User:Basalisk/Don't document opinion as fact

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When editing with a clear agenda in mind, it is easy to write a non-neutral statement which makes a bold claim, and is properly sourced. Does this mean it is appropriate? Not always. In-prose claims which make profound statements about the character of the subject should be sourced to several high-quality, non-transient sources, not just one statement made by one person one time.


Imagine there is an article about John Smith, who is a footballer and plays for a major European football club called Everyman United. Imagine that Example, who is an ardent supporter of Everyman United and a particular fan of Smith, begins editing the article. He edits one of the sentences in the lead, adding the text "Smith... has been described as one of the best footballers in Europe". Example also includes a reference to a reliable, impartial news site.

Sounds kosher, right? Not necessarily. Closer inspection reveals that the source used is actually an editorial piece written by a TV pundit. Worse still, the editorial doesn't describe Smith as one of the best footballers in Europe, it simply contains a quote describing him as such. The quote is from John Doe, the current coach of Everyman United, and a former star player for the club.

The original claim is a very bold one, and it is referenced to a source which is clearly biased and unreliable; it definitely shouldn't be stated as fact. And yet, to the passing reader, it appears that Smith is generally thought of as one of the best players in Europe.

How to deal with the problem[edit]

The issue with this situation is that it provides a mechanism for POV-pushers to disguise POV opinions as established facts. "Statement needs a source? Bare minimum: check. Now I can write what I like!".

As a general rule, the greater the significance of the statement being made, the greater the quality and number of sources needed to support it.

When encountering situations such as the one illustrated in the example above, there are three possible fixes:

  1. Find additional, reliable sources to support the claim.
  2. If this is impossible, explicitly and unambiguously state the source of the statement in-text. So, replace "Smith has been described as one of the best footballers in Europe" with "John Doe, former player for Everyman United, described Smith as one of the greatest players in Europe, during his time as manager of the club."
  3. If whilst researching more reliable sources it becomes clear that the claim is probably inaccurate, remove it as giving undue weight to one source.

Why this is important[edit]

Remember, we are trying to build an encyclopaedia. That means a repository of well-established facts, written in a neutral tone. As a result of our writing, the reader must be able to form their own opinion of the subject, uncorrupted by the tone of the article. There are many editors who are not really here to build an encyclopaedia at all, but instead to write fan magazines, campaign pieces and advertisements. Such editors will try to use the tactics outlined above to hijack articles and turn them into such things, whilst staying within the letter of wikipedia policies and guidelines. Be on a constant lookout for this.