Sunday, 13 May 2007

A threshold question

David Gerard has set a challenge to the Wikipedia community, to "construct a useful notion of 'notability' using only neutrality, verifiability and no original research". Here's my attempt.

David identifies the extraordinary subjectivity of the "notability" concept as one of its key failings, and I tend to agree. That would seem to be a fairly widely accepted position, since the most broadly accepted variations on notability have been ones which introduce some objective standard; for example the requirement for a certain number of sources addressing a subject. These are obviously not perfect or necessarily desirable standards but they're a good starting point. I think a useful notion of notability will be something that flows naturally from the core content policy and which is also capable of being at least partially objective in application.

During the Attribution debate I started work on an essay on what I think ought to be done about our content policies. It is still unfinished, but presently it is roughly three parts the essay I intended and two parts Theory of Everything.

In the essay, I attempt to show how all of our content policy may more or less be derived from the neutral point of view policy and the goal of accuracy and reliability, whether it be a principle such as not accepting original research, or a mechanism such as only utilising reliable sources. I think a similar approach can be taken with respect to notability.

A basic definition of "notability" is that a subject, to warrant coverage in Wikipedia, must have attracted some degree of attention from the outside. The difficulty has always been in identifying that degree. In my view, the threshold ought to be where achieving a neutral point of view becomes reasonably practicable, while using only material attributable to reliable sources and without resorting to original thought.

In practice this comes down to the number and quality of sources available, though it's not a matter of counting them. The question to be asked is, essentially, can NPOV be achieved with the sources available? Are there sufficient sources available, and are they of sufficient quality, that it is reasonably practicable to fairly portray all significant points of view on a subject, in accordance with their prevalence? If not, then the subject is not sufficiently notable.

So that's the principle; I'll leave the practical implementation of this for later. As a final note, consider this: two of the most problematic types of articles out there are the hack job and the puff piece (particularly the former). People doing OTRS or BLP work will have come across these types of articles time and time again. Consider the way these types of articles could be approached differently with a concept of notability based on the feasibility of achieving NPOV.


David Gerard said...

"How do you know we don't have all significant points of view on the subject?"

"Well, the sources show ... ah."

Stephen said...

Sometimes it will be the case where an NPOV account can only be constructed using original research, or by resorting to unreliable sources, and this formulation is really directed against those situations.

There's also the circumstance where only one POV is presented, whether that be positive or negative, and there aren't any reliable sources to "fix" the article, as it were.

Bear in mind that there's scope for considering not only the number of sources but also their quality.

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