Friday, December 16, 2005

New Media - 1, Old Media . . . - 1

Wow.

Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that relies on volunteers to pen nearly 4 million articles, is about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica, the journal Nature wrote in an online article published Wednesday.

The finding, based on a side-by-side comparison of articles covering a broad swath of the scientific spectrum, comes as Wikipedia faces criticism over the accuracy of some of its entries.

Two weeks ago prominent journalist John Seigenthaler, the former publisher of the Tennessean newspaper and founding editorial director of USA Today, revealed that a Wikipedia entry that ran for four months had incorrectly named him as a longtime suspect in the assassinations of president John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.

Such errors appear to be the exception rather than the rule, Nature said in Wednesday's article, which the scientific journal said was the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia to Britannica. Based on 42 articles reviewed by experts, the average scientific entry in Wikipedia contained four errors or omissions, while Britannica had three.


As many know, anyone can post and edit the Wiki entries. Naturally, when this first arised people thought that such a project would lead to complete lunacy and a lot of falsification. Wiki is a giant public good, a non-profit amateur encyclopedia. So, as economics dictates, one would expect the wikipedia to be subject to free-riding (in this case lax fact-checking and corrections). Instead that hasn't happen. The wiki has been fact-checked like crazy by a bunch of volunteers to the point of basically equivalent accuracy with Britannica. The so-called "Wikipedia Wars" have forged a powerful open-source reference equivalent to one done by professionals and editors.

This is a big victory for the "new media" types who believe in the power of blogs, forums, and other such open-source media as a check capable of self-regulation and balance.