Wikipedia:Exceptions should leave the rule intact
|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors on the Wikipedia:Ignore all rules policy. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
|This page in a nutshell:
In order to provide a welcoming environment to newcomers and prevent wikilawyering, Wikipedia boldly invites editors to ignore all rules, and every guideline is prefixed with a template which informs readers that "it is a generally accepted standard that editors should follow, though it should be treated with common sense and the occasional exception."
This invitation is often fearlessly seized upon in Wikipedia:Articles for deletion regarding Notability and its related guidelines as an argument of last resort: once it becomes apparent the guidelines clearly indicate that the article should be deleted, some editor (commonly the page's creator) urges that common sense demands we ignore the guidelines. This is mistaken. Rather, any exceptions to the rule should leave the rule intact. Another way of putting this is use common sense when it comes to common sense.
What sort of double standard is this?
Why is it that calls to ignore all rules, use common sense, and recognize that guidelines admit of exceptions always seem to come from single purpose accounts, defending articles about emerging research into Kirlian photography? Isn't anyone else allowed to appeal to these mainstays of the Wikipedia process? Why do the rest of us feel compelled to find a suitable guideline?
Why don't we find editors courageously proposing Dalai Lama for deletion? "Oh, sure, he meets all of the notability criteria, but come on, use your common sense! Who is this guy? Nobody, just some schmo who happened to satisfy the technical requirements of a poorly-worded guideline."
Why is it that responsible editors with administrative privileges do not remind us that WP:HOAX is just a guideline, and so should be treated with common sense and the occasional exception? Where are the overturned blocks because WP:CIVILITY, like any policy, is subject to WP:IAR? "Yes, it is patent nonsense," I keep waiting to read on a talk page, "but worthy of inclusion nonetheless!"
Why allow exceptions?
There is a very good rationale for admitting that all guidelines should be applied with common sense and the occasional exception — several good rationales, actually. Aside from inclusiveness and being a response to wikilawyering that a wikilawyer must respect (it's the rule!), it makes allowances for the way guidelines are phrased.
Guidelines were made by people, many of them by people with real jobs for whom editing Wikipedia is a hobby. The Wikimedia Foundation has a legal team, but they are not commonly employed in the drafting or vetting of project guidelines. It is quite possible that something that should be covered by the guideline has slipped through the cracks.
The diminishing value of common-sense exceptions
It doesn't matter that the Dalai Lama fails WP:POLITICIAN. This is not an AfD waiting to happen, a sorry stain upon Wikipedia's reputation as his article is removed for lack of notability. The Dalai Lama still satisfies the general notability guideline.
As problems with the phrasing of a guideline come to light, it is altered. It more precisely tracks what common sense would say about the subject it governs. The reasonable exceptions become fewer. Calls to use common sense and ignore all rules more frequently turn out to be desperate cases of wikilawyering.
At the same time, the top-level policies and guidelines like Verifiability and Notability are so broad that it is difficult to conceive of any truly worthy article failing to meet them. One might imagine a notable band that has not produced a single album, been the subject of a half-hour special broadcast, won or been nominated for any major award, or that meets even a single criterion listed at WP:BAND — but one that has not "received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject" and yet is still somehow notable?
The true meaning of common sense
Guidelines are usually right. It is possible that in some cases the guideline will steer you wrong. Yet, it is still usually right, right? The putative exception should point to some rarely encountered shortcoming in the general rule, not some basic inadequacy, no? Or, if there is something seriously wrong with the guideline, you should try to get it changed on its talk page, rather than wage a guerrilla war around individual articles.
When a candidate has never successfully campaigned for public office, but is running again; when he has written one book on a prostitute, published by a vanity press; and when his accomplishments cannot be verified except through his personal website; the discussion at his AfD will probably have a lot of upper-case bluelinks like WP:CRYSTAL, WP:POLITICIAN, WP:ACADEMIC, WP:RS, WP:V, WP:N, and the like. Surely, it was for just such an occasion that the language about common-sense exceptions was included in the guidelines!
Common sense demands that a generally valid rule retain some validity after an exception to it has been discovered. The law against "drawing blood in the streets" still has meaning after it is judged not to apply to a surgeon saving a life. Yet if the hypothetical politician noted above were judged to satisfy any notability requirement, despite appearing to be the paradigmatic example of someone the guidelines were structured to exclude from notability, who could still be judged to fail the criteria? Exceptions to the guidelines should not leave gaping holes so large that you could drive a truck through them.
Assume good faith, not common sense
While claims that the case under consideration is the exception to the rule are common, community support for such claims is not. The problem is not that gullible editors, assuming good faith, as they should, are taken in by people trying to save their doggerel poetry blog, throwing the entire process into disarray and revealing the radical deficiency of WP:CONSENSUS. Rather, it is that other editors feel it would be a breach of WP:AGF, or WP:CIVILITY, or both, if they did not take seriously every good faith argument put forward in a discussion. This can lead to unnecessary aggravation.
The best thing to do in the face of someone whose appeals to common sense are nonsensical is not to get drawn in. The other person is not a troll, but that does not mean that you are prohibited from treating them as though they were: the disruption they cause is the same. If you meet them in the course of an AfD, they are probably sincerely interested in saving a page about which they care a great deal. It is their baby. Remember, you are suggesting that we ought to kill their baby. It should not be surprising that they seize upon every argument that might rescue the article.
Wikipedia's policies and guidelines have been extensively debated and refined, and they are generally representative of community consensus. In the absence of a convincing argument that they should not apply, they shall be applied. But, given the emotional attachment of a page's creator to their progeny, it should not be expected that they will accept that their baby might not deserve a reprieve.