Dispatches From Blogistan

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Dispatches From Blogistan
by suzanne stefanac
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wikipedia taunts the encyclopedia britannica

12.16.05 @ 01:38:18 pacific

Nature pits Wikipedia against Encyclopedia Britannica and the free, user-edited encyclopedia holds its own.

The good news for Wikipedia began yesterday with a special report by the venerable science magazine, Nature. The periodical oversaw the peer review of 42 entries common to the two encyclopedias and found errors in both. In fact, they discovered 162 errors in Wikipedia and 123 in the Britannica. Among the errors, four in each compedium were dubbed “serious.”

Determined to test the mettle of the online encyclopedia, two of the Wikipedia’s 45,000 registered “editors” carried the math a little farther and discovered that the Wiki articles used in the review were, on average, 2.6 times longer than the Britannica’s. The authors are “cautious about drawing conclusions, but from a purely statistical standpoint, this means that the Britannica yielded 3.6 errors for every 2KB data while the Wikipedia ended up with a mere 1.3 errors per 2KB.

The good news followed hard on the heels of bad. John Seigenthaler, founding editorial director of USA Today recently accused the encyclopedia of erroneously implicating him in the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Mr. Seigenthaler declined to edit the document.

Plus, there is the class action suit against Wikipedia brought by Baou Inc. Baou is run by Greg Lloyd Smith, who launched and defended the questionable QuakeAID project and was once sued by Amazon for engaging in fraud while using their name. Win or lose, defending cases like this one are costly and distracting.

Wikipedia will never be free of problems. There will be misinformed editors, ham-handed writers, vandals, and prolix types with axes to grind. Even with new mechanisms being put into place to screen entries, the sheer volume of data on the service prohibits any kind of full vetting. As of this writing, there are 3.7 million articles in 200 languages in the Wikipedia.

But the Nature article is thought provoking. First, it’s good to remember that even our most trusted reference tomes can make mistakes and, second, the Wikipedia, with its self-correcting nature and protean body of content, isn’t all that terrible a resource, after all.




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  1. 12.29.05 @ 05:09:16 pacific

    Interesting–I have been banning my college students from using Wiki as a source, because I felt I could not trust the entries that I had not verified myself.

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  1. 12.16.05 @ 01:38:18 pacific

    Interesting–I have been banning my college students from using Wiki as a source, because I felt I could not trust the entries that I had not verified myself.

  2. } ?>
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