“Us” vs. “them”

Nature had researchers blind-test articles in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica looking for errors. The result:

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.

Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.

This might seem surprising, knowing that the brit is written and edited by experts while Wikipedia is written by, well, us.

There’s been a lot of Wikipedia-related FUD in the media lately, especially over the Seigenthaler hoax. Here’s my point of view: Hoaxes like that are going to happen. Changing Wikipedia to make this impossible would kill it. It’s a trade-off: On the one hand Wikipedia adds new complexity at a fantastic rate precisely BECAUSE everyone can contribute. On the other hand this will lead to inacuracies, pranks, hoaxes and vandalism. However: Wikipedia has shown itself capable of dealing with most of this – it has in effect developed a highly capable immune system.

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