On 02/22/12 11:40 AM, Thomas Morton wrote:
Material on Wikipedia can be divided into "fact" and "opinion". The
of these is, perhaps confusingly, the simplest to address; because opinion,
viewpoints and perception can quite easily be collated and summarised. The
only real difficulty exists in figuring out which opinions are noteworthy
It's much more than a mere notability question
The problem is facts; as I am sure everyone can
appreciate, facts are very
easy to get wrong (maliciously or not). This is especially a problem in
History where events can be pieced together via all manner of sources. Even
WW2 history can differ dramatically depending on the accounts you read -
some overuse oral citation (humans are fallible) and others misuse official
records (which can range from faked through to inaccurate).
Authors of secondary sources are particularly adept at this. It's not
uncommon for a historian to build his evidence around a thesis, and be
blind to most information that would disprove that thesis.
The problem with primary sourcing of the oral form is
that it comes
directly from an individual - with all of their perceptions and biases. To
make an extreme example out of this; imagine taking an oral citation from
Hitler, and a Jew in a concentration camp. Such citations would, I imagine,
give radically different viewpoints of the Holocaust. Obviously other
accounts, by third parties, show us which account is accurate - but if we
had only those two viewpoints I hope it is obvious how
difficult separating fact and fiction could be (ignoring that any rational
person would see the obvious).
Of course, and it's that difference that is important for achieving
NPOV. We need to fairly show both viewpoints. It's up to the reader to
draw his own viewpoints, and not for us to provide pat answers.
So that brings us to the ideas behind sourcing; which
is that we should
consider not only the material but author and publisher. This is important
because if the author of the source is partisan to the material then you
have to consider they may be biased to their viewpoint. As less extreme
example might be two citations from a Republican and a Democrat. Both say
"My Party is the Best because our policies are..." - you can't use either
source to say one party is better, because they are partisan. But you could
use it to relate their parties policies; and as partisans they are well
positioned to relate those policies!
Maybe. Tea party members may not be the best narrators of Republican
policy, nor union leaders of the Democratic policy. Both parties may
generate a policy document at the convention. Are we to believe that a
party member's secondary reading of the platform is more reliable than
the platform document itself?
If the author is a third party, of course, that lends
weight to their
The publisher is the stumbling block in this case;
because it is a
non-expert [sic] researcher uploading material to Commons. What could
mitigate this is a detailed description of the methodology used to collect
the citations, which would allow editors to review it for problems.
For most situations it's unrealistic to expect rigorous methodologies in
historical material generated many years ago, and it may be all we have.
One final thing to consider is that WP:V talks about
challenged material. Whilst that might be a risk policy on the face (it
would be easy to present something non-controversial but also not true as
fact) it's critical to letting us actually write article (otherwise we
would be stifled in citations :)). For example; I've sourced material to
personal sites before with minimal problems - sometimes it is questioned
and what I usually say is "If you can show someone saying the opposite, or
make a sensible argument against, then lets remove it".
It's that last statement that worries me. By removing the previous
unverified material we are choosing which version the reader should
believe. Should we not be looking for the most fair and efficient way
to keep both versions?
Boiled down, I think that oral citations have a
distinct place as a source
- and we should encourage people to consider them as sources when writing.
But they are not something you could, for example, base an entire article
around. We should also explore ways to make them more "reliable", and more
usable. For example making them obviously available to experts in the field
Making oral citations "more reliable" seems a contradiction in terms.
They are what they are. In some cases they may indeed be the basis for
an entire article. Usability and availability of the material are
significant problems. These are often unique items that are too easily
the victims of life as it goes on around them. They are also fraught
with copyright problems even when the person being interviewed had no
clue that he had such rights.
It *is* important to get secondary coverage of a
topic, because we are
tertiary source. This is the core idea of our primary source policy; if we
utilise primary material and research something to the extent that we are
the main authoritative source that becomes *hugely* problematic!
It can be, but not necessarily so. We make too much of the distinction
between primary and secondary source, and a person can too easily use
the original source argument as a cudgel for beating back material that
he opposes. If we insist that Joseph instead of Josef is the correct
given name for Stalin because it appears more often in a Google search
we become the authority.
In terms of social media, this is tricky. Because
social media is vastly
more accessible than other mediums - particularly to hacks. Wordpress blogs
are trivial to make, for example, and you can sound authoritative or
convincing on a subject to a layman with only medium effort. I'd treat
these with more caution.
I would be extremely wary of anything from the blogoshere, though I'm
sure reasonable arguments for it can be made on a case by case basis.