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March 22, 2006

Encyclopædia Britannica Responds to Nature

.: Brian Simboli at Lehigh U posted a note on PAMNET regarding Encyclopædia Britannica's response to the article in the 15 December 2005 issue of Nature, "Internet encyclopaedias go head to head", by Jim Giles. EB's response is titled "Fatally Flawed: Refuting the recent study on encyclopedic accuracy by the journal Nature". Excerpt:

In its December 15, 2005, issue, the science journal Nature published an article that claimed to compare the accuracy of the online Encyclopædia Britannica with Wikipedia, the Internet database that allows anyone, regardless of knowledge or qualifications, to write and edit articles on any subject.1 Wikipedia had recently received attention for its alleged inaccuracies,2 but Nature’s article claimed to have found that “such high-profile examples [of major errors in Wikipedia] are the exception rather than the rule” and that “the difference in accuracy [between Britannica and Wikipedia] was not particularly great.”

Arriving amid the revelations of vandalism and errors in Wikipedia, such a finding was, not surprisingly, big news. Within hours of the article’s appearance on Nature’s Web site, media organizations worldwide proclaimed that Wikipedia was almost as accurate as the oldest continuously published reference work in the English language.3

Following the first two paragraphs is this line, in much larger font:
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.
After the references are listed (below), EB notes the following:
That conclusion was false, however, because Nature’s research was invalid. As we demonstrate below, 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. Dozens of inaccuracies attributed to the Britannica were not inaccuracies at all, and a number of the articles Nature examined were not even in the Encyclopædia Britannica. The study was so poorly carried out and its findings so error-laden that it was completely without merit. We have produced this document to set the record straight, to reassure Britannica’s readers about the quality of our content, and to urge that Nature issue a full and public retraction of the article.

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