Wikipedia:Blind men and an elephant

And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong.

The blind men and an elephant is a fable that originated in the Indian subcontinent from where it has widely diffused. It is a story of a group of blind men (or men in the dark) who touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. Different observers of an event providing contradictory interpretations of the same event is also known as the Rashomon effect. The phrase is derived from the title of the Japanese film Rashomon (1950), where the accounts of the witnesses, suspects, and victims of a rape and murder are all different.

The blind men and the elephant story has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies; broadly, the parable implies that one's subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth. At various times the parable has provided insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth, the behaviour of experts in fields where there is a deficit or inaccessibility of information, the need for communication, and respect for different perspectives.

Policies[edit]

  • WP:WEIGHT: "Neutrality requires that each article or other page in the mainspace fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint in the published, reliable sources. Giving due weight and avoiding giving undue weight mean that articles should not give minority views or aspects as much of or as detailed a description as more widely held views or widely supported aspects. Generally, the views of tiny minorities should not be included at all, except perhaps in a "see also" to an article about those specific views."
  • WP:BALANCE: "Neutrality assigns weight to viewpoints in proportion to their prominence. However, when reputable sources contradict one another and are relatively equal in prominence, describe both approaches and work for balance. This involves describing the opposing views clearly, drawing on secondary or tertiary sources that describe the disagreement from a disinterested viewpoint."

How to handle such ambiguity on Wikipedia[edit]

When two reliable sources contradict each other when providing information on the same event, choosing to believe one source's version of events instead of the other's, and deliberately omitting the latter from being used on Wikipedia in favour of the former does not show neutrality. The omitted source could actually be true, just not proven true yet. Still, it would be best advised to add the source which is more reputable. If both sources are equally reputable, it is better to include them both in the Wikipedia article, explaining in text how they contradict each other, e.g.: "This source says he was born on 21 October, while another source says he was born on 23 October."

Also beware to avoid synthesis of published material, which is the combination of material from multiple sources to reach or imply a conclusion not explicitly stated by any of the sources. For example, if one source says a leaf is red and another source says it is brown, then do not say that the leaf is reddish-brown as neither source comes to that conclusion.