Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wikipedia vs. Britannica: Who wins?

The journal Nature launched an investigation to compare the accuracy of online science entries in Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three.
Britannica helps our cause in its response:
Editors at Britannica would not discuss the findings, but say their own studies of Wikipedia have uncovered numerous flaws. "We have nothing against Wikipedia," says Tom Panelas, director of corporate communications at the company's headquarters in Chicago. "But it is not the case that errors creep in on an occasional basis or that a couple of articles are poorly written. There are lots of articles in that condition. They need a good editor."
In other Wikipedia news, the site's founder, Jimmy Wales, tells Business Week Online that he thinks neither Wikipedia nor Britannica should be used as a citable source:

Do you think students and researchers should cite Wikipedia?
No, I don't think people should cite it, and I don't think people should cite Britannica, either -- the error rate there isn't very good. People shouldn't be citing encyclopedias in the first place. Wikipedia and other encyclopedias should be solid enough to give good, solid background information to inform your studies for a deeper level. And really, it's more reliable to read Wikipedia for background than to read random Web pages on the Internet.

I can't argue with him there. This is even more evidence that Wikipedia is a stellar starting point for information; but it should never be where you end up.


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