I work a lot here on articles related to health and to agriculture; I work some on religious topics, and on a smattering of other things.
NPOV part 1: secondary sources
I haven't found anyplace where this is stated in one place, so wanted to pull together my perspective on this. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. It is not a newspaper (we are in no hurry, we don't have to report the latest and best). It is not a journal or a book, pulling together all the primary sources into a coherent picture—that is what scientists and other scholars do in review articles in journals and what historians do in their books.
Our mission is to express the sum of human knowledge. We are all editors. Our role is to read and understand the reliable secondary and tertiary sources, in which experts have pulled the basic research together into a coherent picture, and summarize and compile what those sources say, in clear English that any reader with a decent education can understand.
Editors who want to cite primary sources and create extensive or strong content based on them are often agenda-driven — there is something in the real world that is very important to them, and they want that idea expressed in WP and given strong WP:WEIGHT. In the very act of doing that — in selecting a given primary source and giving it a lot of weight (or any weight at all, actually) — they are performing original research. It is sometimes hard to get people to see this.
Wikipedia is not about what you think is important. It is about what we know, as expressed in reliable sources. It is so hard for people to differentiate what they see and what they "know" from what humanity — as expressed by experts in a given field — knows.
It is hard for people to think like scholars, with discipline, and actually listen to and be taught by reliable secondary sources instead of acting like barroom philosophers who shoot from the hip.
NPOV depends mightily upon editors' grasp of secondary sources. We have to find good ones - recent ones - and absorb them, and see what the mainstream positions are in the field, what are "significant minority opinions", and what views are just plain WP:FRINGE. We have to let the sources teach us. And yes, it takes commitment - both in time, and to the values of Wikipedia - to really try to find the best sources, access them, absorb them, and cull out how to distribute WEIGHT in an article. yep.
What makes this even more challenging is that because this is a volunteer project, Wikipedia editors often come here and stay here due to some passion. This passion is a double-edged sword. It drives engagement and the creation of content but too often brings with it advocacy for one position or another. This is a difficult quandary. The discipline of studying secondary sources and editing content based on those sources, in putting egos aside and letting the secondary sources speak, is the key that saves Wikipedia from our personal, limited perspectives.
If you have inserted content into an article based on a primary source and I have deleted it, it is not because I disagree with the content. The content has nothing to do with it. The issue is that we as editors cannot perform the original research that it would take to become knowledgeable enough to select a given primary source over other sources (that say different things) and assign any weight to it at all. This is forbidden by WP:OR, and that policy is deep in the guts of Wikipedia. This is a meta-issue — a question of what it means to be an editor on Wikipedia.
NPOV part 2: COI and advocacy in Wikipedia
Along with my editing, I work at the Conflict of interest Noticeboard ("COIN"), trying to help deal with Conflict-of-interest editing on Wikipedia. Conflicts of interest and advocacy, are two problems on Wikipedia that warp our articles.
There are editors in Wikipedia who are gravely concerned about the corrupting influence of paid editing in WP. There is reason be concerned - it happens. No one knows how much, as there is no data on this, and no one knows what corrupts Wikipedia more, paid editing or unpaid advocacy.
It is clear, that conflict of interest is an issue for any knowledge-producing and knowledge-presenting organization, and WP is definitely one of them. We have a responsibility to manage the COI of editors who are part of the community.
COI is created by associations and activities that people have outside of Wikipedia, such that editors have some interest that conflicts with Wikipedia's mission to present reliable, neutral information to the public. Managing COI, would require the community to delve into those associations and activities.
However, there is a stark tension between that, and a whole nexus of stuff deep in the guts of WP. Namely:
- the other part of the mission of WP, to be "an encyclopedia that anyone can edit"
- the closely associated anonymity that we permit editors to have (protected by WP:OUTING which is strictly enforced here)
- the focus on behavior, content, and sources (not contributors) (protected by the no personal attacks policy and guided by the talk page guidelines)
- in other words -- the fundamental principle here that it doesn't matter who you are here - what matters is what you do.
The nexus of all that, is what makes WP the radical experiment that it is - it makes this "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit".
This tension between a strong desire to manage COI editing, and the "content not contributor" nexus, is why the community has failed to reach consensus to make our guidance document on COI into a policy and not just a guideline, as it is now. It is why, even after the Wiki-PR scandal, the community had no less than five proposals to ban paid editing and every one of them failed to reach consensus. (If you want to the failed proposals, you can find them in the "Further reading" section of the COI editing in WP article. If you do, really try to listen to what both sides are saying. The tension I am describing is very easy to see.)
Additionally, there are RW concerns with making claims about editors' outside associations - and especially taking action based on those claims. In some parts of the world, libel and slander cases are not difficult to bring and responsible parties like members of Arbcom ~could~ be financially responsible for defending themselves in court, and ~could~ be held personally/financially responsible for decisions they make.
So, the community needs some policy-based approach, that gains wide community consensus, to deal with paid editing. Any solution to - or better, any effective way to manage - COI in Wikipedia beyond voluntary disclosure, needs to take the "content not contributor" nexus seriously, and do everything it can to recognize and accommodate the passion with which a significant chunk of the community values it.
So what can be done, now?
But the harder problem, is people who do not disclose. What about them?
There are really two kinds of paid editors.
1) There is a whole slew of editors (again, no one knows how many), who take freelance jobs at sites like Elance and create or update articles for pay. These editors often use sockpuppets, and our sock puppet investigation ("SPI") process is well-set to deal with socks. But one cannot use off-wiki evidence (like a profile at Elance) there. And additionally, fake joe jobbing profiles can be set up at sites like Elance, to slander people. This happened to a member of Arbcom, User:GorillaWarfare, who describes that on her user page. So what to do for this sort of paid editing?
My suggestion would be to do something like the following: allow a request to use off-wiki information (say a profile from Elance) to be submitted to SPI, in conjunction with a decent sock-puppet case. The off-wiki evidence could only be actually submitted (and submitted only privately) if a functionary there reviewed that case and found the on-wiki evidence compelling but not sufficient, and granted the request, and the off-wiki content would be considered only as one piece of the puzzle. It itself, could not be definitive. Perhaps also, only requests to use off-wiki information would be considered from auto-confirmed users (and maybe only users with a substantial number of edits), to prevent the process from being abused.
This would allow us to mine Elance and other sites for networks of sockpuppets. But we could only use that if we could find on-wiki evidence tying accounts together.
2) For long term editors who edit with a single account under a conflict of interest (like Wifione) - or who are advocates (aka POV-pushers) - at the end of the day, if they are indeed warping Wikipedia, that is going to be evident in their editing. (Right? If they actually warped WP, it will be there to see, with diffs to be had) You will be able to see them deleting well-sourced content that is opposed to their interests, and adding only content and sources that favor their interests. You can see this in the evidence page of the Wifione case, here. So the case to bring, is an NPOV-violation case. Most of the evidence in the Wifione case was prior to February 2013. The case could have been settled two years ago, based on that evidence. I don't know why (and I really don't) it wasn't brought sooner. Politics? Someone just didn't think of it? Don't know. But we have the model now.
Those are my thoughts on the problems, anyway.
Self-initiated COI Investigation
I initiated a COI investigation of myself with regard to ag biotech, articles concerning which are often contentious, and in discussion of which COI charges can fly too easily: results are here. (diff)
Here is what happened there. Via email with an oversighter, I disclosed my real life identity and what i do for a living, my life story, and my work history, and we had some discussion about that. The oversighter with whom I emailed evaluated all that (and based on what he wrote, did some research on his own based on what i told him) and found no COI for anything related to ag biotech. I did not mention editing for pay, as I have never done that. I was not asked if I edit for pay and we did not discuss that. In case I have never said it before (it is hard to believe I haven't with all the hammering I have gotten): i have never been paid, or received any consideration of any kind, for anything I do in Wikipedia, nor have I expected to, nor do I expect to, nor have I ever agreed to. I edit here purely as a volunteer; it has never been, and is not, part of my day job nor any paid work nor any volunteer work i do outside of my day job. I have tried to make that as broad and clear as possible - I am not a paid editor. I have no COI for ag biotech.
If you care, i explained how i got interested in ag biotech on an older version of this page, which you can see here.
I ask myself the questions in WP:Tendentious editing all the time. I cringe sometimes, but overall, I think I am clean. We are all human, and I have made mistakes. When I have, and have seen them, I have acknowledged them and done what I could to apologize and correct them. The goal of my work here is to create a great encyclopedia per the five pillars.