SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that relies on volunteers to pen nearly 4 million articles, is about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica, the journal Nature wrote in an online article published Wednesday.
The finding, based on a side-by-side comparison of articles covering a broad swath of the scientific spectrum, comes as Wikipedia faces criticism over the accuracy of some of its entries.
Two weeks ago prominent journalist John Seigenthaler, the former publisher of the Tennessean newspaper and founding editorial director of USA Today, revealed that a Wikipedia entry that ran for four months had incorrectly named him as a longtime suspect in the assassinations of president John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.
Such errors appear to be the exception rather than the rule, Nature said in Wednesday's article, which the scientific journal said was the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia to Britannica. Based on 42 articles reviewed by experts, the average scientific entry in Wikipedia contained four errors or omissions, while Britannica had three.
Of eight "serious errors" the reviewers found -- including misinterpretations of important concepts -- four came from each source, the journal reported.
"We're very pleased with the results and we're hoping it will focus people's attention on the overall level of our work, which is pretty good," said Jimmy Wales, who founded St. Petersburg, Florida-based Wikipedia in 2001.
Any reference work can contain errors. What is wonderful about Wikipedia is that it is a self-correcting process. I just love it. Of course, for any serious research, more than one source is needed. But for background information or raising one's level of awareness, Wikipedia can't be beat.