The media continued its dissection of Wikipedia quality this week with a story in The Guardian, which brought in several experts who assigned ratings to an article apiece. On a scale ranging from 0 to 10, the ratings ranged from 0/10 at the very bottom to a more forgiving 8/10 at the top, with most coming in a bit below that mark.
The article, published on Monday, 24 October, was entitled "Can you trust Wikipedia?" Introducing the reviews, the story alluded to the recent coverage of Jimmy Wales' admission that some Wikipedia articles are "a horrific embarrassment" (see archived story).
The reviewers chosen were journalist Mike Barnes for Steve Reich, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman on Haute couture, author Mark Kurlansky on Basque people, two biographers of T. S. Eliot and Samuel Pepys (Anthony Julius and Clair Tomalin, respectively), magazine editor Derek Barker on Bob Dylan, and Robert McHenry for the Encyclopedia article. McHenry, a former Encyclopædia Britannica editor whose best-known comment about Wikipedia has been to compare it with a public toilet, gave this article a 5/10, describing it as "a school essay, sketchy and poorly balanced."
In his critique of the article, McHenry commented that the equivalent Britannica article was about 26,000 words long, as compared to 2,000 on Wikipedia, noting the omission or inadequate treatment given several notable examples of the encyclopedia genre. However, Snowspinner argued that Wikipedia might actually have more content, since it has a number of separate articles on the encyclopedias discussed in Britannica, where they generally do not have their own articles. David Gerard added that this reflected Wikipedia's traditional 32KB limit (approximately 6,000 words), once enforced for technical reasons but still "a very good stylistic limit" according to Gerard.
Shulman was harsher about Haute couture, giving it a 0/10 rating and saying, "a few correct facts included, but every value judgment it makes is wrong." This prompted some renewed attention to the article, which received 25 edits over the past week. However, these produced very little change in the substantive content, and until recently the article remained flagged as needing expert attention. All of the other articles also got additional attention from editors as a result of the story, with varying results. Bob Dylan, to which Barker gave the highest grade of the group, was actually the most frequently edited afterwards as well. The article on Reich witnessed probably the most substantial improvement over the past week, while others saw more tinkering along the lines of Haute couture.
With respect to Basque people, there was some debate over whether Kurlansky had correctly understood the article in making one of his criticisms. His comment suggested that he thought the article was challenging the linguistic consensus that Basque is a language isolate, with no relatives among other living languages. In reality, the passage in question, which mentions an Aquitanian language, is referring to a dialect of Basque in ancient Roman times (there is no modern Aquitanian language; aside from French, the primary regional languages are Basque and Occitan).
Meanwhile, McHenry also published a separate article covering Wikipedia last week. At Tech Central Station, where his original critique also ran, he included Wikipedia as evidence of what he saw as a pattern in society — the pattern being the decline of instruction in useful knowledge, in favor of what he called "The Education of Gesture", a focus on symbolic but meaningless self-expression. He highlighted as an example part of the philosophy of Project Galatea, an initiative launched only just over a week ago designed to improve the quality of Wikipedia articles.
A comment from another tech news site indicated that it would look at rating articles for its evaluation, much like The Guardian. CNET editor Rafe Needleman stated that his site would also be running a comparison of Wikipedia with two other (unspecified) DVD encyclopedias in the near future. A similar test was run last year by a German computer magazine involving the German Wikipedia, along with Brockhaus and the German edition of Encarta; Wikipedia generally came off rather well, except for an observation that it was lacking in multimedia content.