Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Encyclopaedia Britannica strikes back at Nature

It has taken a while, but at last the Encyclopaedia Britannica struck back. In a 20 page paper the Britannica staff has published a rebuttal of the comparative article of Nature on the Britannica and Wikipedia. Britannica even stated that the article was fatally flawed.

The Britannica paper highlighted several inconsistencies. Reviewers claiming that Britannica omitted certain information did so because they were presented with excerpts rather than the full entry. In another case, Nature rearranged and re-edited Britannica articles. A third complaint pointed out that Nature used text from the more basic student edition of the encyclopaedia.

Nature stated that it has no intention of retracting the study. 'We feel this was a reasonable characterisation,' the scientific publication claimed. It admitted that some of Britannica's criticism was valid, but replied that both Britannica and Wikipedia were treated in the same way and that any procedural inaccuracies would have affected both publications equally.

I have been surprised that a magazine like Nature was seduced to publish an article on the comparison between the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Wikipedia. With a 10 year experience in the editorial departments of encyclopedia publishers, I am still astonished at the method of Wikipedia; the basic idea of Wikipedia being, that everyone can write an article and that the Wikipedia records the full knowledge of the mankind.

In the same vein, I have been amazed that the Dutch school network Knowledge Net has made an agreement with the Wikipedia organisation for use in the school and updates by the Dutch community.

Since the Nature article it has become clear that there has been fiddling with articles on American politicians. Now Wikipedia has put in controls, but this does not work at all. Just have a look at the subject of Iraq in Wikipedia. It is a clear disaster as too many people are cooking the article and no one takes real responsibility. It is pure politics, sometimes even with racists’ overtones.

It is unbelievable, but scientific articles have to be peer reviewed and with Wikipedia anyone can write something about the subject. Although the articles are being checked these days, the level of checking remains unclear. Of course Wikipedia is okay for fast reference, but you have to remain suspicious; of course with the Encyclopaedia Britannica you have also to remain suspicious and check more sources.


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