Britannica has finally gotten around to responding to the Nature article that suggested that Wikipedia and Britannica are not that different. They posted their response as a pdf perhaps as a way to make sure fewer people would actually read it. (Someone needs to tell corporate America that PDFs are great for some things, but you should put it in HTML unless there is a good reason not to.)
They attack the Nature article, suggesting that the work is shoddy. I have to admit that this was my first response in reading the Nature piece. It isn’t an article that would make it through peer review. They didn’t reveal the details of their methods, and when the details were revealed, they didn’t inspire confidence. If the accusations that Britannica makes are true, and Nature played fast and loose with the articles they pulled from Britannica, this further undermines the usefulness of their report.
However, the fundamental problem with Britannica‘s complaints is that–with the exception of the above serious sampling issue–whatever biases were present in the analysis were present for both sides: Britannica and Wikipedia. Perhaps the type of bias favored Wikipedia, but I seriously doubt it. Indeed, when Britannica complains about reviewers not liking particular phraseology, it strikes me as likely that this would be something that affects Wikipedia more than Britannica.
In the end, the response is–strangely–both substantive and hollow. Clearly, Nature could have taken the time to do a better study. Just as clearly, what they did is indicative of the quality of Wikipedia. The claim that Wikipedia is somehow abject and untrustworthy is incorrect was the point of the article. Britannica seems upset that somehow people missed the idea that Britannica still did better than Wikipedia in many ways. They haven’t missed that point, I don’t think. It’s just that the idea that an openly-edited, freely available encyclopedia has come close to the closed model of encyclopedia production we are used to is the real news. The better headline for the story might have been “Wikipedia is good enough.”