Wikipedia and Britannica go head to head

Nature (via Slashdot)

Several recent cases have highlighted the potential problems [with Wikipedia]. One article was revealed as falsely suggesting that a former assistant to US Senator Robert Kennedy may have been involved in his assassination. And podcasting pioneer Adam Curry has been accused of editing the entry on podcasting to remove references to competitors' work. Curry says he merely thought he was making the entry more accurate.

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.

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.

The slashdot headline points out that the articles compared are about twice as long in Wikipedia, so the error per word rate is lower for Wikipedia. There's some debate as to whether any of these metrics are meaningful though.

Either way, I'm personally satisfied that Wikipedia is just as good as any other encyclopedia. Recent headline-grabbing errors don't change the fact that it's an excellent source of information.

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