Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers)/Archive 58

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Date quality initiative

I was inspired by Jimbo's recent keynote speech at Wikimania 2006, especially his remarks on quality. One recurrent theme in Jimbo's address and indeed throughout Wikimania was that Wikipedia (and its related projects) is aimed at the whole world, not just at Americans.

There's always work to do on improving quality. A ton of work. Checking sources, spellings, fixing wikilinks and so on. There are projects aplenty for all these things, as any long-time regular here would know. I'm a nit-picking, trivia-obsessed kind of guy, and I'm happy to fix up spelling, check a fact, find a source, reword a sentence and so on. I've always done this, and it is rare for me to actually create a new article or add more than a paragraph to an existing one, though I'm happy to do this when I spot a niche.

Lately, I've been concentrating on date formats, mainly because it's so easy to find this work, and yet it is not easy enough that it could be done with a bot. You need to know the subject, know the guidelines, know to leave a direct quote alone and so on. I've made myself familiar with the Manual of Style and ArbCom decisions, and complied with these, seeking consultation and consensus when necessary. Much to my consternation, I find that I have attracted both strong support and strong opposition. Frankly, I am disappointed in this and when administrators hold contrary views, it is difficult to find the correct path. But found it must be, otherwise the overall quality of the project suffers.

As an example, I cannot see how these edits add to the quality of Wikipedia:

Clearly, changes like this are not helpful and seem to be made on a less than professional basis. I would have imagined that changing "1st of January" to 1 January would be non-controversial, though I see from recent discussion here that this form has its adherents. However, most comment has centred on my changing dates in International format to American format and vice versa, and it is this point I would like to address.

Looking at the relevant parts of the Manual of Style, I see the following:

  1. If the topic itself concerns a specific country, editors may choose to use the date format used in that country.
  2. This is useful even if the dates are linked, because new users and users without a Wikipedia account do not have any date preferences set, and so they see whatever format was typed.
  3. For topics concerning the UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, most other member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, and most international organizations such as the United Nations, the formatting is usually [[17 February]] [[1958]] (no comma and no "th").
  4. In the United States, it is most commonly [[February 17]], [[1958]].
  5. Elsewhere, either format is acceptable.
  6. See Wikipedia:Manual of Style#National varieties of English for more guidance.

I have divided the section into numbered sentences for ease of convenience. I see the first sentence as defining the guideline, the second sentence as explaining it, the third and fourth as providing examples, the fifth as an attempt to cover all other possibilities, and the sixth as a pointer to further guidance. On looking at Wikipedia:Manual of Style#National varieties of English for further guidance, we see references to American English, Australian English, Canadian English, British English and so on. Clearly, in the English-speaking part of the world, when an article has a focus on a particular country, we use that country's variety of English, and we are to use the same principle in determining which date format to use in an article.

Not all countries use English as a preferred language, but every country has a preferred date format, as may be seen on official forms, in newspapers and so on. It seems logical to me that just as we choose the national variety of English to use in a relevant article about an English-speaking nation, so too should we use the national variety of date format.

Looking at the list of examples, we see that it is a poor sort of guide. I don't think anyone will disagree with the statement that In the United States, it is most commonly [[February 17]], [[1958]]., but it is the preceding statement that is unsatisfactory. For a start, it is contradictory. It states For topics concerning the UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, most other member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, and most international organizations such as the United Nations... But Ireland is not a member state of the Commonwealth (Ireland left in 1949, in what might best be described as strained circumstances), and how are we to determine what "most other member states" might mean? Canada, for example, is a member state of the Commonwealth, but uses both date formats. Clearly, we must examine each member state of the Commonwealth to determine what the correct national usage is. (Unless we are to rely on that "most" to make a guess, which seems like pretty shoddy practice to me.)

Luckily, we are blessed with a Wikipedia article listing the preferred formats of a good many nations. Furthermore, we have an external resource which lists even more.

I propose that we change the unsatisfactory example sentences to one in which we more definitively list or refer to the groups of nations which use either day-month-year or year-month-day dating, and where a nation either uses both formats or a third format such as year-month-day, we fall back on the "either format is acceptable" guideline.

I say this because I look at nations such as Ireland and France, both of which use day-month-year format. Ireland is included in the example list, even though it is not a member of the Commonwealth, yet France is not included, even though it uses day-month-year format. On the other side of the ledger, we have the Philippines, which uses month-day-year format, falling under the catch-all of "either format is acceptable".

I would like to see some informed discussion on this subject, based towards the twin objectives of increasing the quality of Wikipedia, and providing guidance for people like me who are merely trying to get on with the job and wish to have clear guidelines to follow. --Jumbo 01:56, 7 September 2006 (UTC)

I see what you're getting at (I think). I don't really know much about what's used in different countries, so I can't really say what I think of the initiative. Some parts of the manual kind of have to be vague (but this doesn't necessarily mean that this is one of them). For clarification, can I take it you refer only to English-speaking countries? This is, after all, the English Wikipedia; non-English speakers typically adhere to whatever English conventions when speaking English. Neonumbers 09:52, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
I'm referring to all countries. We use national varieties of English for those countries that use English as a primary language, but every country has a preferred date format. France, for instance, doesn't have English as a primary language, but their date format is day-month-year, even if they say "Quatorze Juillet" rather than "14 July". If we have to choose between day-month-year and month-day-year, it is best to use the format that is actually used by the country, in exactly the same way as we choose for (say) Ireland and the U.S.
However, Canada is an odd case, where the English-speaking part uses month-day-year, and the French-speakers use day-month-year, which is why we should either format. I think that this should be made explicit as one of the cases where either format is appropriate; as it stands an editor would read sentence three and use day-month-year because Canada is a member of the Commonwealth. --Jumbo 11:08, 7 September 2006 (UTC)

SuperJumbo's intepretation of the guideline is simply wrong, as number other editors have told him, and as the arbcom has. He attempts to change the guideline are a transparent attempt to justify his previously unacceptable editing. Raul654 20:47, 7 September 2006 (UTC)

My interpretation is 100% correct, according to several other admins. I'm caught in an impossible position, one which should have been worked out long ago and at a higher level so that everyone is clear on what the situation is. My objective is to resolve the difficulty. Your intervention is welcome, and if you (or anyone else) can sort out the section so that its meaning is crystal clear and its effect fair and logical, then please do so.
I read sentence one as meaning exactly what it says: If the topic itself concerns a specific country, editors may choose to use the date format used in that country. This is in line with Wikipedia:Manual of Style#National varieties of English and the use of units of measurement, where we use the variety of English or the units of measurement appropriate to the country. However, you follow a different course, one that disregards similar procedure and relies instead on a list of examples that is, as I have shown, flawed. Let us work together to find a consensus view that removes any doubt. --Jumbo 21:05, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
Using the style of dating used in a particular country *is* acceptable; changing a perfectly acceptable style to the style used in that country *is not* acceptable, per the Sortan ruling. Raul654 21:14, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
Yes, I understand that. The task is to reword the section quoted above so as to remove any future difficulty. I trust that you understand why I chose to rely on the clear first sentence and not the unclear third, especially given the strong support received from other administrators. --Jumbo 21:28, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
You've been blocked once already for this behavior. Continuing it without already having established a changed consensus on the matter is likely to result in more of the same, especially as you've been told by three arbitration committee members that the behaviour is inappropriate. I trust you will stop it until such time as consensus is established. - Nunh-huh 21:17, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
Thank you for your input. Do you have anything to say as to the wording? --Jumbo 21:28, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
Yes. 5 should read "Either format is acceptable. Do not change articles from one acceptable format to another." - Nunh-huh 21:35, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
So you are saying that regardless of article or national connection, we should allow either American Dating or International Dating, and not allow any change? --Jumbo 23:20, 10 September 2006 (UTC)
There's no need for such changes. Changing from one format to another should only be done in the context of other, more important additions or corrections, if the author is unable to tolerate or adjust to a pre-existing date system, never within a large series of changes directed primarily or only at changing date formats, and ideally never for the sake of simply changing to bring into "compliance" with, what are, after all, guidelines and not directives. As you have demonstrated, such changes are disruptive, and there are a wide variety of differing opinions on which articles, if any, such changes might apply to. We have gotten by so far on a policy of leaving such things alone, and I see no compelling reason that that should be changed now. - Nunh-huh 01:12, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
"Officer! It's disgusting! Every day at this time, my neighbour takes off his clothes and lies naked in the sun, for all the world to see! That's why I've asked you over to arrest him."
"Very good, lady, but I can't see any naked man."
"No, you've got to get up on this ladder to see him. And you'll need these binoculars to make out any detail."
Beg pardon, but your outrage and disruption over format changes seems equally confected. If you have your date preference set, you won't see any difference at all. That's why we wikilink them - for preferences to work.
In fact, this is the argument you used, along with a warning that date format changes were not allowed at all, which turns out, on examination, not to be the case.
I refer you to sentences 1 and 2 above. Your interpretation goes beyond the existing guidelines. Raul has agreed that my changes are legal, so long as they are confined to the nations listed. I don't want to change any existing consensus, merely remove any grey areas. --Jumbo 05:06, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
All the sarcasm and wikilawyering don't change the fact that your interpretation is the opposite of that intended by the arbitration committee, and that they have so informed you. You also seem to be misstating Raul's position. He pointed out, in a post you deleted from your user page, that "Simply changing the dating style for the sake of changing the dating style is not OK." - Nunh-huh 05:10, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
My intention is to operate within the guidelines, and when I have conflicting advice as to what the guidelines actually mean, then it's difficult. To correct you, I didn't remove Raul's comments from my talk page - I archived them, and I put a link to the archive page on my talk page. Yes, Raul said the words above (and as you were able to quote them verbatim, it seems as if you had no trouble finding my archive page), but he also said a sentence or two later, "I checked his second succession of edits, and they looked like they were exclusively American->British dating style changes to former Commonwealth nations, which under a strict interpretation, is acceptable.". As all I did in that second series of edits was change dating style, I suggest that your interpretation of Raul's interpretation may not be correct. The bottom line is that we can change date formats if we have a good reason, and those good reasons are laid out in sentences 1-4 above. The only remaining problem is the disruption I'm supposedly inciting, and I offer you the exact same advice you gave to me: set your dating preferences. You'll not see any changes. --Jumbo 05:51, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
Well, no, of course that's not the "only remaining problem", which is why you remain on notice that you should not be changing dates, at the risk of being blocked yet again. - Nunh-huh 06:00, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
Do you have anything additional to contribute on the subject of changing the wording to make it clearer? I've addressed your proposed wording change from several days ago. Your "no changes allowed at all" position has been noted, but it does not reflect either consensus here or Raul's "strict interpretation". --Jumbo 06:10, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
You have commented on it, but you have not addressed it. And once again you seem to have mischaracterized Rauls actual position by selectively ignoring parts of it. Once again, a reminder: If you get both strong support and strong opposition for something you are doing, then there is no consensus that you should be doing it, and you should stop. - Nunh-huh 06:24, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
Jumbo, the problem is with your interpretation of the phrase "concerns a specific country". This guideline was created to solve the problem of multiple English-speaking countries having different date formats. I don't believe anyone would have a problem with you changing all the dates in the article United Kingdom to "international" format. And I don't think any editor has a problem with international format dates already existing in any "non-American" article. The problem is that you are mass-changing of dates on ANY article that in the slightest degree could have anything to do with ANYTHING non-American. For example, I was alerted to your edits while monitoring the Bono article. I don't see how that is a "non-American" article. Even if it is, your interpretation that it fits what the Manual of Style says ("concerns a specific country") is simply wrong. "Bono" does NOT concern any specific country. Narrow your interpretation of that phrase and I don't think anyone will have any problems. -- Renesis13 22:35, 7 September 2006 (UTC)
I've never met Jumbo before, so whatever I say is based solely on the above comments.
Ideally, we want to avoid non-guidelines. This is not always possible. For instance, this guideline refers to article specific to countries, so an article not specific to any country — which, by my interpretation, includes any article about any person, group of people (unless the person or group of people's primary influence was in a certain country, for example, a politican in a country), technology, science, and essentially anything that isn't geographical and doesn't have a country name in the title (might have missed many examples, btw, please don't fuss over my list, I couldn't make it exhaustive) — does not have a preferred format. However, if we can have guidance, we prefer guidance to non-guidance.
The reason I say this should only concern English-speaking countries is because the date format is part of the language. Chinese, for example, uses a 2006年09月09日 format -- but if a Chinese person speaks English, they will use with "9 September 2006" or "September 9, 2006" when speaking English. What it comes down to is that the English Wikipedia isn't written for French or Chinese or Russian speakers — and therefore, preferences like the ones above should be invoked only for the purpose of avoiding making an Englishman or American read/write an article about themselves with a foreign date format.
Ideally, we'd just have one date format for all, but as we already know this isn't possible. My two cents. Neonumbers 10:26, 9 September 2006 (UTC)
"Corse they don’t ‘ave dates over there. Corse they don’t. Not proper ones like we do, any road. ‘Carthorse Joolie-ey’? What sort of date is that? They can’t even speak proper English, them what talks it, that is. Our ‘Erbert, ‘e was at some posh do, an’ ‘e asked if he could just nip down an’ ‘ave a quick fag in the foyer, and they looked at him funny-like. ‘E tried sign language, but that didn’t help. Two of the ladies fainted dead away. Aye, and one of the men, too. It were half past three in morning before they let him go. So he went an’ ‘ad one."
Joking aside, you've made two good points, Neonumbers, and I'd like to address them both. We use a few different date formats in WP, but ideally, only two in text. And those two are both used in English-speaking countries. So it isn't really a matter of what language is used. It's a matter of what the country uses. If we look at language issues, it's really just a matter of date name. Juillett or July, it's still the same month. Other calendars, such as the Hebrew Calendar) are out of synch to a greater or lesser degree with the Gregorian, with different year starting points, month lengths and so on, but we really need not concern ourselves with such things in general practice. The bottom line should be whether a nation uses day-month-year or month-day-year.
As to whether an article concerns a country or not, well that's something only a human can answer in any given case (a computer might jump to the wrong conclusion on the French fries article, for example) and we will therefore have different opinions. I think it is a matter of common sense and we should not be overly prescriptive. But where a person is born in, is a citizen of, and resides in a specific nation, I think that the connection is clear, even if they might also have a wider global image, such as being an international sports star. Where there are two strong connections, such as for Grace Kelly, then we should leave the format alone. --Jumbo 21:20, 10 September 2006 (UTC)
Ahhh... Just read the guideline... I made an assumption about the guideline's purpose. Because the guideline refers to the "National varieties of English" part of the MoS, I assumed it was meant to be a language issue — and also, for the reasons I gave above, why (in my opinion) it should be just a language issue, and not a country one.
I'd therefore like to say, in the nicest possible way, that your intepretation of the guideline is very literal — though I would not say incorrect. My first instinct is that the guideline is intended to allow national varieties of English retain control over their own date formats, but here comes a point where I would like guidance on this matter.
With respect, the only person/people that could truly answer my question is/are the person/people that wrote the guideline themselves (and I don't know who they are). What is the principle behind this guideline?
With whether or not an article is country-specific, I agree that over-prescription is not the way to go. Though it could perhaps be useful to include some guidelines, that would (if nothing else) give some idea of what sorts of things are "country-specific" — maybe some similar to the notability criteria for articles (exceptions could be more for this purpose). Would this be an option? Neonumbers 10:29, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
We are the people who write the guidelines. But we must be guided by consensus past and present. Which is why I place a lot of value on those who have experience in past discussions.
National varieties of English, units of measurement, currencies, date formats and the like are all examples of style-related variations in articles. I quote from this article, "If for some reason the choice of units is arbitrary, choose SI units as the main unit, with other units in parentheses. For subjects dealing with the United States, it might be more appropriate to use U.S. measurements first, i.e. mile, foot, U.S. gallon."
Likewise, "In country-specific articles such as Economy of Australia use only the symbol specific to the country, in this case $, with an italicized note placed at the top of the article to make this clear."
The key point is that the style used is related to the country, not whether the nation uses English or not. Obviously there is some confusion here, with editors talking of British and American date formats, but it is not just English-speaking countries (with the exception of the U.S.) using the day-month-year format and non-English-speaking countries using some mix of styles. Each nation uses its own preferred format. --Jumbo 14:04, 11 September 2006 (UTC)

"most member states"

Moving this thing forward, I'd like to talk about Sentence 3 above, which reads,

3.For topics concerning the UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, most other member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, and most international organizations such as the United Nations, the formatting is usually [[17 February]] [[1958]] (no comma and no "th").

OK, that phrase "most other member states" bothers me, because it is imprecise. So far as I know, the only member state of the Commonwealth which doesn't use day-month-year International Dating format is Canada, which mainly uses month-day-year American Dating in the English-speaking part, and day-month-year International Dating in the French-speaking part. Kind of appropriate, I guess; one half of the country turns towards their cousins over the border, and the other half looks to Europe for guidance. So Canada uses both formats. Does anybody know of any other Commonwealth nations which don't use day-month-year International Dating? We can then replace that imprecise "most" with a definitive list based on the facts. No guesswork involved! --Jumbo 19:38, 13 September 2006 (UTC)

Yes, this sentence has always bothered me. Unless we have a complete list, the sentence "Elsewhere, either format is acceptable" is inaccurate. And so the list tends to accrete more and more countries, as users feel the need to distance themselves from the American date format. I wonder if we need a list at all. Can't we just omit everything apart from the first two sentences and the last sentence, leaving it as follows?
If the topic itself concerns a specific country, editors may choose to use the date format used in that country. This is useful even if the dates are linked, because new users and users without a Wikipedia account do not have any date preferences set, and so they see whatever format was typed. See Wikipedia:Manual of Style#National varieties of English for more guidance.
Stephen Turner (Talk) 09:28, 14 September 2006 (UTC)
That is pretty much my understanding of the paragraph. However, we still need access to some kind of list so that we know which countries use which format. Luckily, we are blessed with a Wikipedia article listing the preferred formats of a good many nations. Furthermore, we have an external resource which lists even more. --Jumbo 10:03, 14 September 2006 (UTC)
A few years ago, when I collected Canadian first day covers, Canada Post got round the confusion by consistently using the format year-month-day in their postmarks. -- Arwel (talk) 22:05, 14 September 2006 (UTC)
A very wise solution! The WP article I mentioned above says three different formats are used by Canada. A pity we can't do the same thing. MoS is one area where I don't think WP:BOLD is a wise path, so I'll make a small change in the wording:
3.For topics concerning the UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, all member states of the Commonwealth of Nations except Canada, and most international organizations such as the United Nations, the formatting is usually [[17 February]] [[1958]] (no comma and no "th").
I trust that this change is non-controversial? If anybody knows of a British Commonwealth nation that doesn't use day-month-year International Dating, then we can add it to the list, but I can't find any except Canada. --Jumbo 22:15, 14 September 2006 (UTC)
I wouldn't be confident that some of the Caribbean nations don't follow the American format without checking. Also, I don't like your formulation because the UK, Australia and New Zealand are all members of the Commonwealth, which the way it's phrased implies they're not. I still don't see why we need a list at all (in this paragraph, I mean). It's only likely to expand over time, and the principle is clear without listing several examples. I still like my version above. Stephen Turner (Talk) 11:17, 15 September 2006 (UTC)
Well, I don't think we need a list either. I thought it was perfectly clear that the given examples were necessarily incomplete (as well as being vague and misleading) and that we should be guided by common sense. However, acting on some creative misdirection, a member of the Arbcom has taken a different interpretation, and I have accepted that even if one has the right of way, one does not argue with a semi-trailer approaching an intersection at speed. So I am doing my best to find a form of words that is clear to everyone, and doing it by making small changes that are non-controversial. I'd like to get rid of the list in the section entirely and refer editors to the list in the Wikipedia article. I'm not sure about the Bahamas and so on either, but I figure that if someone comes up with a source for the date formats used there, we can add them to the list one way or the other. -Jumbo 23:40, 15 September 2006 (UTC)
I've changed the wording as advised above, plus I've removed UK, Australia and New Zealand, as these nations are included in the British Commonwealth. I note that the Philippines is one of the few nations to use month-day-year American Dating as its preferred format. Perhaps I should add this in with the U.S.? --Jumbo 23:49, 16 September 2006 (UTC)
As nobody has commented against this, I have added the Philippines to the U.S. as a nation using the month-day-year American Dating format. The list refers to Federated States of Micronesia and Palau as the other major users of the month-day-year format. --Jumbo 03:52, 19 September 2006 (UTC)
Adding these two now. --Jumbo 17:37, 24 September 2006 (UTC)