This weekâ€™s issue of Nature contains a survey ( it’s on free access) of the quality of a sample of scientific entries in Wikipedia. They emerged as having hardly any more errors than corresponding entries in Encyclopedia Brittanica, often considered the gold standard of encyclopedias. In the survey, in which I was involved, entries were reviewed by external experts in each of the topics.
Wikipedia has been getting some bad press of late, following an incident where Brian Chase, from Nashville put false information on a page in the encyclopedia, claiming that John Seigenthaler, a former newspaper editor had been involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. Chase, who owned up, as the media closed in on him, said he did it as a prank. He has subsequently apologized.
That incident sparked a broader, and often heated, debate about the quality and accountability of Wikipedia. Nature has an editorial on this, and concludes that scientists can help:
â€œSo can Wikipedia move up a gear and match the quality of rival reference works? Imagine the result if it did: a comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date reference work that can be accessed free from Manhattan to rural Mongolia.â€
â€œNature would like to encourage its readers to help. The idea is not to seek a replacement for established sources such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but to push forward the grand experiment that is Wikipedia, and to see how much it can improve. Select a topic close to your work and look it up on Wikipedia. If the entry contains errors or important omissions, dive in and help fix them.â€