Wikipedia no worse than rivals

After a tough couple of weeks for Wikipedia, a new study into its accuracy has provided the online collaborative encyclopedia with a little solace.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, which has brought an open source twist to the web, has always courted controversy as critics of the project argue, if anyone can edit entries how can its accuracy be guaranteed.

There claims appeared to be vindicated when first, podcasting pioneer Adam Curry was accused of editing the podcast entry to erase references to the work of rivals, shortly followed by respected journalist, John Seigenthaler’s withering attack on Wikipedia in an opinion piece in USA today.

Seigenthaler was enraged after discovering that an anonymous author had written that he may have been involved in the assassination of President John F Kennedy and his brother Robert. The post had stood, unamended, on Wikipedia for 4 months.

Of course there was nothing to stop Seigenthaler editing the entry himself but he chose not to take this route and Wikipedia’s critics sensed blood. Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales moved to ban anonymous authors from posting new articles but by then the horse had well and truly bolted.

But now Wikipedia has received support from an unexpected source in the form of a study by the British scientific journal Nature.

Nature subjected 42 science entries from Wikipedia and rival Encyclopaedia Britannica to peer review and found that:

Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia.

However, before Wikipedia supporters get too carried away, Nature’s support for online collaborative encyclopaedia was qualified. Its reviewers found many, “factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica respectively”.

So in essence, what they found is that, far from Wikipedia being accurate, both encyclopedia’s have a lot more errors than they should have. It’s for this reason that, although I use Wikipedia, it's never as more than as a quick reference guide.

For Wikipedia the hope lies in persuading more of the expert, academic community to get involved. In a telling set of statistics, Nature found that in a survey of 1,000 Nature authors more than 70% had heard of Wikipedia, 17% of those consulted it on a weekly basis, but less than 10% help to update it.

If the meantime, if there are any pranksters out there, like the editor of the Seigenthaler entry, can I suggest a trip to Uncyclopedia instead.

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