There is currently something of a dispute between Encyclopedia Britannica and science journal Nature on the accuracy of a study Nature conducted some time ago comparing information in the Encyclopedia with the information available on the internet at Wikipedia. The Nature study concluded that Wikipedia was as reliable and readable a source of information as the Britannica.
Readers of this blog may remember that I did a post on the issue quoting an article in The Australia in December, click here.
Now, according to The Register, it seems you can’t trust Nature or Wikipedia, click here. Encyclopedia Britannica is claiming that the study was designed to favour Wikipedia and that information provided from the Britannica as part of the study was incomplete and as a consequence not assessed accurately.
The article concludes with the following comments:
“So why did Nature risk its reputation in such a way?
Perhaps the clue lies not in the news report, but in the evangelism of the accompanying editorial. Nature’s news and features editor Jim Giles, who was responsible for the Wikipedia story, has a fondness for “collective intelligence”, one critical website suggets.
“As long as enough scientists with relevant knowledge played the market, the price should reflect the latest developments in climate research,” Giles concluded of one market experiment in 2002.
The idea became notorious two years ago when DARPA, under retired Admiral Poindexter, invested in an online terror casino to predict world events such as assassinations. The public didn’t quite share the sunny view of this utopian experiment, and Poindexter was invited to resign.
What do these seemingly disparate projects have in common? The idea that you can vote for the truth.
We thought it pretty odd, back in December, to discover a popular science journal recommending readers support less accurate information. It’s even stranger to find this institution apparently violating fundamental principles of empiricism.
But these are strange times – and high summer for supporters of junk science.”
But it seems you can’t trust science journal Nature either? And Nature is presumably not about “collective intelligence” or “voting for the truth”.
Ian Castles has commented:
“This reminds me of a letter to The Economist from ecologist Jeff Harvey, author of Nature’s review on Lomborg in 2001. Harvey quoted in all seriousness a Danish peak science figure who’d said that, to scientists, Nature, Science and Scientific American held the same place as the Bible to Christians and the Koran to Moslems.
Barrie Pittock gives references to the hostile reviews of Lomborg’s book in Nature and Science in the Supplementary Notes and References to Climate Change: Turning Up the Heat. The Science review, by Michael Grubb, was fair comment, though I don’t agree with it. The review in Nature, by Harvey was outrageous – he bracketed Lomborg with holocaust deniers.”
This reminds me of a telephone conversation I had with a farmer some time ago. He always reads my columns in The Land newspaper and was phoning to provide me with some additional information about koalas and their feeding habits. I suggested he should read and contribute to this blog. He replied that he didn’t like the internet because he didn’t trust it as a source of information, he went on to tell me that he did trust what he read in The Land.
Here’s a link to the actual response from Britannica, http://corporate.britannica.com/britannica_nature_response.pdf.
Thanks to Benny Peiser for the link.