Wikipedia:Neutral point of view/Examples Debate

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Topic 1
Darwin's theory of natural selection is the best available explanation of the diversity of life we see today.

My answer - not - MB

and my - yes. We should limit NPOV if we don't want to end with "Earth is considered to be round by majority, but some people claim it's flat")

It is a fact that some people believe the Earth is flat. What is wrong with noting that, providing a link to an article on "flat-earthers" and moving on? I would rephrase the sentence as you have put it, but I don't see anything wrong with it. - MB

What is wrong is that it would be pissing all physicists/astronomers/scientists/etc and it isn't any better than presenting round-earth as a fact (plus maybe a foonote about some "flat-earth")

The same with evolution. It's a fact. Why would we want to piss all biologists/scientists/etc. by stating otherwise ? User:Taw

I think we need to consider that wikipedia articles about evolution will in the future br reviwed by an expert. Such expert will not consider that creationism deserves any atention in such an article. But he would mention panspermia. I think that, in scientific subjects, we should adopt a PV of a Science or Nature editor. user:joao

I fully agree with user:joao. User:Taw

I am not convinced. The majority of humans believe in some kind of supernatural activity in the formation of what is, not all of them are christians, and not all of them are stupid. We should at the very least characterize the popularity of such beliefs, and attempt to clarify the debate. To consider that the majority of people are just so stupid that their veiws deserve no mention is just weird and certianly is not NPOV.

Fortunatelly majority of people doesn't believe in either flat Earth or creationism. If a lot of people believed in some theory that is clearly against science and well-established scientific theories, it should of course be mentioned, but it should not appear on the same rights as proper scientific theories. User:Taw

It is the random and purposless clause of most descriptions of evolution which are rejected by a large majority of americans (where the subject is most controversial) and the majority people in the world. There is significant survey data out there to back up this claim. Certianly you are correct that most folks and most scientists reject creationism, but most consider it likely that there is some kind of purposive activity behind the world they see around them. I don't buy your theory, and I have a real problem with your solution. There is lots and lots of debate on talk:creationism and you should read it, think about it, and respond to it, rather than going off on your own to try to make a new wikipedia policy. -- (not attributed)

Personally, I would find this go too far, but would be ok with:
Darwin's theory of natural selection is considered the best available explanation of the diversity of life we see today.

By the way, even as a statement about the current biological theory, this might be too simplistic to be considered right - there are a number of important factors apart from natural selection: genetic drift and specification through geographical isolation, to name two. But that's not really important to this debate, I guess. -- User:Andre Engels

This page is pretty stale, but I felt like chiming in anyway :) I think the problem is the word "best" can pretty much never be NPOV. What do you mean by best? Do you mean it is the best fit for the known facts, or the best explanation? Or do you mean it's the best put-together? Or do you mean it's the best for the good of society as a whole? Some of these notions are more subjective than others. The sentence has another problem that Andre Engels noted: Darwin's theory of Natural Selection is *not* the same as current mainstream science's. Most scientists today would not consider Darwin's theory to be the best in any way, but would consider some of the more refined versions we have today to be the best available. I'm not sure whether this problem should be considered a NPOV problem or just a factual error, but either way, be careful people! PenguiN42 17:53, 12 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Topic 2
Darwin's theory of natural selection is the most widely accepted scientific explanation of the diversity of life we see today. - acceptable or not?

(My answer - acceptable, even Creationists would have to agree with this statement.) - MB

(No they would not - see any creationist/intelligent design website or book. A creationist would argue that this is not NPOV. User:John Lynch)

(Sorry, John, but any creationist who disagrees with the statement that evolution is "the most widely accepted..." is a liar. It is accepted, whether or not it happens to be true. Coverage of minority arguments and opinions is welcome here; dishonesty and deceit are not. --LDC).

I am in total agreement with LDC. John you arguing that this statement is not neutral - but how can you honestly say that Creationism is a "more widely accepted scientific model" than evolution. I'm perfectly happy to accept that you think evolution is wrong, but that's not what is being stated. It is a fact that creationism IS a minority viewpoint. Consider this example: I happen to believe that all of science is based on axioms of faith. LDC is my chief opponent on this subject. However - I can see that my viewpoint is the minority one, and I can accept that. My viewpoint has been fairly reported, and its minority status noted, so I am happy.-- MB

I don't argue this. Obviously as an evolutionary biologist and historian of same, I wouldn't. But - there are people who do, and who would invoke an NPOV ruling. We're getting to a point here that is beyond the creation/evolution issue. It's about encyclopedias - or for that matter any text. I'm definitely not a postmodernism but I'm willing to state that no text/narrative can be NPOV - even the scientific papers I have published. User:John Lynch

I am writing up a new statement of the neutrality policy and came across the above, which I find very intriguing. It's also intriguing that LDC agrees with it ("complete objectivity is not possible") and implies that this means, in some way, that it is impossible to write neutral texts in the sense explained many times here on Wikipedia. I'd be very interested if someone could concisely summarize whatever the argument for this is supposed to be. I suspect that John and Lee have a subtle misunderstanding of what "neutral" means, but I want to make sure I understand them before I conclude that. --User:LMS

I happen to agree with John on this one; complete objectivity is not possible. I would even go so far as to say that a pretense of objectivity can be harmful in itself--much news coverage has that problem. But I think it is possible in this medium to be both fact-stating and minimally controversial, in that most biases are toward the majority viewpoint, and minority viewpoints are mentioned and treated reasonably. I think this can be done, and an encyclopedia is one place where it should be. --LDC

(Hmm. So what is the most widely accepted scientific explanation? Kind of depends on what you mean by scientific, but saying it's the most widely accepted isn't the same as saying it's true, or even plausible User:Verloren)

I think the fact that scientific is in bold makes this NPOV. Perhaps being a scientific explanation or origins is the most important thing, or perhaps it is not. Certainly people will disagree on that subject.

This seems closest to the spirit of NPOV. NPOV is as much about delimiting explanatory power as anything else. If one specifies the kind of explanation on offer and delimits it accordingly to its explanatory ability, one has done the policy the greatest possible service. Even science is not a matter of absolute fact: science requires a protocol of verification and expression of ideas in a fashion that can be shown to be false; after an indeterminate but long period, hypotheses for which no direct proof is possible but which remain consistent with available evidence are admitted as theories, sometimes in the face of contradictory accepted hypotheses. Even what is raised to the level of theory can subsequently be shown to be incorrect, allowing revised assessments of explanatory power. The key seems to be in acknowledging the terms of explanation: that evolutionary theory offers the most extensive possible set of answers to the most prominent questions that define biology as science is true.
That intelligent design takes the limitations of that explanatory power in a very particular sense as an occasion to ask speculative questions and give metaphysical answers certainly has a specific rational basis, but evolution and intelligent design are two entirely different sets of frames, although it should be noted that intelligent design assumes evolution to a significant extent and goes on at least to infer if not to mandate or attempt to mandate questions of theodicy. Both are also phenomena of belief: evolution may be maximally consistent with our knowledge and may be founded in reference to material phenomenon, but as a phenomenon of mechanics, our access to it, our knowledge of it is not unmediated, which is why we call it "theoretical". Intelligent design may require reference to a need to believe in terms of theodicy, and it may be objected that its proponents may not always be forthcoming about this when comparing the two. In other words: intelligent design may not be a "theory" in the scientific sense that evolution is, but that does not render it invalid in an absolute sense. One can thus make the greatest sense of both and at the say time delimit them as rigourously as possible, arguing that, fully distinguished, the two may compete on one level but to clarify that they do not do so on quite the same terms. The greatest goal set for us by NPOV is thus to explicate as far as possible the rational basis for beliefs, even as we delimit these in part by pointing out where they are contradicted by facts. To do so would be to draw views into an encyclopaedic context, which exceeds even a "scientific" context in a conventional sense. To do less does not. Buffyg 21:05, 16 October 2005 (UTC)

Ok so here are some really hard ones, you tell me fact or opinion:

  • Many scientists believe that Newton's gravitational formula does not apply in certain situations.
    • I say no, but only because it has no context. It gives the idea that scientists just randomly decided that it doesn't apply in some situations. Perhaps something more like "Einstein's theories of relativity contradict the universal application of Newton's gravittional formula." --Stephen Gilbert
      • As far as I am concerned the above statement is true. But it is misleading on a lot of different levels. However, calling it opinion seems very weird, since it is a perfectly demonstrable fact.User:MRC
  • Many scientists believe that Newton was a crackpot, after all he did spend a significant amount of time attempting to turn lead into gold.
    • It's hard to argue that "crackpot" is ever a neutral term. --Stephen Gilbert
      • But it's equally hard to imagine many scientists describing someone who tried to turn lead into gold as anything but a crackpot.User:MRC
        • But isn't there an interesting thing to be said about alchemy and its historical place in the origin of all modern science, especially in the case of such a formative and important early scientist? Wouldn't the third way here be to talk about alchemy and its historical implications as they relate to Newton and the origin of science? User:trimalchio
          • Newton's investigation of transmutation was a reasonable investigation, he did not have the chemical understanding that is routine to us now. Anyone investigating alchemy today would deserve the crackpot term, however.
            • Not necessarily, they could be Jungian psychologists who use alchemy as a metaphor for the process of individuation. Terminologies get recycled all the time. - clasqm
              • Fair comment, let me rephrase it as "metallurgic alchemy". By the way, just how far will these indents actually go?
                • How do we know that it was metallurgic alchemy and not "spiritual" alchemy in which Newton was interested? The concept of "Spiritual" alchemy was quite popular during Newton's lifetime (e.g. the publication of "The Chemical Wedding"), and there is evidence that Newton was involved with certain esoteric groups who may have had this interest.
  • Some scientists believe that time travel is possible, but would be incredibly energy expensive.
    • I would add "theoretically possible", and also reference which theories allow the possibility. --Stephen Gilbert
      • I agree, the above statement needs to be expanded. But as it stands it is entirely factual. However, prevailing scientific opinion (amongst non-string theory people) strongly leans in a different direction. My point with the above three examples is that these are all basically indisputable FACTS, but that I'm sure for some reason they won't be accepted as NPOV.User:MRC
  • Historians generally believe that JFK was actually president of the United States during the Cuban missile crisis.
    • Ridiculous. It can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that JFK was President at that time, and historians are not required to do this. --Stephen Gilbert
      • Agreed. This is ridiculous. However, it is a fact, but it makes it seem that there might be some reasonable objection, when there is not. The problem can be generalized, weasel words can turn a statement into something very different. I reciently wrote an article, with a quote, and after the quote I summarized the content of that quote, then somebody came along and added "some would say" to qualify my interpertation of the qoute. My problem is that I'm not aware of anyone who would say otherwise. (The quote was right there, either my interpretation is correct or not). I think the pressure to NPOV can make us state facts in a way which in so tenuous as to utterly change the meaning of the whole statement.User:MRC

NPOV and accuracy

  • Gravity can be defined as the force of attraction between two bodies, and is proportional to the masses of the objects and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
    • I'm not really up on my gravitational theory, but that sounds pretty Newtonian. If so, I would say that such a definition is not NPOV, as it presents Newtonian theory as fact. --Stephen Gilbert
      • Again, I think this highlights a wider problem, since in most contexts the Newtonian theory of gravity can be considered accurate, and we shouldn't always have to reference the problems with every theory every time we mention the theory. But beyond that, the statement is true because "can be defined" is logically loose enough to include both Newtonian and relativistic theories of gravity.User:MRC
        • Please don't mistake lack of precision with NPOV problems. It might be little imprecise, but it doesn't show any bias. User:Taw

I'm trying to get across a point here, and I'm not sure if I'm being clear. The problem is that some people think the above is NPOV, since it presents Newtonian theory as a fact, and others (myself included) are pragmatically disposed to saying that it is a fact (except in some non-standard (for humans) situations). There are lots of controversial issues in epistemology and philosophy of science at stake here, and if we privilege either side we'll piss people off. But I'm not certain we can entirely avoid privileging one side or the other, unless we raise the bar for who can contribute to only those with a very high degree of philosophical sophistication. So what are we to do? I'm not sure this is as easy a question as some other folks seem to think. User:MRC


The Fact/Opinion Dichotomy

I object to the fact/opinion dichotomy on the main page. Think about it: It is either a fact that God exists, or it is a fact that God does not exist. One can be of two opinions about which fact to believe, or one can withhold judgment. Perhaps the distinction you want to make is between irrefutable facts, and those facts about which there is some disagreement.

A fact "about which there is disagreement" is not a fact.
An irrefutable fact is a fact. Anything else is an opinion. Hence we do not present "evolution" as a fact. We should, however, note that it is an opinion very widely held and with extremely strong supporting evidence. The reader is free to make up their own mind. Ditto for "Flat Earth."
Well put. Alternatively, within the realm of science, evolution is a fact. As is "the earth is round". In non-scientific belief systems, evolution is not a fact and creation is, and we need to acknowledge that. - MB
It is either a fact that God exists, or it is a fact that God does not exist. If, of course, you believe that a or not a is a tautology, which is not a universally held belief.

I aggree with the first editor that the Fact/Opinion Dichotomy is unhelpful. I think, MB, if we are trying to get clear on "a neutral point of view" for wikipedia we would be better served by the dichotomy: description V prescription; or empirical V normative; or is V ought. I can have an opinion about factual claims, as mentioned about whether god exists. I can also have an opinion about what ought be, for example, that religion ought disappear from the face of the earth. JB

And, yes, opinions about what is include judgements about the extent and depth of opinions. For example, I have an opinion that most people in the world believe in god. Someone else may have the contrary opinion: that most people in the world have an opinion that there is no god. JB

I'd suggest it's a unhelpful to take 'fact' to designate a critically high level of confidence about our opinions. I can have a critically high level of confidence about my opinions on what ought be, eg that rape ought not occur, without this being a claim about facts. That is, without this being a claim about what is. JB

With this dichotomy, is V ought, we might then have as a general policy: "Wikipedia Articles should be about what is rather than about what ought be." JB

Next, and this is important to be seperated, there is the issue of the support for the factual opinion. Some opinions about fact are so well supported, by evidence and reason, that we can be confident about their truth. Like that the earth is round. So I'm not espousing a truth subjectivism here: that there is no truth and only mere opinion. JB


"Evolution" is a reference to the past. "Flat Earth" is a reference to the present. Do not lump them together!

Perhaps the past is unverifiable, but the present is verifiable. So... either Japan's solar time is roughly half a day out of phase with USA solar time, or there is one COLOSSAL conspiracy!!

Maybe the earth was flat in the past and evolution started just five minutes ago. Also the present is basically unverifiable as the past is. I think MB is right, evolution is the best scientific model for diversity of life and thus a scientific fact. --User:Vulture

I know a Unitarian-Universalist minister who said the earth was flat until people began to think otherwise. --User:Ed Poor

Alright. I'm starting the entry. Flat earth.

I remember a Bad Religion song called "Flat earth Society". Is this a common english idiom? (This might belong on talk:Flat earth ?)


Perhaps one obstacle to attaining NPOV is the desire of intelligent, well-read, responisible people to set those ignorant #@&*@ straight. Who do they think they are, filling this 'pedia with garbage?!

A more arduous but ultimately more successful strategy may be to "acknowledge" diverse viewpoints (i.e., sheer lunacy, insincere polemics) while giving thorough treatment to the "right" point of view.

It worked on the Lucifer thing. It might work on Flat Earth. It could even work someday on the evolution-creationism debate, where I'm one of the lunatics, ahem, dissenters.

Just a thought. User:Ed Poor

  • I would most vehemently disagree. The concept that there is a "right" answer to most issues under debate presupposes (a) the existence of a Perfectly Objective Truth in the first place, and (b) that someone knows that Perfectly Objective Truth well enough to provide the "right" answer. Those assumptions are in flagrant violation of anything like a neutral point of view.
  • It is perfectly reasonable to say that something (e.g. a scientific theory) "has been verified by peer-reviewed study," (or "has not been"). It's fine to say a belief is "held by the majority of group X," so long as you can back that up. But to presuppose a "right" answer and give that the bulk of attention is to introduce massive biases. -- April
See also : Wikipedia:Neutral point of view