Wikipedia:Reliable sources/temp

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Wikipedia articles should use reliable published sources. This page provides guidance about how to identify these. The policy pages that discuss the need to use sources are Wikipedia:No original research and Wikipedia:Verifiability.

If you can provide useful information to Wikipedia, please do so, but bear in mind that the responsibility for finding sources lies with the person adding material to an article. Sources should be provided whenever possible; unsourced or poorly sourced edits may be challenged and removed at any time. Sometimes it is better to have no information at all than to have information without a source. [1]

Some definitions[edit]

  • A primary source is a document or person providing direct evidence of a certain state of affairs; in other words, a source very close to the situation you are writing about. The term most often refers to a document produced by a participant in an event or an observer of that event. It could be an official report, a letter, an eyewitness account, an autobiography, or statistics compiled by an authoritative agency.
  • A secondary source summarizes one or more primary or secondary sources. In general, Wikipedia articles should rely on reliable secondary sources.
  • A tertiary source is usually a document that summarizes primary, secondary and other tertiary sources. Encyclopedias, including Wikipedia, are tertiary sources.

Requesting sources[edit]

It is always appropriate to ask other editors to produce their sources. The burden of evidence lies with the editor who wishes to include material, and any unsourced material may be removed by any editor. However, some editors may object if you remove material without giving people a chance to find a source, particularly when the material is not obviously wrong, absurd, or harmful. Instead of removing such material immediately, editors are encouraged to move it to the talk page, or to place the {{fact}} template after the disputed word or sentence, or to tag the article by adding {{not verified}} or {{unsourced}} at the top of the page. This helps maintain a civil atmosphere and encourages group work. (See Wikipedia:Verifiability and Wikipedia:No original research, which are policy, and Wikipedia:Avoid weasel words.)

The only exemption to this are statements that do not require verification. This usually refers to statements that are widely known and accepted. For example: "Canada is north of The United States."

Biographies of living persons[edit]

Unsourced or poorly sourced questionable material, whether negative or positive, in articles about living persons should be removed immediately and should not be moved to the talk page. The same applies to sections dealing with living persons in other articles. Real people are involved, and they can be hurt by your words. We are not tabloid journalists, we are an encyclopedia. [2]

Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence[edit]

Certain red flags should prompt editors to examine the sources for a given claim.

  • Surprising or apparently important claims that are not widely known.
  • Surprising or apparently important reports of recent events not covered by reputable news media.
  • Reports of a statement by someone that seems out of character, embarrassing, controversial, or against an interest they had previously defended.
  • Claims not supported or claims that are contradicted by the prevailing view in the relevant academic community. Be particularly careful when proponents say there is a conspiracy to silence them.

Exceptional claims should be supported by multiple credible and verifiable sources, especially with regard to historical events or politically-charged issues.

Evaluating Sources[edit]

One of the most difficult tasks in research is the ability to decipher between a reliable source and an unreliable one. Each type of sources needs to be reviewed differently.

Below is a list of indicators sorted by each type of source. This shouldn't be considered definitive. Each source needs to be evaluated individually. Some sources might even have a few marks on the "unreliable side" but still be an acceptable source in context. For example, lets say Newsweek came out with a story claiming a high-profile political figure was taking bribes, but was unable to reveal their sources. That source would still be appropriate for use in the political figure's article because Newsweek has an established reputation. (It would still be best to acknowledge the fact that the newspaper wouldn't revile it's source... but that's something to be decided on the talk page of the article.)

Secondary Sources[edit]

Secondary sources are the main think we should be using here to write articles.

Reliable Sources...
  • are published in respected publications.
  • are peer reviewed or go though a fact-checking processes.
  • are backed by respected organizations.
  • are recognized within the field of interest
  • available for other editors
Examples: Newspapers, trade journals, books
Unreliable sources...
  • are often self-published
  • have no backing from respected organizations
  • don't source their own sources
  • difficult to verify the source
Examples: personal websites, company newsletters

Primary Source[edit]

Primary sources are also useful in many cases. Often when citing facts and figures primary sources are used. However, primary sources can be easily misused.

Reliable Sources...
  • have a reputation in their field
  • directly related to the subject of the article
Examples: Interviews with the subject, autobiographies
Unreliable Sources
  • have little or no direct expertise in the field
  • isn't known by those inside the field
Examples: Blogs, personal websites, fan reviews

Tertiary Sources[edit]

Tertiary sources are the least desirable sources. Not because they are inherently unreliable, but because tertiary sources aren't the actual source of the information. We do a disservice to our reader if we force them to hunt though a second article to find the actual source. It also makes it possible for errors in one source to be passed around like diseases.

Reliable Sources...
  • have a authors with reputation in their field
  • content is well-sourced
  • go thought a fact-checking process
Examples: Encyclopedias, research papers
Unreliable Sources
  • have unstable content
  • few or no sources
  • have difficult identify authors
Examples: Wikipedia, personal websites

Special notes about using online and self-published sources[edit]

Evaluating reliability[edit]

Evaluate the reliability of online sources just as you would print or other more traditional sources. Neither online nor print sources deserve an automatic assumption of reliability by virtue of the medium they are printed in. All reports must be evaluated according to the processes and people that created them.

Reliability is a spectrum, and must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Typically peer reviewed publications are considered to be the most reliable, with established professional publications next. Government publications are often reliable, but governments vary widely in their level of reliability, and often have their own interests which will explicitly allow for withholding of information, or even outright deception of the public. Below this are sources which, while not tangible, can be providers of reliable information in some cases, for example websites associated with reliable publishers.

  • With any source, multiple independent confirmation is one good guideline to reliability, if several sources have independently checked a fact or assertion, then it is more reliable than one which is not checked.
  • Sources where there are multiple steps to publication, such as fact checking and editorial oversight, are more reliable, other things being equal, than those without these procedures.

Bulletin boards, wikis and posts to Usenet[edit]

Posts to bulletin boards, Usenet, and wikis, or messages left on blogs, should not be used as sources. This is in part because we have no way of knowing who has written or posted them, and in part because there is no editorial oversight or third-party fact-checking. In addition, in the case of wikis, the content of an article could change at any moment. In certain rare cases, specific blogs may be exceptions - see the section on self-published sources.

The same reasoning applies to trivia on sites such as IMDb or FunTrivia.com, where the degree of editorial oversight is unknown. However, film credits on IMDb are provided directly by the Writer's Guild of America and can be considered reliable.

Self-published sources[edit]

A self-published source is a published source that has not been subject to any form of independent fact-checking, or where no one stands between the writer and the act of publication. It includes personal websites, and books published by vanity presses. Anyone can create a website or pay to have a book published, and then claim to be an expert in a certain field. For that reason, self-published books, personal websites, and blogs are largely not acceptable as sources.

Exceptions to this may be when a well-known, professional researcher writing within their field of expertise, or a well-known professional journalist, has produced self-published material. In some cases, these may be acceptable as sources, so long as their work has been previously published by credible, third-party publications, and they are writing under their own name or known pen-name and not anonymously.

However, editors should exercise caution for two reasons: first, if the information on the professional researchers blog (or self-published equivalent) is really worth reporting, someone else will have done so; secondly, the information has been self-published, which means it has not been subject to any independent form of fact-checking.

Reports by anonymous individuals, or those without a track record of publication to judge their reliability, do not warrant citation at all, until such time as it is clear that the report has gained cachet, in which case it can be noted as a POV.

YouTube[edit]

Some concerns have been raised about the use of YouTube as a source. YouTube is a website where the contributors are unknown, and in which material that may be useful to Wikipedia articles is almost always suspect of copyright violations. As such, linking to video content in YouTube should almost always be avoided as a source.

Self-published sources in articles about the writers of those sources[edit]

Self-published sources, whether published online or as a book or pamphlet, may be used as sources of information about in articles about the writers/publishers of those sources, so long as there is no reasonable doubt who wrote them, and where the material is:

  • relevant to the self-publisher's notability;
  • not contentious;
  • not unduly self-serving or self-aggrandizing;
  • about the subject only and not about third parties or events not directly related to the subject;

The reputation of the self-publisher is a guide to whether the material rises to the level of notability at all.

Self-published sources as secondary sources[edit]

Personal websites, blogs, and other self-published or vanity publications should not be used as secondary sources. That is, they should not be used as sources of information about a person or topic other than the owner of the website, or author of the book. The reason personal websites are not used as secondary sources — and as primary sources only with great caution and not as a sole source if the subject is controversial — is that they are usually created by unknown individuals who have no one checking their work. They may be uninformed, misled, pushing an agenda, sloppy, relying on rumor and suspicion, or even insane; or they may be intelligent, careful people sharing their knowledge with the world. Only with independent verification by other sources not holding the same POV is it possible to determine the difference.

Visiting a stranger's personal website is often the online equivalent of reading an unattributed flyer on a lamp post, and should be treated accordingly.

Partisan and extremist websites[edit]

The websites and publications of political parties and religious groups should be treated with caution, although neither political affiliation nor religious belief is in itself a reason not to use a source.

Widely acknowledged extremist or even terrorist organizations or individuals, whether of a political, religious, racist, or other character, should never be used as sources for Wikipedia, except as primary sources, that is to say they should only be used in articles about those organizations or individuals. Even then they should be used with great caution, and should be supported by other sources.

Company and organization websites[edit]

Caution should be used when using company or organization websites as sources. Although the company or organization is a good source of information on itself, it has an obvious bias. The American Association of Widget Manufacturers is interested in promoting widgets, so be careful not to rely on it exclusively if other reliable sources are available, in order to maintain a neutral point of view. Exercise particular care when using such a website as a source if the company or organization is a controversial one.

Wikisource[edit]

If you find a print source that is out of copyright or that is available on compatible licensing terms, add it to Wikisource and link to it there (in addition to the normal scholarly citation). Many significant out-of-copyright books have already been put online by other projects.

Finding good sources[edit]

Until more authors publish online, and more material is uploaded, some of the most reliable and informative sources are still available only in printed form. If you can't find good sources on the web, try a local library or bookstore. Major university libraries usually have larger collections than do municipal libraries.

Fact checking and reference-running can be time consuming. Your local public or academic library may not have the work cited by an article on its shelves. Often you can ask for a book through interlibrary loan, but this can sometimes take several weeks to arrive. New tools are available online to make this work easier. Services such as Google Books, Amazon.com’s “search inside!” , the Internet Archive’s Million Book Project and the University of Michigan's Making of America allow you to search the full text of thousands of books. In addition, many similar subscription-based services may be available through your public, college, university or graduate school libraries.

When you use one of these services, be sure to gather all the information you can find by selecting links such as “About the Book.” You should be able to assemble a citation in exactly the same way you do with a print publication. If there is an ISBN for the book, be sure to include it. Use the ISBN to link to the book, since several of these sites display only selected materials from the books they have online.

Hint: Services such as Google Books often have poorly OCR-ed text. This is especially true for names and words with diacritics where searches often come up with nothing. A way around this is to search for common OCR mistakes.

The Wikipedia special page Book sources will enable readers to click on the ISBN number of your book citation and search a variety of library databases and retailers to find it. For example the citation:

Harvey, Andrew, Songs of Kabir, Weiser Books (January 2002), ISBN 1578632498

Clicking on the ISBN number will enable users to "find this book" at Amazon.com, public libraries, etc.

Sources in languages other than English[edit]

Because this is the English Wikipedia, for the convenience of our readers, English-language sources should be provided whenever possible, and should always be used in preference to foreign-language sources (assuming equal quality and reliability). For example, do not use a foreign-language newspaper as a source unless there is no equivalent article in an English-language newspaper. However, foreign-language sources are acceptable in terms of verifiability, subject to the same criteria as English-language sources.

Keep in mind that translations are subject to error, whether performed by a Wikipedia editor or a professional, published translator. In principle, readers should have the opportunity to verify for themselves what the original material actually said, that it was published by a credible source, and that it was translated correctly.

Therefore, when the original material is in a language other than English:

  • Where sources are directly quoted, published translations are generally preferred over editors performing their own translations directly.
  • Where editors use their own English translation of a non-English source as a quote in an article, there should be clear citation of the foreign-language original, so that readers can check what the original source said and the accuracy of the translation.

Advice specific to subject area[edit]

History[edit]

The American Historical Review reviews around 1,000 books each year. The American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature (1995) summarizes the evaluations of 27,000 books and articles in all fields of history.

Historical research involves the collection of original or “primary” documents (the job of libraries and archives), the close reading of the documents, and their interpretation in terms of larger historical issues. To be verifiable, research must be based on the primary documents. In recent decades, many more primary documents (such as letters and papers of historical figures) have been made easily available in bound volumes or online. For instance, the Jefferson Papers project at Princeton begun in 1950 has just published volume 30, reaching February 1801. More recently, primary sources have been put online, such as the complete run of the London Times, the New York Times and other major newspapers. Some of these are proprietary and must be accessed through libraries; others such as “Making of America”, publishing of 19th century magazines, are open to the public.

Scholars doing research publish their results in books and journal articles. The books are usually published by university presses or by commercial houses like W.W. Norton and Greenwood which emulate the university press standards. Reputable history books and journal articles always include footnotes and bibliographies giving the sources used in great detail. Most journals contain book reviews by scholars that evaluate the quality of new books, and usually summarize some of their new ideas. The American Historical Review (all fields of history) and Journal of American History (US history) each publish 1000 or more full-length reviews a year. Many of the major journals are online, as far back as 1885, especially through JSTOR.org. A good book or article will spell out the historiographical debates that are ongoing, and alert readers to other major studies.

On many topics, there are different interpretive schools which use the same documents and facts but use different frameworks and come to different conclusions. Useful access points include: scholar.google.com and books.google.com, and (through libraries) ABC-CLIO’s two abstract services, American: History and Life (for journal articles and book reviews dealing with the US and Canada), and Historical Abstracts (for the rest of the world.) Research libraries will hold paper guides to authoritative sources. The most useful is The American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature, edited by Mary Beth Norton and Pamela Gerardi 2 vol (1995), which is an annotated bibliography of authoritative sources in all fields of history.

In historical pages the user is assisted by having an annotated bibliography of the best resources. Users will often have to use inter-library loan to obtain books, so a short annotation explaining the value and POV of the book may be helpful.

There are many other sources of historical information, but their authority varies. A recent trend is a proliferation of specialized encyclopedias on historical topics. These are edited by experts who commission scholars to write the articles, and then review each article for quality control. They can be considered authoritative for Wikipedia. General encyclopedias, like the Encyclopedia Britannica or Encarta, sometimes have authoritative signed articles written by specialists and including references. However, unsigned entries are written in batches by freelancers and must be used with caution.

College textbooks are updated every few years, are evaluated by many specialists, and usually try to keep abreast of the scholarship, but they are often without footnotes and usually do not spell out the historiographical debates. Textbooks at the K-12 level do not try to be authoritative and should be avoided by Wikipedia editors. Every place has guide books, which usually contain a capsule history of the area, but the great majority do not pretend to be authoritative.

On many historical topics there are memoirs and oral histories that specialists consult with caution, for they are filled with stories that people wish to remember — and usually recall without going back to the original documentation. Editors should use them with caution.

The general public mostly gets its history from novels, films, TV shows, or tour guides at various sites. These sources are full of rumor and gossip and false or exaggerated tales. They tend to present rosy-colored histories in which the well-known names are portrayed heroically. Almost always editors can find much more authoritative sources.

Physical sciences, mathematics and medicine[edit]

Cite peer-reviewed scientific publications and check community consensus[edit]

Scientific journals are the best place to find primary source articles about experiments, including medical studies. Any serious scientific journal is peer-reviewed. Many articles are excluded from peer-reviewed journals because they report what is in the opinion of the editors unimportant or questionable research. In particular be careful of material in a journal that is not peer-reviewed reporting material in a different field. (See the Marty Rimm and Sokal affairs.)

The fact that a statement is published in a refereed journal does not make it true. Even a well-designed experiment or study can produce flawed results or fall victim to deliberate fraud. (See the Retracted article on neurotoxicity of ecstasy and the Schön affair.)

Honesty and the policies of neutrality and No original research demand that we present the prevailing "scientific consensus". Polling a group of experts in the field wouldn't be practical for many editors but fortunately there is an easier way. The scientific consensus can be found in recent, authoritative review articles or textbooks and some forms of monographs.

There is sometimes no single prevailing view because the available evidence does not yet point to a single answer. Because Wikipedia not only aims to be accurate, but also useful, it tries to explain the theories and empirical justification for each school of thought, with reference to published sources. Editors must not, however, create arguments themselves in favor of, or against, any particular theory or position. See Wikipedia:No original research, which is policy. Although significant-minority views are welcome in Wikipedia, the views of tiny minorities need not be reported. (See Wikipedia:Neutral Point of View.)

Make readers aware of any uncertainty or controversy. A well-referenced article will point to specific journal articles or specific theories proposed by specific researchers.

In science, avoid citing the popular press[edit]

The popular press generally does not cover science well. Articles in newspapers and popular magazines generally lack the context to judge experimental results. They tend to overemphasize the certainty of any result, for instance presenting a new experimental medicine as the "discovery of the cure" of a disease. Also, newspapers and magazines frequently publish articles about scientific results before those results have been peer-reviewed or reproduced by other experimenters. They also tend not to report adequately on the methodology of scientific work, or the degree of experimental error. Thus, popular newspaper and magazine sources are generally not reliable sources for science and medicine articles.

What can a popular-press article on scientific research provide? Often, the most useful thing is the name of the head researcher involved in a project, and the name of his or her institution. For instance, a newspaper article quoting Joe Smith of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution regarding whales' response to sonar gives you a strong suggestion of where to go to find more: look up his work on the subject. Rather than citing the newspaper article, cite his published papers.

Which science journals are reputable?[edit]

One method to determine which journals are held in high esteem by scientists is to look at impact factor ratings, which track how many times a given journal is cited by articles in other publications. Be aware, however, that these impact factors are not necessarily valid for all academic fields and specialties.

In general, journals published by prominent scientific societies are of better quality than those produced by commercial publishers. The American Association for the Advancement of Science's journal Science is among the most highly regarded; the journals Nature and Cell are notable non-society publications.

Keep in mind that even a reputable journal may occasionally post a retraction of an experimental result. Articles may be selected on the grounds that they are interesting or highly promising, not merely because they seem reliable.

arXiv preprints and conference abstracts[edit]

There are a growing number of sources on the web that publish preprints of articles and conference abstracts, the most popular of these being arXiv. Such websites exercise no editorial control over papers published there. For this reason, arXiv (or similar) preprints and conference abstracts should be considered to be self-published, as they have not been published by a third-party source, and should be treated in the same way as other self-published material. See the section above on self-published sources. Most of them are also primary sources, to be treated with the caution as described in various sections of this guideline.

Researchers may publish on arXiv for different reasons: to establish priority in a competitive field, to make available newly developed methods to the scientific community while the publication is undergoing peer-review (a specially lengthy process in mathematics), and sometimes to publish a paper that has been rejected from several journals or to bypass peer-review for publications of dubious quality. Editors should be aware that preprints in such collections, like those in the arXiv collection, may or may not be accepted by the journal for which they were written — in some cases they are written solely for the arXiv and are never submitted for publication. Similarly, material presented at a conference may not merit publication in a scientific journal.

Evaluating experiments and studies[edit]

There are techniques that scientists use to prevent common errors, and to help others replicate results. Some characteristics to look for are experimental control (such as placebo controls), and double-blind methods for medical studies. Detail about the design and implementation of the experiment should be available, as well as raw data. Reliable studies don't just present conclusions.

Statistics[edit]

Statistical information is easily and often misinterpreted by the public, by journalists, and by scientists. It should be checked and explained with the utmost care, with reference to published sources.

See Misuse of statistics, Opinion poll, and Statistical survey for common errors and abuses.

Law[edit]

First of all, remember there are several legal traditions and that laws are only valid in their own jurisdiction. The opinion of local experts is therefore preferred, in general, to that of outside commentators, due to variances across areas of jurisdiction.

When discussing legal texts, it is in general better to quote from the text, or quote from reputable jurists, than to quote from newspaper reports, although newspaper reports in good newspapers are acceptable too. The journalist who wrote the paper may not be trained as a lawyer, although s/he may have access to a wider variety of legal experts than many lawyers do, so judge the quality of the report according to how well that journalist, or that newspaper, has covered legal issues in the past.

Popular culture and fiction[edit]

Articles related to popular culture and fiction must be backed up by reliable sources like all other articles. However, due to the subject matter, many may not be discussed in the same academic contexts as science, law, philosophy and so on; it is common that plot analysis and criticism, for instance, may only be found in what would otherwise be considered unreliable sources. Personal websites, wikis, and posts on bulletin boards, Usenet and blogs should still not be used as secondary sources. When a substantial body of material is available the best material available is acceptable, especially when comments on its reliability are included. (See Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Wilkes, Wyss and Onefortyone.)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wales, Jimmy. "Insist on sources", WikiEN-l, July 19, 2006.
  2. ^ Jimmy Wales about "Zero information is preferred to misleading or false information" [1] [2] [3] [4]

External links[edit]