[WikiEN-l] Age fabrication and original research

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Fri Oct 2 20:46:00 UTC 2009

On Fri, Oct 2, 2009 at 2:21 PM, Ken Arromdee <arromdee at rahul.net> wrote:
> On Fri, 2 Oct 2009, Rob wrote:
>> The fact that original secondary sources were wrong in this case is
>> immaterial.  Errors in secondary sources should be a reason to dig up
>> more secondary sources, not to make a point using primary ones.
> Wikipedia is already full of places where people are required to jump through
> hoops merely because that's what the rules require, even if it doesn't actually
> help.  This is another one.

No it's not. If the you've understood a rule as some formality that
you must comply with when it clearly does not help you've
misunderstood something. (Either the rule, the applicability of the
rule, or that it helps; Even a poorly drafted rule can't bind you to
pointless mechanisations: thats part of the core purpose of WP:IAR)

> Searching far and wide to find a secondary source that quoted the primary
> source gains you *nothing* except compliance with Wikipedia rules.  The
> secondary source isn't going to do any better fact-checking than you did when
> you just looked at the primary source directly--it just fills a rules
> requirement.

If a secondary source isn't a synthesis and analysis of primary source
material, then it's not really a secondary source.

There is a lot of primary source material which is simply data: Stuff
that has almost no sanity checking. "Number of votes cast.  District
413: -32768". A decent secondary source, written by people familiar
with the limitations of the primary material and with consideration of
the available data and scholarship, is that sanity checking.

Part of your confusion probably stems from that fact that wikipedians
often treat news reports like secondary sources.  Good reporting is a
kind of scolarship, but good reporting is rare. More often news
reporting is just a lossy regurgitation of primary source material (or
wikipedia!) or even just barely informed speculation.  But thats a
problem with Wikipedia's misunderstanding the general worthlessness of
news-media, not a problem with preferring secondary sources over
primary sources.  The whole notion of distinct classes of "primary
source" and "secondary source" doesn't map especially well. To the
extent that something is raw or unreviewed and otherwise single
sourced it should be less preferred to references which are a
synthesis from multiple sources, reviewed, and generally consisting of
digested knowledge rather than raw facts.

It's great to provide people with maximal access to primary source
material, but the obvious conclusions drawn from it can be wrong this
is why we need to reference scholarship rather than just tables of
facts.  An example I like of an uninformed analysis of the primary
source material being misleading is

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