Proposal:Parallel articles in same article space for controversial topics

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  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
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  5. Encourage Innovation


Summary

This proposal attempts to deal with the problem of peer editing of controversial topics, where there is no agreed neutral point of view. The objective is to improve quality and stability of the coverage of these topics, end edit warring, and present conflicting narratives in a way that lets the reader understand the different viewpoints and make up his own mind.

This proposal is one of several dealing with the handling of controversial topics in Wikipedia. The other are:

The ideas appearing in this proposal originated from an essay I wrote, which you can read here.

Proposal

For articles dealing with controversial subjects, where there are conflicting views on what a neutral position is, allow parallel articles within the same article space, each article version written according to a particular proponent's view of neutrality.

Editing of the parallel articles would be governed by strict rules, to ensure that the different versions do not degenerate into handles for propaganda. These rules are:

  • Every footnoted fact in one version must be included in the other version.
  • One side may not edit the article of the other side.
  • Disagreements over reliability of sources will be arbitrated absolutely by an uninvolved administrator.

The result will be two articles which cover exactly the same factual material, but differ in their presentations. Presumably, in some cases, these parallel versions can eventually be merged into a single version, though this will not always be possible.

Motivation

Articles on controversial topics are plagued by poor quality. Edit warring, endless polemics within the article and on the talk page, and article instability are key indicators of this lack of quality.

The fundamental difficulty in editing these articles is the lack of an agreed neutral point of view (NPOV). The existence of an NPOV is an axiom of Wikipedia; unfortunately, in articles on topics such as the Israel-Arab conflict, NPOV does not exist. "The basic idea of conceptual history is that all key social, political, and cultural concepts are both historical and, even when not always contested, at least potentially contestable," writes Matti Hyvärinen ([1]).

Certainly, in editing disputed articles on the Middle East, the possibility of coming up with a single text that accurately reflects the narratives of the opposing camps is at best unlikely and at worst impossible. And any success in resolving these conflicting narratives will be at the expense of the cogency of the article.

The problem is not the facts selected to include in the article, but in the presentation of those facts. Consider the following two statements on casualty counts in Deir Yassin, a village attacked by Jewish fighters just before the 1948 Israel-Arab war:

Official relief agencies - the Red Cross and the UN Refugee Relief Agency - placed the casualty count at 107 to 120. But eyewitnesses, supported by official Israeli spokesmen, said more than 250 villagers were killed (footnote: Historian Uri Milstein claims the Israeli leadership inflated the casualty figures to discredit the IZL fighters, who were political opponents...)

or

Arab villagers who escaped the mayhem claimed they saw more than 250 slaughtered; Israeli officials, eager to discredit their political opponents, repeated the figure (footnote: Uri Milstein). But neutral relief agencies - the Red Cross and the UN Refugee Relief Agency - put the casualty count at 107 to 120.

Who do you believe? I think, in the first paragraph you believe 250 and in the second you believe 107. Which is simply to say that neutrality is not a function of the selection of facts; it is, first and foremost, a matter of presentation.

When opposing views of combatant editors are shoehorned into the same article, the inevitable result is hash. A good example is the article on Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an article so convoluted with arguments and counterarguments that it is almost impossible to read - you need a Rashi commentary to understand it. Neither of the opposing viewpoints is successfully or even fairly represented in this article.

So the objective of this proposal is to separate the warring sides, and give each side its own platform for presenting its version of the topic in a way that it considers neutral.

Details of presentation and editing process

The competing versions of the article would appear within the same article space, with a brief introduction. For example:

Deir Yassin was a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, that was attacked by Jewish forces on April 9, 1948. There is no agreement between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian historians as to what happened in this attack or whether it was justified. Here are two accounts of the events at Deir Yassin:

(Link to Deir Yassin/Pro-Palestinian) (Link to Deir Yassin/Pro-Israeli)

Other examples

Some other examples:

  • Articles as "American Civil War" versus "The War of Northern Aggression" where the 2nd article would explain the U.S. term "Northern aggression" for the time period, and provide the cultural implications for the term as used in later years.
  • Articles on "Amanda Knox trials" and "Amanda Knox prosecution" would describe the court trial hearings of American honors student Amanda Knox, versus highlighted events that support a pattern of systematic focus, such as the police arresting her before her mother, who was known to be coming to Perugia (Italy), could arrive in town (after Knox's roommate was murdered). Neither viewpoint is a total bias because numerous reliable sources can provide text to support either viewpoint.

In such examples, there is a wide variety of sourced text to support the multiple viewpoints, but a reader cannot follow the differing trains of thought unless each article focuses mainly on the major points of its title. Total coverage of all events would be overwhelming, requiring the reader to keep a "score card" to follow each train of thought, mixed with the others, in a single, giant article. It is not true that either article is falsifying the details, just that the overall coverage in one article, versus the other, supports an alternate viewpoint.

It would be similar to tracking the events about Hamlet (Prince of Denmark) versus the life of Ophelia, at the times they led separate lives. A popular analogy would be the rewind/replay scenes in a film such as Pulp Fiction, where the same events are shown by following different characters when they drift apart. None of the viewpoints is actually "biased" (or slanted), but some events are omitted in following each viewpoint. For those reasons, the parallel articles are factually correct, but they are needed to simplify alternate views of the same subject.

References

  • «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 policies» (MeatBall:NeutralPointOfView).

Community Discussion

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