[WikiEN-l] Age fabrication and original research

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Fri Oct 2 06:29:40 UTC 2009

On Fri, Oct 2, 2009 at 1:21 AM, Rob <gamaliel8 at gmail.com> wrote:
> The reason I balk at using the SSDI or the census is I don't think we
> should be using primary sources in this manner.  There are numerous
> pitfalls, including many errors of spelling and fact, to using these
> sources. Historians and journalists should be evaluating these
> sources, not us.  In this particular case, editors are using a primary
> source to disprove reliable secondary sources, which are plentiful and
> unanimous (until now, see below) when it comes to the birthdate.
> Isn't this the kind of primary source research that we always
> discourage Wikipedians from doing?

It's worth drawing the distinction between a secondary source which
explains its disagreement with a notable primary source from one which

If the secondary sources provide uncontroversial cause for believing
the SSDI (a notable and relevant primary source) to be incorrect in
this case, then it may well be best to not even mention the SSDI data.
 But if no reliable source gives us an objective reason for the
primary data to be considered incorrect, beyond mere inconsistency, it
would only be reasonable for the article to disclose the disagreement
without taking a position ('however, the SSDI states X').

Stated generally, in a form suitable for a policy page:

Although we believe secondary sources (Works which relate or discuss
information originally presented elsewhere) to be more reliable than
primary sources, they are still often incorrect. One cause for errors
in a secondary source is that its author was unaware of an important
primary source. A secondary source which fails to explain its
disagreement with an obvious primary source was either created without
considering that source or fails to be thorough scholarship, and mere
disagreement with such a secondary source cannot be sufficient reason
to believe the primary source is incorrect.

Where no source can be found stating that a particular primary source
is incorrect, we can not know (in any source-tractable manner) whether
that primary source is correct. Since we do not know, we should not
take any position on its correctness. Presuming that the primary
source in question is uncontroversially relevant and sufficiently
notable, using it in the form of a mere statement of fact is the more
neutral action. An intentional omission of a relevant and notable
primary source would be a value judgment which, in the absence of a
sourceable cause, NPOV philosophically prohibits us from making.

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