Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wikipedia vs. Encyclopaedia Brittanica

This short timeline proves to be a useful source in understanding the Wikipedia debate. It begins by introducing the dates Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia, respectively, were founded, and giving a brief description of each. Then in 2004, three years after the release of Wikipedia, the former Editor in Chief of E.B. publishes an article, concluding that the online encyclopedia is dirty like a public restroom and users must exercise caution. Over a year later Jim Giles publishes a rebuttal piece in the journal Nature summarizing an investigation that proves Wikipedia's accuracy compared to that of E.B. Giles also speaks of the founder of Wiki, Jimmy Wales, and his plans for positive revisions. Things really get heated in March of 2006 when E.B. publishes a 20 page document in direct response to Nature's claims. The through document systematically discredits Nature's arguments and even claims the journal participated in immoral acts. Over ten pages of the paper recalls (all of the?) specific claims made against the correctness of E.B. articles, responding to each by falsifying the claims. The document is very well written and cited. A much shorter rebuttal is issued by Nature just days later denying the claims as well as the request made by E.B. to withdraw their previous statements. A full page ad is then published in Time magazine by E.B. outlining the points made in their last document, this is speculated upon by bloggers as being a symbolic act. Another short response in made by Nature point-by-point refuting the ad. You'll notice the end of the URL of this last paper is "response_final," and it seems at though E.B. is finished with this cat-fight as well. Coverage of this controversy continued in public eye on television programs such as The Colbert Report.
In my Discovering the Past course we learned about how political cartoons paint a black and white picture of the positions of politicians to produce a good and evil. However, upon closer consideration it is easy to see how stances on heavy issues have many shades of grey. I think it would be beneficial for the parties involved in the Wiki-debate to look closer at these grey areas. Nature must understand that their comparison undercut the accreditation of E.B., and while other aspects of the two can be compared in valid ways, the academic perfection E.B. strives for is not one of them. On the other hand E.B. cannot deny the positive aspects of a popular communal source like Wikipedia, and they don't seem to be. I think the two sides are fighting a different battle with a common goal: to preserve their reputation.

Strenski, Ellen, comp. "The Wikipedia/Encyclopaedia Britannica Controversy." University of California, Irvine. 22 Mar. 2007 -

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