Neutral point of view
|We control what|
you think with
|Said and done|
|Jargon, buzzwords, slogans|
|—John F. Kennedy's loose paraphrasing of a passage in Dante's Inferno[note 1]|
Neutral point of view (NPOV) is a non-fiction writing style in which all aspects of a subject are discussed without expressing the view of the author, or drawing a moral or political conclusion on the subject. Treatment of the subject typically includes balanced discussion of significant and noted attitudes and opinions to it; no view is emphasized unduly over others. NPOV is rarely used in essays, which are usually intended to prove a point or reach a conclusion on a given subject, but is widely used in factual resources such as encyclopedias.
NPOV on Wikipedia
NPOV is a Wikipedia foundational issue, and one of the five pillars of Wikipedia. It is a central feature of Wikipedia's encyclopedic style, and extensive project page space is given over to outlining what NPOV means and how it should be implemented, addressing possible objections to it, and tutoring editors to write in neutral wording. Naturally, every editor has opinions, and some may attempt to express them in Wikipedia content. However, such biased content is liable to be removed or amended by other editors to maintain the NPOV balance. Editors who wish to make additions to articles and see them remain in place must learn to write factually in a NPOV style, verifying all assertions with citations and references. In this way, the Wikipedia community is (at least partially) self-regulating in terms of editorial neutrality. However, on some subjects, Wikipedia is willing to accept that the majority point of view is probably right and there's no need for false equivalence between kooks and experts: this includes fringe vs. mainstream science.
RationalWiki and NPOV
RationalWiki articles tend to avoid NPOV on the grounds that they are not encyclopedic in nature. These articles and their authors are uncompromising in their point of view that science and reason are superior methods for generating knowledge. However, this is not a rejection of covering facts equally and giving due weight to conflicting opinions when they are valid and relevant. Indeed, the objection to NPOV is mostly in response to the dry and humorless tone developed by Wikipedia in the name of neutrality.
Conservapedia's criticism of NPOV
Conservapedia, a conservative, Christian wiki that considers itself a better alternative to Wikipedia, maintains that "Bias gets in the way of reliability" but also that "Neutrality may not be an antidote to bias". This does not explain how the path to reliability can be achieved, or why neutrality is not an antidote to bias, since the opposite of biased is unbiased. However, this seems to be the only explicit criticism of the concept of neutrality. Most of Conservapedia's criticism of Wikipedia focuses on its claim that "Despite its official 'neutrality policy', Wikipedia has a strong liberal bias". Since "Neutrality may not be an antidote", Conservapedia counters the perceived liberal bias in Wikipedia with flagrant right-wing fundamentalist bias and propaganda throughout its own pages.
Most, if not all, of Conservapedia's examples of 'liberal bias' within Wikipedia do not stand up to scrutiny, and they tend to show a basic inability (deliberate or otherwise) to comprehend the concepts of NPOV and verifiability. Many are simply examples of the kind of hardline conservative claptrap trotted out on Conservapedia itself, with the suggestion that Wikipedia is biased for not forming the same outrageous moralising conclusions. For example, Wikipedia has a 'liberal bias' in that it does not insinuate that Barack Obama's career is the result of racial quotas and affirmative action, characterise homosexuals as violent and promiscuous, or postulate that atheism leads to meanness and suicide. Furthermore, Wikipedia is accused of 'promoting' suicide, in that it objectively mentions suicides in a high number of articles and biographies.
International Olympic Committee
International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed as a non-governmental organization in Switzerland in 1894. Its stated goals are to support international sporting events and the Olympics specifically, to act against any form of discrimination in the Olympics, and to encourage women in sports.:14 While not explicitly neutral, there is the implication of neutrality in its statement, "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.":11
In 2019, Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation (an organization affiliated with the IOC) stated, “Dictators can organize events such as this without asking the people’s permission. For us, everything is easier in dictatorships.” Kasper later tried to walk back the statement, but it was already obvious to many observers that he was speaking the truth. Six Olympic Games that have been held in dictatorships: Nazi Germany (1936), Soviet Union (1980), China (2008, 2022 summer and winter), and Russia (2014). The 2022 Olympics were known as the "Genocide Olympics" due to their occurring at the same time as the Uighur genocide in China. In the modern Olympics, an enormous amount of money is made through corporate advertising and sponsorship, thus profiting indirectly from human rights abuses at dictator-sponsored Olympics. The current IOC president since 2013, Thomas Bach, was involved with 3 of the dictator Olympics.
Alternatives to NPOV
Snarky Point Of View
SPOV is the style originally or historically encouraged on RationalWiki. Neutrality is all very well in its place, but certain assertions are so feeble or silly they may provoke snarky response from those who think they are feeble or silly. Note, however, that snark is not a substitute for facts, reasoning, and sources.
MOPOV (My Own Point Of View)
This is a style widely used in many contexts, in which the author assumes that their own opinions are intrinsically more correct, valuable, or interesting than any other person's opinions, simply by the virtue of being their own. MOPOV expressions can be mildly indulgent, but if such behaviour continues unchallenged, or is even bolstered by the adulation of others, it can gradually lead the author to conclude that their word is infallible, or that they are in fact God. This state of affairs can bring a host of unwanted responsibilities. Fortunately, excessive MOPOV can be remedied in its early stages with judicial use of "snarkasm".
Stated Points of View
In which two or more sides of a debate are given freedom to present their case separately with the caveat that they state their axiomatic assumptions. Free editing of each point of view is allowed, but objections and edits to the arguments of POV-A may only be raised by people holding the same axiomatic assumptions. Other points of view, including criticism of POV-A, are to be presented on the pages of POV-B, along with the assumptions stated for the differing point of view.
Advantages are that more people are able to contribute more material, and more points of view, and more data can be harvested than with NPOV. Experts may contribute according to their point of view without being overwritten by non-experts who disagree with them. A disadvantage is that while the format allows a limited region of disagreement and debate, much like a two-party system it may not reflect the full range of opinions, e.g. a format with Christian and atheist viewpoints may omit non-Western religious beliefs (and an article on the Eucharist that only gave Roman Catholic and Protestant views would miss the forest for the trees).
Example: the wikipedia pages on the mental health condition "Dissociative Identity Disorder" are primarily dealing with the debate as to whether or not the condition exists. Those who do not believe it exists cite papers by those who do not believe it exists and those that do believe it exists cite their sources. NPOV enforces a stalemate position in the debate, leaving the site devoid of actual content material on the subject itself. Those who do have real content to contribute on the actual topic itself are closed out by the debate. What is lost is the possibility of harnessing the encyclopaedic knowledge of the variety of subtopics that could be written about by those who would write stating that they know it exists, have lived with the condition, and know how to successfully treat the condition. This knowledge is censored by those who have limited knowledge of the topic but remain editorially to keep the debate, and only the debate front and centre. The net result being that, if you actually want information on the topic in hand, wikipedia is of very little use to anyone researching the topic.
Conservative Point Of View
Instead of seeking a balanced discussion of all sides of an argument, CPOVs often have a consensus that is reached by pushing an argument so far right that it cannot go any further. CPOV can also stand for:
- Christian Point of View
- Creationist Point of View
- Cranks' Point of View
- Crazy Point of View
- Cretins' Point of View.
The opposite, Liberal Point Of View, is seldom seen for some reason. Maybe liberals tend to have more respect for truth and facts.
The illusion of neutrality
Search engines and social media platforms have at times presented themselves as neutral, but the reality is that they can't be neutral. This is simply because they have to present things in an ordered sort of way, and the ordering requires ranking, and the ranking requires prioritizing some results over others. If they were totally neutral, one would just as likely get random results from looking for a chicken soup recipe and the top results are: quantum physics, chickenhawk, Chicken coop, and intelligent design. Who wants that kind of result, anyway? The reality is that results are dependent on an algorithm that is designed by a computer scientist: some human(s) has to decide what is important and what is not. Once there is an algorithm, some people will try to figure out a loophole for their advantage (e.g., search engine optimization), and others will complain that their crank ideas are not highlighted.
- Argument from authority
- Balance fallacy
- Originalism — a legal theory that claims to be neutral with regard to interpreting constitutional law based on original intent or meaning, but is mysteriously only espoused by conservatives with an agenda
- Larry Sanger — co-founder of Wikipedia, and a NPOV extremist
- The actual passage in The Inferno is:
Fama di loro il mondo esser non lassa;
misericordia e giustizia li sdegna:
non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa.
- Dante – The Curse on Those Who Do Nothing in the Face of Evil by Scott Horton (October 17, 2010) Harper's Magazine.
- See the Wikipedia article on Wikimedia:Foundation issues.
- See the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia:Five pillars.
- See the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia:Neutral point of view.
- See the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia:NPOV tutorial.
- See the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia:Fringe theories.
- Conservapedia: Guidelines.
- Conservapedia: Wikipedia.
- Conservapedia: Examples of Bias in Wikipedia, retrieved Aug. 2 2008. Examples 8, 11, 54, 61.
- Olympic Charter (in force as from 8 July 2011) International Olympic Committee (archived from November 9, 2011).
- Ski chief apologizes for praising dictatorships by Jack Guy (6:41 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2019) CNN.
- The U.S. boycott of the Genocide Olympics is only a start (December 7, 2021 at 2:48 p.m. EST) The Washington Post.
- The Olympics got in bed with autocrats like Putin. There will be consequences. by Sally Jenkins (March 8, 2022) The Washington Post.
- In Ukraine, tech platforms abandon the illusion of neutrality: From Facebook to TikTok to DuckDuckGo, companies that once claimed to be 'unbiased’ are showing that they can take a side after all. by Will Oremus (March 12, 2022) The Washington Post.