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Editorial The Internet

FUD-Based Encyclopedias 364

blacklily8 writes "Someone has finally gotten around to offering an intelligent point-by-point rejoinder to an ex-Brittanica editor's lambasting of Wikipedia--which was covered in this earlier Slashdot post. Aaron Krowne, a mathematician and head of Emory University's library research department, argues here that established encyclopedias are using FUD to discredit what is actually a more reliable way to build an encyclopedia: 'McHenry's definition of quality seems to consist solely of presentational matters such as spelling, grammar, and text flow. These are of course important considerations, but I propose that there are other important facets of quality - for example, coverage.'"
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FUD-Based Encyclopedias

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  • Coverage = quality? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gambit3 ( 463693 )

    so, if that's the case, MTV2 made MTV better quality? After all, it gave all those music videos better quality?

    Sorry, while I see how some times bigger coverage can push for better quality (in the form of competition, for instance), it just doesn't necessarily translate to it.
    • by slavemowgli ( 585321 ) * on Saturday February 26, 2005 @11:59AM (#11787600) Homepage
      If you'd read the article in full, you'd notice that Aaron does not, in fact, claim that it does. Quite the opposite; unlike McHenry, he specifically states that there are several ways to define quality and that coverage (like cohesion) is one of them (but not the only one).

      That being said, "coverage" does not refer to how widely-known/widely-used a certain piece of information is. It's not about how much coverage an article (or a music video) gets; it's about how much coverage it *contains*. What Krowne means is that a longer article with more information and more details has a higher quality (measured in the coverage metric, that is) - provided that the information is correct, but that goes without saying -, not that an article that's read by more people is of a higher quality (even though in Wikipedia's collaborative model where everyone can edit articles, at least, an article with more readers will likely reach a higher coverage and/or cohesion, too).
      • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:21PM (#11787732) Homepage
        Its a pretty silly argument to be having, Brittanica started life as a piece of blatant propaganda. Read the first edition and you will find all sorts of politically incorrect ideas, little things like why all those savages in the colonies are so happy to receive the benefits of membership in the glorious British Empire.

        For a long time the first four Chinese dynasties were dismised as 'mythological' by Western academics. The original reason for this was that the dates of these dynasties were incompatible with the biblical flood and so they had to be explained away. This claim still persists today even though there is at least as much evidence for the existence of the yellow emperor as Homer. The criteria for changing the established view are far higher than creating one.

        The modern Brittanica is both huge and for many purposes useless. If you want detailed information on a topic like cryptography you will find maybe a short article on RSA in Brittanica but unlikely to find out very much. Wikipedia on the other hand has extensive in depth coverage of far more obscure points.

        Every information source is biased and wrong. If you have the misfortune to watch Fox News you will see plenty that is deliberately deceptive, much that is outright lies. There are very few blogs on either the right or the left that sink to the level of mendacity that is standard operating procedure for the Murdoch/Hearst press. We don't see many editorials in the old media complaining about that.

        The issues raised by the Brittanica guy are not completely groundless, the Wikipedia people need to consider them carefully. Wiki is not the first extended Internet collaboration system to reach a large audience. The problem is that success brings trolls, spammers and cranks. Together the trolls spammers and cranks destroyed USENET in the mid 90's. It only recovered when the parasites moved on to try to wreck email.

        I think the issues raised are fixable but we will have to think carefully about mechanism. I do not think peer review is feasible on that scale but reputation systems might be.

        A deeper problem that Wiki shares with Britanica is that it tries to impose a single systematization of knowledge. This is fine for areas where there is no controversy. Where controversy is active the result is either a tug of war between extreemes or some bland statement that takes no position.

        Sometimes you have to put the facts on the line, there is no 'scientific' theory of creationism. Creationism is revealled knowledge and that is simply not compatible with science. But there are people who honestly beleive the opposite.

        I firmly beleive in the 'reality based' universe and want information sources that share this belief. I do not want my information contaminated by the crationist world view or any other silliness.

        there are also cases of genuine academic dispute where things get equally nasty and ideological.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I firmly beleive in the 'reality based' universe and want information sources that share this belief. I do not want my information contaminated by the crationist world view or any other silliness.

          a lot of what you say makes sense, but i'm thinking about this statement a little differently than you are.

          in my mind, both of these universe origin stories are just that. the scientific version is a 'theory' which means that science itself believes pretty strongly that it is true. the religion version is 'reve

        • by symbolic ( 11752 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @01:58PM (#11788302)

          Now that the control over what various ideas and concepts mean, has been, quite literally, handed over to the people at large, This is one more stone wall that will come tumbling down, as institutions like Encyclopedia Britannica no longer have an iron grip on the acquisition, distillation, and dissemination of information. People always put up a fight when an entrenched institution is supplanted with something newer, so it's no surprise that we're starting to see some resistance.
        • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:28PM (#11788506) Homepage Journal
          A deeper problem that Wiki shares with Britanica is that it tries to impose a single systematization of knowledge. This is fine for areas where there is no controversy. Where controversy is active the result is either a tug of war between extreemes or some bland statement that takes no position.

          This is wrong: Wikipedia works on these things very actively. Check the article on Zoophilia [wikipedia.org] to see example where NPOV (Neutral Point Of View) was achieved without loss to the quality of the article. The rule is simple: If consensus can't be achieved, best of voices/arguments of all sides are published and it's up to the reader to decide which one they prefer. Something hardly ever happens in Britannica: If some "expert" has his own agenda to push, there's no way to achieve NPOV, if there is some kind of argument going on, encyclopedia either takes one side or does what you said: leaves a short, bland statement. No way to discuss things, no way to explain differences, no chance for rebuttal of fallacious arguments.
        • by extra the woos ( 601736 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @02:34PM (#11788550)
          Christian here, believe in the big bang, and believe science gives good evidence to support it. Do not believe in evolution and don't believe there is enough evidence for it, if there proof comes out then I will accept it :) (Don't flame my beliefs just saying)

          Now, if I look on wikipedia for evolution, I DO NOT WANT to read a thing saying why it is wrong. I want to read about the theory of evolution. The bottom of the article shuld have links and there might be a criticism of it etc. If i read an article on christianity i don't want it to be a criticism of why it's wrong, or a proponent of why it's right. I just want it to be the facts, what the people believe in, how it originated etc. Then at the bottom links to theories and ideas supporting or not in support shuld be presented.. and for the most part, I have seen it done this way on Wiki.. bravo
        • For a long time the first four Chinese dynasties were dismised as 'mythological' by Western academics.

          And rightly so. The early dynasties were credited as emperor-magicians who lived tens of thousands of years. The Yellow Emperor and his wife were supposed to have invented writing, cultivated silkworks, and various other essential inventions. Modern scholars still refer to him as legendary (including Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], so maybe you should direct some of your righteous anger against them, or at least edit the en

        • This claim still persists today even though there is at least as much evidence for the existence of the yellow emperor as Homer.

          Homer does not really exist. He's a cartoon character. But he is yellow!

    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:04PM (#11787627) Homepage
      I would have thought that in matters such as encyclopedias, the biggest indicator of quality would be accuracy. Who cares how much information you cover, or how great your spelling is, if the information you present is incorrect?
      • by say ( 191220 )

        So, I can create the greatest encyclopedia on earth by being very accurate? Well, here goes say's quality encyclopedia:

        a-r
        no entries.
        s
        say's quality encyclopedia
        The encyclopedia with the highest quality in the entire known world.
        t-z
        no entries.
      • by waterbear ( 190559 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @01:21PM (#11788084)
        I would have thought that in matters such as encyclopedias, the biggest indicator of quality would be accuracy.

        Exactly. I can report a small sample of experience in seeing how accuracy has been managed in a particular wiki. That sample does not inspire me with confidence.

        In a nutshell, I read a wiki page, saw some incorrect data about a subject which has been my bread and butter, and I added a note giving correct data (plus citations for independent verification by whoever might want to check it out).

        A day later, the note had been removed to a discussion page accompanied by a comment by someone who seemed to be taking a role as the wiki's maintainer, saying that he 'didn't feel like' putting that stuff in 'right now'. Several months later, the correct info still was not back on the wiki page, the information on the wiki page was as incorrect as it had been when I first saw it.

        I didn't try to push the correction, it's a free medium, seemingly the maintainer and maybe everybody else (or maybe not?) has a right to offer and put in what they please.

        That freedom clearly has a lot of pluses.
        But accuracy, or an assurance of accuracy, equally clearly isn't one of them.

        I don't know how many wiki pages have maintainers. But that's what I saw happening.

        My conclusion is that a wiki appears to be as accurate (or inaccurate) as its maintainer keeps it; or if there is no maintainer, then it is as likely to be as inaccurate as the most careless of its contributors.

        -wb-
    • I only edit/expand pages I know something about (like my home town & it's marine festival). I doubt if everyone has that courtesy.
  • I say, (Score:4, Funny)

    by Freston Youseff ( 628628 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @11:55AM (#11787569) Homepage Journal
    Brittanica? You sirs have been trolled.
    • Re:I say, (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xoboots ( 683791 )
      "Brittanica? You sirs have been trolled."

      This is probably the best comment on this topic. Not only are *all* encyclopedias just simple gloss-overs of real research but Brittanica is aimed at the early teen market.

      The wikipedia oughtn't worry about how traditional encyclopedia's view them. It won't matter in the end -- the wikipedia is free, accessible, pervasive and mainly supported by the people. Those are winning factors everytime.
  • by alex_guy_CA ( 748887 ) <alex@@@schoenfeldt...com> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @11:56AM (#11787572) Homepage
    As a really bad spller, I really apreciate Aaron Krowne. Thanks for poiting out that other things mater.

  • Having glanced at Krowne's missive, I'd have no choice but to support McHenry in whatever it was he said.

    • by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @01:24PM (#11788102)
      Gist of McHenry's article:

      1. Anyone, irrespective of expertise in or even familiarity with the topic, can submit an article and it will be published.

      2. Anyone, irrespective of expertise in or even familiarity with the topic, can edit that article, and the modifications will stand until further modified.

      Then comes the crucial and entirely faith-based step:

      3. Some unspecified quasi-Darwinian process will assure that those writings and editings by contributors of greatest expertise will survive; articles will eventually reach a steady state that corresponds to the highest degree of accuracy.

      Personally, I suspect he may be right. I fail to see the sorting mechanism in Wikipedia by which good writing and accurate facts rise to float above all the shit and the articles are often of low quality; I'm speaking as a fairly frequent contributor.

      It often feels like a fool's errand. Articles frequently seem to become more jumbled, incoherent, and full of extraneous bullshit over time. Articles usually lack any sort of references to primary literature, and it seems that in general (a) it's failed to draw in the experts it needs to produce a really high quality product, and (b)the experts voices don't sound any louder than those of some quasi-literate high school sophomore, so they tend to get lost in the storm, and (c) the result of dozens of different voices working on a text is something which is bland and lacking in life, prose designed by committee and largely stripped of life. In particular I wonder if it will suffer the same fate as many mailing lists: the ignorant idiots with nothing intelligent to say tend to scream loudest. The informed people tend to speak less because they have a better sense of their own ignorance, eventually get fed up, and leave.

      Granted, it works a hell of a lot better than I'd expect it to, and it's useful if you want facts in a hurry and are going to check them later, but the idea that it currently stands shoulder-to-shoulder with traditional media and peer-reviewed scientific publications is just ridiculous. I think the project has potential, and I think in its current incarnation it can be a useful alternative to traditional journal articles, texts, and soforth, but I think it's a long way from being a consistently well-written and reliable resource. Can it get there? I wouldn't write it off. It's amazing it got this far and works as well as it does.

  • by illtron ( 722358 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @11:59AM (#11787599) Homepage Journal
    The problem with Wikipedia is that information is not a democracy. George Washington's birthday is not determined by whatever day most people think it is, but with Wikipedia, errors like that can slip in unnoticed. It's like the people in certain areas who want "intelligen design" to be taught instead of Darwin's scientifically viable theory of evolution. They say things like, "We don't belive Darwin 'round these parts, so we don't want it taught in our schools!" That's great if you're an ignorant redneck, but it doesn't make it right. Wikipedia has a danger of being (or at least becoming) extremely biased, not necessarily for ideological reasons, but through simply through public ignorance.
    • by slavemowgli ( 585321 ) * on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:04PM (#11787630) Homepage
      Errors like that can slip in in any encyclopedia; the difference between Wikipedia and - say - Britannica is not that that the former is more error-prone but rather that a) it is admitted that errors can, in fact, happen and b) it is possible to correct an error when you come across it.

      Furthermore, you're making another crucial mistake (one that McHenry also made): you assume that people are, generally, stupid, uninformed and/or not able/willing to check facts. Now, that may be true for many people, of course, but it's not true for *all* people, and in fact, I'd say that anyone who makes substantial edits on Wikipedia is likely to have a reasonable amount of intelligence at least.

      Also, new articles in Wikipedia *are* being checked by others (I'm doing that myself, some time), and that *does* include checking for factual accuracy just as much as it includes checking for spelling errors (like "intelligen"), grammatical mistakes and the like.

      Finally, last I checked, George Washington's birthday as listed in Wikipedia is, in fact, correct, so that's not a good example by any means.
      • The problem with Wikipedia is that the one person who knows the correct answer is taken out by the 100 who 'think' they know the correct answer and yours is wrong. In a business scenario I would hope that you require more proofing for your answer. With some things like 1 + 1=2 (except for large values of 1) I can write a proof via refernece, things like , George Washington's birthday, or God then there's .

        For instance creationism [wikipedia.org] doesn't have the theory of evolution [wikipedia.org] or any counter argument listed as a rela
        • You have a point, of course, but my experience with Wikipedia is that the opposite is happening really: the one person who is wrong but thinks he's right is taken out by the 100 who know the correct answer.

          It doesn't always happen, and even when it does, it's no guarantee that there never will be misleading or even outright inaccurate information in Wikipedia, but generally, I think Wikipedia does converge towards perfection, so to speak *s*, and surprisingly fast so far, too, for that matter.
        • The problem with Wikipedia is that the one person who knows the correct answer is taken out by the 100 who 'think' they know the correct answer and yours is wrong.

          It's worse than that, actually. Two people who "think" they know the answer can easily trump five people who actually do, if those two people have nothing better to do than sit at their computers and revert changes all day. But with that said, it's still a pretty good system. Like Democracy, it will often fluctuate away from the most optimal
      • Finally, last I checked, George Washington's birthday as listed in Wikipedia is, in fact, correct, so that's not a good example by any means.

        But what are you checking it against? Common knowledge? You're own personal research? Another encyclopedia?

        This question is neither aimed at being pro- or anti-wikipedia, just meant to point out a general problem/issue with "information" and "facts" in general, which is that there isn't a real way of knowing what constitutes a "reliable source". Each and every so

    • Which leads to... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lxt ( 724570 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:07PM (#11787652) Journal
      ...the assumption that there will be two distinct sources of reference information in the future - the Wikipedia style on-line "texts", which may contain far greater detail than the Encyclopedia in your library on modern day topics, recent developments, and the short but almost 100% factually correct entry in that reference book from your library.

      Both have their place, and both have pros and cons.
      • Re:Which leads to... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by slavemowgli ( 585321 ) * on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:17PM (#11787714) Homepage
        One might add these aren't mutually exclusive. It would be perfectly possible, for example, to take a "snapshot" of Wikipedia, have the articles reviewed by (paid?) experts, grammar and spelling errors corrected, rubbish that crept in weeded out and all that and then publish that "stable" version - whether it's on a website (presumably a static one, not a Wiki), on CD-ROM/DVD-ROM/... or even in print or another medium.

        The GFDL under which all Wikipedia content is licensed does allow you to do that. In fact, it already *has* been done, too: a snapshot of the German Wikipedia was published on CD-ROM (also available for download as an ISO image) last September, IIRC.
      • .the assumption that there will be two distinct sources of reference information in the future - the Wikipedia style on-line "texts", which may contain far greater detail than the Encyclopedia in your library on modern day topics, recent developments, and the short but almost 100% factually correct entry in that reference book from your library.

        Actualy, what I would expect to see is "stable" and "unstable" branches of wikipedia, much like the linux kernel.

        Periodically, the wikipedia database could hav
    • There's really no good way to solve this problem with Wikipedia. Part and parcel of the entire point of the site is that anyone can put the information up there. The standing theory is that, given the choice, people won't change it unless they're sure. I might think Washington's Birthday is on April the 22, but given that Wikipedia says otherwise and I don't have anything to back up my groundless assertion, I'm not going to change it.

      The problem, is not willfull ignorance, as the Intelligent Design bit
    • You have an interesting critique, but what are the implications? How do we determine what information is correct? Whatever process you use, it's going to involve people.

      It seems to me that it's either going to be an authoritarian revelatory expert-based system ("This is true because I say so an I'm the expert") or a democratic, peer-based system ("Most people tend to agree on this, but some argue...").

      Even if you take the extreme position and tell people to personally verify all information the encounter,

    • In other words, it is important to see the Universe as it is, rather than as one might wish it to be. That's been a problem for a very long time, and frankly I don't see Wikipedia being a solution to that problem. Or our public schools for that matter, I have to agree with you there. The established encyclopedia vendors do have a vested interest in accuracy, since that really is their stock-in-trade, and presumably they expend considerable resources verifying the information they print. That's not really th
    • Your point is absolutely valid. This is why most wikipedians would reject the idea that wikipedia is a democratic institution or (even worse) that article creation is following democratic rules.

      There is no survey whether 2+2 is 5 or what day Alexander Hamilton was born.
    • Information is not despotism either.
    • George Washington's birthday is not determined by whatever day most people think it is...

      Yes, it is. All historical, scientific, or other accepted "facts" are only those that the greatest ammount of people agree with.

      Science is and always has been very democratic. If it wasn't, it wouldn't work.

      It's like the people in certain areas who want "intelligen design" to be taught instead of Darwin's scientifically viable theory of evolution.

      It's not that the Theory of Evolution is somehow innatly superior
    • Discussed here last month, when Jimmy Wales spoke about the problems of credibility. See http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/01/07/224824 8&tid=149&tid=95

      --dave

  • by Creepy Crawler ( 680178 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:00PM (#11787603)
    Except the have-nots are the people who refuse to embrace the internet themselves.

    The paper-based encyclopedias are dying fairly rapidly, as I can check the search engines and find many, many sources of information.

    Lets do one, shall we... Phrase: Underground Railroad.

    1: I get a map thrumbnail showing paths on the Underground Railroad

    2: The amount of material gleaned on just the metadata and the URL. See below.

    ____________
    Underground Railroad--History of Slavery, Pictures, Information
    You are a slave in Maryland in the 1800s. Can you escape? Learn what challenges slaves faced in National Geographic's Underground Railroad adventure. Get information ...
    www.nationalgeographic.com/railroad/ - 5k - Cached - Similar pages

    Underground Railroad--History of Slavery, Pictures, Information
    UNDERGROUND RAILROAD CONTENTS. ...
    www.nationalgeographic.com/railroad/j1.html - 8k - Cached - Similar pages
    [ More results from www.nationalgeographic.com ]

    Aboard the Underground Railroad
    The Underground Railroad refers to the effort--sometimes spontaneous, sometimes highly organized--to assist persons held in bondage in North America to escape ...
    www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/underground/ - 8k - Cached - Similar pages

    The Underground Railroad Site - Table of Contents
    The Underground Railroad Table of Contents. - This site is no longer maintained! ... Some Things About the Underground Railroad: What was the Underground Railroad?
    education.ucdavis.edu/NEW/ STC/lesson/socstud/railroad/contents.htm - 6k - Cached - Similar pages

    Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad for Children
    Click here to go back to Pocantico Hills School. Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad. ... Thanks for taking our trip on the Underground Railroad!
    www2.lhric.org/pocantico/tubman/tubman. html - 11k - Cached - Similar pages
    ___________

    If I had no clue, North America, Black, Escape, Harriet Tubman, and much more.

    And those who would say "The Encyclopedias check data for us more than we'll ever need to", well.. Look at the 1'st link. Would you consider National Geographic, or then many many colleges to have non-factual information?

    Tsk tsk. I await for the death of our past information-controlling overlords.
    • by ogonek ( 833611 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:08PM (#11787654)
      But to think that Google will automagically give you the right information is just rediculous. Not long ago there was a review of a book in a paper here. The author of the book mentioned Francis Bacon, and discussed his philosophy. The journalist writing the article about the book didn't know who Francis Bacon was, so he consulted the great Internet. He got his information and wrote a small paragraph about how the painter Francis Bacon's philosophy was mentioned in the book. The author of the book obviously didn't mean the 20th century painter Francis Bacon, but the philosopher who lived in the 16th and 17th century. See, looking on the internet isn't always great. And when it comes to Wikipedia, it's a good source, most of the time. But it does happen that articles written by people who know what they are talking about is being re-edited into mediocrity.
    • www2.lhric.org/pocantico/tubman/tubman.html

      I tell you, some people just don't have anything better to do than to try being copycats. Tubgirl is the original and best -- accept no substitutes!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:00PM (#11787607)
    That you don't have to have correct spelling, grammar, or text flow to deliver a high-quality product.
  • Familiar (Score:4, Insightful)

    by deutschemonte ( 764566 ) <lane@montgomery.gmail@com> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:04PM (#11787624) Homepage
    The same arguments are used against blogs.

    Information is undergoing the same transformation that government did with the creation of the first modern democracy (republic, whatever). The people decided they could rule themselves just as well, if not better, than those who hold power by divine right.

    Now those who distrubute knowledge and information are using whatever power they have left to try and prevent the people from applying the same concepts to their industries.

    RIAA/MPAA/ALA - RIP
    • Why would you say the ALA is RIP? Is it just because you dislike that they called Bloggers amateurish? Who fights against censorship as much as they do?

      You talk of the democratizing effect of the Internet but ignore the fact that without libraries, many of the poorer areas around the country would go without any access to the Internet or even computers.

      I don't think you'd like what the world (or at least US) would be without libraries. You may not realize it but they've done alot to fight much of the same
      • You talk of the democratizing effect of the Internet but ignore the fact that without libraries, many of the poorer areas around the country would go without any access to the Internet or even computers.

        I don't think you'd like what the world (or at least US) would be without libraries. You may not realize it but they've done alot to fight much of the same issues we see here on /.


        I expect libraries to undergo transitions. I hope we don't start destroying books anytime soon, since paper has lasted us lon
  • Not authoritative (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Wikipedia is almost becoming authoritative, a fact which clearly upsets McHenry and similarly-situated individuals

    Wikipedia certainly has it's place, but it should never be regarded at authoritative. People regarding it is such is bound to upset many more people that McHenry, for example teachers
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:05PM (#11787639)
    Both 'pedias can suffer from bias and distortions due to the opinions and prevailing cultures of the authors. Wiki follows the whims and fads of the editing/contributing public and Britannica follows the whims of the academic elite. On the one hand, if an idea is "popular" and repeated enough, it becomes truth in a Wiki, regardless of the evidence to the contrary and regardless of the pedigree of that assessment. On the other hand, Britannica's funneling process means that the opinions of gatekeepers trump any dissent.

    Neither approach is right or wrong. The Wiki approach provides too much power to mediocrity. The Britannica approach provides too much power to a concentrated elite.

    The real solution, possible within an advanced wiki-like system, is a 'pedia that permits these alternative entries and dissenting opinions. Rather than try to create the "One Right Answer" through a battle between contributors, this advanced online system (a MultiWiki?) could provide space for side-by-side comparison of differing entries. Would this system give voice to crackpots? Sure. But it would also provide the means to directly compare differing opinions and allow different groups to marshal their respective bodies of evidence.

    Anyone who studies history, economics, and even science will find that there is often no 100% confident consensus. A MultiWiki would provide the infrastructure of recording the parallel, developing threads of knowledge.
    • Both 'pedias can suffer from bias and distortions due to the opinions and prevailing cultures of the authors. Wiki follows the whims and fads of the editing/contributing public and Britannica follows the whims of the academic elite.

      I think you've hit the nail right on the head there. That said, Wikipedia admins probably have less bias than Britannica editors. Wikipedian admins tend to be strongly opposed to any bias. Perhaps this could be considered a bias toward moral relativism and skepticism, but t

  • by SFA_AOK ( 752620 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:06PM (#11787641)
    Even a 12 year old [bbc.co.uk] knows they can't be trusted!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:11PM (#11787681)
    Bugger both of them, I'd get shot down if I tried to cite either as a factual source in an academic paper. Encyclopedias are supposed to be a low-depth survey text, not a high-depth high-accuracy research text. As such, Wikipedia survey's many more topics than Britannica - in greater depth.

    And the "we're professionals, they're not" argument is just plain childish. I've seen some really damn stupid factual errors in print encyclopedias, at least with Wikipedia someone with a better knowledge of the topic can come along later and fix it.
    • Bugger both of them, I'd get shot down if I tried to cite either as a factual source in an academic paper. Encyclopedias are supposed to be a low-depth survey text, not a high-depth high-accuracy research text. As such, Wikipedia survey's many more topics than Britannica - in greater depth.

      The problem is... Many of Wpedia's article aren't of any great depth. A great many of it's articles are in fact coverage of every anime character, and seperate entries for each and every Dwarven king in LOTR.

  • Urgh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:12PM (#11787685) Homepage Journal
    I stopped reading after about the fifth or sixth paragraph. Point by point rebuttal? If it's there, it's only reachable after wading through pages of plodding abuse.

    FUD stands for "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt", and is named after an IBM sales technique circa 1970 where IBM salespeople would undermine their competitors by promoting plausable arguments as to their competitor's long term viability (and hence ability to support their product) rather than competing on technical merits. In recent years, Microsoft has used FUD, amongst other strategies, against Free Software and Open Source, but some, unaware of the history of the term, have determined it means "anything that I disgree with that's been argued against something I believe in." Hence, if Microsoft argues that GNU/Linux has a higher TCO, Slashbots will leap upon the suggestion as "FUD", when in fact it's actually part of the usual process of arguing merits using frequently subjective criteria.

    This guy decides he's going to use that definition, then plods on for paragraph after paragraph about the subject. It's become more important to him to believe that Britannica's argument is "FUD" than it is to address those issues. He insults the intelligence of most readers by creating silly composites of leading people who have said things he doesn't agree with (note - no IBM salespeople!) FUD is, apparently, the ultimate in sin, and by Jegnuses, he's found a sinner!

    Meanwhile, those who know what FUD is will cringe while reading this, and those who don't will react with about as much shock and horror as a lesbian in Indonesia would on hearing that an employee of Burger King in Florida used the wrong form to procure a shipment of buns.

    Why is it that those in favour of free information have such awful advocates at the moment?

  • by anthony_dipierro ( 543308 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:13PM (#11787692) Journal
    Damn, I thought someone had made a peer-to-peer version of Wikipedia. Now that would be a cool thing.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:14PM (#11787699)
    Keep in mind that Robert McHenry was an Editor in Chief of Britannica.

    "McHenry's definition of quality seems to consist solely of presentational matters such as spelling, grammar, and text flow."

    In other words, McHenry was doing his job. Namely, the checking of spelling, grammar, and text flow, on the generally rational basis that a single person cannot reasonably be expected to be able to verify the truth, falsity, or indeterminacy of every fact in the encyclopedia.

    If you were McHenry's boss, on what other basis would you grade the performance of your editor in chief?

    I'm not saying that Britannica is a better encyclopedia than the Wikipedia. They're both pretty good. I prefer the Wikipedia because it's more accessible and because I (like Krowne), believe that coverage is an important metric, and I'm willing to sacrifice the quality of the prose somewhat in order to get more coverage. There are plenty of folks like me, and consequently, Wikipedia optimizes for coverage.

    McHenry's boss doesn't share my preference. McHenry optimizes for spelling, grammar, and text flow.

    Until we realize that, this debate is going to consist of both sides thumping their chests and flinging poo at each other, while screeching "You're optimizing for the wrong metric."

    The Wikipedia entries for "primate psychology" and "total quality management" is probably better filled-out than the Britannica ones at my former schools. But that's what this debate comes down to.

    • In other words, McHenry was doing his job. Namely, the checking of spelling, grammar, and text flow, on the generally rational basis that a single person cannot reasonably be expected to be able to verify the truth, falsity, or indeterminacy of every fact in the encyclopedia.

      This argument sounds fundamentally flawed to me. Here, lets apply it to the person in charge of Mac OS X at Apple (I'll refer to him as "Bob"). We could use MS Office, or the guy in charge of the kernel at RedHat, it makes no diff

    • Your argument might have some merit if the only thing bob did was attack wikipedia for its spelling, grammar, and text flow.

      However, if you read the article, like I did, you would realize that those weren't the only things he attacked.

      I used paper encyclopedias in grammar school and haven't used them since. For any topic of depth they were never any good. Wikipedia on the other hand serves the role as summary reference much better in that direct links to more depth can be placed directly within the articl
  • by cupiditas ( 640041 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:16PM (#11787708)
    After having struggled through Krowne's turgid prose, I discern that he is making two points:

    1) The Wikipedia is a "success" because lots of people use it, and the only way you can say that's not a success is by claiming that people are dumb.

    2) The Wikipedia makes up for the overall low quality of its entries by its vast "coverage."

    If this is the best defense someone can come up with, the Wikipedia is seriously screwed.

    Response to point 1: People ARE dumb, by and large, or at least ignorant, and they are also lazy. People use Wikipedia because it's easy, and because they don't know that not everything you read on the Internet is true. By Krowne's logic, Macdonald's is the best restaurant in the world.

    Response to point 2: This amounts to admitting that the Wikipedia contains inaccurate information, but that's okay because it has LOTS of inaccurate information. E.g., all my buckets have holes in them, but because I have so many buckets I must also be collecting lots of rainwater.

    It may be possible to make a good case for the Wikipedia, but Krowne sure hasn't done it.
    • McDonald's may not be the best restaurant in the world, but I'd say you'd have a hard time arguing that it's doomed to go out of business because everyone's flocking to those restaurants where you can pay a week's wage on a meal prepared by a cook that got three stars from Michellin or Gault Millau. That's not gonna happen, and in fact, I'd also say that many people who eat at McDonald's (or other allegedly low-quality restaurants) are not even unhappy with it or secretly wishing they could afford those fan
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:17PM (#11787717) Homepage
    At one point, before doing Encarta, Microsoft considered buying Brittanica. But Brittanica wanted too high a price. Microsoft did discover, during negotiations, that Brittanica had a very small updating operation, and that keeping a classical encyclopaedia updated wasn't very expensive.

    After Microsoft did Encarta and began to crush Brittanica, Brittanica management went back to Bill Gates and proposed a lower buy-out price. Gates told them that their product now had negative value, because their sales force was so expensive to operate that it made the product noncompetitive.

  • Wikipedia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cyberfunk2 ( 656339 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:18PM (#11787719)
    I've found Wikipedia to be a great source for even somewhat esoteric things, in particular, chemistry/biology.

    For example, I needed to know the biological significance of Zinc metal for a chemistry problem set the other day... lo and behold, Wikipedia's page on Zinc had a broad answer that led me to know what to search for in books (Zinc "fingers" & DNA).

    I also used Wikipedia as the starting point for a large research paper on thrombin, a blood clotting enzyme. Note: this is not some simple little tidbit, but a enzyme in a extremely complex series of reactions that are the blood clotting cascade. And who had a good overview of the process to get me started ? Wikipedia ! (Coagulation [wikipedia.org]) & (Thrombin [wikipedia.org]).

    What I find MOST helpful about wikipedia is the cross-linking. It represents uncommon words as a treasure trove of further information instead of a confusing word just sitting there. Sometimes you avoid looking up all those words because of the effort involved, but w/ Wikipedia it's extrememly painless.

    As you can see, i've had a lot of good experiences w/ Wikipedia. I've found it to be lacking in certain topics, but I've actually found myself contributing to those topics due to the help i've received from it before.

    I think the fact that it provides such a high quality resource to a lot of people will only encourage them to help add to it, to make it better, or as a way of saying thanks. I sure did.
  • It's only important that he is an EX editor and we are all CURRENT editors :)
  • by ParadoxicalPostulate ( 729766 ) <saapad.gmail@com> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:22PM (#11787734) Journal

    The coolest thing, by far, about Wikipedia, is the culture articles. No traditional encyclopedia can possibly record that like Wikipedia does.

    Whether it be language [wikipedia.org] trends [wikipedia.org], popular [wikipedia.org] contemporary [wikipedia.org] figures [wikipedia.org], information on small localities and [wikipedia.org] online [wikipedia.org] subcultures [wikipedia.org], unconventional [wikipedia.org] ideas [wikipedia.org] in science and technology, or books [wikipedia.org], an encyclopedia model like that of Wikipedia is the only thing that can compile and store such stuff.

    And I think I exceeded the reasonable link limit for that post.
  • by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:29PM (#11787769) Journal
    If I were doing serious research about something, I'd only use Wikipedia, Britannica, or any other encyclopedia as a starting point. Neither of them are going to contain exhaustive entries about what I'm looking for, and in any event, I'm not going to trust the small-group biases Britannica has any more than I'm going to trust the large-group biases that Wikipedia contributors have.

    Both sources are starting points for real research. If you want to get a general overview of something, either encyclopedia is a fine place to start, but don't trust them on the details. Go find primary sources and examine them if you want to find accurate, in-depth info.

    * Where "never" is defined as "virtually never," because you have to use your own judgment.
  • The trouble with Wikipedia in practice is that there aren't any (or darn few) references to real outside sources. That means to documents carefully written by people who know what they are doing. Absent that kind of care and detail, how can you know if it's right or not? And, if you don't know it's right, why use it?

    Call me elitist if you like, but I like my doctor to have a M.D.; I like the guys who design my buildings and aircraft to be Real Engineers, and I like the guys who write my reference source

  • Didn't this guy notice the "edit" button? He looked at wikipedia, decided it was broken, and didn't fix it? Lazy bastard.
  • I went and read the first article - 'The faith-based encyclopaedia' and thought that it made a lot of valid points about the potential shortcomings of a publically editable medium that is intended to hold authoritative information.

    I tried reading the supposedly 'intelligent rejoinder' but quickly realised it was written by one of those tiresome tinfoil-hattists that just loves to squawk about FUD at the drop of a hat. I must admit that as a result, the guys message, whatever it was, didnt make much of an i
  • Wikipedia is a great idea in theory, and fine for most non-controversial sibjects. However, when it come s to political subjects, Wikipedia seems slanted to the left in comparison to other encyclopedias.

    To take just one example: Wikipedia has settled on a definition of genocide so narrow that it excludes the masisve genocies carried out by the Soviet Union and Communist China. [wikipedia.org] Moreover, excluding all Soviet genocide even goes against their stated definition, as several instances of Soviet genocide (the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, the exile of the Volga Germans, etc.) meet the UN criteria of mass murdrers aimed at a particular ethnic group.

    There are other examples of bias on similar political subjects. Occasionally the administrators will take steps to prevent the most overt forms of bias (for example, locking the page on George W. Bush), but mre subtle bias eitehr goes on corrected, or if corrected has those corrections erased the original biased entry reinstated.

    • Bias is not a problem inherent in wikipedia, it is inherent in every publication, whether collaborative or privately owned and published. As several posters above have pointed out, the problem lies with the reader for using only one source, and considering that source as being authoritative.

      The answer is not to stand at the sidelines lamenting wikipedia's shortcomings, but to set up a rival encyclopedia which is as objective as possible from the perspective of your peer group.

      Truly unbiased information is
    • The very page you linked says that the list should not be taken as an authoritative definition of genocide.

      So if you think that Soviet genocides are missing from the page, just add them.
  • There's one type of encyclopedia missing from this debate, Encarta and Encarta like encyclopedias. These could provide the best of both worlds, an encyclopedia that is searchable and updatable through the internet (like wikipedia) as well as one that is thoroughly researched by professionals (like the paper based Britannica). Encyclopedias like this make it easier to offer rich media interfaces and examples (such as video or interactive charts and graphs or atlases linked to other pertinent data) which wo
  • I'm sympathetic to his argument, but when he throws in blatant assertions like:

    I have never used an encyclopedia as much as Wikipedia and I thank the Wikipedia community for what they have created. Countless others share these sentiments. Wikipedia has enhanced my life and brought considerable progress to society. I consider these facts so easy to demonstrate that they are pointless to debate.

    then I'm leery about the rest of his arguments (though I'm still making my way through the rest of TFA).

  • Wikipedia is great (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Stalyn ( 662 )
    If you find an error in an article you can fix it. If an article is not good enough you can write a new one. The only reason Wikipedia can fail is laziness. The so-called professionals and academics who frown on Wikipedia are ignorant and lazy.

    • by nagora ( 177841 )
      The so-called professionals and academics who frown on Wikipedia are ignorant and lazy.

      Or maybe they're not all living at home/university with buckets of free time that they don't need paid for.

      Wikipedia is good, but if you want consistantly high quality you need to give people compensation for the amount of time they would need to spend to do a good job. Unless you're indepedantly weathy this is a real issue: people have to eat.

      TWW

  • No big $$$ corporation or government can pay or threaten someone to have information removed or false information spread. Good examples are Monosodium glutamate [wikipedia.org] or Freigeld [wikipedia.org].
  • McHenry's definition of quality seems to consist solely of presentational matters such as spelling, grammar, and text flow.

    If he finds spelling and grammar errors regularly, why doesn't he do his part and correct them?
  • by aristus ( 779174 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @01:19PM (#11788073)
    the lengths the author goes to associate the former Britannica editor with Ballmer, McBride, et al, seriously weakens his credibility.
  • Ecyclopedias (Score:3, Interesting)

    by idlake ( 850372 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @01:41PM (#11788201)
    It's funny to hear encyclopedia editors stand up and talk like their profession represented the pinnacle of intellectualism. Encyclopedias try to reduce complex subjects to miniscule overview articles, often written by non-specialists. Encyclopedias are great for children and teenagers to find out about the world, but for adults, if you want to know something about a subject, just "get the book".

    Encyclopedias are the fast food of the book publishing business, with encyclopedia editors writers being the short order cooks among editors and writers.

    As such, the fast food served up by Wikipedia is better than most: it represents more viewpoints, it represents genuine debate among many interested parties, and it isn't constrained by size or budgets. The fact that you can't be certain of the quality of articles in Wikipedia is a good thing: you can't be certain of the quality of anything you read, and with Wikipedia, people at least think about that fact.
  • by Hobart ( 32767 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @01:50PM (#11788252) Homepage Journal
    From
    here [britannica.com]:
    In an age when anyone can post their version of the facts on the Internet, Encyclopædia Britannica maintains its reputation as the most authoritative source of the information and ideas people need for work, school, and the sheer joy of discovery.
    Hmmm... is someone feeling a wee bit threatened? :-)
    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mahatma Ghandi, courtesy of WikiQuote [wikiquote.org] ;-)
  • by kriston ( 7886 ) on Saturday February 26, 2005 @05:47PM (#11789840) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia could do without the commentary and gonzo-style reporting in the articles, even in areas as mundane as satellite communications.

    Witness the article about Satellite C Band [wikipedia.org]:
    Contrary to popular belief, digital C band does in fact[sic] exist.

    And another passage which is not only inflammatory but factually incorrect:
    This contrasts with direct broadcast satellite, which is a completely closed system used to deliver subscription programming to small satellite dishes connected to proprietary receiving equipment.

    Note this anecdotal comment that the author, whoever it may be (there is no way to tell) had evidently pulled out of thin air:
    Service is generally spotty and expensive, but it generally superior to dial-up service and is often the only option.

    Over in an article on the use of L Band [wikipedia.org], there is a curious comment about how its allocation affects satellite radio but the entry doesn't offer any supporting facts.
    In the U.S., the L band is held by the U.S. Military for telemetry, thereby forcing digital radio to in-band on-channel (IBOC) solutions.

    Another article about Television receive-only satellite [wikipedia.org] has an opening sentence that is even worse:
    Television receive-only, or TVRO, refers to satellite television reception equipment that is based primarily on open standards equipment. This contrasts sharply with direct broadcast satellite (DBS), which is a completely closed system that uses proprietary reception equipment.


    I'm sure this kind of commentary cannot help Wikipedia's credibility. Wikipedia needs a huge content enema.

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