Wikipedia:Creating controversial content
|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays may represent widespread norms or minority viewpoints. Consider these views with discretion. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines.|
|This guidance essay contains comments and advice of one or more Wikipedia contributors. It is not a Wikipedia policy or guideline, though it may be consulted for assistance. A potential measure of how the community views this essay may be gained by consulting the history and talk pages, and checking What links here.|
|This page in a nutshell: Your new articles or facts that are especially controversial can survive severe dispute.|
|Do not state a fact or view that may not be stated in Wikipedia.
Do not identify a person or organization who cannot be written about in Wikipedia.
Do not give a partial statement or identification that may help someone else, knowing other information, to infer the full statement or identification that may not be in Wikipedia.
No original research is permitted.
You want to write a controversial fact into Wikipedia, but it will probably be deleted. You want it to survive, so the world will finally know. Here is some of what to consider in your efforts.
In short: Gather your facts. Be careful with your intellectual content. Adhere closely to Wikipedia's policies and guidelines. You can self-publish outside of Wikipedia pretty easily but self-publications are not much trusted for inclusion in Wikipedia. Third-party publishers are generally more trustworthy. If you are ahead of all other scholars, create a stepladder of proof from what scholars agree on with you until your ultimate point is proven. Anticipate criticisms; take them as legitimate and answer them on their merits. If you're ready to add sourcing to Wikipedia but you're the author of the sourcing, you have a conflict of interest you need to declare before you edit. When you're ready to edit, draft carefully for Wikipedia. Monitor the article and its talk page frequently, even several times a day in the first days. If objections come from multiple editors, don't assume the editors are coordinating against you or just puppets of one; treat them as separate and legitimate.
Facts and context 
Isolate and articulate the new fact. For example, with your bare eyes you saw kittens running around on Saturn and you heard them purr. It's not that you were born in a foreign solar system and honored in a comic book, it's just that you're a keen listener with good eyes. Therefore, there are kittens on planets. Right now, you're the only person who knows about those particular kittens, and you've never told anyone. That means no one has published it anywhere. It's high time Wikipedia reported this astonishing discovery. You wouldn't mind getting the credit but your main mission is the public service of keeping everyone up to date on new discoveries, in this case about distant life. You need a strategy.
Gather context. Dig into textbooks at college to postgraduate levels, peer-reviewed journals, compendia of papers from scholarly conferences, influential Masters' theses, and published Ph.D. dissertations from good universities to find out what scholars today generally agree is true or false regarding the field of your discovery. All of these publications should be limited to those recognized by major scholars in the field as legitimate. Writings by scholars for lay audiences are often not as precise, but they can get you started. Websites and online periodical databases have to be judged for editorial quality in comparison to print materials; some are good and some are trash. The 7th Street Poker Players Biology Blast probably won't qualify. Television shows and movies are generally worse; only a few are reliable enough. Minority views count, but only those minority views that appear in those same kinds of media and are from established scholars should be considered. All other minority views may be interesting but they're often lacking something essential or wrong on a critical point and may be treated as fringe views, which Wikipedia usually does not publish. Scientific findings need to be within scientific consensus, i.e., agreed to by most scientists or leading scientists in a particular discipline (leading scientists can form a consensus because, if they are leading, other scientists in the same discipline tend to be influenced by them and follow). Much the same is true for other fields of scholarship.
Once you know the intellectual context, you can test your own knowledge for contradictions and inclarity, rework what needs changing, and see what everyone else needs to change in their thinking. Then you can position your knowledge so you can present it intelligently to other people who know the field.
Uphold standards 
Apply strict intellectual standards. Sloppy work looks even worse when it's a shaky foundation for a far-out belief. Those standards can vary by discipline; for example, some demand that you develop a hypothesis before you investigate and others that you not, so you can keep an open mind. Each approach has its points pro and con and its adherents and detractors, but often one or the other is conventional within a particular field of study. Whatever may be the standards for the field of knowledge you've entered, do your best to understand them and apply them even if the results are inconvenient. Facts will survive any defect in the standards, but you have to know what your colleagues expect so you can communicate with as much common ground as possible. Try not to resist standards as doing so will almost certainly get you ignored. Often, you can express your knowledge within those standards, although you may have to expend extra effort to do it.
Adhere to Wikipedia's policies and guidelines even more strictly than usual. You will be accused. Hopefully, you'll only be accused once for each charge because your thoughtful and informative response will settle each matter, or you will be accused of something that does not violate any Wikipedia policies or guidelines, because you will have been careful about applying them throughout your work. Sometimes, people look for any excuse to get rid of someone, and sometimes they apply double standards: loose for them and strict for you. Don't give them an excuse to kick you off.
You're the most honest person on Earth and Saturn but Wikipedia still doesn't give a whit for your word. Wikipedia does not publish statements just because they're true, but may if they're verifiable. So, a source is needed. You'll have to find someone to publish your discovery. Or you'll have to publish it yourself, even though your odds of getting your self-publication to stay in Wikipedia are between slim and none and Slim just left town.
Your word that you self-publish 
You could go to a vanity press and have them print your book; you pay them and they print any wisdom you impart to them. But since they'll print almost any garbage anyone pays them to print and most people can't figure out why your book would be any better, Wikipedia says they're not reliable sources and generally rejects vanity books. Editors at vanity presses do very little editing but try to get you to spend more money, so they're not independent of you. Typically, at least in the U.S., the most trusted media pay their writers and media that pay nothing may still be trusted, but media that are paid mainly by their writers are of interest to almost no readers, viewers, listeners, bookstores, libraries, schools, or archivists. Dump the vanity books; maybe you'll get a penny for the load if a close friend takes pity on you. You may have to pay someone to haul them to the trash. Blogs, tweets, personal websites, and other self-publications generally don't count, either. Anything that has almost no oversight by an independent editor generally is a self-publication and will come to the same dead end.
Third-party publication of work by you or others 
Publishers who are independent of you are ipso facto more credible. Whether you're the author there or someone else is, their editors will look more critically at submissions, and what survives editing will likely be more believed by readers. Find reliable sources to publish what you say. Reliable media tend to have fairly consistent editorial standards overseen by editors other than the author, limit themselves to nonfiction or identify fiction as separate and thus ignorable by consumers of nonfiction, and tend to be believed by many important consumers of media in the field.
By you 
A third-party publisher who'll take your word is nice. But it turns out that the local junior high school's yearbook of adventure stories isn't good enough. Persuade a reliable medium to publish your discovery. Maybe they will if you write it. Many require that you submit your intended full article and not simply a query. Writers are a dime a dozen; actually less, since many media have so many writers at their doorsteps, they pay none of those they print (and it's legal). Even without pay, you'll have stiff competition. If you get in, you'll get the credit and the blame.
In choosing media to carry your work, consider the audience you want to reach and you should prefer print media with the space to say what you know in depth.
- Audiences may be either lay or scholarly. They tend to consume different media, although in both sets of media many are reliable. The two sets of media require very different ways of preparing your work. Read authors' guidelines from the publishers (if no guidelines are available, perhaps all writing is done by their staff) and examine recent sample issues. While scholarly peer-reviewed journals publish work by authors who are almost always professors, recognized scholars, or advanced students in their field, exceptions have happened and if an editor there thinks you have something, congratulations on getting at least that far. Media directed at children are probably less reliable, or not reliable at all.
- Print is more verifiable than broadcast or speech. Most broadcasts never get transcribed for the public or in reliable media and old recordings may be impossible to get.
- Longer is better than very brief, provided you use the length well or you'll lose your audience.
Apply a publisher's guidelines completely, if at all possible. It's usually a bad idea to submit your manuscript on orange paper with tiny lights on the edges, because a lowly aide will likely have been told that anything noncompliant with guidelines can't be any good and should be returned unread or discarded. What may be a good idea when promoting toys to souvenir stores may be counterproductive for serious submissions.
You may well be ahead of all the scholars. That can happen. If you suspect that's why scholarly publications refuse your submissions, what you can do is complete the intermediate research that is needed for scholars to believe your main discovery. In effect, build an intellectual stepladder. You start with what is generally agreed to among scholars (even if they're all wrong) and you determine what new discoveries would advance the state of scholarship and bring it closer to your first discovery. Then make those intermediate discoveries yourself or persuade other scholars to do the missing scholarship. Get the middle steps published. Repeat with each round of discoveries needed until your main discovery becomes believable among scholars. Then get your main discovery published in high-quality third-party media, since they will now have a scholarly basis for recognizing your contribution to knowledge.
Even top scholars get things wrong, many times. Einstein made a "blunder" himself, and said so (although lately some disagree that it was a blunder in all contexts). However, when a nonscholar thinks a scholar is wrong within the scholar's own field, the scholar is probably right and the nonscholar is probably wrong. Often, for a hypothesis to be right a number of statements leading up to it also have to be right, and often a hypothesis fails because just one of those statements is wrong. The researcher (you) is responsible for proving every necessary element of the case. No one else is responsible for disproving any of your points until you have made a good case first. One mathematician spent 7 years proving a theorem; then someone found an error and the mathematician spent another year fixing that. Since the theorem had been an open question for over 300 years, a few more was an acceptable price for work done right. Many people spend lifetimes without finishing their work. If that will be you, with luck you'll be vindicated posthumously. Galileo was. You'll be in good but rarified company. If you prefer winning arguments while you're alive, remember your burden is the bigger one. Prove every single step.
Anticipate criticisms and address them on the merits. On the merits means not referring to a critic's lack of ability to know what they're talking about. Instead, answer the critique as if smart people made it after thorough thought. Maybe they didn't grasp exactly what you meant. Help them to get it.
Yet, you send your prose to great science magazines but they don't publish it and you suspect they think your manuscript is landfill. Maybe publishers see your name on your submissions and refuse to open your envelopes. They don't even want to laugh at you. They obviously don't recognize talent, they clearly are morons, and they're slowing the progress of humanity and felinity. You're burning to get this information out. One option for you is to consider other fields of scholarship that overlap the area you were studying. For example, political science and sociology overlap. So do law and history and so do art and optics. That opens up more journals to consider. You'll probably need to re-research and rewrite your work a few more times. However, you likely will be dealing with different people, which makes you someone with no reputation, and that's usually better than having a bad reputation.
If you do get your work published this way, congratulations, because even minor media can be difficult to get into. Nonetheless, an astronomer may dispute the third-party publication (and you) because surely no one can see a kitten on Saturn with their bare eyes. Using two-dollar terms like noise attenuation, wave-form analysis, and triangulation, even correctly, may not save your reputation. If no astronomer responds, maybe it's because no one with any qualifications ever reads the publication or heard about your work, which is not a good sign. You may need to publish again, in a different outlet, but you can't say just the same thing (often because of competition and copyright), so you may have to find a new angle, new developments, new commentary, or something else substantially new. You'll be building up a body of work, which takes time and effort but the result tends to look good for you and your research. Follow up and see if anyone cites your work anywhere and look for letters to your publishers and other audience response. A political writer and leader said he answered 90% of his mail from the public. Respond to criticisms. When they're right, say so. When they're not, explain why.
Before drafting for Wikipedia on your word 
Don't add the article's information to Wikipedia just yet. Being the author of the source means you have a conflict of interest. Go to the most relevant article's talk page, start a new topic, and explain that you're the author of the source and how you'd like to use it. If you published under one name and edit Wikipedia under a different username, you don't have to explain why you have a conflict of interest, just say that you have one, although the declaration itself will be a pretty strong clue to your identity, so, if anonymity matters to you, you may have to forego citing your outside publication in Wikipedia. If you have posted to the talk page, give editors time to answer your proposal. If no one responds in a week or so, go ahead and add it approximately as you said you would (don't surprise people). If there was a response, try to accommodate the response/s when you edit the article.
If you propose to write a whole new article and base it exclusively on your own publication, that has almost no chance of surviving. It would suffer from conflict of interest and, without your work, a lack of sources and therefore a lack of notability. It's easier to propose editing an existing article instead and spinning off a new article later when enough independent sourcing turns up.
If you want to protect the copyright on your non-Wikipedia work or if you licensed your copyright to someone else (many journals require that, so that they have the copyright license on your article), don't copy much of it into Wikipedia. Instead, rewrite into new words (your own), and then only what you write in Wikipedia will be submitted under the liberal license terms Wikipedia applies.
By someone else 
If sources you wrote are not welcome here, one way to show up nay-sayers with bad karma is to pull strings and get someone else to find those kittens with their own eyes, not yours. When someone else says it, then both of you are more believable among scholars and the public. It may not settle all arguments, but it will help.
Drafting for Wikipedia 
Before posting 
Before you post any content or edit anything, you should register a username account if you haven't yet, because that will give you more credibility among editors than if you edit pseudo-anonymously from an IP address and you'll have an easier time monitoring changes to articles you want to watch. You don't have to, but it's helpful. If you don't want to register but still want to monitor pages for changes, RSS or Atom feeds may also work.
Log in often and click the Watchlist link at the top of any Wikipedia page. The watchlist tells you if any page you're interested in has changed. You can add and subtract pages from the watchlist (don't exclude minor edits from watchlisting) and, generally, any page you edit is added to your watchlist (if it's not, check your Preferences, specifically where it says Watchlist, or, when you edit a page, put a checkmark where it says "Watch this page"). If an article or talk page is watchlisted, so is the other. Once you post something controversial, log in daily for a couple of weeks, then twice weekly a while, and so on, until you're down to once every 3 weeks (that's about the minimum because watchlists don't show changes older than about a month, although every article has a View History link at the top for that article's editing history since it began). You'll likely want to stay on top of developments, such as deletion attempts and rewrites that miss the point.
Criticism is inevitable 
Controversial facts come with criticisms. Deal with them.
Include criticisms about your fact. Lean over backwards to identify criticisms against the controversial point. It's controversial for a reason, and don't say it's because slobs misunderstand it or hate you. Maybe the criticisms are wrong, but dig for sourcing, and at least state and source the critiques neutrally and in quantity.
They should be ample, not half the article but still substantial, if the sources are ample with criticism. Let readers make their own decisions about who's right. Then your article has a better chance of surviving and readers are likelier to agree with you.
If a criticism is likely but you don't see a source for it, state a larger criticism that encompasses the obvious one you're missing. For instance, if you have discovered that gravity repels every Wednesday at noon for a quarter-second but all the physicists are still too busy chuckling to write a criticism of your proof, at least find a source that says gravity attracts all the time, because that at least appears to contradict your proof, apart from your proof being newer. Or, with the kittens on Saturn, you can find a source that says that no life larger than a microbe has been found past Earth's moon.
If criticism is predictable but unsourced, omitting critique may cause your article to seem skewed. Anything challengeable can be questioned or removed, but in this case that would mean challenging uncontroversial criticisms, so it's less likely anyone will. Therefore, state an obvious criticism even if you can't attribute it to any source. If someone wants to delete it on the ground of lack of sourcing, beware of one trap: Deleting criticisms may result in the article appearing to have a point of view when it's supposed to be neutral, and having a point of view may lead to an effort to delete your entire work. It may be better to contest the deletion of the main uncontroversial criticisms in order to maintain balance and thus neutrality.
On the article's Talk page, invite sourcing for the critique you'd like to post or keep. Do this only after your own search has failed. Google and library databases of articles are often helpful and often free.
Meanwhile, keep looking for a source. If you find one later, edit the criticism to conform to the new source and add the citation as soon as you can.
Writing the whole 
Draft your contribution to Wikipedia carefully.
- Slowly is better. Few writers write better by rushing. Go ahead and write a passage fast, but don't post yet. Take your time with the whole article, from planning through final proofreading. Most mortals profit from time. Rushing may make a rash result.
- For many writers, care means drafting, putting it aside for a few days or longer, and then reading it from readers' perspectives to be sure it will be understood by others as you intend and redrafting. While it's a draft, it's better somewhere other than in Wikipedia article space, such as offline in your word processor, on paper, or on a Wikipedia user talk subpage that you create for the draft, linked to from your talk page.
- Citing up to 3 sources for an important controversial point is better than just one, although if you have only one, that will have to do.
- When you paraphrase a source, paraphrase very closely to what the source says or quote it, to make it harder to challenge as original research or impermissible synthesis.
- Cite sources right down to page numbers or with equivalent specificity. For audio or video sources, that may be by specifying minutes and seconds from the beginning to the particular fragment.
- Verifiability is easier when free online sources are used, even though that's not required by Wikipedia, which allows use of nonfree offline sourcing, such as paid databases and books, but, often, if verifiability is easier your credibility among potential doubters will go up.
- Clean out every error, big and small. Clear up every ambiguity, too. Don't expect other editors to do it for you. They may just oppose your work and delete whole chunks or all of it.
- Invite editors to look at your draft. If there's already an article you want to edit, post at that article's talk page with a link to your draft. If there's no article and you want to start a new article, post at a WikiProject relevant to the proposed article's subject, and link to your draft.
- Allow at least a week for editors to see the draft. Check in often, maybe daily or every few hours, to keep up with any discussion that appears. Refine the draft while the discussion is in progress. Don't wait and just promise to get to it later. Keep improving it as soon as there's any suggestion you can live with.
- Compromise where doing so maintains the integrity of what you write about your discovery; some compromises promote clarity. Keep your compromise within policies and guidelines.
- Review your work one last time before introducing it into article space.
After appearing in Wikipedia 
Once you post your interesting fact into a Wikipedia article, expect to discuss it on the talk page. Your fact being controversial, some ignoramus may delete it and you probably will want to restore it. You don't own an article, even if you're its first and most frequent contributor, and neither does anyone else; and an edit war is a no-no, so don't just revert everyone who mangles your work. Once one editor edits the Wikipedia article and another editor reverts that change, the next step is discussion on the article's talk page. If your work gets howled at, point the howlers to the previous discussion on the talk page but don't get very defensive. Try to arrive at a consensus with whomever participates in the discussion. Correct errors. Concede unimportant points. If you need time to do research before further edits, quickly edit downward to what is agreed to, do the additional research, and then edit to add the results of your newer research.
Baseless charges are part of the territory. Answer patiently even against hostility, and for third parties to read, too.
If a bunch of editors all seem to say the same thing against your work, it's tempting to think they're coordinating their responses or even that they're multiple usernames for one editor. That may be true and some puppetry is against policy, but your fact is frankly controversial and that tends to bring opposition out of the woodwork, sometimes in swarms. (Swarms usually mean you'll lose. Answer carefully.) Treat the responses as separate and uncoordinated and as coming from multiple real people until proven otherwise. If challenged to repeat an answer, either try to combine them into one answer for several posters (editors who posted) or clarify more with each answer, because maybe a later objector didn't understand your first answer. Generally assume one editor complaining about something virtually represents some larger number who almost complained about the same thing. It's better to assume good faith on the part of your critics, as perhaps they only misunderstood and only after that got mad, and then to answer their criticisms carefully and informatively. Even the severest critics deserve your assumptions of good faith for their intentions, even if they say you're a crackpot, because maybe they misunderstand something in your article, in which case maybe you should clarify that in your article and not just in replying to a critic; perhaps you should even re-research a necessary point in your work (challenges can be valuable that way). Intent is not always obvious or negative even when the critic is abrupt and harsh. Ignore other people's lack of etiquette and focus on the substance of their statements. Should you need to raise a dispute to a higher level, your record will be clean and you'll have more credibility.
Discussions about your editing may turn up elsewhere, but almost always it will be at the article's talk page or maybe at your user talk page, unless it's nominated for deletion or brought to a dispute resolution forum, in which case that's where it'll be talked about. Go immediately to any discussion about anything important to you and prepare to answer often but not redundantly. It's usually better to centralize a one-topic discussion in one place.
If disputes arise, Wikipedia has a variety of remedies. Key to most of them is speed (reply the same day if possible), openness (your history is visible and acting badly leaves a trail), working within Wikipedia's policies and guidelines including explaining them, and, generally, assuming good faith in other people's intentions, even when they do the opposite to you.
If your article is nominated for deletion (AfD), it might take less than a week to resolve and you don't want to miss that or show up only four days in. If you are late, respond fast and carefully.
Speedy deletions may take a day or less to resolve. Copyright violations go that way, and that includes apparent copyright violations, meaning someone might think it's a violation when it's not and delete it speedily. Answer fast and helpfully. Don't say that "information wants to be free". Wikipedia has already decided about that and upholds U.S. copyright law. Often, a good answer is usually that you have the copyright holder's permission and can show it or that it's originally from the public domain, and some images can be used under the fair use doctrine, but your best answer depends on the facts of the case.
Watch your article for a few months, at least. It can take that long, even longer, for stability and acceptance. Check in every day, if you can, then after a month of inactivity check in a couple of times a week for a few months or more. Things can always change but changes tend to be sooner rather than later.
Relative finality 
Things can change anytime. However, if you've had a few months of inactivity in the article and its talk page, your article probably has achieved stability and acceptance among Wikipedia's editors.
To see how often people visit your article, you can get counts of page hits.
See also 
- Wikipedia is not censored (policy)
- Controversial articles (essay on neutrality)
- Wikipedia:List of controversial issues (list of articles that are the subject of edit-warring because they're controversial)
- POV and OR from editors, sources, and fields (essay)
- This didn't exist at the time of writing, as far as I know; Google had no results for it on February 24, 2013.
- The best are those who are notable enough to have their own articles in Wikipedia. If you're not sure, try writing a biographical article on a scholar of your choice, at least a stub, and see if it survives a nomination for deletion.
- Perhaps someone can check whether Google Books offers snippets of vanity books or Amazon offers searching inside them but it seems doubtful.
- One leading medical journal featured on its cover a study by an 11-year-old child.
- Something like this did happen. According to Stephen Hawking, "[i]n October 1981, I went to Moscow for a conference .... In the audience was a young Russian, Andrei Linde, from the Lebedev Institute in Moscow. He said that the difficulty with the bubbles not joining up could be avoided if the bubbles were so big that our region of the universe is all contained inside a single bubble. In order for this to work, the change from symmetry to broken symmetry must have taken place very slowly inside the bubble, but this is quite possible according to grand unified theories. Linde's idea of a slow breaking of symmetry was very good, but I later realized that his bubbles would have to have been bigger than the size of the universe at the time! .... As a friend of Linde's, I was rather embarrassed ... when I was later sent his paper by a scientific journal and asked whether it was suitable for publication. I replied that there was this flaw about the bubbles being bigger than the universe, but that the basic idea of a slow breaking of symmetry was very good. I recommended that the paper be published as it was because it would take Linde several months to correct it, since anything he sent to the West would have to be passed by Soviet censorship, which was neither very skillful nor very quick with scientific papers. Instead, I wrote a short paper with Ian Moss in the same journal in which we pointed out this problem with the bubble and showed how it could be resolved." Hawking, Stephen W., A Brief History of Time (N.Y.: Bantam Books Trade Pbks. (Bantam Book), Bantam trade pbk. ed. September, 1998, © 1996 (ISBN 978-0-553-38016-3)), pp. 135-136 (page break between "several months to" & "correct it").
- The first editor of this essay believes the leader was William F. Buckley, Jr., as profiled in The New Yorker decades ago.
|It is not recommended that this essay be promoted to become a guideline or a policy. This opposition to promotion is by the first editor of this essay.|