15 December 2005

Wikipedia Vindicated - Cult of the Amateur, Not

In a famous post titled The amorality of Web 2.0, Nicholas Carr argues that many web 2.0 technologies in general, wikis in particular, promote the "Cult of the Amateur". He even refers to wikipedia as follows:
In theory, Wikipedia is a beautiful thing - it has to be a beautiful thing if the Web is leading us to a higher consciousness. In reality, though, Wikipedia isn't very good at all. Certainly, it's useful - I regularly consult it to get a quick gloss on a subject. But at a factual level it's unreliable, and the writing is often appalling. I wouldn't depend on it as a source, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a student writing a research paper.
In a recent post by Ross Mayfield on The Nature of Wikipedia and Britannica, referring to a special report by Nature titled Internet encyclopaedias go head to head, we find that wikipedia is faring much better than what could be expected from the previous quote:
Yet Nature's investigation suggests that Britannica's advantage may not be great, at least when it comes to science entries. In the study, entries were chosen from the websites of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica on a broad range of scientific disciplines and sent to a relevant expert for peer review. Each reviewer examined the entry on a single subject from the two encyclopaedias; they were not told which article came from which encyclopaedia. A total of 42 usable reviews were returned out of 50 sent out, and were then examined by Nature's news team.

Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.