Wikipedia

“Wikipedia is to Britannica as ‘American Idol’ is to the Juilliard School.”
Jorge Cauz, President of Encyclopedia Britannica

“Wikipedia is to Britannica as rock and roll is to easy listening.”
Jimmy Wales, founder, Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Is Wikipedia accurate? Last year, Nature published a survey comparing forty-two entries on scientific topics on Wikipedia with their counterparts in Encyclopædia Britannica. According to the survey, Wikipedia had four errors for every three of Britannica’s, a result that, oddly, was hailed as a triumph for the upstart. Such exercises in nitpicking are relatively meaningless, as no reference work is infallible. Britannica issued a public statement refuting the survey’s findings, and took out a half-page advertisement in the Times, which said, in part, “Britannica has never claimed to be error-free. We have a reputation not for unattainable perfection but for strong scholarship, sound judgment, and disciplined editorial review.” Later, Jorge Cauz, Britannica’s president, told me in an e-mail that if Wikipedia continued without some kind of editorial oversight it would “decline into a hulking mediocre mass of uneven, unreliable, and, many times, unreadable articles.” Wales has said that he would consider Britannica a competitor, “except that I think they will be crushed out of existence within five years.”

Larry Sanger proposes a fine distinction between knowledge that is useful and knowledge that is reliable, and there is no question that Wikipedia beats every other source when it comes to breadth, efficiency, and accessibility. Yet the site’s virtues are also liabilities. Cauz scoffed at the notion of “good enough knowledge.” “I hate that,” he said, pointing out that there is no way to know which facts in an entry to trust. Or, as Robert McHenry, a veteran editor at Britannica, put it, “We can get the wrong answer to a question quicker than our fathers and mothers could find a pencil.”

Know It All: Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?” by Stacy Schiff, The New Yorker, July 31, 2006
Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence: Founding Fathers, Patriots, Mr. T. Honored,” The Onion, July 26, 2006

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