Neutral point of view

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Simply, think of yourself as a historian. Strive for facts, but reporting opinions of others can sometimes provide additional insight to an article. Attempt to credit others' opinions and avoid including your own.

More complicatedly:

Cacheopedia policy is that all articles should be written from a neutral point of view.

For guidance on making an article conform to the neutral point of view (NPOV), please see the NPOV tutorial.



The neutral point of view policy states that articles should be written without Wikipedia:bias, representing all views fairly.

The policy is easily misunderstood. It doesn't assume that it's possible to write an article from a single, unbiased, objective point of view. The policy says that we should fairly represent all sides of a Wikipedia:dispute, and not make an article state, imply, or insinuate that any one side is correct. It is crucial that Cacheopedians work together to make articles unbiased. This comprises one of the great merits of Cacheopedia, and separates it from the forums.

Writing unbiased text is an art that requires practice.

The basic concept of neutrality

At Cacheopedia, we use the terms "unbiased" and "neutral point of view" in a precise way that is different from the common understanding:

Articles without bias describe debates fairly rather than advocating any side of the debate. Since all articles are edited by people, this is difficult, as people are inherently biased.

The original formulation of NPOV

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. [...] 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.

--Wikipedia:Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia founder

Why should Wikipedia be unbiased?

Cacheopedia is an encyclopedia. While it covers a niche topic, Geocaching, it still means this is a representation of human knowledge at some level of generality. 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. Wikipedia 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 Cacheopedia, 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. In the Middle Ages, we "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 Cacheopedia 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 Cacheopedia. They are not re-enacted.

To sum up the primary reason for this policy: Cacheopedia is an encyclopedia, a compilation of human knowledge. But because Cacheopedia 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.

What is the neutral point of view?

What we mean isn't obvious, and is easily misunderstood. There are many other valid interpretations of "unbiased," and "neutral". The notion of "unbiased writing" that informs Cacheopedia's policy is "presenting conflicting views without asserting them." This needs further clarification, as follows.

First, and most importantly, consider what it means to say that unbiased writing presents conflicting views without asserting them. Unbiased writing does not present only the most popular view; it does not assert the most popular view is correct after presenting all views; it does not assert that some sort of intermediate view among the different views is the correct one. Presenting all points of view says, more or less, that p-ists believe that p, and q-ists believe that q, and that's where the debate stands at present. Ideally, presenting all points of view also gives a great deal of background on who believes that p and q and why, and which view is more popular (being careful not to associate popularity with correctness). Detailed articles might also contain the mutual evaluations of the p-ists and the q-ists, allowing each side to give its "best shot" at the other, but studiously refraining from saying who won the exchange.

A point here bears elaboration. We said that the neutral point of view is not, contrary to the seeming implication of the phrase, some actual point of view that is "neutral," or "intermediate," among the different positions. That represents a particular understanding of what "neutral point of view" means. The prevailing Cacheopedia understanding is that the neutral point of view is not a point of view at all; according to our understanding, when one writes neutrally, one is very careful not to state (or imply or insinuate or subtly massage the reader into believing) that any particular view at all is correct.

Now an important qualification: Articles that compare views need not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views. We should not attempt to represent a dispute as if a view held by only a small minority of people deserved as much attention as a majority view. That may be misleading as to the shape of the dispute. If we are to represent the dispute fairly, we should present competing views in proportion to their representation among experts on the subject, or among the concerned parties. None of this, however, is to say that minority views cannot receive as much attention as we can possibly give them on pages specifically devoted to those views. There is no size limit to Cacheopedia. But even on such pages, though a view is spelled out possibly in great detail, we still make sure that the view is not represented as the truth.

Bias need not be conscious. For example, beginners in a field often fail to realize that what sounds like common sense is actually biased in favor of one particular view. (So we not infrequently need an expert in order to render the article entirely unbiased.) To take another example, writers can, without intent, propagate "geographical" bias, by for example describing a dispute as it is conducted in one country without knowing that the dispute is framed differently elsewhere.

The policy of having a neutral point of view is not to hide different points of view, but to show the diversity of viewpoints. In case of controversy, the strong points and weak points will be shown according to each point of view, without taking a side. The neutral point of view is not a "separate but equal" policy. The facts, in themselves, are neutral, but the simple accumulation of them cannot be the neutral point of view. If only the favorable facts of a point of view are shown in an article, the article will still be non-neutral.

The vital component: good research

Many POV battles would be made much easier through the practice of good research. Facts are not points of view in and of themselves. So an easy way to avoid making a statement that promotes a point of view is to find a reputable source for a fact and cite the source. This is an easy way to characterize a side of a debate without promoting a view. The trick is to find the best and most reputable source 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 while a fact is not POV in and of itself, adding facts, no matter how well cited, from only one side of a debate is a POV problem. So work for balance. Find facts that aren't from one side or the other and cite the source.

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 values, or 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 Mars is a planet is a fact. That Socrates 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. That God exists ... this can be a troublesome one. Whether God exists or not is a question of fact, not a question of value. But as the fact is essentially undiscoverable, so far as anyone knows, whether God exists will usually be couched in terms of opinion or value. To state as a fact that "the existence of God is an opinion", while seeming to be sensitive to the issue, implies that there is no fact being discussed (postmodernism or strong agnosticism), or that it is relatively unimportant (secular bias).

Cacheopedia is devoted to stating facts and only facts. 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. (Theological and philosophical debates are particularly hard to frame in a non-biased way; this very page bears that out, as it posed in a previous incarnation as an example of an opinion, "God exists".)

But it's not enough, to express the Cacheopedia 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.)

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, on the view of some detractors, the supporters of said view overlooked such-and-such a detail.

A consequence: writing for the enemy

Those who constantly attempt to advocate their views on politically charged topics, and who seem not to care about whether other points of view are represented fairly, are violating the non-bias policy ("write unbiasedly"). But the policy also entails that it is our job to speak for the other side, and not just avoid advocating our own views. If we don't commit ourselves to doing that, Cacheopedia will be weaker for it. We should all be engaged in explaining each other's points of view as sympathetically as possible.

In saying this, we are spelling out what might have been obvious from an initial reading of the policy. If each of us is permitted to contribute biased stuff, then how is it possible that the policy is ever violated? The policy says, "Go thou and write unbiasedly". If that doesn't entail that each of us should fairly represent views with which we disagree, then what does it mean? Maybe you think it means, "Represent your own view fairly, and let others have a say." But consider, if we each take responsibility for the entire article when we hit "save", then when we make a change that represents our own views but not contrary views, or represents contrary views unfairly or incompletely, surely we are adding bias to Cacheopedia. Does it make sense not to take responsibility for the entire article? Does it make sense to take sentences and say, "These are mine"? Perhaps, but in a project that is so strongly and explicitly committed to neutrality, that attitude seems out of place.

The other side might very well find your attempts to characterize their views substandard, but it's the thought that counts. In resolving disputes over neutrality issues, it's far better that we acknowledge that all sides must be presented fairly, and make at least a college try at presenting the other sides fairly. That will be appreciated much more than not trying at all.

"Writing for the enemy" might make it seem as if we were adding deliberately flawed arguments to Cacheopedia, which would be a very strange thing to do. But it's better to view this (otherwise puzzling) behavior as adding the best (published) arguments of the opposition, citing some prominent person who has actually made the argument in the form in which you present it, and stating them as sympathetically as possible. Academics, e.g., philosophers, do this all the time. Always cite your sources, and make sure your sources are reputable, and you won't go far wrong.

An example

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.

Objections and clarifications

What follows is a list of common objections, or questions, regarding Cacheopedia'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 says 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, 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.

Anglo-American focus

Cacheopedia 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 citizens 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.

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 Help: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 nonbias 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) 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 Cacheopedia 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 new content, but also, when necessary, coming to a compromise about how a controversy should be described, so that it is fair to all sides.

Writing for the "enemy" POV

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 its 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. Its 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.

Other objections

I have some other objection. Where should I ask it?

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.

Other resources

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