Wikipedia:Tendentious editing

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Tendentious editing is a manner of editing which is partisan, biased or skewed taken as a whole. It does not conform to the neutral point of view, and fails to do so at a level more general than an isolated comment that was badly thought out. On Wikipedia, the term also carries the connotation of repetitive attempts to insert or delete content or behavior that tends to frustrate proper editorial processes and discussions.

This article is about how to recognise such editing, how to avoid it, and how not to be accused of it.

Other policies and guidelines covering tendentious behaviors include:

What is tendentious editing?[edit]

Axe to grind? Try the hardware store, not Wikipedia.

Tendentious editing is editing with a sustained bias, or with a clear viewpoint contrary to neutral point of view. Just as some articles are likely to receive more counter-NPOV edits than others, some writers are more likely to make them. Tendentious editing is what these writers do. Thus a single edit is unlikely to be a problem, but a pattern of edits displaying a bias is more likely to be an issue, and repeated biased edits to a single article or group of articles will be very unwelcome indeed. This last behavior is generally characterized as POV pushing and is a common cause of blocking. It is usually an indication of strong opinions.

Editors who engage in this behavior generally fall into two categories: those who come to realize the problem their edits cause, recognise their own bias, and work productively with editors with opposing views to build a better encyclopedia – and the rest. The rest often end up indefinitely blocked or, if they are otherwise productive editors with a blind spot on one particular area, they might be banned from certain articles or become subject to probation.

It is important to recognize that everybody has bias. Whether it is the systemic bias of demographics or a political opinion, few people will edit subjects in which they have no interest. Bias is not in and of itself a problem in editors, only in articles. Problems arise when editors see their own bias as neutral, and especially when they assume that any resistance to their edits is founded in bias towards an opposing point of view. The perception that “he who is not for me is against me” is contrary to Wikipedia’s assume good faith guideline: always allow for the possibility that you are indeed wrong, and remember that attributing motives to fellow editors is inconsiderate.

Remember: Wikipedia is not a soapbox. Articles, and particularly their titles, must conform to policy regarding verifiability and the neutral point of view.

Characteristics of problem editors[edit]

Here are some hints to help you recognise if you or someone else has become a problem editor:

One who is blocked for violating the three revert rule more than once[edit]

You have been blocked more than once for violating the three revert rule (3RR); you argue about whether you in fact reverted four times or only three, or whether 3RR applies to a calendar day or a 24-hour period.

3RR exists to prevent edit wars. Wikilawyering about the precise details is unproductive and probably means that you have missed the point: edit warring is bad, and even one revert can be disruptive. If your edits are reverted or rejected, you should take the dispute to the talk page, remembering to cite your sources, and if that fails you should try one of the various dispute resolution processes.

One who repeats the penalised edit[edit]

On returning from a block, your first action is to head right back to the article and repeat the edit.

A contentious fact does not become uncontentious by virtue of repetition. On Usenet and web forums you can get away with repeating something until nobody cares enough to contradict you any more; on Wikipedia, that is unacceptable.

One who wrongly accuses others of vandalism[edit]

You repeatedly undo the "vandalism" of others.

Content disputes are not vandalism. Wikipedia defines vandalism very carefully to exclude good-faith contributions. Accusing other editors of vandalism is uncivil unless there is genuine vandalism, that is, a deliberate attempt to degrade the encyclopedia, not a simple difference of opinion. There are numerous dispute resolution processes and there is no deadline to meet; the wheels of Wikijustice may grind exceedingly slowly, but they do so surely.

One to whom others don't give the benefit of doubt[edit]

You find that nobody will assume good faith, no matter how often you remind them.

Warning others to assume good faith is something which should be done with great care, if at all – to accuse them of failing to do so may be regarded as uncivil, and if you are perceived as failing to assume good faith yourself, then it could be seen as being a dick.

One who accuses others of malice[edit]

You often find yourself accusing or suspecting other editors of "suppressing information", "censorship" or "denying facts".

This is prima facie evidence of your failure to assume good faith. Never attribute to malice that which may be adequately explained by a simple difference of opinion. And in the case of biographies of living individuals it is vitally important always to err on the side of caution. If the information you want to add is self-evidently valid and important to the subject, it should be trivial to provide multiple citations from reliable sources which agree that it is both true and significant. Take this evidence to the talk page in the first instance.

One who disputes the reliability of apparently good sources[edit]

You find yourself engaging in discussions about the reliability of sources that substantially meet the criteria for reliable sources.

There is nothing wrong with questioning the reliability of sources, to a point. But there is a limit to how far one may reasonably go in an effort to discredit the validity of what most other contributors consider to be reliable sources, especially when multiple sources are being questioned in this manner. This may take the form of arguing about the number or validity of the sources cited by the sources. The danger here is in judging the reliability of sources by how well they support the desired viewpoint.

One who demands that others find sources for his/her own statements[edit]

You demand that other editors search for sources to support text that you added.

Wikipedia policy is quite clear here: the responsibility for sourcing content rests firmly and entirely with the editor seeking to include it. This applies most especially to biographies of living individuals, where uncited or poorly cited controversial material must be removed immediately from both the article and the talk page, and by extension any related Project pages.

One whose citations are inadequate, ambiguous or not sufficiently explicit[edit]

Your citations back some of the facts you are adding, but do not explicitly support your interpretation or the inferences you draw.

The policy on original research expressly forbids novel syntheses of other sources.

One who repeats the same argument without convincing people[edit]

Shortcut:

You find yourself repeating the same argument over and over again, without persuading people.

If your arguments are rejected, bring better arguments, don’t simply repeat the same ones. And most importantly, examine your argument carefully, in light of what others have said. It is true that people will only be convinced if they want to be, regardless of how good your argument may be, but that is not grounds for believing that your argument must be true. You must be willing to concede you may have been wrong. Take a good, long hard look at your argument from as detached and objective a point of view as you can possibly muster, and see if there really is a problem with it. If there isn't, it's best to leave the situation alone: they're not going to want to see it and you cannot force them to. If there is a problem, however, then you should revise the argument, your case, or both.

One who deletes the cited additions of others[edit]

You delete the cited additions of others with the complaint that they did not discuss their edits first.

There is no rule on Wikipedia that someone has to get permission from you before they put cited information in an article. Such a rule would clearly contradict Wikipedia:Be bold. There is guidance from ArbCom that removal of statements that are pertinent, sourced reliably, and written in a neutral style constitutes disruption.[1] Instead of removing cited work, you should be questioning uncited information.

One who ignores or refuses to answer good faith questions from other editors[edit]

You ignore or refuse to answer good faith questions from other editors.

No editor should ever be expected to do "homework" for another editor, but simple, clarifying questions from others should not be ignored. (e. g. "You say the quote you want to incorporate can be found in this 300 page pdf, but I've looked and I can't find it. Exactly what page is it on?") Failure to cooperate with such simple requests may be interpreted as evidence of a bad faith effort to exasperate or waste the time of other editors.

One who fails to appropriately thread their posts on talk pages[edit]

You neglect to thread your posts on talk pages.

Seemingly an unrelated style issue, tendentious editors often do not indent their talk page comments. While threading discussions (by indenting your replies to others' posts) is not strictly required, it is standard practice and highly recommended since it makes discussions easier to follow. Failing to do so may be interpreted as inexperience with Wikipedia conventions at best, and as inconsiderateness or arrogance at worst.

One who assigns undue importance to a single aspect of a subject[edit]

Shortcut:

A particular problem is to assign undue weight to a single aspect of a subject. For example, you might know that there is some controversy surrounding a particular politician’s behaviour with regard to a property dispute. You may be very interested in that dispute, and be keen to document the politician’s role in it. So you would create an article on the politician which goes into detail about that, but includes little or no other data. This is unacceptable because it gives undue weight to the controversy. Similarly, if one single person says that a particular country is a state supporter of terrorism, then adding that country to the article state-sponsored terrorism would be undue weight. It is very important to place all critical material in the proper context, and ensure that an overall balanced view is provided. A balanced view does not need to be a sympathetic view – our article on Adolf Hitler does not portray him as a sensitive and misunderstood individual who was kind to his mother – but it does need to reflect the balance of opinion among reputable authorities.

One who never accepts independent input[edit]

Some editors may find that any external input through a third opinion or request for comment is always biased against their sources, wording or point of view. The purpose of independent input is to resolve disputes between editors by a neutral third party. That doesn't mean the neutral third party will make everyone happy, will choose a side, or in particular, will side with whoever claims there is a dispute (despite no other editors agreeing). If, no matter how many times a neutral third party intervenes, you never seem to get your way, that suggests that your goals may be at odds with Wikipedia's policies, guidelines, community and purpose.

Righting Great Wrongs[edit]

Shortcuts:

Wikipedia is a popular site and appears high in the search engine rankings. You might think that it is a great place to set the record straight and Right Great Wrongs, but that’s not the case. We can record the righting of great wrongs, but we can’t ride the crest of the wave because we can only report that which is verifiable from reliable and secondary sources, giving appropriate weight to the balance of informed opinion: even if you're sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it. So, if you want to:

  • Expose a popular artist as a child molester, or
  • Vindicate a convicted murderer you believe to be innocent, or
  • Spread the word about a theory/hypothesis/belief/cure-all herb that has been unfairly neglected and suppressed by the scholarly community

On Wikipedia, you’ll have to wait until it’s been picked up in mainstream journals, or get that to happen first. Wikipedia is not a publisher of original thought or original research. "Wikipedia is behind the ball – that is we don't lead, we follow – let reliable sources make the novel connections and statements and find NPOV ways of presenting them if needed."[2]

How to pull back from the brink[edit]

Shortcut:

First and foremost, however bad you believe the faults of your accusers are, think long and hard about your own behaviour. Critique it in your mind with the same vigor you critique theirs. Is there not at least a germ of truth in what they say? Have you perhaps been less civil than you should have been? Have you provided high quality citations from reliable secondary sources to back your edits? In addition, it may be a good idea to scrutinize all your behavior this way, even if you are not presently involved in a dispute, so that such disputes may not arise in the first place.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia – a tertiary source. If what you want to say is genuinely verifiable, then it should be possible to find at least one reputable and respected authority who says the same thing in pretty much the same words. It’s fine to précis the arguments of other authorities, but it’s not acceptable to editorialise or interpret them. If only one authority says something then to include it might constitute undue weight, or it might be acceptable by agreement with other editors to state the opinion duly attributed to the named authority.

A good way to find out what people find problematic about your edits is to ask, in an open and non-confrontational way. If an edit is rejected, try something along the lines of:

According to {citation of source}, the following is the case: {statement from source}. You have disputed its addition. How do you think we should express this assertion?

It may become clear that the problem is simply one of ambiguity of phrasing, or it may be that you have a hill to climb and will need to work with other editors to find a compromise. Once you have done that, however, the compromise text will be defended by all parties and is far less likely to be skewed by future edits.

Accusing others of tendentious editing[edit]

Shortcut:

Making accusations of tendentious editing can be inflammatory and hence these accusations may not be helpful in a dispute. It can be seen as a personal attack if tendentious editing is alleged without clear evidence that the other's action meets the criteria set forth on this page, and unfounded accusations may constitute harassment if done repeatedly. See also: WP:AOHA.

See also[edit]

References[edit]