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Should talk pages be used for debating?

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Larry, I want to respond to the point you have made on a couple of talk pages that Wikipedia is not a discussion group. I appreciate your point, and I also admit that some of these discussions have gotten a bit excessive and perhaps not very fruitful. But I beg you to reconsider your point, given the particulars. Fundamentally, I do not think all Wikipedia articles are the same. I think some are relatively uncontroversial, while others are very controversial. I also think that with very controversial topics, there is a strong case to be made for replacing neutral point of view for multiple points of view. It would certainly be easier, and it may be more informative. BUT I accept Wikipedia's NPOV policy, as do, I think, all participants in these discussions. My point is that when a diverse group of people are trying to develop an article on a controversial topic while maintaining NPOV it can be very very difficult. In these cases I think the "talk" page is the most convenient place for participants to work though underlying controversial issues, and in fact that is what I think has been going on. Not only do I think it is convenient, I also think it is effective -- and I would ask you to test the value of these very lengthy discussions against the actual evolution of the article. Do you feel that as the discussion progresses, the article moves closer or further away from NPOV? Does it get better or worse?

In short, I do not think that these particular discussions have been self-indulgent or gratuitous; I think they have played an important role in developing carticles on controversial themes. Moreover, such discussions may be unnecessary and inappropriate for less controversial articles. But in this case I think they are necessary and for this reason I ask you to reconsider how you apply this policy, SR


I'm sorry, but I'm just not convinced. I'm not the only one who has to be convinced though; there are some others who have agreed with you in the past. My word isn't final on this. But I must say, as well, that your arguments above make me even more convinced that using talk pages to sort out debates is a bad idea.

You think it's important to "work through underlying controversial issues." What does that mean? Does it mean that you have to come to an agreement about them? You'll never do that, at least not on Wikipedia talk pages. Does it mean you need to explain to each other how you understand the material? Well, you can use the article to do that, it seems to me. Why wouldn't you?

You make a good (albeit unoriginal) point, viz., that as the discussion progresses, in many cases, the article becomes more neutral. I think that's grand. But this would be an example of post hoc, ergo propter hoc (that's where the article should live--not at logical fallacy/Post hoc), in this case, I think. The article would improve in point of neutrality faster if you were actually working on the article itself rather than trying to prove who is right and who is wrong. If your opponent says that P, and the article says that not-P, then rather than debating the merits of P, why not simply change the article so that the leading representatives of the view that P are fairly represented in the article? This would save time you'd spend proving the other guy wrong, and generally make a better article to boot. It would also make your lives less stressful, which is always a good thing.

So, I think these discussions over the merits of controversial views are in very many cases completely self-indulgent and gratuitous. I think the debate over the merits of controversial views (as opposed to debate over how they should be worded, or other stuff having to do with writing the article itself) are mainly a result of our natural desire to make everyone else think the way we do. This is actually rather ironic, because we are all (or most of us) allegedly committed to the ideal of letting all viewpoints be expressed in articles: if we really were committed to that ideal, though, why would we have any interest in convincing others that they are wrong and that we are right? --LMS

Larry, at the risk of turning this into the kind of abstract discussion you may find gratuitous (because in effect I am trying to change your mind, not concerning your principles but your application of them) I would just like to clarify a few things.
First, I didn't think my argument was teleological (if I understand post hoc properly), I though I was being pragmatic. (I know enough not to argue just from correlation, I was just trying to point out a distinction that could help measure the effects of something. After all, we can't argue that that if things were different they would be the same, or if things were different they would be worse. All we can go on is observed effects.)
Second, the reason I do not think that the article would go faster were we working on it, rather than on the talk, is that in my own experience my writing of articles and grant proposals has gone faster after talking about the issues, even in indirect or undisciplined ways, with colleagues; likewise, when collaborating on an article or proposal, often times we could not write more until we hashed out the issues. I realize that other people work differently -- some people hole up and won't talk to anyone while writing. I do not think one method is necessarily better than the other, I think it depends on the people.
Third, I think you misunderstood how I characterize what is going on. You ask what "working through underlying controversial issues" means and you answer, that it involves "coming to agreement." I didn't say that and didn't mean that, and although I can see why some people might reach that conclusion it certainly doesn't necessarily follow. In fact, I meant that the discussion can help all participants develop their own understanding of the phenomenon and their own position on it, and can help everyone work towards finding a more effective language for expressing what they want to say. For example, in discussing anti-semitism with RK and Wesley, and finding out what words provoke perhaps unintended critical responses, we can reconsider not the underlying point but the language in which we express it.
I guess we just fundamentally disagree on what is going on. You seem to see activity on the talk page to be separate from working on the article itself (thus, working on one takes time away from working on the other) -- I see them as part of the same process and not in competition. Most importantly, you interpret people's activity to be motivated by a desire to reach agreement on substantive issues, primarily through what you call "our natural desire to make everyone else think the way we do" (by the way, I suspect it isn't natural; I think humanity's sense of humor and creativity reflect a neuro-psychological bias towards disagreement; this would certainly explain why there is so much cultural variation around the world, and it also would be adaptive). I agree that there are some wikipedians who have this desire and who have expressed it on talk pages. But I simply disagree that this always happens. I do not believe it is true of myself, and there are a number of other people who have been active on these talk pages for whom it is not true, and an unfair characterization. I do think that when you have an open discussion there is a risk that some such people will get involved and slow things down. But I think an the benefits of open discussion are worth the risks, because the payoff -- helping people develop their own understanding of an issue, discovering through a process of engagement what other people want to or need to know, and developing a language that communicates even fundamentally opposing views more effectively, make it worth it, SR
Hi Larry -- I think it's important to differentiate between the types of discussions, and even the "I'm right, you're wrong" debates that exist. There are more than a few such discussions where people disgree on basic facts and methodology. In those cases, controversial theory rarely comes into question -- unless one editor is approaching things from a totally revisionist viewpoint. Having to debate actual facts (or currently held opinion, rather than something that someone learned 30 years ago and refuses to believe has been disproved) is incredibly frustrating, but it does make the people who care do their homework and find evidence to back "their opinion." In the long term this makes the article better, providing that research is incorporated. The downside is that, occasionally, a person or persons (and lively discussion does tend to draw more contributors to a subject -- a good thing) will present all kinds of valid evidence and still find that, even though most of those involved come to agreement, the minority will often lie low and do major revisions on the sly, marking them minor edits. So, there's still an edit war, but it comes down to reverting on a semi-regular basis. Alternatively, the person who can't support his thesis eventually gets huffy and goes off and re-creates the same article under several different (related and often misleading) names -- the "I know I'm right,so I'm going to have my say and I know you don't have the time to weed everything" approach. it's frustrating, but what's the alternative? There has to be some kind of mechanism to explain edits, etc., with evidence -- otherwise people get pissed off and leave. JHK

Compromis needed. We must always step back a bit from our own opinons and present the articles with a neutral point of view. This is an encyclopedia we are building, not a collection of essays, talking point, and editorials. We all tend to twist the facts in our favor when we are editorializing -- this has no place in an encylopedia. However, perhaps there should be a Wikipedia IRC channel to accomplish better and faster communication between Wikipedians on any topic of interest (the /Talk pages should be used for discussions that are more relevent to the article). Maveric149

There is a wikipedia IRC channel: #wikipedia on irc.openprojects.net. --AxelBoldt

And here I wanted to have a nice lazy Sunday. :-) Below I'm replying to selected points above; my replies are indented. (Would it help if I professed in advance the greatest respect for all involved? I don't want to imply anything personal.)

Second, the reason I do not think that the article would go faster were we working on it, rather than on the talk, is that in my own experience my writing of articles and grant proposals has gone faster after talking about the issues, even in indirect or undisciplined ways, with colleagues; likewise, when collaborating on an article or proposal, often times we could not write more until we hashed out the issues.

Do you really think it's true that the article would develop more slowly if you were to spend as much time on it as on the talk page? That seems to be what you're saying. But isn't it nearly self-evidently false to say that?
Anyway, your experience in academia with colleagues is not neatly applicable here, since we aren't doing original research here. We're reporting about research that has already been done. The sorts of discussion that one engages in, when one does original research, in many cases does not need to engaged in here, in order to write a good article.

I realize that other people work differently -- some people hole up and won't talk to anyone while writing. I do not think one method is necessarily better than the other, I think it depends on the people.

Well, I think endless back-and-forth on issues that are tangential at best to improving the article is clearly to be avoided, no matter who you are. I do not deny that it can, sometimes, result in improvements to an article; what I deny is that it is more efficient (for anybody) than working on the article itself.

Third, I think you misunderstood how I characterize what is going on. You ask what "working through underlying controversial issues" means and you answer, that it involves "coming to agreement."

Well, in fairness, I asked you what you meant (because it wasn't clear to me), and "coming to agreement" was only one suggestion.

In fact, I meant that the discussion can help all participants develop their own understanding of the phenomenon and their own position on it, and can help everyone work towards finding a more effective language for expressing what they want to say.

Why are we trying to decide what we want to say at all? Frankly, I don't care what you want to say. :-) I don't care what I want to say either, or what JHK (no offense Julie) wants to say, etc.--except to the extent that what we all want to say reflects any of the leading (or even "significant minority") approaches to the material. For examples of that, we need go no farther, in many cases, than introductory texts and other basic expositions of the material we are writing about. Why don't we then model ourselves on the best of those ordinary sorts of formulations? That is how I have tried to edit my philosophy articles--i.e., I don't try to write what I "want to say" about any given topic. Instead, I try to represent what the state of the debate is on the topic. I might not always do a great job, but that's what I'm trying to do, at least.
I guess I didn't express myself well -- for me, the operative word in my sentence was not "we" (raising the issue of subjectivity) but rather "say."
OK, let me try to understand. You said that talk page debates are useful for deciding what we want to say. There are two interpretations of this: (1) the debates are useful for determining how we want to think about the subject matter; (2) the debates are useful for determining what we want to say in the article. I fully admit that (2) states a legitimate use of talk pages; but those aren't the debates I'm complaining about. When the discussion strays for many paragraphs and many iterations onto the subject itself, when, Usenet-style, you're just trying to show off how much you know about the subject and prove that the other guy is wrong, you're abusing the Wikipedia system, I think. That's not what it's for. And, not a few people are still doing this. It's what's happening on this page, for example.
also, although I see your point about the difference between original research and discussions of previous research, I do not think that in terms of the issues raised here the difference is that great. Facts simply do not speak for themselves. When I write an article about some social phenomenon, based on my own research, I am writing about something that most people in the society in question take for granted and do not think is very complicated, and yet I spend a lot of time thinking about it and try in my analysis to complicate things. Well, in "literature reviews" we need to observe another kind of social behavior (academic or political discourse) and report on it. In some cases, as you suggest, this is really straightforward. In some cases, how exactly to classify and describe different positions may itself be controversial. This doesn't mean that writing an accurate neutral description of the discourse is impossible -- but it may take a bit more work, that benefits from some discussion with others.
You're continuing to point out excellent uses of talk pages that are not of the sort that I'm complaining about. Yes, I can imagine that someone might want to confer with colleagues about the details of how to present some research results on a talk page. There couldn't be anything more appropriate. But that isn't what is going on, on any reasonable construal, in very many talk page discussions. The point, just to beat it to death, is that a lot of people just looove to prove other people wrong and to prove themselves right, and it's pretty obvious to any veteran of Usenet and mailing list warfare that that is what is going on, yet again, all too often on Wikipedia. It won't do to point to the many legitimate uses of talk pages that bear a passing resemblance to "I'm right-you're wrong" discussions; I'll admit that there are many such legitimate uses. But that doesn't refute, or even reduce the force of, my complaint!

For example, in discussing anti-semitism with RK and Wesley, and finding out what words provoke perhaps unintended critical responses, we can reconsider not the underlying point but the language in which we express it.

Well, it seems that here you're coming closer to my point: one perfectly legitimate purpose of talk pages, as I see it, is indeed to "reconsider not the underlying point but the language in which we express it." I'd agree with that. It seems, though, that we are considering and reconsidering "the underlying points" rather too much.

I guess we just fundamentally disagree on what is going on.

Maybe, but bear in mind we can't have a genuine disagreement if we don't fully understand each other's viewpoints, which is why we're talking.
This is precisely why I think there is more value to what has been going on in the talk pages. I would only qualify this by saying that sometimes the disagrement is not over "the truth" of a topic, but rather over state of the popular or scholarly discourse on the topic, and over the language best suited to describing that. I now think we agree that talk can sometimes be constructive or sometimes be unconstructive. We disagree either in our criteria for recognizing constructive/unconstructive talk, or how we apply those criteria to actual discussions in Wikipedia.
I said: "we can't have a genuine disagreement if we don't fully understand each other's viewpoints, which is why we're talking." You replied: "This is precisely why I think there is more value to what has been going on in the talk pages." I find that very interesting. I maintain, and you have not yet explicitly denied, that the sole value of talk pages is in improving encyclopedia articles. Now, to improve encyclopedia articles, it often isn't important whether we understand why we have a disagreement. So I emphatically deny that talk pages are well used when they are used just to discover why we have a disagreement on the subject matter.
Now, there are senses in which endless blather, trying to prove each other wrong, is perfectly constructive. But constructive for what? Perhaps for the education and edification of the participants; but often not, I maintain, for the benefit of Wikipedia articles.

You seem to see activity on the talk page to be separate from working on the article itself (thus, working on one takes time away from working on the other) -- I see them as part of the same process and not in competition.

No, I don't disagree with you on that. This has been common knowledge, in fact, nearly from the beginning. (It's why I invented the convention of a talk page in the first place!) Properly used, talk page discussions are important components in the development of articles.
My point is more specific: trying to debate the merits of controversial views, in particular, is in many if not all cases a comparative waste of time. We do this far too much--trying to determine who's right and who's wrong--when we could be writing articles. We should remember that it is inappropriate to play the part of partisans, here, because we are collaborators, and it is difficult at best for interested partisans to be good collaborators. Arguably, collaborators have obligations to each other to do what's necessary to work together. With this in mind, I actually think we should all go out of our way to make sure the enemy's views are fairly represented.
Hence, I find this back-and-forth, of trying not only to make an article say something controversial, but then actually defending that, is petty and silly, not to mention (given our goals) simply irrational. It really needs to stop. Would you disagree with that?
yes, I agree.

Most importantly, you interpret people's activity to be motivated by a desire to reach agreement on substantive issues,

Actually, I would deny that this is most important; it's usually best not to try to read people's minds or ascribe nasty motivations to them, and I shouldn't have done that in the first place. Whether or not they do have the desire to reach agreement (or, as I said, to make others agree with them), the fact of the matter is that they do all too often engage in what I think is petty and unnecessary debate over substantial issues, with the evident purpose of justifying their action (or proposed action) of making a Wikipedia article take what is in fact a controversial stand.

I do think that when you have an open discussion there is a risk that some such people will get involved and slow things down. But I think an the benefits of open discussion are worth the risks, because the payoff -- helping people develop their own understanding of an issue, discovering through a process of engagement what other people want to or need to know, and developing a language that communicates even fundamentally opposing views more effectively, make it worth it, SR

Again, I don't deny there are payoffs; I just think they are quite a bit smaller than the payoffs of focusing on the articles and going out of our way to work together on them. It might be more efficient in the end, and therefore better for the article and better for the whole project, if you avoided engaging in substantive debate over issues with the aim of defending controversial edits.
It's not as though you sat down and said to yourself: "Hmm, what's the best way to improve these articles? Why not engage in endless, unresolvable, partisan dialogue about the subject matter that these articles concern? Sure, that would be just the thing!" Nope, I imagine the ordinary case is like this: you came across Wikipedia one day, thought it was pretty neat, you joined in, you wrote something that someone found outrageously biased, or someone wrote something that you found outrageously biased. You then got into a debate about the issue itself. Then I happened along and said, "Hey, this debate is pointless. Why not commit yourself to the neutral point of view, try to help your enemy represent his view fairly, and work on the article itself?"
well, I can only speak for my own case, which was this: I discovered Wikipedia, saw articles I thought were misleading or incomplete, and made changes that I thought had NPOV and were improvements. In one case (the Nietzsche articel) someone just deleted what I added; I put it back in and it was deleted again. This led me to indeed waste about an hour justifying what to me was an obvious improvement by writing a lengthy "talk" contribution. In most cases whatever I wrote prompted someone else to ask me why I thought it was an improvement or NPOV. In these cases I responded in the talk section, and in some cases these discussions developed. I do not think that I was trying to convince my interlocutor that I was right, nor do I think he or she was trying to convince me that I was wrong. But there are some issues in which readers are not satisfied that "Some say" is adequate to provide NPOV, or if it is adequate to provide NPOV, it is inadequate to a fully informative article. Much of the talk was subjective, I admit -- thank god for Talk pages, because such subjectivity has no place in the article itself. But I nevertheless feel that such subjective talk eventually led to language that people from diverse views could agree on as accurate and neutral.
this leads me to be able to articulate one of the things I like, and find significant, about Wikipedia. It is a point that you might find unoriginal, but I haven't really seen it made in any accounts of Wikipedia I have read, and I think it give more explanation of my view in this matter. What first drew me to Wikipedia was that it was an open, collaborative effort, that many writers were working together. Now I realize that crucial to this process is that the writers are also readers, and that the project by its nature puts reader-response theory into practice. Talk pages are not simply places where collaborators discuss how to write an article, they are simultaneously places where readers express their own readings/interpretations of what has been written -- which provide crucial feedback for someone who has tried to write a neutral and uncontroversial account of something and wonders whether readers will find it to be neutral and uncontroversial.
I actually think that the people who do not adequately understand, or who inadequately respect, the neutrality policy are precisely the ones who engage in endless talk page discussions about the subject matter itself. There are exceptions, but that seems to be the rule. If those people could commit themselves to learning how to write in an unbiased fashion, they would both reduce the felt impulse (by themselves and others) to challenge and justify edits on the basis of neutrality, and they would better understand how to use talk pages to come to a consensus.
I do not like the idea of justifying the Usenet-type behavior on grounds that it allows people to arrive, eventually, at a consensus. In my experience, people who constantly engage in Usenet-type behavior often can't arrive at a consensus, and it's often because some more reasonable person comes along and shuts them up by actually resolving the issue that they could have resolved themselves! The last thing that the Usenet candidates need to be told is that their blathering on and on helps them to arrive at a consensus: if they really were interested in arriving at a consensus, they could have done it long ago!
Look, I'm not saying we all have to be perfect, or anything. I'm not saying we should be strictly business, always. But I am saying that, right now, and in the past several months, there have been a number of people who are basically using Wikipedia as their chat area, and I think that's an abuse of the project. And I think it should stop. --LMS

Now JHK's comment:

Hi Larry -- I think it's important to differentiate between the types of discussions, and even the "I'm right, you're wrong" debates that exist.

Yes, maybe that should be made clearer. I had just hoped it was clear that I was talking about only one category of discussion that takes place.

There are more than a few such discussions where people disgree on basic facts and methodology. In those cases, controversial theory rarely comes into question -- unless one editor is approaching things from a totally revisionist viewpoint.

Actually, I think that even such debates are grounded in different, often political or philosophical, viewpoints, although those particular viewpoints aren't the ones under discussion. For example, Helga has seemed at times to want a lot of articles written that express particular sympathy for Prussians in Poland, and this has occasionally led to inaccurate or misleading texts, or in any event biased texts. In that sort of case, if we really want to work together, I think it will help a lot to acknowledge our individual biases and then do our best to accommodate each other's biases (as well as those of others who, by pure accident, happen not to be part of Wikipedia yet).
Now, what to do when you want to be as unbiased as all get-out but the other guy merely pays lip service, or doesn't understand, or actively opposes the nonbias policy? You make the issue explicitly one about the nonbias policy. If it turns out that someone is totally opposed to it, I'll just ask the person to leave. (There was a recent scene in which I did just that, and frankly I don't regret it one bit.) If they don't want to play by the rules, they can leave the playground.

Having to debate actual facts (or currently held opinion, rather than something that someone learned 30 years ago and refuses to believe has been disproved) is incredibly frustrating, but it does make the people who care do their homework and find evidence to back "their opinion." In the long term this makes the article better, providing that research is incorporated.

I think you were dealing with a special case here...I should have tried to intervene sooner, I think. In your case, though, the long discussions did at least keep the articles looking relatively good.
I'm thinking about the case in the abortion article when there were people slugging it out in the usual way people slug that issue out, and just about all I had to do was extensively rewrite the article. This took less time than replying to one person would have, and it was at least quite a bit less biased than it had been. Then people shut up. Would the article have been better if I had not edited and the partisans continued to slug it out? I seriously doubt it.
Isn't it bizarre that discussion of an article (or of an article's subject) very often becomes several times longer than the article itself? Oh, sure, that's necessary in some cases--but only some!

The downside is that, occasionally, a person or persons (and lively discussion does tend to draw more contributors to a subject -- a good thing)

Is it? Maybe they'd be working on other subjects that also need attention. We've got big long articles about abortion, God, anti-Semitism, etc., all the "sexy" topics, and squat about Goethe.

will present all kinds of valid evidence and still find that, even though most of those involved come to agreement, the minority will often lie low and do major revisions on the sly, marking them minor edits. So, there's still an edit war, but it comes down to reverting on a semi-regular basis.

Yes. Perhaps we should call those people to task more often. Are ya wi' us or agin' us? Are we doing this together or not?

Alternatively, the person who can't support his thesis eventually gets huffy and goes off and re-creates the same article under several different (related and often misleading) names -- the "I know I'm right,so I'm going to have my say and I know you don't have the time to weed everything" approach. it's frustrating, but what's the alternative? There has to be some kind of mechanism to explain edits, etc., with evidence -- otherwise people get pissed off and leave. JHK

Well, as I said, if anybody leaves, it should be the people who aren't playing by the rules. --Larry_Sanger

First:
thanks to all of you for this highly interesting discussion in wich you all show clear character

Secondly my own personal rave:
to me Wikipedia isn't a fixed product, but a perpetual process. The facts itself are pretty boring; why it is 'fact' is more interesting - most will change in time anyway. To me the /Talk-pages are an essential enrichment of the encyclopedic articles of 'fact'. They present the sources of 'fact'. They are the most fun to read. They inspire me more than anything else. Larry, in the light of your purpose of creating an encyclopia of fact I understand you'd like to keep all committed and focussed on this, but I believe you'll never be able to weed it out. It's human to argument. It's fun to exchange viewpoints. Just see it as a glossaria. The fact is just a snapshot of consensus. To me there is no true NPOV possible. All things have their root. To me it's important to see this to truely understand your subjects. (I'm looking for words, but I hope you do get my drift) The /Talk-pages are why I am a wikipediholic. --Mathijs (nice to meet people - no need to agree)


I could see attaching discussion forums to each page: each page has not only a /Talk page for discussing the article, but also a forum page for discussing the subject matter. If that would attract more people to the project without detracting from our purpose (creating an encyclopedia), I'd be all for it. I just don't know if it would detract from our purpose. An encyclopedia is 'way more important than the umpteenth iteration of silly arguments about thus-and-such. --LMS

to you it may be silly, but to the writer (and in his opinion some readers) of the argument it is valuable enough. --Mathijs

The writer of the argument might be wrong; the fact that someone finds it valuable doesn't make it so. Not to get into an argument about metaethics, it should suffice to say that in the opinion of very many Wikipedians who are at work on articles, talk page arguments are all too often silly and pointless for this project. --LMS

Mathijs, you should know by now that claims to the effect that neutrality is impossible will be interpreted (by me :-) ) as declarations to the effect that you do not understand the Wikipedia neutrality policy. So, please read the recently expanded neutrality policy page. I don't know if "neutrality" in the sense described there is what you regard as "true NPOV," but neutrality in the sense described there is, in any case, what we are aiming at. It's one point that defines this project, and has from the beginning. --LMS

NPOV may be 'neutral', but it's still a point of view. Still, NPOV is good policy; what I try to state is that the discussion, behind and around the articles, is complementary to the NPOV-encyclopedia of 'fact'. The 'Palestine'- and corresponding 'Palestine/Talk'-articles are a good example of this: in the 'Palestine'-article you may get good, objective information about Palestine, & it is getting better every day, but in the 'Palestine/Talk' you will read things which will benefit your insight and which gives complementary information about the subject. NPOV ain't a static truth, but something that is made by people. One single point of view gives you a two-dimensional picture of the 'fact'. Every point-of-view that is added, adds a dimension of 'fact', gives 'body' to the 'fact'. Also, readers might be aware that every article is written by people, with their own particular knowledge, insight, beliefs and opinions. --Mathijs

I agree with the above. I value Wikipedia mainly as a source of new, exciting ideas (well, new and exciting for me, anyways). The talk pages offer many different views of whatever issue is under consideration. Someone (like me) who is mainly interested in the "bold", edgy aspects of Wikipedia is going to spend more time reading (and perhaps contributing to) talk pages - they are always bolder than the corresponding article. And I do believe serious intellectual effort is expended into their creation. In general, I personally find articles too cautious to be very useful. Plus, because they can do little more than juxtapose differing viewpoints, they often lack the structural unity that I like in written text. --Seb


LMS replying to italicized Mathijs comments above: there are a couple of different things you could mean by saying that the neutral point of view is, after all, a point of view. I do not know which one of these, or some other, you mean by that declaration. I'll dwell on this a bit because I think it's very important (I try not to miss opportunities to clarify the policy).

First, you could mean that one does make definite declarations about this and that when writing neutral text. This is true, but if the text is neutral, then by definition, its declarations are not declarations on topics that virtually anyone finds controversial. Neutral text does not express opinions; it describes them, without asserting them. Second, you could mean that, in writing neutral text, we evince a certain point of view according to which objectivity is possible and desirable. This is wrong in two different ways. (a) One needn't agree, when writing from the neutral point of view, that such writing is a good thing. One might hate it bitterly, but do it anyway. You couldn't say that such a person believes objectivity is possible, necessarily; such a person might think it's totally impossible, but he fakes it anyway. Moreover, (b) even if we necessarily had to agree that neutral writing is possible and desirable when writing neutral text, it is important to note that neutrality (in the sense defined on the NPOV page) is not the same as objectivity. The NPOV page goes into some detail about this. On most accounts of objectivity, there might be an objectively true view about some controversial issue; in that case, to state that controversial view would be to exemplify objectivity. Well, that's not what neutrality is.

You also say: "the discussion, behind and around the articles, is complementary to the NPOV-encyclopedia of 'fact'." This again could mean various things. I would agree completely with you if you meant by this that the talk page discussions ought to to help the development of encyclopedia articles. That's what I think. But if you mean, as I suspect you do mean, that the talk pages an integral part of the overall "Wikipedia experience," and that our purpose in working on Wikipedia is to enhance that experience--both the writing of articles and blathering on about the subjects of the articles--then I completely disagree. The purpose of Wikipedia is to write an encyclopedia. It is not any part of our purpose to provide a discussion forum; the only reason why we have a discussion forum is to improve articles. Now, you might have observed that talk pages might have various other benefits that you enjoy; but the facts that you enjoy them and that WikiWiki software can be used to provide for such enjoyment in no way supports the view that it is any part of the purpose of Wikipedia to provide a discussion forum. I could, for example, write a nice long poem about Emily Dickenson and put it on the Dickenson talk page, and then declare: "Poetry is complementary to Wikipedia." Sure, it could be made to be, because that's how WikiWikis are. But it has long been decreed by yours truly that we are here first and foremost to write an encyclopedia, and that's beyond debate! --Larry_Sanger

Seb: I hate to be blunt, but I think you should reconsider why you're here. If you're really here mainly for the talk page discussions, I think that's a serious problem. Why not just go to Usenet? Why bother us here on Wikipedia with it? --Larry_Sanger


So, Larry, have you made a decision on the possible establishment of /Debate or /Forum pages, as suggested above? My own experience may help color your decision. In preparing to write an article on the philosophical implications of the halting problem, I scoured the web to see what discussion (informed and otherwise) was out there in cyber land. I actually came away feeling that the pages of Wikipedia provided some of my best insights into the emotional debate and confusion surrounding this arcane topic.

As long as the Wikipedian community approach the collective task of building an encyclopedia with understanding, politeness and good will, I can see no harm in /Debate pages. It might actually help to keep the serious writers more focused by moving the biased discussion off the /Talk pages onto /Debate pages. On the other hand, this might just muddle things more. --srwenner


I think we should have a separate discussion (not on this page) on the proposal, specifically, of hosting discussion pages associated with Wikipedia articles. I really don't know what to think about it. On the one hand, it would be attractive to many people. On the other hand, I worry very much that it would siphon off a lot of productive energy from the project itself.

If we did do it, I think we should have specially-written software for it, integrated with the rest of the software. --LMS


I don't see a difference. I hate the debate on talk pages (no really), but find myself regularly compelled to justify what I see as legitimate changes to articles. The best way to do this would be to use a source within the article, but frankly, there are a hell of a lot of folks who don't know a good source from a bad one. Since training and expertise seem to mean little when it comes to the field of History (and why is it that people who would never feel comfortable questioning a trained philosopher, mathemetician, name your field think that they understand history better than trained historians, anyway?), there needs to be some place to at least try to demonstrate why and how edits are made. It's not a good situation, but I'd rather err on the side of more info than less. JHK


Well, the talk page discussion that you're talking about is focused on justifying edits. I think that's OK. The talk page discussion that I think is not OK is debate for its own sake, or to try to persuade someone else that he's wrong and you're right. I think there's a definite tendency on the part of strong partisans to engage in that kind of debate, and I think that dilutes the purpose of the 'pedia project. The reason this project has worked as well as it has is that it has been really focused on creating an encyclopedia.

Now, if there were a supplementary website, that had a very clearly-stated, separate purpose (discussion of the subject matter of articles), then--well, why not? Then my main objection to Wikipedia's hosting of discussion-for-its-own-sake is dissolved.

My position on this is similar to my position in creating Meta-Wikipedia. All the discussion about the process was diverting attention from the thing itself, from the task at hand. So I suggested we move it, and by golly, I'm very glad we did. --Larry_Sanger


Just thought I'd cast my vote (or whatever it might translate to in this context). I personally hardly ever read the talk pages, I'm just here for the information, thus I'm a bit naive as to the goings-on that this discussion is about. Although, I do understand the nature of the discussion and I personally feel that the purpose of the 'pedia is the documentation of humanity and it's collective knowledge and understanding (I don't want to start a debate on the purpose). To further abuse the abortion example I'd like to state that when (if I were to) read an article about, say "Abortion (Morality)" as a random example, I would want to understand the different POV's and gather an appreciation of the passion and depth of the debate as a document ("Cliffs Notes: The Abortion Debate") outlining the various points and key issues. This is definatly the place in which the "talk-page-nonsense" is no longer nonsense, being as it is entirely relevant to documenting such an exchange. On the other hand, I most definatly don't want to see links to "Donate to Moms Against Murdered Babies" or other such displays of blind disregard for the other participants in the discussion.

In other words, I think that so long as the discussion is about the representation of the documentation and not an attempt to solve the issue that they are documenting then it is entirely relevant. Thus, if there is a "solution" to the issue then the page should outline this, and be done with it, otherwise, if the topic is still an open matter, then simply state that it is, and present the possibilities or alternative ideas seperately. There is no need to try and decide "which opinion (which might be called fact by proponents) to display", simply display them both/all, insofar as the facts are correctly backed, etc. Only when there is an issue concerning the presentation of this documentation should there be activity on the talk pages. There are plenty of other places on the net to discuss the implications of abortion (to take the previous example) besides here... and once (if) the conclusion has been reached outside of Wikipedia, then document it in the Wikipedia.

Example:

Assume hypothetically that my comment (above) is a Wikipedia article and the following is discussion on the related talk page,

Your abortion analogy is completely grotesque and morbid1, especially the name of the example organization posting a request for donations2!
Couldn't you have said "People for the Ethical Treatment of Unborn People"3? After all, they are people4! --Discusted Reader
I'd be happy to change the name of the group, How about "Some random organization" just nice and generic? --Compassionate Writer
  1. Opinion, thus irrelevant to the topic at hand. I don't mean to sound insensitive to the readers feelings, but I am also not about to "feel sorry" for her (at least not as a motivation to alter the nature of the article)
  2. Ok, some meat. She disagrees with the representation. Point taken, I'll change it.
  3. An example, or further explanation. Good stuff, although this is a bit sided!
  4. Blatant trolling. I'll ignore it. Or maybe mention something about "I'm not here to discuss that issue here, but if you think that perspective should be represented then edit the appropriate article. Blah blah blah... (whatever, etc, etc)"

I've done my best to present the disctinction as clearly as I can, let me know if there are any confusions. Although, personally I'm not interested in your disagreement, so please don't reply to tell me that I'm wrong in thinking so, I'm just here to document my opinion, to stand up and be counted ya know? (How does one punnctuate the "ya know?" idiom anyways? :P )

Anyways, thanks for reading!

"I'll take 'Orifaces starting with A' for 500, Alex."

"Answer: It's a lot like an opinion" :-)

--Isaac

Wiki-DebateEdit

For what it's worth, I set up a Wiki-debate website, and you are welcome to use it to debate whatever topic you like. I get irritated when articles turn into debates, and debating on the talk page is next to useless since there is no structure to the debate. I think that a wiki could provide good structure for a debate, so I played around with the idea. You can see what I came up with at http://forum.for-pgh.org and play around with it if you like. 69.17.59.249 17:45, 2 Jan 2005 (UTC)