by Mike Masnick

Britannica Would Like To Edit Nature's Study On Wikipedia

from the took-their-sweet-time,-didn't-they? dept

We didn't mention the study that the journal Nature put out a few months ago, claiming that the Encyclopedia Britannica was just about as likely to have mistakes as Wikipedia. It generated lots of news coverage, mainly because everyone likes to compare the two, and Wikipedia haters insist that there's no possible way Wikipedia could be as trustworthy as Britannica. The reason we skipped it, is because the comparison is silly. As long as you recognize the different methodologies used in creating and maintaining the two offerings, then the rest of the debate seems sort of pointless. It's not like the two resources can't both exist. However, it is interesting to see that the folks at Britannica, as is befitting their own methodology, waited quietly for a few months before publicly slamming the Nature article, saying that it was "wrong and misleading." Sounds a bit like they're on the defensive. The point, honestly, isn't about comparing the two. It's no secret that there are mistakes in Britannica, or that there are mistakes in Wikipedia. The real issue is the process used to create and maintain these entries, and what they're useful for. As long as people understand that neither is the "one true" authoritative source on anything, then both become useful exactly as they should be: as one resource among many for those researching certain topics.

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  • identicon
    Just one guy, 24 Mar 2006 @ 2:24am

    Where's Britannica's 20 pages' study?

    I could not find the original Britannica's discussion of Nature's article.

    Neither you nor UsaToday provides a link. Do you know where we can find it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just one guy, 24 Mar 2006 @ 2:25am

    Where's Britannica's 20 pages' study?

    I could not find the original Britannica's discussion of Nature's article.

    Neither you nor UsaToday provide a link. Do you know where we can find it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    icepick314, 24 Mar 2006 @ 2:51am

    can't we all just get along?

    why can't people understand that ANY material, hardcopy or softcopy, is just a reference...

    there has been decrease in sales in encyclopedia...ever since handy dandy CD/DVD-ROMS came along...and internet, the vast sea of knowledge and information, just made it easier to find information...

    who cares who has more mistake or not...that's why there are just about infinite amount of source where we can look up stuff...

    people have way too much pride to the point where they're just being stubborn...

    i happen to like reading encyclopedia on a random...Britannica Online and Wikipedia...yes there are mistakes but if you think it is an mistake, you go ahead and find more information and verify that it is a mistake...let either one know it's a mistake and go on with your life...

    like the author said, there's no such thing as one true authorative source of information...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew Strasser, 24 Mar 2006 @ 3:57am

    Number 1

    Everyone wants that number one spot when if they'd just learn to realize that if you just keep working together you'd actually get soomehwere the whole world would be a better place. Though, it seems of late that there are few left who do care about being real. Very few who'd ever even be able to say that they understood the lives they lived and what they could do to be a part of someone else's.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Toby, 24 Mar 2006 @ 4:54am

    This is Silly

    Everyone makes mistakes. Both encyclepedias are going to make mistakes. However, I like Wikipedia better because it actually demonstrates what the web was made for: sharing information. Anyways, if neither encyclepedias made mistakes, that would be creepy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2006 @ 5:01am

    Didn't link to it because it's a pdf and that tends to annoy people:

    And you think providing no link whatsoever is less annoying?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RenderingSanity, 24 Mar 2006 @ 5:28am

    I definately see the point this article makes. I like Wikipedia better for a few reasons.

    1. Ad Free
    2. User Editable
    3. Simpler Interface

    There definately is a risk of false information being posted on wikipedia, but the positive side of this is, if you find innacurate information you can flag the article and edit it yourself if you'd like, to correct it.

    I happen to be working in an office with a really hot mom right now, that should be on wikipedia....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2006 @ 7:15am

    good article...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zeroth404, 24 Mar 2006 @ 7:52am

    "both ... useful ... as one resource among many ..."


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tobias robison, 24 Mar 2006 @ 9:39am

    Britannica Trases Nature

    Britannica may sound a bit defensive, but they trashed nature effectively. They found that Nature edited some of the mterial they sent to reviewers, so that reviewers were not always seeing true Britannica articles. They showed reasonably that many socalled inaccuracies were simply differences of opinion about how much detail to include and where to put that detail.
    Finally, they claim (in detail) that some of Nature's "corrections" are simply wrong.
    Britannica asked for the full reviewers notes so that they could comment properly. Nature has refused to let Britannica see them.
    - PrBl

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Scott Hagie, 24 Mar 2006 @ 10:02am


    People complain about Wkipedia because they say they can't trust the information. Anyone who blindly trusts any information is a fool in today's world. Everything has biases, hidden or otherwise, everything skews information one or another. It can't be helped, it's human nature.

    I don't trust Wikipedia, but it's still a useful tool as I take it's biases into account. I don't trust Britannica either, they have their own biases which they try, but ultimately can't, remove. I don't trust Nature magazine, and even less now when I have seen the lengths which they basically lied about this study of theirs.

    And I don't trust Techdirt, because you have your own serious biases. Again, I take that into account when reading and add it to my collection of interesting and useful resources.

    But, that being said, you writeup on this article is pretty bad. Britannica is defensive because Nature magazine just straight up lied and misrepresented the facts. And the reason they waited so long is because Nature didn't release the actual study and notes on the article until well after the article was published.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 24 Mar 2006 @ 10:33am

    I'll agree that the argument is pretty moot. Britannica is portrayed rightly as a definitive reference (I'm using this in the extent that any verified encyclopedic body can be called as such). Wikipedia is not portrayed as a definitive reference, by the very nature of it's design. It is simply a tool to allow people to catalogue and share information in an ad-hoc manner.

    The argument is raised when we mis-portray Wikipedia as a definitive reference. To anyone helping promote this image, shame on you. It is not intended to be, and a portion of the populace is wrongly interpreting it as such.

    Get that fact straight, and the problem goes away. Go to Britannica when you want information compiled by a centralized, well-known group of individuals, and to Wikipedia when you want a more varying set of information compiled by a decentralized, unknown group of people.

    Can we say "common sense"? Good job! Have a cookie...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dustin Ashes, 24 Mar 2006 @ 12:36pm

    re: BIAS

    ---snip snip------

    The issues with Wikipedia hasn't been so much its accuracy, but the "agenda" of many of its contributors and the resulting slants in the listings.

    You can rest assured that anything you read in Britannica will be in a bland, fact-like (and dry) format whether you are reading about Stalin or Reagan.

    ---snip snip----

    The "slant" in Encyclopaedia Britannica is REAL. It's camoflouged in Subtlety.


    In an article about Albert Einstein, Encyclopaedia Britannica stated:

    ----snip snip-------

    "Many years earlier, chronic abdominal pains had forced him to give up smoking his pipe and to watch his diet carefully".

    ----snip snip-----

    NOTE: The usage of the word "Many" at the beginning of that sentence.

    DEFINE: "Many" ...

    "Many" is defined by WordNet at Princeton University as follows:

    " (adj) many (a quantifier that can be used with count nouns and is often preceded by `as' or `too' or `so' or `that'; amounting to a large but indefinite number) in "I never saw so many people"......."

    And to say Albert Einstein was a non-smoker for "many" years; one would be led to believe Einstein, the smartest man of an entire millenium was an ANTI-tobacco advocate.

    The article implies: "if you would be smart; you would quit smoking too".

    That "truth" about Einstein is OPPOSITE of that portrayed by Encyclopaedia Britannica.

    In REAL life:

    Einstein CHERISHED his smoking habit so deeply, when he fell off a boat into the water, he was elated that he had rescued his Faithful pipe.

    In REAL life, the year 1950, Einstein, smoking a pipe at the Montreal Pipe Club said:

    "Pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment of human affairs."

    Einstein a life-long member of the Montreal Pipe Club
    MADE that statement in 1950.

    Einstein died in 1955.

    1955 minus 1950 = 5 years as a non-smoker. Versus 76 years of a full Life.

    In that Encyclopedia Britianicca article on Einstein, the personal BIAS of the INDIVIDUAL article writer RE-DEFINED the word "Five" to BECOME the word "Many". It's doubtful, the author of the article made a conscious decision to slant the article. His action was an involuntary Breathing.

    Furthermore, the intellectual "auditors" of Encyclopaedia Britannica articles failed to discern that bias. Their "checks and balances" don't operate on subtle forms of bias.

    New commentator Paul Harvey was asked why he didn't do objective "journalism" as opposed to "Commentary".

    Harvey replied: there is NO such thing, as "objective" journalism.

    Researchers are not looking at "facts" in those articles they cite in
    their bibliographies.

    Rather...they are looking at "viewpoints".

    The "Truth" is somewhere at the Intersecting of lines one draws BETWEEN all those researched viewpoints.

    And even that "Truth" is but one MORE viewpoint.

    The Heinsenburg Uncertainty Principle might apply to human behavior as much as it applies to particle physics.

    NEITHER wikiPedia and Encyclopedia Britianicca should be the object of scorn.

    BOTH be equal victims of of Heisenburg's blade with no handle.

    Chasing "Truth" is like trying to pin down the exact position of an "electron". It is more useful to think of an electron's position as a "probability cloud".

    Yes...Truth writes it's poetry with swirls of Smoke.
    And that's MY bias.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    GoodBytes, 24 Mar 2006 @ 4:38pm

    Wiki rocks

    Wikipedia rocks. It was always a pleasure for me to use it. EB is also a great resource, but the future is in Wiki, IMHO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Howard Candisbee, 25 Mar 2006 @ 4:31am

    The Duel lives! Nature Back-Counters Britannica's

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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