The Independent questions Wikipedia's accuracy

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Monday, February 13, 2006

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United Kingdom newspaper The Independent has run a story scrutinizing the accuracy of Wikipedia articles, using eight experts in various fields to comment on particular articles' validity. The experts' opinions ranged on topics from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to Kate Moss, Tony Blair and invitro fertilization.

Wikipedia Subject Author Quote
Ann Widdecombe, politician and writer Ann Widdecombe "I think overall that the entry is much better than Dod's parliamentary guide...The entry is pretty good though, I would give them 9.5 out of 10." "
BBC Radio 1 Simon Garfield, author of The Nation's Favourite: The True Adventures of Radio 1 "Accurate, but with an odd conglomeration of facts without a clear idea of what purpose Radio 1 serves or who listens to it...it reads a little like a 15-year-old's media essay."
In vitro fertilisation Robert Winston, fertility expert and television presenter "I was surprised by the excellent section 'In vitro fertilisation'. It gives a precise, accurate overview of the state of this technology and most of the newer developments in the field..
And finally I immodestly visited an entry on myself and was disconcerted how it is mostly accurate and very up-to-date."
Kate Moss, model Marcel D'Argy Smith, former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine "Factually, this is dead accurate, though it is cloaked in po-faced language."
Philip Larkin, poet Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate "A good and fair account...it is overall a dispassionate account, as one would expect from a dictionary...Though I can see there is an opportunity to whitewash with Wikipedia, the few times I have used it, I have been impressed with it."
Punting Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery "[A] lot has been put into this piece and it has been thought out. I am impressed. "
The Russian Revolution, 1917 Orlando Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London "...reads like the work of a second-rate undergraduate student. It raises an issue because Wikipedia is used by a lot of people as a basic source of information, but this is bland, simplistic and misleading."
Tony Blair, Prime Minister John Rentoul, biographer of Tony Blair "It is opinionated and written from an anti-war point of view...I treat Wikipedia with circumspection, and would check it against a more reliable source."

Robert McHenry, a former editor-in-chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica posits his belief that contrary to the underlying notion that Wikipedia articles are constantly improving, the "mass [of articles] tend to the mediocre."

According to historian Antony Beevor, "With Wikipedia's entries, there is a lack of satisfaction, not so much through inaccuracy but there are a lot of vague statements which you cannot really disprove but which you don't think are necessarily helpful."

While noting that Wikipedia's most controversial topics are rife for distortion, The Independent article goes on to point out that a number of studies have shown articles to be accurate. In comparing the online site to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Nature found that on average, Wikipedia had only one more error per entry than the traditional "gold standard" for encyclopaedias. Likewise, the German computer magazine, c't, gave Wikipedia a 3.6 rating out of 5 for accuracy, which surpassed two other rivals, such as Microsoft Encarta which received a 3.1.

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