updated 3/23/2006 10:53:43 PM ET 2006-03-24T03:53:43

Encyclopaedia Britannica has completed an exhaustive research article on an unlikely new topic — questions about its accuracy.

The publisher’s verdict: It was wronged.

Firing back at an article in the journal Nature that likened its accuracy to that of Wikipedia, the Internet site that lets anyone contribute, Britannica said in a 20-page statement this week that “almost everything about the journal’s investigation ... was wrong and misleading.” It demanded a retraction.

The venerable encyclopedia publisher, which has enjoyed an almost unassailed reputation for reliability since the 18th century, called Nature’s research invalid, its study poorly carried out and its findings “so error-laden that it was completely without merit.”

“The entire undertaking — from the study’s methodology to the misleading way Nature ‘spun’ the story — was misconceived,” Britannica said.

But the war of words didn’t end there, and it may not have a winner.

Nature, in a statement on its Web site that a spokeswoman said was written by Editor Phil Campbell, stood by the article despite Britannica’s accusations of misrepresentation, sloppiness and indifference to scholarly standards.

“We reject those accusations, and are confident our comparison was fair,” the statement said.

The flap stems from Nature’s online article last Dec. 15 that, based on a side-by-side comparison of articles covering a broad swath of the scientific spectrum, said Wikipedia is about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica.

The article, which has since been updated, differed from the normal practice in that it was “an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature” rather than a paper written by scientists and then submitted to the journal for peer review. It also came out at a time when Wikipedia was under criticism for high-profile errors in some of its entries.

Nature concluded that such errors appear to be the exception rather than the rule.

Britannica refused comment at the time and did not formally respond until this week, more than three months later.

Britannica spokesman Tom Panelas declined comment Thursday beyond the article on its Web site.

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