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NPOV or neutral point of view is one of the few rules that the Wikipedia has. It is the point of view that its writers should take, presenting all sides fairly.

NPOV provides a way to distinguish between fact and opinion. If something is beyond dispute, such as “Elizabeth was queen in Shakespeare’s time”, you can state it as fact. But if something is in dispute, such as “On the third day Jesus rose from the dead”, then you cannot. Since it is disputed, it is opinion, not fact.

So the statement “The earth goes around the sun” is a fact in our time, but in 1600 it was an opinion. “Men evolved from fish” is a fact in France, but in Kansas it is an opinion.

You can still present opinions, but they must be clearly stated as such. For example, you can say, “Christians believe that on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.” By the way, that statement is also a fact since no one would dispute it.

The best and most interesting way to present opinion is to lay out the different sides of the dispute. You do not have to give all sides of a dispute equal weight but according to how widely held an opinion is.

NPOV is not about the truth, but a way for people from all around the world to work together. If both sides to a dispute are equally aired, both sides are happy. Without NPOV certain pages would become a battlefield and nothing would get written.

“Neutral” does not mean true. The truth is not always in the middle – sometimes far from it.

For example, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then Christians are right and everyone else is dead wrong. There is no middle ground here. Or, if he did not rise from the dead, then Christians are a sad lot indeed. They live on fables. There is no being half right – it is all or nothing.

But the purpose of the Wikipedia is not to state the truth. It is to detail the current state of man’s knowledge. Yesterday’s facts become today’s opinion become tomorrow’s fables. And back again.

Nor is the Wikipedia even neutral. The English Wikipedia is largely written by well-off white men from America and Britain in 2006. If people a hundred years from now could read all of the Wikipedia that we have now, they would not be able to stop laughing.

A few years ago I read Churchill’s history of the English-speaking world. His point of view was not mine. But because he wrote from a strong point of view, it made his writing more forceful, clear and compelling. If he wrote it using NPOV, it would have been twice as long and only half as good.

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