Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Wikipedia May be as Accurate as Traditional Reference Sources

A recent study in Nature (PMID 16355180) showed that entries for 42 science-related articles in the Wikipedia are almost as reliable as entries on similar topics in the Encyclopedia Brittanica . This is a small sample, which is limited to science articles. But larger studies in multiple disciplines may validate this conclusion. If so, this would be empirical proof that open source/open access reference products are not inferior to traditional sources.

Wikipedia allows anyone to edit and re-edit entries, without requiring expertise in advance. All you need is an Internet connection and an interest in a given topic, and you're ready to write.

It is important for open access advocates to recognize that the Wikipedia model is not flawless. For controversial topics, writers on different sides of an issue sometimes edit and re-edit pieces ruthlessly. Wikipedia is taking measures to create "stable" articles that cannot be easily updated, and is also seeking out expert writers in various fields.

Even as Wikipedia matures, its central concept of building an openly accessible, democratically managed resource will remain the same. Open access advocates should see the Nature study (which is not OA itself, of course) as good news.


DrWeb said...

Well, the debate continues, but there's no clear indication yet that this study proved anything about the larger subject data. If some of the changes are made to Wikipedia as proposed, such as the use of vetted authorities, it might improve. For now, it's not an online source I can recommend to anyone. That doesn't mean it doesn't have some value; it just isn't an "authority" you can cite with any confidence.

Philip Small said...

A Scientific American Editor said to:
Wikipedia is the kind of peer-reviewed, information sharing that the scientifically-minded should enthusiastically support, no matter what its early quirks and flaws. But so far, according to Nature's survey of 1,000 or so authors only 10 percent update it even though more than 70 percent are aware of it. Do your part, the encyclopedia--and possibly the scientist--of tomorrow depend on it.
This comment is in line with your contention that:
Open access advocates should see the Nature study as good news.