From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

You might wish to start a blog or visit a forum if you want to convince people of the merits of your favorite views. See Wikipedia is not a soapbox.

Some contributors have tried to get their preferred viewpoint enshrined as "the truth" on subjects dear to their hearts. Topics of great contention in the political and ideological arena have been described by advocates in ways that advance their point of view, while condemning opposing points of view – or even leaving it out of an article altogether. Often the justification for condemning or leaving out an opposing viewpoint is that it is merely one contributor's point of view, even when it is a published one. Or the justification is that opposing viewpoints have no place at all in certain articles, on the grounds of undue weight.

Neutral point of view states that the article should fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by a reliable source, and should do so in proportion to the prominence of each. But how prominent must an opposing view be to merit inclusion in an article? Suppose the article is a topic of great scientific importance, and a published author disagrees with the scientific mainstream. Should his ideas and arguments be excluded merely because they oppose the mainstream? Would it violate policy to include them, even if they are held only by a minority of experts?

A place for minority views[edit]

Certain articles have no place for minority views. The article which describes the shape of the Earth states that it is a close approximation to a sphere. The ancient notion that the Earth is flat need not mention modern support for the Flat Earth concept. However, the Flat Earth article (91 KB) is more than half the size of the Earth article (104 KB). There is no limit on the amount of information we can supply on discredited views.

Articles that compare views should not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views, and will generally not include tiny-minority views at all. An article on the arms race during the Cold War can describe major ideas about the strategic doctrine of Mutual assured destruction, but it need not describe suggestions that we should all move to a colony in Antarctica or fly to the Moon. Those suggestions are held by too few people to be relevant to the topic. But arguments for and against Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative would not be out of place.

Statement on "truth" taken from the original NPOV policy (2001)[edit]

Introduction: the basic concept of neutrality and why Wikipedia must be unbiased[edit]

A key Wikipedia policy is that articles should be "unbiased," or written from a "neutral point of view." We use these terms in a precise way that is different from the common understanding. It's crucial to grasp what it means to be neutral (in this sense)--a careful reading of this page will help.

Basically, to write without bias (from a neutral point of view) is to write so that articles do not advocate any specific points of view; instead, the different viewpoints in a controversy are all described fairly. This is a simplistic definition and we'll add nuance later. But for now, we can say just that to write articles without bias is to try to describe debates rather than taking one definite stand.

Why should Wikipedia be unbiased?

Wikipedia is a general encyclopedia, which means it is a representation of human knowledge at some level of generality. But we (humans) disagree about specific cases; for any topic on which there are competing views, each view represents a different theory of what the truth is, and insofar as that view contradicts other views, its adherents believe that the other views are false, and therefore not knowledge. Where there is disagreement about what is true, there's disagreement about what constitutes knowledge. Wikipedia works because it's a collaborative effort; but, whilst collaborating, how can we solve the problem of endless "edit wars" in which one person asserts that p, whereupon the next person changes the text so that it asserts that not-p?

A solution is that we accept, for purposes of working on Wikipedia, that "human knowledge" includes all different (significant, published) theories on all different topics. So we're committed to the goal of representing human knowledge in that sense. Something like this is surely a well-established sense of the word "knowledge"; in this sense, what is "known" changes constantly with the passage of time, and when we use the word "know" in the sense, we often use so-called scare quotes. In the Middle Ages, we "knew" that the Earth was flat. We now "know" otherwise.

We could sum up human knowledge (in this sense) in a biased way: we'd state a series of theories about topic T, and then claim that the truth about T is such-and-such. But again, consider that Wikipedia is an international, collaborative project. Probably, as we grow, nearly every view on every subject will (eventually) be found among our authors and readership. To avoid endless edit wars, we can agree to present each of these views fairly, and not make our articles assert any one of them as correct. And that is what makes an article "unbiased" or "neutral" in the sense we are presenting here. To write from a neutral point of view, one presents controversial views without asserting them; to do that, it generally suffices to present competing views in a way that is more or less acceptable to their adherents, and also to attribute the views to their adherents.

To sum up the primary reason for this policy: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, a compilation of human knowledge. But since Wikipedia is a community-built, international resource, we surely cannot expect our collaborators to agree in all cases, or even in many cases, on what constitutes human knowledge in a strict sense. We can, therefore, adopt the looser sense of "human knowledge" according to which a wide variety of conflicting theories constitute what we call "human knowledge." We should, both individually and collectively, make an effort to present these conflicting theories fairly, without advocating any one of them.

There is another reason to commit ourselves to a nonbias policy. Namely, when it is clear to readers that we do not expect them to adopt any particular opinion, this is conducive to our readers' feeling free to make up their own minds for themselves, and thus to encourage in them intellectual independence. So totalitarian governments and dogmatic institutions everywhere might find reason to be opposed to Wikipedia, if we succeed in adhering to our nonbias policy: the presentation of many competing theories on a wide variety of subjects suggests that we, the creators of Wikipedia, trust readers' competence to form their own opinions themselves. Texts that present the merits of multiple viewpoints fairly, without demanding that the reader accept any one of them, are liberating. Neutrality subverts dogmatism. This is something that nearly everyone working on Wikipedia can agree is a good thing.

See also[edit]