Post-post addendum

And after my discussion below, this seems a necessary addition:

Internet encyclopaedias go head to head

Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries, a Nature investigation finds.

The meat of the story is:

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.

The average number of errors per article in each? 3 per article reviewed in Britannica, 4 per article in Wikipedia. “AHA!” say critics. “The Wikipedia is worse!” Except, of course…the wikipedia can be fixed. Brittanica is wrong forever.

Here’s the full list of errors from each article…it would be interesting to revisit these and see if the wikipedia has been corrected.

Entry Encyclopaedia Britannica inaccuracies Wikipedia inaccuracies
Acheulean industry 1 7
Agent Orange 2 2
Aldol reaction 4 3
Archimedes’ principle 2 2
Australopithecus africanus 1 1
Bethe, Hans 1 2
Cambrian explosion 10 11
Cavity magnetron 2 2
Chandrasekhar, Subrahmanyan 4 0
CJD 2 5
Cloud 3 5
Colloid 3 6
Dirac, Paul 10 9
Dolly 1 4
Epitaxy 5 2
Ethanol 3 5
Field effect transistor 3 3
Haber process 1 2
Kinetic isotope effect 1 2
Kin selection 3 3
Lipid 3 0
Lomborg, Bjorn 1 1
Lymphocyte 1 2
Mayr, Ernst 0 3
Meliaceae 1 3
Mendeleev, Dmitry 8 19
Mutation 8 6
Neural network 2 7
Nobel prize 4 5
Pheromone 3 2
Prion 3 7
Punctuated equilibrium 1 0
Pythagoras’ theorem 1 1
Quark 5 0
Royal Greenwich Observatory 3 5
Royal Society 6 2
Synchrotron 2 2
Thyroid 4 7
Vesalius, Andreas 2 4
West Nile Virus 1 5
Wolfram, Stephen 2 2
Woodward, Robert Burns 0 3

8 thoughts on “Post-post addendum

  1. “Except, of course…the wikipedia can be fixed. Brittanica is wrong forever.”

    Really? They stopped doing revised editions? When did that happen?

    [Sorry, couldn’t resist that. Your point is true enough for anyone owning a print edition, but I believe the EB online is continously updated.]

    The problem with the Nature study is that it’s so anecdotal as to be pretty meaningless…which doesn’t necessarily say it’s wrong.

  2. Point taken. Here’s where I invoke Linus’ Law, though: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”

    Which means that Britannica will never be able to keep up with Wikipedia as far as the potential for revision. There just aren’t enough eyeballs on Britannica. And since we were originally concerned with print v. electronic to begin with, it seems a decent sort of comparison to make.

    The Nature study is problematic, but as you say…doesn’t mean it’s wrong. 🙂

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