Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Britannica isn't the Pope

Slashdot yesterday provided this link to "Errors in the Encyclopedia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia."

The page lists 62 of them, in fields ranging from history and biography to math, science and linguistics. This one, for example, is on "Pushkin in Bohemia":

It is a basic fact of Russian history that the tsarist administration never allowed the poet Alexander Pushkin to go abroad, a nuisance that he deplored in Eugene Onegin and other verses. Therefore, Britannica's assertion that "frequent guests" of Karlovy Vary included Alexander Pushkin and Tsar Peter I the Great is untrue. -- Ghirlandajo10:27, 16 December 2005 (UTC)

Certainly the study of history, just like every other academic field, advances through debate, conflicting interpretations or selections of evidence, the discovery of new source materials, and the evolution of critical theories.

As I've contended before, that's the rough, sometimes contentious process through which all human knowledge must pass before it achieves status of generally accepted truth. And Britannica, as an artifact created by fallible human beings, may include the occasional facual error, without having its overall credibility and authority challenged.

But the point of this story is that Britannica is not infallible, and that authentic scholarship is happening at Wikipedia, as well.

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