Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2005-05-23/Dating system

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The Wikipedia Signpost


Debate over designation of years yields inconclusive result

By Michael Snow, 23 May 2005

A proposal to change Wikipedia policy on the format for presenting calendar years resulted in an apparent stalemate last week, ultimately leaving the status quo apparently unchanged despite lengthy and sometimes heated debate.

The basic suggestion was to adopt a style guideline that when identifying years, using BC and AD "represent a Christian Point of View and should be used only when they are appropriate, that is, in the context of expressing or providing an account of a Christian point of view." Otherwise, the proposed guideline recommended that BCE and CE should be used instead.

The main policy proposal was formulated primarily by Slrubenstein as a potential addition to the Neutral point of view policy. He elaborated his ideas and presented the arguments both for and against it in considerable detail at Wikipedia:Neutral point of view/BCE-CE Debate, trying to rebut the arguments of the BC/AD side. The broader proposal grew out of a debate on Talk:Jesus about how to handle the problem of dates there. Many of the basic arguments had already been raised in that discussion, along with points specific to the Jesus article.

As implied by its presentation, the primary argument made for changing the policy was that the literal meanings of the abbreviations BC ("Before Christ") and AD ("Anno Domini") were ultimately not neutral. It was also claimed that the BCE/CE alternative was increasingly prevalent, or had already become standard, in scholarly academic writing.

Opponents of the proposal expressed doubt that BCE/CE was actually neutral, contending that it too promoted a particular viewpoint and in any case merely papered over the system's Christian origins. Accordingly, they argued that considerations of neutrality favored using BC/AD as the most widely recognized system, similar to the way naming conventions are typically handled. Silversmith cited an email she had received from the Encyclopedia Britannica explaining their policy. It stated, "Britannica uses the BC-AD method of designating centuries because it is the most commonly accepted and widely used system for most of the world", noting a few special circumstances where exceptions are made (Encarta uses BC and AD as well).

Rapid editing during the discussion produced some edit conflicts and a few flare-ups over how the page was maintained, while the debate also extended to the mailing list. The latest results of the voting showed a slight majority favoring BC/AD, or at least the existing practice whereby both forms are allowed. By contrast, a similar poll on Talk:Jesus had the majority running the other way.

An alternative technical solution of allowing different dating systems to be displayed according to user preferences was also brought up, and later even voted on in a separate poll. As Eloquence pointed out, however, "Voting on features on the wiki is unlikely to get anything done." He advised instead that anyone interested pursue this as a feature request on Bugzilla, although it is uncertain whether any developers would actually want to work on this.

Unless something new develops, it appears that the situation with BC/AD vs. BCE/CE may settle into a rough compromise, in much the way spelling variations among different forms of English are handled. That is, either form would be acceptable so long as the usage is consistent, and one would only be preferred over the other when appropriate to the topic at hand (thus, an article dealing with the history of a non-Christian religion might prefer BCE/CE, assuming the dates go back far enough that disambiguation is even necessary).

Also this week: Editor's noteImage policyGerman scandalRadio showBC/BCE/CE/ADWikitechLibrariansPress coverageTrafficT.R.O.L.L.Wikijunior