HomePage | RecentChanges | Preferences
You can edit this page right now! It's a free, community project

A general purpose encyclopedia is a collection of synthesized knowledge presented from a neutral point of view. To whatever extent possible, encyclopedic writing should steer clear of taking any particular stance other than the stance of the neutral point of view.

The neutral point of view attempts to present ideas and facts in such a fashion that both supporters and opponents can agree. Of course, 100% agreement is not possible; there are ideologues in the world who will not concede to any presentation other than a forceful statement of their own point of view. We can only seek a type of writing that is agreeable to essentially rational people who may differ on particular points.

Some examples may help to drive home the point I am trying to make.

1. An encyclopedic article should not argue that corporations are criminals, even if the author believes it to be so. It should instead present the fact that _some people_ believe it, and what their reasons are, and then as well it should present what the other side says.

2. An encyclopedia article should not argue that laissez-faire capitalism is the best social system. (I happen to believe this, by the way.) It should instead present the arguments of the advocates of that point of view, and the arguments of the people who disagree with that point of view.

Perhaps the easiest way to make your writing more encyclopedic, is to write about _what people believe_, rather than _what is so_. If this strikes you as somehow subjectivist or collectivist or imperialist, then ask me about it, because I think that you are just mistaken. What people believe is a matter of objective fact, and we can present _that_ quite easily from the neutral point of view. --Jimbo Wales

Of course, I agree. For more in the same vein, see [Nupedia's policy statement], Part III, Section D ("Lack of Bias"). -- Larry Sanger

I have one minor clarification that I would add: I don't think the practice of including other points of view implies that an article should treat them equally. In reporting things like pseudoscience, for example, I think it is within the obligation of an encyclopedia to emphasize the lack of scientific basis for some beliefs, and to clearly state that belief in such things is not justified by apparent facts.
Invariably, inclusion of different points of view or even different factual events may unbalance an encyclopedia entry.
A clear mention of lack of scientific basis without additional emphasis is adequate to place anomolous or pseudoscientific positions in context. Science is not the be-all and end-all of human inquiry, and worship of its supposed infallibility in detecting the truth has at times delayed recognition of valid observations or procedures because they were "unscientific." Medicine is famous for this. Chiropractic, herbal medicine, acupuncture, chelation therapy, etc. have all been quackery until science discovered why they worked. Humans cling mightily to their religious observances which "fly in the face" of science, and yet we do not go out of our way to discredit them. What remains unconfirmed by science deserves such a mention- a reader should not be confused that physical confirmation has been demonstrated when it has not. But it is not necessary to exhibit antagonism for these ideas beyond that.
Every now and then a crackpot's speculation turns out to be right--that doesn't mean that we shouldn't call it speculation when it still is. Chiropractic, herbal medicine, accupuncture, and chelation are all still quackery in most cases, and we should not shirk from saying so, except in those few instances where they have been studied scientifically for specific things. Chelation to treat heavy-metal poisoning, for example, or drugs derived from certain herbs. "Science" as I use the term here is just methodical honesty. Once you have honestly and properly tested something and evaluated the results, you can say that it has some reasonable basis. But when something has been tested repeatedly and failed (like chelation for treatment of cancer/heart disease, chiropractic for treatment of bacterial and viral disease, and all of homeopathy), continued belief in that thing is not merely an "alternative" point of view--it's clearly wrong and dangerous. --Lee Daniel Crocker
You and I clearly differ on this. "Once you have honestly and properly tested something and evaluated the results, you can say that it has some reasonable basis." Those you call quacks and crackpots will aver that they have done just as you suggest. Granted, they may rely wholly on what they perceive as empirical "evidence," but most will not admit to a moment's dishonesty with regard to their researches, even to themselves. Neither, by the way, will most research scientists, even when they claim proofs which are later proven false.

Relying on testimonials is inherently willfully dishonest, because we have known about the placebo affect for years and have proven it beyond a shadow of any doubt. To continue to cling to testimonials after knowing about the placebo affect, and knowing that placebo-controlled studies of something have failed, is negligent. Yes, many traditional scientists also have egos and can deceive themselves. That's why real journals have peer review. What I'm saying here is that Wikipedia articles should act as peer review, and clearly identify such deception when we see it.

You can claim something "has been repeatedly tested and failed" but should put that claim in context - ie, it "has been repeatedly tested" with available methods, which is not to say that available methods are infallible or capable or detecting or measuring all things. A little humility goes a long way. It is the most valuable quality for an experimental scientist to possess, in my view. "We are SCIENCE and we declare that assertion to be PURE BUNK," holds no water with me. "I tested it with every method which seemed reasonable to me and I cannot verify your assertion" is honest and says all that needs to be said. If history is any indicator, time will eventually reveal whether the assertions were at fault or the experimenter's methods or observations were. It is not up to us to foreclose the possibility that more may be discovered on the basis of what has not been discovered.

So - in your articles you will openly declare things hokum and bunk. I will call them unverified. And we will be free to tinker with each other's articles. And in some future age, we will all know who was on the right side of which of today's contentious questions.

"Unverified" is fine if that's the case; other things have been tested and failed, and that's different. And article should point out such failures.

I will go ahead and beat this to death: Let's look at my re-treatment of Numerology. I said generally "numerologist believe..." and noted that independent verfication of these beliefs is lacking. I went a step further and mentioned what I see as a nearly insuperable fallacy in the belief in the validity of numerology as it applies to the names of things (unrelated numerlogic values in different languages for the same exact thing) and mentioned this as a question which remains unexplained. In my mind, that fallacy may be just about adequate to invalidate the entire field. Numerologists will differ. It is not my job to tell them they are full of it. Let reasonable people look at it objectively and draw their own conclusions.

I have no problem with that article. It's exactly what I'm talking about. What I'm warning against is the treatment of such "alternative" ideas on an equal basis with verified ones. That article clearly states the case that the belief is unfounded, and that's good.

OK - stepping off the soap box...

Ah, well - in that case, we are in agreement as to how to couch these things. Larry asserted early, and I think we all agreed, that "neutral" handling of unproven claims would uniformly include revelation of their lack of proven foundation. Dang - another happy ending... ;^) AyeSpy

See Creationism/Talk for lots more debate.

See also Positive tone.

HomePage | RecentChanges | Preferences
You can edit this page right now! It's a free, community project
Edit text of this page | View other revisions
Last edited April 12, 2001 3:50 pm (diff)