Wikipedia talk:Fringe theories

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This page is for discussion of the wording of the Wikipedia:Fringe theories guideline, not for discussion of specific theories.
To discuss problems with specific theories, articles, and users, please go to the
Wikipedia:Fringe theories/Noticeboard, thank you.


An example on this page currently says, "including McCartney, who is alive and well as of 2014". Could some admin update it to say "as of 2016"? (Actually, Guy, I think it might be reasonable for you to remove protection early, as the disputants seem less active at the moment.) WhatamIdoing (talk) 21:55, 30 March 2016 (UTC)

What is an independent source?[edit]

"It is fine for the authors to have chiropractic affiliations if they are writing for reliable publishers independent from the chiropractic industry like Demos Medical Publishing (a Springer Publishing imprint) and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (a Wolters Kluwer imprint). Reliable publishers independent from the chiropractic industry are independent sources,"[1] according to User:Cunard. However, "Robert A. Leach is a chiropractic practitioner, as is Kirk Eriksen, these are not independent sources of the subject. The book Suckers is reliable but only briefly discussed NUCCA on one page of the book (p. 152),"[2] according to User:HealthyGirl. Who is correct according to Wikipedia:Fringe theories#Independent sources or does WP:FRIND need to be more specific to resolve the matter? See Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/NUCCA. QuackGuru (talk) 23:23, 14 May 2016 (UTC)

Recent addition[edit]

I've reverted Kingofaces addition of "scientific consensus," because it risks pushing mainstream minority views into the fringe.

Either the new text says nothing new or it adds something that is not obviously correct. SarahSV (talk) 18:41, 1 June 2016 (UTC)

I think the link to scientific consensus is a good addition, although would be open to other wordings.·maunus · snunɐɯ· 18:48, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
Thanks. The link was meant to specify that scientific consensus is often even stronger evidence (i.e., a higher tier) for something than just mainstream science (not fitting into SV's either or interpretation above). Given that people often misunderstand what scientific consensus is, or that we have cases like climate change denial, it seems pretty important to mention it here. I'm curious what other folks think that were fine with the edit in the two weeks it remained.
It's one thing to have a theory conflicting with mainstream science. It's much more extreme to have it conflict with consensus. Views that differ from mainstream science can be still potentially be minority, while a view that differs from scientific consensus is by default fringe. Scientists rarely declare scientific consensus compared to demonstrating something is just mainstream. The change I made would be exactly for people mistakenly thinking a view conflicting with consensus is only a minority view and not fringe. It's a minor change, but it should prevent people from overgeneralizing like that. Even if minority views were a legitimate concern here, we already deal with that discussion elsewhere. Kingofaces43 (talk) 19:21, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
I think we need sources for this, because I'm not sure how you're using the terms. There are minority views in science that are mainstream. Do you have a source to support that "a view that differs from scientific consensus is by default fringe"? SarahSV (talk) 19:34, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
We're dealing with Wiki policy and guidelines, so we aren't going to have sources spelling out directly how we should be forming this guideline. WP:RS/AC policy is however very clear that statements of scientific consensus require a higher burden of evidence as opposed to when we make general normal statements about science through WP:MEDRS or WP:SCIRS sources where WP:WEIGHT is the main deciding factor as to what is mainstream. Again, different tiers. Kingofaces43 (talk) 02:43, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

I disagree with "scientific consensus" addition. There are plenty of cases when there are several plausible mainstream scientific theories to explain something, but none of which reached sci cons yet. There is a wide spectrum: "sci cons <-> conflicting views <-> minority views <-> fringe views <-> pseudoscience". Kingofaces43 is conflating a very wide subrange thereof. Staszek Lem (talk) 01:48, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

If there isn't a scientific consensus specifically stated on something yet, then there is no scientific consensus to compare to. Your example doesn't seem to show a problem. You're just describing mainstream science in general in that case. I can't say where you are thinking something is being conflated. Kingofaces43 (talk) 02:43, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
@Staszek Lem: I’d probably agree with you if “mainstream science” were being replaced with “scientific consensus”, but as an addition or reinforcement—particularly with “and” rather than “or”—I think it’s fine, helping to clarify what’s meant by “mainstream”.—Odysseus1479 03:51, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Odysseus1479, many topics in science won't have scientific consensus, so we can't replace "mainstream" with "consensus", but I do think if we're going to mention consensus it will need to be re-worded to be a little less confusing, perhaps a new sentence. I think Kingofaces43 is saying that when there is clear scientific consensus about a particular topic (i.e., when multiple high quality sources explicitly state there's scientific consensus supporting such-and-such view), then any alternate POVs should be considered FRINGE and that elucidating this in the guideline ideally might help reduce the amount of time wasted rehashing arguments (e.g,. Talk:climate change denial) as to why any view opposing the clearly stated scientific consensus should automatically be treated as FRINGE. That part would not apply to topics where there isn't scientific consensus yet, or at least there isn't clearly acknowledged consensus in high quality sources. In those cases, FRINGE views are any views that "depart significantly" from the 1+ mainstream views, which is a little more subjective. Kingofaces43, did I get that right? PermStrump(talk) 04:10, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
My thoughts exactly, though I don't believe Odysseus was advocating for replacement, but instead addition of the term alongside mainstream science. I'm entirely in favor of fleshing out the concept of scientific consensus even more beyond my edit. I just figured it would be best to work incrementally first. Kingofaces43 (talk) 04:42, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Yes; I disagreed with Staszek’s objection because it seemed premised on the removal of “mainstream science”, which isn’t on the table. His ‘spectrum’ model is useful; although mentioning the “sci cons” end does little to sharpen the boundary between “minority” and “fringe”, it serves as a conceptual anchor.—Odysseus1479 05:35, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

@SlimVirgin:"There are minority views in science that are mainstream." -- I don't think that's right. There are minority views in science which are tolerated by the mainstream, but they are essentially, by definition, not in the main stream of thought. What you may be referring to are ideas which are not yet ruled out by the prevailing scientific models but are also not accepted by most scientists. Our WP:FRINGE guideline applies to those ideas just as much as it does to ideas which are completely ruled out and ridiculed as pseudoscientific, for example. Fringe is not meant to be a pejorative. It is a description of the epistemic position of the subject. jps (talk) 04:21, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

jps, I know this isn't exactly what slimvirgin said, but some topics might have multiple POVs that each get substantial support from different camps within the same field, so that's why I'd want to figure out a way to re-word the "consensus" bit to make sure it's clear that we're not saying everything is fringe until Science announces it has reached consensus on the issue. PermStrump(talk) 05:07, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
(edit conflict) My understanding of “mainstream” is that it can indeed include minority views, where the majority admit to uncertainty and the minority’s research methodology is sound—that is, where the disagreement is more about conclusions or inferences than about the underlying data or observations.—Odysseus1479 05:35, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Odysseus1479, I agree. That's how I interpret the part of the guideline that talks about alternative theoretical formulations being part of the scientific process... as long as they don't depart significantly from the mainstream view, but I know there are other editors that I usually agree with about most other stuff who don't interpret it the same say. But that's a little bit of a tangent right now I guess... PermStrump(talk) 07:35, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────I think an example may be appropriate. In my field, people propose alternative hypotheses and new theories all the time. Most of these alternatives die obscure deaths as evidence either shows them to be incorrect. The few that survive end up being "mainstream", but then they are no long "minority" theories but instead are adopted by the majority. These alternative hypotheses and new theories are not rejected outright, but skepticism naturally runs high due to the history of failed ideas. In Wikipedia, we often get these "minority" opinions showing up and sometimes being promoted by the people who hold to them. The appropriate response is to WP:WEIGHT them accordingly, but, more over, a lot of the points in this guideline apply (WP:NFRINGE, WP:FRIND, WP:ONEWAY, WP:PARITY, etc.). Often the adherents to these ideas will argue that because their ideas are not pseudoscientific that WP:FRINGE does not apply. This makes no sense. A minority theory should not be allowed to masquerade as a majority theory or serve as a coatrack just because it hasn't yet been rejected. It still suffers from all the problems that other ideas in WP:FRINGE suffer from. The only difference is that these ideas often have had more attention paid to them in the context of the scientific discourse than many of the fringe ideas which are so far out of the mainstream that no one has bothered to comment. However, this isn't always the case. There are occasionally novel proposals made that later on attract attention but people try to insert them into Wikipedia before there are independent sources discussing them. My point is, I guess, that such minority opinions are properly covered by this guideline and to argue otherwise is one of the big misconceptions I've seen argued over at Wikipedia to no good end. This guideline applies to these ideas just as much as it does to the ideas which are completely pseudoscientific (though, of course, the treatment of these ideas will be different as, for example, reliable sources will not be found that call them pseudoscientific).

Perhaps examples of what you mean may be in order. I can provide examples of what I mean: Earth Similarity Index.

jps (talk) 11:10, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

I agree with jps and PermStrump. It should be kept, just reworded. ThePlatypusofDoom (Talk) 11:47, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

My concern about the recent addition was prompted in part by Kingofaces' involvement in writing an RfC to decide on words for several GMO articles. He added "scientific consensus" to this guideline, [3] suggested adding it to WP:IRS, [4] then did the same to the first RfC question, which refers back to these guidelines. [5]
The result of the edit is that scientists who disagree with the consensus view of GMO are ipso facto fringe thinkers covered by this guideline.
Looking at another field – in Holocaust studies the consensus figure for those who died in Auschwitz is 1.1 million, but for many years there were mainstream estimates that were lower and much higher. Lying far outside these academic debates, there are the Holocaust deniers, identified as fringe because their figures are significantly lower, but also because they deny that gas chambers were in use, they don't have jobs as historians, and they hold racist and other ridiculous views. Their fringe views about Auschwitz are different in kind, not degree; they are not simply mainstream academics who disagree with their colleagues. Kingofaces' edit loses that distinction. SarahSV (talk) 14:06, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
But scientists who disagree with scientific consensus views really are ipso facto fringe thinkers covered by this guideline. This is in no way a means to disparage said scientists. It's just a simple fact of the situation in reliable sources. For example, it would not be correct to include a false equivalency on the page on transgenesis the views of scientists who claim that single gene manipulation is more dangerous than artificial selection techniques without careful consideration of independent sources, how well-represented their views are in the literature, and so on. This guideline is exactly set-up to deal with the minority viewpoints of certain scientists with respect to genetic engineering. The guideline in no way is disparaging the minority/maverick/breakthrough scientists who are making these points. It's only describing the best practices for how to couch their particular take in accordance with Wikipedia policies.
As far as estimates for Holocaust victims is concerned, I think this is a different matter as we are discussing science rather than history here. Even so, you are absolutely correct that there are different kinds of fringe theorists. However, this guideline is not trying to distinguish between different kinds of fringe theorists as I don't think Wikipedia is equipped to do that (though let me know if you think there is a way this happens). The guideline is explicitly meant to paint with a broad brush. We make no judgment against those ideas that are relevant for this guideline, we only offer guidance on how to cover notable ideas that are on the fringes (which is actually a term of art related to tapestry and originally carried no negative connotations at all).
jps (talk) 14:17, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
  • I agree with the inclusion. As I've stated many times before, there is a distinction between 'fringe' and 'psuedoscientific'. I have stated many times that while Loop quantum gravity is a fringe theory, it is far from a pseudoscientific one. I have used this particular example numerous times, and it seems to be a really good one for communicating with people invested in a fringe theory that the skeptically-minded editors here aren't out to get them. However, my use of this example runs contrary to what the guideline states. The guideline, right now, does not draw a distinction between fringe science and pseudoscience.
Furthermore, the standards applying to fringe and psudoscientific subjects should apply to all fringe subjects, not just to those which are obviously bogus. When a group of cautious editors took a look at Cryonics, for example, it was fairly quickly determined that it should fall under those discretionary sanctions, even though it's hardly a pseudoscience. In short, we're limiting our ability to productively edit articles about non-mainstream science by not including this bit, as it means we're giving undue weight to the voices of those who, for whatever reason, have adopted one non-mainstream view or another as their own and endeavor to spread The Truth™ here on WP. MjolnirPants Tell me all about it. 14:20, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
MjolnirPants, can you express in your own words what the proposal adds that the current sentence doesn't already say?
Current: "... fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science and have little or no scientific support."
Proposed: "... fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science and scientific consensus while having little or no scientific support."
SarahSV (talk) 14:29, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Although you did not ask me, I would argue that the addition of the scientific consensus term allows for a clearer explanation of which of the many different forms of fringe science the guideline is meant to address (the guideline is much more broadly applicable than to just pseudoscience or pathological science). jps (talk) 14:35, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
(ec) Thanks, but you don't say how it's clearer. I'm looking for someone to explain succinctly in their own words what the proposed text means—what exactly the new text says that the current sentence doesn't already say. SarahSV (talk) 14:47, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
The current text uses a link to the Wikipedia article on fringe science to identify fringe science, which is ambiguous because it covers a lot of ground. It legitimately confuses some people who think that fringe science only covers pseudoscience or non-science (which is, according to our own article a legitimate interpretation). Adding scientific consensus makes it crystal clear that we are also talking about ideas which are marginalized within the scientific community which don't necessarily adhere to the pseudoscience definition, for example. jps (talk) 15:13, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
@SlimVirgin: Absolutely. The proposal would eliminate much of the reason that fringe (but not pseudoscientific) subjects such as Cryonics are often argued to not be fringe. It would make it easier for critical editors to address problems with articles like Electronic harassment, which are clearly fringe, but not scientific enough to classify as pseudoscientific. It would take some of the stigma away from the word "fringe" as it is used here, allowing all editors to be a bit more objective about it. It would allow subjects like Deprogramming to be addressed more directly, as it's clearly a fringe (applied) science, but not at all clearly pseudoscientific.
I agree with you wholeheartedly that there is a fundamental difference between pseudoscience and non-mainstream science. Your holocaust example was a good one (even if it was about history, not science) for illustrating this. But the thing is, legitimate science -even non-mainstream- can rise above the restrictions imposed upon fringe views. Conversely, not including non-mainstream science makes it possible for editors to push non-mainstream views into articles with undue weight. After all, they will have the reliable sources to support those views. MjolnirPants Tell me all about it. 14:44, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

Break 1[edit]

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── MjolnirPants, thank you. It seems that this extends the guideline significantly. I didn't really understand your point, particularly:

"... legitimate science -even non-mainstream- can rise above the restrictions imposed upon fringe views. Conversely, not including non-mainstream science makes it possible for editors to push non-mainstream views into articles with undue weight."

Can you give some actual examples where editors have pushed non-mainstream views into articles with undue weight, and where this change to the guideline would have prevented it? SarahSV (talk) 14:55, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

I have been having a bear of a time trying to clean up matters related to Earth Similarity Index over the last few months. For a time, nearly every extrasolar planet article had an ESI number attached to it which was pretty much a WP:ONEWAY violation. Many of those in favor of ESI inclusion (essentially gamers and science fiction fans who enjoyed fantasizing about life possibilities on other planets that have actually been discovered) used ESI as a prominent identifier on a wide range of articles across Wikipedia. I had a few colleagues ask me explicitly why Wikipedia was doing this and over the months I've been working on cleaning it up I've found that one of the things that the ESI-fans refuse to do is accept that this guideline is relevant.
Another example is the issues we had with where people argued that WP:FRINGE didn't apply was Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Self-creation cosmology. It would be nice to head-off these ridiculous arguments over jurisdiction before they become personalized. jps (talk) 15:22, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

@SlimVirgin: I think this old revision of the Cryonics article is a good example. It was after someone brought this to the FTN that more critical editors got involved and brought the article back to its current, more neutral tone. MjolnirPants Tell me all about it. 15:01, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

I have no way of knowing what the issues were there. I'm looking for a concrete example of what difference this proposal would make.
Looking at an issue I'm familiar with, in female genital mutilation, the medical and legal consensus is that it's a human-rights violation that is medically harmful even in its milder forms, that it conveys no health benefits, and the UN should work to eradicate it. There is a minority medical view that it is not harmful or not significantly so. And there is a view within anthropology that it conveys cultural benefits and that the West should mind its own business. This is perhaps a majority view within anthropology, but looking at the reliable academic sources in total it's clearly a minority view.
Kingofaces proposal would push all these minority views into the fringe, meaning they could not be included. When I was writing the FGM article, I included the anthropologists, but I left out the minority medical position, because I couldn't decide whether it was minority (in which case I wanted to include it) or whether it was tiny-minority/fringe (in which case I didn't). So I erred on the side of caution, but only because I didn't know how to evaluate it. Kingofaces' proposal would lose that important distinction. SarahSV (talk) 15:16, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Just because something is subject to this guideline does not mean it must be excised. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it does not. I think you are confusing the WP:WEIGHT aspects of minority/tiny minority with WP:FRINGE (which is intentionally designed to be broader and allow for edge cases). jps (talk) 15:25, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Can you give an example of a view identifed as fringe on Wikipedia that is included in the article about the mainstream position? Whenever I hear fringe being raised, the aim is to remove views or confine them to their own article. SarahSV (talk) 15:31, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
A classic example is Evolution#Social_and_cultural_responses. jps (talk) 15:34, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Can you explain what issue within that article would be affected by the proposed text, as I did with the Holocaust and FGM examples? SarahSV (talk) 16:09, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
I'm not sure I precisely follow, and I feel a bit like I'm trying to kick the ball between moving goalposts here. To be honest, I myself didn't really understand how your examples were going to be affected by the proposed change at all. I thought your examples were more to highlight your opinion that "fringe" means completely outside academic discourse rather than just being a minority position. In that regard, the fact that ideas that are completely outside of the discourse on evolution are included in a mainstream article on evolution speaks to me to the idea that this guideline is not saying, "excise all fringe theories". The question of how to include alternative minority theories with respect to this guideline is handled well at other articles. For example, General_relativity#Alternatives_to_general_relativity. Scientific consensus is not that the people working on alternatives are completely outside of academic discourse. They are not all practicing pseudoscience or pathological science (though some are, to be sure). The inclusion of a section on alternative theories in the article on General Relativity is telling for its brevity and what it exactly says. All of the WP:ONEWAY, WP:FRIND, WP:PARITY, etc. issues seem well-handled. If we were going to argue that this guideline doesn't apply in those instances we might come to the same conclusion, but it would require more headaches, IMHO. jps (talk) 18:45, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
jps, the difficulty I'm having is that either the new words mean something (they would lead to some kind of change in how we handle material) or they mean nothing and can safely be left out. But when I ask "what practical difference will these words make?" I'm given links to articles. What I'm requesting is greater specificity. What new thing on Wikipedia might these new words lead to? What problem will they fix (along with clear examples)? Would it change the article on evolution? If so, how? SarahSV (talk) 18:54, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
I think it will cause less confusion in the discussions (and the auxilliary ones) I referenced above where there were questions whether this guideline applied to a specific alternative theory of cosmology and an obscure index. Straightforward principles such as WP:ONEWAY, WP:PARITY and so on need to be reargued if the person refuses to accept that the particular idea which may not be pseudoscience but is certainly not part of the scientific consensus is subject to this guideline. It's that simple. By including the specific example of scientific consensus we are ensuring that people don't question whether or not their pet idea is covered by this guideline. Not in the scientific consensus? Covered by this guideline. The guideline, note, does not say "EXCISE ALL FRINGE THEORIES". Instead, it offers a number of helpful principles that are clearly delineated here while convolutedly discernible from main policy pages. The addition has the potential to forestall certain tiresome debates that I've referenced precisely by removing the question of whether a normal minority idea is subject to the ideas in this guideline or not. In practice, we use these principles all over the encyclopedia for minority ideas outside of the scientific consensus. Since fringe science is ambiguous, it is absolutely helpful. jps (talk) 20:02, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
I think it's important not to extend the coverage of this guideline, because it's already contentious, and some of the ways in which it is used have been problematic (I can't think of examples offhand, though).
I disagree that scientists who take issue with a scientific consensus are fringe thinkers, and as that seems to be what the new words are saying, I oppose their addition. I'm thinking now about an area of medicine with which I have some familiarity. There are standard treatments, agreed by national and international bodies. There are also doctors who waver from this, and who are introducing new treatments carefully. These doctors are working with governments and universities and are not fringe by any standard, but they disagree with the scientific consensus on this issue and seek to change it. If we were to include their views in an article (well-sourced of course), we wouldn't flag them in any way. They would simply not be presented as the majority or consensus view. SarahSV (talk) 21:14, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

Break 2[edit]

I think it's time to drop the stick on those comments. You've already been told this would not change how we categorize fringe, minority, mainstream, etc. views. As others have mentioned, the addition of scientific consensus only reinforces what an aspect of mainstream science is with additional clarity as consensus is a subset of mainstream science. However, it is an aspect we give significantly more weight to per policy than if we're just talking about more general statements from mainstream sources that don't explicitly say scientific consensus. That's what merits specifically pointing out without causing any actual change in how the guideline is implemented. Kingofaces43 (talk) 17:24, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Change your tone, please. I don't appreciate "time to drop the stick," and that I've "already been told." You tried to slip in a major change to a contentious guideline, so it's being discussed. SarahSV (talk) 17:31, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
The point is that your specific questions have been addressed even after you keep repeating that this is a major change when that idea has been thoroughly addressed and dismissed. You may not appreciate being told you're vastly misreading things here, but you need to deal with that as part of consensus-building when you're arguing premises that are very different than the specific piece of guideline at hand. The best thing to do is realize you were off base on something rather than keep sticking to it. There's nothing to change in tone about that as normal civil discussion. However, I'll just choose to instead chuckle at the comments that I tried "slip" things in given what I explicitly said in my edit summary as this isn't the place to discuss behavior issues. Kingofaces43 (talk) 18:25, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Kingofaces43, you are not answering a very specific question, namely, how would the suggested change in the policy affect our decisions. With the exception of obvious, minor rephrasing we don't change policies without solid reason. "If not broken, don't fix it". If you cannot point to past discussion, please provide a hypothetical example. Staszek Lem (talk) 19:20, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
That question has already been answered a few times. It doesn't affect how we already do things in terms of WP:FRINGE. It only gives additional guidance and clarification by mentioning the concept of scientific consensus as part of mainstream science. Kingofaces43 (talk) 20:18, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
You write "That question has already been answered a few times". It was not a question. It was a request to provide a case and an explanation how the policy change would affect it. Now, since you are saying that the change does not affect our actions per policy, then let me narrow it down: Please lease provide an example where your change would have affected the arguments, e.g., so that the parties come to an agreement faster. Staszek Lem (talk) 20:55, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Kingofaces43, re: "the addition of scientific consensus only reinforces what an aspect of mainstream science is with additional clarity as consensus is a subset of mainstream science" - Yes, you are right here: the consensus is a subset of mainstream science. And therefore your phrasing is redundant. It is just like saying "Vegetarians do not eat meat and beef" This is what some of us are against. However we may be mistaken and your addition indeed reinforces something. Hence SlimVirgin asked you to provide an example in support of your opinion. Staszek Lem (talk) 19:20, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
If someone believes the phrasing is redundant, that's exactly the kind of person we need to be educating better through this guideline. As you stated below, they are different concepts, so this question and quoted example seem odd. Others have already explained how the term reinforces the language above. Kingofaces43 (talk) 20:18, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
IMO it cannot reinforce. It goes against the basic logic. However it appears I am starting to understand what you have in mind. If a vegan does not eat meat, the statement "A vegan does not eat meat and beef" is a reinforcement for those who don't know that beef is meat. So, are are you saying that your reinforcement is for people who don't know that "scientific consensus" is part of "mainstream science"? Staszek Lem (talk) 20:55, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Kingofaces43, re: "However, it is an aspect we give significantly more weight to" -- Yes we do, but the watershed "mainstream vs. consensus" is not the same as "fringe vs. mainstream". Both are valid aspects of WP:UNDUE, but they have different peculiarities, and better not to mix-and-match them. Staszek Lem (talk) 19:40, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
No one was ever making that argument. Consensus is just an even stronger version of mainstream science that has more specific requirements. If something goes against the mainstream science whether minority for fringe, it will by default go against a scientific consensus if it exists to at least the same degree if not more. There is no mixing and matching. Kingofaces43 (talk) 20:09, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
Yes there is "mixing and matching". A reasonably educated person will read it and think: "now wait a minute, isn't SciCons is part of MainSci? What did they have in mind again? This wikispeak starts freaking me out. I've already learned in a hard way (after two blocks :-) that in wikpedia, consensus is not most people think. So, what's the deal with WP:SCIENTIFICCONSENSUS now?" Staszek Lem (talk) 21:04, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

I am starting to suspect that some of the miscommunication comes from a well-known discrepancy in treatment of logical predicates in natural languages. For example, the phrase "I don't eat fish and milk" may mean either (A) "I don't eat dishes that contain fish AND milk taken together" or (B) "I don't eat dishes that contain fish OR milk". Regarding the discussed proposal, depending on the reading, the discussed change is either a strong restriction of the policy or redundant. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Staszek Lem (talkcontribs) 21:29, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

(ec)The addition of "consensus" is too problematic and ripe for abuse. In addition to adding little clarity, it shifts the focus from science ("mainstream science") to people ("scientific consensus"). It leads to placing individuals into "in group" and "out group" buckets that can evolve from very minor departures from mainstream scientific thought. Fringe theories should be identified as fringe theories by reliable sources. Scientists themselves should almost never be identified as being "fringe" especially if that identity is determined by an assessment of whether they are in the "consensus" group. Given that, I don't see a need for including "consensus" language in the definition of "fringe." "Scientific consensus" doesn't help identify fringe theories and even less helpful in identifying fringe scientists. "I don't believe what they believe" is the heart of every new scientific theory. That is generally a departure from consensus on some level. It is generally a departure from mainstream scientific thought but often hard to quantify its merits. it is very disconcerting that it would be harder to quantify the departure from mainstream scientific thought than it would be to simply put them in the "out group" and use ad hominem arguments to make a scientist and, therefore, their theories fringe. --DHeyward (talk) 21:52, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

  • I would leave it out, in the form that is discussed here. And I'm saying that as a scientist. I agree with some other editors that novel scientific ideas often start out outside of scientific consensus, even when the ideas are put forth as part of a non-fringe, mainstream scientific discussion. String theory does not have consensus, but it is not fringe. So the actual definition of "fringe" relates to mainstream science, rather than to consensus, in that fringe occurs outside of mainstream discourse. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with saying that mainstream, but not-consensus, science should be treated in accordance with WP:DUE. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:59, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
The proposed change seems problematic to me, for two reasons:
  1. The part "mainstream science and scientific consensus" could be interpreted to mean that there cannot be any fringe theories if there is no scientific consensus. However, some theories contending for consensus are mainstream, others are fringe. (For example, there is no consensus on quantum gravity, yet I would neither call string theory, nor loop quantum gravity fringe theories, but I'm sure there are other alternatives that are.) This should at least read "mainstream science or scientific consensus". But since the scientific consensus is necessarily mainstream science, it then also becomes immediately clear that the part "or scientific consensus" is redundant.
  2. If there is a scientific consensus, it can also be interpreted to mean that any alternative theory that goes against it is necessarily a fringe theory. This is not true. Some of these alternatives may be fringe theories, but some could be mainstream (particularly those that eventually become the new consensus).
So, contrasting fringe science against mainstream science seems sufficient. Also contrasting it against the scientific consensus would introduce an ambiguity than changes the meaning to something that is either too strong, or is merely superfluous.
Ruud 23:47, 2 June 2016 (UTC)
I agree with Ruud, and would add: Isn't fringe science equivalent to WP:UNDUE's "tiny minority views", as distinct from "significant minority views"? The latter are part of the spectrum of mainstream science, but are not fringe (because they do not depart from it significantly, e.g. by upending the laws of physics the way homeopathic notions do); however, they are not necessarily part of scientific consensus either, if they legitimately challenge it. OTOH, tiny minority views are fringe and are not part of the spectrum of mainstream science (let alone sci consensus). In that case, the original wording -- fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science and have little or no scientific support -- is sufficient. However, recognizing the arguments in favor Kingofaces's proposed addition, it might be good to clarify with something like this (changes italicized):
  • fringe theories in science depart significantly from the spectrum of mainstream science (of which scientific consensus is by definition a subset) and have little or no scientific support. (See also WP:UNDUE.).
(FWIW, we don't need to go further into the distinction between fringe science and legitimate alternative views because it's discussed in the immediately following subsection, WP:FRINGE/PS). --Middle 8 (tc | privacyCOI) 19:10, 4 June 2016 (UTC)
I like those changes. It's basically establishing the same concept I was trying to get across that scientific consensus sits at the core of the spectrum of mainstream science. I haven't caught up on much of the conversation that has happened since I last posted here, but I agree that we don't need to be discussing further distinctions of fringe vs. alternative views. I think folks were getting too hung up on that somewhat separate aspect and missing the intent of my original change of specifying where scientific consensus comes into play. Kingofaces43 (talk) 19:17, 4 June 2016 (UTC)
I'm not sure that the change is really needed, but if editors decide to go with it, I would delete "the spectrum of" and "by definition". It would also be better to address UNDUE elsewhere, and with more explanation than a "see also". That would make the change simply the addition of "(of which scientific consensus is a subset)". Again, I'm not convinced that it's necessary. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:51, 4 June 2016 (UTC)

Break 3[edit]

This thread is getting long and the chunks that clarify what we're talking about are all mixed in the middle, so I wanted to try to start over and attempt to explain again in a spot that's easy to see, because it does seem like there's a miscommunication among people who fundamentally agree with the spirit of the Fringe guideline and may or may not agree with this tweak if we were all talking about the same thing.

  • Current wording:

We use the term fringe theory in a very broad sense to describe an idea that departs significantly from the prevailing views or mainstream views in its particular field. For example, fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science and have little or no scientific support.

  • What problem are we trying to solve?

The amount of time editors spend debating if a certain perspective is fringe instead of spending that time improving wikipedia. In the current wording, the "example" is almost identical to the preceding sentence, so it doesn't really clarify anything. There's some subjectivity, or at least a semblance of subjectivity, about what it means to depart "significantly" from the mainstream view. Certain editors use that semblance of subjectivity to endlessly debate that their view doesn't depart significantly from the mainstream view and therefore isn't fringe. They're wrong and fringe definitely applies, but we still waste time arguing with them.

  • When would the proposed edit be relevant?

Only to a small number of topics for which there is clear scientific consensus; everything else will continue business as usual. MAYBE, if we add a sentence or tweak the current wording to specifically address topics for which there is scientific consensus, we can save a little bit of time editors have to waste debating if viewpoints opposing the consensus are a significant enough of departure from the mainstream so as to warrant being considered fringe. Kingofaces43 gave Climate change denial as an example, which is a rare circumstance where multiple high quality sources explicitly state that there is "scientific consensus" that climate change exists (one example[6]). Yet, editors who disagree with climate change persistently try to argue that "climate skeptics" do not represent a minority view. It should be obvious to most people that anything opposing the scientific consensus is fringe, but the current wording makes POV pushers think there's wiggle room to make an argument, and much time is wasted rehashing the same arguments.

Keeping that all in mind, and reading Kingofaces43's edit in the context of the sentence before it, I think this was a good edit (additions underlined):

  • Kingofaces43: We use the term fringe theory in a very broad sense to describe an idea that departs significantly from the prevailing views or mainstream views in its particular field. For example, fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science and scientific consensus while having little or no scientific support.
  • Another suggestion (from me): "We use the term fringe theory in a very broad sense to describe an idea that departs significantly from the prevailing views or mainstream views in its particular field. For example, fringe theories in science deviate from the scientific consensus or depart significantly from mainstream science while having little or no scientific support."

I don't think anyone here is so naive as to think this will eliminate ALL debate on the climate change article (or other topics that scientists have consensus about), but it would make it easier to come up with a canned response that includes a direct quote from the policy that might help shut it down in a little bit less time. PermStrump(talk) 01:14, 5 June 2016 (UTC)

I like your suggestion, and would add that if we're going to mention scientific consensus, we need to be clearer about its relationship to mainstream science. I tried that above the latest break, stating that sci consensus is a subset of mainstream science (IOW, at the core, where various mainstream ideas converge in widely-held agreement). Kingofaces43 liked it for that reason. Here's a clearer version, taking into account Permstrump's suggestion and Tryptofish's feedback above; additions in italics:
(A) For example, fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science (and even more sharply from scientific consensus, which is at its core) and have little or no scientific support.
Or perhaps omitting the parenthetical, since it's now implied:
(B) For example, fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science (and even more sharply from scientific consensus) and have little or no scientific support.
This change is not essential imo, but if some editors do want to clarify the relationship between mainstream science and sci consensus, it shouldn't hurt and might help. --Middle 8 (tc | privacyCOI) 08:27, 5 June 2016 (UTC)
Thanks! I like (B), and I'm also just fine with no change. --Tryptofish (talk) 20:45, 5 June 2016 (UTC)
I think B does the job plenty fine too. Kingofaces43 (talk) 13:08, 8 June 2016 (UTC)
Though I'd change "depart" to "deviate" to make the image work. Alexbrn (talk) 13:12, 8 June 2016 (UTC)

Break 4[edit]

Either the new words make no difference or they reduce or extend the reach of the guideline. The second sentence offers an illustration of the first sentence (note: "for example"). Therefore it ought not to reduce or extend the reach of the first, which says:

We use the term fringe theory in a very broad sense to describe an idea that departs significantly from the prevailing views or mainstream views in its particular field.

The mainstream incorporates majority and minority views. A consensus may form around certain ideas and practices. Mainstream scholars might disagree with the consensus. Historians don't become fringe thinkers if they argue that a higher number of people died in Auschwitz than the consensus figure of 1.1 million.

The first sentence is followed by a subject-specific sentence, which really just repeats the first sentence:

The two proposals add a new idea (bold added):

  • Proposal 2:

    For example, fringe theories in science depart significantly from mainstream science (and even more sharply from scientific consensus) and have little or no scientific support.

Proposal 1 was rejected because it appeared to extend the reach of the guideline. Proposal 2 appears to say the same thing as proposal 1 (the only difference is the addition of "and even more sharply"), but the grammar is confusing: fringe views depart even more sharply from consensus than they do from the mainstream? SarahSV (talk) 16:46, 8 June 2016 (UTC)

  • Proposal 2 about "even more sharply" is highly dubious: Who measures sharpness? I say two kooks may depart from each other as sharply as piranha teeth. It is a very bad idea to invent definitions in wikipedia policies: it will highly confuse ordinary (non-wikilawyer) people. We have to stick to "normal" understanding of the terms. Therefore, for starters, please fix the inadequately referenced article "fringe science". Then at least we will know what we are talking about here. Staszek Lem (talk) 17:09, 8 June 2016 (UTC)
P.S. Per WP:SOFIXIT, I cleaned up some obvious logical blunders in "Fringe science". Please join. Staszek Lem (talk) 17:36, 8 June 2016 (UTC)
SarahSV, yes, you're reading Proposal 2 as I intended it, but it could be clearer. FWIW, the thinking behind Proposal 2 is that scientific consensus is at the "center" of mainstream science, i.e. the part of mainstream science upon which a substantial majority of scientists agree, and fringe ideas are further away from mainstream science's center than from its periphery. But (cf. Staszek Lem) that "further away" bit ain't necessarily so, because some fringe ideas are so far out that they have nothing to do with mainstream science at all, irrespective of where is "center" is. Taking that into account, and getting rid of "sharply", and using Alexbrn's suggestion, how about this (changes from Proposal 2 bolded):
(I was going to say "tend to deviate" instead of "may deviate", but again: fringe theories are so varied that it's probably best not to overgeneralize.) --Middle 8 (tc | privacyCOI) 08:25, 14 June 2016 (UTC)
Once again, no one bothered to work on "Fringe science" article to provide reference to the very definition of the term. Therefore until you prove the scientific consensus about the definition of "fringe science", what we are doing here may well be fringe science itself :-) Staszek Lem (talk) 17:25, 14 June 2016 (UTC)
No one is required to work on that article. That is your WP:BURDEN if you have issues there. At the end of the day, we've had an overall consensus that it's fine to include scientific consensus in some fashion even with your objections being considered early on. We generally don't require sources for policy and guideline changes like this, but if there is a source demonstrating that scientific consensus is somehow being misued here, I would be interested to see it. Most editors don't see that as a legitimate issue here though. Kingofaces43 (talk) 00:02, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
There's no consensus to add it here, and it's not clear how you're using the phrase, which is why you've been asked for sources. Again, either your suggestion would make no difference to the guideline or it would extend it. If the former, there's no point in adding it; if the latter, it's arguably important not to add it. SarahSV (talk) 00:09, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
We can still have a WP:CONSENSUS even when you and Staszek Lem disagree with the inclusion. That roughly 80% of editors are fine with the general inclusion says something even though things aren't a WP:VOTE, but these editors haven't seen your concerns as valid or have already been adequately addressed. That's generally an indication it's time for the conversation to move on. The question now has been exact wording. Kingofaces43 (talk) 00:32, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
Ruud Koot also objected. There's a process of "othering" taking place here, both with the proposal, which would allow editors to label as "fringe" mainstream scientists they disagreed with, and in the way the proposal is being presented, with the suggestion that editors who disagree be ignored. SarahSV (talk) 01:04, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
SarahSV, I don't see how it does that (allow editors to label as "fringe" mainstream scientists they disagreed with) -- can you elaborate? FWIW I am neutral on this but am trying to help along a consensus. Never mind -- I do see how this could be a problem. It's not agreement with sci consensus, but lack of evidence, that makes something "fringe science" (as I understand the term, and Staszek Lem is right that we do need RS to clarify it before we start acting as amateur philosophers of science) --Middle 8 (tc | privacyCOI) 01:27, 15 June 2016 (UTC), struck/added cmt 09:08, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
Middle 8, yes. The proposal to introduce an additional, undefined, phrase increases the likelihood that mainstream scientists will be labelled as fringe.
Anyone wanting to introduce that phrase should (a) define it with reference to appropriate RS; (b) explain the function of the new phrase within the guideline; (c) offer clear examples of issues that will be affected by the new phrase; and (d) deal with objections. None of that has happened. SarahSV (talk) 16:16, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Most of those have already been addressed quite a bit in the above discussion, so that has happened. As for a source, it seems to be quite the stretch of the imagination that the change will somehow put mainstream scientists in the fringe category, so the WP:BURDEN is on you to provide a source or concrete example of a problem. Also keep in mind that we typically don't source policies and guidelines to the degree some are wanting here (one could gut a lot of WP:RS with this logic). Can anyone think of an instance where there is a scientific consensus on something, but an opposing idea would depart more from the mainstream science than the scientific consensus. That logically wouldn't work, but if there is a concrete example, then that would be something to discuss. If someone is unfamiliar with the term scientific consensus, that's why we wikilink the page where there are sources on it's definition and all the nuance of scientific consensus building. Kingofaces43 (talk) 22:10, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
Kingofaces43, I basically agree about sci consensus (with caveat stated above), but am not sure this guideline (as opposed to, say, an essay) is the place to discuss it. How, if at all, would Proposal #2 change what we do and don't characterize as fringe science? I don't see it making any difference in the hands of good-faith, science-literate editors, but I could see less clueful/scrupulous editors taking a legit mainstream idea and wikilawyering that the topic "is very different from sci consensus, so it must be fringe". Murphy's Law does apply with guidelines on contentious topic areas. --Middle 8 (tc | privacyCOI) 22:32, 16 June 2016 (UTC)
I think such a scenario is pretty easily addressed. This scenario would require an idea being in the mainstream science yet simultaneously be against the scientific consensus statement. In that case, the scientific consensus would no longer exist, so you would need extremely strong new sources or the original sources coming out (i.e., not WP:FLAT) saying the course of the science has changed in order for it to not be a fringe idea. That means more than a few individual sources that can be easily cherrypicked. It would be difficult for a even wikilaywer to actually be incorrect here in saying something is fringe. That's why I'd want to see an actual example to work through if this really does concern people. I don't think anyone can actually provide such an example, but I will gladly eat crow and hit the drawing board if we do have a legitimate real life example. Kingofaces43 (talk) 19:53, 19 June 2016 (UTC)
Kingofaces43 -- for an example of "an idea being in the mainstream science yet simultaneously be against the scientific consensus statement", see Alternatives to the Standard Model Higgs, all of which go against the Standard Model. A possible second example is the Nostratic hypothesis, which per this source is "outside consensus". But more to the point: why is this change (Proposal 2 &c.) necessary? What is broken now? Where specifically are we getting false positives and/or false negatives, as far as fringe-categorization goes, with the current guideline? --Middle 8 (tc | privacyCOI) 05:54, 26 June 2016 (UTC)
I'm not actually seeing the term scientific consensus being used in these articles, so was there something specific you were intending to point out in them?
For your questions, it's a big deal when scientists say a scientific consensus has developed on a subject. That means most of the main debate is done. Most editors are not familiar with the term scientific consensus, so it's helpful in content discussions to mention that in reference to mainstream science. We already make the same type of distinction proposed here between pseudoscience and scientific consensus over at WP:PSCI policy. Permstrump's post at the very beginning of Break 3 summarized the underlying reasoning reducing some of the ambiguity of what is actually fringe. In the case where a scientific consensus has been declared, opposing ideas are more apt to be fringe as opposed to being minority views in mainstream science. It's meant to make it easier for editors citing this guideline or for those new to the concept to spend less time debating over what is a fringe idea when many editors are not familiar with the scientific consensus concept. Climate change or really any controversial article with a consensus statement would benefit for either of those areas. In short, a scientific consensus statement carries so much WP:WEIGHT that other ideas are typically in fringe territory, and we're just tightening up the language. Kingofaces43 (talk) 05:12, 29 June 2016 (UTC)
I am afraid I have to disagree with your interpretation of the effect of scientific consensus on judgement of other theories. By this logic nearly all novel breakthroughs are fringe. I disagree linking "fringe" with deviation from consensus. The very heart of scientific research is challenging the established views. However this challenging may be done in a fringe way and in a mainstream way. IMO the only way to link "fringe" with "consensus" is: "if sci consensus says it is fringe, then it is fringe". The other kind of fringe is when sci consensus does not care at all despite all noise generated (as opposed to obscurity, which, again, may be both fringe and non-fringe until evaluated). Staszek Lem (talk) 20:18, 29 June 2016 (UTC)
It's a little nitpicky, but the previous language for proposal 2 (top of this section) seemed more concise. I can't think of a case where we need to say may. In a case where a fringe theory is maybe slightly closer to mainstream than others, it's still going to significantly depart from mainstream and scientific consensus even more. This has been going on long enough though, so I think we've done enough wordsmithing to go ahead with focusing the current proposal 2. Kingofaces43 (talk) 00:19, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
Suggestion: There are obviously still doubts, so don't rush/push it too much; it will tend to alienate some who are unpersuaded. regards --Middle 8 (tc | privacyCOI) 22:32, 16 June 2016 (UTC)
  • My suggestion is that this be tabled for now, as the opposing "sides" here take differing stances on a pending RfC and the disagreement here is clearly an extension of that. Perhaps when that RfC is over this can be revisited. Jytdog (talk) 20:13, 17 June 2016 (UTC)
Just to be clear, I don't consider this addition relevant to any specific disputes currently being discussed that I'm involved in, otherwise I would not have proposed the change as we generally discourage changes to policy and guideline to "win" current content disputes. That's as much as I'll say on that.
That being said, I'm running on limited available time to work with this much more, so I'm content letting this sit for awhile. That's especially so someone can provide an actual example of when someone could falsely claim something as fringe when it's vastly different than the scientific consensus as I described just above to Middle 8. I'm starting to think that's looking like a unicorn idea, but I'm in no rush. Kingofaces43 (talk) 19:53, 19 June 2016 (UTC)