argue, but if we keep our heads, they cannot
overturn a founding
principle. As in the Atorvastatin article when
patients are running to
their doctors, saying, "My God, I can't
think", and it
is observable by
medical practitioners that indeed they can't,
However, it does need to be put into proportion,
serious effects to a few
hundred people must be weighed against
help for millions.
Note the reference to a Wall Street Journal article.
If our inclusion of this information in a Wikipedia
article and placing
undue emphasis on it results in thousands of
because people are
afraid of the drug, then we need to look at the
is handled, not
just to a conclusion that there can be no
On the other hand, failing to include it could be leading
The point is, we can't know. What we have always done is
(responsibly) what the reliable sources are saying, and
always included the high-quality media, because they
significant source of majority or significant-minority
academic journals are often very slow to report problems.
You are right that they cannot overturn a founding
principle. But they
can ignore it, or persuade new editors that their
interpretation of it
is correct, and after a few years of this the spirit of the
principle gets lost. Fighting them is a tremendous amount
of work, and
increasingly few people have the stomach for it.
We are between a rock and a hard place, aren't we. Media reports
- may report interesting studies as scientific breakthroughs;
- sometimes misreport statistical significance levels;
- may present claims as major controversies in a field, even if 98% of
scholars are in agreement;
Some of our articles completely ignore the existing scholarly literature in
favour of press articles, simply because the latter are more easily
Nobody denies that the best journalistic work may be more reliable than
the lowest-quality scholarly work. If I am presented with a meticulously
researched, extensively fact-checked 60-page article in the New Yorker and
a conference paper delivered by an academic oddball, my sympathies are
entirely with the New Yorker.
On the other hand, nobody will seriously argue that, all things being
equal, the average media report is more reliable, or even as reliable, as
the average scholarly source.
And where there is a body of scholarly research, the peer-reviewed
scholarly literature is the most authoritative literature around. When
governments formulate policy, they do not look in the pages of the Daily
Telegraph to establish what the scientific state of the art is. They do
not contact the BBC's science writers to present them with a brief.
Instead, they ask the advice of leading scholars.
There is the difference in reliability in a nutshell.
As an encyclopedia, we cannot pretend that writing an article on climate
change, or the solar system, or cholesterol, or Doris Lessing's novels, can
be done just as well using media sources as it can be done using scholarly
Having said that, I would always argue that it is our job to cover notable
controversies in the public consciousness, including controversies
surrounding topics that are the subject of scholarly research.
There is merit to both sides of the debate here:
In fields that are the subject of significant academic research -- whether
that be hard science or the humanities -- we must make sure that we reflect
the current status of that research. If all we cite is newspapers, we have
done a poor job.
If there is significant discussion in the media around one of these topics,
we must tell the reader about this discussion. If we don't, we have done a
Where media reports are based on scholarly studies, it is best to cite both
the media report and the study, as Fred did in the Atorvastatin edit (which
has stuck so far), and where they disagree, go with the underlying study.
If we are agreed on the above principles, the task becomes a simple one:
find a wording that encapsulates those principles.