Talk:NPOV is an ideal

Neutrality progress is slowed down by apparent perfection. When several people have been been working hard on a lengthy article, coming to the point they fought over the use of one word instead of another, to finally reach an agreement, it is difficult to dare disturb that apparent perfection. This will become more and more true as the encyclopedia expands, and new comers might feel paralysed.

Stating the article "proper" by a couple of expert, will only add to the confusion between a complete and accurate article and a neutral article.

I think you are right to fear balkanization. Hoping to avoid it is also an ideal. For a non-english, adding information in english to improve an article is one thing; refactoring, twisting sentences, fighting over accurate words to make the article more balanced is entirely another matter. The more the article will look perfect, the less accessible it will virtually become to non-english.

Todo : leave an obvious and horrible neutrality flaw in each article.

Other cultures might bring different knowledge, experiences and viewpoints, to further progress in NPOV direction. But then, maybe neutrality can be helped by a two-way process. Some non-english can bring it, but some english can also act themselves, and go, look and discuss the content of equivalent articles on non-english wikis.


Cunc, you begin with a dramatic statement ("Wikipedia's NPOV policy is flawed as stated") and then it turns out that your point is actually not very controversial (roughly, "We should prefer the most neutral of various possible versions" and "Perfect neutrality is so difficult as to be thought of as an impossible ideal"--who could disagree?), and hardly warrants the dramatic billing. If you want to say that every article can be improved in point of neutrality, OK--I'm sure that's the case. The policy never, in no place, says or implies, "All articles must be perfectly neutral." So your observation, that perfect neutrality is difficult, hardly means that the neutrality policy is "flawed." The policy states a goal, an aim; it doesn't matter if, as a matter of fact, few if any of our articles can perfectly satisfy the aim. That shouldn't stop us from adopting the policy and continuing to travel in the direction of neutrality. And it sure as heck doesn't give anybody an excuse to foist clearly biased dross upon the rest of us. Granted, there is at least one way that the policy statement could be improved, and that is by stating the fact that neutrality is a goal more explicitly; but it already is stated explicitly, where it says, "So we're committed to the goal of representing human knowledge in that sense."

It also hardly follows from your basic point, that NPOV is an "ideal," that it is always inappropriate to say, "This entry is not NPOV. It is bad." If we admit that perfect neutrality is a difficult and perhaps even impossible ideal to attain, how does it follow that we should not take people to task for really egregious examples of bias? The answer is that it doesn't follow at all. If you were to insert obviously and badly biased political screeds into Wikipedia, for example (not that you would ever do that), I hope that people will take you to task for that bias.

--Larry Sanger

What is the policy toward external linking to web sites openly racists, sexists, and mercantiles ??? Should they be necessarily excluded from all wikipedia on behalf they are "dangerous" (as they could lead weak spirits to follow their point of view ?). Should we consider a site has a commercial goal as soon as it tries to sell something ? If racists and sexists must be excluded, how do we decide a site is racist, and should be excluded as such ? How do we decide a site is sexist and racist ? Who can have the right to say it is ? How are we supposed to bring comprehensive information if we don't have the right to link to questionnable sites ?

When I am denied the right to write the feminine form of a word on Wikipedia, on behalf some linguists in an academia have decided that the male form of a word was to be the common use, that the male form was not to be considered sexist, will I also be denied the right to external link to a site where feminists explain why it might be wrong to masculinize all words, on behalf that their fight is the fight of a minority, and that maybe some pages on these sites are guilty of male sexism ???

Will Wikipedia accept that ??? Is it being neutral to external link only to lucky warm sites approved by a reduced commitee of wikipedians, who are not supposed to bring any judgement of value to what bigs currents of opinions are, but only to report them ???

The argument above is a fairly common one in popular philosophy; and with good reason. The basic premise - that every contribution is biased - appears undeniable, and leads apparently directly to the conclusion - NPOV is an unattainable ideal.

A statement is biased if it supports some particular point of view. A bias reflects the understandings or beliefs of the person making the statement. Now, any statement of a belief must fit, one way or another, in with our other beliefs. If, for instance, one believes that "Shakespeare wrote Hamlet", one is committed to other beliefs, for instance that there was a person named Shakespeare who was a writer, that Hamlet is a play and so on. One could extend such a list of underlying beliefs indefinitely. The statement "Shakespeare wrote Hamlet" betrays certain biases - towards, for example, trusting the evidence of certain authorities over that of others. It seems clear then that simply asserting that some statement, any statement, is true will involve accepting other related statements as true; so asserting a statement will involve acceptance of some bias or other. But, of course, it is difficult to write an encyclopedia without making assertions.

This is the underpinnings of the argument presented above; bias is inevitable, and as a result neutrality is impossible. All that we can do is move "asymptotically towards total knowledge and perfect neutrality".

But there is an alternative view, albeit one that leads to much the same pragmatic conclusion. This alternative works by distinguishing carefully between a neutral statement and an unbiased one.

A statement is neutral if (to quote from en:neutral) it achieves a balance between opposites. But we can go further than this with the idea of neutrality.

To be neutral is not to take sides. "Shakespeare wrote Hamlet" is biased; as is "Christopher Marlowe wrote Hamlet"; and "It is widely accepted that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet" is also biased, but we might find that even those that blame Marlow for the work would agree that they are in the minority. Similarly, although most scholars might disagree with Rubbo, they would presumably agree with "Michael Rubbo argues that Christopher Marlowe wrote Hamlet". We do not take sides when we word the statement so as to be acceptable to both, or all, parties.

Neutrality can be achieved by reaching a point at which there is agreement as to the phrasing of the statement. It is not "wrong to say 'This entry is not NPOV'", as The Cunctator claimed. If an editor disagrees with a statement in an article, it is POV. The article should then be edited until agreement is reached, at which point the article will indeed be NPOV. But only until another editor comes along...

Perhaps the problem for The Cunctator, as for other editors, is that they want the Wikipedia to eventually be finished. But that would take all the fun out of it, wouldn't it?


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