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Nature Magazine: Wikipedia almost as scientifically accurate as Britannica
December 14, 2005 11:43 PM   Subscribe

The journal Nature: "Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries."
Nature had experts review articles from both encyclopedias. (Also, 10% of Nature authors contribute to Wikipedia.)
posted by Tlogmer (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
"[Wikipedia] also plans to introduce a 'stable' version of each entry. Once an article reaches a specific quality threshold it will be tagged as stable. Further edits will be made to a separate 'live' version that would replace the stable version when deemed to be a significant improvement. One method for determining that threshold, where users rate article quality, will be trialled early next year."

this sounds like a neat workaround for some of Wikipedia's issues with all the editorial brouhaha. hm. I wonder what the method for determining the significant improvement threshold will be? (and then, how will it be hacked?)
posted by carsonb at 12:34 AM on December 15, 2005


where users rate article quality
Jesus, I'm dumn.
posted by carsonb at 12:35 AM on December 15, 2005


Several Nature reviewers agreed with Panelas' point on readability, commenting that the Wikipedia article they reviewed was poorly structured and confusing. This criticism is common among information scientists, who also point to other problems with article quality, such as undue prominence given to controversial scientific theories. But Michael Twidale, an information scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that Wikipedia's strongest suit is the speed at which it can updated, a factor not considered by Nature's reviewers.

I think that sums up the whole Wikipedia stuff quite nicely.
posted by gsb at 1:37 AM on December 15, 2005


I sure hope that after they found the mistakes, they corrected them...

... Imagine an encyclopedia where experts can fix mistakes as they find them, to be updated in real time...

blah
posted by hatsix at 2:00 AM on December 15, 2005


wikipedia kicks ass. I normally append google searches with 'wikipedia' since they are nearly always the best source for info from the web.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:13 AM on December 15, 2005


Well, wikipedia is the best chance at having SOMETHING. Who knows if it's right, though.
posted by empath at 4:57 AM on December 15, 2005


"This page catalogs some mistakes and omissions in Encyclopædia Britannica (EB) and shows how they have been corrected in Wikipedia".

This recent lawsuit was going to happen sooner or later. I don't know if Wikipedia will ever "sell out" to be a paid service (if so, not anytime soon), but it's become too important to leave the door open to pranksters.

Any source of information is subject to error, but the beauty of Wikipedia is that content addition and error correction are all done voluntarily, not by some underpaid drone at Encyclopedia Britannica. It's both more prone to be erroneous but at the same time, ironically, those errors are perhaps more likely to be corrected (eventually).
posted by zardoz at 4:57 AM on December 15, 2005


Anything that also has an entry in Brittanica is going to be OK. It's the information that exists only in Wikipedia that's the big worry. What a crappy test.
posted by cillit bang at 5:28 AM on December 15, 2005


I agree, zardoz. The thing is, however how do you know at any given point in time how much scrutiny an article has received? My guess is that the editing protocol needs some fine-tuning, and probably, needs to be restricted.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:29 AM on December 15, 2005


This recent lawsuit was going to happen sooner or later

I doubt the recent lawsuit is genuine. I talked to the organization on the phone and I'm pretty sure it's just one kind-of-crazy guy (the same guy picks up at the supposed parent company).
posted by Tlogmer at 5:33 AM on December 15, 2005


however how do you know at any given point in time how much scrutiny an article has received?

You look for the stylistic hallmarks of a heavily edited text. You check the history.
posted by Tlogmer at 5:34 AM on December 15, 2005


The lawsuit is bollocks. The supposed plaintiffs -- supposing there are any, that is -- don't remotely form a class. So there can be no class action. It's balls.
posted by unSane at 5:59 AM on December 15, 2005


Well, if 10% of Nature authors are contributing, that might be where the extra one error per article over Brittanica is coming from in Wikipedia articles.

"[Commented] that the... article they reviewed was poorly structured and confusing" sounds like pretty much any article that comes out in Nature.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 6:14 AM on December 15, 2005


I can't say much about the rest of it, but Wikipedia's physics content is really quite excellent. I think it's because you pretty much have to be an expert to even know where to begin with that stuff. It's easier to make up BS about something you at least know the name of. I don't think too many people with no physics background would even think to make something up about gauge invariance or the Maxwell Stress Tensor.... but then again tripe like that horrible movie "What the bleep do we know" still get made...

Well whatever the reason, Wikiphysics gets my seal of approval.
posted by Farengast at 6:19 AM on December 15, 2005


I don't know if Wikipedia will ever "sell out" to be a paid service...

If I were in charge of Wikipedia, I would be much more worried about being sued for trying to make money by restricting access to works donated with the very clear understanding that they would remain free.

Imagine a supermarket that hosts a food drive and then turns around and just sells the food. It would be like that, minus all the hungry people.
posted by dsword at 7:04 AM on December 15, 2005


I would be much more worried about being sued for trying to make money by restricting access to works donated with the very clear understanding that they would remain free.

Have you heard of CDDB. Or IMDB? Neither seems to have met much resistance privatising and monetizing donated content. Although, to be fair, Amazon has proved to be much less of a prickish landlord than Gracenote.
posted by meehawl at 7:39 AM on December 15, 2005


I would be much more worried about being sued for trying to make money by restricting access to works donated with the very clear understanding that they would remain free.

When I contribute to Wikipedia, I very clearly understand that my donation is free-as-in-speech, and there is no guarantee it will remain free-as-in-beer. However, since it is free-as-in-speech, if Wikipedia tries to make a profit off of it, they won't be very successful, as anyone can take the content and make a competing product.

Imagine a supermarket that hosts a food drive and then turns around and just sells the food. It would be like that, minus all the hungry people.

I was walking along the lakeshore the other day and a wave lapped at my feet. It was just like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, minus all the death and destruction.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:51 AM on December 15, 2005


Imagine a supermarket that hosts a food drive and then turns around and just sells the food. It would be like that, minus all the hungry people.

Yep, just like that, if.. you know, people had the ability to just look at the food and make an exact copy of it for themselves, paying only for the electricity to do so, then redistribute that copy to another person who could do the exact same thing.
posted by odinsdream at 8:14 AM on December 15, 2005


I normally append google searches with 'wikipedia' since they are nearly always the best source for info from the web.

You really only have to type "wiki".
posted by goethean at 8:47 AM on December 15, 2005


Have you heard of CDDB. Or IMDB?

I love how most of the Gracenote article is about how much Gracenote wronged the open source community. No agenda there.

(The CDDB article is even worse)
posted by cillit bang at 9:26 AM on December 15, 2005


I agree with Farengast on this one. I suspect that science entries are more likely to be edited by people with (a) expertise in the field, and (b) no particular personal or political axe to grind, then other sorts of entries. Look at the list of entries the Nature article reviewed: Dmitry Mendeleev, Acheulean industry, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, etc. We're not talking the Kennedy assassination here.

One other point. While I agree with those who laud the continually updateable nature of the Wikipedia as a positive thing (because it allows for immediate correction of errors), it does have a downside - namely, that if you happen to look at an entry at the wrong time (immediately after an idiot or axe-grinder has edited it), you might get a plateful of errors or propaganda. In aggregate, wikipedia winds up being pretty accurate; but at any given moment during the process it can be wildly inaccurate.
posted by googly at 9:58 AM on December 15, 2005


Good point, Googly. For that reason, I've recently decided that when citing Wikipedia, I should provide a link to the revision of the article at the time I view it (use the "permanent link" to the left of any article) rather than a link to the current revision of the article.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:12 AM on December 15, 2005


Wikipedia is just one example of the late-20th century phenomenon known as the professional amateur. It's the end result of people living longer, healthier, with more spare time.

It's happening all over, not just encyclopedias, and is changing the very notion of what an expert and professional is (20th century inventions).
posted by stbalbach at 10:31 AM on December 15, 2005


DevilsAdvocate and odinsdream,

1) The ridiculous analogy was clearly presented in a manner that mocked its own ridiculousness, indicating that it was not meant to be taken seriously at all. Jesus, calm down.

2) How would Wikipedia turning into a pay service be any different than somebody taking, say, music that I've recorded and distributed for free (maybe on a P2P network), and selling it in a store? I don't really care that the content could be copied freely by anybody willing to do it. They'd still be making money by selling the products of my labor, obtained under false pretenses, and without compensating me.

Furthermore, my point wasn't about what you or I believe or understand about the fate of our contributions, but about what many people might reasonably believe. I personally care little more about the fate of what I put up there than what I write here... It's something I do in my spare time. When I want to make a more permanent and tangible contribution to the world, I'll write a book. But I understand very well how many people could feel differently, and I think they'd have a good case.
posted by dsword at 2:08 PM on December 15, 2005


I normally append google searches with 'wikipedia' since they are nearly always the best source for info from the web.

You really only have to type "wiki".


Or, in Firefox, just type wp "search term" in the address box. In case you didn't know ...
posted by mrgrimm at 2:11 PM on December 15, 2005


Or, in Firefox, just type wp "search term" in the address box. In case you didn't know ...

I just did that, and it did the standard first-result-in-google thing.
posted by kenko at 3:00 PM on December 15, 2005


They'd still be making money by selling the products of my labor, obtained under false pretenses, and without compensating me.

1) AFAIK, Wikipedia has never promised that contributions to Wikipedia would not be sold for money, so there are no false pretenses.

2) To continue your analogy, it's as if you recorded some music, and distributed it for free on a P2P network, along with a license that explicitly says "do whatever you like with this music, including selling it, and you have no obligation to compensate me." You can hardly then get mad when someone does, in fact, sell your music (even, perhaps, attempting to profit off of it) without compensating you.

Contributions to Wikipedia are licensed under the GDFL. The GDFL explicitly allows others (including Wikipedia) to take what you've done and sell it (for a profit, if they can). If you don't like those terms you shouldn't be licensing your work under the GDFL, which is what you did when you submitted it to Wikipedia. You might be more interested in licensing it under one of the Creative Commons non-commercial licenses. Of course, Wikipedia won't use your work then, but perhaps you can start your own wiki-based encyclopedia where users license their work under a CC license.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:33 PM on December 15, 2005


s/GDFL/GFDL
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:34 PM on December 15, 2005


Thanks for the correction. I hadn't read the license in some time, and had somehow come to think that commericial distribution was forbidden.
posted by dsword at 10:00 PM on December 15, 2005


I wonder what the method for determining the significant improvement threshold will be?

See Version 1.0 Editorial Team and Pushing to 1.0.

kenko et al: I use "wp item" in the address bar, but I had to redefine a bookmark in my Quick Search folder to point to
. http://www.google.com/search?q=%s site:en.wikipedia.org
instead of
. washingtonpost.com.
See also Wikipedia:Searching with Mozilla.

Incidentally, I also have keyword searches for sites like MetaFilter and Last.FM. It's amazingly convenient.

Have you heard of CDDB. Or IMDB? Neither seems to have met much resistance privatising and monetizing donated content. Although, to be fair, Amazon has proved to be much less of a prickish landlord than Gracenote.

Um, they exist, but IMDb lost much goodwill when they (quite literally) sold out. CDDB now has several competitors including MusicBrainz. I suspect only a lawsuit counts as actual resistance, but people certainly were pissed.

Wikipedia is owned by Wikimedia, which as of last year is an incorporated non-profit. It's entirely possible that they could convert to a for-profit -- such things have happened -- but at this writing they remain committed to open source and a free encyclopedia. That doesn't preclude them finding ways to fund the operations of the Foundation, including Wikipedia, by selling stuff in the manner of a museum store. In fact, given the server load issues they experience on a regular basis, I'd be very pleased if they would.

Note that under the GFDL copyright remains with the creator. If a content provider misuses a Wikipedia article you've edited, you're encouraged to protest, up to invoking the DMCA.
posted by dhartung at 1:41 AM on December 16, 2005


That doesn't preclude them finding ways to fund the operations of the Foundation, including Wikipedia, by selling stuff in the manner of a museum store. In fact, given the server load issues they experience on a regular basis, I'd be very pleased if they would.

Check out these T-Shirts, then.
posted by Tlogmer at 2:01 PM on December 16, 2005


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