Wikipedia talk:Scientific standards/Archive 1

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Archive 1 Archive 2

Pseudo-controversial examples

Global warming isn't a great example, since it's a broad topic and involves a lot of legitimate controversy (e.g., effect on hurricanes, as explained in Effects of global warming). I think you should take it out. Alternatively, you could replace "global warming" with something more specific, e.g. "Human CO2 emissions have contributed to global warming in the 20th century". I'm not an expert on this, so maybe that's not the best example. Likewise, you could consider replacing evolution by "evolutionary common descent", since again evolution is broad enough to contain multitudes of legitimate controversies (e.g. group selection). You of all people should have no problem coming up with lots of great examples for this parenthetical, but I'd offer "(nonexistence of) cold fusion" and "special relativity" and "(nonexistence of) astrology" and "(nonexistence of) perpetual motion machines" as some other potential options. --Steve (talk) 21:40, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

Since when has there been controversy over Special Relativity outside the scientific community? Deamon138 (talk) 22:26, 19 August 2008 (UTC)
Herbert Dingle, autodynamics, etc. But you're right, Deamon138, there is very little controversy that is notable outside the scientific community. ScienceApologist (talk) 23:05, 19 August 2008 (UTC)
Thanks for the links, but yeah any disagreement with Relativity is effectively the equivalent of the Flat Earth Society i.e. very very very fringe. Deamon138 (talk) 00:33, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Consensus building

In order to be policy, it must reach consensus. Let's start with the goal of getting it accepted (whether it does get accepted or not). Some of the difficulties in achieving that goal include:

  • There's overwhelming consensus for NPOV, so this proposal must be compliant with that and make it clear how it is compliant so that readers don't get the wrong idea.
  • People have a love-hate relationship with science. They love it when science turns out a new medicine or a new gadget for them to play with, but they hate it when science debunks their traditions and beliefs. We need to make it clear why this policy is needed to make Wikipedia more reliable, in a way that everyone will naturally agree with.
  • People equate science with atheism. We need to not beat around the bush and address the elephant that will be in the room directly. The scientific standards policy does not direct editors to adopt an Atheism Point of View on religious articles. We should say that clearly.
  • Needs clauses explaining what legitimate scientific disagreements are, and what pseudo-disagreements are.
  • Editors involved in conflict articles in the past need to set aside grudges and strive to build a good policy here. Rather than editing from the point of view that "Oh, this would have helped me in that dispute, let's slide that in", we should start fresh and objectively, imagining what tools new editors will need to build reliable articles.
  • (More will probably be thought of as we go along)

--Nealparr (talk to me) 21:54, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

Each point in turn:

  • 100% agree.
  • 100% agree.
  • I'd love for you to draft wording to this effect.
  • I definitely tried to do this. If you find any place where I fell short, please let me know.

ScienceApologist (talk) 23:09, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

Regarding bullet #4, your examples describe what I was trying to say. Nature vs. nuture is a disagreement in science, ie. a legitimate scientific disagreement. Creation vs. evolution is a disagreement with science, ie. not a real scientific disagreement, but a philosophical disagreement. We should explain the difference here. --Nealparr (talk to me) 00:48, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I don't think my colleagues in the philosophy department would agree with you. Perhaps "political" or "social" controversy might be more appropriate. But, nevertheless, I get your drift. ScienceApologist (talk) 03:07, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Some concerns

The first para states: "When describing observable reality, those results should be relied on most heavily and results from other methods should be marginalized or eschewed per our policy on undue weight." This is painted with an overly broad brush. For example, the miracles of Jesus are ostensibly descriptions of observable phenomena. However, it would be undue weight itself to provide skeptical humanist rebuttals of each miracle, because such rebuttals on that topic compromise an extreme minority of the reliable sources on that topic. I'm currently at a loss about how to focus the statement more precisely without being overly restrictive. Thoughts?

A closely following statement has the same issues: "When an article needs to make some description of observable reality, Wikipedia weights the published scientific results that explain the observable reality more heavily than other opinions."

Also, great care needs to be taken to avoid the pitfalls of a SPOV-style approach. Variations of the SPOV have been criticized by a broad swath of editors at the fringe theories and NPOV talk pages, as well as the policy village pump. These critical opinions voiced over the years need to be carefully considered (and actually listen to) for this proposal to get legs. That said, this does have the raw potential to forge a guideline on scientific topics. After this gets a bit hammered into shape, I would suggest leaving a neutral and polite note asking for feedback at the core science WikiProjects. Vassyana (talk) 22:13, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

I think context is the key here. In the context of telling a story with no specific attempt to appeal to external reality, we can treat the miracles of Jesus in exactly the same way we treat The Physics of Star Trek. That is, we do not need to rebut every "warp drive" reference in a retelling of the Star Trek story nor do we need to rebut every "walking on water" reference in a retelling of the gospel. However, when a claim is made that is directly about observable reality (say, for example, the shroud of Turin) it is absolutely vital that we default to scientific sources lest we mislead the reader into a proselytization scheme. I think there is a very big difference between the flame that does not burn and the miracle of the loaves and fishes. One is absolutely a physically observable event. The other is subject to higher criticism and biblical exegesis. Sure there are biblical literalists who argue that there literally was a supernatural multiplying of loaves and fishes, but their beliefs in general are subject to a scientific critique and singling out a literalist perspective along with a critique at each and every miracle mentioned in the bible is definitively giving undue weight to the literalists. In short, I think we should take a comparative religions approach when reporting on religion which only requires scientific discussion when there is a direct claim of observation. Faith healing is reported with the scientific evidence. Avatars are not. Do you see what I'm saying? ScienceApologist (talk) 23:04, 19 August 2008 (UTC)
I think I see what you are saying, but I am afraid that I disagree with part of it. Faith healing is an example of a non-scientific, non-evidential explanation of certain natural and observable phenomena (disease and illnes, in this case). The article should reflect prominent, majority opinion within the faith healing community. A scientific critique of faith healing is only relevant if it is a notable topic of debate within that community. The fact that an article deals with "observable reality" does not automatically mean that it is a science article or that the scientfiic POV is relevant to that article. Along the same lines, I would take issue with the "Scientific evidence in other topics" section of the current draft. Gandalf61 (talk) 10:31, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I disagree with Gandalf, as below. Faith healing has been studied scientifically, and as the topic is notable the studies of it should be included (if they meet RS criteria). The exclusion of critics and sceptics from articles is something that should be addressed here. Articles should not be restricted to the view of proponents, which is what it seems the suggestion above would lead to. Verbal chat 10:37, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Then science articles should also contain notable critiques from non-scientific communities. But the proposed policy says "The marginalization and ignoring of minority opinions about observable reality that occurs within the academic communities that use the scientific method should be reflected in Wikipedia"; this implies to me that non-scientific critiques are not welcome in science articles. Are we in danger of creating an asymmetry here that encapulates a hidden scientific POV in Wikipedia ? Gandalf61 (talk) 11:07, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I'm almost in agreement with you, Gandalf, but not quite. Science articles themselves are about the natural phenomenon. These natural phenomena are not in-and-of-themselves subject to critique. For example, evolution of the horse is a natural phenomenon that happened and is described using the scientific evidence for it. This fact is not subject to critique. Now, there certainly are people who disagree that the evolution of the horse happened. Most of them are not scientists. Their views may be notable outside of the article on the evolution of the horse, but inside that article I'm afraid I can see no justification for why we should include them. If we are going to be a reliable reference work, we need to have standards. This really has nothing to do with a POV -- it has to do with best practices for sourcing, undue weight inclusion/exclusion, fringe theory considerations, etc.
Part of the asymmetry you're feeling may be due to the fact that this is the first attempt to create a set of "standards" for an academic subject (with the possible exception of WP:BLP which is only about living people and not about all biographies). There certainly are other academic subjects which could use standards, but as I'm most comfortable with science articles I began developing one for science articles. Yes, non-scientific critiques are not welcome in science articles. But that's not really all that surprising. It's very rare that a non-scientific critique can be said to be as reliable as a scientific explanation. Why? Because there is a bias in sourcing towards scientific evidence. That's the whole point of this set of standards. We live in a world that, for better or worse, treats scientific evidence as more reliable than non-scientific critiques.
Maybe the real point here is one of "balance" versus "NPOV". Wikipedia is essentially an unfair reference work. We are not sympathetic. We try instead to emulate the best referencing and practices of the world outside of Wikipedia. That makes people who find themselves on the out-and-out in the world outside of Wikipedia a bit upset. But that is not Wikipedia's problem.
ScienceApologist (talk) 21:30, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

"in-universe"

The term "in-universe" is not only jargon, but jargon specific to fictional topics. I get what you mean, but that sentence should really be reworded; I'd just do it myself, except I can't offhand think of a really good way to phrase it. Maybe someone else could? —Ilmari Karonen (talk) 22:24, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

I can't either, but it really does fit the way. The idea is that alternative proposals should not be described on their own terms since that would lend itself to soapboxing. ScienceApologist (talk) 23:11, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

Do we need this?

Just wondering, but what exactly does this proposal bring us that WP:FRINGE, WP:PSCI and WP:UNDUE don't already do? Deamon138 (talk) 22:33, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

IMO, not much. If there is any useful material here, it should be added to WP:NPOV, PSCI and/or FRINGE. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 22:42, 19 August 2008 (UTC)
I just keep coming across issues which don't fit very well into the three areas you all mention. Fringe deals with only fringe theories and doesn't touch much on how to handle mainstream controversy. It also spans much more than just scientific ideas. FRINGE, as a guideline, is intended to deal with how to discuss matters that are fringe. In some sense, it serves a role close to WP:N and in a way I think its existence doomed WP:SCI. WP:PSCI deals exclusively with categorization and by community consensus defers to the arbcom authority in a way that will be very hard to augment. Undue just is a policy for how to handle different perspectives: and it is not specific enough to handle specific issues as they arise. What we need is a centralized source for articles that relate to science. In particular, there are many people that seem to be confused as to when we should worry about what the scientific evidence is for a subject and when we shouldn't. This doesn't fit in very well to any of the guidelines and policies you mention. I got a lot of my material from some very good stuff at WP:SPOV. If you look at WT:SPOV you'll see very little discussion on the actual content of that page, but a lot of discussion on the meta-philosophy associated with that page. I agree with Nealparr above that NPOV is so sacrosanct as to be non-negotiable (Jimbo's words), however, I am all but certain that for lack of some science standards we could have avoided a great number of fights at Wikipedia. We need SOMETHING. There is a vacuum. ScienceApologist (talk) 22:47, 19 August 2008 (UTC)
You say that you "keep coming across issues which don't fit very well into" WP:NPOV, PSCI and/or FRINGE. ScienceApologist, can you give us some examples of these issue and how you feel a policy such as this would help? -- Levine2112 discuss 00:09, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Sure. If such a policy had been in place during the disputes over the plasma cosmology article, it would have saved a lot of megabytes worth of text since the plasma cosmology proponents have failed to generate real controversy in the field of cosmology. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:32, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I am unfamiliar with that dispute. Can you lay it out for us briefly? -- Levine2112 discuss 00:48, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Being brief about this subject is a bit difficult, but suffice to say the "controversy" over plasma cosmology right now is a pseudo-controversy despite having been a legitimate controversy in the past. This can be seen because there is no acknowledgment of the controversy by the experts in the field: in fact, there is a specific denial that a controversy is real. Nevertheless, amateur (and professional) advocates for this idea appear at Wikipedia from time-to-time to argue that the controversy is legitimate. Megabytes of text were wasted trying to explain to them why this isn't the case and one of them was actually banned from editing articles on the subject by arbcom. Hardly an ideal situation, to say the least. I have no doubt with a set of standards in place this controversy would have been much less protracted. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:59, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Let me see if I got this right then. So there was a historical controversy but now this controversy is all but squelched. However, there is still some who recognize the controversy, but since there are only a fringe amount of such proponents, the controversy - according to this policy - would be considered only a "pseudo-controversy" and thus it should not be mentioned in the article at all. Is that about right? -- Levine2112 discuss 01:41, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Um, I'm not quite sure what you mean by "the article". Obviously, plasma cosmology is mentioned in the plasma cosmology article. The "claims of a controversy" are also mentioned there too, but they are contextualized as being independent of the scientific community in much the same way as the creation-evolution controversy is characterized as not being a controversy within science. This was the major bone-of-contention with advocates of plasma cosmology who saw the controversy as inside the scientific community despite the lack of acknowledgment by independent sources that such a "controversy" existed within science. ScienceApologist (talk) 01:53, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I'd also like to point out that I didn't always feel that such a thing was needed at Wikipedia. However, in Wikipedia:Requests_for_arbitration/Pseudoscience#Notability, the arbitration committee asked the community to give some guidance on the issue. The proposal was rejected ultimately by the community but I've seen the need persist. I think such a proposal will go a long way toward helping guide certain conflicts in positive directions in much the same way that WP:FRINGE has helped. ScienceApologist (talk) 22:52, 19 August 2008 (UTC)
Jossi, if you were right, then there wouldn't be a single argument about NPOV on this project. OrangeMarlin Talk• Contributions 00:08, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
We need this all right, but not the way it has been written. I have added a section that I think necessary for balance I have not yet attempted to harmonize it with the discordant elements in some of the previous sections, some of which I consider rather clear violations of NPOV, and objectivity, as well as a rather naive approach to "observable reality". I will be modifying those to fit a little later on today. I commend Sa for his initiative, and I think this work may serve as the basis for a clear statement acceptable to the consensus. WP should write its articles so that the anti-scientist and the scientist will each see what support there is for their views, and be able to follow up further on all sides of the question. Being as convinced an exponent of the so-called SPOV as anyone else around here, I have not the least doubt about what a neutral or naive reader will conclude. I even think that a respectful presentation of the non-scientific and even anti-scientific points of view may lead those with an inclination in those directions to perhaps take a broader perspective--and lead the exponent of science to take a more effective approach DGG (talk) 00:18, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
That was well said, DGG. But this proposed policy/guideline as written, does not address the issues you raise. I would support a tight, simple, and direct policy/guideline that expands on what you say above and that it does not play with the boundaries of NPOV, V, and NOR, but this ain't it. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 00:24, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
It is meant to be something of a work in progress, Jossi. I'm just responding to what I see as a gaping hole. Of course, it's gaping to me because I tend to get lost in it for extended periods of time. We had a discussion a while back on the nexus of scientific evidence and religious proclamations. I think we may need to revisit that discussion before this thing is through. In particular, I'm sort of under the impression that you think ANY claim made by a religion is off-limits to scientific critique -- or at the very least scientific critique should be segregated from the religious claim so as not to bias the reader against the religious claim. I acknowledge that there are instances where science is irrelevant to the discussion of a religious practice, dogma, or belief (see my discussion with Vassyanna above), but it make me feel a lot better if I could see that you recognized that sometimes a claim that is based in a religion is subject to discussion of scientific scrutiny AND that independent scientific review of a religious claim is more reliable than a preacher who disputes the review, for example. I just get the feeling that you are far too in favor of balance over WP:V, WP:RS and other standards for referencing. An encyclopedia shouldn't be treating the claims of religious gurus about, say, the age of the Earth as on par with scientific sources. To do so does a serious disservice to our readers. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:42, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

(didn't read the above on purpose)

Yes we need this. There is no policy on Wikipedia specifically addressing science related topic standards. There's many "don't push a POV" policies like WP:PSCI and WP:FRINGE, but nothing about keeping quality in science related articles. Science topics are very important to Wikipedia, and there's a lot of editors from all walks of life who like to participate in science-related articles. There should definitely be standards for these type of articles. If for no other reason, it will help the layman who wants to participate in an article about a topic they saw on the Discovery Channel to be better science-writers. Most Wikipedia editors aren't scientists (I'm not). It makes sense to develop a standards policy and guide them, in the interest of being a reliable and educational encyclopedia.

Give it time. Don't judge it by what's currently there. Judge it by the idea that an educational reference needs standards for science topics. --Nealparr (talk to me) 00:58, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

We certainly don't need this to be a policy. It's a nice essay, however. II | (t - c) 01:16, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

As a fairly new editor I have to say that this sort of thing is desperately needed. The standards put forth in WP:V etc. are necessarily vague so as to encompass subjects inside and outside the sciences. This leads to a deep confusion on whether peer reviewed literature is the gold standard source on subjects where such is available. A clear unmistakable policy that the prefered source on subjects dealing with fields scientifically investigated is the peer reviewed article would make things much clearer IMO. The wording of this page could be better and finding the boundary that respects faith beliefs while still maintaining this position may be hard to find but this is definitely a policy/guideline worth having. Kbs666 (talk) 04:11, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Verifiability#Reliable_sources already says quite clearly and unmistakably: the most reliable sources are peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses; then, university-level textbooks; then, magazines, journals, and books published by respected publishing houses; mainstream newspapers are frequently the most reliable sources on subjects which have not been treated in journals and books.. Dlabtot (talk) 04:21, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
And that quote would be wonderful if not for those weasel words in front of it "In general..." Which allows all sorts of interpretations and weaseling. A clear cut no weasel words statement that peer reviewed articles are the prefered source material on wikipedia would go a long way to improving the situation, IMO. Kbs666 (talk) 04:33, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
This policy when it's finished won't be just about reliability. It'll be about what is necessarily needed to write science articles. That's not something covered by WP:RS, and it's more than an essay. It's essential for any educational reference that covers scientific topics. --Nealparr (talk to me) 04:45, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

IMHO, this appears to be a solution in search of a problem. Scientists are people, too. Subject to the same biases as the rest of us and scientific consensus is a nebulous and easily manipulated commodity. The readers of this encyclopedia should not be treated with kid gloves. If a reliable source supports a particular POV and does not run afoul of WP:UNDUE, WP:FRINGE and various other common sense policies, there's no reason not to incorporate that into an article. People aren't as dumb as this proposed policy seems to assume. Ronnotel (talk) 20:02, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Issues with technical language

One problem with science articles is that they often are very technical. This is a double-edged sword. It is a dirty-little-secret of academia that very obscure and technical articles which rarely see any editing activity are excellent resources and more than a few professors I know use Wikipedia to get a quick summary of an obscure idea. However, they are often simply inaccessible for most of our readers. I ran into this problem trying to get Force to pass as a featured article. Right now, there is a mish-mash of solutions to the problem. There is introduction to special relativity and introduction to quantum mechanics which are meant to serve as the "lay articles companions" to the technical special relativity and quantum mechanics articles. I always thought that this wasn't the ideal solution to the problem, but I have to admit that I often fail to realize how difficult it is to write accessibly. Take my last featured article, redshift, as an example. I bet a lot of people can't get very far reading that article. Are there any ideas for how or if we should address this issue in these standards?

ScienceApologist (talk) 01:04, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

To be honest, even the supposed intro articles are dense and confusing to a reader without some university-level background in science and math. Columbia, Encarta, EB and other "normal" encyclopedias are able to cover (for example) relativity without math or with only (relatively) very basic and sparse use of math. I think we can learn from the approach of traditional encyclopedias in this regard. Generally, they approach such complex topics from a conceptual point of view, getting the basic ideas across to a general audience. While we are distinct in many ways from those venues, the approach is worth considering, since we also write for a general audience. (I strongly recommend that people look at the articles in traditional encyclopedias to understand what I am referring to.)

My suggestion is that top-level science articles should strenuously avoid most mathematics and specialist terminology. Any math or specialist terms used should be of the most basic level and clearly explained. We don't have space limitations, so more technical explanations can be handled in any number of subarticles and there's no limit on clearly notable scientific topics to the number of these subarticles (except what the body of reliable sources will support). Generally, the structure would move from conceptual for a general audience to more technical and involved explanations as the content forks out further from the main article. Obviously, this would not be purely linear, as the mathematics and technical aspects are more integral (or less separable) for some topics. Also equally obvious is that topics do not have a purely linear relationship and therefore the topic as whole will not form a perfect tree (in other words, normal wiki topic branching).

As a partial example of such a forking structure, using special relativity:

  • Relativity. Top-level article about relativity as a whole, almost purely conceptual explanation. (Most encyclopedias have a single article on relativity.)
  • Special relativity. Almost purely conceptual explanation.
  • Consequences of special relativity. Mainly conceptual, but also providing some of the underlying math and technical points.
  • Composition of relativistic velocities. Significant focus on conceptual, with a moderate portion of math and technical points.
  • Derivation of relativistic velocity addition. Modest focus on conceptual, with a heavy portion of math and technical points.
  • Vector notation of relativistic velocity addition. Modest focus on conceptual, with a heavy portion of math and technical points.
  • Length contraction. Significant focus on conceptual, with a moderate portion of math and technical points.
  • Hyperbolic trigonometry. Modest focus on conceptual, with a heavy portion of math and technical points.
  • Relativity of simultaneity. Heavy focus on conceptual, but a fair portion of math and technical points.
  • Mathematical models of relativity of simultaneity. Modest focus on conceptual, with a heavy portion of math and technical points.
  • Time dilation. Heavy focus on conceptual, but a fair portion of math and technical points.
  • History of special relativity. Mainly a conceptual and historical overview, covering Minkowski, etc., but also providing the basic mathematical and technical buildup to special relativity.
  • Lorentz transformations. Heavy focus on conceptual, but a fair portion of math and technical points.
  • Application of Lorentz transformations. Modest focus on conceptual, with a heavy portion of math and technical points.
  • Derivation of Lorentz transformations. Modest focus on conceptual, with a heavy portion of math and technical points.
  • History of Lorentz transformations. Significant focus on conceptual, but a moderate portion of math and technical points.

The example is imperfect and incomplete (for example lacking the invariance of the speed of light), but I think it conveys my idea sufficiently. Thoughts? Comments? Vassyana (talk) 02:38, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

I really like your ideas, Vassyana, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter! I just reread WP:MTAA, Wikipedia:Technical terms and definitions, and WP:JARGON. All are excellent style guidelines, but fail to address the bigger issues of how we should approach science. Instead, these guidelines deal more with how to avoid pitfalls. I'm going to include them as see alsos in the section about readers and editors, though. ScienceApologist (talk) 19:18, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
I completely agree with Vassyana. In particular, the lead section should be easy to read. One area that really needs this is chemistry. Take the article about Amino acids. Instead of the technical details these articles should begin with something like: "Amino acids are small organic molecules that are the building blocks for proteins". MaxPont (talk) 20:36, 22 August 2008 (UTC)

Religious impact

If this was adopted as policy, how would it affect an article such as God, or more specifically God#Scientific_positions_regarding_God, if at all? -- Levine2112 discuss 01:34, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Not at all, as far as I can see, except perhaps only to reinforce the approach that seems to be taken at that article. I think that article handles the situation fairly well. ScienceApologist (talk) 01:36, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Two points.

  • The term observable reality is very vague, do we need scientific resources for our article on Rocky? Or are the film not part of observable reality?
  • I don't like the fact that we here are to a very large extent putting our heads in the sand. The fact that legal battles are being fought over the place of evolution in the US is an important part of the topic evolution.

Taemyr (talk) 02:05, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

    • The physical projection and the film itself are observable reality, but the universe portrayed in Rocky is not. I will admit, though, that the terminology is frought. Please suggest an alternative.
    • Depending on how you think of the evolution topic, the controversy may or may not be relevant. This is because evolution, as a topic, is not wholly "scientific". It has broader implications than just the fact that it is a dominant scientific paradigm in biology. The more pertinent question might be, if we have an article on the evolution of the horse, do we include the creationist claims that the horse didn't evolve? The answer is no. However, if some independent third-party has noticed the creationist claim and commented on it making it notable and prominent enough for inclusion in an article devoted to creationism, we might see it included there. Still, I see your point. We might want to include some things about broad topics which may need to discuss aspects that are scientific and not strictly scientific (perhaps like evolution).

ScienceApologist (talk) 02:52, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Nature of observable reality

I have a concern with the metaphysics of this proposal. The proposal as currently written assumes that observable reality is the same thing as truth. This belief is not universal. Compare, for example, the philosophy of substantial forms as advanced by Plato, Aristotle, and medieval philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas. Such a metaphysics assumes that forms or universals—which are not themselves observables—actually exist. So for ancient Greeks and medievals, observable reality is not the same thing as truth; in fact, observable reality is only a poor image of truth, as Plato described in his allegory of the cave.

If the present proposal is adopted as written, then it commits Wikipedia's scientific articles to some sort of physicalism. Physicalism (or any other metaphysics) is a POV, so this proposal contradicts WP:NPOV.

The only way to adhere to NPOV is to adopt no metaphysical viewpoint whatsoever. Any viewpoint meeting the standards of WP:RS, WP:N, WP:NOR, etc. merits inclusion. This is true even when there is scientific consensus against that viewpoint, such as intelligent design; an article that attempted to give a broad survey the beginnings of humanity must contain not only evolutionary explanations of human origins but also religious and pseudo-scientific explanations. That won't make us all happy; but the only other choice is to discriminate against some viewpoints, and we don't do that here. Ozob (talk) 02:16, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

I really was not trying to propose physicalism as a preferred philosophy at all. I was simply trying to say that when an article is about observable (physical) reality we should use the best scientific evidence to discuss that topic. Sure there may be "other planes" which are "more real" than the material, but that's really outside the scope of this particular proposal. The fact isthat writing an encyclopedia is an activity which is EXTREMELY discriminatory, and the current policies and guidelines we have, including the ones you cite, testify to this fact. The problem comes when someone argues that their particular source is reliable and someone else dismisses it. Since WP:RS only covers reliability in the meanest sense, what's to say that Gene Ray's website isn't a reliable one for documenting time? It's certainly a reliable enough source for time cube. Why is it reliable for one article and not another? It's not original research: it's notable enough for inclusion the article about his site, and since we make exceptions for notable people who are experts in their field in sourcing, surely an exception should be made for Gene Ray who is, after all, the wisest man to ever walk the four-cornered Earth (don't believe me? you don't have to. I can verify it from both Gene Ray and independent sources which agree with him. You say they're only a joke, I say that you can't prove it... etc. etc.) The point is that we need to know when the context is such that we should use scientific explanations to explain a point. When someone wants to know where a rainbow comes from, they shouldn't be bogged down with explanations from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Only your particular perspective right now makes me believe that you would willingly accommodate such an explanation so as to not be "discriminatory". ScienceApologist (talk) 03:02, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
The vast majority of people would agree that Gene Ray doesn't meet WP:RS (for time, not for Time Cube). Nor does Aqua Teen Hunger Force. There are already methods for dealing with problem editors. Your proposal would be another method, but it has the side effect of imposing an ideology (in the form of a certain metaphysics) on Wikipedia's science articles. I object to that side effect. Ozob (talk) 08:19, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I have read through tomes of Time cube debates that have shown up on WP. There needs to be some one-stop-source that allows us to put the kibosh on people who argue that scientific evidence is either unreliable, as reliable as any other means of describing observations about the natural world, or even the only evidence that Wikipedia should ever use. We need to address what the standards are for Wikipedia articles about science. Think of it as a curriculum guide: it offers guidance for editors who are struggling with what is relevant to their editing. WP:RS doesn't touch that. Neither does WP:NPOV or WP:V. Those guidelines and policies essentially prohibit bad editorial practices rather than show what is best practice. ScienceApologist (talk) 20:17, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Ozob, there is a single established completely noncontroversial way to interact with the universe, methodological naturalism. In a very basic way that is the basis of the scientific methopd and also how each of us functions on a day to day basis. An individual may hold any sort of spiritual or philosophical belief but the only successful way to interact with the environment is through MN. Writing wikipedia articles from only this POV is certainly NPOV since no other POV is successful in interacting with the physical world. Kbs666 (talk) 04:27, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
This is simply untrue. Shamans and mystics have been interacting with the universe since the dawn of recorded history. I'm sure that if you did a careful study of shamanic and mystical rituals, you'd conclude that most of them had no statistically significant effect on anything. But you're only measuring the natural world, and they're trying to affect the supernatural. They have a metaphysics that makes the supernatural possible or extant. The proposed policy assumes otherwise. Wikipedia can't take sides like that.
Just to be clear, I think the intentions behind the proposal are excellent: Articles about scientific concepts should be about science. But I don't think this specific proposal harmonizes with present policy. Ozob (talk) 08:19, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
No. Shamans and mystic interact with the physical universe using MN just as you and I do and every human being does at all times. A simple proof, how do you open doors? Do you look for and turn the knob/pull the handle or do you entreat the spirits to open the door or exorcize the demons baring your path or pray to some deity to open the door for you? Kbs666 (talk) 15:09, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Let me quote from naturalism (philosophy) (to which methodological naturalism is a redirect):
"Methodological naturalism is the view that the scientific method ... is the only effective way to investigate reality."
This is not a universal belief. In fact, I would guess that it's a minority belief, because it commits its adherents to a very strict agnosticism.
A simple proof of my own: A close relative—say your mother—is rapidly dying of incurable cancer. Do you engage in years scientific research to discover a new cure, or do you pray? (The answer is both.) Ozob (talk) 18:22, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
It commits its adherents to nothing beyond functioning in the physical world. You have confused MN with philosophical naturalism which is a belief rather than a method. The term MN was actually coined by a devout christian to codify the way science is done without either accepting or denying the supernatural. The paper isn't online anywhere I'm aware of but here's the ref: de Vries, Paul (1986) “Naturalism in the Natural Sciences: A Christian Perspective.” Christian Scholar’s Review, 15(4):388-396.
As to your simple proof, you made assumptions not in evidence. I've faced many deaths in my lifetime and never once have I prayed or made any other appeal to the supernatural. As to it being a minority belief no matter what any one claims simple observation proves that every functional human being uses MN without giving it any thought. You take all sorts of actions throughout the day based on similiar events in the past, IOW observation, hypothesis, experiment. Kbs666 (talk) 19:46, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
What is the difference between MN and Induction? Deamon138 (talk) 19:57, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Induction is a way of thinking while MN is a method for taking action. Although they do go hand in hand. Experience tells us that all previously encountered ice is cold so we induce that any encountered ice is cold and take actions in regards to ice assuming it will be cold. If this gets to be a discussion of Hume and Popper you'll have to find someone else though since I think their ideas on induction were, at best, silly. Kbs666 (talk) 20:17, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
The definition of MN I am working with is the one I quoted above. The key word in that quotation is "only". I think there is no disagreement that the scientific method is an effective method for investigating reality; people who believe otherwise count as WP:FRINGE. But when you propose MN as the underlying philosophy of Wikipedia's science articles, you commit WP to the view that reality can be understood in no other way—and this is contrary to many people's beliefs.
I'm sorry to hear that you've faced many deaths; I was hoping that my example would be touching but not so personal. To face death without appeal to the supernatural means that you're very strong willed; in my experience, most people can't do that. Ozob (talk) 22:48, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I see, thanks for clearing that difference up. (Btw, I'm of the opinion that the Problem of induction is a very clever idea, but, just like Solipsism, since there's nothing we can do to solve it, it's best not to think about it and just let Science do the talking!) Deamon138 (talk) 22:58, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Sure, most of the "masses" would pray for their dying loved one, but then the "masses" don't constitute reliable sources. See Vox populi. Deamon138 (talk) 19:53, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
"But you're only measuring the natural world, and they're trying to affect the supernatural." If scientists can only measure the natural world, how can shamans interact with the supernatural? That doesn't make sense. Either shamans can interact with the supernatural from their natural world position, thus scientists can also measure them doing it, or they can't. Deamon138 (talk) 20:02, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
A better way of phrasing it is to distinguish what's observable with what's not. You can't directly observe a deity's moods; so if your city is suffering from a plague, then you have to consult an oracle to find out what's wrong. The supernatural, pretty much by definition, counts as things that you either can't observe or that you can't repeatably observe. As I've said before, I object to the present proposal because it assumes a metaphysics where truth is identified with the ability to make repeatable observations.
That said, I applaud the work that many editors do in keeping non-scientific material out of science articles. Enric Naval points out below that the human evolution article is about human evolution, which is a scientific theory, so it ought to be about science and not about other theories of human origins. This is a good thing! If we need to make changes to WP policy in order to make maintenance of such articles easier, then we should; I'm just not convinced that the present proposal is the right direction. Ozob (talk) 23:01, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I'm not convinced that it is either. Only after five years, this is the best idea I could come up with. If you can come up with a better one, I'll be the first to jump on board! ScienceApologist (talk) 20:45, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

'Observable reality' seems to be just a synonym for The Truth as the author sees it. Dlabtot (talk) 04:15, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Or rather "natural phenomena"

NPOV suggests that we cannot say for certain that the supernatural realm does not exist. Nor can we state with absolute certainty that only the natural realm exists. Science has limits, limits imposed upon themselves through demarcation. Fortunately, all of that works in our favor when writing this policy proposal.

We can't say "observable reality", because that overrules the possibility of miracles, loosely defined as supernatural intervention into the natural world. Miracles as such would be observable reality that just so happens to be supernatural.

Science doesn't say miracles are impossible. What they say is that miracles are not natural. Science separates natural phenomena from the (may or may not exist) supernatural. It limits itself to what it can study, what it can evidence exists. The science article addresses this very well in the first paragraph. Science studies natural phenomena.

What we can do under the scope of NPOV is separate "natural" from "supernatural". I'm replacing every instance of "observable reality" in this proposal with "natural phenomena". That will save us a lot of headaches as we develop the proposal. --Nealparr (talk to me) 05:08, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Natural Phenomena may be a problem. Does archaeology deal with natural phenomena? What about sociology? Kbs666 (talk) 06:32, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Absolutely. Both involve studying events (phenomena) occuring in the natural world (nature). That is a far cry from "phenomena" occuring in the "supernatural" world. Science studies natural things like the great chain of being, not supernatural things like the Great Chain of Being. --Nealparr (talk to me) 06:50, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Not every article about "natural phenomena" or "observable reality" is a science article. For example, astrology, feng shui, young Earth creationism and scientology all explain various natural phenomena in non-scientific, non-evidential ways. The scope of this proposed policy should be clearly restricted to science topics. Articles on non-scientific explanations of natural phenomena should reflect the majority opinion within the relevant community of people who accept those explanations - for these topics, the consensus view within the science community is irrelevant. Gandalf61 (talk) 10:08, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I'm not sure about this. Although in these kinds of articles the views of the proponents should take prominence, the science and scientific views of these beliefs should also feature strongly. The weight should be appropriate to each article. For example, the astrology article should contain criticisms, including scientific studies of astrological predictions and anywhere where astrological beliefs clash with the prevailing astronomy and cosmology views. Also, astrology isn't a "natural phenomena", it's a set of beliefs attached to natural phenomena. Young earth creationism is a (minority) religious viewpoint, which should contain discussion of the scientific conclusions about the age of the Earth (framed appropriately). Verbal chat 10:26, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Playing "devil's advocate" here, one could say that our human evolution article represents a set of beliefs about the origins of man that is a minority view within the United States, possibly within the Western world, and certainly across the globe as a whole. Yet our human evolution article does not reflect any non-scientific views - it is written entirely from an "in universe" stance. If human evolution is not required to include critiques from outside of its own community, why should we require that from astrology or young Earth creationism ? Gandalf61 (talk) 11:24, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Saying that the human evolution can be considered a set of beliefs is pushing the argument a bit too far, and it will be laughed out of the talk page of that article, so it's not a realistic scenario. Idem for saying that the scientific description of phenomena is "in-universe", as if science was done in a fictional setting and not in the real world. Astrology and other articles are about subjects claim to be backed by science, so we should include the POV of science to be NPOV, while human evolution is a pure scientific description of the real world.
One important distinction. Human evolution is not about what people believe about human evolution, it's about human evolution itself, on all aspects observable and measurable by science, and all hypothesis made by mainstream science. If you want to see a non-scientific view on human evolution then go to articles describing them like Intelligent design, but pure scientific articles that pretend to simply describe observable and measurable phenomena should use only hard mainstream science, and theories not backed at all by mainstream science should only have passing mentions while referring to their main articles.
This is like saying that Sun should make lengthy sections on non-scientific views about the sun like being a ball of fire on a chariot, instead of dedicating all available space to expand on what mainstream science has discovered about it, and reducing all the rest to links at the see also section. There is only so much text that you cram on an article, and it would stupid to waste it on stuff that has no scientific validity, specially when are supposed to make an accurate and useful encyclopedia.
People come to wikipedia articles on real world stuff to learn about facts, and that's what science studies. Non-scientific views are only useful to their followers or to people wanting to know specifically about them, so confine them to their articles or places where they are really relevant, and compensate any claiming-to-be-hard-science stuff with what mainstream science has to say about its validity. If someone wants to know also about the cultural aspects (and that is what non-scientific stuff is), then they can look at the "see also" section. Well, I stop because I'm digressing too much. --Enric Naval (talk) 19:32, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Bravo! Excellent response. (to clarify, my "bravo" is congratulating EN on his excellent response, as I didn't have time to finish mine and his was better)Verbal chat 19:37, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Well, that's a very clear statement of the underlying assumption and asymmetry behind this proposed policy, which is that the modern "mainstream" science has privileged access to "accuracy" and "facts" and "usefulness" and "real world stuff", and so scientific critiques of non-scientific subjects have more value than non-scientific critiques of scientfic subjects. That's a perfectly valid world view (and one that I personally share to a large extent), but it's definitely not NPOV, is it ? Gandalf61 (talk) 20:45, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I suggest you read it again. Science isn't a "religion" or "world view", though some treat it as one. Have another look at wp:NPOV too. Verbal chat 20:54, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
A world view is a "framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual interprets the world and interacts with it". So of course science is a world view - albeit a very successful one in many ways - how could it not be a world view ? Science is not a religion because it does not take a moral stance - it is descriptive but not prescriptive (but I never claimed it was a religion, so that is a straw man). The blinkered and unbalanced arguments in defence of this proposal are making me more and more convinced that, although well intentioned, it is muddled and confused at a very fundamental level. Gandalf61 (talk) 21:40, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Can you outline why they are "blinkered" and "unbalanced", please? Science is not a philosophical world view, especially not in the sense of the article you link to. There is a philosophy of science, and meta-science, but these are frameworks built around science and to some extent separable from the practice of the scientific method. Do you think that non-scientific critiques of scientific subjects should be given more, or equal, weight than scientific critiques of those subjects? Could you give your reasoning behind this? In what way does including scientific critique (or support) to any article go against NPOV? Verbal chat 21:50, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Gandalf61, have you had much experience editing articles related to science? I mean, I understand that whole mathematician superiority complex about truth, reality, etc., but taking a high-minded approach misses the forest for the trees and makes editing harder for those who actually write articles on such mundane topics as symbiosis or general relativity. ScienceApologist (talk) 21:48, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
My edits are shown in my contribution history and I keep a list of articles to which I have made significant contributions on my user page. Meeting reasonably expressed doubts with arguments from authority, sarcasm and condescension hardly helps your cause - rather the opposite. I was originally somewhat neutral, but I have now decided I am totally opposed to this proposal. Gandalf61 (talk) 22:47, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I'm sorry if I offended you. ScienceApologist (talk) 22:58, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Gandalf, if you were originally neutral, and decided to oppose the proposal because you don't like something ScienceApologist said, you're pointedly opposing the proposal. Please try to see the proposal as a communal effort by many editors rather than SA's pet project. It's unfair to other editors working on it (like myself). --Nealparr (talk to me) 23:02, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
If I read Gandalf's comments correctly, he is not just against this because of something SA said, but also because of "arguments from authority. It is a logical fallacy, so if he says he's seen one then he is right to lean towards oppose.
To User:SesquipedalianVerbiage who said, "Science is not a philosophical world view", well I disagree. Technically there are at least two philosophical arguments against Science, namely the Problem of induction and Solipsism. They show it still does require faith to trust science 100%, though of course, there is no better alternative to Science, since those two problems can't be solved. So science is a philosophical world view, but it is the best philosophical world view. Deamon138 (talk) 23:22, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
First, it hardly seems reasonable to oppose an unfinished proposal based a current reading. It's a policy proposal anyone can edit. Just fix it if you don't like it. The consensus-building process involves making bold edits, and then if reverted, discuss with reasoned arguments. WP:IDONTLIKEIT, especially without trying to fix it, is not a real opposal, especially when that is based on the view of an editor rather than the actual proposal.
Second, the idea that it's flawed because of an "appeal to authority" suffers from it's own fallacy. The parameters of Wikipedia is that we don't make appeals, we don't have an opinion, we simply report on opinions outside of Wikipedia. We do rely on authorities. We have WP:RS that directs us to. The fallacy there is that we're not writing essays that use logic to make arguments. We're writing an encyclopedia that uses authorities as sources, and reporting on other's arguments. We love authorities on topics. The guiding principles of Wikipedia, the Five Pillars, even states that "[The neutral point of view] means citing verifiable, authoritative sources whenever possible, especially on controversial topics." (my emphasis) --Nealparr (talk to me) 00:40, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
Well, I don't know exactly where the appeals to authority were that Gandalf is talking about, but you're right, we do appeal to the authority of the sources. But here we are discussing Wikipedia policy, and when discussing that, an appeal to authority isn't useful (except maybe appealing to Jimbo Wales!). So if there was an appeal to authority along those lines, then that would be a fallacy.
As for the oppose, I think someone can oppose something if they don't like the spirit of the proposal, and any bold editing they might like to do would reverse the spirit of it. And if Gandalf reckons that the only arguments in support of the proposal have been sarcastic, condescension or appeals to authority, then he would be right to have any view on this proposal he likes, because in his mind I guess, he hasn't seen a good reason for the proposal. This is of course slightly hypothetical from my viewpoint, we will have to wait to hear from Gandalf to see if I have interpreted him correctly. Deamon138 (talk) 00:54, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

(outdent) I guess if someone doesn't like the spirit of the proposal they can object on those grounds. It is my goal, and appears to be the goal of others (seriously) working on it, to ensure Wikipedia's reliability on scientific topics. If there's a reasoned argument against that spirit, I'd like to hear it because I would want to address it. --Nealparr (talk to me) 06:20, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

Response to Nealparr and Deamon138: I have reached the conclusion that the "spirit" of this proposed policy is to create a privileged position within Wikipedia for the scientific world view - it is basically an attempt to resurrect WP:SPOV. This is openly acknowledged by some proponents and not denied by others. I believe that this is against Wikipedia's core policy of NPOV. Wikipedia should aim to present all world views in proportion to their notability and breadth of acceptance - and a hardcore scientific world view is not the only valid world view, arguably not even the most notable, and very probably not even a world view that is shared by the majority of Wikipedia readers. The refusal of some proponents to acknowledge their biases here and their dismissive attitude towards other world views is also worrying. Finally, the belligerence and lack of judgement shown above by ScienceApologist, the originator and a primary advocate of this proposal, shows that he for one is not a "safe pair of hands" for formulating Wikipedia policy (incidentally, when I said "appeal to authority" I meant ScienceApologist's implication that my contribution to this discussion is not relevant because I do not spend as much time working on science articles as he does). I have conluded that this proposal is so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be fixed - indeed, I am now doubtful whether we even need a policy in this area at all. This is a brief summary of my position - I may expand further on my reasons for opposing this proposal when I have more time. Gandalf61 (talk) 09:10, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
Wikipedia is constantly criticized for publishing unreliable material. Wikipedia needs a set of standards for science topics. Because editors went about it the wrong way in the past (WP:SPOV), that doesn't mean that such standards aren't actually needed. The things you said Wikipedia should aim for, they're actually in the developing proposal.
I'm disappointed that your personal conclusion is that the proposal is fundamentally flawed and that editors are refusing to acknowledge their biases here, but let's keep things in perspective. Think about your own biases, because I'm reading an inconsistent argument from you. Here you're saying that Wikipedia should "aim to present all world views in proportion to their notability and breadth of acceptance", but above you were saying that an article on faith healing should reflect "prominent, majority opinion within the faith healing community". You further said that a scientific critique of faith healing is "only relevant if it is a notable topic of debate within that community". Are you really suggesting that scientists have to be faith healers to be relevant? Is it your position that Wikipedia should censor scientific critiques out of faith healing articles, but present all world views in science-related articles? Think about that for a moment. It doesn't seem to make for a reliable encyclopedia.
It's a matter of staying on topic. The disposition of God is not under the purview of science. Science has absolutely no comment on whether God is benevolent or vengeful. That's a religious topic. Faith healing, by comparison, isn't strictly a religious topic. It's also a health-related topic, falling under the topical category of medicine. Science actually has looked into faith healing, run some studies, and reached some conclusions. It's absolutely unreliable to say that because they aren't faith healers themselves they're not relevant to the topic. Staying within the faith healing community means you only get the perspective of the faith healing community. It's a biased perspective, unreliable.
Because Wikipedia aims to present all world views, standards for presenting science when it is relevant are needed, so there's no misconception about science when the topic turns to science. Faith healers get their word right up front. We don't misrepresent their position either. But when the discussion turns to science, it's not science-as-presented-by-faith-healers, it's just science. We don't misrepresent science, and we don't exclude it when it's relevant.
Because some editors don't get that clearly, we need standards that explain it. --Nealparr (talk to me) 10:55, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
This line from the faith healing article sums it up well: "While faith in the supernatural is not in itself usually considered to be the purview of science, claims of reproducible effects are nevertheless subject to scientific investigation." That's it in a nutshell. When is it a science discussion. When is it not. When is it both. --Nealparr (talk to me) 11:09, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
A few points in response to Nealparr:
  • Agreeing standards for presenting science topics is a great aim - but those standards should be a MOS sub-page, in the same way as we alreday have very useful standards for presenting mathematics topics. I don't think any other Wikipedia community expects its article standards to be enshrined in a Wikipedia policy.
  • Of course, a MOS sub-page would only apply to science topics - whereas the proponents of this proposal want it to apply much more widely to all topics which relate to any aspect of the physical world (which is presumably why it has to be a policy document). So you would see this proposal as applying to all medical topics, even though some of them may not be about scientific medicine (faith healing is clearly not a science topic because the faith healing community believe in supernatural causes for illnes and disease). This scope creep is one of the things that worries me.
  • You say that notable scientific critiques are relevant in non-science articles, such as faith healing. I now agree with you, so my position on that point has changed. However, ScienceApologist says above that "non-scientific critiques are not welcome in science articles" (and uses the curious circular argument that non-scientific critiques are ipso facto not notable because they are not based on scientific evidence). This is unbalanced. This proposal wants to protect science articles from notable critiques from outside of the science community, but does not extend the same privilege to other communities and world views. It aims to create a privileged position within Wikpedia for the science world view. Gandalf61 (talk) 13:28, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
Well, let's address that. When is a religious view relevant? The simple answer is when it is a religious topic. Faith is not a science topic. Faith is all about belief systems. The Faith#Criticisms of faith section, although it appeals to lack of scientific evidence, is not about science. It's the point of view of atheism/skepticism, both belief systems independent of science. Those belief systems are not science, but rather belief systems their adherents feel are supported by science. That article compares belief systems, not science. The God article is similarly a beliefs article. The small section God#Scientific positions regarding God merely points out that most philosophies of science feel that science doesn't cover God pro- or con-, with a blip that some like Dawkins feels it can. It's not about the reality of God, and it's not about a view that science has ruled out God or some other nonsense. It's an educational statement regarding science's predominant "hands-off" approach. There's no conclusions of science in that article. The Jesus article contains virtually no natural science information; the only science there is soft science history.
There's no reason why science belongs in any of those articles in any way that it's not already there. Faith healing, as I mentioned above, is not just religious, but also science.
When is science not relevant? Easy, when it is anything other than science... purely religious, mythological, literary, and so on. When is religion not relevant? Simple answer, when it is purely a science topic. It's not protecting science articles from religious views on science. It's covering what's relevant. Human evolution is relevantly a science topic. Like the God article only mentions science when it points out that science doesn't cover God, the only real thing religion has to say in the human evolution article is that religion doesn't cover evolution. Religion has beliefs about human evolution, sure, but the article is a not a beliefs article. It's a technical article, the same as Catholic Church hierarchy is a technical religious article where views that all religion is bad isn't relevant. Technical articles don't need all commentary. Note that when the topic is evolution in general, there actually is a section that covers the social and cultural response: Evolution#Social and cultural responses.
Your concerns, while understandable, aren't really reflected in either Wikipedia as a whole, or in this proposal that mostly just clarifies existing policy. There's nothing really radical in this proposal. --Nealparr (talk to me) 17:16, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
I think Gandalf makes some excellent points, and the shrill tone of some of the responses worries me too. Particularly Enric Naval's points and Verbal's "bravo". The gist of Enric's response was that articles like the sun should really only contain scientific information about the sun because "it would stupid to waste [the space in the article] on stuff that has no scientific validity". The sun, unsurprisingly, has played a significant role in virtually all human cultures throughout history and in a variety of ways. But for Enric, and some others here, we can simply wave all that away with the back of our hand. ALL people need to know about the sun is what the particular type of investigation conducted by scientists has yielded, e.g., that about 74% of its mass is hydrogen etc. Who cares that there is a fascinating story to be told about the sun from many other standpoints - standpoints that are not even necessarily in conflict with science. People don't need to be told about any of that because it's not SCIENCE. No doubt a similar story could be told about Shakespeare - weight of paper/ink used etc; reasonably useful for lighting a Bunsen burner but not much else.
What worries me, then, is the dismissive attitude being displayed towards everything that is not science, alongside the refusal to even acknowledge that science is a viewpoint, let alone a very particular type of viewpoint. This is in essence a fairly radical form of scientism, and I don't think scientism should be the official religion of Wikipedia. 67.205.30.146 (talk) 19:00, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
At the top of the Sun article, there is a Sun (disambiguation) link. At the very top of that page there is The Sun in human culture article. The reason the link Sun goes to an article about the astronomy of the Sun, the Sun as the star in our solar system, is because of the WP:DISAMBIG content guideline rather than a conspiracy to supress cultural views of the Sun. Wikipedia doesn't obscure cultural views on the Sun. It has an information architecture that helps direct readers to content they're "most likely" looking for. If they're looking for the other information, it's relatively easy to find it through the disambig links. --Nealparr (talk to me) 19:29, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
I wasn't talking about the sun article on Wikipedia. I was talking about what Enric said above about wasting the space in articles, e.g. the sun, discussing non-scientific viewpoints. I also was not saying there was a conspiracy within Wikipedia as a whole to suppress this information. Of course the information actually is in Wikipedia - and rightly so. That's because scientism isn't the official religion of Wikipedia. Yet. It is this policy proposal, or more accurately, the comments from some on this page about why they think this policy is needed; alongside their view of science and their view of non-science that worries me. 67.205.30.146 (talk) 19:42, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
Worrying should be encouraged. The policy itself should be worded in such a way to address those worries. However, just because you don't like the views of some of the people supporting the policy doesn't mean that the policy itself is the problem, IMO. ScienceApologist (talk) 20:48, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

A few comments:

An example of how NPOV trumps SPOV would be: Many articles about scientific topics have non scientific dimensions (economic, political, ideological, folklore, religious, etc). These aspects should of course be allowed to be presented in the article on their own merits. Take the astrology article as an example. The scientific refutation should – of course – have a place in the article but we must not forget that we deal with an article about a social phenomenon. This should be made clearer in the text.

I think we should be very careful to not take a stand about ontology or other philosophy of science issues.MaxPont (talk) 21:12, 22 August 2008 (UTC)

Needs work

Results from methods not based on observable reality should not be marginalized or eschewed, per se (unless they are truly marginal even within the non-scientific community). Rather, they should be segregated from observation-based views and identified as being not based on observable reality -- but still mentioned if they hold substantial "mindshare". This difference in approach permits sections such as Global warming#Social and political debate and Evolution#Social and cultural responses. (I suppose in this respect I'm advocating something vaguely similar to Stephen Jay Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria.)

Further, I think it's wrong to use the name "pseudo-controversy"; the battle between science and superstition (or chicanery) is, unfortunately, all too real. Such cases should be called something like "non-scientific controversy" to denote things that are not controversies within the scientific community, but that have some other origin: political, ideological, fraudulent, etc.--Father Goose (talk) 06:36, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

I renamed "pseudo-controversy" to "exterior-controversy" to denote the locus of the controversy. --Nealparr (talk to me) 06:55, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
That's better, although it has no immediately obvious meaning. Might I suggest something more like "scientific controversy" and "social controversy" (not that they are opposites, per se)?--Father Goose (talk) 09:48, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I changed this back, on grounds of clarity. Peter Damian (talk) 19:53, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Closed Vote

Yes or No shall Wikipedia policies be changed to include this policy?

  • Strong NO. Already covered under other policies. Wikipedia is an on-line experience which is ment to be edited by the general public. All views are valid weather or not the Scientific Community thinks so. It bears repeating that Wikipedia is designed to be edited by the citizens of the world and this so-called policy would add a burden to the citizens who do not have scientific knowledge. It bears repeating once again that Wikipedia is an On-line experience designed to be edited by everyone. Magnum Serpentine (talk) 08:49, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
    • If the general public does not feel a vote is warranted at this time then this vote is frozen and instead will be a place maker for when Voting is ready. Magnum Serpentine (talk) 08:52, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
  • Yes eventually. There is some good stuff going on here, after a bit more drafting and tweaking this could be a great addition. I think this kind of "vote" is a bit premature, and we don't work on voting here.Is this meant to be an RfC? Verbal chat 08:55, 20 August 2008 (UTC)\
    • I agree with you on the timing of the vote. I had also not realized this was an RFC. Which is why I added the clause frozen. But in any case those are my views we can edit out the vote maybe even change the name of the section? I would now like to ask this question. Whatever happened to Wikipedia being the experience that everyone can edit?Magnum Serpentine (talk) 08:58, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
      • Anyone can edit. This policy wouldn't change that. Why not add a new section outlining your concerns about this policy stopping people from being able to edit. Also, not all views are valid, especially on wikipedia. Thanks. Verbal chat 09:04, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
        • Without even reading this section of discussion, I actually added some prose to this effect about both the audience and editorship on science articles. Anyone can read or write Wikipedia, and we explain how that is possible even with scientific articles. If this seems "obvious", let me just say that if this proposal had been in place I would have had an easier time getting force in good shape. I honestly didn't even think about attracting laymen to help me edit the article until after the FAC had already started. I also just recently helped a layman understand that an article like Nash Equilibrium, though impenetrable, may actually have some valuable information contained in it. ScienceApologist (talk) 22:09, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
  • Vote invalid. This page is an idea in development (less than a day old!) and to put it to a vote as to whether it should be in policy at this instant is deeply misguided. To put it to a "vote" at any point is misguided, as we do not "vote" on policy. We forge agreements when discussing policy matters -- or fail to forge agreements, in which case something does not become policy. Come back to the question when this page has been looked at and worked over by a few hundred people, not a dozen.--Father Goose (talk) 09:57, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
    • Agreed. Verbal chat 10:22, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
      • I agree with the name change. I had not realized this was less than 24 hours old and an RFC page. Magnum Serpentine (talk) 18:42, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
        • This isn't an RFC. Feel free to add comments to the discussion or bring a new topic for discussion (so long as it's related) Verbal chat 19:26, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Neutrality is absurd

The whole idea that we should maintain a neutral point-of-view is absurd. There is no such thing as neutrality to a living being. Only the dead are neutral. Truth is good because it helps us live. Lies (or errors) are bad because they tend to destroy us. Truth should be our criterion, not NPOV or RS. JRSpriggs (talk) 16:16, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

WP:V says otherwise: "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth—that is, whether readers are able to check that material added to Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source, not whether we think it is true."
In fact Science itself would disagree with you, as Science doesn't deal in "truth" only if something has been or could be falsified. Deamon138 (talk) 16:26, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
JRSpriggs, you and I are mathematicians. We can actually prove things. Most people can't. I don't mean that as an attack on their reasoning skills; I mean that the nature of most subjects makes absolute truth (the kind you and I are accustomed to) impossible. It's as if we had only examples and conjectures, no theorems.
I believe in absolute truth, even in the sciences, but I don't think we can ever be sure of what it is by pure reason alone. (Are the axioms of ZFC true?) This proposal would make certain criteria acceptable for truth testing and forbid certain others; it claims that a certain viewpoint is true. But how do we know that's the case? I deny that such a determination is possible. Ozob (talk) 18:41, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
I myself believe in an absolute objective Truth that is out there, but even with maths, doesn't Gödel's incompleteness theorems show that such a truth is unattainable? (I don't understand the maths behind it, so I wouldn't know for sure). Deamon138 (talk) 19:36, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
We're heading off topic. But as I understand it, it's like this: Imagine that you have an enormous list of objects, and that this list satisfies ZFC. Call the objects sets and call the list a model. You might wonder whether or not a particular statement like the continuum hypothesis is true about the sets in your list; and since you have a list of all the sets, you can test the continuum hypothesis on all of them and see what happens. Depending on your list, you might find that CH is true or that CH is false. (This fact is deep.) In other words, the axioms of ZFC do not imply CH, and they do not imply not CH. Therefore ZFC does not make a claim about the truth value of CH; in any particular model, CH will be either true or false, but that determination cannot be made on the basis of ZFC. Gödel's theorems show that this sort of behavior always happens: If your system is powerful enough to express arithmetic, and if it's possible to write down all the axioms, then there are always statements (like CH) that can neither be proved or disproved in that axiom system. But a statement about a model is always true or false. Ozob (talk) 22:36, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Nah, even your explanation of this is above me right now. Give me a few years and we'll see if I can get it then. Anyway, thanks for trying! Deamon138 (talk) 00:03, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

Then for 'NPOV' read 'verifiable point of view'. For that is what is intended. Peter Damian (talk) 19:52, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

Let us look at "... whether readers are able to check that material added to Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source ...". Whether the material has been published by a source is a question of fact, true or false. Whether the source is reliable is a question of fact, true or false. Whether most readers have the ability to check these facts is also a question of fact, true or false. Some of these questions are quite difficult to answer with certainty. If we are willing to trust ourselves to answer these questions, then why can we not trust ourselves to answer other questions of fact — such as whether the material corresponds to objective reality, i.e. is true? JRSpriggs (talk) 20:20, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
Are you basically asking Wikipedia editors to investigate the reality of scientific claims? If CERN announces that they have discovered the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider, then should we editors build our own particle accelerators to verify the truth of what they say? Otherwise, I don't get what you mean at all. Deamon138 (talk) 23:58, 20 August 2008 (UTC)
You write what you know. If you do not know whether there is a Higgs boson, but do know that CERN has announced that there is, then you write that CERN has announced that. If you work at CERN and you do know that it exists, then write that it exists (discovered at CERN). Why should you have to wait for Physical Review (or whoever) to publish it? (All this is hypothetical concerning the Higgs, by the way.) JRSpriggs (talk) 00:38, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
"If you work at CERN and you do know that it exists, then write that it exists (discovered at CERN). Why should you have to wait for Physical Review (or whoever) to publish it?" Because otherwise, that would be original research. Deamon138 (talk) 00:45, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
Is that not a circular argument — the current policy is right ... because it is the current policy? JRSpriggs (talk) 15:42, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
No one has said that other than you. But more to the point, if you don't believe in the core principles that guide this project, what are you doing here? Dlabtot (talk) 16:42, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
Ok, the title of this section could be read as inflammatory, but please let's keep everything civil. Problems with NPOV should be discussed on the NPOV talk page or the village pump, this isn't the place. I want this to succeed in some form, and the best chance is if we stay civil, assume good faith (within reason) and fully articulate our problems and try to reason about them rather than dismissing them. Verbal chat 17:10, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
What are you talking about? Dlabtot (talk) 19:07, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
No it isn't a circular argument, because policy isn't policy just because it is policy, policy is policy because of consensus from the community. Deamon138 (talk) 00:29, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
That consensus is based on the opinion of editors who mostly edit non-scientific articles. Count Iblis (talk) 18:19, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
And non-science editors' opinions are worth less why?? Deamon138 (talk) 00:31, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
They are worth less for the issues we deal with when editing science articles. You have to realize that most of the problems that the wiki rules have to address have to do with the persistent edit wars you see in the politics articles. In these subjects, there are usually many equally valid points of view, but you have people who fanatically support one side and dismiss the other side's POV as rubbish. So, that's why wikipedia policies put so much empasis on "neutrality", NPOV, etc. etc., otherwise this whole project would collapse. Count Iblis (talk) 15:32, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
If this proposal applied only to science articles then you might be able to reasonably argue that the opinions of non-science editors should carry less weight in this discussion. However, the proposal defines its scope as all articles dealing with any aspect of the physical world. This includes many non-science articles. Therefore the opinions of editors from the wider Wikipedia community are relevant. Gandalf61 (talk) 15:46, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Yes, in the section: "let's adopt this guideline!" I argued that it should apply to science articles. The editors of any article can decide whether or not to stick to these guidelines by consensus. Non-science editors are welcome to discuss these guidelines as well. If we want to make this a policy for the whole of wikipedia, then the non-science editors will likely reject these guidelines as they are not suitable for politics articles. Count Iblis (talk) 16:14, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

Exterior-interior

Probably there could be better terms, but I reverted to these - when I first read was v clear what was going on. We are after clarity after all. The 'scientific' vs 'social' made no sense. Peter Damian (talk) 19:50, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

I agree, "social" doesn't work as there can be scientific controversies about social phenomena, etc. Interior and exterior is easier to understand. Verbal chat 20:27, 20 August 2008 (UTC)

The name for this keeps bouncing back and forth; I'm getting whiplash. When I just looked it's "social" again. I'm not sure either label is a clear description of the distinction that needs to be made, but I agree with Peter and SV that "social" vs "scientific" is especially confusing.

But at the moment I have a more specific concern about the wording of the first sentence under the heading "exterior" or "social" whatever it is by now: "Topics that are controversial only outside the scientific community are distinguished by the trait that the prevailing sources on the topic do not acknowledge alternative perspectives within the scientific community." This seems unnecessarily wordy and possibly confusing. It could be read to mean that the prevailing sources on the topic are silent about alternative perspectives within the scientific community because there are no such alternative perspectives within the scientific community to acknowledge. Or it could be read to suggest that there may be alternative perspectives within the scientific community that prevailing sources refuse to acknowledge. The rest of the section seems to follow from the first meaning, but if that's the meaning you mean, I wonder if it could be worded more clearly to mean just that and to avoid possible misreading. Woonpton (talk) 04:01, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

Instead of "scientific" and "social", you could do "scientific" and "non-scientific". "Interior" and "exterior" are devoid of context: imagine saying to someone "oh, that's exterior-controversial". You'd then have to explain what the heck you were saying to them.--Father Goose (talk) 07:37, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
I like scientific and non-scientific. It captures the situation perfectly. ScienceApologist (talk) 18:44, 21 August 2008 (UTC)


Pseudoscience

"Pseudoscience is not an option." What does this mean? -- Levine2112 discuss 01:08, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

Placeholder as the edit description said. It's being drafted currently (in my head). Anyone can jump the gun and get started on it and I'll work off what's there. --Nealparr (talk to me) 04:45, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
I didn't see the edit summary. Thanks for the explanation. That was really the only part that tripped me up in this proposal thus far. -- Levine2112 discuss 05:27, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
The "not an option" part wasn't meant to be serious : ) --Nealparr (talk to me) 06:22, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

Journals, etc

I've twice gone through the proposal, tweaking the English. The first time, I didn't knowingly make any substantive change. Since that time, others (including ScienceApologist) have revised it. The second time (just now), I've been non-infinitesimally bold, sharpening statements here or there. I'm not in the natural sciences and hope I haven't screwed anything up.

Although I generally agree with what I read, I have various quibbles. Here are three:

  • For the 21st century, "nature versus nurture", so phrased, seems unfortunate. It looks rather like "straw man versus straw man". At least rephrase it to something like "the relative importances of nature versus nurture".
  • A proposed guideline such as this is not the place to bring in Philosophy of Science 101, with Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and the rest. Neither is it a good idea to suggest that the laws of thermodynamics are mere "theories" awaiting refutation. However, the degree of "consensus" within science as a whole may be a bit overstated (particularly in the very odd context of Wikipedia editing, where of course "consensus" has taken on the bizarre meaning of "agreement by at least 70% or so of those bothering to chime in, regardless of the quality of the arguments presented to the contrary"). That there's something odd about this should be apparent to those who vaguely remember having read about the wave versus particle theories of light, about subatomic particles, or about where to attribute the fact of global warming. The text now doesn't say but does suggest that science is to a considerable degree monolithic. It may be better than the opposite caricature, but it's nevertheless a caricature and a vulnerable one.
  • The treatment of scientific journals in the opening section alarms me. As a non-physicist, I am unable to follow much of the average article in the average physics journal, let alone to evaluate it. Putting aside the question of how scientific linguistics is, I know that linguistics journals, even the best ones, are not good hunting grounds for would-be writers/editors, however literate and bright, of WP linguistics articles if those writer/editors don't already have a solid grounding in linguistics. They should instead be reading linguistics textbooks, which ably distill the best of the journals. While I can't be sure of this, I suspect that the situation is similar in physics, biology, etc.: that much of WP's scientific material is better written via well-regarded, recently published university textbooks (which themselves depend on journal articles), plus some judicious direct use of journal articles by editors who either already have or are well on the way to getting doctorates in related matters.

-- Hoary (talk) 01:58, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

I agree "nature vs. nurture" is weak. What about replacing it with the Bohr-Einstein debates. Despite the fact that this controversy involves Einstein it is rather boring to the average person; which is true of most Scientifically controversial ideas and thus more representative. A more obscure disagreement could be offered but I think the Bohr-Einstein debates might be a happy medium.
I think the treatment of journals depends on the specific article and the generality. The total chemistry information provide on wikipedia exceeds the information contained in a series of texts dedicated gchem, ochem, ichem, pchem, and achem texts. There are of course still holes but the outline is started. Since the breadth and depth is so great better sourcing and more specialized editors are need. This means these articles will be increasingly written and rewritten by professionals in the field with direct access and the ability to read the pertinent journals. Sadly this means the writing will suffer, as Hoary noted, but hopefully those with the hybrid skill of understanding science and writing can rework the painful segments.
I've been thinking about the relative ranking of primary sources and review articles. While primary articles make for good examples or can be used to identify the origin of an idea they are always a novel non-mainstream POV. Shouldn't reviews articles carry more weight since that is the level of science that wikipedia is seeking to represent. Not to mention that reviews are much better at identifying proper established terminology that is still getting hashed out in primary sources.--OMCV (talk) 04:02, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
Agree with Hoary's point. Policy dictates that we do not use primary sources like journals and scholarly research. We should be using reliable secondary sources for material that goes into Wikipedia. (I also find tertiary sources like other encyclopedias helpful when determining how much weight to give a subject). Peter Damian (talk) 18:04, 21 August 2008 (UTC)
Secondary sources often aren't all that great. Many textbooks, especially at the intro level, are written by nonspecialists in the topic. I recently reviewed a textbook for possible adoption in my World Climates course and found that it contained an average of two blatant factual errors per page. Only a Wikipedia editor who knew the topic would recognize that, but suggesting that editors actually be competent in the field they're writing about goes against the ethos of "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit." :-p 12.240.60.198 (talk) 02:56, 22 August 2008 (UTC)

I agree heartily with Hoary's point about scientific journals. The original wording of the lead paragraph focused on scientific evidence rather than scientific journals. Also, the lead right now tries to tie science back to opinions rather than facts. It would be nicer to stick to facts rather than interpretations for reasons that are probably apparent in other parts of this talk page. I suggest saying something like "scientific evidence is some of the most reliable sources we have for describing the physical universe." This removes the issue of where the scientific evidence must come from: secondary and tertiary sources are indeed excellent places to find reports of the scientific evidence. I also think the overt focus on "consensus" is entirely misleading. The true "consensus" in science is the sum total of all observations ever made. That's what forms "consensus". Of course, being fallible human beings, some of those observations are poorly vetted, incorrectly reported, fail some aspect of control, etc. The scientific method does not directly account for such failings, but the hope is that given enough chances for replicating data, the problematic results will be exposed. ScienceApologist (talk) 19:01, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

Since no movement was happening in this direction, I decided to boldy go and change the wording. ScienceApologist (talk) 17:31, 25 August 2008 (UTC)

I think the issue is that what constitutes "evidence" is contentious. No less contentious then the nature of "consensus". Plus there is the problem that Science uses "facts", but on wikipedia we don't use facts we report them. Since there is no scientific field of any value that doesn't preform some amount of synthesis on its facts we must seek to document the published results of that synthesis. We must seek the consensus and have a clear plan of how to identify what constitutes consensus and what does not.--OMCV (talk) 17:53, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
Well, I'm not sure that this really is all that contentious. "Evidence" is addressed in various places in our current guidelines. For example: WP:REDFLAG. I certainly can agree with what you wrote about everything else. ScienceApologist (talk) 01:17, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

Observable reality and the physical sciences

Just a point: there is a heavy bias towards the physical and empirical sciences here. Not all sciences, properly so-called, are empirical. E.g. mathematics. I was involved in a dispute with a crank ages ago over Controversy over Cantor's theory which started life as a piece of crank OR. (In mathematics the two crank magnets are Cantor's diagonal proof, and Goedel's theorem, see the usenet sci.logic for some of the madness that goes on there). The contrast we are looking for is between academic and scholarly research on the one hand, and the cranky, slef-promotional, fringe, self-published and usenet-y world on the other.

I also still hate the 'social controversy' thing. A social controversy is typically about some value-judgment or other, which does not fall within the province of science at all. The distinction we should be talking about is the crackpot-academic one. Peter Damian (talk) 18:02, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

PS agree wholeheartedly that the idea of SPOV is nonsense. The scientific method is just that, a method. Not a point of view, but a method that may lead to a point of view or hypothesis. Peter Damian (talk) 18:06, 21 August 2008 (UTC)

In all honesty, from a life of observing scientists, my best observation is that those who actually attempt to use the scientific method as principle method of dealing with the world around them (and there are some) have a great deal of difficulty in life (as do those around them), and sometimes do this not because they wish to but because they are emotionally or developmentally impaired in other ways of dealing with the world. Who would want to be married to, or raised by, or have as a boss or colleague, someone who used only the scientific method, with all its blunt methods of control and objectification, as a principle method of relating and interacting? Who would want to be treated solely as data to be observed or a theory to be proven, as distinct from a being to be related to? People who are impaired at other ways of relating to those around them, or whose ideological rejection of such ways carries into their personal life, do not necessarily make good spouses, parents, bosses, or colleagues. Claims that methods and viewpoints which stress individuality and relating are unimportant to human life and knowledge would seem a bit premature. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 07:12, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
Does this relate to the policy in some way? Verbal chat 12:29, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
The discussion below should explain. I do think the fact that navigating personal relationships involves knowledge, and observation, and thought patterns of a non-scientific kind, despite the fact that it involve observable phenomena, is relevant. The counterexample helps explain why I am recommending caution in putting universal claims into Wikipedia policy. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 17:29, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
All of which misses my point, which is that the proposed essay is entirely about the physical sciences. Mathematics is not about 'observable reality'. But is is a science in the strict sense, and it has a problem with crank and PoV-pushers. That's all I meant to say. Peter Damian (talk) 17:33, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
Fair enough. There would be some issues that would be problematic in the social sciences or medical resarch (for example, facts and values are not necessarily inseparable when questions of whether, when, and how to observe involve ethical issues). But in any event we can talk about reliable source issues and so forth without the other stuff. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 22:39, 22 August 2008 (UTC)

General criticism

While I think it would be useful to have a guideline that discusses how to source and present scientific evidence and viewpoints, I believe this proposal would need a substantial amount of work before it could serve as such a guideline. A fundamental problem is that much of its content seems to exist, not to neutrally explain how to present and source scientific thought and methods in articles, but to plug for the value of science, and for a particular view of science, with what sometimes seems to me to be a kind of religious fervor. It just doesn't seem appropriate for Wikipedia policies. It would be like having a proposed guideline on religion containing plugs for the importance of faith and arguments for the need for faith as an essential way to attain self-knowledge, understand ones place in the universe, etc. I would simply describe how to present scientific reasoning, methods, data, results, sources, etc. and drop all the plugs claiming it's such a great thing, always works, better than anything else, etc. They just don't belong. One can address the essential issues -- how to present science, what distinguishes claims and sources the scientific community considers reliable from ones it doesn't, etc. -- without them. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 07:02, 22 August 2008 (UTC)

Agreed. And a guideline about sourcing and presenting scientific evidence could be a MOS sub-page - it certainly shouldn't be a policy. Gandalf61 (talk) 12:22, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
Disagree. There is nothing, and shouldn't be anything, in the policy that states that science is the only "view" allowed or that treats science as a religion. The analogy to a "religious" policy just doesn't fit. This is not what this policy is about what it would do, in the current form or in whatever finalised form in takes. If there are specific parts of the policy you find troublesome please bring them up for discussion. Could you make your general criticism more specific? Which parts of the proposed policy do you think would lead to science being treated as a religion? Verbal chat 12:28, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
The proposal has a repeated insistance that the only valid explanations of any phenomena in the natural world are scientfiic explanations. For example, it says:
"scientific journals offer some of the most reliable sources there are for describing the physical world. When writing articles about the natural world, those results should be relied on most."
"The marginalization and ignoring of minority opinions about observable reality that occurs within the academic communities that use the scientific method should be reflected in Wikipedia."
"Articles not directly related to science sometimes reference observable reality. In such cases, scientific explanations should be referenced when available."
I would describe this blinkered and dogmatic point of view as "scientific fundamentalism". The failure of most of the proposal's proponents to acknowledge the existence of this bias is quite alarming. Gandalf61 (talk) 13:22, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
The policy as it is, and as you quote, doesn't insist that only scientific explanations are allowed. It says that scientific journals are the most reliable sources about science (from your quote), views that are minority/marginalised by science should be reflected in wikipedia (it doesn't say they should be left out), and this would apply to the scientific interpretation in articles about observable reality, and the final point says if there is a scientific viewpoint it shouldn't be left out. Nowhere in this is censorship endorsed. This is closely related to wp:undue and wp:fringe. Verbal chat 13:33, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
I agree that the middle quote is too harsh, depending on the intended meaning of "reflected" (emulated or described). Science marginalizes many opinions because they are unmeasurable or unfalsifiable and thus lie outside its scope. In the broader environment of wikipedia these POV should be discussed as their citations warrant and in a manner identified by wp:fringe. I take most of it back I didn't see that it meant within the community. OMCV (talk) 13:48, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
If these sections of the proposal are intended to be read as you say, then they are badly worded. I suggest changing them to:
"scientific journals offer some of the most reliable sources there are for describing science. When writing articles about science, those results should be relied on most."
"Marginalised and minority opinions about observable reality that occur within the academic communities that use the scientific method should be included in Wikipedia."
"Articles not directly related to science sometimes refer to a scientific viewpoint. In such cases, scientific explanations should be referenced when available."
If you agree with that wording, and there are no other objections, then I will go ahead and make the changes. Gandalf61 (talk) 13:52, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
Peer reviewed articles in scientific journals are "science", and if a peer-reviewed scientific journal has something to say about any topic, it should be considered for inclusion and be rated as a very good source. You are restricting, more than policy currently does, where scientific findings can be placed in articles. Verbal chat 13:57, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
Then you are the proposal is not just saying that "scientific journals are the most reliable sources about science"; you are it is indeed insisting that a scientific explanation, if available, should be presented as the most reliable explanation in any article about any aspect of the natural world, even if that article is not a science article (examples would be Passage of the Red Sea, astral body or precognition). That is scientific fundamentalism. I rest my case. Gandalf61 (talk) 14:28, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
That isn't what I've said at all, so can you please strike your comment. I said they should be considered as reliable sources for any article, not just ones on specifically scientific topics; "it should be considered for inclusion and be rated as a very good source". Verbal chat 14:34, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
The quote you've provided from the proposal doesn't match your paraphrase either. Can you refer specifically to the part of the proposed policy that does this, and also describe what the examples you give show. Many thanks (and thanks for refactoring) Verbal chat 14:40, 22 August 2008 (UTC)

Just because you can edit doesn't mean you should edit

In this quasi-egalitarian system of pseudonyms and free-for-all writing, people sometimes take the spirit of "anyone can edit" too far and assume because anyone can edit that anyone should edit. Obviously, this isn't the case. Editors should be encouraged to look at their own limitations when approaching a Wikipedia article that they think needs improving. I think offering advice for how the layperson can help edit science articles and how the expert can help edit science articles would be a good thing to include. Both have a role, but they aren't the same role. Pretending that they are the same role is part of the problem here at Wikipedia.

I'm not suggesting we try to vet who is/isn't an expert. Sophisticated autodidacts are sometimes just as good if not better than PhD holders. Likewise, some credentialed experts overreach and act improperly in articles that they really have no business acting as an expert in. I am suggesting that we let people know what best practices are, however. This would help improve the relationship Wikipedia has with experts. Might this require a seed-change in Wikiculture? I'm not sure. I think not: as long as people acknowledge that respecting boundaries is a laudable goal I think we can continue with the status-quo with few modifications.

ScienceApologist (talk) 15:51, 22 August 2008 (UTC)

Perhaps it would be a good idea to start Wikipedia:Manual of Style (science). In addition to the usual stuff about style, it could also have a section on appropriate sources for scientific articles and a section on writing within your expertise. Ozob (talk) 18:27, 22 August 2008 (UTC)
What do you mean by "respecting boundaries"? Are you saying there should be boundaries to a layperson's editing? If so I strongly disagree per WP:OWN. Deamon138 (talk) 00:51, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
There are pragmatic boundaries. There are occassionally laypeople (it tends to be really young students for some reason) who come into an article and begin changing the mathematics inappropriately, for example. Sometimes I see people rewrite sections to introduce major misconceptions commonly held by the public. While this is the encyclopedia anyone can edit, certainly it would be better to forestall such edits before they are put in place. ScienceApologist (talk) 17:28, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
I couldn't disagree more. You shouldn't stereotype all lay editors as likely to do that. Some may well do that, but that doesn't mean that they should be discouraged from editing just because of some "bad apples" within their group. Remember: it is called the Bold, Revert, Discuss cycle, not the "Discuss, Bold, Revert" cycle. Deamon138 (talk) 23:47, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
I'm not saying we should discourage lay editors from editing. I'm saying we should encourage lay and expert editors alike to be self-reflective and consider where they can be the most productive in their editing. WP:BRD is fine and dandy, but WP:BOLD itself is even cooler and can work when you do things that don't require someone else to RV. ScienceApologist (talk) 01:19, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
If you don't want to discourage lay editors from editing, then how do you propose to "forestall such edits before they are put in place"? Deamon138 (talk) 23:47, 27 August 2008 (UTC)
By assuming good faith about the editors who are coming in here and asking them to be self-reflective. We cannot guarantee that they will be self-reflective, but if they are self-reflective they won't assume they know the right thing before they start editing. ScienceApologist (talk) 19:17, 28 August 2008 (UTC)

I support this view. However, all editors should be self-reflective before they edit any article on wikipedia, asking themselves whether what they propose to add is appropriate and meets our policies. I suggest we stress that point and then clarify the sort of things that a person planning to edit a science article should be self-reflective about. --Bduke (talk) 23:28, 28 August 2008 (UTC)

Sounds good. Would you like to draft it and insert it in the section on readership and editorship? ScienceApologist (talk) 23:33, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
I will try to, but I am tied up rather at present. --Bduke (talk) 01:24, 30 August 2008 (UTC)

Answering my own question

Above I asked whether we need this proposal. Since then there has been a lot of discussion on this page about all manner of scientific, wikipedific, religious and philosophical matters. I have now come to the conclusion, as an answer to my question, that we don't need this. Here is some of my reasoning:

  1. Wikipedia:Scientific_standards#Reading_and_editing_science-related_articles is redundant because it says the same as WP:MTAA and WP:NOT PAPERS.
  2. Wikipedia:Scientific_standards#Accurately_describing_science is redundant because it says the same as WP:FRINGE, WP:UNDUE, WP:PSCI, WP:REDFLAG, WP:NPOV, and WP:SOAP. There is one part there about categories, which could be just added to a relevant part of WP:CAT if it isn't already.
  3. The other two sections are basically redundant per WP:FRINGE, WP:UNDUE, WP:PSCI and WP:REDFLAG.

This proposal doesn't contain anything that isn't already elsewhere, and a need for this proposal hasn't been demonstrated. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Deamon138 (talk) 01:37, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

I tend to agree. The swelling bureaucracy on WP is a real problem. I think it is more important to prune in the rulebook than to expand it with additional rules for more and more narrow subtopics.MaxPont (talk) 08:17, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Agreed. Although it was put forward with good intentions, there is no need for this proposed policy. The objective of defining a set of standards for writing science articles can and should be achieved by writing a MOS sub-page. The rest of the proposal has ended up as a POV attempt to create a privileged position within Wikipedia for the "hard science" world view. Gandalf61 (talk) 13:04, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Yes, I think the current policies/guidelines, with a dash of common sense, do a good enough job of keeping things working. However, like Gandalf, I would support a Manual of Style on science, but only if it can be demonstrated to contain style recommendations that aren't in the mathematics, chemistry and medicine ones, along with the main overall manual of style, which also has a fair bit of info. Deamon138 (talk) 14:27, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
That's the problem with WP:COMMONSENSE. It simply doesn't resolve the big problems. ScienceApologist (talk) 01:20, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

A common sense approach

I may not be keeping up with this essay and this discussion. Or I may be being too broad. However, FWIW, I think that one guiding principle should be that we are not trying to tell the reader the correct conclusion, but, especially in paranormal topics, to merely describe the controversy well. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 03:02, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Indeed. Wherever there is no substantial controversy in the scientific community about the scientific merits of paranormal topics, that lack of controversy should be well-described.--Father Goose (talk) 07:17, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
And yet the proposal promotes a partisan approach to paranormal topics and similar when it says "The rule of thumb is if the perspective is making a claim about an observable phenomenon, the default reference should be to a source that has attempted to use the scientific method to vet the claim" (my italics). Claiming that a scientific explanation is ipso facto the most reliable explanation for any and every natural phenomenon seems to be "telling the reader the correct conclusion" to me. Gandalf61 (talk) 13:11, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Isn't it just telling the editor what the most reliable source is? ScienceApologist (talk) 00:51, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

How to deal with sociology and Social constructionism

It is obvious (though implicit) that this article takes the natural hard sciences as the point of departure and that hard “Science” should have a privileged position on WP.

The problem is that there are other scientific disciplines with the same claim to have a universal privileged position. I am thinking about fields within sociology such as Social constructionism and Science and technology studies.

What the social constructionists claim is that all knowledge claims are socially constructed by human agents in competing communities of practice. Their core concepts are power, sense making, manipulation, competition, and suppression of competing socially constructed agendas. Even though this is a nascent area they have collected a growing body of evidence of this in the field of Science and technology studies.

Their analysis could look like this:

Professor A and professor B subscribed to competing and incompatible interpretations of the same area. A and B formed camps in the scientific community and built alliances with other stakeholders such as university boards and government agencies to further their cause. They also tried to undermine the competing approach and used a number of rhetorical methods, such as defining terms in a way that would define away the research agenda of the competing program. Professor A got the upper hand and managed to suppress B and his camp by defunding research and closing academic tenure for people working under B’s program. Eventually, A could declare his approach a scientific consensus. (You can repeat the section above and insert two competing technologies A and B.)

This analysis is “scientific” social science in the sense that it builds on a correct synthesis of empirical evidence. It can be done on every area and the field of Science and technology studies has begun this work. The interesting aspect is that the sociologists put themselves above the natural scientists and put their discourse under the microscope. The Social constructionists have not been very active on WP but they can easily demand to have their analysis inserted in all science articles. John Ziman called this approach pan-sociologism in his excellent book “Real Science: What It Is and What It Means”. (I strongly recommend this book. Ziman was a physics professor who in his later years reflected about all fields of science. Any academic reader would find his book valuable except for rigid postmodernists and rigid natural scientists.)

This article, and most other WP guidelines about science have not taken this aspect into account. At least we need to discuss if and how this text (if it ever is included in the WP rulebook) should limit itself to natural science.MaxPont (talk) 07:57, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Excellent point, MaxPon. The issue is that there are viewpoints expressed here that advocate a world-view in which there are absolutes which are not related or influenced by social construction. IMO, it all comes down to the politics involved.... ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 16:45, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Without getting into specific details, I would simply remove language vouching for the neutrality and objectivity of science for a variety of reasons. There are a variety of philosophical views questioning claims that scientific reasoning and methods always have these properties. I don't mean to suggest that I necessarily subscribe to all these criticisms myself. However, I am concerned about the use of policy space to promote claims in favor of one particular position in what is essentially a dispute, or to present what may be an idealization or view of how things should be rather than how they are. An example of this, which also occurs in the WP:RS guideline, is language claiming both that reliability is based on fact-checking and that the most prestigious journals are the most reliable. We have no basis for this claim, and I strongly doubt it's true. A journal's academic prestige often has little to do with fact-checking, in the sense of proofreading literature cites, data, etc. Rather, it is often related to the novelty and perceived importance of a paper's ideas or method. The most prestigious journals publish stuff that's on the cutting edge and likely to be subject to dispute, i.e. the stuff that's least certain in the fact-checking sense. We should be careful to avoid representing somebody's normative view of how science ought to be as if it were a descriptive representation of how it is. My view is that policy space should avoid making general claims about how the external world works, policy space should be described from an "in-universe" perspective. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 14:35, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
I agree generally with the idea that we should remove such language. It simply isn't necessary. As long as we are talking about subjects which fall under the purview of "science", we are talking about subjects which should be subject to scientific standards. That really should be the scope of this. ScienceApologist (talk) 00:53, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

Let's adopt this guideline!

I suggest we bypass the wiki community and adopt this guideline as de-facto policy for all science articles. Of course, this must be done by consensus on all individual science articles, or via the various wiki science projects. Count Iblis (talk) 18:23, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Can you clarify what you mean by "science articles" ? As it stands, the proposal targets all articles that deal with any aspect of the physcial world. Many of these articles would not traditionally be classified as science articles. Gandalf61 (talk) 18:35, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Well, we can bypass this issue, because the editors of all wiki article could decide by consensus whether or not they want to stick to these guidelines. Count Iblis (talk) 18:40, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
"I suggest we bypass the wiki community" When did Jimbo die and make you God? Deamon138 (talk) 20:01, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
I'm talking about de-facto accepting this guideline, not getting it officially accepted. If it has to go through the usual procedures to be officially accepted, then it probabaly won't ever be accepted. Count Iblis (talk) 21:30, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
I don't feel it's ready yet. It's a good essay now, and almost a good guideline, but it's not particularly sophisticated and needs to address some broader views before one can expect it to be applicable to a broad range of articles. --Nealparr (talk to me) 21:57, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

ROTFL "bypass the wiki community." I wondered.

Tell me: if this is needed as a guideline on any article, how are you going to get that "consensus?" ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 22:01, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

De facto adoption of an "unofficial" guideline like this is problematic, if for no other reason than the difficulties it imposes on newbies: it seems to be hard enough to get people to follow the written guidelines, much less adding unwritten ones on top of that.
Furthermore, the more I think about the "only peer-reviewed lit. is WP:RS" argument, the less I like it. Often, an expert can raise substantive criticism of a published article that does not itself warrant publication. In such cases, the exptertise of the source is what makes it reliable, even in if it's WP:SPS. I would suggest that it would be sufficient to note the nature of non-peer-reviewed references, rather than excluding them entirely.
A couple more objections:
"[Articles in scientific journals] represent prominent, majority opinion in the scientific community."
Not necessarily. They represent an opinion that's sufficiently well-formed to pass the peer-review process, assuming no other political or personal considerations interfere. Plenty of papers come out espousing minority views on sobscure topics; they just don't get many citations. Peer-reviewed articles are the best sources available for scientific issues, but let's not elevate them too much.
"Unbiased presentation of viewpoints (WP:NPOV) requires us to describe this scientific consensus accurately."
I think this emphasizes the role of consensus to a greater extent than it exists in the scientific community. Science doesn't advance by forming consensus; it advances when the consensus is challenged. Rather WP should attempt to accurately describe the state of the converstation within the scientific community on any given topic.
So I have two objections to the Count's proposal: First, I don't think that "unofficial policy" is a good idea, at least in the way it's being suggested. Secondly, I don't think this proposed guideline is particularly well-thought-out or accurate.
J. Langton (talk) 22:16, 23 August 2008 (UTC)
Firstly, aside from my disagreements with this proposal over all (above somewhere), I definitely whole-heartedly believe this shouldn't be policy. Look at Wikipedia:List of policies. Not a single other subject area gets its own policy. Why should science? I mean, I'm going to be reading for an MPhys in Physics from October, and yet even I don't see why science should be so special on Wikipedia compared to everything else.
Also to Count Iblis above who said, "If it has to go through the usual procedures to be officially accepted, then it probably won't ever be accepted." And that's precisely why it should go through the usual procedures! You want to bypass the procedures because it won't get the result you want?! Deamon138 (talk) 00:41, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
I think you might want to look more closely at the list of policies. Many of those documents are just 'top-level' policies and guidelines, which subsequently include by reference more specific policies and guidelines not shown at Wikipedia:List of policies. (Perhaps the most dramatic example is Wikipedia:Naming conventions, which includes by reference conventions for every field from aircraft to ancient Romans.)
Virtually all of our policies are simply expansions on or explanations of our five central policies. In this case, the proposed policy appears to be an effort to explore the unique problems associated with presenting scientific issues. It touches on specific interpretations of WP:NOR, WP:NPOV, and WP:RS in the context of scientific topics and scientific sources; I think it provides useful guidance that wouldn't fit comfortably within the main pages of those other policies. TenOfAllTrades(talk) 01:56, 28 August 2008 (UTC)

I'm not so sure it shouldn't become a guideline. It makes plenty of stuff clear. Still, it doesn't really cover any new ground. Were it to answer my question below, and a few others which have not been answered, it might be of great value. One question it doesn't answer is the question of WEIGHT in fringe articles. Does mainstream science get the most weight, or does the subject? Are fringe sources, some of them self-published, OK for filling out the article, if properly attributed? This question should be directly addressed, as they are the kind of questions which cause trouble. In other words, there are lots of things this essay could address. But it doesn't address the ones which really matter, which really cause trouble. Sure, peer reviewed literature. But what kind? Which journals? Which scientists count? How do you define a scientist? These are things which we should talk about. These are the things it would help to straighten out. But the value so far here is redundant, and, if corrected to be consistent (see section below) would only function to make things a little easier to understand. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 02:26, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

I would propose instead of this guideline that a special dispute resolution team be put together for pseudoscience articles. It should include only people who both sides can say are neutral. Any takers? ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 02:35, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

No. That would give both sides equal control over the content, where information gleaned from experiments performed fully in line with the scientific method should be valued far above information gained via less formal and meticulous methods.--Father Goose (talk) 04:08, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
I see. Sides, control, equal, valued above..... Well, it's fine, it's just not Wikipedia. If that's what you're after, it will never pass muster, and you might as well give up on this. I guess that's why the suggestion to bypass the community. Too bad no one wants real solutions. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 04:32, 24 August 2008 (UTC)


Reply to everyone: the curent version of "scientific standards" is more or less current practice on most science articles. I agree that it has to be refined further. But I don't see many difficulties getting it accepted by consensus of editors on any individual wiki science article. Count Iblis (talk) 16:27, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

There's two basic situations where the guideline might apply as a science standard: Strictly scientific topics, and articles that aren't necessarily a science topic but which may contain references to scientific work. It's great for the run of the mill science article, but it's not very clear on what to do when it's just a regular topic that contains science information. It's also not clear about what to do when the topic is science, but there's notable viewpoints outside science on the topic as well, like evolution, etc.
It really needs a "Contextual relevancy" section before it can apply to a broad range of articles. Only by describing contextual relevancy will editors realize that a small blip about social and cultural responses might belong in the main evolution article, but virtually none belongs in more technical human evolution article. Likewise, only by describing contextual relevancy does an article about God not devolve into a God of the gaps article. Like I said above, it's not particularly sophisticated and needs to address some broader views. A contextual relevancy section would make it very solid. --Nealparr (talk to me) 16:57, 24 August 2008 (UTC)
Yes, it is of use on completely mainstream articles. But not necessary. This is made to solve problems on fringe articles. So plese don't ignore the problem with the term scientific consensus. It's huge. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 19:53, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

However, if it is not going to address anything new, and if it is not going address the problems which people have pointed out then- no, there is no reason to adopt this as a guideline, formally or informally. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 21:34, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

It might help to engage the community, respond to objections, and attempt to persuade rather than bypass. One objection that's been raised is this: peer=reviewed journals are presented as the most reliable sources and the best place to find consensus. But it doesn't really work this way. Peer-reviewed journals contain cutting-edge material which is more likely than material in tertiary sources to be subject to dispute and later correction. Journal articles might better be described as material in the first stage in the journey to becoming consensus material. Following initial publication, there may be a period of critique, dispute, and synthesis. Tertiary sources may be better places for consensus, established material. The emphasis both on what is consensus and established and on prestigious cutting-edge journals appear to be in tension. I am concerned that Wikipedia is being asked to adapt what appears to be an idealized view of science that may not be empirically based, a view of how it ought to work rather than how it does. Best, --Shirahadasha (talk) 14:57, 25 August 2008 (UTC)

I agree with Shirahadasha this page should explain the "standard" to which "science" should be presented. It is not the place to claim that the ever-evolving-scientific POV is the king NPOV. It more important to make sure editors are presenting "Science" correctly then beating back the hoards of non-believers. For this reason I have started a section describing how science actually deals with sources. Take a look at it Shirahadasha and see if it addresses your concerns and the others you note. I'm going to read through the page and make sure peer-reviewed articles are described in the correct context and not over valued. The source section I added is old hat to many of us but it important for a encyclopedia edits by everyone. I've seen the confusion over the value of a "patents" repeated many times. I'm of the school that asserts that science is a very very very important POV but it is still a POV with an underlying philosophy that might deserve some special recognition but must still be described as a POV.--OMCV (talk) 15:14, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
I don't see anything wrong with topics-based standards in multiple areas. We already do it in WP:N and WP:MoS, for example. ScienceApologist (talk) 01:22, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Notability standards set the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia articles, or the threshold for having articles on specific subject. But these do not attempt to set policy on how we treat these subjects... for that we have the core content policies of NPOV, V, and NOR. I would not oppose an expansion of WP:NATSCI or a similar one for scientific subjects, although we already have WP:FRINGE for that... ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 01:38, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
I will voice the support for this policy just to clear up proper sourcing on the science subjects. If you spend anytime on science talk pages the sources that people attempt to use are ridiculous. The policies already in place WP:V and WP:RS are disappointing to say the least when applied to science. There isn't a word so far in wikipedia policy dealing with "patents". People need an authority on how to write science for wikipedia. With some work this will be that authority.--OMCV (talk) 02:00, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Let's be reasonable Jossi. Have you seen any sort of religious standards outside of Wikipedia? Or political, or artistic? There's at least 5 major world religions, in America at least two large partisan political groups, and hundreds of approaches to artistic standards among critics. There's only one scientific community.
Besides, Wikipedia makes what is asked for by its community. The community has been clamoring for scientific standards. There hasn't been the same call for religious, political, or artistic standards (to my knowledge). --Nealparr (talk to me) 02:16, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Then make it just for articles whose subjects are scientific fields. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 02:35, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
@OMVC: WP:V and WP:RS are disappointing to say the least when applied to science. If that is the case, take the discussion to WT:V and WT:RS. I do not see how can you advocate for exceptions to scientific subjects.
@Nealparr: My point is, that for an encyclopedia that strives to be the sum all human knowledge, having specific standards for scientific subjects (that BTW, have as many disputes as religion, art, or politics, and as much heated debates) is not only unnecessary, but contra-productive. Or are you advancing the point that there is such a thing as scientific consensus in all scientific subjects? I don't think so... ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 03:25, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Perhaps there needs to be an overhaul of both WP:V and WP:RS. I don't know since I deal almost exclusively with science and science related articles. What I do know is that science needs sourcing rule clarification. I also know that scientific consensus is real although not ideal and susceptible to influence as Jossi pointed out (if you think bush's role is bad you should consider the role of funding agencies). Religion, art, history, law, politics, other philosophies, lack the same over arching consensus. The existence of this evolving consensus makes science special with special needs that should be addressed someplace.--OMCV (talk) 04:13, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
@Jossi: No, there's no consensus on every science topic, but scientists do work towards consensus on every science topic. There's still just one science community. On all those other topics you listed there's vast disagreement on approaches to their subject, and even vast disagreement on what the "subject" is in the cases of art and religion. There's definitely a consensus on science's approach. The scientific method is perennial whatever the field. I'm not sure that your argument takes the proposal as it is written. The parts that talk about consensus are reflections and clarifications of WP:UNDUE, which is already policy. It doesn't say to exclude anything. It says to defer to the majority, prominent opinion, not exclude minority opinion. Neither WP:UNDUE, WP:FRINGE, nor this proposal says to exclude anything. There's no radical changes to policy in this proposal (or at least the last time I read through it completely). If you find one, quote it, and I'll address it.
@Martinphi: Science standards should apply to scientific material, not science fields. Potentially an article about a child's toy could contain science information, like if the toy had some weird chemical in it that killed kids or something (just an example, albeit morbid). If it just applied to fields of science, it wouldn't apply to the material in that non- science field article? --Nealparr (talk to me) 04:45, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
No, there's no consensus on every science topic, but scientists do work towards consensus on every science topic - Sure, and as that is the case, articles about scientific subjects can describe that work toward consensus. For that we have NPOV and V. I do not see how we can have describe a "scientific standard" in WP beyond NPOV and V. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 17:33, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
You're right Jossi. Science articles shouldn't be treated specially over other articles. As I said above, "Look at Wikipedia:List of policies. Not a single other subject area gets its own policy. Why should science?" So I definitely think this shouldn't be policy, at the very least. I also don't think it should be a guideline per both WP:CREEP, and the fact that it does nothing other policies/guidelines don't already do. Deamon138 (talk) 23:54, 27 August 2008 (UTC)
Well actually biographies of living persons is one subject area that does have its own policy. But I don't see this policy as supplanting NPOV and V, rather expanding on them as to how they are applied to science articles. Just as we recognise we have a higher standard in regard to biography, we can recognise that science articles can and should be held to a high standard. In my view it will make it easier for people to edit science articles, they can see what level of sourcing is required, and not get frustrated when their op ed magazine reference is deleted as not a RS. We don't need to stop people editing Wikipedia, we just need to guide them as to how, so Wikipedia becomes a more reliable source. --Michael Johnson (talk) 01:05, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
We have WP:BLP because of WP:LIBEL. Besides, the points you make about this proposed guideline are already well covered in WP:FRINGE, WP:UNDUE, WP:PSCI, WP:REDFLAG, WP:NPOV, WP:SOAP, WP:MTAA, WP:NOT PAPERS etc. Why do we need one more? Deamon138 (talk) 01:18, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
(unindent) There we have it, 8 policies and counting. I'd say one very good reason for this proposed policy is clarity. You are right most of what is covered in this policy is covered, in a general way, in a multitude of other policies. But that is not very helpful. It is not helpful to the neophyte editor, who cannot understand why their popular magazine article, quite adequate on articles about Friends episodes, doesn't pass muster on Evolution articles. It doesn't help hardworking editors constantly trying to clear up after anon editors who believe "the encyclopaedia anyone can edit" means "I can write whatever I want where I want". It only really helps the POV pusher who wiki-lawyers their way around policies, trying to find that gap that will allow them to slip their POV in. Science is different from history, and dare I say it, Friends articles, in how policies are implemented. Not because science is "special", just because they operate differently at the academic level. There is surely nothing wrong in being specific and clear as to how. It is not being elitist, rather it is enabling. --Michael Johnson (talk) 02:16, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
No the current policies and guidelines haven't been shown to inadequate. Either we're duplicating current ones here, which makes no sense because:
  • The current ones apply to all topics, so why make a science specific one when the generalities work fine? Why do we need to talk specifically about fringe (amongst other things) in a science guideline, when WP:FRINGE can tell you about fringe in all topic areas, science or otherwise?
  • This page would be redundant if it doesn't offer anything new.
  • It is combining several policies and guidelines which sounds like the scientific version of WP:ATTRIBUTION which was never a good idea, and failed.
Or we're duplicating the content and adding more. If any new content is good it should have been proposed at and then maybe incorporated into say WP:FRINGE or wherever, instead of creating a new policy/guideline. It also sounds like pure instruction creep to me. Why do we need a ultra-specific policy/guideline on science when generalities work fine, when current policies work fine?
"It is not helpful to the neophyte editor, who cannot understand why their popular magazine article, quite adequate on articles about Friends episodes, doesn't pass muster on Evolution articles." You should be referring this editor to WP:V (a hugely well established policy), where it says, "Academic and peer-reviewed publications are highly valued and usually the most reliable sources in areas where they are available, such as history, medicine and science. Material from reliable non-academic sources may also be used in these areas, particularly if they are respected mainstream publications. The appropriateness of any source always depends on the context. Where there is disagreement between sources, their views should be clearly attributed in the text." There's your explanation. If we made this proposal, the content would still remain at WP:V, WP:FRINGE etc, so why duplicate it elsewhere? If this proposal went through, you would still have to show that editor where he's going wrong by linking to this policy. All that would change would be that you would present them with a different link. What the hell is the point of that? Essay plz. Deamon138 (talk) 15:49, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
I don't understand the argument that says that because someone can link to eight different places in an alphabet soup of blue links, a central source that pulls all those together specifically for a topical category is a bad thing. It just doesn't seem helpful to say go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and possibly some other places, and take your best guess as to how the community feels those guidelines apply to science articles, instead of simply going here: WP:SCIENCEGUIDE. The whole point of guidelines is to help editors. There's editors talking about how to improve the proposal so that it's a really good guideline, but I don't think the argument that no guideline is necessary because you can link to a whole bunch of other places has merit. --Nealparr (talk to me) 18:39, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
Hmmm, an essay, don’t think so, not enough time. But maybe a few more thoughts. Of course WP:V is central to editing Wikipedia, and I agree it is very comprehensive. But how we apply WP:V varies amongst subject areas. There is nothing wrong in this, after all we deal with different subject areas differently, in academia, and in life. Some examples:
  • At a very simplistic level, there is a right answer in science (even if we don’t know what it is), but there is no right answer in humanities. A science article is about explaining that right answer, while a humanities article should be more of a conversation about the ideas associated with the subject. For instance, Gibbon can still be read with profit on the fall of the Roman Empire, but not Lamarck on Evolution. Clearly the demands of verification are much higher in science than in humanities.
  • This then has implications for the application of NPOV. In the humanities a NPOV demands different views are expressed, but to put up an alternative view to the “right” answer in science isn’t applying a NPOV, it is misleading the reader.
  • More than this, the attention of POV pushers and others to science articles, results in higher levels of verification, if for no other reason than to exclude them.
So the way we apply WP:V and other policies is different from how we apply it in other articles. Even if we were in the position of demanding in-line citations in all articles, there would still be differences. One thing that must be said is that the proposed policy is de-facto already being applied in many science articles. To have these procedures documented and available for ready reference would make life very much easier on science articles, and a lot less confusing to new editors. I agree with Neilparr, why not have a one stop shop. Deamon138 rightly points out that we have WP:BLP because of the problems of libel. But it can also be said that WP:BLP would not be necessary if WP:V was rigorously applied. Maybe the consequences are not as dire, but this policy will, I repeat, give clarity to science editors, and that will be a great benefit. --Michael Johnson (talk) 06:34, 29 August 2008 (UTC)
"There is a right answer" - not exactly. We need to distinguish a concensus that "a given experimental result is reproducible" (valid data) from a concensus that "a theoretical model is correct". The former can be achieved very often (with some exceptions) by the application of rigorous experimental discipline. The latter is a logical impossibility. The most we can hope for in the testing of theoretical models is to have valid data that does not contradict the model. LeadSongDog (talk) 16:34, 29 August 2008 (UTC)
Agree entirely. I did say "simpliticly". The point is until such time as that model is knocked off its perch by new data, then that should be the "right" answer for Wikipedia. (addendum) I don't want to get into a discussion about the nature of science, and by simplifying things I guess all I wanted to say is that while science is very much fact based, much of the humanities is opinion based, and that affects how we apply WP:V and WP:NPOV, and this should be documented. --Michael Johnson (talk) 21:40, 29 August 2008 (UTC)

Scientific consensus

I wouldn't have a problem with this essay so much, were the definition of scientific consensus strictly adhered to. But I hear far too much the idea that, because the broader scientific community hasn't integrated or accepted something, that it therefore isn't scientific, or isn't a scientific consensus. I'm talking here about the difference between mainstream and fringe science. What if you have a science that studies something that the mainstream doesn't know about, or doesn't believe in? I think one could have plenty of examples, from aspects of psychology, neurology, paranormal, etc. I think even most scientists believe in a creator of the universe. Now, is this the scientific consensus? Not at all, as it isn't based on science. So is a rejection or non-integration of certain scientific findings or fields a scientific consensus? Not at all- a scientific consensus needs to be based on something. When we have a fringe peer-review journal, such as one devoted to a particular form of surgery, should we say that it is not as good a source for that field as a more general publication? In such a case, references to it in other media will be mostly lacking. Is it really less reliable? The same can be said, of course, for peer-review journals on fringe sciences, such as those of parapsychology. Are they less reliable than mainstream sources for parapsychological topics? "Scientific consensus" is the consensus of scientists in the field or sub-field, and scientists outside that field may not know of, be experts in, or believe in its results. That is the reason scientific consensus is restricted to scientists in the field.

This is not an argument for anything. It is just a question: where are you going to draw the line? Are experts in their fields the most reliable sources, or is the general opinion of scientists everywhere, in other fields, more reliable? Are references in other journals really a good way of determining the respectability of a source? Perhaps Wikipedia as a whole does not need to answer these questions. But this essay surely does. This essay is basically, as I see it, an argument that the mainstream of science regardless of the specialization is most reliable, to the detriment of specialization. It is also an argument that the opinion of mainstream scientists regardless of specialization, is an accurate indicator of whether a specialized field is worthy or not. I'm leaving out many arguments that one might make to refute what I'm saying, but I think people will see that I'm right about the general drift. This has to be answered here, though not in Wikipedia in general.

This essay is an argument for the general mainstream scientific community being the arbiter of scientific consensus, not the scientific consensus as generally defined. That is it's greatest weakness, and must be fixed before it can be anything except the opinion of a few editors.

I'll go through and point out other problems, and/or explicate:

The expert provides technical background, and the layman helps determine what clarification is needed for non-technical understanding.

IOW, this subtly puts the expert in charge. Not WP tradition.

however, it is important that we accurately describe how scientists have received each other's work.

Scientists are here seen as a monolith. Scientists in a given field would otherwise need to be substituted.

In science there is a hierarchy of accepted ideas. The most widely held view, the scientific consensus or paradigm with the widest support among scientists should be explained first in the topic's main article, followed by alternative scientific theories weighted appropriately. Explanations should also be proportional to the level of acceptance, and if necessary split off into a content fork.

This again sets up "science in general" above specialization. Thus, it is a basic contradiction in the article: peer review goes on among specialists, yet the article says that the general opinion of scientists is what's important.

It also makes false equation of scientific consensus with general scientific opinion. For an essay which supposedly is based on the reality of scientific practice, this is a very basic error.

Editors wishing to assert the existence of a consensus on a particular scientific topic must demonstrate that independent, reliable sources have reached the same conclusion.

They could also just find a statement by a scientific organization which speaks for the field.

"claims presented so that they appear [to be] scientific even though they lack supporting evidence and plausibility."

Shermer is free to define it how he likes. Leaving aside whether he's an authority, the word plausibility is very important here, and one should note that much of science is implausible.

Wikipedia editors must be careful to clearly separate science from pseudoscience in articles and to explain the criteria for distinction.

Yes.... if they can do so without doing original research. This should be made plain.

A very clear distinction needs to be made here between articles on pseudoscience and articles on mainstream subjects. In this section, the article is clear it's talking about the specific field of study in question. That, at least, is good.

but care should be taken to clearly attribute the views of proponents without implying that such views are actually statements of fact.

This is fine. It should also make clear that care must be taken not to take sides at all. Thus, scientific views need also to be attributed and sourced. It should make clear that extreme attribution is often used to bias articles.

In contrast, less descriptive detail (or none at all) should be included in articles that are not strictly about a pseudoscience if the pseudoscience in question is not as prominent as other ideas.

This is good. The principle is that WEIGHT is relative to the subject of the article. It is good that this essay incorporates that principle.

done so that the most reliable and best summary of the available observations, data, and theories is presented without editorializing.

Well and good, but still begs the question about what is best. Is best what John Doe scientists happens to believe, or what appears in the peer review literature? And which peer-review literature? Are publications in the field more accurate, or are general publications more accurate?

Scientific controversies; controversial subjects within the scientific community, e.g. nature-nurture controversy.

Again, what is the scientific community?

The marginalization and ignoring of minority opinions about observable reality that occurs within the academic communities that use the scientific method should be reflected in Wikipedia.

Get serious. WP is not paper, and can include plenty of articles on fringe ideas.

For truly scientific controversial topics

Yet again, what is this "science."

The rule of thumb is if the perspective is making a claim about an observable phenomenon, the default reference should be to a source that has attempted to use the scientific method to vet the claim.

Nah. Science is notable, but not in all cases. Other people already challenged this.

Only if the article happens upon a subject which is unequivocally subject to scientific evidence should such evidence be presented.

Heh. What isn't subject to scientific evidence? I rather think that in such matters as the virgin birth science is not very notable. It's just as fringe an idea as cold fusion is in the Nuclear fusion article: hardly worth a mention. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 22:24, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

Another problem you could address: What is the meaning of "mainstream?" When one hears it, it usually is an appeal to whatever anyone wants it to be. This is really at the heart of problems: You don't apply "mainstream" to the Evolution article, you apply "Scientific mainstream." You don't apply "mainstream" to the Atheism article, you apply "Athiestic mainstream." Yet, people want to apply "scientific mainstream" to fringe topics to the extent that the scientific mainstream takes over the bulk of the article. At the same time, it is said that science has no special place on Wikipedia. This is a problem which should be directly addressed. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 04:43, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

Second to last paragraph

Articles not directly related to science sometimes reference observable reality. In such cases, scientific explanations should be referenced when available. When the dominant perspective within the cultural norm is counter to scientific data, observations, and theory, this fact should be pointed out. The rule of thumb is if the perspective is making a claim about an observable phenomenon, the default reference should be to a source that has attempted to use the scientific method to vet the claim. In some instances it may appear superficially that a scientific reference is not as reliable as the non-scientific alternative. For example, a refutation of a perpetual motion machine claim made by a scientist in a public lecture may not appear as reliable as the patent obtained by the builder of the device. It is up to the editors of Wikipedia to carefully distinguish between independent reviews and partisan sources. In general, independent critics should be considered more reliable than those hoping to legitimize their revolutionary claims.

What is the intent of this passage? Is it to prevent editors from claiming science doesn't apply to fictitious technology? I don't think anyone has any doubt that if something involves technology it warrants the treatment of the science POV. Is there another type of article that is "not directly related to science" but still needs a healthy dose of science? The statements concerning the weighting of sources is dealt with more directly with the "sources" section I added. Further more wikipedia is not a debunking or vetting tool. We present the debunking and vetting of others. Remember we don't do science here we report on it. As it now stands, this paragraph doesn't serve a purpose. I deleted it but my deletion was undone and I was directed here. Would someone delete this paragraph?--OMCV (talk) 18:49, 25 August 2008 (UTC)

I support the removal of this paragraph. I strongly disagree with the non-NPOV "rule of thumb" that it proposes. Gandalf61 (talk) 20:50, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
I concur. SPOV is not inherently superior to other POVs. Additionally, the paragraph itself is somewhat unclear. J. Langton (talk) 21:54, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
I think that one has to keep in mind that scientists do not go about debunking every claim that violates well established theories. So, you cannot use the usual wiki rules for NPOV, OR etc., because that will lead to a bias in favor of pseudoscientific claims. If sme scientist claims to have made a perpetuum mobile, you can expect that many reliable sources will report on that. Some scientist may write on his private blog that this the apparatus is baloney. The usual wiki rules favor the reliable sources and value the blog less as a reliable source.
So, the last few sentences:

It is up to the editors of Wikipedia to carefully distinguish between independent reviews and partisan sources. In general, independent critics should be considered more reliable than those hoping to legitimize their revolutionary claims.

Are indeed necessary. In practice, we already stick to such rules on the science articles on wikipedia. Some time ago a claim that special elativity appeared in many newspapers. Someone wanted to include that in the wiki aticle on special relativity, but I and others argued that that would be a bad idea. We didn't even need counter claims. Count Iblis (talk) 23:02, 25 August 2008 (UTC)
I would suggest that the exceptions for acceptable use of WP:SPS might come to the rescue in a situation such as you describe: an expert writing in a blog could in general have weight comparable to the inexpert reporting of a journalist. In any case, the purpose of WP:IAR is, as far as I can see, to allow for the type of situation you describe without haveing to create an entirely new, and largely superfluous, official policy. J. Langton (talk) 00:13, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

"The rule of thumb is if the perspective is making a claim about an observable phenomenon, the default reference should be to a source that has attempted to use the scientific method to vet the claim." That bit particularly, is too SPOV for me. Observable phenomenon? 99% of this encyclopaedia is about those. Hell, David Beckham is an observable phenomenon. Deamon138 (talk) 23:56, 25 August 2008 (UTC)

I killed the paragraph. I also wanted to say that I like the intro better now then the last version I worked on. Nice work.--OMCV (talk) 01:41, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
There seems to be an emerging consensus that "observable phenomena" is too wide a scope for this proposal. I have been bold and removed that phrase form the lead paragraph too. Gandalf61 (talk) 08:41, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
I agree. --Shirahadasha (talk) 21:57, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
I think it should be limited to articles whose subject is a scientific discipline. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 22:04, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
What about related technology?--OMCV (talk) 22:13, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

Some suggestions based on my experience with editing scientific wiki articles

I think that most of the current discussions here are too much focussed on potential conflicts between SPOV and NPOV, the issue of pseudoscience like Homeopathy, Creationism etc. etc.. Of course, this is partially due to ScienceApologist who has written up his guidelines partially with such conflicts in mind. Although this is indeed a problem that should be addressed, we also need to look at how the bulk of the science articles that are not controversial at all have performed over the years. This is the only way we can find out what works and what doesn't work.

I've been involved in only a small subset of the science articles. My impression is that only the articles written by experts are of high quality (which I define as containing accurate and useful information, it may be very badly written and unencyclopedic according to non-expert wikipedians). The really bad articles that I've seen (bad = containing inaccurate/misleading information, I don't care how well written it is) were many articles on thermodynamics. I've corrected/rewritten all these articles. A few examples of the affected articles:

Internal energy


this was the flawed version

Just check out the nonsensical statement about U(S,V) being extensive. It is only extensive if you include the number of particles in the system: U(S, V, N) is extensive. The whole argument was based on an abuse of Euler's theorem. There were other mistakes as well that I corrected.

Now, you may say that this is no big deal, a mistake got corrected, happens all the time. But check out this version of may 2006. It is almost exactly the same as the latest flawed version. The error was left there for more than two years! For two years, people searching for internal energy on google were led to believe that U = T S - PV!

Now, if it were only internal energy that contained this big error for a long time, it wouldn't merit dicussion here. Sadly, more articles were affected:

Helmholtz free energy


this was the flawed version

Quote from the flawed version: "For a process which is not reversible, the energy will be smaller than its equilibrium value". I still do not understand how on Earth such a nonsensical statement could have been left in the article. t led to inequalites where you should have equalities in the equations. This error was made not just in this wiki article, but on many more wiki thermodynamics articles. It can even be found on many of the wiki clones on the internet.

The derivation of the minimum free energy principle was based on that flawed inequality, so it was rubbish from A to Z. If we go back two years in time see here we see a very simlar flawed version.

Final example:

Fundamental thermodynamic relation


This was originally entitled "combined law of thermodynamics", which is not the name used in the scientific literature. Also, it was given in the form of an inequality, which is nonsense. It is an equality.

this was the flawed version

As you can see it links to Wolfram's world of science site, which probably took the flawed equation from this very wikipedia article itself (it also has the title "combined law of thermodynamics", which apart from wikipdia and wolfram can only be found on the wiki clones).

And just like in case fo Helmholtz free energy and Internal energy, we can see pretty much the same flawed version if we go back two year's in time

More thermodynamics articles were affected by similar very serious errors which were not corrected for two, sometimes three years. To me this points to a fundamental failure of how wikipedia functions. The wiki rules are not very helpful and the attitude of the editors was not good.

In all the other science articles, the editors do not stick to the usual wiki rules and similar problems were prevented. E.g. in the special relativity article an editor came along last year, making some changes (which were flawed and were reverted by us). However, he was arguing on the basis of wiki law that his version should stand, because it was all well sourced etc. etc. Now, the issue was ultimately settled, not by following wiki rules, but by discussing physics on the talk page.

Such discussions never happened on the talk pages of the affected thermodynamics articles. No one ever noticed the errors in the first place. The errors were sourced, so I guess people were thinking that nothing could be wrong. That's why when I rewrote the affected articles I left out references and gave derivations from first principles instead. The lack of references may lead to people being motivated to check things.

Given what I've seen, I think we should include the following points in the Scientific Standards guidelines:

  • "Editors of a wiki article on a scientific subject should be experts in that subject. If you make substantial edits to such a article, you should be absolutely sure that you have completely mastered the subject you are writing about."

Clearly, the people who wrote the nonsense in the thermodynamics articles did not understand what they were writing. It may be the case that the nonsense they were writing was copied from other sources, but then either those sources were flawed or it was taken out of context. Either way, the only way the errors could have been prevented if the editors had been experts, which means that they should have been able to derive all of the thermodynamics they were writing about from first principles.

We also need this:

  • Wikipedians are encouraged to engage in technical discussions on the talk page. Such technical discussions may be used to improve the article.


When explaining something, you can rarely find that exact argument you are making in some textbook. So, synthesis must be allowed, if we want to include detailed arguments and derivations. And the reason why we want to include such detailed arguments/derivations is precisely to make sure we don't get nonsensical statements whose veracity is seemingly implied by a ref.

This means we need a rule that says that we don't need to cite techical arguments/derivations:

  • Detailed arguments/derivations don't have to be sourced if included to make statements verifiable. In that case they are not included as encyclopedic content whose veracity should be verifiable to non-experts who are not able to understand the derivation/argumentation.

Of course, you don't want non-experts to use these rules to engage in OR. But then, as pointed out in the first rule, non-experts should not write wiki articles on scientific topics. Count Iblis (talk) 01:46, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

Editors of a wiki article on a scientific subject should be experts in that subject. If you make substantial edits to such a article, you should be absolutely sure that you have completely mastered the subject you are writing about. Not a hapening thing... This is not the way that Wikipedia works. You may want to consider editing Citizendium ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 01:50, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
See also WP:EXPERT ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 01:54, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
An expert (as I meant above) is someone who has mastered the subject, we are not going to check that. It is a guideline we ask editors stick to, much like the COI guideline. You don't need to send your CV to Jim Wales. You don't need to be a Prof. to be an expert. A good example is editor SBHarris, who is an expert in some physics topics. He is not a physicist, he is a medical doctor. But he has read and mastered quite a lot of physics. He was the one who noted the errors on the relativity page and he, I and some others discussed the physics with that editor who could only argue on the basis of wiki law. Count Iblis (talk) 01:59, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Yes, but jossi acknowledge where he's coming from, which is that these articles suck. I also would like this to be the case, as it would solve my problems in parapsychology as well, which are mainly caused by non-expert editors who have no sources but have strong POVs, and the fact that the experts have been entirly driven away. So I sympathize with him completely. I know it isn't going to happen on WP, but I would make it happen if I could. I would at the least have stable versions of articles. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 02:04, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
wiki law? What is that? You are going about this the wrong way ... sure, eventually someone will find the errors an correct them. After all, this is a wiki. ≈ jossi ≈ (talk) 03:19, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Well, serious errors were left in the articles for two years, so it is plausible that the errors could have been left in the article for another decade. Now, it may be that from the perspective of Wikipedia this is no big deal, that editing using the "Wiki Law" is like playing a game while sticking to the rules of that game.
But Wikipedia is not an isolated Island on the internet. Just think about the damage such flawed articles on basic scientific subjects does to school children. There must have been children who were doing well at school and were ahead, who read the flawed articles and are now at university and find themselves having to unlearn the nonsense they read.
Replying by: "People should not trust Wikipedia", is not valid criticism. If you google for a subject, usually the wiki page comes on top. Also, it is usually the only available source that explain things in detail on the internet. While other more reliable printed sources always exist, the average 15 year old cannot easily access university level textbooks. So, it would be irresponsible for Wikipedia not to correct this problem. Count Iblis (talk) 13:38, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
So fix it.... Correcting errors in articles is the domain of editors, and you are one of them.... :) 17:35, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
I have been informed that even putting WP content under much better rules (which allowed everyone input but which also created more stable, vetted accurate articles) would fail. It seems to have to do with getting people to edit in the first place. No one will edit till a lot of people are editing. Thus, all such sites are doomed. If that were not the case, I'd have done it by now, and in a way which preserved all the dynamic properties of Wikipedia while informing the reader fully of where the information was coming from, and ranking knowledge as to reliability, consensus, and also how much fact checking the articles have undergone. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 22:10, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
  • Hugely massively strongest oppose to any attempt to limit the editing of any area of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, to only experts. NEVER! Deamon138 (talk) 00:01, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
    • I can give you some examples of some people who edit Wikipedia to introduce so many errors that it is almost preposterous. And yet, there isn't a single behavior guideline which addresses this problem. What do we do when someone comes to Wikipedia with an agenda to get Tesla's weirder ideas mentioned at every page that discusses electricity? What do we do when a person who thinks they have proved Einstein wrong insists on inserting their ideas over and over again into articles about relativity? Those edits are obviously bad edits, but people like you and me with their heads screwed on right aren't allowed to take them explicitly to task for inserting idiocy into the encyclopedia. In fact, we get chastised for telling them to stop since it is the encyclopedia that "anyone can edit". I guess what I'm saying is that just because anyone can edit doesn't mean that anyone should edit. There is a big difference. And I'm not saying that only experts should edit Wikipedia articles. I'm saying that when someone continually violates editorial standards we should be able to point to some guideline or policy which says that this kind of editor is one that shouldn't be editing in that way. ScienceApologist (talk) 19:15, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
      • SA, we already can do all that. If someone adds some crackpot theory (by Tesla or whoever), then show them WP:FRINGE, WP:UNDUE or WP:PSCI (whichever takes your fancy or is most applicable). If someone adds that they're proved Einstein wrong, then show them WP:OR. If someone is adding things over and over again (i.e. edit warring), then report them to someone, or block them if you're an admin. And if someone "continually violates editorial standards" then show them the standard they are violating. These standards already exist. I get it that it's frustrating having to explain the same things over and over again, but if a user ignores you when you say "Hey WP:NPOV", then they aren't gonna listen when you say, "Hey WP:Scientific standards". And if the same user is causing lots of trouble, then there are people and processes with the power to sort them out completely. Deamon138 (talk) 01:24, 29 August 2008 (UTC)
        • As you point out, the reasons why people who are trying to be content editors when they shouldn't be content editors are wrong are found in a variety of places. We can run around in circles for ages Wikilawyering the subject to death. Or we can ask them to consider whether they actually understand what they are doing. What we are addressing here is the occasional good-natured young person who goes out on a limb and, with seemingly an endless amount of time on their hands, begins to reposition articles with errors in them. This is the problem I have. Committed cranks will not go away whether we have a new policy or not, but I am of the opinion that there are a few people who were major headaches who might have been turned right if we could have just turned them to a policy/guideline that said 'hey, help where you know you can help the best and leave the rest to others'. It's WP:COMMONSENSE, but it's surprising how often we run up against well-meaning individuals who take the "anybody can edit" mantra as license to inflict major reliability damage on Wikiepdia -- sometimes without really understanding what they are doing! ScienceApologist (talk) 15:43, 29 August 2008 (UTC)
Well, I don't see how you can identify "people who are trying to be content editors when they shouldn't be content editors" without some way to verify editors' real-life credentials. Also it seems to drive a coach-and-horses through "verifiability, not truth" - do we start accepting unsourced edits by "experts", or give them some additional editorial powers over articles ? Sounds as if this is heading in the direction of the Citizendium "community of experts" model. Of course, as a mere editor of mathematics articles, I am probably not qualified to express an opinion here ... Gandalf61 (talk) 16:18, 29 August 2008 (UTC)
We don't have to identify them. They'll identify themselves. I wish you would stop holding a grudge against me. ScienceApologist (talk) 21:44, 29 August 2008 (UTC)
No grudge here. I am simply highlighting the consistently elitist, arrogant and condescending flavour of your arguments. But then I am simply a well-meaing individual who takes "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" at face value, so what do I know. Gandalf61 (talk) 22:22, 29 August 2008 (UTC)
Now you're name-calling with a thinly disguised ruse of attaching a string of invectives to my "arguments". Why? ScienceApologist (talk) 22:51, 29 August 2008 (UTC)
Now you are changing the subject and going off at an ad hominen tangent, apparently to avoid dealing with the charge that you are promoting an elitist "expert editors" model similar to the Citizendium model. If you wish to have a discussion about my behaviour (as opposed to the substance of my arguments) then take it to my talk page or elsewhere - it is not relevant on this discussion page. Gandalf61 (talk) 09:47, 30 August 2008 (UTC)
    • Elaborate-adjectival-phrase rejection of what appear to be kneejerk defenses of the rights of ignoramuses and cranks to screw up Wikipedia articles until politely reverted (with "AGF"). The integrity of a Wikipedia article for its readers is hugely more important than any psychotherapeutic role the article might have as a place where ignorant people such as myself can flatter themselves that they understand what they're "contributing". I can of course read and (to some degree) understand newspaper articles about the latest breakthroughs in physics, but this doesn't mean that I'm competent to add to the relevant WP articles. With a mostly forgotten A-level in the subject, my understanding of physics is inadequate for more than defending those articles against the most conspicuous vandalism and silliness, and for minor stylistic work here and there; my fellow ignoramuses should do the same. -- Hoary (talk) 01:11, 29 August 2008 (UTC)

Some Criticism

I have some serious problems with this policy, which I will outline below. First off, there is too great of a focus on “Peer reviewed” journal articles. I am certainly inclined to agree that peer reviewed articles do carry a good deal of weight, but to claim them as the be-all-end-all of scientific research is to severely overestimate what the peer review process is all about. Let the Bogdanov Affair be a valuable lesson of what happens when it is believed that peer review is an infallible process. Also, reviewers are not without cognitive biases that cause them to overvalue research that agrees with their own preconceived notions. Since this is the internet age, there is more to being WP:RS than simply being peer reviewed. In the context of Global Warming, the consensus there is that the blog Real Climate is a reliable source, though it is not peer reviewed.

In today’s highly politicized world, where funding comes from governments, and never without the constant concern that researchers must produce results, and where Journal editors and heads of academic societies have personal views on some scientific topics, it is foolhardy to claim that we can only accept peer reviewed articles. If we do, such articles instead become a club by which to silence dissenters. Because in that world, we end up on a slippery slope where first we only allow peer reviewed articles, and then we make judgments as to what journals themselves merit inclusion (peruse Global Warming talk pages to get an idea of what I mean). Now, I do not propose to allow anything to enter into a science article. This would lead to madness and to many terribly written articles. What I do propose is instead that we stand by the tried and true Wikipedia methods, where discussion occurs, rather than completely appealing to the heavy hand of technical experts who wish to own the article or use their supposed expertise to claim that their version must be correct. Once again, no one is infallible. Secondly, to argue to a consensus in science is certainly fallacious. It is both an Appeal to the majority and an Appeal to Authority. We would certainly be remiss if we claimed that, in science, the consensus view on a matter was the correct view. But of course, Wikipedia does not speak to the truth of matters, it speaks to the verifiability of statements. As such, referring to a “consensus” becomes an unverifiable claim, since it is nothing more than a synthesis of knowledge available in a field. Not only that, it limits articles from being able to include any criticism or potentially groundbreaking research, since the claim can be made that it “does not agree with the consensus.” Consensus too becomes a club for stifling disagreement.

There is little in this proposed policy not covered already by existing policies. Any suggested additions only serve to become a means to bypass the standard Wikipedia method of debating and reaching an agreement on article wording. Instead, it becomes simply another policy that can be used to silence anyone who who wants to Be Bold.Bakaprod (talk) 15:22, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

I don't agree here. Peer review is certainly not perfect. However, the question is whether the problems in the peer reviewed sector are dealt with within that sector. Do we have to rely on non-peer reviewed sources to find out that the contents of Bogdanov's articles were rubbish? I don't think so! The same is true for papers published by a few others in Nature that turned out to be based on fraudulent research. Nature retracted the papers and published a statement about that.
If we allow non-peer reviewed sources we are far worse off. Global Warming is a good example. Although some editors do regard Real Climate asa reliable source, this is not really a consensus on that page. It is only tolerated in some rare corcumstances and then it must discuss peer reviewed papers. Of course, when the article discusses economics then non-peer reviewed sources can be used. But statements about science must also be cited from the peer reviewed literature.
This is because the non-peer reviewed sources are so hugely unreliable. E.g. The Wall Street Journal editorials on Global Warming usually contain nonsensical junk. This is an extreme example, but also on other scientific topics, it is the case that newspapers are usually only cited by Professors when they want to give an example of some common misunderstanding to students in class. :) Count Iblis (talk) 16:12, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
I reiterate my earlier comment that expert opinion, regardless of whether it appears on a self-published blog or in a peer-reviewed article, should be considered reliable, at least insofar as their opinion as an expert is notable and a self-published source is a reliable indicator of that (expert) opinion. As a caveat, I think that any non-peer-reviewed source needs to be clearly identified as such. In fact, I would argue that in general, the nature of the sources for a particular statement need to be more clearly identified in the text.
This is not to say that peer-reviewed literature should not have the greatest weight in scientific articles. But including only peer-reviewed articles as sources leaves the reader with a somewhat incomplete, and likely distorted, view of the state of the science. J. Langton (talk) 16:25, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
On second thoughts, I was just thinking about some of the logistical difficulties that would be involved in allowing self-published expert opinion, e.g., how do you decide who's an expert? how do you decide what fields of expertise are relevant to a particular article? and how do you avoid violating WP:OR? So, while I think there are a lot of problems with using on peer-reviewed literature as sources in scientific topics, other criteria will introduce even more problems. J. Langton (talk) 16:33, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
@Count Iblis: Yes, non-peer reviewed sources are unreliable. But it isn’t the job of Wikipedia to discuss truth, only verifiability. Granted, there should be no inclusion of sources which make outlandish statements. However, say hypothetically speaking, a retired professor with no interest in publishing, but a huge interest in writing on their subject of expertise wishes to write a blog which makes valid criticisms of peer reviewed science. Should we not include said information, and leave the reader to decide if it is valid? The question is of verifiability, not of truth. No one should be here to handhold the reader, but to present to them what the experts in the field are saying. This can and should include non-peer reviewed material, provided it is discussed and a consensus is reached by the editors. Translation: not all good ideas are necessarily peer reviewed, and not all peer reviewed ideas are necessarily good.
@J. Langton: In regards to the determination of who is an expert and who is not, that’s what article editors and consensus is all about! People who regularly edit articles, or have expertise in a particular field, also have knowledge as to who the experts are. Publishing a journal article does not make one an expert in a particular field, it only indicates that they had a novel idea for research (don’t take me 100% literally there please). Academics who write blogs have no problem brandishing their credentials for all to see. Article editors will be able to make reasoned decisions in regards to these topics.Bakaprod (talk) 17:30, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
@J. Langton: This issue with sourcing is perhaps the most important reason to have this policy. For example you are saying that realclimate is an authentic source. It is an authentic non-primary source to find rapid analysis from experts. It is fundamentally a review of the primary research found in peer-reviewed journals when the primary source is science and else ware when it concerns economics, policy, or ect. The blog can't be treated as more than the author's opinion although it directs the reader to primary sources. This changes when the analysis is corroborated by other non-primary sources. Then its on its way to consensus. The whole idea of secondary and tertiary sources is flawed, sources don't move away from the primary in incremental steps like that. Take a look at the contextual description of the potentials sources in this proposed policy it might help with your thinking on sourcing. For example it puts primary sources and various non-primary sources into context. Primary sources are not a good source for consensus even if they are the origin of the the data, ideas, and information. Like you said real climate might be one of the best places to find current expert analysis. This analysis is the sort of information which wikipedia should be looking for especially when it can be corroborated by other sources.--OMCV (talk) 17:34, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

← Every now and then someone argues against a reliance on peer-reviewed sources in the science articles. Usually it's tied to advocacy for an agenda that is notably unsupported in the peer-reviewed literature. The bottom line from Wikipedia's standpoint is remarkably simple: reliability is defined by the existence of a mechanism for fact-checking and editorial oversight, and by a reputation for accurate and quality information. An article published in a peer-reviewed journal has been looked at by experts in the relevant field. It was accepted by journal editors who have a vested interest in the accuracy of the work they publish. Its accuracy is guaranteed by the fact that the editors will amend or retract it if it's later proven to be incorrect or fundamentally flawed. Those are all hallmarks of reliability as Wikipedia defines the term. A blog, on the other hand, is vouched for by no one but the author, and there's really no outside fact-checking or mechanism by which false or incorrect information is reliably addressed. MastCell Talk 18:25, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

Don't forget the quality of the publication is important to (Nature, PhysRevA, etc above Homeopathy). Verbal chat 18:37, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
If wikipedia reported on everything that appeared in peer-reviewed journals wikipedia would be an outlet for cutting edge research which might sound good but is surely not quite right. Peer-reviewed journals are the best primary source really the only primary source for science. The jornals do have some amount of editorial oversight, but if you do research you will see that at least half of peer reviewed articles are below average. Jokes aside a peer-reviewed journal indicates that the material is worth consideration. The articles of value get cited many times, spawn further research, get translated into non-primary sources, and become part of the academic curriculum. The rest are forgotten. Many are forgotten for good reason, such as being poor work or just plain wrong. Wikipedia isn't looking for cutting edge information its looking for established material suitable for an encyclopedia. Which means that wikipedia should reference peer-reviewed primary sources, but only after many other non-primary sources have done the same. The best citation are generally peer-reviewed reviews which focus on primary sources with the "reliability...defined by the existence of a mechanism for fact-checking and editorial oversight, and by a reputation for accurate and quality information" combined with bonus component of the unstated consensus.--OMCV (talk) 19:20, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
The best citation are generally peer-reviewed reviews. In general that's true, but you have to be careful that the reviews aren't done by individuals with axes to grind. Better when they're done by large-ish teams that aren't self-selected. In my field, those would be include the IPCC reports or the series of reports from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. (The latter even compiles reviews of the reviews; being involved in one of those reports is almost like entering a hall of mirrors.) Curiously those who argue for a, uh, "balanced" treatment of climate change issues passionately despise the IPCC. Basil "Basil" Fawlty (talk) 04:54, 27 August 2008 (UTC)

(unindent)There is no argument here against relying on peer-reviewed sources. Certainly there is much to be gleaned from them. The argument is against making a broad generalization that it can only be included if it is peer-reviewed. What this implies is that we automatically accept, prima facie, the value of a peer-reviewed journal article. This isn’t a huge concern if you’re talking about subjects like Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, where some of the papers have been published for at least a hundred years. The real problem occurs when discussing modern, highly politicized topics like Global Warming, where the majority of references are a few years old, at best. Of course, the reasonable reply is that if research is groundbreaking enough, it will end up being included, no matter what it determines. But it seems to be a bit of a Catch-22, to state: “the majority of scientists agree with the anthropogenic cause of recent warming,” and then to state: “there is a lack of peer-reviewed material to support inclusion of a dissenting point of view.” Certainly the peer-reviewers must fall under the umbrella of the first statement. It becomes a bit of begging the question. Once again, my point is simply that it is not the best way to go, to make such a blanket policy statement requiring ONLY peer-reviewed articles, when, case by case, it might not be completely warranted.Bakaprod (talk) 13:06, 27 August 2008 (UTC)

Sorry this does not make a lot of sense. Firstly how long does a paper have to be around till it is acceptable? And what about recent papers in "old" subjects? To my knowledge concern about global warming has been around for about 30 years. Is a 30 year old paper relating to global warming more or less acceptable than a 5 year old paper on quantum mechanics? And whatever the age of the paper what makes a peer reviewed paper less reliable than a self-published paper? And in any case using global warming as an example ignores the fact that global warming is not “a science” but draws from a number of sciences, many older than quantum mechanics. Lastly the “catch 22” seems to be saying that because most scientists have come to the conclusion that global warming exists, they are not producing peer reviewed papers that form a contrary view, therefore we have to allow non-peer reviewed articles. Why? Balance? Surely this is the point? If there is scientific consensus, this is partly demonstrated by the weight of peer reviewed papers. This is not some form of conspiracy, just the way things are. I would agree that peer reviewed papers are not required for all articles, but the more contentious and more technical the subject, the better the sources required. --Michael Johnson (talk) 22:45, 27 August 2008 (UTC)
Another problem is that academic journals require novelty. An article that summarize the obvious consensus is not accepted for publication. Therefore, accepted standard reference works, encyclopedias and handbooks from academic publishers must also be accepted. MaxPont (talk) 06:26, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
MaxPont's first statement paints with a broad brush and is on its face demonstrably false. Review articles explicitly eschew novelty. However, I agree that encyclopedias and handbooks can be good starting points as references. ScienceApologist (talk) 19:09, 28 August 2008 (UTC)

Minor problem

There's a problem with this: "In situations where sources demonstrate legitimate scientific disagreement that is relatively equal in proportion, no claim of consensus should be made."

What if there is 10% disagreement? That might be a consensus. What about 25%? That's not. It's subjective where we draw the line, and I think we need to stick to only citing a scientific consensus when there are sources sufficient to that statement, like from the association of scientists for that field or whatever. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 21:17, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

If there is no doubt in the consensus then edicts are never made by association of scientists. Edicts are only produced to end conflicts when there are similar groups with substantial pull. Usually its over an issue of semantics like planet or plantoid. Or for example since American chemists generally publish results in "calories" while European chemists and everyone else uses "joules", IUPAC said joules is the consensus view (even if not everyone has switched to joules). What I'm saying is that for a true unquestioned consensus there will be no edict. I think it pretty important to know that 99% of the science described in wikipedia there is no debated in science. It pretty easy to describe the opposing camps when there is a disagreement in science since the players are generally explicit with their reasoning if not civil. The real problem is the interface of science with the public as a whole and fringe ideas. This is when minor unimportant players in science become folk heroes for social groups with agendas. It important that its their standing as scientist, the science they present, and how both are received by their peers that determines how their science is described. Their folk herotude does have any barring on anything but descriptions of their social status.--OMCV (talk) 21:45, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Yes, that's both a good and interesting explanation- thanks (:. So what you are saying is that at say 40% disagreement, there still might be a "consensus?" This then is something which should be explained each time a consensus is cited, otherwise nearly all readers will think something more like 95% or 100%. We should put in text to that effect. We should also recommend not citing a consensus as much as describing the dispute- I mean, you are saying a consensus may actually hide a large dispute (or rather, that it would hide it in WP). For one thing, the usual view of "consensus" is not what the word actually means. It is usually used to mean "very very little or no disagrement," whereas the word actually means "majority." WP seems to have its own version also. [1] ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 21:54, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
What I'm saying is don't look for statements from "association of scientists" to determine what is "consensus".--OMCV (talk) 22:16, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Understood, but if we don't have some standard for informing the reader better, or determining when a consensus exists, here is what will happen in the articles I know about: the fringies will feel trodden upon when a significant controversy gets shunted aside because the "consensus" is "against" it, and the mainstreamers will feel trodden upon because they can't prove what they "know to be true." In other words, maybe the general consensus is fairly evident, but if the fringies are well organized they will be able to list 50 peer reviewed articles in disagreement. Do you want to be the person to hunt up 51 articles which disagree with the 50 just so you can site a scientific consensus? What about when they accuse you of original research? How are you going to respond? ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 22:44, 26 August 2008 (UTC)
Where are you having trouble parsing the sentence? It says...
If legitimate scientific disagreement then...
If relatively equal in proportion then...
No claim of consensus.
It's pretty straightforward. It requires two numbers (support of A and support of B) and if those are relatively equal portions of scientists contradicting each other, a claim of consensus shouldn't be made (and probably wouldn't be sourced anyway). --Nealparr (talk to me) 22:59, 26 August 2008 (UTC)

I'm a practical guy, and capable of understanding the sentence. The problems come with legitimate , relatively, and sources demonstrate. Determining this in practice is subject to severe POV pushing. It is subject to accusations of OR, also. And it is extremely easy to misunderstand because of the common definition of consensus which differs from the scientific one. By not making clear how you determine the consensus and how you present it to the reader, it really opens a can of worms by allowing a scientific consensus to be cited when sources probably don't say it exists. This should be a practical guide, not off in some land of dreams where everyone accepts the obvious. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 23:43, 26 August 2008 (UTC)


@Martin, regarding this quote: "In other words, maybe the general consensus is fairly evident, but if the fringies are well organized they will be able to list 50 peer reviewed articles in disagreement."

If there's a substantial body of peer-reviewed literature in support of a position, it is by definition not fringe. It might be completely wrong, but it's within the scientific mainstream. That's why the peer-reviewed-lit-only criterion is, now that I'm thinking about it, the best approach. Ideally, it takes all editor opinion out of the question as to NPOV in controversial science articles. If a position is supported by published articles, it's reliably source and may be included, although WP:WEIGHT still applies. If it's not supported by published articles, then it's not reliably sourced and should be excluded. In the case that a "fringe" position is backed by, say, one paper, presumably the opposite view is backed by multiple papers which can be cited as refuting this fringe position; this gives an accurate and NPOV portrayal of the state of the science.

Incidentally, I think wikipedia places too much emphasis on the idea of "scientific consensus." I would say, cite relevant papers, regardless of position, and let the reader draw his own conclusions as to the existence of a scientific consensus. J. Langton (talk) 04:58, 27 August 2008 (UTC)

Yes, that's what I would advocate as well. The problem with what you say is that the threshold was set at 50% of articles "relatively equal in proportion". Nevertheless, I'll drop it. But I'm warning people, based on my extensive experience in fringe articles and arguments, that this will cause grief. It also doesn't pass muster with WP:OR. ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 05:56, 27 August 2008 (UTC)
WP:WEIGHT is critical here. Reporters (the more conscientious and clueful ones, at least) have been wrestling with this issue for several years in the context of global warming. Suppose the vast majority of scientists believe X, but there's a small minority who believe not-X. In the interest of "fairness" a newspaper story will often have one quote saying X and another saying not-X, fallaciously implying a roughly even split. Which is worse -- to ignore the dissenting views, or to imply that they are far more prominent than they actually are? Naomi Oreskes has noted that in part because of this journalistic emphasis on "fairness" most of the public now accepts global warming but they think that scientists are uncertain on the issue, which is utterly bizarre. I think we can -- and must -- do better than this. Basil "Basil" Fawlty (talk) 06:15, 27 August 2008 (UTC)
(ec) It says when things are "relatively equal in proportion, no claim of consensus should be made". How does that translate to "when things are relatively equal, claim consensus"? I don't get it. It also doesn't say if there's 50 sources saying something is generally so, go find 50 other fringe peer-reviewed articles to counterbalance it. That's a matter of reliable sources. If a single scientific body says something is generally considered to be so, 50 fringe sources doesn't counter that. The scientific body source is representative of a great number of scientists and a great amount of work. --Nealparr (talk to me) 06:19, 27 August 2008 (UTC)
My mistake on my last post. When they are in equal proportion relative to each other, they are 50% and 50%, no? So 45% to 55% is a consensus? What about OR? This isn't worth it......
To Fawlty, I agree but don't see a solution in this. Claims of consensus should not be made without a RS- it's original research. Maybe that doesn't matter, but it matters that you will have so many objections. We should rather just weight the article in general proportion to the sources. I withdraw the objections now, (-: But Ack- it won't stand a second:

The existence of a consensus within an academic community may be indicated, for example, by independent secondary or tertiary sources that come to the same conclusion. The statement that all or most scientists, scholars, or ministers hold a certain view requires a reliable source. Without it, opinions should be identified as those of particular, named sources. Editors should avoid original research especially with regard to making blanket statements based on novel syntheses of disparate material. [2] ——Martinphi Ψ Φ—— 06:55, 27 August 2008 (UTC)

Martinphi, you're confusing the heck out of me : ) It does not say that when things are relatively equal, there is a consensus. It says the exact opposite; when things are relatively equal there is no consensus. 45% to 55% is relatively equal, yes. 45% to 55% shows there is no general agreement. No consenus. 90% to 10% is not equal. If 90% of scientists believe that it requires high temperatures to create fusion, there is a general consensus that high temperatures are needed to create fusion, despite the 10% of scientists who think cold fusion is feasible. If half the scientists out there think its nature, and half the scientists out there think its nuture, or it is otherwise relatively equal (a 60/40 split is a real debate), there is no consensus. --Nealparr (talk to me) 00:44, 28 August 2008 (UTC)