Wikinews/Open English/Neutral point of view

Wikinews policy is that all articles should have a neutral point of view. According to Wikimedia founder Jimbo Wales, NPOV is "absolute and non-negotiable".


The neutral point of view policy states that one should write articles without bias, representing all views fairly.

Neutral point of view is easily misunderstood. The policy does not mean that you should write an article from just a single unbiased, "objective" point of view. The policy says an article should fairly represent all, and not make an article state, imply, or insinuate that any one side is correct. (Of course, there are limits to which points of view are worth mentioning, and this can be an area of conflict.)

It is crucial that Wikireporterss work together to make articles unbiased. This comprises one of the great merits of Wikinews.

The basic concept of neutralityEdit

At Wikinews, we use the terms "unbiased" and "neutral point of view" in a precise way:

Articles without bias describe debates fairly rather than advocating any side of the debate. Since all articles are edited by people, this is difficult, as people are inherently biased.

The original formulation of NPOVEdit

The neutral point of view attempts to present ideas and facts in such a fashion that both supporters and opponents can agree. Of course, 100% agreement is not possible; there are ideologues in the world who will not concede to any presentation other than a forceful statement of their own point of view. We can only seek a type of writing that is agreeable to essentially rational people who may differ on particular points. -- Jimbo Wales, Wikimedia founder.

Why should Wikinews be unbiased?Edit

Wikinews is a general news source, and reports facts about events. But we (humans) sometimes disagree about specific facts. When there are competing views, each represents a different theory of what the truth is and its adherents believe other views are false. Where there is disagreement about what is true, there is disagreement about what constitutes knowledge. Wikinews works because it is a collaborative effort; but while we work together how can we avoid endless "edit wars" in which one person asserts p, and the next person alters the article to assert not-p?

A convention is that we accept, for purposes of working on Wikinews, that "human knowledge" includes all different significant theories on all different topics.

We could summarize facts (in this sense) in a biased way: we could state a series of theories on topx T, and then claim the truth about T is such-and-such. But Wikinews is an international, collaborative effort, and nearly every view on every subject may be found among our authors and readers. To write from a neutral point of view we present controversial views without asserting them; to do that it generally suffices to present competing views in a way which is more or less acceptable to their adherents and to attribute the views to their adherents.

There is reason to commit ourselves to this policy: when it is clear to readers that we do not expect them to adopt any particular opinion, they are free to make up their minds for themselves, and we thus encourage in them intellectual independence. Totalitarian governements and dogmatic institutions every might find reason to be opposed to Wikinews if we succeed in adhering to our non-bias policy: the presentation of many competing theories on a wide variety of subjects suggests we trust readers' competence to form their own opinions themselves. Texts which present multiple viewpoints fairly, without demanding the reader accept any one of them, are liberating. Neutrality subverts dogmatism, and nearly everyone contributing, editing, or reading Wikinews can agree this is a good thing.

What is the neutral point of view?Edit

There are many possible valid understandings of what "unbiased," "neutral," etc. mean. The notion of "unbiased writing" which informs Wikinews's policy is "presenting conflicting views without asserting them." This can be further clarified:

Consider what it means to say unbiased writing presents conflicting views without asserting them. Unbiased writing does not present only the most popular view. It does not assert the most popular view as being correct after presenting all views. It does not assert some sort of intermediate view among the different views is the correct one. Presenting all points of view says, simply, that p-ists believe that p, and q-ists believe that q, and that is what the current state of things are at present.

The neutral point of view is not, contrary to the seeming implication of the phrase, and actual point of view which is "neutral" or "intermediate" among the different positions. The prevailing Wikinews understanding is that the neutral point of view is no at point of view at all; instead it is our understanding that when one writes neutrally one is careful not to state, imply, insinuate, or subtly influence the reader into believing that any particular view at all is correct.

A further point bears elaboration: Writing objectively may be conceived as representing disputes, characterizing them, rather than engaging in them. One can think of unbiased writing as the fairly analytical description of debates.

A qualification to writing from neutral point of view is "representing all views fairly." Articles which compare views need not give small minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views, which might give the minority view an undeserved or or unfair weight in representing the conflict. To represent the dispute fairly, competing views should be presented in proporion to their representation among experts on the subject, or among the concerned parties.

Biased writing is not always done on purpose. An example is when writers, without intent, propagate a "geographical" bias by describing a dispute as it is conducted in one country, without knowing the dispute is framed differently elsewhere.

The policy of having a neutral point of view is not to hide different points of view, but to show the diversity of viewpoints. In case of controversy, the strong points and weak points will be shown according to each point of view, without taking a side. The neutral point of view is not a "separate but equal" policy. The facts, in themselves, are neutral, but the simple accumulation of them cannot be the neutral point of view. If only the favourable facts of a point of view are shown in an article, the article will still be non-neutral.

[ edited to here - Amgine ]

A simple formulationEdit

We sometimes give an alternative formulation of the non-bias policy: assert facts, including facts about opinions--but don't assert opinions themselves. By "fact," on the one hand, we mean "a piece of information about which there is no serious dispute." In this sense, that a survey produced a certain published result is a fact. That Mars is a planet is a fact. That Socrates was a philosopher is a fact. No one seriously disputes any of these things. So we can feel free to assert as many of them as we can. By "opinion," on the other hand, we mean "a piece of information about which there is some dispute." There's bound to be borderline cases where we're not sure if we should take a particular dispute seriously; but there are many propositions that very clearly express opinions. That the Beatles was the greatest band ever is an opinion. That the United States was wrong to drop the atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an opinion.

For determining whether something is fact or opinion in this sense, it does not matter what the actual truth of the matter is; there can at least in theory be "false facts" (things that everybody agrees upon, but which are, in fact, false).

Wikinews is devoted to stating facts and only facts. Where we might want to state opinions, we convert that opinion into a fact by attributing the opinion to someone. So, rather than asserting, "The Beatles was the greatest band", we can say, "Most Americans believe that the Beatles was the greatest band," which is a fact verifiable by survey results, or "The Beatles had many songs that made the Billboard Hot 100," which is also fact. In the first instance we assert an opinion; in the second and third instances we "convert" that opinion into fact by attributing it to someone. We realize that this does not IN FACT convert that opinion TO a fact, it just says it is a FACT that: "this person holds that opinion."

It's important to note this formulation is substantially different from the "some people believe..." formulation popular in political debates. The reference requires an identifiable and subjectively quantifiable population.

In presenting an opinion, moreover, it is important that we bear in mind that there are sometimes even disagreements about how opinions are best stated; sometimes, it will be necessary to qualify the description of an opinion or to present several formulations, simply to arrive at a solution that fairly represents all the leading views of the situation. It's generally important to give the facts about the reasons behind the views, and to make it clear who holds them. (It's often best to cite a prominent representative of the view.)

A consequence: writing for the enemyEdit

Those who constantly attempt to advocate their views on politically charged topics (for example), who seem not to care about whether other points of view are represented fairly, are violating the non-bias policy ("write unbiasedly"). Policy entails that it is our job to speak for the other side. If we don't commit ourselves to doing that, Wikinews will be much weaker for it. We should all be engaged in explaining each other's points of view as sympathetically as possible.

The other side might very well find your attempts to characterize their views substandard, but it's the thought that counts. In resolving disputes over neutrality issues, it's far better that we acknowledge that all sides must be presented fairly, and make at least an attempt at presenting the other sides fairly. That will be appreciated much more than not trying at all.

"Writing for the enemy" might make it seem as if we were adding deliberately flawed arguments to Wikinews, which would be a very strange thing to do. But it's better to view this (otherwise puzzling) behaviour as adding the best (published) arguments of the opposition, preferably citing some prominent person who has actually made the argument in the form in which you present it, stating them as sympathetically as possible.

Anglo-American-centric point of viewEdit

Wikinews seems to have an Anglo-American focus. Is this contrary to the neutral point of view?

Yes, it is, especially when dealing with articles that require an international perspective. The presence of articles written from a United States or British perspective is simply a reflection of the fact that there are many U.S. and British citizens working on the project, which in turn is a reflection of the fact that so many of them are online. This is an ongoing problem that should be corrected by active collaboration from people from other countries. But rather than introducing their own cultural bias, they should seek to improve articles by removing any examples of cultural bias that they encounter. This is not only a problem in the English Wikipedia. The French Wikipedia may reflect a Continental French bias, the Japanese Wikipedia may suffer from Japanese bias, and so on.

Dealing with biased contributorsEdit

I agree with the non-bias policy but there are some here who seem completely biased. I have to go around and clean up after them. What do I do?

Unless the case is really egregious, maybe the best thing is to call attention to the problem publicly, pointing the perpetrators to this page (but politely - one gets more flies with honey) and asking others to help.

Avoiding constant disputesEdit

How can we avoid constant and endless warfare over neutrality issues?

Would that people asked this question more often. We should never debate about how Wikinews should be biased. It shouldn't be biased at all.

The best way to avoid warfare over bias is to remember that we are all reasonably intelligent, articulate people here, or we wouldn't be working on this and caring so much about it. We have to make it our goal to understand each others' perspectives and to work hard to make sure that those other perspectives are fairly represented. When any dispute arises as to what the article "should" say or what is "true," we must not adopt an adversarial stance; we must do our best to step back and ask ourselves, "How can this dispute be fairly characterized?" This has to be asked repeatedly as each new controversial point is stated. It is not our job to edit Wikinews so that it reflects our own idiosyncratic views and then defend those edits against all comers; it is our job to work together, mainly adding new content, but also, when necessary, coming to a compromise about how a controversy should be described, so that it is fair to all sides.

Adapted from Wikipedia:Neutral point of view.