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A NeutralPointOfView (NPOV) seeks to present a description that both supporters and detractors will not disagree with. This is not to say they will agree with the text, just that they will not disagree with the OneText. In this sense, it is often expressed as the ideal of Objectivist reporting, having manifested most notably during the golden age of newspaper journalism. You may have heard it called "balanced reporting." In practice, it is more about SocialApathy, rather than a mythical progression towards the Enlightenment-era ideal of Truth.

The neutral point of view is considered by many as the fairest form of writing because it requires the elimination of the biases that naturally occur in writing; after all, all the authors are human with their own opinions and filters. From a purely Platonic or empirical perspective, the neutral point of view can be the only meaningful form of writing as ultimate reality cannot be deformed by our subjective biases. Since it is impossible to grasp an "ultimate truth", the best general judge of neutrality and impartiality is to present all perspectives fairly and openly. However, the caveat here is that a neutral point of view appears to represent the ultimate truth when it does not even try.

A single author can be unable to write in a neutral point of view, but the neutrality can be reached through collaboration of people with different point of views: this requires DocumentMode (or a MixedMode where discussions are separated from content, like in MediaWiki), and is not possibile with the ViewPoint system, since Ā«One of the "social features" of a wiki is that it forces the community to deal with disagreements about content. (In a wiki a given page name can only have one "current" version.) ViewPoint would not require the community to agree--any cooperating subgroup could have its own policiesĀ» (ViewPointComments).

In reality, it is meaningless to accept all perspectives as valid or sound. No one could reasonably believe that the United Nations was an evil plot by space aliens to conquer earth, even if it were true. To have to accept all perspectives is to deny that any one opinion could be right or better, and worse, is to ForceConsensus?, which is the worst thing you can do. Typically, the perspectives represented are of those involved in the discussion, and perhaps a few others thrown in for good measure. If no one is willing to defend the position, or not enough people, then that position may be excluded from the NeutralPointOfView.

The order and level detail of a given point of view should also remain neutral. Not only should all points of view be explored to a degree that no one would disagree with, but it may be necessary to include reasonable descriptions of opposing viewpoints. At no point should a point of view be singled out as somehow superior or inferior. Popularity may be stated, but no connection between popularity and correctness should be drawn. After all, the most popular idea held the earth was the centre of the universe at one point, and that was wrong.

The requirement that others will not disagree with the text does not exclude the addition of certain opinions, just that controversial opinions must not be asserted. They should be hedged in light of other opinions in contention, even other possible opinions not known at the time. The easiest method of doing this is describing the opinion as a belief of some external--and therefore neutral--path. In this way, one could state "Some people believe X" without suggesting X was the emphatic truth, even if one believed X was the emphatic truth. It's not necessary to qualify uncontested opinions.

Problems

The NeutralPointOfView leads naturally into creating the FalseDichotomy, most commonly found in newspaper articles. Most articles present at least two competing viewpoints in the effort to be fair, and all viewpoints are presented equally. From the reader's perspective, there is no way to judge how popular a given opinion is, and in many cases that means the reader cannot judge how legitimate a given opinion is. "Some" does not mean "many", and with journalism, it may even mean "one" or "none". Similarly, "many" does not mean a majority or a plurality. By cheating this way, the journalist may create a controversy where none lay before by elevating a fringe opinion to the same level as the vast majority opinion.

Generally, NeutralPointOfView presentations of ideas presume that there are some objective facts that can be verified by the journalist or writer, and that these do not require qualification or equal time to an opposing view. Some viewpoints may not accept these findings of facts, leaving the writer in a dilemma. To give equal time to a denial of facts undermines the information content of the article, while refusal to do so can lead some parties to disagree with the article.

The neutral point of view does not allow an individual to express a personal opinion, instead favouring appeals to authoritative third parties. This stifles development of new ideas because one cannot appeal to an authority of an idea never conceived before. If you wish to encourage the development of new thought, do not use the neutral point of view. If you still want to maintain some amount of neutrality, you can qualify your thoughts. You can say, "I believe X" or "I think that X" instead of just merely stating X. If you employ this technique, it's important to remember that if you say, "The sky is blue," it's obvious that you believe and think that the sky is blue. The qualifiers are redundant, but they're useful to remain polite when people are sensitive about their opinions.

The NeutralPointOfView essentially leaves the hard task of deciding what idea is actually true to the reader, by actually not advocating any point of view at all. It describes all the viewpoints without suggesting to the reader which one to choose. While this sounds a lot like PostModernism, and therefore closer to what seems actual, it may backfire by confusing your reader when all he wanted was a good enough answer. This depends on the purpose of the text. Really, the neutral point of view--at least in the context of wikis--is just a cheap way to avoid conflict, such as DefendAgainstPassion. If you can't ever state an opinion outright, it's very hard to get into a FlameWar over it. The trade off is that you throw HealthyConflict out with the bathwater.

Limitations

With a broad enough topic, the presence of outliers complicates presentation of a NeutralPointOfView because the writer must choose which viewpoints are prevalent enough to deserve attention. This difficulty is particularly acute when trying to summarize a complex issue, since in summarizing it is necessary to exclude fine detail.

A related problem exists in topics where the range of viewpoints cannot be reduced to a line between two extremes. The standard journalistic technique of NeutralPointOfView writing is to describe two viewpoints that represent opposite approaches to an issue. The unwritten presumption is that other points of view exist that reflect a compromise between these positions. Situations where three or more viewpoints exist that cannot be cast in terms of each other are difficult to describe in NeutralPointOfView without either complicated prose or essentially separate, unlinked articles for each viewpoint.

NeutralPointOfView presumes a common language. Where various viewpoints disagree on definitional issues, it is not possible to write prose that all parties will not disagree with. This can result where one or more parties have tried to LoadTheLanguage, as is the case in highly contentious issues (e.g. animal rights, abortion - see LandMine#TouchyIssues).

Uses

WikiPedia and most wikis inspired by it use the NeutralPointOfView as a guideline for writing articles. See WikiPedia:Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view for more on the policy. It is effective because WikiPedia seeks to summarize existing all human knowledge, rather than create new knowledge. Encyclopaedias are historical texts, not research. If you want to be progressive, there are better ways to disagree productively. Of course, deviating from this simple form of ConflictResolution requires wider social skills, and therefore has a greater chance of failure. That shouldn't stop you, though, because it's a lot more fun to lead passionate people.

Certain styles of scholarly writing actively dismiss many NeutralPointOfView constructs as a rhetorical "appeal to authority" and discourage such writing. Some writing styles discourage the use of the passive voice, without which NPOV writing is nearly impossible.

Compare EPrimeLanguage, MeThinks, RoyalWe, MultiplePointOfView


I'm inclined to accept the opening premise, that the NPOV is more about SocialApathy than about truth. I'll go farther: the NPOV is an abdication of responsibility, and is fundamentally dishonest. Knowledge comes from certainty. Certainty is predicated on the idea that something can be known, that there exist facts that don't need to be blessed to be valid.

To present some "FairAndBalanced?" mishmash is to carefully avoid being responsible for a particular truth. More and more it has become fashionable to use WeaselWords? in reportage. Assailants are "alleged" even when irrefutably caught on camera. It really is okay to state facts positively, without flanking disclaimers, and simply accord proper attribution.

The idea that reportage has ANY validity when it 1) seeks to create conflict while appearing to avoid conflict, 2) seeks to conceal source, 3) seeks to "balance" a set of observations with a set of opinions, is simply silly. There might have been an event which might have been witnessed by an anonymous source whose alleged observations are contradicted by the opinions of someone who wasn't there, but who is an acknowledged expert. Wow! You can just make stuff up out of thin air! You can disappear reality in a haze of uncertainty emanating from the PoliticallyCorrect? fog machine.

But at least the NeutralPointOfView was preserved. Thank God for that! -- GarryHamilton

It's a fact that our societies have a fundamental problem with truth. A single step away from hard science facts, you leave the area of certainty and walk into constructivism - politics and marketing in the extreme. An encyclopedia needs to say about a topic what can be said, not what is certain. What is certain about God, Odysseus or Bush? Of course the view is not necessarily neutral, it is consensual. Consensual means relative to a group. Consensual will often be biased, but still useful. Do we answer at school (1) the truth or (2) what we expect the teacher wants to hear? Do you think an article about the Islam in a western christian system could be neutral? Is this dishonest? I don't think so. I think it's as good as you can get. WorseIsBetter. Pragmatism. Just my $0.02. -- HelmutLeitner

I'm fumbling a bit here, but let me try anyway. There are things that are knowable from the facts at hand. There are other things for which there is insufficient data. They may ultimately be knowable, but we're not there yet. It seems to me that it should be possible to build a foundation of known data within the limits of facts at hand without attempting to discredit this foundation by emphasising all the things for which it does not resolve understanding.

I'm willing to accept, as knowable, the handling characteristics of my car, based on what facts I have regarding friction, gravity, acceleration, and so on. Anyone trying to argue that I can never "know" how my car handles, because I don't grasp the subtler physics of gravity or inertia, can save his breath. I know how much road my car requires to stop under various conditions. I know how long it takes me to reach 65 mph under various conditions. I don't need to understand the chemistry of my paint job nor the metallurgy of my axles to know what it can do.

One may argue with me that I can't "be sure" that the car will stay on the road, but the moment I start to buy any of that crap, I had better park my car.

There is much about the world and about people that can be known. One doesn't need to have been blessed by the UniversityOfArrogance? to know these things. To preach that "you can't know" using the WeaselWords? of (for example) today's media, is to attempt to create a vacuum into which opinion or propaganda (properly blessed) can be injected as fact.

It is destructive to ameliorate actual facts in favor of "acceptable" opinion or diluted "possibilities". One especially pernicious take on this is the "WorksForMe?" or "WhateverWorksForYou?" school. This implicitly subscribes to the concept that reality is plastic. The more this plasticity of reality is promoted, the more confusion results.

If I were in the business of controlling the thoughts and behavior of a population, that's the kind of confusion I'd want. -- GarryHamilton

In terms of governance, however, it is more efficient to ascribe to this minimal standard than to some maximal standard of scientific and philosophical validity since in reality for a project like WikiPedia you want to LimitTemptation not create knowledge. Now, personally, I object to the very concept of an encyclopedia for this reason, but if you're trying to scale a wiki to something with thousand and thousands of people, you need some sort of external measure and process to AvoidConflict that everyone in TheCollective can follow without some GodKing to preside over. So, for writers, the NPOV is immensely useful. For readers, however, the NPOV is immensely dangerous. As someone who prefers to balance all stakeholders, I preferred to develop a simple writing StyleGuide that benefits readers of this wiki. -- SunirShah

I think we need to take this discussion out of the realm of the theoretical and into the practical. It is there that we will see how the application of NPOV in Wikipedia collapses.

The opening contention is that NPOV text is text "that both supporters and detractors will not disagree with." In fact, the most common result of editing arguments over politically charged subjects is that both sides disagree with what is written; or, one side is worn down after lengthy edit warring, and gives up temporarily. But giving up does not mean agreeing, or even not disagreeing. A classic example of this is in the article on Jerusalem in the English Wikipedia. The lead of that article states, "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel." Pro-Palestinian editors have been trying for more than a year now to have that statement changed: the fact is, they argue, that only almost no country in the world recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital (Micronesia notwithstanding), and therefore the statement is untrue. The pro-Israeli editors have so far successfully hung on to this wording, by attaching numerous footnotes to the claim (at one count there were five). The Pro-Palestinians revive this argument every few months, and after tomes of bitter argument on the talk page, give up for a while. But their temporarily abandoning the argument does not in any way suggest that they no longer disagree with what is written.

A second contention is that NPOV is somehow serving the reader by "the elimination of the biases that naturally occur in writing". In fact, in pitched battles between opposing editors, the reader is almost universally the loser. This is because the outcomes of these battles (when they do have an outcome) is either the selection of weasely text that talks around the issues but doesn't actully say anything clearly. There are three possible ways in which this can occur:

No, it is my contention that NPOV does no good for those articles that are in bitter dispute between factions. A better approach needs to be found (I have suggested one at the Strategy Wiki). Regards, Ravpapa of Wikipedia


CategoryConflict

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