Digital Culture Library Issues

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

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

8 replies on “Post-post addendum”

“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.

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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