The Corner

Dueling Encyclopedias

An article in Nature claims that Wikipedia’s science entries are almost as accurate as those found in the Encyclopedia Britannica: “The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three.”

I suppose this is encouraging news, because we all want Wikipedia to be reliable but we’re worried that it isn’t. Yet I’m actually discouraged to read this. Errors in EB? Three per article?!?!?!?

I use Wikipedia quite a bit because it is so convenient, but I’m careful to double check it, especially when I’m writing something. I also keep two complete sets of EB (different editions) in my office, and I use them quite a bit as well, on the assumption that they (especially the modern one) are authoritative. Alas, just as you can’t believe everything you see on TV, it turns out you can’t believe everything you read in EB.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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