User:Nikodemos/Asymmetric controversy

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Asymmetric controversy[edit]

I believe that one of the major sources of POV in wikipedia articles is what I call asymmetric controversy.

An asymmetric controversy is a controversy between two sides, one of which is particularly interested in the issue and fanatical in defending its POV, while the other doesn't care about the issue a whole lot. Articles on such issues will inevitably be biased in favor of the fanatical side, because they put most effort into writing about it.

Thus, an asymmetric controversy can be described as any controversial idea that is popular enough to attract a band of loyal supporters to defend it on wikipedia, but not popular enough to attract critics. Ironically, this means that any idea widely considered too insane to be criticized will have a favorable article written about it, since its advocates are fanatical about the issue while its opponents consider it too crazy to bother with. Keep in mind that what makes these controversies asymmetric is not the number of people on each side, but the intensity with which they defend their views. One single-minded user with a lot of time on his hands can hold off many disinterested users at once.

It is not just in asymmetric cases that the fanatics' position(s) dominate. If you take something like the Macedonian issue, only extremists (on both sides) will tolerate the environment enough to continue discussing and editing them, and there tends to be polarization. It is very difficult to go into the middle of a situation like that and be an honest broker.


  • Creating a wikiproject to go out there and identify possible asymmetric controversies in order to redress the balance.
  • POV-specific WikiProjects must be avoided at all costs (for example, have a general "Ideologies WikiProject" rather than, say, a "Libertarianism WikiProject").


  • There is a community at Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Mathematics (and, less organized, at Physics) which will react to the question of "Does this make sense, or is it extremism?" and join in to contain the latter. It helps that in mathematics there is a large consensus on what is extremism; but we have been spared the intuitionism debate - so far.
Is there a Wikipedia:WikiProject Politics? Yes.
Is there a Wikipedia:WikiProject Political Science? Not yet.
These might become nuclei of the non-fanatical majority.

Unbalanced citations[edit]

A related problem is unbalanced citations - creating a well-sourced article that only cites sources from one side of the controversy, under the excuse that "it's not my responsibility to write for the enemy". This is technically not against NPOV, though we believe it should be.

The problem with unbalanced citations is that it is a false appeal to authority. By spamming a statement or multiple statements with dozens of sources which agree with it, it is made out to be popular or mainstream or in serious cases, even the truth. The fact is that even minority viewpoints have many people who agree with it - if there aren't, nobody would ever have heard of it in the first place.

At the very least, we should have a specific warning tag that should be placed on pages with unbalanced citations as long as the imbalance remains. Something like "This article overwhelmingly presents the views of one side in a controversy. Please be aware that opposing arguments may be under-represented or ommited.".


  • The criterion for using the tag should be the ratio between the number of citations for one side and the number of citations for the other. If it's above, say, 3/4, then we use the tag.
  • NPOV policy must be changed so that it is the duty of every editor to cite a selection of balanced sources. Citing only sources which show one view is a blatant breach of NPOV.



  • Critera for using the tag may not be a good idea. Majority viewpoints should be cited more than minority viewpoints, I think. -- infinity0 21:03, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
  • This is WP:NPOV#Undue weight; so we have to give more space to the majority. We should anyway; more on Talk. This is part of the problem - the assymetric controversialists will claim that they are the majority, or would be if not for the hatred their Truth has inspired. Septentrionalis 05:23, 28 March 2006 (UTC)
  • Here's a solution: On issues where there are only two sides (e.g. the Democratic Peace Theory - it's either true or it isn't), both sides should get roughly equal space and equal citations. When there are more than two sides, then we should allocate space according to which views are most widely held. -- Nikodemos 06:29, 3 April 2006 (UTC)
    • Perhaps, but what about issues which the vast majority agree or disagree with? -- infinity0 16:46, 3 April 2006 (UTC)
    • The equal-space/equal citations rule is not always appropriate. For example, in price gouging I ultimately conceded more space to the pro-gougers because the argument for price-gouging laws is straightforward and compact, while the argument against is not. There is also the matter that relatively little has been written about the theoretic justification for such laws, because the need is so obvious. To take your example, DPT has more than two sides: there are differences about what constitutes democracy, what constitutes peace and what (if anything) is needed in addition to democracy itself. There are researchers who are adamant that no war has occurred between democracies, and those who admit exceptions. Much of the sturm und drang has been the difference between, "No two democracies have ever fought, where democracy consists of qualities D, E, F and G," and "No two democracies (D) have ever fought unless at least one of them was not E, F or G." Absent asymmetry, this picayune difference would not last long. Robert A.West (Talk) 20:29, 4 April 2006 (UTC)
  • I think the solution in this matter lies in the fact that we haven't yet defined "controversy." defines it as "a prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention; disputation concerning a matter of opinion" and "A dispute, especially a public one, between sides holding opposing views." So, in order to present something as controversial, you need to be able to show that there is not only a person presenting a certain view, but also that there is a notable dispute. For instance, the Intelligent Design controversy is notable, not simply because people believe in intelligent design, but because there have been notable court cases regarding whether or not it could be taught in schools. In that court case, both sides were heard out, and so their arguments can be presented. On the other hand, if all you have is one person presenting a viewpoint that no one credible bothers to acknoweledge or refute, then there is no controversy, and so the information should not be presented as such. Hence, the emphasis should not be on "these individuals have controversial views," but rather, "here are some situations where the following views have generated controversy." In one case you focus on an adjective, in the other case you focus on a noun. Any controversy should have some sort of tangible outcome other than just "spread the word." For instance, in the price gouging example, you might focus on notable cases where individuals have challenged the law, as well as the resulting verdicts. If one side has the law or status quo on their side and the other side does not, then it doesn't support undue weight to treat both sides are equal. -Schrodinger82 01:51, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

Competitive POV editing[edit]

Some editors think that wikipedia is a competition, and hence, they compete with editors with different views from them. They believe that it is their responsibility, even duty, to push one POV, leaving other editors to "push" the opposite POVs. They believe that this leads to an NPOV article (assuming that they are not trying to make the article POV).

Extending their own assumption, they think that the point of the competition is to push your own POV. The opposing POVs compete with each other, and mix with each other to form an NPOV article. However, when the other editor is not willing to compete so fiercely, this leads to the situation of Asymmetric controversy, and the article becomes POV.

They forget that

  • Competitions always have a winner; and that the final result is a POV article.
  • wikipedia is about creating an NPOV encyclopedia, not about creating it by accident through an unstable system of competition.

They assume that

  • Competition on wikipedia is a good thing.
  • That other editors are interested in competitive editing.

This attitude is not only destructive, but the "logic" supporting it is fundamentally flawed. They think competing against each other brings progress. But progress towards what? Competition progresses towards the goals of its winner. And since the goals of the competitors are to push their own POV, the progress is actually not towards NPOV, but towards the winner's POV. In other words, competition can only breed (real, meaningful, constructive, unselfish) progress when competitors work towards the same goal. And if it so happens that the person which is trying to be NPOV "wins", then what a lot of wasted time and energy!

The said editors' conclusion that progress results from opposive competition where the editors actively work against each other rather than towards a single goal is therefore completely and utterly wrong. Logically, the actual conclusion is that a beneficial competition results where editors on different encyclopedias would "compete" with each other to create their own NPOV articles.

The sort of beneficial competition as described above does not and cannot exist on wikipedia.

The two main incentives for competition are pushing your own POV and NPOVing the article. The latter is only really competition when coupled with the former, since multiple people trying to NPOV the article is co-operation. Doubtless to say, the former incentive is most often the stronger one, since it is personal and closer to heart. When coupled with a belief that pushing your own POV actually does good, the results are disastrous.

So, the only type of competition possible on wikipedia is antagonistic, or destructive, competition, where the editors work towards different goals. Competition within wikipedia is bad for wikipedia.

By its very nature, Wikipedia is a collaborative effort towards one goal. It cannot be a competitive effort towards one goal, as all authors share everything, including tools, and there are no rewards (nor should there be) for writing a good and NPOV article.


  • NPOV policy must be tightened further so that it is the responsibility of every individual editor to be NPOV; not the collective responsibility of the group of all editors on a single article.


I disagree with this. Competition is enormously good for Wikipedia. The more competitive someone is to get his "POV" across, the more he is forced to provide credible sources to corroborate his POV when he is challenged by someone competing to discredit his POV (and vice versa) --if he can't do it, his POV stays out. The eventual result is a well-sourced article. If information in an article is not challenged then the reliability of the article suffers. Moreover, Wikipedia can't be edited without competing --it's an intrinsic part of the process; if you're requesting a source for something somebody puts in an article, that's a form of competition --if he is able to come up with one, the information stays in, and he wins --if he can't come up with a source then the information is taken out and you win. RJII 05:35, 28 March 2006 (UTC)

(Further comments moved to User_talk:Nikodemos/Asymmetric_controversy#RJII_on_competitive_editing; direct any replies there).
Well-sourced does not mean NPOV - see #Unbalanced citations. Your points (regarding incentive and prizes and lack of individual responsibility and its effects) have already been answered in the above paragraph I wrote. -- infinity0 15:42, 28 March 2006 (UTC)

As far as your "proposal" is concerned, how on Earth can you enforce such a thing? If somebody puts sourced information in an article that backs up a certain POV, then he has to search for something that contradicts it and put that in the article as well? It would be ludicrous to ask that of an editor. Moreover, maybe he can't find something that contradicts it --is he going to be penalized for this? RJII 05:50, 28 March 2006 (UTC)

Just like how current NPOV is enforced. Yes, if someone puts an opinion into the article, then opposing viewpoints should be cited and explained according with weight appropriate to its importance. -- infinity0 15:42, 28 March 2006 (UTC)
LOL! RJII 17:23, 28 March 2006 (UTC)

Enforcement would be simple: If somebody puts sourced information in an article that backs up a certain POV, and fails to balance it with info from other POVs, then we put a tag on the article warning readers that it is biased and encouraging them to help balance it.

Oh, and in my experience, editors who say they can't find sources contradicting their POV are lying through their teeth. -- Nikodemos 06:20, 3 April 2006 (UTC)

An additional point on the effects: if one person POV-pushes and another with their own, oppostite POV pushes for an NPOV, the result is often that the NPOV wordings are interpreted (by those who assume competition is taking place) as the opposite POV and a compromise is sought between POV and NPOV - which is undesirable. --Nema Fakei 12:38, 18 April 2006 (UTC)

Indifference between the fire brigade and the fire is not new. Robert A.West (Talk) 07:30, 20 April 2006 (UTC)
NPOV doesn't mean that the article can not have any POV. Hence the more popular or dominant POV are to be covered extensively while achieving the NPOV through a spereate section of the article where the other POV is presented. This is the solution that is proposed by Wikipedia policy and it is a solution from my experience that people accepts. Competition is hence good for the article to take shape and be presented in POV. I know that there are some really intense articles in wikipedia but there is always tension where there are people with different views even if some views are ignorrantly expressed with a loud voice. Like there is always crime where humans are due to the human nature. But to try to stop this ends up in a far worse result than what one got to begin with. Lord Metroid 23:58, 27 March 2007 (UTC)