User:Andrewa/What verifiability is not

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A work in progress

Verifiability is one of the fundamental policies of Wikipedia, and probably the most abused.

In particular, it is not permission to remove accurate information and replace it with misleading or false statements which you wish to promote and for which you've found a printed source to which few have access, even if that source does support the claim.

You wouldn't think that needed saying, would you? Oh yes you would! Just a moment's thought will reveal the danger of a legalistic approach to verifiability. It's a jungle out here, with many, many online groups and individuals eager and willing to use Wikipedia's growing authority for their own particular hobbyhorses.

But all is not lost. The cadre of Wikipedians of the highest motives and calibre is also growing, despite the occasional setback. (And this essay came from the hope of removing one of the key obstacles to new users, see below.)

For new and old users alike[edit]

The heart of the verifiability policy is cite your sources. Simply say where you got the information. If it's out of your head, then simply don't give a reference, and if you don't give a reference then that should be simply because you don't have one.

And if someone else removes the information, all is not lost. Your work is still there, in the article history. If you do have a reference, then cite it in the BRD process. But far better to have cited it in the first place.

Now perhaps you don't need to cite that the sky is blue (and I did say perhaps), but it never hurts to do so, and it sometimes saves everybody's time and blood pressure. Someone may come along who is perhaps over-zealous (and I did say perhaps) or even downright POV (and we have all kinds of those, from hobby-horser to lunatic fringe to career rent-a-crowd activist). If you've cited a source, they'll all generally go look for easier prey. So just do it, and problem solved before it even happened. Easy.

For old hands[edit]

Be merciful. There are few things quite as destructive to the project as for a new user to add accurate information that we lack and which they are competent to add, only to have it summarily removed for lack of sources. They may be a professor and head of department and author of the standard text on the subject, or they may be a schoolgirl with a passion for the subject who just knows her stuff. Probably they are somewhere in between. In any case, it ain't good to throw their efforts away.

No. If they add accurate information, they are people we want to encourage, and their contributions are stuff we want to keep and build on (with references, for example). Again, you wouldn't think I needed to say that. But my own experience of Wikipedia started on a bad note in just this way. Now I'm so tough I eat quiche in fronta truckies, but not everyone will stay after such experiences. To say the least.

But how do you know if the information is accurate? Aye, there's the rub. It seems difficult, even impossible? What utter rubbish. It's not difficult at all. Another of the fundamental policies is of course assume good faith. Perhaps, rather than a knee-jerk revert, you might take the time to ask them where they got the information? Their reply will normally tell you a lot, and the question will normally encourage them, and always be a step in the right direction... even if that direction is eventually to gently tell the world authority on the subject that yes, they need to cite their sources too!

Ah, but that's work. Um, yes, that's right, it is. And if you don't feel up to some work, maybe it would be better if you left the project, rather than continued to discourage other, more valuable contributors, who are willing to do the work, as their contribution shows.

Is this too harsh? Well, many, many times I have seen a newbie's work reverted with far, far fewer keystrokes than their contribution represented. So here's a suggestion: If you are not willing to put in at least as many keystrokes (not characters, newbies don't use AWB or twinkle, keystrokes) in reverting and discussing as the contributor invested in their contribution, then leave it to someone who is, and go somewhere else. To be quite blunt.

It's a simple question. Are you adding as much value to the project by reverting as they are by contributing? Difficult. Can we quantify? Easy. Conclusion? The newbie is better value. They may learn. You never will. Goodbye.