Wikipedia:Fringe theories

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

In Wikipedia parlance, the term

reliable sources
must be cited that affirm the relationship of the marginal idea to the mainstream idea in a serious and substantial manner.

There are numerous reasons for these requirements. Wikipedia is not and must not become the validating source for non-significant subjects, and it is not a forum for

secondary sources
of reasonable reliability and quality.

The governing policies regarding fringe theories are the three core content policies

reliable source
, and that all majority and significant-minority views published in reliable sources should be represented fairly and proportionately. Should any inconsistency arise between this guideline and the content policies, the policies take precedence.

Fringe theories and related articles have been the subject of several


Identifying fringe theories

We use the term fringe theory in a very broad sense to describe an idea that departs significantly from the prevailing views or

, and the opinion of a scholar whose expertise is in a different field should not be given undue weight.

When discussing topics that reliable sources say are pseudoscientific or fringe theories, editors should be careful not to present the pseudoscientific fringe views alongside the scientific or academic consensus as though they are opposing but still equal views. While pseudoscience may, in some cases, be significant to an article, it should not obfuscate the description or prominence of the mainstream views.

Spectrum of fringe theories

Not all pseudoscience and fringe theories are alike. In addition, there is an approximate demarcation between pseudoscience and questionable science, and they merit careful treatment.

research fraud
and other types of bad science are not necessarily pseudoscientific – refer to reliable sources to find the appropriate characterisation.


Proposals that, while purporting to be scientific, are obviously bogus may be so labeled and categorized as such without more justification. For example, since the universal scientific view is that

Stanley Meyer's water fuel cell) may be treated as pseudoscience. Proposals that are generally considered pseudoscience by the scientific community, such as astrology
, may properly contain that information and may be categorized as pseudoscience.

Questionable science

Articles about hypotheses that have a substantial following but which critics describe as pseudoscience, may note those critics' views; however, such hypotheses should not be described as unambiguously pseudoscientific if a reasonable amount of academic debate still exists.

Alternative theoretical formulations

Alternative theoretical formulations from within the

Norse colonization of the Americas, and the Big Bang Theory.[7]

To determine whether something is pseudoscientific or merely an alternative theoretical formulation, consider this: Alternative theoretical formulations generally tweak things on the frontiers of science, or deal with strong, puzzling evidence—which is difficult to explain away—in an effort to create a model that better explains reality. Pseudoscience generally proposes changes in the basic laws of nature to allow some phenomenon which the supporters want to believe occurs, but lack the strong scientific evidence or rigour that would justify such major changes. Pseudoscience usually relies on attacking mainstream scientific theories and methodology while lacking a critical discourse itself (as is common among proponents of creation science), relies on weak evidence such as anecdotal evidence or weak statistical evidence (as for example in parapsychology), or indulges a suspect theoretical premise (such as the claims of water memory made by advocates of homeopathy).


Reliable sources

Reliable sources are needed for any article in Wikipedia. They are needed to demonstrate that an idea is sufficiently

to merit a dedicated article about it. For a fringe view to be discussed in an article about a mainstream idea, independent reliable sources must discuss the relationship of the two as a serious and substantial matter.

Reliable sources on Wikipedia may include peer-reviewed journals; books published by university presses; university-level textbooks; magazines, journals, and books published by respected publishing houses; and mainstream newspapers. Academic and peer-reviewed publications are usually the most reliable sources in areas where they are available, but material from reliable non-academic sources may also be used in these areas.

Subjects receive attention in Wikipedia in proportion to the level of detail in the sources from which the article is written. For example, if the only references to a particular subject are in news sources, then a level of detail which is greater than that which appears in these news sources is inappropriate, because Wikipedia policy prohibits

careful use
of primary sources.

Independent sources

The best sources to use when describing fringe theories, and in determining their

, independent sources.

Parity of sources

Inclusion and exclusion of content related to fringe theories and criticism of fringe theories may be done by means of a rough parity of sources. If an article is written about a well-known topic about which many peer-reviewed articles are written, it should not include fringe theories that may seem relevant but are only sourced to obscure texts that lack peer review. Note that fringe journals exist, some of which claim peer review. Only a very few of these actually have any meaningful peer review outside of promoters of the fringe theories, and they should generally be considered unreliable. Examples of unreliable journals include but are not limited to: the

Creation Research Society Quarterly, Homeopathy, and the Journal of Frontier Science (which uses blog comments[8]
as its supposed peer review).

In an article on a fringe topic, if a notable fringe theory is primarily described by amateurs and self-published texts, verifiable and reliable criticism of the fringe theory need not be published in a peer-reviewed journal. For example, the

biographies of living persons
policies are not suspended simply because the topic is a fringe theory.

Parity of sources may mean that certain fringe theories are only reliably and verifiably reported on, or criticized, in alternative venues from those that are typically considered reliable sources for scientific topics on Wikipedia. For example, the lack of peer-reviewed criticism of

rarely if ever included
by reliable sources on those subjects.

The prominence of fringe views needs to be put in perspective relative to the views of the entire encompassing field; limiting that relative perspective to a restricted subset of specialists or only among the proponents of that view is, necessarily, biased and unrepresentative.


Wikipedia is meant to be a



While proper attribution of a perspective to a source satisfies the minimal requirements of

Wikipedia's neutral point of view
, there is an additional editorial responsibility for including only those quotes and perspectives which further the aim of creating a verifiable and neutral Wikipedia article. Quotes that are controversial or potentially misleading need to be properly contextualized to avoid unintentional endorsement or deprecation. What is more, just because a quote is accurate and verifiably attributed to a particular source does not mean that the quote must necessarily be included in an article. The sourced contribution must simply aid in the verifiable and neutral presentation of the subject.

For example, in the article about Bigfoot, a verifiably attributed and accurately preserved quotation might take the following form:

The Bigfoot Field Researchers Association has stated, "Scientists from various disciplines put the most compelling sasquatch evidence to the test. Collectively their conclusions are ground-breaking. There is now scientific proof for the existence of a giant primate species in North America—a species fitting the descriptions of sasquatches (bigfoots)."

Including such a controversial quote needs to be carefully contextualized as a particular point of view. Simply including such a statement in the

of editors may even be to not include the quote at all.

In-text attribution

The careful use of

stated simply as facts rather than recast as opinions
. Be careful not to use in-text attribution carelessly to imply that only the named sources would agree. A careful use of words and the adoption of a disinterested tone will ensure that a reader is not spoonfed opinions as facts and vice versa.

Coverage in Wikipedia


The notability of a fringe theory must be judged by statements from

publish credulous profiles of fringe theories and their proponents, and there continue to be many completely unreliable sources masquerading as legitimate


Sufficiently notable for dedicated articles:

  • Creation science and Intelligent design—The overwhelming majority of scientists consider this to be pseudoscience and say that it should not be taught in elementary public education. However, the very existence of this strong opinion, and vigorous discussion regarding it among groups such as scientists, scientific journals, educational institutions, political institutions, and courts of law give the idea itself more than adequate notability to have articles about it on Wikipedia.
  • Auschwitz
    , that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis was far less than six million—are rejected as false by an overwhelming majority of professional historians, although the Holocaust deniers themselves will still occasionally get some public notice and therefore notability.
  • Moon landing conspiracy theories—Conspiracy theories which aim to show that the Moon landings were fake, while probably not held as true by very many people, have generated enough discussion in books, television programs, debunking statements from NASA, etc., that they deserve an article on Wikipedia.

Not sufficiently notable for dedicated articles:

  • Theories of Booth's escape—The page on John Wilkes Booth includes descriptions of conspiracy theories contending that Booth eluded his pursuers and escaped. However, they are not notable enough for a dedicated article.

Notability versus acceptance

Just because an idea is not accepted by most experts does not mean it should be removed from Wikipedia. The threshold for whether a topic should be included in Wikipedia as an article is generally covered by notability guidelines. The complicated relationship between the level of acceptance of an idea and its notability is explored below.

Reporting on the levels of acceptance

Articles which cover controversial, disputed, or discounted ideas in detail should document (with

reliable sources) the current level of their acceptance among the relevant academic community. If proper attribution cannot be found among reliable sources of an idea's standing, it should be assumed that the idea has not received consideration or acceptance; ideas should not be portrayed as accepted unless such claims can be documented in reliable sources. However, a lack of consideration or acceptance does not necessarily imply rejection, either; ideas should not be portrayed as rejected or carry negative labels such as pseudoscience
unless such claims can be documented in reliable sources.

Even demonstrably incorrect assertions and fringe theories like the Face on Mars can merit inclusion in an encyclopedia—as notable ideas in the public eye.

Ideas that have been rejected, are widely considered to be absurd or pseudoscientific, only of historical interest, or primarily the realm of science fiction, should be documented as such, using reliable sources.

Ideas that are of borderline or minimal notability may be mentioned in Wikipedia, but should not be given

prose "debunking" notable ideas which the scientific community may consider to be absurd or unworthy. Criticisms of fringe theories should be reported on relative to the visibility, notability, and reliability of the sources that do the criticizing.

Wikipedia is also not a crystal ball: While currently accepted scientific paradigms may later be rejected, and hypotheses previously held to be controversial or incorrect sometimes become accepted by the scientific community (e.g., plate tectonics
), it is not the place of Wikipedia to venture such projections. If the status of a given idea changes, then Wikipedia changes to reflect that change. Wikipedia primarily focuses on the state of knowledge today, documenting the past when appropriate (identifying it as such), and avoiding speculation about the future.

Peer-reviewed sources help establish the level of acceptance

One important barometer for determining the notability and level of acceptance of fringe ideas related to science, history or other academic pursuits is the presence or absence of

original research. Care should be taken with journals that exist mainly to promote a particular viewpoint. Journals that are not peer reviewed by the wider academic community should not be considered reliable, except to show the views of the groups represented by those journals.[9]

Peer review is an important feature of

exceptional claims
in Wikipedia require high-quality reliable sources.

Evaluating and describing claims

Many encyclopedic topics can be evaluated from a number of different perspectives, and some of these perspectives may make claims that lack verification in research, that are inherently untestable, or that are pseudoscientific. In general, Wikipedia should always give

simple statements of fact—e.g. "An electron
has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton."

Claims derived from fringe theories should be carefully

criticism section
, but instead work for integrated, easy to read, and accurate article prose.

Notable perspectives which are primarily non-scientific in nature but which contain claims concerning scientific phenomena should not be treated exclusively as scientific theory and handled on that basis. For example, the

undue weight
in more general discussions of the topic.

Unwarranted promotion of fringe theories

Proponents of fringe theories have used Wikipedia as a forum for promoting their ideas. Policies discourage this: if the only statements about a fringe theory come from the inventors or promoters of that theory, then "

general notability guidelines: the notability of a fringe theory must be judged by statements from verifiable and reliable sources
, not the proclamations of its adherents.



Mentions in other articles

Fringe views, products, or those who promote them, may be mentioned in the text of other articles only if


Fringe theories should be discussed in context; uncontroversial ideas may need to be referred to in relation to fringe theories. Discussion of mainstream ideas should be sourced from reliable mainstream sources. Links to non-fringe articles in fringe articles can also help aid the reader in understanding and remove the threat of creating a walled garden. In contrast, many mainstream articles do not link to articles about fringe theories. This is the principle of one-way linking for fringe theories.

Astrology—There are plenty of reliable sources which describe how astronomy is not astrology, and so a decent article on the former may mention the latter.
Autodynamics—There are no reliable sources about special relativity which also mention autodynamics, and so a decent article on special relativity should not mention autodynamics.

Note, however, that the mainstream scientific subjects are discussed and linked to in both of the above articles about fringe subjects (the Astrology article discusses astronomy, and Autodynamics discusses special relativity).

Treatment of living persons

Close attention should be paid to the treatment of those who hold fringe viewpoints, since as a rule they are the focus of controversy. All articles concerning these people must also comply with Wikipedia's policy on

WP:BLP § Balance

There are people who are

promotes nor denigrates the subject.

Useful templates

  • Wikipedia:Neutrality templates
    , in particular,
    • {{Fringe theories}}
    • {{POV}}—There is a current dispute about the article's neutrality.
    • {{Unbalanced}}
    • {{
      }}—Inline citation to tag a source which might have been given more prominence than justifiable.
  • Wikipedia:Template messages/Sources of articles
    , in particular,
    • {{Unreliable fringe source}}—Inline citation to tag a specific sentence that may use a fringe source inappropriately.
    • {{
      Verify credibility
      }}—Inline citation for a source that may be unreliable
    • {{
      }}—Inline citation to tag a specific sentence that may use a non-independent source inappropriately.

See also



Arbitration requests


  1. ^ See Wikipedia:Neutral point of view, in particular Wikipedia:Neutral point of view § Due and undue weight.
  2. Synthesis of published material that advances a position
  3. ^ For more criteria, see Trefil, James S. (1978), "A consumer's guide to pseudoscience", The Saturday Review, April 29, 1978, pp. 16–21.
  4. ^ Based on Arbcom ruling in Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Pseudoscience
  5. ^ Conklin, Wendy (2005) Mysteries in History: Ancient History Page 39
  6. ^ Hunt, Patrick (2007) Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History
  7. ^ Lemonick, Michael D. (2003) Echo of the Big Bang Princeton University Press pg 7
  8. ^ Publisher. "JOURNAL of FRONTIER SCIENCE Peer Review Blog". Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  9. ^ A claim of peer review is not an indication that the journal is respected, or that any meaningful peer review occurs. It must be shown that reliable sources treat the journal as a respected peer-reviewed journal.