The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #139115   Message #3190594
Posted By: GUEST,Lighter
19-Jul-11 - 08:43 AM
Thread Name: Editing Wikipedia
Subject: RE: BS: Editing Wikipedia
I find both Britannica's objections (as reported by Nature) and Nature's defense to be somewhat disingenuous. Both make me queasy, becauase even these highly respected sources (or should I say "PR releases from both...") now sound as though they're more interested in defending themselves than in ascertaining the "facts."

"Facts" are in quotation marks because, as I said before, the nature of the subject (how many errors are there?) is unavoidably slippery, and carries what could be a significant margin of error. And the sheer number (or proportion) of errors may be less important than the significance and consequences of certain kinds of errors. (The accurate determination of whether Mendeleev was the 13th, 14th, or 17th child, for example, seems to be far less significant, for example, than an accurate discussion of, say, Evolution vs. Creationism.)

One glaring example of the Nature writer's naivete' is in the following statement, which Nature stands by: "Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries."

This, of course, is the gist of the entire study. Nature goes on to say, "Given that our reviewers identified an average of four errors in each Wikipedia article and three in each Britannica article, we feel that the phrase 'comes close' is a reasonable description of our results."

"Reasonable"? Perhaps. But also misleading. Nature is saying that, on average, a Wikipedia science article is likely to contain one-third more errors than a Britannica article! That sounds like a lot to me!

And remember, these are science articles, and scientists (unless their work is being subverted by Wiki trolls and amateurs) are extraordinarily careful about facts. So it is reasonable to suspect that the error rate in non-science articles (which the study seemed not to address) is far higher. And, again, the potential significance of the errors is not addressed.

If Nature has accurately characterized Britannica's response, B. is just as guilty of trying to score debating points, which means, in essence, appealing to the media.

Just consider: who writes for Britannica and other standard reference books? Who writes for Wikipedia?

Major encyclopedias usually identify their contributors with brief biographies, so readers can get an inkling of what they might know about the articles they were chosen to contribute to.

But contributors to Wikipedia?....