Peer reviewing the encyclopedias

I had the idea that it would be worthwhile to assemble a panel to peer review sections of Wikipedia, within particular academic disciplines, and “freeze” a chunk of the site and certify it through peer review. That would have a duel purpose. First, it would provide an opportunity to measure the wiki, and second, it would provide some form of external validation — using traditional criteria — for the site.

At least the first part of this seems to have been accomplished. A project undertaken by Nature. Basically, they picked 50 representative articles (this does not appear to be a sample, and I wonder how they arrived at these), and put articles from Wikipedia and Britannica out for review. Britannica won, a fact that is not stressed in the Nature write-up. Instead, they show that Wikipedia is flawed, but so is Britannica. The average Wikipedia article has four innaccuracies, to Britannica’s three.

Of course, such a measurement is fuzzy. After all, if you extrapolate this to the total number of articles in Wikipedia, that’s a whole lot of inaccuracies.

I’ve started working with a doctoral student, Derek Lackaff, to take another approach to identifying the validity of Wikipedia, hopefully one I’ll be able to talk about more in the spring.

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  1. […] comparing a sample of articles from Wikipedia and Britannica has drawn attention from educators, students, and infopundits the world over. Depending on how the results get spun, Wikipedia is either waybetter than expected, or Britannica is much worse, or we can’t trust either. What stood out to me, though, was Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales‘ proscription not to cite Wikipedia — or Britannica. […]

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