Friday, March 31, 2006

Wackypedias

In response to Alice's mention of the Britannica-Nature-Wikipedia bickering--

It's pretty satisfying to find out that Britannica has as many errors per article as Wikipedia. What's amazing though is the existence of great articles in on subjects too insignificant to merit inclusion in EB... look up chess-playing software, or failed aerodynamic theories, or the East Village, and you get info that EB just doesn't have... at least not the 15th edition from circa 1980, which my father obtained in the process of divorcing his first wife (you get the car, I get the Britannica).

He also had an ancient, fraying 14th edition, as well as one of those ultra-compact, 4-pages-to-1, 2-volume monsters that comes with a magnifying glass, which they should revive because it makes doing research feel really cool.

Whenever I hear about class and race differences in the degree to which a student's home environment supports his or her education, I think about that Britannica set. I consulted it for school scores of times. I could have used my schools' crappy World Books, I guess, but you can't beat last-minute, same-school-day cribbing from the Britannica.

Incidentally, I searched britannica.com to find the edition numbers my dad has, but all I found was a fawnine and low-substance summary of the encyclopedia's history. Wikipedia found a full version history of the Britannica right away.

By the way, if the Britannica want to quash the notion that novelty is fast becoming the primary function of their printed volumes, they might want to reconsider their pricing. On their website, the standard print edition is $1000, but the Limited Edition Britannica Renaissance Suite--which "makes a statement on any bookshelf"--is $2500. I'm afraid that "such renowned individuals as Carl Sagan, Milton Friedman, and many Nobel Laureates" doesn't beat Wikipedia anymore. I don't trust Sagan or Friedman more than a random stranger, and I wonder how many Nobel Laureates have edited Wikipedia? Not more than Britannica, but that won't be true forever.