Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wikipedia (Almost) as Accurate As Britannica

Finally, a little hard evidence on the Wikipedia debate. An encyclopedia prone to inaccuracies? Not more than Britannica. The science journal Nature—as creditable source as they come—did a little investigation:

“[E]ntries were chosen from the websites of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica on a broad range of scientific disciplines and sent to a relevant expert for peer review. Each reviewer examined the entry on a single subject from the two encyclopaedias; they were not told which article came from which encyclopaedia. A total of 42 usable reviews were returned out of 50 sent out, and were then examined by Nature's news team. Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.”

In other words, “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.”

Wikipedia is peer-reviewing at its nearly-best. It compels and enables corrections in a way that Britannica’s almost-written-in-stone hardbound volumes do not (cannot). See Nature’s article on the Wikipedia investigation…