Sunday, June 17, 2007

Wikipedia is about as accurate on science as the Encyclopedia Britannica

Much of academia views Wikipedia as the dark side. I think this is because the model of knowledge creation it represents is so discontinuous to the the way the academy operates today.

The academic indictment of Wikipedia is that it is unreliable. There generally isn't any evidence cited. Academics just dismiss Wikipedia because, as reported in a article from BBC News, "it is based on wikis, open-source software which lets anyone fiddle with a web page, anyone reading a subject entry can disagree, edit, add, delete, or replace the entry." The fact that people outside the academy can add knowledge really bothers academics.

Well, here's some evidence to illuminate this debate.

The British journal Nature examined a range of scientific entries on both works of reference [Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica] and found few differences in accuracy...

Nature conducted a peer review of scientific entries on Wikipedia and the well-established Encyclopedia Britannica.

The reviewers were asked to check for errors, but were not told about the source of the information.

"Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopedia," reported Nature.

"But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively."
Another issue raised by academics is that students shouldn't rely on any one source for their research. That's true, but it is as true for Britannica as it is for Wikipedia.

My guess, though, is the facts won't get in the way of teachers banning Wikipedia as a resources for their students.

1 comment:

Ken Weaver said...

You make good points - but using Wikipedia as a cited source is still not acceptable in my classes, and to drop the other shoe, neither is the Britannica or any other encyclopedia source as well. I encourage my students to use encyclopedic sources only as starting points for their quest, not as the end all one stop shop, and certainly not to call it research.