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Nature Admits Lack of Interest in Own Accuracy
Encyclopaedia Britannica has boldly conducted extensive research on its own accuracy. The study was in response to an article in the prestigious journal Nature which claimed that the Wikipedia internet site, which has no quality controls, is as accurate on scientific issues as the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

As the Associated Press explains, the "venerable encyclopedia publisher, which has enjoyed an almost unassailed reputation for reliability since the 18th century, called Nature's research invalid, its study poorly carried out and its findings ‘so error-laden that it was completely without merit.'"

Britannica also stated that "The entire undertaking - from the study's methodology to the misleading way Nature ‘spun' the story - was misconceived."

What is most striking about the Nature controversy is that a journal article which purports to assess scientific accuracy did not itself adhere to basic data quality standards. The Nature article, "which has since been updated, differed from the normal practice in that it was ‘an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature' rather than a paper written by scientists and then submitted to the journal for peer review."

USA Today made a crucial observation about Nature's response to Britannica's criticisms; the journal's admission that it lacks commitment to its own accuracy.

The most significant statement in the newspaper's article is a direct quote from the Nature response. "‘Britannica objects that Nature did not check the assertions of its reviewers. This is true; nor did we claim to. We realized that in some cases our reviewers' criticisms would be open to debate, and in some cases might be wrong.'

Yikes! So Nature published an article based on information that it knew ‘in some cases might be wrong'? Because the editors didn't want to check?

Look, if you're going to publish an article saying there are errors of fact in an encyclopedia, you'd darn well better check your facts. Saying ‘we knew the author might be wrong' doesn't cut it."

Ultimately, the Nature article says less about the relative merits of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia than it does about the journal's lack of interest in its own data quality.
  • Click here for AP story in Forbes on the Britannica – Nature controversy
  • Click here for USA Today story "‘Nature's' response to criticism far from pristine"
  • Click here for "Fatally Flawed," Encyclopaedia Britannica's response to the Nature article


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