[Air-l] FW: Wikipedia vs Britannica

Thomas Koenig T.Koenig at lboro.ac.uk
Thu Dec 15 11:28:19 PST 2005

Niels Windfeld Lund wrote:

>sometimes it is good to be a member of more than one discussion list !

I'm not sure, if that remark was meant in a sarcastic way? Yes, I also 
received this link in multiple groups multiple times, but that's at 
least signifies that there is some interest in the topic. Personally, I 
have become very interested, because to me Wikipedia is a nuisance, as 
its various reincarnations clutter the search engines and because too 
many people actually do use it as a credible source (and it's ususually 
not even properly cited).

Anyways, I would like to post my standard reply to this link: The 
comparision is problematic in two ways:

1) Only natural science entries were tested.
This seems to me the least problematic area of Wikipedia. Paradigmatic 
sciences, as are the natural sciences, prduces "facts"; that is, there 
rarely is any doubt about the appropriateness of the currently dominant 
theories. Regardless of ideology and political positions, chances are, 
that most people agree on the adequacy of Einstein's special theory of 
relativity and that it is a uniquely defined theory, even if most people 
may have only a faint idea what this theory is about. Such neat 
consensus does not exist in the huimanities and social sciences, so 
Wikipedia entries from these domains are often much less reliable.

2) The sampling process of the Nature article is so flawed, it renders 
the test results meaningless.
The article says little about how the entries were chosen by the 
editorial team of Nature, but what it does say is in my view 
unacceptable practice:

"All entries were chosen to be approximately the same length in both 

Now, surely, the length of an indicator is one valid goodness criterion. 
Encyclopedia articles should be concise, but at the same time cover all 
significant aspects of a phenomenon. By limiting the review to Wikipedia 
articles that approximate EB articles in length, the reviewers very much 
cherry picked the Wikipedia entries, as we know that EB articles are on 
the average probably quite good.

 From my own experience, I found Wikipedia articles in my field of 
expertise (sociology) usually quite sloppy. Not really bad, but usually 
worse than a Google  search for "$concept site:edu" and often tilted 
towards one or another political standpoint or one or another 
sociological theory.

Thus: My skepticism of Wikipedia is not affected by the findings of the 
nature article.


thomas koenig

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