Monday, October 15, 2007

Neutral and neutered

NPOV is not the Soviet secret police, as one anti-Wikipedia wag once semi-humorously suggested. It's "neutral point of view," a supposedly "absolute and non-negotiable" pillar of Wikipedia.

Trouble is, people tend to use this pillar as a club every time a dispute, however trivial, arises on the encyclopedia. I've been given an NPOV lecture on such life-and-death issues as whether a minor poet named Rosemary Tonks can be fairly described as "disappeared." (She hasn't written anything for a long time and has dropped from public view, though her publishers seem to be in contact with her.)

And when the NPOV club starts swinging, people get their blood pressure up, because an accusation of POV-pushing is fightin' words to any self-respecting Wikipedian. Everybody likes to think that their contributions to the encyclopedia are utterly unbiased, though some will make the ritual confession that everybody and everything is biased to at least some degree. That ritual confession is actually true, but tends to get forgotten in a hurry when the feathers fly in an NPOV spat.

The safest bet is to balance everything that could conceivably be labeled opinion with a vigorous opposing opinion. I've often tried this trick on the Criticism of Wikipedia article. Which, as you might suspect, is an especially acute test case for the famous Mr. Npov. So far the trick has worked pretty well. At least I haven't been blocked, banned and executed.

And make no mistake, insufficiently neutral or neutered (ouch) editors are banned every day on WP. The result is too often bland or waffling prose in articles, as editors run scared of the ban-hammer if they offer any opinion about anything. Sure enough, a criticism of such waffling prose can be found in Criticism of Wikipedia. We get you coming and going.

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