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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fringe cosmology

Over at Wikipedia there's an arbitration going on involving the editing of articles relating to cosmology and astrophysics, where some editors have seemingly sought to use the encyclopedia to promote minority or fringe theories (not necessarily pseudoscientific theories akin to creation science, but certainly views that are currently marginal within the scientific maintream).

Given Wikipedia's aspiration to be a trustworthy reference work, and given that it actually is the first port of call for many people seeking information, it is important that it strike the right balance here. These fringe theories should be treated fairly, but even more importantly the widely-accepted and well-tested findings of mainstream science should not be presented as more controversial than they actually are. The "neutral point of view" doctrine should not extend to giving marginal viewpoints in science a prominence and credibility that they lack in the real world.

Except for some dealings with the parties from the standpoint of a neutral administrator, I've had very little involvement in the dispute that led to this point. However, I think that a good outcome to this case is critical to Wikipedia's ongoing efforts to be credible: is it going to evolve into a reputable encyclopedia or not? Accordingly, I've been commenting on the issues in some detail, for whatever my comments may be worth to the arbitrators.

In this situation, a good outcome will have some balance; the fringe theories should be described in a factual, objective way in the articles devoted to them, without the need for a debunking tone. However, the encyclopedia's overall balance must lean towards presenting scientific orthodoxy wherever such a thing exists. In some cases, there may be genuine division of opinion within the scientific mainstream, but that is not the problem here.

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