Communications committee/Subcommittees/Press/2006/03/22 Britannica PR

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On 22 March 2006 Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. (EBI) presented a press release in which they disputed the Journal Nature article which showed a not dramatic but still significant difference in the number of errors of EBI and Wikipedia articles.

As press contacts, you may be questioned regarding this press release, so we've gathered some information for you here.

Journal Nature article[edit]

The first thing which Wikipedia realized from the study is we did surprisingly well for an all-volunteer project with no specific editorial oversight. But the second thing we realized is we clearly need improvement.

The original report, published 14 December, 2005 (see archived story), covered 42 articles on scientific topics, comparing the number of mistakes in both Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica. Exactly 42 days later on January 25, the effort on Wikipedia's part to address these errors was declared complete. Only 38 articles actually required changes, however, since Nature reviewers identified no errors in four of them.

This event has demonstrated the adaptability and resiliency of Wikipedia in that any error, once pointed out, can be corrected quite quickly.

A strength of Wikipedia in general is its transparency. With most other sources, the history of how that article has been written is not available to the reader. With Wikipedia, each version of the article is available, along with information about who made specific edits. This allows the reader unequalled ability to evaluate how stable or dynamic each article is, and to weigh the reputation of each editor who has contributed.

The reader may decide to place less weight, for example, on an article that has been recently created by a single editor, than on an article that has been edited harmoniously by a team of editors over a few weeks or months. This information is clear from the history of the article and its associated discussion page.

Encyclopædia Britannica[edit]

The Encyclopædia Britannica has existed for 231 years, and has a long history of constantly improving its content. Its editors have justifiable pride in their scientific articles, and have been involved in many research efforts.

The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. welcomes future studies and hopes to learn from the accumulated excellence of Britannica and other reference works, so that our project can be the best imaginable free resource on the web. The Britannica is one of the most significant non-fiction works in the English language, and that level of quality is something we strive for.

Wikipedia, and all Wikimedia Foundation projects, are not in competition to EBI or other companies in the business of reference works. Our goals differ significantly from other reference publishers, and only overlap in that we are all striving to create accurate and useful knowledge tools.

Some of EBI's criticisms of the Nature article stem from Nature compiling information from multiple EBI articles. The Wikimedia Foundation believes another strength of Wikipedia is the breadth of articles (over one million in the English edition), covering topics not described in any other single source.

Web sites of interest[edit]

Web sites that have reported this refutation paper from EBI[edit]