Wikipedia talk:Identifying reliable sources

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Where should I ask whether this source supports this statement in an article?
At Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard. Don't forget to tell the editors the full name of the source and the exact sentence it is supposed to support.
Do sources have to be free, online and/or conveniently available to me?
No. Sources can be expensive, print-only, or available only in certain places. A source does not stop being reliable simply because you personally aren't able to obtain a copy. See Wikipedia:Reliable sources/cost. If you need help verifying that a source supports the material in the article, ask for help at Wikipedia:WikiProject Resource Exchange or a relevant WikiProject.
Do sources have to be in English?
No. Sources can be written in any language. However, if equally good sources in English exist, they will be more useful to our readers. If you need help verifying that a non-English source supports the material in the article, ask for help at Wikipedia:Translators available.
I personally know that this information is true. Isn't that good enough to include it?
No. Wikipedia includes only what is verifiable, not what someone believes is true. It must be possible to provide a bibliographic citation to a published reliable source that says this. Your personal knowledge or belief is not enough.
I personally know that this information is false. Isn't that good enough to remove it?
Your personal belief or knowledge that the information is false is not sufficient for removal of verifiable and well-sourced material.
Is personal communication from an expert a reliable source?
No. It is not good enough for you to talk to an expert in person or by telephone, or to have a written letter, e-mail message, or text message from a source. Reliable sources must be published.
Are there sources that are "always reliable" or sources that are "always unreliable"?
No. The reliability of a source is entirely dependent on the context of the situation, and the statement it is being used to support. Some sources are generally better than others, but reliability is always contextual.
What if the source is biased?
Sources are allowed to be biased or non-neutral. Only Wikipedia articles are required to be neutral. Sometimes "non-neutral" sources are the best possible sources for supporting information about the different viewpoints held on a subject.
Does every single sentence need to be followed by an inline citation?
No. Only four broad categories of material need to be supported by inline citations. Editors need not supply citations for perfectly obvious material. However, it must be possible to provide a bibliographic citation to a published reliable source for all material.
Are reliable sources required to name the author?
No. Many reliable sources, such as government and corporate websites, do not name their authors or say only that it was written by staff writers. Although many high-quality sources do name the author, this is not a requirement.
Are reliable sources required to provide a list of references?
No. Wikipedia editors should list any required sources in a references or notes section. However, the sources you are using to write the Wikipedia article do not need to provide a bibliography. Most reliable sources, such as newspaper and magazine articles, do not provide a bibliography.

Add something about never using headlines as sources?[edit]

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.

I have read through this discussion and the previous discussions on this topic in the archives, and there is clearly general agreement that headlines should, at the very least, be treated cautiously and taken 'with a pinch of salt'. There is not a consensus for any sort outright prohibition on the use f headlines as sources, nor for any of the proposed wordings. I recommend further discussion to establish satisfactory wording which discourages the use of headlines as sources but is nonetheless not an outright proscription. HJ Mitchell | Penny for your thoughts? 21:07, 3 September 2014 (UTC)


Having run into this issue again today, I'm wondering if we can add that the headline of a news article, etc should never be used as headlines. They are not written by the journalist and are meant to catch the reader's eye, not accurately represent the article. Headlines can say things that are not mentioned in the article at all, they can even misrepresent the article. Dougweller (talk) 09:33, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

I can fully back Doug's point here (as per his heading - presumably "never used as headlines" should read "never used as a source"). Having worked in print media as a sub-editor for around ten years and as a section editor for seven years after that before going freelance, I can confirm that headlines are rarely (never, in my experience) written by the author of the article. The sub who writes headlines is primarily interested in "hooking" the reader; furthermore, the headline writer is often working to a tight deadline on a subject on which they have little or no first-hand knowledge of, resulting in some headlines which may be "effective" but which only impressionistically relate to the actual substance of the article. Therefore an article's headline (as opposed to the article itself) should not be treated as a reliable source for facts. Alfietucker (talk) 09:59, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
I agree... another potential problem with using just the headline of a newspaper story - it is essentially a form of cherry picking... taking one line of a source out of context and ignoring what is said in the rest of the source. Blueboar (talk) 12:02, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
Also note - if a quote fragment is "juicy" it will invariably be used out of context in a headline - and the fallacy of doing so is well-known. And headlines also can make up quotes ("Bush to New York 'Drop Dead'" is a classic). There are cases where the headline accurately reflects an article - but in such a case using the actual article as a source is invariably better. This is also true of chapter titles and book titles as being far less accurate than the contents of the book. The remaining issue -- where a juicy headline becomes the dominant part of the ref footnote, should we state that "full quotes" should be used lest anyone misleadingly think the headline is the content? Collect (talk) 12:14, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
Doug, I don't understand. What does it mean to "use a headline as a source"? and by the way it was Ford, not Bush :) Jytdog (talk) 12:53, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
It's creating article content sourced to text only found in the headline of a source. It seems like it would almost always be a bad idea. How about something like
Avoid including content in articles based on text found only in a headline or other text written primarily to summarize or describe a source's main content, (such as tables of contents, chapter headings, etc.) or something similar to that? __ E L A Q U E A T E 13:45, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
I have not seen everything, but i have never seen that. incredibly lame and against pretty much everything we stand for here. seems like CREEP but if there are indeed a lot of POV-pushers who would actually base content on something so slim, then sure. I can just see the Talk "but it SAYS that, right in the headline!!!!" Jytdog (talk) 14:20, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
I agree that we need an explicit instruction here - I've seen attempts to use a headline as a source in circumstances where the piece in question directly contradicted it. AndyTheGrump (talk) 17:12, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
may i never see the day. there is no end to ways that editors can really not get it, is there. Jytdog (talk) 19:19, 29 July 2014 (UTC)
My Web search for misleading headlines found many results, including News Bias Explored.
Wavelength (talk) 05:55, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
Good idea. I've wasted a bit of time a couple different times arguing with editors about this over 8 years. Carolmooredc (Talkie-Talkie) 16:09, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
I support, although it all seems elementary, for some Users we just have to be more explicit. Alanscottwalker (talk) 16:35, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

Would an RfC on

Headlines, book and chapter titles and the like are not reliable sources for claims in any article.

be overbroad? Collect (talk) 18:03, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

Well, at the very least, it's a reliable source for a claim of what the title is. Alanscottwalker (talk) 18:27, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
The policy should be not to use book or article titles as a source. Jytdog, what it means is that someone could add to the Ford article that he told New York City to "Drop dead." The Wikipedia article instead reports the story in a neutral tone, relying on articles that mention the headline. "The incident prompted the New York Daily News' famous headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead"...." But tendentious editors could argue he actually said that - it was in the newspaper. TFD (talk) 18:33, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
Thanks TFD, was explained above. I was aghast that people ever do it. I don't see a need for an RfC on this, we already have snowball agreement here. Jytdog (talk) 18:36, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
Perhaps newspaper headlines, book titles, and article titles should not be used as sources. But I don't think that should be extended to article chapter titles. In serious books the article chapter title may occasionally be necessary to give context to a statement within the chapter. For example, the meaning of a position given in the Astronomical Almanac depend on whether it appears in the "Sun" chapter or the "Moon" chapter. Let's not instruct the reader to ignore the running chapter title at the top of the page, and search for the page in the chapter that says, in prose, that this is the chapter about the Moon. Jc3s5h (talk) 19:51, 30 July 2014 (UTC) Fixed word 19:57 UT.
In my suggested wording I said Avoid including content in articles based on text found only in a headline or other text...etc. I was thinking the main issues arise when people are relying on text that only appears in a headlining summation, and is not also found in the body of the source. I would think that editors wouldn't consider material from an astronomical almanac combined with reference to its section to be material based only on the heading alone.__ E L A Q U E A T E 20:12, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
@The Four Deuces: The "Drop Dead" thing is not really an argument against headlines per se. It's an argument against using a poor-quality tabloid source like the Daily News for any sort of serious coverage. MastCell Talk 20:29, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
Obviously editors who rely on headlines also misunderstand, deliberately or otherwise, Wikipedia policy. But I can think of no case where a good editor would use the title of a book or chapter rather than its contents, so there is no harm done by excluding titles. Incidentally, rarely are titles in books written as sentences, so "common sense" would tell people not to use them. Unfortunately even obvious things need to be spelled out. In [[Talk:Socialism/Archive 17#The first socialist society was the USSR], an editor argued that because there is rs book called The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within], that we could say the USSR was the first socialist society. Obviously the editor had not read the book. However other editors then had to read through the book to see if the author had said it, which he never does in the book. But because he had an rs, the editor was able to argue the point, there was an RfC and the issue made its way to noticeboards. Why not just say to him, "If you want to claim that the USSR was the first socialist state, find a source that says so, not just a title of a book which may or may not represent what the book actually says?" TFD (talk) 21:03, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

And the wording should be closer to "Avoid headlines..." rather than "Never use...". "Never" doesn't work as headlines would be arguably okay to cite in those very rare cases where the subject of the citation is about the headline wording itself. (Something like Dewey Defeats Truman for instance). But those are rare exceptions and it's still a good and necessary idea to warn people off headlines more generally. But phrasing it "never" would probably be too much.__ E L A Q U E A T E 20:22, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

  • I have a dissenting view from most of those commenting here. The defining criterion for reliability is editorial oversight. Headlines are subject to editorial oversight, just as article text is. It seems odd to deem an article's text reliable but its headline unreliable, when both are subject to a newspaper's editorial oversight. Put another way, if a newspaper routinely publishes misleading, unsubstantiated, yellow-journalism headlines (e.g. the Daily Mail), then the problem is not with the headlines themselves, but with the overall quality of editorial oversight at that particular source. Outlawing headlines seems like a misguided approach, because if we don't trust the accuracy of a source's headlines, then why should we trust that source's article text any further?

    I understand the concern over Wikipedians' misuse of headlines, but when I've seen editors misuse headlines it is typically in the setting of more fundamental misunderstandings of reliable sourcing. I don't think we can legislate away poor-quality editing by proscribing headlines here. MastCell Talk 20:16, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

This is thoughtful and I'd say that I think the difference is that the editors of reliable sources have themselves made clear that they don't present or use the headlines in the same way as the body of the text. I trust that the source is trying to make the headlines as accurate as possible, but the editors of better reliable sources are clear that they use headlines to summarize and organize, and most newspaper editors are clear that the headline is not meant to be a complete and accurate communication all by itself without the accompanying article. It's a similar problem with scientific abstracts and the work itself. I trust the scientists involved to work to summarize their work accurately, but they wouldn't want people relying only on the summary themselves. I don't think it's a matter of trusting the source less, but recognizing that they are using headlines for different purposes and that it's not the exact same kind of material as the body of a news article.__ E L A Q U E A T E 20:40, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
I think we're on the same page in terms of the need to be careful about using headlines. As you say, even well-written headlines inevitably sacrifice nuance and detail in favor of pithiness. And examples of poorly-written or misleading headlines abound (although, I would argue, these sorts of headlines appear in sources that we should be eying suspiciously anyway, on general grounds of poor quality and editorial oversight). These are matters of good common sense but I don't see any harm in writing them explicitly into the guideline.

I also understand the concern about POV-pushing or cherry-picking from headlines, voiced by Dougweller and others above. To put my concern in context, though, I see the outlawing of headlines as equally likely to result in sophistry and counterproductive wikilawyering. I have some experience in this regard, although I'd prefer not to post links here because doing so is likely to personalize what should be an abstract policy discussion. Suffice to say that unscrupulous, careless, or ideologically motivated editors will continue to misuse sources regardless of what this guideline says on the subject of headlines. MastCell Talk 21:04, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

Yes, all systems can be gamed by bad players. I always think guidelines and policies are there to remind better editors how to avoid basic traps or troubles that more generally pop up, rather than a perfect system of instructions. I thought this might be useful if headlines were more often being abused than not. And I don't think anything can or should be completely "outlawed". I see value in general discouragement of relying solely on the headline.__ E L A Q U E A T E 21:22, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
agreed, mastcell. There is no way in hell that content should ever be sourced solely from any summarizing blurb, be it a headline or chapter title or whatever. The deep idea as we all know is that we are paraphrasing what the source says, overall. Anybody saying "it's in the headline so I can use it!!!!" is clearly dug in and wikilawyering to death. if i was on the other side I would want a simple flyswatter like the proposed amendment.... i hope we can all agree to include this simple clarification of WP's fundamental sourcing ethos. Jytdog (talk) 21:23, 30 July 2014 (UTC)

I have added

Newspaper headlines are not a reliable source and should not be used.

as more accurately reflecting the above consensus than one editor's proposed

Newspaper headlines should be used with care, and only where they are supported by the text of the associated article. Avoid including content found only in a newspaper's headlines and not in the associated article bodies.

which I fear invites disputes as to exactly how far off a headline can be and still be used as a source -- barring them as a rule is far safer than leaving the door ajar for such misuse. Collect (talk) 02:23, 31 July 2014 (UTC)

I don't think there's consensus here for the sort of categorical prohibition you're pushing for. In virtually every other edge case—even with highly dubious or questionable sources—the guideline advises care, or discourages their use, but does not absolutely prohibit them. A blanket prohibition on headlines seems disproportionate. Moreover, I think you're misreading the consensus on this page, which appears to me to be in favor of discouraging but against categorically "outlawing" headlines. I'd ask you to reconsider your edit. MastCell Talk 05:43, 31 July 2014 (UTC)]
I cannot think of a situation where something sourced only from a headline would be valid. Can anybody? Jytdog (talk) 09:41, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
Sure, in effect: "The [publisher] published, [title]."; "His article was entitled, [title]." There no useful point in putting a straight jacket on it. Alanscottwalker (talk) 10:18, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
The title of a book is a reliable source for the title of the book? Not a very real example of being used as a source for any claims at all other than the evidence fact that the title is the title. AFAICT, the material in a headline of title is not a "reliable source" for anything at all, cavils to the contrary notwithstanding. "Headlines" and "titles" are never "fact checked" by publishers - vide the huge number of cases where the headlines actually contradict article. If a claim is not to be found in the actual body of the article, then the claim is not sourced. MC are you asserting that a claim made in a headline which is not sourceable otherwise to the article could ever be valid? Collect (talk) 13:10, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
Since you're asking for an "absolute prohibition" instead of a more "general discouragement", then yes, I can think of the kind of very rare theoretical scenario where a newspaper makes an exception and loads the info into the headline. Off the top of my head, I could see a good small local paper announcing a low level election with a small item such as "Headline: BARNEY BUTTON ELECTED NEW DOGCATCHER Body of text: The Footown Press editorial board congratulates Barney. End story." Wikipedia could arguably use that to support a statement about how the Footown press announced the election. The more nuanced suggestion for dealing with headlines is better than the simple "Thou shall not..."; it discouraged the worst of headline-sourcing without making people turn to IAR for that kind of outlier case.__ E L A Q U E A T E 13:31, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
Basically, I think this one is great and discourages in the best way. Newspaper headlines should be used with care, and only where they are supported by the text of the associated article. Avoid including content found only in a newspaper's headlines and not in the associated article bodies. __ E L A Q U E A T E 13:31, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
I might add that even the first paragraph (the lead) of an article is frequently written by media staff, rather than the author of an article. History records a case of someone being dismissed from his job because it was wrongly assumed that the first paragraph of an article was the author's own text (see paragraph 3 of http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/articles/RSquestions.html). --Brian Josephson (talk) 19:32, 12 August 2014 (UTC)

RfC[edit]

Are headlines for newspaper articles ever usable as a reliable source for any claim where the headline claim is not found in the body of the newspaper article?

Should this content guideline state:

Newspaper headlines are not a reliable source and should not be used 13:10, 31 July 2014 (UTC)


Discussion[edit]

There is a previous discussion above which I rather thought had made clear that newspaper headlines are, at best, problematic for use as a source for any claims in Wikipedia articles, and that if the newspaper headline makes a claim that is not found in the newspaper article text that it is safe to rule the headline unusable as a reliable source for such a claim.

This RfC is to resolve the dichotomy of a proposed edit

Newspaper headlines should be used with care, and only where they are supported by the text of the associated article. Avoid including content found only in a newspaper's headlines and not in the associated article bodies.

which I suggest implies that newspaper headlines are usable as "reliable sources" in their own right for claims in Wikipedia articles. If the actual source does not support a claim, the headline of the source ought never be used to make the claim, IMO. Clearly a headline or title is a "reliable source" for being a headline or title, but that is not the issue at hand. Collect (talk) 13:10, 31 July 2014 (UTC)

  • Oppose - "Dewey Defeats Truman". Chicago Tribune. 1948-11-03. p. 1. While you might see this as a clear argument for the proposal (the title is clearly wrong), it could be used as the reference to the title itself and the entire situation and story. Without the title...there is no story. As stated above, this puts too many limits on the use of the title when the title is the event or situation, but there may be other issues we don't even see yet. . By the way, our article does not use the title but the article itself, this was just a demonstration. That could easily be a source for "The Chicago Tribune prematurely printed the headline; "Dewey Defeats Truman". So, that title could be used as a source, primary of course, but still used as a source (just a spin on the "Elected Dog Catcher" mention above. Perhaps we should leave the section the way it is and just encourage the best practice. --Mark Miller (talk) 20:47, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
And the article for which it was a headline still contains the problematic claim - the headline is famous as a headline, and is a source for itself being a headline, but it is not a source that Dewey defeated Truman. A perfect example where this proposal would precisely and accurately allow the proper use of that source. Cheers. Collect (talk) 20:57, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
We edit conflicted but I have added an example of how that title could be used as a source.--Mark Miller (talk) 21:03, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
Here is a better example (I wanted the above to demonstrate how even an incorrect headline could be used as a source):
  • "Oahu Bombed by Japanese Planes" Honolulu Star Bulletin, Dec 7, 1941". Seems a pretty good example.--Mark Miller (talk) 21:08, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
And another:
  • "Man walks on Moon" Detroit Free Press, Monday, July 21st, 1969.--Mark Miller (talk) 21:11, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
Umm, Mark, I don't want to be a pain but I don't find these examples helpful, because they don't falsify Are headlines for newspaper articles ever usable as a reliable source for any claim where the headline claim is not found in the body of the newspaper article? They are famous headlines, but all of them are backed up by the articles they headline. When you say that the headline "Dewey Defeats Truman" could easily be a source for "The Chicago Tribune prematurely printed the headline; "Dewey Defeats Truman", that's actually not true. All by itself, the headline alone does not support "prematurely printed" or anything of substance beyond the spelling of the words. The only thing that supports that the headline was a mistake is some secondary source saying that. I think this line of discussion is drawing away from the actual question of how to word the proposed addition. I think that some theoretical 98% of the time, the headline alone is incomplete and unreliable as a verifiable and NPOV version of what the source is saying, without being backed up by the article itself. I don't think it's 100% of the time, so we should say "Avoid" instead of "Never". My theoretical example of Headline: BARNEY BUTTON ELECTED NEW DOGCATCHER Body of text: The Footown Press editorial board congratulates Barney. End story. shows that on super rare occasions, material could be sourced to a headline, but I still support an added line telling people to generally avoid them.__ E L A Q U E A T E 21:41, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
Yes "prematurely" was indeed editorializing sorry. A primary source only allows the content that can clearly be found with any addition. But the point is, it can be used in some manner. "Dewey Defeats Truman" and this is false information. Sure..ok, pushing the envelope but still in the boundries.
But..lets not forget what we are talking about. The title of what? A source? Well, ok a book source still might have some relevance to be cited for just what the title says, but in newspaper, magazine, journal and internet sources, the title is truly supposed to be a summary of the article. Something like "Univerity of X Professor Z, awarded Nobel Prize". That has a lot on information, like a lede in a Wikipedia article, that means it should be in the body of the source. As with any other issue, if it isn't there, then there is a problem but we can't let the fact that some glittering generalities are used in titles, we need to recognize when a title is appropriate to the source and content and when it does not. Some sources are weaker than others.--Mark Miller (talk) 01:37, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
There's no requirement that an RS support the entire sentence -- and, at any rate, although what you said about Mark's sentence is true -- it does not matter when you could easily have the sentence: "The headline was Dewey Defeats Truman." Alanscottwalker (talk) 22:43, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
Ah, I was just being over-concerned about the technicalities. The Greeks might call it σχολαστικός. I think we're roughly on the same page.__ E L A Q U E A T E 22:53, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
That's Greek to me, but, yes, one might say we're on the front page. :) Alanscottwalker (talk) 11:41, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Oppose I've said why I oppose above. The proposal is too strict. The supporting argument has a limited understanding of "claims." Every sentence we write {and use a source for) contains multiple claims, among them are: this makes contextual sense; it is verifiable information; it is not original research; and it contributes to the neutrality of the article. The reliable source lends support for all these in different ways. We use RS for facts, we use RS for context, we use RS analysis, all of these contribute to claims made in our sentences and one simply cannot rule out the headline being unreliable for these, and the simplest examples are: "The [publisher] published, [headline]."; "His article was entitled, [headline]." "Her column was called [headline]." We certainly might want to write sentences like these and use the headline as an appropriate reliable source for such information. Alanscottwalker (talk) 21:33, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
  • Oppose "should not be used" wording, prefer the "only where they are supported by" wording, as per the masses of text I won't repeat.__ E L A Q U E A T E 21:41, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
  • Oppose in its current form I completely agree with the spirit of this proposal, but not the wording. As Mark points out, it's perfectly acceptable to cite the headline "Dewey Defeats Truman" regarding content of that headline or related news coverage. I suggest somebody come up with an alternative wording. A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 21:56, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
  • Oppose. I don't get the leap from Problem A to Prohibition 17. "Newspaper headlines, in this particular and very rare circumstance, might have problems" does not turn into "Don't you ever dare to use a newspaper headline to source anything, not even a statement about what the newspaper headline was!" WhatamIdoing (talk) 22:34, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
  • Proposing
Newspaper headlines are not a part of a newspaper article used as a reliable source as they are generally not furnished by the writer of the newspaper article. Where the headline is not specifically supported by the body of the newspaper article, it ought not be used as a source for any claim on Wikipedia other than the existence of that headline.
We have established that the headline is not written by the reporter as a rule, and is not under the same presumption of being fact-checked by the newspaper. The Chicago Tribune headline would clearly be usable to show that the headline was used, but not to show the accuracy of such a headline. And "ought not" is looser language than "never" for those who object to any absolute prohibitions here. Does this change improve the proposal? Collect (talk) 23:09, 31 July 2014 (UTC)
1. The issue is not the authorship of the headline and I don't think adding it to guidance clarifies here. Newspaper sub-editors who only write headlines are ethical and responsible and fact-check (presumably against the main text, of course). And some headlines/titles/etc. are written by the person who wrote the whole thing. The only thing that problematizes is headlines are a highly compressed summary and that has obvious consequence to the degree of detail/weight/meaning/nuance that is presumed to be more fully addressed in the main body of something. Whether it's a dedicated sub-editor or original reporter, the problem is that headlines like PIRATES BOMB IN KANSAS are meant to be a summary of a sports story, not a story complete in itself. 2. I can't see the degree of difference between "Ought not" seems identical to "never".__ E L A Q U E A T E 00:19, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
I see several problems with this proposed text. For one thing, the first part of sentence 1 is incoherent, which is undesirable in a widely cited guideline. Secondly, as Elaquate notes, the proposed text places an odd emphasis on personal authorship. In fact, this emphasis directly contradicts Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources#Definition of a source, which notes that the work itself, the publisher, and the author are all relevant components of reliability. Collect's text focuses solely on the author, ignoring the article as a whole and the publisher. Also, as Elaquate points out, editors presumably have as much stake, if not more, in the credibility and reliability of their publication as do article authors and are not inherently less "reliable"; the issue is the loss of nuance and this is best addressed by encouraging editors to respect the totality of the source, not by banning headlines. MastCell Talk 00:54, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
Yes, it seems a bit analogous to advice we might give about social media announcements. News organizations sometimes announce new stories over twitter with twitter-size summaries. If an editor wanted to source something about that news story solely to the text of a tweet and not the story it pointed to, most editors would groan, and the advice would still probably amount to "almost never do that, except in rare, rare, rare instances, such as when the tweet became part of the story." and we'd probably still 99% discourage including material where a tweet was the only place we could find that material.__ E L A Q U E A T E 01:14, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Strong oppose - Who says? When did that change. I admit...I never wrote a newspaper article in anything other than school but I do know this is not accurate. Titles and headlines are a part of the source or work and they more than likely are from the author unless an editorial judgment was made and as stated above they fact check (or should) but the majority of sub headlines on the front page are agreed on by the authors in most newspapers. Now...tabloids...perhaps if you tried refining in that direction Collect I could support something.--Mark Miller (talk) 01:48, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
    • Mark, in large news orgs, you have editors who specialize in writing headlines. In small ones, however, it is normal for the headline to be written by the reporter. In very small ones, there simply isn't anyone else to do it. The Mulberry Advance only had one employee: reporter, ad salesman, editor, headline writer, and subscription manager all in one. WhatamIdoing (talk) 02:01, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
      • I don't doubt it isn't done, I doubt the statements as written to be true. Newspaper headlines are not a part of a newspaper article used as a reliable source as they are generally not furnished by the writer of the newspaper article. This statements is not accurate. Newspaper headlines are not disassociated from the source article just by being written by a copyeditor. This is a source that will have an editorial board and fact checking. I still feel the majority of titles you see in newspapers, especially in in sub headlines are written by journalist and would feel we are trying to state as fact something contentious and would surely need a strong reference to even consider.--Mark Miller (talk) 02:29, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
        • We have had a number of editors above noting that newspaper headlines are written by headline writers with the aim of hooking readers, and that they are not written to accurately reflect content in an article (indeed, the headline writer has a very short time in which to bait the hook), making the headline an exceedingly poor choice for a source. Those here who think that the headline is part and parcel of the entire article are extremely far from the actual practices of newspapers. Cheers -- but the "it is in the newspaper, so it must be true" position is about as poor a course of action as we can take, and those who somehow feel that noting this is "incoherent" are far afield from hoe journalist themselves view headlines. Should headlines be accurate? We hope so. Are they held to the same standards as articles and written by the same people? No. If the claim is actually found in the body of an article, it is clearly proper to use the text of the entire article as the source. If the claim is only found in the headline, then the writer of the article did not make it. [1] Inaccurate headlines are one of the most common problems with newspaper accuracy, with 15% of US headlines deemed inaccurate. [2] "Inaccurate headlines are potentially more dangerous than inaccurate stories. Collect (talk) 06:00, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
          • Wait a minute. Where do you see people agreeing that headlines are "not written to accurately reflect content"? Of course headlines are intended to be accurate; to suggest that editors of reliable sources don't care about their headlines' accuracy is preposterous, and I see no one (except you) advancing such an argument. (Headlines are obviously subject to other pressures, like the need to attract readers; hence the need for caution and commonsense, which is what editors above are actually endorsing). You go on to dismiss a number of other arguments that no one is actually making (e.g. "it is in the newspaper, so it must be true"). I see these as casual and sweeping misrepresentations of other editors' positions, and they hinder serious discussion. MastCell Talk 18:31, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Only in the discussions above on this talk page, in journalism articles and texts, in newspaper articles about their headlines, and in a few dozen other places (some of which are cited above -- I would be glad to add another fifty or more such cites including from the NYT Public Editor etc.) . OTOH, you are one of the few who appears to think headlines are "reliable sources" for claims which are not made in the articles they are headlines for. The aim of Wikipedia is to be as accurate as possible -- where there is a difference between the headline and the actual article, we should use the article. Cheers -- and please avoid ad hominem attacks in edit summaries. discussion works best if one reads other editors' posts and responds to the points they're making is an extraordinarily snarky comment.
[3] The news pages featured a story on the joyful mood in Germany, but the headline bothered some German readers, who said it played into offensive stereotypes. It read: “Germans See World Cup Win as Symbol of Global Might.”
[4] New York Times Public Editor Questions Al Qaeda Leak Story With ‘Unacceptable' Headline
[5] New York Times public editor slams New York Times headline
[6] “Dueling headlines” sprout in the pages of major newspapers with such frequency that you could run a semi-regular column juxtaposing them for a laugh, as the Michael Kinsley-era New Republic once did.
[7] Sullivan blasted the Times story for parroting the government line against other media outlets. "Not a shred of attribution ... just straight from the mouths of anonymous government sources into the automatic credibility conferred by the paper of record’s front page." The editor of the Times copy desk agreed that the headline was "not up to our standards."
[8] The May 3 correction states:
"This column by Mr. Nocera on Tuesday misstated the timing of an interview with Fortune magazine, in which Mr. Buffett defended his decision to abstain in a shareholder vote on the plan. The interview was on April 23, the same day Mr. Buffett gave interviews to CNBC and other news outlets on the subject — not April 28. It was not the case — as the column’s headline, 'Buffett Bites Back,' suggested — that he 'went on the offensive' after 'having had a few days to lick his wounds.'" more easily found - and from almost any newspaper one finds to be sacred. Collect (talk) 19:01, 1 August 2014 (UTC)

I would make a distinction between citing a headline as a secondary source and citing it as a primary source. For example... suppose an article were to include the sentence -

  • "On November 3, 1948, the Chicago Tribune ran with the banner headline: Dewey Defeats Truman".

This sentence is reliably verified by citing the primary source... the November 3, 1948 edition of the Trib itself. In fact, that primary source is the single most reliable source possible for that statement, as it directly verifies that the Trib did indeed run that exact headline on that specific date. The headline, however, is a very unreliable secondary source, and would not reliably verify a statement about who won the 1948 Presidential election. Blueboar (talk) 12:35, 1 August 2014 (UTC)

Right. And there should be a secondary source saying that the headline "Dewey Defeats Truman" was WP:NOTABLE and why. Otherwise it shouldn't even be discussed in an article. Jytdog (talk) 12:41, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
That's stretches WP:Notable much too far. The article subject has to be wp:notable, not every fact, they just have to be weighted correctly. Alanscottwalker (talk) 12:52, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
Thank you, you are right. The correct policy is WP:NPOV, to determine what weight if any a given bit of content should be given. Yes? Jytdog (talk) 13:00, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
Correct. Although I would also point everyone to WP:Relevance (and the other related essays linked there)... it may be "only an essay", but it gives some good advice. Blueboar (talk) 13:16, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
Yes, although the NPOV analysis involves more than a single fact and more than a single RS (note, although single, it is still RS addressing issues of WP:V and sometimes NOR) -- NPOV involves article context (including what context is missing) and the review of multiple RS (the sometimes disrespected reliable tertiary sources are often good for this). Alanscottwalker (talk) 13:29, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
          • Mark Miller, are you really saying that even if the headline mentions something that is not in the article we can use the headline as a source? Dougweller (talk) 18:33, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
            • Uhm...no. Why?--Mark Miller (talk) 20:46, 1 August 2014 (UTC)
            • This is silly. Of course a rare scenario could conceivably happen where we might be able to use the headline alone as a secondary source (even beyond the given suggestions where we are citing just to verify the basic wording as a primary source). There's been a lot of good points about how headlines are mostly problematic for using as a source for material, and we should strongly and generally discourage using headlines where the body does not directly support the material found in the headline. But no one has convincingly said they're bad in every conceivable instance, and no one is going to be able to do that. All it takes is a single scenario with a usable headline, to falsify the assertion that they're never usable. Anecdotal evidence of a time an historical headline was correct or incorrect doesn't change the basic situation that headlines are almost always too much of a summary to be useful for article details, but on rare occasions one might be useable. The conversation is going in circles, with little chance of an actual change occurring here. Trying to prove that all headlines will be unusable (whether created in the past or the future and in all conceivable manifestations) is a waste of time.__ E L A Q U E A T E 20:11, 1 August 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── suggest a snowball close by the OP. The proposed language is not going to fly. Try a more nuanced one? Jytdog (talk) 20:45, 1 August 2014 (UTC)

Try:

Newspaper headlines are not an integral part of the article for which they are written, and the use of material actually in the article is superior to use of the headline for any claim in a Wikipedia article.

Making clear the distinction between the headline and the article, and that the article is the superior source for any claims on Wikipedia. Collect (talk) 14:21, 2 August 2014 (UTC)

i'm ok with that. maybe actually close discussion above to re-focus everyone? Jytdog (talk) 14:39, 2 August 2014 (UTC)
No to this latest proposed iteration. The first part of the proposed sentence is extremely dubious, if not simply wrong. Headlines are obviously an "integral" part of an article from the newspaper's perspective—in fact, they're crafted by the source to present the most attention-grabbing and integral part of the piece. The reason to avoid headlines has nothing to do with whether they're an "integral part" of the source (they are). The reason to avoid headlines is that they can oversimplify the content of the source and are thus prone to misuse. The second half of the sentence suffers from the inappropriate absolutism which has been a recurring concern.

I agree it would be wise to wrap up and refocus at this point; let me ask a slightly different question. Does anyone besides Collect have a problem with the way the guidance on headlines is currently written? MastCell Talk 18:59, 2 August 2014 (UTC)

No again? Um -- the scholarly sources all state that the headline is not an integral part of an article. Unanimously. That you find what is universally accepted to be "dubious" is not impressing me a great deal at all. And I would note than more than a half dozen other editors do find the "existing language" to be a problem. Cheers -- and try not to use ad homs like "anyone besides Collect" as that is a snarky form of demeaning the discussion at best, and is dismissive in any event as well. Collect (talk) 20:29, 2 August 2014 (UTC)
It's not meant to be snarky or dismissive. It's my sense that everyone else is comfortable with the current wording, or at least finds it acceptable enough that they're ready to move on. I have the sense that you're the only one who finds the current wording problematic enough to keep this discussion going. Maybe I'm wrong; that's what I'm trying to ascertain by asking the question. MastCell Talk 20:52, 2 August 2014 (UTC)
And, as a good faith suggestion, you might consider not making absolute claims like this: the scholarly sources all state that the headline is not an integral part of an article. Unanimously. Even without looking, that can only come across as wild exaggeration at best. (And especially so when it's so easily shown to not be true.) The word "usually" is not a synonym for "always".__ E L A Q U E A T E 21:11, 2 August 2014 (UTC)
And? authors introduce useful frameworks for analysing language, image and the interaction between the two, and illustrate these with authentic newsstories from around the English-speaking world It is not an article on journalistic practice in the first place. The source states clearly:
First, as part of the news process, are usually not written by the reporter/journalist, but by a subeditor usually after lead and lead development have been constructed.
Which s precisely the case. Using quote-mining is rarely a great idea when the actual source does not agree with the purported meaning of the mined quote. In fact, the tenor of the section you cite is on the linguistic character of headlines, not on the factual content of headlines at all. Cheers -- my statement stands as accurate. Collect (talk) 11:24, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
Same source page 101: (Headlines include)
... metaphor, alliteration, proverbs, pseudo-direct quotes (which seem like they are direct quotes but are not)
And one would then use "pseudo-quotes" as a basis for a claim? Not hardly - but that is wht the source specifically states. Collect (talk) 11:34, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
If you think quoting "usually written by sub-editors" fully supports your claim of "always written by sub-editors" then you might have bigger problems than this conversation. No one suggests we "use "pseudo-quotes" as a basis for a claim", neither the source or any editor here. (The source doesn't "specifically state it" either. Bizarre thing to say.) Pseudo-quotes are an excellent reason to usually avoid using headlines, and to examine them with care and scepticism every time. Headlines often have problems caused by lack of detail, nuance, or they use metaphors or over-compression to describe the story. IMO, they are usually unusable and should be generally discouraged (which is what the guidance currently does).__ E L A Q U E A T E 18:11, 3 August 2014 (UTC)


──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── it is not clear to me what the dispute is, at this point. The guideline currently says "Newspaper headlines should be used with care, and only where they are supported by the text of the associated article. Avoid including content found only in a newspaper's headlines and not in the associated article bodies." This seems perfectly fine to me, to deploy in a case where some POV-pusher is trying to use a headline unsupported by the article. (the "only" is crucial there, as is the 2nd sentence). This was the problem that kicked this thread off, and in my view it is solved. To the extent anybody doesn't like this, would you please explain what the weakness is? Thanks. Jytdog (talk) 14:30, 3 August 2014 (UTC)

The language you appear to think was the status quo was only added on 30 July - and was not there at the time all this discussion began. I find that language, moreover, to be woefully insufficient as it appears to consider the headline to be journalistically part and parcel of a newspaper article, while books and references on such make clear the fact that they are not part of the article other than in a "linguistic" sense. As I have noted, all the sources about headlines specify that they are written by copyeditors, not by the journalist, and that they use "pseudo-quotes". Now some might think one can use a "pseudo-quote" as a source, but I and others here demur on that claim. In every conceivable case except where the story is about the headline, the headline is a damn poor source for much of anything at all. Cheers. Collect (talk) 15:28, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
ummm all I was saying, is that this is the current language. I asked you (or anyone else who is dissatisfied) to explain what the weakness of the actual language is; you have responded with some high-level, hand-wavy discussion of principles. There is nothing I can say in return. Please do consider the guidance that is currently in the article, and let us know if there are situations where editors will still be left with unclear guidance. A straight out ban on use of headlines is not going to fly - it has already failed. So please work toward the rough, workable, practical middle that we can all live with. Thanks. Jytdog (talk) 15:59, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
The existing language seems okay to me. I still strongly question whether we actually need to say anything about this at all. If a given fact appears only in the headline of a single source, then it's WP:UNDUE to begin with.
Collect, if all of your sources to believe that every single newspaper even has subeditors, much less subeditors who specialize in headline writing, then I respectfully suggest that they are so woefully ignorant as to be unreliable sources for this subject. Headline writing as a specialty is not universal. It is more prevalent among the online newsmagazines (of the "One weird trick" sort) than among local or print-oriented dailies and weeklies. WhatamIdoing (talk) 16:28, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
Please cite what I wrote instead of ascribing claims I did not make. You provided a source which you asserted said that headlines are integral to articles. I pointed out what the source states and that it was about linguistics and not about content -- that it specifically stated that subeditors are the ones generally responsible for headline. Might a given headline have been written by a Pulitzer prize winner? Yes. If there is no byline for the headline, though, we can not make any such assumption about the author at all -- but the "generally written by subeditors" is found in all the journalism texts. Including The New York Times per the Public Editor thereof, and just a few of the relevant cites I furnished supra. Collect (talk) 20:24, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
Journalism texts are notorious for assuming that "newspaper" means "large urban daily". I've just checked the four newspapers nearest me (three weeklies and one daily). As far as I can tell, the weeklies employ zero subeditors (that's "copy editor" American English) and the daily's copy editors need to spend a while looking at Wikipedia:List of commonly misused English words. So that's "generally" if "generally" means "only at one newspaper out of four". WhatamIdoing (talk) 23:33, 4 August 2014 (UTC)
Small weeklies are, in some cases, written entirely by a single person. They frequently fail WP:RS as they have zero "fact checking" reputations as a rule. Newspapers use varying terms including "copy editors", "subeditors", "headline writers", "copyeditors" [9], etc. All meaning "not the person who wrote the actual article". I would suggest that every single major newspaper with over 5,000 circulation does, indeed, have a different person write the headlines than writes the articles. IOW, far more than only one out of four. In fact, all the "generally used as reliable source" newspapers have such editors. Collect (talk) 09:30, 5 August 2014 (UTC)
A reputation for fact-checking does not require a separate employee to do the fact-checking. It primarily requires the publication to mostly get things right, and to issue corrections when they don't. Also, it's a bit silly to say that headlines are wrong, because they're written by an editor, but that the story is correct, because that same editor did the fact-checking. Even a one-person local newspaper is generally considered a reliable source (almost always for information about local people, businesses, and events).
I agree that "major" dailies normally have a different person write most of the headlines (although at some papers, it's typical for the reporter to provide a suggested head). However, your proposed addition does not say "major newspapers". It says "newspapers", which includes all newspapers, including everything from The Times to The Mulberry Advance (one employee).
Oh, and all three of the weeklies I checked have circulation in excess of 5,000. So your circulation estimate for "major newspaper" is clearly wrong. WhatamIdoing (talk) 18:39, 8 August 2014 (UTC)
WAID, I haven't run into a problem with this either and asked about it above; the editors wanting to add it have run into POV-pushers who find some headline they like and have wanted to use it in articles, digging in claiming that the headline is in a reliable source so can be used. I can see how ugly/frustrating that would be, and it seems like a small thing to add this. I am surprised at all this ruckus. Jytdog (talk) 16:35, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
What brought this issue here was a headline said "English Defence League 'not racist, just xenophobic'". The article itself said a Chatham House report concluded the EDL was "not overtly racist." The person who wrote the headline is merely summarizing what is in the article. Since we have the article available, why would we ignore it and use the headline? TFD (talk) 17:58, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
Changing the guideline from "avoid" to "never ever use" to resolve a single local content dispute somewhere might be a little short-sighted. I can think of many theoretical examples where headlines are unusable or open to misinterpretation (most examples actually), and I can think of a couple of theoretical examples where they could be useful. In the local dispute, I would most likely add support to disallowing content that only relied on the headline text, per the existing guideline and consensus about the specific example. The guideline already strongly discourages the use of material found only in the headline; that and a consensus of editors agreeing that a particular use doesn't count as a worthwhile exception should be enough in a specific dispute. Regardless of the guideline, the main part of the article is clearly a better available source for a direct quote (and I'd assume any pronouncement about someone's racism would be a direct quote anyway.)__ E L A Q U E A T E 18:11, 3 August 2014 (UTC)

*Comment A-ha! I found a headline more reliable than the body of the article. Here the Guardian [10] reports about recent Wikipedia edits which accuse Donald Rumsfeld of being an alien wizard instead of an alien lizard! A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 22:54, 4 August 2014 (UTC)

  • Comment I've removed this addition.[11] I'm not sure why this was added given the RfC is still ongoing. Also, there seems to be more oppose than support !votes. A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 19:57, 11 August 2014 (UTC)
I re-inserted the addition. The RFC is about Collect's proposal to change the wording that was added from the previous discussion. If you look at the oppose votes they are complaints that Collect's wording makes the sentence too strict. If this was meant as an RFC on whether to have the guidance at all, then I don't think Collect's wording addresses that question.__ E L A Q U E A T E 21:05, 11 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I've reverted the following.[12] The edit summary says that "Collect's RFC is specifically worded as his proposed change to this existing wording". Unless I'm missing something, the "existing wording" was only introduced a day earlier[13] This isn't enough time to justify that it was the consensus version. I suggest we allow the RfC to play out to the end, and not make premature changes to this guideline without clear consensus. A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 21:08, 11 August 2014 (UTC)
If there's confusion about what the RFC is asking then that's a problem. The pre-rfc discussion had about ten editors all agreeing the guidance would be helpful, a change was made, Collect wanted to make the language stronger and opened up an RFC to advocate for that. Many of the editors who expressed support did not support Collect's proposal. I think it's strange to interpret the RFC as being about whether to have guidance, when it's not worded that way, and looking over the two discussions there's strong support for having some guidance, just not as was worded by Collect. Your own vote only addressed Collect's wording, and made no mention of the wording that was already in the guideline.__ E L A Q U E A T E 21:25, 11 August 2014 (UTC)
For example, even though Mark Miller voted oppose twice (!) he said he wanted to leave in the text that existed at that moment. That's clearly not opposition to the guidance that was added, but to Collect's change. Jytdog had similar positions. The RFC was not about whether to remove Mastcell's contribution, but whether to adopt the text proposed in the RFC question. We have about fifteen editors who wanted at least moderate discouragement of headlines in the guidance, the same number who thought a complete ban was going to far. It would be misinterpreting the discussions and the RFC to take that as a consensus that editors don't want moderate discouragement of headlines in the guidance.__ E L A Q U E A T E 21:41, 11 August 2014 (UTC)
What wording was already in the guideline? I looked at the diffs over the past half year, and it appears to be added on July 30, the day before the RfC was started.[14] I've checked previous versions of this guideline...
...and none of them have this wording. I agree with the spirit of the proposal, but not the wording. An editor should be able to cite a famous headline such as "Dewey Defeats Truman" as several editors have pointed out. Perhaps the RfC was malformed, I don't know. But a day does not equal a stable version. I reverted back to the stable version. A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 22:02, 11 August 2014 (UTC)
It was Mastcell's addition, and I understand your points and agree that there was a more stable version before this, but I think things are getting muddled now, with the danger that we could interpret the consensus as being the opposite of what people said they wanted. Maybe you can figure out what to do next. From my reading, it seems like almost everybody was positive about adding wording that generally discouraged reliance on headlines but did not outright prohibit them. I took the RFC as being about extending the guidance to "outright prohibition" as proposed by Collect. When you say there's more oppose than support !votes, it shows something's off as many of the oppose votes say they'd prefer the general language that you removed, and there's still more editors that supported the addition in the first discussion then made a !vote in the RFC on Collect's extreme wording. So I don't know whether we should have another RFC to make it clean. I just don't see this as a fair comment on whether we have guidance of any sort (which had clear support), just that there's overwhelming rejection that it should not be a complete prohibition.__ E L A Q U E A T E 22:32, 11 August 2014 (UTC)
Basically it feels like everybody agreed we should cut the lawn, someone started an RFC on whether we should tear up the lawn completely, and opposition to that proposal is being interpreted as a consensus to have the longest grass we can.__ E L A Q U E A T E 22:38, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────I haven't been able to find a quote of the article associated with the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline, but this source explains that a newspaper strike forced the paper to go to press hours before it normally would, and the managing editor made the headline call based on incomplete info about vote tallies as the first-edition deadline approached. I see here that the subhead read "G.O.P. Sweep Indicated in State; Boyle leads in City", and the sub-sub head read "Early Count Gives G.O.P Slight Edge". WP's Dewey Defeats Truman article contains quotes from the associated first edition page one story saying, "Dewey and Warren won a sweeping victory in the presidential election yesterday. The early returns showed the Republican ticket leading Truman and Barkley pretty consistently in the western and southern states [..] indications were that the complete returns would disclose that Dewey won the presidency by an overwhelming majority of the electoral vote" -- I don't see support for the headline there.

I note that the WP article titled Headline says, "A headline's purpose is to quickly and briefly draw attention to the story. It is generally written by a copy editor, but may also be written by the writer, the page layout designer, or other editors." I liked the proposal by Collect quite a ways above. I'll re-propose it here with a wikilink to that WP article added:

  • Proposing:
Newspaper headlines are not a part of a newspaper article used as a reliable source as they are generally not furnished by the writer of the newspaper article. Where the headline is not specifically supported by the body of the newspaper article, it ought not be used as a source for any claim on Wikipedia other than the existence of that headline.

This allows citation of a famous headline such as "Dewey Defeats Truman" in support of an assertion that the Chicago Tribune printed an edition with that headline, but not in support of an assertion that Truman was defeated by Dewey.

The proposal is for the addition of one bullet point to a bulleted list of caveats regarding citing articles from news organizations. That list is not headlined, and follows a paragraph about opinion pieces; I further propose that the list be headlined something like Caveats:.

One caveat in the list says, "Whether a specific news story is reliable for a specific fact or statement in a Wikipedia article should be assessed on a case-by-case basis." It could be argued that this caveat makes an additional caveat about headlines unnecessary; it could also be argued that the existence of this caveat makes all the other caveats in the list unnecessary. I think that an additional caveat about headline content not being acceptable as reliable unless supported by the article body would be useful. Wtmitchell (talk) (earlier Boracay Bill) 23:49, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

This makes the same mistake the other proposed sentence makes. It doesn't matter who writes the headlines. Headlines have the same reliability or unreliability regardless of who writes them. I would like to see if any people who objected to the text proposed in the RFC actually oppose * Newspaper headlines should be used with care, and only where they are supported by the text of the associated article. Avoid including content found only in a newspaper's headlines and not in the associated article bodies. (I can point out that this guidance also doesn't affect any use of "Dewey Defeats Truman", as "Dewey Defeats Truman" is attached to an article all about Dewey defeating Truman.)__ E L A Q U E A T E 01:29, 12 August 2014 (UTC)
I'd support something like this: "Avoid using news article headlines as sources as they are generally not reliable." A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 19:29, 12 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Oppose in its current form News headlines are reliable sources only for statements of what the headline was. Above discussion makes clear that sometimes the headline itself is worthy of mention, but usually for its disagreement with the content published below it, or for the fact that the content is itself notorious. A typical, boring, correct headline that reflects correct content below it is not worth treating as a source distinct from the content below it. An appropriate way to deal with the (not rare enough) cases of interestingly bad headlines might be to invoke wp:INTEXT citation as in "The election result was at first wrongly reported in the early edition of the Chicago Tribune under the banner Dewey Defeats Truman." In other words, it should be made apparent to our readers that it is only the headline being discussed, and not the article under that headline. LeadSongDog come howl! 20:14, 12 August 2014 (UTC)
  • The bit about "newspaper headline are not part of the article" is an assertion of real-world facts. I suspect it to be unverifiable. If I saw that in an article, I'd tag it with {{dubious}}. I don't want a statement of fact that is likely to be false to appear in our guidelines. WhatamIdoing (talk) 04:53, 14 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Proposing:
Newspaper headlines are never to be quoted or treated as a citation for matters of fact beyond their own existence. Headlines are quite often not furnished by the writer of the article, but by a newspaper's sub-editor, and even on the most prestigious papers and even with the best will in the world, sub-editors sometimes misrepresent the article's content. Where the headline is not specifically supported by the body of the newspaper article, it Headlines should therefore not be used as a source for any claim on Wikipedia other than the existence of that headline, or if that headline is important in itself as a headline (e.g. provoking controversy, as reported by secondary reliable sources).

This, I think, addresses the issues Wtmitchell raised and explains the reason for the policy, while avoiding the pitfalls created by Wtmitchell's proposed wording of the policy. Alfietucker (talk) 10:44, 17 August 2014 (UTC)

Now slightly amended in light of MastCell's comment about the last sentence (added words in bold). Alfietucker (talk) 09:12, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Support as covering every cavil raised. Collect (talk) 20:59, 17 August 2014 (UTC)
  • Oppose; overly wordy and confusing, the last sentence, in particular. Repeats the irrelevant emphasis on who writes the headline vs. the article (and probably mis-states the matter to boot, as WhatamIdoing points out). Tacks on a ridiculously over-generalized and unsupportable claim against the competence of "sub-editors" as a group. And so on. MastCell Talk 05:20, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
    • MastCell, the point being made is not about the competence of sub-editors (why the quote marks?), but the fact a headline cannot be relied upon to give a fair reflection of the article's content, as too often it fails to reflect this accurately or even sometimes at all. The reason for this is given as an explanation, not to impugn the intelligence of sub-editors as a group. (BTW I know some very intelligent and well-regarded editors, even on WP, who misinterpret texts they are paraphrasing, even when not working to a tight deadline and when they are clearly not trying to push a POV.) I see your point about the final sentence being unnecessarily complicated, so I have made a suggested amendment (see above). Alfietucker (talk) 09:12, 18 August 2014 (UTC)

The above discussion is preserved as an archive. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.


RfC: Is Westeros.org an expert SPS?[edit]

There is an RfC at Oathkeeper regarding whether the site Westeros.org meets the criteria for an expert self-published source (and is therefore suitable for use on Wikipedia). It is being cited as a source for the statement "This episode was based on [specific chapters of] [specific book]." Participation is welcome. Darkfrog24 (talk) 23:34, 2 September 2014 (UTC)

Should petitions.whitehouse.gov be blacklisted?[edit]

There is a discussion at WP:ANI about whether petitions.whitehouse.gov should be blacklisted. The discussion can be found here. A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 00:22, 3 September 2014 (UTC)

Multiple "reliable sources" disagree but only one can be correct[edit]

I am in an edit dispute where there are three groups of secondary "reliable sources" which have different values for what must be the same number. There is agreement on a base number in one unit of measurement, but each secondary source uses a different constant to translate to a second unit of measurement. For example, all sources agree that the distance is 5 furlongs, but the three different secondary sources report the distance as 1,000 yards (200 yards/furlong), 1,100 yards (220 yards/furlong) and 1,500 yards (300 yards/furlong), respectively. Only one can be the correct distance.

Another editor insists that since all sites are reliable by Wikipedia policy they all deserve equal weight, perhaps going as far as to average them.

According to multiple reliable sources 1 furlong = 220 yards (just in case it wasn't obvious), so those sources using any other conversion factor should be considered unreliable but I can find nothing in this policy that allows such disposition.

More generally, shouldn't it be a part of the policy that incorrect information from sources cannot be cited in Wikipedia, other than perhaps in context? This is not a matter of opinion where all sides might deserve mention, but simply a case of some reliable sources contain incorrect information.

If there is a policy I would appreciate a pointer to it. Tom94022 (talk) 05:52, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

Reliable sources may be incorrect. The way to resolve conflicts between them is to present them so we can determine which is correct. One may be an estimate, while another is exact. One may be a misprint, not repeated elsewhere. Why do you not present a link to the discussion? TFD (talk) 06:10, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
Doesn't this belong at WP:RSN anyway? It's not a general question, it's a specific one about specific sources. Dougweller (talk) 06:33, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
Shouldn't this article deal with incorrect reliable sources? In my case there are multiple sources for each value, none being estimates. I tried to generalize the question since this situation is typical of urban legends. There will be many "reliable", probably tertiary sources repeating a legend while there might be only few a source's, perhaps only one primary source (and the only reliable source?) establishing the so-called reliable sources aren't.
I didn't link to the talk page discussion because it is dense and tedious; FWIW in RAMAC Price and Ratio there are cited multiple secondary and tertiary sources giving the capacity of the 5 million character IBM RAMAC disk drive separately as 3.75MB (6 data bits/char), 4.4MB (7 data bits/char) and 5.0MB (8 data bits/char) but a primary IBM source clearly states there are 6 data bits per character plus a space bit and a parity bit. The cited values are 6/8, 7/8 (rounded) and 8/8 of 5 - only one can be correct. Perhaps I should take this specific issue to WP:RSN but I think is might be a general enough issue for addition to this article. Tom94022 (talk) 16:04, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
When rs are in conflict, it is necessary to decide which is correct, which depends on the circumstances. The best way is to start is to check the sources used by the cited source. For example, there was a dispute over how close to the Michigan Militia Timothy McVeigh was. It turned out that the sources that said he was close based their information on an early press story. But googling the press story it was possible to find that the information provided to the reporters was later found to be incorrect. The best approach is to use the most reliable, relevant and up to date sources available, which should be more accurate and sourced. TFD (talk) 16:28, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
So shouldn't the rs article include a statement along yr lines: "When reliable sources disagree in substance about factual matters the best approach is to use the most directly relevant and accurate source." In this proposed wordsmithing I didn't use reliable as circular and didn't use up-to-date to avoid a bias towards current sources. Tom94022 (talk) 18:57, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
It would be a major step backwards to suggest "use the most accurate source", at least in the articles relating to history and archaeology that I am mainly involved with. I'm continually finding nationalists removing clearly reliable sources on the grounds they are allegedly inaccurate, and replacing them with some website. With a lot of subjects there is no way we can say 'this is more accurate' than that because yes, the sources disagree. That's the way the academic world often works. Dougweller (talk) 20:47, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
Even in scientific areas such as medicine there may be considerable disagreement on some matters where in theory there should not be. The "most relevant" might suggest "the most primary", which is typically not what we want at all. The "most accurate" begs the question ... In this case primary may be correct. Johnbod (talk) 21:22, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
Another school of thought is that when reliable sources disagree, we don't take sides; we simply document the dispute. For example, "According to Source A, there are 13 thousand widgets and according to Source B, there are 15 thousand widgets." A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 21:41, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
But if the only manufacturer of widgets says he shipped 9,500 widgets is it appropriate for Wikipedia to give equal credit to all three so-called reliable sources? I recognize there can be legitimate differences of opinion that need to be reflected in Wikipedia but there can be times when when some sources will be shown to be incorrect and shouldn't that make them unreliable? Tom94022 (talk) 22:48, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
In this case, do we know why the different sources use different constants? Knowing this will help us understand the nature of the dispute between the various sources. Blueboar (talk) 22:18, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
IMO the most reliable source is the contemporaneous IBM Customer Engineering manual for the 350 RAMAC disk storage which states the recorded character has six data bits, one space bit and one parity bit. Furthermore, the space bit "is not used in bit coding" and the parity bit "has no numeric or alphabetic value;" it causes the character to have odd parity. So the question is how does the 5 million character capacity of the RAMAC translate to the MB (or TB) used to measure today's drives; they contain lots of additional bits (ECC, headers, etc.) that are not counted in determining capacity (same goes for RAM with parity or ECC, CDs, DVDs, etc)? I speculate that sources in effect choosing 8 did not understand the distinction between character and byte while those choosing 7 did not realize the 7th bit was a parity bit. Tom94022 (talk) 22:48, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
Maybe I should take this specific issue to the WP:RSN Tom94022 (talk) 23:40, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

I did say to use "use the most reliable, relevant and up to date sources available". "Some website" is certainly not more reliable than academic papers and books on archeology. By relevant I mean don't use a book about folk songs in the United States as a source for how the pyramids were built. This occurs when editors want to put some factoid in then search for a source. Obviously an archeologist's article in a journal about how the pyramids were built would be a better source for an article about the building of the pyramids then a book about folk songs. Not only would the author know more about the topic, but he would put more effort into ensuring he was correct and the peer-reviewers would be more likely to discover errors in issues most relevant to the topic. And an archeologist writing today about the pyramids would have access to newer information than say someone writing in the 1920s and some findings made by earlier researchers may have subsequently found to be wrong. TFD (talk) 03:07, 5 September 2014 (UTC)

The length of a furlong is common knowledge and doesn't need a source. Getting this wrong is one indicator that a source may not be as reliable as it appears on first sight, but how much weight to attach to such a small error is not necessarily straightforward. We should not include obvious errors just because they can be sourced. Itsmejudith (talk) 11:25, 5 September 2014 (UTC)
True... except that the length of a furlong has not always been the same... it has changed over time. A furlong today is not the same distance that a furlong was in medieval times. That "historical perspective" may account for the differing measurements used in sources. This is why we have to go beyond the simple fact of "the sources disagree" and look into why the sources disagree.
"My car gets 20 rods to the hogshead, and that's the way I like it!" - Grandpa Simpson Blueboar (talk) 12:07, 5 September 2014 (UTC)
  1. You should give the furlong that relates to the particular timeframe (as it is the only possible correct one, to the subject), and if that is different to the one today you should explain, the furlong then is not the one we have today and why. Back then the furlong was XY.., ...an 1882 furlong was YZ.., ...4 furlongs long, (which makes the track ZX long as the 1427 furlong was per cent different).
  2. If there are three major notable beliefs in the nature of a subject deserving equal respects, then you do not pick one. The one has always been picked for you, not just for this, but for everything on Wikipedia, and you knew that. You don't cherry pick.
This talk you are doing about going with the primary, that is the discussion for titles. If the content has three faces, you shouldn't pick your favourite one and destroy all reference to the others. And you should have linked the specific content because every different thing has its own peculiarities and telling someone to do the standard thing could turn out to be the wrong thing. ~ R.T.G 17:51, 7 September 2014 (UTC)

Discussion on placement of ref-related tags[edit]

FYI: Pointer to relevant discussion elsewhere.

Please see Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Inline Templates#Placement of ref-related tags, on placement of reference-related inline templates (e.g. {{verify credibility}} and {{clarifyref2}}) inside or outside the <ref>...</ref> element.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  14:08, 6 September 2014 (UTC)

Wikilink bias[edit]

Usually when I look for sources through search engines, I tend to disregard websites that don't have an article about themselves on here. While I guess it helps to wade through sketchy sources and the like, I can't help but feel like it's a form of bias. I mean, we have these detailed lists of sources which should and should not be used in articles similar to what video games WikiProject has, but I feel like it's a shortcut to actually checking out the sources for themselves to see if they're reliable or not (even if you think your Google-fu is strong). Is this a thing for anyone else? 23W (talk · stalk) 00:21, 7 September 2014 (UTC)

Actually, we don't have a detailed list of sources that should or should not be used in articles. There are a few broad categories of sources that are usually not considered reliable and should thus be avoided (anonymous blogs, personal websites, you tube videos, etc.), however we also understand that there will be occasional situations where an exception can be made.
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a 100% reliable, or 100% unreliable source. Reliability depends on context. A source may be unreliable in most contexts, and yet reliable in a specific context. Another source may be highly reliable in most contexts, and yet deemed unreliable in a specific context.
Finally, your idea of limiting sources to those that are notable enough to have an article about them here on Wikipedia is over kill. We cite books and websites that don't have their own articles all the time. Indeed most of our citations are to books and websites that don't have their own articles. Having an article is based on Notability, not reliability. Reliability and Notability are two completely different concepts. Blueboar (talk) 18:48, 7 September 2014 (UTC)
I'm not proposing that we should—that would be stupid—but sometimes I do conflate the two indirectly when I search for sources, and I was just wondering if anyone else does the same. I'm against having an authoritative list of reliable sources; while I guess WP:VG/RS is helpful to a lot of people, I wouldn't want to see the same thing mirrored large scale. I think it dissuades people from using those sources which may be reliable in certain contexts, like you said, and from actually checking the sources for themselves. 23W (talk · stalk) 19:07, 7 September 2014 (UTC)
Considering that we have articles on websites like YouTube - which we actually specify as being generally unreliable, I don't think we can come close to saying "Article = Reliable". As I said, the standard for having an article on Wikipedia is Notability... which is a very, very different standard from Reliability. There are lots of notable websites that are not very reliable... and there are lots of highly reliable sources that are not very notable (or at least not notable enough to have an article about them). Blueboar (talk) 19:37, 7 September 2014 (UTC)
Exactly, we would not trust a tabloid like the Weekly World News over a scientific journal simply because the tabloid has an article.--76.65.42.142 (talk) 23:42, 13 September 2014 (UTC)
Blueboar, 76.65.42.142: Please understand I'm not speaking in absolutes or trying to change policy. I'm just trying to poll whether or not having an article here sways the perception of reliability in a source. Of course we wouldn't use fictional tabloids like The Onion. 23W (talk · stalk) 00:46, 14 September 2014 (UTC)
I realize that... I am just noting that the Notability of a source (which is what governs whether we have an article about it in Wikipedia or not) has little to do with the question of whether that source is considered reliable or not. I am saying that the two (notability and reliability) should not be conflated as you suggest. Blueboar (talk) 12:49, 14 September 2014 (UTC)
Actually, I do maintain such a list in the form of a custom Google search engine. There's also a similar one for video games.[15] A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 13:33, 14 September 2014 (UTC)

Funding of American think tanks[edit]

The New York Times has investigated funding of American think tanks by foreign governments. Funding is extensive and accompanied by both explicit and implicit agreements to both focus on issues important to the foreign government and to avoid publication of negative information about the funding government, see "Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks" By ERIC LIPTON, BROOKE WILLIAMS and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE SEPT. 6, 2014 This is new information, but it is hardly news that think tanks are dependent on funding sources. "The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements they have reached with foreign governments. And they have not registered with the United States government as representatives of the donor countries" User:Fred Bauder Talk 12:46, 7 September 2014 (UTC)

Would I be correct in assuming that you raised this in order to question whether these think tanks are reliable sources?
If so, the answer to your question is that it depends on context. We always have to look at the specifics of the statement that are we citing a source for. Being funded by a government or advocacy group does not necessarily mean a source is unreliable. Yes, it is often an indication that we should take what the think tanks says with a grain of salt... as it is likely to be biased towards a particular view point (but if you think about it, most sources reflect a view point). Being biased does not mean that we can never use the source. It often means we should limit how we use it - for example we might limit use to situations where it supports an attributed statement of opinion (as opposed to using it to support an unattributed statement of fact). Blueboar (talk) 19:02, 7 September 2014 (UTC)
The question is what, if anything, we should include in Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources. Is it relevant that the sources of funding are not known, or suspected to involve agreements about the content of published research? User:Fred Bauder Talk 09:55, 8 September 2014 (UTC)
I think we should include nothing about this. The first "accusation" is silly anyway: I'm paying you to think about something, so I'd like you to think about what matters to me instead of things that I don't care about. Using tax money to pay someone to do work that has zero expected benefit to the government would be fiduciary misconduct. WhatamIdoing (talk) 15:40, 8 September 2014 (UTC)
I agree... say nothing. Yes, it is always helpful to be aware of whether a source might be influenced by its funding... and thus potentially biased towards a particular POV. However, bias does not necessarily mean "unreliable". Remember that our sources are not required to be Neutral on the topics they write about... we (as editors) are required to be neutral - which means we, when crafting an article, have to take into account what multiple sources say on the topic. We should use those sources to craft an article that discusses those multiple viewpoints. In other words... the fact that a particular source might have a degree of bias can actually be a good thing. We don't omit a source because it has a bias... we use it, and then find and use other sources (ones that reflect different biases) to present the reader with a complete picture of our topic. (for more on this... see our WP:Neutral point of view policy). Blueboar (talk) 13:07, 14 September 2014 (UTC)

"Old" sources and "new" sources[edit]

Sorry, I have not found a WP describing that only "modern" reliable sources should be used when editing articles. Does such a WP exist? Could an editor use a scholarly work published in 1940, in 1890, in 1840, in 1444 or in 174 BC? Thank you for the answer in advance. Borsoka (talk) 18:00, 16 September 2014 (UTC)

Context-dependent. __ E L A Q U E A T E 18:17, 16 September 2014 (UTC)
Thank you for your answer. So I can write of the Universe based on books published by Cambridge University in 1933 or in 1675. I can also write of the history of Poland based on books published by the Cracow University 200 years ago, cannot I? And I can also write of the origin of the mammals based on a book published by a well known university in 1833. Borsoka (talk) 18:39, 16 September 2014 (UTC)
Depends on the source, and the context. "Context-dependent" most certainly does not mean "all sources are good for anything". __ E L A Q U E A T E 18:53, 16 September 2014 (UTC)
You've written very good articles about historical subjects. You have a good record of generally preferring modern reliable scholarship over older material of unknown modern reputation, but you also know that some older texts (you seem to have used some written in 1950 for instance) are completely suitable for certain material. You probably also know that some material written last year is not automatically reliable based on the sole fact that it's new. It depends on more than age. I'm curious why you're asking, because it seems like you already know how to evaluate what makes a good source, and that it depends on the specific claim made. Some old material is canonical, some old material is unusably stale and outdated; some new material best represents our current understanding and accumulated knowledge, some new material hasn't proven its acceptance yet. __ E L A Q U E A T E 19:25, 16 September 2014 (UTC)
Thank you for your answer. My main concern is that I have not found a WP which prescribes that only reliable sources presenting present/modern scholarly POVs can be used. Is there any such WP? Borsoka (talk) 22:50, 16 September 2014 (UTC)
Very old books such as Tacitus' histories did not undergo fact-checking as far as we know so would fail rs. Wikipedia recognizes that some sources are more reliable than others. In academic writing, newer sources are more reliable than older sources, because they will be adjusted for more recent research. For example, a book written about Osama bin Laden today would be a better source for whether or not he survived the Battle of Tora Bora than a newspaper article written in 2001. TFD (talk) 23:17, 16 September 2014 (UTC)
(edit conflict) WP:MEDRS for all medical information and WP:FRINGE for most things science-related both emphasize modern scholarship. Nobody would want to mislead readers by citing sources that are outdated rather than merely old, and that is the primary issue there. Speaking of primary, there is a general problem with relying on primary sources, and that would include most centuries-old books. WhatamIdoing (talk) 23:24, 16 September 2014 (UTC)
Articles should be based on reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy. I take the "with a reputation" to mean "a current reputation" as it's written in the present tense. I think that's the closest we have to a "prescription". WP:SCHOLARSHIP has is regarded as reliable by the scholarly community in the present tense, not "once had a reliable reputation". If an older source has a current reputation among scholars as being somehow reliable for the specific claim being made, then it is generally considered a reliable source, despite age. The reason your funny examples aren't RS is because they have a clearly bad reputation at this point for the material you suggested.

WP:CONTEXTMATTERS is the reason you will not find a policy that forbids older sources. Our article on Sigmund Freud contains something from W.H. Auden's 1935 assessment, because there's agreement among editors that it represents a viewpoint that still has some significant present day reputation. Our article on Aesthetics has some material sourced to Kant, based on modern currency of reputation. Parts of Angular momentum are sourced to canonical scientific text on fundamental physics from 1935 because parts of our understanding within that specific scientific framework haven't changed that much. A currently-well-respected scholarly book from years ago could be considered more reliable than a thin news story from last week of small reputation.

That doesn't mean older sources are any better on average than what came out yesterday; just that the prescription is that sources have a good reputation, not a particular origin date. New or old sources without that reputation because they've been outmoded or because of "recentism" concerns shouldn't be used. That means newer sources are usually found to be better (but only when they are).__ E L A Q U E A T E 00:02, 17 September 2014 (UTC)

Thank you for the above information. I started to understand what is the proper approach based on your references. Applying these policies is not the easiest task, but it is not impossible. All the same, they seem to be quite logical. :) Borsoka (talk) 00:23, 17 September 2014 (UTC)
Re: "only reliable sources presenting present/modern scholarly POVs can be used"... of course not. But when presenting an older (and thus potentially outdated) POV it is important to make the historical context clear. You may want to read our article on Historiography.