Wikipedia:Children's, adult new reader, and large-print sources questionable on reliability

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Questionable sources are likely to be deleted because they're unlikely to be reliable. Children's sources, adult new reader sources, and abridged large-print media are questionable and need checking for reliability before being cited.

Problems[edit]

General reliability[edit]

Some sources are not reliable and cannot support statements in Wikipedia. An editor wanting to add a statement to Wikipedia is required to be sure a reliable source can be found for it. Statements that are obviously true need sources even though it is not necessary to cite them unless challenged (this does not apply to quotations). All other statements and all quotations are likely to be challenged and need sources cited. All of these sources must be reliable.

Questionable types of sources lack the assurance of having been checked for accuracy and a reasonable degree of contextualization (providing enough context so that the main content can be correctly understood). Questionable sources are presumed unreliable, and are more likely to be deleted along with the statements they support, so an editor wanting to cite a questionable source must be more careful in checking that it is reliable. It may help to provide information on a source's reliability to reassure other Wikipedia readers, such as in a footnote or on the talk page.

Specific questionability[edit]

Children's sources, adult new reader sources, and abridged large-print media are questionable on reliability. Children's and adult new reader sources tend to oversimplify their substantive content and abridged large-print media also may do so. Merely simplifying is not objectionable; we don't demand that a source be too complicated for most educated adults to understand. But simplified and oversimplified are two different qualities. An oversimplified source is more likely to be either wrong or so far from precision as to be useless for Wikipedia. For example, the speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters per second;[1] a source that rounds this number to 300,000 kilometers per second would be good enough (at least until a more precise source is found), but a source that only says that light is faster than a rabbit, even though that's true, is not good enough. And, if the source is simply wrong, that's obviously useless for adding into Wikipedia.[2]

Listed authors may not be real authors. That was found with some high school history textbooks a few decades ago. A textbook with three named authors, often including a prominent historian and a high school principal, frequently would actually have been authored not mainly by the named authors but by three other people with degrees but not in history and who had been directed by yet someone else in what to write.[3]

Consultants are listed for some children's (and perhaps adult new reader) sources, but the role of the consultants is often not specified. Presumably, their being identified is to promote book sales. But what's important to reliability is what consultants did for a manuscript. If a consultant only gave general advice before the manuscript was written, the consultancy may be irrelevant to reliability for Wikipedia. On the other hand, if they proofread the manuscript for accuracy, that would be very relevant. But the sources often don't say what the consultants did.

Before publication, a publisher's capable editorial staff likely evaluated almost any source before audiences (readers, listeners, et al.) got it. But that does not mean that the evaluation was specifically for reliability as needed for Wikipedia. (Likewise, self-published books from vanity presses may have been reviewed by careful staffs, but those reviews would likely have been limited to issues of liability for the publishers, such as libel, and not reliability for Wikipedia.) An audience that is less demanding is not usually going to inspire publishers to be as expensively demanding as they would be for better sources that are published. Children, especially younger ones, adults who can hardly read and have to concentrate on process more than on substance, and people with few other choices in what to read tend to be less demanding for textual accuracy.

Exceptions exist. For example, books on relativity in physics for high school students may be questionable but the one written in the 1950s by Albert Einstein[4] was reliable in its time[5] because the author, as a leading scholar in the field, was qualified to ensure its accuracy. What Wikipedia's reliability guideline requires is that, when an editor wants to cite a source, the editor affirm the source's reliability, such as by affirming that the author was qualified to ensure the source's accuracy.

Widely-known vs. specialized facts[edit]

While children's, adult new reader, and abridged large-print sources may be reliable for widely-known facts even if not reliable for specialized knowledge, precisely because the widely-known facts are widely known, many sources support them. That fish swim in water, that Mozart was a musician, and that people fly into outer space can all be sourced to adult-level[6] fluent-reader unabridged sourcing, such as almanacs, encyclopedias, newspapers, and magazines, not to mention leading-edge peer-reviewed scholarship. In general, what we know as obviously true we know from adult-level sources, either initially or through subsequent confirmation, and probably so do the authors of children's sources. As a result, editors of Wikipedia probably should not rely on, or cite, children's sources.

Related problems[edit]

Most children's and adult new reader sources are tertiary and probably most abridged large-print sources are tertiary while Wikipedia prefers secondary sourcing. However, that is a separate issue and not an issue of reliability.

Encouraging everyone to become editors includes encouraging editors who are just old enough to begin editing (like schoolchildren), barely literate, or physically hindered in reading. That encouragement is part of recruiting many editors of many backgrounds and is vital to growing Wikipedia and to strengthening the breadth of its coverage. We can anticipate that Wikipedia will be a better encyclopedia as a result. Encouraging them as editors is easier if we encourage them to use the sources handy to them. A good example of that is the welcoming of children who want to edit on the subjects they probably like best and which they know better than the rest of us do. We can invite them to use the sources they have already learned to trust. Then, we can remedy source shortcomings by upgrading sources after the children have cited the sources they have handy. The source reliability guideline does not vary in its applicability according to who is editing Wikipedia. It does vary according to subject; for example, all else equal, a children's source may be acceptable for common rules in the game of checkers[7] but not on off-label bovine neurological medication regimens.[8]

Types of sources[edit]

Children's sources[edit]

Sources directed at children are created for audiences who are usually less demanding of intellectual quality or who usually don't know how to validate it. People who create for children (authors, radio hosts, et al.) usually would know this. Possibly, creators for children even get much of their factual content from Wikipedia.[9] Using these sources in Wikipedia will often lower the quality of Wikipedia articles and will result in indirectly citing Wikipedia in Wikipedia, which is against Wikipedia's policy for verifiability and the guideline against self-reference.

The younger the intended audience, probably the greater the risk of unreliability. However, even textbooks for high school students are often unreliable, including in science[10] and history.[3]

Subjects of little interest to adults but of great interest to children, such as children's games and hobbies, if adult-level sources are inadequate or nonexistent, are an exception for which children's sources may be relatively good. Even for those subjects, however, Wikipedia editors should be sure that a source did not get its information from Wikipedia. If the information is already in Wikipedia, even without a source, do not cite the children's source as a replacement or additional source. If the information is not in Wikipedia, citing the children's source may be acceptable. And even children's sources on children's subjects need to be reliable to be used in Wikipedia.

Check the reliability of any children's source, especially a source meant for the youngest audiences but even up through high school levels (some editors may urge checking even up through undergraduate college levels) and especially if the source is to be cited for content of interest primarily to older or adult readers of Wikipedia.

Adult new reader sources[edit]

Adult new readers are adults who are learning to read in their native language for the first time, or who are learning to read in a foreign language for the first time. Adult new readers generally struggle to understand what they are trying to read (much as children struggle), and therefore need sources that are easier to read. While adult new readers may find long and complex content easy to parse when spoken, they generally have a harder time understanding it in written form and need the written form to be simple until they get moderately good at reading. When a new reader is trying to commit the sounds of vowels to memory from the ink strokes on a page, a slowly repetitive process, it is less distracting and thus more helpful to keep the message of the page substantively simple. That is most easily done by simplifying the content in both substance and style. Sources for adult new readers are generally created with this as background. Accuracy will generally be lower, maybe too low.

Synonyms for adult new readers probably include new literates, beginner readers, emergent readers, English learners (and any analogues for other natural languages), English language learners (and any analogues for other natural languages), hi-lo readers (for high interest and low reading level), and reluctant readers.[11] Related terms include adult literacy and English as a second language (ESL) (and any analogues for other natural languages).[11]

Check the reliability of any adult new reader source.

Large-print sources[edit]

Visually-impaired readers often depend on sources that are typeset or rendered in a large font size (such books are commonly called large-print books).[12] Because large-print unabridged nonelectronic media are physically larger and sales quantities are usually smaller, it is generally more expensive to print, inventory, and distribute a given text in a large font than one in a regular font size. Abridgement is normally not cost-free, as someone must do any abridging.

Check the reliability of any large-print source, especially if it is nonelectronic, does not explicitly state that it is unabridged, and has a regular print counterpart from the same publisher and year.

Exceptions[edit]

  • Sources without regular print counterparts. Large font sizes are not in themselves a problem for reliability. The problem is where large and regular print sources have different content but are not labeled for the difference, because that may lead to a Wikipedia article's being wrong or an editor being unable to verify a source.
  • Electronic sources, including in e-readers and on the Internet. Enlarging the text requires no additional content file (e.g., the same e-book can be rendered in any available font size for the same cost) and probably requires almost no additional computational power. Therefore, the reliability of the electronic source in a regular font size applies to the same source in any other font size.
  • Unabridged sources. Many sources will explicitly state that the text is the full text of the regular-font edition (see if, for example, the cover or the copyright page says so). If a source does not say so, assume it is abridged. Abridgement requires editing, which should have been sensitive to intellectual accuracy, but it's usually impossible to tell if that is the case without comparing the two editions word for word, in which case a Wikipedia editor can simply read and cite the regular-font edition anyway, regardless of what the large-print edition may contain. While single-page sources cost only a little more to print, stock, and distribute in two font sizes, they have the same editing problem as multi-page sources and a Wikipedia editor comparing a single-page source for sameness of content between large and regular print editions can read and cite the regular-font edition anyway, and should.
    • Pictures and other nontextual content in large-print editions that have the full text of regular print editions may be abridged without the edition saying so. Pictures may not be used in Wikipedia without permission (including fair use) or unless they're in the public domain, so their unavailability in a large-print edition is probably not critical, and the same may be true of any other nontext content in the source. (What constitutes nontext content is up to each publisher, source author, or source editor, but it might include tables and musical scores.) However, it is possible that quoting or paraphrasing even text by itself could amount to cherrypicking, so a regular font edition may be preferred for completeness. That will have to be judged separately for each source.
    • Not all abridged works are encompassed as unreliable, regardless of font size. A collection of a politician's speeches in a regular font size may be complete or abridged. Two different abridgements of the same subject (such as of a historical person's important papers) may be quite reliable because the publishers' editing of both may have been of a sufficient level of quality, but abridgement only because of type size may have been done with less editorial skill,[13] making reliability questionable. The problem with large-print nonelectronic media is that they are (in some cases) abridged without saying so, with the editions otherwise appearing to be nearly identical and perhaps published in the same year and by the same publisher, causing confusion. That is unlike when years, publishers, or named editors are different, because the latter is enough to allow verification of the intended edition.

Solutions[edit]

When both questionable and unquestionable sources are available[edit]

When both a children's, adult new reader, or abridged large-print source is available and an adult-level fluent-reader unabridged source is also available, which to use depends on these factors:

  • If both questionably and unquestionably reliable sources are conveniently in front of you (as an editor), use the better sourcing by itself. Only use the lesser sourcing in the unusual case where it adds something and is not supernumerary.
    • Credibility alone, if two sources are otherwise equally citable and one will be enough, justifies citing an adult-level fluent-reader unabridged source for adult-level content in preference to a children's, adult new reader, or abridged large-print source.
  • If you need to search for sourcing and could get either type, two choices apply:
    • To improve the quality of one Wikipedia article, consider shunning children's, adult new reader, and abridged large-print sources when adult-level fluent-reader unabridged sourcing can be used.
    • To expand Wikipedia's coverage across many articles, consider using any reliable sourcing and going forward to other articles with any other reliable sourcing (or sometimes the same sourcing used again), thus developing more content. You've confirmed the initial sources' minimal reliability, so they can be upgraded later.

How to check reliability[edit]

Check the reliability of these sources just as you would check the reliability of any source you want to cite. Merely having pages and covers does not make a source reliable. But evidence of reliability may often be found in the source itself. For instance, the cover may tell you the author's qualifications. If not, checking may take more time. Investigation may require going outside of the source, such as by searching book reviews and authors' and publishers' websites.

Generally, if the author is qualified in the substantive field with the information you wish to add to Wikipedia, that may be sufficient. However, if an author's qualifications are unstated or if an author is qualified as a writer or in making children happy, that is usually not sufficient. For example, an author who is qualified as a writer may not be qualified to explain biology or astronomy, even though the author is very good at writing.

Within Wikipedia, some sources can be investigated or challenged at the reliable sources noticeboard, including investigating in its archives for past cases.

Citing[edit]

Large-print nonelectronic media, if possibly abridged and if cited at all, should be cited as large-print sourcing, because of the possibility of unrevealed abridgment making verification harder unless a verifier knows to seek the large-print edition. This is a hypothetical example: <ref>Smith, Chris, Floating the Titanic (Warsaw: North Press, large-print 1st edition 2011).</ref>

If content supported by a questionable source[edit]

Some articles may already have citations to sources that are questionable.[14]

Biographies of living persons[edit]

If a statement is contentious and is supported only by a citation of a questionably reliable source, reconsider the source and justify the source as not questionable, upgrade the source, or delete the statement. Be bold and fast.

Harmful content in any article[edit]

With harmful content,[15] process as above (as with a contentious statement in a biography of a living person).

All other articles[edit]

If any statement is supported by a citation of a questionably reliable source, you may resolve it yourself or invite other editors to resolve it. If you'll do the editing yourself, reconsider the source and justify the source as not questionable, upgrade the source, or delete the statement. If you don't do the editing yourself, you may tag the statement so that other editors will know to do something about it. Either the {{Better source}} template or the {{Verify credibility}} template can serve that purpose. The {{Better source}} template allows an editor to add a reason. Choose and format one of the templates and place it in the article's content right after the citation of the questionable source.

See also[edit]

Essays[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Evenson, Kenneth M., Speed of Light, in Light, in McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology (New York: McGraw-Hill, 11th ed. 2012 (ISBN 978-0-07-179273-8 or 0-07-179273-2)), vol. 10, p. 17 (author Evenson of Time and Frequency Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, Colorado) ("vacuum" not specified for the exact speed, only for an approximate speed of 300,000 kilometers per second).
  2. ^ In a few cases, wrong or extremely imprecise sources may be used in Wikipedia, such as to support notable fringe theories or that document impressions from popular culture reflecting academic subjects, but such usage would be rare.
        We do not delete content from Wikipedia simply because it is obviously wrong if it otherwise qualifies for inclusion, but neither need we add it even if otherwise qualified under Wikipedia's policies and guidelines. Deleting it would be against Wikipedia's effort to report what reliable sources say, which we do even if the reliable source was wrong in an instance; and it would cause no end of disputes between editors applying their personal knowledge, which, when unsourced, would be deleting on the basis of original research. When an article's content is wrong, it is appropriate to search for a contrary source that meets Wikipedia's policies and guidelines and add information from that source, subject to the policy for due weight.
        The creator of this essay recalled learning in school, probably in teenage years, that chemical elements were composed of atoms that in turn were composed of neutrons, protons, and electrons and that what defined an element was the equal quantities of each of the three particles. The latter turned out to be wrong, as was later found out from a college-level book. Two of the particles were only for defining ions and isotopes of given elements. Only one of the particles was relevant to defining an element. Since then, the list of subatomic particles and their roles has changed, but what matters here is not that scientific knowledge has changed since it was taught to this essay's creator (it probably did relevantly change), but that the first taught explanation was wrong even in light of the science as then known regarding two of the particles and that the likely reason for being wrong was that the explanation taught to teenagers in school was simpler than the true one.
  3. ^ a b FitzGerald, Frances, Rewriting American History, in The New Yorker, vol. LV, nos. 2–4, February 26, 1979–March 12, 1979 (in microfilm) (on history textbooks for U.S. kindergarten through high school) (see also FitzGerald, Frances, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century (Little, Brown, 1979) (book not seen by the Wikipedia editor citing it)).
  4. ^ The editor creating this essay recalls reading such a book but has forgotten the title, has not identified the book in several websites searched, and recalls that it was published in two or more editions over a few years.
  5. ^ Today, Wikipedia would likely prefer a much more recent source, because physics itself would have advanced, and Wikipedia didn't exist in the 1950s.
  6. ^ Adult-level refers to subjects which children would tend to find boring, and is not limited to subjects adults tend to keep away from children because adults tend to believe that the children would misunderstand with adverse consequences.
  7. ^ Common rules in many games and sports often differ from official rules. The basics may be the same but some nonbasics may not be. At least one former minor-league baseball umpire wrote of some official rules as nearly incomprehensible even to an umpire who's supposed to apply them (Postema, Pam, You've Got to Have Balls to Make It in This League (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992)).
  8. ^ Children would likely not understand at least 3 of those 5 words.
  9. ^ The creator of this essay has no proof of this.
  10. ^ Feynman, Richard P., "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character (Feynman, a physicist, reviewed books for school use (relevant text)).
  11. ^ a b Adult Literacy Background Information (guidelines), as accessed August 24, 2013.
  12. ^ It is hoped that people with visual impairments will have the same access to literature that unimpaired readers already have. But it is a reality that not all nonelectronic media are available in large-print or electronically and that not all large-print nonelectronic media are unabridged. Even if this is economically necessary, and it may not be, the unavailability is effectually discriminatory against some people with disabilities.
  13. ^ The creator of this essay at the time has no proof of this speculation, which is based on a probability that readers who need large print have fewer alternatives and thus would tend to be less demanding of publishers.
  14. ^ A quick and cursory review by the creator of this essay found several Wikipedia articles on adult-level subjects with citations to books by authors of children's books or publishers specialized in children's books, although it is possible that the specific works thus cited had been checked and found to be reliable.
  15. ^ The creator of this essay recalls something somewhere in Wikipedia about harmful content, and more or less defining it, but now can't find it, so is leaving it undefined. If someone knows an appropriate link, please add it.