up human knowledge (in this sense) in a biased way: we'd state a series of theories about topic T, and then claim that the truth about T is such-and-such. But again, consider that Wikipedia is an international, collaborative project. Probably, as we grow, nearly every view on every subject will (eventually) be found among our authors and readership. To avoid endless edit wars, we should agree to present each of these views fairly, and not make our articles assert any one of them as correct. And that is what makes an article "unbiased" or "neutral." To write from a neutral point of view, one presents controversial views without asserting them; to do that, it generally suffices to present competing views in a way that is more or less acceptable to their adherents, and also to attribute the views to their adherents.

To sum up the primary reason for this policy: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, a compilation of human knowledge. But since Wikipedia is a community-built, international resource, we surely cannot expect our collaborators to agree in all cases, or even in many cases, on what constitutes human knowledge in a strict sense. We should, therefore, adopt the looser sense of "human knowledge" according to which a wide variety of conflicting theories constitute what we call "human knowledge." We must make an effort to present these conflicting theories fairly, without advocating any one of them.

There is another reason to commit ourselves to a nonbias policy. Namely, when it is clear to readers that we do not expect them to adopt any particular opinion, this is conducive to our readers' feeling free to make up their own minds for themselves, and thus to encourage in them intellectual independence. So totalitarian governments and dogmatic institutions everywhere have reason to be opposed to Wikipedia, if we succeed in adhering to our nonbias policy: the presentation of many competing theories on a wide variety of subjects suggests that we, the creators of Wikipedia, trust readers' competence to form their own opinions themselves. Texts that present the merits of multiple viewpoints fairly, without demanding that the reader accept any one of them, are liberating. Neutrality subverts dogmatism. This is something that nearly everyone working on Wikipedia can agree is a good thing.

What is the neutral point of view? What do we mean by "unbiased" and "neutral"?

The answer isn't obvious.

Essentially, "unbiased writing" means "presenting controversial views without asserting them." Unfortunately, this is often misunderstood. So we offer the following clarifications with the hope that they will clear away the many possible misunderstandings of what unbiased writing, or writing from a neutral point of view, amounts to.

First, and most importantly, consider what it means to say that unbiased writing presents controversial views without asserting them. Unbiased writing does not present only the most popular view; it does not assert the most popular view as being correct after presenting all views; it does not assert that some sort of intermediate view among the different views is the correct one (as if the intermediate view were "the neutral point of view"). Unbiased writing says, more or less, that p-ists believe that p, and q-ists believe that q, and that's where the debate stands at present. Ideally, unbiased writing also gives a great deal of background on who believes that p and q and why, and which view is more popular (being careful, here, not to word the statement so as to imply that popularity implies correctness). Detailed articles might also contain the mutual evaluations of the p-ists and the q-ists, allowing each side to give its "best shot" at the other, but studiously refraining from saying who won the exchange.

A point here bears elaboration. We said that the neutral point of view is not, contrary to the seeming implication of the phrase, some actual point of view on a controversial issue that is "neutral," or "intermediate," among the different positions. That represents a gross misunderstanding of what "neutral point of view" means. Properly speaking, the neutral point of view is not a point of view at all, because when one writes neutrally, one is very careful not to state (or imply or insinuate or carefully but subtly massage the reader into believing) that any particular view at all is correct.

Another point bears elaboration as well. Writing unbiasedly can be conceived very well as representing disputes, characterizing them, rather than engaging in them. One can think of unbiased writing as the cold, fair, analytical description of debates. Of course, one might well doubt that this can be done at all without somehow subtly implying or insinuating that one position is correct. But experienced academics, polemical writers, and rhetoricians are well-attuned to bias, so that they can usually spot a description of a debate that tends to favor one side.

Now an important qualification. We need not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views, in articles comparing the views. We should not attempt to represent a dispute as if a view held by only a small minority of people deserved as much attention as a very popular view. That would in fact be misleading as to the shape of the dispute. If we are to represent the dispute fairly, we should (in most if not all cases) present various competing views in proportion to their representation among experts on the subject, or among the concerned parties. None of this, however, is to say that minority views cannot receive as much attention as we can possibly give them on pages specifically devoted to those views. But even on such pages, though the content of a view is spelled out possibly in great detail, we still make sure that the view is not represented as the truth.

Bias per se need not be conscious or particularly partisan. For example, beginners in a field often fail to realize that what sounds like uncontroversial common sense is actually biased in favor of one controversial view. (So we not infrequently need an expert in order to render the article entirely unbiased.) To take another example, writers can, without intending it, propagate "geographical" bias, by for example describing a dispute as it is conducted in the United States (or some other country), without knowing that the dispute is framed differently elsewhere.

Objection: impossible to remove all bias. Indeed, it seems that if we can detect bias, we can, if we are creative, remove it as well.

Alternative formulation of the policy: assert facts, including facts about opinions--but don't assert opinions themselves

We sometimes give an alternative formulation of the nonbias policy: assert facts, including facts about opinions--but don't assert opinions themselves. By "fact," on the one hand, we mean "a piece of information about which there is no serious dispute." In this sense, that a survey produced a certain published result is a fact. That the Mars is a planet is a fact. That 2+2=4 is a fact. That Socrates was a philosopher is a fact. No one seriously disputes any of these things. So Wikipedians can feel free to assert as many of them as we can. By "opinion," on the other hand, we mean "a piece of information about which there is some serious dispute." There's bound to be borderline cases where we're not sure if we should take a particular dispute seriously; but there are many propositions that very clearly express opinions. That God exists is an opinion. That the Beatles were the greatest rock and roll group is an opinion. That intuitionistic logic is superior to ordinary logic is an opinion. That the United States was wrong to drop the atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an opinion.

For determining whether something is fact or opinion in this sense, it does not matter what the actual truth of the matter is; there can at least in theory be false "facts" (things that everybody agrees upon, but which are, in fact, false), and there are very often true "opinions," though necessarily, it seems, more false ones than true.

Wikipedia is devoting to stating facts and only facts, in this sense. Where we might want to state opinions, we convert that opinion into a fact by attributing the opinion to someone. So, rather than asserting, "God exists," which is an opinion, we can say, "Most Americans believe that God exists," which is a fact, or "Thomas Aquinas believed that God exists," which is also a fact. In the first instance we assert an opinion; in the second and third instances we convert that opinion into a fact by attributing it to someone.

But it's not enough, to express the Wikipedia nonbias policy, just to say that we should state facts and not opinions. When asserting a fact about an opinion, it is important also to assert facts about competing opinions, and to do so without implying that any one of the opinions is correct. It's also generally important to give the facts about the reasons behind the views, and to make it clear who holds them. (It's often best to cite a prominent representative of the view.)

Fairness and sympathetic tone

If we're going to characterize disputes fairly, fairness demands we present competing views with a consistently positive, sympathetic tone. A fair number of articles end up as fairly partisan commentary even while presenting both points of view; this is wrong. Even when a topic is presented in terms of facts rather than opinion, an article can still radiate an implied stance through either selection of which facts to present, or more subtly their organization--for instance, refuting opposing views as one goes makes them look a lot worse than collecting them in an opinions-of-opponents section.

We should, instead, write articles with the tone that all positions presented are at least plausible. Let's present all competing views sympathetically. We can write with the attitude that such-and-such is a good idea, except that, on the view of some detractors, the supporters of said view overlooked such-and-such a detail. If we can't do that, we will probably write stuff with so much contempt that subsequent edits are going to have a hard time doing anything but veiling it.

Characterizing opinions of people's artistic and other work

A special case is the expression of aesthetic opinions. Some Wikipedia articles about art, artists, and other creative topics (e.g., musicians, actors, books, video games, etc.) have tended toward the effusive. This is, we can agree, out of place in an encyclopedia; we might not all be able to agree that so-and-so is the greatest bass guitar player in history. But it is very important information indeed how some artist or some work has been received by the general public, by reviewers, or by some very prominent experts. Providing an overview of the common interpretations of a creative work, preferably with citations or references to notable individuals holding that interpretation, is appropriate. For instance, that Shakespeare is one of the greatest authors of the English language is an important bit of knowledge a schoolchild might need to learn from an encyclopedia. Notice, determining how some artist or work has been received publicly or critically might require research; but that reception, unlike the idiosyncratic opinion of the Wikipedia article writer, is an opinion that really matters, for purposes of an encyclopedia.

A consequence: writing for the enemy

Those who constantly attempt to advocate their own views on politically charged topics (for example), who seem not to care at all about whether other points of view are represented fairly, are violating the nonbias policy ("write unbiasedly"). This entails that it is our job to speak for the other side, and not just represent our own views. If we don't commit ourselves to doing that, Wikipedia will be much, much weaker for it. We should all be engaged in explaining each other's points of view as sympathetically as possible.

In saying this, we are explicitly spelling out what might have been obvious to some people from an initial reading of the policy. If each of us individually is permitted to write totally biased stuff in our Wikipedia contributions, then how is it possible that the policy is ever violated? The policy says, "Go thou and write unbiasedly" (or something to that effect). If that doesn't entail that we should fairly represent views with which we disagree, then what does it mean? Maybe you think it means, "Represent your own view fairly, but if you must only grudgingly allow others to have a say, please allow them to do so." Maybe that makes a bit of sense as an interpretation--not a lot, but a bit. But consider, if we each take responsibility for the entire article when we hit that "save" button, then when we make a change to an article that represents our own views but not contrary views, or represents contrary views unfairly or incompletely (etc.), surely we are adding bias to Wikipedia. And does it really ever make sense not to take responsibility for the entire article? Does it make sense to prise out sentences and say, "These are mine, those are yours"? Perhaps, but in the context of a project that is so strongly and explicitly committed to neutrality, that sort of attitude seems totally out of place!

The other side might very well find your attempts to characterize their views substandard, but it's the thought that counts. In resolving disputes over neutrality issues, it's far better that we acknowledge that all sides must be presented fairly, and make at least a college try at presenting the other sides fairly. That will be appreciated much more than not trying at all.

"Writing for the enemy" might make it seem as if we were adding deliberately flawed arguments to Wikipedia, which would be a very strange thing to do. But it's better to view this (otherwise puzzling)behavior as adding the best (published) arguments of the opposition, preferably citing some prominent person who has actually made the argument in the form in which you present it, stating them as sympathetically as possible. Academics, e.g., philosophers, do this all the time.

An example

It might help to consider an example of a biased text and how Wikipedians have rendered it at least relatively unbiased.

On the abortion page, early in 2001, some advocates had used the page to exchange rhetorical barbs, being unable to agree about what arguments should be on the page and how the competing positions should be represented. What was needed--and what was added--was an in-depth discussion of the different positions about the moral and legal viability of abortion at different times. This discussion of the positions was carefully crafted so as not to favor any one of the positions outlined. This made it rather easier to organize and understand the competing arguments surrounding the topic of abortion, which were each then presented sympathetically, each with its strengths and weaknesses.

There are numerous other "success stories" of articles that began life as virtual partisan screeds but were nicely cleaned up by people who concerned themselves with representing all views clearly and sympathetically.

Objections and clarifications

What follows is a list of common objections, or questions, regarding Wikipedia's nonbias policy, followed by replies.

There's no such thing as objectivity. Everybody with any philosophical sophistication knows that. So how can we take the "neutrality" policy seriously? Neutrality, lack of bias, isn't possible.

This is probably the most common objection to the neutrality policy. It also reflects the most common misunderstanding of the policy (which, by the way, was drafted originally for Nupedia by a philosopher). The misunderstanding is that the policy says something controversial about the possibility of objectivity. It simply does not. In particular, the policy does not say that there is even is such a thing as objectivity, a "view from nowhere" (in Thomas Nagel's phrase)--such that articles written from that point of view are consequently objectively true. That isn't the policy and it is not our aim! Rather, we employ a different understanding of "neutral" and "unbiased" than many of us might be used to. The policy is simply that we should do our best to characterize disputes rather than engage in them. To say this is not to say anything contentious, from a philosophical point of view; indeed, this is something that philosophers are doing all the time, even strongly relativist philosophers. (They are virtually required to be able to first characterize their opponents' views fairly, in order to avoid being accused of setting up straw men to knock down.) Sophisticated relativists will immediately recognize that the policy is perfectly consistent with their relativism.

If there's anything possibly contentious about the policy along these lines, it is the implication that it is possible to characterize disputes fairly, so that all the major participants will be able to look at the resulting text, agreeing that their views are presented sympathetically and as completely as possible (within the context of the discussion). It is an empirical question, not a philosophical one, whether this is possible; and that such a thing is indeed possible is evident simply by observing that such texts are being written daily by the most capable academics, encyclopedists, textbook writers, and journalists.

How are we to write articles about pseudoscientific topics, about which majority scientific opinion is that the pseudoscientific opinion is not credible and doesn't even really deserve serious mention?

If we're going to represent the sum total of "human knowledge"--of what we believe we know, essentially--then we must concede that we will be describing views repugnant to us without asserting that they are false. Things are not, however, as bad as that sounds. The task before us is not to describe disputes fairly, on some bogus view of fairness that would have us describe pseudoscience as if were on a par with science; rather, the task is to represent the majority (scientific) view as the majority view and the minority (sometimes pseudoscientific) view as the minority view, and, moreover, to explain how scientists have received pseudoscientific theories. This is all in the purview of the task of describing a dispute fairly.

There is a minority of Wikipedians who feel so strongly about this problem, however, that they believe Wikipedia should adopt a "scientific point of view" rather than a "neutral point of view." What these people have failed to establish, however, is that there is really a need for such a policy, given that the scientists' view of pseudoscience can be clearly, fully, and fairly explained to those who might be misled by pseudoscience.

What about views that are morally offensive to most Westerners, such as racism, sexism, and Holocaust denial, that some people actually have? Surely we are not to be neutral about them?

We can certainly include long discussions that present our moral repugnance to such things; in doing so, we can maintain a healthy, consistent support for the neutral point of view by attributing the view to some prominent representatives or to some group of people. Others will be able to make up their own minds and, being reasonable, surely come around to our view. Those who harbor racism, sexism, etc., will surely not be convinced to change their views based on a biased article, which only puts them on the defensive; on the other hand, if we make a concerted effort to apply our nonbias policy consistently, we might give those with morally repugnant beliefs insight that will change those views.

But wait. I find the optimism about science vs. pseudo-science to be baseless. History has shown that pseudo-science can beat out facts, as those who rely on pseudo-science use lies, slander, innuendo and numercial majorities of its followers to force their views on the anyone they can. If this project gives equal validity to those who literally claim that the Earth is flat, or those who claim that the Holocaust never occured, the result is that it will (inadvertently) legitimize and help promote that which only can be termed evil.

Please be clear on one thing: the Wikipedia neutrality policy certainly does not state, or imply, that we must "give equal validity" to completely repugnant views. It does state that we must not take a stand on them qua encyclopedia writers; but that does not stop us from representing the majority views as such; from fairly explaining the strong arguments against the repugnant views; from describing the strong moral repugnance that many decent people feel toward them; and so forth.

Hence, on the one hand, Wikipedia does not officially take a stand even on such obvious issues, but on the other, it will not look as though we (the authors of Wikipedia) had accorded equal credibility to morally repugnant views. Given that the authors of Wikipedia represent a rough cross-section of the educated public, our readers can expect us to have a similar cross-section of opinion about extremism: most of us abhor it.

Wikipedia seems to have an Americo-centric point of view. Isn't this contrary to the neutral point of view?

Yes, it certainly is, and it has no defenders on Wikipedia. The presence of articles written from an exclusively United States point of view is merely a reflection of the fact that there are many Americans working on the project, which in turn is merely a reflection of the fact that the (English) project is being conducted in English and that so many Americans are online.

This is an ongoing problem that can be corrected by active collaboration from people outside of the U.S., of whom there are many.

The neutrality policy is used sometimes as an excuse to delete texts that are perceived as biased. Isn't this a problem?

In many cases, yes. Most of us believe that the mere fact that some text is biased is not enough, by itself, to delete the text outright. If it contains perfectly valid information, the text should simply be edited accordingly, and certainly not deleted.

There's sometimes trouble determining whether some claim is true or useful, particularly when there are few people on board who know about the topic. In such a case, it's a good idea to raise objections on a talk page; if one has some reason to believe that the author of the biased material will not be induced to change it, we have sometimes taken to removing the text to the talk page itself (but certainly not deleting it entirely). But the latter should be done more or less as a last resort, never merely as a way of punishing people who have written something biased.

I agree with the nonbias policy but there are some here who seem completely, irremediably biased. I have to go around and clean up after them. What do I do?

This is a very difficult question.

Unless the case is really egregious, maybe the best thing is to call attention to the problem publicly, pointing the perpetrators to this page (but politely--one gets more flies with honey) and asking others to help. If the problem is really serious, Larry Sanger might be enlisted to beat the person over the head (so to speak) and, in the most recalcitrant cases, ask them to leave the project. There must surely be a point beyond which our very strong interest in being a completely open project is trumped by the interest the vast majority of our writers have, in being able to get work done without constantly having to fix the intrusions of people who do not respect our policy.

How can we avoid constant and endless warfare over neutrality issues?

Would that people asked this question more often. We should never debate about how Wikipedia should be biased. It shouldn't be biased at all.

The best way to avoid warfare over bias is to remember that we are all reasonably intelligent, articulate people here, or we wouldn't be working on this and caring so much about it. We have to make it our goal to understand each others' perspectives and to work hard to make sure that those other perspectives are fairly represented. When any dispute arises as to what the article "should" say or what is "true," we must not adopt an adversarial stance; we must do our best to step back and ask ourselves, "How can this dispute be fairly characterized?" This has to be asked repeatedly as each new controversial point is stated. It is not our job to edit Wikipedia so that it reflects our own idiosyncratic views and then defend those edits against all comers; it is our job to work together, mainly adding new content, but also, when necessary, coming to a compromise about how a controversy should be described, so that it is fair to all sides.

What about the case where, in order to write any of a long series of articles on some general subject, we must make some controversial assumptions? That's the case, e.g., in writing about evolution. Surely we won't have to hash out the evolution-vs.-creationism debate on every such page?

No, surely not. There are virtually no topics that could not proceed without making some assumptions that someone would find controversial. This is true not only in evolutionary biology, but also philosophy, history, physics, etc.

It is difficult to draw up general principles on which to rule in specific cases, but the following might help: there is probably not a good reason to discuss some assumption on a given page, if an assumption is best discussed in depth on some other page. Some brief, unobtrusive pointer might be apropos, however. E.g., in an article about the evolutionary development of horses, we might have one brief sentence to the effect that some creationists do not believe that horses (or any other animals) underwent any evolution, and point the reader to the relevant article. If there is much specific argumentation on some particular point, it might be placed on a special page of its own.

I'm not convinced by what you say about "writing for the enemy." I don't want to write for the enemy. Most of them rely on stating as fact many things which are demonstrably false. Are you saying that, to be neutral in writing an article, I must lie, in order to faithfully represent the view I disagree with?

This is a misunderstanding what the neutrality policy says. You aren't claiming anything, except to say, "So-and-so argues that such-and-such, twiddle dee dee, and therefore, QED." This can be done with a straight face, with no moral compunctions, because you are attributing the claim to someone else. That's the important thing here! If we are summing up human knowledge on a subject, in the sense above-defined, then you are leaving out important information when you omit so-and-so's argument.

It's worth observing that, at least in the humanities, scholars are trained so that, even when trying to prove a point, one must bring forth counter-arguments that seem to disprove one's thesis, so that one can explain why the counter-arguments fail. Such scholarly training also gives one a better knowledge of source material and what may have been rejected over the years. Something very much like the neutral point of view is just an assumption (more or less) among scholars--if it isn't adhered to, or if only those facts that prove a particular point are used, one might lose one's position and reputation.

I have some other objection. Where should I ask it?

Before asking it, please review the links below. The issues have been very extensively covered before. If you have some new contribution to make to the debate, you could try /Talk.


See also: Neutral point of view--older version and commentary (this will contain the contents of the present neutral point of view page) /Examples
/Examples Debate
Most controversial subjects in wikipedia
Words that should not be used in wikipedia articles Creationism/Talk
Wikipedia commentary/Faith vs science with regard to the Wikipedia
Positive tone



Comments???


I like this a lot, Larry. A couple of points where some expansion might be required:

  • The case where usefully writing articles depends on assuming, say, evolution (I wish I had a better example but it's the standout one) is correct. I know we've had this discussion extensively - what was the position(s) at the end of the discussion?
  • Could you throw in a specific warning about "fanboy pages"? They are amongst the most common NPOV violations, and they get really tedious to cleanup. --Robert Merkel

What's a "fanboy page"? --LMS

A page, usually written by a newbie, about a band/computer game/movie/TV show that they personally love, that uses lots of hyperbolic adjectives giving a totally misleading impression of the sigificance and artistic merit of the individual. For example, have a look at the first version of the article on the the computer game "Xenogears". --Robert Merkel

  • Should analysis, especially of creative works, be permitted? This borders on reviews and opinion, which some object to on NPOV grounds. For example, consider my long article on Leaf by Niggle, my short entry for the computer game Myth, and the initial entry (later removed) for TV show Friends. Is there a place in Wikipedia for such analysis? If so, should such analysis often/always include citations to authorities? And does this topic need to be addressed on the NPOV page? -- Cayzle.
Cayzle, my view would be that providing an overview of the common interpretations of a creative work, preferably with citations or references to notable individuals holding that interpretation, is appropriate. However, a personal analysis of a book or movie isn't NPOV and it's also not "defined knowledge" (as distinct from contemporary research). --Robert Merkel
Good question. I agree with Robert's response but will add more. --LMS

Overall, I think it covers things quite well. A few points off-hand:

  • I didn't like the line drawn between we (Wikipedia old hands) and you (clueless newbie) in the first paragraph, so I re-worked it a bit. I'd like people to feel like they are part of the we of Wikipedia when they first arrive.
  • The text rambles on a little. I cut it back a little, while still attempting to cover all the points and repeat key concepts. It could probably use a little more pruning. (But that's not to say that certain points shouldn't be expanded, as Robert and Cayzle suggest.)
  • It seems to fairly sum up the various objects and counter-objects raises in the various (and volumnous) debates (like the ones on the current w:NPOV page, w:Creationism/Talk, etc). However, it might be a good idea to provide links to those debates, and ask people to read through them first before raising objections to the NPOV policy. Most newcommers don't realize that amount of debate that this subject has generated in earlier days.
  • There's one sentence that I just couldn't grok: "This is, to be sure, something like this is well-established sense of the word "knowledge," a sense in which what is "known" has changed considerably over the years." Clarification?

--Stephen Gilbert

While a lot of the sentences can be tightened up and made "punchier," the general argument is, if anything, too brief. I think what might strike you as rambling is actually careful reasoning that a lot of people just have never managed to wrap their minds around. The ungrokkable sentence will be clarified... --LMS


Larry, Overall good explanation for those who need the details. A few points:

  • I see NPOV as less of a rule and more of an art. Don't know the best way to evangalize this.
  • I agree that the text is a bit long and rambling. Many of the people we're aiming this at may be knee-jerk reactionaries who tend to argue the first sentence they run into. Better to be succinct if and where possible.
  • One of the things that bugs me and isn't discussed is minor infrigments - for example recent article about Bob Dylan that talked about how great a musician he is and how these are some of his best works: I may agree with both but they don't read like an encyclopedia. Bob Dylan is recognized as a great musician and many consider these works among his best - says the same thing but sounds less like opinion.

--justfred

I think it'll be good to have an executive summary, yes. I'll write that. Minor infringements--yes, I'll do that. --LMS


You need to give examples. I read all that and it sounds fine, yet it doesn't help me at all when the real case comes along. As a lifetime skeptic I often have opinions on issues that are the opposite of what the majority have come to believe. To take the example of Feminism, the hostility to my comments was such that I abandoned the project for lack of ability to resolve the differences. David Byron And oh yeah - make the "NPOV =/= one point of view, but both" comment snappier from the beginning.

Right, an example or two will help. It'll be hard to give some that are both illuminating and about which people won't immediately say, "Hey, but that is biased..." As to resolving differences, hey, don't abandon the project if you can't do it--just abandon that particular article. It'll be there later when everybody's cooled off a bit. But I would say that the best approach is to tell people, "Hey, I want to make this article less biased. Views X and Y are well-represented, and I want to work hard to make sure they continue to be well-represented. But view Z also needs to be represented. So, I've added information about that." --LMS

Most of this article is terrific, and it is a good improvement over the current Wikipedia entry on NPOV. Great work. But one section troubles me, and troubles me deeply. I find the optimism about science vs. pseudo-science to be baseless. History has shown that pseudo-science can beat out facts, as those who rely on pseudo-science use lies, slander, innuendo and numercial majorities of its followers to force their views on the anyone they can.

Is Wikipedia about representing knowledge, as an encyclopaedia should be? If so, this part of the proposed NPOV policy is dangerous to the long term academic integrity of the project. The current NPOV article makes Wikipedia's mission out not to be a summation of human knowledge, but rather only a much less worthwhile task - it will be merely a summation of human arguments. That is not a goal many scientists or historians will spend their time on. They will simply refuse to contribute. That, you can be sure, will not be the case for the millions of deluded and sometimes mean-spirited people who promote and push pseudo-science and pseudo-history. They will take advantage of this project. This may become more apparent as the project progresses.

If this project gives equal validity to those who literally claim that the Earth is flat, or those who claim that the Holocaust never occured, the result is that it will (inadvertently) legitimize and help promote that which only can be termed evil. You don't debate (and therefore legitimize) people who say the world is flat; you explain why science has proven it isn't flat. You don't debate (and therefore legitimize) Jew-hating Nazis who claim that the Holocaust didn't happen, or that all Zionists are part of a conspirary to rule the world. You don't debate (and therefore legitimize) misogynist fascist extremists who teach that homosexuals, liberals and feminists are to blame for the World Trade Center Disaster. If Wikipedia gives equal validity to these view, those who promote them will predominate, and those who value obiective truth will leave the project to work on safer projects, where their words will not be misused. RK

I encourage you to read it again, RK. NPOV is not about giving equal validity to all views. You'll notice "...but, where there is any significant controversy, the different viewpoints in the controversy are each described fairly." There is not significant controversy in the examples you provide. Thus, on the w:Holocaust page, it should be mentioned that there is a tiny number of people that it deny that it happened, but that this view is given no credit whatsoever by anyone outside of neo-nazi circles. Such a statement is NPOV, and it certainly doesn't give the deniers equal weight. --Stephen Gilbert
What Stephen said. The project does not give "equal validity to those who literally claim that the Earth is flat." See 3.2 and 3.3 (in the present numbering) above. --LMS

Thanks for the above comments. I'll try to rewrite it so that it is a little snappier, and one sentence just didn't parse at all... --Larry_Sanger


While this is obviously a central issue to Wikipedia, this kind of attention is, I believe, detrimental. The number of appeals to NPOV have been increasing rapidly (e.g. statements such as "Such a statement is NPOV"). I really believe that the NPOV should be held as a goal, but should never be appealed to directly in an edit. In other words, if I write:

"Tupac is the best rapper ever!"

This comment should be deleted with a comment such as "Claim of "best rapper ever" made without supporting evidence, deleted" instead of "Deleted, not NPOV", because it may actually be true, from a NPOV, that Shakur is the best rapper ever.

or even better, edited to

"Shakur was the first rapper to have two singles simultaneously in the Billboard Top 10, and sold out stadium-size concerts for 10 years."

(I'm making that up. I have no idea.)

If the appeals are legitimate, then this isn't a problem! It's something that should be encouraged! In fact, I have noticed considerably more bias in articles recently, and this is one main reason that I decided the issue needed to be clarified. I think the main problem lately hasn't been that people have been abusing the notion of neutrality, but that they simply haven't understood it.
Basically, I'm all in favor of getting the point across as effectively as possible. Simply describing an edit as "not NPOV" is often not helpful--I agree with that much. It's better just to edit the text so that it's unbiased, without comment--yes. If for whatever reason you don't want to edit the text but want to comment on the bias, you should always mention in what way it's biased. But in any case, it's totally wrong to discourage people from taking other people to task over lack of bias. It's how we teach each other this point of policy.
What strikes me as really wrong is when people accuse each other of bias when they themselves just want the article to be biased in a different direction. We should be working together to state each other's viewpoints as sympathetically as possible. This will make everybody happier, because we'll be working on the same project, not competing with each other in a hostile atmosphere.

To repeat: I believe we should discuss the nature of NPOV as much as possible, but never appeal to it directly as a justification for an edit. I think this might be what justfred means by "I see NPOV as less of a rule and more of an art."

To repeat, then: I completely disagree with this. Referring to the policy is the way the policy gets taught.

I don't think it's necessary to encourage, as policy, individuals to cover all the bases in an article--the collaborative process pretty much ensures that it does.

To some extent, yes. But not always. You, for example, have written a number of biased articles about news topics, Cunctator; no one has bothered to go in and de-bias them. The problem will remain until someone does, and that could be a long time indeed. If you had represented the opposition's biases as well as your own, the articles would be much better. So I think we should make an effort to "know the enemy" by trying to state their views sympathetically. We should encourage each other to do this. It will make the articles stronger.

It's true we haven't fully resolved what happens when people with a strongly held, idiosyncratic worldview are persistent editors, but for example, even the vast majority of the HJ-edited articles are pretty reasonable, after other people clean them out.

I believe the truth will out, simply by editing for clarity and supportability. I believe in making appeals to those precepts.

So do I, very much so, and I do constantly. But clarity and supportability are not enough. There are many articles in Wikipedia that right now make many clear, supportable points--but which do not make the clear, supportable points that others might have on the issues. This makes the articles rather less valuable, and undermines the credibility of Wikipedia.

Since no individual or single statement can be truly unbiased, why fight it?

Well, that's simply false, and you disappoint by not explaining why you think as you do. Please try to support it. I suspect you're just laboring under a false interpretation of "unbiased": do try to show me otherwise. It might lead to some interesting additions to the article.
See below. You disappoint by not explaining why you think as you do.
Oh, this should be interesting.

Just encourage each individual to be clear and support their statements. The Wikiprocess will clean out bias from there.

That's not at all the direction in which I will try to encourage us. I will encourage people not only to be clear and to support their statements, but also to try to represent their own and others' positions fairly.

(I should say I don't totally believe this; I think individuals should try to be unbiased, but I don't think official Wikipedia policy needs to "encourage" them to do so. I think it's the type of thing each person should develop for oneself.) --The Cunctator

In the end, you might be right about that on some level; but if we did not have an explicit policy, which was applied in particular cases (as opposed to just ignored, as you suggest), Wikipedia would be a complete hell hole of a flame fest. Far nastier than things are right now. I wouldn't want any part of that. --LMS
I never suggest that it be ignored.
I'm referring to such claims as "To repeat: I believe we should discuss the nature of NPOV as much as possible, but never appeal to it directly as a justification for an edit" and "I don't think it's necessary to encourage, as policy, individuals to cover all the bases in an article--the collaborative process pretty much ensures that it does." It seems to me that that means that you think that we each, individually, would be safe to ignore the nonbias policy, both in attempting to apply it ourselves and in taking others to task for failing to apply it. If we do not make an attempt to write in an unbiased fashion ourselves, and we do not take others to task for it, we are thereby ignoring the policy. So what you were suggesting was tantamount to ignoring the policy. Perhaps that explains my reaction to your suggestions, eh? I think the nonbias policy is one of the most important policies for us to follow, and that our explicit, conscious following of it has been one of the reasons for Wikipedia's success so far. --Larry_Sanger

You definitely need a worked example. I would suggest something that people won't have a stake in like literally arguing the Earth is flat but I see there's a serious article on that already.... and on the existence of fairies.... angels on the head of a pin perhaps?

Here's an interesting example of a debate on the Encyclopedia of Arda which concerns whether or not Balrogs have wings (this is apparently a big argument among totally fixated Tolkien fans?)

http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/b/balrogs.html (scroll down for the debate).

However in this case the amount of evidence on both sides is fairly limited. Is that a good model for issues where either side could probably go on listing evidence ad nauseam? Indeed to what extent is evidence and factual support consistent with an encyclopedia view? The description you use above doesn't mention anything about who is right in an argument, presumably because that's at issue. However because you don't want to end up with, say, Holocaust denial, having 50% weight you suggest weight in proportion to member participation. Is that a good idea? With the rule that factual content shouldn't be deleted but balanced you instead get a weighting in proportion to how much people can be bothered to represent each POV but that would lead to evidence bloat I would think.

No, I think member participation doesn't matter at all. If we're trying to represent human knowledge, then in an article comparing different views on something, that naturally has some space limit, one gives more space to the view that's more popular among the experts who comment on the issue, or when it's not an "expert's" issue, among the concerned parties. I couldn't give a rat's patoot (oops, that phrase :-) ) what Wikipedians think. I think Reid was probably the greatest Early Modern philosopher, but in this I am very unusual. Should Wikipedia give some special weight to the opinion that Reid was probably the greatest Early Modern philosopher, just because I have that opinion? Of course not. Who cares what I think?

An example from the [http://www.wikipedia.com/wiki.cgi?Feminism%7C Feminism page] again, there was some contention specifically about the dominance of the movement by 'radical' feminists, so I felt obliged to put several paragraphs of brief evidence about 'radical' feminist representation and dominance which perhaps shouldn't be in an article. In fact earlier the article had some direct quotes which were later removed. Unlike Balrog wings many issues have had people fill books with the arguments for or against. David Byron

Well, I think it's really important that we define what our articles are about. In this case, the topic is "feminism," which includes both a philosophy and a movement. What we might do is have a stub at "feminism," which briefly defines the two strands and then points the reader to feminist philosophy (or, maybe better, feminist ideology or feminist thought) and the feminist movement. Then, in the latter article, of course in a characterization of the modern feminist movement, evidence about radical feminist representation would be very apropos. --Larry_Sanger

It somewhat frustrates me that LMS inlines his responses to my commentary, but I suppose my comments are so freaking long that to do otherwise would be difficult. The one assertion I want to respond to is his claim that it's possible for an individual to be unbiased. To use his language, "That's simply false." Maybe I'm "laboring under a false definition of 'unbiased'", but I rather suspect, instead of bandying about who's laboring under truth and who under falsehood, we might have different but both valid definitions.

I don't care what your definition is, in this context. Since we are talking about lack of bias, or neutrality, according to Wikipedia's policy, that there might be some other definition of "bias" according to which people are necessarily biased is both unsurprising and unimpressive. --Larry_Sanger

I consider 'bias' to be equivalent to 'perspective' or 'subjectivity': a point of view of a situation based on a particular conception of reality. It is a tautology that an individual must have a subjective point of view. The only way to be truly unbiased is to know everything. And omniscience is pretty hard to come by.

An individual may, however, be able to approximate objectivity/unbias to the satisfaction of a consensus of peers. This may be considered being "unbiased" from a pragmatic perspective, but only from such a perspective. --The Cunctator


The following is very interesting and will result in some really good additions to the article, I think!

Quoting LMS from the Iran/Contra affair page,

I have to say I am bothered a fair bit by those who constantly attempt to represent their own views on politically charged topics, and they seem not to care at all about whether other points of view are represented fairly. Yes, that is your job. If you don't commit yourself to doing that, Wikipedia will be much, much weaker for it. I think that's already the case, actually, and I think it should stop. I think we should all be engaged in explaining each other's points of view as sympathetically as possible!

Ok now you are going further and saying that people should present the other POV at all times.

Well, no. I don't think I'm going further. I think I'm explicitly spelling out what might have been obvious to some people (and was certainly obvious to me) from an initial reading of the policy. If each of us individually is permitted to write totally biased stuff in our Wikipedia contributions, then how is it possible that the policy is ever violated? The policy says, "Go thou and write unbiasedly" (or something to that effect). If that doesn't entail that we should represent views with which you disagree fairly, then what does it mean? Maybe you think it means, "Represent your own view fairly, but if you must only grudgingly allow others to have a say, please allow them to do so." Maybe that makes a bit of sense as an interpretation--not a lot, but a bit. But consider, if we each take responsibility for the entire article when we hit that "save" button, then when we make a change to an article that represents our own views but not contrary views, or represents contrary views unfairly or incompletely (etc.), surely we are adding bias to Wikipedia. And does it really ever make sense not to take responsibility for the entire article? Does it make sense to prise out sentences and say, "These are mine, those are yours"? Perhaps, but in the context of a project that is so strongly and explicitly committed to neutrality, that sort of attitude seems totally out of place!

On contentious issues (and on non-contentious issues this all moot) this won't work because the other 'side' isn't going to buy that you presented their ideas correctly, and in any case it seems clear that if you beleive X is not true, you are not going to be able to present an argument for it, unless you feel that argument is flawed.

The other side might very well find your attempts substandard, but it's the thought that counts. In resolving disputes over neutrality issues, it's far better that we acknowledge that all sides must be presented fairly, and make at least a college try at presenting the other sides fairly. That will be appreciated much more than not trying at all.
I suggest that its more likely that the other side will see you as deliberately setting up straw men to be knocked down, leading to resentment and more accusations. That has happened at the Feminism page. And how can your rendition of their argument be anything but straw? After all if it held weight (from your POV) then you wouldn't be opposing it. At least my own thinking tends to be that watertight.... David Byron
My experience on Wikipedia has been different. In the past, when people have worked together to make sure a controversial article state all points of view fairly (which hasn't been the case with the feminism article lately), while there is still some partisan rancor, at least people have seemed to share a common goal. This is how the articles on capitalism, socialism, abortion, and a number of other topics developed, I think.

Should people really add deliberately flawed arguments to an article?

I doubt that anyone makes deliberately flawed arguments. I think what you mean is: should we add arguments that we believe are flawed to Wikipedia, so that our adding would make it seem as if we were adding deliberately flawed arguments? No, we add the best (published) arguments of the opposition, preferably citing some prominent person who has actually made the argument in the form in which you present it, stating them as sympathetically as possible. Philosophers do this all the time.
Well feminists are not philosophers and although I know what arguments feminists commonly use, I could not in good conscience repeat them because they are lies. (See later - your Holocaust denial example) David Byron
David, what on earth are you talking about? There are a lot of feminist philosophers. They have arguments. It is important that we present them in their best light. They aren't lies: they are arguments! Jeez! What is the big deal???
Obviously I cannot reply without a specific statement to consider. You're turning this into a discussion of feminism not the NPOV.
Look, you said that we shouldn't add flawed arguments to Wikipedia. I pointed out the obvious: that in an encyclopedia we should cite (important, influential) arguments by prominent people, stated sympathetically. This is important information to include in an encyclopedia. Philosophers (and other people) are constantly explaining arguments that they personally think are flawed. You replied, incoherently and irrelevantly, that feminists aren't philosophers and that their arguments are "lies." This basically was unresponsive to my point.

To take it further, on the topic of Feminism I do know all the arguments feminists usually use on issues, but most of them rely on stating as fact many things which are false. Are you saying NPOV means I must lie in an article to faithfully represent the POV I disagree with?

No, you're just misunderstanding what the neutrality policy says. You aren't claiming anything, except to say, "So-and-so (Catherine McKinnon, or someone) argues that such-and-such, twiddle dee dee, and therefore, QED." This can be done with a straight face, with no moral compunctions, because you are attributing the claim to someone else. That's the important thing here! If we are summing up human knowledge on a subject, in the sense above-defined, then you are leaving out important information when you omit so-and-so's argument.
That's not true. If you say "so and so says such and such fact" and leave it at that when such and such fact is garbage, that is not a good article, even if its true that so and so says it. Left unanswered the implication is that the such and such is true.
David, this is getting ridiculous, because you're failing to grasp the most basic points. When, in giving an exposition of what someone else thinks, one does not, thereby, imply that what that other person thinks is true. That's silly! If I say, "The Greeks believed that man is a rational animal," I do not thereby imply that I think that man is a rational animal, nor do I imply that, in fact, man is a rational animal. This is just the nature of exposition, which any educated person is perfectly well aware of.

Perhaps you could give an example of how you would faithfully represent the POV that the Holocaust never happened, or that the Earth is literally flat? David Byron

(for example) There is a significant minority of people who believe that the earth is in fact flat, and that upon passing the boundary of the horizon, ships and the people on them will fall off and be eaten by dragons. This view is generally considered to disagree with generally accepted scientific findings; more information may be found at Earth/Flat earth. The subject of whether the universe rests upon the backs of an infinite progression of turtles is considered controversial as well.

I think that those are extreme examples, David. Moreover, I think it's somewhat counterproductive to bring them up as if they are the norm. I won't discuss feminism with you here, but would like to use your own example, if I may. In the feminism discussion, you often asserted that feminists believed X, when X was in fact false, and then said that the pro-feminist (in the looser use of the term) side needed to provide evidence if they wanted to make those claims. HOWEVER, because you "knew" that you were right, you never offered the same evidence to support what you "knew".

I did on many ocassions. But no feminist did. That is a clear distinction. Moreoever this is a distinction which holds not just here but with feminists I've talked to on-line for several years. Like the Flat Earth view, there is no credible defence of some ideas. What then? Do I hint that Feminism is as silly as believing in dragons and gargantuan turtles as you did with the Flat Earthers? At any rate whatever your feelings about Feminism, if there is a case when there is no evidence or argument for a view point but people still support that view point, what then? David Byron
David, if you honestly think that feminism has no more credibility than belief in dragons, then I would ask you please not to work on any articles connected to feminism. Working on Wikipedia requires that you can treat others' views with respect, sympathetically, even if you disagree (strongly!) with them.
  • Sigh* YOU said "dragons" not me. Maybe you need to quit the project? As for feminism since you clearly cannot prevent yourself from over-personalising that issue I suggest we go back to Flat Earth or the Holocaust for illustrations. This is exactly what I wanted to avoid by picking a dummy issue. David Byron
Er, no, David, you said "dragons" and I quote: "Like the Flat Earth view, there is no credible defence of some ideas. What then? Do I hint that Feminism is as silly as believing in dragons and gargantuan turtles as you did with the Flat Earthers?" This, in the context of the discussion, seems clearly to imply that you think feminism has no more credibility than belief in dragons. If that's really your view, then even other anti-feminists must question your judgment. And, David, the only issue I'm "personalizing" is the neutral point of view. You don't know whether or not I'm a feminist. I get far more upset by people who try to fill Wikipedia--a project that I started--with their unfair, silly, partisan screeds. And then waste people's time arguing about them.

I think that, if that particular article were to be represented in a truly NPOV, you should actually say something like 'feminists assert X, but those who see no need for feminism point out that evidence Y disproves this'. Again , I hope you are not offended by my using you as an example -- it is just that I have read most of the debate recently.

Well, the latter solution is OK but could be reworded like this: "feminists assert X, but those who see no need for feminism point out that, in their opinion, evidence Y disproves this." We have to be sensitive to "de re"/"de dicto" issues: if we say that anti-feminists point out that p, it sounds as if we believe that p, when officially we take no stand on p. (When you "point something out," usually you're pointing to something we can all observe and agree to. When you "state an opinion," you are using words that others might or might not agree with.)
Ok let me try. Neo-Nazis assert that no Jews were executed in death camps, but those who see no need for Neo-Nazis point out that in their opinion, some Jews were executed. I think if I said this every two minutes the text would be very awkward and people would be just as annoyed and just as likely to say their POV was unrepresented.
What is your attempt to sum up the holocaust denial view in a sentence intended to prove? That we cannot sum up controversial views (and criticisms thereof) in a sentence? You're not making any sense.
Current article is theoretical and abstract. But when controversy arises it doesn't much help IMO. That is what it is supposed to 'prove'
I can't parse those sentences.

The last part of the paragraph leads me to what I see as one of the biggest problems with encouraging people to write from a (not be) NPOV. THe very existence of the WIkipedia seems to be based on the very valid assumptions that anybody can be an expert on something, and that you don't have to be a trained scholar to be an expert. I believe this wholeheartedly.

At the same time, I believe that scholarly training (at least in the past 75 years or so) is very useful. At least in the Humanities, that training dictates that, even when trying to prove a point, one must bring forth examples that seem to disprove one's argument, so that one can explain why they don't fit in.

But an encyclopedia is not a debate. If no one holds these arguments then why mention them? For example I myself can raise better defences of feminism than any I've heard from a feminist. So what? It's still wrong. Again with the Flat Earth thing I could argue that ships disappearing over horizons were due to mirage like effects bending the light. But if no actual Flat Earther says this, why bother with this clutter? David Byron
David, again, given that this is your view, I'm asking you please to stop working on articles related to feminism. Yes, of course an encyclopedia isn't a debate. An encyclopedia can and should give an account of how important, prominent debates among academics (and public figures, and sometimes among others) have proceeded, though. That is important information to be included in an encyclopedia, regardless of your opinion of it. I, for example, would like to have a better acquaintance with the details of the arguments of feminists. I frankly could not care less about your opinions of those arguments. I want those arguments stated clearly and fairly.
This is an example of what I mean when I say that many people passionately hold certain positions (such as yours with feminism it seems- from your reaction here) which they are utterly unable to defend. I asked you to give an example of how to treat controversial subjects. When you replied with Flat Earth I gave the equivalent in Feminism but your reaction to both is quite different because you happen to beleive in the one but not the other. THUS you know nothing or little about a topic but are unwilling to let your own ignorance prevent you from comment on what others do. Don't you think that's quite dangerous? Now I suggest to try and quit over-personalising this you just take as a hypothesis that there exist issues where one side passionately beleives something but has no evidence for their arguments. Believe me this happens even if you don't happen to agree it's true of feminism. For example any propaganda beleifs such as the Nazi government's "International Jewish Conspiracy". Do you honestly beleive there was ever a debate about this concept? Do you beleive there were arguments? Reasoning? or should we just do what you did with the Flat Earth example and simply say "some people beleive X but then they probably beleive in dragons too".
It is rapidly becoming blindingly obvious to me that it is a complete waste of time trying to argue with you. David, I think you really should take a break from the project. --Larry_Sanger

Training also gives one a better knowledge of source material and what may have been rejected over the years. Finally, NPOV is just an assumption (more or less) among scholars -- if it isn't adhered to, or if only those facts that prove a particular point are used, one might lose one's position and reputation. This is I think one of the sources of frustration over NPOV -- there are a bunch of people out there who have NPOV ingrained in them, and a bunch that, although they know their stuff, have never been forced to look at an issue from all sides.

I think this hits the nail on the head! Well said!
I'll beleive it when I see someone write a creditable Flat Earth POV or Holocaust POV that doesn't simply say "XXX beleive this, but they're wrong." David Byron
I don't know why we should care about the confusion of someone who doesn't even know how to spell "believe." You should probably just sit back and watch for a little longer before joining in again, David. --Larry_Sanger
Oh THAT is really constructive and adult behaviour isn't it. Well that tells me all I need to know about how much input you want on this article.
What it should tell you is that you are completely straining the limits of patience and credibility, David, and you seem not to care one whit about that! --Larry_Sanger
Apologise for the stupid remarks and the other many insults you've leveled at me and I will continue to discuss this article which you asked for input on. My opinion of you is that you don't really want anyone's views if they contradict your own. Hell - I wasn't even contradicting you. Whatever..... David Byron
I welcome intelligent, informed disagreement. I haven't seen that from you. I also meant what I said: I think you should take a break from the project altogether, not because you disagree with me, of course, but because you have amply demonstrated an inability even to understand this very basic, but essential policy. In short, if you have correctly described your beliefs, then whenever you write on any subject about which you have similar feelings as you do toward feminism, you'll be utterly incapable of writing from a neutral point of view. We should not be wasting our time dealing with someone who doesn't want to play by our rules.--Of course, if it were clear to me that you both understood the neutrality policy and had a legitimate criticism of it, I would not be at all hostile. But your criticisms simply betray a failure to understand the policy you're trying to criticize, and probably more importantly, they betray an attitude that demonstrates that you cannot collaborate with others fairly. We don't need such a person working on this project. --Larry_Sanger

Rambling, I know...sorry, all. What I find very frustrating is that many Wikipedians don't take the time to get to know each other and what has gone before, so that they can at least try to make valid judgements. There is an awful lot of "I don't care -- I know I'm right" going on.

Hear, hear. And, it hasn't always been that way. It's only been a problem as serious as it has been for about, say, the last couple of months. Of course, there was plenty of partisan rancor in the past, but at least people would try to some extent to hammer out an unbiased presentation of a debate. Now, it seems like people have become more firmly entrenched. I think it has to stop!

Check out the Galileoo debate for some prime examples. I don't think that a college degree makes a wikipedian impervious to the bullshit bug -- nor do I think it makes a person better or smarter, but if this is supposed to be a community, shouldn't we as members respect others areas of expertise just a bit? And shouldn't there be some kind of agreement that, if you put something up as fact, you be able to support it, rather than putting it up and then saying that nonone can remove it till they DISprove it? ...just my thoughts on the subject.

I agree! --Larry_Sanger

Thank goodness for that...(agree with you on the feminist thing, too) now, I think something needs to be done, because right now I'm watching someone who has until recently been a very useful contributor turning into a real bonafide troll -- mostly, I think because of the atmosphere that is becoming more prevalent. In order to make things "right", Taw has decided to redirect all of HJ's entries to the appropriate Polish names -- even though LDC and others have pointed out to them both that sometimes one name is appropriate FOR ENGLISH SPEAKERS, and sometimes the other (and sometimes, as in medieval Danzig and modern Gdansk, both are correct -- in context). This wouldn't be a big problem, except that, once something is re-directed, regular wiki people can't put it back...

You can always change a redirect. Click on the "redirected from" link at the top of the page!

Somebody changed the above links so that they linked to articles within Wikipedia itself. This was unnecessary (I changed the links back) because this article will soon be living on Wikipedia itself. It's here temporarily, to encourage as much comment as possible. --Larry_Sanger


Larry Sanger says I welcome intelligent, informed disagreement. I haven't seen that from you.

That's sad Larry because you were just telling us all how as a professional philospher you are trained to be able to fairly sumarize the other guy's point of view. But your attempts to do so here with my views seem less than stellar don't they? David Byron

Larry has now claimed that, I do reserve the right to tell people to get lost, if necessary--if I am convinced that they are unequivocally a burden to the project. I've done so once before. (That person has come back and has become a relatively productive member, I'm happy to say.) I am one of two people who are paid to work on this project, which I started, and I'm the closest thing there is to an administrator for the project. I imagine you might not have known all this, which is fine. Now you do.

Can anyone tell me if this is correct? I thought this was a community project. Did Larry just stage a coup here?


David, get a grip. This is a community project. The fact that one member of the community also exercises administrative functions--such as telling people to get lost, if necessary--does not make it any less a community project. This is not about me. This is about you and your rejection of one of the basic principles of this community. If you can't abide by it, indeed, I'm going to tell you to leave. If you can, though, I'll be very happy to ask you to stay. --Larry_Sanger

I do not wish to hear any more from you Larry. I want to hear from others. If Larry Sanger says that he reserves the right to exclude anyone from the project simply on a personal grudge, then this is not a community project.
Just to put this in perspective Larry threatened to bar me saying I was biased and didn't understand the NPOV.
Boy, David, you do make it difficult to ignore you, because you're constantly saying things about me that are totally unfair and misleading. I wouldn't dream of barring someone just because he's biased. Nearly all of us have quite evident biases. I would bar someone because he explicitly vows to write biased stuff, however, because (in my opinion) he doesn't understand the nonbias policy--and I'll defend that decision, too!
I had to point out to him that I have been carefult to edit NO ARTICLES in the last 2 weeks just so as to avoid that exact criticism. Larry didn't even know that because he was so sure that my (non-existant)editing was biased, based on nothing but his inability to communciate on this page, that he never bothered to check. Way to go!!
All I can say is, I'm glad to learn I was wrong and I'm glad to learn that your judgment, that it would be a mistake to make edits when you realize you can't write unbiased text, served you well.
I see no conflict here. If Larry has this much abusive power I'll leave before he can give me the boot. If he doesn't then he can go screw himself and I'll continue to contribute. So I would like to know whether he has this authoriity or not.
Yes, I do. (Moreover, I would be the person to ask about this.) But I don't intend to use it unless you really do become a problem. If all you do is continue to kvetch on commentary and /Talk pages, that's very annoying, but it isn't grounds to ban someone. Also, if you make an effort to write from a neutral point of view, even if you don't do a perfect job of it, I'll have no grounds on which to bar you.

David, sorry to let you in on this not-so-secret fact, but yeah, I'm pretty sure that Larry and Jimbo have the right to block you. That said, nothing I have seen in the past several months that I've been involved makes me think that this would be done, or accepted by the others in the community, without consideration. Part of this is because the community is just that -- or was until recently. Other members would defend you, if they thought Larry were wrong -- sort of an organic checks and balances system. This is pretty much proven by the fact that only shows that Larry doesn't abuse this power. In fact, since i've been here, there have been very loud debates on Larry and his role, with some of the most prolific and respected Wikipedians disagreeing with Larry. Perhaps it would serve you well to read around and get a sense of how people feel before making threats.

The sad thing is that there are others around who have left or are considering leaving or will eventually leave because they are just too tired of duking it out with people who don't like the way the Wikipedia works rather than producing something worthwhile.

That's definitely the strong impression I've had since arriving here. But this is the first time I've been threatened, (you mistakenly said I was the one who threatened someone else????) not by any community of course, but by one person. However if you and others share the view that Larry can kick out anyone he wants then say so.
It seems you missed JHK's point when she wrote: "they are just too tired of duking it out with people who don't like the way the Wikipedia works rather than producing something worthwhile." By "they," she means herself, for example and by "people who don't like the way the Wikipedia works," she means, well, you, for example. And I agree 100% with her. This is a very serious problem that I wish I could solve. We don't want to lose any more good people!

Before that happens, I would frankly hope that Jimbo and Larry pull the plug on the project -- which they can do, legally. There are plenty of places on the web to post opinions; there are few where anyone can hone his skills at writing neutral, informative pieces on something they personally find interesting. If what you want is the former, then I fervently hope you won't find it here. If what you want is the latter, perhaps you should stop whinging and try to play nice with the other kids. Yours is not the only ball on the playground. JHK, who misses the wikipedia terribly, but not this kind of crap.

Julie, there is no earthly force that would impel me to pull the plug on the project just because there are people not playing nice. If I have to play the nasty old playground mom, as much as I the job, I will. Also, I think you're wrong that we could pull the plug on Wikipedia. If we stopped working on it for whatever reason, I hope very much that someone else would keep it going...our license legally obligates us to let people do so! --LMS

Oh, and by the way, David, as a historian and as a human, I find your constant citing of Holocaust revisionism pretty damned repugnant.

Well blame Jimmy the other admin guy for that one.

I don't for a minute assume that you are in that particular camp, but the fact that you use that extreme an example to try to prove your point is an example of sinking to some fairly murky moral and ethical depths. But, since you asked, yeah, there is a place for Holocaust revisionism on the 'pedia. Its main exponents and tenets should be elucidated -- but that same article would have to mention that there was a recent libel case in London where a professor who accused a revisionist of being a liar, etc. and was sued, proved her case. It would also have to mention any governmental and ecclesiatic (if they exist) rejections of the theory. It might seem like bias, because the weight of evidence for the 'Holocaust existed' side is far greater. But if it provided information and supporting arguments on both sides, it would (I'm pretty sure) fulfill the NPOV requirement. Still, you might find a more tasteful way of attempting to prove your point.

If you read the above you will see that Larry specifically rejects the idea that facts have a part to play in a Wikipedia article. He would claim that unless some well know anti-Holocaust-revisionist had actually used the argument you mention, and not just you using your own argument, then the facts are irrelevent. But not consistently of course - I think it would basically depend on LSPOV.
Oh, boy. You need to take a little remedial reading comprehension course, don't you? No, I did not say that facts don't "have a part to play" in a Wikipedia article about Holocaust revisionism. Good lord. --LMS

Ok, I'm pretty much convinced this place is a grand waste of time. If Larry is in charge and willing to abuse his authority then I'm out of here. (And if he is in charge then he already has abused his authority in threatening me)

Larry -- Mea Culpa for the pulling the plug bit -- I mistakenly assumed that, since Jimbo owned the servers and employed you, that was a possibility. Didn't think about the IP -- although if you did give up, someone else would have to be willing to commit the time and expense of new servers, etc.

David -- I actually did refer to your threat -- not to Larry's. You threatened you would leave --"If Larry has this much abusive power I'll leave before he can give me the boot." Sorry if I was not clear enough. -- JHK


(My apologies if I muck this up, long time reader first time poster and all that) Is there a reason that any and all of the linkages on this page (in it's draft form) fail to actually lead to their intended destinations? In trying to follow the arguments I attempted to check the various examples being used and had to manually type them or cut/paste them to get to the (I'm presuming) intended wikipidia page. --Dublos


Message from Pr Jean-Pierre Petit, phd, from France. Fields : fluids mechanics, physics, magnetohydrodynamics, theoretical astrophysics, cosmology, geometry ( I'm 69...). Today's science arises a big problem. What's solid science and what's not ? What can be considered a well established ( example : Maxwell equations ) and what should be considered as speculative work ( for example : superstring theory ). I suggest one can use a colour based coding. Black would be devoted, for example, to solid scientific facts, well established since a long time. Other would refer to different kinds of talks. For example violet could be associated to purely speculative papers. This problem of coding through colors should deserve a discussion among the wikipedia community. Presently, many visions are really nothing but speculative views. The people should be warned about what is speculative and what is not or ... less speculative ( if this word has a real meaning ).

I have had some (bad) experience, trying to contribute to Wikipedia free encyclopedia. I fully agree with your choice : everybody must sign with his real name. At any time anybody can get the background of a writer, or expert. From this point of view Wikimedia is a great hope for us. The last one, I would say. To contact me directly ( I apologize for my poor english ) jppetit1937@yahoo.fr


I am reading a great book on logic, Being Logical, D. Q. McInerny. McInerny very clearly articulates the first principles of logic, and it seemed only logical to try and define our own NPOV first principles. Thus I propose something along these lines. (Material adapted from the above mentioned book, however, it is also expressive of common understandings of writing style.)

  • A NPOV uses precise language.
Precise language uses words that correspond directly to the idea they express.
  • A NPOV uses a clear topic for each article
A single topic clarifies the subject being described.
  • A NPOV avoids making evaluative statements.
Evaluative statements express a subjective element in the description of an objective fact.
  • A NPOV avoids unreferenced categorical statements.
Categorical Statements express truth.
  • A NPOV prefers particular to universal statements.
Particular statements have a defined scope.
  • A NPOV prefers description to summary.
Description references source materials rather than synthesizing them.

Just some thoughts. I think that the power of the policy is in its postive aspects, rather than negative. I hope that these might accurately reflect the ideas that we propose. I suggest this as a kind of introduction that centers the policy, but does not wholly define it. The language I chose is again taken from McInery particularly and writing style in general.

D. M. Arney, M.A. 07:23, 28 December 2006 (UTC)