What is the true worth and credibility of the information found in Wikipedia? A 2005 Nature article entitled “Internet Encyclopaedias go Head to Head”1 details a Nature investigation that used peer review to determine the comparative credibility of Wikipedia to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Forty-two topics were reviewed in both encyclopedias for errors by subject experts. Wikipedia articles had an average of four errors per article compared to Encyclopaedia Britannica, which had an average of three errors per article.
Encyclopaedia Britannica’s reputation precedes it as the finest printed general encyclopedia that money can buy. However, as anyone who has ever worked in reference publishing knows, reputations can be better than the product you are hawking.
In 2005, twelve year old Lucian George found 5 errors on the subjects of wildlife and central Europe in Encyclopaedia Britannica.2 Traditional closed access publishing has always fought off the open access movement by arguing that proprietary content is the gold standard for quality and reliability.
However, it would seem that paid resources are more like the silver standard. The unquestioning assumption that many of the staples of the reference and research collection are inerrant is wrong. Humans put these things together and humans make mistakes.
- Giles, Jim. “Internet Encyclopaedias go Head to Head.” Nature 438, no. 7070 (December 15, 2005): 900-901. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/438900a. ↩
- Parkinson, Justin “Boy Brings Encyclopaedia to Book.” BBC , January 26, 2005: Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/4209575.stm (Accessed December 1, 2009). ↩