Wikipedia, the popular online reference source for undergraduates and consumers, worldwide, has more than 15 times the number of articles than the well-known Encyclopedia Britannica, the self-proclaimed “world’s most indispensable and reliable reference resource.”
While the Encyclopedia Britannica’s flagship print edition has 65,000 articles and is published by a company that has been in business since 1768, Wikipedia, online since 2001, has amassed a corpus of 1,019, 202 articles.
Britannica uses a hired team of 4,000 authors and offers distributorships for its products—clearly a commercial enterprise; the number of contributors in this well-organized company is dwarfed by the communal and egalitarian league of Wikipedians (Wikipedia contributors and editors), over 1,000,000 of whom are registered, and an undisclosed number of whom are unregistered.
With so many Wikipedians’ being unregistered, and the veracity of registered contributors’ open to question, because of the open nature of the online encyclopedia—anyone my contribute a new article or edit an existing article—the question is begged: Can we trust the veracity of content if the author and his or her experience is unknown?
Recent news reports have called it a toss-up between Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia, in regard to the accuracy of content in articles; however, although Wikipedians are “encouraged to uphold a policy of ‘neutral point of view’ under which notable perspectives are summarized without an attempt to determine an objective truth,” I judge, because of the system’s open nature and simplicity of operation, that most articles are posted without the review of experienced editors. Is this a point of concern? Should readers question the accuracy and completeness—even the neutrality—of each Wikipedian’s comments? I think readers should question the accuracy of articles found in Wikipedia.
Readers should also question the accuracy of articles found in Encyclopedia Britannica. In fact, we should be more concerned of the potential lack of neutrality in articles that are presented by a homogenous, closed, team of authors and editors who have a commercial axe to grind, than a group of egalitarian writers who seek share their knowledge openly, whether in original work or by editing another’s article..
One reference source is insufficient. Data presented in Wikipedia should be fact-checked, just as those in Britannica. Do not take one author’s word for any but well-known facts. It is exceedingly difficult to be fully objective; opinion and prejudice creeps into all writing, often without the author’s notice.
I am a Wikipedian, both as an original author and editor. I seek to share my knowledge, in scholarly, trade, and consumer publications, and I judge that Wikipedia is a harbinger of a digital service, the wiki, that will have a profound affect on all of our lives.
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