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Britannica Attacks - Nature Returns Fire

Hemos posted more than 8 years ago | from the of-course-one-island-loses-to-nature dept.

217

An anonymous reader writes "Just in case you missed it, Nature has replied to Britannica's criticism of the Nature Britannica-Wikipedia comparison. I think it is fair to say Nature is not sympathetic to Britannica's complaints." The original piece regarding the accuracy comparison, along with the response from Britannica.

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Where's the edit tab? (3, Funny)

Eccles (932) | more than 8 years ago | (#15048993)

I want to fix the spelling error "comparasion".

OT:Where's the edit tab? (2, Funny)

minginqunt (225413) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049001)

I want to bring back the OMG Ponies!!! skin. It roxxored.

We can't all get what we want.

Re:Where's the edit tab? (1)

zerocool^ (112121) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049219)


And make the "origional piece" link go somewhere, rather than just be green text.

~W

Nothing to see here (-1, Offtopic)

BigDogCH (760290) | more than 8 years ago | (#15048994)

For the first time I got to see the great "Nothing for you to see here. Please move along." message. I wonder if everyone at /. is celebrating napping day. http://www.napping.com/napping-day.html [napping.com] I know I plan to.

The original comparison article (5, Informative)

ktwombley (682915) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049000)

Re:The original comparison article (3, Insightful)

ajs (35943) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049112)

The key point in all of this is that the study was done blind. Reviewers did not know (though they COULD have checked) which source their article was from. Wikipedia showed more errors, but only 33% more per article than Brittanica at the rate of 4 per. Wikipedia is an astounding resource, and I think it moves Brittanica into a secondary role. What I would find very interesting would be a Brittanica effort to copy-edit, fact-check, and release a dead-tree Wikipedia (based on featured articles and whatever others are needed for context). I know I'd buy it!

Re:The original comparison article (3, Insightful)

jlar (584848) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049553)

"The key point in all of this is that the study was done blind. Reviewers did not know (though they COULD have checked) which source their article was from. Wikipedia showed more errors, but only 33% more per article than Brittanica at the rate of 4 per."

The 33% does not make much sense if we do not know the number of articles that we wrongly found to contain errors - even if the study was done blind.

My point is that if for example these false errors constitute one per article for both Wikipedia and Brittanica, then the difference would suddenly be 50% (2 errors per Brittanica article and 3 errors per Wikipedia art.).

In my opinion Nature has not refuted the critique against the study until they have quantified the number of false positives. Without this number they have no basis for claiming that "...the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three."

Re:The original comparison article (5, Funny)

jokestress (837997) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049200)

Here's my favorite comparison:

Wikipedia on Britannica [wikipedia.org]

vs.

Britannica on Wikipedia [britannica.com]

Mod this guy up (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049441)

Mod this guy up. He's completely right.

broken link (0, Redundant)

Devistater (593822) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049002)

"original piece"

Writing on the wall. (4, Insightful)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049003)

It's really becoming clear reading the article (to me, and probably to Britannica) that the writing is on the wall. Take this quote from the article:

"Other objections are simply incorrect. The company has, for example, claimed that in one case we sent a reviewer material that did not come from any Britannica publication."

That - right there is Brittanica getting desperate & flailing around attempting to attack anyone who criticizes them. Note - I don't think Wikipedia is going to 'take over' from Brittanica, its merely one of the many sources (albeit, currently the most important) you can turn to for free, online information.

The niche that Brittanica used to fill is simply closing - I suggest Brittanica concentrates on expanding its scope rather then attacking criticism if it wants to survive in future.

Re:Writing on the wall. (0, Troll)

castoridae (453809) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049063)

"Other objections are simply incorrect. The company has, for example, claimed that in one case we sent a reviewer material that did not come from any Britannica publication."

That - right there is Brittanica getting desperate & flailing around attempting to attack anyone who criticizes them.


I agree with you overall, but I think this is a valid complaint by Britannica! They're being attacked for inaccuracies in text they didn't write?

Re:Writing on the wall. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049103)

Read the articles. It's referring to their online content, which is what was compared. They wrote it.

Re:Writing on the wall. (1)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049120)

but I think this is a valid complaint by Britannica! They're being attacked for inaccuracies in text they didn't write?

Looking at Nature's formal reply: [nature.com]

"In one instance Britannica alleges that we provided a reviewer with material that was
not from the Britannica website. We have checked and are confident that this was not
the case."


So, its something Brittanica are alleging & Nature are denying - considering Nature were fairly open about this being a blind test, I'm going to believe them.

Re:Writing on the wall. (1)

I.M.O.G. (811163) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049141)

The company has, for example, claimed that in one case we sent a reviewer material that did not come from any Britannica publication. When the company made this point to us in private we asked for details, but it provided none. Now Britannica has identified the review in question as being on ethanol. We have checked the original e-mail that we sent to the reviewer who looked at the Britannica article on ethanol, and it is clear to us that all the reviewer's comments refer to specific paragraphs from Britannica.

Re:Writing on the wall. (5, Insightful)

benito27uk (646600) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049126)

It's not 'flailing around attempting to attack anyone who criticizes them'. Britannica's argument is that Nature were selective in their use of articles from Britannica

In one of the case's, the encyclopedia britannica claims that Nature used a 350 word introduction rather than the full 6000 word article on Lipids. If this is true I would say they have good reason to criticise Nature's article on the relevant merits of both encyclopedias.

Nature has been remarkably reticent in allowing anyone to see the unabridged reviewer reports to enable readers to make their own judgements, part of their own response to Britannica's allegations states that they 'provided reviewers with chosen excerpts, not full articles; this was done with entries from both Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia. www.nature.com [nature.com] Making such arbritary decisions, and not detailing this in the original article is not what is expected of such a respectable publication

Re:Writing on the wall. (2)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049569)

'provided reviewers with chosen excerpts, not full articles; this was done with entries from both Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia.['] www.nature.com Making such arbritary decisions, and not detailing this in the original article is not what is expected of such a respectable publication

The article you link to refutes your point.

But this applied as much to criticisms of Wikipedia as of Encyclopaedia Britannica.Because the reviewers were blind to the source of the material they were evaluating, and material from both sources was treated the same way, there is absolutely no reason to think that any errors they made would have systematically altered the results of our inquiry.

Re:Writing on the wall. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049353)

Why is every one always surprised when this happens; expensive established market hit by disruptive technology lashes out instead of coming up with a new economic model which adds value to their product. If that doesn't work use expertise (if they haven't downsized and lost it all) to develop a new market, like maybe internet search for information rather than the Google search for words.

At least they do not have the money and the political clout to defend their dying business model through the medium of lawyers and weak will politicians like other redundant industries face with disruptive technologies. - Len

Re:Writing on the wall. (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049497)

I actually disagree. I can't see how Britannica can out-scope Wiki. What they can do is out quality them on things like organization and consistent level of difficulty. I think they should focus on better integration with their self study materials.
 

By Nature it meant the Magazine Nature (2, Funny)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049005)

I had to RTFM just to make since out of the headline. It would have been nice if they mentioned that Nature was the magazine. I thought there was some disagreement between Britannica and Wikipedia description of nature then Nature herself set Britannica on fire. But it made me RTFM so I guess it worked.

Re:By Nature it meant the Magazine Nature (1)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049065)

I was dissapointed to hear that Britannica's headquarters hadn't been demolished by a sudden volcano eruption.

Re:By Nature it meant the Magazine Nature (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049153)

RTFA, this isn't a RTFM moment for an instruction pamphlet describing how to don a condom.

It boils down to this (4, Insightful)

DrXym (126579) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049007)

Britannica is authorative, peer reviewed and reliable but it costs money. Wikipedia can be spotty but is generally authorative, peer (+ idiot) reviewed and mostly reliable. It costs nothing but has massively more articles and can turn on a dime to cover current events, weather, popular culture etc.. While I feel sorry for Britannica, the simple fact is that most people are not going to fork a pile of cash when Wikipedia is good enough for day to day use.

Re:It boils down to this (1)

Agent00Wang (146185) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049018)

Exactly. Wikipedia is accurate enough that in the end, for most people anyway, it just comes down to $. Why pay when you can get something nearly as good for free?

Re:It boils down to this (5, Insightful)

bunratty (545641) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049061)

When I look something up on Wikipedia, it's usually something I wouldn't find in a general-purpose encyclopedia, even one that spans multiple shelves. Generally when I look something up in Wikipedia, the only alternative at hand is to use Google. What I find is that it's far easier to get the information I want on Wikipedia, and it's generally higher quality than information of the sites Google finds. And if Wikipedia doesn't have the information, I use Google to get it and add it to Wikipedia. The bottom line is that Wikipedia doesn't need to be as good as a paper or CD encyclopedia to do its job; it only needs to be better than the best search engines. In fact, it's often better than other enecyclopedias for me because of its incredible breadth of topics.

Google, Firefox, Wikipedia - I'm Feeling Lucky (1)

gavri (663286) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049267)

Google though does an incredible job of matching keywords with Wikipedia Pages. Combined with I'm-Feeling-Lucky and Firefox's keyword bookmarks, we have magic.

A Firefox Quick Search bookmark everybody needs to have.
http://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&q=%25s+site%3 Aen.wikipedia.org&btnI=I'm+Feeling+Lucky&meta=

Re:It boils down to this (5, Funny)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049374)

Now all Wikipedia needs to do is to put the words "Don't Panic!" in large, friendly letters on the cover and they are going to completely trash Britannica.

Re:It boils down to this (2, Interesting)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049102)

Good comment.

If I was in a workplace and needed to research something, chances are that I wouldn't use EB, because I'd want more specific detail than an encyclopedia could give me.

Wikipedia quite often gives me enough to then go searching more of Google.

Re:It boils down to this (4, Interesting)

Moby Cock (771358) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049152)

I agree with you 100%. I had a discussion on this very topic last week with some friends. One of them was concerned that Wikipedia will eventually cause Britannia (and the others) to be pushed out of business and when she does need more and better info than Wikipedia can provide there will be no other sources. An interesting thought.

What if research libraries no longer have for-profit encyclopedias?

After some though we realised that encyclopedias are not really primary references anyway. Wikipedia is good enough (even with jackasses vandalising pages) to get you to the proper primary references to continue research and as such serves its function weel. It is certainly good enough to settle day-to-day curioisity and is an excellen primer for more detailed research.

Send a donation to Wikipedia, they deserve a little love.

Re:It boils down to this (1)

gowen (141411) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049188)

Britannica is authoritative
What does authoritative mean in this context? Always right? Usually right?

Taking Nature's study on face value, its science articles are not more reliable than Wikipedia's, so what does it mean for Britannia to be "authoritative"? That it has a good reputation?

Re:It boils down to this (1)

araemo (603185) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049270)

I think it means that if you rely on britannica for something you're submitting to your school, and you're wrong(But so was britannica), you'll probably be off the hook. ;)

Assuming you're not in an institute of higher learning, that is.

Re:It boils down to this (2, Interesting)

doublem (118724) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049295)

That it has a good reputation?

Yes, and that it is supposedly "Peer Reviewed" by subject matter experts. The final leg on the tripod, is that it has a centralized control system to restrict who can change the articles.

These are all seen as essential to the process of providing reliable information.

What we're seeing here is a challenge to accepted methods of producing an encyclopedia. To make it more interesting, we're seeing it happen between the two best examples of each method. ON the one hand you have old school, "Cathedral" style control of authorship, and on the other you have an Open source style Bazaar. It's a battle not of publications, but of ideologies.

I think the killer feature is timeliness of the articles.

I've been at schools whose most recent encyclopedias were purchased in the 1960's. It's not fun to be doing research on the moon in the early 1990's and the most recent article you can find talks about the "Wild Dream" of putting a man on the moon.

That said, I also learned early on that aside form articles going out of date, no encyclopedia is really all that more reliable than Wikipedia. The main reason Britannica has such a great reputation isn't because of any gold standard of accuracy, but because it supposedly does a good job of minimizing obvious bias in the articles.

Re:It boils down to this (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049321)

Well quoting from Britannica

Entry: authoritative
Pronunciation: -thär--t-tiv, -, -thr-
Function: adjective
Date: 1605
1 a : having or proceeding from authority : OFFICIAL b : showing evident authority : DEFINITIVE
2 : DICTATORIAL 2
- authoritatively adverb
- authoritativeness noun

In other words official and respected. The social consensus is that it is a legitimate source.

Re:It boils down to this (3, Insightful)

DrXym (126579) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049576)

What does authoritative mean in this context? Always right? Usually right?

It means they go out and find the foremost experts (recognized as such within their field, e.g. Nobel prize winners etc.) and then ask them to produce an article which goes on to be peer-reviewed. This is then proofed, edited for conformity, cross-referenced and indexed.

The Wikipedia model is for someone to produce an article and hope that some genuine experts turn up to fix / correct the mistakes and that others turn up to give the article some semblance of form. If an article gets really lucky, many experts will pool their knowledge and shape the article. Wikipedia further hopes that some asshole(s) won't see fit to disrupt the article either through bias, malice or their own ignorance of the subject.

Generally speaking, the experts do win out in Wikipedia, although the more controversial the subject, the more supervision is required. Articles on George Bush, abortion, Church of Scientology, Adolph Hitler, Palestine etc. are subject to near constant vandalism by jerks, meaning someone has to be continuously watching those articles to revert the changes. There must also be a low level form of corruption going on too. It would not surprise me if polictical parties, marketing departments, etc. were engaging in subtle editing and embellishment of certain articles to cast a product / person in a better light. This form of vandalism is far harder to catch and might ultimately prove to be the biggest issue for Wikipedia.

Re:It boils down to this (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049287)

I'll go further than that. I'm regular customer of Britannica's. In the last few years I've bought:

4 of their education DVDs
their latest adult encyclopedia on DVD
Their CDROM children's homework helper
2 almanacs
2 different young children's encyclopedia in book form
and probably a few others I can't think of right now
and I think this year I'm buying their next DVD encyclopedia so I can get an update

I do fork over the cash. I still use Wikipedia most of the time. No question Britannica has higher quality but: Wikipedia has: quantity, length (most of the time), internal links and web-links.

Re:It boils down to this (5, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049339)

Wikipedia can be spotty but is generally authorative

Authoritative is exactly what the wikipedia is not.

Authoritative doesn't mean "accurate", nor does it mean "informative", although these qualities contribute to authoritativeness. But to say a source is "authoritative" means it can be cited, and what makes a source citable is predictability. Authorities have their own biases, but at least those biases are documentable and predictable. If one looks at a nineteenth century Britannica for an article on colonialism, their bias is going to be fairly predictable. With Wikipedia, you might end up with a better, more informative, less biased article. Or you might end up with propaganda from one side or the other of an issue. Furthermore which side you get may depend on the day you look.

Of course in practice this is less of an issue than it would seem. Hot button issues, may be Wikipedia's greatest strength, because many eyeballs expose the review process to the reader. However articles on obscure people or issues are unreliable in the extreme.

I've often said that Wikipedia would be an excellent platform on which to create an authoritative source. Since it's possible to track every version and change to an article, all one needs to do is keep a database of "reviewed and accepted" articles to make your own purpose specific Wikipedia. For example, you could include this version [wikipedia.org] of the George W Bush article in your database if you prefer the negative slant of the article lead. Then all anybody has to do is compare the version in your database to the version preferred by another group, e.g. like this [wikipedia.org] , to know where your slant is.

Re:It boils down to this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049486)

I agree with everything you say but would add that for controversial topics (such as any religion) Wikipedia is dreadfull as the supporters of the said religion will freely and without any burden of conscience edit out anything critical of themselves, excepting the most remote accusations. For those topics I would turn to my copy of Britannica as it will not have been vandalized, assuming that it covers those controversial aspects.

Re:It boils down to this (1)

m0nstr42 (914269) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049556)

Britannica is authorative, peer reviewed and reliable but it costs money. ... the simple fact is that most people are not going to fork a pile of cash when Wikipedia is good enough for day to day use.

I totally agree. But is Britannica, or any other encyclopedia, really authoritative? When I want authoritative information, I go to a peer-reviewed journal. That doesn't always work with factual-type information (a list of Presidents, State Flags, etc..), but it seems like there is always a "higher" source (the government in this case). Do encyclopedias ever present the results of their own independent, novel research?

Usually encyclopedias are just convenient to find comprehensive, top-level information, and hopefully a reference to go to for more detail or to confirm. That's why Wikipedia works just fine 99.99% of the time, I think.

1..2...3... NERD FIGHT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049009)

I can't imagine this as anything but a retalitory nerd drive by shooting deep in the middle of the night deep in south central Nerd Angelas.

Some nerds are called out the other nerds, then the nerds slashed some tires and slaped some Ho's, now these nerds bring out the AK's and mow down the stoop.

Pretty funny if you ask me.

YAWN.

Old media attacks itself (4, Insightful)

gihan_ripper (785510) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049011)

I think it's amusing that an established publication (Britannica) is worried about another established and peer-reviewed publication (Nature) making favourable comparisons with Wikipedia. We should now see Britannica write about the similarities between Nature and the arXiv [lanl.gov] !

Re:Old media attacks itself (0, Troll)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049573)

"of the 123 purported errors in question, Britannica takes issue with fewer than half."

Nature - we aim for less than 50% inaccuracy!

Um, what? (5, Funny)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049013)

Did Britain reestablish the Empire, increase their greenhouse gas production and get wiped out by a natural desaster? Are two hacker groups accusing each other? Is this some Ultima fan-fiction? What the hell is this story about?

Re:Um, what? ... Well, you could try.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049079)

to RTFA. Geez.

Encyclopedia Galactica (5, Insightful)

neoshroom (324937) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049014)

Wikipedia is so much better than Britanica in so many ways. For example if you look up Allentown, Pennsylvania it tells me, "The city also is somewhat known for a Billy Joel song, "Allentown," which appeared on Joel's "The Nylon Curtain" (1982) and "Greatest Hits: Volume II" (1985) albums. The song depicts the resolve of Allentonians, amidst the rough and hardened life that characterizes this East Coast, industrial city. "Allentown" also references nearby Bethlehem, home of the then-declining (and now defunct) Bethlehem Steel Corporation." While this may not be a fact that is highbrow enough for inclusion in Britannica, this is actually one of the things I think of when I think of that city -- making it much more useful to me on a practical level.

Or in other words:

Here's what the Encyclopedia Galactica has to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colorless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. It says that the effect of drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.

Thats the difference.
--
Elephant Essays [elephantessays.com] - Custom-created essays and research papers.

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (3, Funny)

kalidasa (577403) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049049)

Not sure that you really want to hold up the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a paragon of accuracy. Keep in mind that

Entries tend to get updated or not across the Sub-Etha Net according to if they read good.

Take for example, the case of Brequinda on the Foth of Avalars, famed in myth, legend and stultifyingly dull tri-d mini-serieses as home of the magnificent and magical Fuolornis Fire Dragon.

[snip]

Not surprisingly, the Guide's graphically enticing description of the general state of affairs on this planet has proved to be astonishingly popular amongst hitch-hikers who allow themselves to be guided by it, and so it has simply never been taken out, and it is therefore left to latter-day travellers to find out for themselves that today's modern Brequinda in the City State of Avalars is now little more than concrete, strip joints and Dragon Burger Bars.

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049155)

Not sure that you really want to hold up the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a paragon of accuracy.

The point was not to hold up the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a paragon of accuracy...

Entries tend to get updated or not across the Sub-Etha Net according to if they read good.

Take for example, the case of Brequinda on the Foth of Avalars, famed in myth, legend and stultifyingly dull tri-d mini-serieses as home of the magnificent and magical Fuolornis Fire Dragon.

[snip]

Not surprisingly, the Guide's graphically enticing description of the general state of affairs on this planet has proved to be astonishingly popular amongst hitch-hikers who allow themselves to be guided by it, and so it has simply never been taken out, and it is therefore left to latter-day travellers to find out for themselves that today's modern Brequinda in the City State of Avalars is now little more than concrete, strip joints and Dragon Burger Bars.

... but rather to use it as a metaphor of the Wikipedia!

Laughing out loud (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049506)

LOL. That was an extremely academic response that made a point using a deeply authoritative source.

Here's a link to the entire article: Chapter 22 - Life, the Universe, and Everything [injustice.net.nz] .

And, another quote: "Where you would be wrong would be in failing to realize that the editor, like all the editors of the Guide has ever had, has no real grasp of the meanings of the words "scrupulous", "conscientious" or "diligent", and tends to get his nightmares through a straw."

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (1)

chrismcdirty (677039) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049050)

I think of Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom when I think of Allentown.

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049056)

I wish I had mod-points today. That's an absolutely excellent comparison.

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049182)

are you sure? when I last looked up Allentown, Pennsylvania in wikipedia, all it said was:

'edited by Anonymous Coward'..

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (1)

sane? (179855) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049224)

Too right!

There is a difference between factually correct and useful. The Wikipedia errs on the side of useful, that's why you find many more current references and interesting connections.

I happen to have both on my computer. Encyclopaedia Britannica is sitting up there as an icon on my desktop, but I've only opened it twice in the time I've had it (and the first was to see it was working). Wikipedia gets looked at more than twice a week.

Until the Encyclopaedia Britannica people can deliver a service that better ticks the 'useful' box, they will continue to lose mindshare - no matter what 'Nature' might say.

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (4, Insightful)

constantnormal (512494) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049238)

Interestingly enough, Douglas Adams penned this comparison of the Encyclopedia Galactica to The Hitchhiker's Guide in the BBC radio script for the origian radio broadcast of it in 1978, long before the existence of the public internet, portable computers or the WWW.

Whoda thunk that The Encyclopedia Britannica would be compared to Wikipedia in such an eerily similar manner, almost 30 years later?

And for a final bit of recursive irony, I discovered that nugget of information by searching the Wikipedia for "The HitchHicker's Guide to the Galaxy" [wikipedia.org] .

Just try to extract the same information from Britannica Online.

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049453)

Wikipedia is so much better than Britannica in so many ways.
The only way it is better than Brittanica that matters to most people reading Slashdot and geeks in general is its anti-establishment brand. Anything related to Wikipedia is twisted into a positive light, and everything about Britannica is twisted into a negative light. The comments to these stories are slaying Britannica because of its image - Britannica fits an emotional and social mold which geeks despise - authority and traditional accademia. In this context, Britannica can do nothing right and Wikipedia can do nothing wrong, which acurately reflects how the two are being (mis)treated.

Re:Encyclopedia Galactica (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049588)

Do you have such a burning anger towards all things that aren't part of your so-called establishment?

Not just Wikipedia vs Britannica (3, Funny)

MrChom (609572) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049015)

It's the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy versus Encyclopedia Galactica all over again...

Re:Not just Wikipedia vs Britannica (2, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049047)

It's the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy versus Encyclopedia Galactica all over again...

A snapshot of wikipedia from 1000 years in the future is thought to have defined the sco corporation as a bunch of mindless idiots who were the first against the wall when the revolution came.

Re:Not just Wikipedia vs Britannica (1)

McWilde (643703) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049134)

If it really was H2G2 vs. Encyclopedia Galactica all over again, it would have been an edition of Encyclopedia Brittanica from a thousand years in the future.

can't trust Wiki.... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049032)

Anyone can post there after all....even Americans! :-)

Free information vs. Paid information (2, Insightful)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049054)

Looks like someone is mad because you don't have to PAY for their services any more.

Britannica should justify why people SHOULD pay for their product, rather than argue with their free competitors.

MOD PARENT UP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049092)

This is exactly what all the fuss is about.
I guess it's stating the obvious... but it helps to mention it from time to time :)

Re:MOD PARENT UP (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049261)

I guess it's stating the obvious... but it helps to mention it from time to time :)

Obviously, we like to provide FREE information :)

Average_Joe_Sixpack's Test (5, Funny)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049057)

Which is the better resource? Let's see:

Star Wars Christmas Special .... Wiki yes, Brit No
History of Robocop ............. Wiki yes, Brit No
Doctor Who ..................... Wiki yes, Brit yes
Dr Who, info on the 3rd Doc contracting radiation poisoning on the planet Metebelis 3. Wiki yes, Brit no

Re:Average_Joe_Sixpack's Test (1)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049084)

I think you have a slightly erroneous definition of -Average- Joe Sixpack.

Re:Average_Joe_Sixpack's Test (1)

Carthag (643047) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049121)

More like Joe Nerdpack amirite?

Re:Average_Joe_Sixpack's Test (1)

DarkSarin (651985) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049160)

read the nick...

his definition of himself is likely quite good.

I can't wait ! (3, Funny)

this great guy (922511) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049058)

I can't wait for Britannica's reply to Nature's reply about Britannica's criticism of the Nature Britannica-Wikipedia comparison !

Self defense (4, Insightful)

Dekortage (697532) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049070)

From the original Britannica "attack": In its December 15, 2005, issue, the science journal Naturepublished an article that claimed to compare the accuracy of the online Encyclopaedia Britannica with Wikipedia, the Internet database that allows anyone, regardless of knowledge or qualifications, to write and edit articles on any subject. (emphasis added by me)

Does anyone think this isn't just Britannica watching its business get clobbered by an online startup, and trying to defend itself? Old guard versus young upstart. Britannica should just buy Wikipedia and maintain both, and just market them differently.

For what it's worth, there appears to be over 6,500 articles [wikipedia.org] on Wikipedia that use Britannica as a reference, which suggests that the folks writing Wikipidia consider Britannica as a reliable source of information. (Not surprisingly, you cannot find Wikipedia in Britannica [britannica.com] .)

Finally, there is one possible problem with the Nature investigation... the question is not total accuracy at one point in time, but overall accuracy over a long period of time. Wikipedia is constantly changing; Britannica is less frequently updated. What does this mean for a researcher? Has Wikipedia been a reliable research tool for the last 365 days, just as Britannica has been?

Re:Self defense (1)

Carthag (643047) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049131)

They can buy the name, but not the content as it is free. They could just as well just download a database dump and run it through their peer-review system.

Re:Self defense (2, Interesting)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049180)

Has Wikipedia been a reliable research tool for the last 365 days, just as Britannica has been?

That depends. When the DJ John Peel died, it was on Wikipedia as soon as I'd heard. Naomi Campbell's recent arrest is listed in her Wikipedia Bio.

For me, it's also about the sheer volume of Wikipedia. Does Britannica have entries on bands like The Secret Machines, or the Dogme 95 cinema movement, the Cloudy Bay vineyard or the village of Pewsey?

I wish there was a better editing mechanism, particularly to keep vandals out.

Uhm, you can't buy Wikimedia. (2, Informative)

sultanoslack (320583) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049351)

> Britannica should just buy Wikipedia and maintain both [...]
From the Wikimedia Foundation Bylaws [wikimediafoundation.org] .

ARTICLE VII: DEDICATION OF ASSETS

The property of this corporation is irrevocably dedicated to charitable purposes and no part of the net income or assets of this corporation shall ever inure to the benefit of any director, officer or members thereof or to the benefit of any private individual.

In general you can't just buy a non-profit organization and if you could you can't turn around and make them a profit center.

Re:Uhm, you can't buy Wikimedia. (1)

Dekortage (697532) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049494)

I wasn't suggesting that Britannica would profit directly from Wikipedia. In fact, if Britannica acquired Wikipedia, I hope they would keep it basically intact.

Some benefits to Britannica of acquiring Wikipedia might be: (a) having a voice and brand presence in the next generation of academic research tools; (b) having a freely-market-driven source of hot topics and interesting new ideas to be possibly included in the next revision of Britannica; (c) having a freely-market-driven tool for identifying new and intelligent writers; (d) better control over the 6,500 references I previously mentioned.

(FYI, I work for a nonprofit organization. Maybe it cannot be bought, but it can be acquired, or merged. I should not have said "bought" but "acquired" as I did here; my apologies.)

Nature dodged the issue. (5, Interesting)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049073)

I like how Nature dodged the issue regarding the ethanol review. Notice how they did not say they added non-Britannica materials to the items being reviewed, Nature only said that the paragraphs cited by the reviewer were sourced from Britannica. This side-stepping of the actual issue raised by Britannica raises more concerns that it resolves.

Why was Nature mixing Britannica and non-Britannica materials together for the reviewer? Was the intent to place the Britannica materials in a certain, and erroneous, context so that the reviewers would be led to an incorrect interpretation?

The more that surfaces about Nature's tactics (and possibly strategy) here, the more suspicious Nature's intentions look.

Was there any coverage here on /. of Britannica's rebuttal a week or so ago? I must have missed it.

Re:Nature dodged the issue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049085)

RTFA. If you use the online service, you get information from non-Britannica items (such as the student edition, etc).

Re:Nature dodged the issue. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049135)

I'd like to point out something even more disturbing. When Nature was originally questioned they released a MS WORD file. In the file they claimed that they chose articles of same length:

  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/ex tref/438900a-s1.doc [nature.com]
  "Only entries that were approximately the same length in both encyclopaedias were selected."

But when Britannica disputed this, nature replied:

  http://www.nature.com/press_releases/Britannica_re sponse.pdf [nature.com]
  "In a small number of cases, to ensure comparable lengths,
    we provided reviewers with chosen excerpts, not full
    articles"

That's the smoking gun, they were not truthful about this.

But this is absolutely devastating:

One Nature reviewer was sent only the 350-word introduction to Encyclopædia Britannica's
6,000-word article on lipids. For Nature to have represented Britannica's extensive coverage of
the subject with this short squib was absurd, and it invalidated the findings of omissions
alleged by the reviewer, since those matters were covered in sections of the article he or she
never saw.

As much as I love wikipedia, Nature should save it's integrity and retract the article!

Re:Nature dodged the issue. (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049419)

That was a good critique. Get an account.

Re:Nature dodged the issue. (1)

Rydia (556444) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049202)

I agree with you completely, and with my fellow child post.

As for the response, no, it wasn't. I submitted a story about it that el reg ran, and it got rejected. That, along with all the predictable responses in this thread, illustrates rather well that people don't give a damn about figuring out what mode is a better solution for information disemination, and rather will simply yell and scream when their golden calf is attacked, regardless of how deserved that attack is.

Re:Nature dodged the issue. (1)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049592)

As for the response, no, it wasn't. I submitted a story about it that el reg ran, and it got rejected.

I submitted that story also, and it was rejected as well.

It seems that those who are so in favor of WikiPedia are also in favor of suppressing any articles here that say anything but WikiPedia is wonderful.

That alone should cast a long shadow of concern upon WikiPedia and its supporters.

Re:Nature dodged the issue. (1)

vague disclaimer (861154) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049596)

Was there any coverage here on /. of Britannica's rebuttal a week or so ago? I must have missed it. No. My story got rejected.

Let's check the history on this (4, Funny)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049095)

02:57, April 3, 2006 Nature (rv. we've been through this a thousand times already and consensus is against you, so stop doing this)
00:51, April 3, 2006 Britannica (Basic concepts of Review - removed the OR, cleaned up the stating of the word history as spelled out in Terra Incognita)
00:37, April 3, 2006 Nature m (rv ...or it's "original research" or it's "a self-reference" or whatever your excuse du jour is. Uh uh.)
00:14, April 3, 2006 Britannica (removed redundant disambiguation and restated the first sentence. Comparison has ideas but is an activity. See discussion page)
15:48, April 1, 2006 FactsGuy (RV another of Britannica's anti-consensus, POV, ill-written revisions. Britannica, please stop doing this!)
15:12, April 1, 2006 Britannica (Basic concepts of comparison - removed the OR, "may have been inspired by" because that is someone's conjection and OR conclusion and not cited here)

But isn't the important point that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15049110)

So, just to be clear, Nature doesn't actually deny any of the claims that Brittanica makes, it just says that they are irrelevent.

[BITTER WHINE]
And I submitted this story last week.
[/BITTER WHINE]

Urgh (5, Insightful)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049114)

I read Britannica's "response" and must admit I nearly stopped reading after the following:
Anyone who read the article with even a modicum of care would have noticed a discrepancy between the headline and the data themselves. While the heading proclaimed that "Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries," the numbers buried deep in the body of the article said precisely the opposite: Wikipedia in fact had a third more inaccuracies than Britannica.
This is changing the subject. Instead of measuring accuracies, as the headline does, Britannica finds a way of slanting the information, by using "inaccuracies", a figure that is a smaller percentage, to make it look like Wikipedia is awful in comparison. This, to me, undermines Britannica's credibility far more than anything Nature may or may not have "proven". It suggests they can't even fact check their own responses to comments about accuracy, or else are deliberately trying to mislead.

For those who are looking at the above wondering "Huh?", remember that if one person has three errors, and the other has four, then the other has "a third more errors" than the first. That means the difference between 96% and 97% accurate is "a third more errors" - but most people would look at the two figures and, rightly, say they're very close. In Nature's case, the headline appears to be accurate, and Britannica, in suggesting otherwise on this basis, is engaging in sophistry.

Britannica then goes on to claim many of the facts Nature depended upon were false. That may be true, but claims like the above suggest Britannica itself is more than willing to massage the facts, and for an organization that's dependent upon its own credibility, that's actually devastating.

NEWS FLASH! (0, Flamebait)

doublem (118724) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049239)

(Queue Evening News Theme Music)

<Favorite News Anchor Impression>

Today it was revealed that an organization whose business model is dependent upon selling a product, has been willing to massage, bend and manipulate data in attempts to discredit competitors who give away similar products.

(Ominous Pause)

Film at eleven.

</Favorite News Anchor Impression>

(Queue Evening News Theme Music)

Re:Urgh (2, Funny)

The Lurker King (171562) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049256)

Wikipedia should now claim that they came in second in a ranking of online accuracy, while Brittanica came in next to last.

Re:Urgh to you too (4, Insightful)

blank101 (862789) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049464)

I agree that Britannica's comments are disingenuous at best, but they are not wrong. What's wrong is having a discussion at this level of detail.

To address your point directly, there is no discussion of error/accuracy/inaccuracy percentages, as such a measure is implausible. Would one count the number of facts and then state what percent are erroneous? Then who decides what in an article counts as a "fact" (and no, I'm not proposing relativism for truth)? Should all facts be given equal weight (e.g., is having the 5th decimal place wrong comparable to having the wrong stochiometric balance)? Since there is no logical framework to discuss these questions (and frankly, I can't see it would be worthwhile to do so), the only thing that can be studied scientifically (in the strict sense of the word) is error-rate and even that is misleading (as there is no ready way to compare magnitude of error).

Thus, Nature was wrong (both in the semantic and practical sense) in its headline. I would have preferred the title "Wikipedia-Britannica Error-Rate Comparison," followed by the data, some statistical analysis, and qualifications about the inadequacy of the comparison (but then, no one likes to admit that what they've done doesn't really get to the heart of the issue).

There are plenty of engineering-like judgements to be drawn about the practicality of Wikipedia over Britannica (given the cost difference and acceptably comparable error-rate/magnitude for day-to-day use), indeed any /. discussion re: wikipedia makes them. And therein lies the rub; Britannica is certainly right to attack on the details (which as I illustrated are somewhat non-sensical), but the details are largely irrelevant to the real point of the discussion (and shame on Nature for not emphasizing that).

Re:Urgh (1)

Illserve (56215) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049472)

Yes, it's ugly what stupidity they've resorted to, but it's not surprising. What we're witnessing is the flip/flopping of a dying industry that has been murdered (or at least severely wounded) by new technology. These people used to have a stranglehold on a particular niche market and their jobs were secure in the Britannica trademark, so long as they didn't screw up very badly.

Suddenly their niche is disappearing and these people are stuck in a position defending their business model, which they have no experience doing (unlike the RIAA which has been sharpening its knives since before macrovision).

So unfortunately it's no surprise that they're going to do it poorly and come off pretty badly schooled by experts in critical thinking. It's MBA's vs scientists and they blundered in playing the scientists own game. They had no prayer of convincing the editorial staff of a top tier journal that it had erred scientifically. Britannica's only winning move seems to be to retreat to a smaller slice of the niche and refortify their business model around intangibles like brandname trust with advertising.

Reading that letter, you can almost feel Britannica's panic in rushing out a letter that is so poorly thought out.

 

Re:Urgh (1)

Monkeyman334 (205694) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049525)

Uhhh, I think you're being misleading. This is inaccuracies per entry. Which means in 42 entries there's 126 inaccuracies vs 168 inaccuracies, which is best described by saying "1/3 more inaccuracies" not "1% less accurate." The Nature article says pretty much the same thing in its writeup:

"The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three."

Historic, albiet kinda boring... (3, Insightful)

Rand310 (264407) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049129)

This is an easily demarkated event occuring to an historic institution which illustrates the current and future cultural and intellectual climate. What Guttenberg did, in itself didn't create anything extraordinary, but it changed the order of magnitude of use of an existing technology. It allowed an order of magnitude of more readers to read what used to be expensive books (one of the more popular, and duly important is in fact the Encyclopedia Brittanica). What Wikipedia allows is an order of magnitude of more editors and commentaries to provide information (and for free). The system is not perfect, but with the help of a tuned submission and editorial procedures, Wikiepedia's abilities far outweigh the Brittanica's venerable, though glorified, trustworthiness.

This seems to be happening on many fronts, and in many places with the advent of viral communication. But as this debate involves clear, historically relevant, as well as practically useful opponents it seems it will be pretty memorable. If you read the rebuttles to each others' works from a technologically historical perspective the arguments are interesting and can be applied to so much. And coming from two institutions which pride themselves on their intellectual merrits, such documents might be interesting to keep and look at in a few years when more and more of these same arguments pop up in less public and less known situations.

On the other hand it seems to retain the vigor and mundanity of a nerd fight.

yeah so Britannica is the bad guy (1, Insightful)

Tedium Unleased (764661) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049130)

because they charge for informaton.. but to anyone who bothers to read all of the articles it does look like Britannica has some valid points. Nature didn't even provide all of the data, and they don't even bother to address this point. Nature appears pretty dishonest when they point out Britannica only had issues with less than half of the 123 errors they pointed out. That's a large enough number when the difference was 3 - 4 to begin with.

Nature could have done a better job at this. I don't doubt that Wiki is only half as accurate as Brit.. I will still use Wikipedia, but Nature did a piss poor job to rush out a controversial story.

Britannica's days are numbered, but it doesn't mean they're wrong. I guess at least now I know that Nature's editors suck.

Re:yeah so Britannica is the bad guy (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049429)

Nature is probably the most respected scientific journal in the world. They saw this as more of a fun story "their editors suck" is just nonsense.

My experience: Encyclopaedia Britannica is abusive (1, Redundant)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049138)

One thing that should be said: Encyclopaedia Britannica has sold its print version by sending extremely high-pressure salesmen into poor neighborhoods to imply that if poor families didn't buy Britannica their children would always be ignorant. Parents were often extremely intimidated.

Families who had no habit of reading books would buy the print version of Britannica and pay for it in installments. My impression is that the books were almost never read. I've seen bookcases of expensive books that have never been opened. If children never see their parents reading, the children usually won't read either.

From the Nature response:

"While we were quite willing to discuss the issues, the company [Britannica] failed to provide specific details of its complaints when we asked for them in order to be able to assess its allegations. We did not receive any further correspondence until the publication of its open letter on 22 March 2006. It is regrettable that Britannica chose to make its objections public without first informing us of them and giving us a chance to respond."

This seems to me to be another abuse of the public's trust. Britannica responded with a confident-sounding ad when actually the company wanted to avoid discussion.

And that abuse got them into a Slashdot story once again.

I'd like to see a study of the sociology of arrogant company executives with sink-the-company ideas.

--
Before, Saddam got Iraq oil profits & paid part to kill Iraqis. Now a few Americans share Iraq oil profits, & U.S. citizens pay to kill Iraqis. Improvement?

Re:My experience: Encyclopaedia Britannica is abus (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049481)

I was a Britannica salesperson during the late 1980s (I sucked so I didn't last long). Their are huge problems of ignorance among the children of the upper lower class and lower middle class. Britannica offered terrific self study materials for children interested in any topic to learn about it through Britannica. What they were trying to do was to teach parents how to build a culture of learning in their household.

You grew up with one. Lots of parents don't know how to "look something up", the 2 volume index taught them. They don't know how to study a subject on their own, the outline of human knowledge taught them. They don't read information in context, macropedia.

Think about what a situation would like: 3 -4 kids

Britannica
Great Books of the Western World (maybe)
Merriam Webster 3 volume dictionary (free)
Annals of America (free)
Compton's encyclopedia for the younger children (only an extra $100)
Children's 6 volume encyclopedia for the very young children

Now you tell me. Was that worth $1300?

Wikipedia Page (1)

MadJo (674225) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049142)

Has someone already created a Wikipedia page on this little tryst? (there is the difference between E-B and W-P :) W-P can be made up to date faster)

Weak (1)

countach (534280) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049157)

Very weak response. Britanicca took issue with "less than half" the problems. Half is a lot! And the year book response is weak too. Nature was busted on this one. They ought to hang their heads and apologise.

Cover (1)

woodlouse_man (903301) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049166)

But neither of them feature the words "Don't Panic" in nice, friendly letters on the cover.

Nature should release the full data (1)

Roy Ward (14216) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049237)

In some ways the argument is bit irrelevant, as it is comparing apples and oranges - Wiki and Britannica are compiled in different ways and both have their uses, data in both of them is likely to be _mostly_ accurate, and I wouldn't particularly trust either of them as any more than a starting point (I prefer primary sources where possible).

One valid point that Britannica made is that Nature should release the data (minus of course the names of the anonymous reviewers). or at least the full text of excerpts that were compared and where they were taken from - then anyone that wanted to could judge for themselves how biased Nature's claims are, and whether Britannica's counter-claims have any substance. Otherwise the whole thing is reduced to a 'they said' 'we said' kind of slanging match.

New Wiki Slogans (2, Funny)

catdevnull (531283) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049244)

Wikipedia: Almost as good as Britanica without all pseudo-intellecutal pretentions!

Wikipedia: At Least You Can Correct Our Missteaks!

Wikipedia: Suck It, Trebek

Wikipedia: Nature Almost Likes Us!

Wikipedia: 3 out of 4 Slashdotters Prefer Us!

People staying away from Wikipedia because of (4, Insightful)

Ilgaz (86384) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049352)

The problem with Wikipedia can be easily understood if you are using Slashdot in regular basis.

FANATICS and ZEALOTS.

E.g. while reading an article about Apple Computer, for example recent fight with Beatles Record company, I have even seen people attacking the record company as some "crook company" "not doing anything". Erm, they own the rights of 165 million selling (just in USA!) Beatles.

Now, that same comment owner as these are "web 2.0" fashion days must have a Wikipedia account. Somehow you may need a very critical info about Apple Computers which _should be_ neutral as it can be.

Just imagine you read the "info" written by that person and rely on it.

That is the problem.

Oh BTW, IMHO Brittanica should make use of bittorrent technology and make site "totally same as the DVD set". That time, people will pay for it. People hates waiting for FedEx or DHL to deliver the freaking "plastic". That is the problem.

Dmitri Mendeleev's article (4, Interesting)

Brushen (938011) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049451)

They said of Mendeleev's Britannica article that he was the 13th of 17 surviving children, and not the 17th. They said of Wikipedia's article that he was the 13th surviving child, and not the 17th. Britannica's error was probably due to a typographical error in the source material that they used, a New York Times article.

Wikipedia users in January found out on the talk page, trying to make sure they used written sources to correct articles, and not just Nature's word, that in actuality, conflicting sources say that he was the 13th child, and others say he was the 14th, because historians disagree. They made a note of this in the article.

About two and a half months later, after Wikipedia has already fixed the 'error,' Britannica comes out with the response, and does not directly admit they made an error, but goes on to disagree with Nature saying he was the 14th child, and brags about how they noted historians disagree on the issue of whether he was 13th or 14th. The new Britannica issue will be coming off the presses with the error corrected in about a year, probably. I see a lesson here.

Turn-Around Time (4, Insightful)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 8 years ago | (#15049550)

Ok, Britannica beats Wikipedia on accuracy 3-4. Now give us your corrections and see who beats who in publishing the most accurate new edition.
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