Wikipedia:Potentially unreliable sources
|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
Wikipedia's requirement for writing articles is "verifiability, not truth." We rely on what is written in external sources to write this encyclopedia, yet not all sources are equal. The guideline Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources gives general advice on what is and isn't a reliable source; this essay aims to analyse specific examples of sources that might initially appear to be reliable, yet may not be.
|This section in a nutshell: Don't believe everything you read in the papers.|
All mainstream news media can make mistakes. Particularly with breaking news, corrections will need to be made and should be watched out for, and much tabloid journalism will be sensationalist and gossip-driven. Fact checking has reduced generally in the news media over recent years. For more on the trend of churnalism, see Flat Earth News, a book by Nick Davies. Specific examples to treat carefully include:
- State-associated news organisations, especially state media in countries with low press freedom, such as the Chinese press agency Xinhua, the North Korean Korean Central News Agency, and Press TV in Iran. They may be propaganda organisations.
- TMZ - has received criticism for errors in breaking news and has a reputation for gossip, but it is increasingly seen as credible by other news agencies (1, 2, 3)
- The more extreme tabloids such as the National Enquirer should never be used, as most stories in them are intentional hoaxes.
- In general, any tabloid newspaper, television show, or site, such as The Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Register, and so on, should not be used when a more respected, mainstream source exists.
Sites that appear to be news media but aren't
- Examiner.com - the content is by amateur writers and lacks editorial oversight (not to be confused with the San Francisco Examiner) (see 1, 2, 3)
- Associated Content (not to be confused with the Associated Press)
- The Onion - in a few high profile incidents this satirical news site was mistaken for news media by non-English countries
Scholarly journals are normally reliable sources, but some journals have a reputation for bias or unreliability. QuackWatch has a list of non-recommended periodicals, however, a short list of journals which should be used with extreme caution include:
- Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPandS), publishes from an unscientific, right-wing viewpoint
- Rivista di Biologia, edited by Giuseppe Sermonti, noted for publishing fringe theories
- Medical Hypotheses, non-peer reviewed and known for unscientific content
- Energy & Environment, edited by and published in by climate change skeptics
- Medical Veritas: The Journal of Medical Truth, published by Medical Veritas International Inc., listed by Quackwatch as a "questionable organization".
- Mankind Quarterly
- Any publication with a fringe topic in its name should be treated with caution: most only serve to promote that topic and are not reliable sources for anything other than their own viewpoint. Examples of such promotional journals include Creation Research Society Quarterly, Evidence-based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, and Homeopathy.
Wikipedia should not cite itself, but circular referencing and fact-laundering are possibilities if we are unaware that sources we use copy from Wikipedia. A list is at WP:MIRRORS. Some examples that appear in Google Books and are frequently inadvertently used by editors are:
- Alphascript Publishing and the many other imprints of VDM Publishing (see WP:ALPHASCRIPT, search for uses)
- Webster's Quotations, Facts and Phrases by Icon Group Publishing (search for uses Wikipedia:Mirrors and forks/Ghi#Icon Group International)
- Books LLC (Wikipedia:Mirrors and forks/Abc#Books, LLC)
- Multiple Indian books such as Encyclopaedia of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Freedom fighters of India, a series of "Faith & philosophy in..." books and some other books by Om Gupta published by ISHA books and Gyan publishing house.
- See User:Utcursch/plagiarism from Wikipedia#Books_that_plagiarize_Wikipedia for a longer list.
- Filiquarian Publishing LLC (AfD discussion) (Wikipedia:Mirrors and forks/Def#Fililquarian Publishing)
- New World Encyclopedia — an online encyclopedia that, in part, selects and rewrites certain Wikipedia articles through a focus on Unification values.
- Find links to enotes.com/topic, worldlingo.com, absoluteastronomy.com, spiritus-temporis.com.
- h2g2. Wikipedians often make the mistake of thinking that because this is hosted by the BBC, it is reliable. It is user generated, and not reliable as a source, though in certain contexts it might meet the criteria for an external link (search for uses).
- BBC Music. The artist biographies are usually taken directly from Wikipedia, which is clearly indicated on the page.
- fantasticfiction.co.uk. Used on 1000s of articles about books, but it is a commercial site with no clear editorial oversight.
- Wisegeek.com. WP:RSN discussion has described it as a "content farm" that pays its writers to produce "breezy, popular interest pieces with no footnotes" based on popular search terms, and concern was expressed that it may be drawing uncredited information from Wikipedia and creating an information loop.
These may appear to be reliable as they are in Google Books and Amazon, and have an 'imprint', but they have no editorial oversight. Some of the biggest self-publishing houses are:
Who's who scams
A Who's Who scam is a fraudulent Who's Who biographical directory. While there are many legitimate Who's Who directories, the scams involve the selling of "memberships" in fraudulent directories that are created online or through instant publishing services. Because the purpose of the fraud is only to get money from those included, the contents are unlikely to be reliable.
Fansites are generally not considered reliable. However, exceptions can apply - some fan sites contain scans of small extracts of old newspaper and magazine articles, and these may be the most convenient way to cite facts based off the original published content. Be careful, however, as these scans may actually be a copyright violation, which must not be used to cite facts in an article. If using a copyrighted source from a fan site, the citation should be to the original copyrighted source, not the fansite, and the fansite should not be linked to from Wikipedia, not even as a WP:Convenience_link. However, be aware of WP:Citing_sources#Say_where_you_read_it - unless the complete source is available, excerpts may be taken out of context, or changed to fit the site's POV, and are therefore unreliable. Transcripts of content are generally not reliable unless produced by a reliable source.
The opinions of a fan site owner or owners are generally not reliable - anyone can set up a web site and claim to be part of an "editorial team" without establishing a widely known reputation for fact checking and content control.
It is a convention in scholarly works to add notes of "personal communication" or "pers. comm." with an individual or organisation who are considered knowledgeable on a topic, e.g. see Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. Chapter 13: Letters and Other Personal Communication. On Wikipedia this is considered to be original research, which is not permitted.