Encyclopedias Compared

Nature has posted a comparison of Wikipedia and Britanica and the results aren’t that surprising – at least not to me.

I’ve posted (as have many others) about the recent changes in Wikipedia due to major media coverage.

However, an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature – the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica’s coverage of science – suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule.

Although I wouldn’t use Wikipedia as my main (or only) source for a research project, I often find myself starting there when I need to find information about a specific topic. But no one resource is perfect, who’s to say that just because Britannica comes in print that it’s more accurate?

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.

It’s almost like the difference between open-source software and proprietary software … the open-source is free so most people regard it as less effective than the software you buy in the stores. But the fact is that the open-source software is always going to get fixed faster – and better than the stuff you buy. The reason? There are more politics & levels to go through in the big companies to get an edit through – with open-source someone just makes the change, tests it, and releases it … okay maybe it’s not that simple, but you get my point.

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