Britannica to Nature: Get your facts straight!

In its December 15, 2005, article Internet encyclopaedias go head to head, science journal Nature compared the accuracy of the online Encyclopædia Britannica with Wikipedia. The study received wide attention since it claimed that “Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries.”

Now, three months later, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. has issued a response: Fatally Flawed — Refuting the recent study on encyclopedic accuracy by the journal Nature (PDF, 836kb).

In short:

Almost everything about the journal’s investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading.

Arriving amid the revelations of vandalism and errors in Wikipedia, such a finding was, not surprisingly, big news. Within hours of the article’s appearance on Nature’s Web site, media organizations worldwide proclaimed that Wikipedia was almost as accurate as the oldest continuously published reference work in the English language.

That conclusion was false, however, because Nature’s research was invalid. As we demonstrate below, almost everything about the journal’s investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading. Dozens of inaccuracies attributed to the Britannica were not inaccuracies at all, and a number of the articles Nature examined were not even in the Encyclopædia Britannica. The study was so poorly carried out and its findings so error-laden that it was completely without merit. We have produced this document to set the record straight, to reassure Britannica’s readers about the quality of our content, and to urge that Nature issue a full and public retraction of the article.

Ouch!

(via Tim)

3 Responses to “Britannica to Nature: Get your facts straight!”

  1. Phil Boswell Says:

    In the same time-frame, the errors discovered in the Wikipedia articles have been hunted down and corrected.

    Can the same be said of the corresponding EB articles? Or are they simply denying that their articles have any errors?

  2. Tim Says:

    The “ouch” was meant more as a comment on the apparent sloppiness in Nature’s study. That just isn’t what I would expect from a science journal. Personally, I believe that as Wikipedia evolves it has the potential to become as good a knowledge resource as any other player in the market, though maybe in some areas more than others.

  3. Tim 'avatar' Bartel Says:

    Nature answered: http://www.nature.com/press_releases/Britannica_response.pdf

    I blogged about this (in German): Nature: “We do not intend to retract our article.”