Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Archive 27

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More on Archiving.

Has the automation process stalled again? Clio the Muse 05:33, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

  • Looks like RefDeskBot (talk · contribs) stalled halfway through the 16 March 2007 archive--VectorPotentialTalk 13:06, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
  • No and yes, in that order :). The toolserver lost its internet connection for a moment last night (or was shutting down), so the bot was unable to finish. I'll bring it back up to date now, and the bot should operate perfectly tonight. Martinp23 17:06, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Do we support UNsigned posts?

Recently, on the ref. desks, user has proudly proclaimed that he/she does not sign his posts but has been active "for 6 months"; a look at his/her talk page suggests ongoing marginal behavior and a recent 24-hour block for trolling (March 9).

I'd not complain, but I think it's both against policy and MUCH harder to follow the deskthread without signage, and the PIQ (person in question) has answered "no" to all requests for signage. Can something be done / should it? Any admins want to extend the block? Thanks for helping this newbie learn the protocols & ropes... Jfarber 15:27, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

  • I'm not sure what could be gained by forcing someone to sign their posts, this isn't exactly a talk page, it's a reference desk, and I'm not really sure what's the harm in someone posting anonymously. Besides, this page is monitored by hangermanbot so all posts are automatically signed, sometimes they're even signed multiple times if/when the bot gets confused. Although it does seem as though they might be a troll, I'm not sure this has any connection to the issue of forcing users to sign their posts, and while a block for trolling *might* be in order, a block to force a user to sign their posts is a bit extreme--VectorPotentialTalk 15:38, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

A look at the pages in questions shows that the bot is NOT signing this person's posts -- not sure why, but see the Misc. desk for multiple and ongoing examples. I agree that, IF hangermanbot were working, this would not matter, but the person involved seems to have deliberately subverting the bot recognition somehow, and insistently so, solely for the purpose of being able to act without even IP-based recognition.
As for WHY it matters -- visually, it makes it impossible to tell which information was added when, and by whom, in those reference desk queries as the answers pour in. This can make answers themselves less useful, and certainly erodes the clarity potential of the desks themselves.
In the best case, then, the prevalence of unsigned posts is merely confusing, which may corrupt the potential of the desk to serve those who most need such a desk. But in the worst case (and in many recent cases), it makes it appear as if those words were part of the subsequent user's post. I believe the person in question is aware of this problem; they have chosen to refuse to sign despite several users' friendly requests in those questions. Jfarber 18:59, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
"..deliberately subverting the bot recognition" I don't think that's actually possible, hangermanbot scans page histories and then looks for timestamps, the only way to subvert that process is to provide a date in (UTC), ie, signing your name is the only way to deliberately subvert the bot (: VectorPotentialTalk 23:45, 16 March 2007 (UTC)
Eppure si muove. All I can do is point you to the desks, where it is unquestionably true that the same user (we presume) is all over the place, with unsigned posts. (Perhaps the user in question is coming in immediately after botsigning and deleting the bot's work? But regardless of HOW, the problem is that it is happening.) Jfarber 00:15, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Example, for those interested in seeing this -- start at that link and then go through the next few desk queries following; you'll see the phenom I'm describing in action. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 01:21, 17 March 2007 (UTC).
Not signing just isn't that big of a deal, if it really bothers you, you could always manually tag them with either {{signed}} or {{unsigned}}--VectorPotentialTalk 01:25, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Not signing is a very big deal. I have spent time identifying unsigned posts, and sometimes it takes a while to scroll through the history and find the poster, especially if they did not create the header for their question. There are trolls who drop in here and ask a bunch of questions that are wierd, or insulting to some nationality. Before Ref Desk volunteers spend time Googling for an answer or dashing off to a university library to find an answer it is worth knowing if the questioner is seriously in need the information or is just yanking our chain with a mass of bizarre or insulting questions.Sometimes a personn really needs or wants the information, and sometimes it is a troll who posts a dozen such questions with no desire but to provoke angry responses or to see people waste their time providing referenced answers the questioner has little real interest in. It is useful to see that such a question is from a troll so that we can spend our time answering more serious questions. Edison 16:27, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
To opt out of being signed you just go here and click "Stop watching me". --frotht 15:17, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree that they aren't that big a deal. Sure they can be a pain, and I would be interested in examining a positive, non-punitive solution to the issue. Ultimately, it is the choice of each editor to respond to a question or not; I have read many comments by RD editors that their answer is not just for the person who asked, but for other readers. Therefore, the relative importance of the good faith of the original poster is diminished. Sure, I sometimes get pissed when I realise an editor whose question I took the time to answer is a troll, but IMO the issue of trollish or unconstructive answers to trolling (or non-trolling) questions is much more of an issue. I think that if an editor can't either answer a question in good faith and release it to the universe, or good-naturedly take the time to determine themselves the identity of a poster before responding, they should restrict their answers to identified, manifestly good-faith questioners. Anchoress 18:35, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Anchoress, you seem to have misunderstood two things about my concerns:
  • First, this issue is NOT about people who ASK questions and do not sign posts, and
  • second, the issue here is about creating clarity for all reference desk users and querents; it is NOT about RD volunteer confusion/frustration, but about user/querent confusion, and, ultimately, about the effectiveness and usability of the desks themselves.
Let me clarify, then. I recognize that many people asking questions may not even know to sign their posts; my concern is not with them. I recognize that, like Edison says, it is annoying to some folks to spend time researching, only to find that they have been sent on wild goose chases; I sympathise, but my concern is not Edison's (for example, Edison would prefer not to waste his time on trolls, where I seem to have a habit of spending far too MUCH time with Trolls, as my recent history surely shows).

My concern is that the reference desk is not primarily for us volunteers, but for querents...and that answers which are harder to follow by people who are NOT RD volunteers are less useful answers, which means the desk is less effective. Period.
That confusion with which I concern myself doesn't generally come up, incidentally, in the case you assume to be the concern here -- ie. when the original questioner has not signed their post. If the person(s) in question are only ASKING questions, in fact, my concern about answer clarity doesn't even come up. But in the middle of an answer SET, an unsigned (and unbotted) comment/answer, or, worse, several of them, makes it unlear who is saying what. This is especially true when the person in question (and it's just ONE person) is sticking answers between existing questions and answers that already exist, because we cannot assume the person who needs the answer has seen the thread by then, and the lack of timestamp can make the good-faith answer and the good-faith question separate, and thereby become less comprehensible. In the case I am concerned with, a commenter has atually stuck in one word answers in the midst of a discussion, and in between several statements under one single signature. All these strategies make the thread disrupt, and make answers FOR those same people we might hope ask questions...harder to get to, for those questioners.
The problem isn't me, and your projected assumption that I want only to talk with people who identify themselves; I could care less. The problem is clarity for querents, not for US, the folks who would come to the talk page in the first place. I thought the reference desk was here to serve people who might need help, which can mean people who are not familiar with the way that wikiresponses thread out; anything which goes against stated policy AND which makes answers harder to follow undermines the very potential for the RDs to be useful, doesn't it? As such, my concern is making those answers readable and most accessible to everyone -- not to the volunteers who have the skills and knowledge to work around or ignore people determined to disrupt and obscure. (sorry for length here, folks -- I have only enough time to go long, not tighten my language, today...)Jfarber 19:39, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Well then let me clarify; I don't have a problem with people who don't sign their posts. That's it. You can ignore anything else I said that doesn't apply to you and your concerns; and BTW just because my comments do not address your concerns as you feel you stated them does NOT mean I didn't understand your post. I am coming to this discussion late, and making general comments, synthesising my responses to other comments with my own additional observations. Perhaps you didn't understand that. Anchoress 20:53, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Fair enough -- apologies for mistaking your use of the word "question" as a misunderstanding of the bigger issue rather than a response to other peoples' specific reference to unsigned questions. The clarification is useful.

Might I note that the reason I misunderstood where/ to whom your comments applied was that your indent didn't "thread" or indent as if it were a response to Edison, but to the original post here? Perhaps my concern that such things matter is misprojected; perhaps such issues as organization and signage only confuse me. Maybe the medium is not the message here. I just thought it would be clearer for others, and not just me, if it were. Jfarber 21:14, 17 March 2007 (UTC)

If the anon editor is refusing to sign and then tacking their answers onto others' to purposely confuse readers then lets take action for purposeful disruption. If not then its hard to see what basis one could act. Rockpocket 21:24, 17 March 2007 (UTC)
Thank you, Rockpocket -- That's exactly the concern I have. Though I believe that confusion is not ideal, and seem to have gotten bogged down in defending that, I believe the refusal of this user to sign edits despite being asked repeatedly is indeed deliberately designed to confuse readers...and I believe this because ONLY by actively working to erase signatures is it possible to circumvent the bot. SHOULD we assume deliberate bot circumvention is a sign of dishonesty? Why else would someone work so hard to circumvent what should be an automatic signing process by the bot? Thanks for simplifying. Jfarber 21:55, 17 March 2007 (UTC)

Why not just make a change so that posts are signed automatically? I don't know how realistic this is, but wouldn't that fix the issue? 06:13, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

Seems not -- as long as there is a way to opt out of or circumvent that change. Looking into the newer additions to the thread above, I see that a) a bot currently signs posts automatically, but b) there is at least one legitimate way to opt out of this, and at least one sneaky way to post without signing/autosigning. Here, though -- I'll NOT sign so we can see the bot in action: —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Jfarber (talkcontribs) 18:14, 18 March 2007 (UTC).
...and now I'll try circumventing the bot, so we can see it in action:
Ok, so from the above it appears that it is possible to opt out, but this particular editor does not have their IP on the opt out list, so is there another way to circumvent the bot signing your comments. WP:BEANS notwithstanding, could you let me know (by email perhaps) how this is done? If an anonymous editor is purposely circumventing the bot for no good reason, and this is leading to confusion then I'm willing to act for disruption. Rockpocket 00:55, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
No beans nessesary, the explanation is simple, bots aren't human beings, they have no way of knowing whether they're doing right, or wrong, from time to time they miss edits, or get otherwise confused, there is no way I know of to deliberately circumvent Hangermanbot, deliberate being the key word, sometimes it just misses edits, I'd hate to see us start to penalize users just because a bot is less than perfect--VectorPotentialTalk 00:59, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
Ah, thats good to know. It appears some of this editor's comments are signed by the bot anyway, so it seems highly unlikely he or she is deliberately circumventing the process. I'll ask the editor nicely if, considering how active he or she is, he or she would possibly consider signing out of good faith. That seems all we can do at the moment. Rockpocket 01:18, 19 March 2007 (UTC)

Unsigned inquiries galore

I see that some are getting into a fret over this. My own unscientific survey awhile and several times ago suggests that unsigned inquiries and for that matter red sigs usually don't bother to come back for our pearls of wisdom and are typically a first edit. Every now and again I add sigs to the anon inquirys and then check back just to satisfy my own curiosity about all that; too much time on my hands some would say. Anyway, please don't fret or add any new rules please. If the bot doesn't add a sig then do it yourself, that's what I do now and again. Please don't make another big deal out of something as frivolous as an RD missing sig or, if it's important to you then take a few seconds an add {{unsigned}} to satisfy your need for exactness. It helps me at those frustrating times when I have a need to rag on someone (Heidi also says thanks).  ;-) --hydnjo talk 22:51, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

Violent contribution

Could users sensitive to these matters have a look at the juvenile garbage posted by on the 'Why people like violence' thread (item 3.2, 17 March) and tell me if this is legitimate contribution or not? My inclination was to flush it, but I have no wish to do so without consensus. Clio the Muse 14:58, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

I asked the user to rephrase; see here. ---Sluzzelin talk 15:08, 18 March 2007 (UTC)
Sensitive...and starting to use the ref desk as an example of Web 2.0 for middle school students, so thanks for your attention, both of you! Jfarber 18:21, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

Bot scalping!

I see the automated bot has completely scalped the Humanities RD. All the introductory information has been removed, as well as the QAs for 17 March. Clio the Muse 00:17, 19 March 2007 (UTC)

  • I'd hoped it had stopped doing that, give me a second, I'll sort everything out--VectorPotentialTalk 00:19, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Fixed--VectorPotentialTalk 00:25, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
Well done! Clio the Muse 00:57, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
This is *really* weird. Currently the bot is running on the toolserver, so it's not easy for me to monitor what it's doing. I'll take a look tonight if I have the time. Martinp23 20:13, 19 March 2007 (UTC)
More scalping tonight! All of the desk preamble has vanished. This is just on the Humanities RD. Clio the Muse 00:07, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Fixed again--VectorPotentialTalk 00:36, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

How about a Wikiforum?

There seems to be an endless controversy concerning whether even the most civil of debate is appropriate for the RefDesk. I'm completely for it, as I find debate to be a great tool for learning, yet the RefDesk guidelines, as well as many editors, seem to be totally against the RefDesk being used in such a manner.

For example a little while back someone asked a question something along the lines of: "If you were to start a new society, and could bring three books with you, which ones would you choose?" One editor objected that this wasn't a valid RefDesk question, and according to the strictest interpretation of wiki's guidelines, indeed he was right. Yet another user disagreed, basically saying: "Whoa! Wait a minute, this may not strictly be a Refdesk question, yet it's still an interesting one, and I'd be interested in hearing some responses!".

Now I realize that the RefDesk isn't meant to be a blog, or an internet forum, and if people feel strongly enough about keeping it strictly as "wikipedia's version of a library RefDesk", then I suppose they have a point.

The problem, however with blogs and internet fora is that their quality and the quality of their contributors is nowhere near as high as is so at the RefDesk, on top of the fact that very often they're no more than one topic "rah-rah-rah" places for people who already agree on a certain specific ideology or POV to gather together and all gripe about the same thing, and basically support each other in advancing whatever POV they all already agree on.

What I was thinking, is that with all of wiki's branches, such as wikipedia, wikiquote, wiktionary, wikisummaries, etc. Perhaps it would be a good idea to create some sort of "wikiforum", a place where it's totally ok to debate with people with a variety of intelligent yet diverse POVs, with the added feature that we can just as always provide hyperlinks to wiki articles, yet a place where civil debate, even perhaps civil soapboxing is not only not discouraged, but actually encouraged, rather than constantly being labeled as some sort of terrible transgression. After all, while soapboxing may certainly be inappropriate in certain decidedly NPOV fora, soapboxing in and of itself is not a bad thing.

Any ideas? Who'd like to see the creation of a brand new branch of wikipedia called "wikiforum" for all of us who are just plain addicted to debating interesting topics, without constantly being harrassed that our predelictions for such debate are "inappropriate", and that the RefDesk is but a dull place for simply answering people's questions without being allowed the joy of what I consider to be the ultimate learning experience -- that being debate?

Just a thought. Tell me what you guys think. Loomis 07:44, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

Sounds wonderful! Though I'd like it if the RD doubled as a "proper" reference desk and a place where interesting debate took place. I don't see anything wrong with that. —LestatdeLioncourt 15:10, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
It would indeed be interesting if you found another place people could go to chat about these things. I personally feel it is inappropriate here, since not allowing such soapboxing and debate is what has made the reference desks such relatively high quality places, with high quality contributors. If such things were allowed here, I suspect they would end up as troll-filled and unenlightening as many message boards. I've known boards and forums that started off as lovely places, formed by refugees from other boards, with idealistic structures and beliefs in allowing anything to be posted without censorship, relying on community response, or lack thereof, to deal with problems. They were truly lovely places, for a few months, then they deteriorated. A few, loud, forceful people ended up monopolising most discussions, leading to those with differing opinions to stop bothering, to go somewhere else for their chat. Eventually the sites were just like most, little shoutboxes for people to agree with each other and say nasty things about those who disagree. I do not want this to happen to the reference desks. So, by all means, create somewhere like a wikiforum. I'd probably join in, at least while it's still nice. But please, let's keep the reference desks lovely places. If answering questions is really so dull, why are any of us here? Skittle 16:00, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Many of us are here because we're breaking the rules! The "incest" debate, the "Jesus" debate, the "three books" debate ... are these really the type of things that would go on at a real life library RefDesk?
You make some very valid points, Skittle. Yet I'm not so sure you fully understand my proposition. The type of "Wikiforum" I'm proposing wouldn't be a simple free-for-all. With the exception of the "no debating" and perhaps the "no soaboxing" rules of the RefDesk, all other features would still apply, such as civility, no personal attacks, oversight by admins, no clearly offensive or trollish behaviour allowed, "don't feed the trolls" ... etc. And when I speak of soapboxing, the POV being pushed would have to be a civil one as well. Offensive soapboxing would of course be banned. If you're concerned with the existing RefDesk, I can only see it as benefiting, as all us debaters would have a more suitable place to debate, and the RefDesk would finally begin to resemble what it was originally intended for, that being "Wikipedia's version of a library RefDesk". Loomis 19:57, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

I don't care at all where is the right place for "interesting debate", as long as people understand that it's not on Wikipedia. The creation/location of s suitable place for it can happen completely independently from removing inappropriate content from Wikipedia. Friday (talk) 21:35, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

I really don't understand what you're trying to say. By "Wikipedia" are you referring strictly to Wikipedia proper, or to all the other wikis as well (Wikisource, Wikiquote, Wiktionary, Wikisummaries etc)? Even if you're referring to Wikipedia proper, why is debate considered as being so awful and so terribly inapropriate? Is it because Wikipedia is strictly an online encyclopedia? If so, to be consistent, the entire RefDesk would have to be removed. A reference desk belongs in a library, not an encyclopedia. Since when is Wikipedia a library? Loomis 02:28, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

With all due respect, there are plenty of such forums on the internet (eg, ZDNet, CNet). Wikipedia isn't the most effective forum tool by any means. Xiner (talk, email) 02:38, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Much agreed. I'd like to see what Loomis is talking about, a place where people can soapbox a bit and others will listen attentively, or pose arguments if they feel like it. Of course, there would need to be some kind of set of rules that would keep this from turning into a regular message board (again, as Loomis said, against trolling, personal attacks, and other annoying behavior). V-Man - T/C 02:45, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
WP:NOT#SOAPBOX. Opinionated discussion is completely contrary to the purpose of the project. Why don't you create your own forum or wiki and have your debates there. Those that are interested can join you and you will get the level of debate you are interested in. Rockpocket 03:49, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
That's pretty much what was being said; a Wikimedia project outside of Wikipedia where soapboxing could belong. V-Man - T/C 04:23, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I'm only proposing that it be done within the "wiki" world because wiki is so effective at generating the highest quality, most civil and most intelligent editors. Without the support of the wiki ground rules and structure, there'd be no point in starting up some sort of debating forum, as I have no doubt it would simply degenerate into a place for ignorant ideologues to push their offensive POV's, which is not what I'm looking for at all. To clarify, what I'm looking for is a forum which would be officially NPOV, yet would be ok with civil debate by all sides on intelligent topics. Perhaps what I'm proposing may be unrealistic in that it would inevitably degenerate into yet another chaotic and uncivil "shoutbox" as Skittle put it, and if that's the case I'd surely withdraw my proposition, as that's obviously not what I'm looking for. However assuming it could work, I don't understand the resistance to it. Wiki has been innovative in so many areas. I absolutely loathe all those other "shoutboxes", and that's why I come here to interact with intelligent civil people. Perhaps my idea is just just a pipe-dream, but if it could actually work, what's so wrong with giving it a try? Loomis 13:46, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

I support Loomis's idea. Re Friday's I don't care at all where is the right place for "interesting debate", as long as people understand that it's not on Wikipedia - I must disagree. The Ref Desk may not be the right place, but Wikipedia has plenty of tentacles already, so why not create a different Wiki-place where people can just talk about stuff, free of the sometimes irritating shackles of the Ref Desk. JackofOz 13:51, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

There are the notorious IRC channels (of which I know close to nothing, apart from the tremendous uproar they have occasionally caused within the community). Or you could run a sandbox test, Wikipedia:Sandbox/Discussion_Forum e.g. I have to say though, that this sandbox version's chances of survival might be very slim. WP:WASS, a sandbox "game" with various spin-offs to which I used to enjoy contributing, gets nominated for deletion every so often, and the only reason some of it has managed to remain undeleted (sofar), is that it could be demonstrated, that it can and occasionally does help improve the encyclopedia directly. ---Sluzzelin talk 17:42, 21 March 2007 (UTC)
I understand Loomis' ideal, but I think it is a pipedream. My understanding of debate is inherently incompatible with WP:NPOV. The questions you appear interested in debating ("If you were to start a new society, and could bring three books with you, which ones would you choose?") require a personal opinion to be stated by the respondents. However civil such a debate might be, it most certainly isn't NPOV, and so in that sense it is incompatible with Wikipedia. There may well be a place for a forum where individuals can discuss opinion in a civilised manner within the Wikimedia foundation, but I don't think it will work. The reason the "debate" here is so civilised is because it isn't encouraged or even permitted (depending on your interpretation of our policies). So only the most erudite stated opinions tend to be tolerated because they are deemed to have educational value. As soon as you encourage opinion to be stated, this place would fill up with the same tedious armchair philosophy as any other discussion forum on the web. Is that intellectually snobbish? Probably. But its also realistic. Rockpocket 17:49, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

I support Loomis' idea. As for violating NPOV, there are two ways to have a neutral POV. One is to require that every statement be NPOV, the other is to include as many POVs as possible, such that the aggregate is NPOV. Teaching proper debating methods would be quite valuable, as such skills seem to be sorely lacking in modern society, and even here, where responders have resorted to arguments from authority and other logic errors in the past. StuRat 03:32, 23 March 2007 (UTC)

Your mom. V-Man - T/C 04:20, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
I see an analogy with a traditional encyclopedia, eg. the EB. While the content of EB may be required to conform with all manner of quality-related rules, the people who write it obviously engage in discussion amongst themselves, and not necessarily always about the subjects they're writing about right now. Why can't we have a similar forum for discussion about whatever takes our fancy, while at the same time striving to continue to make Wikipedia the best encyclopedia the universe has ever known. Sure, any one of us can contact anyone else on their user page or by email, and talk about whatever we like. What Loomis is proposing is a simple extension of that existing right, to include more than 2 people at a time. JackofOz 04:34, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
You should take a quick look at the two MfD's for Esperanza and the Coffee lounge MfD to get an idea of just how much objection there is to such fora within Wikipedia.—eric 05:10, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Much agreed. Doesn't belong in Wikipedia. However, I believe the proposition is for such to be outside Wikipedia... V-Man - T/C 05:23, 23 March 2007 (UTC)

Oh well, it would appear that despite those who support the idea, there are still far too many who for reasons I still can't understand, are dead-set that even the most civil of debate "has no place in Wikipedia". I still think it would be a great idea, and I'd support anyone who'd be willing to take on the project. As for me, though, there's apparently far too much objection to the idea, and I'm truly in no mood, nor do I have the energy to voluntarily enter into yet another situation of great contention. However, once again, should anybody wish to take this proposed project on, you will of course have my full support. Loomis 03:15, 24 March 2007 (UTC)

For those who don't get it, please see Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Friday (talk) 03:34, 24 March 2007 (UTC)
For those that don't get what I'm talking about, once again, I'm not talking about Wikipedia, I'm talking about Wikimedia. For example, Friday's above link mentions that Wikipedia is not a dictionary. Yet surely Wiktionary is a dictionary, is it not? Loomis 11:15, 24 March 2007 (UTC)
If they decide they want to spend their money on providing a chat board, by all means, go use that chat board. I doubt they will, as their purpose is educational. Until they do, or unless you're looking for a plan on how to present this idea to them, what is there to talk about? Friday (talk) 15:25, 24 March 2007 (UTC)
Let me try to get all this straight, Friday. Right now you're debating about the fact that there's no place for debate at Wikipedia. Apparently your argument is that any form of argument at Wikipedia should be forbidden. Your POV is that Wikipedia should be completely NPOV. Do I have it all right? And of course, though this is off topic, I'll add it because it seems to nicely follow your apparent fondness for irony: You tell me that due to my alleged personal attacks, I'm unwelcome at Wikipedia and contribute nothing of relevance. Are you even capable of any comments that aren't self-contradictory? Loomis 01:20, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
As for your implication that debate serves no educational purpose, along with myself, one of the greatest philosophers to ever exist would seem to completely disagree with you on that one. The Socratic Method posits that debate is by far the most effective tool for learning. However if you indeed prefer that dullest of educational methods, that being learning by rote, then by all means: 2 x 3 = 6, 3 x 3 = 9, 3 x 4 = 12 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....oh, sorry, I must have fallen asleep. Loomis 01:30, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
Oh, I should clarify. When people say "our opinions have no place in Wikipedia", this comes with a few exceptions. Our opinions about Wikipedia are very relevant, in user space or project space. Our opinions about how to improve an article are very relevant on that article's talk page. You have to understand what the different name spaces are for. Some of the things you claim I've said don't sound like anything I've said, to please be careful paraphrasing me. As for debate being a useful educational tool, certainly it can be, under the right circumstances. But this is hardly the place for it. And, the "debates" here tend to turn useless quickly- there's little point attempting to reason with someone who's more interested in being right than in reaching some workable solution. Friday (talk) 17:06, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

Ok, I won't paraphrase, I'll quote you verbatim: "For what it's worth, I see very few useful contributions in his [Loomis'] history. Maybe it's best if he moves on? Friday (talk) 19:22, 22 March 2007 (UTC)" WP:NPA? Nahhhh. How can I possibly be insulted by such a flattering statement? I must just be paranoid if I'm insulted when someone writes that I make "very few useful contributions"...and that I should probably "move on", right? Loomis 14:03, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Do you have another suggestion to adress the problem besides the Wikiforum? The Wikimedia Foundation seems to have all the means needed to implement the Wikiforum, which seems to be most needed on the Internet. The Reference Desk constantly receives soapboxing and debates, as do the talk pages of the articles, and they are only finished because people feel constrained, they feel they can´t start talking too much or someone will come and say they're violating policy. The repressed demand for a Wikiforum is rather huge as far as I can see, and the value of this enterprise, if it works, would be a great one! If the Wikimedia Foundation implements it and for some reason we discover it just doesn´t work, the website can be deleted and that´s it. But imagine how great would it be a forum of the Wikimedia if it were as successful as Wikipedia! Imagine all the great ideas and debates that could exist there! Of course there would be problems, as there are and have been on Wikipedia. Imagine if 15 years ago someone had the idea of creating the Wikipedia, imagine how most people would react badly to this idea: there would've been infinite arguments against it! And now Wikipedia is what it is. A.Z. 19:29, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

I support 100% the Wikiforum and I think it WILL be created one day and it will, in a short period of time after it´s created, become by far the biggest of the Wikimedia projects, with millions of users who don´t necessarily like editing an encyclopedia, but like to debate and learn through debate. A.Z. 20:23, 24 March 2007 (UTC)

Can someone please make a userbox saying "This user supports the Wikiforum"? A.Z. 23:14, 24 March 2007 (UTC)

I just found out there have been many proposals for a Wikiforum on Wikimedia Meta, including many with this very name. One of them became a demo version called Wikireason ( I don´t know whether this version belongs to Wikimedia or not. The problem seems to be a lack of advertisement: the information is not getting where it should. We all who support the idea of a Wikiforum didn't know about this until now. My idea is that all of us coordinate our efforts to try to build a stable and big community that supports the idea of a Wikiforum. I don´t really know the best way to do that. I´m sure the starting community of the Wikiforum must be of users of Wikipedia, so we can start trying to gain supporters here and learn better how are new projects started on Wikimedia Meta. A.Z. 20:15, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

Good work A.Z.! I don't know why m:Wikireason has not come to our attention before this. I feel Reference Desk contributors should immediately begin to support and advertise this Wikimedia project by removing opinion based responses and the few questions that seek only to generate debate, and pointing those editors to the appropriate place to make such contributions.—eric 21:38, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
But the project has gone into hibernation: "the Wikireason project has made great progress, but has yet to establish a sustainable community." We need to help establishing such a community! Then we´ll be able to send all those debates and opinion questions directly to the Wikireason. Probably all debates taking place here on the Reference Desks will be enough to sustain the project for some time, generating each day more interest in the project and thus giving an incentive for Reference Desks contributors to go there to debate, soapbox and give their opinions. And eventually people will start asking questions there even before they come to the Reference Desks. The Reference Desks will become more of Reference Desks and people who want to debate, discuss, soapbox and find new things through conversation will have a nice place that accepts and embraces those things and has no policy forbidding original research and soapboxing! A.Z. 22:30, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
If we can get Wikireason out of hibernation mode, it would be good to link to it from the main Ref Desk page. Right next to Computers, Science, Math, Humanities, Language, Entertainment, and Misc., we could have an Opinion Desk, which would actually send them to Wikireason. This would also help those who hate any opinion questions on the rest of the Ref Desk. Some work would need to be done to make Wikireason look like the Ref Desk, with automatic archiving, headers, etc. To start with, I'd just put one big debate page there, but it could be split into sub-pages if it grew large enough. Perhaps the first step would be to form a project to gather people willing to work on this. Sound like a good idea ? StuRat 20:02, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

FYI, per [1], "Wikireason is not affiliated with Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation." Just to clarify, since it sounded like people were thinking there's a connection. But, of course, I'm not remotely suggesting people shouldn't use it, we should just be clear that it's just somebody's website, not a Wikimedia thing. Friday (talk) 20:19, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

I'm confused, if it's not associated with the Wikimedia Foundation, why is it discussed at Wikimedia ? [2]. StuRat 20:42, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
Must have been set up by someone who also contributes on meta. A spin-off of sorts. Friday (talk) 20:47, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Ignore it, Stu. Don't bother. For what it's worth, I really don't see Friday contributing anything of value to Wikipedia. Maybe it's best if he moves on. I'm sure he's a great person, though. I just don't see anything positive in his contributions. Just to be clear, I'm not attacking the guy personally in any way, I'm just saying that his posts aren't worthy of response. I'm sure his vast repertoire of talents could be made of better use somewhere else, apparently, though, not here at Wikipedia. Good luck in all your future endeavours, Friday! Loomis 23:56, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Oh, Loomis, Loomis, Loomis. What will it take to convince you that this sort of childish sniping is beneath you? Didn't you learn anything from the Clio episode? Grow up! JackofOz 01:42, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
Oh I've learned. Haven't you noticed I haven't been around here much lately? The RefDesk used to be a fun, fascinating learning experience, but lately it's been going through a bit of a Lord of the Flies stage, or, to mix metaphores, a stage where the inmates are clearly running the assylum. But I have faith in Wikipedia. The problem will be fixed. I'm just on break until the rest of you guys figure out how to fix it. However for now, I have no interest in participating in this circus. Even what I've said right here is too much, as someone will surely find some guideline to twist into shape and accuse me of violating it. Oh well. I know I'm fully "grown up". I'm just waiting for the rest of the RefDesk to grow up. Loomis 00:55, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

How about a POV desk? --The Dark Side 02:34, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Well, that's basically what I proposed. The problem is there is significant opposition to that within Wikipedia, which is why I suggest that the Opinion Desk/POV Desk should redirect to another wiki which encourages polite, moderated debate. The problem is in finding or creating that other wiki. StuRat 02:47, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

I know this topic is kind of old, but since we were talking about Wikireason I emailed the guy that started it. He said it's in hibernation due to lack of users and he's got a lot of work to do in real life. He suggested we all take a look at Chains of Reason. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 06:38, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

Odd redirect upon responding

I've responded to two questions at the Lang. desk in the last couple days and both times now the page that loads when I hit edit next to the question is the archive for that particular day (the day the question was posted). Why is this happening? Dismas|(talk) 08:17, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

It does that for me as well, but only on threads that are a few days old. − Twas Now ( talkcontribse-mail ) 08:40, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Does this not happen when a particular day is on the threshold of archiving? Clio the Muse 08:46, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
I'm sure it has to do with bot archiving; the bot, to be safe, probably duplicates the information before deleting the otherwise extant version of the RefDesk. V-Man - T/C 02:47, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

That's the normal behavior when you edit a transcluded page. The only way to avoid it is to hold Shift or Control down when you pick edit, so your browser will open a new tab or window and leave the old one on the proper page. StuRat 03:24, 23 March 2007 (UTC)

More botched bottiness (?)

The entertainment desk now has questions from March 5 - 11, plus one question added today (March 20). Questions from March 12 thru 19 are gone. ---Sluzzelin talk 10:17, 20 March 2007 (UTC) Just saw that yesterday's question on TV shows somehow managed to sneak its way into March 10th. ---Sluzzelin talk 10:23, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

  • twas not the bot this time, at least not directly, all the bot did was duplicate the header(for some reason?), StuRat must have reverted to a much older revision by accident, either way, it's fixed now--VectorPotentialTalk 11:15, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Thanks! (and apologies to Sir Bot) ---Sluzzelin talk 12:13, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

Colo(ou)r collaboration... icon

Could the person responsible for placing the icon at the absolute upper right location please move it. I'm using Safari browser with Classic skin and the icon renders over the Go and Search buttons making them useless. Thanks, --hydnjo talk 18:53, 20 March 2007 (UTC)

  • Sorry about that, is this any better?--VectorPotentialTalk 19:43, 20 March 2007 (UTC) nevermind, I've pulled the whole thing, we don't really need it anymore now that the discussion has been moved to the current page--VectorPotentialTalk 19:47, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Yes, fixed but note that the sine wave icon on your user page obscures in the same way. --hydnjo talk 20:58, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Is {{RefDesk}} causing the same problem? or is it small enough not to get in the way?--VectorPotentialTalk 23:58, 20 March 2007 (UTC)
Yeah, that's fine, small enough to not obscure any functions. I don't know about any other skins though. --hydnjo talk 00:40, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

0:00 has come and gone..

I assume RefDeskBot is down for debugging? or did the database crash about an hour ago have some effect on toolserver?--VectorPotentialTalk 01:03, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

The whole toolserver was/is dow, I'm afraid. Martinp23 06:30, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Can any one help me how to build a UNICODE Website ?

Hi, This is Krishna Here. Can any one help me how to build a UNICODE websites.IF possible please send me a piece of code.Also, the Intial req to be done. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Krishna.logic (talkcontribs) 07:42, 22 March 2007 (UTC).

Hi Krishna, please put your question on the reference desk page, not this talk page. Thanks! Think outside the box 12:26, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

Removed comment

I removed[3] a comment by Loomis and the resulting responses. A number of editors have asked him to cease this type of behavior yet he appears unable to do so.—eric 19:07, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

For what it's worth, I see very few useful contributions in his history. Maybe it's best if he moves on? Friday (talk) 19:22, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
The hate campaign against me is relentless. I see I am now accused of 'Nazi Apologism'; yes, that's right. An apology was posted on my talk page not so long ago for persistent personal attacks (Mea Maxima Culpa). I suspected this to be worthless. Now I know for certain. Clio the Muse 20:30, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

I don't see anything unacceptable about his post; he stated his opinion, and others stated theirs. Perhaps it needed to be said that "while there were numerous causes of anti-Semitism, none of these causes justifies the Holocaust". StuRat 03:20, 23 March 2007 (UTC)

No attempt was made to 'justify' the Holocaust. A bizarre misreading of my remarks was followed up by accusations elsewhere of 'Nazi Apologism.' Read the thread again, particularly what I wrote, very slowly, then you might begin to understand. Clio the Muse 06:16, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
You statement that I have to read things very slowly to begin to understand them is a personal attack. When somebody has an opinion which differs from your own, that does not mean you should engage in personal attacks against that person. You obviously need to learn how to engage in a civil debate. StuRat 16:53, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
You have an odd conception of a personal attack, Mr Rat. To suggest that someone read more slowly to aid their comprehension is one, but to accuse a person of being a 'Nazi Apologist' is seemingly not. Your remarks were so far from understanding the point that I thought that you really needed to go over the issue again, clause by clause, sentence by sentence, on the assumption that what you were saying was not born out of pure prejudice against me, but was simply based on an abscence of intellectual comprehension. This is not a matter of debate, and I really could not care less for your opinion, on this or any other issue. You are, in any case, Mr Rat, not the kind of individual that I would ever wish to engage in debate with. Clio the Muse 19:55, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
And you are not the type of person I would ever wish to debate with, due to your immature use of personal attacks against anyone who disagrees with you. StuRat 23:29, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Opinions of random people on the internet are of little value to those seeking reliable information. (cf. your ridiculously ill-informed opinion on the evolution of curly hair from split ends, for a perfect example). When those opinions are thinly disguised attacks based on (mis)interpretations of other editors' contributions they become unacceptable. Rockpocket 07:48, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Right after you complained about speculation on my part, you engaged in the exact same thing you accuse me of, speculating that blond hair developed due to "sexual selection" with absolutely no basis for that statement. StuRat 16:53, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Wrong once again. I have provided sources for that theory. (e.g. Peter Frost, European hair and eye color: A case of frequency-dependent sexual selection? Evolution and Human Behaviour, 2005: "hair colour became popular as a result of the pressures of sexual selection on early European women".)
Give it up lads, my resources are unlimited, and I always win the contest.
We have been here before, StuRat. You propose some naive theory based on high-school level genetics, and someone who actually knows what they are talking about comes along and points out, with reliable sources, that your suggestions are misleading and inaccurate. Instead of simply accepting your conclusions are wrong and - God forbid perhaps removing the misleading content - you go on the attack in an attempt to distract attention for your comments. I suggest in future you take your opinions to a discussion board and leave answering questions you clearly do not know the answers to to those who either can, or can at least accept their own limitations. Rockpocket 17:44, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
I've commented on many of your obvious limitations back at the Ref Desk. I would have liked to keep such comments off the Ref Desk, but, since you chose to viciously attack me there, I needed to defend myself there, as well. In the future, if you will respond politely, with "I disagree, because..." instead of engaging in personal attacks, it will be far better for the Ref Desk. StuRat 23:25, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
No worries, Sluzzelin. When faced with a pathetic "use a spell-checker" attack in response to providing sourced, expert, informative material, you know its time to get out. I normally hate arguments from authority and have never mentioned it before on Wikipedia ever until now, but consider this: I have a PhD in pigmentation genetics, published a significant number of scholarly articles, I have individually written a featured article on the subject and I provided sources from the world experts in the field (most of whom I know personally) and I get told "your evidence is weak" from someone who provided no evidence whatsoever to back up a theory so simplistic one one might expect it from a highschooler. Could some one tell me how a Reference Desk could be any more dysfunctional?
It is one thing to ask people to refrain from commenting when they don't know what they are talking about. But beyond that, I just can't understand why some individuals can't accept withdrawing an unsourced opinion when it is demonstrated to be patently and obviously misleading. Its not that big an ask, honestly, since opinion is not what should be provided in the first place. Its the third time this has happened in response to StuRat's wild "theories" (albeit with perfect spelling, apparently), leaving me wondering what the point of trying to be accurate with contributions when they are shouted down by those who believe their opinion is as important as a sourced expert's. This leaves me with no motivation to continue here.
I'll leave with a open request for ideas at how we can stop the ongoing slide of this desk into a discussion forum of idiots for idiots; where we all chime in with our personal opinion on everything and anything then defend it to absurdity. It appears in the eyes of some people thats already what the desk is: "If you are so incapable of engaging in civil debate that you need to lie about what your opponent says" [4]. So we are considered "opponents" when we provide factual, sourced information counter to another contibutor's (unsourced) theories, and then are expected to "debate" such nonsense?
I've had enough. If I wanted to listen to blowhards making a puplic display of their own ignorance I'd hang out at the Fox News forums. When this place starts to resemble a Reference Desk again, when fact is valued over opinion, someone do me a favour and drop me a line at my talkpage. I'll be there practising my spelling. Rockpocket 03:31, 24 March 2007 (UTC)
If you had any actual proof that my theories were wrong that would be one thing, but all you had is a reference to somebody else's speculation, hardly what qualifies as "proof". But, more importantly, it's the argument from authority method you use that's just like saying "I'm right because I'm an expert and anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot". It is actually possible to disagree with someone and provide proof that they are wrong (or disagree without proof) without insulting the person with whom you have the disagreement. See how I handled a claim that the average passenger vehicle in the US gets only 12 mpg: Wikipedia:Reference_desk/Science#CO2_recovery_method. I didn't at any point imply that this person was an idiot, nor should I. He may be wrong, but he still deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of his academic qualifications. StuRat 13:36, 24 March 2007 (UTC)
How about actually reading the sources I provided before telling me I provided no proof:

"Overall, these neutrality tests [Hudson/Kreitman/Aguade and McDonald-Kreitman's tests] support our conclusion that the atypically high ratio of nonsynonymous to silent polymorphism in Europe and northern Asia reflects relaxed functional constraint, not positive selection.... There is no evidence that MC1R diversity outside Africa has been enhanced by [Darwinian] selection.... [but] it is feasible that assortative mating [i.e. sexual selection] for skin and hair color contributes."


"There is a popular hypothesis that fair skin [and hence hair] in Europeans has been positively selected. However, we found no statistical evidence that diversity has been enhanced by [Darwinian] selection, either in its apparently high levels or in its haplotype frequency–distribution patterns.

Is that authoritative enough proof for you, or would you like to see the genomic sequencing? And if you would be a little more gracious in accepting your comments are misleading, rather than desperately attempting to justify them by attacking reliable sources, others may treat you with a level of respect. I'm sure you will find some flaw in their analysis, or conjure up some reason why it doesn't apply to your specific theories, but thats my last word on the subject. Rockpocket 08:57, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
1) It only says your theory "is feasible". That's hardly proof that it is correct. It also doesn't say that is the only feasible theory, or even the most likely theory.
2) One of the bits of "evidence" quoted earlier for sexual selection of blond and red hair was that it was more common in paintings than in the general population. The most likely reason for this, however, is that painters prefer unusual subjects. Otherwise we must conclude that individuals like the elephant man, who were heavily photographed because they were unusual, must also be the ideal mate.
3) And even if it is correct, there seems to be a lack of understanding that sexual selection is itself a result of Darwinian evolutionary pressure. Those individuals which prefer mates which have features which better equip them for survival are likely to pass those genes on to their offspring and thus have more offspring survive to reproduce. As I've stated before, there is an exception for sexual selection of "health indicators", like a male peacock's tail.
4) The statement "...we found no statistical evidence..." is also rather weak. That could very well mean that the evidence is there, they just didn't find it. A strong statement would be "we've found statistical evidence proving this theory is impossible..." (followed by the presentation of the actual evidence, as the word of an expert without the actual evidence is no more valuable that the word of anyone else, since we don't rely on arguments from authority here).
5) If you have evidence to present, it's your responsibility to do so, not to send me to read several books to see if I can find evidence to support your POV somewhere in them. StuRat 16:13, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
Stu, you may want to take the time to read Wikipedia:Disruptive editing and Wikipedia:Tendentious editing, though many of the concepts expressed in those pages do not apply to your edits—some do. Especially the characteristic: "You find yourself repeating the same argument over and over again, without persuading people", arguments which are very much contrary to the spirit and accepted guidelines and policies of Wikipedia. Please, pull back from the brink.—eric 21:54, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

Quite frankly, I would rather that this whole sorry mess is quickly forgotten, like so many similar episodes. I have become largely immune to the incoherent, irrational and ugly remarks directed against me, which is not to say that I will tolerate them, whenever and wherever they are lodged. But there is another dimension to this which has so far escaped comment. The user who posed the question about the Vienna picture in the first place assumed that the venom was directed against him. This makes the offense, in my estimation, considerably worse. Clio the Muse 08:23, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Ignoring it would be the best thing to do at this point, and many users already familiar with the accusatory dynamics in question (or should I say statics?) wont bother to react anymore. But others might get hooked at first - Nazi apologism is one of those killer accusations you normally don't just walk past - and they might waste a lot of time reading diffs and posts, until they see how unfounded these accusations are. Now they not only wasted their time here, but might also feel they've been had. This isn't about "stating opinions" - no matter whether the target user feels victimized or not, accusations and insinuations of this kind are offensive to the community of readers and editors. ---Sluzzelin talk 09:10, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
I am NOT interested in wading into any interpersonal issues here, but did want to note that as long as actual answers are not lost in the process, I fully support action which is done in the name of clarity, streamlining, and comfort for those who are NOT "the usual crowd", but who come by to ask questions and get clear reference assistance. It was this, I remind the regulars, that was my primary concern about unsigned (and unbotted) posts earlier in this space -- that allowing folks to circumvent the bot challenged acessibility, as it undermined the availability and clarity of answers for ref desk querents. I appreciate that this "dimension" may not have been the motivating factor for removal here, but I strongly agree with it as a motivating principle, and support ANY "thinning" of a conversation which is able to accomplish this without removing actual information relevant to the original question, or to subsequent sub-questions. As Sluzzelin says: accusations and insinuations are anti-community. If there is concern that someone might feel uncomfortable or baited, and a "no loss of relevant content" standpoint is defensible (as it is here), then I fully support removal (and appreciate talk page notification). I only wish I had the guts to do the same, sometimes. Jfarber 17:50, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Whoa! People! You're losing focus! I'm the "intellectually-impoverished-misogynistic-stalker/predator-character-assasinating-witch-hunting-nerdy-wanker-who 'makes very few useful contributions and who should probably move on'"! Are any of these epithets ascribed to me "personal attacks"? Why of course not! Haven't you heard of WP:NPA except upon Loomis? No? Well apparently it's a newly articulated guideline whereby it's ok to personally attack Loomis to one's heart's content, just no one else. And of course it's based on the most astute of axioms: "Loomis can do no right, and folks like Clio, Friday and Eric can do no wrong". Please, by all means! Continue! I really don't mind! I'm actually eagerly anticipating the next personal attack upon me that will inevitably go unnoticed. Can I offer a few suggestions perhaps? I don't believe I've yet been referred to as a cannibal, so there's one you can keep in mind. I think Clio once referred to me as a Neanderthal...but maybe not, so might as well throw that one at me too! Oh, and by the way, I might as well admit that one of my favourite pastimes consists of the torturing of kittens and puppies.
Look people, I ain't going nowhere. You're stuck with me. Sure, I suppose I can be permablocked, but seriously, we all know there are ways around that. Besides, it won't happen. I've got way too many good people behind me who just wouldn't stand for it.
So what's my crime? Daring to object to a few of Clio's statements? How awful of me! Everybody knows Clio is infallible, right? I've certainly come to accept that fact!
Someone actually asked an interesting question on my talkpage about all this. He asked: "How do you explain just why the Third Reich came to power?" At first I told him that being no psychiatrist, I'm utterly incapable of delving into the minds of madmen. But giving the question a bit more thought, I finally came to realize what I've been finding so disturbing about Clio's remarks. I finally came to realize that the fact that the Third Reich was allowed to come to be wasn't the fault of the Nazis. Yes the Third Reich itself was their fault. But why it was allowed to come to be was our fault. We fucked up.
There will always be madmen. However through constant diligence, these madmen will at best be treated by psychiatrists and confined to padded cells, and at worst be completely ignored as raving lunatics.
Yet to say such things as "Where there is bitterness and discontent, there is National Socialism", or to "explain" the Third Reich as being the result of some sort of "outburst of bitterness and resentment", are to me, truly disturbing. They're disturbing because these are precisely the same attitudes prevailing in the free world that ultimately allowed the Nazi Nightmare to come about the first time around. Hearing these attitudes repeated by an apparent intellectual, well, frankly, that scares the shit out of me. I really don't know why Clio keeps saying these things, and I've just about given up on trying to figure it out. Whether it's based on true Nazi Apologism or just the innocent yet misguided naivité of an extremely intelligent young woman, letting her intelligence overwhelm her humility, I really have no clue. Yet I will not tolerate these statements being made. These were the very attitudes that led us to the abyss once, and as God is my witness, I'll fight tooth and nail to make sure these attitudes never again gain widespread acceptance. I've apologized like a zillion times already for my clumsy, anti-social attempts at desperately trying to get my point accross, but to no avail. Yet another apology would surely only come across as another disingenuous attempt to "win" some sort of non-existant ego battle. I don't know how many times, or in how many ways I can try to say this, but I'll try once more:
This is not about ego to me. It's about doing what I truly, deeply believe is the right thing to do. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU CLIO. As I said, I truly believe, that despite your very unkind and hurtful words to me, ones that you don't seem to be willing to even recognize, that you're an extremely intelligent, gifted young woman, and I truly wish you the best. However, should you continue to refuse to exercise even the slightest possible degree of introspection, your gift will be all but wasted. I hope you receive these words kindly.
Loomis 00:43, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

I imagine any casual user coming across this will be completely perplexed by the above outpourings. Let me clarify. This arises from a single sentence of mine in a question of 21 March, dealing with Nazi treatment of the Jewish population in Vienna after the Anschluss. Amongst other things this is what I wrote: Since 1933 the Jews of Germany had experienced a steady escalation of anti-semitic measures: in Austria they came all at once, a combination of official policy and an outburst of resentment and hatred by the local Nazi movement. That's all. But this elicited a quite astonishing spin by User Loomis, to the effect that it was intended as a justification, or rationalisation, of Nazism and the Holocaust, which left a number of other users completely bewildered, and the person who posed the question feeling that he himself was under attack. I imagine just about everyone with any knowledge of the subject had the wit and insight to understand what I was saying. But let me simplify it still further. Under Chancellors Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg the Austrian Nazi Party had been banned. The ban was lifted only on the eve of the Anschluss in March 1938. Now out in the open, the Nazis took revenge on the most obvious targets, their political enemies and the Jews of Vienna, in an 'outburst of resentment and hatred'. And for that I was accused of Nazi Apologism. The whole thing would have been quite laughable in its absurdity, if it had not reduced the Humanities Desk to the level of a grotesque farce. I've said all I want to on this: it is time to move on. Clio the Muse 04:37, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

Agreed. Let's move on. Loomis 12:03, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
(double take) did that just... did they... what... ^_^ it's gonna be a lovely day. V-Man - T/C 12:16, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

By the way, this is a good example of why we don't want to encourage debate here. It can easily turn into an ugly disagreement. We have enough unavoidable ugly disagreements come up when working on articles- we certainly don't want to encourage debate for debate's sake. Ned Wilbury 16:26, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

All debate doesn't degenerate into nasty personal attacks, this only happens when people don't treat others with respect, use ad hominem attacks, etc. StuRat 21:45, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree. There are many questions to which there is no single right answer, and a certain amount of debate is necessary, and very healthy. If certain people get into personal attacks, they are not playing by the rules and they take the consequences, but it's no reason to severely limit appropriate debate between others. JackofOz 04:37, 27 March 2007 (UTC)
Yes, and there are also questions for which there is a single correct answer, but that answer is unknown, so speculation is welcome. For example, the recent question on what portion of solar systems have planets. StuRat 05:07, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

Discussion move from misc desk

Moved from Misc. desk.—eric 01:55, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

I would be glad to start a huge discussion about this if I were on the Wikiforum. Unfortunately, based on what I´ve seen so far, people will call it soapboxing and things like that! I would also like to ask the person who asked the question if she/he will let me start a huge discussion on her/his post, but doing so would violate WP:POINT. Actually, this very edit is both soapboxing and violating WP:POINT, so it´s all just absurd.
As for the question, I think it is absurd as well. This person is actually asking whether something is fair or not. Any question about whether something is fair or not is just soapboxing! I guess the Canadian government and you have more important things to spend your time on than chatting about whether this law is fair or not. If you have already solved all Canadian major problems (which you didn´t), they should then try to end poverty. We should always keep in mind there are people in Africa who just died this last minute because they didn´t have anything to eat. A.Z. 01:05, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

Most of the questions on RD are actually asking for opinion. The mathematics desk is the only one which doesn´t have such a "problem". A.Z. 01:20, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

:::As someone who has worked on (and still occasionally staffs) a RL reference desk, I can assure you that, both there and online, a) discussing opinions makes the reference desk less effective as a reference desk for all sort of reasons, including that it makes it harder to FIND answers, that it makes reference desk workers less obviously presented as experts in searching and information locating, and that it is harder to see by example what a reference desk is for, so querents can learn how ask effective questions, and b) there are plenty of places where groups of smart people congregate who would be more than happy to bat around opinions until the proverbial cows come home. In other words: this IS a problem, and there is NO shortage of places to take the problem where it would be welcome. Because of that, it is important that we act to preserve the reference desk as a reference desk. Any questions? Jfarber 01:40, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

With all due respect, I can´t figure out whether you´re being ironic. Are you? A.Z. 01:50, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
It looks to me that there is a shortage of places to take the problem and the Wikimedia Foundation can help solving it by creating the Wikiforum. The Reference Desks would be much more like what you´re saying if the Wikiforum existed, since you could always suggest people to take their opinion questions there and leave the more objective questions here. Whenever there would be a question that at the first sight would look objective but would later be found out to be quite subjective, it could be taken to the Wikiforum as well. Other already existent foruns on the Internet suck. A.Z. 01:47, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

Eric, you missed one part of the discussion. Above my comment saying "most of the questions on RD are actually asking for opinion", there was another comment to which I was responding. Same thing with my post saying "with all due respect, I can´t figure out whether you´re being ironic". I didn´t just say that out of the blue, I was also responding to someone. A.Z. 01:59, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

I was just about to move this myself. Thanks, eric! And, A.Z., just because you think there SHOULD be a wikiforum does not mean you can turn the reference desks into one. Doing so will make actual reference desk work impossible. Please keep this stuff here, or we'll keep moving it. Think of the children! Jfarber 02:07, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
(and, after ec) A.Z., the content removed was in no way related to the actual question. I'm afraid I can't see why you think this means it needs to be either preserved accurately, or should somehow defend a blatant attempt to try to turn the reference desk into a de facto wikiforum just because you think we should have one, and someone else gave you an opening. Sorry to be harsh, but we both let that go on way too far. Take it like, and let it go. Jfarber 02:07, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
You are not being harsh at all, Jfarber.
I never had the intention nor have I ever tried to turn the Reference Desks into the Wikiforum. The Wikiforum should exist on its own and the Reference Desks would only benefit from it.
I must remind you to not use threat as an argument anymore or I´ll...! A.Z. 02:33, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
A.Z., the comments which i removed were from a banned user, see: WP:BAN#Enforcement by reverting edits. I would also second Jfarber's plea to keep discussion such as the above on this talk page, and try not to let it spill over onto the actual desks.—eric 02:14, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
Ok, then. I was only worried that people reading it would think I´m crazy or something, talking to myself on the RD. A.Z. 02:33, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

I can´t find my post on the RD (because there's TWO March 23rds on the Hum desk!)

I made a comment right there under Jfarber´s comment on the Humanities Desk, but I can´t see it right now. Can someone check it, please? I think someone has deleted it. Here is the link with the diff [5] A.Z. 02:43, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

The comment misteriously came back now and my other comment which I had put in the same place when I first saw the original was gone has been deleted now. To whoever added my comment back: I would like the second comment back on the Reference Desk as well, so everyone knows that, for a few hours, my original comment was missing. I´m intrigued by what happened. Does someone have a proper explanation? I can find none of the edits to my comments in the page history. A.Z. 03:20, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

There is some kind of problem w/ the transclusion of Wikipedia:Reference_desk/Archives/Humanities/2007_March_23, there are comments in the archive which don't appear on the desk, and vice versa.—eric 03:26, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
Thank you. I thought it was a conspiracy or something. A.Z. 03:40, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
See changed title -- I think something much more significant may be wrong, as I get the run of March 23 questions TWICE, from start to finish; AZ's first answer is in the secodn set, while his second answer is in the first set, when one scrolls down the page. Jfarber 03:44, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
fixed (hope i didn't lose anything in the process). Looks like the 22nd was archived before the 23rd's date header was added.—eric 03:53, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
Despite all this, it actually was a conspiracy. V-Man - T/C 12:20, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
Normally I would have corrected the headers before the bot got around to archiving them, but I wasn't online, so the problem went unnoticed until after the wrong date headers were already transcluded, so thanks for fixing it--VectorPotentialTalk 17:08, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

IRC chat, PIN number

IRC stands for "Internet relay chat" so "IRC chat" is an error. Plain old "Internet relay chat" would be an improvement. --Yath 05:56, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Right, and "VIN number" would be another example, but does this relate to a specific issue on the Ref Desk ? StuRat 19:39, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
"IRC chat" appears on the project page. It's protected, so I mentioned it here so someone else can fix it. --Yath 19:51, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
I see. StuRat 20:28, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
ATM machine! V-Man - T/C 00:23, 27 March 2007 (UTC)
If you want to make a change to the project page, this can be done through Wikipedia:Reference desk/RD header which is not currently protected--VectorPotentialTalk 00:26, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

Child porn

For better or worse, This post by Mac Davis qualifies as child porn in some jurisdictions (especially since he is still a minor himself). Removal/oversight? Anchoress 07:48, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Removed[6]. Both posts were merely relating personal experiences, not fulfilling the purpose of the Reference Desk and were likely to offend.—eric 08:40, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
I thought it would be a bit helpful, otherwise I would not have posted it, and anything regarding censorship was not to be worried about. Medical pictures of child genitalia are not regarded as illegal child pornography are they? I figured although it isn't the same thing, it isn't exactly child pornography, since it is used to educate. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 17:39, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
The removal was only censorship in the sense that all editors act as censors, removing material that does not improve Wikipedia. If you would like to respond to a question, please make sure that you can provide references to support your answer, or link article content which covers the subject. Relating your personal experiences is not "a bit helpful", but rather the opposite.—eric 18:06, 26 March 2007 (UTC)
Supporting as above for removal of posts that consist of personal anecdote of what some may consider a prurient nature (which I wouldn't equate with kiddie porn). Offering links to pertinent pages provides content-specific information, and queries to clarify that content might better be asked on a particular topic's Talk page. Subsequent failure to get an adequate (or any) response could be followed up by a Reference Desk posting that points to the query.-- Deborahjay 23:41, 26 March 2007 (UTC)

Yes, by all means, let's all ban kitty porn: [7]. StuRat 01:59, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

forgive me but what is this child porn thing about? I will get him traced asap!--Tatshro Satou 16:38, 6 April 2007 (UTC)

Welcome banner

Re Welcome to the XXX reference desk at the top of each page: I'd like to see the words Language, Mathematics, Miscellaneous, Science, etc spelled with initial capitals. JackofOz 03:01, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

Sounds reasonable. StuRat 03:03, 27 March 2007 (UTC)
Fixed it for you; If I caused anything to go wrong, this was the change[8], at Wikipedia:Reference desk/header/leftside. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 04:20, 27 March 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for the quick work, Mac. JackofOz 04:30, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

Ref Desk replies

Should we add to the "How to answer questions" section something about checking to see that your answer is helpful? Recently I replied (a tad bid uncivilly) to an answer that read "Wikipedia does not give medical advice. See the hemeroid article." The anon who asked this question wanted to know how many hemeroids one could have at a time, and this answer did not help anyone, because the article does not mention quantity at all. Somewhere between writing an essay and directing users to articles we need to find a happy balance that gives enough information. - AMP'd 21:14, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

I do feel rather strongly about being so quick to answer medical questions with "Wikipedia does not give medical advice, see the article," but I decided not to say anything there. Of course we should direct them to the article, but I think "does not give medical advice," as an answer, should be used much more discriminately. I have a ton of medical questions I really just don't want to ask here anymore, (they aren't actually asking for medical advice, just random information) and I haven't asked any since the small crisis we had about medical questions around the time when the templates were developed. Perhaps we should have a Help: or a Wikipedia: namespace page on answering questions, or we should write a few wikiessays on it. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 00:33, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
Agreed that the community reaction to questions about health/medicine reveals a need to clarify what is AND WHAT IS not medical advice. My suggestion: the whitepaper/stylepaper suggested below should include clarification about what counts as "advice" and might even give examples of legitimate questions about medicine, bodies, and health issues. That said, I suspect that several issues addressed below -- including the "no speaking from authority" and the request that links or citation (referring people, as in REFERence), would help address where the line between advice and direction might be. Jfarber 12:08, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
That seems to be the sort of thing that needs doing. We need a bit more than:
  • Be thorough. Provide as much of the answer as you are able to.
  • Be concise, not terse. Please write in a clear and easily understood manner. Keep your answer within the scope of the question as stated.
  • Provide links when available, such as wikilinks to related articles, or links to the information that you used to find your answer.
  • Be polite and assume good faith, especially with users new to Wikipedia.
  • The reference desk is not a soapbox. Please avoid debating about politics, religion, or other sensitive issues.
I will now start to use this space to collect ideas to place in a wikiessay that will be written by someone (hopefully me). Everyone who feels strongly about some sort of quasi-policy that we need implemented on the ref desks should add their thoughts below. - AMP'd 01:28, 28 March 2007 (UTC)

No ad hominem arguments

  • No ad hominem arguments. You may challenge statements made by the questioner or a responder (in a civil manner), but may not attack the person who made those statements. StuRat 04:36, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I'm seeing several points here which deal with logical fallacies; perhaps, if this is to be a style-type page, we could look to a SECTION which addresses fallacies in general, with an "especially" listing for clarification? Jfarber 12:04, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
There's really only one logical fallacy (with two manifestations) which is common on the Ref Desk, that's the "I'm right because I'm an expert and you're wrong because you're not" attitude. The "I'm right because I'm an expert" part is called an argument from authority and the "you're wrong because you're not" part is an ad hominem argument. StuRat 16:13, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I disagree; I see plenty of logical fallacies reoccur regularly on the desk. These would include the personal example that "disproves" the rule (also known as "to hell with the facts and evidence, my mother smoked all her life and never got cancer!"), et. al. One of the reasons I have trouble accepting the "all answers/evidence is equally valid" position which others are presenting here, in fact, is that I do not believe this to be true.
(sidenote moved below by request) Jfarber 23:35, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't believe that "all answers/evidence is equally valid", either. I do, however, believe that all evidence should be weighed upon the facts which support it, not the alleged expertise of the person who makes the claim. StuRat 23:07, 28 March 2007 (UTC)

responsibility to provide proof

  • If you disagree with someone, it is your responsibility to provide proof that they are wrong. StuRat 04:29, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I find StuRat's proposed "responsible to prove" requirement unreasonable. It evokes some sort of "chronological imperative" - whereas the identical "requirement for proof" applies in providing any information, whether an initial or subsequent response. Furthermore, it would be liable to add to the contentious nature of Reference Desk reply dynamic. How about if respondents focus on providing either internal and/or external links to support their content? -- Deborahjay 10:46, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
Agree with Deborahjay. The phrasing StuRat uses is too strong, both in relation to how reference works and in terms of this being a "requirement". Additionally, some legitimate reference questions may have multiple answers; we don't want answers to devolve into long, drawn-out fact-throwing contests. But if we're going to write policy/style whitepapers, we should indeed include some sort of language that encourages people to provide links to evidence. Perhaps phrasing like "avoid anecdotal evidence" and "the best answers are those which both answer the question and, wherever possible, link to corroborative resources". Jfarber 12:04, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I think it is appropriate here to link to the logical fallacy of Negative proof. Suppose a questioner asks "Were there ever really any unicorns?" and somebody posts a reply saying "Yes, there were, but six thousand years ago they all relocated to the mirror earth on the other side of the sun." Is it now incumbent on subsequent responders to prove that the first response is false?--LarryMac 13:07, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
While it would be wrong to say "I can prove that unicorns never existed", it would be reasonable to say "there is no evidence that unicorns ever existed", "it is unlikely that unicorns ever existed", or "according to Occam's Razor it is most reasonable to believe that unicorns never existed". StuRat 16:06, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
The other commenters on this have taken the words from my mouth. Such a policy would grant unwarranted protection to the first talking-out-of-the-ass fast-typing-with-no-time-to-think-cite-or-research answer. I'm pretty sure that's not what we want to encourage. It's always reasonable to ask where – or whom – an (uncited) answer comes from. If the only requirement for the first poster is for him to hold the belief that his opinion is correct, there's no reason why a second, disagreeing poster should have to clear a higher bar. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 13:33, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
Agree with others, especially Deborahjay who wrote: the identical "requirement for proof" applies in providing any information. David D. (Talk) 14:16, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I would agree to lowering it to somehow say there is an equal burden of proof on anyone who makes a claim and anyone who disagrees. What I really wanted to avoid is the attitude some have that they can disagree with a claim, without providing any proof that the claim is false, and demand that the claim be retracted (unless the author is willing and able to spend the time to find proof). StuRat 15:51, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I was talking to an astronomer the other day and he told me that there was a teapot orbiting the sun inside venus's orbit. I've provided a source, now it should stand as an authoritative answer to the question 'what orbits the sun inside venus's orbit'... There's a reason we ask for published, peer-reviewed sources where possible, and rate these higher than hearsay or what someone on the desk thinks might be true. For example, I posted a potential answer to the question on saponification on the science desk, however I made it clear that it was a guess based on what I knew. If someone who knows more about saponification, or soap, or industrial practices, comes along and disagrees, or if someone finds some reasonable source that even suggests that saponification experts think this might not be true, I would happily accept I was wrong. Skittle 22:34, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
You appear to be supporting arguments from authority. If so, your comment is in the wrong section. StuRat 23:01, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
OK, here is my attempt to make the statement more balanced:
  • An equal burden of proof lies with the person who makes a claim and anyone who disputes this claim. StuRat 23:14, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I really don't understand why the Ref Desk should differ from the basic premise of contributing to the project: that the burden of evidence lies with the editor who adds material. Note that the above quoted policy uses the word evidence, not proof. This is because in most if not all scientific disciplines, few things can be proved beyond all doubt, they can only be disproved. However, enough evidence can be provided and, if its convincing enough, it can be widely accepted by the scientific community. No one piece of evidence will provide "proof", but the overwhelming weight of evidence will mean the community is in consensus. We should be reflecting that in our answers, not debating the scientific process. The proposal here simply means that in any of these situations someone who holds fringe, or pseudoscientific, beliefs gets a chance to promote these views, then challenge others to "prove them wrong". Its also a license for individuals to opine without any basis in fact, then demand equal recognition because it cannot be disproved. That is not the purpose of a Ref Desk. We should instead be providing Sourced evidence for our all claims, or be willing to retract them when challenged unless. Rockpocket 00:16, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
That policy is written for articles, not talk pages like the Ref Desk. It's obviously not a good idea to allow everyone to remove anything they don't agree with from a talk page, and neither is it a good idea to allow this on the Ref Desk. On talk pages, including the Ref Desk, you should instead state politely that you disagree, and offer any proof/evidence to support your position. Also, many statements are simply unprovable. For example, the recent Language Ref Desk discussion on the shades of meaning of "talk to"/"talk with"/"talk at", which apparently vary by location, would be difficult to answer with references. Thus, under your policy, anyone could make any of the responders take down their answers because "they lack authoritative sources". StuRat 01:33, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
If we are working on the premise that the Ref Desk is a talk page then we should follow talk page guidelines: talk pages should not be used by editors as platforms for their personal views.. In other words, opinions should not be offered. I would only expect individuals to consider removing an answer without sources if it was shown to be misleading by another answer with authoritative sources. I would expect conscientious respondents to do their utmost to focus attention on a definative sourced answer - not fight to maintain an array of opinions to choose from. If a referenced answer cannot be offered, then either (strictly) no answers should be offered or (more realistically) people will offer their best guesses, but the issue of sourcing will not be a problem. I think the importance of us providing sources for all answers is kind of hinted at by the name of the desk. Rockpocket 17:38, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
"Personal views" are not the same as opinions. For example, "at the current rate of advancement, I'd expect the first human clones to be produced somewhere within the next decade" is an opinion, while "clones are an abomination unto the Lord" is a personal view. And, if one claim is disproven by an authoritatively sourced rebuttal, the OP will see that, and there is no need to remove that claim. This avoids having responders fight over what gets removed, and leaves it up to the OP to judge. StuRat 04:28, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

argument from authority

  • Not sure what to make of this. Since this is the reference desk, ideally we're not giving arguments of any kind, we're providing links to references. If citing a known expert in a reliable source is seen as argument from authority, then I disagree strongly. Friday (talk) 15:50, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
  • While mere speculation by experts is an "argument from authority", actual evidence is not. StuRat 15:58, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
  • You don't want sourced speculation by experts, but you do want unsourced speculation by any random editor who happens by?! Friday (talk) 19:16, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
  • I should clarify my previous statement: Mere speculation by experts is not, in itself, an argument from authority, but accepting that speculation as fact because it comes from an expert is. Speculation by experts should be given the same weight as speculation by anyone else, and proof by experts should be given the same weight as proof by anyone else. In other words, we should believe things, or not, based on the facts, not based on who makes the claim. If we don't do this, we end up with experts making false claims that nobody bothers to verify, like Hwang Woo-suk, the South Korean scientist who claimed to have created clones when he did not [9], or Bush claiming to have evidence of WMD in Iraq when he did not. StuRat 22:44, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
  • I'm not familiar with the details but wasn't Hwang Woo-suk's published work an example of people bothering to verify Hwang Woo-suk's work? It is not the job of reviewers, who can only review the data provided to them and explains why the work was published. There is not much a reviewer can do if the data is fake. Hwang Woo-suk's case appears to be more like an example of the system working, not others falling for his argument from authority.
Anyway these are bad examples for the ref desk. It seems to me that scenario you dislike, with regard to an argument from authority, is when people challenge, without proof, the statements and claims made by Joe Blow the conscientious but ignorant user who pulls answers out of a hat without a source. Neither Hwang Woo-suk nor Bush fit into that mold. An easy solution is for users not to pull answers out of a hat. David D. (Talk) 06:14, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Scientist did eventually try to verify Hwang Woo-suk's published work, but not until many years later. His first apparently fraudulent claims go back to February, 1999. When they were first made public, without any scientific proof, they should have been immediately investigated. They were not, since he was taken to be an "expert" who "knew what he was talking about". This allowed him to continue to pull in grant money that might have gone to legitimate research, and continue to publish nonsense, until he was eventually discovered and removed from his job in March, 2006. That's over 7 years, far too long for someone to be taken at their word "because they're an expert", in my opinion. StuRat 14:56, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
This is not an issue of reviewers appealing to his argument from authority but an issue of trust. You don't seem to understand how science works. The whole point of this was that he did present proof but it was fake. A weakness of peer review is you can only review the data that is presented in the paper. If he presented fake data in his papers (I assume he did) it would never be caught by peer review. The peer reviewers job is to address whether the conclusions fit the data in the paper as well as other published results in the field. They also address the quality of the data but they do not address the authenticity of the data. That is done after publication when peers try to replicate the results or use the resources (stem cell lines in this case) for their own experiments. Even when people cannot replicate the results the work is not automatically considered fraudulent. Some proceedures are hard to replicate, maize transformation was a good example of this. David D. (Talk) 20:32, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Our article disagrees with you: "Hwang failed to provide scientifically verifiable data for the research, giving only media sessions and photo-ops". StuRat 04:33, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
But what does that mean? Scientifically verifiable by the scientific community is not a criteria for getting published. And given the article also says "The university announced that Hwang's 2004 and 2005 papers in Science were both fabricated" one could publish anything. Again this is a trust issue, not an argument from authority. You get published based on the quality of the data. I could easily fabricate quality data. The point is that eventually you get caught because you can't keep publishing irreproducible results and be believable. That seven year timeline is not so bad. And actuallly it is only two years from his breakthrough paper on human stem cells. David D. (Talk) 06:05, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
If someone lacking his credentials had attempted to publish the same thing, the mags would have insisted on scientifically verifiable data. StuRat 07:17, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I really doubt it. Anyone in science working in a facility that is set up for stem cell research could get it published. Clearly Joe blogs who has never worked anywhere near stem cells will get red flagged, but that does not mean Hwangs papers were published due to an argument from authority. They were published due to the impact factor of the result.
[forgot to indent this first time] Only once have I seen the journals insist on scientifically verifiable data and that was for Jacques_Benveniste's water memory result (related to homepathic dilutions). Even then the verification was performed after publication. I say again, if the data is fake but looks authentic, it will get through the reviewers. Benveniste's results went against all know reason and hence got red flagged. I don't think anyone thinks that cloning a human is impossible. The red flags only started going up when Hwang made it look easy and his cell lines did not behave as expected. And that is how sceince works so I don;t see a problem. If you really believe that this is an example of an argument from authority then it is not how I would use the term. It sounds like you are saying that experts get published due their authority and not the quality of the data? Is that what you think? David D. (Talk) 07:35, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
(You forgot to sign.) If a scientist can get lies published with no scientifically verifiable data, but a non-scientist can't, that sure seems like an argument from authority to me. They accept his work solely based on his position, not based on the quality of the work. I'd even go so far as to say that someone lacking scientific credentials would have a difficult time getting a truthful paper published, even one packed with scientifically verifiable data. Also, do you recall the case of the hoax paper submitted for presentation at some scientific seminar a few years back ? It was just a bunch of random scientific sounding phrases thrown together to form total nonsense, with the name of a fictitious scientist on it with false credentials submitted. Several people were supposed to have done "peer review" on it, but it was quite apparent that none of them had ever read it, as this nonsense article was approved for presentation and published. This was done specifically to demonstrate how unreliable this "peer review" process really is. StuRat 07:51, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
(actually I forgot to indent. I have put the second paragraph back above your answer) More like the scientists are priviledged to have access to facilities that allow them to do the work. In areas of science that do not require hugely expensive facilities I'd say anyone with data that fits into the body of knowledge and is of good quality will get published. So I disagree with you on that point. Its all about the data and quality of discussion, putting this data into context. The quality fo discussion may well be a stumbling block for anyone but a very good amature since part of being a scientist is knowing the body of knowledge. But having knowledge is not in itself an argument from authority but a mark of experience.
The paper you are talking about was a parody written by a Alan Sokal to ridicule the journal Social text (publishes on social and cultural theories). There was one science paper in the 30's that was successfully published, despite being a parody but in hard science that is about data analysis it is much harder to pass off bullshit through peer review. But a cheat can pass fradulent data through peer review. How do you propose that peer review can catch such cheats? David D. (Talk) 09:05, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I may agree with you, if Wikipedia were a chat board or a panel discussion. But, here on Wikipedia, we don't make our own original evaluations of what the sources are saying in an effort to find the truth. It's about verifiability, not truth. We should use sources. These are old issues- check out WP:NOR and the history for why this is central to what Wikipedia does. Friday (talk) 23:21, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
So you would really take the position that, since Bush was "an expert" (a person in a position to have detailed intelligence info on Iraq), and claimed they had WMD, then we should accept this claim as fact, without proof ? StuRat 23:25, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
Of course not. One of the most fundamental ideas that Wikipedia editors need to understand is that we don't need to say "Bush said it, therefore it's correct." We don't take sides. We just say "Bush said whatever" without asserting that it's true or false. This is what being neutral is all about. The minute we're trying to discover the "truth", what we're doing isn't relevant to Wikipedia. Friday (talk) 23:50, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
In that case, it sounds like we are in agreement on this issue. Unfortunately, there are many who would have said (prior to the Iraq War), that a claim I made that Iraq did not have WMD was less valid than a claim Bush made that there were WMD, solely because he was an alleged "expert". This is the type of thing I want to prevent. StuRat 23:54, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
This is easily solved. Bush's statements will be quoted in reliable sources. Your statements will not. Using sources makes many of our troubles go away. Friday (talk) 23:58, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
Yes, so it is fine to state that "Bush claims Iraq has WMD", as that can be easily verified. However, going to the extra step of saying "...and he is an expert so whatever he says must be true" is what I, and I think just about everybody else, objects to. That's what an argument from authority is and why we should not allow it. StuRat 01:19, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I haven't seen any argument from authority ON THE REFERENCE DESK by Wikipedians themselves. I think this suggested guideline is pretty arbitrary, and we are sure to not fall to any argument from authority, and mention something so that a questioner does not. 05:41, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

We all know about the following parody I presume? It can be found at Wikipedia:Astronomer vs Amateur David D. (Talk) 07:46, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

{{Wikipedia:Astronomer vs Amateur}}

2014 tweak: after seven years of being in the WP:ESSAY category for dispute-resolution, this 2007 archive-page is still getting an average of one pageview per day. I found some useful tidbits here (the real-world explanation of why a wikiforum is not helpful ... since even the debate about whether to *have* a forum for debating devolved into personal attacks and contributors leaving ... was particularly enlightening). Still, I'm guessing that most of the wisdom on this page, can be left to the folks who are googling for this specific wisdom. I've converted the transclude that was commented on as of "15:10, 30 March 2007 (UTC)" to be responsible for the category-problem, but you can still see the transcluded content: just click on the link above.  :-)   HTH. (talk) 20:46, 14 February 2014 (UTC)
The scientist could make the following statements: "There is absolutely no evidence that the Moon is made of any type of cheese", "There is no known mechanism which could produce cheese on the Moon", "There is ample evidence of the composition of the surface of the Moon at certain sample points, and, while this doesn't conclusively prove that the surface composition is uniform, that is the most reasonable conclusion according to Occam's Razor". The scientist did appear to stretch his data a bit far in concluding that the entire Moon has a uniform composition. I'd think it quite likely the core would be composed of different materials, or the same materials in different ratios. Specifically, I'd expect the core to be composed of heavier materials than the surface, and to lack the contribution of meteors and space dust, which are present at the surface. StuRat 15:11, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Strongly disagree. Encyclopaedias are not and should not be written in convoluted legalese. Readers and questioners wish to know what answer to their question stated clearly. They want to know what the scientific community have spent years researching, debating, reviewing before reaching consensus. The comment above highlights perfectly the problems on this desk. The scientist should most certainly not have said that proposed above, he simply should have said that "The moon is not made of green cheese. The composition of the surface of the Moon is X, Y and X (ref)" Any further questioning along the same lines by the amateur is simply a WP:POINT and should be dealt with as such (removal and warning to stop). Finally, what an editor thinks is "quite likely" or what they would "expect" is not helpful to the questioner as it is the analysis of a random web person. According to your own proposed guidelines, since you disagree you should be providing sources that the materials vary, not giving your personal opinion. We don't critique reliable sources here, we report them. That is why reporting the opinion of an independent expert is appropriate, but stating the opinion of an editor is not. Doing so is not an argument from authority. Rockpocket 18:03, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
You think it's reasonable to extrapolate that the core of the Moon must be made of the same materials, in the same ratios, as the surface, without any proof, knowing that this is not the case on Earth ? That's just bad science. StuRat 04:19, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
... and when did you stop beating your wife? That is not what I said, StuRat. The original question/point was nothing to do with the variation in material content between the surface and core. It was to do with whether green cheese is one of those materials. Do you think there is even the faintest probability that there is green cheese on the moon, despite the fact that it has not specifically been proved there isn't? Because that is the impression you are keen to defend. You insist on being shown a succinct, one-lined "proof" before you will accept theories are considered patently incorrect, but science simply doesn't work that way in reality. No matter how elegant a proof might be, there are always a million highly improbable alternatives. With regards to this analogy, one could never prove green cheese is not on the moon unless every speck of dust was analysed. Does that mean we should float the possibility that it could be there? Our job is is to report what the majority/community belief is (and what the minority beliefs are if they significantly held). We most certainly shouldn't be extolling ridiculous improbabilities or playing Devil's advocate for the sake of it. That, my friend, is either the worst of all bad science, or it is someone being a real dick. Either way, it doesn't belong here. Rockpocket 02:10, 1 April 2007 (UTC)

removal of posts

  • No unilateral removal of the posts of others. This should only be done once a consensus is developed on the Ref Desk Talk Page. StuRat 04:40, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I seriously disagree with this as policy, though I like the idea of having a repository for some removed discourse, as has been done on this talk page recently. As we see here on the talk page, there are several types of information which can and should be removed unilaterally, including and most especially things like inappropriate materials (cf kitty porn on this same talk page), obvious policy breaches (unarguably dangerous medical advice, like, say, if someone suggested thsat it was okay to take eight aspirin at a time), question duplication on multiple desks, trolling, and clear examples of ad hominem attacks. For this and other (to be defined?) types of ref desk behavior and language, by the time consensus is reached, it would be far too late; the damage is done. Jfarber 11:54, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I'm in complete agreement with Jfarber. It is a sad fact that one person's personalised attack seems to be another person's 'fair comment'. I take this to be the case from personal experience. Sensible and intelligent editing is an essential part of the Reference Desk, and I am grateful to those who have cut with discretion. Clio the Muse 12:04, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I would have to agree with Jfarber's reasoning. While the RefDesk isn't the firehose of crap that is Special:Newpages, there's certainly a substantial volume of trolling, spamming, and personal attacks—including from long-term editors who ought to know better. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 13:33, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I completely agree with Jfarber, especially this bit: by the time consensus is reached, it would be far too late; the damage is done. David D. (Talk) 14:18, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree with Jfarber too. This has been brought up a number of times, but demanding prior discussion of removal of content simply won't fly on Wikipedia. Friday (talk) 15:47, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
We went round and round and round this block 2-3 months ago. Wikipedia:Reference desk/guidelines is a pretty good compromise and as close to a consensus as we are ever going to get. Is there any point in re-opening this discussion ? Gandalf61 16:10, 28 March 2007 (UTC)

The question may not need to be reOPENED, but it needs to be at least partially RESOLVED... and having a historical page that represents a lack of consensus is neither solution nor resolution for the ongoing problems which prompt this discussion. Without SOME resolution, or at least a clearer consensus on some of these issues, the reference desk's efficacy is limited, because recurring issues get in the way. Having a page that none of us knew about does help speed the way TOWARDS resolution, but leaving it out of sight and unresolved does not address issues that clearly need addressing in a better way. Jfarber 19:08, 28 March 2007 (UTC)

It's always going to be somewhat contentious. What is offensive to one person may be perfectly reasonable to another. Who gets to be the unilateral arbiter of this? I've had posts on this page simply removed because they were contained within a discussion that another person considered an inappropriate discussion. My posts, viewed in isolation, were utterly appropriate and inoffensive, yet they were just removed because someone had a bee in their bonnet. When someone says something offensive in an oral conversation, they may later "withdraw" their remarks, but the remarks remain having been said. They can't be unsaid. They're permanently on the record in the memories of the co-conversationists. Same here. Anyone who wants to go back over the history can find everything that's ever been written here. It cannot be removed, only hidden from current view. Wikipedia works by consensus, not arbitrary removal. JackofOz 23:43, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree. StuRat 23:51, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
Which gets to the core of the dilemma, actually. Can the Ref desk function effectively as a reference desk (i.e. for querents) if there is no consensus among volunteers about acting like they are volunteering at a reference desk? Jfarber 00:08, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
If you mean " consensus in how the Ref Desk should be run", then yes, it can, and has all along. StuRat 01:22, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
That's right. I draw a distinction between having agreed guidelines about how we all should operate, and the removal of posts that are unilaterally deemed contrary to those guidelines. JackofOz 01:35, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree again. StuRat 01:47, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

I think the word "unilateral" has become a bit of a boogieman here. Keep in mind, this is a wiki, and the vast majority of all edits are "unilateral". There's nothing wrong with that. One editor decides he could make an improvement, and he does it. If there's disagreement, we discuss it. Prior discussion is often a good idea with things that may be controversial, certainly. We can disagree on specific cases, but the notion that people should always bring it up first when removing inappropriate content just isn't going to fly on Wikipedia. We don't need bureaucratic paralysis. We just need responsible, reasonable editors who are well grounded in an understanding of the purpose of Wikipedia, and we need to generally give them a fairly free hand. Friday (talk) 18:25, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Unilateral deletions are allowed on articles, yes, but not in talk pages like the Ref Desk, except for reverting rather extreme cases of vandalism, etc. Unilaterally deleting the comments of others from talk pages just because you don't like them is most definitely prohibited. StuRat 04:03, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
StuRat, please put down the strawman. You've been using it for months, and it's actively harmful to productive resolution of this issue. No one is suggesting we ought to "delete the comments of others just because we don't like them". This is ridiculous. We're talking about what's appropriate for Wikipedia, not what we do or don't like. I don't like celery, but an article on celery is appropriate for an encyclopedia. Friday (talk) 16:22, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
(after edit conflict) I kinda agree with that, in principle, Friday. But how would you have reacted if your post had bothered me so much that I just deleted it without any further ado? The general rules for Wikipedia were created with articles in mind, not talk pages and not the ref desk. That's not to say we should ditch all the general rules (NPA, etc), but they don't all apply all the time to talk pages. Talk pages (including this one) are essentially conversations, not the well-polished pieces of prose we hope our articles are/become. Remove one person's contribution to a conversation, and whatever follows is at risk of being meaningless. Removing others' posts can be a valid option, but I would like to think it would hardly ever be the first option chosen. It should be a last resort. JackofOz 04:09, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
There is a HUGE difference in the standard for removals from article pages, where any unilateral removal that you thinks improves the article is just fine, and talk pages, like the Ref Desk, where other people's comments can only be removed if they cause DISRUPTION, which means it prevents Wikipedia from functioning. The removals that have been happening on the Ref Desk go well beyond disruption, and get down to unilateral removals just because the deletionist thinks it improves the section. StuRat 04:13, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
In that kind of a case, I'd imagine that things would continue with Friday questioning your reason for removal, thus entering the consensus process. Of course, it will be a lot different in the case of really new editors who may be bewildered about having an edit removed without explanation, and may not know what to do about it. V-Man - T/C 04:30, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Agreed. That is why, at a very minimum, the author of any removed post should be notified on their talk page, and directed to both the location of the removal and the proper place to lodge any objections or ask any questions about the removal. Unfortunately, the deletionists rarely do this properly, leaving the author totally confused as to why they can't find their post. StuRat 04:08, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Unilateral removal of inappropriate questions or responses by others is not prohibited but should not be done lightly and not without informing the author of the deleted post. There cannot be a rule prohibiting this. There can be a rule suggesting the author of the deleted post be informed of the deletion. The ref desk is not a protected free speech zone. -- Rick Block (talk) 04:37, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Informing the author should be an absolute minimum mandatory requirement. I've had posts removed without any communication with me whatsoever, and I just stumbled around for a while until I worked out by myself that what I had written was now no longer there. That is simply unacceptable. What ever happened to "assume good faith"? JackofOz 09:00, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Although it doesn't sound like it from the tone, the words sound like you're agreeing. The point is "removal only by consensus" is entirely unworkable (for reasons stated above, mainly timeliness). Nobody's words at the ref desk are so precious that they must be kept sacrosanct. The way it works is anybody is free to post whatever they'd like, but anybody else is free to remove anything they consider to be unacceptable. Conflicts regarding what is unacceptable need to be worked out on this talk page (not on the ref desk itself), generally with the comments in question removed. The fear (I think I have this right) is that this procedure may lead to censorship and cause some regular contributors to stop contributing. There's a false dichotomy promoted by some users between inclusionists and deletionists. The reality is anyone who regularly removes comments that most people would find acceptable is going to be told to stop it and if they don't will ultimately end up being blocked for disruption. Anyone who persistently posts comments that most people find unacceptable is also going to be told to stop it and if they don't will ultmately end up being blocked for disruption. -- Rick Block (talk) 22:25, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

questions which ask for opinion

  • Answer any question that isn't trolling. Even if someone is asking for an opinion on some problem, that is no reason to respond immediately with "no soapboxing". I know that many a good discussion has been ruined when someone came through and tried to make the ref desks pure factual response. I do realize that removal of obious trolling and soapboxing needs removal, but there is no reason to deny us some intelligent discussion. - AMP'd
  • I agree. StuRat 15:53, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
  • I don't agree with this. Intelligent discussion of the world in general is outside the scope of Wikipedia. We have enough work to do with things that are within our scope, so we should not go out of our way to encourage inappropriate content. This is the reference desk, not the chat desk or the opinion desk. Friday (talk) 15:45, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Disagree. The proposed style suggestion is too broad; as Friday notes, "good discussion" is not something the majority of us believe the reference desk is for. Though there are certainly ways to address questions which ask for opinion by providing links to articles which enumerate the debate on both sides -- see, for example, the recent responses to the question Abortion, pro or con -- there are just as certainly some types of questions which do not belong on reference desks. The ongoing debate here about what is and what is not legitimate "reference desk help" is relevant, but until we resolve it, I doubt we'll get consensus on an "answer any question" standard, nor would I support one. Jfarber 15:54, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Answer, not Discuss! The prime directive on a Reference Desk is providing information. And while I support swift removal of overtly bad faith queries, I'm an inclusivist: I believe that subverting trollish questions or those on "taboo" topics, for the sake of providing valid information so that countless knowledge-seeking lurkers might benefit from reading it, is A Good Thing. -- Deborahjay 16:13, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I note, for the sake of accuracy, that IMHO Deborahjay and I are actually answering the same way, here -- as our similar examples demonstrate. Clearly, there is a similar middle ground that both of us support; just as clearly, the way AMP'd's suggestion is currently phrased goes too far as a point of policy. Jfarber 18:00, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
(sidenote, moved from above by request: I am MOSTLY an inclusivist as an encyclopedia builder, but NOT as a Ref Desk volunteer. The problem with PURE inclusivism (where Deborahjay and I seem to differ) as a strategy for a space in which each person has equal ability to add a separate answer, and most folks won't bother adding their voice if their answer would be identical, is that it creates an ILLUSION that, once several answers show up, each is supported equally by both evidence and by the total number of volunteers who have seen that question whether or not they answered it. In other words, in a space like THIS -- and NOT in an article built over time -- REFERENCE standards cannot and should not parallel wikipedia ENTRY standards exactly, because the media are different....and here, the short-term frame for answering makes too easily allows any fact and any answer equal weight. Jfarber 19:24, 28 March 2007 (UTC) moved here from above by Jfarber 23:59, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
Clarification of my position: Inclusive of query topics; responses to be held accountable for complying with WP standards, e.g. those being promoted in this discussion. The OPs are often coming from outside, whereas respondents quite often are Wikipedians, meaning (a) they ought to know what they're doing, and (b) if not, are due for a comment on their User talk page (rather than cluttering up the query/response discourse with accusations, etc.). -- Deborahjay 00:13, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
May I point that the first words of yours in all capital letters add to the phrase MOSTLY NOT PURE: ILLUSION. THIS NOT REFERENCE. (unfortunately, I think there might be the need to say: this was just a joke!) A.Z. 00:07, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Disagree. I strongly feel that if we allow 'discussion' on the reference desks, they will not exist 6 months later. Skittle 22:36, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
  • I agree. I don't know which arguments I'm going to insert here, but, for now, I have a question: may I ask how Jfarber's sentence "good discussion is not something the majority of us believe the reference desk is for" is not appeal to authority? Well, it was a rethorical question. The fact is it is appeal to the authority of the majority. I'm just pointing it, so everyone can know. I have nothing against you, Jfarber, only against your argument! I has previously wrote it was ad hominem argument because I thought this encompassed appeal to authority. Anyway, what I mean is that the argument does not say a thing about the subject of the discussion. Both Ad hominem and appeal to authority don't say a thing about the subject. They are just not worth anything. worth nothing. A.Z. 23:31, 28 March 2007 (UTC)
I've been hitting edit conflict after edit conflict while AZ goes back in and changes his answer. I believe my originally written response to an accusation of ad hominem attack STILL counts, though, because the later accusations demonstrate exactly the misunderstandings about what the Ref desk should be for in the first place. To wit: I believe an appeal to majority, to authority, and to community consensus when we are discussing what WE should BE is a perfectly legitimate, nay necessary, aspect of the discussion. The difference between what we're doing HERE and what the Reference Desk is FOR is the very issue at hand; not recognizing that the basic parameters for discussion MUST be different in talk pages and Ref desk pages is actually quite bothersome. See below for my orig. response to AZ; after that, I'm wiping my hands and out for a while. Jfarber 00:01, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
No more monkeys jumping on the bed Reference Desk!
Hey, that monkey's writing Hamlet! Hard to see from this angle, though...
  • Comment: There's nothing a troll hates more than to have its trolling turned into lovely flowers. Sometimes, ya just can't turn troll-scat into flowers, and you just have to flush it down the toilet. As far as opinions and speculation go, I'd say that kind of thing would be acceptable if it were backed up by well-cited reliable sources; otherwise answers could take on the form of infinite monkeys. V-Man - T/C 23:57, 28 March 2007 (UTC) PS: preview is a nice feature...
Yes, indeed, Infinite Monkeys: very well put, V-Man! There was a discussion recently on the Humanities Desk, of all places, on breast fixations, if I remember rightly, and another on incest, which showed every sign of taking on this particular form. Clio the Muse 00:11, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

- - :: For what it's worth, original response to AZ's deleted public ridicule of me follows:

- - ::Certainly others would be better suited to decide if I accidentally attacked the person instead of the idea. But I think you may misunderstand what an ad hominem attack IS, A.Z. An ad hominem attack in debate is an attack on the person; I did not attack YOU. Instead, this is intended to be a discussion about what we think the reference desk is FOR, and as such, community consensus (what most people want) and factual definitions (what the/a ref desk IS, both in name and in framing text) both matter. (To be fair, I suppose it would be a logical fallacy of a different kind if I cited "the majority" without evidence, and it would be inappropriate to do so by my own standards on the ref desk pages. But this is not the ref desk, and I do indeed believe I could count opinions here after a month or three.) Nothing personal, A.Z.... :-) Jfarber 23:54, 28 March 2007 (UTC)

  • Since people here have been granted the AUTHORITY of one vote each, I will use my AUTHORITY (my vote) in the following manner: I will not ever support any change whatsoever to the Reference Desk unless Jfarber and Friday and all other editors involved support the change. If at the end you see that a true consensus has not been reached, change my vote to do nothing. A.Z. 00:06, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Jfarber + Friday = JFriday! ^_^ V-Man - T/C 00:46, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Hmm. I don't remember saying anything about voting in regards to authority. Did I miss something I said? Because I thought the "authority" in wikipedia STYLE discussions was collaborative, consensual, discursive, and ongoing. And I also could have sworn I said that appeals TO authority are necessary PARTS of a DISCUSSION. Not sure how declarative threats came out of that. And I can't figure out how voting came into it. Weird. See you all on the desk. Jfarber 00:09, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I think the opinion of the majority is not in any way related to the truth about what is best for us to do and therefore there should not be any appeal to it on this and any discussion. This is my argument. Please, explain to me how can authority an appeal to the opinion of the majority ever be necessary and ask for any clarifications if you did not understand this argument. A.Z. 00:29, 29 March 2007 (UTC) And an appeal to the majority is just counting the votes and then saying this count is your argument. So you give every vote some authority. I find it disturbing when people appeal to the majority, since I do not understand the importance of the opinion of the majority and I can't reply to this argument, being that it's not an argument at all! I see you did not reply to my post above and I find this fact very disturbing. You believe in consensus. You care about my opinion and other people's opinion. What are other people and I going to think when they see you are just not responding to other people in the middle of an important discussion? Can you please say that my argument is wrong or say that my argument is right or say that you did not understand my argument or say that you don't know whether you understood it and whether it's right or wrong? You can even say you are not going to answer because you don't feel it's important or you feel it's too stupid for you to answer. But not answering to someone's argument is most disruptive to a discussion, since you just make the discussion stop and totally prevent consensus from ever happening. A.Z. 13:54, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
(Killer irony.) Consensus is a very comprehensive ideal in Wikipedia, and A.Z. is referring to it to show how difficult consensus may become at times, especially in hair-splitting situations like this. V-Man - T/C 00:15, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Strongly agree - I am a strong supporter of answering every question that isn't trolling. Free distribution of information is what Wikipedia is about, and this includes opinions, especially of the very intelligent people that are normally the editors with the highest edit counts and are answering questions on the reference desk. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 05:52, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Are you really saying you think there is a correlation of intelligence with edit count? David D. (Talk) 01:00, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Shouldn't the title of this section be "questions that ask for opinion"?

What we have so far

This section will be updated frequently as more useful suggestions are added. The guidelines expressed here are those that have "passed" (i.e. have very little to no opposition) - AMP'd 00:46, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

No logical fallacies especially ad hominem attacks and use of argument from authority. - StuRat

Doesn't this go without saying if the point is not to debate, but to provide reference service? Jfarber 00:59, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Unfortunately, not for everyone - AMP'd 01:03, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
The paradox of policy. We create it because we think some people won't know how to behave without it. But in real life, all it means is we get people misbehaving and ruleslawyering about how the policy says they allowed to do what they're doing. Friday (talk) 01:15, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Yes, but that's just an argument not to have any policy at all, and we don't want that, do we ? StuRat 01:35, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Not sure how this is different from being civil, and just not being an idiot and saying you're a professor and you know what you're talking about while everybody else is wrong. You must prove what you know other ways. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 05:44, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
That's mostly what it is. Unfortunately, that behavior appears to be widespread on the Ref Desk (and Wikipedia in general), so we need a specific rule to point to when people engage in such actions. StuRat 14:42, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Meaningless, no argument, no debate, fallacious or otherwise.—eric 14:57, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
This item applies to citing sources. For example, can I site as proof of Iraq WMD that Bush made that claim ("argument from authority") ? Or should proof of WMD only include things like satellite photos showing Iraqi missile tests with gas clouds at the impact site ? Logic errors don't only occur in debates. StuRat 15:52, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
The example you give is probably more an issue of NPOV and RS, though if your wording was "do not mis-represent your source" or some such i'd agree. That is already covered in the verifiability policy (or attribution or whatever it's called today) though isn't it?—eric 16:36, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't know if it is, but, if so, many of the Ref Desk volunteers don't seem to be aware of this policy, or that it applies to the Ref Desk, because I continue to see arguments from authority and the reverse, ad hominem arguments, made there. Hence the need to make it clear that this is unacceptable. StuRat 17:20, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

An equal burden of proof lies with the person who makes a claim and anyone who disputes this claim. Or, provide sources. - StuRat Not sure what you mean- the second statement very obviously has plenty of opposition. If you are trying to draft a guideline, you may wish to have a look at Wikipedia:Reference desk/guidelines which had extensive input from many different editors. Friday (talk) 00:53, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

I see nowhere that citing sources in the manner Stu describes is looked down upon. I belive that any opposition was to StuRat's previous statement which said that the burden of proof lies with those attempting to oppose a claim. - AMP'd 00:56, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
See RockPocket's objection to this above, though. StuRat's attempt to restate what we had been discussing in that section has only been up a few hours; I don't think it's got the same consensus behind it as the "no logical fallacies" argument. My primary objection here is to the idea of "burden of proof", which sounds punitive; I prefer an encouragement to source our answers, which helps remind us that we are here to refer folks to extant, citable fact in the first place wherever possible. Jfarber 00:59, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
*Sigh* And I had hoped the revolution would be quick and bloodless. - AMP'd 01:03, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I'm with Jfurby on this one. It is better to politely request a source and be okay with a refusal than to demand it and try to punish a refusal. In my own experience, sources flow more easily with a friendly reminder, especially from me. V-Man - T/C 01:52, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I certainly never meant to imply that either a responder or a person who challenges a response should "demand" a source, quite the opposite, a polite request is all that should be allowed. What in my phrasing gave this misimpression ? I'd like to change it, whatever it is. StuRat 02:00, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
The demand is more an inference than an implication; (if nobody else sees it so, forgive my near-sightedness...) if giving sources for answers is a policy, there may be more "tsk-tsk"ing and finger-pointing on omission; as common sense, people will be more apt to request and provide sources, and then not raise alarms when a source is refused. It would make for a more friendly atmosphere, to be sure. V-Man - T/C 23:58, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
The problem is that there are those who think sources should be required only for replies, and not for challenges to those replies. The burden of proof (and disproof) should be shared equally. StuRat 03:56, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree, and add that we should all be okay if another person decides not to share it; the only person we ought to worry about is ourselves. V-Man - T/C 01:36, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
You interpret this debate differently to me StuRat. I have never said that "I think sources should be required only for replies, and not for challenges". In fact I'm not sure anyone has said this. What people are saying is that when replies are not sourced don't be surprised if people ask for a source. And if no source can be provided then that says a lot about the reliability of the answer, especially if the challenger has made an honest effort to find a source too. To expect the challenger to write a rebuttal to the claim made in a reply is not justified IF there are no sources for the given claim. If replies have sources, even if they are unreliable, i believe any challenger should have sources to counter the first unreliable source. David D. (Talk) 02:40, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I didn't say that you said "I think sources should be required only for replies, and not for challenges". But there are those, Friday included, who seem to feel that way. Specifically, I made a statement that when passenger pigeons gathered in dense clouds at mating time, dozens could be killed with a single shotgun blast. I had heard that on a PBS documentary some years ago, but had no inclination to spend hours looking through transcripts in an attempt to find it, as it was only incidental to the actual question. Friday, however, felt he/she could demand that I provide proof or retract it, despite not having any reason to dispute the claim. In the end, I, and others, found evidence, but I considered this to be a waste of our time, as Friday's challenge was absolutely baselsss. This is the type of thing I would like to prevent. StuRat 04:00, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
If you remember I was the one that found the reference to 50 killed in one shot. But, while the source did have the quote of 50 in one shot it also said that the exact number was debated. It was discussed in the context of fishermen that exaggerate the size of their catch. The critical thing here is that while the number is sourcable its truth is debated. This is very relevant to the OP and that is why the source should have been found. It did not take me long to find it (a few minutes). I'm unclear why you think it is a waste of time to find the source? David D. (Talk) 07:10, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Even if the actual number was half the 50 claimed, that would still be "dozens". The reason it was a waste of time to look this all up is the question had nothing to do with how many passenger pigeons were killed with a single shotgun blast, that was entirely incidental. If that was the Q, then it might have been worth spending all that time. As it was, however, it was just a distraction from answering other Q's. StuRat 07:21, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
The rush to answer more questions is half the problem. As they say Haste makes waste but i shouldn't cry over spilled milk David D. (Talk) 07:48, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
If I have to provide sources on everything I mention in passing, whether it's what the OP actually asked about or not, when anyone wants to bring up a baseless challenge, then I would be slowed down dramatically, yes, while the person who makes baseless challenges, not bothering to do any research themself, can go on to make thousands more such baseless challenges and waste the time of many others. All we need is an "equal burden of proof" requirement to eliminate this. StuRat 08:07, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree, and since the person answering the question has the same burden of proof why are we always having this discussion? There would be no challenges without citations if the first to answer did so with a citation. To complain about being asked for a citation when none is given is strange. Certainly such a challenge is not baseless since if no citation can be provided is says a lot about the answer. The OP can take it or leave it but at least they know their answer could be unreliable. David D. (Talk) 08:40, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
But you forget that the challenger wants the response removed, unless a citation can be found to support it, even though they have no citation to support their challenge. The OP can't make their own decision after the response has been removed. StuRat 20:25, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
I think references are handled fine now, but you can always have more. A person should definitely relook up something that is disputed, so we can be sure. If one is wrong, they are doomed to repeat the same mistake of providing incorrect information again later either on the Wikipedia or in their other life (what other life exactly?) It must be understood that the information supplied is dubious or disputed, or incorrect. If it is correct, then let that be known as well, and the challenger did a good job in making sure the facts were checked. Also, lack of evidence does not imply non-existence, and references can also be wrong. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 05:48, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
The problem is when people make baseless challenges. That is, they have absolutely no reason to doubt a claim, and certainly no evidence that it is false, but challenge it nonetheless, expecting the person who made the claim to spend the time finding evidence or retract the claim, when they themselves are unwilling to spend the time finding evidence to dispute the claim. This can often be used as a way to "get even" with people they dislike, and also appears to violate WP:AGF. See this thread for an example: [10]. StuRat 15:23, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Agh! How could they think of that? That's absolutely evil. I don't think the challenger should be looking for only evidence to dispute the claim—it's not a debate where one side is absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong no matter what evidence or logic is put into play—the challenger should be willing to retract his challenge if his researching tells him he is wrong. But that could be too utopian. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 18:16, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Exactly, Mac Davis. What about when people make baseless claims in the first place. A claim without evidence is as useless as a counter claim without evidence. A counterclaim with evidence - irrespective whether it proves another, unsourced claim is wrong - is useful however. I think its entirely reasonable to expect every claimant and counterclaimant to "spend the time finding evidence or retract the claim" since we are supposed to be providing reliable, sourced information for our readers. We need to get away from the idea of "challengers". This isn't a debating chamber or discussion forum, and defending your claim shouldn't be an issue. Its about providing the best sources of verifiable information to answer a question. If you don't provide any verification for your answer then it shouldn't get any protection whatsoever. Rockpocket 18:41, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
People will stop defending their claims only when others stop attacking those claims, which is to say, never. We don't even yet require proof of every statement in Wikipedia articles, much less on the Ref Desk, as such proof is often difficult, or even impossible, to find (especially online proof, in English, from a reliable source, which everyone can verify, without a subscription). And weak evidence, which relies on argument from authority (the speculation of "experts"), isn't really any better than no evidence at all. StuRat 03:52, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
The problem with this is that "attacking those claims" appears to be defined as "providing sourced evidence that counters an unsourced opinion". That is not an attack, it is an example of what we should be providing. Your argument that "proof is difficult to find" is a non-starter. We are not asking for "proof", we are asking for sourced evidence. When someone else has provided such sourced evidence, then there is no basis for that argument. Any reliable source, no matter how "weak" in your opinion, is more useful than than the opinion of some random web editor. If there are no sources in a claim, there is nothing of worth to "defend" for the sake of our readers.
Consider what you are proposing in the context of a library Reference Desk. A student comes to the librarians and asks them how to find some information on quantum physics. One librarian says, "Well, its difficult for me to try and find some references for you, but personally I think the answer is X". Another librarian takes the time to go into the library and finds a book that provides some evidence in support of a different answer. In presenting it, he notes that it isn't definitive, but its the best available. If the first librarian took her job description seriously, she would say one of two things. Either

"It looks like my colleague found an appropriate source that suggests I'm incorrect. You should take that information instead of my opinion. After all, I'm a mere librarian, my opinion is not a reliable information source".


You know, I'm pretty sure there are sources that provide better support for my answer, let me take the time to find them for you and thereby legitimise my answer.

Instead - and this is what you are proposing as valid for this desk - the first librarian actually says, "That source doesn't prove me wrong, and its only the opinion of some expert anyway. Plus its pretty weak evidence, in my opinion. My answer, although unsubstantiated and only the opinion of a librarian, is equally valid and thus you should consider that as equally informative when writing your paper, instead of using the book provided". Do you think the first librarian would last long on any self respecting library? No. Indeed, one would be forgiven for thinking the first librarian is more interested in showing off their knowledge (or lack thereof) than simply doing their job on a reference desk. Rockpocket 05:16, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

I have a slightly different view of where StuRat is coming from:
Some student walks into the library and ask how to find some information on quantum physics.
First Librarian: "Well, its difficult for me to try and find some references for you, but personally think the answer is X".
Second Librarian overhears this answer: "Actually that does not sound like a valid answer, do you have a source for it?"
First Librarian: "Well no, i don't have a source but its really your job to prove me wrong"
Second Librarian returning from stacks: "Well I had a look on the shelves and i can't find any source that corroborates your answer. Are you sure you didn't just make up the answer?" <-- There is the attack!
First Librarian: "Look, you really should not be challenging my answer if you cannot be bothered to find a source that proves me wrong."
Second Librarian: "Well I did look but there is no mention of your claims in the books. I don't have time to research a response to your claim right now. I think it would be better if you just point the students to the books we have on the shelves." <-- attack number two.
First Librarian: "But how do we know these books are any good? My answer is probably as good as any in the books we have here. Besides i am much more efficient at answering the students questions if I don't have direct each student to an actual book."
Second Librarian: " ... to be continued ... " David D. (Talk) 06:49, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
OK, here's my take on it (Rockpocket, this is not referring to our recent dispute, but others I've had):
OP: I was at the Henry Ford Museum and noticed that the car in which JFK was assassinated has foggy windows. Why is that ?
Me: It's because the bullet-proof glass they installed has delaminated, and there is now water vapor between the layers.
Skeptic: Do you have an authoritative source for that claim ? If not, you should retract that claim immediately.
Me: I'm quite sure that's correct, but don't recall the source, no. Do you have any evidence to refute the claim ?
Skeptic: No, but I don't need to have evidence, only those who give answers need to have evidence.
Me: I disagree, if you want me retract the claim, let's see some evidence that it's wrong. StuRat 22:41, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
I'd have two issues with this interpretation. Firstly, and somewhat beside the point, it seems a strange thing to be so sure of such an obscure fact without being aware of how you are sure it is correct. Personally, I'm not comfortable saying I'm sure of anything unless I have a reliable memory of how I learned it. That in itself is an appeal to authority of sorts: "I'm sure I'm correct, and you should just take my word for it without questioning".
Secondly, and more to the point, there is a key difference between your scenario and David D's / mine. The difference is that in your scenario neither you nor the skeptic bothered to provide reliable sources. Therefore the skeptic has no more justification to demand anything of you than you have a right to demand your answer is valid. Both your comments are fine on a discussion board, but innapropriate here, because they are not providing reference to a reliable answer. What would your response be if the skeptic had provided evidence for the fact no bullet-proof glass had been installed? I ask that because previous experience tells me you would have considered the source (or not even that) then have insisted your interpretation was correct and called into question the validity or "strength" of the sourced evidence. Its this behaviour - when you don't have any sources of your own - that I have a problem with. Our job as a ref desk volunteers is to provide reliable information, not critique it. Even weak sourced evidence is better than no sources at all. That said, I don't blame you for being annoyed at said skeptic's behaviour, but if we treated this place like a proper reference desk and stuck to providing references to begin with, then that sort of response wouldn't be something you would have to deal with. Rockpocket 00:17, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, if the expert source said something like "the car weighs less than expected, one possibility being that it does not have bullet-proof glass installed", and the skeptic implied that this was absolute proof that bullet-proof glass was never installed, I don't think I'd be anxious to retract my claim, no. StuRat 03:45, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Also, I know all sorts of facts without knowing the source. For example, I know the capital of Sri Lanka is Colombo, but have absolutely no idea where I first acquired that knowledge. Do you claim to have memorized a source for every bit of data in you brain ? StuRat 03:45, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Generally, if one knows the answer it is trivial to find a reliable source. We don't need to know where the user acquired the information unless there is no known source for that information. If there is no known source then it should probably not be on the ref desk. David D. (Talk) 04:02, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't agree that it's always trivial to find a reliable source. There are many reliable sources which aren't online, which means going to libraries and researching the info. This is not trivial. There are many other sources which are online, but not easy to find, such as if there are no unique keywords to use in a search. For example, searching for the lyrics of an obscure song named "I Love You", when you don't know the author, would return many thousands of hits for more popular songs with the same name, or even "I Love You" in the lyrics, and sifting through them could be a monumental task. Thus there is a huge difference between there not existing a reliable source and the responder not being able to produce a reliable source. StuRat 06:09, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
You'll note I said generally it is trivial, clearly there will be a few examples of an answer that cannot be found online or in your own library at home. Certainly your example is trivial and certainly we don't need to know your original source for the information, any source will do. Not sure why you give this song example, maybe I missed your point? Since you don't know the lyrics you don't know the answer. (i assume the question is what are the lyrics for an obscure song called ILY?). If you did know the answer and hence the lyrics, you could find the song. What is the problem here? David D. (Talk) 06:37, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I disagree that it's generally trivial, I'd say it's rarely trivial. For example, none of the books still under copyright are available online (at least legally), so many literature questions can't be sourced online. Perhaps the OP asked about a song with a particular plot in it "this man follows this woman around the world asking her to marry him, and she finally does" and wants to know the title. I then respond that it sounds familiar, I recall a song named "ILY" with that general plot. Unfortunately, I don't recall the singer or exact lyrics, so can't find it (this example is fictitious). Even when I think I know the lyrics, a search often fails, because I have a word or two wrong (i.e., "I'm headed to the beach" versus "I'm going to go to the shore"). StuRat 06:49, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
i don't answer the literature questions so i have no opinion on how hard it is. For science it is pretty trivial if you have an inkling. In the scenario you paint for the ILY song it sounds like you don't know the answer. Could you be sending the OP on a wild goose chase? David D. (Talk) 07:16, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Keep in mind that any rules developed here must apply to all Ref Desks, not just Science. Answers often come in stages. That answer might trigger the next person to say, "Oh yea, I remember that song, wasn't that sung by X ?", and then another editor does the search and uses that singer to find the lyrics the OP wanted. StuRat 07:25, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I can buy that argument. Basicaly it depends on the question so common sense has to come into play here. David D. (Talk) 09:19, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Your idea of a personal attack, and mine, are somewhat different, David D. "Are you sure you didn't just make up the answer?" is a little impertinent, but there's no direct accusation there. It's a question. "I think it would be better if you just point the students to the books we have on the shelves" sounds like a constructive suggestion to me. How is that an attack? JackofOz 09:04, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

There is some confusion here. I was not calling it a personal attack. I was referring to StuRats comment of "attacking those claims". Certainly that is not a personal attack. I agree your latter approach of requesting the librarian to point the students to the books we have on the shelves is the way to go. David D. (Talk) 14:11, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
It would be pretty difficult for assuming editors to take those as personal attacks indeed. Much of what causes strife around here is simply editors taking innocuous remarks or questions as attacks, as if they want the drama. The best way to keep this place peaceful is to shrug off our instincts of combat and just be chill with whatever others deign to contribute. V-Man - T/C 09:26, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Non-assuming editors are ipso facto operating outside one of the basic guidelines of Wikipedia. They are the ones who are breaking the rules, and it is they to whom any sanctions should be directed, not the alleged perpetrators of other rules against whom they, the non-assuming editors, have taken unilateral action. JackofOz 11:29, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Saying "You're making that up" is a violation of WP:AGF, and phrasing it in the form of a question doesn't avoid that. After all, does asking "Are you having sex with your mother ?" make this any more acceptable, because it's in the form of a question ? StuRat 22:50, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
If no evidence for the claim can be found and the user can provide no evidence for the claim, it is a perfectly valid question. An honest answer will provide the OP all the information s/he needs to judge the reliability of the answer. David D. (Talk) 01:19, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Perhaps the question could be dealt with as a personal attack if it were loaded; i.e., "when did you start having sex with your mother?" or "Does your father know that you're having sex with your mother?" V-Man - T/C 01:33, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

What eric thinks we really have so far

The wiki process to determine content, content must be written from a neutral point of view, the threshold for inclusion is verifiability, avoid original research, Wikipedia is not a soapbox, a social networking site, or a discussion forum, are "what we have so far". If someone would like to challenge any of these policies or guidelines then the appropriate place is at those talk pages, not here.—eric 15:11, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Exactly. I'd only add that these notions are sufficient entrenched and well-accepted that there's really no point anyone challenging them. Oh, and don't bother arguing that the reference desk is "different"- check the URL, it's part of Wikipedia, whether you want it to be or not. Friday (talk) 15:17, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Talk pages, including the Ref Desk, have different standards than articles. Verifiability, while nice, is not required in talk pages. NPOV only applies to articles, although even they sometimes have "arguments for" and "arguments against" sections, which each give a single POV. Original research is allowed on talk pages. In the Language Ref Desk, especially, most of the questions on the shades of meaning of words must rely on OR. (What would be the alternative, exactly, a survey of 1100 people in each linguistic region, with proper statistical analysis on the exact shades of meaning of each word ?) Discussion is also fine on talk pages, that's what "talk" is, after all. If discussion wasn't allowed, they would be called "fact pages" or some such thing. While I agree that "soapboxing" is not allowed, there seems to be some confusion over what this is. A statement that "Communism is the ideal form of government" followed by their reasons, is, while the question "What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of communism versus other economic systems ?" followed by responses giving the advantages and disadvantages (and some debate over the correctness of each response), is not soapboxing, but an attempt to give a legit answer. And, while Wikipedia is not a social networking site, a certain amount of socialization, on talk pages, like the Ref Desk, is needed to foster a sense of "community", which is vital to any online site. For example, getting an occasional "thank you" from the OP is likely to encourage volunteers to continue to contribute. StuRat 15:39, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

No. I have personally pointed out to you several times the stuff at Wikipedia:Talk_page_guidelines#Maintain_Wikipedia_policy. I'm not making this up. We really do need to observe core content policies, even on talk pages. I'm frankly amazed that you keep asserting otherwise, after the countless times you've been referred to the guidelines that explain all this. Friday (talk) 15:44, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
It's just a "guideline", and also states "There is reasonable allowance for speculation, suggestion and personal knowledge with a view to prompting further investigation...". It also appears to be talking specifically about talk pages for an article, not talk pages like the Ref Desk or user talk pages. It would be absurd to say that those things are prohibited on user talk pages, for example. "No listing your location unless you have an authoritative source to prove it !". I'm frankly surprised that you continue to wikilawyer and misapply this guideline. StuRat 16:03, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
It's not a talk page. It's not within the the talk namespace, it's linked from the main page, we field a number of questions from those who are new to wikipedia, and the name "Reference Desk" itself should give everyone some idea of it's purpose. If the Wikipedia community had the impression that this was just a talk page, i think that main page link would go away fairly quickly and the reference desk would be listed on MfD soon after.—eric 16:23, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
It's not within "mainspace", with the articles, either, as Ref Desk edits aren't considered to be "mainspace edits". StuRat 17:16, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, if the RDs are not talk pages then Friday's pointer to Wikipedia:Talk_page_guidelines is irrelevant anyway. And if we can't even agree on what sort of page the RDs are, then I don't see how we can agree on anything. And I think the RDs were already listed on MfD a few weeks back (here), but the debate was speedily closed, IIRC. Gandalf61 16:37, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Hence my concern: the ref desks are NEITHER Talk pages NOR wikipedia entry pages, and as such, we need to figure out/come to consensus on what reference IS before we can take on style suggestions. Looking at the archived discussion from several months ago, I think it, too, sufferered from a similar lack of definition of the fundamental terms, and maybe that's why it never went anywhere. So I'll try to get the ball rolling... (Jfarber 16:47, 29 March 2007 (UTC))

Figuring out what a reference desk is NOT will help us start figuring out what it IS...

I reject the false dichotomy, and encourage others to try to transcend the interpersonality that is endemic TO talk pages (and is therefore appropriate here), for just a moment, while I try to explain what I mean to say.
First: Friday and eric may not realize it, but it is both a dismissal and a straw man to suggest that we are challenging policies which apply to wikipedia entries, and that therefore we should address our concerns in those policy spaces.
Because although SOME of those policies apply to ALL spaces in wikipedia, some apply specifically to the writing of wikipedia ENTRIES. For example, the issue of consensus need not apply for a given paragraph; on the reference desks, multiple answers, or partial answers, get to stand on their own, while on article pages, these eventually evolve into a single entry, OR into two discrete entries. For another example, consensus does not exist on, say, the page about what barnstars are. Special pages are special pages; community standards apply; content-driving standards relate to what the page is for.
In other words: it is NOT true that the reference desk are a talk page. THIS is a talk page. But the reference desk is not an article space, either.
The wiki process to determine content which eric cites is specifically designed to maximize potential success for wikipedia ENTRY content -- which can be created over time, which can be slowly tweaked by a group consensus process, and which results in a single document which represents the current state of community agreement to the extent that such things can exist. Reference content shares few of these attributes. Therefore, rules designed to maximize potential for Wikipedia entry spaces may or may not be successful rules for the reference desks.
The question, then, becomes WHICH wikipedia-wide standards SHOULD apply, and which would not make sense given the different nature of the medium of "reference desk". It's too easy, and too wrong, to merely say "this is wikipedia; everything is the same". As the "reference desk is a talk page" proponents point to, the reference desks are not like encyclopedia entries; that they take this too far does not mean their fundamental instincts that this is NOT a wikipedia ENTRY space are faulty.
As such, though many wikipedia expectations (such as WP:NOT#SOAP) will apply, some (like the consensus standard, and the notability standard) will not always apply. Two answers are sometimes better than one here; such is not the case in wikipedia entries; how do we best make style sheets and policies which acknoledge the difference? I'd be happy to go more deeply into this, but I did want to at least mention that there IS a difference...and it's NOT the difference that makes this talk page different.
In sum, then: though I agree with eric and Friday that many Wikipedia standards should apply which are currently not being applied, I ALSO agree with those who are arguing that the space might need SOME parameters and style suggestions. And I invite us to consider, now, what a reference desk IS...because if we define the medium, I believe we can better define the style that would best drive it forward. Jfarber 16:45, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree with most of what you say, but do consider the Ref Desk to be a talk page, just not an article talk page (where a specific article is discussed). I fully agree that almost nobody considers the Ref Desk, and whether the rules they made apply to the Ref Desk, when writing general guidelines and policies. There seems to be considerable sloppiness in the rules and guidelines in failing to say whether those rules apply throughout Wikipedia or only to specific areas. For example, almost none of the rules apply to what a user can put on their own user page, yet the policy and guideline pages rarely bother to make that distinction. StuRat 17:13, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
We've been through all this before. Wikipedia:Reference desk/guidelines. My point was not to suggest that the ref desk is a talk page, but rather to point out that even on talk pages we should still observe the basic editorial policies that make Wikipedia an encyclopedia rather than a forum. Personally I think the term "reference desk" tells us what we need to know about its purpose, but we still have no shortage of people who read this to mean "chat desk". I suppose we could start seeking community bans from the ref desk for whose who make a habit of misusing it. Friday (talk) 17:33, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I strongly agree with Friday on this one. Its name makes it very clear what its purpose is, and thus it can't be considered a talkpage as its role is not to talk or discuss, but to act as a reference source. Any of the policies proposed here will only serve to indemnify the desk from our core policies. This will be ultimately harmful for the future of the desk, as it will legitimise (either explicitly or implicitly) the perception that debate and opinion serve its purpose. I also support seeking community opinion on taking action to stop those who misuse the desk, as it seems to be a constant battle to keep it from turning into a discussion forum. Rockpocket 19:04, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Agreed, if and editor continues to cause problems then seeking community sanctions is the best solution. However, i don't think we need greater community involvement before making edits to improve the desk. For instance, a particularly useless series of additions were recently made, on the Misc. desk. These should be reverted and the editor warned. I don't think we should hold off trying to improve the desk until it reaches the point a community ban is necessary.—eric 20:02, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Absolutely. If we're diligent about removing inappropriate content, hopefully those putting it in will realize we don't want it, and they'll probably stop. Unless they continue to press the issue, no sanctions will be necessary. Friday (talk) 20:08, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Here's my stab at a three sentence Guideline- - - "The Wikipedia Reference Desk pages are neither articles nor talk pages. Regardless, any contributions and edits to the Ref Desk should abide by the standards and policies of Wikipedia as much as possible. These include, but are not limited to, WP:V, WP:NOR, WP:NPOV and WP:CIVIL." --LarryMac 18:25, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Sure, that's reasonable. But the downside is, the people who are the problem either don't understand or don't accept our standards and policies to begin with. That's pretty much the entire problem. Friday (talk) 18:35, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Friday, you obviously have certain editors in mind when you refer to "the people who are the problem". Will you please name them ? Gandalf61 21:35, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I've seen tons of editors on the ref desk and elsewhere who clearly don't understand the purpose of Wikipedia. I deal with them any time I do new pages patrol. I certainly can't remember them all. I don't think it really matters to list them- if a particular editor becomes a recurring problem, it'll become apparent from the talk page, I would expect. Friday (talk) 16:33, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
So, Friday, are you saying that you see new editors who are unfamiliar with Wikipedia as a "problem" that you have to "deal with" ? Gandalf61 20:04, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Note that Friday assumes that these "tons of editors" are all wrong about their interpretation of what the Ref Desk is for and his is the only possible correct interpretation ? StuRat 22:22, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

(edit conflict)One thing: The Reference Desk is NOT a talk page, the Reference Desk is NOT a mainspace, and the Reference Desk is NOT actually a Wikipedia: page—it's not a guideline or policy page, it's not anything a Wikipedia namespace page is normally, because when it started it was intended (as it still says) for us to be "virtual librarians" guiding people to the right articles, but we don't do that anymore, the unofficial intention of the Reference Desk is to answer questions, over 90% of the time, directing people to articles in the process. The Reference Desk is somewhat independent. There are a handful of Deskers that do most of the answering, work on the layouts, templates, archives, etc.—Froth, StuRat, KSMsq, TenOfAllTrades, Clio, Friday, Kainaw, Alant, Root4one—it is hard to narrow them down but I could probably name them all; you know what I mean. What I'm saying is we have grown into a community here—we joke around together with our own in-jokes, several users have been blocked or banned due to strong feelings on the reference desk, and we help each other out. I think the Reference Desk is a bit more independent and different from most of the pages on Wikipedia. [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 18:36, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Oh dear. In that case, perhaps "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Its goals go no further, and material that does not fit this goal must be moved to another Wikimedia project or removed altogether" (as stated on WP:Policy) comes into play and we're all in the wrong place. --LarryMac 18:43, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

One person asking a question and one or more people answering it is "talk" by any definition of the word. Therefore, any page on which this activity occurs is a talk page, plain and simple. StuRat 03:43, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

A reference desk is, equally, by definition where references are sought and offered, not opinions. If we are looking for definitions on which to hang out policies, let start with that one, shall we? Rockpocket 04:41, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
"Hang out policies" ? Does that mean no loitering ? "Move it along folks, nothing to see here". :-) StuRat 22:16, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
As for opinions, I believe librarians are often asked for opinions, such as "what's a good book about the environment for 8 year olds ?". StuRat 22:18, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

Tooting my own horn

Just in case anyone missed it the first time, I put together a brief sketch of my Ref Desk philosophy the last time we went 'round this merry-go-round.

See User:TenOfAllTrades/RD thoughts.

Please bear in mind that my remarks aren't meant to be converted directly to policy instructions; they're intended more to provide a framework for our discussion: an idea of the purpose of the Desk, and how it fits into the Wikipedia project as a whole. Briefly, I believe that the Ref Desk must remain true to three major guiding principles:

  1. The Reference Desk is here to provide information to people who need help answering their questions.
  2. The Reference Desk should be a useful part of Wikipedia.
  3. The Reference Desk must maintain a friendly, open, welcoming environment.

I've also indicated a few guidelines that I feel should flow logically from these principles. (The list of guidelines is not meant to be exhaustive; indeed, an exhaustive list is probably not achievable, and attempting to formulate a complete list would likely just least to ruleslawyering.)

If anyone finds my remarks useful, feel free to appropriate them, in whole or in part. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 22:17, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Personal attacks on Humanities desk

I have removed a great chunk of unacceptable personal attacks from the Humanities Desk with this diff. ([11]). I hope that all contributors will refrain from this activity. --Dweller 08:18, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

This is why I support removing any question that starts out with the dread phrase "I was wondering what my fellow Wikipedians' opinion might be " (emphasis added). Such question can only lead to no good. IMHO  ;-) --LarryMac 13:24, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
While I agree that personal attacks do not belong on the Ref Desk, I don't see how these were precipitated by it being an opinion question. The source of the problem was Clio mistakenly calling "Britain" by the name "England", thus excluding Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland from the discussion. This could just as well have happened on a strictly factual question. StuRat 14:36, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
Actually, the "problem" was caused by someone getting their panties in a knot because someone said "England" instead of "Britain". It wasn't caused by Clio, but by someone else's emotional reaction to an error in diction. - Nunh-huh 16:17, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
There was also Clio's refusal to correct her error, at first, and her ad hominem attack: "...even a graduate of Glasgow University will recognise...". But, again, none of this has anything to do with it being an opinion question. StuRat 17:27, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I'd characterize it as her refusing to perform on demand like a circus seal. The questioners don't get to dictate the responses, and they don't get to demand that they be changed. The initial questioner's emotional response caused the problem; there'd have been no escalation without repeated provocation. Clio's response was, admittedly, not optimal, but everyone occasionally falls for the sort of trollery the querant quickly descended into. - Nunh-huh 19:29, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
It's not that opinions inevitably lead to this sort of thing. But, opinion questions are irrelevant to the mission of Wikipedia- so any trouble they cause, no matter how small, is a net loss to the project. We have enough work to do with things that are relevant to the mission of Wikipedia- why should we borrow trouble by facilitating irrelevant things? By simple cost/benefit analysis, opinion questions are not desirable. Friday (talk) 15:13, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Image:Totodog.jpg - "...redact remarks in toto..." I do, in part, blame myself for causing this little storm. I should have recognised that there was a possible problem from the slightly hysterical tone taken by the questioner. I have to say, though, that I thought it legitimate to attempt comparisons between the two Prime Ministers under consideration. On a personal note, I am English (just as I am upper class!) and I do, from time to time, refer to my country as England, as have many others in the past, including Prime Ministers of Scottish origin. As I said, it is a cultural reflex on my part, one I expect that will continue to exert its power. I am sorry if this upsets people, but I will not change who I am. Finally, my reference to Glasgow University ( a fine institution) was not an 'ad hominen' attack, but a measured retort to a cringing remark about Cambridge. Clio the Muse 18:32, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

(re Dweller) Better to use an ax than a scalpel i think. I'd much rather have my entire comment removed than just a part of it if someone objected. Removing whole comments and threads gives people a chance to rethink and restate, and reduces the chance that anyone is misrepresented by having their words taken out of context.—eric 20:17, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

I'll add a 'me too' here; it's almost always best to avoid editing another editors' signed remarks; people can get very touchy when you alter (intentionally or not) what they say. Best, in future, to redact remarks in toto with appropriate explanation to the involved editors. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 22:20, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

My sincere thanks to the user who added the picture of Toto to this thread. He's just so cute (Toto, I mean)! Clio the Muse 01:45, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

I wanna know who added this page to the Wikipedia humor category... V-Man - T/C 03:13, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
So it has; I thought you were joking! Perhaps this is no great surprise, V-Man. I'm sure you must be familiar with the alleged Medieval theological debate over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin? Are you not reminded of this by so much of the discussion this page generates? I certainly am. Ah well, the futility of all earthly things! Clio the Muse 14:34, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Just because I was curious, I checked some history and determined that the Essay and Humo(u)r tags got added as a result of the insertion of a link to the "Astronomer vs Amateur" essay above. --LarryMac 14:50, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
I plead guilty. I forgot that transcluding the page would bring the category tags along for the ride. But the humour tag does seem appropriate. In the black farce sort of way.:evil grin: David D. (Talk) 15:10, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

More like a talk page?

Does anyone here have an institutional memory that can point us back to where the idea of the ref desk being more like a talk page was first floated? People keep saying this but was it original intent? If not, which users were the first to nucleate this idea? And why? David D. (Talk) 02:00, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

I believe it was in response to claims that all guidelines and policies written for articles should be applied to the Ref Desk. StuRat 03:35, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Yeah, the impression I get is that what people really mean by this is "the ref desk doesn't need the same formal tone as an article". This is reasonable in my opinion. The guidelines and policies that StuRat describes as written for articles are more accurately seen as written for the entire project. The talk page guidelines even go out of their way to explain that verifiability and no original research are important, even on talk pages. What's good for articles and good for talk pages ought to be good for the ref desk- why would it be otherwise? Friday (talk) 16:19, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
It's just plain wrong to say that "...guidelines and policies that StuRat describes as written for articles are more accurately seen as written for the entire project". Do you seriously suggest that all facts placed on a user's own talk page must have an authoritative source, with footnotes ? That's crazy. Now you can't list your location on your user page unless you can provide a source which confirms it, I suppose, LOL. The rules clearly don't all apply everywhere, which makes it necessary for them to say which apply where, but which they rarely bother to do. Thus, we are left guessing. StuRat 03:32, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Cowabunga, I might have contributed to this RD=Talk meme. The first I recall it coming up was in this discussion. Sorry? --LarryMac 16:40, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't think it's too big a deal. It should be clear from the name that the reference desk is not an article, nor is it an article talk page. It's in project space, and it's a reference desk. There's really no room for dispute on these points. At the risk of getting beans in my nose.. if folks want a chat desk, go ahead and make Wikipedia:Chat desk and see where that gets you. Friday (talk) 16:47, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
And yet this is exactly what I was trying to get at in my longer post above. Many of US know what a reference desk is, but a) some of "us" do not, and might be better able to serve as reference volunteers with some clarity, and b) more importantly, many visitors TO the desk who come in need of service do NOT know what a reference desk is, yet somehow manage to navigate the gamut of pages which TRY to say what it is, and nevertheless end up asking questions which cannot be served by reference desk service.
As such, it MAY not be enough to merely agree that the MACRO policies of wikipedia apply everywhere, and that the MICRO policies of talk pages do not apply. And it MAY not be enough to have this debate regularly (though I would suggest it is better than nothing, despite the frustration and dismissal some long-timers bring into this sort of discussion). Instead, it may be useful to define more clearly what a reference desk IS -- not JUST for US, but also in the way the pages are entered, so that we might be able to point to those style suggestions and parameters even more precisely and effectively, for querents AND volunteers, as ways to decide how to respond NOT to the stuff we (mostly) ALL agree is out of bounds, but to both a) questions which do not belong in reference desks, and b) answer SETS which are getting out of hand.
To say this is NOT to advocate for a chat space, an opinion space, NOR is it to suggest that reference desks are talk pages; it is instead to say that if SOME other regulars AND many querents continue to insist OR behave as if this WERE a chatspace, then isn't it time to admit that saying "the reference desk is not a talk page" is not a fully successful strategy to communicate that idea? And, if so, that "what is a reference desk" could benefit from clarification? Jfarber 20:10, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
I think what you are seeing is a reluctance to once again go over that same old ground, to expend more effort in tedious discussion that in the past has proven completely fruitless. We've talked about what a reference desk is, what it should look like within Wikipedia, discussed the benefits it can bring to the overall project, and explained how some types of responses are instead harmful.
We've already covered in detail core policies and talk page guidelines, explained that what we are looking for is a "common sense" application, not by any means some kind of strict interpretation. An attempt to live within the policies and at the same time provide the greatest benefit to our readers and the project in general. I think, if you look back over the older discussions, you will find that most editors have taken nuanced positions, attempted compromise, and tried to listen for and incorporate other viewpoints into their reasoning.
And the response to all that patient effort, all that time spent, has been obstinance, wiki-lawyering, divisive and disruptive actions, and a refusal to recognize any of the concerns which have been expressed. Some of the editors here have shown that they really don't give a fuck about the quality of the reference desk, couldn't care less about the overall project, and what they what to have here is a place they can continue to chat, joke, soapbox, and show off their knowledge (or lack thereof). Any terse arguments or dismissive tone are directed at those editors who, by now, deserve no more than that.—eric 21:39, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
There's like a subliminal message there in Jfarber's post saying US TO NOT TRY. And a little after that another message saying JUST US AND NOT ALL. There's more of some cool subliminal message a little above in another post by Jfarber. A.Z. 00:00, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I would like to know the (nick)name of these people who do not give a fuck about the quality of the reference desk. A.Z. 23:50, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Nothing to be sorry about, just wondering how the meme progressed to its current state. David D. (Talk) 17:11, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

Any page, such as the Ref Desk, on which questions are asked and answers are given is, by definition, a "talk page", since asking and answering questions is "talk". The Ref Desk, however, is not an article talk page. StuRat 22:12, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

This may be the root of the problem, right here: confusion about nomenclature. While some editors interpret 'talk page' to mean any page on which conversation or discussion ('talking', in a sense) occur, others understand 'talk page' – in the context of Wikipedia – to have a more specific definition for the purposes of applying Wikipedia policy and guidelines.
My personal understanding on 'talk pages' tends to follow a fairly narrow definition. (Others may interpret the term differently, of course, but I offer my two cents.) A Wikipedia talk page is any page in a namespace that starts with Talk: Wikipedia talk:, Template talk:, Image talk:, and plain-vanilla Talk:. This definition has one undeniable advantage—there's no need for any sort of ruleslawyering or interpretation or guessing games about what constitutes a Talk page, and consequently no question about where Talk page guidelines apply.
From a practical standpoint, all talk pages defined in this way share a common purpose—they hold all the discussion about their associated non-Talk-prefixed page. If I'm writing about Greece, I go to the mainspace page. If I'm writing about (or discussing) the process of writing about Greece, then I go to Talk:Greece. Image:A-ok sign.JPG tells me about the image itself ("Just the facts, Ma'am"). Image talk:A-ok sign.JPG provides a place for discussion about the image. Even pages which are themselves largely discussion-centered – think Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard – have a talk page (Wikipedia talk:Administrators' noticeboard) where discussion about the discussion page itself takes place (call it metadiscussion, if you like).
This type of discussion and meta-discussion is particularly common on a number of high-traffic pages in the Wikipedia namespace. WP:RfA, WP:RFArb, WP:AfD, and others all rely on discussions and commentary of various types. All of them also have their own Talk pages, appropriate for metadiscussion. (It is worth noting that all of these pages have their own evolved standards, policies, and traditions about who may post what, when and where.) The Ref Desk clearly follows this model—I don't think that anyone will dispute that the main page(s) include discussion (primarily in an ask & answer format) and the talk page holds discussions about the operation and format of the main pages.
So the answer to the question "Do we treat the Ref Desk as an article page or as a talk page?" is "Nope." I'm afraid that we don't get an 'easy' answer here. In many cases, we have to forge (or evolve) guidelines and practices to suit this particular, peculiar environment.
This is not to say that we need to start from scratch. There are some policies (WP:NPA, WP:CIV, WP:DICK, etc.) which apply project-wide. There are also past attempts to codify Ref Desk practices, as well as the existing instructions and guidelines. For that matter, there is a substantial corpus of unwritten rules which have been adopted. The one thing that we cannot do is say "The Ref Desk is a talk/article page, ipso facto all talk/article page rules apply." TenOfAllTrades(talk) 00:15, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
(after edit confict) Where can I find that definition of "talk page" you (Stu) are referring to? Wikipedia:Talk pages does not mention them as such (or in fact at all). Instead, that page states clearly: "There are two types of talk pages — standard talk pages are used to discuss an article, a template, a category, etc., while user talk pages are used to communicate with other users or leave them messages." Clearly, the Reference desk pages fit neither of these two types. I don't think of them as talk pages, and I find it regrettable that some people do.  --LambiamTalk 00:19, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
It says there are 2 types, this does not mean that there aren't more, and at the time that was written, they knew that there would never be more than two types of talk pages (or would immediately amend the statement to the current number of types of talk pages). Where can I find the definition that says "talk pages will ALWAYS have the word 'talk' in the name of the page" ? And what definition of "talk" does not include a question/answer conversation ? StuRat 03:24, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
A talk page is, by definition, a page you reach by clicking the "discussion" tab at the top of a page. They are always associated with another page, the one you reach by clicking on the tab to the left of the "discussion" tab. Usually they are meant for discussing improvements to the page they are associated with. User talk pages, however, serve a different purpose; they are not intended for discussing improvements to the user page; they just happen to use the same mechanism of associated page. However, user talk pages are also not intended for general discussion about arbitrary possibly interesting topics (but if people abuse their own user talk page for this purpose, it is unlikely to bother other users). The reference desk pages are not associated with any other pages, and are not intended for discussion to improve other pages, or the functioning of Wikipedia, or of aspects of the Wikipedia process. Our reference desk should function, as much as possible, like the reference desk of a library. Questioners should be made to understand, in a friendly way, that asking for opinions is not what a reference desk is for. And just as you do not expect a more information-oriented question you pose at the reference desk of a library to devolve into a social chat in which arbitrary bystanders venture even more arbitrary opinions, snickers, and off-colour remarks, questioners at our reference desk should only receive the best possible answers to their honest questions. We have no mechanism for preventing arbitrary occasional passers-by from misbehaving, but the regular RD patrollers should know better.  --LambiamTalk 10:59, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
It is perfectly acceptable to ask a librarian opinion questions, like "what book on dogs would you recommend for an 8 year old". StuRat 20:15, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
That is clearly an example of a question for information, just like the question: "What book would you recommend on Polynesian tapestry?". It is not perfectly acceptable to ask at the library's reference desk: "Should the United States consider China a friend or enemy?", "Isn't it a bit obvious now that Iran's motive for capturing 15 British sailors and marines was that Iran needed some hostages to work out a prisoner exchange?", or "Why can't celebrities lead normal disciplined life just like millions of others?".  --LambiamTalk 20:51, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
I believe the core of each question above would be acceptable at a library Reference Desk. The librarian would merely interpret them as "What info can I find on the current relationship between China and the US and speculation on the future of the relationship ?", "What analyses can I find on the reason for Iran capturing the 15 British sailors and marines ?", and "What studies have been done on celebrities and drug abuse and other destructive behaviors ?". It is our job to assume good faith, even if we have to reword the question in our own minds to take out the preconceptions. StuRat 22:52, 4 April 2007 (UTC)
TenOfAllTrades, you have earned my undying respect for citing WP:DICK in this context. V-Man - T/C 00:47, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Honestly, I suspect that very nearly every problem that arises on Wikipedia stems from a failure to follow that policy. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 00:58, 31 March 2007 (UTC)


I personally think we are doing a much better job of answering the "what is a dog?" questions! Very friendly answers, not even "this is an encyclopedia you know?" [Mαc Δαvιs] (How's my driving?) ❖ 06:59, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

(see above.) V-Man - T/C 09:28, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
So do I. A.Z. 23:51, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

FYI: Wikipedia Reference Desks on BoingBoing (story updated)

After a question on the Misc. desk this week led to some great and truly REFERENCE DESK fact-checking (a properly sourced study used a 1971 journal article to make a claim that adding Vitamin D to soy milk was not legal), the New York Times changed an article to reflect that fact-finding...without saying that they had changed it. Especially odd journalistic practice, given that the original article was a) the most emailed article on the NYT website for most of this week, and b) claimed that soy milk could not be fortified in ways that would make it a good idea to serve to, say, kids, and thus could have had a seriously negative impact on the public perception of appropriate use for soy alternatives for kids. (I'm biased, here -- I'm lactose intolerant, and have kids)

I must admit, I was disappointed in the NYT response; at best, it would have been nice to show that wikipedia can get some GOOD press once in a while, but at the least, I had hoped a public correction would help those who had seen the original article know that it was not after all illegal to add Vitamin D or calcium to soy milk (which would mitigate the blow the original article made to public perception of soy milk as a truly healthy alternative). Now, I suspect most folks will never know the correction was made; the article makes it look like the error was never there.

Given the dubious journalism involved, I submitted this to BoingBoing; it's up on their site today. See the original ref desk discussion for the issue and my letter which (I assume) prompted the change to the article; see here for the boingboing article. And nice work, all of us, for this and every effort to help the world see the power of reference! Jfarber 20:23, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

I don't know if it might be considered as piling on, but I sent an e-mail to Jane Brody (the author of the NYT article in question) to point out this discrepancy between "correction" and "glossing over," encouraging her to bring the correction to light in the spirit of old-fashioned journalism rather than brush the error aside. Thought y'all ought to know. V-Man - T/C 23:55, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
I've also heard from at least one other wikipedian who has written to the public editor at the Times, asking why there was no correction; not sure what critical mass is for a body as substantial as the New York Times, but it does make me ever hopeful that we will get some sort of response, at least. On a side note: this seems to be turning into a story about journalist ethics, which is interesting to me. Our original concerns about the story, IMHO, seemed to point to the panel recommendations, not to the reporter, as being responsible for reporting outdated information. It is only since the article was emended silently, with no accompanying correction or acknowledgement, that the Times' journalism has been called into question. One might say that this wasn't about the Times, until the Times made it about themselves. Unfortunately for them, as the BoingBoing acceptance may suggest, in a world where blogger-journalists pass discovery around like lightning, the Times may be a juicer target than a study about the nutritional applications of beverages, no matter how popular the original article may have been. Jfarber 03:36, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

I agree that the NYT behaved inappropriately, and commend everyone for following up on this. StuRat 05:27, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Original story now includes a correction! (But no acknowledgement of delay in making that correction.) Jfarber 13:17, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Any acknowledgment that Wikipedia editors notified them of the error ? StuRat 20:09, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

(non-legal/medical) "Advice" on the Ref Desk

I have a problem with the "general advice" provided to the "Plea Bargain Gone Bad (3.7, March 29)" query by StuRat, upon whose User talk page I've written as follows:

  • ...[this] would have been more appropriately worded had it not been couched as your personal opinion. There are other, more objective ways to present the possibility that serving time in prison may have a corrective effect (note links to pertinent pages), rather than "Prison time might be just what they need." On the other hand, your remark that "you should keep him away from that bad influence [i.e. his brother] in any way you can" is irresponsible and presumptuous, and writing that "it might be time to give up on him" [i.e. the OP's recidivist son], is that and worse. It's my belief that such remarks degrade the reputable nature of the Reference Desk as a source of information (and I will ask about this on its Discussion forum). The RD policy of not providing legal or medical advice is clear; exercising good judgment (and good taste) is the responsibility of all respondents, at their discretion. That response of yours, however well meant, is grossly lacking that latter quality. You might consider amending it yourself, if you see fit, besides the sort of disclaimer JackofOz subsequently added.

I have no objection per se if a response lacks citations or is based on personal knowledge, even the anecdotal (particularly on the Language RD, e.g. regional differences in usage or pronunciation). However, I feel the conjectural, subjective nature of this response on a sensitive matter, crossed some lines here. I'd appreciate clarification if my position is outside the consensus or RD guidelines. --Thanks, Deborahjay 20:35, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

Removed[12], along w/ the comment concerning CIA careers.—eric 21:54, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

Good, thank you.  --LambiamTalk 23:18, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

Eric, it is inappropriate for you to remove posts without notifying the author(s) (see section below). I will continue to restore such inappropriate deletions until you learn to do them properly. StuRat 05:00, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Do you realize that you're basically promising to be disruptive with this statement? This is inappropriate- you're saying you're going to hold the page hostage until everyone does what you say. This is a collaborative project. What you're doing is no way to work peacefully with others. Friday (talk) 05:54, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I'm not "holding the page hostage". And it's not what I say, but what the consensus says. In fact, I haven't seen one person argue that it's a good idea to delete contributions without notifying the author. StuRat 05:58, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
As far as I know, there is no consensus yet that if one party does something inappropriate, you have the freedom to react by doing something else that is inappropriate.  --LambiamTalk 11:04, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
That is the crux. It's not ok to abandon the rules in relation to an apparently wayward user just because they have done so, or for any other reason. In simple terms, "two wrongs don't make a right". If there ever is a consensus that the rules cease to apply when someone pushes our buttons, or whatever, we may as well dispense with the rules here and now. Responsible behaviour is about dealing with an issue without resorting to the same stunts that irresponsible people engage in. JackofOz 05:56, 1 April 2007 (UTC)
I believe that EricR does this all the time, by saying that "because (in his personal opinion) this response violates X (usually some policy dealing with Wikipedia articles)", he can then delete it, without consensus, and without notifying the author. He is the one doing "two wrongs make a right". I, on the other hand, simply restore us to the situation before the last wrong was committed. StuRat 20:01, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

Should the United States consider China a friend or enemy?

Removed[13] some responses here. Our own opinions as to the answer to this question add no value to the reference desk. We should respond by pointing to the existing article coverage, or cite notable, published opinions.—eric 23:34, 30 March 2007 (UTC)

Good call. It was going nowhere good. Friday (talk) 23:43, 30 March 2007 (UTC)
Bad call. You removed a serious attempt to answer the question. StuRat 03:13, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Rather than being information-oriented in keeping with the Reference Desk nature here, these deleted responses may only be considered "serious attempts" in the sense that they're no doubt intended as informative—but rather, are characterized as:
  • Highly opinionated, POV, and/or speculative claims, e.g. from "China is not at all helpful in the world" to "the US and most of the world would be better off if the current Chinese government did not exist" and "there is no way the US or world can change the current Chinese gov, so it makes little difference".
  • NPOV in the form of every contribution reflecting all POVs is only necessary on article pages, not the Ref Desk. At the Ref Desk, NPOV can be accomplished by having several responders list their POV. If you have a POV on how a world controlled by China will be better, you are welcome to list it there. StuRat 06:34, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Entirely Essentially lacking useful links on relevant topics (noted by eric, above).
  • I believe a link to Sudan was provided, where the OP can read about the Darfur crisis, and follow links to specific UN security council votes where China has blocked action to end the genocide there. If that's not sufficient, I can include links to stories like these: "Downing Street is stressing that the Blair would prefer to act in concert with other Security Council members, but Sudan's defenders at the UN, led by China, are likely to resist any resolution backed by force" [14]. "French presidential candidate Francois Bayrou said last week that if Beijing continued to block UN Security Council resolutions condemning Sudan, then 'France will do itself honour by refusing to take part in the Olympic Games'" [15]. StuRat 06:26, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Responses that are partial or otherwise uninformed but objective may be retained, and perhaps will subsequently be supplemented by further postings. However: blanket condemnations and one-sided arguments (e.g. China—but not the USA—as "huge polluters of the environment" offered as a rationale) are Soapboxing. For that and the aforementioned POV, the Remove is justified. -- Deborahjay 06:08, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Whether the US is a major polluter is simply not relevant to the question, while whether China is a net positive or negative to the US is, and this includes their pollution. StuRat 06:29, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

At a very minimum, you need to at least notify people when you remove their posts. If not, they never know it happened, and therefore have no opportunity to argue for their posts, change them, or, if removal was justified, to learn from their mistake. Removing things "in secret" is totally unacceptable. See User:Rick Block's comment several sections above: [16]. StuRat 03:13, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

I agree you should have been notified. I also agree with its removal. Please don't replace it again unless you can get a consensus to do so on this talk page. David D. (Talk) 03:36, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
You need a better justification for restoring that material than the absence of your prior consent. And "secret"?—eric 03:40, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
If you remove it properly, and notify all the parties involved, then I will not restore it. You have to learn the proper way to behave, somehow. Such deletions are "secret" in that the author is unlikely to ever know their contributions have been destroyed. StuRat 04:38, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Eric, I agree with StuRat on this one. Wikipedia:Reference desk/guidelines#Removing others' posts contains a sensible list of circumstances under which a post or a thread should be immediately removed from the RDs. This thread did not meet these criteria and should not have been removed. Removing other editors' posts should not be done lightly, and simply disagreeing with the way in which they answered the question is not sufficient grounds for doing this. The big practical reason behind this is that no-one will take on the job of policing the RDs 24x7, so we must show editors by example how to best respond to questions on controversial topics. Eric, your own response was excellent, but deleting other editors' posts just because they are POV will not improve the long term quality of the RDs. Gandalf61 10:01, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

The day vanishes

Has anyone else noticed that March 29 on the Humanities desk seems to have been vaporised? Clio the Muse 00:25, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

The bot ate it, but failed to regurgitate the archive page.—eric 01:04, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Procedure for Removal of RD Responses

Per two recent topics here, there are evidently problems with this, along with a risk of rev wars. Setting aside the issue of what/why to remove, it would be instructive to have:

  • a refresher explanation—including citation of the pertinent Reference Desk policy—of the "proper removal" process (to which StuRat refers above).
  • Discussion if the existing policy is being challenged
  • Renewed consensus and compliance.

-- Thanks, Deborahjay 06:29, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Well, AFAIK, we don't have an RD policy, as such (yes, yes, I know the RDs are part of Wikipedia, which has overall standards such as WP:5P, but we don't have a policy that is written specifically for the RDs). We do have Wikipedia:Reference desk/How to ask and answer, but we don't have agreed guidelines on how to handle "problem" situations. Attempts to define such guidelines a couple of months ago were resisted on the grounds that it would be process creep, "guidelines encourage wikilawyering", "we don't need more policies", "Wikipedia doesn't have firm rules", "all we need is common sense" etc. The closest point we got to agreed guidelines the last time we went round this block is preserved at Wikipedia:Reference desk/guidelines. Personally, I think that the resurfacing of this debate shows that we do need agreed RD guidelines, but I am pessimistic about the chances of reconciling the very different stances taken by various regulars on this talk page. Gandalf61 10:21, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
My thinking is that a notice here on the talk page which explains the reasoning behind the removal and invites further discussion should really be sufficient. If there's consensus though that each individual contributor also needs a notice on their talk page then i'll do so. I do object however to feeding the trolls by requiring that they be notified if their trolling is removed. Please do not restore such content simply because they have not been made aware that we've cleaned up after them.—eric 18:46, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I agree with eric- the talk page is good enough. This should only be brought up on user talk if the same editor is repeatedly posting inappropriate content- then this would be a user conduct issue. Friday (talk) 18:50, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
No, this talk page is not good enough, you know darned well that newbies won't know to look here for an explanation of why their contributions have been destroyed. Also, EricR goes well beyond deleting contributions he thinks violate policy, he also deletes responses to such contributions, where he only thinks the original contribution violated policy, not the response, and he deletes things simply because he personally (and incorrectly) judges the response to be incorrect. StuRat 19:42, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

User warning template

There's now a template for warning an editor that their contribution to the desk has been removed, though i'm still not sure this is a good idea.—eric 16:53, 1 April 2007 (UTC)

You should tell them what specifically you objected to in their post, not just give a big list and say "it's probably one of those". StuRat 19:34, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

The Reference Desk as a POV free-for-all forum?

According to StuRat, (above), "NPOV in the form of every contribution reflecting all POVs is only necessary on article pages, not the Ref Desk. At the Ref Desk, NPOV can be accomplished by having several responders list their POV." I find the latter practice turns the RD into an opinion forum, not to mention that providing balanced content would then only "be accomplished"—that is, remain entiredly dependent upon—the chance contributions of subsequent posters. It also tacitly releases all respondents from any obligation to provide objective information. While I'm unclear on the conclusion and consensus regarding the nature of Ref Desk content falling somewhere between an article's page and its Talk page in regard to requiring NPOV, my question is: What is the current policy? -- Thanks, Deborahjay 06:51, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Note that even articles often use the "multiple POVs" form to assure NPOV, as in articles with "arguments for" and "arguments against" (or "criticisms of") sections. StuRat 07:00, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
These are not the personal opinions of the contributors (or if they happen to be, this is purely accidental). They should be attributable, just like anything else. Even for article talk pages the guidelines state: Article talk pages should not be used by editors as platforms for their personal views.  --LambiamTalk 11:17, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
The Ref Desk doesn't contain "article talk pages", but rather a completely different type of talk pages, more like user talk pages. StuRat 03:34, 4 April 2007 (UTC)

The Wikiversity Help Desk

The Wikiversity Help Desk accepts questions on anything. Please, instead of discouraging questions that don't belong here by saying "this is an encyclopedia" and not presenting good alternatives to the querents, start telling them to ask their questions on the Wikiversity Help Desk, like I just did on the China-USA question on the Humanities Reference Desk. This will hopefully improve both the quality of the Wikipedia Reference Desks and the quality of the Wikiversity Help Desk. A.Z. 16:01, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

Well, if Wikiversity is okay with it, then by all means. If someone wants to craft a polite template with a link to the appropriate part of Wikiversity, it would be appreciated. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 16:07, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Wikiversity Help Desk pre-amble says the desk is for "general knowledge questions". Why would Wikiversity be able to answer a question if Wikipedia cannot ? And Wikiversity Help Desk got about 30 posts in March - so less traffic in one month than a single one of our RDs gets in one day. I think directing folks who ask difficult/controversial questions on our RDs towards Wikiversity is unhelpful to both the questioner and the folks at Wikiversity. Of course, we shouldn't tell them that their questions don't belong here, either (except in the most extreme cases). We should respond to each question in a mature, polite and factual way. Gandalf61 16:25, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Gandalf, it's not that the editors here would not be able to answer the questions. The fact is that a lot of the editors are simply refusing to answer some kinds of questions and are also trying to "forbid" other editors to answer them. They say in here only "reference" questions should be asked.
The small number of posts on the Help Desk of Wikiversity is due to the fact that few people know that Help Desk. If we start to link it from Wikipedia, for sure the number of questions will increase and then the number of people answering questions will increase and it will soon be a very busy place. A.Z. 16:43, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
A.Z, the situation is not as bad as you think. A small number of editors have narrow views on the "purpose" of the RDs, and every so often one of them goes on a crusade to "clean up" the RDs by deleting questions and/or answers that they don't like. This, of course, annoys other editors whose good-faith posts have been trashed, and stirs up controversy and edit wars. But most of the time, most questions on the RDs are answered with no fuss at all, and most RD contributors just get on with being as helpful as they can. If it follows previous patterns, the current debate will reach a peak soon and then die down in a week or two. Please don't let it put you off making useful contributions to the RDs. Gandalf61 17:17, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Thank you very much for telling me that, Gandalf. I'm not well-versed in Reference Desk History, so I had no idea this debate happened from time to time and eventually ended and everything got back to normal. It's good to know that. And thank you for your advice. It surely encouraged me to continue making useful contributions despite everything. A.Z. 17:39, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I hadn't realized that the Wikiversity desk was so low-traffic. While A.Z.'s intentions are good, I agree that redirecting people's questions there might be frustrating until they have things up and running. (Catch-22, perhaps.)
In any case, the issue is not whether or not we are capable of answering certain types of quetsions. It has been amply demonstrated that certain types of opinion questions generate lively and extensive discussion, in at least some cases this discussion is probably exactly the sort of thing the original querent is looking for.
However, extensive and lively debate over (what are fundamentally) questions of opinion is not as service that a Reference Desk (here or in the bricks and mortal world) is intended to provide. Such activities are best suited to university symposia (formal) or the pub (informal).
There are several problems with attempting to fit such discussions into the framework of our Ref Desk. These have been discussed amply and at length, but a non-exhaustive summary might include some of the following points.
  • Long discussions eat up space. The Ref Desk page is already very long; encouraging extended discussion would make it utterly impossible for a dialup user to access. It's also difficult enough as it is for a novice to even find his original question.
  • Discussions have a way of degenerating. Opinion discussions have a demonstrated tendency to slip into incivility and personal attacks.
  • The thread gets lost. Segues into offtopic discussion begin (which is okay, to a point) and eventually end up as nothing more than chat.
I don't mind a bit of chat, or a bit of opinion, or a bit of informality. Unfortunately, encouraging long, opinion-driven discussions interferes with our ability to carry out our core Ref Desk function, which is why we limit these sorts of debates. Perhaps Wikiversity would like to set up a symposium space. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 17:24, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I reject the argument of lack of space. It sounds like a technical problem that can be fixed by a few changes in the way that the Reference Desks work. I also think that we should let the discussions degenerate if that's what happens. It's not bad that it happens at all. If a discussion degenerates, people can choose one part of the discussion that can be discussed about again and then just ask a new question and start a new discussion with a new focus. When this discussion degenerates, yet another can be started by doing the same. Much learning can be obtained from the whole process and even a conclusion can be eventually reached. Maybe we should just transfer the questions to another place when they start getting too long. A.Z. 17:34, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
There are plenty of chatting opportunities on the Internet that exist just for that purpose. I don't understand why some people insist that our RD should offer unlimited possibilities for people to spout their ill-informed personal opinions in offensive ways. The reference desk is not meant for that. Let me spell out what the purpose is. The Wikipedia reference desk is meant to work like a library reference desk, a public service function. In a library, users can consult the professional staff at the reference desk for help in finding information. We don't have professional staff, but when users leave questions on the reference desk, the volunteers doing RD duty work to find the information needed to answer the questions.  --LambiamTalk 10:55, 1 April 2007 (UTC)
Lambian, who exactly are these "some people" who "insist that our RD should offer unlimited possibilities for people to spout their ill-informed personal opinions in offensive ways" ? Where exactly has anyone made that proposal ? I believe you are exaggerating. Gandalf61 11:55, 1 April 2007 (UTC)
Some people who occasionally (but regularly) produce contributions that I see as ill-informed personal opinions, sometimes in ways that I consider unnecessarily rude, condescending, or highly insensitive to a questioner's plight, appear pretty miffed if their contributions are then deleted. However, if I name them, that would more likely than not be construed as a violation of WP:NPA. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that the same people will not be able to recognize themselves in this description.  --LambiamTalk 15:49, 1 April 2007 (UTC)
I've recently noted the same phenomena as those described by Lambiam, which prompted my queries above regarding removals and NPOV. I'm simply appalled at the sort of responses (by a small but active and visible contingent of regular respondents) that "provide [unsupported] advice" about how to live one's life (e.g. parenting delinquent children, managing chronic debts, etc.) and run foreign policy. I realize the Reference Desks are staffed by volunteers, but this approach seems to me inappropriate to a Reference desk and more suitable to an opinion forum or chat room. My stance (stated elsewhere on this page) favors swift removal of overt trolling but also some sort of label (template?) noting "subjective" opinon/POV advice-type responses (and yes, some are condescending and insensitive). (My attempts to advise one repeat "provider" of such responses has met with entrenched self-defense, as far as I can tell.) I don't divert queries to the Wikiversity because not only was I unaware of its existence and operations, I'm not interested in its functions. Being a devoted RD user myself, I intend to continue supporting it by my contributions where I can best do so. This includes some degree of monitoring, and intervening in cases of what I regard as abuses (which is why I want to understand the definitions of the latter per guidelines and consensus). I'll also note here that lately this takes an inordinate amount of my time that might better be spent editing and creating articles. However, I consider myself relatively new and am still learning the ropes here, and appreciate the discussion provided by my fellow Users—including those with whom I disagree, as this elucidates a reality with which we must contend. -- Deborahjay 23:50, 1 April 2007 (UTC)

AZ, you might be onto a good idea there. I will ask at Wikiversity if they would object to us directing questions which call for speculation ("What portions of stars have planets ?") and opinion ("What is the best movie of all time ?"), but not trolling ("Is it true that Bush is an idiot ?") there. I, for one, would be willing to spend some time there answering such questions. We could add a "virtual desk", called Opinion Ref Desk, which would actually be a link the Wikiversity Help Desk. This could also solve the issue of those who never want to see any opinion questions or subjective answers on the Ref Desk. The other issue is if the hard-asses here would so object to an answer ever being given to such a question that they will either follow us there to delete our answers or delete the links from the Ref Desk so the OP can't find the answer. StuRat 17:29, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

US Electoral Reform

Removed[17] a great deal of debate here as to the advantages or disadvantages of the electoral college and the probability of reforming it. The question asked for a history of efforts towards electoral reform, a topic covered in such articles as: US_elections, Campaign finance in the United States, Ballot_access#Ballot_Access_in_the_United_States_of_America, Primary_election#American_Primaries, United States Electoral College, and probably many others. Using this question as a forum to opine on the pros and cons of the electoral college was inappropriate.—eric 16:55, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

With all due respect, eric, don't you think it would be more polite to express your concerns about the use of the question on the thread itself and then convince the editors who wrote the posts to remove their posts themselves? What it looks like when you do that is that you think you know something that they don't and you also can't persuade them that you are right by using arguments, and so they should simply write their posts and trust you to decide whether they should stay on the desk or be removed. A.Z. 17:22, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
The removed content is back. A.Z. 17:27, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, no. The correct place to discuss the appropriateness of responses is here on the talk page, not on the desk itself. Also, please provide a justification for restoring the material, don't simply revert or undo without an edit summary. I have been removing material from the desks in an effort to improve Wikipedia, and explained my reasoning each time. Any editor who restores such material should do so only if they feel that particular content improves the quality of the reference desk, and should also make some effort to explain why.—eric 17:44, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
This is your edit summary:"off-topic debate, the question asks for history of electoral reform, not the opinion of editors concerning the electoral college".
Here is my reasoning to reject your justification and therefore undo your changes:
1-The question is really vague and no one should take it literally . If you are really willing to take it literally, then it only accepts "yes" or "no" as answers, since it asks "Has there ever been serious discussion about reforming the US Presidential Election system?" Editors thought that the querent would appreciate the debate and their opinions.
2-Even if you thought that the answers had nothing to do with the question, this doesn't mean the querent is not appreciating the answers. And it's up to the querent to decide whether the answers are helpful or not.
(I may not have expressed my thoughts in a way you understand them, I am not a native English speaker, so please ask me for any further clarification and I'll do my best to explain everything to you until you know exactly what I mean and thus become able to either accept or reject my argument on a logical basis.) A.Z. 17:54, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
And also the appropriateness of the responses is always discussed on the desk itself, dozens of times a day. Some editors say that the answers given by other editors are not helpful, others try to make the responses of other editors better. It's up to each person reading it to judge for themselves what they think about the responses, but it's not up to each person to delete or restore the posts. This is up to consensus-based decisions. A.Z. 18:06, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
AZ, you are merely demonstrating that you don't know what a talk page is for. If you're this unfamiliar with how things work here, please don't be so insistent on getting your own way. Your edit warring on this issue has been disruptive. Friday (talk) 18:25, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
We've seen this type of comment from you before, Friday, that nonconsensus removal of material from the Ref Desk, without even notifying the author, is just fine, but putting the same content back is "disruptive edit warring". Those who delete inappropriately are the cause of edit wars, not those who correctly restore the inappropriately deleted material. StuRat 16:53, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
(after ec)Even if the editor which asked the question would like to see random opinions on the electoral college, the reference desk is not the proper forum to ask or for such to be provided. Please take the time to read WP:NPOV: "All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), representing fairly and without bias all significant views that have been published by reliable sources...Neutral point of view is a fundamental Wikipedia principle. According to Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, NPOV is 'absolute and non-negotiable.'" And from m:Foundation issues: "The Wikimedia projects as a community have certain foundation issues that are essentially beyond debate. People who strongly disagree with them sometimes end up leaving the project. These issues include:...NPOV as the guiding editorial principle...The "wiki process" as the decision mechanism on content".—eric 18:29, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
As has frequently been mentioned here, NPOV often takes the form of different authors providing different POVs, with the total being NPOV. This even happens in articles with "arguments for" and "arguments against" or "criticisms of" sections. In such cases, as on the Ref Desk, it's the person who removes one POV of the argument who is violating NPOV. StuRat 16:53, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
Show me how they violated this policy. A.Z. 18:38, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

For what it's worth, I support this removal, and the removal of any off-topic or soapboxing responses, at the discretion of reasonable editors. I don't know why we're arguing over this again. This sort of thing is done as needed on any other page, and nobody has suggested a reason why the ref desk is any different. If people feel strongly that authors ought to be notified, the obvious sensible solution when this happens is to go and notify those authors, rather than putting the inappropriate content back. Friday (talk) 18:30, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

No, if you allow editors to perform deletions without notifying the author, they will continue to do so forever. The way to stop this sloppiness is to undo all their deletions until they learn to behave properly. StuRat 16:57, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
This is what WP:POINT addresses. If you're restoring content to make a point to those you disagree with, rather than because you think it improves the page, this is inappropriate. Friday (talk) 17:00, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
I restore them because I think deleting things without notifying the author harms the Ref Desk, and thus restoring them helps the Ref Desk, by undoing this harm. As for your suggestion that I notify the authors of the deletion, it's not my responsibility to clean up after messes made by others. StuRat 19:25, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
I don't see what is "off-topic" and "soapboxing responses". I don't see how this is different from saying "I did not like the answers". If you support something, please explain your reasons. A.Z. 18:38, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

I, too, support the removal; it is an effective (and wiki-appropriate) way to manage the reference desk AS a reference desk. But I remain concerned about using the particular phrasing of NPOV to make this case. As eric's own cut-and-paste shows, "all Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV)." But the reference desk is no more one or several "articles and other encyclopedic content" than a librarian is the book collection to which she guides querents. It's not just that a better defense is to focus on the definition of reference desk, note the narrowly defined way the term is used in Wikipedia, and state clearly what that should mean for policy assumptions; it's that fighting from the corners of "it's essentially a talk page" and "it's the same as everywhere in wikipedia" have become entrenched and unresolvable positions which only cause others to dig in further. Can't we accept that there is confusion about this space, enough to cause it to regularly teeter on the edge of useful, and try to find consensus by using neutral terms...and let the silly argument about whether the reference desks should have the FULL parameter set and policies of either talk pages or article space collapse into more productive discussion? Jfarber 18:52, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

By all means, go ahead and try doing that. Some of use have been trying unsuccessfully for months to turn discussion in a more useful direction. It's difficult. Maybe different editors coming in and trying is just what we need. Friday (talk) 18:56, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
You don't do that at all, Friday, you're one of the people who insists that all Wikipedia rules apply to the Ref Desk, such as when you make the argument that "If you disagree with NPOV, go discuss it on the NPOV talk page, not here". You are bypassing the entire question of whether policies written for Wikipedia articles, like NPOV, should be applied directly to the Ref Desk, which is not helpful at all. StuRat 17:03, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
I'll try once more. I have explained my views, sometimes at far too great a length, on what I think is or is not appropriate. Like many other editors who've expressed opinions, my views have a bit of nuance and are not nearly as black and white as you're presenting them. We have policies on verifiability and neutrality for a reason. Heck, even the talk page guidelines go out of their way to explain that we don't abandon these concepts on talk pages. If you want to discuss how and why policies do or don't apply to the ref desk, I'll happily participate. But I gotta be honest here- you have a tendency to paraphrase people's arguments in extremely simple, frequently misleading terms, and this is counterproductive to useful discussion. When people have nuanced opinions, usually that nuance is there for a reason. Friday (talk) 17:20, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
What's the "nuance" in telling people to go discuss NPOV on the NPOV page, instead of here ? That's just a big, ugly straw man. StuRat 19:17, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

Chat desk unilaterally deleted!

Just so you all know, the Wikipedia:Chat desk was deleted! Check out the explanation. Turns out Wikipedia's not for chatting after all. Who knew?!? Friday (talk) 18:15, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

At first you seem happy with all the exclamation marks. But then I realize it's not happiness, it looks more like you wanted to get back on people who think differently from you. Revenge never brings happiness, I think you agree. It was just a deletion, no more than that. And the "explanation" is only the opinion of one person, Friday, there's no one reason to take it as being the truth about what Wikipedia is. A.Z. 18:27, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
It's not happiness, it's sarcasm. The point is that there's a broad, existing consensus that Wikipedia is not for chatting. Anyone unwilling to accept this just needs to chat elsewhere. Outside our little walled garden of the ref desk, this is a no-brainer. Friday (talk) 18:35, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
There is no consensus since I did not agree to abide to that. A.Z. 18:40, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Oh dear. You believe the only policies, guidelines, or standards on Wikipedia that you should follow are those you've personally agreed to yourself? I'm afraid this is quite far off from how things work. Wikipedia has a code of conduct. For a high level explanation of Wikipedia, see the five pillars. Friday (talk) 19:02, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
How can I decide whether I should follow standards that I don't understand? A.Z. 19:11, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Oh dear. 'Consensus' is another one of those words which has a specific meaning and traditions in the context of Wikipedia. See Wikipedia:Consensus. Practically speaking, it means that a policy can be considered to have a 'consensus' in support, despite not actually having the agreement of every single person who works on the encyclopedia. (See also the confusion about the distinction between 'pages on which talk sometimes takes place' and 'talk pages' for another instance of Wikipedia-specific terminology.) TenOfAllTrades(talk) 19:07, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
They should find another word for it then. Using the word "consensus" just makes everything confusing. A.Z. 19:11, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Perhaps you're right. We do have this issue with other words, too, like "verifiability". In plain English, if you call your friend on the phone to ask him his dog's name, you've verified the name. In Wikipedia terms, what you've got isn't verifiable at all. All I can suggest is that learning the ropes of Wikipedia takes some time. Some people are around for years and never do. Friday (talk)
AZ, I really recommend exploring the difference between consensus and unanimity.
Friday, you repeated sarcasm is a clear breach of civility, one of core principles of Wikipedia. You are taunting AZ, which is one of the behaviours specifically prohibited by WP:CIVIL. It is especially inappropriate to behave this way towards a fairly new editor. As you said on my talk page recently "Everyone was new at some time". You should apologise. Gandalf61 19:37, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't see that I'm taunting at all. This is not my intention. Nonetheless, I have accidentally offended before, so it's certainly possible. A.Z., please accept my apologies if I have offended. I didn't mean to. Friday (talk) 19:39, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
I don't know whether I was offended. A.Z. 20:02, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
But, I don't see why new editors should get special treatment. Is it okey to offend old editors? A.Z. 20:02, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
No. It's never ok to intentionally offend anyone. If you do it unintentionally, take responsibility for it, apologise, and learn from your mistake. JackofOz 03:14, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
It isn't any less appropriate to insult new or old editors, but new editors are more likely to be insulted, especially with ad hominem attacks ... "you don't know about the 5 pillars, so you're a moron, so nothing you say matters". StuRat 19:52, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

Some conflicts are really objections to the pillars of Wikipedia

Many of the conflicts we've had come from people who are actually objecting not specifically to what happens at the ref desk, but rather to the character of Wikipedia in general. I would invite those people to raise their objections in the appropriate place, rather than here. If everyone would read and understand the five pillars, this may help a lot. Then, if you want to raise an argument about why NPOV is bad, for example, you can do it at Wikipedia talk:Neutral point of view rather than here. I would also encourage those responding to such arguments to merely say "Look, you're objecting to a pillar, this isn't the place for it" rather than continue to have the same discussions here over and over. (I've been as guilty as anyone of violating this last suggestion, so I'm going to try changing my approach). Friday (talk) 19:10, 31 March 2007 (UTC)

So you think all the people debating on the electoral reform thread do not understand the five pillars or are objecting to them? The pillars are really vague and I for one admit that I do not understand them, but I think that other people may just have different interpretations for them. A.Z. 19:21, 31 March 2007 (UTC)
Well, maybe the best way to understand them is to go get lots of experience editing articles, and occasionally go back to the page and re-read them. They should get more clear over time. Friday (talk) 17:30, 1 April 2007 (UTC)
I think the best thing is to understand why someone felt compelled to come up with something called the Five Pillars, and why they gained broad acceptance. Rather than having someone tell you, "these are the rules, learn them well", as if they were sent from heaven and are infallible. Vranak

The problem isn't "not understanding the rules of Wikipedia", but rather those who try to apply rules, which were written for articles, to the Ref Desk, without change. Some rules don't apply at all (like anyone being able to remove anything as long as they think it's an improvement), other rules are applied differently (like NPOV, neutrality is obtained by obtaining many views on the Ref Desk, and suppressing none, not by requiring that each response contain all possible views), and other rules apply in exactly the same way to the Ref Desk, like assuming good faith. StuRat 16:27, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

Why do you say neutrality should be treated differently on the ref desk? Are you saying there's existing consensus or a guideline that indicates this, or are you giving your own opinion on how things should be? There are well-established ways of dealing with neutrality - I can't think of a good reason to not use these established practices on the ref desk also. Friday (talk) 16:31, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
The help desk does not - nor cannot - operate as if we were writing articles in response to questions. Mostly people come here because the articles we have have failed them in some way (well, no - mostly people come here to troll - but when we do get a serious question, it's often because articles have failed them). As a result, the answers they get cannot be properly referenced - they are frequently off-the-cuff and it sometimes takes the answers from several Wikipedians to nail the result. What we have here is more a conversation between people who mostly have the right knowledge - it's what you get if you ask someone a question - not what you expect to find in an encyclopedia. We very often nail the question exactly - sometimes we don't. Humor creeps in because it's a conversation - not a formal article. All in all, I think we help people - which makes it worthwhile. SteveBaker 16:40, 2 April 2007 (UTC)
Agreed, NPOV doesn't apply in the same way to talk pages, like the Ref Desk. To say that, in response to the question "What are US politician's view on abortion ?", I can't list any politician's views unless I list every politician's views, in order to maintain NPOV, is absurd. StuRat 19:03, 2 April 2007 (UTC)