Pseudopedia/Policy Criticisms

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edit index Pseudopedia/Policy Criticisms
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Policy Criticisms

Specific problems with Pseudopedian Policy which prevent it from being taken seriously as a resource:

Deletionism and Censorship

Some people on Wikipedia are just eager to delete and censor content, depite trying desperately to grow the wiki irrationally. Sometimes this is because people have deletionist principles that say that certain content is not "noteworthy" enough for Wikipedia, and sometimes this is because irate editors are trying to censor what is inconsistent with their own point of view. Censorship usually leads to edit wars.

The deletion of what is considered unnoteworthy can discourage people from editing. Why would someone want to go through the work to create a piece of writing just to have it deleted? It isn't always clear if the Wikipedia community will consider something noteworthy when the author first writes it; the only way for the author to find out if it is considered unnoteworthy is to write it and see if it gets nominated for "articles for deletion". It isn't fair to the author to go through the work of creating a piece of writing only to have it be deleted.

Deletion is also contrary to the goal of writing an encyclopedia: the purpose of contributing to Wikipedia is to add knowledge, not to remove it.

In addition, sometimes content that does qualify as noteworthy under Wikipedia's policy gets deleted, or is nominated for deletion, because there also happens to be unqualified content as well. For example, the "list of fictional characters on the autistic spectrum" article on Wikipedia was nominated for deletion because anonymous users added fictional characters they speculated as being autistic but were not identified by the authors as such. This was considered original research for users to add their own speculation. However, the article as a whole was nominated for deletion, even though some entries were not original research. Several voters still persisted on insisting that the whole article be deleted, even with legitimate entries, and even after people frequently explained that it would be easy to remove the original research and keep valid entries.

People don't usually put much thought into votes for deletion and are usually inaccurate in their interpretations of whether or not Wikipedia's policy suggests that an article should be kept or deleted.

When text is censored, sometimes another editor notices the censorship and can put it back since the history is archived. However, there are still times where text is censored and no other editor notices and the text is left out of the article. Even though the text is still in the history, it gets buried and is hard to find.

Wikipedia users associated with governments or political affiliations often censor any material that may cause their interests to be seen in a bad light. This happens even if the material is objective, unaltered video footage that simply reports the facts. (see cases in point) There is currently a problem with material which Roman Catholics apparently do not like being repeatedly edited out of the Bernadette Soubirous article on Wikipedia.

Some editors think that the solution to biased contributions is to delete them. However, despite being biased, POV contributions could still have valuable information. What editors of Wikipedia should do with biased contributions is to edit them to be unbiased, not to just delete them.

The rules for deletion at Wikipedia is that any wikipedian can vote any article for deletion. There are no qualifications. Many times, persons ignorant of the subject material do vote for deletion just because they can. An example of this:

Delete. According to WHEELER, "The question is 'Should people be voting on something they have not a clue on?'." On Wikipedia, the answer is "Yes, that's our policy." You've been around long enough to know this. You talk about the commercial ethos and the warrior ethos. Well, the Wiki ethos is that of open source. The theory is that, if we let a bunch of people without professional qualifications write and edit and delete pretty much as they please, a good encyclopedia will somehow emerge. I know you disagree with the theory and with the policy. That's certainly your privilege, and you have good company, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica pooh-bahs. ...By the way, to save you the trouble of clicking through to my user page, I'll admit right now that I'm not qualified as a classicist. -JamesMLane 08:46, 11 Mar 2005 (UTC)
In building an encyclopaedia, knowledge is the basic ingredient and sometimes knowledge is about the minor details such as cultural contexts, and historical matrixes. These minor facts which are important to understanding the millieau of a subject material is missed by the general public; only persons who have studied and read in these areas are cognizant of these minor details that is important to understanding any given subject. Often these "minor details" get deleted as "original research". Secondly, why work hard and submit articles to an open public that have no clue on the merit of the work.

In many areas such as the "Classical Studies" section, computer programmers and mathematicians vote on the propriety of a classical subject. It is like asking a bicycling enthusiast to vote on an article on quantum mechanics. Experts and/or persons with proven experience are not used or consulted. Judging an article's worth is left up to a gang of know-nothings.

Wikipedia is confused between "contributing" and "judging the merits of a case". Contributing does not take an expert but judging the merits of a case takes an expert. Votes for deletion should be left up to experts or persons with a proven familiarity within each individual subject material. Let it also be noted that "Votes for deletion" are usually used by Wikipedians to drive "unwanted" editors away.

"No Original Research" reduces Creativity, even Knowledge

Wikipedia has a no-original-research policy forbidding editors to express their own ideas and experiences, a practice nearly unknown in the Wikisphere before Wikipedia. GetWiki and Wikinfo are examples of wikis incorporating the opposite view that users are allowed to post their own ideas, research, and even flights of fancy. Creativity lies outside the basic premise of Wikipedia.

In addition, a no original research policy can inhibit knowledge about the human experience. If a Wikipedian believes opinion X, knows other people have expressed opinion X, and writes "Some people believe opinion X" into a Wikipedia article, then that Wikipedian would be guilty of publishing original research if that Wikipedian cannot find an external source that states "Some people believe X". However, most easily accessed published material expresses the point of view of elites, not of individuals, thus an encyclopedia with a policy against original research is more likely to concentrate on (and reinforce) the views of elites, with less about the opinions and experiences of regular people.

Wikipedia stays doggedly on the path of mimicking traditional Encyclopedias, a tradition that developed mainly during the 18th century's Age of Enlightenment, representing a growing belief in Reason and Science as being the ultimate sources of knowledge, with a consequent motivation of creating a single, authoritative reference work, that would objectively correspond to reality. However, some regard that ambition as being naive and misdirected, arguing that reason itself was shown to be the product of culture and social discourse, rather than an objective evaluation independent of human cognition, and that scientific knowledge does not provide definite answers beyond its positivistic, or social, interpretations.

With that in mind, an encyclopedia written according to the public's reasoning, but that limits itself to presenting the views of experts, other than being a truly bizarre concept in itself, also limits itself to "second-hand" interpretations of the views, and prone to preconceptions and mischaracterizations of them, especially to the amount of doubt the experts would ascribe to them themselves.

Neutral Point of View

The neutral point of view is wikipedia's primary editorial policy. Developed by Larry Sanger and Jimbo Wales. Derived from Nupedia's "nonbias policy" and adopted to a publicly edited wiki. The goal of the neutral point of view is to create an article that is written in a way that is acceptable to all editors, in which conflicting views are presented objectively, side-by-side, with no judgements applied on their veracity. Common ground (undisputed statements) is asserted as truth.

It should be noted that the neutral point of view is primarily a social principle rather than an epistemic or more generally, an intellectual one. Its basic premise is that communally accepted characterization of social discourse leads to a broader, more accurate outlook on the subject.

The following critique examines the above claim, starting from practical issues, such as the understanding and practice of the policy within wikipedia, to theoretical and philosophical ones.

Confusions about the Concepts

Abstract Nature: The neutral point of view is a neologism for a theoretical point of view that is not always trivial to understand properly. Some editors confuse neutral point of view with most popular point of view, most well known point of view, majority point of view, status quo point of view, consensus point of view or even no point of view.

False NPOV/POV Dichotomy: a common source of confusion is the incorrect negation of the idealistic "neutral" point of view (NPOV) with a "biased" point of view (POV), which is, wikipedia's peculiar NPOV/POV dichotomy (in which the "neutral" point of view is deemed superior and moral over the latter). By this dichotomy, some wikipedia editors see themselves as being "neutral", that is, possessing "no" point of view (or more accurately, adhering to the "normative" or "consensus" point of view), and others being "POV", i.e. distinguished by an opinionated nature or a controversial slant.

Excluding Controversy: Some people feel it is biased to inform about a controversy or to assert that a particular person or institution supports a controversial claim. Asserting an opinion as truth, like stating "The death penalty is morally wrong," is a violation of the NPOV policy, yet, stating "Mary believes the death penalty is morally wrong," is not. However, some people on Wikipedia interpret claims like "Mary believes the death penalty is morally wrong", and in general, claims in the form "Person X believes claim Y" as violating the policy despite the fact that they are not. However, some people who think NPOV excludes controversy are still willing to allow the reporting of controversial claims that they agree with.

False Neutrality: In controversial articles, it is sometimes the case that both sides of a controversy perceive the article biased against their views, and each side's amendments will be considered as introducing further bias to their side. (An act metaphorically described in wikipedia as "POV pushing")

Vague and self contradicting statement of the policy: The policy states that "articles must be written from a neutral point of view, representing views fairly and without bias", where "neutral point of view" meaning is implied, later at the same policy as "neutrally narrated", "having neutral tone", "balanced" and even "expressing no point of view". "[Represented] fairly" also contradicts the section titled undue weight that states that "articles that compare views need not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views". Another example, within the same section is the statement "If a viewpoint is held by a significant minority, then it should be easy to name prominent adherents" with no mention what group the minority described relate to (e.g. it can be understood as "wikipedia editors", "general population", "experts" etc.) nor what makes a minority "significant" nor how does a person qualify as a "prominent" adherent. These are left open to interpretation.

Confusing NPOV as Expert POV: Some people think the NPOV policy means that only the views of experts are described and that any mentioning of the views of those considered non-experts is POV, even if claims are attributed to the "non-experts" who hold those views. Even people who are experts can be wrong or biased. During the American Eugenics Movement, most eugenics experts would have argued that their practices were valid. Not everyone agreed with their views, but an interpretation of the NPOV policy that would only allowed expert POV would have created a eugenics article supportive of eugenics, without any mentioning of the other side of the issue. This isn't the only example of people considered "experts" lacking enlightenment. Homosexuality was once classified as a psychiatric disorder, when in fact it is not. It can therefore be pretty devistating if only views of those society considers "experts" is accepted because experts can be incorrect and can harbor some blatant prejudices which can be integrated into their work.

Problems with the Practice

Uneven Application: Some people apply the NPOV policy differently on different sides of the same issue. For example, editors might demand that an article about one side of an issue have an opposing views external links section, have a more detailed "opposing views and criticism" section, but not demand the same, or refuse the same, of articles about the other side of the issue. Sometimes people write large amounts of detail on one side of a controversy, but only allow small amount of detail on the other side of a controversy, and delete what others try to add.

Selective Suppression of Facts: Facts themselves, such as empirical data, photographs or video clips are sometimes perceived to support a point of view, thus are excluded on the basis of them being "biased", regardless of their informative merits. The neutral point of view policy is not specific about the suppression of facts as a way to introduce bias. Such an interpretation is often left to debate.

Misuses of Power: There are documented reports of wikipedia administrators using page protection, arbitration and blocks as means to avoid discussion on a subject, rather than achieve a consensus on it. Permanently archiving discussion pages is also a tactic of avoiding further debate.

Enforcing Pseudo-Policy on other Wikis: Some people who are used to editing on Wikpedia edit pages on other wikis (including on Wikinfo) to conform with Wikipedia's NPOV policy (or at least, in the editor's interpretation of NPOV), even on wikis such as Wikinfo that do not have a NPOV policy. This results in bringing the conflict and tension created by Wikipedia's NPOV policy to other wikis.

Problems with the Concept

Unattainability: Wikipedia's neutral point of view is about reaching an absolute objectivity over viewpoints. It is an idealistic, unattainable goal.

Biases of Language: Human language is inherently biased. Sometimes a neutral term cannot be found because there simply isn't one, so editors settle with a biased terminology. Additionally, difficulties of avoiding bias in language may also result from the fact that statements might suggest different meanings to different people. For example, the statement "Elvis allegedly died" may be interpreted by some as demonstrating doubt over Elvis' reported death, while others would see the word "allegedly" as a way of being inconclusive, or neutral, over the issue of whether or not Elvis died.

Order and Structure: There are issues about bias that stems from the ordering and structure of the text. A viewpoint presented first will have the advantage of appearing before anything else, and some people might only read the article as far as its introduction or beginning part, so text at the front has the highest chance of being read. Similarly, text placed at the end will have the advantage of "having the last word". However, any possible ordering will still leave the article biased in relation to some view.

Incorrect Balancing: "Synthetically" balancing opposing views does not always lead to an article closer to "truth". For example, counterbalancing a viewpoint that is based on strong, conclusive evidence with an inferior, speculative viewpoint may actually distort or falsify the meaning of the counterbalancing view, or both.

Un-Fairness to the Subject: NPOV professes fairness toward viewpoints, but does not take fairness toward the article's subject into account, allowing articles to become strongly critical of the subject, if there are no prominent defenders of it.

Tyranny of the Majority:The policy states that "the article should fairly represent all significant viewpoints, in proportion to the prominence of each" giving the majority's proponed views a dominant power over the text. Note that experts comprise a quantitative minority, with their views not always accepted by the mainstream.

Selection Bias: A neglected type of bias that is not clearly mentioned in the policy is selection bias i.e. a "sample bias" toward mentioning some views, but not others. No original research and verifiability policies actually encourage selection bias toward scientific and generally, "elite views". Avoiding bias is a very difficult (and probably unpractical) issue, that is apparently not dealt with the utmost of seriousness by the so-called "neutrality policy".

Morally Offensive Views: The neutral point of view policy even requires being neutral on morally offensive views like bigotry. This requires that on articles related to civil rights activism, oppressed people must work with the people who hate them.

Determination of NPOV is Subjective: Sometimes it is simply a matter of opinion whether or not an article is biased, and there are both ways to reasonably interpret it as POV and reasonable ways to interpret it as NPOV. In these cases, it is not clear if the article should be edited to be more NPOV or if any attempts to do so would actually make it more POV.

Philosophical Objections

Process-Oriented: NPOV is process oriented. It expresses humanistic ideals concerning the process of the article's development, such as satisfying all sides of a debate and representing it fairly. It does not primarily aim for presenting coherent, or even consistent, Truths that individuals could have agreed as their own. Thus, it is unpredictable in its outcome, especially its outcome's correspondence to reality, rather than to a consensus, or compromise, within the context of a debate.

Idiosyncratic Conception of Truth: NPOV suggests that truth should be the product of a "power struggle" over the text, and the majority view being a dominant role in its construction. Therefore, aside from encouraging a normative, narrow perspective on reality, it is also vulnerable to an individual's or group's cognitive bias, especially confirmation bias (i.e. a tendency to make decisions that confirm one's preconceptions). Also a collective culture bias, or sometimes Groupthink.

Uniform Point of Reference: NPOV ignores the difference in foundational beliefs or assumptions (epistemologies, ontologies, morals) that viewpoints are based on. Rather, it presumes that a uniform approach and definition to the subject is possible, suggesting some single point of reference to exist, that is, in the case of wikipedia, evidently rationalism, or more radically, positivism (i.e. the belief the only authentic knowledge is the scientific knowledge).

Stylistic Objections

Uniform Style and Tone: NPOV proposes a uniform, journalistic, possibly critical-sounding, rhetorical or unemotional tone that is shared by all views, and by this inhibiting natural choices of expression that sometimes help understanding different points of view better, within their original emotional context. It should also be noted that the choice of such tone is a choice in itself, that is not necessarily neutral, and may be perceived as overly critical, crude or even austere.

Lack of expressive merit: Such an objectified, restrained style of prose often results in a dull, uninspired, and sometimes almost unreadable text that lacks any literary or artistic quality.

Propaganda as Policy: The section titled "Reasoning behind NPOV" gives an ideological justification to NPOV, that puts into question it being merely a policy (as opposed to a dogmatic statement of propaganda): There is another reason to commit ourselves to this policy. Namely, when it is clear to readers that we do not expect them to adopt any particular opinion, this leaves them free to make up their minds for themselves, thus encouraging intellectual independence. Totalitarian governments and dogmatic institutions everywhere might find reason to be opposed to Wikipedia, if we succeed in adhering to our non-bias 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 multiple viewpoints fairly, without demanding that the reader accept any one of them, are liberating. Neutrality subverts dogmatism, and nearly everyone working on Wikipedia can agree this is a good thing.

"Absolute and Non-Negotiable": According to Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales, NPOV is "absolute and non-negotiable", strengthening its dogmatic nature and giving little hope for significant improvements or its future replacement.

Ignorance about Wikipedia Policy

Some people are ignorant about Wikipedia's policies and thus do not follow them. Although editors are constantly reminded that Wikipedia has an NPOV policy, people are not usually informed about the specific details of the policy. In addition, the other policies like verifiability and no personal attacks are ignored. This is partly due to people putting all their attention into NPOV that they forget that Wikipedia has other policies.

Also, during the "Artices for Deletion" (AfD) process, participants are warned that their comments must reference accepted Wikipedia policies, and they must not simply express opinions such as "I like it." It's also made clear that weighing in on the process is "not a vote" since "Wikipedia is not a Democracy." Fair enough. But in practice, numerous contributors simply note "I don't like it" or "Delete, as per User:..." and these are dutifully counted up at the end of the process and the "winner" is the view with the most votes, rather than the one with the best arguments.

This tendency to "count votes" during AfD's is especially insidious when the subject of the article is political, social or religious, or is in some other way controversial. "Gang editing," which is encouraged and facilitated by use of templated User Boxes that link like-minded people together into social networks, brings dozens of people into the debate to "vote" against or to "save" an article from the chopping block. Thus, the popularity of an idea and not the legitimacy or truth of the article's content becomes the benchmark for saving or deleting an article. Obviously, that's a recipe for a failed article creation system in any encyclopedia. And of course, this entire concept of gang editing negates the stated Wikipedia policy that it "is NOT a social networking site."

Another major point of confusion is on the issue of notability. In fact, "notability" cannot ever be a criteria for deletion on Wikipedia, since it is not an established policy - it's simply a guideline, the meaning of which is still being hotly debated by users. And yet, "not notable" is a frequent reason given for the deletion of an article.

Some content adapted from the Wikinfo article "Critical_views_of_Wikipedia/Policy_Criticisms" under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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[ last updated: 12:16pm EDT - Mon, Sep 22 2008 ]
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M.R.M. Parrott