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Christina's LIS Rant
Friday, March 24, 2006
  A tiny post on the Britannica rebuttal
I learned about the rebuttal via Brian S. on PAMnet 3/22 and it's since been talked about quite a bit in the blogosphere.

I read Blown to Bits by Evans and Wurster (Harvard Business School Press, 2000). A major case study of a company failing to see the writing on the wall was Britannica. Even when much lesser encyclopedias were going electronic, they resisted. Then they couldn't figure out how to allow access. So Encarta, which was based on a less than perfect print encyclopedia, has picked up all this market share because of marketing because for many, it's what's easy, not what's best.

Anyway, I'd have to look at the Nature article again but if what Britannica says is true, I'm pretty much horrified. I think we need to know a lot more about the methodology and the reports from the scientists.

What I really wanted to post was a bravo for Britannica finally standing up for themselves. This time, they didn't let Nature bully them, but carefully and scientifically responded -- exactly in the parlance of the scientists who published the original article. I can only hope they'll get the same press as Nature, but I fear that isn't the case.

I'm all for Wikipedia, but I use Britannica, too. We have access to Britannica online at work, but it's just not great to use so I always trot out to the print one (which is actually dog-eared and well loved).

Update: I never have been able to spell it but I think it's right now.

Update 2, 3/26: Jim Giles left a comment here with Nature's reply to the reply. I still think this is healthy all the way around. It's good to understand a little more about how science works (what's opinion, what's really fact, what can be either true or false, that really smart people can disagree, and what belongs in a general purpose encyclopedia), about authority, about traditional and new reference sources. I also think this quote from the new Nature press release is telling:
[Britannica] also objects to the fact that in some cases we took material from Britannica’s Book of the Year and its Student Encyclopedia. This was done in a few cases when the Britannica website provided articles from these sources when queried on the pre-determined topics; as we said, the survey compared the content of the websites.
The reason I picked this quote is that Britannica's web site does do this, in my experience. They compared what an average user would have found had they done the search. I'm not quite sure what Britannica yearbooks are, I'm sorry to say (I remember moving them at one point to make room for something back in my public library days), so I really don't know that an average customer would know which search result to pick. They would probably just look for the search terms in the results.
 
Comments:
Please see Nature's response here

http://www.nature.com/press_releases/Britannica_response.pdf

We're confident that our comparison was fair.
 
No way...the lone fact that Nature sent EXCERPTS of some entries (and admits this) and then asked if there were omissions is a blow to its credibility. The is some damning evidence about Nature's method and bias.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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