RationalWiki:What is a RationalWiki article?
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What is a RationalWiki article? RationalWiki articles encompass many things and many goals. These vary from other wiki-based projects. This is a guideline about what a RationalWiki article should be, and what it should not be.
These guidelines apply primarily to pages in our "main" namespace, which contains articles on individual subjects written collaboratively by our editors. Other namespaces may have different standards or no standards at all. For further guidance on the site's namespace structure, please see Help:Namespace.
What RationalWiki is not
RationalWiki is not an encyclopedia
“”Always ask: "Why does a rationalist care about this particular thing?"
Most people will be familiar with wikis that are attempting to be encyclopedias, the canonical example being Wikipedia. Encyclopedias are collections of knowledge, with articles neatly and thoroughly describing a topic and giving pointers about where to go to find the original data or learn what is beyond the scope of the encyclopedia article. There are also wikis that cover a specialist topic, including "fan" encyclopedias relating to works of fiction, Memory Alpha and Wookieepedia being prominent examples.
Our purpose here at RationalWiki includes:
- Analyzing and refuting pseudoscience and the anti-science movement;
- Documenting the full range of crank ideas;
- Explorations of authoritarianism and fundamentalism;
- Analysis and criticism of how these subjects are handled in the media.
Articles on subjects which don't really fit into these missions are likely to be challenged and may be deleted! So before you start a new article, think about how it relates to the missions. If you're not sure, just ask: you could start a discussion in the Saloon bar, the forum, or on the talk page of a related article, or make a new suggestion at the To Do List.
Most RationalWiki contributors enjoy Wikipedia, and we encourage people to use it for research, fun, or anything else that requires more encyclopedic and neutral articles. However, RationalWiki is not Wikipedia. We cannot and do not want to compete with Wikipedia — we are attempting to create something that is different but hopefully complementary to the projects started by the Wikimedia Foundation.
RationalWiki is not neutral
Wikipedia has NPOV: Neutral Point of View. RationalWiki has SPOV. Depending on who you ask, this means two things:
“”A RationalWiki article is not afraid to clearly state that some idea is bullshit.
1: Scientific Point of View: In line with the "not an encyclopedia" guideline, RationalWiki is not required to present "neutral" articles. RationalWiki articles should uncompromising explain what is bullshit, what is not, and (most importantly) why. RationalWiki does have a strong skeptically-oriented point of view; and that point of view is that the scientific method and the information gained from its application is better than almost anything else humanity has come up with. The support of, profiting from and creation of pseudosciences is as dangerous as it is wrong. Articles are created from this perspective, demonstrating the strength of science and the folly of the cranks. Similarly, articles relating to authoritarianism, logical fallacies, and wrong and broken thinking in general need to expose their flaws and dangers.
“”This page needs more goat!
2: Snarky Point of View: Humor (humour, humeur) plays an important part of what differentiates a RationalWiki article from an article at Wikipedia or other encyclopedia-style sites; the archetypal Wikipedia article being dry as the Sahara Desert. Snark can include sarcasm, irony, satire, absurdist commentary, subversive humour and witty asides. These can make the wiki fun to edit and fun to read. However! Dear editor, you are probably not as funny as you think you are. RationalWiki is neither Uncyclopedia and especially not Encyclopedia Dramatica. Be funny, and not just stupid. Avoid overused jokes, obscure in-jokes, anything childish, and anything hateful. The snark must support our site missions (as outlined above), not obstruct them. Snark should never get in the way of analysis, and snark cannot substitute for analysis. And for the love of goat — take extra care with articles on living people (see below).
What RationalWiki is
RationalWiki is original research
“”These are collaborative essays as much as they are articles.
RationalWiki is not an attempt to be a repository of knowledge that has already been written. This means that collection and synthesis of sources into new ideas is actively encouraged. While references are always desired, writers should feel free to draw conclusions not clearly stated in a source, and feel free to synthesize multiple sources into a new pattern — although others may then argue. Writers should feel free to offer commentary and analysis that is outside their sources, providing they can explain it well. They should feel free to slant the content (but not the facts) towards the goals of our site. There are a wide variety of writing styles, from the deadly serious to outright sarcasm, that can be used in order to make points clear.
RationalWiki can be serious
“”Someone should finish a page and have learned more than five new goat jokes and a random bash against Andrew Schlafly.
Snark should not be allowed to detract from the RationalWiki missions, which are the major purpose of our articles. An article composed entirely of jokes, memes and mockery, without making any point or providing any substantial information, is probably best placed in the "fun" namespace, or even deleted outright.
Remember, the main name space is what we present to new users as "who we are and what we can do for you" — if the first thing they see is an article that is nothing but inside jokes, not only may it make them ignore the good aspects of good articles but it may well drive them away entirely.
How to help
RationalWikifying an article
“”You can always be bold - mistakes only happen 5% of the time and can be undone. But if in doubt, the talk pages for articles are open to anything and everything.
Remembering all of these guidelines, how might someone go about RWifying an article that has been marked as "good" but still needing some of our good old Goat?
The first step to fixing an article might be to start a dialog on the article's talk page. If you have new material, think; how might this material be used to refute a pseudoscience topic, how might this material be misused to support a pseudoscience topic, and how might this topic illuminate some aspect of human thought or culture that might help us answer "why do people believe stupid things"? There are many such questions to ask, and the answers should give you clues about how best to angle the topic to play to RationalWiki strengths.
The final question you should ask when looking at an article is: If someone came and read our article after looking it up on Wikipedia, would they come away with new information, new perspective or new thoughts they could not gain from an encyclopedia entry? If every article we have can answer that question with a yes, then RationalWiki is achieving its aim!
There is a category (Category:Articles needing expansion) which is added to articles in need of expansion i.e. where the subject would be improved by application of some (your?) expert knowledge. Another category (Category:Articles needing RWification) includes articles which could be improved with more rationalist analysis and snarky humour, to improve their quality as RationalWiki articles.
RationalWiki articles on living people
“”Why should a rationalist care about this person?
Articles about people that aren't dead yet require more care — we need to firmly back our points. It’s tricky dealing with frankly odious woo-pushers, but we’re popular enough these days that we have to do it properly if we are to do it at all. An understated and well-referenced style is the best approach here. All articles on living people should all go in Category:Living people. The Wikipedia policy on biographies of living people is a good overview of the problems (though we don't go to Wikipedia's extent).
In short: if a claim is not solidly referenced, asserts something about the article's subject(s), and the article's subject(s) might object to it, it probably shouldn't be in the article at all. This is not just for legal protection, but because it's the right thing to do.
Under Section 230, the individual contributor (that's you!) would be legally liable, rather than the RationalMedia Foundation. However, aggrieved woo-pushers tend to the legal shotgun approach, and we can all do without the hassle — even a bogus lawsuit is expensive and time-consuming to deflect, and we've had legal threats already. The suggested approach is to make our statements as clearly backed as possible.