Wikipedia founder: "don’t cite"

: “Nature.com decided to to see how Wikipedia would fare against the Encyclopedia Britannica. Working from a statistically small sample of , the results show that the two are closer than many would assume. On average, Wikipedia had 33 percent more errors, with 162 ‘factual errors, omissions or misleading statements, ‘ as compared to 123 for Britannica. In terms of egregious errors involving inaccurately explained concepts or misinterpretations of data, the experts found four instances in each of the two encyclopedias. Of course, what constitutes a major error is often in the eye of the beholder.

The most error-strewn article, that on Dmitry Mendeleev, co-creator of the periodic table, illustrates this. Michael Gordin, a science historian at Princeton University who wrote a 2004 book on Mendeleev, identified 19 errors in Wikipedia and 8 in Britannica. These range from minor mistakes, such as describing Mendeleev as the 14th child in his family when he was the 13th, to more significant inaccuracies. Wikipedia, for example, incorrectly describes how Mendeleev’s work relates to that of British chemist John Dalton. ‘Who wrote this stuff?’ asked another reviewer. ‘Do they bother to check with experts?’

Depending on your point of view, this is either a great win for Wikipedia, or proof that it is sub-standard as compared to Britannica. The fact of the matter is that with only 42 articles reviewed, there’s not much to go on either way.”

Actually, that’s a lot better a result for Wikipedia than I would have expected. But then, with hindsight it does make more sense. Areas where there are considerably less articles or articles with less content are not the technology or science ones, but sociology, art, philosophy and ‘soft’ topics where the interested parties are less likely to be tech-heads hardwired into the net.

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