Highly Reputed Academic Science Journal Found Similar Error Rates in Britannica and Wikipedia

(p. 208) Wikipedia was already highly regarded, anecdotally, but it got a glowing evaluation from the prestigious Nature magazine in December 2005, when it concluded that Wikipedia “comes close” to Britannica in the quality of its science articles. “Our reviewers identified an average of four errors in each Wikipedia article, and three in each Britannica article.”

The news came as a bit of a surprise. Many folks felt Wikipedia did better than they’d have thought, and Britannica did, well, worse than they expected. The result of the study was hotly debated between Nature and Britannica, but to most Wikipedians it was a vindication. They knew that Wikipedia was a minefield of errors, but to be in such close proximity in quality to a traditionally edited encyclopedia, while using such a grassroots process, was the external validation they had been waiting for.
Britannica wasn’t pleased with the methodology, and posted a rebuttal with this criticism: “Almost everything about the journal’s investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading.” Nature and Britannica exchanged barbs and rebuttals, but in the end, the overall result seemed clear.
“The Nature (sic) article showed that we are on the right track with our current methods. We just need better ways to prevent the display of obvious vandalism at any time,” wrote longtime Wikipedian Daniel Mayer on the mailing list.

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.
(Note: italics in original.)

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