Wikipedia:Wikipedia is comprehensive

Wikipedia is, first and foremost, an encyclopedia, and as such, its primary goal is to be a fully comprehensive and informative reference work; that is, it does not purposefully omit (i.e. suppress or censor) non-trivial, verifiable, encyclopedically-formatted information on notable subjects.

In the pursuit of completeness, Wikipedia includes truthful (sometimes "sensitive") information which can be considered as having possible uses which could be considered, illegal, immoral, unethical, or potentially harmful. Wikipedia's place is to merely provide useful information; what people do with that information is entirely up to them and is either none of Wikipedia's concern or it is believed that the world is better overall for the information being available than if it were not. Wikipedia's ethos is to be informative. Also, trying to predict how people will use a given piece of information can be rather difficult; thus, making decisions based on such predictions in order to "protect" an entity is questionable.

Further, if Wikipedia was to censor on moral/ethical grounds, it would be necessary to choose a particular morality or code of ethics, but this would violate Wikipedia's neutrality; the furthest Wikipedia has gone in this area is WP:BLP, which is rather limited in scope. Just as Neutral Point of View requires a level of factual relativism in not favoring any one view as absolute truth, so is a level of moral relativism required in deciding when to omit content.

Policy proposals to censor on the aforementioned grounds have been made (and rejected) thrice; the seemingly perennial nature of such proposals inspired the writing of this essay.

ExamplesEdit

  • Methamphetamine describes several ways of producing the illegal drug.
  • Rorschach test shows pictures of and gives popular responses to the test cards; such disclosure conflicts with the professional ethics of psychologists and has been alleged to indirectly harm future test subjects by undermining the test's effectiveness. Similarly, Snellen chart shows an image of the standard chart; memorizing the image ahead of time makes it possible to cheat on some eye tests.
  • AACS encryption key controversy provides an encryption key which could be used to break the DRM of home movies in violation of the DMCA or similar laws.
  • Inhalants describes the gases and solvents in household products that are inhaled to produce intoxication and the methods used to inhale these products.
  • Paywall mentions ways to circumvent paywalls; such circumvention is to the detriment of content producers and potentially violates their Terms of Service.
  • Articles on some politicians include unpleasant facts about them, which may harm their current/future political prospects.
  • Articles on some weapons such as improvised explosive devices or Molotov cocktails describe their designs and operating principles, which would be of aid to those wanting to make them.
  • Articles on sexuality include images, frank discussions, and detailed descriptions; some people find some of this immoral. (Covered more directly by WP:NOTCENSORED)
  • The Mousetrap reveals (without a "spoiler warning" per se) the play's twist ending, possibly harming the enjoyment of some when actually watching the play, and despite the rights-owner's wishes. (Covered more directly by WP:SPOILER.)
  • Articles on medicine may be imperfect; those who have not read our medical disclaimer may have excessive trust in such articles and use them to seek medical advice.
  • The Münchausen syndrome article can be used by would-be sufferers in preparing to fake having that problem.[1]
  • Hypochondriacs reading articles on medical problems may become convinced they suffer from those problems and seek unnecessary tests or treatment.
  • Suicide methods contains details on methods used to commit suicide, which may encourage people suffering from depression to do so.
  • Bahá'u'lláh and Muhammad include depictions of these religious figures; some Bahá'ís and Muslims consider such depictions immoral. (See also WP:Wikipedia is not aniconistic)

ExceptionsEdit

Information which has ethical, moral, or legal implications has been and can be validly excluded on other sound policy-based grounds, primarily WP:Verifiability. This is why most exclusion policy proposals are arguably policy creep; if information is solidly verifiable, then it's already "out there" in the reliable source. All removing the information from Wikipedia does is make it less accessible; it does not magically obliterate it from existence, and determined people can still find it. And if it's not in a reliable source, then mere lack of verifiability already justifies its removal. Building on verifiability, WP:BLP requires a high standard of verifiability in articles about living people, so as to avoid libel. These exceptions do not contradict the position espoused in this essay because unverified information is of uncertain truth value and thus does not contribute towards making the encyclopedia more informative.

Selected quotationsEdit

[...] However, Wikimedia policy has never called for material to be deleted purely on the basis that it is, or may be, objectionable, and our projects have long contained caveats to that effect.


We do expect material in our projects to be educational in nature, and any material that is not educational should be removed. We see our role as making available all knowledge, not solely such knowledge as is universally deemed acceptable. We believe that individual adults should be able to decide for themselves what information they want to seek out. In the case of children, we believe that their parents, teachers, and other guardians are best placed to guide them to material that is appropriate for them, based on their development and maturity, as they grow into adulthood.

1. Wikimedia is Dedicated to Intellectual Openness

In the first category is the overriding principle that animates all Wikimedia efforts – the unrelenting, unremitting and rigorous commitment to non-censored openness and “intellectual freedom” (to borrow a term from the library community) that Wikimedia attempts to provide for the world. The belief in providing open information and complete knowledge to the world’s inhabitants is not only a slogan for Wikimedians – it is the principle that animates virtually every decision and activity taken over its many platforms every day. We have been told time and again as we conducted this study that Wikimedia’s commitment to intellectual freeedom is not merely its mission statement – it is the key to its success in the world. The more open the projects can be, it was argued, the greater their potential success. By and large, we agree with this perspective. Wikimedia projects are trusted in the world because they are seen to be fair and unbiased (to the extent that that is possible in a world filled with contention). Open and full access to information is a principle that is both intellectually sound and practically efficient.

2. Wikimedia's Openness Does Not Change When Content is Contentious

[...] As an educational enterprise, Wikipedia’s commitment to intellectual openness is no means to an end – it is an end in itself. It is a public service, the reason the projects exist. Consequently, Wikimedia has been less willing than others to accede to extra-institutional pressure to change its content. (This, to us, is the true meaning of the oft-quoted “Wikimedia does not censor”), Wikimedia’s educational mission forces a certain uncompromising attitude onto its projects. There is much in the world to learn about – not all of it is pleasant, not all of it is uncontroversial, some of it is disturbing, some of it is hard. But it is there, and by and large, Wikimedia is there to document it. The principle of radical openness belongs to Wikimedia’s intellectual DNA. [...]

— Robert Harris and Dory Carr-Harris, 2010 Wikimedia Study of Controversial Content
WIKIPEDIA CONTAINS CONTENT THAT MAY BE OBJECTIONABLE

In its encyclopedic function, Wikipedia contains millions of articles on a vast array of topics. A relatively small fraction of these topics are frequently censored by educational, governmental, corporate, parental, and other filtering schemes.

  • Some Wikipedia articles discuss words or language that are considered profane, vulgar, or offensive by some readers. See Wikipedia:Profanity for more information. [...]
  • Wikipedia contains many different images, some of which are considered objectionable or offensive by some readers. For example, some articles contain graphical depictions of violence, or depictions of human anatomy.
  • Many articles contain frank discussion of controversial topics. Some subjects that are discussed have criminal applications in some jurisdictions. Others contain information on dangerous or otherwise risky activities [...]
  • Wikipedia contains spoilers.

[...] Wikipedia's current policy is to include such content, provided it breaches neither any of our existing policies (especially Neutral point of view) nor the laws of the state of Florida in the United States, where Wikipedia is hosted. See a list of controversial issues for some examples of articles that may contain such content. Some of these articles contain warnings, but many do not.

[...] Wikipedia contains obscure information that would not be covered in a conventional encyclopedia.

PLEASE BE AWARE THAT ANY INFORMATION YOU MAY FIND IN WIKIPEDIA MAY BE [...] DANGEROUS, ADDICTIVE, UNETHICAL OR ILLEGAL.
[...] None of the authors, contributors, sponsors, administrators, vandals, or anyone else connected with Wikipedia, in any way whatsoever, can be responsible for your use of the information contained in or linked from these web pages.

See alsoEdit

Policy
Failed censorship proposals
Articles/concepts

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Griffiths EJ, Kampa R, Pearce C, Sakellariou A, Solan MC (March 2009). "Munchausen's syndrome by Google". Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 91 (2): 159–60. PMID 19317939.