Talk:Artemisia absinthium

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Native range[edit]

I have marked this article for further citation. This is because the article states that North America is the plant's native range, however oral tradition in Taos NM defines this plant as invasive, having been brought in by the Dutch settlers in the early 20th century. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:29, 10 June 2012 (UTC)


This is the primary ingredient of Absinthe, one of the most well known and controversial liquors in the world. B class article with high importance. Poorly cited but good overview of the plant. Please remove the gallery, as this will prevent the article from being considered for GA status. --Jeremy ( Blah blah...) 01:33, 13 June 2008 (UTC)


How is this an active ingredient? I mean, it's sand.  Card Zero  (talk) 03:30, 28 January 2011 (UTC)

WP:MEDRS used to suppress all mention of ongoing research[edit]

The following text has been removed twice, with the claim that it violates WP:MEDRS, a wikipedia guideline that as far as I can see doesn't say that no use can be made of the primary medical literature or that it is inappropriate to say that a 1931 book about herbs made a particular statement. It was further claimed in an edit summary that these are not reliable sources, which is an absurd statement to make about PLoS ONE, Molecular Biology Reports, and Chemistry & Biodiversity.

A 1931 book about medicinal herbs alleges the use of wormwood as a stomachic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, cholagogue, febrifuge and anthelmintic.[1]
Potential uses
Extracts of the plant have shown to exhibit strong antimicrobial activity, especially against Gram-positive pathogenic bacteria.[2] They have also been tested as a potential medication against breast cancer.[3] The oil is a potential source of novel agents for the treatment of leishmaniasis.[4]
  1. ^ Grieves, M. (1931). "Wormwood, Common". – A Modern Herbal. Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-12.  External link in |work= (help)
  2. ^ Fiamegos YC, Kastritis PL, Exarchou V, Han H, Bonvin AMJJ; et al. (2011). "Antimicrobial and Efflux Pump Inhibitory Activity of Caffeoylquinic Acids from Artemisia absinthium against Gram-Positive Pathogenic Bacteria". PLoS ONE. 6 (4): e18127. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018127.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  3. ^ Shafi G, Hasan TN, Syed NA, Al-Hazzani AA, Alshatwi AA, Jyothi A, Munshi A (2012). "Artemisia absinthium (AA): a novel potential complementary and alternative medicine for breast cancer". Molecular Biology Reports. 39 (7): 7373–7379. doi:10.1007/s11033-012-1569-0. 
  4. ^ Tariku Y, Hymete A, Hailu A, Rohloff J.,"In vitro Evaluation of Antileishmanial Activity and Toxicity of Essential Oils of Artemisia absinthium and Echinops kebericho." Chem Biodivers. 2011 Apr;8(4):614-623
Sminthopsis84 (talk) 16:54, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Priliminary, primary, in vitro and animal studies are very poor sources for establishing medical claims, until they have been replicated, confirmed, clinically tested in vivo in humans, again replicated, again confirmed, and substantially discussed in the secondary literature. Until it reaches that point, it's not really significant enough to include in a WP article.
Also, shouting "censorship" and "suppression" seriously damages your credibility. It just makes you look ridiculous, and undermines any real argument you may have to make. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 17:09, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
It wasn't intended to be shouting, WP:CENSOR is the name of the shortcut link. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 18:19, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
There needs to be a way to discuss traditional/historical "medicinal" uses of plants without running afoul of WP:MEDRS. Obviously care should be taken with the language used to discuss non-clinically validated uses. "Wormwood is an effective antihelminthic" needs a MEDRS compliant source. "A book alleges the use of wormwood as antihelminthic" seems to me to be a good way to phrase discussion of a use that hasn't necessarily been clinically validated. I consider the cited source (A Modern Herbal) to be an RS about traditional uses, but certainly wouldn't claim it as MEDRS. I think it's important to mention wormwood being prescribed as an antihelminthic, since this use is the reason for the common name "wormwood". What sort of phrasing is appropriate for discussing traditional & historical medical uses? Plantdrew (talk) 18:49, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
I don't like this diff ([1] to Artemisia abrotanum, where the sourced statement "was believed by the 17th century herbalist Culpeper to encourage menstruation" was removed. This is not a medical claim; it's a statement about somebody's beliefs.
This diff ([2]) is also problematic. The deleted passage could be rephrased to make it clear that claims of medical effectiveness are not being made, but there are two sources provided, and the one I can check most easily supports the sentence immediately preceding it, as well as several other sentences that are flagged citation needed. I would assume the second sources supports the remaining citation needed statements. Rephrase this stuff if necessary, don't delete. "xxx is alleged" or "yyy believed that" ought to be adequate phrasing for discussing traditional uses without making a claim of medical efficacy. Plantdrew (talk) 19:11, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
For historical claims, WP:HISTRS applies. What is the source for the Culpeper statement? If it's Culpeper's herbal itself, that's OR based on a primary source. We need a MODERN scholarly source that says that Culpeper's statement on this topic is significant in order to assign it any weight. Ditto the other things I deleted. Weasel words or attribution to unreliable sources do not make up for the lack of a modern scholarly source.
Sorry, but the sourcing used is either non-existant or completely inadequate. If I believed that adequate sourcing might be found, I would have tagged it or let it be. But since I doubt it, the burden is on you too come up with adequate reliable sourcing that conforms to WP:HISTRS and WP:MEDRS.
In other words, nothing in an old primary source is significant unless a reliable independent secondary source says it is. And if it's not significant, it doesn't belong in this article. That would be OR, as you would be the one assigning significance to the statement. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 19:25, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
I get your position on Culpeper, but I don't understand why the ref removed from Artemisia tridentata is inadequate. It's a secondary source, with abundant clear citations of primary sources. It's by a medical anthropologist, not a historian or a physician. At the very least, I'd hope that reference would be considered an RS for the statement "Artemisia tridentata is used medicinally". If you don't think the ref is an appropriate source for that statement, please explain. Plantdrew (talk) 19:58, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Your right. I screwed up when trying to arrange the paragraphs. It's repaired now. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 20:15, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
(edit conflict)That's entirely too strict of an interpretation of the guidelines. Occasionally I'll write articles that have no other sources but primary literature since they are obscure species or were recently described. Sometimes they'll include short ethnobotanical notes if the authors made those observations. The primary literature in botany, regardless of age of the sources, is important and cannot be swept aside because secondary sources have not yet mentioned that it's important. Rkitko (talk) 20:04, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Nope. Ain't nothing like that in our policies and guidelines. No, wait! Yes there is. It's called WP:ORIGINALRESEARCH. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 20:18, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Sorry, but this is nonsense. Using the primary scientific literature to support factual information is NOT original research. Read WP:ORIGINALRESEARCH. You are completely misrepresenting what this policy says. No quality article about a plant could be written without using the primary botanical literature. Please look at the reference list of Banksia aemula, for example, an FA plant article, or indeed any of the other FA or GA plant articles which can be accessed via the table at Wikipedia:WikiProject_Plants#Statistics.
Medical claims are a different issue, and I am a strong supporter of the requirements of WP:MEDRS. I regularly remove claims based on inappropriate and inadequate sources.
However, reporting that Nicholas Culpeper or Pedanius Dioscorides or some other well-known pre-scientific author believed that a plant could be used for a particular purpose is not to make a medical claim (provided that the report is carefully worded). There's no need to quote sources to show that either of these two are important in order to quote their works, any more than there would be to quote sources to show that Linnaeus is important before quoting his works.
nothing in an old primary source is significant unless a reliable independent secondary source says it is Stated baldly like this, this is simply not true. It depends what the old primary source is being used to support. Clearly many old sources, primary or secondary or tertiary, are not reliable sources in areas where science has moved on. If I want a source to support the placement of a flowering plant genus in a particular family, then only a recent publication is appropriate, because research in the last 5 years or so has made substantial changes to our understanding of angiosperm classification. But if I want to report on the historical taxonomy of a flowering plant genus, the original primary sources are entirely appropriate as support.
One confusion, I think, relates to the different meaning of primary sources in a subject like history. There what is meant by "primary source" is the raw historical documents, artefacts, etc. Clearly these should not be used to support interpretations of why something happened or whether it was important in relation to subsequent events. But scientific "primary" sources are quite different. The true primary sources are the data and observations. A scientific journal article normally combines a primary source – the data – and a secondary source – interpretations and explanations of the data. Peter coxhead (talk) 20:53, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
@Peter coxhead:No. And horribly wrong about the nature of a scientific journal article. Like I said above, statements from primary sources can used to illustrate or fill out information that is mentioned in modern secondary sources, but only if secondary sources say the statement is significant to the topic of this article.
So to describe a plant where the information is only in a journal article, I need a source that says that each item of the description is significant in an article about a plant? If there's no information about a plant in an encyclopaedia or similar kind of work, I can't write an article about it? We simply couldn't write most plant articles with such an interpretation of WP policies. In many important areas, there are no secondary sources (yet). Thus we use the APG III classification system for angiosperms. This is derived (so far) entirely from journal articles; I don't know of any comprehensive secondary source, such as a textbook, which explains it. Peter coxhead (talk) 22:14, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Basically, if all you have is an initial description that has never been cited by anyone else, yes, we shouldn't use that information. And we probably shouldn't have an article about that plant, until it's existence has been confirmed by other researchers. Encyclopedias and textbooks are tertiary sources, not secondary sources. Secondary sources are review articles and monographs, and articles by other scientists confirming or discussing the primary article. I know that this is difficult for many plants, and that our outcomes show that plant species are inherently notable, so I'm generally willing to cut some slack as far as recent material of the type you mentioned is concerned, unless it's controversial or likely to be challenged. However, with medically-related claims, no. Any material that does not comply with WP:MEDRS is out, unless there is a very good likelyhood that secondary sources can be found.
Second of all, we're not a news service. It is not our job to report the latest discoveries. It is our job as a tertiary source to report what secondary sources say. And if they don't mention it for ten years after the primary report is made, that is not a problem for us.
In other words, if all you have to go on are primary sources, that's a clear sign that somethings not right, and it would probably be better to wait until secondary sources appear. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 22:40, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
I profoundly disagree with you; fortunately most biology editors seem to do so as well, otherwise we would be lacking many important articles. Good luck with trying to persuade biology editors to use obsolete classification systems, for example, because they are described in out-of-date secondary sources and the up-to-date information is only in journal articles! Peter coxhead (talk) 23:23, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
What would be the point of an encyclopedia article that is based solely on primary sources? Interested readers can read the primary sources for themselves? And as I said, it is not our job to present the latest information. That is the job of scientific journals. We're third man on the match, and yes, that does mean that our information will be somewhat out of date. With some topics, we might be days behind. With others, years. In any case, we will always be behind the primary and secondary soureces. That's the nature of a tertiary source, which is what WP is, and we can't do too much about that without performing original research, which is most definitely not our job. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 23:45, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
I have tried to explain in my response to you below why you are wrong about original research. I suspect we will never agree. Fortunately for the quality of Wikipedia, those writing about biology do not appear to agree with your strange interpretation. Peter coxhead (talk) 19:45, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
The issue is assigning weight to the individual statements.
For example, you can't use quotes from the Bible in a WP that you have selected yourself and asssigned significance to on your own initiative. You can use them, though, if secondary sources have said those statements are significant to the topic of the article. I left the Bible stuff in for the very reason that I was confident that such secondary sources exist.
With Culpeper, though, I am not confident that any modern secondary source has ever substantially discussed his statement about Artemesia absinthium causing miscarriage. In fact, I would be surprised if they did. Unless it's part of the present-day scholarly discussion on the topic, it doesn't belong. It's just a trivial fact with no determinable significance.
Basically, I'm asking the question "Who says this statement from Culpeper is significant in terms of the topic of this article?" And the answer I'm looking for is a modern scholarly source. So far, none has been provided. If you find one, feel free to re-add the material. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 21:27, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
(edit conflict)@User:Dominus Vobisdu: Cut the smarmy sarcasm. We're all scientists here, I would hope if anything we could speak cordially about this. Your blanket statement that info from old primary sources can't be used unless a reliable secondary source says something about it seems to be a misreading of WP:PRIMARY. If I accurately paraphrase a primary source that says something about the plant's use, that's more than acceptable. What I can't do is use the existence or age of the publication to say something about the historicism of the plant's use - that would be WP:SYNTHESIS. We could certainly reword the Culpeper statement in question from "was believed by the 17th century herbalist Culpeper to encourage menstruation" which ascribes belief to the author and replace it with, "The 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote the following on this plant: ...[include quote]" That seems like the most neutral way to include the info without implying anything about what Culpeper meant without a secondary source. Rkitko (talk) 21:09, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Sorry for the snark. Again, paraphrasing an unreliable source is original research, no matter how you word it. Culpeper is not a reliable source for information on the medical properties of plants. By far the bulk of what he wrote was pure BS and totally insignificant. His herbal is a historical primary source, and if you want to use it in any way, it can only be used to support or illustrate what a reliable modern scholarly source has to say about this particular statement of his, to separate the insignificant statements of his from the significant ones. If you disagree, take it to WP:NORN. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 21:27, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Another way of putting it is on what basis are you assigning any weight to Culpeper's statement? Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 21:32, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
I've also asked another editor who knows our sourcing policies very well to take a look at this discussion. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 21:44, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Quoting the likes of Culpeper is not making a statement about an article subject's current position within medicine, it is making a note about its cultural history. PaleCloudedWhite (talk) 21:41, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
For which you need a scholarly source that is reliable for statements about cultural history, per WP:HISTRS. Who says that this is a significant fact about cultural history as far as the topic of this article is concerned? Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 21:44, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
So is your view is that each and every time Culpeper is cited in relation to the cultural history of the use of a plant there must be another source saying that Culpeper is significant in relation to that plant? Or is it sufficient to give a source saying that Culpeper's The English Physician has been an important influence on herbal medicine since its publication and continues to be so? The latter is easy to provide; the former might be impossible for some plants (and isn't needed in my view once it's established that Culpeper's work is significant). Peter coxhead (talk) 22:20, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Absolutely. Not every statement made by Culpeper is significant. His book is not a reliable source for information on the medical use of plants. It is a historical document. And yes, that means that a good deal of the material in his herbal cannot be used at all here on WP. Some statements of his have been discussed by modern scholars, and we can cite Cupeper's herbal to support or illustrate statements drawn from modern secondary sources. Sorry, but if it doesn't appear in modern scholarly sources on the topic, it doesn't exist at all as far as WP is concerned. We don't do original research based on historical documents. Whether the work as a whole is significant or not has no bearing on the significance of the individual statements it contains. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 23:36, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
You'll not be surprised to know that I completely disagree with you.
The key point in WP:NOR is "All interpretive claims, analyses, or synthetic claims about primary sources must be referenced to a secondary source, rather than to the original analysis of the primary-source material by Wikipedia editors." So of course we can't say in an article that Culpeper's recommendation to use a particular plant as a herbal remedy is either accurate or inaccurate unless some other source says this. But quoting Culpeper directly or paraphrasing him is not making an interpretive claim, or an analysis or a synthetic claim.
As for the direct statement "Material based purely on primary sources should be avoided", it requires "primary sources" to be interpreted sensibly. Consider a specific example. I have written articles about all the species of Roscoea. The existence of Roscoea ngainoi is verified by its entry in the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, a secondary source. But there is no descriptive information about it anywhere other than a journal article, because it was discovered after the publication of Jill Cowley's monograph on Roscoea. So the Wikipedia article is almost entirely based on the journal article. I make no apology for this; there are many other organism articles in exactly the same position.
Placing a journal article describing a plant, to be used in writing a description of it in Wikipedia, in the same category as a letter written by Lincoln, to be used in writing about the origins of the American Civil War, is not sensible. Of course it would be wrong for a Wikipedia editor to interpret a letter written by Lincoln: that would be original historical research. Paraphrasing a description of a plant in a journal article is not original botanical research and no botanist would consider that it was. Peter coxhead (talk) 19:45, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
We cannot use a letter from Lincoln, either, as a source. Read WP:HISTR. If you disagree, take it to WP:NORN. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 20:31, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
It would be helpful if attempted to explain why you think I am wrong rather than make a response which shows you didn't read what I wrote. Peter coxhead (talk) 20:37, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
  • The source from 1931 is a primary source, due weight is assigned by secondary sources. For an historical primary source that would require academic history sources. When it comes to medical information primary sources should not be used in this way. What [3] says is that: "It was recently reported that the essential oils occurring in flowers and aerial parts from A. absinthium have antimicrobial properties", that is far from a statement that it is far from what is claimed in this article, that is has been "shown to exhibit strong antimicrobial activity, especially against Gram-positive pathogenic bacteria". "They have also been tested as a potential medication against breast cancer" should be removed as highly speculative and thus violating MEDRS. "The oil is a potential source of novel agents for the treatment of leishmaniasis", cited to an in-vitro study is against highly speculative and thus misleading, and thus violates MEDRS. IRWolfie- (talk) 21:56, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
I agree that the way the sources were used was inappropriate. I'm uneasy, though, if the conclusion is that nothing at all can be said about the attempts to find medical uses for extracts of A. absinthium. Peter coxhead (talk) 23:30, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Personally I think a better approach would be to create a draft piece of text and ask for some input from wikiproject medicine to see if it conforms to MEDRS. The last thing we want to do is imply something has medical benefits it doesn't and cause someone harm. An accurate reflection giving sufficient context and using secondary sources could be used, IRWolfie- (talk) 23:40, 31 May 2013 (UTC)
Yes, the last thing we want to do is to imply that something has medical benefits that it might not and cause someone harm. But desperate people hear about all sorts of treatments that might or might not help them. To a very great extent this sort of grape-vine-travelling information comes from the old herbals like Culpepper. Wikipedia could, and does to some extent, provide helpful information that herbal preparations have been tested only in vitro or in animal models, what effects have been seen, and what hazards have been detected. Personally, it alarms me greatly that this sort of information is being removed, leaving desperate people to believe distorted rumours such as that herbs are harmless and that quite a number of them are "the cure for cancer". It seems to me far better to include what is known, such as "exhibit strong antimicrobial activity, especially against Gram-positive pathogenic bacteria" than to leave it to the imagination of the reader. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 01:01, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
The fact that something "exhibits strong antimicrobial activity, especially against Gram-positive pathogenic bacteria" is actually trivial from a clinical point of view. Thousands and thousands of plants have components that do that. And it's probable that hundreds or even thousands of them have stronger activity that A. absinthium. It does not mean that the substance will, or even can, be used in treating disease. It's not even preliminary research. It's pre-preliminary screening, and by far most of the substances found to have activity will never make it to the preliminary trials stage, for the simple reason that most of them will have major drawbacks. The problem is that the reader will assume that "a substance the plant contains exhibits strong antimicrobial activity, especially against Gram-positive pathogenic bacteria" means "the plant exhibits strong antimicrobial activity, especially against Gram-positive pathogenic bacteria, in humans", and thus the plant exhibits such activity. You're basically confusing the reader with trivial information.
The only interesting knowledge from a general encyclopedic point of view is actual usage of the substance as a therapeutic agent, not potential or speculative future usage. As a clinical research scientist myself, I am well aware of the fact that very few substances make it all the way through clinical trials to actual clinical use. The process is daunting, and VERY expensive. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 01:20, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
I completely disagree. The knowledge that belongs in a general encyclopedia is the sum of human knowledge. Science cannot advance without the material from that human knowledge-base that can be used to produce hypotheses for testing. This article is about a plant, and what is known about that plant belongs on the page about it. The plant kills some types of bacteria when used in a petri dish. That's information and it belongs in an encyclopedia. Medical researchers are also users of wikipedia, and may come here to find out about a plant that has been suggested to them. If you want to get rid of the information that any particular person might consider trivial, you might as well delete all of wikipedia. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 14:01, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
Then you have a big job in front of you. Google Scholar brings up about 10,000 scientific articles on A. absinthium, and Google Books brings up moe than 60,000 books. On what basis are you saying that the articles you want to include are significant, and the others aren't? Or do you believe that all 10,000 scientific articles and all the books should be mentioned here as well?
Of course we select the information on the topic in terms of significance. A general encyclopedia is not "the sum of human knowlege". It's a basic introduction to the topic for the general public, containing only the most significant information. An article bogged down in trivia would be useless to our readers.
And no, medical researchers most certainly do not use Wikipedia. That's absurd. They have much, much better sources of information available to them. Wikipedia is at the bottom of the barrel. As it should be. It's for a general readership, and not for specialists.
Last of all, read WP:MEDRS again, and you'll understand the problems associated with using primary sources. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 20:27, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
@Dominus Vobisdu. What is or isn't interesting knowledge in relation to a Wikipedia article is not determined by you, or any other single editor. It is determined, in accordance with policy, by a consensus of editors. I think that most of the stuff in Wikipedia about celebrities, TV series, porn stars, and other trivia of modern popular culture should not be in an encyclopaedia, but the consensus is otherwise. I agree with Sminthopsis84 that the information that extracts of a plant kill some types of bacteria in vitro is interesting; it certainly interests me and should be in the article (carefully worded of course so as not to make any claim about current medical use). Peter coxhead (talk) 19:56, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
Baloney. You won't get far with that argument. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 20:27, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
It's "baloney" that the content of articles is decided by the consensus among editors (subject to WP policies, of course)? Peter coxhead (talk) 20:33, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
Yes, it's baloney, for the very reason that you saw fit to put mention of the policies as a side note, in parentheses. And also because there's a HUGE difference between "interesting" and "significant". Also, see WP:ITSINTERESTING and WP:OTHERSTUFFEXISTS. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 20:38, 1 June 2013 (UTC)
Neither of WP:ITSINTERESTING or WP:OTHERSTUFFEXISTS are of direct relevance to this issue, since they are concerned with article creation/deletion. What is relevant is that you read WP:Wikilawyering since your arguments here are excellent examples of points 2 and 3 in that document. If you're not prepared to discuss the "underlying principles" as they apply here, there's no point in further exchanges. Peter coxhead (talk) 06:18, 2 June 2013 (UTC)
You can always ask at WP:NORN if you disagree. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 06:21, 2 June 2013 (UTC)
I agree with DV and I really don't understand that there has to be a discussion about this. If you claim any medical therapeutic property you have to back that claim up with a MEDRS. The guidelines for that are very clear (and, within WP, not negotiable). Primary sources are just not reliable enough, and WP:MEDRS explains quite nicely what is considered a primary or secondary source and what not. Cheers, --Mallexikon (talk) 09:49, 2 June 2013 (UTC)
This discussion is getting to be ridiculous. @Mallexikon the material that is under discussion is not medical therapy; to repeat, it is about traditional uses and current pharmacology research. WP:MEDRS deals with giving undue weight, it does not say that all mention of traditional medicine or possibly useful drugs should be expunged until modern medicine has had a chance to fully test everything.
And @Dominus Vobisdu, speaking as a researcher on botany and ethobotany, I can assure you that medical researchers and researchers in other areas most certainly do read wikipedia, and they use google searches to find out about material that they are unfamiliar with, and wikipedia shows up very high in the google rankings. A particular plant is a very likely subject for such investigation by a medical researcher. They can't go and ask a botanist because botanists are dying out because all the research money is going to medicine. The same applies to librarians: the money that once might have funded their salaries is going to journal publishers and medical research, leaving a huge gap in the accessibility of traditional knowledge to current researchers. Wikipedia currently serves a useful purpose in pointing people to material that they might wish to read.
And @Dominus Vobisdu, you statement that it's "baloney" that the content of articles is decided by the consensus among editors, subject to WP policies, is so far out in the realm of the inappropriate that I'd call it slander against all wikipedia editors and against the founders of wikipedia. You have lost all credibility here. Your other statements can now be seen as completely irrelevant. I consider that a consensus discussion about the pages where you have deleted ethobotanical and pharmacological research should include only the opinions of others. Of course, your blanket condemnation of wikipedia applies to all other subject areas as well, but I haven't had time to look at those yet. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 17:05, 2 June 2013 (UTC)
Like I said, take it to WP:NORN if you disagree. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 17:10, 2 June 2013 (UTC)
Done. It's not OR because there is no original synthesis or point of view in the material, but the matter has been listed on the noticeboard. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 17:38, 2 June 2013 (UTC)
I also left a message on WP:MEDICINE. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 18:02, 2 June 2013 (UTC)

Arbitrary break[edit]

To quote Dominus Vobisdu,

Priliminary, primary, in vitro and animal studies are very poor sources for establishing medical claims, until they have been replicated, confirmed, clinically tested in vivo in humans, again replicated, again confirmed, and substantially discussed in the secondary literature. Until it reaches that point, it's not really significant enough to include in a WP article.

There's nothing to be added to that. You'll need to find better sources. If you can't/won't, discussion is pointless. TippyGoomba (talk) 19:54, 2 June 2013 (UTC)

So I tried the approach that you suggest, finding more sophisticated references for one of the points, only to be reverted with a rude message "Don't pull a silly stunt like that again." on my talk page by User:Dominus Vobisdu. As mentioned above, that person is disrupting the attempts to reach consensus, so I'll try again by reverting them. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 12:05, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
Okay - I agree and follow with medical articles...but it starts to get tricky when talking about plant/fungus articles where some compound or other has undergone research. The secondary source often imparts minimal information which could be misleading unless clarified by the primary source - WP:MEDRS also states, Reliable primary sources may occasionally be used with care as an adjunct to the secondary literature, but there remains potential for misuse. For that reason, edits that rely on primary sources should only describe the conclusions of the source, and should describe these findings clearly so the edit can be checked by editors with no specialist knowledge. In particular, this description should follow closely the interpretation of the data given by the authors or by other reliable secondary sources. Primary sources should not be cited in support of a conclusion that is not clearly made by the authors or by reliable secondary sources, as defined above (see: Wikipedia:No original research). When citing primary sources, particular care must be taken to adhere to Wikipedia's undue weight policy. Secondary sources should be used to determine due weight.
I am pretty sure just about all investigations have been mentioned in secondary sources somewhere. I think we have to take each example on its own merits. Cas Liber (talk · contribs) 00:45, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
Precisely. The discussion should be focussed on what is relevant in the case of A. absinthium, a plant with a long cultural history of use as a "traditional medicine" and a well-known history of being associated with vermifuge and psychoactive properties (correctly or not), as discussed at Absinthe#Effects, which appropriately cites a number of journal articles, as well as some books. Peter coxhead (talk) 06:44, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
Relevance or noteworthiness is a function of weight, or how much a particular fact is discussed in the secondary sources. Weight is what prevents an article from becoming a collection of unranked trivia of undeterminable relevance, usally culled from Google searches.
Historical uses of a plant in folk medicine and culture is a scholarly topic, and the sources we use should conform to WP:HISTRS. If a fact about folkloric use is important enough to include here, it will also be surely found in reliable scholarly secondary sources.
Using old primary documents like Culpeper directly would be WP:OR. Using him to support and illustrate statements drawn from the secondary literature, on the other hand, is perfectly fine. Using popular, non-scholarly works should be done with extreme caution, if at all. Books by new-age fanatics, alternative medicine proponents and other self-described "esperts" are especially of little value.
Again, weight is an issue with historical material to avoid constructing a pseudohistory. Synthesis is another big problem, as people have a natural tendency to see what they want to see in historical documents and go beyond the source.
For every fact that you want to put into an article, you should always ask yourself, "Who, besides me, thinks this fact is important in terms of the subject of the article?". If you find substantial mention in multiple reliable scholarly secondary sources, fantastic. That's an important fact. Scant mention or no mention at all in the secondary literature should be a red flag. For historical, medical and other scholarly topics, you should think twice if the only mentions you can find are in pop lit or the popular press. They rarely get scholarly topics right, especially as far as science and medicine are concerned.
Last of all, when mentioning folkloric uses, any semblence of implying effectiveness must be strenuously avoided. Our articles should not be usable as a guide for do-it-yourself herbal or alternative "medicine". We should keep in mind that a significant part of out readership is seeking exactly that type of "advice". Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 07:37, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
How do you define "scholarly topic" and "pop lit"? PaleCloudedWhite (talk) 11:54, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
It's as easy as distinguishing a peer-reviewed journal from a blog. TippyGoomba (talk) 13:25, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
To what does that last comment refer? It clearly isn't an answer to the preceding question. Sminthopsis84 (talk) 15:37, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
Pop lit appears in blogs, scholarly topics appear in peer-reviewed journals. TippyGoomba (talk) 18:37, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
But the material that was added to the article by Sminthopsis84, which Dominus Vobisdu removed, was sourced to peer-reviewed journals, so this cannot be the answer to the question addressed to him. Peter coxhead (talk) 21:50, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
The material that was removed was speculation about potential uses, which violates WP:NOT, specifically the section WP:SPECULATION, which states: "Speculation and rumor, even from reliable sources, are not appropriate encyclopedic content."
The first source used, from Plos One, is a primary source which has not been discussed at all in the secondary literature. This violates WP:MEDRS, which states "When citing primary sources, particular care must be taken to adhere to Wikipedia's undue weight policy. Secondary sources should be used to determine due weight."
The second source used is not an acceptable source for any purpose on WP. Bentham Open is a predatory journal and vanity press that publishes, for a fee, articles that could not be published in real scientific journals. It is listed on Beall's List of Predatory Open-Access Publishers. See: [,%20Open-Access%20Publishers%202012.pdf]
Please read our policies, especially WP:MEDRS. Just because a source is reliable does not mean that it can be used. There are additional criteria that it has to meet, as noted in our policies and guidelines. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 22:15, 3 June 2013 (UTC)
If you had confined yourself to pointing out the need to conform to WP:MEDRS, a content guideline which I understand perfectly well, we could have had a sensible discussion about the material you objected to, which would have been a productive activity. Dragging in WP:HISTRS, which is at present merely an essay, not a guideline or policy, is not helpful. Even if it became a WP guideline, it's not clear how far it would apply to the cultural history of plants; we would need to discuss this at WP:PLANTS. You also need to read WP:OR. It's not WP:OR merely to cite Culpeper directly. It depends entirely on what the citation is being used to support. For example, I would personally like to see more detailed citations (perhaps page numbers from a particular edition) added to Nicholas Culpeper#Examples from The English Physician. This would not make it OR. Citing Culpeper to support the effectiveness of a herbal remedy wouldn't be OR either; it would be using a non-reliable source. Peter coxhead (talk) 23:11, 3 June 2013 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Citing Culpeper to support the effectiveness of a herbal remedy wouldn't be OR either; it would be using a non-reliable source.

Umm.... using unreliable sources is by definition OR. Read the second sentence of WP:NOR again.

Also, I never said that quoting Culpeper directly was necessarily WP:OR. You apparently took that out of context. What I said was:

Using old primary documents like Culpeper directly would be WP:OR. Using him to support and illustrate statements drawn from the secondary literature, on the other hand, is perfectly fine.

I would have absolutely no problem with you adding the citations and page numbers as you suggested.

What would be OR is adding a statement to an article on, say, dingleberries, saying, "According to Culpeper, dingleberries have been used for chronic mastitis", IF this statement had never been mentioned in the secondary literature. Culpeper is not a reliable source for the fact "dingleberries have been used for chronic mastitis" (unless modern secondary sources say so). Nor is he a usable source for the statement "According to Culpeper, dingleberries have been used for chronic mastitis" in the absence of a secondary source confirming that that fact is significant. The attribution doesn't solve anything, as it is circular. ANY statement from ANY' source, no matter how unreliable, can be attributed in that way and included in a WP article by that reasoning.

As for WP:HISTRS, it may be "merely" an essay, but in discussions at WP:RSN, it carries a lot of weight. For what it's worth, I personally have never seen anyone argue successfully against it. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 00:32, 4 June 2013 (UTC)

I don't think your interpretation of WP:OR accurately reflects the substance of that policy. Primary sources are allowed in Wikipedia, but context is key (See WP:PRIMARY). Such issues must be decided on a case-by-case basis, based on the nature of the article, the nature of the claim, and the wording that is being proposed. As someone who writes articles on obscure spider species (which do, in fact, meet our notability requirements), I use primary sources quite often. In fact, I've written several articles where the majority of citations are primary. This has never been a problem. See Zygoballus sexpunctatus for example, which is a Good article. Clearly, the standards for medical claims are much stricter, and should be. But a statement about someone else's medical claim is not the same thing as Wikipedia making a medical claim itself. Otherwise, we would have to delete half of the article on homeopathy. Kaldari (talk) 00:45, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
Not a good example. Homeopathy and its claims have been EXTENSIVELY written about in reliable secondary sources, and they are presented in context with the mainstream view per WP:FRINGE. A better example would be ASTROLOGY. Surprisingly, extremely little has been written about modern-day astrology in reliable sources. Scads in worthless fringe sources, but precious little of that has been mentioned in reliable sources. When I came across the article, it was packed with fringe cruft. With a great deal of community support, it got hacked down to less than half its size. I didn't even have to do any of the hacking myself.
A statement about someone else's medical claim is not the same thing as Wikipedia making a medical claim itself.
Agree. But that statement has to be backed up by a reliable source other than that "somebody else". Otherwise, on what basis could we assign significance and weight to the statement? How would we justify whether it's relevant and worth including in the article? We have nothing to go on except our own estimation and that of the "somebody else" themselves, which is worth nothing if they are an unreliable source for the material attributed to them.
As for your spider articles, technically, you shouldn't be doing that. Notability isn't the issue, as all species are considered automatically notable here on WP, no matter how obscure. The problem is with content. Using unconfirmed primary sources is problematic, especially when the existence of the species depends on a single sighting, as is often the case in etymology and arachnidology, with no reference specimen collected. If you think about it, it's sorta like OR by proxy. If multiple primary reliable sources exist that cite and confirm each other, it would be less of a problem. And I would give a lot more weight here to mentions in discussion sections than to mentions in introduction sections. But you have ask yourself why that information that has never been mentioned in the secondary literature, and whether it has any real encyclopedic value. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 01:49, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
Ironically, I actually followed your approach on the Zygoballus sexpunctatus article initially, and it was turned down for GA status due to not being comprehensive enough. I then added every single statement about the species that had ever been made in any source, primary or otherwise, and it passed. Clearly, wormwood is a very different subject, however. There should be more secondary sources to pull from, and thus weighting should be more of a consideration. I don't agree that it is a black and white issue, however. If secondary sources about an aspect of a topic simply don't exist, it may be appropriate to include them in certain cases (often depending on local consensus). So the questions in my mind are:
  1. Are there secondary sources discussing historical medical uses of wormwood?
  2. If not, is the inclusion of information from primary sources useful and likely to be uncontroversial (regarding factuality and relevance)?
Kaldari (talk) 03:26, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
To your first question, yes, there are, and the fact that the plant was traditionally used as a vermifuge is already mentioned in the article and properly sourced with a modern secondary source. That fact is mentioned in many other secondary sources, and is not controversial, as long the reader is made aware that it was a traditional use, and not a modern mainstream medical one.
As to the second question, it would be completely useless, because it does not reflect the state of modern scholarship on the topic, as WP is supposed to do. Controversial, too, as it is a health-related claim. Also, it would be not merely difficult, but impossible to assess the significance and revelance of the statement.
Furthermore, some statements of Culpeper's have been added to the article, properly sourced to a modern secondary source.
To put things in perspective, the primary historical text that is being discussed is a herbal by Nicholas Culpeper, a botanist, herbalist and physician from the early 17th century, pretty much from the dawn of the scientific era. His herbal was a little off the wall, to say the least. Frankly, he was a bit of a nutter, and was considered fringe even in his own time, even though he did make some valuable constributions to science and medicine). Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 04:24, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
The traditional use as a vermifuge was not cited when this discussion began. I was being WP:BOLD, and added a source I thought might end up getting reverted, assuming User:Dominus Vobisdu would cast a critical eye on it. The source I added seems to me to be a tertiary source (more or less, an encyclopedia); it cites only primary sources, but was not published in a peer-reviewed journal. It does have a medical stamp of approval by being hosted on a medical schools website. Is EBSCO Publishing's CAM Review Board (the "peer reviewers" who are also apparently acting as authors) reliable? I don't know, but the NYU med school seems to think so (and if it wasn't a tertiary source before, wouldn't NYU's hosting make it one?). If I can rely on the NYU med school, I've got something to work with. Wikipedia is mostly built on references available on the internet; that practice has some drawbacks, but it's important for readers to be able to WP:VERIFY the sources themselves. The MEDRS gold standard secondary sources are often not freely available online. I have yet to find a freely available peer-reviewed medical secondary source for the traditional use of A. absinthium as a vermifuge. Can a medical layperson assume that an internet source hosted by a hospital, med school or government agency (e.g. NIH) has gone through medical due diligence and is MEDRS compliant, or should only peer-reviewed secondary sources (probably behind a paywall) be cited? Plantdrew (talk) 05:49, 4 June 2013 (UTC)

I meant to comment on this earlier, but haven't had time. For perspective, I'm approaching this as an amateur botanist trained in organic chemistry/molecular biology. I have to admit that I find the "[plant] extracts showed [biological activity] in vitro" sections to be the "In popular culture" of botanical articles; there are so many plants from which some biologically active secondary metabolites can be coaxed, and so few of them have any medical relevance (cf. [4]), that I think it adds very little, and calling it a "potential use" is hardly justifiable. And whatever the reader skilled in the art might make of the article, I think in practice, including these sections describing in vitro assays encourages lay readers to jump to the conclusion that the plant is of medical utility. (After all, someone did SCIENCE! And it has an effect! Details? What details!) What can, I think, make certain botanical articles particularly obnoxious from a medical perspective is to use a single section to list the uses of a plant in traditional medicine, followed by some sort of in vitro finding of bioactivity by the plant's extracts or some component thereof. The effect, whether unintentional or deliberate, is to imply to the lay reader that the modern studies validate the traditional medicial use of the plant. See the current version of Stachys officinalis for a good example. (And I picked that at random!)

Now, all that said, I think it might still be worth keeping the references to various in vitro studies, in part because blanking them will simply create an attractive nuisance where passers-by will periodically re-insert them. But if so, there needs to be some rearrangement of content and addition of context to dispel this implication of scientifically validated medicinal value. E.g., incorporating the traditional medical uses into a "Culture" section and the bioactivity into a broader discussion of secondary metabolites in the species would largely avoid the problem, to my eyes. Choess (talk) 19:36, 4 June 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for these comments; you have certainly clarified the discussion for me.
  • The arrangement of material in this version of Stachys officinalis is, I agree, completely wrong (even ignoring the fact that there are not enough sources given). The traditional uses should not be under "Medical properties", and the arrangement does carry the implication that there is some scientific support for the traditional uses.
  • I also agree that simply blanking all references to in vitro studies is not an entirely satisfactory solution. I wholeheartedly support the intention of MEDRS, but in some high interest articles it doesn't work. Editors (including me) have repeatedly removed information not in accord with WP:MEDRS from articles such as Aloe vera or Garlic, but it always seems to get back in the end, and sometimes the restoration is missed, resulting in Wikipedia containing misleading content, often for a long time. In such articles, it may be better to note in vitro studies while making absolutely clear (with reliable sources) that such studies do not imply that properly controlled in vivo studies will show any benefits.
Whatever the solution, it has to work in practice, not just in principle. Peter coxhead (talk) 22:14, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
Thank you, I'm glad they helped. I neglected to mention that I disagree with the comment at the section head that Culpeper could not be used to source the statement that "Culpeper said X about herb Y", barring a secondary source that specifically confirms the significance of Culpeper, X, and Y altogether. If you had a reliable secondary source that said "Culpeper's herbal was widely used during this period", I think that's sufficient to justify quoting Culpeper on herb Y; whether that constituted undue weight would be something I'd expect to be determined by discussion and consensus, informed both by secondary sources and by contrast to other primary sources also known to be important in the period. But I don't think the judgment of undue weight can be reduced to a bright-line rule about what secondary sources have said.
I think the friction here is the result of a clash between two Wikipedia cultures. In botany, primary sources are generally peer-reviewed and not all that contentious, except for some changes in taxonomic circumscription, anatomical interpretation, and the link, and the emotional temperature is for the most part not all that high. Medicine has to deal with a shockingly high rate of irreproducible results, rapid obsolescence of older publications, and a lot of highly-charged, energetic cranks; on the other hand, secondary sources are available in much greater perfusion. Under the circumstances, a rigid reliance on bright-line rules like WP:MEDRS is the only way to keep the entire subject from being crushed by POV-pushers. Unfortunately, that approach is less productive in quieter fields like botany, and that's why we're striking sparks at the interface between the two. 02:20, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
Well, we agree entirely that Dominus Vobisdu does not understand how biology articles are written, but I'm still concerned that the rigid "removal" approach of WP:MEDRS doesn't always work, although I continue to follow it (as I did at Stachys officinalis). What enthusiasts for alternative/complementary medicine see in Wikipedia is dogmatic scientists suppressing information they want to be able to read about; in response they will continue to try to add it to high profile articles. Suppression (a.k.a. censorship) is not, I think, always the right approach; in some cases presenting sourced counter-evidence may be better, provided taht Wikipedia never appears to endorse medical claims that are not soundly supported. Peter coxhead (talk) 06:35, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
Enough with the ad hominems. It's childish. For whay it's worth, Dominus Vobisdu is on the editorial board of a botanical periodical, and has just co-authored a monograph on plant community taxonomy. I've been involved in scientific publishing since 1983.
And again, calls of "censorship" and "suppression" make you look especially silly. I've translated more than 500 scientific papers and ten books into English so that scientists can reach a wider audience. Most of them were in botany-related fields.
While it's true that my primary field is clinical microbiology, a lot of the work I do is in environmental biology and agriculture.
As Choess said, there is a difference in vision of what WP ahould be. I want it to be a good tertiary source for a general audience, and you want it to be more than that. And over what "extreme caution" means when using primary sources.
You seem to think of WP:MEDRS as going beyond our regular policies. It doesn't. It merely clarifies them. Same with WP:HISTRS. If you ever succeed in compiling a WP:PLANTSRS, it won't conflict with either of these two.
Nor should we give readers "what they want to read about", or present the latest ongoing primary research on "potential uses". Were not a pop science magazine or a newservice. Nor are we a botanical database. That is not the mission of an encyclopedia. There are plenty of other outlets for that, both on and off the web. You really outght to read WP:NOT very carefully. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 07:56, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
I think it would be very helpful to keep claims about traditional medicine uses separated from claims that fall under MEDRS as Choess suggested. Us botanists should perhaps discuss modifying Wikipedia:WikiProject Plants/Template to suggest subsections to "Uses" that will maintain a distinction. I just took a absolutely terrible "Modern medicine investigations" section out of Stellaria media, but left a poorly cited "In folk medicine" section in. I'm concerned that the "In folk medicine" section will now starting attract primary sources in modern medicine. I could delete the folk medicine section too, but then who know where the bad medical primary sources will end up getting added? Keeping random additions of non-MEDRS sources out might be more easily managed by having a clear target for these additions. A subsection that says something like (in the absence of any MEDRS compliant sources) "This plant has undergone several studies evaluating it's medical potential". Cite a couple primary sources for the statement that studies have been performed, and delete anything else not MEDRS sourced that pops up. Plantdrew (talk) 07:21, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
Again, "potential uses" are expressedly forbidden by WP:NOT, even from reliable sources. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 07:56, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
Quote from WP:NOT: "It is appropriate to report discussion and arguments about the prospects for success of future proposals and projects or whether some development will occur, if discussion is properly referenced." Peter coxhead (talk) 20:04, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
I think it's a very good idea to change the plant article template. Those interested, please continue the discussion at Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_Plants/Template#Subsections for Uses. Peter coxhead (talk) 07:53, 5 June 2013 (UTC)

Primary sources in taxonomy[edit]

User:Dominus Vobisdu, in the discussion above, a couple editors have mentioned using primary sources in writing articles about organisms, and you have repeatedly deprecated the use of primary sources (in both taxonomic and medical contexts). I think that this position has generated a lot of hostility. Many of the participants in the discussion above have some background in taxonomy. I think I speak for most of them in saying that older primary sources in taxonomy are still relevant. Recent peer-reviewed articles on taxonomy of organisms routinely cite 150 year old primary sources. I understand that 150 year old primary sources on medical subjects are rarely cited (though I'd hope WP:MEDRS would permit citing Charcot's 1869 description of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis#History without needing to validate the importance of that citation through secondary sources). Taxonomy doesn't employ "double-blind randomized placebo controlled experiments". Medicine does, and there are statistical methods that are employed in medical meta-analytic secondary sources (review articles) to validate the results of primary sources performing "double-blind randomized placebo controlled experiments". WP:MEDRS doesn't apply to taxonomy. The pace of research in taxonomy moves very slowly in comparison; secondary-source, review articles on organisms (monographs/taxonomic revisions) appear maybe every 30-50 years and are the best sources available. Taxonomic databases currently available on the internet (tertiary sources?) are presently updated more regularly than comprehensive monographs are published (the databases are typically validated by primary sources when they differ with older monographs). Taxonomically inclined editors rely on these databases to establish notability of the taxon, but may cite primary sources or older secondary sources for details presented in the articles. The original descriptions (primary sources) of many organisms are becoming more widely available on the internet through several efforts to digitize early sources, and these original descriptions are stilll relevant. Plantdrew (talk) 07:10, 4 June 2013 (UTC)

This discussion doesn't belong on this talk page. Try the plants project page as suggested by someone in the previous section.
Also, it won't be a productive discussion if, as you say, emotions are tunning high and you make this personal. Give it a week or so to read and reread what was said above, reread the policies, and answer the questions that various parties have asked above.
For example, no one has attempted to answer my questions about assigning weight and determining relevance above, or about the encyclopedic value of information not found in secondary sources. What I have seen is a lot of loophole seeking and special pleading. It won't be a pretty discussion if that remains the case.
Last of all, I won't be participating in the discussion as it lies outside my main area of interest here on WP, which is more about promotion, self-promotion and fringe medical and scientific claims, which is what brought me here in the first place.
Good luck with your discussion. Dominus Vobisdu (talk) 14:53, 4 June 2013 (UTC)