# Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Archive 76

## Porn films

I hid the soapboxing and subsequent replies to the WP:RD/E#Porn films question. They don't actually answer the question, make wide sweeping generalizations, and are preachy. Dismas|(talk) 21:01, 26 August 2010 (UTC)

## Encyclopedic tone

Moved to Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Personal disagreement 1 —— Shakescene (talk) 13:08, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

## Is this person really worth our time?

Moved to Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Personal disagreement 1 —— Shakescene (talk) 13:17, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

## Layout problem at Computing desk

I just edited the Computing desk, and noticed that the page stretches way past the browser window, and there's a scroll bar. The content seems to still lay out properly within the browser's viewport. Other desks and pages seem fine. I'm using the latest version of Firefox. I don't have the proper tools installed to look into what's causing this (hopefully not my edits). Someone take a look? Zigorney (talk) 17:40, 28 August 2010 (UTC)

Okay, noticed it's caused by too long lines in code blocks. At least it wasn't me :) Zigorney (talk) 17:43, 28 August 2010 (UTC)
I put the code into a box to fix the page formatting [1] 82.44.54.25 (talk) 18:50, 28 August 2010 (UTC)

## IT'S is the contraction of IT IS

I object to this deletion[2] of my post which in accordance with Talk page guidelines asked: Did you mean to post "in its neck" instead of "in it is neck" ?. The relevant guideline says Do not edit apparent mistaken homophone contractions in comments of others. One may only ask the poster what they meant to say. (my underlining)

Despite knowing that in English IT'S is the contraction of IT IS, one editor continually abuses the language by posting such nonsense as:

...the blood has to be pumped up to it is head
...when it is head low to the ground
...the veins and arteries of it is neck
...If a giraffe kept it is head down [3]

...blood vessels in it is neck [4]

The above are not typos, they are deliberate and consistent. The writer is capable of writing correctly but chooses not to. This is the place to tell SteveBaker that it is not ok to use Wikipedia as a platform for launching one's crazy idea for "improving" English. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 22:11, 30 August 2010 (UTC)

Huh? How do you know it's (yes "it's") deliberate? It's a mistake I often make, when I see it I correct my post, when I don't, I don't. Usually (if not virtually always), a sentence's context will unambiguously resist its mistyped "its". I probably wouldn't have removed your lesson in orthography, but I would have tried my best to ignore it (and I probably would have had to suppress some irritation while doing so). Nevertheless, you've been asked by a number of editors to kick your habit of asking whether user:X actually meant "owlnjskleää" instead of "owlnsjkleaä" when there was no reasonable way of misinterpreting the text. Okay so this (talkpage) is the place to tell him. The desks certainly aren't. Your complaint surprises me. ---Sluzzelin talk 22:22, 30 August 2010 (UTC)

I think he's deliberately doing it to annoy you, because you make such an issue out of it. And its apparently worked (hence this thread). I personally don't care as the meaning of all his posts comes across clearly regardless of the typo. It's not disruptive, unless you cause disruption over it. 82.44.55.25 (talk) 22:27, 30 August 2010 (UTC)

Cuddlyable, please do not disrupt Wikipedia to make a POINT. —Steve Summit (talk) 22:41, 30 August 2010 (UTC)
Steve Baker is not on a crazy crusade; you are.
Steve Baker is not "abusing" the English language. You, on the other hand, are abusing both this talk page and our patience. —Steve Summit (talk) 22:44, 30 August 2010 (UTC)
Hm. Given that I explicitly asked Cuddlyable to stop his grammar crusade just a few hours ago [5] (in accordance with the extensive guidance he has been given on this page in recent weeks), this decision to further ratchet up his indignation is troubling. Cuddlyable has a history of conflict with SteveBaker; his decision to post a needling criticism of a tiny typo exemplifies poor judgement at best, and evinces deliberate disruption at worst.
Cuddlyable's comment didn't improve on the posted responses or answer any questions (least of all the original poster's), so it didn't serve to advance the purpose of the Reference Desks. It was a snide and childish attack on another volunteer at the Desk, making this a less pleasant and less welcome place — we're supposed to be helpful. At this point, Cuddlyable seems far more interested in making a point than in being helpful and constructive. Discussion has not visibly improved Cuddlyable's conduct, and he prefers to cloak his unpleasant nitpicking in a close reading of a behaviour guideline (which ought to be interpreted with care and common sense). If Cuddlyable requires explicit rules codifying acceptable behaviour, I believe that this can be straightforwardly addressed. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 23:11, 30 August 2010 (UTC)
I find funny that you overreact like this when Cuddlyable3 is simply right. Reference Desk replies aren't Youtube comments and therefore correct grammar and spelling should be a must. I doubt that it is just a "tiny typo" since SteveBaker does that constantly. I have also corrected many of his it's and who's and it does get annoying after a while - the same mistakes over and over again. I find it hard to believe that someone who types such extensive replies can't understand the difference between its and it's = it is when very young foreign students of English have no problem with that, so maybe 82.44.55.25 was right when he suggested that SteveBaker does that deliberately. --Belchman (talk) 00:26, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Being 'right' and being 'obsessed' are not mutually exclusive. Cuddlyable3 is obsessed with the grammar issue, well above and beyond the realm of common sense. Grammar is secondary to comprehension - when bad grammar interferes with comprehension it needs to be fixed, but when a sentence is perfectly understandable in spite of grammatical errors, then grammar corrections would be nice, but are not a matter of great concern. the problem here is that Cuddlyable3 is pushing on the grammar point to an extent where it is beginning to annoy other people, without recognizing that the 'value added' of these grammatical corrections (from the perspective of the Ref Desk) is negligible, and now other editors are pushing back.
I think everyone involved in this needs to get a bit of perspective and back off. Everyone can use occasional grammar corrections; nobody likes continuous grammar corrections. find the balance. --Ludwigs2 17:18, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

### Cuddlyable3 editing restriction

I propose the following restriction.

Cuddlyable3 is hereby restricted from posting questions or comments to the Wikipedia Reference Desk questioning, addressing, or otherwise discussing the spelling or grammar of other editors. (The sole exception is in response to questions directly seeking advice on these topics.) Violations of this editing restriction may be reverted without discussion, and Cuddlyable3 may be blocked for up to forty-eight hours for each violation. After the third violation, the maximum block length will escalate to two weeks. This restriction will lapse six months after the last violation.
• Support, as proposer. It's silly that matters have come to this, but mere stubbornness shouldn't earn a free pass to engage in unpleasant conduct toward one's fellows. This is at least the third time we've had this discussion. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 23:11, 30 August 2010 (UTC)
• 1 - That would be a very valid concern, which I would endorse entirely — except that we've had this discussion regarding this editor on this talk page at least twice before. 2 - That is both true and not terribly important. I don't think anyone – including SteveBaker – would dispute that his statement was grammatically incorrect. Nevertheless, Cuddlyable's comment was snide (implying that there was some sort of confusion about what Steve could possibly have meant), part of ongoing antagonism and grudge-holding (Cuddlyable and Steve have had previous...interactions, and Cuddlyable has engaged in disproportionately hostile behaviour), apparently crafted to be disruptive while wikilawyerly acceptable (per his comments on my talk page), and irrelevant to the function of the Reference Desk (Cuddlyable's comment did nothing to help to answer anyone's question). TenOfAllTrades(talk) 01:37, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Your reply basically sums up the whole discussion. You people are biased because you feel that your e-friend/legendary question-answerer SteveBaker is being attacked once again by a disruptive, evil quasi-troll called Cuddlyable3. Needless to say, that is a form of argumentum ad hominem. If someone who knew neither of them read this discussion, the verdict is obvious: The only person that is being disruptive in this particular case is SteveBaker with his deliberate and constant language mistakes, no matter how friends you are. --Belchman (talk) 11:28, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
I'm not friends with anyone here. I have never had a private conversation, on or off WP, with either SteveBaker or Cuddlyable3. Though I don't support the proposed restriction, I can understand where it's coming from, and it has nothing to do with your psychological evaluation of other people's motives. The verdict isn't obvious to me at all. Please don't speak for other people. Speak for yourself. ---Sluzzelin talk 11:34, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
You have replied just 6 minutes later; I advise you to take a little bit longer than that next time, basically because you have missed my point completely and have focused in a tiny detail. Also, it's very amusing that you're actually confirming my thoughts when you said "I can understand where it's coming from", basically admitting that you're not sticking to the events of this particular discussion. --Belchman (talk) 12:01, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for the advice. I took some more time, but my reading of your post hasn't changed. If you wish to explain so even I can understand it, feel free to do so, but it's not that important. My understanding where it's coming from has to do with my personal experiences outside of Wikipedia. But I guess you're right that there is no place for that here. As I said I don't support the restriction, but that doesn't automatically make everyone with whom I disagree "wrong". Your mileage may vary. ---Sluzzelin talk 12:42, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Belchman, may I say this. As one who has also tried, and failed, to get Steve Baker to change his its/it's ways, my very strong sense is that he's never been deliberately provocative about it. I just don't get that about him. He can be a colossal prig sometimes, with his insistence on the absolute RIGHTness of some of his opinions, and the absolute WRONGness of anyone who happens to disagree, and the absolute denial of the existence of certain phenomena he happens not to believe really exist (he goes way beyond "I am not convinced about X", preferring "Take my word for it, there is no such thing as X"), and so on. But we all have our unique ways. As for its/it's, my very strong sense is that that's been his way for a long time; he no longer even stops to make those conscious choices, it's all automatic now. But originally it was a conscious choice on his part. Not a choice to be different for the sake of being different, or to ruffle pedants' feathers, or for any other reason than that it feels logically "right" to him to spell the word that way, and correspondingly "wrong" to do it the way the textbooks and the grammarians would prefer. Not that logic has much to do with English spelling, but that obviously works for him, as it does for millions of other people who also refuse to ever use the word "its". Not that I'm even remotely on their side, but we all have to accept that language changes whether we like it or not, and when enough people do things a certain way, that way becomes the standard, become the accepted grammar. It's not there yet, and if I had my druthers it would never get there, but I foresee a time when "its" will be considered archaic, and the apostrophe will be mandatory regardless of the meaning - while at the same time the standard possessive apostrophe for nouns will have become optional or even wrong (yes, I know, it's wildly inconsistent, but that's what's happening out there for those with eyes to see). So, I believe it's quite a leap to charge Steve Baker with deliberate provocation. That is a rather more serious charge than any question of merely misspelling certain words, and I believe you need to either substantiate your charge or withdraw it. -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 13:48, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
I was the one who first suggested he might be doing it deliberately. I take that back. I've only been a casual observer on all this, and I made that comment at the start of this thread without really looking into the situation too deeply. But even if he was, I still don't see a problem with it. It's not offensive or disruptive or confusing, and everything he types comes across clearly. 82.44.55.25 (talk) 13:59, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Comment: I committed the deletion that triggered this discussion, and feel as though we may already have the tools needed to limit the disruption in a situation like this; if there is a consensus that deletion can be an appropriate response (with appropriate care and edit summary), then pedantry that doesn't clarify can simply be deleted. I realize that definitions are challenging, but we deal with such judgment calls all the time. I do think that Cuddlyable3's edits are disruptive, so if pressed I'd endorse further restrictions (but I like using available tools when feasible). -- Scray (talk) 01:23, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
If you really think that correct spelling and grammar is 'pedantic' and 'disruptive' (especially when the same mistake is repeatedly made and, even worse, it is probably made deliberately) then you, sir, have a problem. --Belchman (talk) 01:30, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
IMHO correct spelling and grammar are not intrinsically pedantic; I think you'll find that I'm pretty careful with both in my WP edits (though none of us is perfect). In contrast, Cuddlyable3 seems focused on corrections of minute errors in spelling and grammar (where intended meaning is not in question), the content is not article space (where such corrections would be welcome by all), and (as others have pointed out) the user being corrected is known not to appreciate the correction on the RD. That is pedantry (feel free to look up the word; I think the shoe fits). The disruption part is manifest here and in past exchanges, and I am becoming convinced that the disruption is deliberate. -- Scray (talk) 03:52, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
I completely endorse your removal in this case, as this is a user with a history of problems in this area who has refused to take any guidance on board. There are two reasons why I proposed a specific, clearly-worded restriction applied to Cuddlyable. The first is that previous advice and guidance from the community has fallen on deaf ears here, and he has indicated that he is responsive to clear, written direction; the clearly codified potential for enforcement by block means that he cannot claim surprise if ongoing disruptive behaviour eventually leads to exhaustion of community patience. The second is that I don't really want to get into a situation where disingenuous or overzealous anti-pedants start making things unpleasant by jumping into aggressive deletions of posts by editors who are just having an 'off day' (I would suggest that you have a gift for understatement when you say, "definitions are challenging"), nor do I want the possibility of restricting Cuddlyable's irresponsible conduct torpedoed by fears that over-broad general restrictions might catch good-faith contributions by other editors. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 01:37, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Support Though I think deletions like mine provide another avenue for mitigating disruption. -- Scray (talk) 11:35, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Comment I've remarked before I don't personally see anything wrong with CA offering grammar and spelling advice, particularly if it's done politely and there's reason to presume the person may not be aware they made a mistake (e.g. English isn't their first language) and may welcome such advice. Even more so if CA adds something to the discussion other then the advice. However I've remarked before I don't see CA's pointing out SB it's/its usage is helpful since SB has made it clear he doesn't care, so while it may benefit others who aren't aware, I don't think that's sufficient to warrant continual comments. Therefore if CA really continues to point out things where the person clearly doesn't care I would support a restriction. I would say if SB is purposely doing this to annoy CA or get a response, I don't consider this any better behaviour then CA's however we have no evidence he's doing that. Nil Einne (talk) 01:59, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• I Support the idea of restriction, of course, but are such specific gag-orders kosher on Wikipedia? I'm not sure I've ever heard of them applied to anyone else. If this kind of thing is "done" then I absolutely support it. C3 has proved that he's incapable of listening to reason. He (Or she? Whatever.) has been warned about this behavior on multiple occasions and the weight of consensus is always firmly against him. Yet still he persists. He's worse than the guy who asked about planet colors. At least that guy's stubborn refusal to listen seemed to be based on an honest desire to use the refdesk to learn something. C3 knows full well that we understand homonyms, he just persists on correcting us with the hope of irritating us until we comply with his petty grammar-related demands. APL (talk) 03:56, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Oppose: While I naturally assume this was intended as a joke, on the off chance it's not... GROW UP!!! If CB3 corrects your spelling, and it bothers you that he corrects your spelling, learn to spell better. To date, the times when he's corrected me it hasn't bothered me a bit. if at some point it does bother me, I'll spell better or I'll tell him to f%ck off. it's not a big issue either way. --Ludwigs2 04:17, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
The point though Ludwigs2 is that C3 is not contributing to answering questions when they go off on a grammo-tangent. If they were consistently providing sourced answers to the OP and as an aside mentioning that such-and-such spelling was wrong, that would be one thing. Posting just to needle in some minor error is a whole different other. C3 is not showing collegial instinct to help out, (s)he is showing a tendency to nitpick in hopes of a fight. That behaviour does nothing to advance the aims of the RDs and actively obstructs the process of answering the original question. Franamax (talk) 04:31, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
(After e/c with Franamax)
It's no joke. C3's smug "corrections" are intentional trolling. If I say "The Giraffe raises it's neck" and you say "Did you mean to post 'in its neck' instead of 'in it is neck'?" You are not honestly asking a question and you are not helpfully clarifying the situation for confused onlookers, You're doing it only to get a rise out of people. It's no better than repeatedly asking questions about launching probes into Uranus to search for gaseous emissions, and a good deal less funny. APL (talk) 04:35, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Support and I will help out with the enforcement. This has gone on long enough. I'm mystified at what C3 is hoping to gain and rather suspect that they enjoy the cut-and-thrust of arguing it out. Falling back to specific wording of policy/guideline as a defence rather than using common sense, to me is a worrying sign. C3 is still free to post on individual user or IP talk pages to point out grammar/spelling errors (including SB's, SB can delete the posts) made elsewhere, but it seems clear that this constant pedantry is disruptive. APL, yes this is the "done thing" when we get to our wit's end Is that apostrophe wrong? Probably. - the community can form a consensus to enact sanctions to prevent disruption. Usually this is done at the incident noticeboard, in this case we are better served to form a consensus here and post to ANI as a confirmatory step. If C3 is not willing to alter their behaviour, then something needs to be done. Franamax (talk) 04:21, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Support "Cuddlyable's comment did nothing to help to answer anyone's question" nor did it serve any other useful purpose as far as I can see. (And see also this, which not only served no useful purpose but confused and offended the question-asker, too). It would be nice if we all had perfect punctuation, spelling, grammar, rhetorical style, etc., all the time -- but none of us do, which can at times be annoying. If an instance or set of instances becomes really annoying, then that meta-issue ought best be addressed directly with the user involved, and not in disruption of the actual topic being discussed. If it is not a mere annoyance but actual disruption that is the problem, that should be dealt with as it is being dealt with here. Therefore, I support. Wikiscient (talk) 06:04, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Alternative proposal - I come from a family that would freely point out grammar mistakes to each other and it would be appreciated. However, correcting the errors of strangers is extremely rude, in general, unless there's a real chance of a miscommunication. In light of that, I would like to go on record as saying that Cuddly is free to point out mistakes in my English usage at any time (though I reserve the right to dispute it if necessary, or to ignore it); and I propose this alternative restriction: Before he corrects a frequent ref desk editor's English usage, he should ask that user's permission. And he shouldn't comment at all on a casual reader's original post or followup unless there's a real chance that no one will understand the question (which is unlikely given that we speak English natively). ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 07:44, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
That will only work if the permission is to silently make edits to correct typogrammos, perhaps with notice on the user talk page. For another editor to invite comment on their grammar on a RD page itself is to invite personal commentary onto a putative encyclopedia page. We walk a fine line with deletion as it is when we put in our little jokes and small commentary. If Cuddlyable3 feels the need to comment on grammar, they can well do so one-to-one on the editor talk page so as not to disrupt the flow of the deaks. If that starts getting silly, then we or others can act on that too. The intent here is to curb disruption of the reference desks. Franamax (talk) 09:44, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Yes, he should definitely ask permission on the user's talk page, not the ref desk; and under NO circumstances except policy violation (such as BLP breach) should he be messing with others' edits on the ref desk itself, nor should he bring it up there UNLESS there is a serious risk of miscommunication (and "its" vs. "it's" ain't it). ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 10:34, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
As I understand it (and I may misunderstand, so bear with me) this proposal seems unworkable. Would the permission be always-prominent on the "permitting" editor's Talk page? If not, how would other editors, attempting to enforce this ban, determine whether permission has been granted? I think your alternative proposal does reflect Cuddlyable3's current freedom to post suggestions for grammatical improvements on others' talk pages while respecting WP guidance (and good sense). At this point, I think Cuddlyable3 has lost the privilege of reposting with grammar and spelling corrections on the RD, for a time to be determined by consensus. -- Scray (talk) 11:35, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Why not simply tell him to make his copy-edit corrections on the user's talk page? Then, it doesn't clutter up the RD with posts that clearly annoy many users. It seems absurd to put a message on the user's talk page asking to make a spelling correction and then posting that spelling correction on the RD. -- kainaw 13:12, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Support. The reference desk's purpose is answering questions, not copy-editing. People who post a question are doing so because they want an answer... if they want copyediting suggestions, they will say so clearly. There's no need to respond to a question with anything that isn't a useful answer to that question. To do so is just simple rudeness, like correcting the table manners of your dinner guests. I have several degrees in English, and definitely know how to use an apostrophe, but I've never commented on a questioner's spelling or grammar unless it was bad enough that I needed help in understanding the question. -FisherQueen (talk · contribs) 10:53, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
If you really have "several degrees in English" and still cannot understand why we should not use "Youtube-comments English" (I seriously doubt that atrocities such as *definately or *u instead of you cause any real misunderstanding) here, I'm afraid I'll have to avoid making public my opinion about you. --Belchman (talk) 11:42, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
If he has several degrees in English, it means he likely has a good command of what correct English is. But that's a completely different question from whether "correct English" is or ought to be mandatory in a particular situation. Up above you said, "Reference Desk replies aren't Youtube comments and therefore correct grammar and spelling should be a must", and I have to say, your conclusion does not follow. It has the same logical form as "Two plus three does not equal forty-seven, and therefore the earth is flat." —Steve Summit (talk) 12:09, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Replace that "aren't Youtube comments" with "shouldn't be informal uneducated opinions" if you don't understand my metaphor. --Belchman (talk) 12:28, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Oh, I understand it, all right; I just don't agree with it. But my analogy was flawed, too. Here's a better one, if you don't understand it. Your earlier statement has the same logical form as "The library is not the privacy of one's home. Therefore wearing the burqa is a must." —Steve Summit (talk) 12:51, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Hahaha, whatever. You're not the sharpest tool in the shed, aren't you? This is my last reply to this. --Belchman (talk) 13:44, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Maybe not. Belchman, see my comment up above, where I ask you to substantiate your accusation that Steve Baker has been deliberately provocative, or withdraw it. -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 13:53, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Belchman, that is a personal attack. My opinion of your character is now about as fixed as is yours of FisherQueen, and I think I won't have anything further to say to you, either. —Steve Summit (talk) 16:24, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Isn't this whole thread a personal attack on Cuddlyable3? --Chemicalinterest (talk) 16:59, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
No. —Steve Summit (talk) 17:17, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
What's this then? --Chemicalinterest (talk) 00:38, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
• Oppose this massive over-reaction and candidate for WP:LAME. Agree with Ludwigs2. All parties on both sides of this absurd dispute should put down the flaming torches and pitchforks and go do something useful instead. Gandalf61 (talk) 11:56, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Alternative proposal #2 - If alternative #1 seems too complicated, take this more straighforward and uniform approach: If Cuddly or anyone else makes rude comments about the English usage of your edits, like the ones he did which triggered this discussion, you may delete them without comment. And if he does likewise with an OP, any editor may delete them unless his comments actually contain an answer to the OP's question. Do that a few times, and maybe he'll get the point and stop doing it. I know I often cringe when I see some of the horrible wording of questions and comments, but I almost always understand what they're trying to say, and that's all that matters at the ref desk. English usage pedantry is perfectly fine in article writing. In the ref desk it's generally not appropriate. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 13:33, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Oppose Although I see that Cuddlyable3's editing can be disruptive and are a bad habit, neither should User:SteveBaker try to encourage C3's behavior by deliberately writing his its and it's wrong. And preventing one person in a debate from speaking is not a decent way to win. --Chemicalinterest (talk) 16:50, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Nobody has prevented Cuddlyable3 from speaking. Comet Tuttle (talk) 22:38, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Also, per the "deliberate provocation" sub-thread below, you should substantiate your assertion of things being done deliberately or drop it completely. We are not discussing motivations, we are discussing outcomes, namely what behaviour is most disruptive and how to rein in the disruption. Note I typed "rein in" NOT "reign in" - has noone on this wiki ever ridden a horse? We all have our issues. ;) Franamax (talk) 23:14, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
• Support for many of the reasons already posted - please C3, go and *wank* your apostrophe elsewhere. BTW, polls are evil. hydnjo (talk) 21:58, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Agree that polls are evil, but desperate times call for desperate measures and this is a good discussion. The respondents so far are presenting cogent reasoning, and we can ask for an independent closer. Franamax (talk) 23:05, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Thanks ...max for bringing me back to reality ;-) hydnjo (talk) 00:29, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
• Support, because unsolicited grammar and spelling correction makes the RD less friendly to querents and to answerers alike, and provides no benefit. That said, I want to make it clear that I like almost all of Cuddlyable3's answers on the Reference Desk, and that he or she caused me to laugh probably harder than anyone else ever has on the Reference Desk, in this thread (with the post ending "Peace out", in the context of the previous few days of quarreling over this matter). Comet Tuttle (talk) 22:38, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
I wish that C3 would say that. hydnjo (talk) 00:35, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
• Abstain because I'm uncomfortable with the premise of voting people off of the island (at least in this way), but I do agree that spelling/grammar correction is really not necessary, useful, or conducive to a good environment on the Ref Desk and should only be done in cases where it is actually topically relevant to answering the question (e.g., if the OP is not finding the answer they want because they don't know how the term they are looking for is actually spelled). The urge to correct grammar for its own sake should be applied to the encyclopedia, not to the Reference Desk. It's annoying and I do with that C3 would do us all a favor and stop. --Mr.98 (talk) 01:00, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
• Abstain for almost exactly the same reasons expressed by Mr.98 above. —— Shakescene (talk) 02:00, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
• I too agree with those reasons, and it leads me to oppose this proposal. In particular, we've had (and probably will have) behaviour here that I see as quite a bit more problematic, from the point of view of a reference desk, and I really don't want us to set a precedent of singling out editors and pronouncing restrictions that apply only to them and not to all . I guess I'm willing to put up with with your incredibly bullheaded pedantry, Cuddlyable3, because I otherwise find you to be a valuable contributor. Still, it would be nice if you stopped, when you get such angry reactions. I don't think there is consensus to enforce this proposal, but who knows what's going to happen if you continue on your orthographic crusade against such strong opposition? Please reflect on whether whatever goals you are seeking to achieve are worth aggravating a number of good-faith contributors. And don't be surprised if stuff gets removed.---Sluzzelin talk 02:51, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

#### results

For the record, if I'm counting correctly, there were something like 9 supports, 4 opposes, and 5 abstains or other comments. I'd say there's no clear consensus here. —Steve Summit (talk) 12:10, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Would you feel comfortable with breaking your summary conclusion into two separate, more specific findings? That is,
1. Is there a consensus for the particular proposed remedy?
2. Is there a consensus regarding the appropriateness of Cuddlyable3's conduct?
Thanks, TenOfAllTrades(talk) 14:17, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
This discussion began with a complaint by Cuddly about his comments being deleted. Is there a consensus for that? If so, then that would address the problem, wouldn't it? If deleting it was OK, then any such comments can be deleted in the future. If not, and if there's no consensus for editing restrictions of some kind, then we're back to square one. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 14:30, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
My summary here was only of the results of Ten's poll, for which my conclusion is that there's no consensus. I offer my reading of the outcome of the larger discussion in section "Consensus" below. —Steve Summit (talk) 17:32, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

### Moving this quarrel

I moved this proposal to Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Personal disagreement 2 not to archive and forget it, but to clear this Ref. desk talk page for resoluble technical and policy issues. Also to give this discussion an uncluttered page of its own. This proposed sanction really belongs on Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents if it's that important. But it should have been handled first on the respective editors' talk pages, rather than ganging up here to decide "what shall we [not] do to X?". The Ref. desk talk page, while hardly ideal, seems to be the best place available to discuss immediate issues with trolls, sock-puppets and other problematic newcomers. But long-standing disagreements with veteran editors who have also all contributed usefully to the Reference Desk will inevitably take over the whole RD Talk Page with long and very ill-tempered quarrels that belong on a sub-page. A horrid example, for those with short memories, is the interminable fight at Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (dates and numbers) over date auto-formatting, which became intensely personal, with a subsequent protracted case at the Wikipedia:Arbitration committee that resulted in severe sanctions against veteran editors on both sides. —— Shakescene (talk) 13:43, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

I undid the move, because while your intentions were good, the effect of moving a discussion to a subpage is usually to completely kill it (at best), or make it a site of festering bickering among the most emotionally-invested participants (at worst). This talk page is for discussions about the operation of the Ref Desk, including, if necessary, discussions about Ref Desk editor conduct. If a matter cannot be resolved here, it can be further escalated to a higher level, but we prefer to manage ourselves as much as possible. Repeated attempts have been made to discuss Cuddlyable's conduct with him on his talk page, however he refuses to engage in discussion there. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 13:54, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

### "It's" as deliberate provocation?

Scattered above are several suggestions that one editor (SteveBaker) might be misusing "it's" as a deliberate provocation to another (Cuddlyable3). Let's just note that:

1. While the editors allegedly being provoked love to stick to the letter of Wikipedia policy, there is no Wikipedia policy against misspelling "its" (or any other word). And in any case
2. It would be impossible to ever prove whether Steve Baker's (mis)use of "it's" is an honest mistake or a deliberate provocation (or some combination). But what is easy to prove -- because the evidence is right before us -- is what reaction this usage seems to provoke in Cuddlyable3 and now several other editors, and that reaction speaks volumes.

So to those objecting, I'd suggest you drop it, because you'll never prove it, and your reaction isn't helping your case. —Steve Summit (talk) 17:02, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

Now instead of just shutting up Cuddlyable, you want to shut up anyone who opposes? If people have concerns, let them voice them! --Chemicalinterest (talk) 17:11, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

I started this, and I'm deeply sorry. It was an ill-informed assumption by me without knowing all the facts. There is no evidence whatsoever that he's doing it deliberately to annoy Cuddlyable3. But regardless, Cuddlyable3s reaction to it is still vastly disproportionate. 82.44.55.25 (talk) 17:43, 31 August 2010 (UTC)

This thread has run it's course. Googlemeister (talk) 18:26, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
Its, you sneak... ;) --Chemicalinterest (talk) 18:36, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
It's has a wonderful history of deliberate provocation! ---Sluzzelin talk 18:41, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
... 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. —— Shakescene (talk) 18:54, 31 August 2010 (UTC)
I'm keeping out of proposed sanctions against C3 because I am clearly not a neutral party. But I will say this - I do not deliberately mess up the use of the apostrophe in my responses to OP questions just to annoy C3 - that would be a terrible thing to do. If you need proof of that, feel free to analyse the statistical distribution of my errors both before and after C3 started this incessant whining. I bet there is no difference whatever in the error frequency - which is concrete proof that (a) I'm not deliberately messing with his head and (b) he's not improving my punctuation.
What is happening here is that I firmly believe that it's more important to produce great answers to questions than it is to turn out perfectly spelled/punctuated English.
The format of the Ref Desks is more like email or text messaging than it is like formal Article space. Perfect English is most certainly NOT a prerequisite for providing answers here - and I'm 100% sure our OP's would prefer an interesting, well-researched answer (albeit with a few 'oopsies') to a poor but correctly punctuated one. As such, I'd rather spend 10 minutes searching for a better answer than 10 minutes proof-reading my posts...and that is all the explanation there is to this.
In truth, I really don't give a damn about the correct use of the apostrophe when the meaning is clear...(EXCEPT in Article space where of course good English is absolutely required and more care must be taken). In the EXTREMELY unlikely case where screwing up the apostrophe (or misspelling, mispunctuating, whatever) actually makes the answer ambiguous - I'd welcome a comment like Steve, your post is ambiguous punctuation - did you really mean <meaning A> or <meaning B>? However, if my message is unambiguous, I'd prefer that C3 spend time producing better researched answers of his own than trying to "educate" me or whatever the heck he thinks this is doing.
Let me once more make it crystal clear to C3 - I understand the rules of punctuation - I own a very well-thumbed copy of "Eats shoots and leaves" - when I choose to spend time on it, my English is good enough to get me two featured articles and a bunch of 'good' articles here on WP (You think THIS is a harsh audience?! Ha! Just check out WP:FAR!). I just can't be bothered with it when I'm trying to make best use of my time to help out our OP's. (That, believe it or not, is the actual purpose of WP:RD).
Correcting my punctuation has ZERO benefit. I won't do any better next time, I don't even try to do better, I have absolutely no interest in doing better. I have much better things to do with my life than to keep C3 happy when nobody else gives a damn. C3 doesn't improve the Ref Desk, he worsens it by causing off-topic tirades that only serve to confuse our readers - and soaking up valuable time that could better be spend answering some of those really interesting questions that are out there. C3's rants are without any benefit whatever...zip, zero, nada...I do my very best to ignore them whenever possible and fully intend to continue to do so. If that upsets him - that's his problem, not mine because I'm sure the community here isn't going to stand for it.
SteveBaker (talk) 03:27, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

### Consensus

From the above I think it's clear that:

1. Extremely pedantic corrections on linguistic matters unrelated to content, such as Cuddlyable3 has been offering, are not generally welcome on the reference desks, but
2. There is no consensus to enforce this with a formal editing restriction at this time (see subsection "results" above).

It's not necessarily clear:

3. Whether we agree, or disagree, that perfect English should be de rigueur on these desks.
4. What the appropriate response should be (if not a block) when disruptive comments -- such as the pedantic linguistic corrections of point 1 -- are persistently made in defiance of consensus and of polite requests to desist.

Points 3 and 4 may (or may not) deserve further discussion, but if so, they certainly deserve new sections on this page.

[Disclaimer: I was not an uninvolved party in this discussion, so feel free to comment if you disagree with my summary of the consensus or lack thereof.] —Steve Summit (talk) 17:29, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

The original complaint was made by Cuddly himself, when someone (rightly) deleted his pointy and useless comments about "it's" vs. "its". The right answer is that if he corrects someone's usage and they're offended by that correction, they should either box up or delete those comments as being irrelevant. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 18:24, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

## Ref desk "tone"

I'm quite new here at the Ref desk, have only been sitting in on it for about a week now. I've enjoyed responding to a few questions, and reading many responses from the rest of you, but am still struggling to get a better sense of the most effective form, scope, tone, etc. to use when answering a question. What does not seem very effective in answering questions is the highly emotional and personal sniping and griping and otherwise being rather annoyingly childish at other answer-ers that I sure have seen a lot of here this week. (And I will admit to perhaps having been a bit "non-productively" snide myself in answers a couple of times, too, though never very seriously and certainly with no real ill will towards anyone (yet;)).

What I would like to ask now though is for some comment/feedback on the full set of responses to this question: Wikipedia:Reference_desk/Science#Eric_Harris
(Because I must say I was a bit taken back earlier today by SteveBaker's response to one of my posts there).

• Am I really so egregiously violating WP:NOR in my answer, as that notion is understood and usually applied here at the Ref desk?
• If so, is SteveBaker using the generally accepted means (here at the Ref desk) of communicating that error to me?

I'm wondering this also in light of the brouhaha above over... Steve's punctuation? That doesn't really bother me much, and it surprises me the extent to which it seems to have gotten Cuddly's goat, but I certainly am increasingly bothered by Steve's "rhetorical style," especially as he has seen fit to inflict it directly on me recently. Can anything be done about that, or is it something that I will have to just come to accept and tolerate if I wish to continue participating at the Ref desk? Wikiscient (talk) 17:57, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

I don't see anything wrong with Steve's comment that you linked to here. We should as far as possible use well sourced expert opinion rather than our own personal speculation. Friday (talk) 18:03, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
For the first, I'd say yes -- contradicting reliable sources with your own conjecture is not advised. For the second, I also find that pretty much standard. Unless you've got other examples of Steve's "rhetorical style" and how it's "inflicted on you" (note: pretty inflammatory), I really can't offer much other advice here, as the diff you've provided seems pretty generic to me. — Lomn 18:09, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Examining the next diff: no, I think you're pretty clearly in the wrong. Steve's comment does address the original question and is not composed of his own opinion. Being wrong isn't fun -- I was corrected myself this morning -- but gracefully accepting that you may have been in error is critical to participation at the Ref Desk. — Lomn 18:14, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
I concede that he does address the OP's question; I realized my error there as soon as I'd posted. Wikiscient (talk) 19:23, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
(After 2x edit conflicts.)
I guess I'd agree that SteveBaker (among others) does occasionally make posts that are over-harsh, but I have to say I can't see anything wrong with that one. It looks like his complaint isn't purely that you were speculating, but that you were posting a speculation that contradicts an authoritative source. Madness lies in that direction. Imagine if you had offered your own speculation contradicting some scientific paper, without even giving any indication that you had even read or understood the paper.
Sorry, but I have to agree with SteveBaker here. I won't claim I've never committed the same sin, but If I were criticized for it I'd accept the criticism. APL (talk) 18:15, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Wikiscient—the Wiki Reference desks have their own personality. That personality is not utterly bizarre, but nor is it 100% generic. Allow me to extend a cordial welcome. Bus stop (talk) 18:21, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Thanks, glad to be here! :) Wikiscient (talk) 20:03, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Of note: September is always a rough month on Wikipedia in general. It isn't really September. It is the beginning of school. Thousands of kids are in class, bored, and using Wikipedia as an outlet for their juvenile antics. Some ask idiotic questions. Some give terrible answers. Some post nonsense just to post nonsense. A few become very good editors. Then, the novelty of acting up on Wikipedia wears off and everything goes back to normal again. -- kainaw 18:25, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Some of us old(er)-timers would say that it hasn't not been September in a loooong time. Maybe Wikipedia has just not fully (d)evolved yet. DMacks (talk) 18:55, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
The other rough times are the end of school, when these annoying kids are brimming over with cumulative pent-up frustration, and the middle of school, when the holidays are completely out of sight in either direction and they need to do something to relieve the dreariness, and the school holidays, when they have plenty of free time and nothing to do. If only it weren't for these annoying kids who are being annoying all the time, we'd never have any hissy fits or make caustic remarks. 213.122.36.160 (talk) 06:38, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
(The 'brouhaha' above probably shouldn't be interpreted in isolation. The real problem is that Cuddlyable3 has a history of pointlessly correcting other editors' grammar on the Desks, and has recently made a sport of goading SteveBaker.) In general, we prize responses which make careful and thorough use of reliable sources (directly or via our well-referenced articles) — we are, after all a Reference Desk. We tend to discourage non-expert reinterpretation of sources. While SteveBaker's tone might have not been syrupy-sweet, your own comment (effectively, "Here's a reliable source, but you shouldn't trust it because it's wrong, for obvious reasons that I can clearly see but the medical examiners all missed") was, by my diagnosis, a clear case of you shooting yourself in the foot. Couldn't say if it was with the TEC-9 or the carbine, though.
As a general comment on SteveBaker, his style of communication is usually direct to the point of bluntness, but the brusqueness is more than balanced by the obvious thoroughness and care that he puts into so many of his responses here, and by the fact that he doesn't seem to have a mean-spirited bone in his body. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 18:44, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for the replies so far. Perhaps I should have stressed that it's important to read the entire thread, not just that one response by Steve which, if it were valid, would, of course, be valid. There seems to be an assumption that I was egregiously violating WP:NOR; that is what I would like your opinions about, and then in that light to discuss Steve's response. It really sort of seems to me that Steve is having a bit of an emotional over-reaction in response to the entire thread.
(And may I note that I do not see how I am "contradicting" the sources cited (cf. all eight pages of Eric's autopsy) to observe that "consistent with self-inflicted 9mm wound" is not that same as "inconsistent with non-self-inflicted 9mm wound" and then to cite another source (and pictures) to illustrate the fine line in this case as to what may or may not be consistent with what).
(Please also understand that I am -- and have demonstrated that I am here several times recently -- very willing to accept blame and admit mistakes as soon as and whenever I become aware that I ought to.) Wikiscient (talk) 19:10, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
I'm going to quote myself here: "gracefully accepting that you may have been in error is critical to participation at the Ref Desk." Taking a group of replies that are consistent and draw from some of the best long-time RD participants, and saying "I think you misunderstand; don't you see that the bigger picture validates me?" is not the same as "willing to accept blame and admit mistakes". — Lomn 19:24, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
I'm not sure if you are saying this in light of having read the whole thread. I am not the only editor accepting the possibility that it does not seem to have been conclusively determined that Eric's death was self-inflicted. Wikiscient (talk) 19:32, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
(Note also, in the thread, that I started by saying it looked like suicide to me. Then I corrected myself. Wikiscient (talk) 19:38, 1 September 2010 (UTC) )
(Also that I have already taken blame/responsibility once today in response to you. :) And I do respect the experience of the respondents here and the quality of their response Wikiscient (talk) 19:43, 1 September 2010 (UTC))
I have looked at the whole thread. I noted previously that my opinion changed when I looked at the whole thread. — Lomn 19:48, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Thank you for your response. Wikiscient (talk) 19:55, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
My general advice is to communicate in whatever fashion feels most appropriate for a reference desk. As Bus stop pointed out, we all have slightly different notions of what constitutes a good reference desk, but there is mostly a lot of overlap. Don't invest yourself too much as the person behind Wikiscient, and don't take criticism personally here. Good criticism deals with the question and the content of its replies. It benefits the reader in general and the editor whose contribution got criticized in particular. I've learned a lot here. ---Sluzzelin talk 20:03, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Very good advice, I appreciate the insight. Thanks! :) Wikiscient (talk) 21:52, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Everyone who contributes answers to questions on the Reference Desks does so as a volunteer. My view is that if an answer is so incorrect or out of order that it necessitates the author of that answer being criticized, condemned, ridiculed or discouraged from contributing further, it should be done at that User’s Talk page. It should not be done at the Reference Desk. Volunteers are understandably offended when they are ridiculed publicly rather than in the relative privacy of their User Talk page.
Even though we may not agree with another User’s answer, or his approach to the Reference Desk, any response on the Reference Desk itself must be impeccably civil. There is value in observing how lawyers and barristers behave in a Court – they will say something like I must disagree with my learned colleague!
It is in everyone’s interests if the Reference Desks promote the impression of a reliable and competent body of knowledge presented professionally. Antagonism among Users is not consistent with this objective. Displays of antagonism should be addressed by raising the situation at WP:WQA. Everyone contributing answers to the Reference Desks should be willing to be fully co-operative with any recommendation coming from WP:WQA regarding their behaviour on Reference Desks. Dolphin (t) 23:40, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Agree. Time to archive this mess and forget that it ever existed. --Chemicalinterest (talk) 23:53, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
I read Wikiscient's answer as merely pointing out (the same as Wnt's answer) that, in the autopsy report, "consistent with self-infliction" does not mean "proved to be suicide". Granted, Wikiscient also pointed out that it's hard to shoot yourself with a carbine. Seems to me that OR is a difficult thing to call, and that making an observation like that isn't a lot of OR, and isn't disagreeing with the official source, which - as far as any of us know, since we've only read the conclusion, which is a reasonable thing to do - cagily said it could have been suicide. It's not strictly possible to avoid OR in choosing what facts to consider worth mentioning; picking a fact (in this case the fact of the carbine) puts a slant on your answer. 213.122.36.160 (talk) 07:04, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
Autopsy are always cagey. They have to be, because it's never conclusive. Even beheadings are like that: maybe they were dead before the head came off. "Consistent with self-infliction" does mean "proved to be suicide", but with a little legalese thrown in. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Aaronite (talkcontribs) 15:47, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

## Racism removal

Removed troll soapboxing that all white males want to kill blacks and rape white women, so racism is normal. -- kainaw 14:21, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

Thanks! ---Sluzzelin talk 14:23, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
Agreed, good call. --Viennese Waltz talk 14:27, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
Totally agree - good removal. Gandalf61 (talk) 14:31, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
Yes. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 16:01, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
And what a shock that so many good posters took the bait. (sigh). Matt Deres (talk) 16:07, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

## Lysdexia

Can I remove any posting that is signed as lysdexia (talk · contribs), whether it is a new question or just a response? He/she's a fantastic troll and has been banned for ages. Adam Bishop (talk) 18:04, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

In general, it is permissible to revert any edits made by a banned user, anywhere on Wikipedia. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 18:20, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

## Simple English Wikipedia is unmentionable?

I noticed in a post[6] (on a private page but I raise it here) this statement it is generally discouraged per consensus here at English Wikipedia to mention, let alone provide a link to, the...Simple English Wikipedia. Surely this should not apply to the Ref. Desks where it can be appropriate to give a reference to SEW where one sees that the OP needs a basic introduction to a subject and/or is not fluent in English. Please comment. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 13:38, 28 August 2010 (UTC)

Surely this should not apply to anywhere on Wikipedia. Since when was linking or even mentioning other Wikipedias "discouraged per consensus"? 82.44.54.25 (talk) 14:00, 28 August 2010 (UTC)
No, sorry, that's not what I really meant. Of course, since the mission of the Simple English Wikipedia is to break down the really complex stuff here at the English Wikipedia, we could point out that Wikipedia as an alternative way to learn more about some of the subjects here at the English Wikipedia in a different manner if they were to complex. The post above was in response to the unending cries I've heard over at the Simple English Wikipedia about ways to make it more popular and noticeable here at the English Wikipedia when consensus, or so I've heard, was that it was not necessary (e.g. someone mentioned putting a box showing the Wikipedia on every article, much like this). In regards to the policies and guidelines of Wikipedia, and in general Wikipedia's internal workings, there's no need to mention the Simple English Wikipedia. :| TelCoNaSpVe :| 16:13, 28 August 2010 (UTC)
Excuse me, your second sentence is incorrect. The purpose of Simple English Wikipedia is not to "break down the really complex stuff here at the English Wikipedia". It is not to make a more understandable version of the quantum mechanics article, for example. We are supposed to create understandable articles here at the English Wikipedia. (If one of our articles is too complex, it needs to be fixed — encyclopedias are mainly for the layman.) The purpose of Simple English Wikipedia is to be more understandable for people who struggle with the English language, usually because English is their second (or third) language. Comet Tuttle (talk) 18:10, 29 August 2010 (UTC)
What started this comment was that I noticed this. --Chemicalinterest (talk) 18:23, 29 August 2010 (UTC)
Comet Tuttle, your paragraph is contradictory. "It is not to make a more understandable version of the quantum mechanics article" conflicts with "The purpose of Simple English Wikipedia is to be more understandable for people who struggle with the English language" as statements. Furthermore this page explicitly says "The Simple English Wikipedia is also for people with different needs, such as students, children, adults with learning difficulties and people who are trying to learn English. Other people use the Simple English Wikipedia because simple language helps them to understand unfamiliar topics or complex ideas...If someone cannot understand an idea in complex English, they can read the Simple English article." :| TelCoNaSpVe :| 22:16, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Well, I don't know what the initial rationale would be for never mentioning Simple English, but it is occasionally given as a "here, read this, it is more simple," sort of answer when people are having trouble understanding complicated topics, like Relativity or Quantum Mechanics or what have you. In that case it is usually a bad source. Simple English is barely an encyclopedia, in my opinion, because frankly when you limit yourself to a 3rd grade vocabulary (or whatever it is), you simply do hobble your ability to express things clearly and accurately. You can talk about people's lives and what is a dog and other "simple" topics, but you can't do much with the really tough scientific stuff. In any case, it is not edited as heavily as En, and one should not confuse it with En in terms of quality, whatsoever. The quality is simply quite poor, above and beyond the question of whether you can dumb down some of these complicated things into explanations that are both simple and correct. We should endeavor to provide good references, not just simply references. Simple is generally speaking not a good reference. --Mr.98 (talk) 12:54, 30 August 2010 (UTC)
I created a few articles on simple wikipedia, so drop me a note if I start writing in simple vocabulary on this wiki. --Chemicalinterest (talk) 15:01, 30 August 2010 (UTC)
I'd like to see where this "consensus" to not mention Simple English Wiki was agreed upon. Knowing the Wikipedia community, I find that really unlikely. I think Chemicalinterestthe person who claims this should put up or shut up...where is the consensus discussion that came to that conclusion? Give us an actual link to it. If there isn't one - then strike your comment and apologize for 'stretching the truth' here. If there is one then give us all the benefit of being able to read and understand the reasoning behind such a seemingly odd conclusion.
Simple English Wiki isn't for everyone. If you are capable of understanding enough of the language with the world's largest vocabulary - then reading Simple English comes across as childlike and annoying. But if you are just learning English - then only having to understand that restricted vocabulary is enough to allow you to read a bunch of articles that would otherwise have been incomprehensible. It is true that in some cases the material has been dumbed-down, as if speaking to a child - when the intent is merely to simplify the description - not the facts themselves. However, there are only a tiny number of people working on the Simplified English Wiki - and they simply don't have the effort to flesh it out to the degree we'd all like to see. The solution to that is to try to get more people to help - but it's actually remarkably difficult to write in the Simplified English style. SteveBaker (talk) 03:52, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
There appears to be some confusion here. Chemical interest wasn't the one who said there was a consensus. TCNSV was the one who did so. TCNSV has offered some explaination of what they meant above Nil Einne (talk) 07:20, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Sorry - my bad! I've corrected my post above. SteveBaker (talk) 13:08, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
FWIW I doubt TCNSV is going to explain further what they meant (given their comment wasn't even directed at the RD). My understanding is while perhaps poorly worded initially (although bearing in mind it was a comment to someone privately in response to a discussion they'd initiated on Talk:Main Page about making it easier for people to find the Simple English wikipedia on the main page), what they were getting at is there is consensus that the Simple English wikipedia doesn't have much of a position of privilege here and should mostly be treated as another language wikipedia, in other words in articles and related places like the main page, there's no need to excessively try to promote it (we already put it on top in the main page interlanguage links). In discussions on wikipedia about policy or whatever, the simple English wikipedia doesn't concern us much more then the German wikipedia. She/he wasn't suggesting there's some taboo on mentioning it although they may have been intending to suggest people on both sides were sick of perennial proposals and discussions which do give the Simple English wikipedia. I would personally mostly agree with that sentiment (well except for the perennial part, it's not something I have enough experience to comment on) although I can't speak for whether there's a consensus (although I note they said they're just reporting what they've heard anyway) Nil Einne (talk) 17:06, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Exactly. Thanks for your understanding Nil Einne. There's not a whole lot of links or discussions about Simple English Wikipedia (which again attests to the appearance of people not mentioning it, but I've found a couple to chew on here and here. :| TelCoNaSpVe :| 22:16, 4 September 2010 (UTC)

## In the beginning was the Word

Extended content

Ego tutus SteveBaker quoniam sit an recolitus vir. Es totus recolitus.

The interesting discussion above is closed. English was spoken but nobody owns that language. It is a gift to us from our ancestors. It can be cherished and handed on to our children and grandchildren, if we are blessed with such. Possessive pronouns are very simple parts of English. They look like this:

My Your His Her Its Our Their

One editor does not mind decorating one of them with an apostrophe, making it look like something that is not a pronoun. Some find this forgivable, not least the editor concerned. He argues that "People will just have to understand what I should have said." Who can say that systematically changing "Its" to "It's" may not eventually bring us a whole new and improved(?) set of possessive pronouns that will look like this:

My's Your's His's Her's It's Our's Their's

I just don't think Wikipedia should be leading the way to a Brave New World of Bakerspeak. The rules of English syntax have been arrived at through a greater consensus than SteveBaker appreciates, regardless of his claim to "have" a couple of FAs. (Was there no other Wikipedia editor who gave their effort to these FAs? If SB fails to name these articles, their edit history cannot be checked.)

The two articles are linked, not surprisingly, on Steve's user page. —Steve Summit (talk) 21:16, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
There is much on that page. Can you be specific? Cuddlyable3 (talk) 18:15, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
It took me about three seconds to spot the two very obvious userboxes saying something about "This user contributed to the x featured article". I'm sure you can find them without too much trouble. (You're not using some terribly non-mainstream text-only web browsing environment, are you?) —Steve Summit (talk) 02:43, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
I am looking here with my browser and see only this FA article mentioned. Am I looking in the wrong place? Cuddlyable3 (talk) 09:55, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
You're talking about Steve's "Awards" column. In the first, "Achievements" column, to the left of that, is first a large userbox saying "This editor is a Tutnum of the Encyclopedia". Directly underneath that one are the two I mentioned. I thought I could give you a quick reply, and not take the time to explicitly propagate the links, but just in case, they are to the articles Mini and Mini Moke.
Now that I've done you this favor, can I ask you one in return? Please do not pounce on those two FA's I've just linked to and come back here with a muckraking report observing that Steve was not their sole author, or that he made some grammatical mistake in one of them which was corrected only by some other editor, or something like that. —Steve Summit (talk) 11:38, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Thank you, I found the articles and am reading them with interest. The facts appear to be as you have reported. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 16:56, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

The English language that we have on loan is the language to express our highest aspirations, our intellect, our knowledge, our literature, our songs of joy and sadness and love... It is the language of English Wikipedia. It and what we write with it will be our gift to our descendants because this is how human civilization works. Don't be too disappointed if your grandchildren laugh in disbelief when you tell them that there was a time before Bakerspeak when people used those unfamiliar words "My Your His Her Its Our Their".

My section heading is taken from Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος the prologue of the Gospel of John but I apply this scientific interpretation: λόγος "the word" that starts all living things is the DNA sequence, and its "letters" are nucleotides. One of its co-discoverers Francis Crick reportedly said "We have found the secret of Life"1. Life to survive depends on the language of DNA. "Typos" certainly happen when DNA reproduces, which is happening in your body now, but there are mechanisms to correct most errors. But not always.

A cancer cell is just a good cell that went wrong. It wants to live as much as any other cell but with a difference: it cares nothing for the rules that cells follow. You cannot cure or negotiate with a cancer cell. It does not "know" or care that what it does is wrong and can only desecrate the body on which it feeds. If it could speak it might swear "goddam" and call you a Nazi, or it might just sulk in self-certainty that what it neglects doesn't matter.

It is likely that a certain SteveBaker, younger than the one we have today, made a typo. He confused ITS with IT'S. That is only human and forgivable if it was done in a moment of unawareness. I think I have made the same mistake! But to continue the error, even defending the language abuse that one knows one is perpetuating in defiance of the consensus of centuries of millions of educated English speakers is an arrogance almost beyond words. Is he deliberate? Does he not care about putting semiliterate language into Wikipedia as long as the one-man show with hardly a reference is more or less understandable, even when it does not say what he thinks it says? Chasing these questions is chasing red herrings so let's not.

It matters how the body is nourished. The baker is as good as the bread he delivers, and dear Steve has qualities to be an Emperor among bakers. But if the baker delivers bread that has mould then no matter how he and friends try to dress the loaf, we see through the Emperor's covering. Perhaps it is better to have him here at Wikipedia, where there are sharp eyes to note his foibles, than having Steve abuse the trust of learners at Simple English Wikipedia. That's just the way it's. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 14:37, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

The subheading is I salute SteveBaker who is an honorable man. They are all honorable men. expressed in Latin, a language that he cannot accuse of having an apostrophe.

Cuddlyable3 (talk) 14:37, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
I'd rather not see this post here, and I think if Cuddlyable3 had learned anything from the discussion above then he would withdraw it — but here we are. This mess started in the first place because Cuddlyable3 was taunting SteveBaker about a typo on the Reference Desk. Now, he's generating long and elaborate attacks on SteveBaker, because he makes occasional typos (typos which don't interfere with comprehension in any meaningful way) on the Reference Desk. Perhaps my proposed remedy was inappropriate — a ban from the Ref Desk may be the way to go here, as C3 seems to be heading down the "I can taunt whomever I want and there's nothing you can do about it! Neeener neener neener!" route. It's childish, it's unpleasant, it wastes the time of contributors who are doing useful things with the Desk, and it's time that it stopped. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 15:00, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
I have collapsed the above. C3 is welcome to present his point collegially and, ideally, concisely. — Lomn 15:06, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Cuddlyable3 may also want to brush up his Latin before attempting to use that language again. A good Latinist might come along and refactor his message. Deor (talk) 15:12, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Quod vos Deor? Vae illic est scilicet ut a bonus Latin scholasticus can amplio meus humilis sermo. Si sit a bonus Wikipedian, is mos non change meus lacuna quoniam ut est inconcessus. Permissum nos non fatigo super is quoniam ut Angli saxons narro: "Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!" Cuddlyable3 (talk) 18:43, 1 September 2010 (UTC).
I stood for Cuddlyable3 at first but he seems to be increasing his pet peeve to a sarcastic complaint. It seems to be nothing but disrupting Wikipedia. Whether his point is right or not, he is using the wrong means to apply and prove it. This business should be stopped. --Chemicalinterest (talk) 16:49, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

The following message came to my Talk page but I move it here because it is a "fair comment". Cuddlyable3 (talk) 18:19, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

In this edit, you misrepresent Steve Baker's position on the use of standard English. He is not crusading for destandardization; he is not trying to convince others to alter their usage. He is merely explaining his own choices. —Steve Summit (talk) 17:44, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
Well, this is all falling into a very familiar pattern.
Next step is either posting a manifesto (At first glance, I'd thought he'd skipped to this step.), or starting a thread on an admin notice board and being shocked when it turns into a discussion of his own behavior. APL (talk) 18:50, 1 September 2010 (UTC)

## Balance

We need a bit of balance here, because through some of the foregoing debate about Cuddlyable3 and his shocking, unacceptable ways, there’s a sort of flavour of "Steve Baker is our friend and he can do no wrong". I'm not here to defend C3, but I do want to see an end to this sort of polarisation of the "almost-Satan-like vs almost-God-like" variety. Steve is a highly admired editor for his great contributions over the years, and his honours and awards are all richly deserved, no argument there. But there's a problem.

Steve is quite happy to tell editors not to make guesses on flimsy evidence, or contrary to evidence. That’s OK, very defensible. But almost in the same breath he’ll deny the existence of certain claimed phenomena – such as auras. Now, the most basic logician knows that you can never prove the non-existence of something. Can you prove, incontrovertibly, that there are no purple unicorns galloping in their millions over the Gobi Desert? No. You might look and not find a single skerrick of evidence – but maybe you’re not looking in the right places. Are we now obliged to believe purple unicorns exist, just because we can’t prove they don’t? Of course not, that would be very silly. More to the point, nobody has ever said they do believe this, and until they do, it’s not worth wasting a further second on it.

Auras are in a somewhat different camp, though. Millions of people do believe in them, thousands of people have claimed to be able to see them and interpret them, and a huge amount has been written about them over the years. Despite this, Steve is quite happy to boldly state: "The answer is very simple: No, THAT kind of aura definitely doesn't exist...and the somewhat ridiculous belief in them leads to deeply disturbing things like …".

Well, I don’t think he should be able to get away with that. Apart from anything else, it's an insult to the people who have these beliefs, and our rules about civility are not just confined to each other. [Disclaimer: Do I personally see auras? No. Do I believe they exist? I maintain an open mind.] It’s one thing to say “I’ve never seen any evidence that satisfies me these types of aura exist”. It’s quite another to say “They do not exist”. Other editors do correct him from time to time, as they did on this occasion. But it never seems to make any difference. Next week, he’ll probably be denying absolutely, in all caps, some other phenomenon he personally doesn’t believe in (but can never actually disprove). We’ve got all up in arms against Cuddlyable3 for his continued infraction of the rules (and I don’t disagree with the general thrust of that). Well, how about having a level playing field? Steve knows that these absolute denials of his are completely non-scientific, yet he prides himself on his science cred. It just doesn’t hang together, and never has. It also makes him appear to be a colossally arrogant prig - which I'm sure he's not.

Fwiw, these sorts of statements of Steve’s have the potential to have much greater negative effects than C3’s mere irritating obdurateness about apostrophes. They will tend to close off young and impressionable minds, and we need minds to stay open, more now than ever before. Einstein said: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”. People tell Steve and tell him, over and over again, that he cannot make these sorts of statements, yet he never withdraws, apologises, or amends his words. Just a wall of silence. Until the next time. How come Cuddlyable3 gets threatened with a ban for his refusal to play by the rules, but Steve Baker doesn’t get any such treatment for his much longer term (at least 5 years, probably longer) continued refusal to play by the rules – and not even Wikipedia rules, but the rules of scientific conduct and logical discourse? He’s been irritating me consistently for at least that long, but I’ve never actually threatened to ban the guy. Nor am I remotely suggesting that even now. But there comes a time when, even for one who can apparently do no wrong, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. (All caps very intentional; my special salute to Steve Baker). -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 21:43, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

In the very same way that Cuddlyable3 was right in the previous discussion, SteveBaker is right in this one. If it hurts your feelings to see your superstitious beliefs called irrational, the problem is solely yours. --Belchman (talk) 22:16, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
The difference, of course, was that Steve was answering the question as asked, while C3 was just butting in for his own purposes. APL (talk) 22:44, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
That doesn't make him any less right, though. --Belchman (talk) 23:16, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
Of course. But every single person here agrees that C3 was right, so it's hardly worth mentioning. APL (talk) 01:59, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Aura's aren't just unevidenced, their supposed effects have been actively disproved by experimentation. There could be other phenomena that, if proven, could be called 'auras', but that's an intellectually worthless statement. (If I call my cat "aura" then at least one "aura" exists, but that's not what the question is about.)
I have absolutely no problem with things that have been actively disproved by experimentation that has stood up to peer review and independently reproduced, as "it doesn't exist". APL (talk) 22:42, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

That's three really bad knee-jerk responses to start off with.

• "My" superstitious beliefs, Belchman? Did you not read my disclaimer. Where have I ever said I believe in auras?
• APL, Steve was answering the question, but answering in a very inappropriate way, as I have argued.
• What experimentation could ever prove that auras have never existed or will never exist? Answer - there is no such experimentation, as you very well know.

Can we have some considered responses to this, please? -- (Jack of Oz=) 202.142.129.66 (talk) 23:00, 2 September 2010 (UTC)

This is not the response you are looking for, but I once brought up to a colleague of mine that both Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller were both, in any objective sense, jerks, and that the arguments that are quite common in academia and popular culture that imply that Oppenheimer was basically always right and Teller was basically always wrong were fairly silly. Each had a good track record of being right and being wrong, and each did things that we might find unpleasant. "Sure," she said, "but who would you rather have dinner with?" Which in the end is pretty straightforward: Oppenheimer was by far more charming, and would have been a far more rewarding conversant, that is pretty clear.
All of which is to say, I don't think anyone on here thinks that SteveBaker is always right or that C3 is always wrong. Or that either is always good and the other always bad. They both strike me as being a bit thickheaded on certain subjects, with good comments on others. (That being said, I don't think pointing out auras, ghosts, souls, and other such concepts have basically no scientific evidence for their existence is inappropriate on a Science desk. One should try to remain civil when doing so, of course.) On the other hand, I think it's pretty clear who you'd want to have dinner with — the guy who will lecture you, with a lot of very interesting facts and arguments, about why your views on religion are dumb; or the guy who will correct your grammar every time you open your mouth? Only one is likely to tell you anything that you haven't heard before. --Mr.98 (talk) 23:05, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
(Note: the question in question was posed at the Misc desk. Aura (paranormal)'s are allowed there, right? And I still think my response was "best" in context. ;) Wikiscient (talk) 14:29, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
The issue, I think, is not whether auras do or don't exist (just as the issue above isn't whether the possessive its does or doesn't have an apostrophe). The issue is one of behavior.
Steve B. does have a tendency to let his absolute scientific certainty turn into bombast, to unnecessarily browbeat an interlocutor who has dared to utter something Steve finds pseudoscientific or irrational. And then recently he's upped the ante: an interlocutor he's arguing against is wrong not merely because Steve says so, but because Wikipedia policy (or so Steve claims) actively prohibits said interlocutor from even writing those wrong ideas on these pages.
This tendency of Steve's hasn't bothered me enough lately to complain about, but it is worrisome, and I have to agree with Jack's introduction of it here. The fact that possessive its doesn't have an apostrophe does not give Cuddlyable3 absolute license to arbitrarily abuse Steve for misusing one. Analogously, the fact that (say) auras do not scientifically exist does not give Steve absolute license to arbitrarily abuse someone for talking about them. —Steve Summit (talk) 23:33, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
Don't be scared to state my name. :)--Chemicalinterest (talk) 12:49, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
The premise that "auras absolutely don't exist" illustrates the flaw in some experiments. The experimenter tries to figure out what to test for; the test turns out negative; therefore the thing he was testing for must not exist. This is what I call the "Richard Dawkins syndrome": A scientist reaches a conclusion that something doesn't exist, and that anyone who has observed otherwise is delusional. That's the dogmatic part of atheism that basically makes it like any other fundamentalist religion. If lots of people have a real sense that God exists, or lots of people have a real sense that they can see this "aura", the open-minded scientist needs to consider the possibility that there might be something to it, and if he can't find it through testing, then maybe his test design is flawed. This "aura", if it exists, could be some kind of natural physiological phenomenon, perhaps a "heat envelope" around a body that some people are able to see or sense somehow. Rather than taking the closed-minded, bigoted approach of a Dawkins, a good scientist would try to gather data about what the people are seeing, or think they are seeing, and propose some useful hypotheses for what it is or if it is. In fact, the article on auras does propose some physiological explanations. A couple of weeks ago there was a discussion about the bumblebee, and how some scientist a hundred years ago calculated that the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly. Since he couldn't have got it wrong, the ones who claimed to have observed the bumblebee flying must have been delusional. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:29, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Bugs, that is a terrible argument. If a whole bunch of people say "FooBar Exists! Foobar Has properties X, Y, and Z!", and then scientists test for an item with properties X,Y,and Z and prove that such an item doesn't exist, it is safe to say that FooBar doesn't exist. Sure, you can sit around and postulate other things until the cows come home (Perhaps something with properties U,V and W), and you can even call them FooBar, but that bankrupt retorical technique doesn't suddenly invalidate the scientific method, it just (intentionally) makes the labeling confusing.
These sorts of things are not as fundamentally untestable as people think. (Just ask Emily Rosa!)
(Also : The bumble-bee thing is almost entirely a myth.)
(ec) This response is absolutely typical of the problem around here. Bugs reports that "some scientist a hundred years ago calculated that the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly" - did anyone bother to check? Evidently not. Well, you should. Don't report unlikely and unreasonable facts without checking them. I just did that. The truth is that this is yet another tedious urban legend. It wasn't 100 years ago. This ridiculous statement was reported in the press after a book published in 1934 by Antoine Magnan (an entomologist) who explained a contemporary statement made by Andre Sainte-Lague (who was an aeronautical engineer). He has shown that if an airplane was the size of a bee (and having proportionate mass) and was moving at the speed of a bee, the airplane would not have enough lift to stay aloft. I don't think this is in any way a surprising, misleading or inaccurate statement - and it says only that bees are not airplanes...well, duh! Magnan explained in her book that Sainte-Lague's statement was about the dangers of relying on 'scale-model' testing of aircraft designs. She concluded (correctly) that we cannot apply the rules of large-scale flight to the realms of insects. That's a pretty solid piece of science. This kind of ill-informed bullshit makes great headway with the general public ("Hahaha! Those scientists are idiots!") because that's the kind of thing that makes news. It is not the purpose of this reference desk to perpetuate those kinds of claims - and it is the established policy of Wikipedia that we carefully confine how such fringe theories are reported here. We're here to expose the truth, plainly and simply and in words people can actually understand. That's why we have to say that auras don't exist...and scientists are fully aware that bees don't share any of the flight characteristics of airplanes.
This statement is bullshit - and you should stop treating it as truth...ditto auras. SteveBaker (talk) 02:22, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Ah, but you can't disprove for sure that someone, somewhere has said something wrong about a bumblebee so you're being dogmatic! Clearly you should have phrased your response wishy-washier so as to allow Bugs to continue to believe the bumblebee story and not to stifle his imagination!
Is sarcasm uncivil? Probably. Sorry. APL (talk) 03:07, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Jack, Thanks for assuming I didn't put any consideration into my answer!
I stand by my answer that Auras as defined by the people that believe in them demonstrability do not exist. I see no problem saying so as clearly or as bluntly as possible.
Getting into the philosophy of science and lecturing the questioner on how it's theoretically impossible to prove a negative, is like bringing mass-energy equivalence into a simple 5th grade science question.
Frankly, it wouldn't shock me if you found an example of SteveBaker losing his temper and saying something he shouldn't, but the one-and-only post you linked to was perfectly fine, in my considered opinion. APL (talk) 01:59, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

This is not a difficult matter. My response is 100% in line with Wikipedia's policies on such matters:
1. Admittedly there cannot be proof that aura's don't exist...it's an unfalsifiable hypothesis. There have been studies that (under closest scrutiny) failed to demonstrate any one of the claims of aura-believers. But then there are (as I frequently point out) an infinite number of things that cannot be proven to not exist. But are we to answer questions like: "What is the speed of an unladen African Swallow" with "Well, there might be african swallows with rocket packs that can go at 10,000 mph and we can't prove that there aren't - and there might be an unknown species of swallow in africa that's unknown to science that can fly at 200mph and there might be silent, invisible, massless african swallows"...etc, etc...NO! We say "30 to 40kph", we let Baseball Bugs make the obvious Monty-Python joke and we're done. We aren't here to apply layers and layers of caveats on top of every answer we give. We give the mainstream scientific answer - period.
2. You argue that millions of people believe in Auras. OK - but 25% of Americans and Brits believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked. I'm fairly sure that's more people than believe in Auras. But if someone asks "On what date did Apollo 11 touch down on the moon?" - we don't say "Well, we can't prove that it ever did." - no, we say "July 20th 1969". We don't surround every statement on Wikipedia with ifs and buts and maybes when mainstream science provides a sufficiently clear answer that there are no serious scientific objections to that position. The article Moon landing goes on for a dozen or more screens full of wonderful information and only in the very last paragraph mentions the fact that 150 million Americans and 15 million Brits do not believe that it ever happened. It says (without any qualification whatever) that such and such happened on such and such day - with so and so people and with this launch velocity and those tools...and so on. It doesn't say "MAYBE they landed on the moon, maybe it was all on a sound stage" - it says they DID land on the moon - definitely, 100% for sure, no doubt whatever...despite the views of 165 million gullible idiots. The article does that because that is what WP:FRINGE says we are required to do. On a different web site you might find different rules - but here on Wikipedia, we have very specific rules about this kind of thing. Of course - if someone goes to Moon landing conspiracy theories then they will be told all about the other viewpoint - but still, nothing in that article says that the conspiracy is true. It says that it's a conspiracy theory - that there is pseudo-science here. It does a point by point rebuttal of every one of the more common claims. It firmly positions Wikipedia in line with the mainstream scientific belief. Same deal with Auras. We are required to give the mainstream scientific view - which is that there ain't no such damned thing - no matter if 99% of people in the world think otherwise. This is not about democracy - it's about truth (strictly: Verifiable truth).
So - we aren't going to go around sticking ifs and buts and maybes on every single answer we give because you could answer every single question with a thousand pages about all the things that we are unable to disprove...and just because one particular unprovable theory is common amongst the general public is no reason to give it more than the very briefest mention ("No Undue Weight" to pseudo-science as WP:FRINGE requires) - and certainly no reason to cast doubt on the mainstream scientific view.
When someone asks a straight question here, they deserve a straight answer - and that's what I plan to continue to give them. You may not like these rules then you can join the ranks of believers in auras, perpetual motion machines, free energy, the apollo moon landing conspiracy, that JFK was shot by the CIA from the grassy knoll, that the earth is flat, that gravity is merely the earth inflating really fast - they all hate this rule with a passion - but frankly, that's your own problem. Wikipedia isn't a democracy - and if you don't like the impositions of WP:FRINGE - then go find somewhere else to spend your time because "them's the rules" - and I plan to stick to them.
SteveBaker (talk) 00:55, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Steve, please read my response, just above Bugs's. The issue here has almost nothing to do with auras, or bumblebees, or the whole theory of science for that matter. The six long paragraphs you've posted here do nothing to address the real issue; if anything they reinforce the very pattern being complained about.
If you're really worried about the innocent OP who "asks a straight question, and deserves a straight answer", you should consider very carefully the implication of these words of Bugs's: "That's the dogmatic part of atheism that basically makes it like any other fundamentalist religion." I suspect you'd rather dismiss that observation, and I absolutely don't like it, either, but disliking it won't make it go away. —Steve Summit (talk) 02:33, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

Steve Baker, consider the humble coelacanth. Knowledge of the coelacanth has been known to science from the fossil record since whenever they started examining and interpreting fossils. I don’t know the full story, but my understanding is that it was immediately assumed to be extinct, because nobody had seen a live one, ever. Science told us it had been extinct not just since last week, not just for a thousand years, but for 80 million years!! This was scientific fact. This was truth. This was something people could rely on. How lovely and comforting. I don’t know that anyone went out to see if they could find one - why would they, when it was “known” to be extinct? (Shades of "did anyone bother to check? Evidently not. Well, you should") But if they ever did actively look for one, the chances of finding one would have been extremely remote. Suffice to say there was no record known to science of one ever being found by direct searching. But in 1938, lo and behold, one turned up in a fishing net off southern Africa, by pure fluke. It was very much alive, or had been up till the time it was caught. If there was one coelacanth, there had to be others. And indeed there were; the fishermen of the Andaman Islands had been catching them for countless generations. But science had never asked them. So, we have an almost exactly analogous situation to auras. They’ve conducted tests on specific people and have failed to produce any results. Is it scientifically valid to say that these relatively few people, times, places and circumstances fully represent ALL people, times, places and circumstances? And that if they and they alone can’t show that auras exist, then auras don’t exist, period? Well, of course it’s not scientifically valid. The best science can say is, “We’ve tested this on certain people and they have not shown us any proof that auras exist” (A). You could also test 100 people at random and fail to find a single person with blood type AB negative. Does that prove that there’s no such thing as blood type AB negative? Negative. Well, that’s exactly the faulty reasoning you’re adopting with aura testing. But don’t misinterpret me: I’m not saying that until every last human has been thoroughly examined and found wanting, then auras must be assumed to exist. Not at all. All I’m saying is that they might exist, because I cannot imagine that every last person who claims to have seen them is either delusional or lying. Or even any but a very small proportion of such people, actually. I believe I’m on far safer ground with my open-minded acknowledgment that no evidence has been found to satisfy science, than your closed-minded self-assured insistence that they DO NOT exist. Remember the coelacanth, that’s all I’ll say,
But we’re getting into the wrong discussion. This is not about whether auras exist or not. It’s about what we can reasonably say about their existence or otherwise. WP:FRINGE does not prevent anyone from saying something like A above. WP:FRINGE has never required the wholesale demolition of fringe theories – because in some cases, that would be tantamount to OR. All it requires is that they not be accorded undue weight or prominence. Perpetual motion can safely be labelled as bogus and impossible, because it offends the very laws on which science is based. Auras are not anywhere near this category: they could easily exist within our accepted scientific framework.
Your argument about the Moon landing is quite a piece of work. But a waste of time, I'm afraid. In that case, we have the mainstream view of what happened in July 1969, then we have some other people who think it was all a fraud. I didn’t realise there were that many non-believers, but it doesn’t matter. This can’t be compared with the existence or otherwise of auras. There has never been a mainstream view about them. Some people say they can see them, that’s all. Who knows, maybe they can. And if they can, then maybe they exist. This has never been proven; but equally, it has never been disproven, and anyone who claims to have a knowledge of science who says it has been disproven should think again. -- (Jack of Oz =) 202.142.129.66 (talk) 03:10, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Hold on. So you're saying that because science occasionally slips and misses the odd coelecanth that when someone asks "Are Tyrannosaur Rex's extinct?" I should carefully hedge my reply by saying "Well, we haven't seen one for 65 million years but we don't know for sure that they are all gone." - Are you seriously proposing that we should inject that level of doubt into every single answer we give here??? Are you trying to reduce the ref desks to a complete mockery by requiring doubt to be inserted into every single reply? I'm guessing that you aren't. I'm also 100% certain that if someone had asked you "Are coelecanths extinct?" just before their remarkable rediscovery - then you and every single other ref desk respondant would have answered "Yes, they're extinct" and not "Well we haven't seen one for 80 million years but we haven't conclusively proven that they don't exist". So the question becomes one of when is it appropriate to take the mainstream science view and say "X is true" (as I prefer to do) and when is it necessary to inject some doubt into the response? I suspect that we are expected to do that whenever some other ref desk respondant doesn't happen to believe in the mainstream science. So if we get an Apollo Moon Landing Conspiracy nut here, we'll have to tread carefully and tell people that maybe the moon landings really didn't happen. Well, screw that! That's just a ridiculous way to run a science reference desk! That's what Yahoo Answers is for. SteveBaker (talk) 02:52, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
We should still run it like this, though, right Steve? → (from WP:Reference desk/Guidelines) "As always, any responses should be civil and avoid anything that could even remotely be considered a personal attack or ad hominem. Many questioners will be newcomers, and the reference desk should be a friendly and welcoming place." Or are you saying just ignore all that?
And are we clear yet that the question-asker, at the Miscellaneous desk, did NOT ask you whether or not "auras" exist, nor did she restrict her question to what you seem to believe is the only kind of aura out there, and so therefore you answered some other question of your own for what I am sure you feel are very noble purposes and keen insight into what the question-asker actually "meant" but which simply was not relevant to this question at that desk at that time (ie. after I had already directed her to the Aura page)? You do concede all that now at least, right? Wikiscient (talk) 03:44, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Jack of Oz has asked us to look at SteveBaker’s behaviour and make a comment. Jack has provided us with a piece of evidence – diff.
I have no objection to Steve’s 1 September response to Gwen dollen. If other Users have alternative points of view they are welcome to add them to the collection. If other Users have alternative points of view it would be good if they included in their responses some link to the evidence that auras (as in spiritual power) exist, or at least some good reason to think they might exist.
I see some suggestions here that if a lot of people believe in something then that something almost certainly exists, otherwise all those people wouldn’t believe in it. That point of view sustained superstition for many centuries but it has no place at a Reference Desk. Wikipedia’s Reference Desks should display sceptical thinking, not obedient thinking. Dolphin (t) 03:12, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Actually, NO - they aren't allowed to do that. Please read WP:FRINGE. We are required to avoid giving fringe theories and pseudoscience undue weight when the question is of a scientific nature - and we are required never to suggest that a fringe theory is true when it lies far outside of the mainstream. That means that we really shouldn't spend much time at all on the possibility that auras might exists. We could say "A lot of people believe in them - but they don't exist." SteveBaker (talk) 02:52, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
I don't object to SteveBaker's statement "No, THAT kind of aura definitely doesn't exist" because there should be an underlying AGF that he means "What I say is my honestly held belief based on some relevant knowledge". That understanding can "discharge" one's possible reaction against the word "definitely" which is only Steve banging on the table for emphasis. But the statement "the somewhat ridiculous belief in them leads to deeply disturbing things..." needs comment. The word "disturbing" is clearly Steve's opinion about the "things" (of which he gives an example). That is understood and okay. It is more questionable when he calls a belief "somewhat ridiculous". By all means demonstrate characteristics of a belief by argument or example. He does that competently. But it is incivil not to allow people to arrive at their own beliefs. There is probably nothing so unexpected that someone somewhere might not believe it. Fringe beliefs by definition are unlikely to be shared but their adherents deserve better than categorical prejudgement that comes close to mockery. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 09:11, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
pardon me for pointing this out but this whole protracted kerfluffle is just a manifestation of the GIFT. Everyone involved has good reason to believe that they are right about the things that happen to concern them, and everyone involved has forgotten that being right is not an excuse for or entitlement to being an ass.
• CD3 - you spell good, we proud-like, but chill it down, dog.
• SteveBaker: Science has a clearly defined domain and scientists do not venture opinions outside of that domain; neither should we.
• Jack of Oz: talk pages are not the places for barrages against other editors. If you object to Steve's behavior consider RFC/U or wikiquette.
• Bugs: I don't know what you've done here (and I tend to agree with what you said above) but it wouldn't feel like a Ref Desk talk-page thing without registering a complaint about you. so whatever it is you're doing wrong, stop it!
Now let's all take a few deep breaths and try to clear out our auras before continuing with this conversation, shall we? otherwise we'll just end up polluting the astral representation of wikipedia with negative energy. Aum, and all that. --Ludwigs2 03:25, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
What I've done lately is to not be on wikipedia very much. Since you're telling me to stop doing that, that means I need to be on wikipedia much more often. Thanks for the encouragement. :) ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 04:12, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
This is a language problem I commonly encounter. Our language doesn't cope very well with the fairly recent idea of fallibility. Like Steve says somewhere above, "We don't surround every statement on Wikipedia with ifs and buts and maybes when mainstream science provides a sufficiently clear answer that there are no serious scientific objections to that position."
So we say things like definitely, and I know, and it's absolutely true that, even though one of the things we know "for certain" is that absolute truth is beyond our grasp and everything we think we know is, in some unknown way, wrong. We use absolutist language, because otherwise we'd sound both long-winded and incredibly indecisive.
There is a flip side to this, though! Like Jack said, we have to be civil, and shouting at people "YOU ARE WRONG" (not that Steve ever did literally that, I'm exaggerating) is not very civil. Many years ago, having just figured out the problem with surrounding every statement with ifs and buts in the name of fallibility, I gave up on expressing doubts at all and instead went through a phase of, in effect, shouting "YOU ARE WRONG" all the time at everybody. It's not very nice. The civil approach is to throw one or two "probably"s into the mix, just to take the edge off. (This of course carries the hazard that whoever you're talking to will latch on to the "probably" and say "Aha, you expressed an atom of doubt, so there are purple unicorns in the Gobi!", but such is life, what can you do.) 213.122.41.114 (talk) 05:10, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
It's not really about being 'nice'. Not that I mind people being 'nice'. If people have a really strong view on something, I'm all for letting them express it. But let them still own it as * their * opinion, rather than parading it as the truth, whatever that is. I'm also all for never misleading our readers. I say it that way because we can't always guarantee to give them "truth" or even "facts". But we can ALWAYS phrase our responses in such a way as to make it clear what the truth value of the response is. If something is an opinion, we can and should say so. Whether auras exist or not is an opinion, no matter which side of the fence you sit. It's in the same category as the existence of God or not. Privately believe whatever you like, but on the Ref Desk, saying that either of these things either definitely exists or definitely doesn't exist is to claim that you know the unknowable. And you don't, no matter how good you may think you are. So let's please have no more absolutism about these sorts of things. -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 11:22, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
It's not my opinion. It is the "opinion" of mainstream science. SteveBaker (talk) 02:52, 4 September 2010 (UTC)

The bumblebee question came up on List of common misconceptions. There is fact behind the bumblebee story. The misconception is that people think scientists still believe it. It was just one guy, using flawed reasoning, who argued that bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly, thus opening scientists up to public ridicule. The same deal as with the auras, where the tests cited in the article don't prove that aurus don't exist; all they prove is that (1) those particular people couldn't do what they claimed they could do; and (2) if scientists want to "prove" something doesn't exist, they can easily claim to have done so by using a testing process that's designed to almost certainly "prove" their premise. Bumblebees definitely can fly, and the door is still open on whether there's a basis for religious belief, auras, etc., regardless of the closed-minded ignorance of the Richard Dawkinses of the world. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 10:23, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

Why is it that when scientists perform studies that reach conclusions in contradiction with popular brands of wishful thinking, there is a segment of the public which (without evidence) concludes that those scientists are (1) incompetent, and (2) unethical? Leaving aside the question of scientists, and relying solely on your knowledge of human nature, which is the more plausible hypothesis — (1) the ability to see auras is mythical, or (2) that no one who can see auras wants one million dollars. I know where I'd put my money. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 13:49, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Well, exactly. If a scientist finds a way to use quantum theory to cram a thousand pieces of music into a box the size of your finger - you rejoice and dash out and buy them in their millions. If a scientist even suggests that your ideas about auras (or UFOs or that you could run your car on water) are wrong, he's unethical, incompetent or whatever. It's certainly a dual standard! SteveBaker (talk) 02:52, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Has anyone here ever seen an Aura (symptom)? Maybe the OP, or some other reader, has. Wouldn't it be nice for someone who isn't sure what they have experienced to know that there might be a scientific basis for it, but to understand that then they may have to understand it differently than at first they thought?
To get back to the issue here: this is a Reference desk. We are here to provide References that may help seekers to find answers to their questions. The OP in this case did not ask about the existence of anything. She just wanted more information. That information is available most generally at the Aura (disambig) page. Steve yelled at me for "muddying the waters" by directing the OP to that page. It was uncivil and unhelpful for him to do that. He appears to be disruptive in that way a lot. Considering his value here as an otherwise very helpful editor, he should be asked civilly if he wouldn't mind too much trying to moderate that tendency of his from now on.
'Nough said. Wikiscient (talk) 14:52, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
And I wonder if that request would perhaps be most effective coming from, say, you, TenOfAllTrades. As you seem to play something of a Moderator role here, yes? Assuming, of course, you yourself see some reason to have a word with Steve that way, or even if you yourself do not but respect the fact that several other contributors here do and you would like to see this get promptly resolved so that everyone can get back to work as productively and happily as possible. :) Wikiscient (talk) 16:04, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
ToaT: To answer your ironic questions seriously... Science is more than a system for acquiring knowledge; science is also a claim to authority. Whenever a scientist says "the principle X applies in condition Y", what s/he is really saying is "the strict rules of scientific investigation that were used to examine this matter give me the authority to claim that principle X applies in condition Y". like any other authority claim in the world it can:
1. produce irrationally rebellious reactions in some listeners, who simply don't like being the subject of authority.
2. be abused by people (scientists or nonscientists) who (intentionally or unintentionally) misuse or misunderstand it.
3. create conflict because people will defend their right to make authoritative claims even when they have made a claim that happened to be wrong.
plus
1. you're misunderstanding the lack of proof issue. the fact that no one has demonstrated any objective proof of the paranormal is not grounds for saying that paranormal phenomena do not exist, but merely grounds for saying that paranormal phenomena are not (to date) useful as scientific concepts. negational induction is flawed logic (i.e. ${\displaystyle \exists x:f(a_{x})\in Y\Rightarrow \forall x:f(a_{x})\in Y}$ is valid induction, but ${\displaystyle \exists x:f(a_{x})\notin Y\nRightarrow \forall x:f(a_{x})\notin Y}$).
Before you dish on paranormal claims, you really ought to whip out your iPhone, tune into a streaming video from some satellite in orbit, and then ask yourself just exactly what that activity would look like to someone from the 12th century (or heck, even the 19th century). and then ask yourself how much better you really understand the process than someone from the 12th century would. As Asimov said, any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic. The fact that you call your magic 'science and technology' doesn't make it any less magical; the words just give you a properly Victorian impression that the universe is ordered and controllable. --Ludwigs2 16:12, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
The Randi challenge that I linked to doesn't require a mechanistic, scientific, or other explanation for the phenomena examined; it only requires empirical demonstration that the phenomenon exists under controlled conditions. Other tests of auras and paranormal phenomena generally apply similar criteria — you don't have to explain how it works, you just have to show that it does work. To use your example of the iPhone and a twelfth-century observer, it would be meaningless to him to tell him it works using 'electromagnetic theory' and 'semiconductors'; I might as well use the word 'magic' and be no further behind. However – and this is the important bit – I would be able to prove quite persuasively, using any number of tests, with any number of observers, with extremely rigorous controls, that this magical device performs as advertised. It really does allow me to transmit sound and pictures virtually instantaneously to someone hundreds of miles away. It will work even in the hands of the twelfth-century visitor, if he is given suitable, clear instructions.
In contrast, when individuals who claim to have techniques enabling them to see other people's 'auras' are asked to demonstrate that ability under controlled conditions, they fail. Your reference to Asimov is incorrect (it was Clarke who offered the famous observation about sufficiently advanced technology), but it does remind me of a genuine Asimov quotation, drawn from his Foundation novels: "...it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science that it works...". If the effects or performance of a paranormal phenomenon or skill are indistinguishable from chance, then why (per Occam) is it necessary or appropriate to invoke mystical or paranormal explanations? TenOfAllTrades(talk) 16:46, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
(EC - but yes, What ToaT said). "Advanced technology" is not interchangeable with magic, because an explanation exists for advanced technology. It may be a really complicated explanation, but there is a set of rules that govern it. You could explain all the theory and practice of modern electronics to a medieval individual, because these things are actual, real fact, and he could independently verify it and find a way to fit these new facts in with his existing world-view. Magic doesn't satisfy this constraint - magic makes unexplainable claims without any intention of providing an explanation. I think we need to stop repeating the Clarke-ism. Magic and technology are completely different - one is fictional, and one is real, with actual explanation. They share certain characteristics, like the ability to inspire awe - but that is about it. Nimur (talk) 16:59, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
And with regard to Ludwigs2 - science is not a claim to authority. Proper scientific explanations are subject to independent observation and verification. If a scientist makes a claim, you can test it. You are not subject to the scientist's authority to speak truth. Many scientists speak authoritatively because they are correct, but you can always try to call them on a detail, if you have actual evidence to the contrary. Nimur (talk) 17:03, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Oh, no disagreement (and sorry about the Asimov/Clarke fubar). My point is that there's a vast leap of faith between the statements "It doesn't work" and "It doesn't exist". Occam's Razor is a matter of pragmatism, not a matter of science: basically it says "We choose to believe X over Y because X would make the world a simpler, more orderly place". But it is not a scientific principle that the world is a simple, orderly place - that's just a choice we make in the absence of other significant factors.
Part of the problem here, of course, is the difference between acquired skills and replicable technology. for instance, I remember a story about a tai chi master (recent - he died in the 1970's, I think) who could supposedly walk over freshly fallen snow without leaving a track. It was his 'thing'. seems unlikely on the face of it, but assuming it is true, one would need to spend 40-50 years mastering tai chi to replicate it, with no guarantees even then. Sure, you can give anyone an iPhone and teach them how to use it, but can you give anyone the plans for an iPhone and teach them how to make one from scratch? that's a bit more doubtful. If your assessment of the nature of the iPhone depended on people building them on their own, well, you'd get maybe one person in a million who managed to build an iPhone that worked at all, and it would probably only work intermittently and badly, and so Occam's razor would force us to say that iPhones were part of the paranormal. Part of the problem with investigating paranormal crap is that much of it requires supposed 'special skills' or the attainment of problematic 'extraordinary states': as scientists, we cannot even tell whether we have achieved the correct conditions for the effect to occur, so how can we say with authority that the effect doesn't occur? There's no problem with saying it's a silly idea, mind you, or that the people who claim to be doing it are probably either egotists of self-deluded, but going that extra step and say they are out-and-out wrong is more a matter of faith than science. --Ludwigs2 17:24, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
@ Nimur (e/c): you do realize that right after you said "science is not a claim to authority", you gave a perfect description of why science is a claim to authority, don't you? no scientist will ever claim to be 'correct'; a scientist will claim that his theory fits the available empirical evidence better than any other theory - that's what gives him the authority to dismiss other theories. In fact, the scientific method (to the extent that such a thing exists) is really nothing more than a system of rules designed to maximize the authority of scientific claims - play by the rules of science, and it is very difficult for others to dismiss your claims as false. --Ludwigs2 17:36, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
no scientist will ever claim to be 'correct'; a scientist will claim that his theory fits the available empirical evidence better than any other theory - yes. But is that what Steve Baker does? No. He does take that leap of faith from "I am not convinced" to "It does not exist and you can trust me on this". There are various things that have been postulated by scientists, but for which there is as yet no proof of their existence. Dark matter, for example. What would Steve Baker say about that? That it "definitely doesn’t exist" (as he said about auras)? Or does he give it a little more credence? Why would he be prepared to accommodate that particular unevidenced phenomenon but not others? Well, it doesn’t really matter why. It’s all the same in the end – it would be his opinion that dark matter exists or might exist, just as it is his opinion that auras etc do not. Yet he would treat them rather differently, I imagine. I can’t see him coming right out and being categorical about dark matter, because he knows he can’t. He’s equally unable to be categorical about auras – yet he is, and that’s the issue. He speaks with the voice of authority on all things scientific; people listen to what he has to say and by and large accept what he has to say as gospel. And they sometimes end up believing things that aren’t known with certainty to be true. And I hate that. Contrary to what some said earlier on, this is not personal against Steve at all; it just happens to be he who consistently offends my sense of ref desk integrity, and almost always gets away with it. Others wouldn't, and nor should they. -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 19:05, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Jack, I'm disappointed in you here. Usually you're a pretty cool cucumber, but this thread seems to have pressed your buttons. It's not helpful for you to guess what Steve's thinking, and then predict what he's going to say about your presumed version of his thoughts, and then browbeat him about it. It might be more constructive to limit your criticism, analysis, or suggestions to things which Steve has actually said, instead of constructing hypothetical arguments around what you think he might say or believe. While I can't be certain what Steve would think about your dark matter analogy, I'll tell you how I would interpret it — and attempt to explain why it's probably a poor example for you to use.
Dark matter was first hypothesized when astronomers began to notice inconsistencies between the measured motions of large-scale astronomical objects (galaxies and up) and their apparent, visible masses. Faced with this contradiction in their results, astrophysicists bit the bullet and acknowledged that either a) our understanding of gravitational theory over long distance scales is incomplete, or b) our measurements of the masses of galaxies is inaccurate, owing to some pool of mass we cannot detect by traditional observational astronomy methods. Several competing hypotheses have been advanced to reconcile these observations with what we know and observe here on Earth. Category (a) leads to modified theories of gravitation, while category (b) leads to dark matter. In other words, dark matter may exist not because of some scientist's (or Steve's) wishful thinking, but because it is one possible way to reconcile what we know (from extensive observation) about gravity with what we know (from extensive observation) about the distribution of visible, interacting 'non-dark' matter in the universe. A responsible scientist would not make a definitive statement about its existence because there are competing theories which could equally well explain the observations, and because we haven't yet got the tools to distinguish between these competing hypotheses.
On the other hand, for auras we don't have the large body of rigorously collected and analyzed data. We don't have experimental evidence reviewed by impartial observers. We don't have solid empirical findings which are inconsistent with existing theory. On the contrary — on the few occasions where claimed practitioners have attempted to prove their ability to see auras under controlled conditions, they have failed. Anecdotal reports are consistent with hallucination, self-deception, or charlatanism. There is no reliable, unexplained evidence which requires us to advance or consider a new 'aura theory', despite attempts to locate such evidence, and despite substantial financial incentives for someone to do so. On the available evidence, there is nothing unreasonable or hypocritical about Steve – or any scientist – being equivocal about the existence of dark matter (though I personally cannot speak to his feelings on the question) while dismissing the existence of auras. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 19:57, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
You're right, Ten, I should not have assumed his position on dark matter and then browbeaten him for it. I apologise for that. And you're right again - my buttons have been pushed. But not by this thread. This thread was an attempt to bring the matter to notice to see if something can be done about it. What pushes my buttons every time is people who get up on their self-designed pedestals and distribute to the lower masses pieces of information that they call truths, not because science says they're truths, but because THEY say so. But it seems I'm a lone voice here, so now that I've had my say, and it's been heard, and absolutely nothing's going to change, I'll nick off back to my moody loner's cave where I can grumble to my heart's content without disturbing anyone. See you around. -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 03:17, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Dark matter is indeed a poor choice as an example. There is a set of bizarre phenomena that have been definitely been observed but which have no really good explanation yet. The phrase "dark matter" is merely a convenient label to hang onto this collection of ill-understood things. It's no more meaningful to ask whether dark matter exists than it is to ask whether you can weigh "love" or collect a bucketful of "hate". Those are just convenient labels to hang onto a collection of observations. Auras are a different matter - when scientists say they've detected the 'signature' of dark matter, they will give some definite description of the way some body is being affected by a gravitational pull where none 'should' exist. Then other scientists (being a skeptical bunch) will go off and repeat their measurements, study their data and either debunk them or start agreeing with them. When a critical mass of people have done that, scientists stop talking about something doubtful and hypothetical - and start acting as if it's "real" and worthy of further investigation. When they try to do that with auras, the people who claim to see them either say something like "I see invisible things that nobody else can see, hear, measure in any way whatever" or things like "You can detect an aura by wrapping a photographic plate around certain kinds of object and the aura will be developed onto the film". In the latter case, scientists tried that same experiment and discovered that the object in question (a rock) was mildly radioactive and that was partially exposing the film...that's not an "aura" because the claim is that every living thing has an aura and that can't relate to radioactivity because most living things are notable for their lack of radioactivity! But in the former case, where a witness claims an ability to see auras - the only kind of experiment that's possible is to test the power of the claimant. So we go do that (several times - in the presence of a massive TV audience full of witnesses) - and the claimant fails to do what he or she claimed. Then you offer \$10,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate their ability to see auras - and guess what? No more takers. So now it's debunked - until or unless new information arises. Surely you can see that this is a dramatically different situation than the "dark matter" thing?
If you're hunting for a 'mainstream' scientific idea that I don't personally believe in - pick the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. I don't (personally) think that works as a description of the universe. If you're looking for an 'off-mainstream' idea that I do (personally) believe is correct then look no further than for the alternative to copenhagen. I think the Many Worlds hypothesis is much better, but that's only slowly gaining traction as a mainstream idea. If there is a question that is best answered with Many Worlds - then I try to be careful to always say that we don't know that it's true. Similarly, I don't go around saying that copenhagen is definitely false - and many times, I have given it as the answer to a question despite my personal misgivings because that is what good reference librarians do. SteveBaker (talk) 04:31, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Very glad to agree with Ludwigs, ToaT, and Nimur here. But we are getting off-topic. This thread is about how best to moderate "disruptive" editing, and specifically here the otherwise very often very helpful contributions of SteveBaker. Wikiscient (talk) 17:30, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Objection, your honor — assumes facts not in evidence. While there are a few editors who feel that Steve's comments might make them or others uncomfortable, that's a rather long way from the assertion that his editing is 'disruptive' or otherwise in urgent need of correction or sanction. Insisting that people rely on scientific methods, scientific results, and scientific references when responding to queries on the Science Reference Desk – even to the point of bluntly criticising editors who fail to do so, or worse, who attempt to drag discussions off topic and out of scope through the introduction of distractions ranging from grammatical nitpicking to creationist dogma – is something that editors should be sticking up for, not attempting to hammer down. Editors who want to talk about human beliefs and systems, ranging from religion to mysticism to philosophy of science to epistemology, should do so over at the Humanities Desk — and even there, they should strive to employ proper scholarly sources for their work, in lieu of their own opinions. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 18:06, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
@ToAT: I am in complete agreement with everything you just said. :) There is an "issue" here; but I am exceedingly confident that you are entirely capable of seeing that on your own if you want to, so there is no use saying more about it in this way now. I will be in recess for the next few hours (at least), but look forward to joining the fray in more detail once more sometime soon! ;) See y'all! Wikiscient (talk) 20:41, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

I'm currently reading a book about the politics of science vs. religion, specifically creationism and ID vs evolution. It got me to thinking. The biggest strength of science is also its biggest weakness. Science is never certain, never prepared to make any guarantees, because the whole scientific community knows that we don't know everything. Any scientist in any field that claims otherwise is not doing his job properly. Religion, on the other hand, demands certainty. Any thing that requires faith is like that, and unknown phenomena are a bit like that. Auras, aliens, ghosts, whatever. I recommend highly Mary Roach's Spook, which is her search for proof of ghosts or spirits. She is skeptical, but unsure. But the studies she saw proves nothing. Aaronite (talk) 17:47, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

Aaronite has written Science is never certain, never prepared to make any guarantees ... I disagree. In science there are many laws, many theorems. For example, Newton's laws of motion are called Newton's laws of motion, not Newton's hypotheses about motion, or anything equally vague. You can't get much more certain than that. Dolphin (t) 11:55, 4 September 2010 (UTC)\
In that very article, it says that 'Newton's Laws hold only with respect to a certain set of frames of reference called Newtonian or inertial reference frames.' It has been updated and changed to match conditions that have since been discovered. In other words, his laws don't even apply to everything. They aren't universal. Aaronite (talk) 15:21, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
It is true that there are limitations on the applicability of Newtonian mechanics, but those limitations are well known. The boundaries of applicability of Newtonian mechanics don't constitute uncertainty. It would be uncertain if we had to say F usually equals m times a roughly, give or take about 5%, most of the time, but not always. Dolphin (t) 05:19, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
That matches what a highly conservative Christian once told me - that science is never certain about anything. It's human nature to want things to be certain. This is the trap some scientists fall into when they think they've got it figured out. It's the Dawkins syndrome. As soon as you think you've got it figured out, you've painted yourself into a corner as a scientist. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 03:15, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Bugs, at this Desk recently you have made a couple of references to the Dawkins syndrome. What is it? Does Wikipedia have an article on the subject that I can look at to find out more about it? Or is it some original research? Be aware that User:RichardDawkins is a Wikipedian and he is also a living person. Wikipedia has some very good guidelines that apply to our interactions with other Users and our remarks about living persons. Dolphin (t) 05:04, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Good for him. That syndrome is where atheism becomes just another religion, with its own dogma and "absolutes". ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 06:22, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
As I've heard said elsewhere, the one thing that all belief systems have in common is that all belief systems have fanatics. Science is no exception. --Ludwigs2 07:30, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Thanks BB, and Ludwigs2. My education is incomplete on both matters. Can you both provide me with a link of some sort so I can read further on the subject? Many thanks. Dolphin (t) 07:34, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
You might find of some interest this interview with an educator, especially the second one in reference to the current topic (starting about 1:30), although you should watch them in order to get the full context: [7][8][9][10]Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 14:56, 4 September 2010 (UTC)

### OK, so how about explaining to me what this mysterious policy is?

If I did wrong - then I need to understand what I need to do to fix my terribly ill behavior in the future.
The tricky thing here is that this isn't about the philosophy of science or belief or the nature of belief or anything like that. It a matter of how we answer questions on the Science Reference Desk here at Wikipedia. It's a question of what do we actually type in response to a specific question. Hence, I would like my detractors to do just that. I'm going to ask some ref-deskish questions - and we're going to explore how YOU would answer them. I want you detractors to take this very seriously. I actually want to know from your own mouths what you would say in order to avoid being definite about matters where science cannot disprove an unfalsifiable...then you can tell me how that differs from what I said.
• What would you have us say when someone asks "On what date did man first walk on the moon?" Bearing in mind that 150 million Americans and 15 million Brit's don't believe that man ever did land on the moon. Do you want us to say: "We honestly don't know that man has ever stepped on the moon. NASA claims it happened on July 20th 1969." Mainstream science certainly can't prove that the moon landings really happened...not with 100% certainty. We can demonstrate a lot of pertinent information - photos, movies, that kind of thing and we can knock down issues raised about flags flapping in a vacuum - but (just as with the Auras) we cannot disprove an unfalsifiable with 100% certainty.
• If someone asks about why airplanes fly along great circle routes - do you want us to explain with a perfectly straight face that this answer might be incorrect because the earth might be flat? (Yes, some people still do believe that - and if you talk to them, you rapidly realize that you can't disprove their theories). But worse than that - if one unproven thing has to be explained as a caveat against the mainstream scientific view - than how do we pick and choose which one? Should I answer this by also explaining that some people believe that the earth is hollow and that we live on the inside of it? Should I explain that some religions say that under various versions of Hindu cosmology, the world is carried on the back of elephants, turtles or perhaps snakes? The trouble is that there are an infinity of possible other ideas - most of which are unfalsifiable...but if I leave one out - then I'm open to being accused of being too definitely opposed to some other lunatic view of the world.
• I'm told that because science failed to spot that the Coelacanth was not in fact extinct that we should be slapped on the wrist if we say that ANY seemingly-extinct animal is actually extinct. So how do we answer "Is the giant sloth extinct?" - saying "Yes" leaves us open to a coelacanth problem because science hasn't ruled out the possibility that there might still be some out there - so according to some people here we need a much vaguer answer.
So, come on - if you disagree with me saying that auras don't exist - and you want me to say that maybe they do exist - then what is the standard that I'm supposed to adhere to? Just how far down this crazy rabbit hole am I supposed to go?
The trouble is that once you step away from the line that Wikipedia draws in the sand (per WP:FRINGE), you open yourself up to a literal infinity of ifs, buts and maybes that must decorate every single answer we give. Maybe you'd like me to go back through the last 24 hours of ref-desk answers and inject doubt into every single answer we've given? You know I can - and you know that if I did, the storm of protest here would be spectacular. (Obviously, I won't because we have a rule about not disrupting Wikipedia to prove a point) But I hope you have a SERIOUS think about the consequence of requiring doubt to be expressed on all matters where science fails to disprove an unfalsifiable hypothesis.
I expect that nobody here will be able to suggest a workable rule for when doubt must be expressed - or for how many layers of caveats have to be applied.
That being the case, we have to have a 'gold standard'. And fortunately, we do...it's just that very few people here have taken the time to read it. Read WP:FRINGE. It's a great document. It's the way that at least the science desk should be run - and the other desks should adhere to it when science is relied upon for an answer. "Mankind landed on the moon on July 20th 1969.", "Airplanes fly the great circle route because the world is round", "The Giant Sloth went extinct - perhaps as recently as 500 years ago."...and therefore "Auras don't exist."
The problem is that the people who are attacking me here want me to be definite about things that they are definite about (the Apollo moon landings, I hope) - but they insist that I'm vague and hedging my answers when it's something that they believe in. I can see why you guys do that - but it's no way to run a reference desk. We're required to give the mainstream view - even when we don't happen to believe in it ourselves. I happen to be lucky...I believe in almost all of the things that mainstream science has to say about the world...but not absolutely everything.
So - put up or shut up - what do YOU think the standard for the expression of doubt on the Wikipedia Science Reference Desk should be...and how can you apply that standard to my perfectly reasonable set of questions?
SteveBaker (talk) 03:46, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Let me see if I can respond to this in a way that makes sense to you (keeping in mind that this is not tailored specifically to you, but is an adaptation of the general response I give to people around this kind of issue - I've encountered this numerous times on wikipedia).
• We all are expected/encouraged/allowed - pick your favorite affirmative word - to give the best answers we can on wikipedia. Science and scientific research are a wonderful resource for good answers, and should always be given where available.
• We all are discouraged from engaging in original research. Unfortunately, debunking frequently involves OR of one sort or another.
it's a fine line to walk: You can say that the Apollo moon landing was in 1969, and you don't have to mention the moon-landing-hoax theory. If someone else mentions that moon-landing-hoax theory, you can say that that theory is not supported by reliable scholarly sources. But you can't explicitly say that the MLH theory is wrong, because that would constitute original research on your part, and you can't go out of your way to debunk it, because that would constitute original research on your part.
I'm sorry if that leaves you feeling a bit hamstrung. it's a comic book truism that the bad guys get to use tricks that the good guys can't; nobility has its constraints. If you start using original research to defend the scholarly perspective against all comers, then you cheapen scholarship, and make it look like scholarship is just another political game (and if you think I'm wrong about that, go look at the global warming pages, which are textbook examples of political gamesmanship run riot). You have to let the scholarship speak for itself in its own terms, and trust the reader to separate the wheat from the chaff on their own. --Ludwigs2 05:19, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
This sounds awfully silly to me. We can't say a endlessly and authoritatively debunked hoax theory is "wrong"? Because we're adhering to Hume-ian standards of doubt? We have to "trust the reader"? This is a place where we answer questions. The reader is asking us to sort things out for them. It does not have the same standards for neutrality as the encyclopedia. And hell, even the encyclopedia makes stronger distinctions than this about fact and fiction. "Well, some people believe the Holocaust happened, but some people think it's a big Jewish conspiracy to justify Israel. Who can really say who is correct? Figure it out for yourselves!" Some Reference Desk.
Can't we just agree: 1. Don't be a jerk, 2. Don't soapbox. There. Two simply, already-in-place policies. If people disagree on something, they can state their disagreements civilly and clearly and may the most persuasive and most referenced person be seen as most persuasive and referenced.
The main problem with SteveBaker's responses are not that he doesn't give crackpot theories less credence than the scientific mindset. It's that he goes into "Darwin's Bulldog" mode pretty much instantly when he sees something he doesn't like. That's a civility and soapboxing issue, not a fact issue. One can have perfectly strong, non-neutral opinions and still be objective, well-reasoned, well-supported. I think as usual we need to make sure that the OP can distinguish between our own reasoning, occasional "OR" (in the loosest sense), and what the "mainstream" or "fringe" opinions are. "Well, basically nobody in any kind of scientific community thinks that the moon landing was a hoax, and there is pretty much endless irrefutable evidence that it happened, confirmed by researchers at dozens of countries, including countries who historically would have loved to show that the US was full of it. To me that pretty much rules out any possibility of conspiracy, especially when the standard conspiracy arguments — 'the flag shouldn't be waving!' — are so easy to refute." I mean, is that so wrong? I don't think so. It makes pretty clear who is saying what and singling out my role as an aggregator.
Trying to come up with complicated epistemological regulations for the Reference Desk will not work. It doesn't work under presumably more controlled conditions, like the courtroom. The last thing we want here are Daubert hearings and all of their faults! I think striving for transparency, intellectual honest, and civility is pretty much the best we can do, and we would be a pretty great resource if we did that consistently. That some of us will disagree strongly about the facts is not only inevitable, but desirable. --Mr.98 (talk) 11:52, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Okrent's Law: "The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true." It's the top quotation on my user page. If it's no longer possible for us to say any statement is false, we might as well pack up the science desk and go home. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 13:39, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Well, that's a bit over-extended, don't you think? I haven't invoked Hume or insisted on some world-denying standard of doubt, I've simply suggested that we stop talking before we start asserting our own beliefs (no matter how well-founded they may be) as truth. is that so problematic? The mistake you (and Steve, and a lot of pro-science people on wikipedia) make is that you assume the average wikipedia reader is a ham-brained idiot who needs to be protected from bad ideas. In fact, however, there are very few ham-brained idiots in the world. The average nine year old has the cognitive capacity to realize for him/her self that the moon-landing-hoax theory is rubbish. They may choose not to (because nine year olds have an acute sense of humor and love to profess things that irritate adults), and at worst they are going to entertain it as an interesting idea for a while, but on its own merits the theory is simply not convincing and almost everyone has the ability to recognize that. We don't have to do anything special to achieve that result. There is, of course, a significant percentage of the population who won't recognize it (these are generally adults who have developed as idée fixe on the issue and aren't much interested in viewing it through the lens of common sense - they are not ham-brained either, they are just working from a different set of world-assumptions), but frankly, all the debunking in the world is not going to change their minds. That's just a waste of breath.
If Wikipedia editors start trying to actively debunk bad theories, it will have the following pointless and tawdry results:
1. it will make no impression whatsoever on the idée fixe group, who will simply warp any effort to debunk the theory into the extended conspiracy
2. it will entertain the nine year olds of the world, who enjoy seeing adults squabble, without really serving to educate them - they likely already know the moon landing was not a hoax, and regardless won't be much interested in following extended logical arguments on the matter.
3. it will make the remainder of the population of readers roll their eyes that wikipedia editors are gullible enough to go tilting at these kinds of windmills.
Not really the results any of us want for the project, yah? --Ludwigs2 15:54, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
The largest part of what we do at the Reference Desk is provide assertions of what we believe to be true, guided – and here is the important bit – by what reliable sources have to say. While unjustified assertions and certainty are harmful and should be avoided, we also do a disservice to our readers when we misrepresent the level of scientific consensus for particular facts as being weaker than it really is. Pretending to uncertainty where no credible uncertainty exists is just as dishonest as doing the opposite.
You would be amazed at the level of misinformation (and active disinformation) that the average person is exposed to related to the sciences. It doesn't take a 'ham-brained idiot' to be sucked in by a smooth story told by someone with a good grasp of plausible-sounding jargon. In the case of the moon-landing hoax conspiracy theory, for instance, somewhere between six and twenty percent of Americans don't believe NASA astronauts walked on the moon. (That fraction took a big bump upwards after Fox aired their execrable 'documentary' on the topic in 2001.) Fully half of Americans are below average, but I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that a fifth of them are 'idiots' — and I can't believe that one in five Americans is a conspiracy monger, clinging to idées fixes in the face of rationality. The bulk of these people aren't idiots or nutters; assuming that they must be (or that they are nine-year-old trolls), and that we should leave them to their delusions because they can't be helped is far more insidiously insulting than anything you want to lay at the feet of me or of Steve.
As an aside, I'll thank you not to tell me what I'm thinking — and I'm gobsmacked that there are people on Wikipedia (and Ludwigs2 is far from the only one) who insist on using 'pro-science' as a pejorative epithet. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 17:44, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Ok, so, it's becoming clear that you're not actually going to read what I'm writing, which kinda sucks. Do you think what you wrote here is actually a response to what I wrote? Piffle. You're having an argument with someone not present, and as far as I can tell you're doing that because you cannot accept the possibility that 'science zealots' exist in the world. That is (to put the best face on it) naïve. but c'est la vie.
Now, since you're evidently willing to go out of your way to misrepresent what I say so you can build a straw man to knock down, screw this conversation. I'll save that particular battle for where it actually matters, which isn't now, or here. However, you might want to work on the thesis a bit, because if you try this approach on me where it counts I'll shred it ungraciously (and viciously - straw man arguments irritate me, and I usually come down on them with both feet). But I don't want to do that at the moment, so I'm calling it to a close. later! --Ludwigs2 18:19, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Hold on a minute — who is misrepresenting whom, here? You're the one who claimed I "assume the average wikipedia reader is a ham-brained idiot". (Perhaps you ought to come down on your own strawman argument with both feet, however anatomically difficult that might prove.) You're the one who asserted that "The average nine year old has the cognitive capacity to realize for him/her self that the moon-landing-hoax theory is rubbish" — despite the fact that a fifth of American adults have apparently reached the opposite conclusion. You're the one who says we shouldn't rebut those false statements because (according to your numbering scheme above) (1) either people who have been misled and misinformed are too stubborn to be educated; or (2) the people advancing these ideas have the mentality of – or actually are – nine-year-old trolls; and (3) clearly and explicitly pointing out which statements made on the Ref Desk have nothing to do with science will make us look silly and gullible. I'll fully grant that some of the people who post questions (and who answer questions) here on the Desks are stuck in their personal ruts, and don't wish to be disabused of their own pet beliefs. I'll also acknowledged that some of the people who post questions (and, from time to time, answer questions) really are just trolls hoping to wind us up for giggles. But I am not going to conduct myself here on the assumption that all of the apparently misinformed people we see fall into those two groups — I'm not even going to assume that they're more than a minority. If it means I look silly for giving someone the benefit of the doubt from time to time, then so be it. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 18:42, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
You're still not responding to what I wrote, and as I said, I am not interested in disabusing you of your preconceptions at this juncture. Don't worry, I'm sure he opportunity to do that will arise someplace meaningful, sooner or later. Till then! --Ludwigs2 18:57, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
I'm responding to exactly what you wrote; it's in quotation marks. You're more than welcome to cease to comment, and I agree that it's unlikely that further interaction will be productive. I would certainly prefer to put this behind us. On the other hand, you don't get a free pass to continue to misrepresent me and then unilaterally declare the discussion closed. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 19:53, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
you may have quoted me correctly, but you did not represent me correctly. for instance (and here I will both quote and represent you correctly) you said:

You're the one who asserted that "The average nine year old has the cognitive capacity to realize for him/her self that the moon-landing-hoax theory is rubbish" — despite the fact that a fifth of American adults have apparently reached the opposite conclusion.

But what ever gave you the idea that I was comparing nine year olds to American adults? In fact, I specifically distinguished between those two groups in my post - a fact you oddly chose not to notice - by pointing out that people can do this by the age of nine, but many adults choose not to for various reasons. I am not here to instruct you on the art of comprehensive reading, ToaT. --Ludwigs2 20:12, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
So, you're not going to drop this, and you're not going to stop misrepresenting and misunderstanding what I'm saying? I'll pass, thanks. You may have whatever last word you like. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 20:29, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
lol! wise choice. --Ludwigs2 20:42, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
I think this is all about tone. I've found Steve's tone overly aggressive, and I've told him sometimes. I am secure enough that I won't be run off by overly-aggressive posts from a senior editor, but I find myself wondering whether it's worth the blowback when I'm tempted to disagree with him and I think his responses could scare newbies and non-scientists away. I do think he should check himself when tempted to say something sanctimonious (especially if it is tangential to the question asked). I find it sad, because the scientific content of Steve's posts is superb. -- Scray (talk) 14:50, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
@Steve: Here is how I actually responded to this question when I first saw it, and when for some reason I was mistakenly under the impression that the asker had also posted it at the Sci desk (she had actually posted a different question there; you may care to have a look at how that got responded to, too):
"Reading the Aura article(s) should address many of the questions you may have on this topic; feel free to come back to this desk to ask follow-up questions if you like. (I am removing your post of this same question from the Sci desk, because you only need to ask this question at one desk at a time and this seems to be the best desk for it:)."
I do not want to spend a lot of time talking past each other here, Steve. So I want to be clear that I do not have any substantial disagreement with anything you have said in this entire thread about all those annoying conspiracy-theorists or those pesky anti-scientists or anyone else of that ilk nor with how tedious they may sometimes be here at the RD. Yup, what a hassle, huh? But that is not at all very relevant right now to what some of your learned fellow contributors (myself included) are trying to say to you here.
Here's an off-the-cuff "general rule" proposal for you:
• If you can find at wp an article that seems to best address the question asked by an RD customer, direct that customer in a pleasant or at least neutral tone to that article. (You are an RD librarian when you sit at this desk; it is not for you to decide what is in the library, nor for you to be snotty with a customer if he/she is interested in a topic that annoys you personally.)
If that rule does not resolve this for you, let us know why and we can all try to come up with something else that better resolves for you whatever you believe all this to really be about. But understand that we are volunteering our time to help you with this, so please try to get to the point as directly as possible. Thanks. Wikiscient (talk) 15:55, 4 September 2010 (UTC)

Steve, the three reductio ad absurdum examples you chose to introduce this section with, and the wounded tone you adopt in a section below when you talk about a hypothetical "failure to inject enough doubt into answers", suggest that there's a nuance here that you're just not getting. (I'm afraid you may never get it, that you're somehow incapable of getting it, so I'll try not to beat you over the head with it.)

Mr. 98 compared you to "Darwin's Bulldog". Scray mentioned the possibility of scaring newbies and non-scientists away. And this is sort of the thing I'm concerned about. I'm not sure you realize just how extreme and overzealous-seeming your more impassioned defenses of scientific results can sometimes be. I don't think the extreme level of bombast you sometimes reach is necessary, and I do think sometimes it is destructive. —Steve Summit (talk) 01:35, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

OK, this has been bugging me for ages, and I figured out how to fix it.

:* Search the reference desk archive to see if your question has been asked earlier, or search Wikipedia as a whole.
{| style="margin-left: 5em;"

to:

:* Search the reference desk archive to see if your question has been asked earlier, or search Wikipedia as a whole.
{| style="margin-left: 5em; background-color: transparent;"

It'll just make it so that there isn't an ugly and unintentional white borders above and below the search boxes. It does not affect the search boxes themselves, and it should be compatible with all stylesheets. --Mr.98 (talk) 18:11, 4 September 2010 (UTC)

Done, but I can't see what difference it made. SpinningSpark 00:20, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
Thanks — much improved. There were white bands on a light gray background. Your ability to see them probably depends on the particular setting of your monitor, but they were definitely there, and very clear to me! The white bars looked unprofessional if you were viewing it, say, on the Mac laptop. --Mr.98 (talk) 01:26, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

## On singling out editors

Recently, we've had a number of threads complaining about the behavior of certain editors (though, to be fair, not all of them started out as that kind of complaint). Having re-read this page and also some discussions on user talk pages, I register some discomfort with using this talk page as stocks and pillory. I know that public humiliation isn't the intention of anyone here, but elements of it have popped up, and I register the same discomfort within myself. My suggestion, prompted by Ludwigs2's funny (and fuckwaddish in his own right, just like me right now) reply above, is the following:

• If you have a problem with a single editor's answers or style, please first try addressing this on that editor's talk page. (I've done this in the past, trying to do it gently and with an open mind, and the reactions usually were satisfactory. In the worst case, I received no response at all, which doesn't mean the person hasn't read it, and is fine by me too).
• If you have a problem with editing patterns or tendencies in general, committed by more than one editor, then I think it's alright to bring it up here. ---Sluzzelin talk 03:54, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

In my experience, here and in so-called "real life", people are much more happy to accept criticism if it is done in private without an audience. Well, user talk page aren't private either, I realize, but the gesture of posting a complaint at this forum here already starts the whole thing off on the wrong foot, in my opinion. For really sensitive issues, there is also the possibility of sending an e-mail. ---Sluzzelin talk 03:54, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

I endorse Sluzzelin and Ludwigs2 here. My previous post here gained me only a boxing which makes me think that I am taking these things a little too seriously. I don't complain to Lomn because the box is a tasteful pale green on my monitor, and there is no end of fun to be had clicking that magic Show/Hide button.
We need to wind back to a baseline that we can all agree upon. It has to be a consensus. I encourage a show of hands on the proposition that Questioners to the Ref. Desks have a right to expect "best effort" response(s), and to provide "best effort" response(s) is the Prime Directive for those who volunteer. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 08:00, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
Hear him, hear him. And I am not sure whether WP:NPOV has been mentioned here recently. An ideal to strive for. Wikiscient (talk) 15:15, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
For the most part, I agree with Sluzzelin, but would like to add one thing. If any editor becomes so noxious to you that you feel the need to complain here multiple times for the same reason, this ceases to be the place to do it. Rather than bitching about User X for the umpteenth time and not getting any further, check out Requests for Comment (User conduct section) and follow the directions there. There's a bit of protocol to follow, but there are always a few active discussions there to show you what's required. Be very aware, though, that you may well shoot yourself in the foot and end up on the unexpected side of the disciplinary action. And if the user's behaviour isn't worth the aggravation of filling out those forms and lining up all those diffs to support your argument, then maybe the behaviour isn't as horrible as you thought. Endless complaints about the same thing create a poisonous atmosphere - if discussion fails, whining is not the answer - forget it or resolve it, just keep in mind that you might not like the resolution. Matt Deres (talk) 22:29, 3 September 2010 (UTC)
You will observe that I don't come here to complain about others. I do defend myself when attacked (unless I realize that I was in the wrong). Wikipedia has a rule about "No Personal Attacks". That rule doesn't mean "No Attacks" - it means that you can't get personal about it. You should address the content and not the editor - except perhaps in extreme cases of vandalism, trolling, etc - which none of the recent cases has quite risen to.
If we dislike the jokes and general laxity of "a certain editor" or if we object to carping punctuation whining or if (and it seems unlikely!) you object to someone failing to inject enough doubt into answers - then you should address the content. We should discuss whether off-topic meta-comments (comments-about-comments) should be ruled out by some new guideline. We should discuss whether our tolerance for humor has gone too far and whether we should insist on people not responding if they don't have something new to add. We need to decide whether there is a policy change needed for the standard of 'certainty' in situations where an unfalsifiable hypothesis is involved.
SteveBaker (talk) 03:59, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
"You will observe..."? I have not observed that. Please don't be too coy to name BaseballBugs if that is whom you mean by the euphemism "a certain editor". Get consensus and guidelines can be changed. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 14:26, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
I should take back the gold star I just gave you. :'( ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 14:29, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

## If Google is owned by two Jews, why does it include links to antisemitic and racist websites?

Are edits like these really necessary?[11] I realize that this might be a troll, but never the less, we're supposed to assume good faith and be welcoming to newbies. A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 19:34, 4 September 2010 (UTC)

The guy created a red-link user account for the sole purpose of asking that provocative question. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:52, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Personally, I dislike templates because they're rectangular, look official, and lack soul. In this case, I'm willing to make an exception. This template does draw attention to the question. At the same time it stops you, mouth agape, as you're already thinking about a lecturing post or whether to remove the question, and invites you to either provide a factual, referenced answer, or to leave it alone. Switching back to my personal taste, please don't post this template more than once a week. ---Sluzzelin talk 21:50, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
On second thought, I partially agree with AQfK. I suggest removing the first sentence, and changing the template to only "Please restrict responses to neutral, factual, sourced statements." If it's clear trolling, the question should get removed without further discussion. If you're not sure, the short sentence will do, without offending the original poster. ---Sluzzelin talk 21:54, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
The discussion on that template is here, for reference 82.44.55.25 (talk) 22:07, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
Ah ok, missed that, thanks. Never mind then, or do mind, or change it, or don't. Didn't mean to restart a discussion where apparently consensus was achieved. ---Sluzzelin talk 22:11, 4 September 2010 (UTC)
I think the responses above were comments on the {{RD-alert}} template, whereas AQFK (the OP) linked to a diff in which the {{spa}} template had been applied, and AQFK's questions are more relevant to the latter template than the former; thus, I think the responses above are misdirected. To the point of the OP, I've never used the {{spa}} template but I think it's appropriate to say that we assume good faith until proven otherwise (whether this applies in the particular case cited above, I don't yet know - but they've only made that one edit!). Single-purpose editing is not inherently disruptive, but if a newbie disruptively repeats a question ad nauseum then at some point corrective action should be taken. -- Scray (talk) 00:20, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
• [Aside:] Particularly at a reference desk or help desk, single-purpose registering and editing is to be expected. We're inviting people to ask questions, and that might be the only reason they'd appear rather than just read Wikipedia (including its desks) passively and anonymously. —— Shakescene (talk) 05:06, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
Agreed, and (in the spirit of the OP, as well as our two responses) I'm removing that template. It shouldn't be used with a first-time editor. WP:AGF definitely applies in this case. -- Scray (talk) 05:27, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
the reason I added the alert template was that it seemed evident to me that one could not innocently ask a question of this sort. The implication that the religion of the google founders would/should naturally cause them to censor anti-jewish sites is pretty clearly designed to tap into religious/racial prejudices without touching on any meaningful realm of knowledge - there's no way to read the question without casting antisemitic aspersions in one direction or another. best to make it clear that responders shouldn't get caught up in the gambit.
I'm not going to edit war the template back in, but if the responses start getting out of hand I will delete the question entirely. I think you're wrong to remove it, but time will tell. --Ludwigs2 05:31, 5 September 2010 (UTC) striking - I misunderstood which template you were talking about. sorry. --Ludwigs2 05:35, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
Just so it's clear to others who come along and don't look at the diffs provided or read the posts carefully (or get confused by the paragraph above that Ludwigs2 did not strike), the thread here began with a question about use of the {{spa}} (single-purpose account) template, and I have removed it. Some other editors got off-track thinking this was about the {{RD-alert}} template, the use of which seemed appropriate to me. -- Scray (talk) 15:09, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
The SPA tag is factual. The RD-alert tag is a matter of opinion and asserts that the editor posted in bad faith. I posted the SPA tag merely to complement the RD-alert, to provide additional information; and the SPA tag, being factual, has more of a right to be there than the RD-alert tag does. The question is fairly reasonable, compared with the level of trolling that LC, for example, routinely engages in. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 15:39, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
hmmm... If that's the way you're seeing it, then maybe we do need to tone the RD-alert tag down a bit. I'll start with the suggestions I saw above (removing the icon and cuting back the first sentence). check out the changes and let me know if anything more can be done. --Ludwigs2 16:06, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
Go for it. You might rewrite the first part to say something more generic; that the question may be tempting us to violate guidelines. The last sentence is fine as is. The first part, rewritten, would be less accusatory. It would be kind of like on TV shows where the lawyer, instead of saying, "I think you're lying", instead says, "May I remind you that you are under oath." In this case, it's a gentle reminder to the responders. I've sometimes seen a template on talk pages that similarly advises editors to try to stay on-topic and such. Not all talk pages, just the ones that are strong-opinion magnets. Likewise with ref desk questions. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 16:21, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
Aha, you're a step ahead of me, as usual. It looks good. :) I have likewise removed the SPA tag now. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 16:26, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
BBugs, you say "The SPA tag is factual", but that's true of every first-time editor (as noted in WP:SPA), so if you think it's appropriate to apply it to editors on their first edit, then we could be using it often (and turning off a lot of new editors). If you think it should only be applied in particularly egregious instances, how does that fit with your statement (in the same edit), "The question is fairly reasonable"? I would prefer to see a prohibition on the use of {{spa}} with first-time editors, since it's a tautology. If you think they're a sock, there are tools for that. -- Scray (talk) 17:50, 5 September 2010 (UTC)
If it weren't for the RD-alert having been posted, I wouldn't have posted the SPA. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 18:01, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

While it's true that this may be trolling, I can also see how it could have been asked in good faith by somebody who was raised with certain preconceptions. To this end, while caution is advisable, I think the first two answers are perfectly appropriate and should more or less also be all there is to say. Well, we could also add a link to the article about misconceptions about the Jewish people that popped up here a couple of days ago - I'd do it myself, but I forgot what it was called. Just to show the OP: well, you see, some people believe the Jews control the media, and you seem to imply something along those lines with your question, but do read this as well. TomorrowTime (talk) 10:46, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

I think Mr. 98's answer on that one is the best way to answer this kind of question. Aaronite (talk) 16:55, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

Yes, 98's answer to the original question was excellent. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 17:04, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

## Help

Which section should I post my question about a word to? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Adorfui (talkcontribs) 22:00, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reference_desk/Language, probably. TomorrowTime (talk) 22:09, 5 September 2010 (UTC)

## Unpopular guideline?

Personal dispute between two editors
The following discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.

Lengthy discussions here show that some editors are unhappy about the guideline[12] that says:Do not edit apparent mistaken homophone contractions in comments of others. One may only ask the poster what they meant to say. (my underlining). The word "apparent" means that what the poster tried to say is not in great doubt, so the guideline is not only for resolving ambiguity.
If those unhappy editors hope to change the guideline, there are a wrong and a right way to go about this. The wrong way is to create a climate of insult or threats, or to launch a premature poll on blocking anyone like me who follows the guideline. The right way is to present arguments for a change. Do that on this page. Don't try to raise the ante by pushing your failure to win consensus into a formal dispute.
SteveBaker is clearly unhappy with all this. As far back as July 2009 SteveBaker was posting things like "why doesn't the Enterprise raise it's shields", ironically in the same post where he talked about "Data's inability to speak 'contractions' (do not - rather than don't, etc)". He was asked politely: "Steve you raised the subject of English contractions. Check your usage of it's and its. [13]. That hint was ignored and again SteveBaker posts: "The black hole only has this crazy amount of gravity because it's small size lets you get very close to it's center."[14]. Again a remonstration: "Steve remember IT'S an encyclopedia with ITS standard of correct grammar."[15].

SteveBaker wants to go on using this substandard English. He has been doing it for more than a year and is defiant about continuing this way. It is discouraging to read this from him: "I won't do any better next time, I don't even try to do better, I have absolutely no interest in doing better". Another example was "is this the standard way to write it's formula?"[16] and it goes on right up to his latest plethora of gaffes about giraffes.[17] [18].

I don't want to go after SteveBaker in particular because other editors occasionally make the same typo. But this defiant and deliberate insertion of sub-standard English in answers at the Ref. Desks must stop. SteveBaker cannot plead ignorance. The Editing window that he uses for his posts has a Show preview button that he should use to proofread what he plans to post, and attention to apostrophes is not too much to ask. I have not seen yet a good argument for neglecting that duty. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 09:31, 6 September 2010 (UTC)

It is obvious from his words that the user in question is very stubborn, although not very confrontational. He is not likely to change, especially when another user hits him over the head with the little apostrophe. The apostrophe can function many times like a gnat. Leave an apostrophe buzzing around someone's head and, very soon, they get very annoyed and chase it away. This happens with the apostrophe, too. They don't care whether the gnat would save your life (or the apostrophe), so they just ignore its message and chase it away.
I always correct my posts when I type, so I am sort of a pedant. But I do not normally correct other people's posts because people are very protective of their posts. It is their own thought-up contribution to the effort, and they do not want it changed. It is a sort of "private property". People get proud of their posts, especially if they are very informative or someone complements them on the quality of their post. So editing another user's post is not good. It is not good either to pester them with the little gnat (the apostrophe).
People wanted to block you from this page because your edits sometimes insulted people. As stated before, people regard their posts as private property. Would you like if your neighbor came over and started rearranging your landscaping? Probably not. It is the same case with copyedits to other user's posts.
It is not likely you will change SteveBaker. He has a large "fan base", if it could be called that. Many people raise an uproar when someone tells him that his edits are "sub-standard".
In conclusion: SteveBaker is stubborn. You will most likely not get any change out of trying to correct him. He will not realize that you are supposed to allow the little apostrophe in, instead of chasing it away. He also has a large fan base, which prevents most action against him. --Chemicalinterest (talk) 11:15, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
The guideline clearly doesn't encourage people to ask someone, who has made it clear they don't care, every single time they make what you consider an error, when the error isn't likely to result in confusion or misunderstanding of the post.
The reason the word 'apparent' is there, is because there's no way you can know whether the poster really made a mistake or whether it was intentional until they tell you and so so the best thing to do is to ask them. For example, if I say 'I like Duck Cheney' most people may think I made an apparent mistake, but perhaps I like an underground comic about a duck called Cheney or maybe my local coffee shop has a dish they call Duck Cheney so only by asking will you find out whether this apparent mistake is really a mistake. Of course if I'm in a mental institution because some people had me committed because they were sure I made a mistake I won't be able to answer.
Similarly, with the 'automagically' fuss that started the whole 'editing posts' fiasco, it's clear that some people genuinely believed automatically was intended, but this 'apparent' mistake wasn't a mistake at all, but intentional on the part of SB and if whoever it was had asked SB about that apparent mistake rather then editing SB's post, we wouldn't have had that whole mess.
In fact, to be blunt your claim doesn't make much sense. The lack of the word 'apparent' would be what implies there's no doubt it's a mistake (i.e. there's no reason to ask).
You may also want to see WP:Wikilawyering and look at the plenty of cases of what normally happens when people try to argue some point by claiming some intention from the specific wording of a random guidelines or rule.
I'll tell you one thing. Unlike seemingly a few other people, I never cared about you grammar/spelling corrections. I did find your continual corrections of SB a little silly but I didn't really care that much. And I wasn't really that comfortable with a 'topic' ban nor deleting your correction comments. But the more you try to argue the point in silly ways like this, the more I start to see why some people are getting so annoyed.
Note that as I've said before, I personally have no problem with someone pointing out a mistake even if there's little doubt it's a mistake provided it's done in a resonable fashion and you don't harp on a user about something they don't care. And I don't really think people would care that much about your behaviour if you were simply pointing out mistakes you saw in users posts where they may care to learn or correct them rather then continually pointing out every single misuse of its/it's of SB.
Nil Einne (talk) 11:38, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
@Nil Einne: Usually, though not always, one can make a likely guess what a poster meant from the context. You are right that the best thing to do is to ask them, so I understand that you support the present guideline. I have noted only a few of the early and most recent language abuses of SB because I doubt that a complete count is worth my time. It's good that you have no problem with having your mistakes pointed out because you misspelled some words in your post. Of course. Up to now I never suspected that. You seem so rational. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 13:44, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
Hear him, hear him. Pick your fights well, Cuddly, because you only get so many of them in life. Ya gotta make 'em count. (And did you mean "there IS a right way and a wrong way"? Because I agree;). Wikiscient (talk) 14:17, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
@Jack of Oz, you confirm the view that SteveBaker being defiant is what prolongs our malaise here. There is only one of me but there are plenty of regular English speakers to take my place, so don't worry for my mental health. Mike Godwin would argue that using Nazi, Hitler or Gestapo comparisons should be avoided, because it can rob a comparison of its impact. It may also distract from the subject of the guideline that is meant for everyone. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 14:03, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
No, I absolutely DO NOT confirm that. What I confirm is that, having raised the matter and being told in absolutely clear terms that he will not comply and that no power on Earth can force him, YOU are refusing to let the issue rest. YOU are playing the victim here. YOU are the one who's lost all sense of perspective, control, and dare I mention it, humour. You've raised this issue over and over again, with the same non-result. Continuing to do it is not only insanity, but guaranteed to lose you what little support you still have around here. None of which is to be read that I support Steve Baker for one second, because I don't. I just don't get how he accepts absolutely the necessity of getting his apostrophes right in article text, but adopts an entirely different standard on the Ref Desks, and very pointedly so. It bespeaks a sort of split personality; so maybe he's insane too. I don't know, I'm not qualified to judge. And it's not even a general issue with apostrophe placement with Steve - it's pretty much confined to the word its. It's a very odd and eccentric and, dare I say it, childish habit. But is it a hanging offence to have such a habit? Well, of course not. Many have mentioned to Steve what the rules say, and all have come off second best. Ultimately, he has the right to spell badly if that's his thing. It's probably his way of getting some extra attention - not that he really needs any more, but there you go, some are needier than others. Think of it as a kind of orthographic lisp. Do you correct speakers who say "Kith me, darling"? No, you just pucker up and have at it. Well, let Steve have his lithp and let go, move on, get over it, and get a life. Continue to lead by example. Don't expect Steve to follow. Change the things you can change, accept the things you can't, and have the wisdom to know the difference. Lastly, please pick more important battles - MUCH more important battles. -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 19:35, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
Cuddlyable3 - to coin a different metaphor, you are clearly flogging a dead horse. Now I'm a "live and let live" sort of person, so I think that a little equine carcass flagellation between consenting adults is no more than a charming eccentricity. But when the aforesaid cadaver begins to putrefy then eccentricity moves towards obsession. And when you claim that deceased-quadruped-whipping is actually everyone's duty based on a disputed reading of a sentence in a minor guideline, well then it begins to look very much like attention seeking. May I suggest that dropping the bullwhip and stepping away from the pony skeleton would be a really good idea. Gandalf61 (talk) 14:24, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
Is this still an active subject? Drama at the reference desk is such a bizarre concept. People ask questions. We answer them if we can, and if we can't, we don't. There doesn't really need to be any more to it than that, in general. -FisherQueen (talk · contribs) 14:51, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
Hear her, hear her. Wikiscient (talk) 14:58, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
With one more word we could be done here: People ask questions. We answer them if we can properly, and if we can't, we don't.. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 15:01, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
But that's the heart of the issue innit? Most people here feel SB's usage of it/it's doesn't affect his answers enough to warrant this being an issue. If we were at RD/L and it was a question on the difference between it's/its and SB said there was none or the OP had said they only want grammatically perfect answers then we might agree with you, but none of the cases involve that. Heck if the OP had said they were still learning English and would appreciate any advise on their mistakes, while I wouldn't see anything greatly wrong with SB still not bothering to properly differentiate between the two, I would see nothing wrong with you pointing out the mistakes SB or anyone else made in a polite fashion and would strongly object to anyone trying to delete such posts. But again this isn't the cases involved. Nil Einne (talk) 17:45, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
If someone alters someone else's comments, or makes pointy English usage comments, then delete or revert. What's the big deal? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 18:03, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
• Steve: Please try to use proper grammar.
• Cuddlyable3: Please do not edit Steve's comments. Everyone is aware of your complaints, but you are now fighting against consensus. Stop it.
Nimur (talk) 19:14, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
Oh for crying out loud, are you still on about this? APL (talk) 19:21, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
I haven't been editing much lately because I'm tired of this. If Cuddlyable isn't mature enough to discuss this with Steve on his talk page, then he shouldn't be discussing it with anyone anywhere. There is absolutely no reason that Cuddlyable couldn't have pointed out the spelling error on Steve's talk page to begin with. Trying to make a big circus out of it is simply annoying. It greatly overshadows any spelling error that Steve could have possibly made. It is my opinion that any further complaints on this topic should be deleted on sight because nobody else cares. -- kainaw 21:10, 6 September 2010 (UTC)
Yep. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 21:32, 6 September 2010 (UTC)