Wikipedia talk:No original research/Archive 34

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Primary Sources

I was thinking of a great way to make something clear about primary source usage: "It is okay for Wikipedia to use primary sources; it is not okay for Wikipedia to be a primary source." And so I'll just leave that up to the community to debate over, whether it can be added and where. I just don't want to go to bed forgetting that. KV(Talk) 03:36, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

I think this has already been asked and answered in-policy. Are you sure you read through verifiability as well? Wjhonson (talk) 21:30, 25 January 2008 (UTC)

Needed clause: Lincoln's left foot

There have been rumblings in the rhetoric of pseudoscience POV-pushers at Wikipedia to use this guideline (especially WP:SYNTH) coupled with WP:RS, WP:V and WP:CITE to prevent simple logical statements and summaries from being included at Wikipedia. There is a real danger that this argument will gain traction here and that would be a disaster for the project. Let me illustrate the issue with a story:

In early attempts to build computers that would pass the Turing test, one of the problems was encountered was that computers did not have "base knowledge" on which to make simple analytical or synthetic arguments that were not only uncontroversial, they were almost silly. For example, one of the computers that failed the Turing test did so because the computer didn't realize that every time Abraham Lincoln was in Washington DC, his left foot was also in Washington DC. This is a simple synthetic argument that is made by human beings all the time: uncontroversial and unlikely to raise any eyebrows. However, in order for the computer to understand this, it had to be entered as a fact either synthetically (all human beings carry their left feet with them to new geographical locations because of the body being a physically connected entity) or plainly (Abraham Lincoln's left foot was in Washington DC when Abraham Lincoln was in Washington DC).

Here's the problem, we are a community of human beings: a computer is not writing this encyclopedia. However, an overly rigid interpretation of this guideline can effectively prevent us from applying simple human judgment to situations. Our synthesis guidelines here are good for complicated discussions, but they fail us in the simple every day summary reporting of facts. We don't often notice this, but I have become very aware of it when writing non-controversial articles. For example, I'm currently involved in a collaboration to bring force to a featured article status. There are dozens of instances in that article where small little syntheses have occurred for editorial reasons, readability reasons, or editorial reasons. The only reason no one complains is because the article is (relatively) non-controversial. This is a very different story when I start to edit articles about similarly non-controversial subjects (at least within the scientific community) that are related to science where there are those who dispute the scientific consensus. There, I invariably run into people yelling that I'm promoting an original research argument when I make a simple summary statement of standard scientific knowledge. And they have a point. The guideline, as written, makes no exception for simple "Lincoln's left foot" type syntheses. It's as if the guideline is intentionally incorporating one of the failures of computers into our encyclopedia and thereby has been made to hamper the good faith efforts of its very human editors. Go ahead and try to find a citation that's not a synthesis for the fact "Abraham Lincoln's left foot was in Washington when he was in Washington". It's impossible.

The problem is, when people become OR-synth fanatics in this way, they start to violate the spirit of Wikipedia:Summary style, WP:WEASEL and WP:NOT#CENSORED. Facts are excised from the encyclopedia on the flimsiest of rationales. E.g., this is an argument frequently made, a particular source, though it lambastes the idea for having all the features of pseudoscience, never uses the precise phrase "this idea is considered pseudoscience". Therefore, the person trying to protect the reputation of the idea rightly states that Wikipedia cannot use that source as a citation for the summary statement "this idea is pseudoscience" since that would be original research. Never mind the fact that indirect attribution, quotations, and simple "Lincoln's left foot" statement are the backbone of this encyclopedia. If they weren't we'd have an encyclopedia exclusively of direct quotes.

It would be very pointy of me to go smack {{fact}} tags all over the encyclopedia where these "Lincoln's left foot"-type synthetic points get made, but suffice to say they are made all the time. I think we need to address this in this policy. I'm amazed that we have to, but there seems to be no lengths that POV-pushers won't go to prevent us from writing a concise, coherent, and straightforward encyclopedia article about their pet idea.

ScienceApologist (talk) 16:51, 10 January 2008 (UTC)

The Lincoln and his left foot analogy is elegant, but it depends entirely on the disputes involved whether this beautiful analogy applies. I will say that in my editing practice I almost never see the synth policy invoked inappropriately in a content dispute. And I encounter violations of synth over and over and over again, so if anything I say editors are inappropriately ignoring it far more than they're applying it overly strictly. Professor marginalia (talk) 17:02, 10 January 2008 (UTC)
The point is, whether synth is being applied inappropriately or not is ultimately an editorial decision, not a decision that can be made on the basis of policy or guidelines alone. We need to have a clause in here that explicitly says that just to keep things sane. ScienceApologist (talk) 17:16, 10 January 2008 (UTC)
Dunno where you're finding this, but tedious as it can be, it's usually best to find good sources and state what they say. This has been well tested and taken to extremes at intelligent design, which is not science[cites], pseudoscience[cites] or junk science[cites]. It also helps that reliable secondary sources are required, which means that the primary pseudoscience sources have to be put in the context of reliable third party evaluation. Agree, it can be frustrating when it's hard to find a secondary source stating the obvious, but the end result is better for the effort. .. dave souza, talk 17:39, 10 January 2008 (UTC)
(ec) Is this request related to content disputes such as currently raging in What the Bleep Do We Know!?? Too often in WP editors insist on substituting their own terminology, framing the issue differently than did the associated references. Very often, especially in articles which tend to overly inspire idealogues to lose sight this is an encyclopedia, not a battle against the forces of darkness, editors who choose their terms with the very intention to bring in a very peculiar emphasis, usually in the interest of disparaging or promoting the subject in a way not taken in the source itself. In other words, bad editing prodescribed in many policies. Professor marginalia (talk) 17:43, 10 January 2008 (UTC)
This request is related to a whole host of policy disputes (not content disputes). Not just one in particular. ScienceApologist (talk) 22:39, 10 January 2008 (UTC)
How can synth be applied "inappropriately"? Something is either synthesis or its not. If an editor is him/herself coming to a conclusion, then it is "original research." Either someone else has already concluded that A + B = Conclusion, or its a NOR violation. There is no gray area, nor need for one.
If a source says "every action has an equal and opposite reaction," it may be "obvious" for an editor to conclude that this is the reason why applying force to one end of a lever causes the other end go in the other direction. But if challenged, such an "obvious" conclusion ought to be attributable to any high school physics book.
NB: The issue is not whether core policy should have built in loopholes, but whether editors use common sense. Someone who {{fact}} templates an empirical observation might not working towards the betterment of the encyclopedia. But someone who questions whether another editor's deductions (here assertion of causality) are correct could very possibly know something that the person making the deductions doesn't.
Down to editorial decision is not whether something is synth or not; given the sources this can usually be objectively determined. Instead, down to editorial decision is whether someone who templates for the fun of it is being disruptive. This is not an issue for core policy. -- Fullstop (talk) 20:10, 10 January 2008 (UTC)
Then find me a citation that shows that when Abraham Lincoln was in Washington DC, his left foot was in Washington DC. Once you do that, I'll drop the issue. ScienceApologist (talk) 22:38, 10 January 2008 (UTC)
Please don't confuse something that is so obvious that it doesn't need to be explicitly stated, with something that is not obvious enough which is why it then has to be explicitly stated. :)
And... a statement that reads "While Abraham Lincoln was in Washington DC, his left foot was in Washington DC" is purgable per 'Wikipedia is WP:NOT an indiscriminate collector of information'.
Also, as long as you are not yourself stating that "Lincoln's left foot was attached to his ankle while he mused over how much four score and seven were," no one can require you to provide a citation for it.
-- Fullstop (talk) 03:15, 11 January 2008 (UTC)
You don't clearly don't understand the issue, Fullstop. The issue is that very soon we are going to see disputes go through unnecessary machinations because of some sloppy wording in our policy. Imagine writing an article and finding an important part of the story of Lincoln is that he had a foot operation on a certain date. Another source indicates that Lincoln was in Washington DC on that date. You write a sentence "Abraham Lincoln's foot was operated upon his return to Washington." Nice clean sentence. Also clearly a synthesis. Obviously, it isn't right, though, that someone come by and remove it as original research. Get out of here. Licoln was in Washington, so was his left foot. Don't confuse other issues here (like your irrelevant WP:NOT reference), this is a very real concern: these uncontroversial tiny syntheses are things that happen all the time across this encyclopedia. It's part of good encyclopedia research and it's not supposed to be discouraged by policy since most editors (like yourself) consider it to be "so obvious that it doesn't need to be explicitly stated". This is just a hypothetical example that has a little bit of cutesy-ness mixed in to keep things lively. If it is true that such activity is fine, then we really should explain that in our policy. We are charged with describing what happens at Wikipedia, after all. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:58, 13 January 2008 (UTC)
The biggest issue I see with this is not the debate over correct logical deductions, but rather the poor understanding of the methodology by the general public and especially by certain groups. We see this all the time outside of wikipedia with regards to things like Inteligent Design, where people use scientifically-styled (but false) arguments to support their cause. As it seems that true scientific thinking is marginalised on wikipedia in many places (and much kudos to those that ensured sanity on various articles!), and that policies are often interpreted the layman's way rather than the scientist's way, such a special exception would only lead to further problems, I feel. However a similar note might be of use in a related area. I see statements based around wikilinked information flagged with {{fact}} all the time, however simply following the wikilink often provides ample references. Whilst the final inference (is that the right word?) would be up to the user, one would hope that "Lincon never lost either foot" would not get {{fact}}ed and provide the last piece of information needed to state the location of his left foot. LinaMishima (talk) 23:59, 10 January 2008 (UTC)
Does the Abe's foot story relate to We Can Build You? . . dave souza, talk 09:56, 11 January 2008 (UTC)
Not that I'm aware. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:59, 13 January 2008 (UTC)
I think SA has a point that we have a group of editors highly motivated to edit this policy based on their experience with a small number of contentious articles, and the larger group of editors who work on the majority of non-contentious articles are not only underrepresented, their viewpoints are also often overlooked. For example, the relevance of the "to advance a position" qualifier on WP:SYNTH was recently overlooked. We need to be mindful of the Law of unintended consequences when policy is crafted to treat the symptoms, rather than to prevent the disease. Dhaluza (talk) 19:19, 12 January 2008 (UTC)
There's more involved here than just synthesis. Honestly, if the location of Lincoln's left foot was a notable issue, someone would have commented on it. It's not just a matter of inserting a fact that may have been overlooked. If it's been overlooked then maybe it's not as big of an issue as you may think it is. It may be the case that you're the only one who cares where Lincoln's left foot is, and that's where the original research comes in. One might want to say "Lincoln was in D.C., and thus his left foot was" to settle an argument occuring on a talk page, but if no one has thought to comment on Lincoln's left foot it's just your idea. It's certainly not notable. And when it's used to settle an argument, that's when it becomes problematic original research; it's a non-notable fact that's inserted into an article just to advance a position or win an argument.
Plus it's lazy. I can't tell you how many times people argue on these pages about not needing a source and the source is only three results away on Google. If it's important enough to be covered in a Wikipedia article, Google's covered it already. Dunno if the clause is in WP:SYNTH already, but that's a clause that's needed. "Try really hard to find a source. If you can't find one, ask for help. If no one can find one, then it's probably not important to begin with." This is a notability issue, not an original research issue. --Nealparr (talk to me) 22:08, 12 January 2008 (UTC)
Your argument is ultimately saying that the policy is only enforced when there is a controversy and that when there isn't a controversy the policy isn't enforced. This is diametrically opposed to WP:POLICY which, in a nutshell, says it's our job at these meta-pages to describe what actually goes on at Wikipedia and not to legislate best practices. WP:SYNTH is not written to describe controversies. WP:SYNTH is written to describe why normally extended synthetic arguments are excised from Wikipedia. In other words, since what actually goes on at Wikipedia is millions of instances of tiny little uncontroversial syntheses all the time, we need to be more clear as to what this part of our policy on No Original Research actually covers (as in, it doesn't cover uncontroversial synthesis of straightforward references). You are also making a notability argument that is more than a little dubious. I do not think that everything worth including at Wikipedia is necessarily accessible by Google. In fact, there is a lot more to write about than can be found through a simple Google search. The problem I'm describing isn't one of having "no source"; the problem is when people with concerted agendas nitpick and claim a source that doesn't have a direct quote that is identical to a passage in an article and therefore refuse to allow proper summary statements, paraphrasing, or obvious syntheses. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:48, 13 January 2008 (UTC)
Here you are saying that in some instances synthesis is OK. I'm saying if something's notable enough to include in an article, no original synthesis is necessary. I am not saying synthesis is OK until it is controversial. I'm saying that synthesis causes controversy, needlessly, because if it was important enough to be in the article someone would have covered it. I know exactly what scenarios your talking about because I've been there in some of these cases. Each time I was around the editors weren't just arguing against synthesis in general, they were arguing against your synthesis. The reason they argued against your synthesis is because they felt it was a harsher or more critical tone of voice than any of the sources you said made up that synthesized summary. The argument was that what you were doing is original research; it's taking facts, changing some words around, adding tone-filled words that the original sources didn't use, and passing it off as a stronger critique than the original reliable critics provided. That's what the problem was. The solution was to scan Google to find non-originally synthesized sources similar to what you were saying. There was plenty and the problem was solved. --Nealparr (talk to me) 02:05, 13 January 2008 (UTC)
Hi SA, first, the policies are both descriptive and prescriptive.
We would only need a source for "Abraham Lincoln's left foot was in Washington when he was in Washington" if the proposition was advancing the position of a Wikipedian not advanced by any of the sources who wrote about Lincoln's trip. Otherwise, it would be a harmless deduction based on the common knowledge that people tend to take their body parts with them when they travel. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 01:15, 13 January 2008 (UTC)
I agree with the original poster and think a lot of discussion here is missing the point. Someone who opposes the inclusion of certain content may use strict interpretation of NOR as a justification for removing it. For example, the Smith-Jones dispute from the policy says:
Smith says that Jones committed plagiarism by copying references from another book.
Suppose this was the original quote from Smith:
It's clear that Jones took these references directly from Larry's work without any credit to Larry, profiting immorally from Larry's research.
This quote does not use the word "plagiarism", but anyone who knows the word knows that's what he's talking about here. One would not want other editors eliminating the original text or making it more verbose without need. This is not a hypothetical or even infrequent scenario.
We'd like to say "use common sense", but whether or not an editor is defending an agenda, they frequently disagree on what "common sense" is. We'd like to say "punish disruptive editors", but an editor may in good faith adopt and act on an overstrict interpretation of NOR, if it is not clarified. "Disruption" is a loaded term like "vandalism" and requires getting inside the mind of the editor, which can only be done in the clearest of cases.
The policy already indicates that summarization is okay, but this is overly vague - ideally we'd have more examples of cases where limited synthesis is justified, because we can't write effective prose without it. Dcoetzee 23:13, 16 January 2008 (UTC)
  • SA has a point about the kinds of (mis)uses that can happen, and Dhaluza nailed it in bringing up the Law of unintended consequences. I suggest that we need not write in new language to expressly address this concern, but should review existing and proposed language to be mindful of these particular unintended (but likely) consequences. SA, are there particular areas in the current language that are of concern, where you think existing language could be tightened to foreclose this kind of misunderstanding? --Lquilter (talk) 04:04, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
The more we write in this policy, the more the law of unintended consequences kicks in. SA's concern (as I understand it) is that, for example, we would need a source saying John Rawls was one of the 20th century's most important political theorists before we could say that in the WP article about him, even though anyone who's familiar with political philosophy knows the statement to be true.
All we can do in these situations is stress that common sense applies. Any attempt to expand the wording here risks introducing even more complications. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 16:35, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
  • I wholly agree, but -- not to pick up worms from the already open can -- doesn't this apply to the entire PSTS section? I feel that some of our problems in the instability of this document come from a wide variety of honest misunderstandings of the PSTS material. When understood correctly, it can indeed illuminate NOR; but when misunderstood (as it evidently is easy to do), it complicates things. NOR without it is simple & elegant. --Lquilter (talk) 20:49, 30 January 2008 (UTC)


Are YouTube [1] videos a reliable source? Jim Bough (talk) 19:15, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

It depends on what is being linked two, but there are two issues here. The more simple one is that youtube links as sources often violate the external links guideline, specifically the avoidance of linking to obvious copyright violations. So links to youtube videos of television broadcasts are usually inappropriate. That said, there is no requirement for a source to actually be online (legally), so if the youtube link was to an otherwise reliable news broadcast, and the content sourced is merely repeating/paraphrasing what is said in the broadcast, then the content is OK. To the more fundamental issue of a reliable source, videos are not really different from print sources, in this respect. A video that is created/published by a reliable publisher has much the same merit as a similarly published written article. A video published by a bored kid in his own basement is, similarly, no more reliable than a random blog. The one probable difference in the consideration of video and written sources is that the former can invite even more original research. For example, attempting to analyze the footage of a video is as much a violation of policy as analyzing the data of a research paper. Stick to repeating/paraphrasing the accompanying commentary, and all should be well. Someguy1221 (talk) 20:04, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
I have a real problem with calling any YouTube video a reliable source... we have no way to know if something that seems to be a legitimate "copy" of a broadcast has been edited or otherwise manipulated or not. There is no editorial policy that ensures that what we see on YouTube is the same as what was originally aired. Blueboar (talk) 20:44, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
By that measure, any source that can only be found offline is similarly unreliable. For if I were to add content to a page and only cite such a source, you have no immediate way to know if I've honestly represented the source. I could be subtly introducing POV, completely making up content, or make up the source itself. And the only way you can confirm either way is to hunt down my source and see it for yourself. Just as with a youtube video, they only way you can be sure it isn't altered is to hunt down a copy from a reliable publisher. The only real difference is that an editor acting in good faith can be misled by the "source" itself; but then again, I can upload an altered, out of print, and offline news article to my blog and link to it. And so under policy, there is no blanket prohibition against sources whose only known online presence is youtube; you have to apply the same editorial discretion that you would otherwise. Someguy1221 (talk) 22:48, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
What you are missing here is the difference between a copy of unknown provenance and an original. if we are talking about original material created for, and published for the firt time on YouTube... it would definitely not be reliable except perhaps for an article about that particular video (see WP:SPS). If we are talking about a copy of something copied onto Youtube but originating elsewhere, we might be able to use it as a convenience link... but should not use it as a citation in it's own right.
Look at it this way... if some guy you didn't know came up to you on the street and handed you what looked like a xeroxed copy of a chapter from a book, would you consider that copy to be an acceptable source? I would hope not. You don't know if the copy is an accurate representation of the original. If someone tried to cite: <ref>xeroxed chapter from Book X, given to me some guy in the street</ref> I would hope that it would be challenged immediately, and substituted with a citation to the original book, complete with publication information.
That is essentially what you are getting when you go to YouTube. A copy of something, handed to you (posted) by an unknown person. It might be an accurate copy of the original... it might not be. We don't know. Thus, we can not rely on it... and should cite to the original instead. Now, if we have checked the YouTube copy against the original... and have found it to accutally be an accurate copy... then (and only then) we can use it as a convenience link... citing it with something like <ref>Original Video's Title, Original Publication info - convenience link can be found on YouTube (link)</ref> Blueboar (talk) 02:46, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
You'll note I am only arguing over whether the content cited to youtube should be kept, not whether the link itself should be used as the sole source. In fact, if an item is cited solely to a youtube copy, or a copy of any book somewhere, I would sincerely hope that it's not removed on site. Failure to comply with proper citation of sources is a failure of the given reference, not the content (presuming the information did, in fact, originate from a reliable source). Short of an actual reason to suspect fraud (or something like a possible BLP violation), removing all improperly sourced content is harmful to the project. Someguy1221 (talk) 07:31, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
  • Like Someguy1221, I would like to push a little bit on the term "youtube videos". A video which has indicia of a reliable source is reliable, period. YouTube is not a "reliable source" for publication, because it is self-published; but if the video is from some other source and a copy happens to be posted at YouTube, the video can still be reliable. As BlueBoar points out, anyone citing a video that they have only viewed on YouTube may want to be really certain that the YouTube copy is an accurate copy. The video should be properly cited, with whatever the relevant credits are -- date, "author", title, etc. Then we get to the question of access, and what are reliable sources for access -- i.e., convenience links to the cite. YouTube is not usually a reliable source for access, because the videos can easily be taken down by YouTube or the person who posted it, and removal can be triggered by automatic processes. --Lquilter (talk) 20:55, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
  • This discussion probably belongs on the Reliable Sources noticeboard instead of here. Torc2 (talk) 21:14, 30 January 2008 (UTC)
  • The question of whether a source is reliable is a different question than whether it is what it says it is. We've probably had this discussion before, somewhere. There was a similar discussion recently on the question of translations or transcriptions of offline documents - if someone has a scan, say, of a historical document up on a self-published website and you can't find it anywhere else online, is that a reliable source? Another way to think about it is to consider that sources exist in several senses - in one sense it refers to the publisher or publication, in another to the author, and in yet another to the specific document. With youtube the author may be reliable, the video may be reliable, but the publisher is iffy. I think you just have to use your judgment case by case based on all the relevant circumstances.Wikidemo (talk) 01:38, 31 January 2008 (UTC)
The issue of YouTube's reliability has nothing to do with WP:NOR, nor can "no original research" ever be invoked to measure reliability. WP:RS/N (Reliable Sources Noticeboard) is the place for such issues. -- Fullstop (talk) 04:28, 31 January 2008 (UTC)

double standard

For the record, original research is rampant on Wikipedia. Map and chart creation, for example, get free passes - even though maps and charts can be highly POV. Also, photographs get special treatment here. According to this project page, photos aren't original research because photos don't "propose unpublished ideas or arguments." That's hogwash, really. Most photos are inherently POV. Photos get such special treatment here that their creators are often cited in articles and even on the Main Page (which is goes against Wikipedia tenets, IMHO).

We really need to work through these double standards. Kingturtle (talk) 20:21, 31 January 2008 (UTC)

Could you give an example of a photo proposing an unpublished idea or argument? Thanks, --Shirahadasha (talk) 01:32, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
I can give an example of a chart that appears to be original research; it is Gregoriancalendarleap solstice.svg
in Gregorian calendar. In view of the lesser scrutiny given photos, charts, and diagrams, and the fact that when I spot-checked a few points, they seemed fairly accurate, I have left this chart alone. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 01:40, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
And where has this chart been linked?Professor marginalia (talk) 04:48, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
The chart is linked in Gregorian calendar and Leap year. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 04:59, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
I don't see how this chart is OR. Does it make any analysis or present any new facts? Or is it just a visual representation of pre-existing, previously published information? Torc2 (talk) 19:18, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
The chart indicates winter solstice dates for a range of years, without stating the source of the winter solstice dates. Perhaps there is a published source for the dates, but I don't know of one that covers this date range off the cuff. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 19:26, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
So do you think the editor who posted it is reporting unpublished research, just made up the facts, or just didn't include a source? I highly doubt it's unpublished research (OR), or just made up (vandalism), so it's probably a WP:V case at best. Torc2 (talk) 20:24, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
I don't bring this issue up saying we need to delete charts, but we need to broaden the policies to deal with this double standard. Original research is ok in some cases. Kingturtle (talk) 05:17, 1 February 2008 (UTC)

I think perhaps the "loophole" allowing for original research is sometimes very liberally interpreted by users. It is intended to allow Wikipedians to be the primary source of some visual information. For example, uploading images of local landmarks or a photo taken by the editor of a celebrity. Such an exemption from the normal "Wikipedia is not a primary source" angle of WP:NOR is by and large uncontroversial. I believe we start venturing outside of the spirit of the exemption, and into much more controversial territory, when the "loophole" is used to circumvent WP:SYNTH. Another area of concern is the inappropriate use of images. That is, using images that are not clearly related to the article subject and/or using images that illustrate an unsupported or small minority aspect of an article. This type of image use often relies on correlated facts and assumptions. It may well serve the understanding of policy to modify Wikipedia:No original research#Original images. I would suggest changing (in the middle of the first paragraph):

This is welcomed because images generally do not propose unpublished ideas or arguments, the core reason behind the NOR policy.


Images are welcomed that do not propose unpublished ideas or arguments, the core reason behind the NOR policy.

It's a relatively simple change that changes the tone and more clearly indicates what is and is not acceptable, when taken as part of the NOR policy as a whole. Cheers! Vassyana (talk) 06:21, 1 February 2008 (UTC)

When it comes to photographs... I think a lot of the OR problems stem not from the images themselves, but from the captions that accompany the image. Perhaps we need to distinguish between the image and the caption?
When it comes to graphs and charts, I think we need to allow for original creations, but with strong caveats. A graph or chart often helps explain what an article is talking about... especially science articles. And since most published graphs or charts are copyrighted, we have little option but to create original graphs or charts for use in our articles. But... A graph or chart has the same impact as a text statement. It is a pictorial representation of ideas. If those ideas are OR (such as synthetic idea or an editors conclusion) they should definitely be considered a NOR violation... no different than a text statement about the idea or conclusion that the graph or chart is depicting. Blueboar (talk) 17:28, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
Expanding on Vassyana's suggestion... what if we changed the policy to read something like: Original images created to advance or support original research (as defined in this policy) are also considered original research. However, original images that accurately reflect previously published ideas or arguments are exempted from this policy. Blueboar (talk) 20:03, 1 February 2008 (UTC)
It seems a good direction towards sticking to the spirit of NOR. Compiling disparate information into a single, concise graph is much the same as a compiling disparate information into a single, concise article. There is only original synthesis where the compilation suggests (explicit or implied) a conclusion that none of the sources support. The major difference is merely the wider opportunity for debate over the implications of graphs and images. As for the caption, it would probably be appropriately handled by prohibiting original analysis of any graph, whether formed from one or many sources of information. Someguy1221 (talk) 20:18, 1 February 2008 (UTC)

Honored in the breach . . .

I'm sure this has been answered before, but here goes — What about the overwhelming number of articles that are based only on original research? You know as well as I that many of them are written and edited by a small number of aficionados who correct each other's mistakes and just have a fine time doing it, and in the meantime produce a genuinely interesting and helpful article. From time to time one editor or another might add a Source, but for the most part the article is a pastiche of opinions which, because of the Wiki format, eventually turns out to be fairly straightforward. Well, what about them? Doesn't their existence just prove the futility of this NOR regulation? Sincerely, GeorgeLouis (talk) 19:01, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

Can you provide an example? Torc2 (talk) 21:21, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

Good question. Just click on "Random article" in the box to the left, and you can have your pick. I did so and came up with these in just a few minutes: Exit_Ten_(Exit_Ten), Schötz, Prince_Edward,_Duke_of_Kent, Bob_Constan, Singing_News_Fan_Awards_for_Favorite_Soloist, Ince_(Wigan)_railway_station, Alexander_(emperor), Biloxi_Steamers_Baseball, and Honda_GB500. (It is true that none of them seem to have undergone extensive editing, but the principal is the same: They just don't have any Sources and appear to be Original Research.) Yours sincerely, GeorgeLouis (talk) 21:55, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

Can you give us some examples of statements from these articles that you think are OR. I have a feeling that most of this is simply a case of the articles not being verified... as opposed to their not being verifiable. Not really original research... just non-cited research. I am not excusing these articles or saying that the articles should not be improved, just that there may not be a real NOR issue here. I could be wrong. Blueboar (talk) 22:23, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
(addendum)... looking at the articles, I did find some OR in the article on Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (in the section on his military life)... otherwise I did not see anything that strikes me as OR. Unreferenced, yes, but not OR. Blueboar (talk) 22:34, 2 February 2008 (UTC)
Blueboar is correct. Most of these aren't a case of original research, just a lack of sources (and often POV writing - most of them are really bad articles). Being based on primary sources doesn't mean it's OR unless there's some level of analysis or interpretation. Specifically:
Torc2 (talk) 22:47, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

Thanks for checking those articles — above and beyond the call of duty, I would say! Without belaboring the issue, it is pretty obvious that the sentence "Until November 1964 Ince was also served by a station at Lower Ince on the line from Wigan Central to Glazebrook (to the now closed Manchester Central)" in Ince_(Wigan)_railway_station is based upon something the writer (or editor) got from somewhere that he did not cite. So, ipso facto, that was "original research." All that "original research" means is that he looked it up somewhere, or maybe saw it written on a placard, right? I mean, the uncited facts in Bob_Constan had to come from somewhere, so that was research, not so? It is very unlikely that he just made them up out of whole cloth. Sincerely, GeorgeLouis (talk) 00:11, 3 February 2008 (UTC)

No problem. That's not really what "original research" means though. If you're repeating the facts without interpretation or analysis, but don't cite sources, that's a different problem than OR. If, for example, the writer of "Until November 1964 Ince was also served by a station at Lower Ince" came up with the line by reading old timetables backwards until he found the last appearance of "Lower Ince" station, that's OR, because we don't know if that analysis is correct. If he just copied the information a tourist guidebook and didn't cite it, that's a WP:V issue. I mean, I can't say for sure, but my instinct is it doesn't sound like it's OR, but for all we know, it could be a total hoax. Either way, we know something with the article is not right; pinpointing which of the policies it's violating is a little irrelevant. Torc2 (talk) 00:47, 3 February 2008 (UTC)
Shouldn't the ones with unsourced facts be tagged with a request to show the sources or else have to be deleted? Kingturtle (talk) 00:14, 3 February 2008 (UTC)
Feel free to add the {{fact}} template to any particular statement that you think is controversial and lacks a source. Generally I like to leave these templates up for a while, say at least a week, before returning to expunge the statement. We want to assume good faith that the editor actually has a source. Wjhonson (talk) 00:57, 3 February 2008 (UTC)

Scientific Studies As Reliable Secondary Sources

I have run into the problem of an editor who argues that peer reviewed studies in the medical literature can or even should be excluded from Wikipedia because these are "primary sources" and Wikipedia should instead be referenced to a "secondary sources"-- like magazine articles which discuss the studies.

Given that many articles in the mainstream media may misunderstand or misrepresent the full findings of studies, this seems like a very dubious editing policy and even introduces the risk of politically motivated concealment of studies "disfavored" by an editor who instead wants to push the POV of an argument in the mainstream medial.

I agree with the argument of many editors that articles in the popular press should not be relied upon as sources of fact in preference to the peer reviewed studies themselves.

I think part of this confusion arises from a mistaken reading of the NOR section on primary, secondary and tertiary sources. This editor is mistakingly classifying every peer reviewed study as a "primary source" and therefore interpreting that magazine articles should define what is acceptable to include in the Wikipedia article.

I would argue that most peer reviewed studies should be classified as "reliable secondary sources" in that they provide a synthesis and analyses of "primary source" data (including raw data and eyewitness accounts). Indeed, because peer reviewed articles in the academic press will be much more reliably vetted than a newspaper article (where a fact checker may check facts, but not interpretations), and the methods and analyses will have been reviewed and determined to be reliable by their academic peers, I believe they should ALWAYS be accepted as reliable sources by Wikipedia editors. To this end, I think editors should be firmly warned away from deleting material accurately and properly cited to peer reviewed studies.

This seems to be self-evident, but the problem is that some editors are deleting peer reviewed articles just because the facts and material cited in them contradict popular generalizations made in the New York Times. Seriously.

For this reason, I'm suggesting 1.3 Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources should be amended to read (bold only to show recommended text):

Secondary sources are accounts at least one step removed from an event.[3] Secondary sources, may draw on primary sources and other secondary sources to create a general overview; or to make analytic or synthetic claims.[4][5] Wikipedia articles should rely on reliable, published secondary sources. All interpretive claims, analyses, or synthetic claims about primary sources must be referenced to a secondary source, rather than original analysis of the primary-source material by Wikipedia editors. The best secondary sources are sources in the academic press where the source of data, methods, and analyses have been subjected to peer review.[2] In general, peer-reviewed sources should always be treated as reliable secondary sources, unless subsequently retracted due to fraud. In regard to scientific or technical matters, peer reviewed sources are preferable to magazine or newspaper articles which are generally tertiary sources in regard to reporting on scientific issues.

Example: Published data on seasonal temperatures is a primary source. A peer reviewed analysis of patterns based on this data is a reliable secondary source. A news article about studies relating to seasonal temperatures is a tertiary source.

In this example, the primary source might be used only with caution by Wikipedia editors, for example to create a graph. But any stastical analysis, even an average or a curve fit would be unallowable as original research. In this example, the peer reviewed study is definitely a reliable secondary source. The tertiary source may be useful for referencing a variety of studies or political conflict surrounding the studies, but should not displace reference to the study itself.

I welcome comments and suggestions.--Strider12 (talk) 21:55, 28 January 2008 (UTC)

Not being familiar with the situations you've encountered lately, I think it's doubtful conflicts can in every case be helped by making this too much more specific because it depends on the context and claims attributed to these various sources-even and sometimes in particular with peer reviewed scientific studies which oftentimes fall far short of a "consensus" agreement of some phenomenon. The significance given to particular studies cannot be determined from the study itself. In published medical research there will be countless small scale studies that are interpreted as "suggestive" or preliminary only, so the published literature there is very often conflicting. Since primary sources aren't unallowed by this policy, there aren't that many situations where the real problem is that the source is a primary source. The problem is usually one about what kinds of claims can be attributed to the source. Medical and science journals do not just publish research, they also publish authoritative opinion against the perspective of a full body of related research. The opinions there should be given more weight than opinions in the NYT. However, it is arguable whether wikipedia editors can give an interpretation which runs counter to that of mainstream references such as the NYT based solely on the editors' own particular comprehension of a scientific study. Do you have particular examples? Professor marginalia (talk) 22:44, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
(ec) Any study, peer reviewed or otherwise, is a primary source for its own findings. Having received peer review is no guarantee that the findings are correct or the conclusion a proper representation of scientific opinion. While journals endeavor to weed out any studies that used poor procedure and the like, they'll happily publish studies that disagree with one another, and even some whose findings contradict scientific consensus; just look at water memory. And so while studies usually contain introductory material that can serve as a secondary review of other studies, it should not be used as a source for the legitimacy of its findings. Press articles on studies are good ways to establish the notability of a study or at least the point of view presented by the study's conclusion, but again, not for the legitimacy of those conclusions or findings. Things that establish legitimacy are repeat/followup studies from other researchers, as well as review articles. But keep in mind that even if such a source exists, any "novel conclusions" (of the review, not the original study) could be considered unreliable should they be in disagreement with conclusions that have been repeated and published in review articles. Someguy1221 (talk) 22:54, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
My argument is that a peer reviewed study is not necessarily true, nor does it necessarily represent a consensus view. Indeed, facts almost never rely on consensus; they are simply facts. But a peer reviewed study has the benefit of being accepted by peers as a reliable source laying out at least some properly gathered facts combined with some or much analysis which is reasonably related to and interpretive of the facts presented.
Also, I don't believe the statement that a peer reviewed paper is a "primary source of its own finding" has any meaning. Even a tertiary source is the "primary source of it's own findings." Primary sources are defined as raw data, original historical documents, eyewitness accounts, etc. As soon as one begins to analyze these primary sources (which is what most peer reviewed studies do) that analysis is a secondary source (just as a reporter compiling interviews into an article is creating a secondary source). If the process is reliable, the source is reliable. Peer reviewing helps to verify the reliability of the process...not necessarily the truth of every fact reported or of the analysis, but the process is of higher quality and if an editor believes it is worthy of inclusion in an article, it should almost always be incorporated into the article.
I am definitely NOT arguing that one, or even a group, of peer reviewed articles should be used to justify exclusion of other peer reviewed articles. I am arguing that (a) magazine and newspaper articles should not be used to justify exclusion of peer reviewed articles, and generally, (b) the more reliable sources, the better. These sources present both facts and opinions and it is fairly easy to tell the difference. A firm policy against censoring facts and citations of peer reviewed articles might help prevent POV-pushing editors from censoring inconvenient facts which undermine their favorite POV. Indeed, it would push editors on the other side to do their research and find other peer reviewed sources (not just a newspaper editorial!) which present additional or conflicting facts. I think Wikipedia would benefit from inclusion of more citations from the academic press whenever such sources are available. Editors who cut academic sources in preference for popular media sources are undermining the quality of the encyclopedia.--Strider12 (talk) 04:03, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
"Primary source of its own findings" is a perfectly meaningful statement, although I admit that I essentially ignore the definition provided on this policy page. Whenever you produce an original thought, you're acting as a primary source for that thought (I'll explain this further below). For another to analyze and confirm you are correct is quite secondary, as you have certainly already claimed as much. In any event, we don't need to modify any policies to encourage the use of peer-reviewed articles over magazine artilces on scientific topics. If you're having this sort of problem, seek dispute resolution instead of literally warping policies to benefit your argument. I speak in terms of primary sources as original thought, original ideas, original claims, since the primary/secondary/tertiary simply doesn't capture the essence of a reliable source. Whenever an original claim is published, we simply have very little to go on that it's accurate, and so it should not be claimed as such (to claim that a claim was made is another matter, one for case-by-case discussion). While obviously the peer-review process is generally essential in ensuring reliability, it doesn't take a professional peer-reviewer to realize that journal articles constantly disagree with eachother. Further, the peer-reviewers, being quite involved in the publishing of the very original material they're reviewing, do not impart some mystical increase in the order of the source; they're merely placing a very trustworthy stamp of "this is good science." As the major policies and guidelines are quite intimately overlapping, you can shoot these (original papers that contradict others) down in a number of ways. If an original claim is presented by only one paper (peer-reviewed or otherwise), I say it's not a reliable source. It's also not a notable opinion. Being claimed by no one third-party to the original claim, it is unverifiable as a fact. And finally, it is an unweightable point of view. Oh, and on occasion even a peer-reviewed article is utterly awful and should be dismissed in the absence of reliable sources with similar claims. We don't need a policy to prohibit good editorial discretion, and as I mentioned, there are established venues for resolving disagreements over such discretion. Someguy1221 (talk) 04:28, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
The PSTS section is very carefully worded so that most peer reviewed papers are not classified as primary sources. This would be very unimportant apart from the use of the term "primary source" to taint things. Only "written or recorded notes of laboratory and field research, experiments or observations" and "published experimental results by the person(s) actually involved in the research" are considered primary sources. The bulk of peer reviewed research, including all interpretation and analysis, is considered a secondary source for the purposes of the NOR. This may or may not disagree with your favored definition of "secondary source", but it's what we've arrived at here. — Carl (CBM · talk) 04:13, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
Don;t canonize review articles either. Their reliability and quality control varies widely. It is quite common for a senior scientist to write a review article and get it published somewhere that exemplifies his view of the subject. (In fact, this even happens with textbooks and other tertiary sources. Even good conventional encyclopedias.). On the other hand, an article in a good journal describing something is presumed to be reliable--unless there is evidence otherwise. There is a certain skepticism until it is confirmed, if it its at all controversial, but the normal situation is that things are reported honestly and accurately. The ultimate interpretation is the responsibility of the author, though one of the things that is checked by peer review is whether the statistical interpretation is correct, and more generally that the conclusions are supported by the data.
Reliability is not R/NR but relative. DGG (talk) 05:13, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
I agree with CBM and DGG. Moreover, if two peer reviewed studies have conflicting findings (more often, conflicting interpretations rather than conflicting facts) it is simply important to provide room for both in the article so that readers can see the conflict.
CBM, I agree that as written PSTS does embrace peer reviewed sources as secondary, but this is not bluntly stated enough for some editors (at least the one I'm thinking of) who misread or misapply this to advocate a policy preferance for the popular media to academic media.
Would you support or recommend any language, like that in your paragraph above, to be added to the policy. For example, "The bulk of peer reviewed research, including all interpretation and analysis, is considered a secondary source for the purposes of the NOR."--Strider12 (talk) 20:41, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
The current language represents a sort of compromise. Personally I wouldn't mind that sentence, but it's worth looking higher on this page at the disagreements over the source-typing section to get an idea of the disagreements. The most difficult issue is that there are mutually inconsistent definitions used in different fields. But I would be glad to discuss the concerns that this other editor has with him or her; feel free to contact me. — Carl (CBM · talk) 20:58, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
Actually, I would not support such language change. I do not think that conflicts are resolved by setting firm rules about what sources are primary, etc. As another editor already commented, it depends on the context-any single document can be a primary, secondary, or whatever depending on the context and the claim attributed to it. The more technical the policy tries to become, the less focused editors stay on the point to the policy. This policy isn't a policy about what sources can or can't be used. It's a policy about what kinds of claims can be made here from the source. I've found most of such disputes about whether something is a primary etc are not really about the source itself, but their use. Let's take the situation of a science study. How can it be that the science journalists for the NYT are unreliable in their interpretation of studies, whereas anonymous wikipedians are much more able to report about them here accurately? Not a very sensible policy direction to go in, I don't think. Behind 99.99% of conflicts between what exactly is a primary compared to a secondary source is either a) an editor offering original research, or b) a NPOV dispute with wikilawyering on top. Professor marginalia (talk) 21:27, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
I would strongly oppose any alteration in policy made at the behest of a single-purpose tendentious agenda account and designed to benefit her in a specific content dispute. Strider12's specific proposals for the article in question were roundly rejected by a consensus of both involved editors and those solicited by WP:RfC; suffice to say that they go well beyond the simple issue of "bad editors are deleting peer-reviewed material because it doesn't agree with the New York Times". Forum-shopping a specific content dispute here after failing to make any headway via the usual process should be discouraged, as this is (as another editor wrote above) an attempt to warp policy to benefit a specific argument. MastCell Talk 23:28, 29 January 2008 (UTC)
Obviously I am not forum stalking since I did not mention MastCell or the article in question. But due to a bit of wikistalking on MastCell's part, he is here to object because he is the one who has been repeatedly advocating for deletion of reliable references, findings, or conclusions of peer reviewed studies in relation to the article on abortion and mental health. Indeed, several editors openly discussed and implemented a "purging" of over 22 peer reviewed cites. Specifically, as seen here and elsewhere, MastCell has misclassified peer reviewed studies as "primary sources" and has insisted that a much criticized free-lance article by Emily Bazelon in the New York Times Magazine is the ideal "secondary source." Even more fundamentally, it is MastCell's position that (after excluding peer reviewed sources) such secondary sources should define not only the content but the WEIGHT of the article at issue.
The specifics of this case aside, it seems to me that I may not be alone in struggling with editors who have a misconception of what a "primary source" is. Clearly, researchers who have studied data, published analyses and drawn conclusions deserve as much space as the writers of advocacy driven magazine articles. Indeed, it should be clear that while portions of a magazine article are secondary, much of it is tertiary and much of it may not reflect the complete perspective of individual researchers interviewed, much less those not interviewed.
I guess what I am looking for is a clarification for editors -- some of whom are only high schoolers!--that academic publications do not equal "primary source" and popular media does not equal "secondary source." As everyone in this conversation agrees, that is NOT what the policy means. But it is how some, after a quick and uninformed read, might interpret it, and if we can clarify the policy to shorten the time people argue about what constitutes a "reliable secondary source," that would be appreciated. If others, like I, are running into the purging of peer reviewed studies in preference to popular media sources based on the excuse, that it is REAL problem for the intellectual integrity of Wikipedia. I don't mind any number of caveats, but clearly this policy is not intended to make citations to peer reviewed studies more difficult to keep in an article.
I'd suggest adding the sentence: "Peer reviewed studies, cited in regard to the analyses and interpretations presented, are generally considered to be reliable secondary sources."--Strider12 (talk) 21:46, 5 February 2008 (UTC)

Where do NOR-interested Wikipedians hang out?

I ran into an article today that is rife with OR, and even tagged one section of the article, but it would be better if someone who is more experienced with with the NOR policy than me looked at that article. Is there a place NOR-interested Wikipedians hang out where I should request others to take a look? Or is here a good place? N2e (talk) 17:13, 5 February 2008 (UTC)

It would be good if there was a project to post to for help with them. Professor marginalia (talk) 17:38, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
Some good places for questions of this sort are the Wikipedia:Reliable sources/Noticeboard and the Wikipedia:Fringe theories/Noticeboard. I would not really support adding yet another.DGG (talk) 22:01, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
I think an NOR board is an excellent idea, so I've gone ahead and set it up. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 22:20, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
Excellent! I think it's a good idea too. What do we call it, WP:IgNOR...? (I-get-NOR).. :D Dreadstar 03:37, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

Wikipedia:No original research/noticeboard

Following a suggestion from Professor marginalia (thank you), we now have a new NOR noticeboard, where people can ask questions about particular examples, if they've either been accused of OR but disagree, or if they think they've found OR but they're not sure, or they're being resisted. Shortcut is WP:NORN, and the talk page is at WT:NORN. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 22:20, 5 February 2008 (UTC)

Norn... norn. It's got a sort of woody quality about it. Norn. Norn. Much better than `newspaper' or `litterbin'. Dreadful tinny sort of words.--Father Goose (talk) 23:17, 5 February 2008 (UTC)

It does have a weird ring to it. Makes me think of both nonce and Narnia, not a pleasant combination. :-) SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 23:22, 5 February 2008 (UTC)

Noticeboard is not an English word. Should be two words. Sincerely, GeorgeLouis (talk) 00:55, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
Words are not words until they become words. Some words are useful to treat as words until such time as they become words -- this is the process by which they become words.--Father Goose (talk) 02:54, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
Norn, a weird, yet apt fate for deciding future original research.... Dreadstar 03:45, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
LOL!! The "Weird Sisters," some of whom caused all the tragic events in the world. :-D That's totally appropriate given the view a few people have of this policy. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 04:20, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
That is a very decent idea. I've grown tired of the extreme interpretations of "original research" that get trotted out like some sort of shibboleth during deletion reviews, despite there being no unsourced or deduced facts, when they really mean WP:RELEVANCE or WP:COAT. It would be nice to have a central place to bring such issues. Squidfryerchef (talk) 06:16, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

Eliminating Primary Sources

Let me first say, I understand wikipedia has had a long problem with vandalism and professors and other scholars calling wikipedia unreliable. Therefore wiki admins have to clean up the site by demanding secondary sources to back up every bit of first hand knowledge on the site. So yes, there has to be a good deal of security to keep things from going to hell in a hand basket.

However, I think you guys have gone a bit too far. Eliminating all primary sources eliminates what wikipedia is about. Why have the site open to the public if you eliminate primary sources? Somethings don't have immediate sources. Lets say a certain college has a tradition that isn't listed on the college website or on another site. However, 20, 30 individuals can verify it and attest that it is meaningful to the campus. Who is to say that has never been to the college or town that it isn't legit information to have on the college or whatever page it belongs on?

I added a section yesterday to WNYO-FM and I didn't immediately add a source but it was verified by a couple individuals I had come on the site and write a quick note to the admin or on the WNYO talk page. However, my addition was quickly deleted and I agreed to go find whatever I could to back it up. I re-added the info with a video from the Oswego Television Station that was on the WNYO Sports blog that verified my claims. It was quickly deleted even with the new source. I was frustrated and reverted the edit after feeling I met the standards the admin wanted. Some other admin who I hadn't dealt with came in and blocked me. I understand that I should have chosen a different path, but I also feel the admins involved should have as well. Three or four different individuals all crashed in on me for adding truthful information with a source. I think that kind of security for something that wasn't a threat was way too excessive. One admin is all that was needed to work out the problem with me which it currently is now in a civil way. I think wikipedia needs to re-think how they deal with people like me. If someone is a blatent vandal with multiple warnings they deserve what's coming to them. But I came in good faith trying to add something to a page that I am a first-hand member of and was able to prove it.
-FancyMustard (talk) 17:33, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

I agree with FancyMustard, to a point (and apparently do many, many other Wikipedians). I, too, have added information to more than one article that I knew was absolutely true yet that info has never been reported or written about anywhere else. The info remains in WP because nobody has challenged it. I think WP is rife with articles of that sort. Still, WP is supposed to contain info only about subjects that are notable. so if nobody else has noted it (in a reputable Source), then why should it be included in WP? It is certainly a conundrum that is apparently being responded to on a case-by-case basis. Sincerely, GeorgeLouis (talk) 18:25::Just , 6 February 2008 (UTC)
Just for clarity, a primary source refers to either the first source to publish a finding, or to original records and documents that either haven't been subjected to analysis for notabiility and reliability (like a deposition in a court case) or are open to multiple interpretations (like the Bible). Writing down what one has read somewhere without citing a source isn't original research because it's been said before, just not cited. But what one's heard from ones friends isn't considered a primary source for Wikipedia purposes. It's original research by anyone's definition, because it hasn't been published at all. --Shirahadasha (talk) 19:14, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
I think Shira you are missing the point. I am a member of this station, thus a primary source to the games that go on. And all of the friends I got to back me up are members of the college who have witnessed different games first hand. I know that someone reading and then writing about what they've read doesn't make that a primary source. Done alot of research papers in my day to know that, haha. -FancyMustard (talk) 19:22, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
The problem is that even though we're all supposed to assume good faith, we simply have no reason to trust you. If you take a look at the criteria for a reliable source, a big part of that is the presence of peer/editorial review and hopefully proof the source is considered reliable by other sources. The verifiability policy requires that anyone coming onto this site be able to confirm information by consulting a reliable source. And as with my first statement, that does not include asking you, or consulting someone's personally published blog. There is also the already mentioned issue, as with the notability guideline, that if certain content is never mentioned in a reliable source, it probably doesn't deserve mention on Wikipedia. Someguy1221 (talk) 19:46, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
I agree with Someguy here... we can not rely on word of mouth, no matter how many people are willing to swear that it is true. We require our facts to be published in reliable sources. If there are things about a topic that are not published anywhere, we can not talk about it here, no matter how interesting or "true" they may be. Blueboar (talk) 21:40, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
Well, that's the theory — often not followed. An unsourced "fact" written into an article is often not challenged because it is, well, a fact, sourced or not.Take this sentence from Monopoly (game): "The game is named after the economic concept of monopoly, the domination of a market by a single provider." There is no source provided. Perhaps it was named after the inventor's uncle, Fred G. Monopoly. Maybe the inventor stuck his hand in a Scrabble bag and pulled out letters that formed the word MONOPOLY. You can find similar unsourced statements everywhere. Sincerely, GeorgeLouis (talk) 22:10, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

It might be worth looking at the material itself, which included this: "WTOP sports directors and their members have been known to sore losers as they frequently cry foul for any reason whatsoever. It is clear they are frustrated by the slaughter house happenings. The winner gets to keep the golden pitcher, which is really nothing more than a plastic pitcher from one of the local bars. In fact, it's in worse shape than the Liberty Bell". WP:OR seems to be the least of the problems with this.Torc2 (talk) 23:03, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

That's a great point, but I've already neutralized it. I understand my wording was wrong, but that's for the neutral point of view thread. I've been thrown every page in the book at me, so I'll use that here too. This is about primary sources. I'm not disputing my wording was biased. I volunteered to clean that up, and it has. -FancyMustard (talk) 23:29, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
You're correct. A less confrontational way, other than reverting as vandalism which is what occurred, and which only fans the flames, would have been to merely reduce the paragraph to acceptable bland statements. Don't pour gasoline on a fire.Wjhonson (talk) 23:06, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

Primary sources can be reliable sources

The following statement from FancyMustard is wrong: "Therefore wiki admins have to clean up the site by demanding secondary sources to back up every bit of first hand knowledge on the site." Primary sources are just fine, so long as they are published and meet the other criteria for a reliable source. Do not use "primary source" as a synonym for "unreliable source". --Gerry Ashton (talk) 22:29, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

Fancy Mustard I'd be interested in what the reasoning was for removing the video? If it was, for example, hosted on an unreliable-source web domain, you could simply cite the video content bibliographically directly to the television station, without providing a link at all. It's perfectly fine to cite videos.Wjhonson (talk) 22:57, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
The posting with the citation was removed by Tony Fox or Tonyst1. It clearly verified my entry. They had an issue because the video has been posted on youtube too. YouTube is a bad source at times, but if you look at the context of my video it was a good source. It had "annual flag football game" and "wnyo 28, wtop 21". Had everything in it to verify my claim or at least enough to allow me to editing wording and what not. Check out The video is straight from WTOP-10 the campus television station. Compare the logos in the back to the logos on and -FancyMustard (talk) 23:34, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
I was involved in an article with an editor who was volunteering to make personal contacts to interested parties to solicit claims for the article. If wikipedia were to allow this kind of sourcing, it would turn into an "anyone-can-edit-personal webpage" or "anyone-can-edit-magazine/newspaper", not an "anyone-can-edit-encyclopedia". Unfortunately, the treatment you received is an example of how this "anyone-can-edit encyclopedia" underserves new editors, underestimating the level of preparation and "trial period" editors would of course have to have before fully understanding what it's all about. New editors would have to wade through the fine print (which is quite voluminous) to understand the how's and what for's expected of editors here to be able to edit boldly without triggering hard criticism from somebody early on. Experienced editors are often all to eager to scold, and can be especially harsh with those with a "personal connection" to the article's topic, as if being anxious to get the facts straight as you see them about even yourself is totally reprehensible behavior. Experienced editors can develop this jaundiced view of newcomers, and that's the problem as I see it. But it is not the NOR policy, however, that should be relaxed, but the attitude toward our fellow editors. Professor marginalia (talk) 04:36, 7 February 2008 (UTC)
FancyMustard, instead of including the YouTube convenience link, merely make your statements and cite the program which aired as the source. With no convenience link. That should, per our policy, be perfectly acceptable.Wjhonson (talk) 05:28, 7 February 2008 (UTC)

Check out WNYO-FM. I referenced on the bottom of the page. Would that work? If not, can you show me how I should cite it. Thanks WJ! -FancyMustard (talk) 06:13, 7 February 2008 (UTC)

The argument about no primary sources is just hiring an opinion. It is not scientific in that is doesn't involve a verifiable survey. At best it is hearsay opinion about who you think is recognized by more degreed experts as chief authority. Only availability should limit use of primary sources. That is primary sources in restricted rare book section constitutes research; those easily available for verification do not. And is it really a primary source in its umpteenth reprint or is that now secondary? Plus secondary sources can be just as easily misused as primary sources. Arguing otherwise is just academic elitists trying to reserve their place in the world. But your point about drawing conclusions beyond the quoted material is more valid though it makes condensing material for Wikipedia difficult to impractical in many cases.
I suspect what Wikipedia incorrectly assumes is that all primary material is high technical (mathematics and exotic terms of advanced physics) or requires extensive background for proper context (Roman archeological digs). While secondary sources might put forth arguments and analysis as to the validity of the primary source or some conclusion to be made, it can still be wrong. If it is truly technical or expert material, the reader is just buying one opinion. Is perhaps the emphasis on secondary sources an obscure way of trying to ensure the contributor is widely read. (talk) 03:22, 14 February 2008 (UTC)

Actually, most of the time I've heard the words "primary sources" thrown around, it's in reference to TV shows, movies, and music. I don't see the assumption of correspondence between primary/secondary/tertiary and complex/simpler/most simple that you see. —Torc. (Talk.) 04:11, 14 February 2008 (UTC)
I do think Wikipedia attempts to avoid controversy and establish a reputation for reliability by preferring "pre-digested by experts" material, whether avoided material is called primary source or original research. Which is good up to a point for technical or deep background matter. I am just pointing out the negative side of that approach and assumption -- particularly for materials within the grasp of laymen. (talk) 04:35, 14 February 2008 (UTC)

Edit summaries

Let us resolve to be polite and non-confrontational in our edit summaries. Sincerely, GeorgeLouis (talk) 00:50, 7 February 2008 (UTC)

Has that been a problem here? Torc2 (talk) 00:55, 7 February 2008 (UTC)
Ah, I guess it has been getting a little snippy in for the main article edits. Torc2 (talk) 00:58, 7 February 2008 (UTC)

Toleration of OR maps

Many of maps used on Wikipedia cite no sources and can be seen as original research, in extreme cases used to push some POV. How to deal with that? See my post at Wikipedia_talk:Verifiability#Unreferenced_maps_a_major_problem.--Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 23:21, 11 February 2008 (UTC)

If the map (or graphic) appears reasonable, based on related information, and is uncontentious, then I would lean towards keeping it, pending a better version. But if there is any dispute about it, and no reliable source, it should be removed as OR. Crum375 (talk) 23:27, 11 February 2008 (UTC)
It seems like you should be able to tag the caption if you needed to. Torc2 (talk) 00:38, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
I personally think tagging is a bad idea, in general, and in this case specifically. If someone disputes the map, they can remove it as unsourced OR. If they think it could be correct, but would like to have sources for it, they can leave a brief query on the article's or user's talk page. And if they are extra nice and helpful, they can either find sources or a better map elsewhere. But just leaving ugly disfiguring templates around is counterproductive. Crum375 (talk) 00:45, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
Whose to say they're correct in their assertion that it's OR though? For better or worse, templates are the way things work here. Torc2 (talk) 01:05, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
OR is easy to determine for a map: either the map comes from a reliable source or not. The reliability of the source, if that's an issue, can be determined by talk page consensus. As far as templates being "the way things work here," there are lots of bad things happening here. If we never tried to fix what's broken, we won't get far. Crum375 (talk) 01:26, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
I don't consider template use to be "broken". I also disagree that it's always going to be easy to determine whether a map is OR. Remember, for a map to violate Wikipedia's OR policy requires the synthesis designed specifically to promote a POV; not every created map does that. If you remove a map because you believe that it was made simply to promote the editors personal viewpoint, you're not assuming good faith. Torc2 (talk) 01:32, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
To me, maps are like any image... the key is to determine if the image is an original creation representing non-original research, or if it constitutes original research itself. if an image accurately represents statements that are backed by reliable sources, then the image (map) is not Original Research ... even though it is an original creation. But... if the image (map) drifts from accurately representing what is stated in the reliable sources, or if it improperly synthesises material from several sources to make a novel (pictorial) conclusion, then the image itself becomes original research. Blueboar (talk) 02:24, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
Torc, let's leave the template issue aside for now, because it's not related to this page. The OR issue, however, is easy -- the burden of inclusion of any challenged material is on the editor who want it in, per WP:V — this is not an WP:AGF issue at all. I assume in good faith that we all want to improve WP (well, most of us), yet not all editors fully understand the content policies. So, if you see any material that you feel is controversial (i.e. disputed) and is improperly sourced, you should remove it, perhaps moving it to the talk page (if there is no easy way for you yourself to find such source). You should then post a talk page message discussing the issue, and if either an appropriate source is found, or consensus develops that the source already there is reliable and sufficient, then the material can go back in. Crum375 (talk) 02:34, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
I disagree that the OR issue is always going to be an easy call. I've seen far too much uncontroversial information challenged or wrongly labeled OR. Tagging is the better solution for borderline material or maps that might be OR. Torc2 (talk) 02:41, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
There may be borderline cases, certainly, but tagging is virtually always the wrong move. What tagging does is create two classes of Wikipedians — the hard workers, who toil to find good material and good sources, and the "managers" — editors who can't bother to do the hard work themselves, so they go around assigning work to others, by slapping ugly notices on their pages. This is not a good way to collaborate, and not a good way to achieve results. The correct way is to either fix the problem yourself, or else discuss and consult with others in a friendly and collaborative manner on the talk page. Crum375 (talk) 02:54, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
Outright unilateral deletion is almost always the wrong move. Tagging is relatively innocuous, unless it's some moron who just wants to scatter tags so they feel productive, which isn't the fault of the tags themselves. Besides, I thought you wanted to set this aside? Torc2 (talk) 03:21, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
I did want to set tagging aside, but you again said "tagging is the better solution." I think tagging is far from innocuous, and will generally only annoy people, because it is like saying: "I think your work is flawed, but my time is too valuable to do it for you, or to even discuss it. So I am just going to disfigure your page." Only admins can do deletion, so that's not an option. The correct way to handle contentious improperly sourced material, for which there is no readily available source, is to remove it from the article (though it remains in the history), possibly move it to the talk page, and discuss what needs to be done, in a collaborative fashion. That is what a good Wikipedian would do, and that is most likely to achieve constructive results. Crum375 (talk) 04:00, 12 February 2008 (UTC)
If it's truly contentious that's one thing (though I disagree; removing material is more likely than tagging to result in an edit war and a hardening of positions). But if the only concern is whether it's OR or not, that's not really contentious.Wikidemo (talk) 14:01, 12 February 2008 (UTC)

Instantiating a mathematical formula

If a reliable source says, for example, that the boiling point of some substance is a constant times the pressure involved, are we allowed to use standard pressure to derive a numeric boiling point, provided that we state the figure is "at standard pressure"?

In general, can we use formulae from reliable sources to derive specific figures? Noob321 (talk) 13:45, 20 February 2008 (UTC)

Provided that the formula can be verified in a reliable source and cited, then simply plugging numbers into the formula and deriving a specific figure is not OR. If there is a question as to how the final number was derived, a discussion of the formula can be included in the article. Blueboar (talk) 14:14, 20 February 2008 (UTC)
Like Blueboar said, it's not a black and white issue. If everything is simple, like the pressure/temperature equation, and you state the pressure used in the calculation, nobody can complain (it's freshman-level chemistry). If you were trying to use some extremely subtle calculation that requires 50 pages of calculations, people would be justified in complaining. The article talk page is the right place to hash out the in-between cases. — Carl (CBM · talk) 14:16, 20 February 2008 (UTC)

Stating omissions

These are real questions with a real examples behind them, but I don't want to get bias from the specific example, so I'm asking these from a new alternate account, as abstract questions.

Let's say that Smith publishes a paper in a peer-reviewed journal saying that a substance X is safe to eat, based on calculations using figures from other reports of studies on mice that only considered one kind of cancer. Are we allowed to say that Smith's study did not take into account other issues? In particular, there is another peer-reviewed paper by Jones that says that X may cause liver disease. Are we allowed to say that Smith reached her conclusions without considering liver disease?

2nd question: Smith's calculations from studies of the effect of substance X on mice didn't take into account the fact that mice have shorter lifespans than people do. Are we allowed to say that? Little Lambs Eat Ivy (talk) 23:07, 27 February 2008 (UTC)

I think the answer is no to all three questions. We need to find published sources to back up the omissions, i.e. some non-WP source needs to point out the omission first (which WP can then quote. UnitedStatesian (talk) 23:12, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
Isn't saying what something is not is within the realm of legitimate neutral summarization? Surely we can say that Warriors (TV series) is in fact not about warriors without a source that says it. SBPrakash (talk) 07:24, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
Depends which definition of "Warriors" you use. Somebody could always claim the title is meant metaphorically; "these people are dealing with their daily lives, therefore they are 'warriors'" type of thinking. But to answer the question, it's not OR to state that Smith's paper dealt specifically with one type of cancer. (One would assume that the scope of a scientific study would be stated in the introductory section.) I'd also question whether the phrase "safe to eat" was actually used rather than "did not cause cancer". Drinking a gallon of paint thinner does not cause cancer, but does that make it safe? Going out of your way to criticize the test (rather that citing a reliable source that criticized the test) is probably a WP:NPOV issue, since at that point, you're arguing with the source. It would be fair to state something like "However, a study by Jones concluded...blah blah blah". 2nd Question: If you can find a reliable source that argues that, you can put it in. Otherwise making the statement involves analysis and interpretation of the source, and is clearly WP:OR. —Torc. (Talk.) 20:22, 29 February 2008 (UTC)

Reference desk

Is the Reference desk exempt from WP:NOR? Dforest (talk) 00:23, 28 February 2008 (UTC)

As the Reference Desks are discussion-style pages, limited amouts of OR is allowed per WP:TALK. Trying to drive it home, by, e.g., asking WP:POINTed questions to advance a crackpot theory, is of course abuse. However a single instance asking about some OR, even if it's the questioner's own, I would think is a legitimate use of the Reference Desk, along the lines of asking whether similar ideas do or do not exist. SBPrakash (talk) 07:29, 29 February 2008 (UTC)

Photograph captions

Are the photographer's own captions considered original research when they post them on the Commons? If so, would this mean it becomes ineligible for use as a caption in WP?

See caption here, for example

I'm looking for guidance regarding this sort of edit, which I regard as being over zealous. It strikes me that if we couldn't use the photographer's own captions text then we can hardly use any photos all, especially when the caption associated with a picture is being used to illustrate an article. Ephebi (talk) 09:48, 26 February 2008 (UTC)

Captions and other information supplied by the photographer is primary source material, especially if it is obtainable outside Wikipedia. It may or may not be accurate, of course. Matthew Brown (Morven) (T:C) 10:02, 26 February 2008 (UTC)
When a photograph and caption are first published in Wikipedia or Wiki Commons, I would say they are original research. If the photo had been published by a reliable publisher, that would be different. Of course, we allow original research in the form of photos, but not captions. Thus, the caption should simply describe the photos without giving details that are not apparent from viewing the photo. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 19:54, 26 February 2008 (UTC)
Captions should be treated like any text... if the caption is at all controvercial it should be ammended or cited. That said, I do think we need to differentiate between an original image and original research. An original image (photo, drawing, or other image) should be allowable if it clearly illustrates something stated in the article that is not OR. If, on the otherhand, the image is supporting something in the article that is OR, or seems to push OR on its own, I feel that the image is OR as well, and should be deleted. Not always an easy call... and perhaps we could be less strict when it comes to photos, but I think this is an area that needs further clarification. Blueboar (talk) 21:39, 26 February 2008 (UTC)
Ephebi, anything that's "challenged or likely to be challenged" needs a reliable source, according to WP:V. That would extend to captions, so basically if no one minds, the kind of caption you linked to would be fine, but if someone objects, we'd need a reliable source showing that this was indeed an accident caused by drink-driving, for example. And of course that rule gets abused by people who object to material for POV reasons, or because they don't like the photographer or editor, and that does lead to overzealousness. The best thing is to make sure captions are purely descriptive of what's seen in the image, and if not, that a reliable source is supplied to explain the context. SlimVirgin (talk)(contribs) 21:54, 26 February 2008 (UTC)
  • Sure, nothing new there... but the context of a photo is crucial for its use in many articles. If you think carefully about what you are saying, if we cannot use the photographer's caption this removes the utility of all but the most trivial pictures from WP. In the example above, in the absence of the photographer's caption all I can say is "here is a cement mixer on the ground". (Other reasons for the toppled concrete mixer could could have been because of a broken axle, sunken drain, or an impact from a crane, say.) Ignoring the original photographer as a primary source renders it useless. It seems you are saying that the WP photographer's caption is only valid if he links it to a local newspaper's report of the incident, and any subsequent report of a court case or official enquiry that attributes blame (if it ever gets reported) - this is becoming unreasonable and would revolutionise the management of the Commons. But these are the only types of uncopyrighted image that we can use in WP in this area and time period. Current images from a commercial source will have an editor that had sourced that attribution (possibly based on the same photographer's report) but will be copyrighted and hence unusable. Ephebi (talk) 09:44, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
This is exactly why we have the "likely to be challenged" language. Would captioning the picture of the cement truck with "August 1 2004 in Carlton, Victoria, Australia. It went around a turn going too fast, started to roll, hit a barrier and a light pole then rolled over into the front yard of a house. Fortunately there were no real injuries" be a caption that is likely to be challenged. I doubt it. So this is a caption that we can accept unless it were challenged. If the caption is challenged (say by someone who doubts that the picture accurately depicts what is discribed in the article) then some sort of source would be needed. Blueboar (talk) 15:22, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
If a caption from a Commons or WP editor/photographer says a cement truck tipped over due to excessive speed, how do we know the editor/photographer wasn't driving in front of the truck, and it was leaking oil from the editor/photographer's vehicle that caused the crash? Wikipedia and Commons contributors are not reliable sources. We must not publish ACCUSATIONS about the cause of vehicle accidents from these unreliable sources. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 17:33, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
Ah... I get what you are saying Gerry... and agree to some extent. I am not sure if the caption given contains an accusation (except perhaps the words "too fast", which would imply speeding) but I can agree that the caption should not contain accusations or similar contentious facts. That said, I would assume that any article using this picture would have discussion of the accident, sourced from reliable sources. Thus, all we would really need for a caption is "photograph of the truck involved in the accident". In that case, the only issue would be "is this the actual truck"? For that we can probably take the contributing editor at his word (ie assume good faith) unless we had good grounds to challenge it (such as a source that discribed the truck in the accident as a dump truck and not a cement truck.) Blueboar (talk) 18:34, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
Many photographer-supplied information is OR but only of the most banal kind, like the location where the photograph was taken and the subject of the photograph ("how do I know that's Elvis Presley and not an Elvis impersonator? the caption says so"). For this reason it's important to have limited OR in photo captions, although it is essentially a primary source. Dcoetzee 18:31, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
Do not confuse being a primary source with being unreliable. Some primary sources are very reliable. We can use primary sources, if they are reliable. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 18:35, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
It is also important not to confuse primary sources with original sources. A photograph and caption that we take from some other source can not violate NOR... the OR potential comes in when we write our own caption, or create our own image (photo, drawing, chart, etc.) Let us use Elvis for a few examples...
1) An editor uploads a picture of Elvis taken from a published portfolio of photos by a well known photographer (let us assume that permission has been given so there are no copywrite issues involved), and that source has the caption "Elvis, performing at the Sands Cassino in 1970"... we can use that picture and caption without any violation of NOR... even though the photo and caption are from a primary source. Neither the photo nor the caption are original to Wikipedia.
2) Same situation as above... but the portfolio does not contain a caption. A wikipedia editor adds the caption "Elvis, at the Sands in 1970" when uploading it onto wikipedia. The picture is not OR... but the caption is. Whether it is objectionable OR is another issue. Is it likely to be challenged? Do we know if Elvis performed at the Sands in 1970? Is there reason to doubt that this is Elvis being shown? It is probably acceptable, but if challenge would need more sourcing.
3) The editor was actually at the Sands hotel in 1970 and took a picture of Elvis performing. He uploads it onto wikipedia with the caption. Both picture and caption are OR... but again, do we have reason to challenge it? Probably not.
4) The editor adds a picture taken (with permission) from a well known and published conspiracy theory book that captions it "Elvis, alive and eating donuts at a truck stop in 1997" . While we do not know if the picture actually is of Elvis, nor that the picture was taken in 1997, neither the picture nor the caption is OR... while the addition is obviously challengable on other grounds, it isn't challengable as OR.
5) Editor adds unpublished picture of Elvis, and captions it "Elvis, eating donuts at a truck stop in 1997, which proves that he is still alive". Obviously not only challengable... but should be challenged... and deleted. A clear NOR violation.
What I am getting at is that you have to look at the picture and the caption, and make a judgement call as to whether there is OR involved, and whether the OR rises to the level of being challenged. We simply can not make firm and fast rules on this, except to say that both pictures and the text of captions are subject to this policy, but with a lesser standard of verification required depending on circumstances. Blueboar (talk) 19:50, 29 February 2008 (UTC)
  • An interesting exchange - thanks for your thoughts. Incidentally, the original photographer's caption about the truck was challenged by someone else in an article on car accident. In fact, when I first saw the photo's caption I thought "Hmm, is that what really happened?" but after checking out the caption in the Commons I decided that it was reasonable as the original photographer would know well enough - I had no idea if the photographer's understanding would hold up in a court of law but I let it stand as that was what the original photographer understood (essentially AGF / primary source). What I take away from this exchange is that we don't actually have a clear policy on what constitutes "reasonable" in such a circumstance, which makes me very wary of using Commons images for anything bar the banal. Ephebi (talk) 21:27, 1 March 2008 (UTC)

Legal implications

I wonder if someone could add a section explaining some of the legal implications regarding why OR is bad on Wikipedia. I remember seeing some talk page discussion over things like copyrights and patents, etc. and how publishing OR in Wikipedia could cause problems in those areas, but I think it would make this policy statement stronger if it also included a variant of "besides the philosophical reasons stated here, Wikipedia doesn't want to get sued by some patent attorney". 23skidoo (talk) 16:57, 27 February 2008 (UTC)

I think you have the wrong policy in mind... By definition, if something is original to an editor of Wikipedia it has not been published elsewhere... which means OR could not be grounds for a copywrite lawsuit. Thus, our objections to OR are based on the reasons stated in this policy, and are not based upon any legal implications. Blueboar (talk) 17:09, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
Also, the text of patents is publicly avaliable. Patents may be discussed as much as one pleases. It is only making patented things, using patented processes, using patented software, or importing things that a patent applies to that is restricted. There is no restriction on writing about them. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 17:42, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
Of course, if in the process of writing about a patent you include your own original thoughts about it... then you would be violating this policy. Essentially, however, we are talking apples and oranges. This policy does not discuss legal implications, because there aren't any legal implications to OR for us to discuss. Blueboar (talk) 17:53, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
I believe the legal concern lies in the unapproved disclosure of trade secrets. However, I see no reason to detail this in the policy. Another potential implication is the establishment of prior art by editors engaging in OR, diminishing the value of a few potential patents and some logical derivatives of existing patents. However, there are no legal punishments for distributing non-trade secret processes and claims that are not currently under patent. Just some thoughts. Vassyana (talk) 18:20, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
Naturally, if A is supposed to keep a secret, and instead, A puts the information in Wikipedia, A may be in trouble. Assuming that Wikipedia didn't know in advance that A was supposed to keep the secret, it isn't Wikipedia's problem, it's A's problem. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 19:22, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
In many areas, with regard to legal implications, the situation is the other way round. To produce content based upon a single source risks violating copyright through the production of a derivative work. This risk is reduced by mixing original research (eg editorial commentary) into the content. Similarly, you are not producing a derivative work if you are using some degree of synthesis to mix information from multiple sources. So, for legal reasons, a degree of original research and original synthesis is necessary. We cannot blindly copy. --SmokeyJoe (talk) 23:56, 27 February 2008 (UTC)
"Secret"s are by definition unpublished and therefore unverifiable. With that they are covered by WP:V policy. -- Fullstop (talk) 19:36, 1 March 2008 (UTC)

Clarifying "Primary sources"

Under Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources one example of a primary source is:

  • published experimental results by the person(s) actually involved in the research

I propose to slightly change the wording to:

  • experimental results published by the person(s) actually involved in the research

I believe the intent all along was that papers published by a person involved in the research were to be deprecated. The current wording could be (mis)interpreted as to classify as a primary source a published paper that was written by a person involved in the research - even if it was published in a peer-reviewed journal.

It is clear from WP:Verifiability#Reliable sources that fact-checking and independent scrutiny are the important factors. It doesn't matter that the author of a paper is involved in the research - that applies to just about every paper ever written. What matters is whether the paper was scrutinized by independent experts. It talks about "third-party published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy". "The most reliable sources are peer-reviewed journals ... the greater the degree of scrutiny involved in checking facts ... and scrutinizing the evidence and arguments ... the more reliable it is."

Sbowers3 (talk) 14:49, 1 March 2008 (UTC)

I strongly disagree. There are several cases to consider:
  • A work written by a natural-person or corporate author and published by a separate publisher
  • A work written by a natural-person author and published by the author
  • A work written and published by a corporate author/publisher
This policy has never fleshed out these distinctions. Although works written by a natural-person author and published by the same natural person tend to be less reliable than the other works, this policy has never explained that. The change you suggest is insufficient to get your point across, and would have unintended consequences for works written and published by a corporate author/publisher. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 17:51, 1 March 2008 (UTC)
Could you please clarify your objection. Would my proposed change allow some works to be considered reliable that should be considered primary? Or would it cause some things to be considered primary that should be considered reliable? Can you give an example of an unintended consequence?
Consider these examples:
  • An experimenter does research, writes a paper and publishes his results on his web site. Is that a reliable source?
  • An experimenter does research, writes a paper and submits his paper to a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. After independent scrutiny, the journal publishes his analysis on its web site. Is that a reliable source?
  • A researcher analyzes dozens of peer-reviewed articles and publishes his analysis on his web site. Is that a reliable source?
  • A researcher analyzes dozens of peer-reviewed articles and submits his paper to a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. After independent scrutiny, the journal publishes his analysis on its web site. Is that a reliable source?
My proposed wording may not get the point across but do you agree with the point that fact-checking and independent scrutiny is what makes the difference between a primary source and a reliable secondary source? Sbowers3 (talk) 19:27, 1 March 2008 (UTC)
My take on the objection to primary sources is that it is concerned with an editor's presentation and interpretation of raw data. In the case of scientific publications, I'd suggest this could be clarified by making it read "published experimental data results by the person(s) actually involved in the research", changing results to data and omitting the question of whether it was published by a person actually involved in the research. A compilation of data from various observers is just as susceptible to Original Research as a small set.
Since results generally incorporate a researcher's analysis of the data, it seems proper to quote them as a secondary source. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 20:22, 1 March 2008 (UTC)
Sbowers3 asked "do you agree with the point that fact-checking and independent scrutiny is what makes the difference between a primary source and a reliable secondary source?" Absolutely not. Do not claim all primary sources are unreliable. Do not imply all primary sources are unreliable by applying the word "reliable" to secondary sources but not to primary sources. Remember that documents created by institutions directly involved in a matter are primary sources. All laws, all executive orders, all court decisions, all computer documentation produced by computer manufacturers and software publishers are primary sources. It is absurd to claim all of this is unreliable. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 20:53, 1 March 2008 (UTC)

(outdenting) Let's back up. Put aside the question of what wording to use, and the relationship among "reliable", "primary", and "secondary". Consider my four examples above:

  1. An experimenter does research, writes a paper and publishes the paper on his web site.
  2. An experimenter does research, writes a paper and submits his paper to a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. After independent scrutiny, the journal publishes the paper (edited) on its web site.
  3. A researcher analyzes dozens of peer-reviewed articles and publishes his analysis on his web site.
  4. A researcher analyzes dozens of peer-reviewed articles and submits his paper to a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. After independent scrutiny, the journal publishes his analysis (edited) on its web site.

Which of these are primary and which are secondary? Regardless as to which are primary or secondary, which are Reliable and which are not? Sbowers3 (talk) 23:08, 1 March 2008 (UTC)

Numbers 2 and 4 are more reliable than 1 and 3. If the experimenter or researcher have good enough reputations, 1 and 3 might be reliable enough to cite in Wikipedia, even though they are not as reliable as the others.
Numbers 3 and 4 are secondary. Number 1 is primary. There is no agreement about whether 2 is primary or secondary.
These comparisons presume that the experimenter and researcher are natural persons. Corporate authors are a different situation. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 23:37, 1 March 2008 (UTC)
1 is a primary source that has not been subjected to proper review. 2 is a primary source that has been subjected to proper review. 3 is a secondary source that has not been subject to proper review. 4 is a secondary source that has been subjected to proper review. The review process imparts reliability unto secondary sources, but it does not magically change the order of the source. The reviewers are certainly not independent parties in this situation, as they work for the journal and have essentially been asked by the experimenter to review his work. This is the same reason an individual's research is not established to be notable if only he has published on it, regardless of where he published. And as far as reliable, you have to ask, "Reliable for what?" The peer review process can give you some level of certainty that the results and conclusions published in a primary paper are reasonable, if not representative of a scholarly consensus. So then, primary sources should never be used to cite fringe views where a non-fringe view is obviously present, but are OK in my opinion to illustrate a theory/finding backed up by reliable, secondary sources. Now, for those sources published without peer review, we do have a policy on self-published sources. I would say that primary and self-published sources should always be trumped by reliable, secondary sources. I would further say that only a reliable, secondary source actually establishes the significance of a viewpoint, so whenever reliable, secondary sources exist on a subject, only viewpoints expressed in such sources should generally be mentioned (this is independent of the issue of notability, and this is why there's an article in intelligent design, even though it's not mentioned in the article on evolution). It should also be noted that a research paper is usually a combination of primary, secondary, and tertiary content. For there are typically sections that discuss prior research and well-established theories, as well as sections discussing the authors' own research. Someguy1221 (talk) 23:50, 1 March 2008 (UTC)
Expanding my position on the consideration of primary sources in the sciences, lets begin with the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary:
primary, adj. and n. 16. In the context of academic research or writing: designating source material contemporary with the period or thing studied; designating an original document, source, or text rather than one of criticism, discussion, or summary.
1844 Foreign Q. Rev. Jan. 350 If the primary evidence be wanting—if the original deed be lost or destroyed, we must have recourse to secondary evidence. 1898 Amer. Hist. Rev. 3 385 They are not mere studies from secondary authorities..but contain ample evidence of serious work among the best primary sources. 1936 F. N. HOUSE Devel. Sociol. x. 115 So involved and voluminous are Comte's own works..that such a competent analysis and summary is more serviceable to the average student than are the primary texts. 1969 Listener 1 May 594/1 Old newsreels, live film..of men and events—home movies, for that matter—are primary sources. 2003 M. BYRNES in A. H. Sturgis Presidents from Hayes through McKinley Foreword p. ix, The series combines description and analysis of those issues with excerpts from primary documents that illustrate the position of the presidents and their opponents.
The dictionary's examples given come mainly from the fields of law, history, and other text-based studies. I am concerned about how the concept of secondary sources should appropriately be transferred to the sciences, especially the experimental or observational sciences. Scientists draw results from their experimental data just as historians and the like draw conclusions from their primary sources. Thus, in scientific research, experimental data plays a role directly analogous to primary texts in text-based studies. The scientists' analysis of that data is analogous to the historians' analysis of the primary texts and should be considered as a secondary source to the extent that it involves "criticism, discussion, or summary" of the data (which serves as the "original source" for the analysis).
I propose that for the consideration of scientific research we distinguish between experimental and observational data, as primary sources, and analyses of that data, as secondary. --SteveMcCluskey (talk) 17:07, 2 March 2008 (UTC)
Assuming that I finally understand the concept of primary and secondary, I would say that analysis of one's own data would be primary, but that analysis of someone else's data might be secondary. And there may be a difference between analyzing a single researcher's data and analyzing dozens of other separate researchers' data. Sbowers3 (talk) 21:03, 2 March 2008 (UTC)

Okay, I get it. The concept of primary, secondary, tertiary is orthogonal to the concept of reliable. I had it in my mind (because I had not read carefully) that primary implied not reliable, and that secondary meant reliable. It's disappointing that after a year of editing I still don't know core policies as well as I should.

Now, Gerry Ashton, could you explain in what way natural persons and corporate authors are different?

Thanks, everybody, for helping to educate me - even though I should have figured it out myself if only I had read carefully. Sbowers3 (talk) 21:03, 2 March 2008 (UTC)

Sbowers3 asked "now, Gerry Ashton, could you explain in what way natural persons and corporate authors are different?" I think we all know the problems that could result from relying on a single natural person. In some cases, a corporation can have exactly the same problems, because the corporation is controlled by a small number of people. Corporations can also be susceptible to greed and conflicts of interest, just like natural persons. But in the best case, a corporation (in the most general sense, that is, including governments) may have strict editorial control over it's publications, and be as reliable as peer-reviewed journals. In other cases, the corporate author may be invested by law with authority to decide an issue, and it's decision is legally correct, whether people agree with it or not. Hence, a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court is reliable because the law makes it binding within the U.S, whether people agree with it or not. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 22:16, 2 March 2008 (UTC)

Assistance and voices

An RfC was opened that is grounded in the WP:OR issue. It is located here Talk:Race_Differences_in_Intelligence#RfC. A summary that I will attempt to make as neutral as possible is, some editors want to include an accusation made against the books publisher, in order to show potential bias the book may have. Another group of editors has argued that accusations of bias against a publisher should not be included in each books article, and further that attempting to show "potential bias" without having a source making this claim directly against the book, is a violation of WP:OR. I would appreciate any voices and comments for or against either position. Please feel free to post here or on the RfC in question. --N4GMiraflores (talk) 13:35, 7 March 2008 (UTC)

For future reference, OR issues with specific articles can be posted at the original research noticeboard. Someguy1221 (talk) 15:50, 7 March 2008 (UTC)
Thank you, I was unaware of such a location. --N4GMiraflores (talk) 15:52, 7 March 2008 (UTC)


See this revert. In the area of military history autobiographies are not usually considered to be primary sources as a good autobiography will contain citations to primary sources (such as telegrams, order of the day, regimental histories etc.) Some (or many) passages from an autobiography may be a considered primary source when the text expresses an opinion of the author etc., but this in my opinion is a matter of editorial judgement that can be discussed on that talk pages of an article. I do not think that all autobiographies in all cases should be considered primary sources. --Philip Baird Shearer (talk) 10:09, 11 March 2008 (UTC)

For example is William Slim's "Defeat into Victory" an autobiography or is it an analysis of the campaign by an expert? It is a bit of both. I do not think that it is necessary to quote the book when describing the Battle of Imphal on who launched an attack against whom on a specific day, but I would quote him when he voices an opinion such as "Stilwell was undoubtedly right, but the controversy inflamed the rivalry and jealously between the two leading Americans. Their enmity did not help the Allied cause; still less did the activities of their publicity merchants."(p.250) --Philip Baird Shearer (talk) 14:42, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
I don't know about military history, maybe that's a special case and could be mentioned as an exception.
The use of autobiographies as primary sources is supported by two references currently in the policy:
A primary source is a document, speech, or other sort of evidence written, created or otherwise produced during the time under study. Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event. Examples include:
Original documents: autobiographies, diaries, e-mail, interviews, letters, minutes, news film footage, official records, photographs, raw research data, speeches...
  • University of California, Berkeley Library, where they use the word "memoirs" (defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition as "an account of one's personal life and experiences; autobiography."):
Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied, or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs) and they reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.
Those are university scholar-level definitions supporting inclusion of autobiographies as primary sources. If the footnotes are not considered reliable for this use, then why are they included in the policy page? --Jack-A-Roe (talk) 10:44, 11 March 2008 (UTC)
Quite right, of course an autobiography is a primary source. One doesn't get any "closer to a source" than that. However, the "primary sources" section is a back-door for certain arbitrary interpretations of policy (aka "editorial judgment"), and explicitly mentioning autobiographies would take away that leverage. Its an old story. -- Fullstop (talk) 22:24, 11 March 2008 (UTC)
Thanks for the link, but I can't find the words "autobiography" or "autobiographies" in that discussion. If I missed it, would you point out that section? The linked discussion appears to be about the differences in how primary or secondary sources are used. I'm not trying to introduce any changes about that.
The reason I brought this up is that currently, there appears to be no content in any policies or guidelines to address whether or not autobiographies can be used as sources, or how to use them. By university library definitions, they are primary sources. I understand the concerns about "back-door for certain arbitrary interpretations of policy", but why would that apply more to autobiographies than to all other primary sources?
Autobiographies are used as sources in many articles, but as it is now, they have no place in the policy, they are in an undefined gray area. University libraries define them as primary sources. The whole primary source section of NOR is based on those library definitions, so one type of defined primary source should not be omitted out of concern that it might be misused.
Instead, the concern about possible misuse could be addressed by an additional sentence or two to add guidance on how to use autobiographies. Certainly there are different levels of reliability for different autobiographies. Some are published by major, reputable, reliable publishers, some are published by small presses or are self-published. If there is any question about the quality of the source, that can be addressed by a combination of reputation of the publisher and the reliability of the author themselves, based on their overall notability and their other works and comments of other sources about their works, just as we have to do with any source to determine its reliability.
The takeaway is: autobiographies are primary sources (university-library defined), so they belong on the list. If there are concerns that might open a "back-door" to policy, we can resolve that concern by locking the back door with a sentence or two clarifying the special case of autobiography references. --Jack-A-Roe (talk) 22:45, 11 March 2008 (UTC)
They are primary sources in the primary sources for use in writing history; historians are expected to interpret primary sources. We don't do that. Like any other self-written sources, they are reliable for uncontroversial facts and the persons opinions, but not for anything controversial. For that we need other sources. An article based only on them for controversial matters would be OR. Libraries provide the material for OR, just as academic work ought to be. But that's not what we do here. We're not a library, and dont need to define things in their terms, but according to our needs. No author is reliable for the disputed facts of his own life, just for his view of them. Trying to synthesize what really happened using autobiographies as own source is an excellent thing to do at a university, but not at wikipedia. DGG (talk) 02:36, 12 March 2008 (UTC)
@Jack-A-Roe: The relevant policy is WP:BLP, and explicitly mentioning autobiographies wouldn't open a back-door, but close one.
@DGG: Absolutely right. But don't forget that the PSTS cruft is all based on library definitions. -- Fullstop (talk) 11:15, 12 March 2008 (UTC)
Fullstop makes a couple good points here. Why would we pick only autobiographies to omit from library-definitions when the other items from the same references are included? (Aside from BLP though, this question also applies to atuobiographies of people who aren't alive at this time.) Since you mentioned BLP, I checked that page and found this:
These provisions do not apply to subjects' autobiographies that have been published by reliable third-party publishing houses; these are treated as reliable sources, because they are not self-published.
So, that policy allows them, yet NOR does not mention them at all. This should be harmonized for consistency.
DGG, I agree, to avoid OR, autobiographies must not be used to synthesize. But that applies to any source - primary or not. The OR policy doesn't prohibit primary sources; it does prohibit synthesis, and appropriately so. What about when an autobiography is simply stating a fact that needs a reference, for example, a simple note of an event that happened on a certain day, where the primary source knows the date but no other source published it? I don't see how that would be a problem. If it crosses into synthesis, that violates NOR, as would be the case with a use of any source or sources that crosses into synthesis. --Jack-A-Roe (talk) 18:19, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
The concept of reliable or not, and the concept of primary or secondary, are independent concepts. Just because BLP says that autobiographies can be reliable does not mean that they should be considered as secondary. It is clear from definitions above (and in NOR) that autobiographies are primary sources. Whether they are reliable sources or not depends on the publisher. Similarly secondary sources can be reliable or not depending on the publisher. We can use reliable sources whether they are primary or secondary; we just have to be a bit more careful with how we use primary sources. Classifying autobiographies as primary says nothing about whether they are reliable - all it does is specify that we have to use autobiographies with a little more care than if we labeled them as secondary sources.
Per the William Slim example above, an autobiography could be partly a secondary source. When it talks about "What I did" it is primary; when it talks about "What Stilwell did" it is secondary. Sbowers3 (talk) 20:32, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
I think there is a misconception that primary = unreliable... this is not at all the case. Many primary sources are highly reliable. Now, WP:NOR does mention the fact that they should be used with caution (because it is quite easy to misuse them in ways that violate that policy)... but NOR clearly allows them. Blueboar (talk) 20:48, 13 March 2008 (UTC)
I agree with Blueboar. What I don't understand is, why would an autobiography be treated any differently than any other primary source? Autobiographies are university-defined as a primary sources, so they should be listed in NOR as a primary source. That way, it's clear, they can be used, however, the extra caution that applies to the use of any primary source would apply.
I also agree with Sbowers3 that in some cases an autobiography could be a secondary source, but I don't think we need to create a hybrid category. Since often they are primary sources, they need the extra caution as advised in NOR, so that's the best place to list them.
If there are no further objections, I suggest that autobiographies be re-added to the list of primary sources, according to the two university library footnotes. If there are objections, please advise. --Jack-A-Roe (talk) 03:40, 16 March 2008 (UTC)

It's been a week since the above comment and there have been no objections or further discussion, so I've re-added autobiographies to the list of primary source examples, as supported by multiple references. --Jack-A-Roe (talk) 20:12, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

Why did PSTS drop examples of secondary sources?

I was in a debate on WT:N about whether news stories that are only summaries of events without opinion or analysis qualify as secondary sources. ( It's under "Notability is not temporary" is self contradictory ). While arguing that almost all news articles qualify as secondary sources, I noticed that the wording "a journalist's story about a traffic accident or a Security Council resolution is a secondary source, assuming the journalist was not personally involved in either." was dropped from PSTS. I'm not sure how this was left out, but we should have examples of secondary sources in the policy. Squidfryerchef (talk) 12:40, 18 March 2008 (UTC)

You should look in the archives for the very long discussion on the primary/secondary sources issue. There was barely consensus for the list of primary source examples. I would not be happy with "news story" listed as a secondary source, personally - the goal of a news story is simply to repeat facts, not to analyze them. To see what I mean, imagine what an historian in 2090 will think about the news stories published today. — Carl (CBM · talk) 12:46, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
That discussion went in circles for about a year, so there's no way I can go through the archives and find the crux of the matter. Again, this is only the second time (yesterday on WT:N was the first) where I've seen somebody seriously propose that news stories were primary and not secondary sources. Squidfryerchef (talk) 13:40, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
The three links provided as references in NOR each comment on this. Two of them consider newspaper articles primary, one secondary. Point being there isn't a single "correct" usage here; if I did a broader search I would find more sources for each point of view.
"Newspaper article from the time period you're writing about - for a specific event or date" are primary sources according to [3]
"Newspaper and magazine articles (factual accounts)" are primary sources according to [4]. "Newspaper articles that interpret" are called secondary.
"magazine or newspaper articles about events or people" are secondary sources according to [5].
I personally was surprised when I realized how broad the range of definitions is, but once it sunk in, I realized it's better to mostly avoid the issue. We're really interested in reliability, not primary/secondary nature. — Carl (CBM · talk) 14:02, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
Squidy, I am wondering why this is an issue. Why does it matter whether they are primary or secondary? Is someone trying to exclude a source or claim a NOR violation on the basis that news reports are primary? If so, that someone really misunderstands PSTS. Even if newspaper reports are primary, they can still be used ... Primary sources are definitely allowed on Wikipedia. Yes, they need to be used with care, but the policy states that they may be used. Blueboar (talk) 16:21, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
Notability is the big reason. You can cite a primary source in an article, but you can't use it to show notability. The other reason is all the caveats about how articles should rely mainly on secondary sources, and the feeling that overreliance on primary sources brings us too close to original research. Such policies were obviously written under the earlier idea that anything with an editorial board and a reputation for fact-checking qualified as a secondary source. An additional reason is that we don't want our editors to choose opinion pieces to cite over "just the facts" reporting because the factual articles make a more solid encyclopedia. Squidfryerchef (talk) 01:51, 19 March 2008 (UTC)
Ah... well in that case I can ease your mind by affirming that news reports are considered secondary sources. 01:55, 19 March 2008 (UTC)
Well, that's the entire issue here - it's not in any way universal to call them secondary sources. See above. The real solution is to go back to the previous wording on WP:N if it's actually an issue. — Carl (CBM · talk) 02:06, 19 March 2008 (UTC)
The notability guideline says that "Availability of secondary sources covering the subject is a good test for notability." It does not say secondary sources are the only way to establish notability. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 02:50, 19 March 2008 (UTC)
Check out the nutshell at the top. — Carl (CBM · talk) 03:01, 19 March 2008 (UTC)

Need a neutral opinion on NOR

I could use a hand on an issue that came up in Birthright citizenship in the United States of America.

In the Supreme Court case UNITED STATES v. VERDUGO-URQUIDEZ, (cited here, the court stated,

those cases in which aliens have been determined to enjoy certain constitutional rights establish only that aliens receive such protections when they have come within the territory of, and have developed substantial connections with, this country. See, e. g., Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 212 .

In the articles on Plyler v. Doe and on Birthright citizenship in the United States of America (in reference to Plyler v. Doe), I have added this statement from UNITED STATES v. VERDUGO-URQUIDEZ pointing out that it clarifies PLYLER v. DOE One editor has argued that the court transcript of UNITED STATES v. VERDUGO-URQUIDEZ is a primary source and, so, shouldn't be added without secondary sources to back it up. Another editor has argued that, because UNITED STATES v. VERDUGO-URQUIDEZ was about an alien in the U.S. who had not established substantial connections with the country, what the Supreme Court in that case said about Plyler v Doe (which was about aliens in the U.S. who had established substantial connections with the country) has no merit. Because all sides of this issue believe that all other sides of this issue are breaking the 'no original research' policy, I felt it best to bring the issue here to be discussed in a neutral environment.- (talk) 17:26, 18 March 2008 (UTC)

The contention is that this is a WP:SYNT violation... and I have to agree. While US v Verdugo does reference Plyler v. Doe... it does so in a particular context. It does not do so in the context of "Birthright citizenship" (the topic of the article). Verdugo deals with the rights of aliens who have been extradicted into the US and does not include anything about "Birthright citizenship". Thus, Mentioning it in an article on "Birthright citizenship" forms an improper synthesis, and the contention that Verdugo clarifies Plyler, in this context, is a stretch. Including a discussion of Verdugo in the Plyler v. Doe article is a bit more acceptable. But again it is important to note the context. Blueboar (talk) 18:12, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
If I'm understanding you correctly, what you are contending is that, while the Supreme Court said

those cases in which aliens have been determined to enjoy certain constitutional rights establish only that aliens receive such protections when they have come within the territory of, and have developed substantial connections with, this country. See, e. g., Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 212 .

that is not, in fact, what they meant. Sans a source, doesn't your contention, itself, fall into the area of original research?- (talk) 20:01, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
Supreme Court cases can be very nuanced, no matter how plainly stated they may seem to be. Scholars with doctoral degrees in the subject and decades of experience fiercely debate even the basic substance and thrust of US Supreme Court decisions. For example, whether US v. Miller approves of extensive gun control or reiterates a right to bear arms (appropriate for the purposes of the unorganized militia), or something in-between, greatly depends on the person giving the analysis. The United States is a common law country, meaning that no matter how plain a law or court case may appear to be, it is influenced, restricted and/or reinforced by the apparent intent of the lawgivers/judges, previous laws and court decisions, traditional Anglo-American common law, and so forth. I would advise extreme caution in quoting Supreme Court cases, being sure to stay exactly to the source and avoiding even the appearance of drawing a conclusion or leading the reader. I would suggest that the decisions themselves be avoided (as direct sources), except when used to provide an illustrative quote that supports the conclusions of independent sources. Vassyana (talk) 18:36, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
This is an interesting position you are taking. Am I correct in my reading of your statement that you do not believe Supreme Court rulings should be used as source documents in Wikipedia articles unless they are used only to provide an illustrative quote that supports the conclusions of independent sources? I ask because there are a large number of articles (including the ones in which this issue has been raised) that are already using Supreme Court rulings for more than that.- (talk) 20:01, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
Vassyana correctly describes the general appraoch to primary and secondary sources. Court documents, including decisions, are primary documents and should not be used in ways that require any interpretation by editors. We should rely on secondary sources, such as newspaper and journal articles, for interpretations and use quotations as illustrations, not as proof to support an iunterpretation. ·:· Will Beback ·:· 20:04, 27 March 2008 (UTC)

Clarification or Amendment of WP:SYN

Hi. I've created a new policy proposal/discussion here:

Wikipedia:Synthesis on video games

Based on confusion over the WP:SYN policy. Discussion is still early. But a few editors seem to agree that WP:SYN isn't meant to exclude summaries or compilations of research (e.g.: 10 scholars have all said this, several games have been called "trading games"). Rather, WP:SYN seems to be directed at reaching a novel opinionated conclusion. But I would appreciate clarification, and if there is a consensus I'd like to see the WP:SYN policy re-worded slightly. Policywonker (talk) 19:57, 20 March 2008 (UTC)

NOR: Content vs Presentation

I've just been hit with NOR over an edit I made to the article Hebrides.

The thing is, I wasn't editing the content of the article, only the presentation.

The opening sentence in the article describes the Hebrides as an archipelago, which is not a commonly used word (at least in UK English). I had changed the article to say "group of islands" instead, as this will be acceptable to all, and I felt that "archipelago" qualified as jargon.

The "original research" in question was something I posted on the talk page to back up the edit where I took out "archipelago" as jargon. I did a search on the National Corpus to demonstrate how uncommon the word is. (Its only appearance in the spoken corpus is as part of an academic lecture.)

Does this really qualify as original research? It's a publically published dataset, and it has been academically selected as representative -- all I did was type one word in the box and hit search!

Even if this does count as original research, surely the NOR rule is only applicable to factual content, and not a change of presentation such as wording.

Thanks for your time, Prof Wrong (talk) 20:59, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

Nothing you post on a talk page can violate the OR policy; it would only be an issue if you wanted (for some reason) to put your research into the actual article. Replacing the term "archipelago" with "group of islands" would not violate the OR policy. It's up to the editors participating on that page to decide how to phrase it. — Carl (CBM · talk) 21:04, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

Is NOR Synthesis applicable to math and physics?

Article One: A = B

Article Two: B = C

My Edit in Article Three: A = C

Is my edit "A = C" in Article Three NOR Synthesis? 50MWdoug (talk) 01:20, 2 April 2008 (UTC)

While I cannot say for sure without knowing what article(s) you're referring to, what you describe could be problematic. As you mention, it could be a synthesis unsupported by the sources. Additionally, Wikipedia articles should not be used to support claims in other articles. In all cases, we should stick closely to the sources. Vassyana (talk) 18:10, 2 April 2008 (UTC)
The key idea remains that you should never use two sources to make a claim that neither source would individually support. If your example is as literal as it appears, then it's not problematic, unless one of the sources seems to argue against the application/validity of basic algebra. A real example you were thinking of might help though. Someguy1221 (talk) 18:14, 2 April 2008 (UTC)
The criterion for SYNTH is obviousness — anything reasonable and non-controversial is acceptable. If other editors raise issues (e.g. that the synthesis is non-trivial and is not obvious in their view), that effectively creates contention, and a better source, that shows A=C directly, is required. Crum375 (talk) 18:22, 2 April 2008 (UTC)
Almost invariably, when someone presents a "simple" question here, the actual situation is more nuanced. In this case, the article in question appears to me to be Young Earth Creationism. Calling that a "math and physics" article stretches the terms to their limits. — Carl (CBM · talk) 18:19, 2 April 2008 (UTC)
It is frequently helpful, in policy discussions, to look at the editor's contribution history to discover just what issues actually drove them to the discussion. Policies are broad, but their interpretation and implentation require editorial judgements about specifics. Dlabtot (talk) 18:40, 4 April 2008 (UTC)
Agreed. — Carl (CBM · talk) 18:48, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

From Wikipedia:Scientific_citation_guidelines#Examples.2C_derivations_and_restatements

Wikipedia is neither a textbook nor a journal. Nonetheless, in mathematics and the mathematical sciences, it is frequently helpful to quote theorems, include simple derivations, and provide illustrative examples. For reasons of notation, clarity, consistency, or simplicity it is often necessary to state things in a slightly different way than they are stated in the references, to provide a different derivation, or to provide an original example. This is standard practice in journals, and does not make any claim of novelty.[1] In Wikipedia articles this does not constitute original research and is perfectly permissible – in fact, encouraged – provided that a reader who reads and understands the references can easily see how the material in the Wikipedia article can be inferred.

As an example, the article on the Lambda-CDM model quotes values for Hubble parameter h and the fraction of the present universe made up of baryons, Ωb. For technical reasons having to do with their Fisher matrix, the WMAP collaboration quotes values for h and Ωbh2.[2] The values quoted in the article are more useful for the lay reader. Any reader who looks at the WMAP paper, and has a basic knowledge of error analyses, will understand how to go from one to the other.

From Wikipedia:Attribution#What_is_not_original_research.3F:

Editors may make straightforward mathematical calculations or logical deductions based on fully attributed data that neither change the significance of the data nor require additional assumptions beyond what is in the source. It should be possible for any reader without specialist knowledge to understand the deductions. For example, if a published source gives the numbers of votes cast in an election by candidate, it is not original research to include percentages alongside the numbers, so long as it is a simple calculation and the vote counts all come from the same source. Deductions of this nature should not be made if they serve to advance a position, or if they are based on source material published about a topic other than the one at hand.

--Filll (talk) 18:44, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

In this case, 50MWdoug doesn't seem to be actually referring to equations. I think he's referring to adding some sort of text to an article on creationism. — Carl (CBM · talk) 18:48, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

Yes I have seen 50MWdoug's contributions to the creationist and intelligent design articles. And to be honest, I cannot understand his contributions at all. They do not seem to be relevant or germane. They are confused. Often the English is horrible. They lack sources. So I do not know what to say in that case.--Filll (talk) 18:51, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

50MWdoug's example doesn't seem applicable to the area of evolution, which is highly controversial, and where you need sources for just about everything. But here's the standard in general, which applies to all math and science: A=C is improper original research if, and only if, A=C is not verifiable. The synthetic statement A=C is verifiable only when either (1) you have a reliable source for A=C, or (2) A=C is so obvious that nobody in the academic field would reasonably dispute it. Thus, for example, if A is "the cartesian product of two orthogonal lines", B is "a plane", and C is "an affine space of dimension two", and if A=B and B=C are verifiable, then you don't need a citation for A=C, because A=C is verifiable (that is, it is not reasonably disputed by any mathematician). If A=C were not obvious, or if some difficult proof were needed to show that A=B and B=C implies A=C (such as you have some strange definition of "equals"), then you would need a source.
On the other hand, if A is, for example, "God", B is "Designer", and C is "Intelligent Being", then you will need a citation that explicitly says A=C, because "equals" is such a squishy idea in this context, and the field is so controversial anyway, that people within the field will dispute just about anything that is said, and citations are almost always required. COGDEN 20:43, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

One could also ask the question whether the statemnt is so trivial that demanding a peer reviewed publication that points it out is unreasonable. Wiki articles on math and physics topics are usually almost 100% based on peer reviewed articles. If some statement is trivial according to the professional mathematicians/physicists, then an article pointing it out is not suitable for publication in a peer reviewed journal.

Now, what is trivial to professional scientists may well be extremely complicated to the lay public. So, we have to leave it to the editors editing the article to make this judgement. A good example is this equation The fact that there is a plus sign in front of the summation is OR. A peer reviewed article gives the same formula with a minus sign. But, you can easily find out that a sign mistake has been made. Also, you can go back to older articles and find out that it should be a plus sign. However, that involves some non-trivial (to lay persons) conversions of an old notation of Bernouilli numbers to the modern notation.

I notified MathWorld about the error (their page also contained the same error). But it took them a year to correct the error, see formula 15 of this page: "where is a Bernoulli number (Adamchik 2001; typo corrected)." That typo being corrected only because I spotted it  :).

So, in conclusion, I would say that quite a lot of what in wiki terms is usually called "OR" is allowed in physics and math articles. The technical nature of these subjects demands that to ensure correctness of the content. Count Iblis (talk) 14:18, 5 April 2008 (UTC)

Math and physics are not unique in this regard - there are tons of conclusions not made explicit in humanities publications that are still regarded as too obvious to be worth anybody's while to publish explicitly. Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:25, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
Our output is geared towards lay persons, and so are our WP:V and WP:NOR policies. Everything we write must be based on verifiable and reliable sources, and all synthesis of sourced material must be trivial to a lay person, i.e. a reasonably educated Clapham bus rider. Crum375 (talk) 14:29, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
If our output is geared toward Clapham bus riders, there are a number of advanced topics in areas that we should simply delete outright as they simply cannot be explained to a non-specialist audience. Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:57, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
Not really. Don't underestimate the abilities of the Clapham bus rider. He may not be able to follow everything, but could still pick up a lot. He may follow links to get educated, look up references, and perhaps read some related books. Our goal is to explain as much as possible as clearly as possible, especially in the lead, and to ensure that anything we write reflects existing verifiable and reliable sources. No non-trivial synthesis of the sourced material is allowed, using the bus rider as judge. Crum375 (talk) 15:24, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
The Clapham bus rider seems to have abilities that are arbitrarily defined as what you want them to be, and he does not seem a useful standard. Phil Sandifer (talk) 15:37, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
Well, thing is that the Clapham bus rider would find it more convenient to use a correct formula from wikipedia than to find out that it is not correct, that the peer reviewed article that gives the formula is also not correct and then to read the entire derivation and correct it himself. We have to realize that many people use mathematical and physics articles in wikipedia to look up formulas which they want to use. They would rather have a correct formula than an incorrect formula. They don't care if the incorrect formula is the same as what can be found in the literature. Count Iblis (talk) 15:48, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
Phil, I think that it is an extremely useful standard, and the only one we really have. As an approximation, it is the average Wikipedia editor.
Count, the readers trust us to properly reflect what the reliable and verifiable sources have to say about a topic, not to improve or modify them. Crum375 (talk) 15:51, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
We are not really improving anything as correcting typos in formulas is not considered to be "original reseach" in the scientific meaning. The reliable and verifiable sources do indeed imply the corrected formula, but it may well be that the literal version can only be found with a sign error in it. To be able to verify the content of some scientific wiki articles you need to know a lot about the subject anyway. Count Iblis (talk) 16:25, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
Correcting typos is certainly "improving". What I would suggest in such simple cases, is to use the corrected version, with a footnote explaining the correction, next to a link to the original with the error. Your goal is to convince the skeptical Clapham rider, who has no specialist knowledge, that you are not adding any new information. Crum375 (talk) 16:30, 5 April 2008 (UTC)

I edit in many different articles, including Wave Power, where there is an obvious need, sometimes, to convert from CGS to metric units, or to go from source equations to Latex, or to combine two equations where it is literally the case that A=B, B=C, so one might enter A=C for clarity and brevity, with appropriate references obvious to other editors. There never seems to be a problem with these edits - except for the usual typos and errors. Outside of math and physics Articles, it appears to me that some editors use NOR Synthesis to reject opposing material on a selective basis with variable standards. 50MWdoug (talk) 17:00, 5 April 2008 (UTC)

It's really not so complicated. We are allowed to use synthesis of existing sources if it's simple and non-controversial, where the judges must be the Wikipedia editors. Like for most decisions here, we use common sense and imagine the Clapham bus rider looking over our shoulders. Crum375 (talk) 18:21, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
The practical interpretation of "the average WP editor' is that the edit is not challenged in a reasonable manner. The most frequent example of unreasonable challenges is when it is advanced only because of dissatisfaction with the overall NPOV of the article. If you are going to say it is so obvious as not to be OR, then you're going to have to be able to convince almost any good faith editor of that. This is normally done by asking for outside opinions of uninvolved editors. DGG (talk) 20:19, 5 April 2008 (UTC)
I agree. Crum375 (talk) 20:35, 5 April 2008 (UTC)

Fundamental problems with this policy

As a counterpart to my line-by-line reading of WP:V, (which is being actively discussed at WT:V I've had a look at NOR. It is, for the most part, and mercifully, not as bad as WP:V. That said, it still has some serious problems, including what is probably the worst sentence ever put into a Wikipedia policy.

But for the most part, unlike WP:V, it doesn't need a top-down reconsideration, except in one area - it fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between sources and research. But even this can probably be solved through addition rather than deletion.

In any case, the specifics are in my userspace at User:Phil Sandifer/NOR. I've left the two most significant and subtle points below, because it's the one that I think will require the most discussion, though I hope people will read the larger discussion, as there are other bits here and there that direly need revision.

  • "For that reason, anyone—without specialist knowledge—who reads the primary source should be able to verify that the Wikipedia passage agrees with the primary source."

This is very possibly the single worst sentence ever enshrined as Wikipedia policy. This sentence is where the first and third problems I identified come to a terrible head. Because secondary source publication is generally a commercial act, what gets published in a secondary source is heavily determined by what is financially viable. That is a very, very different concern from what is useful or important. As a result, primary sources are vital to research - not just scholarly research, but all research. And this becomes even more true as you get to more and more specialist topics - this sentence effectively guts our coverage of science and mathematics.

Let me be clear here, and using a credible expert (my wife, a PhD student in chemistry). It is simply not possible to write an article on Single molecule magnets from overview-providing secondary sources. Any such article would be badly out of date. Specialist-requiring primary sources are *necessary* to write these articles.

This points also to an issue about credentialism. The current policy is all but anti-expert. That is, it basically requires that articles be written either by people who do not know the material or by people who are going to act like they do not know the material. This is *not* what our anti-credentialist position started as, and it's a terrible evolution of it. The original concept of our anti-credentialism was that you could replace a process of credential verification with a high-speed (i.e. wiki-based) open peer review process. That is, a mass of people whose credentials you don't verify can, if given the proper tools, provide as good a peer review as credentialed experts. But this does not assume non-knowledgeable participants - it merely says that we don't check the credentials. The assumption can safely be made that if somebody is editing an article in good faith, they know stuff about the topic. That doesn't eliminate the need for sources (any more than it does in academic research), but it does mean that this "articles must be able to be written by a non-specialist" policy is, frankly, an idiotic poison.

  • "If the sources cited do not explicitly reach the same conclusion, or if the sources cited are not directly related to the subject of the article, then the editor is engaged in original research."

This bit, and really the whole section it's in is where the policy most falls apart. What it's trying to do is clear - and the plagiarism example a bit further down is (mostly) spot-on. (It's not unreasonable to mention the Chicago Manual for context there - it's the explicit conclusion-drawing that is a problem)

But as it stands, this sentence describes a research practice that is impossible. The idea that it is possible to simply and unambiguously transport conclusions from a source into a piece of research would be rejected by any credible school of teaching research skills that I am aware of. It is, frankly, the rhetoric and composition equivalent of spontaneous generation.

Indeed, the opposite is increasingly widely accepted. One of the major composition texts these days is called _Everything's an Argument_, and makes the case, essentially, that one cannot organize information without advancing an argument. Research is always an interpretive and synthetic process, and any presentation of research advances a position. The position our articles try to advance is a NPOV position, but it is still a position. NPOV is not "No point of view."

Given all of that, this phrasing of the policy is untenable and inaccurate. The section should be heavily cut down, and coupled with a section that needs to be written. That section must explictly accept that the basic act of organizing information into a NPOV presentation is an act of synthetic research. Connections, interpretations, and organizations are going to have to be introduced, not all of which can be drawn straightforwardly from reliable sources. It should openly acknowledge that determining what the best NPOV presentation and what the most significant viewpoints are is hard and requires a process of open and good faith communication among editors. How to write an encyclopedia article is not something that can be determined mechanically or obviously by an absolute standard or by outsiders brought in to mediate or intervene.

As I said, the policy is, largely, better than WP:V - it has only two egregious problems, both of which are closely related - its bewildering sense of "self-evident" sources, and its deeply flawed belief about the transparency of assembling information into a tertiary source. This can largely be fixed by new language and by careful rephrasing, but it is a fix that is desperately needed, as right now this page provides bad advice that is not and cannot be usefully applied towards writing an encyclopedia, and that should frankly be largely, if not totally, ignored by responsible editors. And that's a problem that we should fix, as this is a key policy that needs to reflect sane practice. Phil Sandifer (talk) 18:30, 6 April 2008 (UTC)

I actually see no major problem in WP:V or WP:NOR as they stand, or the concepts they represent. I see no problem in waiting for better secondary sources for novel topics, instead of relying on pure primary sources that require non-trivial analysis or interpretation to be made by wikipedians of unknown credentials. I think our concept of being a verifiable tertiary source which relies primarily on secondary sources is very sound, and has proven itself in our current product. If you have some specific point you'd like to change, start with one suggested revised sentence and let's address it specifically. Crum375 (talk) 21:17, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
Largely because the problems are, in both cases, a bit beyond single sentence fixes - most especially here, where the problems, as I laid out above, really are that the page has an unrealistic sense of what research is, how sources work, and how reporting on sources works. There might be something to us being a bit slower to get information than we are now, but on the other hand, one of the things we're often praised for is how up to date we are, and that's one of the reasons why the wiki is such an appealing method. But even still, this loses far more than a few novel points in the sciences. As I said, there's no good way to write about Jacques Lacan or Jacques Derrida - two of the most important figures in literary studies right now - under this policy. We might be able to be two years out of date on single molecule magnets (though I think it's regrettable if we are, and that we shouldn't be), but if we fail miserably at those topics we fail at our most basic mission. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:24, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
We are already number 8 or so in popularity on the web; I don't see us losing much ground if we hesitate in adding some radically new material because we don't have the proper secondary source to help us interpret the primary sources. In reality, if something is new and important in science, there will be newspaper columns and Scientific American or Nature articles to serve as initial secondary sources. If there is something hot in the humanities, such as your literary examples, I suspect we'd be able to find some relevant news or magazine article there also. Bottom line: no rush, we'd rather have a verifiable encyclopedia of high quality, than a forum for editors of unknown credentials disseminating their personal knowledge. Crum375 (talk) 21:57, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
Except that an encyclopedia by the standards you're proposing wouldn't be high quality. Single molecule magnets are a huge hot thing in inorganic chemistry right now, with tons of grants. A two year out of date article on them is of questionable value at best. And an article on Derrida or Lacan based on newspaper and magazine articles would be so laughably below the standards of my field that I, at least, would be forced to change my position on Wikipedia for my students (From "It's a great resource, but you need to go further for your research" to "it is worthless.")
I mean, this is the major problem - the model you're proposing simply does not work. It is not possible to write about most topics in the way you are describing, and not possible to write well about most to any of the ones you can write about. I mean, I don't know how to put this any other way - what you are espousing as high quality and verifiable is not. It's a recipe for bad coverage that meets nobodies standards, and is a radically different standard than the one we use in practice. (And notably, I am not trying to reform our practice on original research - I think this policy page is, in fact, badly out of line with actual practice, which is much closer to what I'm proposing). Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:07, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
If something is a "huge hot thing", it will get plenty of press coverage, in newspapers, online news sites, and magazines. There should be no problem at all to find secondary sources for your hot stuff. And our NOR policy is used every day to maintain the quality of our product. That some articles, maybe many, are not conforming to it, or to other policies, is no reason to trash or dilute the policies. By that logic we might as well do away with any quality standard. Crum375 (talk) 22:15, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
I said "a huge hot thing in inorganic chemistry." The number of newspapers, online news sites, and magazines that devote substantial time to inorganic chemistry is minimal, due largely to the fact that it is substantially less commercially profitable than sports and celebrity gossip (which, I suppose, are relatively easy to cover under the policy as you advocate it). The policy as you advocate it guts our coverage of academic and scholarly topics - what should be the cornerstone of an encyclopedia. And, as you seem to admit, it is not current practice to gut those articles in the way you are advocating. I am thus forced to conclude that your approach does not have anything resembling consensus. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:19, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
I'm sorry, but if there are simply insufficient secondary sources to make a complete and accurate article on a subject, then that's simply something we're not going to have. I don't think opening the door to sources only alleged and unverified experts can decipher is at all an appropriate action, given the amount of POV pushing, original research, and self-promoters that are going to rush in alongside it. Coinciding with Wikipedia not having any time limits, there is no great detriment to being a couple years behind cutting edge scientific opinion, as encyclopedias have always been. And I highly protest your claiming that citing sources from different contexts is appropriate if you don't explicate the conclusion; if the purpose of the content remains blindingly obvious, and that's to lead the reader to an unsupportable conclusion, then it remains original research. The most we should do in that case is link to the article on plagiarism so interested readers can follow it and decide for themselves. And again, this loss of potential information is no great detriment to Wikipedia; if no reliable source has made a certain point, then it is beyond our purpose to make it ourselves. Someguy1221 (talk) 22:20, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
As I said, perhaps this is acceptable for single molecule magnets - I don't think it is, if only because the area is sufficiently hot that old information is not terribly valuable. But Derrida and Lacan are not new - Lacan, in fact, has been dead for 27 years. You cannot seriously suggest that we ought not have good coverage of someone who has been tremendously influential in the humanities for a quarter century because it happens to be the case that the sources are written for a specialist audience. The publication of accessible sources on the subject is not financially viable. To say that "if a subject is worth covering, accessible secondary sources will have been written about it" is simply untrue and unsupported by reality.
I mean, I don't know what else to say here. You are advocating a position that has two possible consequences - the elimination of coverage of academic topics, or blindingly bad coverage on those topics. Your description of what sources exist and what they can be used for is non-sensical (and I say this as somebody whose job it is to teach research-based writing to college students). The position you are taking is not merely an opinion I disagree with, but is fundamentally in error, and, if adopted (which it has not been by the community, as evidenced by our decent articles on many of the topics you propose gutting) would rapidly transform Wikipedia from a useful resource to a complete laughingstock. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:37, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
Phil, I suspect there are plenty of scientific and industrial journals focused on various aspects of inorganic chemistry, plus a bunch of reliable websites. I would be surprised if this hot potato stayed secret for months, beyond the primary papers, if it's really so hot. And if we ended up being a month late, because we want to ensure high quality, I think it's an excellent trade-off. Crum375 (talk) 22:28, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
Do you really think that the scientific journals are any more accessible or easily interpretable than the peer-reviewed primary sources from which the scientific knowledge is being proposed? I mean, all I'm saying is that you can't write a remotely up-to-date article on single molecule magnets without relying on sources that are genuinely hard to understand. This should be unsurprising, as single molecule magnets are an advanced topic in inorganic chemistry. They are, in short, hard to understand. "Easy to understand" is not an inclusion criterion, nor should it be.
But, if you will, change focus to Derrida and Lacan. Both have been dead for years - Lacan for 27 of them, Derrida for 5. Their work is tremendously influential in the humanities, but that still means it's primarily of interest to a specialized academic discipline. Newspaper articles on them are rare (especially now that they are dead), and the ones that did exist are widely disparaged by academics. (The New YorK Times's obituary on Derrida was scandalously bad, as is well-reported.) There are a handful of, essentially, Derrida for Dummies books, but basing an article on them would be fantastically low quality. What do you propose we do here? I have chapters on both Derrida and Lacan in my dissertation, and have published scholarship relying heavily on Lacan. And I do not have the slightest idea how to even begin writing a good article on Lacan without relying on sources that would be difficult to someone without my scholarly training at best, and near impossible at worst. But he's been dead for a quarter century. I can almost accept the possibility of being a few months behind on science topics, but a quarter century behind in the humanities? You can't really want that. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:37, 6 April 2008 (UTC)

Random break

(outdent) I think there is some common logic here with notability. We say that if no one reliable has published about something, it's not notable enough for Wikipedia. In this case, you say something is vastly important, but you, like me, are a mere wikipedian, and our word doesn't count. If something is really that important and earth-shaking, even within its own community, some reliable secondary source will have published a review of it. If all we have are primary papers and a wikipedian telling us they are vitally important, then the best we can do is to reproduce the primary material without interpretation or analysis. Crum375 (talk) 22:52, 6 April 2008 (UTC)

Don't get me wrong - the secondary literature on Lacan and Derrida is vast. It's just also targeted at specialists, and no easier to decipher than the originals, and so doesn't provide any assistance in the transparency department.
The secondary literature doesn't have to be transparent or easy to decipher. What the policy prohibits is Wikipedians using primary sources as the basis of their own analysis of a topic; primary sources should only be used descriptively. So, "this is what the source says" is fine. "This is what the source meant by it" is not fine. If you want to tell us what the source meant, find a published source who agrees with you. That's all the policy means. SlimVirgin talk|edits 04:13, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
I'm not sure I see how, short of simply quoting directly and at length, there's a meaningful difference between "this is what the source says" and "this is what the source means" in most cases. Phil Sandifer (talk) 04:40, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
For example, when Kant says that all knowledge begins with experience, but not all knowledge arises from experience, we want to know what published experts think that means, not what SlimVirgin thinks it means based on her own reading of Kant. SlimVirgin talk|edits 04:48, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
But the assumptions being made even in that short summary are already enormous - first of all, that out of the mass of stuff Kant has written that is a significant and notable passage. Second of all, inasmuch as that is not a direct quote from Kant and that the context on each end is trimmed away, that this is a representative and illustrative sample of Kant. Now I wholly agree, we do not want SlimVirgin's own personal theory of what Kant means in that passage. But on the other hand, it does not seem to me that there is any way to even describe that passage without making some large assumptions about it that are not based on sources. Which does not seem to me to be a problem - far from it. But I do think, in a similar sense, we need to recognize that the organization and presentation of information, and even the most basic interpretations of difficult sources (both primary and secondary - this is another key point. Most of the most significant explanations of "What Kant Means" are no easier than Kant, and pose no less a formidable NOR problem) is still a contestable process. The judgment of well-meaning editors who are interested in the topic is going to be better than a mechanical rule of what is and is not original research. In practice, our articles on Kant are not based on simple restatements of sources - they're based on interpretations from multiple editors that are revised with an eye towards approaching what they all recognize as the consensus of what a NPOV presentation of Kant's views is. And, notably, that method works. Phil Sandifer (talk) 04:54, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
Regarding your first point, anyone reading the secondary literature will see that the sentence I cited is a key one.
You say "that method works," but does it? The article on the Critique is original research. It cites only one secondary source for one point. It offers nothing about the context within which the Critique was written, or why it was written. What was Kant trying to do, who was he addressing, why did he feel those were major issues? What issues did he try to avoid and why? What was the reception? How influential has it been? How is it viewed now?
None of that material is in the article, because it's just someone's personal understanding of what Kant was saying, relying only on Kant, with no indication of whether the editor understood it in the same way published specialists understand it. What kind of reader would this article help? Who is the article's target audience? SlimVirgin talk|edits 19:19, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
I have a couple of possible answers, but which Critique are we talking about? Then I can go look at the article and respond more appropriately. :) Phil Sandifer (talk) 20:20, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
Sorry, I meant Critique of Pure Reason. I singled it out because I think it's a good example of the problem. It's pure OR, but most of it is probably right, as far as I can tell. But because it's OR and based only on the primary source, it leaves the reader uninformed. Someone knowing nothing about Kant will not be helped by it. Someone knowing a little is left not knowing how to find out more. Someone who knows a fair bit is given no clue as to why the editor is saying this, and not that (i.e. the reader is left not knowing which tradition the editor is writing within, because no sources are cited). And someone who's a Kant specialist will have no interest, because there's no complexity i.e. no arguments are presented about how Prof A thinks Kant meant X, but Prof B strongly disagrees.
So the article has basically left itself without a readership. SlimVirgin talk|edits 21:41, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
Well, and notably, there are tons of people involved in providing that summary. It's not one person's viewpoint, but a triangulation of the viewpoints of lots of people who have read Kant and know a fair amount about it. And it gets it largely right - that is, it presents a reading of Kant that is more or less a palatable default. Its major problem is actually NPOV - that is, it doesn't present all the views of Kant. I won't argue that the article could use more - a sense of the major disagreements about Kant, etc. But I don't think that what it has is unacceptable as such - it's just not done yet. But complaining that what's there is OR and should be trimmed seems to me a terrible idea, since what's there is a pretty accurate summary of the book that is certainly useful to someone who looks it up having little or no idea what the book is. So the problem isn't that the article is unacceptable - it's just not as good as we want it to be. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:51, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
Single molecule magnets are a different case - there are not always secondary sources on each piece of research in the field. Then again, I, at least, have no problem treating the fact that a peer-reviewed academic journal saw fit to print it as a voucher of notability. After all, that's what the peer review process is meant to indicate - that the findings of this paper are significant. But even if we limit ourselves to scientific papers that have acquired citations in other papers we still don't get rid of the ease of understanding problem. The topics are, simply put, hard. Secondary sources make them more widely discussed, but they don't make them any easier. I thus don't think this is primarily a notability issue. My objection is to the statement "anything notable will have sources that a non-expert can understand and that can be transparently described for our audience." That standard is ludicrous. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:58, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
I agree that even secondary sources may be too obtuse for the non-specialist. Typically Scientific American and Nature type publication do cater to the general market for scientific topics, and I assume similar "popular level" periodicals and websites exist for other topics. But nowhere do we say, to my knowledge, that only "popular" secondary sources are acceptable. We are only saying that any interpretations, from any source, must be trivial to the non-specialist (Mr. Clapham). So all that means is that the more obtuse secondary sources will require stricter adherence to the source material. Not a huge problem IMO. Crum375 (talk) 23:09, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
You should have a look at my fuller complaint, linked to above. In short, the idea of any reading of a secondary source that is not an "interpretation" is something that has to be considered kind of ridiculous. There's just no way to present an unambiguous and trivial reading of a good source in many of these areas. Short of just block-quoting, which, for obvious reasons, we don't do, this is still an unrealistic goal. Phil Sandifer (talk) 23:55, 6 April 2008 (UTC)
Obviously. And the stock method of determining whether your paraphrasing of a source is "incorrect" is to see if a dispute arrises, and then see where that takes you. The only thing we can rely on in that case is consensus, and not "let's trust Phil, he's an expert." As with all the examples you keep citing, if you can make an accurate and comprehensive article on Lacan and Derrida, mainly using citations to reliable, secondary sources, and no one disputes it, then good for you! But I have to ask, if it's actually impossible to write a "useful" Wikipedia article on that without exercising original research, then why would you want to? As much as you claim you're trying to eliminate a bias in Wikipedia, it seems to me you want to use Wikipedia to alleviate a blind spot in the literature, something that we definitely shouldn't be doing. Someguy1221 (talk) 00:14, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
Well, to be clear, it's eliminating a blind spot in the literature, not in the general consensus. This is closely related to WP:V and some of the changes I'm arguing for there - essentially, and you get at this with your comment, if the people who edit the Derrida article (who we can assume are probably generally competent on the subject) all agree that a given presentation of the information is sensible and hits the major points, we can, for our purposes, assume that it does.
It may be useful to compare the three models under discussion here. Model one is the traditional encyclopedia - the validity of a given presentation is determined by asking a credentialed and clear expert "is this right?" That expert answers, and the check is done. Model two is what this policy currently proposes - it says that the validity of a given presentation is determined by looking at its sources, which will transparently and clearly explain themselves, and anything that does not get clearly explained is rejectable. Model three, what I propose, and what I think is actual practice on Wikipedia, is that a mass of people of unknown credentials will collaboratively edit the presentation into a general form, each providing peer review and oversight for all the others, relying on sources not as things that independently establish the validity of the claims but as evidence for a subtle and complex argument about the claims.
The first model works, but, as Nupedia showed, was inadequate to the task of writing a free encyclopedia. The second model is a fantasy designed to mechanize the process of writing in a way that simply does not work. The third model is what we should go for. In the third model, the evidence that a statement is not original research is not that it follows transparently from the sources, but rather that the community of editors who are working on the subject in good faith and with an eye towards presenting a neutral, verifiable explanation of the major views that does not include any novel or original theories all look at it and agree that it follows from the sources. That is, the proof that something is not original research is the socially formed consensus to that effect. Which is what I was trying to get at with my statement that we need a passage to the following effect: One that will "explicitly accept that the basic act of organizing information into a NPOV presentation is an act of synthetic research. Connections, interpretations, and organizations are going to have to be introduced, not all of which can be drawn straightforwardly from reliable sources. It should openly acknowledge that determining what the best NPOV presentation and what the most significant viewpoints are is hard and requires a process of open and good faith communication among editors. How to write an encyclopedia article is not something that can be determined mechanically or obviously by an absolute standard or by outsiders brought in to mediate or intervene."
I'm sorry that I'm being wordy here - the downside of working with these issues professionally is that it is difficult to condense them to talk-page sized comments. (There's a reason I get a full semester with my students instead of a few quick paragraphs) But the point remains - it is extremely rare for a source to directly and transparently support a NPOV presentation of a topic. Writing encyclopedia articles is hard and requires subtle, not mechanized judgment. Our content policies need to reflect the subtlety of what we do instead of trying to bludgeon it into a mechanical process. Phil Sandifer (talk) 02:02, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
I don't agree with your characterization of "what this policy currently proposes". If you want to take the word 'clearly' out of the nutshell, I'd have no objection. Other than that one word, I don't think there is anything in the policy that says or implies anything like you are saying. Arguing over the semantics of what 'synthetic research' means, is not really helpful in this context. The point is that it shouldn't be original research. That's why it's called no original research. The point is not that you can't use your brain to write an article that draws on multiple sources, the point is that you can't use Wikipedia to publicize your new idea, interpretation, or synthesis of data. That's what we are trying to say here. Why make it more complicated than it is? Dlabtot (talk) 02:25, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
Because while I wholly agree with what the policy is trying to say, what the policy actually says is a far cry from that. (And I think "transparently" and "clearly" are largely synonyms there - there is nothing transparent about reading and summarizing a source. If there were, we would not need summary.) Phil Sandifer (talk) 02:32, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
I read this thread in its entirety, and fail to see what is the rationale for changing the current formulation. Rather than just argue for what is purportedly wrong with the current formulation, an example of a different formulation that may address your concerns would be more useful. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 21:10, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
If this is the idea, to "explicitly accept that the basic act of organizing information into a NPOV presentation is an act of synthetic research. Connections, interpretations, and organizations are going to have to be introduced, not all of which can be drawn straightforwardly from reliable sources. It should openly acknowledge that determining what the best NPOV presentation and what the most significant viewpoints are is hard and requires a process of open and good faith communication among editors. How to write an encyclopedia article is not something that can be determined mechanically or obviously by an absolute standard or by outsiders brought in to mediate or intervene.", well, I would strongly disagree. That is not current practice, and should not be. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 21:13, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
You believe that it is possible to mechanically determine how to write an encyclopedia article via an absolute and external standard? Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:13, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
No, I am not arguing that point. I am arguing that Connections, interpretations, and organizations are going to have to be introduced, not all of which can be drawn straightforwardly from reliable sources is the complete opposite of what current practice is in regard of V and NOR. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 21:15, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
I agree that it's the opposite of what the policies say. I adamantly disagree that it is the opposite of how it is done. Short of having our articles consist purely of block quotes from sources, there is no way to engage in summary of multiple sources without introducing connections, interpretations, and organizations from outside of those sources. Summary simply doesn't work that way. I don't mean this on a level of "this is how it ought to be." I mean this as a simple statement of fact about how summary is understood in the context of writing and composition. Summary is, in composition classes, treated as a form of argument. When one summarizes one or more sources, one is understood as making an (implicitly original) argument about what those sources say, using quotes from the sources as evidence supporting the argument. This is not a statement about what our policy says - it is a statement about how research works and is taught. We can, if we want, reject the statement, but if we do we should recognize that Wikipedia is explicitly and consciously adopting a paradigm of what it means to read, interpret, and summarize that is rejected by the prevailing academic consensus. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:32, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
Wikipedia editors are in the business of reporting what sources say, with the caveat that novel syntheses are not acceptable. Sure, sound editorial judgment is needed, alongside of using other content policies to assist in that application of good judgment, that is using NOR, V, and NPOV within a framework of consensus. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 21:39, 7 April 2008 (UTC)
That's not really a response to what I said. What I said was that the act of reporting what sources say, when multiple sources are involved, involves advancing an original argument, or, at least, one that does not come transparently from the sources. The question of an encyclopedia is how do we evaluate whether a given attempt at that is OK. Traditional encyclopedias use credentialism. We reject that. Right now this page has us rejecting that in favor of the idea that, in fact, the description will come transparently and straightforwardly from the source in a way that is independently checkable. That viewpoint is, from the perspective of how research is understood and taught, wrong. Option three - which is the option that Wikipedia was originally built around - is that a bunch of interested editors checking and revising each others work will successfully check that a presentation of information accurately describes the sources it is based on. Thus the check is not some transparent consultation of a source but the consensus process of debate and discussion. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:51, 7 April 2008 (UTC)

(outdent) Phil, the mere fact that Wikipedia does not consist solely of direct quotations is evidence enough that people don't take this policy as literally as you fear they will or should. And I still don't see how this can possibly be fixed in your eyes, since we're not going to assemble a cadre of experts anytime soon. It is fundamentally impossible to give a definition of original research that can be applied without subjective judgement, and that is why we have several fantastical venues for discussing such things. Someguy1221 (talk) 22:03, 7 April 2008 (UTC)

Regardless of flaws in logic, I think the existing policy is working. The actual question is not the theory, but the practice, which is a balance between permitting the necessary flexibility in writing articles, and preventing those with POV from abusing the system. I think the present wording permits us to deal adequately with the actual cases, and that we have a fair balance. DGG (talk) 00:42, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
I think the existing policy is working not because of any merit in the policy but because nobody is actually following it as written. (Or, more accurately, very few people are following it as written. Some people are, generally to the detriment of the project) That the policy is so ignored as to be somewhat more harmless than it would be if it were followed, however, does not seem to me a strong recommendation for its current form. Phil Sandifer (talk) 02:07, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Phil, even as it is, people are constantly using primary sources to come up with novel arguments advancing their views. The strong wording in the current policy is, in fact, the only thing holding us back from an original research free-for-all. If we water down the wording even further, we might as well just delete the WP:NOR page altogether. Jayjg (talk) 04:59, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
If you have gotten to the point where you sincerely believe that some strong wording in a policy is magically holding us back from a disaster that we would otherwise fall into it's probably time to take a bit of a vacation and calm down. Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:30, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Can you show us an example of an article you regard as good, but which ignores this policy? SlimVirgin talk|edits 05:03, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Michel Foucault, a (deservedly) featured article, uses primary sources exclusively for its summary of Foucault's thought. Despite this, the summaries are concise, approachable, and deeply edifying. The page is as good a primer on Foucault as any I have seen (and I have seen quite a few). But there is no way to read the policy as it stands on primary sources and think that the Foucault article uses them in accordance with the policy. Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:30, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
It sounds to me like you are saying there is not actually any original research in the Michel Foucault article, since according to you it is a "summary of Foucault's thought". If it were a summary of some WP editor's thought, inspired by Foucault, it would be a problem. Would it be better if that article relied on secondary, rather than primary sources? Sure. But after all, WP is a work-in-progress. Dlabtot (talk) 17:55, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
I agree, it's not original research. The policy disagrees - the conclusions drawn from the primary sources would not be obvious to a non-specialist reader, since the primary sources are torturously difficult. Phil Sandifer (talk) 18:08, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Well, the point here is to create a quality encyclopedia. To help in the collaborative editing process, we have an interlocking set of policies and guidelines, one of which states that the rules are not to be an obstacle, but a means towards that end. Dlabtot (talk) 18:42, 8 April 2008 (UTC)

This SYN issue might have come up before

...but I sure couldn't find it. Consider quotations made by individual in a foreign language interview about a nom de plume. Is the translation of that text synthesis?
The article in question, Fitna was apparently directed and written by either a production company or individual using the nom de plume (or nom de guerre, if you wish) of Scarlet Pimpernel to conceal their identity. The name isn't really mentioned anywhere, but a Netherlands (Netherlander?) interview notes the name as belonging to a film production company that was given a code name, so as to prevent reprisal. All of this in a foreign language. A pretty extraordinary claim, I think and as such, it needs a pretty extraordinary reference. The only source (thus far) is this foreign-language reference, and an Imdb reference (which was struck down as per RS)The film hasn't been out very long, and I expect we will have English references soon.
In the article discussion, folk have been suggesting that we can just translate the text and use it as a citation. I have been opposing this, as translation by a primary source (wiki editors) is essentially synthesis, as the vagaries of translation leave room for interpretation. Well, they say, the reader an verify it through Google translation tools or Babelfish. I've noted that these translation tools are imperfect as well (I once tried to translate an email from a Russian friend and ended up w/what looked like stream of consciousness Beat poetry), and furthermore, we are supposed to have the material fully processed before the reader gets it. I think we should wait on a reliable, third-party translation. Am I wrong here? - Arcayne (cast a spell) 22:50, 8 April 2008 (UTC)

        • You are wrong. Translation has nothing to do with synthesis. This is synthesizing:

"Synthesizing material occurs when an editor tries to demonstrate the validity of his or her own conclusions by citing sources that when put together serve to advance the editor's position. If the sources cited do not explicitly reach the same conclusion, or if the sources cited are not directly related to the subject of the article, then the editor is engaged in original research. Summarizing source material without changing its meaning is not synthesis — it is good editing."

It's quite clear. Furthermore wiki policy expressly encourages translations:

it is hoped that polyglots who work in multiple languages will help spread new information around between the articles in different languages

"English-language sources should be given whenever possible, and should always be used in preference to other language sources of equal caliber. However, do give references in other languages where appropriate."

To summarize, translations of a single source have no relationship whatsoever with Synthesis. Indeed translation in and of itself would have no relevancy to ANY synthesis question. None. (talk) 23:08, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
And there you have the other point of view. Thoughts from folk who actually hang out here? - Arcayne (cast a spell) 23:38, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
I actually hang out here. You may have read my thoughts on the Fitna talk page. Avb 00:11, 9 April 2008 (UTC)
Synthesis (or OR in general) occurs when extrapolating information not evident in the source. Whether that source is in English or in a foreign language is irrelevant. Sources can be used correctly, or sources can be misused, but language or form (or whatever) do not affect anyone's ability to do either. What foreign language sources do do is limit the number of people who can check the fidelity with which the source is being represented. But that limitation isn't the fault of the source or of the editor, and is not synthesis or any other kind of OR violation. -- Fullstop (talk)
ps: Under the circumstances, the claim Arcayne mentions is not all that extraordinary and quite plausible. I'm not sure that factoid needs mentioning though.
If I am understanding you correctly, Fullstop, you are stating that an editor (with the personal ability to do so) can translate a foreign news source, and his/her translation is not a synthesis of his knowledge/talents/experiences with the foreign material. That being the case, as the information in the foreign language is not evident to an English speaker (this being the wiki-en), that an editor-driven translation is then equal to that performed by a citable source. I would imagine that wackiness would ensue. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 01:01, 9 April 2008 (UTC)
A source that you can't read yourself is like any other kind of source you can't lay your hands on. Say a book thats out of print, or too expensive, or whatever. No need to assume that another editor is out to play an April fool's joke. -- Fullstop (talk) 01:32, 9 April 2008 (UTC)
Yes, but we aren't really expecting them to add their own translation to the source, but bring it over directly. I am not arguing that the translator in this case is mucking it up, but thinking that waiting just a little bit isn't a bad thing. We aren't in a hurry. An English translation would show up soon enough, as the film spreads. 'Salute optimism, await evidence'. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 01:43, 9 April 2008 (UTC)
Sure. Thats why I said "I'm not sure that factoid needs mentioning though." But thats not a WP:OR issue, right? :) -- Fullstop (talk) 01:52, 9 April 2008 (UTC)

Translation is a long-held exception to no original research. A significant change in the consensus of the community would be required to bury any exception or principle present for so long. Vassyana (talk) 21:08, 9 April 2008 (UTC)

As I said before, I was unaware/unclear as to that exception. My concern was an instance of inaccurate translation in an already volatile article. Thusly educated, I withdraw my concerns unless/until the problem gets out of hand. - Arcayne (cast a spell) 21:19, 9 April 2008 (UTC)
I certainly sympathize with the concern. While I have used foreign language materials on rare occasion, I find myself uncomfortable with them in controversial/contentious situations. However, there is a large sentiment that prohibiting non-English sources would be an invitation to systematic bias and in many very heated areas (Eastern Europe, for example), many of the best/most detailed sources are in a foreign language. Vassyana (talk) 21:41, 9 April 2008 (UTC)
I don't think translating something should be considered OR .... but I could see someone questioning whether the translation is accurate or not. This is a different issue, and perhaps we need a new guideline to deal with it... but it is not an OR issue. Blueboar (talk) 15:21, 11 April 2008 (UTC)
the protection for translating is to ask for a translation from a neutral party. enWP has available dozens if not hundred of editors for any likely language. where the question gets difficult, is when someone challenges the accuracy of a published translation. This is not uncommon in political disputes, and tendentious translations fro even official sources are not unknown in that context. DGG (talk) 00:52, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

PSTS- autobiographies

WP:PSTS (part of this policy) includes autobiographies under "primary sources". Is that definition limited to the use of autobiographies in articles about the subject/author, or are autobiographies primary sources in all contexts? (This is inspired by a discussion at Talk:Prem Rawat#Sophia Collier? Really?? Wow...). ·:· Will Beback ·:· 06:26, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

That categorization came from the definitions used by university libraries (see footnotes in the policy). It was discussed recently, in this now archived talk page section.
The way I see it, autobiographies are primary sources when the author is writing about their own direct experiences, thoughts and interpretations of events. But if the author is an otherwise notable authority and sections of the autobiography are written describing events objectively, those descriptions could be considered as a secondary source if the autobiography is published by a reputable fact-checking publisher. This is my interpretation though (and some others mentioned they saw it this way too in the prior discussion). The library definitions as in the footntotes simply describe autobiographies as primary sources. --Jack-A-Roe (talk) 06:39, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
So, by treating an authority's memoir as a secondary source we can use, for example, announcer John Madden's book (where he presumably gives his view of some football player's performance) to add his view as an unattributed fact ("Smith was a poor receiver, but good in the second half"). As a primary source we'd need to attribute it: "According to Madden..." What of the case of an ordinary person who lives through certains events and gives his views of them? I think in that case he's still a primary source, and should be treated carefully, usually with attribution and in some cases rejected as too subjective or non-notable. Is that correct? ·:· Will Beback ·:· 07:10, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
I would think that we would attribute an evaluative claim like that no matter who said it, whether in a primary, secondary, or tertiary source. That's not an OR issue, it's an NPOV issue. Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:03, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
Agree. Attribution can solve all sorts of issues. Blueboar (talk) 14:40, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
Yes - it would also solve our ludicrous policy on self-publication, as, if John Madden called a football player a poor receiver it would be a notable fact about that player whether he said it in a published book, on television, or in a blog. The issue is not the forum of publication on that. The issue is that, in any of those cases, we would have to say "John Madden said..." Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:52, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
No, it would be an issue of whether it was a notable opinion of Madden's. Really, Phil. --Relata refero (disp.) 22:57, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
If we were determining whether it was appropriae for inclusion in Madden's article, sure. Otherwise? I think it's safe to say that Madden's opinion of any notable football player is a notable aspect of that player, particularly if that opinion differs from the general consensus. Phil Sandifer (talk) 23:35, 12 April 2008 (UTC)
Let me remind everyone that this specific issue is not a case of having an authority like Madden. It's more like having an ordinary fan who attended a game and reminisced about it years later. It;s easy to agree that an expert is appropriate-but what of a mere bystander? ·:· Will Beback ·:· 05:23, 13 April 2008 (UTC)
In that case the issue seems to me to be solvable with NPOV - it's just not a notable perspective. Phil Sandifer (talk) 05:44, 13 April 2008 (UTC)
In some cases there are individuals whose every opinion is not notable. We let others decide which ones are. --Relata refero (disp.) 06:21, 13 April 2008 (UTC)

Actual proposed change

To try to get through the smaller of the two changes that this page urgently requires:

Right now, the page reads "For that reason, anyone—without specialist knowledge—who reads the primary source should be able to verify that the Wikipedia passage agrees with the primary source. Any interpretation of primary source material requires a reliable secondary source for that interpretation. To the extent that part of an article relies on a primary source, it should:

  • only make descriptive claims about the information found in the primary source, the accuracy and applicability of which is easily verifiable by any reasonable, educated person without specialist knowledge, and
  • make no analytic, synthetic, interpretive, explanatory, or evaluative claims about the information found in the primary source."

This is nonsense on the face of it - short of simply quoting primary sources at length there is no way to discuss them without making analytic, interpretive, or explanatory claims, and any article that references both primary and secondary source material will necessarily make synthetic claims as well. Evaluative ones can probably be avoided, to be fair. More to the point, the non-specialist clause is ridiculous. Wikipedia aims to explain hard topics. Hard topics cannot depend on only non-specialist interpretations. In many cases they can, perhaps, rely only on specialist interpretations of secondary sources, but this is an arbitary line - if I make a difficult to verify summary of Gayatri Spivak writing on Jacques Derrida it is no better for our purposes than a difficult to verify summary of Derrida himself.

I thus propose the following:

"When dealing with primary sources it is especially important to clearly cite and attribute statements to those sources so that editors can verify the statements. To the extent that part of an article relies on a primary source, it should:

  • limit itself to descriptive claims about the information found in the primary source, and limit itself to claims that are clearly germaine to the larger topic. It is especially important to avoid evaluating the claims of a primary source.
  • carefully avoid claims about the primary source that are not supported by the prevailing consensus of reliable secondary sources. The best way to do this, of course, is to read and cite the secondary sources."

This, I think, still stresses the need to not expand on primary sources without setting up impossible or inconsistent requirements for them. Phil Sandifer (talk) 03:43, 8 April 2008 (UTC)

short of simply quoting primary sources at length there is no way to discuss them without making analytic, interpretive, or explanatory claims, and any article that references both primary and secondary source material will necessarily make synthetic claims as well -- apparently you just fundamentally aren't understanding this policy, it's about not presenting ideas that have not previously been published elsewhere. Is that really so hard to understand? If I were not precluded from such speculation by WP:AGF, I would wonder if you were being deliberately obtuse. Dlabtot (talk) 03:59, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
I do not misunderstand the policy as you state it. I am raising an objection to the policy as you state it - first that publication is too high a bar to write good articles about important subjects, and second that the current rules on primary and secondary sources are a sane way of achieving that goal. Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:36, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
short of simply quoting primary sources at length there is no way to discuss them without making analytic, interpretive, or explanatory claims - Phil, I'm baffled by this statement. The way to discuss primary sources without making analytic, interpretive, or explanatory claims is to summarize what secondary sources say about them. This is basic, fundamental policy. Jayjg (talk) 05:01, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
As with the example above - Gayatri Spivak, undoubtedly one of the best and most respected Derrida scholars, is no easier to read than Derrida. Summarizing and explaining what she says is not a more straightforward task. How, exactly, does limiting ourselves to Spivak's summary of Derrida reduce error and original research that would exist if we used Derrida himself to find what Derrida said? Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:36, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
A summary of Spivak writing on Derrida can be as hard as you like in an article dealing with Derrida, though not in an article dealing with Spivak. That's because S on D is 2ary in the former and 1ary in the latter. This is perfectly reasonable.
More broadly, I think you are missing the point of why these restrictions exist and when they are enforced. They are set up in the way they are to police attempts to introduce novel material, not good-faith attempts to synthesise current views. The example SV gives above of the Critique article is valid: it might well be OR by the standards we set, but anyone can see that it is not worth making an issue of it. (And anyone who did would either be being disruptive or would wind up improving the article.) On the other hand, when you actually wade into the rest of the encyclopaedia, into the domain of cranks, activists and other failures, you realise that the thin walls of OR as currently written are all that stands between us and the deluge. This might be better said on the mailing list, but I'm telling you here first. --Relata refero (disp.) 08:37, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
As I asked Jayjg above, how does allowing editors to make difficult claims about a very hard source from Spivak eliminate errors and problems that would exist if we allowed similar claims about the comparably hard source from Derrida? That's why this doesn't seem like a sensible distinction to me - there is no higher probability that the claim "Spivak says Derrida says X" is going to have a better relationship to what Spivak (or Derrida) says than the claim "Derrida says X" will. As for the idea of this policy as a thin blue line, I have to ardently disagree. First of all, cranks are a problem on a handful of our articles. Second of all, cranks are not repelled by policy - they are repelled by being outnumbered by well-meaning editors. Those editors will, admittedly, have a harder job with a policy that demands consensus and discussion. However the job will not be harder because we are any less strictly opposed to cranks in our policy - I do not support weakening our stance on cranks one bit. It will be harder because cranks can no longer be dealt with on autopilot - one actually has to *gasp* talk to them, try to change their minds, try to nudge them towards productive action, and, moreover, take their views seriously and make sure you're right to recognize them as a crank. It's not harder work because there are more hoops to jump through - it's harder work because it's a more serious and meaningful project, and one that was always central to Wikipedia. The problem with this policy is that it tries to suggest that automated attempts at policing are an acceptable substitute for that process. They're not. Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:43, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Phil, two things: the fact is that WP:OR is trotted out most in response to cranks, whatever their actual percentage on the pedia, which some days I think approaches 50% when you take away the regulars, the vandals, and the IPs correcting a birth year.
Secondly, I know you wouldn't want to weaken our stance on cranks, but please don't take away the strongest arrow in the arsenal of those who have to deal with them. --Relata refero (disp.) 21:01, 9 April 2008 (UTC)
My experience with cranks has generally led me to believe that they are rather too crazy for something like policy to deter them. I've found that most of them require rollback, blocks, and, in severe cases, the arbcom to get rid of them. And though this policy is intended for cranks, it has dramatic and often unfortunate effects elsewhere - the attempts to gut plot summaries as original research from a primary source, for instance. This has largely been stopped by clarifying this policy a bit, but it still comes up periodically. This is the problem with overly programatic and mechanical policy - we have overly programmatic and mechanical users. The combination is destructive. One is easier to get rid of than the other. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:11, 10 April 2008 (UTC)

Just a thought on the Derrida example: We are not working to create graduate level papers here. We're making a general encyclopedia. Numerous authors and textbooks go to great lengths to explain Hegel, Husserl, DeSousa, Derrida and other "difficult" philosophers in a fashion comprehensible to the average student. I would think for our purposes, it would be best to refer to these (over)simplified explanations first, only referring to more complex material if necessary for detailed spin-offs. Vassyana (talk) 15:53, 8 April 2008 (UTC)

Phil Sandifer: I think your proposal is better than the present version, but might be too ambitious, given our historical inability to build consensus here. I think one less-ambitious thing we do need to address is the non-specialist provision, which is not enforced and has never been enforced in Wikipedia. Of course, it's a good idea to simplify topics as much as possible, but there is a point when further simplification is impossible. Try, for example, dumbing down universal property so that a non-specialist can verify all the citations. You might be able to dumb it down from the PhD level to the Master's level, but there is a certain underlying framework you have to assume the reader understands, for the article to even be possible. Articles like universal property cannot exist consistently with the present formulation, which is why we need a change to reflect actual practice. Jacques Derrida is in the same boat, only you have the additional complication that understandable sources are not NPOV, and NPOV sources are not understandable. COGDEN 17:27, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Just a comment, but there's no such thing as a NPOV source, just a NPOV presentation of the sources. Vassyana (talk) 17:47, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
I assume he means that the understandable sources are not notable viewpoints that we should report under NPOV, and that the notable viewpoins that we should report under NPOV are not understandable. This strikes me as true about Derrida - yes, there are textbooks, but they have the same relationship to the material that a high school chemistry textbook does to chemistry. Unlike in the sciences, where there often are advanced textbooks, once you get beyond the most intro of intro classes in the humanities you generally ditch the textbooks for primary and difficult secondary sources. Phil Sandifer (talk) 22:21, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
We may be talking past each other to certain degree here, or we could simply disagree. In essence, it is my opinion that main articles about philosophers and philosophies should not be presenting anything more complicated than what is presented in general introductory texts. This is a general encyclopedia and even a very long wiki article would not come close to encompassing the information and explanations of a relatively basic philosophy textbook. There should simply be no need to delve into intricacies and complex detail in the principal articles. I also feel that citing textbooks and other introductory/overview works serves an additional purpose of directing people to comprehensible sources for their own further study. While I would even question the need for "complex" sources in spin-offs (considering we are making very brief summaries for a general purpose encyclopedia project), I could accept (if not always agree with) the argument that more complex sources are needed for articles explicitly dealing with intricacies and "deep" detail. Your experience with the humanities is somewhat contrary to my own, though I must admit I am not as familiar with Derrida (with whom I am familiar only because I am very familiar with phenomenology). I know, for example, that there are bountiful texts about Husserl and Hegel geared toward the upper undergrad/lower grad level. Certainly, there is a greater expectation to study the philosophers directly starting at that level, but there are still plenty of textbooks dealing with the fine details, common misconceptions and difficult-to-grok ideas of those philosophers even geared towards that level. Just some thoughts in return. *hands out grains of salt* Vassyana (talk) 22:44, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
We may be, and it's probably significant that Husserl and Heidegger are widely cited in philosophy in general, whereas Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault are more limited to literary studies. Regardless, in your formulation I confess to being concerned about the double standard across academic disciplines - the sciences, where textbooks are more used for high level courses, seem to me to have access to much more advanced topic coverage than the humanities, where advanced study involves more use of primary sources. I am very wary of the biases that introduces into Wikipedia. Phil Sandifer (talk) 01:32, 9 April 2008 (UTC)
I can appreciate that concern. I need to put some thought into this before I reply in full. Vassyana (talk) 02:51, 9 April 2008 (UTC)

(outdent) It seems to me that Paul is in a position where he could actually write an article on the subjects he wishes to put in Wikipedia, get them published in a secondary source, and thus alleviate any problem with current policies. Being a teacher, he likely has other people in his department that are considered his peers, and could have them review his work, and, if accepted, get it published on his school's website. At least, my college professor did both of these. The school even published the work of my English teacher in actual book form. This would not be "self-publishing", as the school is a separate entity from the individual writer and has several institutions for peer-review.

To summarize in a less wordy fashion: Why doesn't Paul publish on the subject, so we would have a (secondary) source? As a teacher, he has the means. If he can explain this, I would gladly support a change in policy. -- trlkly 06:00, 10 April 2008 (UTC)

Because the standards of academic publishing, in terms of obviousness, are far from the standards for our articles. I do work for the only English-language peer reviewed journal of comics studies. We regularly reject articles that are completely accurate, offer good summaries and descriptions of comics and comics history, and just aren't interesting, original, theoretical, or whatever enough for the journal's purposes.
And that's the main problem - academic publishing is, while non-profit, still heavily bound up in questions of what it's financially viable and sensible to publish, how many people will care, how much prestige will the article bring to the journal, etc. We're not bound up in that nearly as much - while we are not an indiscriminate collection of information, we're a pretty wide-open one in terms of what we cover. We want to publish information considered too obvious or boring for peer-reviewed publications. Unfortunately, this policy leaves a huge gap between what we say we'll publish and what they won't publish, into which falls a ton of useful information, and, indeed, essential information on a number of topics. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:55, 10 April 2008 (UTC)
What about academic press books and university department websites? Both are places where "obvious" and "nuts and bolts" information is published, primarily for use by students and sometimes the mass market. There are also secondary market, periodical, specialist and mainstream publishers who publish on topics of academic and/or popular interest. How much of the gap do you feel these markets leave untouched? How would you distinguish between the remaining "gap" and fluff or nonsense in the absence of editorial or professional authority? Vassyana (talk) 07:13, 11 April 2008 (UTC)
Departmental websites are a source of absolute last resort. I work in a very different area than Phil, but also in my area many things that are "obvious" to me and other specialists are typically omitted from publications. Professional publications are not written with the intention of being references for Wikipedia, and if they were written that way I don't think it would be likely for academic presses to publish them. Another issue which Phil didn't raise is the desire to fit in as much interesting material as possible, which leads to a desire to minimize the amount of space spent on less interesting things. — Carl (CBM · talk) 12:34, 11 April 2008 (UTC)
On top of that, departmental websites are even more idiosyncratic - I am aware of none that publish their own "theory primer" or whatever, and of very few academics who keep any sort of blog on the departmental website where they publish various ideas. We would be left, here, cobbling together a perspective based on course descriptions, idle comments in syllabi, posted assignments, and other such ephemera. Though that provides an interesting set of artifacts that reflect the orally transmitted body of knowledge, it is in no way a substitute, and reconstructing the oral tradition from them seems like far more of a piece of original research than interpretation of difficult primary source material would be. Phil Sandifer (talk) 14:42, 11 April 2008 (UTC)
Even when more substantial course materials are available, I avoid using them for referencing. Course notes, handouts, etc. are intended to accompany a full course on the subject, which will include other forms of instruction, feedback on student work, and time for students to gather what they are told into a personal understanding. Course materials are generally unsuitable for use as an independent reference outside this process. — Carl (CBM · talk) 14:50, 11 April 2008 (UTC)

The problem with Descriptive claims from Primary research

Sorry to come on this late, but if one limits one's self "to descriptive claims about the information found in the primary source," how can one verify that the extracted information fairly represents the primary source? This is a key problem in the religion and spirituality articles, where a group with a negative POV toward a religion extracts one set of "descriptive claims" from a primary text, and another gorup with a positive POV extracts out a completely opposite set of "descriptive claims." How can one be sure that the descriptive claims selected are not selected to promote a POV? Thank you, Windy Wanderer (talk) 23:58, 13 April 2008 (UTC)

That depends on what you're looking for. If you want a way to automatically or mechanically determine that, you can't. Interpreting sources is hard and non-trivial. However, I think, in practice, the consensus of a set of editors who are committed to writing a good article will manage to do the job. Phil Sandifer (talk) 00:12, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
Thanks. I guess I'm looking for more explicit guidelines. The operative words in your reply are above are "consensus" among editors who are "committed" to writing a "good" article. If people all agree to abide by Wiki policies then all is well. The problem is when people truly, honestly, believe they're "descriptively" representing a religious text through the use of certain quotations they find that match their view. How to get around this? This is why I think there should be some further guidance, i.e., "if descriptive text is believed to be an inaccurate representation of the text by any of the editors, it should be removed to the talk page until consensus is reached..." (Obviously, less wordy.) Thoughts? Windy Wanderer (talk) 11:59, 15 April 2008 (UTC)
p.s. This list, appearing at the end of this sandbox, is exactly what I was looking for, especially the examples by discipline. I think we need concrete guidelines like this because otherwise people always seem to argue that X-source is secondary, not primary, and then an article becomes an original research essay full of extracted quotations representing the strongest group's point of view.
In terms of producing an article that meets WP:NPOV, WP:V and WP:R, it's much easier to be strict about requiring secondary sources to support a primary source than the other way around. That is, if the publications on this list are viewed as primary sources then there are two options. First, if editors come to consensus that one of these primary sources is descriptive and okay for an article, great. If editors cannot come to consensus about whether or not one of these primary souces is being adequately represented then a secondary source is needed for interpretation. Not having clear guidelines about what "counts" as a primary source causes much useless edit warring and contention as people try to position their "primary" source as a secondary source. Having clear guidelines prevent conflict yet remain flexible (given options 1 and 2 above), depending on the personalities of a set of editors on an article.Windy Wanderer (talk) 12:12, 15 April 2008 (UTC)


There is a recurring issue on "Persecution of..." articles. I propose that wikipedia should only consider and act or a statement as "persecution" if a reliable source has called it "persecution". The following are my reasons:

In some dictionaries, the definition of "persecution" is quite vague. Oxford dictionary defines to persecute as "1. subject to prolonged hostility and ill-treatment. 2 persistently harass or annoy."[6] What exactly is "harassment" or "annoying" or "hostility", will be answered differently by different wikipedians. But if a reliable source calls it "persecution", then it is definitely an example of "hostility" etc.

Sometimes wikipedians claim that arresting a person of a particular ethnic/religious group, or destroying his/her property constitutes as persecution. While, this is more specific, there is still a problem with that. If the state destroys a particular ethnic group's houses, it may be that the houses are illegal, or maybe the state is destroying the houses of other ethnic groups as well. Thus the only way of ensuring that actions and statements are not taken out of context is to use reliable sources that call the relevant action or statement as an example of "persecution".

Do you guys agree?Bless sins (talk) 23:10, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

Use common sense for general synonyms. However, when it comes to contentious terms and information, the best course of action is to stick closely to the sources. If no reliable source calls something a "persecution", we should avoid doing so as well. Vassyana (talk) 06:33, 13 April 2008 (UTC)
Yep, just as Bless sins also notes ""persecution" [should only be called that] if a reliable source has called it "persecution"." Its a lot more tricky when a tradition calls it "persecution", and this tradition is uncritically regurgitated by several sources, but—as has been repeatedly noted in academic studies—it would be a far stretch to actually suppose that there was anything that might qualify as systematic "persecution." *Sigh* -- Fullstop (talk) 00:21, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
The larger issue here is that a NPOV presentation of information is always going to have a non-transparent relationship to the information itself. That is, to organize information about Zoroastrians into a NPOV presentation one is going to have to draw on principles that come from outside of the explicit text of the sources. Distinguishing between this process and original research is tricky, and we need to do a better job of it. Phil Sandifer (talk) 21:03, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
It is I think accepted that though we cannot do OR in articles, we can do it to a certain extent on talk pages orin WP space to determine the reliability of sources. DGG (talk) 03:29, 15 April 2008 (UTC)

Measurements from maps

Is taking measurements from maps, aerial photographs and satellite images considered original research? For example, measuring the distance between two cities, or the length or area of an island or of a lake? Or determining the exact coordinates of a location with Wikimapia? Many facts determined this way appear in Wikipedia. I don't think this is research (just as it is not research measuring the length of a building), although those facts don't seem to be published elsewhere.--Ratzer (talk) 14:25, 15 April 2008 (UTC)

For very simple calculations and deductions, it should not be a problem (as long as you cite the source from which it was derived). The source of the data should also be from a reliable source (which Wikimapia is not, just like other wiki projects like WikiNews). Vassyana (talk) 22:57, 16 April 2008 (UTC)
Talking about Wikimapia, I did not mean using the place markers and descriptions that anyone can add anonymously, I just meant it as an interface to the underlying satellite imagery (which is a reliable source) for determining exact coordinates. I guess other interfaces like Google maps could also be used, instead.--Ratzer (talk) 05:32, 17 April 2008 (UTC)

Annotated bibliographies at AfD

Because of your interest in the issue of original research at Wikipedia, I wanted to draw this to your attention.

Another editor has listed a number of annotated bibliographies at Wikipedia:Articles for deletion, arguing that they should be deleted as original research. My reaction is that the articles aren't original research in the sense of someone's new theory, the information in the articles ought to be salvaged by being incorporated into an existing article, since the bibliographies seem to be predominantly made up of reliable sources. Whether you agree with my position or that of the nominator, you are welcome to participate in the following discussions:

"Atlas-type" facts

Following on from the above, and more generically, from what I've been able to gather generally speaking, for "almanac-type" facts, no citation was needed; that is where an uncontroversial fact could be easily determined by looking at readily-available standard reference material, no citation was needed. Examples of these standard materials include atlases, almanacs, dictionaries, Shakespeare, the Bible, etc. Examples of "almanac-type" facts would include that Denmark is north of Germany, summer follows spring, Hamlet dies in Act V, David slew Goliath, etc. Unfortunately, this thought doesn't seem to be expressed in WP:V, WP:NOR, or other policies/guidelines. Wouldn't it be useful to express this thought somewhere? There are over-zealous editors who slap an facts or cite needed tag on basic uncontroversial facts. It would be nice to be able to cite to some WP policy when removing these over-zealous tags. Reactions please! GiveItSomeThought (talk) 22:18, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

Basically, that's one of those situations when some sense should be used. It's not something that can be enshrined in policy easily, for a variety of reasons. It's not so much that "almanac-type" facts do not need citations, as "obvious" or "self-apparent" facts do not need citations. However, what is "obvious" or "self-apparent" (or "non-controversial" or "not worth challenging") can vary greatly from editor to editor. It is something that has to be resolved by local consensus within articles and topics. Vassyana (talk) 22:49, 16 April 2008 (UTC)
I think this idea is already expressed in WP:V. It's not really a WP:NOR issue, because taking facts from a reference work is not original research (it fails the "original" prong of this policy). This is more about whether, despite it not being original research, you still need a citation, and I think the answer is "no", so long as the data is verifable and uncontroversial. But in any case, people should obey Wikipedia's prime directive of ignoring all rules: if a citation makes the article better (which is almost always does), then add it, even if it is not technically required by the policy pages. COGDEN 00:41, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
How about summaries of readily-available information? let's say that a suspected drug-smuggler's crashed plane is recovered from the ocean, and it contains enough fuel to have flown for another 300 miles. Would it be legitimate for a Wikipedian to list the countries which are within 300 miles of the crash site (if the source fails to mention this), without describing them as "possible destinations" or something similar? The synthesis isn't actually being performed by the Wikipedian (it's left to the reader), but sufficient background information to make the synthesis possible IS being provided, as background information. I think we'd be suppressing information if we prohibited that, but an editor with a strong vested interest in not implicating a particular country in drug-smuggling could ban this under WP:SYN. --Robert Stevens (talk) 11:08, 24 April 2008 (UTC)
To use the example used in the policy, this would be similar to the following:
  • "Smith says that Jones committed plagiarism by copying references from another book. Jones denies this, and says it's acceptable scholarly practice to use other people's books to find new references. The Chicago Manual of Style requires citation of the source actually consulted. The Chicago Manual of Style does not call violating this rule "plagiarism". Instead, plagiarism is defined as using a source's information, ideas, words, or structure without citing them."
Arguing that "The synthesis isn't actually being performed by the Wikipedian (it's left to the reader)" seems to be missing the point. Unless the Chicago Manual of Style actually refers to Jones, or in your example the atlas actually refers to the crashed plane, this is a clear example of synthesis - and use of sources unrelated to the subject - to advance a position. Jakew (talk) 12:33, 24 April 2008 (UTC)
...Hmmm. I can see how it could be regarded as such, but if we don't have an exemption for "atlas-type facts", some really inconvenient problems might arise. What if a person's biography mentions that he was once shot and injured when using a tunnel between two villages? The source might be a local-circulation newspaper where the author assumed readers would know the villages, and utterly failed to mention that one is in Mexico and the other is in the United States (and that this was an illegal-immigration incident). The result could be an article that is utterly baffling to an international audience, where Wikipedians are forbidden to point out that fact. Even a second source giving full information about the villages and tunnel could never be used, if that source failed to mention the guy who got shot! --Robert Stevens (talk) 21:03, 24 April 2008 (UTC)
I'm not sure if this is a hypothetical scenario or not, but I have my doubts that such a situation would actually arise. It seems incredibly unlikely: if a person is sufficiently notable for their biography to be included in Wikipedia, then it seems highly doubtful that there would be so few and such inadequate sources about the event. I would suggest looking at this from the opposite point of view - consider the availability of and level of detail in sources to be a guide for the appropriate amount of coverage in Wikipedia. Jakew (talk) 21:35, 24 April 2008 (UTC)
It's hypothetical, but the larger problem is not: many articles would be made more comprehensible if various geographical locations could be made clear to the reader (military campaigns, for example). As it stands, pretty much any attempt to clarify where events took place, using sources that don't mention the event, are WP:SYN violations. --Robert Stevens (talk) 21:47, 24 April 2008 (UTC)

Should WP:ATT be marked as "historical"?

We are (once again) debating whether WP:Attribution should be marked as "historical". The page states that it is not a policy itself, but is a summary of two policy pages (WP:NOR and WP:V). The question has been raised as to whether it accurately does this. Please pop over to WT:ATT and share your thoughts. Blueboar (talk) 11:27, 24 April 2008 (UTC)

The problem with "directly related"

I've run into a problem quite a number of times regarding the words "directly related". The problem, in a nutshell, is that people insist that whatever sources they use are "directly related" to the topic at hand, based on the argument they've constructed, regardless of what the actual topic of the article is. So, for example, if an article on Mr. X states that he was acquitted of murder, someone would then bring legal sources to argue that the judge in the case erred in his decision, based on the decisions in cases Y,Z, and W. When you point out that the sources do not actually mention the case of Mr. X, they insist that since the charges were identical, they are "directly related", and can be used to prove that the judge erred. Is there a wording that can more explicitly cover this problem? I'm thinking instead of

"if the sources cited are not directly related to the subject of the article"


"if the sources cited do not refer directly to the subject of the article"

Thoughts? Jayjg (talk) 02:38, 17 April 2008 (UTC)

That makes sense to me. "Directly related" lends itself to abuse. The proposed change removes some of the ambiguity. Briangotts (Talk) (Contrib) 02:47, 17 April 2008 (UTC)

I could have really used this change of wording in the past...and what do you know, the only times I could think of this actually being useful were over law-related issues. A lot of editors unfortunately, but in good faith, feel the need to describe the strength of a legal argument that is presented in an article about the subject/origin of that specific argument. And of course they find reliable sources describing the strength of a very similar argument made by/at a completely different subject, or even more unfortunately resort to the laws or court decisions themselves. There are of course similar examples in non-legal situations, and they are similarly inappropriate. Someguy1221 (talk) 03:00, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
That seems like a reasonable wording change that more clearly expresses what is intended. Vassyana (talk) 03:16, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
The proposed change is an improvement. While the original "directly related" may have meant sources that refer to the subject, it can be loosely interpreted. The tighter "refer directly" closes that loophole. ·:· Will Beback ·:· 06:25, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
This is an excellent suggestion that should help to avoid an all-too-familiar problem. In a nutshell, editors need to be able to demonstrate that material is directly related to the subject of the article without creating a logical "loop" by relying on original research to do so. A possible alternative is "are not directly and verifiably related", but I think Jayjg's suggestion has slightly more clarity. Jakew (talk) 11:12, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
Referring to the subject of an article is too narrow. If Einstein is the subject of an article, and I want to include something about James Clerk Maxwell's theory of electromagnitism, which inspired general relativity, I can't use any sources that don't mention Einstein. In other words, the relevance may not be demonstrated within a single source; source A might say that Maxwell inspired Einstein, and source B might say something interesting about Maxwell's theory, without mentioning Einstein. Of course, this process could be carried too far, and result in original research, but I don't think this process should be prohibited altogether. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 12:19, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
I like Jayjg's proposal, but I think Gerry raises an interesting point. I have mixed feelings. I think the solution will not lie in the introduction to the policy but in how we explain the appropriate use of primary and secondary sources, but maybe not. In effect, i think Gerry is saying that some articles need background or contextual information that is not directly related to the topic. I agree. I have two points. First, a question: Gerry are there secondary sources that make the connection between Maxwell's equations and Einstein's? I would think so, and if the answer is yes, then your example really is not an objection to Jayjg's proposal. If the connection is made by a reliable secondary source, it is not a problem. If the answer is no - if we agree that an article may need contextual or background information despite the fact that no secondary source says it is related, we move to my second point, which is that I think we need to shift our attention from the introduction to the section on primary and secondary sources, and synthesis. The question now is, does background information simply help someone appreciate or understand something in the article, or is it being used to make an argument? If the former, there may be no need for a secondary source, even if it is not directly related. If the latter, there is definitely a need for a secondary source. I always see this policy in terms of how added information is being used. If it is being used to forward any kind of argument, it needs a secondary source for the argument i.e. that argues for/explains how one thing is connected to another. Slrubenstein | Talk 12:34, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
To answer Slrubenstein's question, there was a reliable TV documentary (I think it was Nova) that says Maxwell inspired Einstein; I'm not going to look up a full reference, but assume for the sake of discussion there is a secondary source. My example does not really illustrate advancing a position, so I suppose this clause wouldn't limit adding this kind of background information. But I still think there could be a case where secondary source A says "Jones believed in Smith's theory of X" and source B explains Smith's theory, which advances a position. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 12:50, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
Forgive me if I misunderstand, Gerry, but I don't understand why this is a problem. To consider your example, if Nova stated that Maxwell inspired Einstein, then Nova "refer[s] directly to the subject of the article", and we can document whatever they say. In all probability, Nova also gave some background information about Maxwell, which could be used without performing any synthesis.
The only thing we couldn't do is to use an independent source about Maxwell, which didn't mention Einstein. (Of course, in practise this wouldn't be a severe problem even if it did advance a position, since there are numerous highly reliable sources which no doubt discuss both in detail.) But we couldn't cite that independent source anyway, because according to the lead, "you must cite reliable sources that provide information directly related to the topic of the article". The only change is to clarify that "directly related" doesn't mean "I think it's directly related", but instead means something closer to "the source states that it is directly related".
So I guess I don't understand the problem. Jakew (talk) 13:17, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
The attitude in this policy shouldn't be "let's muzzle everything that might be a problem". Information should be allowed unless there is a clear reason to exclude it. In an article about Einstein, everything that lead to his theories is relevant. While the claim that a certain earlier theory influenced Einstein must be sourced, not every source used in the article to describe the earlier theory has to mention Einstein. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 13:38, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
The example you bring up doesn't strike me as at all potentially problematic. Assuming for the moment that there weren't any sources discussing Maxwell's theories in reference to Einstein, except to point out that they influenced him, then it would seem to me so insignificant that it deserves no greater a mention in Einstein's own article. We can still satisfy the curious by linking to some appropriate articles on James Clerk Maxwell or Maxwell's equations. Someguy1221 (talk) 22:44, 17 April 2008 (UTC)
The key point is that it's really not up to Wikipedia editors to decide which (if any) of Maxwell's theories are relevant to Einstein's. Instead, we let reliable sources make those connections. And if reliable sources haven't made those specific connections, then we shouldn't be doing so either - that's the very essence of Original Research. Jayjg (talk) 01:58, 18 April 2008 (UTC)
Exactly. I find it interesting that, with examples of "reasonable synthesis" such as this, it is likely that a reliable source has already performed that synthesis. So instead of worrying about how to exclude crank syntheses while allowing sensible ones (which is practically an impossible problem), we substitute a much simpler test: can we cite a reliable source that has already performed the synthesis? It may seem like muzzling, but in practise it usually just encourages good sourcing. Jakew (talk) 12:32, 18 April 2008 (UTC)
I agree it has to be more than "directly related", but I don't think there has to be a direct reference, necessarily. All we need is that it be verifiably related--which usually means a direct reference, but there could be exceptions. For example, suppose we cite Jackson Pollock in an article about abstract expressionism, even though Pollock didn't actually use the term abstract expressionism in every paragraph he spoke. Everybody in the art community knows that Pollock is the quintessential abstract expressionist, so citing him for thoughts on the subject could very well be "verifiably related". COGDEN 22:21, 21 April 2008 (UTC)

Gerry, I think you are doing yourself a disservice when you declare that Jayjg's proposal = "let's muzzle everything that may be a problem." It sounds like you are complaining about being censored. But you know that Wikipedia is not a blog or chatroom or any kind of a space where you or any other editor has a right to express whatever they think. This is an encyclopedia and we need some form of accountability, some way to ensure the quality of the articles and the information they contain. The main way we ensure this accountability is that any editor can edit, e.g. delete, anything they think is wrong. Anyone can delete anything you, I, Jayjg, or anyone else adds to any article. That is what makes this a "wiki." But people need some kind of guideline as to what to delete. Surely you do not want people just deleting anything they happen not to agree with! Surely you do not want that? So we have a WP:V policy; all material that represents a notable point of view and comes from a reliable source can stay. Jayjg is correctly assuming that the claim that x is related to y is a verifiable view. If it is, then there is a source one can peg it to and it stays. But if there is no source that supports this view, i.e. no source that says that x is related to y, well, then, there is nothing to prevent an editor from deleting it. This is not "muzzling" you, this is editing an article to ensure quality and it is what Wikipedia is all about. Slrubenstein | Talk 20:50, 17 April 2008 (UTC)

This whole crowd wants to muzzle everybody! I am removing this policy from my watchlist; I'm done discussing with this crowd. I will follow what I consider to be the basic principle of no original research, but will ignore the specific wording of the policy, because I do not accept the thinking processes of those who shape the specific wording. --Gerry Ashton (talk) 12:07, 18 April 2008 (UTC)

"Crowd?" Gerry, WP:AGF!!! Slrubenstein | Talk 18:03, 18 April 2008 (UTC)

I'm with Gerry on this one. If anything we need to loosen up the language in that part of the policy. People are taking it too literally, and it's making it too difficult to include background information. For instance, if I'm editing an article about Mr. X who was accused of crime C in state X, I wouldn't be able to cite the laws of state X to explain the penalties of crime C. Squidfryerchef (talk) 17:30, 19 April 2008 (UTC)
Obviously not. Thankfully, that information will no doubt already be included in the available reliable sources, if relevant. Dlabtot (talk) 19:29, 19 April 2008 (UTC)
It happens quite often that the article on Mr. X won't include the background information. There is nothing wrong with citing the background information, as long as it isn't used to support statements like "Mr. X must be innoncent because the law says this..." Squidfryerchef (talk) 02:28, 20 April 2008 (UTC)

It seems to me that we still need to think about what "directly related" means. To my mind, it makes little sense for it to mean "the editor inserting the material thinks that it is directly related", because I'm fairly confident that all editors inserting material think that it is related. It makes more sense to understand it as meaning that others should be able to verify that the material is directly related. As such, I think that this proposal is largely a clarification rather than a change to existing policy. But I may be wrong: what do others think? Jakew (talk) 23:26, 19 April 2008 (UTC)

Very often, the problem is that editors see a connection between two things, but do not bother to establish that they are directly related. If you want to discuss X in an article about Y, try finding a source that connects X to Y... then you can go on to discuss X. Blueboar (talk) 00:37, 20 April 2008 (UTC)
I won't argue that some editors try to cram unrelated facts into articles where they don't belong, but I think the OR policy should be about WP:OR, and not try to also be WP:RS, WP:COATRACK, WP:RELEVANCE, WP:CRUFT, and so on. Squidfryerchef (talk) 02:28, 20 April 2008 (UTC)
Sure, but a lot of NOR violations involve synthesis - arguing a connection between two unconnected things. Jagz just wants to clarify a vague aspect of this policy. and of course any fix is likely to point to V or RS because the opposite of original research is research that uses sources appropriately; to explain what we mean by research that violates this policy, it might be very constructive to explain what kind of research would not violate this policy!! Slrubenstein | Talk 11:48, 20 April 2008 (UTC)
I support the wording change. Many people fervently believe that certain things are "directly related" because they've gone over it so much in their minds that to them, they are. Jayjg's proposal will help reduce OR.Windy Wanderer (talk) 11:44, 22 April 2008 (UTC)
I have to support Gerry's point of view on this. "Refer directly" is too strict, and policies should always be conservative. While connections between topics should always be sourced, once they have been sourced there's no reason that the source that made the connection should be preferred over a better reference for the related topic. For example, in an article about a song about the Titanic, we might say that it's about the Titanic, source this fact, link RMS Titanic, and briefly explain the parts of its history that are relevant to the song; but the overstrict wording "refer directly" would unintentionally exclude these last facts. Dcoetzee 21:35, 24 April 2008 (UTC)
I agree. Once another source has made the connection, then the connection is not "original", and information from a more detailed source should be admissible. The Wikipedian, in this situation, isn't performing the basic act of synthesis: someone else did that, our guy is just filling in more details. --Robert Stevens (talk) 00:14, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
So it is, but that doesn't diminish the value of Jayjg's clarification. As Rob Stevens notes, policy would not fetter the editor when someone else has made the connection. Consequently, Gerry's Maxwell/Einstein projection wouldn't actually happen. Moreover, no one is actually going to waste time arguing that X is not related to Y unless he/she had good reason to. But Gerry appears to think that throwing a wrench into the works is everyone's popular pastime, which in my experience is neither true, nor (given AGF) is it a good assumption.
On the other hand, in a dispute -- and this is where policy actually kicks in -- Jayjg's "if the sources cited do not refer directly to the subject" is simply a logical continuation of what policy already says: Don't yourself construct connections.
-- Fullstop (talk) 01:31, 25 April 2008 (UTC)
Well, no, the existing policy IS in fact fettering editors. And surely policies kick in when disputes occur? So, given the latest example: if someone else has their own strange theory regarding the "real meaning" of the lyrics of the song about the Titanic, they could (and will) insist that the second and more detailed Titanic reference be excluded. Out of spite? Yes, possibly, but thanks to AGF we can't say so: they're just "enforcing Wikipedia policy". --Robert Stevens (talk) 12:36, 25 April 2008 (UTC)