In our article The Internet – a sober corrective to unruly journalists, Andrew Lih, author of the “Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia,” noted how a survey finding showing that scientists had much more faith in the accuracy of Wikipedia than the mainstream media reminded him of a Nature study in 2005 which “found that on average, Britannica had 3 errors per article, and Wikipedia had 4 errors.”
Not so fast, responds the Encyclopedia Britannica”s Tom Panelas, who points us towards a brace of articles refuting this study (which was not peer-reviewed), including Britannica’s point-by-point refutation, and Nicholas Carr’s criticism –
“If you were to state the conclusion of the Nature survey accurately, then, the most you could say is something like this: ‘If you only look at scientific topics, if you ignore the structure and clarity of the writing, and if you treat all inaccuracies as equivalent, then you would still find that Wikipedia has about 32% more errors and omissions than Encyclopedia Britannica.’ That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.”
(Carr later joined Britannica’s editorial board). The article’s focus was on the significance of scientists choosing new media entities that reflected consensus within expert communities rather than old media entities driven by “news.” In that respect, both WebMD and Wikipedia represent a return to a more 19th century model of knowledge, but by different paths: WebMD relies on expert guidance before publication, Wikipedia (at least in theory) on expert guidance or intervention after publication. The Encyclopedia Britannica is in this respect, the ultimate old media and new media resource.