Wikipedia Through the Looking Glass/2005 Nature study

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File:2005 Nature study - The Wikipedia POV.pdf

2005 Nature study

Published 15 December 20051, complete with an encouragement to scientists to contribute to Wikipedia. Infamous, flawed, limited in scope, and yet one of the best pieces of propaganda Wikipedia has ever received. Even in 2014 it was still being cited as "evidence" that Wikipedia content was "good".

  • Signpost entry2, BBC coverage3, USA Today coverage4


  • Nature mag cooked Wikipedia study Andrew Orlowski The Register. 23rd March 20065
“Nature sent only misleading fragments of some Britannica articles to the reviewers, sent extracts of the children's version and Britannica's "book of the year" to others, and in one case, simply stitched together bits from different articles and inserted its own material, passing it off as a single Britannica entry”. “"Almost everything about the journal's investigation, from the criteria for identifying inaccuracies to the discrepancy between the article text and its headline, was wrong and misleading," says Britannica.” “The study was so poorly carried out and its findings so error-laden that it was completely without merit." “In one case, for example, Nature's peer reviewer was sent only the 350 word introduction to a 6,000 word Britannica article on lipids - which was criticized for containing omissions.” “Nature's news and features

editor Jim Giles, who was responsible for the Wikipedia story, has a fondness for "collective intelligence", one critical website uggests6.

  • Fatally Flawed, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., March 20067 – Britannica’s detailed response.
  • And Nature's reply8.

Used as Wikipedia propaganda

  • Reliability of Wikipedia explained to kids: Teen Kids News, a US TV news magazine aimed at young viewers, asked: "Is Wikipedia Trustworthy?" The four minute segment features a young Wikipedia admin and User:Pharos from Wikimedia New York City, and quotes the 2005

Nature study that had found the reliability of Wikipedia to be comparable to that of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Signpost article9

  • UK charity commission submission by [sic]
  • Indiana Daily Student, Wednesday, January 25, 201210 "Wednesday, January 25, 2012 "Listen to Wikipedia, not your professors". Scary article.
  • "“Online sources are fine so long as they’re reputable,” the teacher responds. “Things like Wikipedia don’t count. Just use common sense, and you’ll be fine.”If you’ve sat in a classroom sometime in the past eleven years, chances are this conversation is familiar to you. It happens almost every semester, in every class that requires even the smallest amount of writing.Teachers and professors like to pile on criticism of Wikipedia and use it almost every opportunity they get to discuss untrustworthy sources. "
  • "But a 2005 investigation by “Nature,” a weekly international science journal, suggests this is not the case."
  • "You see, the common argument from Wikipedia critics is that because anyone can edit an article on the site, the content is unreliable. This line of thinking stems from the antiquated 20th century belief that experts are more worthy of our trust than societal consensus when it comes to everything from basic facts to innovation. [our emphasis]
  • "But the open-source movement, a by-product of the digital revolution, has blown this idea out of the water.
  • "...the site depends on the consensus of society rather than a few anointed experts.

Britannica response

22 March 200611, widely ignored.

"We began our analysis of Nature’s work with an attempt to get the basic data on which the study was based, none of which accompanied the article itself. More than a week after the article was published, Nature posted on its Web site a document that claimed to provide “more detailed information about how our survey was carried out.” However, the document did not contain the complete reports submitted by Nature’s reviewers. The editors explained how they created the modified report for public consumption in part as follows:
“ . . . we sometimes disregarded items that our reviewers had identified as errors or critical omissions. In particular, as we were interested in testing the entries from the point of view of ‘typical encyclopaedia users’, we felt that experts in the field might sometimes cite omissions as critical when in fact they probably weren’t - at least for a general understanding of the topic. Likewise, the ‘errors’ identified sometimes strayed into merely being badly phrased - so we ignored these unless they significantly hindered understanding.”
"This clearly indicates that Nature’s editors exercised subjective judgment in redacting the original reports to produce the versions posted on the Web. The original reports, therefore, constituted key data for any complete replication or reanalysis of the findings, so we asked for a copy of those reports. Nature refused to give them to us."

See also

• trenchant critique by . [sic]