Factually Speaking (Village Voice)

Think Wikipedia is error-ridden? Britannica’s nearly as bad—and isn’t nearly as nimble.

by Julian Dibbell

For a reference work whose editorial staff consists, basically, of any dumbass with Internet access and one good typing finger, Wikipedia (wikipedia.org) sure has ambition. “It’s our goal to be as good as Britannica [britannica.com] across the board,” said Jimmy Wales, founder of the openly collaborative online encyclopedia, responding to a recent surge of criticism from educators and other cultural gatekeepers concerned with the increasing popularity of Wikipedia’s intellectual free-for-all. Soon after, the science journal Nature published a report finding that the average Wikipedia article on scientific topics contains no fewer than four factual errors, which might have suggested that the online upstart has a long way to go to catch up with the reigning authority, except that it didn’t: The same report found the Encyclopaedia Britannica only marginally more accurate, with an average error count of three.

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