This requires further editing to reflect good scientific and academic practice.
- For guidance on how to make an article conform to the neutral point of view (NPOV), see the NPOV tutorial.
NPOV (Neutral Point Of View) is a fundamental Psychology Wiki principle which states that all articles must be written from a neutral point of view, representing views fairly and without bias, in accord with the object principles of science. This includes reader-facing templates, categories and portals.
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, but not asserted. All significant points of view are presented, not just the most popular one. It should 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.
- See also the encyclopedia articles Bias and Media bias
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.
Types of bias include:
- Ethnic or racial bias, including racism, nationalism and regionalism.
- Corporate bias, including advertising, coverage of political campaigns in such a way as to favor corporate interests, and the reporting of issues to favor the interests of the owners of the news media.
- Class bias, including bias favoring one social class and bias ignoring social or class divisions.
- Political bias, including bias in favor of or against a particular political party, policy or candidate.
- Religious bias, including bias in which one religious viewpoint is given preference over others.
- Sensationalism, which is bias in favor of the exceptional over the ordinary. This includes the practice whereby exceptional news may be overemphasized, distorted or fabricated to boost commercial ratings.
- Geographical bias which may for example describe a dispute as it is conducted in one country without knowing that the dispute is framed differently elsewhere.
Reasoning behind NPOV
On aspect of the Psychology Wiki is that it is an academic encyclopedia, which means it is a representation of human knowledge . But human beings disagree about specific cases; for any topic on which there are competing views, each view represents a different idea of what the truth is, and insofar as that view contradicts other views, its adherents believe that the other views are false and therefore not knowledge. Where there is disagreement about what is true, there's disagreement about what constitutes knowledge. Psychology Wiki works because it's a collaborative effort; but, while collaborating, how can we solve the problem of endless "edit wars" in which one person asserts that p, whereupon the next person changes the text so that it asserts not-p?
A solution is that we accept, for the purposes of working on the Psychology Wiki, that "human knowledge" includes all different significant theories on all different topics. So we're committed to the goal of representing human knowledge in that sense. Something like this is surely a well-established sense of the word "knowledge"; in this sense, what is "known" changes constantly with the passage of time, and when we use the word "know", we often use so-called scare quotes. Europeans in the Middle Ages "knew" that demons caused diseases. We now "know" otherwise.
We could sum up human knowledge (in this sense) in a biased way: we'd state a series of theories about topic T, and then claim that the truth about T is such-and-such. But again, consider that The psychology Wiki is an international, collaborative project. Nearly every view on every subject will be found among our authors and readers. To avoid endless edit wars, we can agree to present each of the significant views fairly, and not assert any one of them as correct. That is what makes an article "unbiased" or "neutral" in the sense we are presenting here. To write from a neutral point of view, one presents controversial views without asserting them; to do that, it generally suffices to present competing views in a way that is more or less acceptable to their adherents, and also to attribute the views to their adherents. Disputes are characterized in the Psychology Wiki. They are not re-enacted.
To sum up the primary reason for this policy: Psychology Wiki is an encyclopedia, a compilation of human psychological knowledge. But because the Psychology Wiki is a community-built, international resource, we cannot expect collaborators to agree in all cases, or even in many cases, on what constitutes knowledge in a strict sense. We can, therefore, adopt the looser sense of "human knowledge" according to which a wide variety of conflicting theories constitute what we call "knowledge". We should, both individually and collectively, make an effort to present these conflicting views fairly, without advocating any one of them, with the qualification that views held only by a tiny minority of people should not be represented as though they are significant minority views, and perhaps should not be represented at all.
There is another reason to commit ourselves to this policy. Namely, when it is clear to readers that we do not expect them to adopt any particular opinion, this leaves them free to make up their minds for themselves, thus encouraging intellectual independence. Dogmatists and dogmatic institutions might find reason to be opposed to the Psychology Wiki, if we succeed in adhering to our non-bias policy: the presentation of many competing theories on a wide variety of subjects suggests that we, the editors of the Psychology Wiki, trust readers' competence to form their own opinions. Texts that present multiple viewpoints fairly, without demanding that the reader accept any one of them, are liberating. Neutrality subverts dogmatism, and nearly everyone working on Wikipedia can agree this is a good thing.
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, 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, an 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. Wikipedia aims to present competing views in proportion to their representation among experts on the subject, or among the concerned parties.
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 simple formulation
We sometimes give an alternative formulation of the non-bias policy: assert facts, including facts about opinions — but don't 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". In this sense, that a survey produced a certain published result is 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're 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.
Wikipedia 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's important to note this formulation is substantially different from the "some people believe..." formulation popular in political debates. The reference requires an identifiable and subjectively 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's not enough, to express the Wikipedia 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's also generally important to give the facts about the reasons behind the views, and to make it clear who holds them. It's often best to cite a prominent representative of the view.
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 (as defined in the previous paragraph) are not Points Of View (POV, here used in the meaning of "opposite of NPOV") in and of themselves. A good way to help building a neutral point of view is to find a reputable source for the piece of information you want to add to Wikipedia, 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 and sympathetic tone
If we're going to characterize disputes fairly, we should present competing views with a consistently positive, sympathetic 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. Let's 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. Wikipedia 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.
It might help to consider some examples of how Wikipedians have rendered a biased text at least relatively unbiased.
An ethically laden topic
On the abortion page, early in 2001, some advocates had used the page to exchange barbs, being unable to agree about what arguments should be on the page and how the competing positions should be represented. What was needed — and what was added — was an in-depth discussion of the different positions about the moral and legal aspects of abortion at different times. This discussion of the positions was carefully crafted so as not to favor any one of the positions outlined. This made it easier to organize and understand the arguments surrounding the topic of abortion, which were then presented sympathetically, each with its strengths and weaknesses.
There are numerous other success stories of articles that began life as virtual partisan screeds but were nicely cleaned up by people who concerned themselves with representing all views clearly and sympathetically.
Let the facts speak for themselves
Karada offered the following advice in the context of the Saddam Hussein article:
- You won't even need to say he was evil. That's 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.
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 Wikipedia 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's 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.
Objections and clarifications
What follows is a list of common objections, or questions, regarding Wikipedia's non-bias policy, followed by replies.
There's no such thing as objectivity
Everybody with any philosophical sophistication knows that. So how can we take the "neutrality" policy seriously? Neutrality, lack of bias, isn't possible.
This is probably the most common objection to the neutrality policy. It also reflects the most common misunderstanding of the policy. The misunderstanding is that the policy would have said something about the possibility of objectivity. It simply does not. In particular, the policy does not say that there even is such a thing as objectivity in a philosophical sense, a "view from nowhere" (in Thomas Nagel's phrase)—such that articles written from that point of view are consequently objectively true. That isn't the policy and it is not our aim! Rather, we employ a different understanding of "neutral" and "unbiased" than many might be used to. The policy is simply that we should characterize disputes rather than engage in them. To say this is not to say anything contentious, from a philosophical point of view; indeed, this is something that philosophers are doing all the time. Sophisticated relativists will immediately recognize that the policy is perfectly consistent with their relativism.
If there's anything possibly contentious about the policy along these lines, it is the implication that it is possible to characterize disputes fairly, so that all the major participants will be able to look at the resulting text, agreeing that their views are presented sympathetically and as completely as possible (within the context of the discussion). It is an empirical question, not a philosophical one, whether this is possible; and that such a thing is indeed possible is evident simply by observing that such texts are being written daily by the most capable academics, encyclopedists, textbook writers, and journalists.
This should not be construed to mean that there can be no objective truth in an encyclopedia, in the sense that easily obtainable documents should be quoted or referenced correctly when first-hand sources are available, even if there are second-hand sources which quote them incorrectly. Neutrality does not compel us to introduce inaccuracy when something can be directly verified. Neutrality dictates that there can be multiple prominent interpretations to the meaning or validity of a work, but often the contents can be objectively verified, especially in the case of modern documents.
How are we to write articles about pseudoscientific topics, about which majority scientific opinion is that the pseudoscientific opinion is not credible and doesn't even really deserve serious mention?
If we're going to represent the sum total of human knowledge, then we must concede that we will be describing views repugnant to us without asserting that they are false. Things are not, however, as bad as that sounds. The task before us is not to describe disputes as though, for example, pseudoscience were on a par with science; rather, the task is to represent the majority (scientific) view as the majority view and the minority (sometimes pseudoscientific) view as the minority view; and, moreover, to explain how scientists have received pseudoscientific theories. This is all in the purview of the task of describing a dispute fairly.
Pseudoscience can be seen as a social phenomenon and therefore significant. However, pseudoscience should not obfuscate the description of the main views, and any mention should be proportional to the rest of the article.
A minority of Wikipedians feels so strongly about this problem that they believe Wikipedia should adopt a "scientific point of view" rather than a "neutral point of view." However, it has not been established that there is really a need for such a policy, given that the scientists' view of pseudoscience can be clearly, fully, and fairly explained to believers of pseudoscience.
NPOV policy often means presenting multiple points of view. This means providing not only the points of view of different groups today, but also different groups in the past.
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. One important task for encyclopedias is to explain things. In the case of human beliefs and practices, explanation encompasses not only what motivates individuals who hold these beliefs and practices, but an account of how such beliefs and practices came to be and took shape. Wikipedia articles on history and religion draw from a religion's sacred texts. But Wikipedia articles on history and religion also draw from modern archaeological, historical and scientific sources.
Some adherents of a religion might object to a critical historical treatment of their own faith, claiming that this somehow discriminates against their religious beliefs. They might prefer that the articles describe their faith as they see it, which might be from a non-historical perspective (e.g. the way things are is the way things have always been; any differences are from heretical sects that don't represent the real religion.) Their point of view must be mentioned, yet note that there is no contradiction. NPOV policy means that Wikipedia editors ought to say something like this: Many adherents of this faith believe X, which they believe that members of this group have always believed; however, due to the acceptance of some findings (say which) by modern historians and archaeologists (say which), other adherents (say which) of this faith now believe Z.
An important note on using the term "fundamentalism": In studies of religion, this word has a very specific meaning. Please see the article on fundamentalism for the technical definition of this term. Wikipedia articles about religion should only use this word in one of its technical senses.
When using this word, Wikipedians should take care to explain what is meant by this term in order to avoid causing unnecessary offense or misleading the reader. Wikipedia articles should not use it to mean "strongly-held belief", "opposition to science", or "religious conservatism", as it is often used in the popular press. As religion is a controversial topic, Wikipedia editors should be prepared to see some of these articles edited due to what may seem minor quibbles.
Morally offensive views
What about views that are morally offensive to most Westerners, such as racism, sexism, and Holocaust denial, that some people actually hold? Surely we are not to be neutral about them?
We can maintain a healthy, consistent support for the neutral point of view by attributing emotional charged views to prominent representatives or to a group of people. Those who harbor attitudes of racism, sexism, etc., will not be convinced to change their views based on a biased article, which only puts them on the defensive; on the other hand, if we make a concerted effort to apply our non-bias policy consistently, we might give those who we consider to have morally repugnant beliefs opposite to our own an insight that could change their views.
Giving "equal validity"
But wait. I find the optimism about science vs. pseudo-science to be baseless. History has shown that pseudo-science can beat out facts, as those who rely on pseudo-science use lies, slander, innuendo and numerical majorities of followers to force their views on anyone they can. If this project gives equal validity to those who literally claim that the Earth is flat, or those who claim that the Holocaust never occurred, the result is that it will (inadvertently) legitimize and help promote that which only can be termed evil.
Please be clear on one thing: the Wikipedia neutrality policy certainly does not state, or imply, that we must "give equal validity" to minority views. It does state that we must not take a stand on them as encyclopedia writers; but that does not stop us from describing the majority views as such; from fairly explaining the strong arguments against the pseudoscientific theory; from describing the strong moral repugnance that many people feel toward some morally repugnant views; and so forth.
See this humorous illustration of the "equal validity" issue.
Wikipedia seems to have an Anglo-American focus. Is this contrary to the neutral point of view?
Yes, it is, especially when dealing with articles that require an international perspective. The presence of articles written from a United States or British perspective is simply a reflection of the fact that there are many U.S. and British people working on the project, which in turn is a reflection of the fact that so many of them are online. This is an ongoing problem that should be corrected by active collaboration from people from other countries. But rather than introducing their own cultural bias, they should seek to improve articles by removing any examples of cultural bias that they encounter, or making readers aware of them. A special WikiProject has been set up to deal with this problem. This is not only a problem in the English Wikipedia. The French Language Wikipedia may reflect a French bias, the Japanese Wikipedia may reflect a Japanese bias, and so on.
Lack of neutrality as an excuse to delete
The neutrality policy is used sometimes as an excuse to delete texts that are perceived as biased. Isn't this a problem?
In many cases, yes. Many of us believe that the fact that some text is biased is not enough, in itself, to delete it outright. If it contains valid information, the text should simply be edited accordingly.
There's sometimes trouble determining whether some claim is true or useful, particularly when there are few people on board who know about the topic. In such a case, it's a good idea to raise objections on a talk page; if one has some reason to believe that the author of the biased material will not be induced to change it, we have sometimes taken to removing the text to the talk page itself (but not deleting it entirely). But the latter should be done more or less as a last resort, never as a way of punishing people who have written something biased.
Dealing with biased contributors
I agree with the non-bias policy but there are some here who seem completely, irremediably biased. I have to go around and clean up after them. What do I do?
Unless the case is really egregious, maybe the best thing is to call attention to the problem publicly, pointing the perpetrators to this page (but politely — one gets more flies with honey than with vinegar) and asking others to help. See Dispute resolution for more ideas. There must surely be a point beyond which our very strong interest in being a completely open project is trumped by the interest the vast majority of our writers have, in being able to get work done without constantly having to fix the intrusions of people who do not respect our policy.
Avoiding constant disputes
How can we avoid constant and endless warfare over neutrality issues?
The best way to avoid warfare over bias is to remember that most of us are reasonably intelligent, articulate people here, or we wouldn't be working on this and caring so much about it. We have to make it our goal to understand each others' perspectives and to work hard to make sure that those other perspectives are fairly represented. When any dispute arises as to what the article should say, or what is true, we must not adopt an adversarial stance; we must do our best to step back and ask ourselves, "How can this dispute be fairly characterized?" This has to be asked repeatedly as each new controversial point is stated. It is not our job to edit Wikipedia so that it reflects our own idiosyncratic views and then defend those edits against all-comers; it is our job to work together, mainly adding or improving content, but also, when necessary, coming to a compromise about how a controversy should be described, so that it is fair to all sides.
Making necessary assumptions
What about the case where, in order to write any of a long series of articles on some general subject, we must make some controversial assumptions? That's the case, e.g., in writing about evolution. Surely we won't have to hash out the evolution-vs.-creationism debate on every such page?
No, surely not. There are virtually no topics that could proceed without making some assumptions that someone would find controversial. This is true not only in evolutionary biology, but also in philosophy, history, physics, etc.
It is difficult to draw up general principles on which to rule in specific cases, but the following might help: there is probably not a good reason to discuss some assumption on a given page, if an assumption is best discussed in depth on some other page. Some brief, unobtrusive pointer might be apropos, however. E.g., in an article about the evolutionary development of horses, we might have one brief sentence to the effect that some creationists do not believe that horses (or any other animals) underwent any evolution, and point the reader to the relevant article. If there is much specific argument over some particular point, it might be placed on a special page of its own.
Writing for the "enemy"
- See also: Wikipedia:Writing for the enemy (essay)
I'm not convinced by what you say about "writing for the enemy." I don't want to write for the enemy. Most of them rely on stating as fact many things which are demonstrably false. Are you saying that, to be neutral in writing an article, I must lie, in order to represent the view I disagree with?
This is a misunderstanding of what the neutrality policy says. You aren't claiming anything, except to say, "So-and-so argues that ____________, and therefore, ___________." This can be done with a straight face, with no moral compunctions, because you are attributing the claim to someone else. It's worth observing that scholars are trained so that, even when trying to prove a point, counter-arguments are included, so that they can explain why the counter-arguments fail.
This can be a particularly touchy subject, and a large number of people can honestly fail to see the bias inherent in a popular term, simply because it's the one commonly used. But it shouldn't take long to understand that the English Wikipedia is a highly international project, and its editors reflect many different points of view. It's important to note that this level of objectivity is rather new to most people, and disputes over the proper terms may simply depend on the balance of points of view.
I have some other objection - where should I complain?
Before asking it, please review the links below. Many issues surrounding the neutrality policy have been covered before very extensively. If you have some new contribution to make to the debate, you could try Talk:Neutral point of view, or bring it up on the Wikipedia-l mailing list.