How Reliable is Wikipedia?

Well, pretty damn reliable apparently. Or at least that is the view expressed by the scientific journal Nature who have just carried out the first peer based comparative review of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica in terms of their science coverage. Clearly cases like the Seigenthaler one are the exception rather than the rule, and Britannica itself is not without its problems since of the eight “serious errors” reviewers found – including misinterpretations of important concepts – four came from each source, the journal reported. Maybe people should be thanking John Seigenthaler for raising Wikipedia’s profile. Well done Wikipedia.

One of the extraordinary stories of the Internet age is that of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit. This radical and rapidly growing publication, which includes close to 4 million entries, is now a much-used resource. But it is also controversial: if anyone can edit entries, how do users know if Wikipedia is as accurate as established sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica?

… expert-led investigation carried out by Nature — the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica’s coverage of science — suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule.

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.