Wikipedia:POV and OR from editors, sources, and fields
|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors on the policies on the neutral point of view and on no original research. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
|This unofficial guidance essay contains comments and advice of one or more Wikipedia contributors. It is not a Wikipedia policy or guideline, though it may be consulted for assistance. It may contain opinions that are shared by few or no other editors; potential measure of how the community views this essay may be gained by consulting the history and talk pages, and checking What links here.|
|This page in a nutshell: Editors, sources, and fields can have a point of view and original research, and even some edits can have a POV, as long as the article in Wikipedia does not.|
Editors, sources, and academic disciplines or fields of study may have points of view (POV) and perform original research (OR). Even some edits can reflect a POV. If that was not permitted, probably most of Wikipedia could not exist. Articles must have a neutral point of view (NPOV) and no original research (NOR) but that does not restrict any editors, sources, or fields, or some edits.
Advertising is not permitted. It is not neutral. If you feel like writing an ad, what you should do instead is write neutral content based on sourcing. If you find this difficult, you can ask other editors on an existing article's talk page to help, or ask Wikipedia:Articles for creation to create an article on a topic you feel is missing.
Fields of study
Disciplines have inherent biases. For instance, perhaps some people argue that one plus one equals two because of the grace of a deity, and that absence of that grace could mean that arithmetic would fail. But mathematicians generally reject that. So the believers would find the field of math to have a vital theological misunderstanding and would conclude that math is biased in having a POV regarding a deity. Nonetheless, Wikipedia reports on math and on theology in accordance with the mainstream of each field of study. We do so even if fundamental premises of a field of study are accepted on faith, even if questioning them is not allowed in the faith community, and even if no source found questions or scientifically proves any of the fundaments. You, as a Wikipedia editor, are free not to edit an article if you believe the field of study has a bias that you are unable to counterbalance. Someone else can do the editing.
In most major fields, most people believe in the internal consistency of their agreed-upon premises and main body of knowledge. An outside critic may find an inconsistency or conclude it's all nonsense, and a source outside the field and criticizing it may be citable in the article about the general field for a point of criticism, but otherwise probably does not belong in Wikipedia. For example, a grace-of-a-deity view does not belong in most descriptions of mathematical method or theory. But, as an editor, you may subscribe to any view you wish and you may decide what to edit and not to edit, as you wish, as long as articles retain NPOV.
Fields with original research
An academic field is generally supposed to create new original research. When we report about this research using a secondary source's explanation of the research, that's not original research in a Wikipedia article, and that's all that matters to Wikipedia.
There is a caveat. Generally, Wikipedia does not report original research performed in a field, but waits for a secondary source to report it and then reports what the secondary source reports. But that is not because Wikipedia objects to the field having original research. It's to make sure that Wikipedia reports what people familiar with that field consider as having been reasonably enough established by the original research. The secondary source serves as an intermediate filter. Wikipedia, through that filter, still accepts that the field has produced original research.
Many quite reliable sources have biases. Possibly, all do. A health book recommending herbal remedies likely is biased toward herbs for health. A health book recommending medicines or surgeries and opposing herbs likely is biased toward medicines or surgeries for health. Scientific method tends to produce consistent results but not eliminate bias. Not only are people who are wrong but persistent in their beliefs biased; people who are persistently right are also biased. We just prefer the bias of those who are right over those who are wrong. As long as a Wikipedia article neutrally reflects good sources, the sources cited being biased doesn't matter.
Even a bad bias can be a bias we can live with. Handle with care. What matters is the article; the source is less important and it may be possible to reconcile a problematic bias with the need for neutrality, because a source with a bad bias may still have something useful. For example, a then-former psychology professor from Harvard University apparently believed that numerous people credibly reported having been abducted from Earth by space aliens. At best, the professor seems to have hinted at too many to be statistically likely and it may never have happened. The professor compiled a database of reports of alleged abductees but systematically excluded some considered as lacking credibility. Despite the professor's bias and my doubt about their judgment, what remains useful are the professor's criteria for exclusion. While I don't think the criteria were stringent enough, they are a start and could be reportable in Wikipedia, not only in an article about claims of abduction from Earth, but also in an article on unlikely personal claims in any field.
OR in a source
Sources often contain original research. Most times, we're fine with that. If sources stating original research were removed from Wikipedia, there'd hardly be any Wikipedia left. There are subject areas with so much conflicting secondary material available that citing them would make articles too long, so Wikipedia may be more selective in those areas, requiring more evidence of scholarly or scientific consensus before inclusion of research studies. But in most subject areas, scholars and journalists can do original research, such as interviewing people. Biographies are often good examples of sources acceptable for Wikipedia even though they contain original research. We're usually happy with original research that's in a source. Just edit the Wikipedia article so the resulting article does not present its own original research.
We don't much care who you are. So we don't care if you're neutral. We care about the article being neutral, but not about you.
Human beings have biases. Probably most editors have biases that lead them to select which articles to work on and what to add or delete. Those personal biases are fine with us, as long as the result is an article that's neutral.
There's a view that editors driven by causes may not edit in those causes. That is not true. There is a guideline that editors with conflicts of interest may not edit in fields in which they have that conflict, or must edit only with extra care, and that includes an employee. It includes an editor who has had something published somewhere else who wishes to cite it in Wikipedia. The COI guideline lets those editors ask other editors to consider an edit or a citation. But simply believing in a cause does not invoke the COI restrictions. A cause-driven editor may edit articles whether related to the cause or not. Caution is advised, but permission stands.
And caution is advised regardless of passion. The concern about cause-driven editing is fundamentally about accuracy. An editor deeply attached to one view of a subject may have become very knowledgeable about all sides, and even if all they know is the one view they may know its pros and cons quite well. An editor with no interest in a subject may hardly know its substance and may little know how to search for information about it. The passionate editor may therefore be better able to edit accurately, while the disinterested editor may be unable to recognize errors or omissions or to judge the quality of sources. On the other hand, the disinterested editor may be able to report all sides because they don't care who wins while the committed editor may propagandize for one side and against all others. Both kinds of editors can do a great job and both can do a miserable job. We don't care about personal passion. What we care about is accuracy in reporting what sources say.
OR by editors
Go ahead. Do original research. We don't care. As long as you don't put your original research into an article, we don't mind. And don't insert another editor's original research, either.
This is useful in an indirect way. Your doing original research may lead you to recognize ideas that direct you to sources you can cite. So your original research can't be reported in Wikipedia but maybe something related can be. Do it.
This is different from editors, sources, and fields, yet not entirely different, because edits can cause a point of view as long as the article it's in afterwards has no point of view as a result; but, on the other hand, an edit cannot create original research. If the edit is the creation of an article, the article must be neutral, so an edit creating an article must be neutral, even if the article is a stub. And if the edit is the creation of a section and if the section must be neutral (a criticism section and sometimes other sections do not have to be), then the edit creating the section must be neutral, even if the section is meant to be expanded later.
For example, an edit to an article on a religion might add this sentence: "According to ..., a good person can attain bliss.<ref>Source.</ref>" This may well be an edit with a POV. But if the article presents a reasonable balance of views about bliss and about good people even after being edited, then it doesn't matter that the new sentence focuses on just one point of view. In this case, the article remains neutral.
Units within articles, including leads and sections, can receive a nonneutral edit as long as neutrality is the result.
Some sections do not have to be neutral. Examples include criticism sections and pro and con sections. If a biography describes a person as a criminal in one section and as an artist in another, neither section has to repeat the other section just for neutrality. The section about being an artist does not have to say the person was a criminal. The section about criminality does not have to say anything about art. That's because the article is taken as a whole when judging the article's neutrality. A section is judged the same way unless the section is obviously meant to be one-sided; in that case, the article as a whole will still be judged for neutrality.
No way exists for an edit to state original research without the result being the article stating original research. So an edit cannot state original research.
When Wikipedia objects to an advertisement, the objection is to that which advocates for one view and omits or distorts competing views. That, by definition, cannot be neutral. Neutrality is required, so advertising is forbidden. Don't write an ad, not for Wikipedia. Instead, for Wikipedia, write something neutral.
- Wikipedia: Civil POV pushing
- Wikipedia: Controversial articles
- Wikipedia: Creating controversial content
- Wikipedia: Describing points of view
- Wikipedia: For publicists publicizing a client's work
- Wikipedia: These are not original research
Notes and references
- The original editor of this essay read a book by the professor on this subject, who was John Mack.
- This is one editor's personal opinion. Scholarship in the future may lead to different conclusions.
- Consider the problems (from their standpoints) of militaries, sports teams, and peace activists. They want only passionately committed people who believe in one side and, in the case of the military, are willing to risk dying for their cause. But they also must understand their enemies and opponents. Winning, especially when it's close, requires understanding the other side. They don't have to agree. They have to understand. A Wikipedia editor can both be driven by a cause and understand the content being edited. That meets our needs.