Wikipedia:Sourcing content about newer phenomena
|This page is an essay, containing the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
A subculture is a set of people with a distinct set of behavior and beliefs that differentiate them from a larger culture as a whole of which they are a part of. Outlaw motorcycle clubs, nudism, and veganism are classic examples. Others examples are in list of subcultures.
Some subcultures have been around for a long time and there is significant published material from which to describe these long-term subcultures on Wikipedia. However, subcultures continue to be created, and some are so new that there arguably is not enough published material from which to describe these newer subcultures on Wikipedia.
The issue of how to cite material that pertains to newer subcultures (especially those newer than about 1990) seems to be one of the more contentions issues plaguing Wikipedia. Certain parties strongly hold three major opinions: one that such material should be formally cited from scholarly works more than any other material, another that such material should be cited but may be supported by self-published and non-scholarly works as well, and a third that the mere addition of such material by numerous individual entities warrants to its veracity and thus ought to stand by itself. Of course, it is clear that for anything to get done on these articles (such as Vampire Lifestyle, Therianthropy and Otherkin) which have been stymied by reversions and unsubstantiated additions alike for several years. The former and lattermost opinions in the prior paragraph are naturally the two most extreme, and thus the farthest from some possible middle ground in this case, and neither has shown to be particularly constructive thus far.
Numerous academic citations
For instance, the first opinion, that all material on newer subcultures ought to have scholarly works cited to support even minutiae, is demonstrably overly restrictive and has resulted in the deletion of most of the information pertaining to the particulars (though interestingly not the suspected origins) of each subculture outlined in each article. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, there are numerous details which have not been academically observed or documented, and yet are obvious and mundane to even the least prominent member of the group on whom the article is written. The second reason is simply that finding evidence from scholarly works can be an exceedingly arduous process even when the details are relatively well-established, let alone when there is little or no material on them. Therefore, it is not likely in any respect that there will be enough such material in the near future to allow an article to be written which does anything other than state the existence, possibly the definition, and some academic conjecture relating to similar topics.
Such an article lacks any kind of useful information whatsoever to a person wanting to read about the subculture. A very prominent example of this is the content of the article Therianthropy as of February 27, 2007. This version article deals mainly with the etymology of the term therianthropy and the first newsgroup to start using it in the context the article was originally based on. Added to this are some various errata regarding Egyptian deities. However, even though the article is a shell-like stub by even the most menial standards, it contains no less than nine citations. Any attempt by anyone to add new content has been reverted almost immediately by various users from the camp holding that first opinion: that such articles are to be held to a prohibitively high standard of citation for the veracity of their material to be even considered, let alone kept. This approach has and will continue to invariably produce articles containing content which provides cursory information at best, and irrelevant or even no information at worst. Furthermore, it reflects an extremely legalist interpretation of Wikipedia policy.
No citations or implicit veracity
However, it is arguably equally as unworkable to take the equal and opposite approach: that all material provided can be assumed to be correct and non-contentious. Such an approach, while not creating inadequate articles in terms of informational quantity, certainly creates articles which are inadequate in terms of factual accuracy. The article would be the subject of additions which might be any combination of first- or second-hand fabrications, original and individual research, pure opinion, fantasy, conjecture, and disputed facts and data. Thus, an equally contentious and formidable revision war would ensue with the result of the content of the article being radically altered to reflect a different reality on an hourly basis, and most likely culminate in the protection of the page at stake – as Wikipedians have seen on numerous occasions in all three aforementioned examples.
These kinds of reversion wars and incorrect data can significantly harm the reputation of Wikipedia as a reliable source of information, and certainly not only lower the level of discourse but also actively prevent any kind of decent article from being thus developed with the same righteous vigor as executors of the prior paradigm. Therefore, it is just as critical that Wikipedia not allow submissions of questionable or no veracity as it is that Wikipedia accept constructive additions of unorthodox but correct information to these articles.
Moderate citation and consensual veracity
It is therefore the best path forward, in all likelihood, to adopt a new method of coming to a consensus on this data in such a way that the closest analogue to experts on these essentially non-academic topics can be allowed to collectively determine the veracity of any particular datum or stipulation made in the article. Such a process might take place as a discussion on the correctness of some particular fact on the article's talkpage before it is added or removed.
This process will work because there is a considerable amount of material devoted to these topics, but a great deal of it is unfortunately either self-published, greatly opinionated, or without adequate editorial oversight, because it is written either in an extremely informal manner or to explain the viewpoint and opinions of a particular person or entity. However, there are a vast number of universal or near-universal claims and observations, even if on the most basic levels, regarding the basis and nature of a modern subculture. Because of this, it is self-evident from a consensus on the topic that there are people who believe a certain thing, act a certain way, or hold a certain opinion.
Naturally, this process cannot verify that the beliefs held are true, the actions sensible, or the opinions supported. This, however, is entirely irrelevant; no article on a subculture should state a fact after the fashion "vampires can survive only on blood, and food makes them ill" any more than an article on Christianity could encyclopedically stipulate that "on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead in flesh and in spirit" even if the majority of the world's population were to believe as much. It is far more useful for an article to state that "numerous articles regarding vampirism written by the vampyric community stipulate that moonlight causes vampires pain," possibly with a citation to an article (a primary source) stating this, just as it is correct to state "The majority of Christians believe in the concept of the Holy Trinity."
Citations also have a role to play here, in that they inherently verify that someone is indeed saying what the article states is being said. Of course, in this case, they ought to be used in conjunction with consensus, however they should not be entirely barred from use by virtue of the fact that they directly verify the statement to which they are a citation, in much the same way that data verify that an experiment was performed with particular results (though consensus would obviously be beneficial here as well).
Taking this approach to the authorship of articles in relation to relatively recent subcultures would be highly beneficial in that it would allow the articles to develop beyond dictionary definitions and etymology while preventing them from developing into repositories of nonsense or a close relative thereto. The added benefit is that it would prevent bitter disputes from occurring with the same alarming regularity as seen in 2004 through 2007. The extreme standpoints on both the anti-citation side and the pro-citation side can thus be reconciled into a community-based synergy, resulting in articles with more depth of information which is verile.