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In December (2005), the journal Nature conducted a scientific study of the accuracy of scientific entries in Wikipedia (on online, free & editable encyclopedia) vs. Encyclopedia Brittanica. You can view the original results here.

Yesterday, Encyclopedia Brittanica struck back, with this lengthy press release. Ultimately, they requested Nature to retract their article. A summary of the release (albeit jaded) was compiled by arstechnica. A more balanced review can be found at The San Jose Mercury News. It should be noted that it took three months for Encyclopedia Brittanica to respond, and this document was internally written without external review.

As expected, Nature wrote back defending its original study, mainly citing how they obtained each article and that the reviewers were blind as to the source (EB vs. Wiki). This statement elegantly sums it up: “We realised that in some cases our reviewers’ criticisms would be open to debate, and in some cases might be wrong. But this applied as much to criticisms of Wikipedia as of Encyclopaedia Britannica.” At the end of the letter, Nature firmly defends its original study by stating: “We do not intend to retract our article.”

This argument is a grand example of what we are teaching about the internet, and what the future of the internet can be. For instance, it highlights the concerns about an open and editable internet versus one where users pay for their content. There are pros and cons to each approach, and we can easily highlight them in the classroom.