Nature has responded to Encyclopedia Britannica’s accusation of "sloppiness, indifference to basic scholarly standards, and flagrant errors" with a response like this:
In our issue of 15 December 2005 we published a news article that compared the
Internet offerings of Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia on scientific topics
(“Internet encyclopaedias go head to head”, Nature 438 (7070) p900-901;
http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/438900a). Encyclopaedia Britannica has now posted
a lengthy response to this article on its website, accusing Nature of misrepresentation,
sloppiness and indifference to scholarly standards, and calling on us to retract our
article. We reject those accusations, and are confident our comparison was fair.
Our original article made clear the basis of our comparison. Conducted by our news
staff, it consisted of asking independent scholars to review 50 pairs of articles from
the Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica websites. The reviewers were not
informed which of their pair of articles came from which source; the subjects of the
articles were chosen in advance to represent a wide range of scientific disciplines. Our
staff compiled lists of factual errors, omissions and misleading statements that the
reviewers pointed to (we had 42 usable responses) and tallied up the total number for
each encyclopaedia: 123 for Britannica, 162 for Wikipedia. Turning the reviewers’
comments into numerical scores did require a modicum of judgement, which was
applied diligently and fairly.
Nature won’t reveal the full reviewers reports nor the method by which they made this judgement. They go on:
Britannica’s general objections to this article were first made to us in private some
months ago, at which point we willingly sent them every comment by a reviewer that
served as the basis for our assessing something as an inaccuracy. While we were quite
willing to discuss the issues, the company failed to provide specific details of its
complaints when we asked for them in order to be able to assess its allegations. We
did not receive any further correspondence until the publication of its open letter on
22 March 2006. It is regrettable that Britannica chose to make its objections public
without first informing us of them and giving us a chance to respond.
Meanwhile at The Register, in a new article called Unnatural acts at Nature , Andrew Orlowski actually asks Britannica about Nature’s response:
Britannica says Nature prevaricated and still won’t release the referees’ reports in full.
"We asked for the data so that anyone could replicate the results," Britannica spokesman Tom Panelas told us today.
"At first Nature said they couldn’t release the data because they had promised their referees anonymity. We said that’s fine. Then they said it’s too much trouble."
Nine days after Nature’s news story and rallying editorial, the magazine published a file of "supplementary information" which merely listed the errors referees had found. Britannica had to figure out what the sources were. That information still hasn’t been released.
Orlowski did note that Nature’s editor was a big fan of Wikipedia’s anarchic approach to scholarship and encouraged scientists to get involved in this new bold experiment. However those bold scientists might have to do battle with undesirables:
Editing pages is not always straightforward, as some users may disagree with changes. In politically sensitive areas such as climate change, researchers have had to do battle with sceptics pushing an editorial line that is out of kilter with mainstream scientific thinking. But this usually requires no more than a little patience. Wikipedia’s users are generally interested in the reasoning behind proposed changes to articles. Backing up a claim with a peer-reviewed reference, for example, makes a world of difference.