Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica

    December 15, 2005

A lot of angst has been suffered in recent weeks over Wikipedia, the free open-source encyclopedia.

Skeptics have declared victory in their campaigns to discredit the resource, scoffing at the notion that anybody who drops by could possibly pen an article as accurate as those you would find in a real encyclopedia. While I have always sought to confirm information obtained in Wikipedia with a second independent source (a holdover from my long-ago days as a newspaper reporter, I suppose), I’ve been impressed with the site’s overall accuracy and have remained convinced that it is a fairly reliable tool.

Today, my opinion is vindicated (and Jimmy Wales is probably spewing hundreds of “I told you so’s”) thanks to the highly-regarded journal Nature”>Nature, which released a study noting that Wikipedia is about as accurate as Brittanica. According to a CNN story, “The finding, based on a side-by-side comparison of articles covering a broad swath of the scientific spectrum, comes as Wikipedia faces criticism over the accuracy of some of its entries…Of eight “serious errors” the reviewers found-including misinterpretations of important concepts-four came from each source, the journal reported.”

Wales is gratified by the results, according to the article. Britannica, not suirprisingly, has no comment. In the Nature article, several Britannica staffers argue that Wikipedia entries are often poorly written and structured, but

Michael Twidale, an information scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that Wikipedia’s strongest suit is the speed at which it can updated, a factor not considered by Nature’s reviewers. “People will find it shocking to see how many errors there are in Britannica,” Twidale adds. “Print encyclopaedias are often set up as the gold standards of information quality against which the failings of faster or cheaper resources can be compared. These findings remind us that we have an 18-carat standard, not a 24-carat one.”

I can’t wait to hear the anti-Wikipedia backlash, especially from those looking to file a class action lawsuit.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.