Thursday, November 14, 2013

World Book vs. Wikipedia

Rachel's class is studying bears right now. They've studied panda bears and now they're on koala bears which, as Rachel knows, aren't actually bears at all. They're marsupials.

She's been wanting to do some research on koalas so this afternoon when she came home from school (and both Miriam and Benjamin were still napping (still trying to kick this illness)) I helped her get started doing some research online.

Her school—and apparently the entire school district (though I don't remember knowing about this resource last year)—has a subscription to World Book Encyclopedia and we're able to sign in from home. We've been on a few times. Frankly, I don't think World Book has anything on Wikipedia, though for World Book Kids the articles are condensed and kid-friendly so I didn't think it would do any harm to give Rachel full reign of the encyclopedia while I made dinner.

She diligently took notes on what she learned—word for word (so completely plagiarism...of facts that are pretty well common knowledge because it turns out that the kid version of the encyclopedia is full of rather basic knowledge (so is it still plagiarism?)).

When she was finished, she handed me a paper full of all the information she thought noteworthy:

"A full-grown koala is 25 to 30 inches (64 to 76 cm) long. In addition, much of the koala population is infected by chlamydia. This disease that can cause blindness."

Chlamydia? What?!

I don't really mind my daughter knowing about the birds and the bees—we have a copy of It's Not the Stork floating around our house—but I think it might be a little early for her to be naming STDs. I can just see her raising her hand and sharing that little tidbit of information with the class. She'd know how to say it, too, because World Book, oh, so helpfully included a pronunciation guide <>.

It is true that koala bears are plagued by chlamydia, but they're also plagued by retrovirus and there was no mention of that.

The rest of her paper was rather benign:

"A kangaroo is a type of furry animal that hops on its hind legs."

"A dingo is a wild dog that lives in Australia."

"Eucalyptus trees make up the genus Eucalyptus."

"Possums move about at night and sleep during the day."

Clearly Rachel copied these sentences word for word from the encyclopedia so I wondered about the sentence fragment she'd copied down about chlamydia being "this disease that can cause blindness." Surely there isn't a dangling sentence like that in an encyclopedia you have to pay for! I looked it up to see if the mistake was Rachel's or World Book's. The full sentence reads, "This disease that can cause blindness, infertility in females, and pneumonia."

So, the mistake lies with World Book!

I was not impressed. Not only do they only offer a few short paragraphs about koalas, they had glaring grammatical errors within those few short paragraphs. Also, you can't get sucked into the encyclopedia as easily as you can flipping through a hard copy or even clicking around Wikipedia. There are few links to click on. If you want to read about something new you have to type it in the search bar.

Even then the pickings are slim. The only mention of chlamydia in the kid's World Book is that one sentence in the koala article.

I know, I know. First I complain about it being there (though I'm not really upset by it; it was just shocking to see that word written out by my six year old, juxtaposed to cute juvenile sentences about hopping kangaroos) and then I complain about it not being there (though you can find information on chlamydia in the student version of the encyclopedia (which we also have access to) and, actually, that's where we had to go to find any information on eucalyptus trees as well).

Encyclopedias are, in my mind, meant to fuel curiosity. If Rachel reads an article in an encyclopedia and has a question about it, I should hope she'd be able to find more information about it within the same encyclopedia. And it should be easy to access that information. She didn't try to look up any more information about chlamydia (this disease that can cause blindness) but if she had she would have been directed right back to where she came from, rather than somewhere else.

AIDS, in case you are wondering, has a full article on kid's World Book. It even includes the words "sexual relations." It's still a little too vague for me. The first sentence is "AIDS is the last stage of an infection that can kill people." That almost makes it sound like if a person has a lethal infection then they have AIDS.

I realize they're writing for children, but I'm really not impressed with their synthesis of the materials (though I will admit that the math games Rachel and Miriam were playing together after Miriam woke up from her nap were pretty fun).

So tomorrow, I think I'll introduce Rachel to Wikipedia and the joy of clicking on links, even if it means I have to help her translate the articles into childese as we go.

And since World Book is so worried about whether or not the students accessing their precious information are able to cite it correctly (they offer three different citation styles at the bottom of each article), I'll cite them here, even though the information was less than informative. "A kangaroo is a type of furry animal..." Riveting. But common knowledge.

UPDATE: Andrew just told me there's such a thing as "Simple Wikipedia." It's Wikipedia translated into "simple English." I just looked up kangaroos and their article was much better and still easy to understand. So I think that's where we'll be going for all our encyclopedic needs from now on.

"AIDS." World Book Kids. World Book, 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013 . 
Arno, Janet N. "Chlamydia." World Book Student. World Book, 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013. 
Dick, Christopher W. "Eucalyptus." World Book Student. World Book, 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013. 
"Dingo." World Book Kids. World Book, 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013 . 
"Kangaroo." World Book Kids. World Book, 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013 . 
"Koala." World Book Kids. World Book, 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013 . 
"Possum." World Book Kids. World Book, 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013 . 


  1. Strangely enough, whilst koala Chlamydia is a STD in their population, it is not at all similar to the human version. Same disease, very different manifestations, so it did not pass the species barrier, just occurred in koalas also. Very impressed that you know a koala isnt a bear and you dont live here in Australia! :D
    ps. love your blog :)

  2. How about Simple English Wikipedia?

    1. Andrew introduced me to that just seconds after I hit the publish button. :)

    2. Yeah, I thought it seemed like the kind of thing you guys would already know about. :)

    3. I actually didn't before last night; it was *very* exciting to find out about!

  3. I'm glad to hear you talk about Wikipedia in a favorable light. Often I see people scoff at using it. Do you find it accurate most of the time?

    Thanks for the info on koalas. I'm sorry they are suffering from chlamydia.

    1. I certainly find them accurate. Last year I wrote a post with a quote from Randy Pausch. I'll share it again now:

      "Given how I cherished the World Book, one of my childhood dreams was to be a contributor. But it's not like you can call World Book headquarters in Chicago and suggest yourself. The World Book has to find you.

      "A few years ago, believe it or not, the call finally came....

      "I couldn't tell them that I'd been waiting all my life for this call. All I could say was, "Yes, of course!" I wrote the entry....

      "No editor ever questioned what I wrote, but I assume that's the World Book way. They pick an exert and trust that the expert won't abuse the privilege.

      "...Having been selected to be an author in the World Book, I now believe that Wikipedia is a perfectly fine source for your information, because I know what the quality control is for real encyclopedias."

      Wikipedia is constantly under peer review; it's remarkably up to date and accurate on most topics.

    2. Hooray! Good to know! I like Wikipedia, and was always sad when I saw people (articles?) mock it. Thanks for sharing your post from last year. I'm sorry I missed it back then.

  4. I am always so repentant about giving away the old World Book Encyclopedias. I seriously learned so much by reading the encyclopedias as a child. They work so much more efficiently than the internet. For example, I would read an article about someone, say Abraham Lincoln, and the article was set up with a picture of who was the president before, and who was after. In this way, as a young Canadian girl, I learned about all the US presidents (that were in World Book at the time) and the Canadian prime ministers, and I used the "see also" references to work my way through English royalty of various houses, and also through Greek and Roman mythology...besides straight out reading them. (No wonder I have children who are learning geeks...)

    1. That being said, I am a Wikipedia fan all the way. Good place to start your research...and for music topics, someone did a study of comparison with the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and Wikipedia scored higher in especially popular music...and as good as in other areas.