Wikipedia talk:Reliable sources/Flaws

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It seems to me an encyclopedia has to be biased in favor of academic sources. WP:RS doesn't "suffer from a bias towards academic sources" -- it quite correctly encourages their use above non-academic sources. Today in Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2006-10-09/Eloquence interview Erik Möller was talking about attracting more experts to Wikipedia -- but without a bias towards academic sources we can forget about any attempt to attract experts here. Using Spoo to argue your point isn't helping anything either. Spoo is an embarassment to Wikipedia. It shouldn't be an encyclopedia article at all, let alone a featured article, and the fact that it is both is a perfect example of everything that's wrong with Wikipedia. Angr 18:36, 10 October 2006 (UTC)

It should be noted that Spoo was promoted to FAC status for April Fools. Whether Wikipedia should honor April Fools Day or not is a question outside the scope of WP:RS. But--other than the subject matter is trivial, why is Spoo an embarassment? WP:NOT paper; and the article is correct in its portrayl of something from the fictional Babylon 5 universe. --EngineerScotty 18:53, 10 October 2006 (UTC)
It's an embarassment because encyclopedias are supposed to report on the real world. Bablyon 5 is a television show in the real world, so we should have an article on it. But we shouldn't have articles on things (characters, places, foods) from it. And even as an article on a fictional substance, it relies on unreliable sources like Usenet postings. Frankly, if something can't be verified from reliable, academic (or equally credible and well respected) sources, it doesn't belong in an encyclopedia. (And incidentally, Spoo wasn't promoted to FAC status for April Fools: it was promoted the previous September, but didn't appear on the Main Page until April Fool's.) Angr 19:11, 10 October 2006 (UTC)
My error on the promotion. I agree that, in general, Usenet postings should not be used as sources--they are easily forged, if for no other reason. However, the collective Usenet writings of JMS, when archived on his web site, should be considered authentic (JMS vouches for them in a medium he has control over). Obviously, JMS is a reliable source on matters related to Babylon 5. He may not be neutral on the subject--he shouldn't have the last word in criticial analysis of the show--but his Usenet postings on this subject, given the circumstances, don't strike me as unacceptable sources. As to the issue of whether or not fancruft belongs here; we may have to disagree somewhat on that; that issue is irrelevant to the topic of this page anyway. --EngineerScotty 19:17, 10 October 2006 (UTC)
Clearly academic sources are very good things - on topics where we have the luxury of their presence, we should use them. It seems neither feasible nor the will of the community to rely wholly on them, and many encyclopedic topics do not support reliance on them as the only source of information. Phil Sandifer 23:07, 10 October 2006 (UTC)
  • How is Spoo an embarrassment to Wikipedia? It shows the potential and range of the project, features citations from the most reliable sources possible for the topic, and so on. The essense of Wikipedia is that it covers popular culture much better and much wider (and hopefully, eventually without the excess fancruft) than any other similar source in the world. Plus, in looking at that article, it seems to take an out of universe perspective. — Deckiller 04:54, 11 October 2006 (UTC)

My thoughts on all of this[edit]

First, thanks to Phil for writing the essay (I just mixed it in with the text it was intended to annotate). I don't agree with it all; but I do think that WP:RS needs some revisiting. My hope is that the result of this process will be better guidelines for editors here.

Some specific thoughts I have:

  • A lot of this springs from the authority-vs-NPOV debate that persists on Wikipedia, and is often cited for experts leaving.
  • A further note on primary vs secondary sources. The definition used in WP:RS is largely taken from historiography--a discipline which has spent a lot of time examining the issue of sourcing. Many in the sciences use a different (and less formal) set of definitions--what would be called secondary sources in history--papers in a journal, or book-length treatments of a subject which contain original research or novel theories--are often called "primary sources" by scientists. Using the historical terminology (which on the whole, I like better, even though I come from a science background), science papers would also be secondary sources, and raw data sources such as lab notebooks, simulation reports, and such would be primary sources. Unlike history, where primary sources are original artifacts which exist apart from research (excluding interviews with living subjects), science primary sources are almost always the raw product of scientific inquiry (exceptions in science might be fossils and such). The scientific method calls for experiments to be duplicated as a primary means of verification; not examination of raw data. A scientist's raw work products generally aren't investigated by outsiders unless there is an inquiry into his/her conduct. This dichotomy ought to be addressed.
  • Perhaps a superset of reliable sources--Wikipedia:Acceptable sources--ought to be developed. The minimum criteria for an acceptable source would be that a) we know where it came from; b) it is reasonably assured to be genuine (not forged), and that c) that the source demonstrates some minimum level of relevance--there's a reason why the world should care. WP:RS would then require additional things, such as d) authority--the source has the necessary knowledge or training to support the claim, and e) impartiality--the source is free from influences which would bias its conclusions or reports, and f) trustworthiness--the source is unlikely to be lying, stretching the truth, or otherwise attempting to deceive the public. Sources which don't meet all of a, b, and c should have no business being here. Those which meet a,b, and c but fail d, e, and/or f; ought to be used with caution (and probably should be explicitly attributed to the source, rather than presented as a factual state of affairs). Note that biased sources themselves aren't problematic--including extremist websites--however, they should be attributed properly, and the allowance of individual biased sources doesn't repeal WP:NPOV.

--EngineerScotty 19:42, 10 October 2006 (UTC)

Pop culture section[edit]

Very well said, Phil; glad to see you have the insight to understand how the concept really must work. — Deckiller 04:50, 11 October 2006 (UTC)


A proposal that WP:NOR and WP:V be combined, and WP:RS ditched. All views welcome. SlimVirgin (talk) 05:23, 11 October 2006 (UTC)


I see a bigger problem with the self-publication ban.

Why is a *non-self-published* source any more reliable than a self-published source? The reasoning behind this makes some sense if your personal website is about a physics theory, since you can say anything on your web site, but a physics journal will fact-check it won't accept it unless you're doing real physics. But it makes little sense for non-academic publishing. Does anyone honestly think that major mass-market book publishers fact-check their books the way scientific journals do? (You've touched on this, but it extends to more than just popular culture.)

Yes, I ran across this myself. See Talk:Bowling for Columbine and Wikipedia:Mediation Cabal/Cases/2006-10-05 Bowling for Columbine. We have a movie whose political content has been criticized on a small number of well-known web sites. Because these are web sites and thus self-published, they are automatically prohibited by a literal reading of WP:RS, making it easy for one user to delete large portions of material from the article. Some of the critics have published on dead trees, but the dead tree material is less up to date and harder to quote (since one generally has to buy the book). Ken Arromdee 16:03, 11 October 2006 (UTC)

Mars is a planet[edit]

Good job you didn't choose Pluto to illustrate it. Maybe 'matter of definition' would be more accurate than 'fact'. I think 'dwarf planets' and 'major planets' are all 'planets' - silly me !
Incidentally, I agree with your definition of fact=true. Some regard 'fact' as 'a proposition that may or may not be true'. Perhaps there are sarcastic quotation marks in vocal speech that are omitted from written speech. "I disagree with your 'facts' ! " -- (talk) 05:39, 24 September 2011 (UTC)