Neutral point of view

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If this is the first time you've seen this page, you probably don't know what we mean by "neutral point of view."

A general purpose encyclopedia is a collection of synthesized knowledge presented from a neutral point of view. To whatever extent possible, encyclopedic writing should steer clear of taking any particular stance other than the stance of the neutral point of view.

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.

Some examples may help to drive home the point I am trying to make.

1. An encyclopedic article should not argue that corporations are criminals, even if the author believes it to be so. It should instead present the fact that some people believe it, and what their reasons are, and then as well it should present what the other side says.

2. An encyclopedia article should not argue that laissez-faire capitalism is the best social system. (I happen to believe this, by the way.) It should instead present the arguments of the advocates of that point of view, and the arguments of the people who disagree with that point of view.

Perhaps the easiest way to make your writing more encyclopedic, is to write about what people believe, rather than what is so. If this strikes you as somehow subjectivist or collectivist or imperialist, then ask me about it, because I think that you are just mistaken. What people believe is a matter of objective fact, and we can present that quite easily from the neutral point of view. --Jimbo Wales

General Discussion

Added by GregLindahl: << If you don't think a view is valid, i.e. you don't think any credible person holds that view, feel free to simply delete it, and demand that the person who added those words to the article prove to you that credible people hold that view. The burden of proof is always on the other person. This is known as "Taw's corollary to NPOV", and applies to any statement like "some people believe X". >>

I find the above comment quite upsetting. Its position in the document causes others' statements to be easily misread and it is quite plainly an attempt to make a specific person look absurd. -- Taral

Of course, I agree. For more in the same vein, see Nupedia's policy statement: VI.A.ii. LACK OF BIAS.

It's important to realize that when we use the phrase "the neutral point of view," we don't mean a single view that is somehow intermediate among various competing views. That is, we aren't looking at views A, B, and C, and trying to write from some one "neutral point of view," D, that is intermediate between A, B, and C. Rather, we are trying to fairly represent A, B, and C, without asserting any one of them as being correct. Perhaps instead of saying "write from a neutral point of view," we should say, "write so that various competing views are all sympathetically represented (including their views about each other), and no one (controversial) viewpoint is asserted in the article as definitely the correct one." But this is too long... --Larry Sanger

I'm uncomfortable with some articles making assumptions based on a USA/N American point of view. If possible I try to qualify information with stuff like "In America..." or something like that. Maybe whiney, but on the internet I don't think it should be assumed that the audience is American... -AD. (see dessert for listings of western european desserts. Gonna qualify that one sooner or later.)

Hear, hear. --LMS

Some discussion betweem Mark and Larry moved to Mark Christensen/Neutrality problems. But once some agreement is reached I'll post something back here. --Mark Christensen

One problem I have with Neutral Point of View, is where to do it. To go to the example of evolution and creation: The page on Creationism should certainly keep the neutral point of view, neither embracing nor rejecting creationism. But what about other pages where evolution is discussed? If we want to steer 'clear of any particular stance', my article on Gigantopithecus should also contain a statement that its relationship with other apes is 'believed by evolutionists' or such. But do we really want creationism cropping up in half of all articles on biology?

My own opinion is that this is going too far. Thus, I would like to change the requirements regarding neutral point of view to:

  • Things that are regarded as true by the great majority of relevant mainstream scientists, may be stated as true. Things that are regarded as probably true by the great majority of relevant mainstream scientists, may be stated as 'believed to be true'.
  • In the cases mentioned above, alternative points of view need not be given, however if they are given, this should be done using the normal rules of neutral point of view.

Does anyone have remarks on this? -- Andre Engels

I agree that evolution is largely accepted, and I also think it is correct, but there is a lot to be said in criticism of the theory too. Why is it inappropriate to mention these criticisms in an article on Gigantopithecus? I think the answer is because the points address a larger issue. They should be on a page talking about that larger issue. On the other hand if some aspect of Gigantopithecus is specifically relevent to creationism then it can/should be mentioned.

Discussion: How should we deal with pseudoscience?

I have one minor clarification that I would add: I don't think the practice of including other points of view implies that an article should treat them equally. In reporting things like pseudoscience, for example, I think it is within the obligation of an encyclopedia to emphasize the lack of scientific basis for some beliefs, and to clearly state that belief in such things is not justified by apparent facts.

Invariably, inclusion of different points of view or even different factual events may unbalance an encyclopedia entry.

A clear mention of lack of scientific basis without additional emphasis is adequate to place anomolous or pseudoscientific positions in context. Science is not the be-all and end-all of human inquiry, and its supposed infallibility has at times delayed recognition of valid observations or procedures because they were "unscientific." Medicine is famous for this. Chiropractic, herbal medicine, acupuncture, chelation therapy, etc. have all been quackery until science discovered why they worked. What remains unconfirmed by science deserves such a mention -- a reader should not be confused that physical confirmation has been demonstrated when it has not. But it is not necessary to exhibit antagonism for these ideas beyond that.

Every now and then a crackpot's speculation turns out to be right--that doesn't mean that we shouldn't call it speculation. Chiropractic, herbal medicine, accupuncture, and chelation are all still quackery in most cases, and we should not shirk from saying so, except in those few instances where they have been studied scientifically for specific things. Chelation to treat heavy-metal poisoning, for example, or drugs derived from certain herbs. "Science" as I use the term here is just methodical honesty. Once you have honestly and properly tested something and evaluated the results, you can say that it has some reasonable basis. But when something has been tested repeatedly and failed continued belief in that thing is not merely an "alternative" point of view--it's clearly wrong and dangerous. --Lee Daniel Crocker

You and I clearly differ on this. "Once you have honestly and properly tested something and evaluated the results, you can say that it has some reasonable basis." Those you call quacks and crackpots will aver that they have done just as you suggest. Granted, they may rely wholly on what they perceive as empirical "evidence," but most will not admit to a moment's dishonesty with regard to their researches, even to themselves. Neither, by the way, will most research scientists, even when they claim proofs which are later proven false.

Relying on testimonials is inherently willfully dishonest, because we have known about the placebo affect for years and have proven it beyond a shadow of any doubt. To continue to cling to testimonials after knowing about the placebo affect, and knowing that placebo-controlled studies of something have failed, is negligent. Yes, many traditional scientists also have egos and can deceive themselves. That's why real journals have peer review. What I'm saying here is that Wikipedia articles should act as peer review, and clearly identify such deception when we see it.

You can claim something "has been repeatedly tested and failed" but should put that claim in context - ie, it "has been repeatedly tested" with available methods, which is not to say that available methods are infallible. A little humility goes a long way. It is the most valuable quality for an experimental scientist to possess, in my view. "We are SCIENCE and we declare that assertion to be PURE BUNK," holds no water with me. "I tested it with every method which seemed reasonable to me and I cannot verify your assertion" is honest and says all that needs to be said.

So - in your articles you will openly declare things hokum and bunk. I will call them unverified. And we will be free to tinker with each other's articles. And in some future age, we will all know who was on the right side of which of today's contentious questions.

"Unverified" is fine if that's the case; other things have been tested and failed, and that's different. And article should point out such failures.

I will go ahead and beat this to death: Let's look at my re-treatment of Numerology. I said generally "numerologist believe..." and noted that independent verfication of these beliefs is lacking. I went a step further and mentioned what I see as a nearly insuperable fallacy in the belief in the validity of numerology as it applies to the names of things (unrelated numerlogic values in different languages for the same exact thing) and mentioned this as a question which remains unexplained. In my mind, that fallacy may be just about adequate to invalidate the entire field. Numerologists will differ. It is not my job to tell them they are full of it. Let reasonable people look at it objectively and draw their own conclusions.

I have no problem with that article. It's exactly what I'm talking about. What I'm warning against is the treatment of such "alternative" ideas on an equal basis with verified ones. That article clearly states the case that the belief is unfounded, and that's good.

Ah, well - in that case, we are in agreement as to how to couch these things. Larry asserted early, and I think we all agreed, that "neutral" handling of unproven claims would uniformly include revelation of their lack of proven foundation.

I would like to add one subrule:

If following NeutralPointOfView would make *single* reader believe that some utter bullshit is as legitimate as other theories about the same subject, then forget about NeutralPointOfView for a moment.

The most obvious cases are all science vs. religious fanatism debates, like creationism vs. evolutionism, where the only point of presenting religious pov is for saying that there are people who believe that, not that it might be true. --Taw

I could not disagree more strongly. I'm sorry, but you are not the final arbiter of what is and is not utter bullshit. See Creationism/Talk for further debate about your view. --LMS

I've been getting a vaguely uneasy feeling about NeutralPointOfView, slowly over the last month or so. I starting to get the feeling that after the most energetic and best known editors and commentators go over something, it emerges with a slight bias towards a white, middle class, slightly right of centre, USA view of the world. The bias is not all that strong, and it's probably not deliberate, but it's definitely there. At its worst, we see this bias being presented as NeutralPointOfView rather than as a bias.

An example or two would help; without examples, what you say is very difficult to evaluate. I firmly believe that where bias can be spotted, it can be eliminated. This is not done by adjusting the standpoint of a single neutral point of view, but by making sure that various competing views are stated fairly. (Well, of course there's more to it than that.)
I am glad that we are not debating the desirability of writing from the neutral point of view, and instead that we're debating how well we're succeeding in fulfilling an ideal. --(indented comments by LMS)

Minority views on a subject that are popular in this population segment demand to get equal representation, even if the entire rest of the world thinks the particular view in question makes about as much sense as the flat earth theory. Non-USA authors who might not even know that there are educated people (in the USA, usually not elsewhere) with a particular view sometimes get strongly rebuked for not giving that view equal time.

I suspect a lot of the bias you detect is a function of the fact that a lot of people from the U.S. are writing here, which is understandable since such a large proportion of people online are from the U.S., and because the website is under management by Americans. Consequently, because the Americans are often not so familiar with European views on things--and, in my experience, vice-versa--European views sometimes are not represented well enough. I agree completely that this is a problem and that, where it occurs anyway (again, examples would be nice), it has a tendency to make the articles biased. Representing a minority view as it were as a majority view, simply by giving it more attention, is a kind of bias. I agree.
The solution is to find more Europeans and non-Americans to participate. It is very important to me, at least, that we make this a completely international project. That has been my vision with Nupedia from the beginning and it carries over here to Wikipedia, at least as far as I am concerned. This is one reason why we were quick to set up the International Wikipedias--and, regardless of how much participation those other wikis receive, I still think the English language Wikipedia should not be limited only to those topics and those viewpoints which characterize English speakers.

Views that don't sit well with this population segment are subtlely discouraged (or not so subtlely if they are not worded carefully enough). This is even true where almost everyone who has studied the area agrees that the average educated but not expert in this area American has got it totally wrong.

Again, this is a result of the fact that there are a lot of American Internet users online. A lot of Internet users generally, but especially Americans, are libertarian--what Europeans call "liberal" (Americans should call them that too, but nevermind). Hence, when leftist-biased or religion-based conservative-biased articles are spotted, they are summarily pounced upon. And they should be. Immediately. Why? Not because they are leftist or religious conservative views--but because they are biased.
In my experience here I have sometimes seen articles which I myself thought were far too much biased in a libertarian direction; I have tried to do my best to balance the views and remove the appearance that the article is actually advocating libertarian views.

Ideas that are insulting in some way to the USA seem to get very hostile responses.

Well, should an encyclopedia have insults to nationalities? Or is this permitted only for the U.S.A.? Anti-Americanism is, frankly, rife all over the world. As an American who has travelled to many foreign lands and lived for months in two of them, I can tell you that very many of these biases are based on idiotic misconceptions--just as many prejudices, generally, are. If anything, anti-Americanism has been getting worse in recent years. As long as I'm here, I'm going to speak out loudly against all sorts of prejudice--even prejudice against Americans. I hope you can live with that. It simply won't be tolerated.

Unfortunately there are a lot of ideas that are insulting to the USA that might be true, or at least have a little bit of supporting evidence and are important enough to be at mentioned in an encyclopedia. I guess non-USA authors should figure out how to present these things more diplomatically, and USA authors should cool off a bit and consider them rationally.

I agree with this analysis. I think it's important to find a way to report important facts, including facts that are very embarrassing to various nationalities and races, without seeming to insult persons of those nationalities and races. This is difficult, but I am confident that it can be done.

I think the non-USA wikipedia authors are reluctant to put their views on things as strongly as some of the most visible USA authors (although occasionally we do see this happen). Certainly after being "corrected", hardly any non-USA author will go in and start an editing war in the article. They might complain a little in Talk.

Examples, again, would help: what articles have you, for example, felt uncomfortable editing?
I think there's definitely something wrong with a situation where someone feels uncomfortable adding information to Wikipedia. If, at present, there are more American libertarians than European leftists on board--for example :-) --then it's predictable enough that the European leftists will feel "under the gun" when adding information that the American libertarians might immediately spot as biased. In this situation, I think it wouldn't do much good to try to blame the libertarians for acting poorly. We shouldn't discourage people from removing bias. It would be better to encourage the leftists to say (repeatedly, if necessary): "Look, there is a perfectly legitimate, common leftist point of view that is omitted from this article. For the article to give all relevant information about this subject, this view needs to be stated clearly and sympathetically. I'm going to try to put it into the article in a way that seems fair to me. I can understand if it is edited so that it does not appear to be a view that is asserted by the article, or presented as true. But as long as it is clear that it's just one view about the subject, then please, please, don't try to remove the force of the arguments presented. That really wouldn't be fair."
Feel free to quote the above as much as you need to.  :-) It's a very legitimate sort of concern, I think.

I don't think we have much deliberate propaganda production here, at least not among the more prolific contributors. It's more a matter of people from one place not realising people from another place honestly disagree, and often with some evidence on their side. This is made worse with people from the USA because most in the USA believe they have no censorship there and therefore anything they haven't heard of can't be true. I'm not sure if there really is censorship in the USA, but certainly, one way or another, there is a lot of really important stuff that is well known elsewhere, but fairly hard for ordinary people in the USA to find out about.

Examples would help. If anyone actually has removed honest disagreements supported with evidence from any articles, I would agree that that is a really serious problem. (I would not, however, make any facile, ignorant generalizations about "censorship" in the United States. That would be pointless. Let's just talk about the problem itself.)

The rest of us know we have censorship, and are a bit more ready to believe that our governments and news media might have been lying to us about something important.

For the record, you would be surprised at the number of Americans who believe their government and news media lie and leave out important information every day. That's why talk radio and alternative news services online are popular here. However, I think most Americans deny that this is properly called censorship. I'd call it bad and biased reporting. --LMS (end of comments)

I guess what i'm getting at with all this, is, try not to get a "I'm neutral therefore i'm right and anyone who disagrees is a dishonest commie bastard" attitude going.

I think you should point to concrete examples so that we can evalutate your claims ourselves. Right now, you paint a somewhat foggy picture of underlying bias which I do not find confirmed.
I agree with you that certain outsider positions are almost non-existant outside of the US (gun rights, creationism). These positions should still be mentioned, and it also needs to be pointed out that they are geographically limited. --AxelBoldt
I don't have any specific examples to point to either, but I've had the same feeling as the anonymous writer of the long entry above, without being able to pinpoint exactly what was wrong. Perhaps the paragraph in brackets on the Creationism page can work as an example.
The problem is that we need to find a NeutralPointOfView that is neutral not just in the US, but internationally. US writers on Wikipedia are (or will be, soon) a minority. --Pinkunicorn

Maybe you understand the following perfectly well--but it can't hurt to say it one more time. As far as we on Wikipedia are concerned, to speak of a lack of bias, or of neutral writing, is not to speak of a single viewpoint that is expressed in an article. The neutral point of view, as conceived by myself and Jimbo and many others, is not the view from nowhere. It is not "the truth," enunciated from "a neutral standpoint." In an encyclopedia at least, that's a silly fantasy and a total misunderstanding of what unbiased writing is like. Instead, where there is disagreement on a topic, one takes a step back to characterize the controversy--rather than to as it were engage directly in the controversy by taking a position, or by trying to find some bogus "middle" position that is the official view of the encyclopedia. Therefore, the notion of a neutral point of view that is "neutral in the U.S." really makes no sense. (Maybe you realize this, though, and you're just accusing some Americans of having this misunderstanding.)

I just want us all to be aware that we are not debating here about how Wikipedia is going to be biased. (Should we push it leftward or rightward or liberty-ward? That's the wrong question.) Our only official bias is that such a thing as a neutral point of view can exist. --LMS

On occasion I've posted something and then noticed in "Recent Changes" that someone else edited it "to remove North American" bias or somesuch. Personally, I enjoy this; I know I'm a US citizen, I know I'm biased, but the only way I know what's a bias and what isn't is, sometimes, if someone calls me on it. That's a valuable part of Wikipedia, and not something I expected when I first tripped onto it. I agree that there's probably no such thing as a truly neutral POV; but it's good to learn where our biases are. --RjLesch

RjLesch, those latter comments can be addressed to you. We aren't talking about writing from a POV. We are talking about how to fairly represent various competing points of view. That ideal is what we call (confusingly) "the neutral point of view." In yet other words, we aren't looking at views A, B, and C, and trying to write from some "neutral POV," D, that is intermediate between A, B, and C. Rather, we are trying to fairly represent A, B, and C, without asserting any one of them as being correct. This is what being unbiased means. --LMS

I think I understand that. The point I was trying, fumblingly perhaps, to make, is that sometimes we don't know what our biases are until we put them out there and someone points them out. Also, that if someone says "this is a bias", that's an opportunity for me to learn rather than to take offense. -- RjLesch

If I can continue the debate here, the trouble with the above is that the range of mainstream or even out-there viewpoints on certain issues differs from country to country, and the majority view certainly does. The problem you occasionally see on Wikipedia (and, again, I wish I had a good example to point to) is that the range of viewpoints in America is A, B, and C, and A being the predominant one and stated as such, whereas in, say, Australia, the range is viewpoints B, C, and D and C is the predominant one. To take an example, compare the parameters of the drugs debates in the US and in parts of Europe. So, even if you are careful to state all the viewpoints you are familiar with and give them credence and airtime approximately proportional to their support in the relevant communities (on political issues, the general populace, say) if you write from a US perspective you can easily come across as hopelessly biased to a non-US reader.

People writing from a non-US base are less afflicted with this problem because, they are far more likely to be exposed to foriegn perspectives on issues, but they may not get an accurate picture of true US opinion (the foriegn view of the US seems to be filtered through the prisms of New York and Los Angeles).

I'm not trying to flame Americans here - some of my best friends are Americans :) But please be aware that even if you try to present all the perspectives on an issue you're familiar with from the NPOV, it still might not be neutral from the perspective of somebody across the pond. -- Robert Merkel

The range problem is easy to fix, though, if someone aware of the other POVs comes across it - at least much easier to fix than an article structured around a particular view or with it insidiously ingrained into the language. Remember, this is a wiki; we should all strive to be as neutral as possible, but failures can still be corrected. --Josh Grosse

Dealing with Americo-centricity In reading articles, I have noticed a bias of several writers to presume the 'American' viewpoint is the only one. This was addressed earlier on contentious issues such as drug-control and anti-abortion, but it can turn up in the most innocuous of places.

I would cite the series of articles on English. The starting point of this group of articles is that there is American English and International English (ie, those variants which are not American). Oh really?? I suspect there are an awful lot of English linguisticians who would dispute this. Australian English is as etymologically distinct from British English as American English is, and Singlish (Singaporean English) is so unique as to be almost unrecognisable to anyone who first encounters it. Yet these have all been rolled together under one heading, solely on the basis that they are not American.

A neutral point of view would contend that there is English and within that language are several recognised variations, such as American, British, Australian, Afrikaaner, Canadian, Singlish, etc. The fact that American English dominates the IT industry is a fair and valid comment, and should be included. But to present 'American' and 'non-American' is extremely biased.

The English language entries are currently the subject of much debate. See their International English/Talk pages. --rmhermen (9/27/01)

And this was the view of an Englishman, namely myself. No American bias was intended and it is probably a good example of bias being perceived in article, possibly by projection. My work on those articles has been halted and so my plans to make references to Singlese and local reactions against it have been indefinitely delayed. -- Artistotle

Geographical Bias It is very easy to talk about an event occurring in the "Summer of 1981". But unfortunately that is not a meaningful phrase in a global resource (EG: In the southern hemisphere, Christmas is a summer holiday). Please use actual month names, or when context demands it phrase your statement as "public opinion changed over the (northern) summer of 1968." - ManningBartlett

I also think context is going to help quite often. E.g., if we're talking about Alaska, for instance, and I say that the Good Friday Earthquake in Anchorage happened in spring in 1964, nobody is going to misunderstand what I mean.  :-) --LMS

Suggestion: Never delete info giving the reason "this is against Neutral point of view." If it is against NPOV, then something must be done, but deleting the info is not it. Alternatives include

  • Fix it so the info is still there, but couched in more neutral terms. This is the best thing if you know the topic well enough.
  • Leave a note inside the text suggesting someone fix it.
  • Leave a note in the corresponding /Talk page suggesting someone fix it.

-- Geronimo Jones

Sorry, I'm going to have to disagree here. Whilst I don't delete stuff just for the hell of it, if something is just a statement of opinion which provides no useful information on the topic, I believe it should be removed. In this case, I shift the deleted text to the talk page so people can see why I've done so. --Robert Merkel
Some of this discussion seems to be about the elimination of nonfactual adjectives. Here are some examples:
John wore a forest green sportcoat over a black shirt. He crossed the street. [fact reporting]
John wore a most beautiful forest green sportcoat over a black shirt. He crossed the street at a rapid pace. (now we are into opinion and hence away from neutrality, according to this discussion, unless we qualify it as thus:
[following the preceding sentences] Some people might disagree thatJohn's coat as beautiful; others might dislike forest green and consider the coat ugly. For one's pace to qualify as "rapid," it must be measured against a standard.

"This metal beam weighs fifteen pounds." : No, it doesn't! It is fourteen pounds, thirteen ounces and part of an ounce.

This one is from real life: I insist that a certain flavor of PowerAde is "green" while several other people call it "yellow" and insist it isn't green. To me, it is certainly green.

Define "objective"!

Am I now wearing a "kimono" or a "bathrobe"?

At what second does "night" end?

What do people think about saying "perspectivist" instead of "neutral"? By perspectivist I mean discussing perspectives or experience rather than some unobservable truth "beyond" these. The phrase "neutral point of view" seems both false and misleading to me, while "perspectivist point of view" seems closer to what most people mean by NPOV in this discussion. --Dan

Most controversial subjects in wikipedia
Words that should not be used in wikipedia articles

See Creationism/Talk and Wikipedia commentary/Faith vs science with regard to the Wikipedia for lots more debate.

See also Positive tone.