Submissions/OR - the policy we all break on English Wikipedia

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This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2014.

Submission no. 1116
Title of the submission
OR - the policy we all break on English Wikipedia
Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)
Author of the submission
Peter Gallert
E-mail address
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
Polytechnic of Namibia
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

Wikipedia is an immense source of knowledge, and it is created by research. It is the 21st century's definition, outline, and bibliography of human knowledge---three milestones that have been attempted in past ages, and whenever this was done, the output was regarded not merely as a publication. There is no encyclopedia without research; the mere selection of material is an act of research, as are most other tasks of editors and writers.

Yet English Wikipedia has a policy on No Original Research forbidding to do just that. Not surprisingly it is being broken so frequently, with impunity, by a majority of otherwise rule-obeying editors, than any other piece of regulation. In fact, there is hardly a single article which doesn't contain Original Research (OR) to some degree, including those in our highest assessment classes. OR according to current reading of the policy is for instance:

  • Pictures or coordinates taken by an editor, because we don't have any guarantee that the object is indeed on the picture, or at the indicated place.
  • Most picture subscripts, because you will almost never have a reference that annotates this very picture in that way.
  • Many navigation boxes and topical infoboxes, if there are no reliable sources that support this type of topic grouping.
  • In-text source evaluations in the form of "Y claims that X", which, although factual, express criticism of X (If we agreed we would simply write X and cite the source of author Y).

More generally, all considerations regarding notability, verifiability and reliable, independent sourcing belong to the realm of research. While the discussions on these issues are held outside the main space, the result becomes visible on our article pages, and the result is a research result. No reliable sources will normally be available for meta-considerations like these. Moreover, demanding justification for references in the form of references leads to infinite regress and is thus logically impossible to satisfy:

  1. Prove that X is a reliable source for Y
  2. Source Z says so
  3. Prove that Z is a reliable source for "X is a reliable source for Y"
  4. Source A says so
  5. Prove that A is a reliable source for 'Z is a reliable source for "X is a reliable source for Y"'
  6. ...

In the presentation I will look at the historic development of the No Original Research policy and suggest several ways out of the present dilemma. I will also agitate to not keep a policy unchanged that everyone is forced to break, as that potentially fuels wikilawyering.

WikiCulture & Community
Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
20 minutes + 10 minutes discussion
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Yes, I got a scholarship
Slides or further information (optional)
I will develop slides should my submission be accepted. For an essay on the topic, see here.
Special requests

Interested attendees

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  1. Interesting and provocative proposal from a speaker who has had interesting things to say in the past. MartinPoulter (talk) 16:10, 29 March 2014 (UTC)
  2. Yes. "What is research?" and "When is it 'original'?" are questions that really cut to the heart of the matter. Bravo! #LaFolleCycliste (talk) 06:55, 31 March 2014 (UTC)
  3. Shyamal (talk) 04:42, 3 May 2014 (UTC)
  4. AWang (WMF) (talk) 22:38, 7 May 2014 (UTC)
  5. Daniel Case (talk) 01:50, 30 July 2014 (UTC)
  6. Frank Hendriks (talk) 14:37, 4 August 2014 (UTC)