Thursday, December 15, 2005

Journal: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica

Journal: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica. CNN posted this article about the reliability of Wikipedia today based on a study from Nature. It noted, "Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that relies on volunteers to pen nearly 4 million articles, is about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica, the journal Nature wrote in an online article published Wednesday."

It goes on further to note, "Errors appear to be the exception rather than the rule, Nature said in Wednesday's article, which the scientific journal said was the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia to Britannica. Based on 42 articles reviewed by experts, the average scientific entry in Wikipedia contained four errors or omissions, while Britannica had three."

I wonder if this study took into account spammers and propagandists who know how to evade the major error correction methods used by Wikipedia?

In a recent article I noted, "One concern about validity of the articles at Wikipedia is the ability of clever vandals to make changes to articles without getting caught. Once a user learns how most vandalism is detected, actions can be taken to counter this. For example, as edit logs are kept on every user, there is nothing from making a new user account every time a user logs in. (Even logging in with AOL or EarthLink will give the user a new IP every time for anonymous editing.) If they make only one or two edits and then abandon the account, future vandalism by subsequent accounts will not give prior vandalism away. Also, if the vandal makes small changes to out-of-the-way articles or adds a seemingly related spam link to an article while also making a legitimate edit to improve the article, the vandalism may survive for a long period of time. Also, long established and trusted members do not have their edits scrutinized on a regular basis. It would be fairly easily for these users to make infrequent and hard to detect changes to vandalize or insert their own biases in articles. "

Yes, Wikipedia works most of the time. And it can be be updated instantly. The major articles will always be fixed quickly as they are visible. Vandalizing George W. Bush, China, gravity, history, Shakespeare, etc, is pointless. But how about the vast majority of Wikipedia articles which are not monitored closely? If you know what you are doing, a lot of articles can be altered incorrectly without anyone noticing. The smart vandal/spammer is not caught all the time!

This is one major difference between Wikipedia and Britannica. It is virtually impossible to "game" the Britannica no matter how hard you try.

I like Wikipedia. It is a good tool. But I fail to see how it can be considered an authority source like Britannica when it clearly can be manipulated by those who take the time to learn how to do it.

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