Wikipedia:Conspiracy theory

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New proposal[edit]

The updated version 2.0 of the proposal can temporarily be found at User:Zen-master/Conspiracy theory titles and may be merged here or a more appropriate location (still waiting to hear back from Jayjg). zen master T 04:57, 18 January 2006 (UTC)

Rejected proposal:Summary of debate on appropriateness of "conspiracy theory" in a title[edit]

Please direct all comments and voting to the talk page

Keep conspiracy theory and similar titles as is[edit]

The term "conspiracy theory" is used as a description of a particular type of narrative. A conspiracy theory explains a set of circumstances with reference to a secret plot, usually by powerful conspirators. One of the distinguishing features of a conspiracy theory is that it tends not to be falsifiable in the minds of believers. For example, if the claim is made that 4,000 Israelis were warned not to go to work in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and if it's later established that only 10 Israelis were, in fact, ever employed there, the conspiracy theory evolves to include the claim that the Mossad and the United States government have conspired to alter the records, and that the names of 3,990 Israeli employees have been made to disappear. That is, the conspiracy theory represents a closed system and is not amenable to the standard rules of evidence.

This evolutionary growth in the face of evidence disproving the theory is one of the characteristics that distinguishes a conspiracy theory from a matter of simple controversy, an unresolved issue, or an alternative theory. A conspiracy theory is a matter of ideology. The difference between an alternative theory and a conspiracy theory is epistemological. SlimVirgin (talk) 06:37, 17 September 2005 (UTC)

Rename conspiracy theory and similar titles[edit]

Note: This proposal is not applicable to generic articles such as Conspiracy theory which is not pejoratively titled

Conspiracy theory is an ambiguous cliche added to a title to discredit some articles on Wikipedia through the sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, secondary definition of the phrase. Wikipedia defines conspiracy theory secondarily as connoting that a subject is unworthy of being taken seriously, which is the anti-thesis of an encyclopedia and is not appropriate in a title if neutrality is the goal. I propose that articles titled with "conspiracy theory" and similar phrases (that use the phrase to describe another subject) be renamed. These unnecessarily pejorative phrases should be declared not neutral enough for use in titles in the future. The words "conspiracy" and "theory" if not combined are unaffected by this proposal and can still be used in a title (will depend on individual article context).

Even when an article is literally about people conspiring the phrase "conspiracy theory" is still used to discredit some articles but not others by using the secondary definition. On Wikipedia talk pages the phrase has been used to discredit articles and is therefore provably not neutral. Some articles on Wikipedia also group together all "alternative theories" inside "conspiracy theory" titled articles. If a theory is citable and factual it should not be mislabeled as a "conspiracy theory" because it is then provably the exact opposite of the secondary definition even when also literally a theory of people conspiring under the first definition. This multiple definition confusion at best leads to ambiguity, at worst to POV.

Proponents of "conspiracy theory" titles argue that some subjects are "true conspiracy theories" or "objectively a conspiracy theory". But how can something be a "true X" if X has multiple definitions? To be clear, shouldn't an article state that something is either a "true Y" or a "true Z" (where Y and Z are the two definitions of X)? To use Y or Z is to state things simply and directly which is currently Wikipedia policy. Why use an ambiguous phrase X when you can just state things directly using Y or Z?

Do Wikipedia titles generally state conclusions about an article's content? Should they?

Proposed list of articles to be renamed[edit]

Related phrases and terms include "conspiracy claims" and "misinformation and rumor" and plural versions. We should use the "simply stated" Wikipedia title policy as a guide when renaming.

The term conspiracy theory has significant connotative meaning (as described in conspiracy theory) beyond its plain language meaning. As a result using this term in an article about a particular theory or set of claims, and especially in the title of such an article, tends to cast the claims described therein in a negative light. Using the term "conspiracy theory" to describe a particular set of claim will almost invariably violate Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy. Therefore, the use of the term conspiracy theory in an article title, or to describe a set of claims within an arrticle, should be avoided. Alternative, less-loaded language, should be used to describe theories which include claims of conspiracy or complicity. However, Conspiracy theory itself should not be renamed, since it discusses the concept of conspiracy theories in an appropriate way; to rename it would divorce the title of the article from its content for no purpose. Editors should avoid linking to conspiracy theory from articles about theories which they may believe to be conspiracy theories in order to avoid advocating a point of view.

Use conspiracy theory to describe only those alternative theories which are true conspiracy theories[edit]

There is a disputed proposal that this section should be merged with the section keep conspiracy theory and similar titles as is. See the talk page.

Because the term conspiracy theory has pejorative meaning, its use should be carefully restricted to those situations where it is the best descriptor of the theory in question. A true conspiracy theory is one where the theory automatically expands to encompass any contrary evidence, and such a theory is not falsifiable. The use of the term conspiracy theory to describe a theory which expands to encompass any contradictory evidence into the conspiracy is, therefore, not a violation of WP:NPOV; any other use is a violation of WP:NPOV and should be avoided. The term conspiracy theory should not be applied to a theory merely because it is held by a small number of people, is unpopular, or relies on as-yet unproven conjectures, as long as the propopents are willing to admit the possibility of being proven incorrect.

Remove the word "theory" from all article titles[edit]

There is a disputed proposal that this section should be merged with the section keep conspiracy theory and similar titles as is. See the talk page.

The word "theory" inevitably carries a connotation that the explanation being presented is unproven, which denigrates those explanations. This perjorative use violates the NPOV policy by implying that an explanation is unproven in the title. Articles could be renamed with more neutral phrases, like "possible explanation". So, for example, the Theory of Evolution could be renamed Possible explanation of evolution, Critical theory could be renamed Critical possible explanation, the general theory of relativity could become general possible explanations of relativity and so on. The article on theory, Theory, would be allowed to keep its title so that the POV of the term could be explained.

I feel that changing 'theory' to 'possible explanation' would make searching for any scientific theory (like the theory of evolution) an unnecessarily difficult task.

It is not necessary to change the titles referencing scientific theories, because they accurately represent the standard usage in that context and within the scientific community. Usage of "theory" as something unproven is only appropriate in non-technical, non-scientific language (for example, when referencing conspiracy suspicions that cannot be falsified). In science, an unproven, possible explanation is referred to as a hypothesis, not a "theory." The distinction between "hypothesis" and "theory" in scientific language is clearly defined and is not disputed within that community. A scientific "theory" refers *only to explanations that are based on a falsifiable hypothesis or group of falsifiable hypotheses/"possible explanations" that have been consistently substantiated through rigorous, repeated empirical testing. A scientific theory requires substantial evidence supporting and proving the hypothes(es). Conversely, hypothesis alone does not require any evidence and may or may not have ever been, or ever necessarily will be, tested. You could justify calling a scientific hypothesis a "possible explanation," but a scientific theory, then, by logical extension and scientific community definition, would be more appropriately referred to as a "probable explanation." Probability not only suggests, but requires significantly more proof and empirical support than possibility. Changing theory on a scientific theory article to either "possible" or "probable explanation" is neither necessary nor appropriate.

"Theory"'s neutrality is inherent in its accepted meaning and usage within the scientific community, and within that community is never interpreted as negative or pejorative. Only readers unfamiliar with the scientific community's well-established definition of "theory" would equivocate it pejoratively. Vocabulary and reading comprehension limitations of individual readers does not constitute a pejorative violation. Its usage in the context of a title of a scientific theory cannot reasonably be considered pejorative. Exchanging it for the non-technical language suggested would actually denigrate its meaning, pejoratively, because "possible explanation" omits reference to and undermines the substantial support that is, by technical definition, immediately expressed and generally understood in the usage of "theory" in a scientific context.

It is it even appropriate for the wikipedia community to endeavor to arbitrarily change the scientific community's technical language and attempt to redefine that community's well-established meaning of scientific theory? What's the point? The scientific community is not going to reject its standard usage to accommodate the whim of wikipedia contributors, and consequences of attempting to make such changes to the titles will only discredit the affected articles and misrepresent their subject matter. Not only would changing "theory" to "possible explanation" on articles of scientific theory make them unnecessarily hard to find, but it would be a dangerous demonstration of wikipedia's notorious lack of credibility as a resource.

Assess article titles on a case-by-case basis, with a focus on accuracy, informativeness, and neutrality[edit]

Thus, for example, articles which are not about secret agreements between the parties in question are not to be titled "conspiracy theories", as this would be inaccurate.