Wikipedia talk:No original research/Archive 29

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Policies regarding translations?

I am curious as to how the original research policies relate to translations from other languages into English, especially because interpretation is an integral part of the translation process. In particular, I'd like to know how cases should be handled where reliable sources may be unavailable in English or may contradict one another, and what exactly qualifies a translator as a reliable source (when translations are in fact based on their own interpretations).

For example, assume that there is an article on a Japanese book, and the book refers to someone named エドガー・アラン・ポー (Edogā Aren Pō), which is how the English name "Edgar Allen Poe" is rendered in Japanese katakana. Would romanizing "Edogā Aren Pō" as "Edgar Allen Poe" constitute original research, if there are no "verifiable" English sources to prove that it's the intended romanization of the author? It's entirely possible that the author concievably intended it to be "Edogaa Alen Poh", or perhaps have had no intention of an English romanization at all.

Would the article be required to simply refer to the character as エドガー・アラン・ポー (Edogā Aren Pō), or is there any contextual leeway? Say, if the book described said person as a poet, or being born in 1809, then could that be considered as a sort of reliable self-reference? Any clarifications would be appreciated. WtW-Suzaku (talk) 08:35, 24 November 2007 (UTC)

First, I assume that the source under discussion would meet the requirements of all our other policies and guidelines and that the only issue is one of translation? If so, then context of the reference would be important. If it is clear from the context that the author is discussing the American poet, then the source can be used in an article about the poet. It is not OR. If it is not clear from context that the author is discussing the American poet, then we should not assume that this is the case. A bit of common sense is called for here. Blueboar (talk) 13:37, 24 November 2007 (UTC)
Actually, you're not talking about a translation, but a transliteration. So long as the standard rules for transliteration are followed, there's no big deal.
For example:
Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი, Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jughashvili; Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Джугашви́ли, Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili). •Jim62sch• 19:19, 24 November 2007 (UTC)
This is not an OR question but a common sense one :) best answered by turning the question around.
Jun Eto is transliterated 'Jun Eto' everywhere on the en. wiki, and in the article on him, the lead also provides the native 江藤淳.
Similarly, in the Japanese article on エドガー・アラン・ポー, the lead also provides 'Edgar Allen Poe' in the Latin alphabet. Elsewhere, on the .ja wiki, the user will expect a Kanji/Kana transliteration (and presumably not a Romanji form of that). Just as a reader of the .en wiki would not expect Jun Eto to be referred to as 江藤淳 anywhere but in the lead of the article on him.
This even works for borderline cases like 小泉 八雲 aka ラフカディオ・ハーン を編集中 ;)
-- Fullstop (talk) 21:03, 24 November 2007 (UTC)

Yes, the transliteration aspect of the question has a straightforward answer. As to the identification aspect (e.g. is this about the historical US author): as always, we expect editors to use common sense and edit in the spirit of our rules. If the content is disputed, regular consensus discussion should follow, only complicated by the need for (at least some) editors who are sufficiently familiar with the language in question. Obviously, very little (if anything) can be said about the book without secondary sources in that language. Avb 22:26, 24 November 2007 (UTC)

False. If a book has no secondary sources, it is only not notable. There can still be plenty to say about the publication itself, as the section immediately following this one demonstrates. -- Fullstop (talk) 23:49, 24 November 2007 (UTC)

Interesting. What would you want to write in Wikipedia about a book of the type described above, given that it's been ignored by all acceptable sources?

For the rest, perhaps it would help if you would try and differentiate between the various types of discussions on this page. This section, for example, is intended to help an editor who came here for guidance. Dragging in the issues you clearly have with longstanding policy language is not helpful here. Avb 00:33, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

The first sentence of my previous comment is evidently unclear: It should be read as... If a book has no secondary sources, it is only because there is nothing in it to make it notable (to writers of secondary sources).
But the book itself can be subject of a WP article. For example because it was a bestseller, or because the author was well known, or because it received a prize or some such. The WP article would have references to reviews of it, discussion about the author, plot summaries, and so on and so forth.
The usual pop-culture stuff in other words, based solely on "primary" whatchamacallits.
Also, sources can appear for matters unrelated to the text itself. For example, as studies of its value as a pop-culture phenomenon (e.g. the sociological impact). In turn, its even possible that just having such a source would merit an article on the book/subject of the study. The source that provoked the article does not even necessarily have to be (or be legitimate as) one of the sources of the article.
With respect to the rest of your remark, perhaps you overlooked that my comment was in response to the last sentence of your comment. My comment had no relationship to any other issues.
-- Fullstop (talk) 00:42, 28 November 2007 (UTC)

Descriptive plot summeries and primary sources

There has been a debate on Talk:Million Dollar Baby about whether the film can be used as a primary source in writing a descriptive plot summery of the film so long as the summery does not make any analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims. One editor is suggesting that because there are no reliable secondary sources cited in the plot summery, it is entirely original research, and we cannot trust that the editor who wrote the summery actually saw the film. He even went so far as to remove the citation to the movie that I placed from the plot summery because I didn't write the summery. Your comments are welcomed. --Farix (Talk) 21:27, 24 November 2007 (UTC)

The Plot section contained no citations so I removed it and you called that vandalism. You didn't write that plot summary TheFarix. You assumed the editors who wrote that plot summary watched the film so you added a {{cite video}} template based on that assumption. I removed the {{cite video}} template because it was your personal opinion and you called that (vandalism). The burden of evidence is on you. Not me. And the WP:PSTS section of this policy is under debate. --Pixelface (talk) 21:47, 24 November 2007 (UTC)
It is abundantly clear that the film is a source for the plot summery. You only have to use common sense to determine that. Also, you were simply being disruptive by repeatedly removing the plot summery even when another editor disputed your claim that it was original research. Since a source has now been provided, it is up to you to prove that the section is still original research and not I or Marc Shepherd, that it isn't. (See negative proof) --Farix (Talk) 22:04, 24 November 2007 (UTC)
Generally, in an article about a movie, the movie itself is considered a reliable source for a simple plot summary. However, as WP:V states: "The burden of evidence lies with the editor who adds or restores material. All quotations and any material challenged or likely to be challenged should be attributed to a reliable, published source using an inline citation. The source should be cited clearly and precisely to enable readers to find the text that supports the article content in question." Few plot summary sections are challenged. So it was logical to not bother placing a citation to the movie in the article, as it was unlikely to be challenged. However, if it is challenged, as has happened in this case, a citation should be provided. Just cite the movie. Blueboar (talk) 23:00, 24 November 2007 (UTC)
The overarching question to be answered for any addition to WP is is it useful to the reader?. If its not reliable (from the reader's point of view), its obviously not useful. But in this case, the plot summary is verifiable, is it not? So where the problem?
If anything, this case has once again demonstrated how infernally silly a differentiation of PSTS is, and how it can tie even the most mundane issue into knots.
-- Fullstop (talk) 23:17, 24 November 2007 (UTC)

Straightforward description of a film plot in prose chosen by the editors is not original research. (From the policy: [When using primary sources, one should] "only make descriptive claims about the information found in the primary source, the accuracy and relevance of which is easily verifiable by any reasonable, educated person without specialist knowledge." ). ... Kenosis (talk) 17:00, 25 November 2007 (UTC)

Would the statement be false "primary sources" read "sources"? No.
Does the statement evaluate to anything other than "only verifiable statements are permitted?" No.
The rest is a load of blather when a short/sweet sentence would do just as well.
-- Fullstop (talk) 18:49, 25 November 2007 (UTC)
The plot summary is not original research and is perfectly proper under widespread Wikipedia consensus standards, but it nevertheless violates PSTS as presently written. The problem is that while the plot summary makes only "descriptive claims", it makes one fatal mistake: it makes synthetic and explanatory claims that, while verifiable (because it's non-controversial), are not verifiable "from another source". Personally, I'd ignore PSTS and go with WP:V and actual Wikipedia practice. COGDEN 00:35, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
Wrong. Summarizing is not the same as synthesizing. Likewise, summarizing is not explaining. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 00:42, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
If a particular summary is synthetic, then at least it will be either explanatory or analytical. Probably all of the above. COGDEN 02:58, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

I don't understand. If I go outside and look at an ant and go to the ant article and describe what I've seen, that's original research. Unless my observations have been previously published, it's original research. If information in a plot summary has not been previously published, and it's the personal observation of editors, it's original research, right? --Pixelface (talk) 21:41, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

The work that is being summarized has been published; the ant itself hasn't. From the policy: [When using primary sources, one should] "only make descriptive claims about the information found in the primary source, the accuracy and relevance of which is easily verifiable by any reasonable, educated person without specialist knowledge." Three or four or five or thirty or a hundred editors (or pick your preferred number) should be able to read the summary, and having read the work itself, reasonably agree that it describes the work in question, or upon discussion should be able to come to a consensus to achieve a way of summarizing it so it does so. That's not original research. If additional commentary about the work's linguistic style, a school of literature that it may belong to, etc. are involved, such additional commentary or analysis should be verifiable in other published sources. ... Kenosis (talk) 22:25, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

Links to primary source, secondary source, and tertiary source

As invited by Avb, I've reverted the unlinking of the terms primary source, secondary source, and tertiary source to their respective articles. If we are going to use these terms, we need to (1) link to what they mean, or (2) include the full scope of the mainspace articles into the policy (i.e, re-invent the wheel). These are terms of art, which have very specific meanings, although it is often very difficult to classify a particular source as one or the other. As with any defined words, you can't specify every single source-classification question that might arise. In order to classify sources properly, the reader should have the benefit of the articles, and the cited sources in those articles. COGDEN 05:54, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

Actually, they do not have "very specific meanings", which is part of the problem, as the definitions may be used interchangeably depending on the context. —Viriditas | Talk 06:06, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
I disagree. The definitions are pretty standard and simple, it's just the application of them that is multifaceted and complicated. Even if they do not have specific definitions, though, that is even more reason to link to the articles, since since it becomes all the more difficult to summarize the terms here. COGDEN 12:10, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

I cannot see a reason not to link to the mainspace articles. These articles are well referenced, as well as the terms can be referenced. The fact is simply that the terms are not tightly defined. Where the terms are used, their meanings are not critical. I can’t see why people don’t like the mainspace articles and want to substitute new definitions. Some have said that the definitions don’t apply across field. I don’t agree, and would ask for examples where a verified definition of primary source or secondary source doesn’t match a verified use of the term in some specific field.

If new definitions are desired, or even new terms, then please explain what is wrong with the existing definitions, and why your proposed definition is better than the real-world usage. --SmokeyJoe (talk) 06:30, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

I've removed the cross-namespace links to the main-namespace articles to primary source, secondary source, and tertiary source, because the information conveyed in those articles are for general "real-world" purposes (for which Cogden's recent editing is perhaps helpful), but which are quite different from this page, which is a policy page. The main-namespace articles have nothing to do with WP editorial policy, just as Objectivity in its many manifestations has no inherent authority over WP:NPOV, and just as case citation, legal citation, Harvard citation, etc. have no authority over WP:V ... Kenosis (talk) 06:42, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

That's a fair comment. We have specific definitions here, and linking those definitions to articles describing the common usage is confusing. I do think the context of linking to these terms as they are understood in the wider world is helpful, though. So I've tried something I hope accomplishes both, by moving these helpful but non-policy wikilinks to the bottom of the page.Wikidemo (talk) 07:01, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
If what we are doing on the policy page is removed from "real-world" applications of the terms primary source, secondary source, and tertiary source, then we should not use those terms. We should substitute some different terms that reflect what we are trying to do. If we don't, there will inevitably confusion, and there will always be challenges to the special "original research" definitions given here. COGDEN 12:10, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

(ec) The NOR policy describes current general editing practice. It can't be changed just because a couple of editors think it should. Obviously when an experienced editor like COGDEN comes along with complaints, they should be listened to and evaluated. However, after exhaustive (and exhausting) discussion, no one originally supporting the longstanding WP:PSTS language seems to have been convinced by these arguments. Time to end the discussion I think. Editors who feel this outcome is not acceptable are free to seek further dispute resolution. Insofar as their personal editing practice does not currently reflect the standards presented in our core policies, I suggest that this would be a good time to start adhering to these policies. Avb 12:25, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

I don't think anybody outside the anti-primary-source faction has been convinced, either. In fact, if you read the archives since July, several editors started out in the anti-primary camp, then converted. We're not looking for consensus to change the PSTS language. We are looking for consensus for the PSTS language. We need the latter before it counts as a true, actionable statement of Wikipedia policy. The PSTS language cannot be maintained by virtue of "decree", "it's been that way for a long time", or even "majority rule". The current PSTS language is revolutionary. It would cause a major upheaval in Wikipedia practice, and requires that everybody be on board. COGDEN 12:50, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
You might want to step back from this. The latest footnoted additions you made seem a bit WP:POINTy to me. Yes you have justified a particular definition for the term as an English word (an incorrect or at least incomplete definition, I would add). But policy is supported by consensus, not citations. Wikidemo (talk) 13:14, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
COGDEN, could it be possible that you haven't gone with the flow? I think you're (unwittingly) trying to turn the clock back three years. We can't do that without community-wide consensus. Avb 13:37, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
Three years? The anti-primary-source bias you have joined in proposing are barely a year old, and several months of that time (since July), the language has been actively disputed. Yet still, the anti-primary-source idea has not yet caught on. In fact, primary sources are used now more than they ever were under the "reliable sources are good enough" regime from 2001–2006. The more detailed a Wikipedia article gets, the more use is made of primary sources, and usually there's just one source (a primary one) per "interpretive/explanatory claim" made in the article. COGDEN 13:48, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
I don't see why you insist that PSTS is intended to discourage the use of primary sources. Regarding your dating of relevant events: Three and a half years ago NOR looked like this; nothing about PST sources. Three years ago it looked like this. P, S and T sources are mentioned and described in the lead but not yet connected with the requirements provided in the body; nevertheless, the latter are starting to sound like what we now know as PSTS. Two and a half years ago NOR looked like this: Wikipedia-specific definitions of primary and secondary sources much like what we have today. Avb 02:23, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
We have citations to Jimbo, and other citations, why not citations to verifiable sources on the definitions we are promulgating? When we start using "alternate" definitions unchained to parallel terms of art used in the outside world, we start along a dangerous path that is not conducive to achieving consensus. COGDEN 13:52, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
We are not performing scholarly research here, but rather are editors and contributors to an online encyclopedia. The proposed linkage to PSTS to uses such as the way it is used in historiography and other advanced scholarly work is irrelevant if not antithetical to the task in Wikipedia because the goal in advanced scholarly work quite often is to do original research. The demand of several WP users for a parallel in the "outside world" is quite adequately satisfied by PSTS as it is used in library science, for example here, here and here. Note on the University of Maryland webpage the statement: " As you conduct research, you will consult different sources of information. A professor may request primary, secondary, or tertiary sources." and the page proceeds to explain PSTS. Here in WP, the "professor's request" in the WP:NOR policy is fairly straightforward: Statements based upon primary sources should "only make descriptive claims about the information found in the primary source, the accuracy and relevance of which is easily verifiable by any reasonable, educated person without specialist knowledge." And "where interpretive claims, analysis, or synthetic claims about primary sources are included in Wikipedia articles, use secondary [or tertiary] sources rather than original analysis by Wikipedia editors". The three college library websites I just mentioned are among the library-related resources which give additional perspective that can be used by WP users to negotiate the content in the respective articles they happen to be involved in writing or editing. Or, they can just use the brief description provided in WP:NOR. But it's most assuredly not the case that WP's usage of PSTS has no "outside world" correlation. ... Kenosis (talk) 16:22, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
These library help sites are very simplistic definitions, and border on not being reliable sources for this subject matter. When library scientists publish in library science journals, they are more accurate. For example:
Duff, Alistair (1996), "The literature search: a library-based model for information skills instruction", Library Review 45 (4): 14–18 ("A primary source is defined here as a source containing new information authored by the original researcher(s) and not previously published elsewhere.")
But even library scientists are careful to note that these terms are ambiguous and difficult to apply:
Delgadillo, Roberto & Lynch, Beverly (1999), "Future Historians: Their Quest for Information", College & Research Libraries: 245–259, at 253 ("[T]he same document can be a primary or a secondary source depending on the particular analysis the historian is doing")
COGDEN 18:51, 26 November 2007 (UTC)


Indeed, we are not performing scholarly research here, but then why are you mentioning "professor's request," "college libraries", linking to *.edu sources et al?
Referring to these is again presupposing that PSTS is at all relevant to NOR policy, which - I again note - has yet to be established by anyone here. When the premise is false, the conclusions are irrelevant.
The fundamental principle and purpose behind NOR policy is to prevent WP from becoming itself a primary source, which WP becomes when readers cite it for information found nowhere else.
This is the only extent to which a distinguishing of source types is relevant to NOR policy.
-- Fullstop (talk) 17:48, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
True that the original purpose of No-original-research was to prevent WP from becoming a primary source. Beyond this, it was also clear to the founder of WP that where interpretation, analysis, or synthesis is involved, drawing on primary sources needed to be curtailed in favor of using secondary sources. See and . Since then, via the consensus process, WP:NOR grew longer and more explicit, incliding the PSTS section presently being scrutinized.

As to why mention the library science usage, it would have little or nothing to do with holding that usage as authoritative over WP policy, but would have a great deal to do with responding to the incorrect assertion that WP's PSTS is somehow made-up out of thin air with no known equivalent in the "outside world". ... Kenosis (talk) 18:18, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

Your citations to Jimbo don't support what you are trying to say. The first one states:
"I think in part this is just a symptom of an unfortunate tendency of disrespect for history as a professional discipline. Some who completely understand why Wikipedia ought not create novel theories of physics by citing the results of experiments and so on and synthesizing them into something new, may fail to see how the same thing applies to history." (emphasis added)
Jimbo's concern was not for the use of primary sources, but for synthesizing sources to create something new. Jimbo would be horrified by some people's suggestions here that you couldn't even cite the historian's or physicist's conclusions that accompany the published experimental data (at least without also citing Nazism Today's filtered version of those conclusions). The second one states:
"Suppose for example you've come up with a novel historical theory which appears in no peer reviewed journals and which is contradicted by prominent authorities in the field, and you prove your theory through original research into primary sources, archives, etc.
"Suppose Bellesiles had attempted to publish his novel historical thesis at wikipedia, rather than in traditional primary sources? We would quite properly have rejected it as original research, because we are ill-equipped to judge the validity of such things." (emphasis added)
Note here that Jimbo recognizes books published by reputable publisher as "traditional primary sources", and actually encourages reliance on such primary sources, which have been (or will be) vetted by experts, and thus are reliable. It turns out that Bellesiles' book was later disputed by experts (which are primary sources, too), and Jimbo implies that such later experts' conclusions would also properly be accepted by Wikipedia. The only thing that wouldn't be accepted is actual original research (if Bellesiles came directly to Wikipedia). COGDEN 18:35, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
>>"Beyond this, it was also clear to the founder of WP that where interpretation, analysis, or synthesis is involved, drawing on primary sources needed to be curtailed in favor of using secondary sources."
Rewrite that as
"beyond this, it was also clear to the founder of WP that where interpretation, analysis, or synthesis be avoided." Period.
There is no need to split hairs when no hair splitting is necessary. ANY novel interpretation, ANY novel analysis, ANY novel synthesis is bad.
NOR violations occur when a WP statement is the result of an editor's own interpretation/analysis. This occurs irrespective of what the sourced statement/work is.
-- Fullstop (talk) 19:15, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
Sorry, I neglected to include . I should mention that all these links are right on the project page already. ... Kenosis (talk) 20:07, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
No, you included it, and I addressed it above. COGDEN 20:14, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
Then this is getting to the point of becoming ridiculous, IMO. All, or virtually all, the admins that've checked in here, and most of the experienced users that've checked in here, do not agree with your interpretation of WP:PSTS nor with your push to change the policy. Please let it go.. ... Kenosis (talk) 20:25, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
Certainly not all, because I am one, and even if it were true that "most" of the "experienced" users disagree, Wikipedia is not a democracy. It requires consensus. And you don't have it, which becomes more and more apparent as more and more people join either sides of the anti-primary-source debate. Besides, over the history of this debate, it's been pretty evenly split, even though the anti-primary-source faction has been more active in the past two weeks. There have been times when the "reliable sources are good enough" faction has had the upper hand as far as numbers are concerned. It's a bit of a pendulum. Plus, Wikipedia policy pages must reflect pre-existing practice, not lead it. We've shown time and again that common Wikipedia practice is not as reflected in the most recent language. Wikipedia editors do not, in practice, restrain their use of primary sources, particularly such primary sources as peer-reviewed journals, which are widely encouraged. COGDEN 20:32, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

This is becoming disruptive. Please stop. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 20:34, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

If you think I'm being disruptive by proposing edits and and attempting to work toward actual Consensus (rather than manufactured one), then please explain what the best course of action should be to achieve consensus? COGDEN 20:38, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
(ed conf)
  1. Slow down;
  2. Do not make changes to policy pages that are not agreed upon
  3. Do not mis-use dispute tags to undermine existing policies
  4. Take a break and edit some articles instead. You may be surprised on how progress can be made without one's involvement.
≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 20:43, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
You are neither the sole arbiter of this policy nor the sole judge of consensus. Apparently many other admins and experienced users believe this policy does have consensus. Consensus isn't the same as unanimity... Kenosis (talk) 20:41, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
I'll take a break on the tag. But I'm still trying to work toward consensus on other problematic parts of the section. If we achieve consensus, we won't need the tag. I'd encourage editors here not to own this article. There are numerous independent proposed edits (reverted without comment) I've made recently which would go a long way toward making everybody happy. This is what WP:CONS is all about. COGDEN 20:53, 26 November 2007 (UTC)


I haven't seen anything "disruptive" yet, other than the position that "what I say goes" attitude which has provoked the removal of the "disputed" template. Like anything else on WP, editors are obliged to make their statements hold up to fire. Removing the template ain't kosher.
And so far no one has even bothered to establish the necessity for a differentiation of PSTs in NOR. Again and again someone differentiates kind of source although what is being said is true for all sources.
I suggest that each editor here submit one version of the PSTS section to use the least number of words possible. We should then be able to see what PSTS is really about.
-- Fullstop (talk) 21:18, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

Query for Cogden

Hi Cogden, I've been phasing in and out of this discussion for a few weeks (or has it been months?), so that I've missed a lot, and I'm now very confused about the main issue. You wrote above: "The current PSTS language is revolutionary. It would cause a major upheaval in Wikipedia practice, and requires that everybody be on board."

Can you say in a few sentences how so? This is the language that I recall always being here (with a few tweaks, none of them substantial, I don't think). What would the major upheaval be, in your view? SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 22:37, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

The major upheaval would be if people actually started following or (God forbid) enforcing this language. For 7 years, Wikipedians have all pretty much assumed that citing to reliable sources is a good thing, that if a source is reliable, it's good enough, and that if something is verifiable, it's not original research. What has been proposed, however, since lage 2006, is that primary sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles and books, interviews, and novels, aren't good enough anymore, and that they need to be corroborated. This is really a revolutionary idea, and if that's where Wikipedia is going, I think Jimbo should be informed, because this fundamentally changes how Wikipedia works. No longer can you just find a reliable source to support your statement: you now have to (1) determine whether the reliable source is primary, secondary, or tertiary (itself a difficult task, which will breed edit wars), (2) if it's a primary source, determine whether it fits within each of the exceptions of non-analyticality, non-syntheticity, non-interpretiveness, non-explanatoriness, or non-evaluativeness, and (3) if the primary source fails the above test, find a corroborative secondary source that (a) makes the same point as the primary source, and (b) does so in a way that is WP:NPOV, accurately reflecting the conclusions of the primary source without too much distortion, cherry-picking, or spin. Wikipedia is supposed to be something that's easy for anybody to edit, and this framework is not the kind of world that I'm sure Jimbo would have wanted when he created the institution. COGDEN 22:57, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
Cogden, my memory is that this language has been in the policy since 2004 or 2005. It describes what almost all good editors do, to the best of my knowledge.
  • First, it usually isn't difficult to determine whether a source is primary or secondary. The question is: was the source involved? If yes = primary. Sometimes the definitions are trickier than this, but almost always not.
  • If a source is deemed to be involved, it doesn't mean it can't be used. It can be used, of course. Primary sources are good if used well. But they must never be used by a Wikipedian to support generalized claims about the topic, or analytic claims. They may only be used to say: "This is what involved source Mr X said ..."
  • Secondary sources (uninvolved sources) can be used to make more general or analytic claims, and often without in-text attribution, because they are uninvolved, have some distance etc.
  • I think your point is that all sources must be used carefully, not just primary ones. And that is true. But primary sources are particularly easy to misuse. Hence the explicit proscription. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 23:06, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
"This language has been in the policy since 2004 or 2005" is a lie that has apparently been repeated so often people can't distinguish it from the truth, even though it is easily checked in the history. So here are the diffs, again: This edit from March 8, 2005 introduced the original definition of primary sources as factual sources. This edit from October 23, 2006 changed the definition to close sources as you describe above. Dhaluza (talk) 13:13, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Where is the "lie," Dhaluza? The March 2005 version you cite says:

'Primary sources present information or data, such as archeological artifacts; photographs; historical documents such as a diary, census, transcript of a public hearing, trial, or interview; tabulated results of surveys or questionnaires, records of laboratory assays or observations; records of field observations. Secondary sources present a generalization, analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of information or data.

How is that different from the current definition? Where do you get the idea of "factual" versus "close" sources? The definition of a primary source is well-known. No one at Wikipedia has tried to change it. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 20:17, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

I meant to add this earlier. The other problem with using primary sources is that they can be used to support non-notable material. You mentioned earlier that Jimbo would not approve of proscribing their use, but he does very much approve of limiting the use of primary sources when they're used to prop up non-notable material. For example, you're writing an article about a BLP. You find court transcripts of his divorce proceedings, which were particularly nasty, and all kinds of interesting and serious allegations were made. The trial transcripts constitute primary-source material. But it would be wrong to use them in the BLP as a source for the allegations. What you would need to find is a secondary source who had used them — e.g. a mainstream newspaper — in order to show not only that these things were said about the subject, but that the saying of them was regarded by others are notable. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 23:33, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
Your use of the term notable is inconsistent with the Notability guideline. Notability is strictly related to inclusion of a topic as an article, not content within the article. There is a separate discussion on relevance of content as a proposed guideline. Also BLP is a special case which has separate policy. The point is that what you are talking about is covered by other policies and guidelines, and is not central to NOR. Dhaluza (talk) 13:17, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Look, I'm willing to discuss the content policies with people, but there has to be a degree of basic knowledge of them or it's pointless (unless you're a newbie, but you're not). Material in articles needs to be notable if there's a dispute about it, and the way we determine that is by looking for secondary sources. See this page, see V, see NPOV, ask any good editor. It looks to me as though people are trying to reinvent the wheel here. Point is: the definition we use of primary sources is the same as the definition writers, researchers, and scholars use all over the world. And the reason we ask for secondary sources a lot of the time is that primary sources are very easy to misuse.
Rather than arguing about theory, can someone show me a real example of good primary-source material that could not be used under this policy? SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 20:21, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

Removal of tag

The tag for the PSTS section has been removed recently, and attempts to revert this change have been re-reverted. We've gone around and around on this. The dispute over the tag was the reason why the page was protected last time, and since the unprotection, the tag has remained until now. It's bordering on insane to have a controversy about whether there should be a tag saying the section is controversial. Can anybody find the irony here?

Does anybody seriously believe that the PSTS section has stable enough in the last couple of weeks, and widely-accepted enough, to have "graduated" into actual, actionable policy? If not, people should be made aware of the ongoing controversy, at the very least because the language could change at any time. COGDEN 05:44, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

Please take a step back. Your position has been, primary sources have never been any more problematic than secondary sources. How can you expect us to take you seriously when you say such things? —Viriditas | Talk 05:51, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
I don't understand. How does what you say follow? I'm talking about the PSTS section, and how unstable it currently is. COGDEN 05:57, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
With such an extreme position, you shouldn't be revert warring to begin with. I see three reverts from you in the last six hours. Please let others deal with this. —Viriditas | Talk 06:04, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

Again, the controvery is not well defined. There are complaints that the terms are not well-defined, and a long standing question as to what the purpose is of distinguishing primary/secondary/tertiary (it is not clearly stated). However, these are clumsy complaints, not suitable as a point of debate, and not worthy of being called "controversy". The ill-defined controversy manifests itself as an endless rambling talkfest. Please, what is the point of controversy? --SmokeyJoe (talk) 06:36, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

I have no problem taking anyone seriously, that's not the question. I see nothing approaching a bona fide controversy that justifies tagging a policy page as controversial, though. Can we keep it to the talk page to avoid disrupting things? Wikidemo (talk) 06:48, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
This controversy has been going on since July, and has involved numerous editors on either side of the issue. Moreover, the PSTS section today is vastly different even from the version that existed in July. How can this not be bona fide controversy? We need to clue in readers that the section is in flux. COGDEN 12:13, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
  1. I see where Viriditas is coming from though, but he has (I think) misunderstood what Cogden meant, which is "secondary sources are not less susceptible to abuse than primary ones."
  2. The fact that there is dispute, is more than enough justification for a disputed tag. Just saying that there is no dispute does not make the dispute itself go away.
  3. To make the reasons for the debate very, very clear:
  • The purpose/necessity of the PSTS section in NOR is contrived.
    The PSTS section is based on the false premise that a differentiation of primary/secondary sources is conducive to an understanding of NOR policy.
  • Debate provoked by the section's pitiful prose is secondary and irrelevant only because the premise is false.
Clear enough? -- Fullstop (talk) 18:45, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
The disputed point is that “PSTS is irrelevant” to WP:NOR. The debate about definitions is completely superfluous. Have I got it right? --SmokeyJoe (talk) 20:31, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
Effectively, yes.
A differentiation of PSTs is irrelevant to NOR policy. Sources are sources. Any source can be subject to OR.
See also the concluding sentence(s) of the section.
And yes, hair-splitting over kinds of sources is superfluous when any source can be subject to OR.
-- Fullstop (talk) 20:49, 26 November 2007 (UTC)
I'd say both the definitions themselves and their relevance to NOR are questionable. Dhaluza (talk) 13:00, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Definitely the definitions are questionable. I see that problem as resulting from trying to rigidly define what have always been fuzzy definitions. I am ready to accept that PSTS has negligible relevance to WP:NOR. I do, however, still think that secondary sources are relevant to Wikipedia:Notability, where their relevance is rather different. WP:N requires (with tolerance for “other evidence”) that secondary sources covering the subject exist, but does not ask that these secondary sources are used substantially, let alone exclusively. This is sensible because a secondary source may cover a subject quite nicely, but for every interesting individual point in the article, primary sources are more appropriate to be used as references. A magazine review (or two) may demonstrate notability for a certain event, but when it comes to facts, the magazine is unreliable. Therefore, the article on the event, while citing the reviews generally, makes extensive references to primary sources.
My sense at the moment is this: Primary/secondary source typing can be useful for some purposes in Wikipedia, but a definitive understanding of source typing contributes nothing useful with respect to understanding the intent of Wikipedia:No original research. --SmokeyJoe (talk) 23:27, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Very well put.
With respect to the (IMO very appropriate) use of secondary sources as a benchmark of notability, cf. WP:FRINGE.
-- Fullstop (talk) 00:07, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Recap of PSTS issues for those just joining

Since the archive history is long and confusing for those who have recently joined the debate, I thought it would be helpful to provide a rough summary and re-cap of where the controversy has been, and its current status.


This controversy arose in July 2007, after a few editors (myself included) noted that changes in the policy circa late 2006 had injected a new negative attitude toward the use of primary sources in Wikipedia articles—that is, sources such as peer-reviewed journals and books containing authoritative content by the original authors, which have not been filtered through layers of interpretation. Prior to late 2006, the only source-related requirement was that all sources must be reliable. The use of any reliable source is allowed, and editors were encouraged to make use of reliable sources. The new change classified sources into different strata: the "best" sources were supposedly those containing second-hand information that could be colored or re-interpreted by the author (called secondary sources. In addition to primary sources, a third category of tertiary sources was added—including sources like dictionaries and encyclopedias—and these were slightly disfavored, but not so disfavored as primary sources.

From July 2007 to the present, this page has undergone dramatic shifts, and has been protected twice thus far because of edit wars. Over the history of the dispute, roughly equal comments have been received by the anti-primary-source faction as by the pro-primary-source faction, although different editors have been active at different times, and there has been a sort of "see-saw" action back and forth between the two factions. The issue was submitted to mediation at one point, but some of the most vocal participants objected to that procedure, and further dispute resolution action has been taken. It has been suggested that the issue be taken up by the Arbitration Committe, but there is some question about whether they have jurisdiction over content disputes, even when they involve pillar policies like WP:NOR.

The present version of the PSTS section contains some of the material that was present in July 2007. Some other material has been abandoned. For example, the statement that use of primary sources should be "rare" has been removed, as has the statement that Wikipedia articles should "rely on...secondary sources". While the July 2007 version said that articles relying on primary sources should "make no analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims...", after much debate and edit warring, a proviso was added that reads: "...unless such claims are verifiable from another source". Nevertheless, the article as it currently stands:

  1. prohibits citation to explanations found together with raw data in the same source (e.g., peer-reviewed scientific articles), unless the original author's conclusions about her data are corroborated by the conclusions of another commentator;
  2. requires citations to sources even when the material is verifiable without a source, which may occur when nobody would dispute of question the material. (e.g., stating in an article that "in Albert Einstein's article on the photoelectric effect, he cited five prior sources" without another source actually doing the counting, which is a prohibited act of "analysis")
  3. allows Wikipedia editors to include in articles interpretive statements if they are found in book reviews, but not if they are found in the book itself; allows interpretive statements cited to criticisms, but not cited to what is criticized; allows interpretations found in
  4. contains a definition and examples of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources that is not itself verified, and arguably contradicts the definitions found in primary source, secondary source, and tertiary source.
  5. arguably contradicts WP:WAF regarding works of fiction, which requires the use of primary source information and limits use of secondary information.

Current issues and status

The outstanding issues are as follows:

  • Whether the PSTS section is controversial
Pro-primary-source (PPS) faction's arguments: The section is controversial because it has been disputed since July 2007, has involved numerous editors on all sides, including administrators on both sides, and has caused edit wars.
Anti-primary-source (APS) faction's arguments: The section is not controversial because currently (the last few weeks, at least), the APS faction appears to have a slight majority of active commentators.
Status: The APS faction has been successful in preventing most changes, and has removed a tag from the section that previously indicated to editors that the section was undergoing a review for consensus. APS editors are currently arguing that since the dispute has gone one for four months without them allowing the PPS faction to make fundamental compromise or consensus changes, they should win and the issue should be dropped.
  • Whether the PSTS section reflects current Wikipedia practice
PPS: The section does not reflect Wikipedia practice. An overview of the featured articles shows that these articles make use of far more primary sources than secondary sources, and as Wikipedia ages, the ratio of primary to secondary sources only seems to be increasing. The PPS faction has set forth many examples of featured articles that do not conduct original research, but nevertheless appear to violate the current language of PSTS.
APS: Thus far, this faction has produced only general anectdotal evidence, without reference to specific examples. They have, however, attempted to rebut specific examples set forth by PPS, primarily by construing the meaning of the PSTS language, but rejecting attempts to clarify such language. APS has made no attempt to show how the language is allegedly actually applied in a widespread way by real Wikipedia editors.
Status: For the most part, the sides have been talking past each other on this issue.
  • Whether the PSTS section needs to reflect current Wikipedia practice
PPS: This faction points to WP:POLICY for the statement that "The purpose of a written policy or guideline is to record clearly what has evolved as communal consensus in actual practice, rather than to lead editors prescriptively toward a given result."
APS: This faction appears to be unconcerned with whether the PSTS section represents pre-existing Wikipedia. However, APS has not actually disputed the applicability of WP:POLICY.
Status: The parties are not listening to each other on this issue.
  • Whether the PSTS section should be maintained simply because it was undisputed for several months
PPS: According to this faction, WP:POLICY says that a policy page has to reflect actual Wikipedia practice. Just because the change was not noticed for several months by the wider Wikipedia community does not mean that there is consensus. According to WP:CONS, a higher standard of participation and consensus is required for policy pages, and the initial change did not have wide participation.
APS: According to this faction, if something makes it into a policy page, you need a separate, positive consensus to remove it.
Status: Since APS's position makes it impossible, by definition, to change the policy page once part of it remains there for some time, it does not appear that this argument presents a way forward to compromise.
  • Whether the PSTS section has anything to do with original research
PPS: Original research requires that the research be original. However, if a point in the article is verifiable, then by definition it cannot be original. Whether the source is primary or secondary, simply citing it can never be original research.
APS: Though not directly related to NOR, the PSTS section has a tendency to prevent original research that would have occurred had the PSTS section not been there. Thus, it belongs in the NOR article.
Status: The APS faction acknowledges PPS arguments, but believes PSTS's tenuous and circumstantial link to original research justifies its conclusion. While this appears to present a viable step towards consensus, APS appears not to be interested in pursuing it.
  • Whether the PSTS section contains novel definitions of primary, secondary, and tertiary
PPS: The academic definitions of these terms are set forth in the primary source, secondary source, and tertiary source articles, and these definitions conflict with those proposed in the policy article.
APS: The faction acknowledges that the definitions are different, but doesn't think it's important to have stable, verifiable definitions.
Status: After months of discussion, the sides appear to agree on this point that the policy definitions are novel and are original research. This is perhaps one of the few areas of agreement.
  • Whether the PSTS section should make up novel definitions of primary, secondary, and tertiary
PPS: Any departure from the familiar definitions used in academia will only lead to confusion. Since neo-definitions are not tethered to verifiable sources, they are also likely to breed edit wars.
APS: This faction argues that since WP:NOR is a policy article, editors should feel free to include original research. Besides, they argue, since the definitions in academia are somewhat ambiguous and difficult to apply, using standard definitions would hinder what APS is trying to accomplish by mandating source classification.
Status: The sides disagree on this point, and do not appear to be working toward consensus.
  • Whether some other terms, like raw and interpretive could be used instead of primary and secondary
PPS: Use of alternate terms would satisfy APS's desire for mandatory source classification, but would not create "parallel" definitions only applicable in Wikipedia, thus avoiding a potential source of edit wars.
APS: This faction has argued that changes in terminology are too radical, and have not agreed what the alternate terms should be, and thus argue that since there is no consensus as to any specific set of alternate words, we should stick with primary and secondary, even if it's inaccurate and confusing.
Status: Proposals to use alternate terms have surfaced in the past, but none have gained traction, mainly because they are changes, and changes in general, good or bad, are almost always reverted because "no consensus".
  • Whether primary sources are more or less likely than secondary sources to promote original research
PPS: Actually, the further a derivative source is from the original material, the more likely it is for the editor to insert her own theories. Having a close connection with the original source of theories, conclusions, and data, makes it easier to root out mischaracterizations of sources, and prevent their biased interpretation. For example, it's much easier to detect an editor's improper synthesis of census data than to detect an editor's improper citation of a secondary source's improper synthesis of census data.
APS: APS has presented anectdotal evidence that primary sources lead to original research, but has not explained why the "primariness" of the source makes a difference, or why it is not just as easy to do original research with secondary sources.
Status: The factions are talking past each other on this issue, and neither side appears capable of convincing the other.
  • Whether it is meaningful to have a category relating to tertiary sources
PPS: A tertiary source is a category of secondary source, and there are no special considerations. Moreover, the tertiary source category is not widely used in academia, and its inclusion just confuses the issue.
APS: APS's main argument is that the article has had a tertiary source section for several months, and removing it would require its own consensus. However, APS has not directly addressed the merits of a tertiary source section.
Status: The factions need to directly discuss the merits of a tertiary source section, and if it has no justification, remove it. If it has some justification, then the reasons should be made known.
  • Whether examples of primary, secondary, or tertiary sources should be included in the policy article
PPS: Since the primary/secondary/tertiary source distinctions are complicated and often difficult to apply, a full set of examples should be given only if the examples are be sufficiently granular that editors can apply them to actual real-life editing questions. Since any source can be either primary or secondary depending on how it is used, there should be guidance on how to tell. The best course would be to refer to the primary source, secondary source, and tertiary source articles, which have more comprehensive definitions, citations, and examples. Having ill-defined and insufficiently granular examples on the policy page is worse than having no examples at all.
APS: APS appears to argue that we should have the same examples that have been on the page for several months. Any change is a bad thing: the important thing is that the examples are consistent, even if incomplete or wrong. The terms are defined by the examples, so we don't need to change them.
Status: While the examples were removed from the section for some time, with links to the mainspace articles, they have recently been re-included. Since any edits to the example have been reverted, it does not appear that APS is willing to compromise this time or work toward consensus examples.
  • Should we make anything of the consensus among academics that the distinction between primary and secondary sources is ambiguous, and all sources can be categorized as either, depending on how the source is used?
PPS: This fact weighs heavily in favor of not basing the policy on these free-floating categories. We should either use other words and create bright-line categories, or we should simply trust that properly-cited reliable sources will never be original research.
APS: According to APS, the ambiguity in the academic terms and application means that Wikipedia should make up its own definitions, and call them by the same name. However, APS has resisted efforts to make it clear that these are novel, "parallel" definitions of the terms, and not necessarily the same as academic primary, secondary, or tertiary sources.
Status: There is current ongoing debate on this issue.


The controversy concerning the PSTS section of NOR has been raging for many months. Neither faction of the debate appears to be willing to compromise at this time, although there have been periods (generally just after protection has been lifted) when people have been willing to work together to form a consensus. Editors are encouraged to participate in this debate and hopefully come up with some new ideas that neither side has considered, that will move us toward consensus. COGDEN 23:58, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

Wow, this debate is so huge, and even your summary above is somehow overwhelming, I feel I'm probably reinventing the wheel with anything I'm going to say here, so please interrupt me if I'm saying something that has been discussed a thousand times. To my mind, this whole debate suffers from a conceptual confusion between two entirely unrelated sets of meanings of "primary" and "secondary" used in different fields. In my experience, in history and related fields, we talk of "pimary vs. secondary sources". Primary, in this sense, refers to documents that are potential objects of academic research but do not themselves constitute academic research. In other fields, notably in the natural sciences, people speak of "primary vs. secondary literature". Here, primary refers to academic literature, such as (typically) journal articles, that present original empirical findings and so on. For our purposes, "primary sources" in the first (historiographic) sense is the big problem. Use of "primary literature" in the second sense is no problem at all and should indeed be highly encouraged. These are simply different concepts. Fut.Perf. 00:37, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
This is pretty much the same position I held many moons ago when I first came here. But for (still) inexplicable reasons, the position was purported to be a not "generally" held one.
Your definition of "primary sources" as "documents that are potential objects of academic research but do not themselves constitute academic research" is excellent, and the best I have yet seen.
"Conceptual confusion" hits the nail on the head, but the arbitrary redefinition of terms (which is supposedly "ok" in a policy) is destined to generate conceptual confusion. But a straw-poll to determine if terms other than primary/secondary should be used instead resulted in no-consensus.
-- Fullstop (talk) 03:36, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
(ec)I am not really active right now (so pardon me if I don't respond to replies in a timely manner), but I'd like to comment that I believe there is no consensus forthcoming on the PSTS issue. Until those at the extremes of the controversy are willing to compromise, instead of demanding the retention of the current status quo or a drastic alternative, consensus is never going to occur. However, this is not limited to NOR, but rather a systemic problem in many discussions of Wikipedia processes and policies. Consensus isn't built by holding steadfastly to an immovable position. Consensus requires compromise and a willingness to reach a solution tolerable (not necessarily ideal) to most, if not all. I'd recommend people do their best to accommodate as many voices as possible, but I'd also recommend that when push comes to shove, to simply ignore the wails of those unwilling to work in a spirit of compromise and consensus. Otherwise, nothing will ever be accomplished on this page, except to establish a policy clarity and consensus. Vassyana (talk) 00:47, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

Oh, my

"Oh my," said Dr. Farnsworth.
  • In Cogden's division into pro- and anti-PS editors, I must belong to the anti-PS faction, since I intensely dislike the way primary sources are sometimes used on Wikipedia, which is too often to cite/quote them as if they were valid for contributing to the subject under discussion.
  • However, there are valid uses for primary sources, and it won't do to vilify them solely on the grounds that they are primary sources. This, I guess, puts me in pro-PS faction.
So much for pro- and contra.
I have seen dozens of "examples" posted on the last few weeks, and every single time it was a question of excluding this or including that. Cogden's conclusions too are attempting to draw things in black and white.
But Wikipedia is live technicolor. And what is "vermilion" in one context is going to be "crimson" in another, and a policy page is missing the point when it attempts to establish exactly which shade of "red" either one is.
It is always the context - of both the source statement and the target one - that determines whether something is OR or not. The color of the paper a source is printed on is completely and utterly and irrevocably irrelevant.
Policy language, like any good constitutional language, must ensure that intent is clear. And the intent of RS/NOR/V trio is to further the reliability of articles, and thus of Wikipedia as a whole.
And a differentiation of P/S/T does not further the reliability of articles.
At the end of the day,...
  • OR is the creative "rewriting" of a statement to say something that is not explicitly evident from the source itself.
  • This is the definition of OR that the NOR page (excluding PSTS) has, and it is this that should be the policy page's only message.
  • Anything that does nothing to say this loud and clear does not belong on the policy page. But the PSTS section isn't even loud and clear about itself, leave alone the policy that it is supposed to have something to do with.
-- Fullstop (talk) 02:57, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

This is totally off the mark. Codgen is speaking of 'factions as if there is such a thing. I have requested politely that Codgen takes a break from editing policy pages and commenting in them. Take a break, please... ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 03:21, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

Hey, I took a break on my own volition. Just looked back tonight to see how it's going. Mostly, it's not going. Long ago I said I'd settle for a consensus among the advocates of source typing but so far not even that has occurred. If codgen's point is that despite the lack of consensus among the partisans for source typing and despite the lack of overall consensus the partisans have again succeeded in creating the illusion or appearance of consensus for what they advocate then I agree with him. but as been pointed out above (and as I pointed out in August or so) this disagreement is of long standing. Elsewhere in Wikipedia I get the sense that within Wikipedia such an appearance of a lack of agreement reflects an actual lack of agreement. I also ge the feeling that consensus doesn't exist when there is a lack of agreement (duh.)
But the bottom line is I'm pleased to have taken the break - and will resume it. The advocates of source typing do not make a good case (and with Wikipedia it is already made clear that statements of the form "x is needed" or "x is correct" without explanation are basically useless. I see the advocates using such statements.)
Below Slimvirgin asks for examples. Please research back in this discussion and find the examples cited as justifying source typing and then examine those to see what was done (how was the source typing language used) and decide if in those examples the right thing was done and for the right reason. I recall one example in which the source typing advocate simply ripped words out of an article. That was an example given by one of the source typing advocates. No discussion on the talk page, no explanation, no assumption of good will on the part of the other editor. Being myself unable to even fake an assumption of good will with regard to this event I could not, by Wikipedia's (good) policies, do that analysis myself. I just broke that policy, somewhat. Still, I'm simply asking that you (that is, others) (1) pay attention and (2) think. I don't think the examples cited by source typing advocates justify source typing at all (not, at least, the 2 examples I recall or somewhat recall.)
Sporadically during this discussion there have been claims or suggestions as to what the nature of Wikipedia policies should be. As the detailed discussion on source typing is getting nowhere perhaps focus on the basics of what a policy is and should be would help. First get a set of criteria for policies (they should be succinct, they should be unambiguous, they should not be dependent on the interpretations of a small group, they should not alter the basic nature of Wikipedia, etc.) and then, if it is possible (I have strong doubts) craft source typing to fit within those principles. Best of luck. (P.S. I think the synthesis policy is even worse - I hardly care about source typing by comparison. I'm out of that discussion, too.) --Minasbeede (talk) 05:04, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Personally, I agree with most of what was written above. I got confused a couple of times about the 'nomenclature' applied to the two main 'camps', or 'schools of thought', but I got through it. Whichever way you want to call it, 'factions', camps', etc., it all boils down to the same thing. There are two 'camps' of differing opinions.
  • One side sees that PSTS is useful and is an inherent part of this policy and defining whether something is OR or not.
  • The other side does not see how a policy defining source types soley as they relate to Wikipedia, without explicitly stating these definitions are solely related to Wikipedia and not common usage in all of the various disciplines, makes the policy clear and easy to understand by the majority of Wikipedia editors.
  • There are variations of the 'participants' of both 'camps', where some are steadfastly entrenched in the thought that their position is correct and will 'fight to the death' to hold their position, and others are actually willing to reach out and talk to the other side in a constructive manner in the interest of not only making clearing up any perceived issues, but to make the policy better and easier to understand.
Another thought I had though that was not mentioned above, is this. Policies are meant for enforcement, while guidelines are meant to give guidance. This policy creates definitions unique to Wikipedia (though loosely based on library science criteria), as enforcement criteria, though it's not clear on why 'source-typing' needs to be enforceable.
Others can chime here and probably re-word this better, but I think this is one of the crux problems many editors who have been involved in this see. wbfergus Talk 15:58, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
I think I mostly agree with you, wbfergus. I suggest that more attention be given to the enforcement nature of policies. [WARNING: I DO NOT PROPERLY ASSUME GOOD WILL IN THIS STATEMENT] It seems quite clear that at least some of the advocates of source typing want to have that policy as policy so that they can cry (to themselves) "Improper use of primary source" and rip out sections with which they do not agree (because they will simply be enforcing a policy, not improperly favoring their own points of view.) [SAME WARNING]It also seems that source typing advocates primarily concern themselves with social-science-related topics and flat out do not care whether the policy causes havoc outside their sphere of interest. I suggest that source typing causes similar havoc within that sphere of interest and further suggest that if ever an example is shown in which they claim source typing was needed that straightforward examination of that example will reveal that the basic policy alone (no original research, NOR) is adequate to deal with the material, if it needs to be "dealt" with.--Minasbeede (talk) 05:04, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
I wouldn't go so far as to suppose that the disingenuity is intentional. Its just loss aversion obstinacy coupled with (and encouraging) a conviction of infallibility.
One consequence of this is the lack of (cerebral) response to demonstration of fallibility.
Another consequence is an "at all cost" approach, i.e. even the perversion of fundamental principles, which you allude to but are also evident "gimme proof that ps distinction is wonky" section that follows this one. There, instead of - as would be normal 'pedia practice - requiring editors' to substantiate their claims, detractors are being asked to provide evidence of the negative.
-- Fullstop (talk) 17:40, 28 November 2007 (UTC)

Let me see if I got this straight...

It's all a semantics problem with respect to the definition of the words "primary" and "secondary" sources?

What types of sources are acceptable?

What types of sources are unacceptable?

Please be specific.


What exactly is "original research"?

The Transhumanist    05:57, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

It's not simply a semantics problem, it's also a syntactics problem--i.e. where is the dividing line between primary and secondary, and is it a clear line, or is there a gray area between? The answer to your questions is that all reliable sources are acceptable, but they must be used appropriately. As far as what is original research, that is WP content whose source is the contributing editor, not another published author. It really should have nothing to do with the proper use of sources, because if there is another published source, it's not original to the editor. Dhaluza (talk) 12:42, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
It's true that the dividing line is not clearly drawn. Similarly, the line between original prose and original research is not clearly drawn, nor is the line between NPOV and POV, nor between due weight and undue weight, nor between reliable and unreliable sources, nor for that matter the line between verifiable and verified with an inline citation (i.e., what kind of material must be cited in response to a "citation-needed" template vs. removing the template with words to the effect of "gimme a break-- no citation is needed for the reference to Ottawa as the capital city of Canada"). All these are negotiated as necessary among participants in an article. ... Kenosis (talk) 15:58, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
It's also true that primary sources can be particularly open to synthesis by selective quotation, an example being racism where a series of quotations from 19th century authors are presented in a way that implies that their statements are "academic racism". A secondary source is needed to support this presentation, which in at least one instance is inaccurate. .. dave souza, talk 16:36, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
And how does using primary sources in this context differ from doing the same thing with only secondary sources? The same point could still be implied with selective quotations based solely on secondary sources. Why are primary sources more problemmatic? wbfergus Talk 17:06, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Because citing primary sources exclusively forces one almost always to violate NOR. That is why caution is needed as the potential for abuse (i.e. a novel synthesis to advance a position) is greater. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 17:24, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Maybe jossi is right for the way he defines primary source, but I think it's quite possible to write an article that depends only on what could be considered primary sources (by some definitions) without any original research. Gerry Ashton (talk) 17:44, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Yes of course. It's totally permissible so long as the statements derived from primary sources "only make descriptive claims about the information found in the primary source, the accuracy and relevance of which is easily verifiable by any reasonable, educated person without specialist knowledge," "Where interpretive claims, analysis, or synthetic claims about primary sources are included in Wikipedia articles, use secondary [or tertiary] sources rather than original analysis by Wikipedia editors."... Kenosis (talk) 17:51, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Interpretive claims about any source need to be sourced. Examples include "this author is wrong" or "this author was influenced by that other author.". Interpretive claims about the subject matter of the article, on the other hand, can only be found in secondary sources (by definition), and in practice are just cited directly to those sources without requiring additional secondary sources. — Carl (CBM · talk) 17:57, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
CBM wrote "Interpretive claims about the subject matter of the article, on the other hand, can only be found in secondary sources (by definition)...." Not always. If the source is reliable it may be used. If the source made an interpretive claim about the subject matter of the article, and made that claim based on the direct observation of phenomena, rather than reading primary sources, the source is a primary source. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 18:04, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Gerry wrote: "If the source made an interpretive claim about the subject matter of the article, and made that claim based on the direct observation of phenomena, rather than reading primary sources, the source is a primary source."
Actually,... the raw observation is primary. The analysis/interpretation is secondary.
But such a distinction is irrelevant with respect to OR.
  • "X observed[p] that the typeface used by Wikipedia is sans-serif, from which he concluded[s] that there wasn't enough lead for the serifs."
    ^^^ both primary AND secondary AND valid
  • "[X observed that] the typeface used by Wikipedia is sans-serif.[p]"
    ^^^ only primary but still valid
  • "[X concluded that] Wikipedia doesn't have enough lead for serif fontfaces.[s]"
    ^^^ only secondary but still valid
  • "[X concluded that] serif typefaces require more lead than sans-serif typefaces.[s]"
    ^^^ OR. Irrelevant whether source is "primary" or "secondary."
  • "citing primary sources exclusively forces one almost always to violate NOR"
    ^^^ OR *and* non-V. Irrelevant whether (non-existent) source is "primary" or "secondary."
See? Not exactly rocket science, right? -- Fullstop (talk) 20:00, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
  1. All sources that meet WP:RS are acceptable. The 'S' in 'RS' stands for "sources."
  2. "Original research" is the creative "ingredient" that, when added to 'x', results in 'x±n'.
    The result then says something that is not explicitly evident in the source.
If you will, from the point of view of attribution, "original research" is plagiarism in reverse: Where 'plagiarism' is the attribution of someone else's words/ideas to one's self, 'original research' is the attribution of one's own words/ideas to someone else.
Original research is very easy to spot.
-- Fullstop (talk) 17:55, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
All sources that meet WP:RS are not equal. Answers in Genesis is a RS for an article or section about themselves, but a secondary source is needed to give the third party view required for WP:V and to avoid original research in evaluating their claims. .. dave souza, talk 19:14, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
That's because Answers in Genesis is questionably reliable source about themselves. It has nothing to do with original research, or whether they are a primary or secondary source. I wouldn't trust Answers as a secondary source about themselves, either. For example, if their website quoted one of their pamphlets, or even a newspaper blurb about them, I wouldn't trust it any more than if they presented the same information in a more primary way. I would trust the newspaper cited as a primary source about Answers, just not as a source filtered secondarily through Answers. COGDEN 18:46, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

I don't wish to give overly short shrift to assertions that, logically speaking, PSTS isn't strictly necessary or should be a guideline for allocating sources in complex, obscure and/or controversial articles. But, logically speaking, most of the content of all of the three core content policies isn't absolutely needed in order to perform the function of cooperatively writing an online encyclopedia that's neutral with "due weight", all the content of which is verified or at least verifiable from reliable sources. Logically, there's no need for WP:NOR at all. It's already covered under verifiability and reliable sources! Sweet, no?.

Then we can get right to work defining what is a reliable source wiki-wide, because reliability is a totally arbitrary and arguable concept. Perhaps it should be eliminated too, on the grounds of being arbitrary and arguable. After that, I think maybe WP:V should be eliminated too. Why? Because the four words "stick to the sources" along with additional three words "no personal opinions" (seven words total) are so parsimonious that they can readily be appended to WP:NPOV. And there's no need even for that much, because if the point is using a "NPOV without undue weight to minority positions, using only published reliable sources", it should be obvious that personal opinions, personal speculations and personal analyses can't be used. So we can cut all that verbiage down to "Be neutral and objective, and stick to the reliable sources". No need for WP:NOR, no need for WP:V, only for a very short WP:Editorial policy and a lengthy WP:RS analysis to account for the wide range of reiiability criteria that folks may have. So, most of the debate really comes down to "What is a reliabile source?" No?

Believe it or not, I'm only half-jesting. Editorial policies do not always lend themselves to strict logical analyses. It's more of a balancing act, especially across something as large and broad as the wiki. And on top of it, heck, maybe the three core policies should all be called guidelines. Policies sounds too strict for things that are this hard to pin down logically.
Pardon my sarcasm please. But these are editorial policies and they don't lend well to strict logical analyses. ... Kenosis (talk) 19:50, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
This talk page has gone to the dogs somewhat. Pretty much impossible to see who's saying what. :-( SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 20:23, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Of course it has. The other symptom is the failure to check the context of whatever it is that the poor beasts think they are responding to. -- 22:07, 27 November 2007 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Fullstop (talkcontribs)
Kenosis, your point makes some sense. It is comparable to known problems in social philosophy and political science (which are relevant to understanding Wikipedia). The most logical solution to a problem is rarely the pragmatic solution. The most practical solution is rarely the socially acceptable solution. "Acceptable" solutions are rarely pleasing to more than a small minority, but usually tolerable and/or accommodating to most system participants. Vassyana (talk) 20:54, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for that. I'm tempted to want to put a {{citation needed}} after "It is comparable to known problems in social philosophy and political science (which are relevant to understanding Wikipedia)" ;-) I agree it's comparable. Thank you for that thoughtful insight. ... Kenosis (talk) 21:20, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Responding to Kenosis above, logically, NOR is not entirely covered by WP:V, and there are very good reasons for keeping it that have nothing to do with PSTS. Here's why we need both policies: while anything that is original research is necessarily unverifiable, the opposite is not always true. WP:V focuses on making sure every fact can be verified outside of Wikipedia. One thing that cannot be verified outside Wikipedia is original research, but that's not the only thing. PSTS is in the realm of "other things" that are arguably not "verifiable" (i.e. "reliable") but are also not original research, because if something is stated in a primary or secondary source, it's obviously not original. The only thing keeping PSTS in OR, and not V, is the unproven and dubious theory that statistically, citation to primary sources is more likely to lead to original research than citation to secondary sources. The other dubious argument in favor of PSTS—the theory that primary sources are purportedly less "reliable" than secondary sources, belongs squarely in WP:V. COGDEN 19:07, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Case study: Philippe Casado

I wrote this article (from the article at fr and Babelfish), and added to the end of it a section about doping allegations. Obviously, for a professional cyclist, credible doping allegations are significant and belong in the article.

The problem is, the accusations weren't made directly - Greg LeMond spoke of "a former teammate" who left one team (Gan) for an Italian team that would provide doping products, and died of a heart attack shortly thereafter. Now, it is trivial research to look at LeMond's Gan teammates at the time and see that only one left for an Italian team and died shortly thereafter - Casado. This is completely verifiable, followable by anybody without specialist training.

Now, obviously the issues here aren't entirely primary sources - or even necessarily at all, since the article cites a secondary news account of LeMond's comments. But the sort of synthetic claim made here seems to me similar to the sorts of claims that (I think) we all agree can be safely made about the plots of movies and the like. And it gets at the problem at the heart of NOR - that there is absolutely nothing resembling a bright line distinction between OR and proper summary.

To my mind (obviously) the Casado article sits firmly and safely on the good side of the OR line - the claims are easily checked, the synthesis is obvious. But how do we go about tuning that distinction?

To my mind, our best bet is still, essentially, a social one - that is, claims that do not attract attention as OR are assumed not to be OR. But that would need to be paired with some sort of social norm that notes that you should not accuse something of being OR unless you have genuine skepticism that it is an obvious and indisputable conclusion.

What do other people think? How can we distinguish acceptable synthesis from unacceptable synthesis? Phil Sandifer (talk) 19:11, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

We cannot, and we should not try. We trust editors to use common sense and not do anything detrimental to WP, and this trust should extend to every sphere of editing process. That this trust is misplaced in some cases should not cause us to become generally distrusting. -- Fullstop (talk) 20:19, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Agree. Recruit good editors and trust them. Let the editors involved decide whether the synthesis is reasonable or excessively original. --SmokeyJoe (talk) 20:47, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
I also agree, I think - local consensus and social control is going to be far more effective than a rigid policy. The problem is that we do have people who endorse rigid policy above all else - which is where we run into problems. What I'd like to see is a phrasing that encourages social norming here - something that encourages to challenge things they think are non-obvious or disputable conclusions, but also discourages them from challenging things for the sake of the rules alone. And that's, I think, where a lot of the problems with this page could quickly be solved - if we effectively discouraged treating NOR as an end in itself. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:13, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Well, until we can monitor the front door to the project, I suspect that we will always have a problem with people who want to rigidly enforce policy. I've been wrestling with a similar problem: providing a summary of the events of an important battle in Ethiopian history. The primary source I would use narrates the events quite clearly until the middle of the battle the author starts a new paragraph about how one side has won the battle; when I read that passage, I felt that the words "a scene missing here" needed to be added in the text -- yes, just like in the Monty Python sketch. Now, I can reference to traditional Ethiopian warfare tactics, & fill in the gap with a "this is likely what happened here" explanation, which would not be novel or unusual -- but I'm not comfortable with that, & until I can solve this problem the article is likely to remain a stub. What would help me in this case -- & I believe would help in the case Phil Sandifer describes above -- is if we had a way to get an outside opinion from a veteran editor who could help explain that this is not OR. I don't think opening an RfC would work because of the way this method is currently structured (e.g., it needs 2 editors to open), & because some eager-beaver newbie would see the RfC & slap {{Original research}} on the article -- which would defeat the purpose but succeed in annoying one & all. -- llywrch (talk) 22:37, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
I agree - an improvement in the culture we have surrounding the act of editing (as opposed to just writing) would only be a good thing. Phil Sandifer (talk) 23:57, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Ah yes. The commonality then is "everything in moderation," here avoiding over-precision on policy pages ("spirit, not letter"). -- Fullstop (talk) 23:55, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
I think this has more to due with reliability than with OR. In terms of OR, I'm not a cycling fanatic and don't really follow the sport, but it's obvious to me who is being referred to with minimal checking. The blatantly obvious to non-experts has long been an accepted exception to the rules, and is even explicitly included in the language of V and NOR. However, it's questionable whether an implication is acceptable from a very visible and acrimonious crusader against doping who all but accuses the entire sport of doping making an uncorroborated accusation on a hot topic that is widely covered by the media and other sources. There would be less question if the accusation was in the accuser's article discussing his anti-doping crusade. Vassyana (talk) 22:30, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Verifiability, not truth??

This is quoted like a mantra, but Wikipedia DEFINES "verifiable" in terms that have no reference except to objective truth. For example: it DEFINES verifiable as "reliable" and from "established experts" and from sources "with a reputation for accuracy". Well, the words "reliable" and "expert" and "accurate" have no meaning unless we're talking about truth-relatedness. Truthiness, as Colbert would say. So what's with the "verifiable, NOT true" crap? Is somebody just trying to confuse things? There's no room for a NOT in that sentence, if the said definition of verifiable is to be used. Would somebody like to explain what point is trying to be made in this statement, at such labor? Cause I'm obviously not getting it. SBHarris 05:51, 26 November 2007 (UTC)

I think the point is that if editors try to be the arbiter of truth themselves, that would be engaging in OR. We must look for consensus that has formed organically in the RS, and not try to judge truth for ourselves. Some common sense is required in applying this, however. Out-of-date sources may have verifiable information that is just plain wrong for a number of reasons, and we can ignore this in favor of more up-to-date material. Sources sometimes make obvious errors, and we can ignore these when we have sources that did not make or repeat the mistake. So if something is verifiable but not true, there should be RS to back that assessment. You can't substitute your own unpublished assessment, however. Dhaluza (talk) 12:57, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
I believe the operative word here is "reputation" for accuracy, which is a different thing from accuracy itself. The distinction is critical. Reputations are with respect to communities and are not universal. A doctor of theology certified by the Vatican and peer-reviewed by other theologians may have a reputation for reliably reflecting Catholic doctrine, but regarding such an individual as a reliable source on Catholic doctrine in no way implies that Wikipedia believes Catholic doctrine is "the truth." Similarly, a PhD peer-reviewed by the academic community as an expert on biology can reliably reflect scientific views on that subject, but this doesn't mean Wikipedia endorses everything biologists say either. The issue is simply whether the communities in which the reputations are formed represent points of view which are "significant" as WP:NPOV defines that term. WP:NPOV says more than simply that editors can't decide who to believe, it says that Wikipedia shouldn't decide this. The policy is to present diametrically opposed points of view so long as they are significant; Creationism and Evolution; Libertarianism and Natural law theory; Monotheism, Polytheism, and Atheism; Capitalism and Socialism; Materialism and Idealism; Rationalism and Mysticism; you name it. The encyclopedia isn't interested in who is right in the many debates about what the truth is and how best to perceive it. It simply presents the different points of view. Best, --Shirahadasha 23:09, 2 December 2007 (UTC)

Can someone show me a real example of good primary-source material that could not be used under this policy?

I asked this above, but I'm creating a new section in case it gets lost.

Seems to me that all this theoretical discussion is confusing people, and not helping the policy. I'm guessing we could easily all have what we want with a few tweaks (provided we all understand what the basic terms mean as used by scholars and other researchers, which is how we're using them too).

So could somehow please produce an actual example of where this policy, if adhered to, would have prevented the use of a good source — or did prevent it — so we can see what we're dealing with? SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 22:48, 27 November 2007 (UTC)

I think that's a good idea. Policy is usually bad policy unless it grows organically from real cases. I like to take examples from featured articles, since they can be expected to generally reflect the best of actual, widely-accepted Wikipedia practice. You never have to go very far to find good PSTS violations in featured articles. In today's featured article, winter service vehicle, the fourth sentence states:
The citation for this sentence is a primary source press release from the Dresden Airport which gives what could be interpreted as an example of such an interference. Since the citation is a primary source, the above sentence is not "merely descriptive", and is also an "interpretation" (a double violation of PSTS), it would be prohibited by the present policy, even though I think everybody would agree that this is a perfectly acceptable citation and this is not original research, since it meets the requirements of WP:V. Anything that meets WP:V cannot be original research. COGDEN 23:37, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
We allow the use of primary sources where there is no analysis needed and the source can be understood by reasonable laypersons. I don't see why your example would violate the current policy. Crum375 (talk) 23:44, 27 November 2007 (UTC)
Cogden, in what way is the use of that primary source a violation of the policy? There is no interpretation of what the source says. The source says X. We say X. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 00:02, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
I don't think this is a good use of the source, because the Wikipedia article claims that snow and ice can interfere with communication equipment, but the source does not say that. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 00:04, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
This would have nothing to do with primary vs. secondary — if the source is deficient, you need another source or you remove the claim. Crum375 (talk) 00:11, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Exactly. Non-adherence to source, aka OR, never has anything to do with primary vs. secondary. -- Fullstop (talk) 00:54, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
(edit conflict) Oh, I see, you mean it's a source giving one example, rather than a source talking about airports in general. Yes, if the issue were very contentious, that would be a violation of this policy. If, for example, I wrote: "Scholars do not regard the murder of the Roma as part of the Holocaust," and I linked to one scholar who said "I do not regard the murder of the Roma as part of the Holocaust," that would be a misuse of the source material (whether secondary or primary). In a non-contentious issue, however, it's quite acceptable to cite an example of the kind of thing you're generalizing from, so long as you're sure your generalization is reasonable. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 00:08, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
The reason the article violates PSTS is that unlike WP:V, the current version of PSTS does not make an exception for obvious and non-controversial interpretations of primary sources. If the claim is not descriptive or it is interpretive (here, it's both), then a primary source is insufficient. Period. Even if the claim is verifiable, which it is here, since the issue is non-contentious. COGDEN 19:13, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

That FA (like far too many) is far from the "best practices" goal. On the contrary, it has some good examples of NOR violations. See Talk:Winter service vehicle#Recommend a source audit. Vassyana (talk) 11:26, 28 November 2007 (UTC)

Oh, so, like, the symptoms should be "cured," rather than the sickness itself? -- Fullstop (talk) 15:20, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Further, the implied suggestion that FA reviewers are incompetent is a consequence of the supposition that the NOR page is fine, and that the fault must then lie with the reviewers.
-- Fullstop (talk) 15:20, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
What are you considering to be the "symptoms" and "sickness"? I agree with Vassyana that the Winter service vehicle article contains some examples of text that is likely original research. It's not really important to assign blame for OR existing there, but the problem should be addressed. Are you suggesting that the way to deal with original research in that article is to change the NOR policy? Chaz Beckett 17:19, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
The point is: what exactly is the purpose of telling us here that that article is busted?
Its rather plain, I think, that the article should not have achieved FA in the first place, but did because neither the editors of the article, nor the FA reviewers had an adequate understanding of OR to be able to avoid/spot it.
Of course "the problem should be addressed," the question is only which problem is relevant here: The problem that allowed OR to happen (the sickness), or the fact that the OR happened (the symptom)?
-- Fullstop (talk) 19:57, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
The point is that it was raised as an example, and upon even cursory examination the use of the source was deeply flawed. Additionally, this is the NOR talk page and the article has/had some serious OR problems. Obviously, the people here have put a lot of thought into what constitutes OR, so it's not out of place to have people who are active here take a look. Finally, the failures of that article have little to nothing to do with the phrasing and presentation of this policy. To be utterly blunt, the references simply weren't checked by the FA reviewers. If you want to fix the illness, this isn't the place to look. Vassyana (talk) 07:59, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Another example is what I also mentioned above, in your (SlimVirgin's) orginal request. The article United States physiographic region can be greatly expanded, and several new articles created on the physiographic regions of the rest of the world, based almost entirely on primary source material. There is extremely little in the way of secondary material on this subject, as this subject consists almost entirely of maps created by Edwin Raisz, A. Lobeck, and Guy Harold-Smith. I do not know the copywrite status of the maps (one I looked at yesterday was dated 1960, another was dated in the 1930's), so I don't know if I could scan them (in multiple sections, then pasted back together) or not. In order to create any text for an article, I would need to engage in source-based research (of those maps) to compile a list of the various physiographic provinces per continent. I would then need to engage in analysis, synthesis, and explanations to express what is contained on those maps (in the tables along the margins). Once that was accomplished, I could finally start to include some information on some of the indivudual physiographic regions gleaned from secondary sources. However, the 'master' list of all of the various physiographic regions only exists on the various maps (with the exception of North America, which still needs expansion). wbfergus Talk 12:19, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Assuming you resolve the copyright issues, it still sounds like WP:OR to me, which interpreting and analyzing primary material usually is. If you were to publish that in some peer reviewed scientific journal, then you could link to it, but Wikipedia is not intended for original research. Crum375 (talk) 15:49, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Well, the interpreting, etc. comes from looking at the maps and seeing which provinces and/or sections are contained in which physiographic division. In a few cases, the 'areas' on the map weren't broken out in the table, so one actually had to see the map and see which ones were included where. It's also impossible to describe most of the areas without supplying the map (which are probably copyrighted), so again, in order to describe the boundaries in many cases would violate the OR policy, since the descriptions would be coming from primary materials. Basically, the maps are primary materials, and if they can't be uploaded because of copyrights, then decsriptions should be included. In some cases, as Vassyana says below, I was able to get descriptions of some areas from other sources, but not all areas by a longshot. Even saying "XYZ physiographic section is bordered by these 6 other physiographic 'areas'" would be a violation of this OR policy, since again, it is based on a primary source (the map). However, in the one or two (maybe even three) cases I was able to find, I could probably cite a secondary source that said that, whether the source actually sid it or not, as then I would be allowed to make such judgement calls without the extra restrictions placed upon primary sources. wbfergus Talk 18:46, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
wbfergus, physiography is a synonym for physical geography. Under both names, there are plentiful references available, just counting textbooks. A small amount of web searching can yield dozens of sources just by browsing post-secondary course syllabuses. I also agree with Crum375 that the process you describe sounds exactly like original research. Vassyana (talk) 17:56, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Physiography is much more than merely physical geography. It also encompasses geomorphology and ecosystems as well, besides other components. But, I have tried in the past to find any source that provides a complete and comprehensive list of physiographic regions and their respective components. I have been unable to find one. I was able to find several sites and other sources that talked about a small subset in each one, but no 'master' listing anywhere. And it also took a lot of researching just to find the ones that I did. I have no interest in getting myself published. There's nothing in it for me. I merely would like to make the information available for others, so that they could have a far simpler time of trying to organize the data than I had, and then if they wanted, correct it, add to it, etc., or even publish it themselves. What I have is pretty bare-bones, but by far the most comprehensive list of all sources and the pertinent information in one place that I've found in around 8 years or so. wbfergus Talk 18:32, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Physiography is indeed synonymous with physical geography. Physical geography has the same general definition as you forward for physiography (indeed the latter is a contraction of the former). You can verify both assertions.[1][2] Vassyana (talk) 18:59, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Well, by some definitions. :^)
I work with a bunch of geologists who would take issue with those definitions, as they don't include the geological sciences. I also personally know of numerous geologists who scoff at the idea that physiography is the 'new' term for geomorphology. They insist that physiography is a broader term for the geomorphology of landmasses which include other criteria as well, like flora and fauna, neither of which has anything at all to do with geology. Geography is more in line with spatial representaions of the Earth's surface, while geology is one component in what makes up the surface. Geography doesn't really care that much what makes up its contents. Also, much like our discussions over what the various disciplines call "primary sources", the same problem exists with "physiography". Different disciplines classify it differently, though there are similarities and even overlap. wbfergus Talk 20:30, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Taking the side conversation to user talk. :) Vassyana (talk) 08:09, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
For anybody interested, I started on an article (right now it's still basically just a list) of the different physiographical regions. It still needs a lot of work, including references, but just going through trying to get all the appropriate wikilinks is time-consuming. I also might have to wait on the references (at least the ones for the maps) until January when I'm back in the office, unless I can get a friend of mine there to get into my office and add them for me. I think he's on vacation for a couple weeks though, so I'll play that by ear. I know it's hard telling if any of it is OR or not without citing any references, but I'd appreciate any feedback on what I have so far. wbfergus Talk 15:07, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
There are some exceptions that have been consistently applied in WP, related to primary sources. For example, the plot summaries in articles about films. See for example The_Joy_of_Sect#Plot, a Simpson's episode. When I asked in the FA review about possible violation of NOR, I was told by Wikiproject films members that plots can be easily verified by watching the film (the primary source) and thus are not in violation of NOR if well written and no attempts to provide interpretation are made. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 16:52, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
Yes. This is consistent with most previous interpretations of WP:NOR w.r.t. plot summaries in general, as also recently expressed here. ... Kenosis (talk) 17:47, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
I fail to see why jossi considers plot summaries to be an exception, unless he thinks summarizing is original research. If that's what he thinks, the solution is to go to the Wikipedia server farm and pull all the plugs. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 17:50, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
It appears that the WP users involved in that type of article have worked it out already and merely communicated the particular interpretation of policy to Jossi. I don't necessarily think Jossi, or anyone else, should be expected to know this unless he was actively involved in and familiar with that type of article or had asked one or more users who are already familiar with how it's been interpreted in that area of WP. ... Kenosis (talk) 18:07, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
I'm going to defend jossi's concern here, for one very good reason: about once a month, on average, I encounter some eager newbie who proclaims that primary sources should not be used in articles. As a result, there is a perpetual series of discussions explaining why a summary of a novel, play, television episode, etc. is not original research; you can't simply refer them to the policy, since the policy changes just enough that I can't be certain whether that is allowed, forbidden or not mentioned at any given moment. Further, if these newbies need help to understand why a plot summary is not original research, then sure as the sun will rise tomorrow they won't grasp the Tao behind ignore all rules -- which trumps that. (P.S. Now that I've argued that, I'll admit that there are also times where the best thing to do is to use secondary sources in plot summaries: for example experimental fiction like Finnegans Wake.) -- llywrch (talk) 22:08, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Slim as I said higher up this page, I think it depends on whether one understands "and make no analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims" to implicitly include "and make no analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims [about the information found the primary source]". I take it to mean the latter. But if one does not and takes it to mean that no primary source can be used to make theses types of claims then out go many of the genocide definitions, because many of are sourced from their primary sources and all of them make such claims. --Philip Baird Shearer (talk) 18:13, 28 November 2007 (UTC)

Can you give an example of a genocide definition that is sourced to a primary source? Don't you mean sourced to an academic? How could an academic be a primary source on genocide (unless he somehow took part in a genocide he was writing about)?
Also, the addition makes no sense to me: "about the information found [in] the primary source." No, it's that primary sources should not be used to make analytic claims about anything. Primary sources should simply be used to show what the primary sources are saying. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 03:45, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Where the topic is Aristotle's Physics, Aristotle's work is the primary source; where the topic is For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway's work itself is the primary source; where the topic is intelligent design, the works of leading ID proponents are the primary sources; where the topic is evolutionary theory, the original research of biologists, cladisticians, etc. are the primary sources (unless the point is evolutionary theory itself, in which case the primary source is Darwin or perhaps another original source of evolutionary synthesis); where the topic is the Book of Ezekiel, the scripture is the primary source. Where the topic, or thing being written about in a given part of an article, is the definition of genocide, the published definitions are the primary sources. Only if the topic is a particular act of genocide or set of acts of genocide, is an eyewitness account a primary source. ... Kenosis (talk) 04:57, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Aristotle's work is the primary source for Aristotle's work, yes. But that doesn't mean that geographers are primary sources regarding the work of geographers. I'm not sure that's meaningful thing to say even. John Smith, the geographer, is a primary source for John Smith's work on geography, and Joe Blow's work on genocide is a primary source for his work on genocide. But it's stretching the definition to say that the published definitions of a word are primary sources. Yes, I see what you mean, but I think you're left with a meaningless definition that way. Do you have a source for what you're saying BTW? (We need a primary source for the definition of primary source. ;-)) SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 08:07, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Suppose a reliable author observes some phenomena with his own eyes, and arranges for a reliable publisher to publish his analytic claims about them. Since the claims are not the result of reading and analyzing primary sources, the publication is a primary source, not a secondary source. A Wikipedia editor then incorporates the claims into an article, with no alteration, and with proper attribution. A primary source has then been (properly) used to make an analytic claim.
Perhaps SlimVirgin interprets "" to mean analysis of the sources by the Wikipedia editor. Perhaps SlimVirgin thinks the word "analytic" does not apply to analysis on the part of the author of the source. I think such an interpretation is far from obvious. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 04:07, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
If a newspaper reporter, for example, happens to observe an event, writes about the actual event and adds analysis to it, and his article gets published, that article would effectively be a secondary source. The reason is that the reporter with his analysis, along with possible fact checkers at the publisher, have taken the raw primary information ("2000 people attended the rally") and added their analysis to it ("it was the largest rally since 1976"). Wikipedians would then be able to use this analysis, as it is a legitimate secondary source. Crum375 (talk) 04:39, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Crum375 tries to claim there is no such thing as a primary source that contains analysis. I disagree. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 05:05, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
It depends on the nature of the topic. If the topic involves analysis, the original source of the brand of analysis under discussion is the primary source of that brand of analysis. If it's a particular political theory or scientific theory, the original source of that theory is a primary source. If the discussion revolves around evidence that supports or contradicts a particular theory, the published research of particular studies or experiments are primary sources; if it's about a motion picture, the original published film is the primary source -- etc., etc. ... Kenosis (talk) 05:27, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

[Note:the following comments were posted earlier in response to the first query about "genocide definitions"]

No, the definitions at genocide definitions are all taken verbatim from their respective sources. No additional analysis or interpretation is added in that WP content. If this is being widely misinterpreted, then simply add the words "... about the information found the primary source" ... Kenosis (talk) 18:19, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
It should additionally be mentioned that the situation is utterly misrepresented as related. Only two of the sources are primary sources as defined in Wikipedia. Of those two, both are related in a secondary source as important and notable early definitions. Since the list depends on secondary sources, even for the inclusion of the two primary sources, how primary sources are treated would have zero effect on the article. Vassyana (talk) 18:27, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
I disagree, take for example "Genocide is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator." (The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies, Yale University Press [the primary source for this quotation]). This is a fundamentally different definition from that of the CPPCG and is frequently cited when people wish to use a broader definition of genocide than the legally defined one used by the courts which is based on the CPPCG. See the Genocides in history article or note the comment by the ICJ President Rosalyn Higginsin about the Bosnian Genocide Case "[because this judgement deals] exclusively with genocide in a limited legal sense and not in the broader sense sometimes given to this term". As I said this only becomes a problem if editors do not choose to read into the WP:PSTS clause "[about the information found the primary source]", something I think is implied by the sentence structure. --Philip Baird Shearer (talk) 20:48, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
I inserted the qualifying phrase here. ... Kenosis (talk) 21:19, 28 November 2007 (UTC)


  • If wbfergus' considers his example to be evidence of PSTS's confusing nature, then its not meaningful to suggest that his example is not admissible. Although I personally follow Crum375's line-of-view,...
    1. If someone says "policy" is confusing, then the first reaction of policy writers should be to accept that is in fact the case.
    2. And if he thought so, then others could think so as well.
    3. And don't the diverging opinions of whether it is/isn't primary research only demonstrate that he has a point?
  • Its downright impractical to suppose that each and every case of primary blah blah needs to handled on a case-by-case basis. Basic rules, end of story. Only that with respect to PSTS, everyone clinging on to the section appears to have lost sight of what the base is (even though the conclusion of the section actually tells everyone what it is). Are the trees blocking the view of the forest?
  • And... why is it anyway necessary for anyone to provide evidence of PSTS's confusing nature?
    The onus of providing evidence for the assertion that a differentiation of PSTS is necessary in NOR lies with those making that assertion. Not the other way around. Such is the way of the wiki.

-- Fullstop (talk) 20:40, 28 November 2007 (UTC)

In an effort to help clarify my position of my example above, I think the best way will be actually try to create some articles and add to others, getting it all tied together (without uploading the maps, which are probably copyrighted). Maybe after I get that done, either it will become more clear to me, or more clear to others, if and/or where problems may exist. Right now, I've just been tossing the problems around in my head, as the maps themselves are basically primary sources, being original work created by someone close to the subject. But, perhaps they could also be considered secondary sources, as they were also published, revised, and republished numerous times, and are now the basis for others 'work' on physiography. If when I get done it decided that there is a problem, well they could always be deleted. I'm not in the office anymore this year, so I'll send an email to a friend of mine in the office to help out as well, since he can get into my office where all my files are at. wbfergus Talk 11:18, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
In my opinion, PSTS requirements would be fully met by a statement in the body of the text on the lines of "physiographic regions based on maps by Edwin Raisz, A. Lobeck, and Guy Harold-Smith", and a secondary source showing the significance of these maps. That way, the primary source is used for facts that are obvious from the source, and the notability and credence of the source is shown by an independent secondary source. .. dave souza, talk 11:37, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
The onus of providing evidence for the assertion that a differentiation of PSTS is not necessary in NOR lies with those making that assertion. Not the other way around. Such is the way of the wiki. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 03:29, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
so much for perversion. "I'll make something up, you prove me wrong." Riiiight. -- Fullstop (talk) 14:51, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
No. It's more like when something has essentially been part of policy for over two years and eight months, the onus is on those trying to change a long standing status quo. Vassyana (talk) 21:49, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
I once got paid as a student to take part in some psychology research, where you had to sit in front of a computer that was flashing up words, and you had to hit yes if the word existed, and no if it was a made-up work. The speed of the words on the screen got faster and faster, and after 10 minutes, you started having no idea whether a word existed or not. They'd flash up words like "the," and you'd think "no, that's nonsense," then you'd think, "hang on, I think I've seen that word before." I'm starting to feel like that about "primary source." What the hell is a primary source?? ;-D SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 08:15, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
What would you like for it to be? Raymond Arritt (talk) 08:20, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
heh. -- Fullstop (talk) 14:51, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
"Three pounds of flax." -- llywrch (talk) 22:13, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Where's the beef?

The PSTS distinction is commonly used as a useful reminder to take care to seek independent sources of verification for analysis, conclusions or notability of information from sources close to the subject being written about. As shown in the example posted here earlier. The terms are widely understood and used in common definitions, as the library links, but are not hard and precise. Some editors evidently find a conflict with more technical definitions, and find cognitive dissonance between their perception that rigid definitions rule out valid sources, and the looser definitions and negotiated consensus that commonly works in articles. The snow clearing at airports example shows a case where this policy has NOT been used to rule out a source, and where part of the sentence is unsupported by the citation. Are there any examples where this policy has actually caused a problem by being implemented to reject a good source, rather than a case where it's not been rigidly implemented? ... dave souza, talk 09:21, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

I don't have a case that fits Dave souza's criteria. If such a case existed, I imagine we would find that the source was not rejected entirely, but rather, certain passages were rejected on the basis that they were explaination, analysis, etc., within a primary source.
I suggest that we don't have to find such a source to warrant clarification of this policy. There may be a chilling effect, where editors would have used a good primary source, but didn't, because of this policy. There may also be cases where editors could have supported part of an article just fine with a primary source, but thought it wasn't allowed by this policy, so expended unnecessary effort to find a secondary source. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 16:18, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
It's meant to have a chilling effect on editors using primary sources for more than statements of fact, and encourage taking care to avoid undue weight as below. My suggestion at #How to use primary sources without original research was aimed at giving a way forward for such cases. .. dave souza, talk 18:32, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
A big problem with this policy and the discussion about it is vagueness about who exactly is writing statements. When Dave souza says "it's meant to have a chilling effect on editors using primary sources for more than statements of fact..." it isn't clear who is making more than a statement of fact, the cited author (which the Wikipedia repeats), or only the Wikipedia editor (which would indeed be original research). --Gerry Ashton (talk) 18:40, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Although adding details to an intro paragraph is not good style, I believe the addition in the example should not have been entirely deleted. Instead, it could have been summarized into something like ", although this hypothesis has been subsequently questioned <ref>citation</ref>". The source seems perfectly appropriate to support a brief mention that an alternative hypothesis is under discussion, it's reasonable to mention this in an intro paragraph that describes the principle hypothesis. I simply don't see why the fact that it's a primary source makes it unreliable for this purpose. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 17:01, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Point taken, but in the context of the feedback and the retention of the information in a section in the article, I agreed with the removal from the lead of the information I'd added... dave souza, talk 18:32, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Use of primary sources to establish notability and significance claims

I think there is some confusion between (a) primary sources cannot be used to establish a topic's notability, and (b) primary sources cannot be used at all (i.e., they are not reliable). In general it strikes me as reasonable to have a rule of thumb that primary sources should not be used to establish notability, although they're perfectly good sources in other contexts. It seems to me that the issue of what sources are appropriate to establish a topic's notability is a subject that should be covered by WP:N rather than WP:NOR. The issue simply isn't one of original research. One is indeed citing a source for the notability claim. The issue is whether the source is appropriate for the specific sub-topic of notability. It's important to keep in mind here that WP:N was never made policy. It's only a guideline. Wikipedia doesn't strictly require notability at all, only verifiability and sourcing. I think the community should decide that notability should be required as policy before details about the sourcing of notability are made into policy. So long as notability itself is not policy, turning details about its sourcing into policy makes no sense. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 16:50, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

It's not just notability, it's the implied suggestion of significance in relation to the subject, effectively producing a synthesis that gives undue weight to what may be an extreme minority viewpoint. A primary source may well be useful for a statement of fact, but care needs to be taken to avoid introducing misleading impressions, even by inadvertent OR.. .. dave souza, talk 18:25, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
I agree, but the possibility of original synthesis has nothing to do with the degree primariness or secondariness of the sources you are synthesizing. I would argue that you have to be more careful about injecting OR with secondary sources, since they are more loosely tethered to the verifiable facts, and more easily manipulated in subtle ways, whereas manipulation of primary sources is obvious and easy to detect.
Shirahadasha makes a good point. Notability concerns are one of the main purported justifications for PSTS. Certainly, citation in secondary sources is a very good criterion for notability. But as WP:N says, once notability is established for a topic, you don't need to re-establish notability for every single sub-topic, claim, and bullet-point. Articles should be comprehensive about notable topics, and should use all reliable sources available: primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary, or whatever. Once the notability of the general topic is established, the same standard applies for all sources: reliability. COGDEN 18:34, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Given that notability concerns are guidelines only, and are some of our worst and most destructive guidelines at that (being used capriciously in A7 speedy deletions, the single way we WP:BITE the newbies most these days), I am loathe to edit a core content policy to be better compatible with a bad guideline. I'd rather make the core content policy sane (which, I continue to maintain, does not require PSTS to do it) than try to prop up bad policy with it. Phil Sandifer (talk) 18:44, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
The use of secondary sources as a benchmark of notability is explained in WP:FRINGE.
Which, until not long ago, that page succeeded in doing without any "help" from any editors of this talk page.
-- Fullstop (talk) 20:05, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

I agree with dave souza's point above that there is an issue of WP:SIGNIF as well as WP:N. I would also agree that it's reasonable to have a general rule of thumb that primary sources are typically not usable to establish that an opinion or point of view is significant. However, I would put the discussion of sourcing used to establish significance in WP:SIGNIF for the same reason I would put discussion of the sourcing needed to establish notability in WP:N. I don't believe either properly involves WP:NOR. Research and opinion doesn't have to be either notable or significant to be non-original. Currently, WP:SIGNIF is simply a redirect to WP:N, reflecting a current community consensus that the two should be treated the same way. I personally think this is not a good idea. The idea of significance is a critical concept in Wikipedia policy which really needs to be carefully defined and explained in its own right. I think content intended to get at this concept really belongs there, and WP:SIGNIF should be expanded to include it. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 05:58, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Note: Here "significant" refers to the phrase"significant points of view" mentioned (but not defined or explained) in WP:NPOV. There seems to be a number of Wikipedia policy pages that attempt to get at this vital concept indirectly, yet none directly defines or explains it. WP:FRINGE is an attempt to describe what is not significant. We're discussing putting the sourcing for significance in WP:OR. However, we never actually explain what a "significant" POV is or how one determines whether a POV is significant or not. We don't discuss the role of the significance concept in Wikipedia policy or directly address its special sourcing consderations in the context of a discussion of the concept itself. I believe the concept of "significance" should be explained. I suggest WP:SIGNIF is the place for that explanation, including a discussion of the kind of sources needed to establish significance and special considerations about the sourcing of significance claims. The concepts of notability or significance, including sourcing issues related to those concepts, do not belong in WP:NOR. Best, --Shirahadasha 18:27, 30 November 2007 (UTC)

Relation of PSTS to "... in popular culture" sections

Hi. I was directed here by an editor who disagreed with my removal of an " popular culture" section as "original research". I've read the policy here, and looked over the debate, and I'm confused.

My question is a general one, as this is not the only article in which I've seen (and sometimes removed such material. Nonetheless, for context I'll mention that the article in question was Wedgie, which is currently nominated for deletion. To clarify in general, I'm talking about a section in an article on topic X that enumerates instances in which X has been mentioned or shown in a television show, movie, video game, book, song, etc. My position is that such sections constitute original research because we're the first source commenting on that material, in connection with topic X. The sections consist of items of popular culture that Wikipedians have personally witnessed, noticed something about, and chose to document what they saw. That seems to me to fall well within a common-sense understanding of "original research".

In reading the debate above, I can't see that it applies particularly well to the type of situation I'm describing. The situation is not analogous to commenting that Einstein used five sources in his paper (the example given above); it's analogous to including a list of Einstein jokes that have been made in cartoons and TV shows. Is this question part of this debate, or am I barking up the wrong tree by posting here? What do people think about " popular culture" sections? Are they (potentially) original research? Is there another guideline or policy I should be considering? -GTBacchus(talk) 01:30, 1 December 2007 (UTC)

Given that I hate most "in popular culture" trivia sections, I wish we could get rid of them by saying "Original research" but, alas, I don't think NOR really applies in most cases. Oh, I suppose that it could apply in a few individual cases... but as a generality, no. In most cases the bit of trivia is a simple declarative statement, of the ... "topic X was referred to in TV show Y (cite to episode)" variety. That isn't OR. It is simple statement and citation. One of the appropriate uses of the primary sources (ie the TV show itself). Now if the article went on to (for example) discuss the impact upon topic X that occured due to being mentioned in this TV show, we would need an outside secondary source to avoid OR. Blueboar 02:25, 1 December 2007 (UTC)
But those sections are absurd. By including them, we're claiming that, every time the Simpsons make a Marx brothers reference, it's somehow a piece of scholarship on the Marx Brothers to mention it. These sections are sometimes well-done (Ride of the Valkyries does a great job), but most of them push the limits of WP:NOT indiscriminate. On what do we base the judgment that a mention on a cartoon buys a mention in an article? -GTBacchus(talk) 03:12, 1 December 2007 (UTC)

I realize this is not exactly the appropriate forum to discuss this issue, but, since you brought it up, the abhorrence of popular culture sections borders on the obsessive. In the article Grosse Fuge, for example, the fact that Beethoven's work is quoted in Schnittke's third string quartet was deleted unthinkingly, because the title of the section in which that appeared was called "... in popular culture". I know this is an unpopular view, but I see nothing unencyclopedic about listing and discussing derivative works of an artist or a work of art. --Ravpapa 12:42, 1 December 2007 (UTC)

It does not really matter whether we like "in polular culture" sections or not, nor whether we think it is appropriate to include such sections in our articles... The question that was raised was whether "in popular culture" sections constitute an NOR violation. The answer is that, in most cases, they don't. It's that simple. Blueboar 15:01, 1 December 2007 (UTC)
How would you reply to my question: On what do we base the judgment that a mention on a cartoon buys a mention in an article? Is that true in all cases? When is it not true, and why? -GTBacchus(talk) 22:02, 1 December 2007 (UTC)

Addressing the initiating comment:

  • With respect to individual entries in a pop-culture section:
There is no relationship between NOR and individual statements in a pop-culture section. The entries in such sections are rarely (ever?) backed up by citation. The permissibility of individual entries is controllable with WP:V.
  • With respect to pop-culture sections as a whole:
The relevance of these sections to the primary topic is rarely, if ever, a given. The assertion/implication of relationship is the OR. It is, alas, not enforceable with NOR.
  • Resolve the problem of the "in pop-culture" lists by shoving them off into an article of their own (distinct from the original subject) and tagging them with Category:Pop-culture lists.
-- Fullstop 23:57, 1 December 2007 (UTC)
Your solution doesn't work in situations where the article is too short to justify a separate "in pop-culture" list article. The idea that "the permissibility of entries is controlled with WP:V is false. For one thing, WP:V is just WP:NOR in different clothing. For another thing, doing original research, and then claiming that any reader can verify it by doing the same research is not compliant with WP:V. -GTBacchus(talk) 19:16, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
  1. Then consolidate! e.g. "Representations of historical personae in pop-culture" or whatever.
  2. Oh no. WP:V is not NOR is different clothing.
    Not really relevant to the question you are asking (see below), but...
    • An unsourced statement can be tossed on grounds of V, but not on NOR (because the checker wouldn't have any source to compare with).
    • Also, establishing "verifiability" can be done by others. For a sourced statement, such verification would be to determine whether the cited source is RS or the representation of it is OR.
    • And, in the reading/writing cycle, V occurs after something is written down, i.e. after the OR would have occurred.
  3. Indeed, its not kosher to claim that something is verifiable by "doing the same research." But why do you mention this?
  4. To go back to your question "[does] a mention in a cartoon buys a mention in an article?"...
    No. A mention in a cartoon does not buy a mention in an article.
    BUT as long as a source is not provided, it cannot be rejected on OR grounds. It can only be rejected for not being V.
    Then, when the source has been provided, it can be rejected on OR grounds (i.e. for the contextual reasons).
-- Fullstop 23:15, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
Hi, thanks for your reply. Point by point:
  1. I don't see how this suggestion applies to the kind of problems I'm talking about. I'm talking about long lists of every time, in some cartoon, someone makes a Freud joke, adding that to our article on Sigmund Freud. How does "consolidating" solve this problem? Even worse, how does it help an article such as Wedgie, which consists almost entirely of a list of pop-culture references?
  2. I suspect you misunderstand what I meant by WP:V being WP:NOR in different clothing. The three core content policies of WP:NOR, WP:V and WP:NPOV are deeply complementary, and can be seen as three faces of the same general idea. They have the same spirit. How do you avoid doing original research? You only add what's verifiable. How do we keep articles neutral? We don't do original research, and we restrict ourselves to assertions that can be verified. How are assertions verified? Not by original research, but in reliable sources that we can attribute in keeping with NPOV. There's a singular principle uniting all three within the context of Wikipedia.
  3. I mention "doing the same research", because that's the claim people have been making. Consider an entirely made up example: User:Prima watches a TV show, notes that they made a reference to Quasimodo, and then adds that information to the Quasimodo article. User:Secunda removes it (per WP:V or per WP:NOR; the way I'm thinking of it, it really doesn't matter). Prima defends it by saying that it's not original research, because the TV show is a source, and that it's verifiable because you can watch the same TV show, and see that they did indeed reference Quasimodo.

    My contention is that Prima is in the wrong, because he is arguing that you can verify the information by doing the same research (watching the show) that he did. Does that clarify my point?

  4. I don't see how it's very important whether a piece of information is rejected on grounds of V or NOR. The point is, it's not information that we can verify in a source, so it goes. When you say "when the source has been provided, it can be rejected on OR grounds (i.e. for the contextual reasons)," I don't understand what you mean. Does stating the specific episode in which a reference occurred count as verification? What does "contextual reasons" mean in connection with NOR? -GTBacchus(talk) 23:35, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
  1. "Then consolidate them!" refers to your observation that "[moving pop-culture sections to their own article] doesn't work in situations where the article is too short to justify a separate [] article."
    "Then consolidate them!" means ... put multiple pop-culture sections in one article, e.g. in "Representations of historical personae in pop-culture" or whatever.
  2. >>>"How do you avoid doing original research? You only add what's verifiable."
    NO! You avoid original research by sticking to the sources!
    Anything you write is inherently verifiable when you stick to the sources.
  3. Yes, I understood you the first time already. But it doesn't matter. Anyone claiming that something is verifiable by "doing the same research" is violating V. End of story. All it should take is a tough admin to enforce this, but unfortunately we don't have very many of those.
    • >>> The point is, it's not information that we can verify in a source, so it goes.
      a)a WP:V violation is an unsourced/unsourcable statement. It cannot be verified because it does not have any source to verify it against.
      b) a WP:NOR violation is a sourced statement that cannot be verified against the source that is being cited.
      a) Statements in a pop-culture section that are not citing sources can be tossed for V.
      b) Statements in a pop-culture section that are citing sources can be tossed for OR (for not reflecting context, see next bullet point).
    • >>>> [I don't understand] "when the source has been provided, it can be rejected on OR grounds (i.e. for the contextual reasons)"
      OR is the act of not precisely reflecting what the cited source said, which includes the context in which the cited source said it.
      A Marx brothers reference in the Simpsons ... is a Marx brothers reference in the Simpsons.
-- Fullstop 00:43, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Ok, #1 is down to a misunderstanding. I didn't mean that the pop-culture references section is too short for the article, I meant the article without the pop culture section is too short. An article such as "Representations of historical personae in pop-culture" would be the longest one in Wikipedia. Those sections are too long, not too short.

I don't see the point of your "No" on point #2. I think we're saying the same thing. When I say "only add what's verifiable", I don't mean anything different from "stick to the sources", because by "verifiable", I mean "verifiable in sources". I'm pretty sure we agree on this point, except for the "No."

I don't follow most of what you said under point #3. Are you saying that a Simpsons reference to the Marx Brothers, referenced only by naming the episode, belongs in the Marx Brothers article, or not? -GTBacchus(talk) 00:51, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

  1. an article without a pop-culture section is still an article in its own right. The benchmark of whether a subject warrants an article is governed by WP:N, not by the number of pop-culture references to it.
  2. means "do not confuse V and NOR." If you will, you could consider the legitimacy of a WP statement being determinable in a series of three steps:
    a) Is the statement accompanied by a citation? If not, it fails V because its verifiability cannot be established at all.
    b) Is the citation accompanying the statement from a reliable source? If not, it fails RS.
    c) Does the statement accurately reflect what the source says? If not, it fails NOR.
  3. What I am saying is ... A statement in WP fails the NOR test if it does not accurately represent the source that the WP statement is purportedly from. "Accurately represents" means that the WP statement may not convey something that is not explicitly evident in the source.
    When a Simpsons episode makes an allusion to the Marx brothers, the context is the Simpsons, not the Marx brothers. Since the Simpsons are not making a statement about the Marx brothers, the allusion cannot occur in an article about the Marx brothers.
    Note: Like any other violation of OR, such implied-relationship OR can occur with any source, even the most reliable kind.
-- Fullstop 02:05, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
  1. Nothing further to say.
  2. Yes, you're saying that it's important that I not confuse WP:V and WP:NOR. I'm saying that I prefer thinking about them as different aspects of the same general idea. Reasonable people may hold both of these positions; cheers.
  3. Again, whatever. We're essentially agreeing, but you seem not to like the words with which I agree with you. I think you and I are both holding that these pop-culture sections consist mostly of original research, but we seem to be in the minority on that point. -GTBacchus(talk) 03:10, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Oh sure, we're in agreement. While its impossible to get rid of the unreferenced pop-culture entries on the basis of NOR, they can be gotten rid off with V. Once they're referenced you could (hypothetically) whack them as OR, but a fundamental weakness of NOR policy makes that presently unenforceable. -- Fullstop 05:00, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
But this is giving up on improving them. They are not necessarily lists, and they are not necessarily unsourcable. they can always be backed up by citation from at least the actual media (hence the relevance to accepted iprimary sources). They can for anything moderately important be backed up by reviews and discussions, though in nonconventional sources, such as forums (hence the relevance of discussions of web stuff as RSs), For the most important, they can be backed up by true citations to conventional books or articles about them. (But those trying to delete such material dont accept even that as relevant, and try to challenge each individual citation with a degree of intensity usually found only in ethnic conflicts; this tends to discourage people from even trying).
I think we want to maintain standards--but flexible standards, in accordance with the 21st century--and a comprehensive encyclopedia that acknowledges the way we in 2007 get information on the subjects that interest us. WP still has too much 20th century about it. DGG (talk) 05:57, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
I would dispute the implication that I (simply because I would delete "in pop culture" sections) don't accept secondary sources as relevant. If the mentions of all the times wedgies occur on TV shows could be sourced to any kind of secondary coverage, I'd be delighted. You shouldn't assume you know what I would accept as relevant.

That aside, there ought to be a way to take unsourced crap out of an article. I'll ask my question again: on what do we base the claim that a mention in a cartoon buys a mention in an article? How is this not original research, to assert that every instance of a particular concept in any TV show is significant and encyclopedic? Anyone? -GTBacchus(talk) 19:16, 2 December 2007 (UTC)

All encyclopedias make decisions about what material to include in an article, and what material to omit. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Wikipedia editors make those kinds of decisions. This is not original research, this is source-based research. Remember, the policy isn't "no research", it's "no original research". --Gerry Ashton 19:57, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
Ok, I think I'm not articulating my point very well, then. I'm talking about material for which there is no source, except for the primary source material, which might or might not be available for verification.

If there were an newspaper article, or commentary from any reliable source, in which someone discusses subject X, and discusses its presence in popular culture, then we would be perfectly free to use that material, in any way we see fit. We are not, however, free to take that source as a jumping-off point, and go and do our own research on topic X, by reading/hearing/watching other media and collecting references to topic X. I'm in favor of source-based research, all the way. That's not what we're talking about here.

An example: Consider three works: The Odyssey, an epic poem by Homer; Ulysses, a novel by James Joyce, and How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All, a radio play by the The Firesign Theatre. Each of these works has been written about, and we've got articles on all three. Joyce references Homer, and The Firesign Theater references Joyce.

Joyce's references to Homer have been noted, in detail, in published commentary. Due to that secondary source material, we are entirely justified mentioning Joyce's novel in the Odyssey aritcle, under "Derivative works".

The Firesign Theater references Joyce quite explicitly, quoting at length from the end of Ulysses. It's unmistakable, and we rightly note this fact in the How Can You Be... article. There, we're using the show as a primary source regarding itself. However, unless some commentators have noted The Firesign Theater's references to Joyce (which they may have, I don't know), we are not justified in talking about the radio play in the article about the novel. That would be using the radio play as primary source material for a subject different from itself, and that is original research. Indeed, there it is, sitting uncited in a section with a {{trivia}} template at the top.

Does this example clarify the point I'm getting at? -GTBacchus(talk) 20:44, 2 December 2007 (UTC)

Hi GT, we're allowed to make edits based on primary sources alone so long as the edits are descriptive and not interpretive. This means we can say, "X appeared in cartoon Y," using cartoon Y as our primary source. We may do that even if no one else has seen fit to mention it (i.e. if there's no secondary source). It becomes OR when we say, "X's appearance in cartoon Y as a voluptuous and beautiful, yet maternal, figure may have been prompted by the death of the cartoonist's own mother, after which he embarked on a 10-year course of Jungian analysis" -- unless we have a secondary source who makes that point.
Having said that, I find the OR you often see in those sections harmless and quite interesting. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 21:07, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
I often find them interesting too, Slim, and I regularly clean up such sections by organizing them chronologically, or something. I'm not trying to begin, or justify, some kind of deletion spree. I do, however, think that such documentation can be taken too far, and I'm interested in thinking about what that means, and where we would draw the line. Would you agree that there is a line, or is it always appropriate to include any external reference to subject X in our article on subject X? -GTBacchus(talk) 23:12, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
I agree that a line can be drawn, though it's hard to say where. The rule of thumb I use is that I leave the edits if they're harmless and not too silly, and if there aren't lots of them. Occasionally, if there are too many in any given article, I go in and make a purge. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 01:40, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
This is not really the right venue to discuss where such a line might be. This is where we discuss NOR... and it isn't an NOR violation to make a simple declarative statement about a TV show, book or movie and support it with a citation to that TV show, book or movie. It probably isn't even a NOR violation to make the statement without citation support (as the support is implied by the statement). May I suggest asking about this at the Village Pump or at WP:Trivia? Blueboar 23:40, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
Well, what I'm trying to argue - or at least consider aloud - is that it is, in fact, an NOR issue. That's how I've been thinking about it anyway, and I don't feel anybody has convincingly explained to me that it isn't. I'll go somewhere else, if you think this question would be more appropriate there, but I don't agree that it's not an NOR issue. -GTBacchus(talk) 23:44, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
I think the main reason not to include every mention of a work in every other work that mentions it is that Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information. The value of an encyclopedia is to provide concise information to readers. Mentioning that X is mentioned in Y in an article about X is not "novel narrative or historical interpretation", as Jimmy Wales described it. We get to make judgments about what is important enough to include in Wikipedia, and what isn't. If someone can find a legitimate reading of the NOR policy that says we can't do that, we should continue to make those judgments and change the NOR policy to accommodate what we must do. --Gerry Ashton 00:00, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Ok, I can see removing truly trivial stuff per WP:NOT#IINFO. It appears that my reading of NOR is not shared by many (any?) others, so I doubt we need to reword the page. It's not as if I actually read it. I do find it kind of silly that we can't remove unencyclopedic content from an article unless we utter the correct five-letter incantation while doing it. -GTBacchus(talk) 00:05, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

The benchmark of whether a subject warrants an article is governed by WP:N, not really. The benchmarks are solidly grounded in WP:V and WP:NPOV. WP:N hopefully guides editors on how to assess material. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 02:15, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

That is neither the subject of discussion, nor is that correct unless you are intent on splitting hairs for the sake of splitting hairs. Fine, lets split hairs: "notability is an inclusion criterion based on encyclopedic suitability of a topic. The topic of an article should be notable, or 'worthy of notice'."
I'm sure you have some wikilawyer reason to suppose that that does not mean "whether a subject warrants an article is governed by WP:N," or if it does that you now have reason to run off to change WP:N too.
Why don't you try to be constructive for a change? Oh wait, that wouldn't be Wikipedia:Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point#Gaming the system.
-- Fullstop 02:43, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Sarcasm, as well as demonstrations of lack of good faith, will be thoroughly ignored. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 02:47, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Sorry. Faulty premise. My bad. -- Fullstop 04:44, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

Second case study: Jacques Derrida

A second case study, to talk about some related issues: Jacques Derrida is, without a doubt, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. His work, however, is deeply impenetrable - exactly the sort of primary source we don't want non-experts playing with. Unfortunately, secondary sources are pretty darn dense too, because they're all academic publications aimed at academic audiences, and few if any make a real move to be clear to non-specialist readers. Some tertiary sources exist, but, frankly, they're not very good, and do not capture what Derrida is doing well.

The way people learn about Derrida is through coursework - coursework where Derrida's works are assigned, and, through class discussion and the leadership of the professor, some understanding is come to. In other words, understanding of Derrida is not something that is, in the academy, communicated particularly through written works, but through an oral tradition. This is not surprising - Derrida is a graduate-level topic, for the most part, and graduate courses in the humanities are very primary-source focused, as they should be.

My question is not how to go about writing a Derrida article - we've done a decent job of that. We did it because people who know about Derrida have written from their knowledge, and provided enough sources for readers to familiarize themselves with the literature should they choose. But there are sections of the article - good sections - that could be ripped apart if somebody decided to apply WP:NOR and WP:CS rigidly to the article.

That's the problem I have. Especially since Derrida is far from alone on this - most topics studied by graduate students in the humanities face the exact same problem - high notability, few to no accessible secondary or quality tertiary sources.

This policy needs to be formulated in such a way that productive work on these topics can continue as it has. That is to say, this policy needs to reflect actual good practice in the article space. What can we do on this front?Phil Sandifer (talk) 19:11, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

I worked on that article a couple years ago, and actually, I'd say that in this field, everything is a secondary source, as well as a dense, highly-technical primary source. Almost everything Derrida wrote, for example, is a secondary criticism of some prior philosopher or struc[turalist, as well as a seminal primary source on deconstruction. You can't separate the primary and secondary aspects of his work, because they are one and the same. Plus, you can't really write about Derrida in either a strictly primary or secondary way. In fact, when writing about Derrida, using a primary-secondary distinction is almost laughable, kind of like classifying sources on nihilism as good or evil. The whole primary-secondary framework goes out the window, leaving us with the idea of original research, which is where the focus should be anyway.
To write about Derrida without doing original research just means that you don't make any statements about Derrida's works, or works about Derrida, that would not be considered obvious to a highly-informed reader of Derrida. This is one example, too where the "reasonable, educated person without specialist knowledge" requirement has to go out the window. No such person would be able to verify the accuracy of a citation to Derrida, any more than they could verify a citation to a nuclear physics article, unless it is a direct quote. COGDEN 20:13, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
These are all good points. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 20:54, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
An article on Derrida (or on any author for that matter) cannot use that author's own statements as a source to establish anything about the author unless those statements are explicitly (auto)biographical. As always, source type doesn't matter (not that a distinction, as Cogden points out, applies to Derrida). What matters (with respect to NOR) is that the statements be accurately reflected.
Incidentally, there is one sentence that I (non-Derrida person) immediately picked out in the Derrida article as blatant OR:
"It can plausibly be argued that with this commentary Derrida had already posed the basis of his whole path of thinking.[11][12]"
The "plausibly" is evaluating the two cited sources. The phrase "can plausibly be" should be replaced with "has been."
-- Fullstop (talk) 21:15, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
That's probably just poor phrasing, though, and doesn't get at the issue I'm talking about. I say probably just poor phrasing because one of the sources seems to be an interview with Derrida, and the subject is such that the phrasin ghtere could actually be accurate - that is, that the argument advanced may be that the interpretation is plausible, not that the interpretation is true. I don't have easy access to the sources, though, and odds are better that you're right - I bring this up only to reiterate my point - one made very succinctly by Cogden as well - for writing about Derrida, the "without specialized knowledge" criterion is not a usable one. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:20, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Derrida is the same as other dense and difficult but highly notable philosophers. I've yet to encounter a notable difficult-to-understand philosopher whose work has not been explained in a relatively simplistic manner by textbooks and other course materials. Hegel and Husserl are two prominent examples. The phenomenology of Husserl is an incredibly complex topic, usually studied by graduate students, but undergraduate level "summaries" of the difficult topic are far from scarce. Derrida is no different. Vassyana (talk) 21:54, 29 November 2007 (UTC)

Sure. It's just that those summaries are, at least from academic vantages, not very good. I mean, I certainly don't want a Derrida article written primarily from Derrida For Beginners. Which is not to say that the book doesn't have its uses - but no responsible academic would say it provides sufficient basis to use as a major source in writing a summary of Derrida. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:09, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
The reason they're "not very good" is because they are (relatively) exceedingly short summaries of highly complex topics. However, they're very good for providing a rough overview and introduction to the topic. Wikipedia is written for a general audience and requires a pragmatic article length. A very well written Wikipedia article should be roughly equivalent to those "not very good" sources. Wikipedia simply isn't the place to get into complex lengthy graduate level explanations of topics. Those "poor" sources are written by academics for post-secondary academic instruction and subject to a very competitive market. I'm sure they (as a whole) know better than you or I what is the appropriate way to summarize the topic. Of course academics who know the topic inside and out are going to criticize the "oversimplification" of the topic. That's a fairly universal reaction across fields regarding summary and introductory sources. Vassyana (talk) 22:21, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Yes - Wikipedia is a tertiary source. But if we write from already poor sources we're going to get even worse sources. And, I mean, I'd like to be, as Jimbo's slogan goes, better than Britannica. After all, part of why Derrida for Beginners and other sources are so mediocre is that they try to cram a lot of information into a short space. Wikipedia is not paper - we can afford to actually give a good, thorough, not simplifying and inaccurate overviews of topics. That's one of the reasons we're better. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:33, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Wikipedia isn't paper, to be sure, but it's also not intended for articles to be ridiculously long. Even a very long article (by Wikipedia standards) would generally be shorter than those summary sources. Again, I don't think those sources are "poor", but rather necessary simplifications of the topics. We're not going to be able to do much better without making an article incomprehensible to the reader or drawing on sources that can't be verified by anyone without extensive expert knowledge. Both such circumstances are highly undesirable. Providing the (over)simplified summary should be the practical goal, along with providing external links and further reading recommendations for those seeking a more in-depth understanding of the topic. Vassyana (talk) 23:19, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Since the number of our articles is, for practical purposes, unlimited, there is no reason we cannot have both over-simplified introductory articles and more advanced articles appropriate for readers with more background. — Carl (CBM · talk) 23:27, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
Point taken. I'd imagine in your conception that this would basically work like the normal subarticle/spin-off process? That is, the more advanced articles addressing specific subpoints in depth? Would you agree our primary goal should be first to create decent overview articles on the main topics? How would you address the problems of verification and identifying original research inherent in such complex topics? Vassyana (talk) 23:44, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
One thing that would be helpful is to ditch the "non-specialized audience" requirement - it's not helpful on the easier articles either, honestly. What would help there is a push towards phrasing things such that a non-specialist audience can understand them - but that's a problem across a lot of topics that does not seem to me to be inherently related to OR. I think we can write a better basic article on Derrida from sources other than the tertiary sources too. Phil Sandifer (talk) 00:05, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Vassyana, I would be glad to discuss that question, but I don't think this is the right place, since that issue runs much deeper than NOR. I think about it quite often as an editor of technical articles. If you would like to talk about it, I'll volunteer my talk page for everyone to use. To give a very quick answer, I do think a spinoff process is reasonable, although sometimes it is faster to dig a tunnel from both ends towards the middle.
Phil, I think the non-specialized reader requirement is important as an anti-crank tool, which I can explain upon request. — Carl (CBM · talk) 00:23, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Cranks tend to have a number of other problems, including m:MPOV and complete fucking insanity. I suspect we can soften this policy to better govern normal cases without losing our ability to stop the utterly insane. Phil Sandifer (talk) 02:45, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
A serious problem with using more basic summary works is that they represent one highly-disputed POV. Derrida himself, and many other commentators, opposed attempts to simplify his writings, and the POV is that these simplifications are simply wrong. And reading some of these "Deconstruction for Dummies"-type books, I tend to agree. Derrida's work, I think, is just not simplifiable consistent with WP:NPOV, which is the most fundamental and inviolable Wikipedia policy.
I don't think there is anything wrong with articles written for more advanced readers. There are hundreds of them. The vast majority of mathematics and physics articles are way behond the non-specialist reader, and sources in it could never be verified by someone without very specialized knowledge. For example, consider the article Quantum chromodynamics. It's a significant and notable topic, but nothing in this article is comprehensible by anyone other than a trained physicist. Moreover, you could not expect anyone other than a physicist to be able to verify any of the references (primary, secondary, or otherwise). Furthermore, there are no "Quantum Chromodynamics for Dummies" books in existence, and even if such a book existed, it would be directed to physicists who already have specialized training in quantum field theory. The "non-specialized reader" requirement just isn't feasible in all cases. So either we drop that requirement, or we effectively ban articles on a large number of notable topics. COGDEN 18:34, 30 November 2007 (UTC)

The section on Derrida's life is essentially uncited. But if verfiability is not an issue and people are not questioning the content, I don't see what the problem is. If there are statements in the article that there is any doubt about, request citations and go from there. I personally might want to see a bit more secondary or tertiary citation for some of the insights into his work that draw directly on quotes mined from Derrida's own work (primary sources). But on the whole I don't see a problem, quite frankly. The overwhelming majority of the material in the article appears likely to be verifiable from sources other than Derrida's own statements. If anything in there isn't verifiable, then follow WP:V. WP:V#Burden_of_evidence says essentially "if it's not verifiable, take it out." So if looking for a policy to soften up, maybe WP:V is another good candidate at the moment.

I notice there are some problems with the "criticism" section at the moment, which is very common in philosophy-related WP articles. To the extent that most secondary sources are also obscure w.r.t. Derrida's work, tertiary sources would appear to be helpful in bringing this difficult-to-write article into a better written and yet-more-useful article in the future. The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article on Derrida, as does the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (both the full version and the brief version) and also the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy (the recently published second edition, not the 1967 one). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy also has one that could be helpful as "grist for the mill".

Incidentally, if anyone wants to see some real OR related to Derrida, do check out the current version of deconstruction, starting right in the first paragraph. ... Kenosis (talk) 04:59, 30 November 2007 (UTC)

The solution is not to turn to further-removed sources that are easier to read; it's to find someone who is already familiar with Derrida and the most relevant secondary sources, and get that person to help with the article. Although Wikipedia is the encyclopedia anyone can write, that does not mean that anyone can write an article about Derrida. The same could be said for numerous topics, from philosophy to engineering to music to popular culture. Our goal is to write an encyclopedia, not a compendium of grade-school book reports. — Carl (CBM · talk) 13:19, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Yes. Exactly. And while the deconstruction article could use its sources more clearly, and though it's more SPOV (sympathetic point of view, not scientific) than NPOV for some sections, it's also more faithful to deconstruction than most summaries of its length that I've ever seen, and frankly doesn't bomb accessibility too horribly either. That is, though it has problems, and though the "deconstructionism cannot be defined" part should probably be moved behind a (however poor) attempt to define it, it is, frankly, one of the better tertiary sources I've ever seen on the subject. I would be loathe to lose its accuracy in favor of a rigid enforcement of NOR, especially as little to nothing in the article strikes me as particularly original. Which gets to my original point - given that deconstruction is, in practice, a pretty good article, how can we adjust this policy to reflect actual articlespace practice? Phil Sandifer 13:50, 30 November 2007 (UTC)

Also agreed with Carl on that. Only if there's a disagreement or doubt about the content does even WP:V "kick in", so to speak, as to providing inline citations. If there's no disagreement, for example, about the contextual material provided at the beginning of the section of Derrida's work, don't make it into an issue, which would IMO be nothing more than wikilawyering unless a specific issue is articulated on the talk page. If there is doubt about the contextual material provided, start by consulting the available tertiary sources, several of which are of the highest level of quality, and work from there. Please do not use "Derrida for Dummies". or the Cliff's Notes for On grammatology ;-)

Another approach, as has been done with many topics that are highly technical or obscure, is to break it up into an introductory article and an advanced article. Some examples are listed at User_talk:Kenosis/Research#Basic_v._Advanced_articles. Obviously there's already some content disagreement in the "criticisms" section. Several of the available tertiary sources on Derrida are among the best in the business, and at some point in time they ought be consulted in any serious attempt to resolve oustanding issues-- assuming there's adequate interest in resolving them. But the far more noticeable problem, IMO, is not with the article on Derrida, but with the article on deconstruction which appears to be where the secondary and tertiary sources will be more useful if not absolutely necessary if the article is to be much further improved. ... Kenosis 14:22, 30 November 2007 (UTC)

To be frank, though, there is no need to adjust the policy in response to the fact that some articles are arguably quite good when citing directly to the primary source(s), as is the case in the Derrida article's section on his work. If there's an issue with the analysis, secondary and tertiary sources will be needed to support the conceptual assertions in the section on his work. IMO, it's pretty much that simple. ... Kenosis 14:39, 30 November 2007 (UTC)

Again, though - it would be very helpful if we could put some anti-rules literalists language into the policy to prevent crusaders and people who are seeking a ton of maintenance edits in pursuit of an admin run from tagging stupidly. this is where I'm unconvinced the "non-specialist" clause helps us - it is seemingly intended to help ward off cranks, and I think we can do without it for crank warding, and that not having it would make the policy better reflect reality. Phil Sandifer 15:32, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Agreed about the need for counteracting excessive literalism in policy interpretation. I have seen, for example, numerous "drive-by" unreferenced templates and citation-needed templates that arguably are quite gratuitous. It's extremely easy to say "hey, where are the references as required by policy". But somebody has to do the actual work, after all. By placing the template, a user actually sets the WP:V and WP:NOR policy analysis into motion. When this happens gratuitously, it might be best to wait for an explicit statement of what the question is about the material, and lacking an explicit statement of what the concern is (beyond the assertion that a particular passage or section is not explicitly cited), remove the template rather than the material itself, But this is also dependent on the nature of the material. Jimmy Wales' statement about WP:V, quoted on that policy page, gives high priority to eliminating unsourced negative statements in BLP's. Although Derrida is no longer alive, an explicitly derogatory statement about him would immediately merit close scrutiny. This, as with many or most situations, necessarily involves factoring in more than one aspect of editorial policy in order to arrive at a reasonably sensible resolution. ... Kenosis 17:59, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
I think that all, or almost all, secondary sources on Derrida introduce POVs distinct from that of Derrida's work, and take on a life of their own outside the scope of the Derrida article. This is one of the hazards of critical studies, that every discussion of Derrida is a criticism of Derrida of one sort or another. Not necessarily opposition, but at least a different take on it. Many of the "Derrida for Dummies"-type books are actually ironic pastiches of Derrida. Using such secondary sources alone is insufficient, and you'd have to use them with great care, and support them with references to the primary sources—the exact opposite of what PSTS currently says. COGDEN 19:11, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Drawing on Derrida to provide yet another interpretation/take on his writings and philosophy would be original research. You aptly demonstrate here exactly why there is a PSTS section in the first place. Vassyana 19:45, 30 November 2007 (UTC)

As to anti-literal-enforcement language. I don't think that's the answer. If the rule is broken, let's fix it, not authorize people to break it. We can fix the rule by doing two things:
  1. Replace the rule that primary source citations must be "easily verifiable by any reasonable, educated person without specialist knowledge" with a requirement that any citation (primary or secondary) must be "verifiable by a person with an ordinary level of education and training in the field of the subject matter being discussed".
  2. Treat primary and secondary sources under the same standard, since in technical and philosophical fields, the vast majority of secondary sources are more technical and specialized than primary sources, since they build upon the primary sources and assume them as a prerequisite. (Tertiary sources like textbooks might be less technical than the journal articles they cite, but why confuse things with a tertiary category anyway?)
COGDEN 19:11, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
  1. Totally unenforceable suggestion, given the current situation. It would require a drastic change in Wikipedia, including a fundamental shift in the roots of the project, to allow for expert authority. Wikipedia in many cases does encourage experts to contribute, but still requires them to follow the same policies and practices.
  2. I know this to be quite less than true, as a general rule, for philosophy and history. While some peer-reviewed papers can be horridly complex, those are almost exclusively limited to articles addressing very specific and technical points. (Even worse, the understanding and interpretation of primary philosophical and historical texts is almost unavoidably original research without secondary sources.) I also have a hard time imagining that secondary sources are more complex in most technical fields with which I am familiar. For example, books about particular programs and programming languages are usually far more understandable to the average person that the code and documentation (secondary and primary sources respectively).
I appreciate your thoughts as good faith ideas, but they are very counter to the grain of Wikipedia's fundamentals. Vassyana 19:45, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
I disagree with your interpretation of #1 - this does not give experts special privilege - rather, it changes our editorial standards away from judging articles from the perspective of people who do not know anything about them, and demands that our articles read as good to experts. That doesn't necessarily equate to credentialism. To my mind, Wikipedia is based on the assumption that the people who write articles know a lot about the subject, and that we don't have to check their credentials because they're going to cite sources, be NPOV, et. Phil Sandifer 23:14, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
It most certainly does give expert editors special privilege. Allowing for information that can only be verified by experts is certainly a huge change and most certainly according special privilege. If it's just a matter of making sure articles read well to experts as well as the common editor, they are existing mechanisms for asking for expert attention on an article. Similarly, if we're still relying on normal checks for NPOV, reviewing sources, etc, then the proposal is just fuel for trouble. It is either unenforceable or enforced credentialism. Without credential verification, it becomes nothing more than an excuse to hear more claims of "But I'm an expert!" and would encourage those with an agenda to cite obscure and difficult to comprehend sources relying on the proposed expert provision to push their POV. These are already concerns present in the wiki, though the former is much mitigated since a certain false credentials debacle. Vassyana 23:44, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
But the alternative contention - that non-experts can helpfully check information on complex topics - is ludicrous. And, given that topics are likely to attract expert editors, it seems to me that raising (or lowering, depending on your perspective) the bar is not a large risk. Sure, a crank might begin citing obscure and difficult papers - but said crank is unlikely to be the only expert on the topic editing the article, and if the crank is, odds are that the article is obscure enough that one bad editor will be able to effectively derail it with or without the protection of NOR. Phil Sandifer 00:18, 1 December 2007 (UTC)
Please don't misunderstand me as saying it's a change that shouldn't be made. I've taken no position on whether we should or shouldn't move in that direction in one form or another. I am simply pointing out that it is a very fundamental change in the wiki, and such a large change needs to be considered as such. Without some form of verification, the distinction just becomes a claim editors use to win arguments, justly or unjustly. A crank could control an article with claims of professional expertise drawing on esoteric and recondite references, because most "experts" on Wikipedia are dedicated amateurs, not trained professionals. (Upon thought, I think it would be within Wikipedia practice to allow for verification by those familiar with the field (without specifying professional training or expert knowledge). This would be akin to the allowance for foreign language works, though like that provision I'd imagine it'd be somewhat controversial.) Vassyana 22:45, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
Vassyana, when you talk about computer books about particular code, you seem to be talking about what I would call tertiary sources, such as textbooks, where this is true. For example, while the Haskell programming language standard (primary source) might be referenced accessibly (relatively speaking; not to the layperson) in the Programming in Haskell textbook referencing it (a tertiary source), a work in the Journal of Functional Programming (a secondary source) that references the standard will be far more technical than the standard. Then a second secondary source that cites the first journal article as a primary source will be more technical and specialized still.
Likewise in other fields, you can expect that a work by Derrida (as a secondary source) will be far more technical and specialized than the works Derrida references such as phenomenology works by Husserl (primary source). Similarly, Husserl as a secondary source will be far more technical and specialized than a work of Hegel (primary source) that Husserl cites.
I disagree that this will change anything about Wikipedia. This is exactly how Wikipedia currently works. Just look at all the math and physics articles, and see if you can understand them. There are thousands of them, and they are very valuable resources. Do we delete them? Plus, this practice is fully consistent with WP:V as it has existed for years, which requires verifiability to reliable sources, but does not say anything about the qualifications of the verifier. That the average layperson cannot verify the citations in a physics article is no problem, and nobody I know of has ever seriously complained about this in the history of Wikipedia. The only problem I forsee is when the intended audience cannot verify the citations, which is why I'm suggesting #1, which represents a strengthening of WP:V. COGDEN 23:57, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Philosophers often draw upon other philosophers to support their claims or provide contrast. In nearly all cases, you could hardly call them secondary sources for it, with the exception of papers that specifically analyze and/or critique the work of others. To draw a parallel, an astrophysicist may draw upon special relativity for some of her claims, but that doesn't make the article a secondary source on relativity. Also, you're not very familiar with Hegel or Husserl if you think directly citing them is a good idea or easier to understand than secondary sources analyzing them. Like Derrida, they are notoriously easy to misunderstand and the in-depth study of those philosophers is the subject of graduate coursework. However, also like Derrida, the foundational concepts and contributions to philosophy can be (and are) related in a general summary fashion to undergraduate students.
An additional problem with direct citation of a philosopher's work is the propensity for original research (directly tying into PSTS I might note). It is nearly impossible to cite a philosopher's work without OR, except explicitly saying X said "Y" (which can still carry concerns of reliability and NPOV). This is because any such citation is another interpretation of their work. While cases like Derrida, Hegel and Husserl are obvious in this class, even more commonly understood philosophers still remain. Philosophers still argue the nuances, and in some cases even the essential meaning, of Aristotle and Descartes for example. Those cases which are plain to everyone obviously aren't problematic, because the plainly obvious to most/all (or "non-controversial") is a long-standing consensus-based exception to most content rules.
I'm not a science and math wizard, but there are some fairly intense and complex math/science topics on Wikipedia that are understandable (to me) as presented, despite my lack of in-depth subject knowledge. Can I understand complex equations and the like? No. Could I still easily verify such an equation by sight alone in a cited math text? Yes. Complex topics do not have to use language incomprehensible to anyone but experts, even if some information is difficult to understand for non-experts (such as complex equations). Additionally, your proposal specifically requires training in the field (credentialism), which is distinct from current practice. I'm sure many (if not most) of our in-house "experts" are interested amateurs, as opposed to trained professionals. Vassyana 22:45, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
This is not a proposal. This is the way it's done, and has been done for 7 years at Wikipedia. If you want to lobby to change this, then fine, but I doubt you'd get much traction. The purpose of policy articles "is to record clearly what has evolved as communal consensus in actual practice" (see WP:POLICY). Actual practice, as evidenced by thousands of math and physics articles, is not to have a "verifiable by any reasonable, educated person without specialist knowledge" requirement".
If you agree that philosophers are notoriously easy to misunderstand, then why would Derrida be less easy to misunderstand than Husserl when Derrida quotes Husserl?
Another question, if you don't think that philosophers discussing other philosophers are secondary sources, then what is a secondary source? Since it's really only philosophers who publish works discussing Derrida, that means that (1) you can't cite Derrida, and (2) you can't cite anybody who cited Derrida. Who is left? Also, do you really think that Derrida discussing Husserl is easier to understand than Husserl himself? It's not true, in part because when you read Derrida, not only to you have to understand Husserl, but you have to understand Derrida's take on Husserl. COGDEN 08:39, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
I disagree that it is common Wikipedia practice. At best, it is something permitted in a very limited area of the wiki (significantly complex math and science). Taking common practice as a whole, it is an exception not a rule. In philosophy, papers and books undertaking to specifically critique, analyze and/or explain a philosopher or philosopher are what would fall under secondary sources. Philosophical treatises citing other philosophers is just another primary paper. Something like In the Spirit of Hegel by Robert Solomon (ISBN 0195036506) would be a good secondary source on the phenomenology of spirit, for example. We should be relying on what others have published about the meaning and so on of a philosopher's work. We shouldn't be interpreting philosophical treatises directly. If the interpretation has been published before, we should be attributing the source. If it hasn't, or a reference cannot be provided, then it's original research. Vassyana 09:42, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
As they say, "it is the exception that proves the rule". And indeed, the rule is proven weak and invalid. Are math, science, and philosophy articles now the bastard children of Wikipedia? Do they live in the lawless frontier where where the rules aren't applicable? If so, we need to explicitly state this in PSTS. If such a statement in PSTS would fix the rule (from your perspective), it would be negligence not to do so. COGDEN 20:52, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

(outdent) Actually, the exceptions simply show that the rule is broad and not applicable in all circumstances. This characteristic of Wikipedia policy is well-considered and acknowledged. We even have policies that account for it (like say, Wikipedia:Ignore all rules). Since the rules are not meant to be all-encompassing and exacting, limited exceptions do not harm the strength or validity of the rule. Your implication that math, science and philosophy are exceptions as a whole is misleading (at best). It is a small minority of those topics that stand out as exceptions. We don't need to point out that exceptions exist, though I'm keen on including such caveats in areas of policy that are abused in a legalistic fashion. (For example 3RR includes a caveat that it's an electric fence, not a permissive limit.) Vassyana 22:54, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

We can't rely on WP:IAR to fix all the errors on policy pages. We won't have to ignore all rules if the rules are correct in the first place. Do you really think that it's better to have an flawed, but easily-fixable rule, fixed by IAR, than just to fix the rule? We have an opportunity to make the policy article conform to actual Wikipedia practice (see WP:POLICY). Why would we not take that opportunity? Is it because this page is an exception to WP:POLICY and WP:CONS? COGDEN 01:27, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
I'd agree with your initial statement. I'm sure you're aware that I agree there are things that can be done to help make policy more accurate and inclusive. However, I'd disagree about the assertion that IAR wouldn't be necessary for "correct" rules. I believe there's no ignoring the basic principles of policy, but that the policy itself will never be all-encompassing or otherwise "perfect". The community is simply too large and the content too varied to make "correct" rules that deprecate the need for IAR without delving into extremely lengthy and complex codification. I don't think policy should be built on rare exceptions and tiny minorities. Certainly, as I mention above, I wouldn't have much issue with something that accounts for the need for verification by those familiar with the topic in limited circumstances. That's just recording common practice. Allowing for a verification standard that permits incredibly complex material only verifiable by professionals is certainly a large step away from that and from established Wikipedia culture. Vassyana 01:59, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

As a general comment, I believe literalism/legalism (in relation to policy interpretation) is counterproductive. After all, the rules are principles, not a civil code. Vassyana 19:45, 30 November 2007 (UTC)

As a general comment, literalism/legalism in NOR is what you appear to be insisting on. -- Fullstop 20:23, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Utterly false. My opposition to extreme simplification does not mean I support a legalistic or absolute interpretation of policy. What I mainly desire is a compromise between the various views espoused regarding PSTS. Vassyana 20:52, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Vassyana, there is not only one shade of gray (yours) between black and white.
And, that shade of gray is, contra your insistence without accompanying reason, not good for the 'pedia.
And, it would also be enormously helpful if occasionally did not say "no." The frequency with which you do does not support your supposition that you desire "compromise." People who want compromise don't talk like you do; there is no such thing as "utterly false," just as there is no such thing as "utter truth."
-- Fullstop 23:31, 1 December 2007 (UTC)
My honorable Wikipedian, needs to read the archives and the long discussions on this subject to understand Vassyana's somewhat forceful assertion. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 00:52, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
"My" shade of grey isn't something I purely invented ex nihilo. It was an accommodation of the principal views espoused over several months of discussion. It was further revised to address concerns raised, as practical. It was a sufficiently accurate attempt in that regard, as it generated support from those engaged over the long-term on both "sides" of the long-running dispute (for example, both Jossi and COGDEN consented to the compromise). I have failed to say "no" on multiple occasions. For example, I have often revised drafts in response to concerns and criticisms that could be handled in the framework of compromise. I do admit I have said "no" repeatedly to untenable demands, such as your own extreme solution to the issue. However, that's hardly anything indicating a lack of desire for compromise. On the contrary, rejecting all-or-nothing solutions (while accommodating the root concerns as much as possible) is part and parcel of seeking compromise. Regarding your closing comments, it's perfectly common and acceptable language to deny false accusations with statements such as "utterly false". Such a forceful reaction is perfectly within the norm and doesn't speak to my interpretation of policy or my actions in seeking compromise. Vassyana 22:45, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
I have not only read the archives and long discussions on the subject, I have also participated in them.
And, as have many others, I have also repeatedly questioned the necessity of PSTs distinction, an answer for which has always been 'judiciously' evaded.
And, as have many others, I have also repeatedly questioned why it can't be dealt with on its own page (IIRC, one of those posts [not from me] was in fact addressed directly at Jossi, but an answer, as for all the other questions, never came).
So honorable Wikipedians, perhaps its time you took up the challenge and answered the questions. To the point.
-- Fullstop 01:27, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
To be very blunt, if you've read the archives as well as you claim, your question has been repeatedly answered. However, I will give you an explanation, so you cannot claim you've never found an answer.
The necessity of the distinction arose due to the abuse of primary sources for original research, including unintentional errors of that sort. The abuse was noted when the distinction originally entered the policy in early 2005. The abuse was still perceived as a concern when the policy language was further refined in mid to late 2006. Imposing a drastic replacement on 2-2/3 years of standing policy requires an impressive burden of proof and consensus. (Though, my desire for compromise is rooted in the currently controversial nature of the section.)
Many primary sources are near impossible to use without violating NOR, unless following the use of such a reference by a secondary source. For example, standard citation of Caesar's Gallic War (outside of following the use of a cited scholar) is severely problematic and OR on its face. It's among the better ancient sources, as scholars acknowledge it as a pinnacle of ancient reporting. However, it's also known to be a masterpiece of propaganda and to contain numerous pieces of inaccurate hearsay. Without published expert guidance, it's entirely OR to judge whether a passage is reliable (which is what standard citation essentially does). However, we are allowed under policy to simply say The Gallic Wars reads "X". (There may also be concerns of reliability and reflecting the body of reliably published work, but those are distinct concerns of WP:V and WP:NPOV).
A common counterargument is that non-reliance on primary sources is directly contrary to standard scholarship. However, that is more an argument for PSTS distinctions, than against. Standard scholarship's aim is to produce original research. Reliance on primary sources is encouraged to help ensure less reliance on the claims of others and to exercise the scholarly tools of analysis on the "root" material, both of which are contrary to the central principles of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is intended to summarize what others have said, not as a forum for scholarly analysis.
There is simply a broad and strong opposition to moving PSTS from the framework of this policy. As noted above, the distinction directly relates to this policy. Vassyana 22:45, 2 December 2007 (UTC)
Thank you for at least responding, even if does not answer either question. This failure may be attributed to your not listening.
As I said before, I have read the archives, and this alone should have given you reason to pause, but evidently you found it easier to assume I was stupid or lying. Oh well.
Given that nothing you say here is new, but the errors with the assumptions you make again have been pointed out repeatedly, perhaps you really need to start paying attention yourself.
Let me give you a clue that you will need to answer (either to yourself or here) before your answer becomes relevant:
Why is the distinction THE ONLY WAY to do what you think it is doing?
And yes, I do know what you think it is doing, and I also know that it is only your sheer arrogance and belief in your own self-righteousness that this is the ONLY WAY.
In your response, please spare us the concomitant condescension and "desire for compromise" pretense. It doesn't wash, and never has. Just answer the question, and keep the fluff to yourself.
Thanks. -- Fullstop 04:35, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Both questions were answered directly. No one said this was the only way to address the issue. And with that, I'm done discussing this matter with you until you can join in with some minimum level of civility and maturity. Vassyana 09:30, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Let me ask a question here. Suppose we used language like this: "Because the notability of a subject cannot generally be determined by the expert who first invents, discovers, or presents it, notability claims need to be sourced to experts with a reputation for reliability for evaluating notability in a field, and who are not directly connected to the initial invention or discovery. However, once notability is established by a neutral expert, the initial discoverer can be used as a reliable source for other facts about the discovery." A crude first start, but consider it. It seems to me that language like this could potentially describe the entire problem in terms of core Wikipedia terminonlogy like "notability", without the need to introduce new and potentially confusing terminology like "primary", "secondary", etc. It seems to me nobody really cares what level any given source is. All we care about is whether someone has evaluated a claim independently of the person presenting the claim, and when the presenter is recognized as an expert we only care about this for certain purposes like notability, not for all purposes. Why not say this directly? Wouldn't it make things simpler? Why the extra terminology and classification baggage? Why not stop by Occam's shop and try out a shave just to see how it would feel? No need to commit -- we can always grow the jargon thicket back if we find we can't work without it. Best, --Shirahadasha 06:08, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Thomas Kuhn says it better. When there's enough of an accumulation of things that don't quite fit, it time to start rethinking. Rethinking starts by special casews and add-ons that end up making things more complicated; when enough people find this enough of a burden, when things start feeling kinda scraggly, it's time to start looking for simplifications and to start thinking about a shift and a shave. Perhaps we're somewhere near that point. Best, --Shirahadasha 06:22, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Unfortunately, there is enough justified opposition towards using other terms to prevent the change. I've advocated for a shift in terminology in the past. Vassyana 09:42, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

(outdent response to Vassyana's earlier comment)

If you had answered my original question in a rational fashion (instead of trying the "to be very blunt" non-sequiturs again), I would have reiterated the problems that your premise has. Instead you were being provocative (and do so again). As I've told you before: don't dish out what you won't eat yourself.
  1. The focus on primary sources being more susceptible to OR than secondary sources is a chimera, a clustering illusion. That one group of sources are more prone to misuse can just as well be because they are more commonly available. It is the numerical predominance of primary sources that can make it appear as if they were the more commonly abused kind of source.
  2. Inversely, secondary sources might appear to be less prone to abuse because traditionally the people who had access to secondary sources typically also knew how to use sources at all. (see also #7 below).
  3. The P/S distinction is redundant when "we are allowed under policy to simply say The Gallic Wars reads 'X'."
    "Simply say [Y reads] X" - a.k.a "stick to the source" - is the fundamental tenet of NOR, and it doesn't then matter whether the Gallic Wars are primary or secondary. "Simply say X" applies to *all* sources.
  4. "The necessity of the distinction arose due to the abuse of primary sources for original research" is based on the premise that the abuse was actually due to the "primary-ness" of the sources. I.e., the abuse was the fault of the abused, rather than of the abuser. Then, instead of tightening the rules to prevent abuse at all, what we got was a disqualification of the abused because they were abusable. Is this whacky or what?
    Said the judge to the abuser, "I see you beat your wife. I hereby throw your wife in jail. Then you won't be able to beat her."
  5. The use of primary sources can be restricted without any need to categorize them. This can easily be accomplished by directly addressing what it is that makes primary sources primary. e.g. "the use of Gallic Wars is not acceptable as a source of history because history is what others make of an event." Or "because of the lack of perspective, any analysis by Caesar is not permissible."
    Allowing Gallic Wars (as far as NOR is concerned) can be expressed as: "the disqualification of de Bello Gallico as a source of history doesn't automatically preclude the policy-conform use of the book in an article on the book itself."
  6. Perhaps the most frequent kind of OR is the - otherwise accurate - use of sources outside the context in which they were written. This kind of OR (e.g. citing Caesar's views on the Celts in an article on the Celts, George Bush's views on democracy in the article on democracy) won't go away by stemming primary sources when we also have secondary sources that reiterate them (in which case we might even get OR that is twice out-of-context).
  7. OR abuse is rampant for sources that are accessible, and as more and more books appear on Google Books and as people begin to lock into it, the more often OR occurs for secondary sources as well. Most of the OR I see today from established editors is this kind of OR, and because NOR's PSTS addresses the symptom - but not the problem, which is abuse of sources in general - NOR is outdating itself. The infection today is not the infection of two years ago.
  8. The fundamental problem of the PSTS section to NOR is the fact that the PSTS section exists at all. As explained above, the distinction between P/S/T has little or no real impact when *any* source can be misused for OR. But by focusing on what is effectively inconsequential, PSTS's distinction then actually also has a negative effect: it is a distraction.
-- Fullstop 20:34, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
  1. Regardless of the reason, primary sources were more abused. It could be a matter of accessible sources, but it has not been established as the root cause and idle speculation doesn't do much for the discussion. (Also see 7.)
  2. Libraries, online services and myriad other sources provide access to secondary material. This fairly universal access to such references in the Western world makes your claim dubious.
  3. "Simply say X" =/= "Simply say Y reads X". This ignores the fundamental point I raised about certain sources being difficult to use without OR, except for "Simply say Y reads X"
  4. False analogy, unless somehow any man couldn't be around that woman without beating her in most cases. As per 3, this ignores a fundamental point about the inherent OR problems in using some sources.
  5. I agree with the essential point you raise (addressing what makes primary sources primary), but not with your elaboration. Other ancient histories are what "others made of history" (fulfilling your definition of history), but are still primary sources with the same problems in relation to OR as the Gallic War.
  6. We can agree that out-of-context use is a problem, though we disagree on the degree and scope. (I've certainly advocated for language that insists on topical sources and in-context usage.) However, this does not alone account for problems with primary sources. (See 3 and 4.)
  7. Feel free to prove this point and generate a consensus. Idle speculation as to the reason doesn't add much to the discussion. For example, one could argue this is the normal social process of displacement (over-simply, shunting behaviors from explicitly prohibited activity to "legally undefined" activity). Also, this does not equalize the nature and abuse potential of varying types of sources. (See 3, 4 and 6.)
  8. You're certainly entitled to your opinion.
--Vassyana 23:45, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
  1. No, not "regardless of the reason."
    • If primary source usage outnumbers secondary source usage by 4:1, and 10% of each are abused, then for 100 sources cited, there will be 8 primary source abuses and 2 secondary source abuses. Numerically, primary sources will seem to be abused more often than secondary sources, but in reality they are not.
    • You are obliged to have a reason. Otherwise...
      "Idle speculation doesn't do much for the discussion" includes the speculation that "primary sources were more abused," which is indeed a speculation that has not done much for the several megabytes worth of discussion.
  2. So what if "libraries, online services and myriad other sources provide access to secondary material"?
    If people actually used them then we wouldn't have the preponderance of primary sources would we?
  3. I didn't imply anything by putting the [read as] in brackets other than to say that "Simply say Y reads X" is a command to "stick to the sources." It does not "ignore" anything. See also #6 below.
    My original point #3 (that "the P/S distinction is redundant when 'we are allowed under policy to simply say The Gallic Wars reads X'") remains as valid as before.
  4. If that is a false analogy for the reason you provide, then you threw your sole argument (that PS are susceptible to abuse) out of the window. "[As if] any man couldn't be around that woman without beating her in most cases" == as if any editor couldn't be around a source without misusing it in most cases.
  5. The "elaboration" constitute examples, and its irrelevant whether you agree/disagree with the way they are phrased or not. The point was (and is) that "use of primary sources can be restricted without any need to categorize them."
    To reiterate: The use of certain kinds of sources can be inhibited even without giving them labels. They just need to be properly contextualized in relation to NOR, and not in relation to the kind of source they are.
  6. The point was that OR won't go away by stemming primary sources when we also have secondary sources that reiterate the same thing that primary sources say. Even a direct quotation of sources can be OR (e.g. by taking it is out-of-context).
  7. Yes, one could argue that increasing GBooks usage is the normal social process of displacement. But such a discussion would be ignoring the point I made and that you sidestep, which is that prohibiting the use of one kind of source does not solve the problem. The problem being OR, not "primary sources."
  8. I'm sure that you are convinced that primary sources are not sources and thus require some kind of special treatment that sources are not generally subject to. But until I see some evidence to support it, you'll have to excuse me for considering your belief to be as useful as one in the easter bunny.
    True or not (and even if the definition of "primary sources" had not actually been made to order), it is still irrational to insist on a PSTS section that hinges solely on one (historical!) "primary sources" supposition.
-- Fullstop 03:46, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
  1. A trend of misuse has been observed. Your idle speculation is no more accurate or useful than my own as to why. Observation of a trend and idle speculation as to its root cause are not equitable.
  2. People being too lazy to use available resources is not the same as your original assertion that they lacked access.
  3. Oh please, you explicitly equated "Simply say Y reads X" with ""Simply say X" (the latter is what you actually paired with "stick to the sources"). They are not the same thing. You are indeed ignoring my point.
  4. Once again, ignoring the point. Some sources simply cannot be used directly (outside of pure "X says Y" or quotations) without engaging in original research.
  5. By so defining sources, or placing sources in context in that fashion, you are by default categorizing them. It's simply a question of whether or not those categories are labeled and what categories you intend to use.
  6. Once again, ignores the point that some sources cannot be used for standard direct citation without committing original research. I fully accept that out-of-context usage can be OR. However, that doesn't change or alter the point about primary sources.
  7. I don't sidestep the issue at all. I've repeatedly acknowledged that secondary sources can be misused as well. However, here you once again ignore the point.
  8. That's a severe twisting of my statements, to say the least.
Your twisting of other people's positions, brushing aside of central points and overall illogical approach (see for example, categorization) are tiresome. (I am not the only one to notice these traits, so it's not just me.) If you can productively participate, please do so. Otherwise, I see no reason to feed into your apparent need to turn this into debate club. Vassyana (talk) 23:10, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

Discussion about image use and WP:NOR

Please come participate in the discussion here. It involves image use policy issues far beyond the template itself. Thanks. ···日本穣? · Talk to Nihonjoe 06:51, 4 December 2007 (UTC)


I find the current situation here frustrating. I'll acknowledge that no wording that is acceptable to everybody has been found, but there is a real dispute here, and it should have a tag.

I mean, I'd prefer to actually see some compromise on the wording so the tag can be removed. All I really want is something that loosens the wording up, acknowledges that these are general rules, etc. That's part of the problem - this is a policy page, and the applicability of PSTS seems more in line with the applicability of a guideline. (Or we could just spin PSTS off and tag it as guideline. That would even satisfy me.)

But really - can we actually make some progress here? A little? Maybe? And can we agree, in the name of good faith, to say that the section is disputed while we make said progress? Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:21, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

Can we not just add: "Like all advice and rules in Wikipedia policies, the decision as to whether primary or secondary sources are more suitable on any given occasion is a matter of common sense and good editiorial judgement?" SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 22:25, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
I would love it if we did. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:27, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
Actually, lemme tinker the wording a bit, since this is a wiki: "Appropriate sourcing is a complicated issue, and these are general rules. The decision as to whether primary or secondary sources are more suitable on a specific occasion is a matter of common sense and good editorial judgment, and should be discussed on individual article talk pages." Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:29, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
That's fine with me. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 22:30, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

The most destructive thing to consensus on this long-discussed section is an all-or-nothing attitude from people on both sides. (To simplify, generally meaning those who want to retain the section and those who wish to dismantle, or severely simplify, it.) This is not a problem exclusive to this policy. A number of rules and process discussions are derailed by such idiocy. So long as there is a solid group of entrenched people unwilling to seek consensus and compromise, and people are unwilling to ignore the obstructionists, no solution is going to be had. Vassyana (talk) 22:41, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

OK - what about the wording I propose above that SV likes? Any problems with adding it to the page? Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:51, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
It's good, but I see it as a Band-Aid over a gushing wound. Take a look at my proposal in the next section, which is a minimal change, yet at least from my perspective would move us 85% of the way toward reflecting actual Wikipedia consensus in real articles, be it in physics, math, philosophy, fiction, or whatever other kind of article. I don't see any loopholes here. COGDEN 23:07, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
I have no problem with such a caveat, at all. It would be a good addition. My comment was more towards echoing sympathy with your frustration. Imagine how those of who've been here for months discussing PSTS feel! Vassyana (talk) 23:23, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
Okay, I've added it. If there are no objections, I'd also like to remove the two sentences above it, which just repeat what's said elsewhere: "All sources should be used in a way that does not give rise to new analyses, syntheses or original conclusions that are not verifiable. Where interpretive claims, analysis, or synthetic claims are included in Wikipedia articles, use appropriate sources rather than original analysis by Wikipedia editors." SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 23:30, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
The first sentence is useful in making it clear that these requirements apply to secondary or tertiary sources as well as primary sources, to avoid the sort of tendentious misunderstandings so eloquently set out by cogden. The second sentence is well covered by the secondary source statement and by the new addition, and can be deleted imo. .. dave souza, talk 00:33, 5 December 2007 (UTC)

Secondary sources need not be verifiable by non-specialists

The present PSTS policy formulation says that statements from primary sources need to be verifiable by lay-people, but the same rule does not apply to statements from secondary sources. So in other words, in a higher mathematics article, where nobody but trained people would be able to verify, I am absolutely barred from citing the primary source for some theorem, even though I can cite (as I should be able to) a journal article that uses that theorem as part of the proof of a new theorem. The only problem is, I can't use that journal article to state what that new theorem is, because the article is a primary source for the new theorem. I can cite the proof, but not what is being proven. Is this sensible policy?

Going back to the Jacques Derrida example above, the present PSTS formulation puts us in a bit of a quandry. Suppose that Derrida is deconstructing Husserl. This is certainly a secondary source for Husserl, but also a primary source of Derrida's deconstruction. Whether or not I can cite Derrida hinges upon whether the source is primary or secondary. If Derrida is primary, I can't cite him because the citation cannot be verified by a non-specialist. If Derrida is secondary, I can cite him because secondary sources can be verifiable by experts, too. How do we decide whether Derrida's deconstruction of Husserl in this case is primary or secondary, and thus, whether or not it is prohibited? COGDEN 11:11, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

  • Which part of "All sources should be used in a way that does not give rise to new analyses, syntheses or original conclusions that are not verifiable." do you find so difficult to understand? Cite the fact that sources make an analysis, don't make your own. .. dave souza, talk 13:49, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Simply citing Derrida for what he says is not a "new analysis, synthesis, or original conclusion", because it's Derrida's analysis and conclusion, not the Wikipedia editor's. It's also verifiable to a reliable source: Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida. It's just that this reliable source (like any source in this field) is not verifiable except by someone with significant training in critical studies. COGDEN 20:13, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
There are plenty of sources completely accessible (both in terms of acquisition and understanding) to the average educated person. There are even plenty of references that are accessible about the more difficult philosophers and philosophies such as Derrida, Hegel and phenomenology. Vassyana 23:08, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
There are not "plenty" of them. And citing them alone would violate WP:NPOV, particularly for Derrida and other 20th and 21st Century philosophers who railed against oversimplification, and whose words have a poetic element that is erased by the secondary sources. COGDEN 01:36, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
As someone who's studied philosophy, I can tell you there are plenty of them, a veritable mountain even. You could easily fill a bookshelf with books just explaining the meaning and nuance of Hegel alone, for example. There's practically a cottage industry within academic publishing around creating explanatory texts for complex philosophers and philosophies. The philosophers' criticisms of "trite simplification" applies even more to summary style encyclopedia articles (such as we produce in Wikipedia) than to textbooks and other summary sources, since by nature of the format they are even further reductions of the material. Additionally, since many textbooks and similar summary sources explicitly discuss the varying interpretations of philosophers/philosophies, such sources would help us adhere to NPOV, rather than being a danger to it. Vassyana 01:48, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
  • I edit mostly technical mathematics articles. Here's the wikilawyer answer: For the purposes of Wikipedia, peer reviewed articles that present new mathematics theorems are considered secondary sources about those theorems. This is completely independent of any meaning of 'secondary source' in history. Please note that the language in the policy is carefully written so that only field notes and results of laboratory experiments are primary sources, not results of nonexperimental logical reasoning. I watch the policy quite closely in that regard...
       Now, I would be happy not to rely on the previous paragraph's wikilawyering. What matters in practice is whether there is consensus that the source is accurately represented, and consensus that the source is not given undue weight. When we discuss these things for a math article, we never do so in terms of primary and secondary sources. — Carl (CBM · talk) 13:56, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Indeed. i have asked this before, and never gotten a wholly straightforward answer. Actually, nm - I'll break a new section off for it so as not to derail. Phil Sandifer 14:50, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
The straightforward answer, consistently with what Carl and Dave Souza just said, is that if the article is an exception to the rule, don't try to apply it. I don't see any equivalent mention of the apparent inapplicability of NPOV to this realm either. Shall we also go over and parse WP:NPOV and determine what flaws exist in that policy because they don't apply to an article that is inherently a straightforward technical matter? Here, if the "any reasonably educated person without specialist knowledge" clause doesn't apply, then arrive at a local consensus that this particular clause doesn't apply to this particular issue. As to Cogden's comment above ("The only problem is ... I can cite the proof, but not what is being proven." ), yes, if there's a debate about the validity of the content, a statement about what is being proven will require either (1) a straightforward recitation of what the primary source says is being proven, or (2) a derivative secondary source that verifies the statement of what is said to be proven byy the theorem. ... Kenosis 15:19, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
A "straightforward recitation" is not good enough, because the "accuracy and applicability" of that recitation has to be "easily verifiable" by a non-specialist. In effect, the rule says that you can't cite any primary source unless all readers can understand it. Only works written for lay audiences are citable, unless it's a secondary source, in which case, it can be written for the Ph.D-level reader. COGDEN 21:02, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
I am uncertain what number of articles are exceptions to the rule, but it seems like a rather frighteningly large number. Phil Sandifer 15:21, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
As is also the case with WP:NPOV, except it shouldn't be frightening to anyone because there are no sanctions involved for good-faith editing. None of these editing policies are airtight, and all of them have aspects that don't apply to everything on the wiki. Even the limits of WP:V must be negotiated by consensus. I mentioned earlier that there's no citation at all for Ottawa being the capital city of Canada in either article. Is that a violation of WP:V or an exception to it. If I went in and demanded a citation, the local consensus could readily decide "no, it's verifiable and doesn't require an inline citation". And so it goes across the whole wiki. If I come into the article on the unnamed hypothetical mathematical theorem mentioned above and say "hey, that's a violation of WP:NOR because it only cites to a primary source", the local consensus is free, so to speak, to tell me what level of hell to go to. In the same vein, if I put an "NPOV check" template on that same article because it only represents one side of the theorem, the local consensus is free to remove it because the notion that there's any other "point of view" to the theorem is simply irrelevant. ... Kenosis 15:39, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
You seem to be acknowledging now that many articles violate PSTS, and they should violate PSTS. This is not a good policy, and if that is the policy, that some violations of PSTS are okay, then we should either (1) specify what they are, or (2) change the rule to allow what is good and prevent what is bad. Simply saying that "all rules suck, so why bother to change this one?", does not solve the problem. If NOR is overinclusive or underinclusive, let's fix it. We can rebuild it. We have the technology.
As to the comparison with WP:NPOV, there's no comparison. There are no good technical violations of NPOV. If you can point to one, I'll point to a part of NPOV that should be fixed. COGDEN 20:22, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Please desist from twisting my views in support of the legalistic, logical-positivist microparsing of this aspect of editorial policy. WP:PSTS has far fewer exceptions where it doesn't apply than does WP:NPOV, and also far fewer exceptions than a strict interpretation of WP:V. And, as has become increasingly clear, the complaints are in large part reflective of an apparent preference of some editors to do original research in WP rather than to avoid original research. ... Kenosis 21:25, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Then, as I said, point to one. Where is a "good exception" to NPOV?
As to your claim that some editors oppose WP:PSTS because they want to do OR, who are they and how do you know their "preference"? Back up your claims. COGDEN 01:36, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
A "good exception" are your words. A de facto exception to the application of NPOV would be where an assertion by an editor that an article is not NPOV is by consensus deemed completely irrelevant or irrational because it simply doesn't apply, such as where the article is a simple list. NPOV may also be completely irrelevant in a straightforward recitation of a technical matter like a standard mathematical formula or type of mathematical formula. There's no relevant NPOV discussion in boolean algebra, or Euclidean geometry vs. non-Euclidean geometry. In these types of articles, the content is either relevant to the topic or it isn't relevant, and "neutral" has nothing to do with the discussion. With WP:V, there also are numerous de facto exceptions to the policy wiki-wide. WP:V becomes an issue only where the content is questioned as to its validity. Despite the technical requirement that if someone questions the content, a citation is required or it can be removed, I just gave an example of one of numerous instances where, as a matter of practice, the policy can be overridden by consensus of editors with the simple statement "no, it's verifiable, and no citation is needed for Ottawa being the capital of Canada", thus overriding my hypothetical removal of this content per my strict literal reading of WP:V. ... Kenosis 20:41, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
Are you saying that there are fields where NOR simply doesn't apply? If so, I'd like to know what they are. Are you saying that NOR is irrelevant to math, physics, and philosophy articles? I doubt that's your position.
You'll note that WP:V explicitly states the non-controversial claims need not be cited (to any source, primary or secondary). So it's actually not an "exception". It's the rule. If you can identify the "exceptions" to NOR, we can add them to the article and make them part of the rule, so that they are no longer exceptions that need to rely upon Ignore All Rules, which is a last resort, not a philosophy to live by. COGDEN 22:20, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
There you go again, attributing presumptions to things that were not part of my statements. ("Are you saying that there are fields NOR where simply doesn't apply?" and attempting to imply that "good exception" was my intended meaning, and so on with me and many other users-- but this is a whole 'nother cause for discussion, perhaps another time, perhaps in a thorough review of your own manner of shotgun-style pseudological criticism, perhaps never.) I was using the word "exceptions" to situations in which the policy analysis is not relevant, and but for your apparent and openly demonstrated stubborn determination to find things to attempt to pick holes in, I believe you're adequately smart to have known exactly what I intended to point out, but instead chose to twist it some other way. (That's right! I'm withdrawing AGF!) Therefore, other than to say that your manner and chosen direction of argument has become largely disingenuous in my opinion, I'll willingly leave you with the sense that you've made whatever point you felt you were trying to make here. Good day, or night, or whatever it is where you are. ... Kenosis (talk) 23:57, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
I wasn't trying to twist your words, and I apologize if you were offended. I was just intending to ask rhetorical questions, because I do not think good rules can have fixable unstated exceptions. COGDEN 23:41, 5 December 2007 (UTC)

Does anybody have concrete instances of what the PSTS distinction accomplishes?

So far there have been a pile of instances where people have pointed out that the PSTS distinction is unhelpful - Derrida, math articles, etc. What does it accomplish? That is, can people who support this distinction give some in-the-field examples where that distinction has been the policy that has governed an improvement to an article? Phil Sandifer 14:50, 3 December 2007 (UTC)

Examples that have been given many times are BLPs. Disallowing material based solely on primary sources stops editors from rooting around in courthouses to find divorce proceedings, banktruptcies, and petty feuds that no secondary source has decided is worth mentioning. In the area I work in a lot -- animal rights -- the distinction is used to stop primary sources being analysed solely by Wikipedians. For example, if I watch a video of alleged animal abuse, I'm not allowed to say what I see, except in very bare terms -- no analysis, no comparisons with other videos or other allegations against the same establishment, unless a secondary source writes about the video in those terms. The limitation on primary sources stops Wikipedians from waxing lyrical, in other words. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 14:58, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Would you agree the issue with court records is one of due weight rather than one of accuracy? — Carl (CBM · talk) 15:11, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
The former seems to me to be a particular (and non-special) case of the "Wikipedia is not a tabloid" rule. That is, given that we would probably remove information about divorce proceedings or a bankruptcy even if they had gotten press coverage as they're salacious details unrelated to the subject's notability, we should have no problem doing it for ones that are sourced to court documents on the same grounds. The latter is trickier, but I suspect NPOV adequately covers it - you remove the lyrical waxings with a comment to the effect of "undue weight being given to a POV that doesn't even seem to be published anywhere." Or, at least, that's what I've generally done in situations like that. So based on these, I remain unconvinced of the necessity of PSTS. Phil Sandifer 15:12, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Right - I don't completely understand what SlimVirgin is saying about animal rights videos. As an extreme example, consider a video taken by an extremist organization after they illegally break into a lab. That video is certainly not a "reliable published source", so we shouldn't cite it for any interpretations about the conditions inside the lab. Even if we were to cite it, we would attribute the opinions to the extremist organization, because of due weight; but nobody is surprised that an extremist animal rights organization would think there is abuse. — Carl (CBM · talk) 15:16, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Primariness or secondariness here has nothing to do with it. Court records can be just as secondary as tabloid journalism. For example, the attorney may play an audiotape of surveillance to the court, and what is said transcribed by the court reporter. That's a secondary source. The courthouse also has briefs, which are also secondary as to their subject matter. What Wikipedia is really against is unreliable sources--sources that have not been published. An unpublished transcript is unreliable. But it's not original research. COGDEN 21:09, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
This semantic definition of primary/secondary is not how the sources are commonly treated in scholarship (as has been repeatedly explained and proven to you) and certainly does not reflect the common understanding and usage in Wikipedia. Vassyana 23:01, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
It isn't? What about Henige, David (1986), "Primary Source by Primary Source? On the Role of Epidemics in New World Depopulation", Ethnohistory, 33 (3): 292–312, at 292, doi:10.2307/481816  ("[T]he term 'primary' inevitably carries a relative meaning insofar as it defines those pieces of information that stand in closest relationship to an event or process in the present state of our knowledge. Indeed, in most instances the very nature of a primary source tells us that it is actually derivative.…[H]istorians have no choice but to regard certain of the available sources as 'primary' since they are as near to truly original sources as they can now secure.")? Just to name one. Do you have evidence that Henige, or many other works that say the same thing in different words, do not reflect commonly-accepted scholarly definitions? COGDEN 01:59, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
We've been over this again and again and again. I've provided multiple sources (on multiple occasions) showing the lack of universal definition, including differing definitions both between and within fields. I really have no desire to rehash past conversations again. Suffice it to say, it's not the operative definition in Wikipedia (though it could be considered part of the operative meaning used here). Vassyana 02:05, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
I've seen different definitions, but never inconsistent definitions. There are "rough-and-ready" definitions for beginners, but the same people giving those defintions give fuller, more nuanced definitions when speaking in academic contexts. It's like when your Catholic school teacher defines Christianity as "belief in Jesus", while later in Catholic seminary, the same teacher may explain that yes this is true, but then there's the whole bit about the Trinity and stuff like how to classify Manicheanism and the Bahá'í Faith, etc. The first "children's definition" is valid, and good for some purposes within a limited range of thinking, but when difficult classification issues come up, it doesn't reflect real academic thinking on the issue. COGDEN 23:54, 5 December 2007 (UTC)

The distinction and the paragraph in this policy has been very useful in educating new contributors to fiction articles. It was one of the essentials around which my rewrite of WP:WAF centered, because the unfortunately-not-only-cliché "fan editor" who enthusiastically starts writing about his/her favourite fiction-related topic often has no experience in evaluating sources for the semantic levels of material they can be used to back up. NOR is a subtle thing, and most violations happen innocuosly because editors don't know about the distinction between primary and secondary sources. So, speaking from that corner of Wikipedia, I say this paragraph (potential improvements notwithstanding) is indeed very useful. I dorftrotteltalk I 18:00, December 3, 2007

Fair enough. Though literary interpretation seems to me different than other syntheses I'm hard pressed to explain why, and it may just be that I'm an English PhD student and so I care more about literary interpretation than other things. I wonder, though, if it might not be better to have a PSTS section in WAF that would better and more specifically serve the needs of that page. That said, it's been months since I've looked at WAF, and I have no idea what sort of state it's in. Phil Sandifer 18:19, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
I think the main issue I have with removing this from generally applicable policy and moving it into specialised guidelines is that there is an increasing number of "policy-literate" folks who know how to wikilawyer their way around following a guideline, because it's just a guideline, not policy. Please believe me, I wouldn't say this if I hadn't witnessed it many times over. A compromise I'd agree to could e.g. consist of a less restrictive wording here in NOR which still marks the distinction as generally relevant and refers to specialised MOS subguidelines (as far as they exist) for details on how to deal with the issue in various specific fields. I dorftrotteltalk I 19:12, December 3, 2007
WP:WAF is exactly the opposite policy as PSTS. WAF states that primary sources are required, and any secondary sources must be backed up with primary sources. I don't necessarily think that's a bad policy, but it severely undermines and contradicts PSTS. COGDEN 21:15, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
Um... having just looked at WP:WAF, I think you are misstating things a bit. Yes, any "In Universe" information (ie non-interpretive material about the piece of fiction such as its plot or characters) needs to be cited to the primary source (the fiction itself), but it clearly states that interpretive stuff needs to be sourced to secondary sources. The guideline seems to match what PSTS says, and even points directly to the PSTS section. Am I missing something? Blueboar 21:38, 3 December 2007 (UTC)
First, WAF is a MOS how-to subguideline, not policy. Next, "any secondary sources must be backed up with primary sources" — where within WAF do you read that? Also, your opinion that it "undermines and contradicts" PSTS tells me that you probably haven't spent too much time around e.g. typical Star Wars related articles. Many only use primary sources (at best), and most articles are more or less pure plot summaries. When I rewrote WAF, I attempted to properly introduce the notion of PSTS into the guideline for the first time. That's why I insist that PSTS is so important, especially to WAF: People try to constantly water down those guidelines in order to allow trivia sections, allow exclusive use of primary sources, etcpp. All in all Cogden, I appreciate your input, but I think you must not know what you're talking about. Any attempt to educate others about encyclopedic standards is a tedious battle, and I daresay I managed to do a somewhat decent job at WAF. Try and compare the current state of that guideline with that from before my rewrite. I dorftrotteltalk I 22:56, December 3, 2007
Here's what I'm talking about: "primary information describes information that can only be taken from primary sources.... secondary information describes external information taken from and preferably backed up with secondary sources.... Use as much secondary information as necessary and useful...not more...." I guess you're right that primary sources here do not have to be backed up by secondary sources. So that means primary sources are favored all the more. You cannot use secondary sources to say something about "primary information" (because such information "can only be taken from primary sources"). The primary source is mandatory, and no secondary sources allowed, except to provide a little background information, but not too much. COGDEN 01:59, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
You mean "not more and not less"? Did you check where "not more" links to? Also, I don't believe you're seriously suggesting that it is somehow possible to write any work of fiction without using that work of fiction as a source, do you? But this is getting off-topic here. How about presenting your concerns at WT:WAF instead? I dorftrotteltalk I 02:26, December 4, 2007
No, I absolutely agree that any article on a work should probably cite the work it discusses, rather than some fanzine-filtered secondary source "version" of that work. Primary sources are almost always more neutral and more accurate than secondary source (with the proviso that almost all secondary sources are also primary sources too, for their conclusions, interpretations, and syntheses). By the way, I made a couple edits to the WAF article to provide for the possibility that secondary information can be proven by primary sources. For example, you can verify an author's age (secondary information) based on a published interview of him (primary source). Plus, while fanzines are unreliable secondary sources as to original source's fiction, they may be good primary sources as to the fanzine or the fanfic (if the subject is notable). I think this is one policy area where the primary/secondary idea is useful, so long as the policy is stated accurately. COGDEN 03:06, 4 December 2007 (UTC)
What I see WP:WAF saying is this: To write about what the book says, cite the book; to write about what it means, cite independent sources. This seems perfectly sensible, but it certainly contradicts the idea that secondary sources are universally superior to primary sources as a basis for article content. Fortunately, we seem to have jettisoned that bit of excess baggage from PSTS, and now have a more balanced approach to the use of each. I still fail to see the necessity to engage in source typing at all. Sources must be used appropriately, and what is appropriate varies on a case-by-case basis. Dhaluza (talk) 00:56, 5 December 2007 (UTC)