Wikipedia:Repetition in Argumentation

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Collect's law of repetition
The person who posts the greatest amount of repeated verbiage to a discussion is least likely to be correct.

Proof by assertion is the practice of repeating an argument or proposition until challenges to it "dry up", thus creating a logical fallacy, and often a filibuster or stonewall effect. This is also called "perseveration" – persevering in repeating the same premise.

Other terms for it are "proof by repetition", and "Bellman's proof", after Lewis Carroll's usage. In each case, the act of repetition has nothing to do with the real strength of an argument.

Such repetition in argumentation should be avoided on Wikipedia's talk pages.

Occasionally, one finds editors who dominate a talk or process page in this manner. When one person in a well-discussed topic has provided a quarter or more of the posts (often comprising half the total verbiage), this may indicate a problem with perseveration. It is frequently a symptom of tendentiousness.

The problem is akin to the "too long; didn't read" (TLDR) issue. While that is not the same as proof by repetition, it has the same basic outcome – wearing down other editors. A prolix editor may feel their points are not addressed, but it may be only because other editors do not wish to deal with the repetition. Editors are not obligated to answer every argument, and are likely to ignore rehash.

A related fallacious technique is called ad nauseam – arguing incessantly (whether with redundant statements or new but irrelevant digressions to fuel the conflict) until everyone else walks away in disgust. This often implicates the policies that Wikipedia is not a battleground nor a soapbox; see also the "drop the stick" principle.

An especially annoying variant is the Gish gallop, in which someone tries to "win" an argument by posting point after point so that no one can keep up. This is especially disruptive on Wikipedia; repeated edit conflicts make it difficult to post responses people actually bothered to write, and even one massive post making 20 points when 5 would do hinders resolution.

In each case, the advice remains: "proof by repetition" is invalid, and repeating the same arguments does not help to achieve a consensus.

When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Caveats[edit]

The assertiveness technique known as the "broken record" can sometimes be useful, though assertions lose power each time they are repeated. Some editors may use this tactic effectively, but should avoid relying on it habitually or to excess, which may be taken as dismissiveness.

Someone using more words than you would have isn't an excuse to declare "too long; didn't read" when you really just can't muster a solid response. If you really don't have time to read and reply to something, then you don't have time to post snarky "TLDR" comments, either. They add nothing constructive.

On the other side: if there's legitimately a lot of material to cover, remember that paragraph breaks exist for a reason, and so do separate threads with their own headings. No one wants to read a monolithic, 500-word block of text. And a list of a dozen issues that aren't closely related won't produce a useful discussion.

An immature and transparent debate technique is to pick a trivial quibble out of a substantive post, and reply with an objection about that irrelevancy while evading everything of substance. The original poster may well be justified in repeating a question or asking you to address the real issue if you are obviously dodging.

In short, if you cannot handle a discussion with reason, respect for other editors, and a mind for resolution, then exit quietly or don't get into it in the first place. Wikipedia is not a chat forum of debate for its own sake.

See also[edit]