Journal Nature study 'fatally flawed', says Britannica

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Friday, March 24, 2006

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Encyclopædia Britannica has strongly criticised the scientific journal Nature for last year's investigation into the encyclopedia's accuracy compared to that of the open-source online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Britannica also called for a retraction of the article. Nature has rejected the accusations, saying that their comparison was fair and that they do not intend to retract their report.

In a 20-page response (titled "Fatally Flawed") to the report's findings that there was not a significant difference in accuracy between the two encyclopædias, Britannica wrote that 'Almost everything about the journal's investigation [...] was wrong and misleading.' The document goes on to call the investigation 'invalid', 'completely without merit' and 'careless'. Britannica also accused Nature of 'misrepresenting its own results'. The last 12 pages of this comprehensive rebuttal are responses to specific article criticisms, mainly consisting of differences of opinion on style and article composition, but some citing outright factual errors on Nature's part.

In their response, Nature refused to reveal their original data for comparison, and commented that Britannica had raised their grievances in private some time ago, and then received no further correspondence until Britannica's open letter of 22 March 2006. Nature notes that Britannica criticised 'less than half the points [their] reviewers raised', and states that the two encyclopædias were subject to the same treatment.

Wikipedia has been stigmatised as unreliable due to its open-source nature and a perceived problem with vandalism. The December 2005 study was seen at the time as a major boost to the credibility of Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales was notified by one of his team members, on 27 January 2006 that all corrections provided by Nature were in place. Recent changes to some of the Wikipedia editing policies have attempted to resolve some of the reliability issues raised.

Wikipedia has yet to comment.

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