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Verifiability vs. Truth

By Hersch

Verifiability vs. Truth

On June 12, 2011, an editor named “North8000” had the temerity to propose that a core policy, Wikipedia:Verifiability, be changed in the following fashion: that the hallowed dictum,

“The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth—whether readers can check that material in Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source, not whether editors think it is true.”

…be changed to the following:

The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability; that is, whether readers can check that material in Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source. No other consideration, such as assertions of truth, is a substitute for verifiability.

To the uninitiated, this might seem like a minor change. However, the rejection of accountability, or to put it somewhat differently, the license to publish lies provided someone else did it first, is absolutely central to the practice of Wikipedia as a MMORPG.

The celebrated “verifiability, not truth” clause was added to the paragraph in question by ranking Wikipediot SlimVirgin in August of 2005. In the recent debate, she modestly opines,

“The phrase ‘Verifiability, not truth’ is iconic as a representation of Wikipedia’s sourcing and neutrality standards.”

Not everyone is happy with this approach, however. It has contributed to Wikipedia’s reputation as a website that is full of crap, or as North8000 more delicately puts it, there is “the problem that the current wording disparages the concept of striving for accuracy, and the negative impacts that such has had.”

In May of 2011, Wikipedia editor Scott MacDonald presented a compelling demonstration of the pitfalls of the “verifiability, not truth” maxim. He assembled a spectacular array of utterly

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