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Wikipedia, Vol. 2: Encyclopedia Smackdown

Much like a Wikipedia entry, our discussion of the online encyclopedia is nothing if not dynamic. In fact, it’s already time for an update. As FC Now reader Shel Holtz points out, the science journal Nature posted an article yesterday about a study comparing Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica. And the winner is…(drum roll, please)…neither.

In the 42 articles that experts reviewed, they identified eight significant errors (scientific misinterpretations) – four in each encyclopedia. They also found numerous minor offenses in both: 162 in Wikipedia, 123 in Britannica. So both sides are right: Wikipedia is just as imperfect as Britannica — or just as accurate. Either way, the study reinforces what an editor told me early on: There’s no such thing as too much fact-checking.

In today’s Chicago Tribune, my buddy Steve Johnson suggests that the root of Wikipedia’s problems is the anonymity of its contributors. People are more prone to post careless items or outright pranks when they’re allowed to work unseen, with no accountability. The solution? You write or edit something, you include your name. I think it’s a good start, assuming Wikipedia can verify that people are who they say they are. What do you think?

CS