Wikipedia:Verifiability, and truth
This page is an essay on the Verifiability policies.
|This page in a nutshell: It is not enough for encylopedic content to be verifiable via reliable sources, but it must also conform to known, objective facts.|
Wikipedia's core sourcing policy, Wikipedia:Verifiability, used to define the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia as "verifiability, not truth". "Verifiability" was used in this context to mean that material added to Wikipedia must have been published previously by a reliable source. Editors may not add their own views to articles simply because they believe them to be correct, and may not remove sources' views from articles simply because they disagree with them.
The phrase "the threshold for inclusion is verifiability, not truth" meant that verifiability is a necessary condition (a minimum requirement) for the inclusion of material, though it is not a sufficient condition (it may not be enough). Sources must also be appropriate, and must be used carefully, and must be balanced relative to other sources per Wikipedia's policy on due and undue weight.
This has led to situations where incorrect information has appeared on Wikipedia, simply due to the fact that it was published originally by a reliable source. In turn, that leads to situations where people become misinformed when reading Wikipedia, sometimes discovering the information was wrong later on, and sometimes not. A better policy on inclusion would be "verifiability and truth".
In a nutshell, verifiability states that whatever we say on Wikipedia can be backed up by someone or some group that is considered a topic expert and trustworthy on the topic. Typically this means that we as editors can cite a professionally published book, a magazine article, et cetera, to support the inclusion or disinclusion of content on a Wikipedia article. What verifiability doesn't include, however, is whether or not the content used as a source is truthful or correct. And this is where the great debate of truth versus verifiability comes from.
So what about truth? Truth is a measure of conformity with known and accepted facts. How truthful or correct something is can be measured by how well the claim meshes with reality and other established facts. However, what's perceived as true may not be completely so; our own views can colour what we believe is true, leading to situations where things cannot be stated in a simple, black-and-white fashion. This of course leads to situations where different beliefs on the same topic can all be considered "true" by different people.
Our lives are actually made easier by the verifiability principle that Wikipedia policy puts forward. Instead of fighting over what each editor considers true, we pass the buck on to third parties who can be trusted to establish factualness for us. However, the heavy reliance on "verifiability, not truth" has us throwing the baby out with the bathwater, since our sources themselves may not accurately establish what can be considered truth, regardless of their skills and credentials. And this is quite important, since as a fount of information, an encyclopedia must strive towards being as truthful and accurate as possible. The verifiability principle helps somewhat in this regard, but only to an extent. The onus remains on us as editors to ensure that our sources themselves are not misrepresenting opinions as facts, and that they too are striving towards actual truths in their statements.
What this comes down to is that whenever possible, editors should ensure that the sources they use aren't just considered reliable from the verifiability standpoint, but also that the content they contain can also be considered correct. This may mean looking up the source's own sources, or researching for opposing opinions to the source, and examine how things measure up. Certainly some sources can be considered more reliable than others, but the primary determination of the quality and reliability of a cited source should not be its pedigree but rather how well it can stick to the facts and establish objective truth.
By weighing content by both verifiability and truth, we can ensure that Wikipedia is a worthy source of knowledge for everyone.