Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff

FROM B (Britannica) TO W (Wikipedia); A, X, Y, AND Z TOO. 

RESEARCHING ONLINE SCIENCE, I USED TO seek out entries with .edu handles, all the more confident of their veracity. Over the years, especially here at SimanaitisSays with its more varied topics, I tend to focus on Wikipedia and Britannica, pretty much in that order. 

Andrew Robinson’s “Encyclopedias, Then and Now,” Science, March 10, 2023, reviews a book with similar focus: 

All The Knowledge In The World: The Extraordinary History of the Encyclopedia, by Simon Garfield, William Morrow, 2023.

“Although it discusses many encyclopedias,” Robinson recounts, “ranging from Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie, started in Paris in 1751, to Microsoft’s Encarta, withdrawn in 2009, Garfield’s account is dominated by Britannica, launched in the United Kingdom in 1768, and Wikipedia, launched in the United States in 2001.”

The title page of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, 1751–1766. Wikipedia says it represents “the thought of the Enlightenment,” “the democratization of knowledge.” 

Britannica Tidbits. Writes Wikipedia, “The 2010 version of the 15th edition, which spans 32 volumes and 32,640 pages, was the last printed edition. Since 2016, it has been published exclusively as an online encyclopaedia…. Printed for 244 years, the Britannica was the longest running in-print encyclopaedia in the English language.”

The Britannica’s thistle logo. Image from Wikipedia.

Reviewer Robinson says, “Britannica’s contributors have always been selected for their expertise by editors. During the 20th century, named contributors included Cecil B. DeMille on motion pictures [not on aviation]… Albert Einstein on space-time… Konstantin Stanislavsky on theatre directing… and Orville Wright on Wilbur Wright.”

“Most were paid a fee,” Robinson observes, “however nugatory; Einstein, for example, received $86.40 for his entry.”

Wikipedia Tidbits. Britannica writes: “Wikipedia, free Internet-based encyclopaedia, started in 2001, that operates under an open-source management style. It is overseen by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedia uses a collaborative software known as wiki that facilitates the creation and development of articles.”

Image from

“The contrast with Wikipedia,” writes Robinson, “is stark: Anyone may contribute, contributors are anonymous, and none receives payment.” 

Anonymous correction, by the way, is also part of this process.

Thus, Robinson says, “Authority is therefore the keynote of Britannica, although it certainly contains errors—whereas variety of expertise defines Wikipedia, leaving the latter open to both praise for its unparalleled diversity and criticism for its elementary errors.”

Other Pros and Cons: Author Garfield writes, “You could make a strong case [for Wikipedia] as the most eloquent and enduring representative of the Internet as a force for good.” 

“Yet,” notes reviewer Robinson, “he also wryly notes that ‘wiki’ is the Hawaiian word for ‘quick.’ Wikipedia tends to be quickly written, quickly consumed, sometimes quickly corrected, and often—many users suspect—quickly forgotten.”

On the other hand, Robinson says, “Meanwhile, use of Britannica is falling off a cliff. The last year in which it made a profit was 1990. In 2012, it published its final print edition, and today it is available only online. Its website receives incomparably fewer daily hits than Wikipedia’s.” 

I continue to use both, though I confess that I find Britannica, well, a bit stuffy, whereas Wikipedia’s treatments are somehow more encyclopedic. And, occasionally, I still seek out .edu. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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