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Wikipedia's Accuracy Compared to Britannica

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the elementary-my-dear-data dept.

418

Raul654 writes "Nature magazine recently conducted a head-to-head competition between Wikipedia and Britannica, having experts compare 42 science-related articles. The result was that Wikipedia had about 4 errors per article, while Britannica had about 3. However, a pair of endevouring Wikipedians dug a little deeper and discovered that the Wikipedia articles in the sample were, on average, 2.6 times longer than Britannica's - meaning Wikipedia has an error rate far less than Britannica's." Interesting, considering some past claims. Story available on the BBC as well.

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418 comments

Dooop (4, Funny)

MullerMn (526350) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263860)

Slashdot Article Compared to Earlier Slashback: Found To Be Identical

Story available here [slashdot.org].

Just more proof (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263883)

That Zonk does not read Slashdot. And really, with editors like Zonk in charge, who can blame him?

How long until he deletes this story to try and cover up his mistake?

Not exactly (2, Informative)

bersl2 (689221) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263891)

However, a pair of endevouring Wikipedians dug a little deeper and discovered that the Wikipedia articles in the sample were, on average, 2.6 times longer than Britannica's - meaning Wikipedia has an error rate far less than Britannica's.

That part's new.

Re:Not exactly (4, Insightful)

irote (834216) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264038)

And it's also nonsense. The Wikipedia article is written flabbily, by a collection of authors, some experts, some not, some good writers, some terrible ones.

The Britannica, on the other hand, is written by someone with clear credentials as an expert, to a word limit, and is then edited for conciseness and clarity. That is to say, the Britannica piece will undoubtedly say more than the Wikipedia piece. The error per word rate in Britannica may be higher, but the error per fact rate is probably much more favourable to Britannica.

Easy example - compare the writing in a mainstream newspaper to a well-written one with tight editorial policies, like the Financial Times or the Economist. Your average Sidney Morning Herald, Guardian or San Francisco Chroncile article is probably longer, but it says less.

Re:Not exactly (1, Funny)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264125)

While what you say may be true, it's smoke screen to the issue. The quality of writing is not what's being examined, short of accurancy.

To that end, the results are still valid: Wikipedia has fewer errors per content unit.

I challenge an assumption (3, Insightful)

benhocking (724439) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264185)

You (and implictly the submitter) are assuming longer == more content. Typically, better writers can say more with less words. Of course, more credentialed != better.

Re:Not exactly (4, Funny)

croddy (659025) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264218)

So, what you're saying is that Britannica has a long way to go before it will be useful as a wiki?

Re:Dooop (5, Funny)

Prospero's Grue (876407) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263915)

Slashdot Article Compared to Earlier Slashback: Found To Be Identical

Yeah, but the Slashdot Article is 1.4 times longer, so it's not as duped as you think...

Re:Dooop (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264035)

Please it took like me 2 seconds to find slander on Wikipedia...

Here this was up just yesterday and was just taken takendown. YES it was up on the web for a while before being noticed. I think the point is it should not have been up AT ALL. There is nothing inpressive in how long or how fast something slanderous and stupid was caught. Without Wiki it WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN UP AT ALL.

Under the rock group Dokken.

In 2005, Don Dokken and Jani Lane of a band called Warrant participated in a civil union ceremony to declare their love for one another.

Yeah yeah its funny and you can lie and Ad Hom away but this is what people see. No matter how much /dotters shout them down and browbeat them.

Other Encyclopedias don't have problems, anywhere even remotely close to Wiki with its slander and information athentication WARS.

I know, on dense heads and deaf ears. Wasting my time..

dupe epud dupe (0, Redundant)

Speare (84249) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263887)

Story available still on the front page of Slashdot as well.

Some days I would like to see the "editors" of this site strapped down Clockwork-Orange-style, forced to read their own stories before accepting new versions of the same old stuff.

More words == lower error rate? (3, Insightful)

aborchers (471342) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263900)

So if I go to Wikipedia and type the word "gibblefinch" a few thousand times into an article, I can reduce its error rate?

Re:More words == lower error rate? (2, Insightful)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263938)

Indeed. I think people need some education on how to establish proper metrics. There seems to be a misconception that just having metrics is sufficient. The significance and meaning behind most new metrics seems to be missing.

Re:More words == lower error rate? (2, Funny)

aborchers (471342) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263959)

"Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that." -- Homer Simpson

Re:More words == lower error rate? (2, Funny)

PhoenixK7 (244984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264085)

OK. I can agree with this on one level, however these are a select number of articles that have been reviewed for inaccuracies. Presumably they don’t contain “gibblefinch”; repeated 5000 times to increase article length. What is indicated here is that per kilobyte (as a metric for length) there are fewer errors. Being more lengthy does not necessarily mean there’s really more information contained on the page, but given the gross difference in article length I’d hazzard a guess that the wikipedia articles don’t simply contain a bunch of fluff to make them look longer, they probably actually have more content.

To settle this issue, the metric should not be inaccuracies per kilobyte, but inaccuracies per idea/concept/fact or whatever, but those statistics are a little more of a pain to collect :-)

Re:More words == lower error rate? (1)

PhoenixK7 (244984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264105)

Bleh, so slashdot doesn't like the character codes. /me adds "*slashdot.org*" to sites for greasemonkey smart firefox script to exclude :-P

Re:More words == lower error rate? (2, Funny)

CMiYC (6473) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264131)

Bleh. /me adds "PhoenixK7" to the list of people who should hit "preview" first.

Re:More words == lower error rate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264166)

The fact that the character codes showed up means that you were using the wrong symbol. If you use a regular ASCII 39, you get an apostrophe like this '. No HTML entities needed.

Re:More words == lower error rate? (4, Insightful)

Phreakiture (547094) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263982)

So if I go to Wikipedia and type the word "gibblefinch" a few thousand times into an article, I can reduce its error rate?

Only if that is what the article should say, and saying so is useful to someone looking up whatever topic it is you are looking up and finding the aforementioned gibblefinch storm. If, on the other hand, it is not useful or relevant, then not, it would tend to increase the error rate, or at lease lower the signal to noise ratio, rather greatly.

Re:More words == lower error rate? (1)

michelcultivo (524114) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264019)

No, but the community need to check if the article is correct and if there is any mistake about the subject. Slashdot works very well this way (forget the CowboyNeal mistakes and errors).

Re:More words == lower error rate? (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264130)

I think the point here is that if the article is longer, it could

a) go into the main topic in more detail
b) cover more related topics

Since these sorts of reference sources tend to be used as a first point of contact for a new topic, surely having more infomation (especially information that can lead to more background reading) in one place is useful and the benefit of that could potentially offset 1 extra factual inaccuracy.

Careful with stats... (5, Insightful)

erick99 (743982) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263901)

I am not sure that it is reasonable to consider error rate primarily as errors per unit of text. In that case, one could write a submission and then insert a lot of fluff to lower the "error rate." I would consider the absolute amount of errors per submission at least as important as the quantity of errors as a function of quantity of text. Just a thought.

Re:Careful with stats... (1)

sarlos (903082) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263957)

Actually, since Wikipedia is open to editing by anyone, the next person to come along can simply revise what you wrote to remove the needless fluff. That is one of the many benefits to having a community edited and modified database such as Wikipedia.

Re:Careful with stats... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264075)

Number of errors per article isn't that meaningfull of a measure either. What type of errors? Does one have a spelling error while the other says a whale is a fish?

Theoretically, yes (1)

sterno (16320) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264206)

The assumption there would be that one was deliberately attempting to reduce the statistical error rate. But given that the articles in question were chosen at random, it seems rather unlikely that this was the case. I don't think anybody is bored enough to go through and add fluff to articles just to bump up their accuracy stats.

Having said that this gets down to the quantitative versus qualitative measures. Does less errors and a greater volume reflect a more carefully written and considered article? Or does it reflect a lack of depth which makes itself less prone to errors.

The only theoretical drawback to Wikipedia is that anybody could write an article and thus may not be informed on the subject, or may have biases. Having said that, there's no reason that the same cannot be said of a printed encyclopedia. Furthermore, in the case of a printed one, there's no feedback or correction mechanism. So even that drawback isn't as big of a deal, and an awareness of that possibility gets you more into the mindset of double checking the facts, which is a good thing.

Frankly though my favorite thing about wikipedia is the version control. I saw some people talking about a political conspiracy the other day that sounded brand new. I went to Wikipedia and it had thorough documentation of the issue. When I looked at the revisions, I discovered that the original information they had went back to 2003 at least. So it's nothing new.

Re:Theoretically, yes (1)

bloodredsun (826017) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264241)

Not really random but a subset of the whole group, namely they chose science articles. Science articles are easier to mark true or false so you can understand why the researchers choose them, but also these are the easiest articles to write as you can base your article on a series of established facts.

Re:Careful with stats... (1)

cowboy76Spain (815442) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264237)

The ideal metric should be errors / information (in bits)... the trouble is that it is difficult to find out how to measure the bits of information in an article (do not confuse this measure with the number of characters in the article).

My guess is that professional editors are more used to a direct approach to the subject of the article, thus making it shorter but more information dense, so I do not find this a good measure of wikipedia reliability. In fact, this "smaller size" should be considered as being more "user friendly" that an article too long and that does not conform only to the matter of the article.

Accuracy (5, Funny)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263903)

Wikipedia has less errors, you say? We'll be fixing that shortly...
-- The Britanica Team

Re:Accuracy (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264022)

Wikipedia has less errors, you say? We'll be fixing that shortly...
fewer errors

- Grammar Nazi Team

Re:Accuracy (5, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264031)

Don't you mean 'Britannica'?

Sincerely,
A Wiki editor.

ps, we don't hold grudges and most of us will gladly help clean up your mistakes :)

Re:Accuracy (2, Interesting)

colinbrash (938368) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264211)

Wikipedia has less errors, you say? We'll be fixing that shortly...
-- The Britanica Team


Modded as "Funny," but this is actually very insightful. The problem (and advantage) of Wikipedia is its volatility. Anyone can go change something to be incorrect (whether maliciously or not), at any time.

This study, unfortunately, tells us almost nothing. The average number of errors per entry is really not a valuable statistic. How bad were the errors? How long are the errors there? Wikipedia, because of its volatility, really cannot be instanced in the way this study has done. It would be more revealing to do a study of the past X months/years/whatever, to determine how many errors there were, what kind of errors there were, and how long these errors were around.

Of course, then the Encyclopedia Britannica wouldn't be studied as *it* should. Because it is *not* such a volatile resource. In reality, the two resources are not as similar as people think.

And regarding the average number of errors per length of text: this statistic is downright worthless. If someone states something incorrect in one sentence, how is it any better to state the same incorrect thing in 10 sentences?

Wikipedia (1)

totallygeek (263191) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263907)

Wikipedia is an excellent knowledge repository. Once you get what you came for there, you can better research what you are working on. There are just too many topics where a difference of opinion or perspective would be considered error or truth. I have yet to find a more comprehensive and accurate source of information though...

Re:Wikipedia (1)

Ryan Amos (16972) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264101)

Wikipedia is an excellent knowledge repository about subjects that a resonable amount of people give a damn about. The recent flap with Wikipedia was not so much a failure on their part, but simply a fake article about an obscure subject that not a whole lot of people would even know is wrong in order to correct.

I would not trust Wikipedia on obscure subjects. These subjects get less "eye traffic" and thus less people funneled to correct them, and by nature of their obscurity, less people qualified to correct them in the first place.

In any case, most college courses explicitly ban use of Wikipedia as a reference. It's just too easy to change an entry and add wrong information so all your classmates do poorly.

Versatility (5, Insightful)

soulsteal (104635) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263908)

Sure they found errors in Wikipedia and Britannica, but which one can you go back to and correct?

Game, set, match!

Re:Versatility (5, Funny)

BushCheney08 (917605) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263944)

...but which one can you go back to and correct?

Both. Doing it to one of them is likely to get you kicked out of the library, though...

Man with one watch .. (3, Funny)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264039)

One of my fav sayings (which also translates well into a coding practice when people want multiple copies of the same data in separate locations)

"A man with one watch always knows what time it is, but a man with two watches never knows."

Unless of course one of the watches is a nixie watch and that the batteries have run out after 2 days usage, or the cathodes have busted from all that shaking.

Re:Versatility (1)

clear_thought_05 (915350) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264103)

"to which can you return and correct"

That does NOT imply that a subject matter expert or research professional will choose to correct it, assuming they realize that they can. ... Everyday life: People can access a wealth of free information, or software or even social services, but doesn't mean that they do (or even know how). ... Your perspective is from someone who is already knowledgeable on the concept of wikipedia (or a wiki in general).

To add, I know co-workers who are fans of wikipedia, but majority of them don't realize how the material is published or even that they can contribute. (I know, I should tell them.)

Re:Versatility (1)

HairyCanary (688865) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264137)

You make a good point. However, considering that the wiki is at least editable, the possibility is > 0 that someone will correct errors. With a hard printed encyclopedia, there is no possibility of fixing an error short of sending out a new printed copy or a page to all customers to update their own. And I'd bet the list of participating editors for the wiki is much, much higher than the number Britannica has hired.

Re:Versatility (1)

clear_thought_05 (915350) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264228)

And I'd bet the list of participating editors for the wiki is much, much higher than the number Britannica has hired.

Very safe bet, however, I would bet that a notable percentage of those "editors" are not necessarily the most knowlegdeable people in their fields. (Granted the biggest exception being technology oriented material: computers, software, internet, etc.)

Re:Versatility (5, Funny)

mcgroarty (633843) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264110)

Which one is more likely to grow links to goatse.cx between the time you cite it and the time your professor reviews your paper?

Re:Versatility (1)

ZiakII (829432) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264111)

Sure they found errors in Wikipedia and Britannica, but which one has information about Final Fantasy VII! Game, set, match!

Question... (2)

LeonGeeste (917243) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264120)

It'd be nice if I could know what the **** I'm correcting. Where is the list of errors to assure that they are in fact errors? What source did they use to confirm that they are errors? How do they know that source wasn't error-ridden? All I see in TFA is a list a two mistakes on the Mendeleev (sp) article. Why won't they let us confirm the error rate?

Oh, and by the way guys -- yes, adding fluff to an article would decrease the error rate, questioning the use of that statistic. But unless you have reason to believe that the fluff is substantially different between WP and EB, the statistic is much more useful than many of you are making it out to be.

Evolving vs. Static (2, Insightful)

mattwarden (699984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263914)

I think you would also need to take into consideration the maturity of the chosen articles, since Wikipedia's content evolves continuously rather than on set publication dates. Newer articles probably would have a higher error rate.

Re:Evolving vs. Static (2, Insightful)

krgallagher (743575) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264046)

"Newer articles probably would have a higher error rate."

I think the choice to use scince-related articles slants the results. There are not a lot of people who feel capable of writing about Epitaxy. On the other hand, those subjects that are more accessible to a large group of people, such as Ethanol or Thyroid have significantly higher error rates. I think it is probable that more popular subjects would have a higher error count due to 'urban myth' being included as fact.

Re:Evolving vs. Static (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264082)

That's the whole point. Differences between static and evolving content is part of what they were trying to measure. Controlling for it would completely obviate the study.

Accuracy - Good, Writing Poor (4, Interesting)

ehaggis (879721) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263919)

As the article states, the writing style in Wikipedia can be poor. Low diction, poor grammar and bad structure contribute to the chaos.

Most research I do on Wikipedia does not depend on good writing, but accurate information, especially on pop culture items or obscure "geek" subjects. Wikipedia does well in this. I have seen defaced articles "heal" with ten minutes of the incident.

As a contributor to Wikipedia, I am glad it is gaining widespread notoriety and validation.

Re:Accuracy - Good, Writing Poor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264052)

"Low diction, poor grammar and bad structure contribute to the chaos."



That is just indicative of the Internet culture.

Re:Accuracy - Good, Writing Poor (1)

ehaggis (879721) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264088)

I agree. Wikipedia naturally attracts engineering / science types who tend not to be writers (broad stroke here, but you catch my drift.) Soliciting the "artsy" types may be part of the remedy.

Re:Accuracy - Good, Writing Poor (1)

omeg (907329) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264161)

Yes, but poor language is easily fixed. Afterall, I don't think there will be edit/revert wars over whether site x was founded earlier then site y, or whether site x was founded earlier than site y.

Informative (4, Insightful)

drewzhrodague (606182) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263921)

I find Wikipedia quite informative, and easy to get to. I don't see what the problem is, or why those people want to class-action Wikipedia. I've learned a bunch of things by browsing, and investigating things mentioned in the articles. Even if Wikipedia were a little bit innacurate, it would certainly beat out my first 8 years of education, where I've found almost all of the science I've learned is actually wrong (by talking to scientists, and reading books, and wikipedia).

Re:Informative (1)

Morgor (542294) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264122)

it would certainly beat out my first 8 years of education, where I've found almost all of the science I've learned is actually wrong (by talking to scientists, and reading books, and wikipedia). You wouldn't happen to be from Kansas, would you? ;)

Speaking of poor writing.... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263930)

Writing style

Nature said its reviewers found that Wikipedia entries were often poorly structured and confused.

The Encyclopedia Britannica declined to comment directly on the findings.

But a spokesman highlighted the quality of the entries on the free resource.

"But it is not the case that errors creep in on an occasional basis or that a couple of articles are poorly written," Tom Panelas, director of corporate communications is quoted as saying in Nature.

This confused me, until I realized that single-sentence paragraphs 2 and 3 should be a compound sentence.

Nature editorial asks scientists to contribute (5, Informative)

AxelBoldt (1490) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263932)

Nature also published an editorial [nature.com] which asks scientists to contribute to Wikipedia: "Nature would like to encourage its readers to help. The idea is not to seek a replacement for established sources such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but to push forward the grand experiment that is Wikipedia, and to see how much it can improve. Select a topic close to your work and look it up on Wikipedia. If the entry contains errors or important omissions, dive in and help fix them. It need not take too long. And imagine the pay-off: you could be one of the people who helped turn an apparently stupid idea into a free, high-quality global resource."

Re:Nature editorial asks scientists to contribute (2, Insightful)

jjthe2 (684242) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263985)

So did Nature fix the errors it found?

Re:Nature editorial asks scientists to contribute (1)

ZipR (584654) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264025)

Perhaps the management of Encyclopaedia Britannica should make the same suggestion?

Re:Nature editorial asks scientists to contribute (1)

Khalid (31037) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264140)

This an excellent initiative, as a Wikipedia editor I'll try to seed that idea. i.e to have articles about Wikipedia written in the press (with an interesting readership I mean, not the tabloids crap) and then ask the readers to visit Wikipedia to correct or enhance articles in their field.

Bad News for Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14263935)

Turns out not only are their articles less accurate, they are less concise too.

Which *pedia is better? (1)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263936)

Three errors per article? Come on, do you know how much a set of Britannicas costs? Even the on-line subscriptions are $70 annually or $12 monthly! [britannica.com]

Ok, so the error ratio is around 4:3 but what about the cost ratio?

My consumerism values tell me that Wikipedia wins out big time.

Why are these two even being compared? One is a paid service where you expect all the information to be correct and the other is a free service where you're told that there's no garuntees if it's accurate. Sounds like two completely different services to me.

Re:Which *pedia is better? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264139)

Hmm...one repository of knowledge is already slightly (OK, a lot cheaper)...

Now all we have to do is get "Don't Panic" put on the Wikipedia gate page

Surely.. (1)

DDiabolical (902284) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263939)

It should be about quality rather than quantity?

I don't care how long the text is I just want accurate information, which is the entire reason people use encyclopedias!

Re:Surely.. (1)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264073)

So a *pedia article on Slashdot that says "Slashdot is a web site" would be good for you, then?

Hey, it's accurate!

Another thing (5, Funny)

Ostien (893052) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263941)

Does Britannica have extencive articles on Lightsaber combat? [wikipedia.org]

Wikipedia: 1
Britannica: 0

Re:Another thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264086)

That's all just made up shit, dude. Why would you want that in an encyclopedia??

Re:Another thing (4, Insightful)

laughingcoyote (762272) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264164)

That's all just made up shit, dude. Why would you want that in an encyclopedia??

While I don't have a set of Brittanicas right here, I would guess that you can find references in Brittanica to the plays of Shakespeare, Aphrodite, Zeus, Thor, and The Odyssey.

All of that is "made up shit", but a culture's fiction and mythology is still relevant to a discussion of the culture in question. So why shouldn't Wikipedia, with its quicker-changing nature, have information on more modern fiction and myth?

Well isn't it obvious? (1)

Red Samurai (893134) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263945)

Of course Wikipedia would be better, it's CONSTANTLY being updated by hundreds of thousands of contributers. That article just states the obvious.

Hah! "Science" articles! (4, Funny)

ceeam (39911) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263946)

What does Britannica say about "Goatse"?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goatse [wikipedia.org]

Re:Hah! "Science" articles! (1)

Volanin (935080) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264094)

The "technical approach" of the wikipedia article gives me the creeps as much as the image itself, man...

Did they fix them? (2, Interesting)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263954)

So, since they found these inaccuracies in the article, I would like to know whether they edited them and fixed them as they went, or just played the part of the silent observer. To me, this is the great thing about Wikipedia; if you know the subject and you find an inaccuracy, be bold and fix it already.

Longer article... (4, Insightful)

everphilski (877346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263958)

... doesn't mean a better article. Encyclopedias are meant to be concise and to the point. A starting point for research, not a be-all and end-all. And I don't agree with normalizing errors to the length of the article, it should be the number of errors per article. Just because you wrote more stuff it doesn't give you the leeway to screw up more...

Re:Longer article... (2, Insightful)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264121)

Just because you wrote more stuff it doesn't give you the leeway to screw up more...

Uh, so if the Brittanica has an article which says "Bill Clinton was the 41st President of the United States" and that's all, and Wikipedia has a 12-page entry on Clinton which gets his date-of-birth wrong by one day but is perfectly accurate everywhere else, that's okay?

Look at some of the articles listed. The Wiki article (on Robert Burns Woodward) has a detailed breakdown of his life, his career, discoveries, and Nobel prize. The Wiki article's section on his honors and awards - which is just a list - is longer than the entire Britannica article!

Steve Ditko is a chaos magician! (1)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264186)

>it should be the number of errors per article.

It also should be weighed on the severity of the error. I mean, you won't hear that Steve Ditko is a "chaos magician" in Britnannica [everythingisnt.com] or that random newspaper editors had a role in both Kennedy assisinations. I'd also would like to see a study on bias. The wikipedia people work hard to get a clean POV, but you have the problem of motivation. The people most motivated to edit GWB's bio page (or any semi-controversial figure) are either going to be loud-mouth supporters or loud-mouth detractors. Sometimes when I browse the wikipedia I find some serious bias, edit it, and find that the motivated biased person just goes back and re-edits it. That's a great demotivator. People who put in time to make it work just get editied out by the nuts with too much free time on their hands.

Even Wales says there's going to be changes to stop such free and open-editing. Hopefully, these problems are just growing pains for one of the coolest projects on the web.

Re:Longer article... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264227)

... doesn't mean a better article. Encyclopedias are meant to be concise and to the point. A starting point for research, not a be-all and end-all. And I don't agree with normalizing errors to the length of the article, it should be the number of errors per article. Just because you wrote more stuff it doesn't give you the leeway to screw up more...

Says who? I find encyclopedias to be rather arbitrarily restricted by volume and cost-benefit of paying people to write it. As long as it is content fit for an encyclopedia, I think it can go into any minute detail it will.

As for errors and article length, that depends on the nature of the error. I would like to see a break-down of "comparable" errors, meaning facts stated in both sources. Basicly, if you shortened both to contain the same information, which would have fewer errors?

Also I'd like to see an error ratio between "core" and "fringe" content in the article, using Britannica as a divider and length as a pseudovariable of how much information is in each. My expected outcome would be that "core" would have a lower error ratio than "fringe", so that even if it has more errors in total, the important parts could be better.

Get your facts info from more than one source (3, Insightful)

nysus (162232) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263977)

No resource, no matter who it's written by, is absolutely definitive. Any thorough research will require going to many different sources to arrive at the best approximation of the "truth." Any person who relies on just one source for their information any topic is making a mistake. Wikipedia, Britannica, and other reference works should be considered only as starting points for further research. They should be considered nothing more than signposts for finding your way to other ideas and avenues to explore a topic.

Use Wikiagra - Increase Length and Girth! (2, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263984)

But much of the extra length in the WP articles is often more commentator-ish, or blocks of material containing links, etc. Things that more traditional encyclopedias wouldn't want to include. And a lot of lengthier WP articles tend to get repititive, or have summaries and details that come close to being mutally unnecessary. Not a bad thing, just a different thing. Saying that WP articles are longer, and thus represent a lower real error rate is pretty misleading, I think. It's not the length of your article, it's how you use it.

12 % of Nature authors consult Wikipedia weekly (3, Insightful)

AxelBoldt (1490) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263990)

Note also that they "surveyed more than 1,000 Nature authors" and found that "more than 70% had heard of Wikipedia and 17% of those consulted it on a weekly basis." I wonder what percentage of Nature authors consult the Encylopaedia Britannica on a weekly basis.

Re:12 % of Nature authors consult Wikipedia weekly (1)

NeoSkandranon (515696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264213)

That probably depends on what percentage of Nature authors own a set of Britannica. I'm pretty sure all of them have a computer with internet access.

Wikipedia is better... (1)

windowpain (211052) | more than 8 years ago | (#14263991)

Wikipedia is better except for the occasional libelous outright lie and the fact that virtually every article is filled with grammatical errors.

There is still one critical difference - (2, Insightful)

old_skul (566766) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264005)

Britannica is authored by an entity which takes responsibility for its errors and has a long history of accuracy. Its content is "vetted", meaning that there is a measure of academic validity to what was written.

Some Wikipedia entries are far more detailed and far more accurate than Britannica's - however, that doesn't change the fact that the content was written by unknown persons with unknown source material for their entries.

Re:There is still one critical difference - (1)

AxelBoldt (1490) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264169)

Britannica is authored by an entity which takes responsibility for its errors and has a long history of accuracy.

That belief, largely a result of advertising, has been throughly undermined by this study. I read any EB article on science, I just learned three false facts. How exactly do they take responsibility for that failing? Can I ask for my money back?

Since when? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264011)

"Wikipedia articles in the sample were, on average, 2.6 times longer than Britannica's"

Since when does longer mean better? If anything, Britannica's conciseness could be the result of several revisions and reviews for impact per word. Encyclopedias are about bang for the buck -- you can't fit everything into an article. It's meant to be a starting point.

That's where Wikipedia is supposed to excel -- the amount of live links available to primary web sites in addition to bibliography.

Two questions (2, Insightful)

Colgate2003 (735182) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264014)

"Accuracy per word," or whatever you want to call it, may be greater, but are those words as well-written or necessary in the Wikipedia article?

Also, less than 3 errors/article compared to about 4 errors/article gives us more than 33% more errors/article Wikipedia. Many people (including Nature) are calling this close. Since when is 33% close? "Closer than expected," maybe but not close.

Re:Two questions (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264119)

Also, less than 3 errors/article compared to about 4 errors/article gives us more than 33% more errors/article Wikipedia.

That's the sort of conclusion best made possible when your results are only given with one significant digit.

Otto Z. Stern, MSM Wiki trolls can go suck it. (1)

theflyingdingleberry (939059) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264064)

The Register has some funny stuff, but the flamepost regarding Wikipedia really pissed me off. I'm not hitting that fetid site anymore to ring up their stats. This study shows that while Wikipedia isn't perfect, its quality is much higher than one would ever guess just by going by the mainstream media's assessment of it. Rock on Wikipedia, rock on!

Can't reference Wikipedia because it changes (5, Insightful)

nincehelser (935936) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264072)

Wikipedia seems fine for informal use, but how can you possible cite sources with something that is constantly changing?

Re:Can't reference Wikipedia because it changes (5, Informative)

Lorenzarius (765215) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264135)

The current version of an article is changing, but a particular past version is static. If you really need to reference Wikipedia, you can go to the page history page and choose one of the version. They actually have a page on citing Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

Re:Can't reference Wikipedia because it changes (1)

radja (58949) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264141)

by mentioning the date, or mentioning something about information being subject to change over time. normal encyclopedias have the same problem, it's just that there are less changes. the versions come slower.

Re:Can't reference Wikipedia because it changes (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264183)

Umm if you're citing any encyclopedia, you're a moron.

Re:Can't reference Wikipedia because it changes (4, Informative)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264204)

Shouldn't be citing encyclopedias to begin with. When I was in school, I had teachers that would mark student's work down if they used an encyclopedia as a source.

To my eyes their only legitimite use is for someone new to a subject getting a concentrated overview to get them started with real research.

The Nature of the Errors count. (2, Insightful)

apberman (466342) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264095)

It's not the number of errors, it's their nature. Equating an error in birthyear vs. an error in, oh, say, claiming that someone was involved in the Kennedy Assasination, is just stupid.

Wiki has it all.... (3, Informative)

Himring (646324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264113)

No other encyclopedia or would-be encyclopedia covers as many topics as Wikipedia. I've used it to do everything from research SOX regulations for my job, to understanding my favorite online game, DoTA [wikipedia.org] to name it. And they even have a page on mail order brides [wikipedia.org]. Not that I've ever looked into that (god they're hot, and they all have the same name, Elena...).

Math articles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14264129)

I'm a math student, and I use Wikipedia mainly for its math articles, and what I've seen is very good. It's much better than many encyclopedias, which can give pretty shallow articles on technical subjects.

How are they quantifying "error"? (5, Insightful)

kalidasa (577403) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264133)

If the Britannica article misspells 2 words, and the Wikipedia article is based upon an assumption that light travels through the medium of ether, does that mean that Wikipedia has half as many errors as Britannica? This is a lot more complicated than the kind of statistical error analysis these folks are trying for.

Re:How are they quantifying "error"? (3, Informative)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264208)

They had a seperate category for egregious errors like the latter - of which, (from TFA) 4 were found in Wikipedia and 4 in Britannica

Methodology questions (1)

jamescford (205756) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264145)

I wonder a little bit about the methodology. From the linked summary, it seems that the comaparison is based on a count of errors in individual articles -- fine. However, the description of how the data were arrived at indicates reviewers wrote reviews, and then editors counted errors based on them:

Each pair of entries was sent to an expert for peer review. The reviewers, who were not told which article was which, were asked to look for three types of inaccuracy: factual errors, critical omissions and misleading statements. A total of 42 useable reviews were returned. These were examined by Nature's news reporters, who tallied the total inaccuracies for each entry.

My question is, were the reviewers also blinded to which was which? Deciding how many errors to count for a written review seems highly subjective. Also, how did they decide which reviews were "useable", and how many were rejected?

The problem (1)

squoozer (730327) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264160)

The problem on wikipedia is not with the big articles that a lot of people read it's with the fringe articles. In Britanica the less referenced articles generally have a comparable accuracy with the highly referenced articles. On wikipedia, it is my experience, that the less well read articles can be highly inaccurate and reflect the authors view.

Did ANYONE RTFA? (3, Informative)

hkhito (901607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14264174)

Slashdot summary: 42 articles compared, but Oh! Wiki is 2.6 times longer on average.
TFA (first paragraph on the page): 50 articles compared, and articles selected with very similar lengths, and some material removed (e.g. references) if necessary to make them same lengths.

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