Tag Archives: primary sources

No original research

Users that collaborate with Wikipedia may know what the motto “no original research” means. The case is that one of my first contributions to Wikipedia has been recently labeled by an active new wikipedian as such. It is partially true, so I’ll have to look for another place to publish those things that have been correctly deemed as original research.

But not everything in my contribution was that original. A large part was reviewed material from different authors on the topic that named the article. The problem is that the new active wikipedian has a very strong determination to fight, for emotional reasons, against the contents I was making public. It has been very hard to argue with him and I’ve given up the controversy. I’ll let him reorganize the article and I’ll wait to see how the issue evolves.

The article, by the way, has had an extraordinary echo on internet, and in some discussion fora there have been lengthy debates on the topic. One of the main arguments used by my opponent has been that these fora have had as primary source my article, which is precisely what Wikipedia should never serve as. That is very true and I regret it.

Let us reproduce some of the key concepts on this topic from Wikipedia here:

  • Wikipedia does not publish original research or original thought. This includes unpublished facts, arguments, speculation, and ideas; and any unpublished analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position. This means that Wikipedia is not the place to publish your own opinions, experiences, or arguments. Citing sources and avoiding original research are inextricably linked: to demonstrate that you are not presenting original research, you must cite reliable sources that provide information directly related to the topic of the article, and that directly support the information as it is presented.No original research is one of three content policies. The others are neutral point of view and verifiability. Jointly, these policies determine the type and quality of material that is acceptable in articles. Because they complement each other, they should not be interpreted in isolation from one another, and editors should familiarize themselves with all three.
  • Reliable sources. Any material that is challenged or likely to be challenged must be supported by a reliable source. “Original research” is material for which no reliable source can be found. The only way you can show that your edit is not original research is to produce a reliable published source that contains that material. Even with well-sourced material, however, if you use it out of context or to advance a position not directly and explicitly supported by the source you are also engaged in original research.In general the most reliable sources are peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses; university-level textbooks; magazines, journals, and books published by respected publishing houses; and mainstream newspapers. As a rule of thumb, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing, the more reliable the publication. Material that is self-published, whether on paper or online, is generally not regarded as reliable, but see this section of Verifiability for exceptions.
  • Primary sources are sources very close to the origin of a particular topic. An eyewitness account of a traffic accident is an example of a primary source. Other examples include archeological artifacts; photographs; historical documents such as diaries, census results, video or transcripts of surveillance, public hearings, trials, or interviews; tabulated results of surveys or questionnaires; written or recorded notes of laboratory and field research, experiments or observations, published experimental results by the person(s) actually involved in the research; original philosophical works, religious scripture, administrative documents, and artistic and fictional works such as poems, scripts, screenplays, novels, motion pictures, videos, and television programs. […] Wikipedia articles should rely on reliable, published secondary sources. All interpretive claims, analyses, or synthetic claims about primary sources must be referenced to a secondary source, rather than original analysis of the primary-source material by Wikipedia editors.

I really believe these are very wise policies that help maintain the neutrality and accuracy of much of the information elaborated at Wikipedia. It is also a good lesson I have definitively learned, because although I knew in theory, I now know it in practice and will advise my students and colleagues about it.

For me it is not always easy to distinguish original from new or unfamiliar to the public, as I often take part of the research and am often too close to primary sources. In any case, my doubt now is about where should I emplace the material from my disabled article? I’ll start with a blog article, as I did originally, but wikis are much better for knowledge elaboration, so I’ll have to look for an adequate wiki place for unpublished facts, arguments, speculation, and ideas; and any unpublished analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position.