Wikipedia:No original research (draft rewrite 5th December 2004 to 5th February 2005)

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Wikipedia is not the place for original research.

The phrase "original research" in this context refers to untested theories; data, statements, concepts and ideas that have not been published in a reputable publication; or any new interpretation, analysis, or synthesis of published data, statements, concepts or ideas that, in the words of Wikipedia's founder Jimbo Wales, would amount to a "novel narrative or historical interpretation".

Original research is research that produces primary sources or secondary sources. Primary sources present information or data, such as archeological artifacts; photographs; historical documents such as a diary, census, transcript of a public hearing, trial, or interview; tabulated results of surveys or questionnaires, records of laboratory assays or observations; records of field observations. Secondary sources present a generalization, analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of information or data.

In some cases, where Wikipedia articles make no analytic, synthetic, interpretive, or evaluative claims, Wikipedia articles may be based entirely on primary sources (examples would include apple pie or current events).

In most cases, however, Wikipedia articles are based on both primary and secondary sources. In order to avoid doing original research, and in order to help improve the quality of Wikipedia articles, it is essential that any primary source material used in an article has been published or otherwise made available to people who do not rely on Wikipedia. Moreover, it is essential that any generalization, analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of information or data come from a secondary source that is available to readers (e.g. in a library or non-Wikipedia web-page). It is very important toWikipedia:Cite sources, so that readers can verify any of the claims made in the article.

In some cases, there may be controversy or debate over what constitutes a legitimate or reputable authority or source. In such cases, articles should provide an account of the controversy and of the different authorities or sources. Such an account also helps ensure the article’s neutral point of view.

Overview

Statements of fact or ideas referred to in Wikipedia articles should already have appeared in a reputable or credible publication, which is used by the editor as a reference. If your edit is challenged, you must provide a reference or your edit will be deleted.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. It is not journalism. Wikipedia articles are not news reports, personal journals or weblogs. Wikipedia is not here to provide writers with a platform for their ideas. A Wikipedia article generalizes and explains existing published research on a specific subject. Wikipedia does not publish unattributed, original statements or theories.

The fact that we exclude something does not necessarily mean that material is bad — Wikipedia is simply not the proper venue for it. We would have to turn away even Pulitzer-level journalism and Nobel-level science if its authors tried to publish it first on Wikipedia.

If you have a great idea that you think should become part of the corpus of knowledge that is Wikipedia, the best approach is to have your results published in a peer-reviewed journal or reputable news outlet, and then document your work in an appropriately non-partisan manner.

Cite sources

Since Wikipedia strives to be a source that merely summarizes well-established, published materials, it is especially important to cite sources that the reader can consult to verify an article and to find more information. Even if you are writing from your own knowledge, you should actively search for authoritative references to cite. See Wikipedia:Cite sources for more details and rationales, as well as an example of citation style (although formatting is of secondary importance).

Self citation

"No original research" does not mean that experts on a specific topic cannot contribute to Wikipedia. Indeed, Wikipedia welcomes experts and academics. However, such experts do not occupy a privileged position within Wikipedia. They should refer to themselves and their publications in the third person and write from a neutral point of view (NPOV). They must also cite publications, and may not use their unpublished knowledge as a source of information (which would be impossible to verify).

Majority and minority viewpoints

From a mailing list post by Jimbo Wales:

  • If a viewpoint is in the majority, then it should be easy to substantiate it with reference to commonly accepted reference texts;
  • If a viewpoint is held by a significant minority, then it should be easy to name prominent adherents;
  • If a viewpoint is held by an extremely small (or vastly limited) minority, it doesn't belong in Wikipedia (except perhaps in some ancillary article) regardless of whether it's true or not; and regardless of whether you can prove it or not. This is explained below.

Verifiability, not truth

One of the keys to writing good encyclopedia articles is to understand that they should refer to facts, assertions, theories, ideas, claims and opinions that have been published by a reputable publisher. The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia entries is verifiability, not truth.

A good way to look at this distinction is with the following example. Suppose you are writing a Wikipedia entry on physicist Stephen Hawking's Theory X. Theory X has been published in peer-reviewed journals and is therefore an appropriate subject for a Wikipedia article. However, in the course of writing the article, you meet Stephen Hawking. Over a beer, he tells you: "Actually, I think Theory X is a load of rubbish." Even though you've been told by the author himself that Theory X is, in his view, a "load of rubbish," you cannot include the fact that he told you this in your Wikipedia entry. Why not? The answer is that it is not verifiable in a way that would satisfy the Wikipedia readership. The readers don't know who you are. You can't include your telephone number so that every reader in the world can call you directly for confirmation. And even if they did, why should they believe you?

Suppose you were firmly convinced that this new information should be published in Wikipedia, and that to fail to do so would be intellectually dishonest. How would you go about getting it into Wikipedia? For the information to be acceptable to Wikipedia, you would have to contact a reputable news organization — The Times of London, for the sake of discussion — and explain to them what Stephen Hawking told you. You might have a tape recording of the conversation that you could let them hear; or perhaps they would interview you. Whatever they chose to do with the information, the story would go through a process similar to peer review before being published. It would be checked by the reporter; then by an editor; then by the managing editor, depending on the set-up of the newspaper; possibly by the lawyers; and then possibly by the editor-in-chief. Hawking would have the chance to respond, as would his publisher and perhaps his lawyer, and other members of the academic community would be approached for their responses too. These checks and balances exist to ensure that only accurate and fair stories appear in the newspaper. It is this process that Wikipedia is not in a position to provide.

If The Times published the story, you could then include the information in your Wikipedia entry. However, if you're unable to find anyone to publish it, or if you can only secure publication in a news outlet that does not have a good reputation, then the material has no place in Wikipedia even though you know it to be true.

What counts as a reputable publication?

Reputable publications include peer-reviewed journals, books published by a known academic publishing house or university press, and divisions of a general publisher which have a good reputation for scholarly publiciations.

For non-academic subjects, it is impossible to pin down a clear definition of "reputable". In general, most of us have a good intuition about the meaning of the word. A magazine or press release self-published by a very extreme political group or religious group would often not be regarded as "reputable". For example, Wikipedia would not rely only on an article in a Socialist Workers' Party magazine to publish a statement about President Bush being gay. However, if that same claim was in The New York Times, then Wikipedia could refer to it (and probably also to its claimed sources). The political magazine could, however, be used as a source of information about the party itself.

Ask yourself some questions when you are evaluating a publication. Is it openly partisan? Does it have a large or very small readership? Is it a vanity publisher? Is it run principally by a single person, or does it have a large, permanent staff? Does it seem to have any system of peer review, or do you get the feeling that it shoots from the hip? If you heard that the publication you are about to use as a source was considering publishing a very negative article about you, would you (a) be terrified because you suspect they are irresponsible and do not fact-check; or would you (b) feel somewhat reassured because the publication employs several layers of editing staff, fact-checkers, lawyers, an editor-in-chief and a publisher, and will usually correct its mistakes? If it is (a), do not use it as a source. If it is (b), it is what Wikipedia calls "reputable".

When dispute arises regarding whether a publication is reputable, you can attempt to get more editors involved and work toward a consensus. There is no clear definition, but don't ignore your intuition.

The opinion of Wikipedia's founder

Wikipedia's founder, Jimbo Wales, has put it like this:

"The phrase "original research" originated primarily as a practical means to deal with physics cranks, of which of course there are a number on the Web. The basic concept is as follows: It can be quite difficult for us to make any valid judgment as to whether a particular thing is true or not. It isn't appropriate for us to try to determine whether someone's novel theory of physics is valid; we aren't really equipped to do that. But what we can do is check whether or not it actually has been published in reputable journals or by reputable publishers. So it's quite convenient to avoid judging the credibility of things by simply sticking to things that have been judged credible by people much better equipped to decide. The exact same principle will hold true for history" (WikiEN-l, December 3, 2004).
"An article that makes no new low-level claims, but nonetheless synthesizes work in a non-standard way, is effectively original research that I think we ought not to publish. This comes up most often in history, where there is a tendency by some Wikipedians to produce novel narratives and historical interpretations with citation to primary sources to back up their interpretation of events. Even if their citations are accurate, Wikipedia's poorly equipped to judge whether their particular synthesis of the available information is a reasonable one. ... I think in part this is just a symptom of an unfortunate tendency of disrespect for history as a professional discipline. Some who completely understand why Wikipedia ought not create novel theories of physics by citing the results of experiments and so on and synthesizing them into something new, may fail to see how the same thing applies to history" (WikiEN-l, December 6, 2004).

Further reading

Options for original research

Two options to place original research are Wikinfo and Everything 2.