Encyclopedia Britannica Emulates Wikipedia

I’ve always seen the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a bit old and outdated, and it’s certainly never been my first choice for general reading or research. As a student I was aware that Wikipedia was not deemed academically suitable, but in December 2005 Nature published a report that compared the science articles of Wikipedia with those of Britannica. It summarised that whilst Wikipedia was not quite as accurate, it was close.

Britannica objected to the study in a 20 page response published on the internet, claiming it was “wrong and misleading”. Nature responded, stating “We reject those accusations, and are confident our comparison was fair”.

Now Britannica is emulating Wikipedia by allowing its readers to contribute to articles with the launch of its new site. Will this be enough for the old encyclopaedia to keep competing with Wikipedia? I can’t imagine that Britannica will ever get the immense userbase that Wikipedia has but if Britannica could attract knowledgable readers to contribute and their assessing experts do their job properly, it might work.

Currently I don’t have many positive things to say about Britannica’s entomology articles: compared to those in Wikipedia they are completely devoid of references and often have a helpful pop-up to remind you that you’re looking at an Premium article for which you need to pay £4.99 a month.

As someone who has recently left university I find it harder to access journal articles and specialist books, although I’m lucky to have friends who do.  Thankfully more and more entomology groups are getting their knowledge online, allowing the amateur, enthusiast and professional easier access to the resources they need. Whilst I might check Wikipedia for general information, I think I’ll be using sites like the Dipterists Forum and Species File more often in the future. Unfortunately the specialist sites are relatively unknown compared to Wikipedia and Britannica and the first stop for people searching for information on insects will probably be Wikipedia.

If you were going to contribute to either encyclopaedia, which would you choose?

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