Thursday, March 23, 2006

Battle of the 'pedias: Did Nature bungle its study?

Do you remember the study by Nature that compared the science-oriented entries in Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica? The results of that study made a splash because one of its conclusions was that the number of errors in Wikipedia was small, and just a little over the number in the Britannica. Now this study has come under a cloud; in a 'devastating response' (here - pdf), Britannica has raised serious objections about the study:

Nature magazine has some tough questions to answer after it let its Wikipedia fetish get the better of its responsibilities to reporting science. The Encyclopedia Britannica has published a devastating response to Nature's December comparison of Wikipedia and Britannica, and accuses the journal of misrepresenting its own evidence.

Where the evidence didn't fit, says Britannica, Nature's news team just made it up. Britannica has called on the journal to repudiate the report, which was put together by its news team.

I will be keenly watching for the rebuttal from Nature.

Update (24 March 2006): Nature has posted its rebuttal (pdf):

We reject those accusations, and are confident our comparison was fair.

More on this when I find time to go through the documents. I thank Jim Giles of Nature for the e-mail alert about the journal's rebuttal.