[Air-l] FW: Wikipedia vs Britannica

Jimmy Wales jwales at wikia.com
Thu Dec 15 13:37:27 PST 2005

Thomas Koenig wrote:
> 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. 

Perhaps entries on computer technology are even less problematic, as
well as articles on mathematics.  But there is no question that we would
not fare as well as this in social sciences.

> Such neat 
> consensus does not exist in the huimanities and social sciences, so 
> Wikipedia entries from these domains are often much less reliable.

I'm sure that this is a factor, but of course this is a factor which
introduces real difficulties for any methodology for knowledge
generation.  If the facts themselves are murky and subject to
interpretation, then of course it will be harder to reach a consensus on
any one presentation as broadly correct.

But I suspect that our relative strength in science as opposed to
humanities and social sciences stems more from a systemic bias
introduced by the sorts of people who are mostly doing the editing in
Wikipedia these days... we come from the Internet, we come from the free
software world, and we reflect that in ways that are not always good.

> 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 
> encyclopaedias."
> 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.

Yes.  This doesn't make the study invalid, but it means it answers a
different question from "which is broadly better, Wikipedia or Britannica"

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

Nor should it be. :-)


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