SikhiWiki:Neutral point of view
Neutral Point of View (NPOV) is a SikhiWiki:Five principal pillars which states that all SikhiWiki articles must be written from a neutral point of view, that is, they must represent all significant views fairly and without bias. This includes maps, reader-facing templates, categories and portals. According to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, "A few things are absolute and non-negotiable, though. NPOV for example."
SikhiWiki:Neutral point of view is one of SikhiWiki's four content policies. The other two are SikhiWiki:Verifiability, Wikipedia:No original research and SikhiWiki:Relevance. Jointly, these policies determine the type and quality of material that is acceptable to SikhiWiki. Because the four policies are complementary, they should not be interpreted in isolation from one another, and editors should therefore try to familiarize themselves with all four. The principles upon which these four policies are based are non-negotiable and cannot be superseded by other policies or guidelines, or by editors' consensus. Their policy pages may be edited only to improve the application and explanation of the principles.
Explanation of the neutral point of view
The neutral point of view is a means of dealing with conflicting views. The policy requires that, where there are or have been conflicting views, these should be presented fairly. None of the views should be given undue weight or asserted as being the truth, and all significant published points of view are to be presented, not just the most popular one. It should also not be asserted that the most popular view or some sort of intermediate view among the different views is the correct one. Readers are left to form their own opinions.
As the name suggests, the neutral point of view is a point of view, not the absence or elimination of viewpoints. It is a point of view that is neutral - that is neither sympathetic nor in opposition to its subject.
Debates are described, represented, and characterized, but not engaged in. Background is provided on who believes what and why, and which view is more popular. Detailed articles might also contain the mutual evaluations of each viewpoint, but studiously refrain from stating which is better. One can think of unbiased writing as the cold, fair, analytical description of all relevant sides of a debate. When bias towards one particular point of view can be detected, the article needs to be fixed.
NPOV requires views to be represented without bias. A bias is a prejudice in a general or specific sense, usually in the sense of having a predilection for one particular point of view or ideology. One is said to be biased if one is influenced by one's biases. A bias could, for example, lead one to accept or not-accept the truth of a claim, not because of the strength of the claim itself, but because it does or does not correspond to one's own preconceived ideas.
A simple formulation
We sometimes give an alternative formulation of the non-bias policy: assert facts, including facts about opinions — but do not assert opinions themselves. There is a difference between facts and opinions. By "fact" we mean "a piece of information about which there is no serious dispute." For example, that a survey produced a certain published result would be a fact. That there is a planet called Mars is a fact. That Plato was a philosopher is a fact. No one seriously disputes any of these things. So we can feel free to assert as many of them as we can.
By value or opinion, on the other hand, we mean "a piece of information about which there is some dispute." There are bound to be 'borderline cases' where we are not sure if we should take a particular dispute seriously; but there are many propositions that very clearly express values or opinions. That stealing is wrong is a value or opinion. That the Beatles was the greatest band is a value or opinion. That the United States was wrong to drop the atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a value or opinion.
SikhiWiki is devoted to stating facts in the sense as described above. Where we might want to state an opinion, we convert that opinion into a fact by attributing the opinion to someone. So, rather than asserting, "The Beatles were the greatest band," we can say, "Most Americans believe that the Beatles were the greatest band," which is a fact verifiable by survey results, or "The Beatles had many songs that made the 'Billboard Hot 100'," which is also fact. In the first instance we assert an opinion; in the second and third instances we "convert" that opinion into fact by attributing it to someone. It is important to note this formulation is substantially different from the "some people believe..." formulation popular in political debates. The reference requires an identifiable and objectively quantifiable population or, better still, a name.
In presenting an opinion, moreover, it is important to bear in mind that there are disagreements about how opinions are best stated; sometimes, it will be necessary to qualify the description of an opinion or to present several formulations, simply to arrive at a solution that fairly represents all the leading views of the situation.
But it is not enough, to express the SikhiWiki non-bias policy, just to say that we should state facts and not opinions. When asserting a fact about an opinion, it is important also to assert facts about competing opinions, and to do so without implying that any one of the opinions is correct. It is also generally important to give the facts about the reasons behind the views, and to make it clear who holds them. It is often best to cite a prominent representative of the view.
Situations and handling
A POV fork is an attempt to evade NPOV guidelines by creating a new article about a certain subject that is already treated in an article, often to avoid or highlight negative or positive viewpoints or facts. This is generally considered unacceptable. The generally accepted policy is that all facts and majority Points of View on a certain subject are treated in one article.
NPOV says that the article should fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by a reliable source, and should do so in proportion to the prominence of each. Now an important qualification: Articles that compare views need not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views, and may not include tiny-minority views at all (by example, the article on the "Earth" only very briefly refers to the "Flat Earth" theory, a view of a distinct minority). We should not attempt to represent a dispute as if a view held by a small minority deserved as much attention as a majority view, and views that are held by a tiny minority should not be represented except in articles devoted to those views. To give undue weight to a significant-minority view, or to include a tiny-minority view, might be misleading as to the shape of the dispute. SikhiWiki aims to present competing views in proportion to their representation among experts on the subject, or among the concerned parties. This applies not only to article text, but to images, external links, categories, and all other material as well.
Undue weight applies to more than just viewpoints. Just as giving undue weight to a viewpoint is not neutral, so is giving undue weight to other verifiable and sourced statements. An article should not give undue weight to any aspects of the subject, but should strive to treat each aspect with a weight appropriate to its significance to the subject. Note that undue weight can be given in several ways, including, but not limited to, depth of detail, quantity of text, prominence of placement, and juxtaposition of statements.
None of this is to say that tiny-minority views cannot receive as much attention as we can give them on pages specifically devoted to them. But even on such pages, though a view may be spelled out in great detail, it should not be represented as the truth.
A vital component: good research
Disagreements over whether something is approached the Neutral Point Of View (NPOV) way can usually be avoided through the practice of good research. Facts are not Points Of View (POV, here used in the meaning of "opposite of NPOV") in and of themselves. A good way to build a neutral point of view is to find a reputable source for the piece of information you want to add to SikhiWiki, and then cite that source. This is an easy way to characterize a side of a debate without excluding that the debate has other sides. The trick is to find the best and most reputable sources you can. Try the library for good books and journal articles, and look for the most reliable online resources. A little bit of ground work can save a lot of time in trying to justify a point later.
The only other important consideration is that sources of comparable reputability might contradict. In that case the core of the NPOV policy is to let competing approaches of the same topic exist on the same page: work for balance, that is: divide space describing the opposing viewpoints according to reputability of the sources. And, when available, give precedence to those sources that have been the most successful in presenting facts in an equally balanced manner.
Fairness of tone
If we are going to characterize disputes neutrally, we should present competing views with a consistently fair and sensitive tone. Many articles end up as partisan commentary even while presenting both points of view. Even when a topic is presented in terms of facts rather than opinion, an article can still radiate an implied stance through either selection of which facts to present, or more subtly their organization — for instance, refuting opposing views as one goes along makes them look a lot worse than collecting them in an opinions-of-opponents section.
We should, instead, write articles with the tone that all positions presented are at least plausible, bearing in mind the important qualification about extreme minority views. We should present all significant, competing views sympathetically. We can write with the attitude that such-and-such is a good idea, except that, in the view of some detractors, the supporters of said view overlooked such-and-such a detail.
Characterizing opinions of people's work
A special case is the expression of aesthetic opinions. SikhiWiki articles about art, artists, and other creative topics (e.g., musicians, actors, books, etc.) have tended toward the effusive. This is out of place in an encyclopedia. We might not be able to agree that so-and-so is the greatest guitar player in history, but it may be important to describe how some artist or some work has been received by the general public or by prominent experts. Providing an overview of the common interpretations of a creative work, preferably with citations or references to notable individuals holding that interpretation, is appropriate. For instance, that Shakespeare is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest playwrights of the English language is a bit of knowledge that one should learn from an encyclopedia. However, in the interests of neutrality, one should also learn that a number of reputable scholars argue that there is a strong case to make that the author of much of the work still attributed to Shakespeare was his contemporary Christopher Marlowe. Notice that determining how some artist or work has been received publicly or critically might require research — but once determined, a clear statement of that reception (unlike an idiosyncratic opinion by a Wikipedia article writer) is an opinion that really matters.
Let the facts speak for themselves
Wikipedia User:Karada offered the following advice in the context of the "Saddam Hussein" article:
- You won't even need to say he was evil. That is why the article on "Hitler" does not start with "Hitler was a bad man" — we don't need to, his deeds convict him a thousand times over. We just list the facts of the Holocaust dispassionately, and the voices of the dead cry out afresh in a way that makes name-calling both pointless and unnecessary. Please do the same: list Saddam's crimes, and cite your sources.
Remember that readers will probably not take kindly to moralising. If you do not allow the facts to speak for themselves you may alienate readers and turn them against your position.
Attributing and substantiating biased statements
Sometimes, a potentially biased statement can be reframed into an NPOV statement by attributing or substantiating it.
For instance, "John Doe is the best baseball player" is, by itself, merely an expression of opinion. One way to make it suitable for SikhiWiki is to change it into a statement about someone whose opinion it is: "John Doe's baseball skills have been praised by baseball insiders such as Al Kaline and Joe Torre," as long as those statements are correct and can be verified. The goal here is to attribute the opinion to some subject-matter expert, rather than to merely state it as true.
A different approach is to substantiate the statement, by giving factual details that back it up: "John Doe had the highest batting average in the major leagues from 2003 through 2006." Instead of using the vague word "best," this statement spells out a particular way in which Doe excels.
There is a temptation to rephrase biased or opinion statements with "weasel words": "Many people think John Doe is the best baseball player." But statements of this form are subject to obvious attacks: "Yes, many people think so, but only ignorant people"; and "Just how many is 'many'? I think it's only 'a few' who think that!" By attributing the claim to a known authority, or substantiating the facts behind it, you can avoid these problems.
- NPOV tutorial
- List of controversial issues
- Words to avoid
- Guidelines for controversial articles
- Wikipedia:Avoid weasel words
- WikiProject Countering Systemic Bias
- Wikipedia Neutrality Project
- On MeatballWiki:
- Blinded By Science: How ‘Balanced’ Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality - Chris Mooney, Columbia Journalism Review. A valuable warning to Wikipedians about how some methods used to balance coverage can lead to biased, inaccurate and misleading reporting.