Talk:Serial killer

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an Australian named Sam needs to be removed[edit]

The opening paragraph, defining what a serial killer is, needs to be changed - I tried editing it and it doesn't allow for that first sentence/intro to be edited.

Reference regarding America holding 76% of serial killers in the 20th century may need to be repealed or revisited.[edit]

The reference in question is reference number 151: Michael Newton. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Facts on File, 2006. ISBN 0816061955 p. 95. From having read the relevant excerpt I believe it would be beneficial, if not necessary, to find a better source regarding such fact as the current source seems biased and impossible to verify. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Sagacity159 (talkcontribs) 06:39, 29 December 2015 (UTC)

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External links modified[edit]

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NPOV[edit]

Someone is inexplicably trying to declare, in the voice of the encyclopaedia, that a particular definition is correct. This violates NPOV. As the article clearly states, there is no unique definition, and we have no business pretending there is. Even if three is the most common, you do not have the right to state that as the definition. The current wording is neutral; it states that three is the most common definition but that other definitions exist. Now kindly stop violating NPOV so egregiously. 193.60.234.209 (talk) 19:44, 20 June 2016 (UTC)

To anyone else reading this section, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this are the edits in question.
To the IP, I've repeatedly told you that the WP:NPOV policy is about WP:Due weight; it is about giving most of the weight to what is prevalent in the literature. On Wikipedia, it is common to give due weight to the most prevalent definition first, and then present alternative definitions. For just two examples, we do this with the Atheism article and the Pedophilia article (although, in the case of the Pedophilia article, we are going by what is most prevalent in the medical literature, not popular usage). Even with the Sexism article, since the vast majority of sources define sexism as primarily being against girls and women, we give that definition its due weight early on. Being neutral on Wikipedia does not mean what being neutral means in common discourse; it means following the sources with due weight. And in the case of the definition of a serial killer, there is a standard definition, and the sources I provided on the matter are clear about that:
"Serial killer". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved June 15, 2016. A person who murders 3+ people over a period of > 30 days, with an inactive period between each murder, and whose motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification. 
Ronald M. Holmes, Stephen T. Holmes (1998). Contemporary Perspectives on Serial Murder. SAGE Publications. p. 1. ISBN 0761914218. Retrieved June 15, 2016. Serial murder is the killing of three or more people over a period of more than 30 days, with a significant cooling-off period between the murders [...] The baseline number of three victims appears to be most common among those who are the academic authorities in the field. The time frame also appears to be an agreed-upon component of the definition. 
Wayne Petherick (2005). Serial Crime: Theoretical and Practical Issues in Behavioral Profiling. Academic Press. p. 190. ISBN 0080468543. Retrieved June 15, 2016. Three killings seem to be required in the most popular operational definition of serial killing since they are enough to provide a pattern within the killings without being overly restrictive. 
R. Barri Flowers (2012). The Dynamics of Murder: Kill or Be Killed. CRC Press. p. 195. ISBN 1439879745. Retrieved June 15, 2016. In general, most experts on serial murder require that a minimum of three murders be committed at different times and usually different places for a person to qualify as a serial killer. 
Harold Schechter (2012). The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Simon and Schuster. p. 73. ISBN 1439138850. Retrieved June 15, 2016. Most experts seem to agree, however, that to qualify as a serial killer, an individual has to slay a minimum of three unrelated victims. 
Furthermore, the IP stating "at least two" is giving undue weight to the "two or more" definition, which is not as common as the "three or more" definition. Despite the lead's current focus on stating that the FBI starts at "two," the FBI has used "three or more" as well. Considering that my interaction with this IP and what I see of the interactions this IP had with Dennis Brown and Smalljim on the IP talk page indicate that the IP will continue to WP:Edit war over this, I have started a WP:RfC on the matter below. Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 07:11, 21 June 2016 (UTC)


RfC: Should the lead sentence start with "several" or "at least two" instead?[edit]

This edit shows the dispute in question. One view is that beginning the lead with "three or more" violates NPOV, or, more specifically, WP:NPOV. This is based on the viewpoint that "three or more" is "inexplicably trying to declare, in the voice of the encyclopaedia, that a particular definition is correct." and that "As the article clearly states, there is no unique definition, and we have no business pretending there is. Even if three is the most common, you do not have the right to state that as the definition."

The other view is that "the WP:NPOV policy is about WP:Due weight; it is about giving most of the weight to what is prevalent in the literature. On Wikipedia, it is common to give due weight to the most prevalent definition first, and then present alternative definitions." Atheism and Pedophilia are two examples. "Being neutral on Wikipedia does not mean what being neutral means in common discourse; it means following the sources with due weight." Use of "several" in this case is not accurate since "several" is commonly defined as "more than two but not many," when various serial killers have killed many. And "stating 'at least two' is giving undue weight to the 'two or more' definition, which is not as common as the 'three or more definition'."

For those seeing this from the RfC page or a talk page via an alert, full commentary can be seen at Talk:Serial killer#NPOV. Sources are also provided there. Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 07:11, 21 June 2016 (UTC)

Discussion[edit]

In this section, feel free to suggest alternative wording or discuss other aspects of the dispute. Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 07:11, 21 June 2016 (UTC)

  • Responding to RfC - WP:NPOV does not mean we abstain from picking a side when there are two opposing views. In the oft cited example, we don't discuss creationism in the evolution article. We don't say "some people think the Earth is only 6000 years old" in the article on the Earth. We follow consensus, and we give more weight to viewpoints that are more prevalent than others. Following this consensus expressly does not violate WP:NPOV. WP:DUE absolutely applies. If the most prevalent definition is for three or more, then we should, nay, must say that, and give it its proper weight. If there is enough of a dissention from this view to merit it, there can then be a second mention of the dissenting viewpoint, but again, respecting WP:DUE. Fieari (talk) 07:15, 22 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Responding to RfC If the most common definition is 3+, why not just say 'is most commonly defined as 3+' , the effect at the moment of opening with the definitive 'is 3+' and then shortly after saying 'Different authorities apply different criteria when designating serial killers; while most set a threshold of three murders, others extend it to four or lessen it to two' . Is confusing. I don't think this is quite comparable with fringe theories, since these higher/lower numbers are alternative criteria chosen by legit authorities, who are designating their own thresholds in a matter which is not susceptible to 'scientific' definition. I don't see the problem as mainly NPOV, more of clarity and saying 'it is usually 3 but sometimes other numbers' might actually be easier to say clearly. Pincrete (talk) 23:17, 23 June 2016 (UTC)
Pincrete, good point about the flow, and interesting point on the rest. Before the IP became involved, the lead used to look like this. The "Different authorities apply different criteria when designating serial killers" aspect was added by the IP, and I kept it as a compromise. I see that the IP weighed in again here on the talk page, but was reverted by JamesBWatson (also known as JamesBWatson3). In 2014, the WP:Lead sentence used to state "traditionally," but that was removed by Ianmacm per WP:RELTIME. And unless an article is about a word, I stay away from "is defined" for a lead sentence, per what the WP:Refers essay states. Even though the lead sentence uses "usually" for one part, we could use "typically" for the first part of it (as in "A serial killer is typically [...]"). When it comes to defining that lead sentence, I was going for, like I stated, what we commonly do at Wikipedia articles, which is present the most common definition first...if WP:Due weight allows for it. We also have the option of doing an approach like the Atheism article or Celibacy article.
I refrained from pinging Legitimus to this because, since he watches this article (or watched it) but didn't weigh in on this, I figured that he's not interested in this dispute. But maybe he has some insight into this terminological matter or what is the best wording to use. Maybe KateWishing does too. I'm clearly open to alternative wording suggestions. Fieari, what say you? Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 00:02, 24 June 2016 (UTC)
I am happy to admit that I know nothing about the subject beyond any lay person and the article itself. However I was slightly surprised to see the number (any number) placed as the principal defining feature. Clearly investigators need to have a threshold and pattern at which they start to think in terms of 'SK'. I do not know how much weight deserves to be given to different numbers, but unless a particular number is near-universal, I suggest some way of placing less emphasis on number. This isn't quite like bicycle or tricycle is it, where a number is the defining feature? The term, I think, is less used in the UK, but in so far as it is used, it is used of a pattern rather than a number, I think. Pincrete (talk) 09:09, 24 June 2016 (UTC)
I have a few books on the subject that I can check later, but I do have the Crime Classification Manual, which states "Serial murder generally involves three or more victims. What sets this category apart from the two others is a cooling-off period between murders. The hiatus could be days, months, or years. In other words, the serial killer is not killing with frequency."Legitimus (talk) 15:56, 24 June 2016 (UTC)
Ok going through my books, all seem to use similar language: That 3 or more is "common" or "generally" or similar language. My 2009 printing of Holmes & Holmes's Profiling Violent Crime (this is one book used by the FBI as well) says "The most common number given is a minimum of three victims" but does give a mention that there are some that think higher or lower is more appropriate, such as Jenkins 1994 which specifies 4+ victims, while Egger 1998 thinks 2 is enough, though Holmes openly criticizes this in the text as over-inclusive.Legitimus (talk) 02:15, 25 June 2016 (UTC)
I have no expertise on serial killing, but I don't think it violates WP:NPOV to state "three or more" in the opening, since (based on the quotes Flyer22 posted) that's the definition used by most reliable sources. Adding "generally" or "typically" like Legitimus's source would also be OK. KateWishing (talk) 23:07, 24 June 2016 (UTC)
Thank you all for weighing in. As noted above, I could go with a "typically" type of wording. Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 05:36, 25 June 2016 (UTC)
Flyer22, I noticed a number of the sources in the discussion above were saying 'traditionally', so even those seem to be endorsing a commonly/generally/typically phrasing. Pincrete (talk) 22:07, 25 June 2016 (UTC)
I don't see any of the sources I listed in the #NPOV section, or the sources that Legitimus cited, stating "traditionally." What those sources are stating is that "three or more" is the standard way a serial killer is defined (when it comes to the number of killings, at least, since there is more to being a serial killer than a body count; otherwise, anyone who has killed three or more people would be a serial killer). And, regarding my dispute with the IP, I've been consistent in arguing that "three or more" is the standard number for a serial killer body count, and that, per WP:Due weight, it is not a NPOV problem to begin the lead with that standard definition (with or without a "typically" type of qualifier). Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 05:08, 26 June 2016 (UTC)
Apologies, you are right, it isn't 'traditional' in the examples above, but most are putting some kind of qualifier, 'most common', 'popular' etc. Pincrete (talk) 09:42, 26 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Three or more - According to this source via FBI.gov website - https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/serial-murder - It states that "There has been at least one attempt to formalize a definition of serial murder through legislation. In 1998, a federal law was passed by the United States Congress, titled: Protection of Children from Sexual Predator Act of 1998 (Title 18, United States Code, Chapter 51, and Section 1111). This law includes a definition of serial killings:

    The term ‘serial killings’ means a series of three or more killings, not less than one of which was committed within the United States, having common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same actor or actors.

    Hope that helps. DrkBlueXG (talk) 20:58, 26 June 2016 (UTC)

  • Comment: "Three or more" seems acceptable to me. If reliable sources say that the most common definition is three or more victims (and, per above, it appears that they do), then I think it's entirely fine for the lead to say this and then the body of the article to elaborate on the differences of opinion about whether two murders counts as serial killing or whether that's too few, whether even three is too few, whether intention and interval between the killings is a more important criterion, and so on. That said, it would also be acceptable to say something like "A serial killer is a person who murders multiple people over a period of time, including a significant break or "cooling off period". The most common definition requires three separate killings, though some experts claim as few as two or as many as four are required." as part of the lead. Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 14:23, 28 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Responding to RfC Define in simple terms, and go back to correct. Three or more seems to be the most common definition in western culture, but let's not use US law to clamp down on wording. Pincrete's definition above of is most commonly defined as three or more. Situphobos (talk) 11:25, 10 July 2016 (UTC)
Situphobos, do you have any evidence that "three or more" is not the most common definition in non-western cultures? We can only go on what the literature relays or indicates. Also, if serial killers are mostly studied in western culture, as are a number of academic topics, then it is a matter of WP:Due weight. We should not go out of our way to accommodate the minority viewpoint. There are places for the minority viewpoint, and that place is usually second...if the viewpoint is included at all. If it's a minority viewpoint that is only a minority by a few numbers (meaning it's almost on par with the majority viewpoint), then that's a different matter. Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 20:52, 10 July 2016 (UTC)
  • Responding to RfC - "Three or more" seems to be extremely well supported, while there seems to be relatively little support for "two or more." It seems that by WP:Due weight that's really what you'd have to go with, and the existing definition seems more than fair in subsequently mentioning the minority viewpoints. Adding a "typically" might be justified, but that's implied by mentioning the alternative definitions. --tronvillain (talk) 13:41, 14 July 2016 (UTC)
  • Several, or something even less specific. Why try to choose a specific number? (Or a specific time, which is used right after this in the lede.) Is a professional hit-man a serial killer? A long-term gangster? A cop convicted of repeated killings motivated by hatred? Were Nazi camp guards serial killers? It's not that clear to most people, or most sources. The fact that some (not most) sources try to make it precise is of no help our readers. The common definition (which is social-emotional and therefore imprecise) is someone with a psychological need to kill that's never satisfied for long. By that definition, a person with that need is a serial killer when they start their first murder; they aren't suddenly transformed into one when they finish the second or third or whatever. --A D Monroe III (talk) 23:43, 19 July 2016 (UTC)
A D Monroe III, I argued against "several" above (see my initial post in the RfC section). As for choosing, we are not. We are going by what the authorities usually state on this matter since that's how WP:Due weight works. The authorities usually state "three or more." As for why, one of the sources I listed above relays, "Three killings seem to be required in the most popular operational definition of serial killing since they are enough to provide a pattern within the killings without being overly restrictive." It's about the pattern. Experts can't be sure that a person is a serial killer by just one murder. Killing a person with the desire to kill others for gratification is not how the term is defined. Many criminals have killed a person and expressed the desire to kill others; that doesn't mean we should label them serial killers. The term is defined by the number, and other things, just like mass murder is. We don't neglect the other numbers; we simply put the most common number first. Stating "with the murders taking place over more than a month and including a significant break (a 'cooling off period') between them" is also a commonly cited aspect of what defines a serial killer. Not all serial killers have acted the same, and, as noted in the Spree killer article, the "cooling off period" aspect is debated. But it is commonly cited nevertheless. And when experts discuss the topic of serial killers, there is no indication that "three or more" is "social-emotional and therefore imprecise." And adding "typically" or "usually" has been suggested as compromise wording for the first sentence. Years ago on this talk page, I noted the mob boss aspect and similar. These people are not serial killers because serial killing is about abnormal psychological gratification, with other facets as well. A cop who has killed three or more people is not automatically a serial killer. We shouldn't be vague when it comes to defining a serial killer; we shouldn't have readers going away from this article thinking that simply killing two or more or three or more people makes a person a serial killer. There are other facets, which is why the lead is currently the way that it is. Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 04:24, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
I basically agree with all the above. Since the RfC is giving the choices "several", "at least two", or leaving it as "three or more", I !voted for the least specific -- "several" -- with the addition "or something even less specific" because I didn't like any of the choices. I stated my reasons, which were then all repeated and expanded by the comment above. The only additional issue I have with "three or more" is that it states in WP voice that 3+ is the only definition, when it's not. AFAIK most sources don't give a number.
WP can say "the Earth is round" because virtually all sources state it's round(ish). But WP cannot state "intelligent beings from other planets have two or more eyes" because only a few sources state any number for their eyes, even though the ones that do make an acceptable case for 2+. When counting sources for the number of murders for serial killer, we must include all the dictionaries and such that do not give a precise number. If virtually all of them together say 3+, then WP must state 3+. But if not, WP must not state 3+. If only most of them say 3+, then WP could say "most say 3+" or some such. If a minority say 3+ with the majority giving no precise number, then we must back away from giving any number (or expand the present multiple-sentence explanation of the numerical controversy per WP:DUE, which isn't lede-worthy because our readers won't be interested in the resulting overt display of WP's editors' quibbling). We're currently putting the number first, but (from the above comment) we should put the "abnormal psychological gratification" with a pattern of murder first, as that is key to the popular definition, and only after that, probably in a second sentence, state numbers that can establish that pattern. People care about the crazed mind of the serial killer -- not math.
In summary, our first sentence should establish the primary distinction of serial killer (from spree killer, mob boss and the like) -- the psych need to repeatedly murder -- and only then maybe get into numbers and time as a secondary refinement of the definition of a pattern for the murders, per all the sources. --A D Monroe III (talk) 14:14, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
A D Monroe III (last time WP:Pinging you to this discussion because I assume you will check back here if you want to read replies), I guess we agree to disagree then. Not on everything, but I can't find a way to agree with your view on how we should relay this information in the lead. You stated, "The only additional issue I have with 'three or more' is that it states in WP voice that 3+ is the only definition, when it's not." But the lead does not state that "three or more is the only definition"; it gives "three or more" as the primary definition and then goes into the other definitions. As I noted above, this is a common way to format leads, and that first sentence can be altered with "typically" or "usually," or similar. And given the debate among some experts about whether to state "two or more" or "three or more," I support using such a qualifier. You stated, "AFAIK most sources don't give a number." But when I Google "Serial killer definition," I see a number given in various sources, and that number is usually "two" or "three." But when one looks at the academic sources, which are the sources we should usually be looking to on this topic, they commonly note what the sources I listed above note: Experts generally agree that at least three killings are needed to determine if a person is a serial killer. The sources I listed show that this remains true as of 2012. Four years have passed since 2012, and I would like to see what more recent sources state on the matter, but I don't think that the academic consensus has changed that drastically since 2012. For example, this 2015 Female Serial Killers in Social Context: Criminological Institutionalism source, from Policy Press, page 6, states, "The definition of a serial killer that the authors apply in this book is that which they have applied elsewhere – someone who has killed three or more victims in a period of greater than 30 days (Wilson and Yardley, 2013; Wilson et al, 2015)." As for the aforementioned Google search, if we look at some of the sources, although TheFreeDictionary begins by stating, "a person who carries out a series of murders," it also states, "someone who murders more than three victims one at a time in a relatively short interval." Its medical version states, "A person who murders 3+ people over a period of > 30 days, with an inactive period between each murder, and whose motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification." And given that the topic is a psychology and mental health topic, I'm not surprised that it has a medical definition on that site. Some of the content in this article should be WP:MEDRS-compliant when it comes to sourcing.
You stated, "When counting sources for the number of murders for serial killer, we must include all the dictionaries and such that do not give a precise number." But that's not how sourcing issues usually work for topics like this. Academic sources are preferred. WP:Due weight is not about "virtually all sources" or assessing all sources. Dictionaries are often imprecise and/or outdated when it comes to a number of topics, especially medical or psychology topics. Plus, they are not comprehensive. All of that is why we don't rely on them at the Psychopathy article, for example. We mention the spree killer distinction in the lead, but distinguishing a serial killer from a spree killer, mob boss and the like is not something for the first paragraph, and it is better to go into that detail lower in the article. The lower part of the article should also address the definitional issues that exist among experts, especially since the lead (per WP:Lead) should summarize the article, not include content that isn't covered lower. I can't agree with a vague definition like "a person who carries out a series of murders." That definition is accurate on a basic level, but not on a comprehensive level since many people have carried out a series of murders without being an actual serial killer. And encyclopedias should be comprehensive, even in their leads at times. Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 06:22, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Why would anyone think serial killing is so much about numbers? Can't we see what it's done to the article already? What if our article on Car used the same obsession?
A car is a vehicle that has three or more wheels,[1] usually in service of carrying things, involving a significant distance.[1][2] Different authorities apply different criteria when designating a car;[3] while most set a threshold of three wheels,[1] others extend it to four or lessen it to two.[3] The Federal Bureau of Transportation, for example, defines car as having "two or more wheels, on separate axles, usually, but not always, with a single engine".[2][4]
This is almost the same as our opening paragraph here! People reading this would think "huh? What's with counting wheels? This tells me nothing!" We're making WP look poor, and that reflects badly on us, the editors, fixated on something so minor, crushing all the main defining attributes of the subject to something badly worded and almost forgotten. We dedicate 70% of the first paragraph to pointlessly debate "3 or 2 or 4 or more". If we left out the numbers entirely, it would greatly improve the paragraph. People see serial killers are crazed guys with a need for repeated murdering. Please, let's spend our efforts on how to state this kind of numberless definition well with good sources using at least 70% of the first paragraph, and then debate numbers somewhere afterwards, maybe not even in the lede at all. --A D Monroe III (talk) 21:57, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
The second sentence of car says (emphasis mine) "Most definitions of the term specify that cars are designed to run primarily on roads, to have seating for one to eight people, to typically have four wheels with tyres, and to be constructed principally for the transport of people rather than goods." It might be an argument for moving the second and third sentences of the lede to somewhere else, but it's not obvious that it's a good argument for removing "three or more" from the first sentence. Serial killers aren't just "guys with a need for repeated murdering" - they need to have actually done the repeated murdering, which by most definitions is three or more times. --tronvillain (talk) 22:40, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
So, we should follow Car? The second sentence in Car has a couple words on number of wheels. I'd be absolutely fine if the second sentence of Serial killer was the first time we mention number of murders, and only used a couple of words to do it. But, since the number of murders for serial killer is disputed and variable, it's even less important to the definition than the number of wheels for a car, so should probably have an even later mention. I'm fine with mentioning the number, after the more important points are well-covered, which would probably take at least one full sentence -- probably two or more. That's just the opposite of what we have now: the whole first paragraph devoted almost exclusively on the number of murders -- the least important part of the definition. Can we please stop trying to find ways to make this even worse? --A D Monroe III (talk) 23:30, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
So, you'd just have "several" or something in the first sentence and leave the specific number to the second sentence? I'm not convinced that flows especially well, or is more informative. And the number of murders does not appear to be "disputed and variable" - it's almost entirely three, with occasional two or four. --tronvillain (talk) 23:39, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
This RfC exists because it's disputed and variable. Just try "series of" or "several" emphasizing motivations and patterns (based on sources). The 100 words on "mostly 3+" can come later. Really, it couldn't be worse than our current embarrassment. --A D Monroe III (talk) 23:54, 25 July 2016 (UTC)
I objected to "several" because it's not precise, given the common definition of "several." And I objected to "series" as vague. The sources I provided above are clear that the number aspect is nowhere close to being the least important part of the definition. What I stated above is all I have left to state on this matter. My compromise, which others also agreed to, is adding "typically" or a similar qualifier in front of "is." Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 20:27, 28 July 2016 (UTC)
I object to "3 or more" because it's precise and not vague enough; watering it down with "mostly", "usually", "often", "typically" is belaboring a point that doesn't matter in the first place -- literally a pointless distraction. People in general aren't going to think someone wasn't a serial killer just because he was interrupted in the midst of his third murder, or took a plea bargain of manslaughter on his first murder, or some similar technicality. Some agencies apply some precision they invented on their own to satisfy their own issues, but that doesn't change the more common use. The term "serial killer" comes from a series of killings; it's not "tri-killer". Think of this: on reading our first sentence, are we really worried readers will be surprised because we didn't give an exact number? Or is it more likely they'd be surprised that we spend so much effort on a number that isn't exact anyway? Yes, go ahead and include the full number discourse -- after the first sentence. Then we can be skip this whole time-consuming discussion on if might be possible to squeeze all the various conflicting sources into the tiniest phrase (required because of its lack of importance), and get on to productively improving WP. --A D Monroe III (talk) 13:33, 29 July 2016 (UTC)