Wikipedia fared better than I thought it would when Nature asked scientists to evaluate articles from both Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. (HT: digg)
Nature took stories from Wikipedia and Britannica on 42 science-related topics and submitted them to experts for review. The experts were not told which encyclopedia the stories were from. “The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, around three,” according to Nature.
The entries covered topics including Agent Orange, quarks and synchrotrons. “Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopedia … but reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica respectively.”
However, I stand by my earlier assertion that Wikipedia can’t provide the depth of knowledge of something like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Getting facts right is one thing, but I doubt it’s capable of providing the analysis that a professional can bring. Someone should do a similar study comparing articles about the humanities; in that case a good article would require more than just lists of facts.