Wikipedia:Inaccuracies in Wikipedia namespace

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Incorrect facts in Wikipedia namespace: Everywhere![edit]

Guidelines commonly let us know how policies should be specifically applied. Essays let us know what at least one editor thinks about an issue or process. Guidelines, essays, and other pages in the Wikipedia namespace are written and edited by the Wikipedia community at large, so what happens when one is factually incorrect?

When we say “factually incorrect,” we don't mean that the guideline or essay states something that some may disagree with, but makes an assertion of fact that is in reality, untrue. For example, Articles for Deletion/Common Outcomes (WP:OUTCOMES) may state that “articles about X are usually deleted.” In fact, this may not be true. However, WP:OUTCOMES regularly influences AfD debates, so nonfactual information being presented as fact in this case may have a deleterious impact on future articles, and therefore Wikipedia as a whole.

Editors (in good faith) make statements about:

  • common outcomes of Articles for deletion discussion (e.g. "all articles on X are deleted")
  • trends in deliberative body decisions (e.g. "the ArbCom always sides with X in cases regarding Y")
  • common outcomes in Good Article or Featured Article decisions (e.g. "No article gets approved as a Featured Article without having ALT text in all its images")
  • Add to this list as you see fit

These statements, when not asserted along with quantitative verification, are opinions, based on the editor's own prior experience. These statements are made in good faith, but suffer from three major problems:

  1. While an editor may think X, based on their past experience, X in fact may not be true. For example, if the editor has not checked every (or at least a majority) of AfD debates on the subject in question, they can't really say with much certainty how common a particular outcome is.
  2. We can't distinguish authors of unverified/unsourced statements of fact to determine which are accurate and which are not.
  3. What is true at one time, may not be true a month or year later. These kinds of statements of fact must be kept up to date to be useful.

How can we keep pages in the Wikipedia namespace accurate?[edit]

Essays can offer "opinion or advice of an editor or group of editors, for which widespread consensus has not been established." One may find essays which recommend the deletion or keeping of certain kinds of articles. While logical arguments and evidence may improve the quality of such essays, it's within the authorial prerogative not to do so (i.e. essays don't need to verify their facts, as everyone knows an essay is an opinion). However, on pages that are Policy, Guidelines or other non-essay pages which state "a consensus exists for X," this may be a form of weasel wording that should be avoided.

  • Who determined what the consensus was?
  • Where was the consensus worked out?
  • When was the consensus worked out?

In the interest of providing context and avoiding jargon, what is meant by "the consensus" or "the common outcome," etc. should be explained in enough detail to be comprehensible to and verifiable by even a newcomer, though still as concise as possible. Anybody can make a good faith attempt to work out what the consensus is on a given topic. In order to present the consensus as objectively as possible, the best practice would be to "show your work," i.e. share the process, the reasoning by which the consensus was determined. A reader should be able to say, "I understand how this consensus was determined and I am not left with any questions." In the interest of verifiability, facilitating the reader's ability to independently verify the statement is desirable. Creating a {{Search link}} utilizing refined searches would keep the reader's amount of work and specialized knowledge of Wikipedia tools to a minimum.

Avoid making nonspecific statements of fact: Show your work.[edit]

The accuracy of nonspecific statements of fact are not discernible on their face. For example:

  • (Bad) Articles about elementary schools are usually deleted for being non-notable.

It is better to "show your work." For example:

  • (Better) From January 2008 to June 2009, 66% of elementary schools were deleted for being non-notable.
  • (Best) Breakdown of AfD's on elementary schools from January 2008 to June 2009:
Total Schools nominated for AfD: 51
Schools deleted for being non-notable: 34
Schools deleted for other reasons: 10
Schools kept: 7

We recognize that both “better” and “best” will require a lot of research. Showing your work isn't as quick as making a general statement of fact. However, the damage an unverified “fact” can do outweighs the convenience of writing it. Showing your work shows other editors that you took the time to make sure you were accurate.

Identify unverified and/or unsourced statements of fact where they occur.[edit]

  • This way they can be verified/sourced, identified as opinions, or deleted. The Template:Unreferenced WP tag has been created for this purpose, pending its TfD debate. It can be used in sections, or for whole pages.
  • While originally designed for Article namespace, the {{fact}} tag can be used for individual unverified/unsourced statements that are presented as fact, to let editors know that the "fact" is being questioned by at least one editor.

If whole pages are problematic, discuss on their respective talk pages.[edit]

Some pages may be filled with unverified/unsourced statements of fact. In this case, a discussion on the talk page about problems and possible solutions is a good idea. Check the page's talk page archives, as prior discussions may have already taken place. These discussions will let you know if the common issues have changed or remained the same, and what consensus was at that time.

But WP namespace is not part of the encyclopedia![edit]

The policies, guidelines, and process pages themselves are not part of the encyclopedia proper. Consequently, they do not generally need to conform with the content standards. It is therefore not necessary to provide reliable sources to verify Wikipedia's rules, or to phrase rules in a neutral manner, or to cite an outside authority in determining Wikipedia's own rules and procedures. Instead, the content of these pages is controlled by community-wide consensus, and the style should emphasize clarity, directness, and usefulness to other editors.

Note that it uses the word rules. What is being addressed by this essay is not the verification of statements about rules but statements about other aspects of Wikipedia such as "common outcomes." Consensus is not a rule. Trends are not rules. Past outcomes are not rules. These things need to either be verified, or to be stated clearly in a manner that shows they are opinions of the editor.

  • (Bad) Articles on bands who have never released an album are always deleted.
  • (Better) I can't remember an AfD of a band with no albums ever being kept. -or- As far as I know... etc.

Clear statements, showing work, and linking by search or directly to other discussions are consistent with the principles of "clarity, directness, and usefulness" quoted above. Additionally, it is "not necessary [i.e. but not prohibited] to provide reliable sources to verify Wikipedia's rules, or to phrase rules in a neutral manner, or to cite an outside authority in determining Wikipedia's own rules and procedures." And while Wikipedia itself does not meet the definition of a "reliable source" for articles and there is not likely to be an "outside authority" regarding, e.g. AfDs on schools, there is no reason why Wikipedia cannot be a reliable source for itself in the Wikipedia namespace except that some editors might not care to take the time to do it, which is not an especially good reason.

One does not find a Wikipedia policy citing itself, e.g. the WP:V policy does not say "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. The proof for this is WP:V." However, for example, an AfD an argument stating "delete per policy" would be unverifiable. What policy, where, how does that policy fit? It has to be named and ideally wikilinked in order that others can verify for themselves that the policy in fact says what the person says it does (and further, quoting the relevant portion and explaining its relevance is often desirable and makes for a stronger presentation of evidence and argument). One could not say delete per WP:V, which states that articles must be entirely the opinion of Wikipedians and have no sources. That would be verifiably false; the text of WP:V is the proof that it is false. Thus something like Schools are frequently nominated for deletion. Most elementary and middle schools that don't source a clear claim to notability are now getting merged or redirected in AfD, with high schools being kept except where they fail verifiability. Schools which do get merged are generally redirected to the school district which operates them (North America) or the lowest level locality (elsewhere) is substantially similar. Each of these statements is stated as a fact, all facts can be proven or disproven. If it isn't sourced, there's no merit to citing it.