16 December, 2005

Wikipedia Stands to the Test

According to the science journal Nature, Wikipedia and Britannica do not differ a lot as regards the accuracy of their scientific entries. In fact, the quantitative difference between the two encyclopedias' total number of "factual errors, omissions or misleading statements" is around 31 percent (that is, Wiki is less accurate than Britannica almost a third of the time). Still, qualitatively, Wiki scores lower. Structure, style and clarity are common targets of Wiki detractors' criticisms. This is understandable, of course, given that many articles are penned by non-experts and lack the editorial prowess of published magazines and journals. Says Nature that while 17% of its authors consult the free encyclopedia on a weekly basis, only 10% contributed to its editing. At the same time, Wiki is still a nascent project (she's only four years old!), especially considering the brave, wide berth of information that must be covered by encyclopedias.

Of course, all of this comes on the heels of renewed criticism of Wikipedia, particularly concerning its potential as a forum for libel (and slander, if you're blind). The Register, usually a dependable source of opinion in the IT world, has been rather myopic on its assessment of the recent study. Other criticisms extend these concerns to the sphere of privacy rights. This last group comprises the internet's noisy, proselytizing malcontents who argue against an Orwellian world of thought control and privacy invasion. In the end, however, I have to err on the side of caution. Indeed, Wikipedia should be read cautiously and amended enthusiastically.

Update: I just found a great article on the recent fuss over Wikipedia. It's at the beeb. Check it out!


Eve said...

Long Live Wiki! This should say something to all those naysayers out there...and then to those naysayers I say "Put up or shut up". Dont just complain about errors in Wiki articles...edit them! Improve them! Cause thats what the whole damn thing is about.
What I would like to see more of in these pro-Wiki articles though is a nod to the project's goal of creating encyclopedia's in many different languages around the world. Its frustrating that so many people forget that and only mention the fact that there are almost a million articles in English.

vergueishon said...

Point well taken. Though Wiki has a ways to go before becoming a formidable multi-lingual encyclopedia.

Eve said...

True, but the fact that I can go check out articles in obscure languages from Papua New Geniua (sp?) is ultra-cool and should mentioned more often.
BTW, not exactly a critique of you per say but of everyone who pontificates on the issue.