Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia

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Template:TOCright {{#invoke:Hatnote|hatnote}} This page catalogs some mistakes and omissions in Encyclopædia Britannica (EB) and shows how they have been corrected in Wikipedia. Some errors have already been corrected in Britannica's online version.

These examples can serve as useful reminders of the fact that no encyclopedia can ever expect to be perfectly error-free (which is sometimes forgotten,[1], even by Britannica representatives,[2] especially when Wikipedia is compared to traditional encyclopedias), and as an illustration of the advantages of an editorial process where anybody can correct an error at any time. However, this page is not intended to be a comparison of the overall quality of both encyclopedias, nor as a dismissal of concerns about the reliability of Wikipedia.

Entries should contain a precise citation of the Britannica article in question, which includes its title and

and a wikilink to the Wikipedia article; preferably also a reference to reliable sources for the corrected fact. Corrections in newer editions of Britannica should be noted, too (with a citation in the same way).


Birth year of Ben Turpin

Ben Turpin's birthdate is 19 September, 1869 but other years were used at various times in his Hollywood publicity material. In the 1900 US Census he used the year "1869", and his death certificate lists his birthday as "19 September, 1869". Encyclopædia Britannica wrongly lists the year of his birth as "1874". The New York Times obituary mentions the alternative years as fabrications. The Internet Movie Database lists his birthday properly as "19 September, 1869".

Appears to have been corrected as of 2012 in Britannica's Student Encyclopedia (Ben Turpin 2012. Britannica Online for Kids. Retrieved 14 March 2012, from )

Buster Crabbe

For Buster Crabbe there is a conflict between the birthdate given in his official documents, and the one used in his Hollywood publicity biographies. His birth certificate and his Social Security application both use the birthdate of "7 February, 1908" and that will be used here. The Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Internet Movie Database both use an incorrect birthdate based on his Hollywood publicity biography.

Corrected as of 2012 (Buster Crabbe 2012. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 14 March, 2012, from )

Birth year of Abraham Bosse

Research deemed recent at the beginning of 2004 has uncovered that Abraham Bosse was born around 1604, not 1602, as previously thought. As of May 2005, Encyclopædia Britannica still gives 1601 as his birth year.

Corrected as of 2012 (Abraham Bosse 2012. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 14 March, 2012, from )

Pushkin in Bohemia

It is a basic fact of Russian history that the tsarist administration never allowed the poet Alexander Pushkin to go abroad, a nuisance that he deplored in Eugene Onegin and other verses. Therefore, Britannica's assertion that "frequent guests" of Karlovy Vary included Alexander Pushkin and Tsar Peter I the Great is untrue. --Ghirlandajo 10:27, 16 December 2005 (UTC)

As of 2012, both Pushkin and Peter the Great are gone from that Britannica Online article (Karlovy Vary 2012. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 14 March, 2012, from )

Manuel Castells

In its brief entry on sociologist Manuel Castells EB claims that he is an American. Wikipedia notes that he was born in Spain, and has lived in France and the US. (At least one Wikipedia contributor submitted this as an error of fact to EB but it is uncertain whether EB has, in fact, made the appropriate change.)

  • Should probably change "six months ago" to a date, so it remains accurate... -- Timwi 12:57, 2 Mar 2004 (UTC)
  • Did EB state he was born in America? It's quite possible he has American citizenship. Please clarify.
  • He is Spanish and currently works in Barcelona.
  • No such entry exists in the 2004 DVD (URS) edition, or in the online version. Article seems to have been dropped. Although in the DVD it says in a reference page for Castells, that he is an "Am. socio.", but this is not mentioned in the online version.

Nanking - History

-Britannica's Nanking History article states:

Nanking -- under the name of Chien-yeh -- emerged as the political and cultural centre of Southeast China during the period of the Three Kingdoms, when Sun Chien and his son Sun Ch'üan made it the capital of the kingdom of Wu from 229 to 280.

Sun Jian never settled in Nanking; he was the governor of Changsha while a Chinese warlord and killed by Liu Biao's army while governor. It was Sun Quan who moved the capital of his state to Chien-yeh in 212, following the advice of a dying Zhang Hong. There was no Wu state at the time, as Sun Quan had not yet crowned himself emperor.

By the way, I am using Pinyin, while Britannica still uses Wade–Giles. Here is the transliteration of the Wade–Giles in this Britannica article to Pinyin:

Chien-yeh - Jianye Sun Chien - Sun Jian (156-192) Sun Ch'uan - Sun Quan (182-252)

Polish September Campaign

Britannica 2001 DVD I checked stated that 'Polish casualties are not known'. In fact, Polish casualties are known since 1950s. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus Talk 02:46, 8 November 2005 (UTC)

Invention of the Safety Razor

EB wrongly credits King Camp Gillette with the invention of the safety razor. The safety razor was invented in the mid 1870s by the Kampfe brothers long before Gillette's first razor, which was patented in 1904. Gillette only made some changes so that the razor could be made more cheaply and the blades were disposable.

Henry VIII and Leviticus

According to EB's entry on Henry VIII, he resolved to appeal to the Pope that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been against divine law under "the biblical injunction (Lev.) forbidding marriage with a brother's widow". The entries in Leviticus both forbid a man sexual relations (18 v.v. 16) and give the promise of a childless marriage (20 v.v. 21) with his brother's wife. The inclusion or exclusion of a brother's widow in any interpretation depends on the view of the reader and would, arguably, be not one commonly held. Under Ecclesiastical law at the time of Henry, a man could in fact marry his brother's widow if the marriage was not consummated. In reality, Henry unsuccessfully lobbied the Pope for an annulment of the marriage claiming that Catherine had lied when she said she hadn't consummated her marriage with Arthur. Dainamo

Actually, the traditional Jewish legal interpretation is that a man is obligated to marry his brother's childless widow and forbidden to marry his brother's widow if she has had a child. If you don't have evidence that Henry didn't appeal to his own convenient version of Biblical interpretation, then this may not be an "error". AnonMoos
The Jewish obligation to marry your brother's wife when the marriage was without issue (for the sole reason of producing one child for the dead brother) has no bearing at all on this issue or any other marital disputed within Christianity as the levirate law was not adopted by Christianity (it is really practical only when the possibility of polygamy exists.) Str1977 (talk) 16:02, 1 September 2008 (UTC)
This very contradiction is what Henry VIII used. When he married Catherine, he used Deut 25:5 [1]. When he wanted to divorce her, he used Leviticus 18:16 [2]. --Dweller 11:58, 17 August 2006 (UTC)

Irrespective of what interpretation Henry used, the EB does not state it as "interpretation" but refers specifically to the injunction of Leviticus 18:16 forbidding marriage with a brother's widow. In other words, if this interpretation was used by Henry as stated then EB is in error by referring to it as fact when the passage unambiguously refers to a Brother's wife. The different treatment of a widow in Judaic law based on Deut 25:5 can arguably be used to enforce this point. Dainamo 18:44, 26 October 2006 (UTC)

Henry used the canon law's possibility to be dispensed from the ban if the marriage was not consumated. He later claimed that it had been consumated and that he therefore incurred divine wrath by marrying Catherine. An issue was also that he demanded that the pope should revoke the dispense once given. All in all, EB is simplistic at best. Str1977 (talk) 16:02, 1 September 2008 (UTC)

Tudor Vladimirescu

According to Britannica [3], Romanian revolutionary leader Tudor Vladimirescu was assassinated on 7 June instead of 27 May, 1821, the real date.

The facts that these dates differ by 11 days and that the event in question takes place in Romania in the 19th Century suggest that the discrepancy is due to the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. See Gregorian_Calendar and Old Style and New Style dates. Both Britannica and Wikipedia should specify which calendar is referred to.

Birthname of William J. Clinton, 42nd US President

Britannica lists the birthname of William J. Clinton (Bill Clinton) as "William Jefferson Blythe IV" [4]. It has been confirmed by the Clinton Library [5] that the correct birthname is "William Jefferson Blythe III". Refer to respective Talk thread.

Fixed as of 22 July 2007 ("Clinton, Bill." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 22 July 2007 <>.). However, his father is still referred to as William Jefferson Blythe III instead of II.

Sheila Scott's birth date

According to Britannica Sheila Scott was born on 27 April, 1927. The Oxford DNB, based on her birth certificate, confirms her birth date was actually 27 April, 1922.

Titles of Scottish peers

Many Scottish peers are referred to in the style of John Carter, 6th Viscount of Mars, rather than the usual John Carter, 6th Viscount Mars. As Mackensen put it, almost all Scottish viscountcies use the preposition "of". No other viscountcies do this. Britannica refers to, for instance, William Gordon, 6th Viscount Kenmure instead of William Gordon, 6th Viscount of Kenmure. grendel|khan 20:44, July 29, 2005 (UTC)

John Mitchell's birth date

The American National Biography, Washington Post, and Guardian confirm his birth date was 15 September, 1913 not "Sept. 5, 1913", the date given by Britannica. lots of issues | leave me a message 22:32, 2 August 2005 (UTC)

Changed to "born Sept. 15, 1913" in the current online edition. NB: This US DOJ page (which cites Attorneys General of the United States, 1789-1985, U.S. Department of Justice, 1985) gives the September 5, 1913 date too. Regards, HaeB (talk) 19:04, 19 September 2008 (UTC)

Biography of Josquin Desprez

Recent research has established that Josquin Desprez was born between 1450 and 1455, and first went to Italy in the 1480s, NOT in 1459 as Britannica has it. The confusion arose because a singer with a similar name was part of the Sforza chapel in Milan from 1459 to 1472; this is now known to be a different person. The New Grove online also has it right ([6]). Josquin was in France the whole time, and Britannica is writing about a completely different person. Antandrus (talk) 03:18, 21 September 2005 (UTC)

Biography of Seymour Cray

The short online version is very different from the similarly short version on the CD, but both are extremely inaccurate. In fact, almost every statement in the online version is incorrect:

  1. Cray did not work on the UNIVAC I. At the time that machine was being assembled Cray was at ERA working on the ERA 1101. Encyclopedia Brittanica is most likely confused due to the fact that the 110x line later became Univac's main product line in the 1960s.
  2. The CDC 1604 was not the first transistorized computer. Bell Labs built TRADIC in 1954, Metropolitan-Vickers started selling the Metrovick 950 in 1955, and TX-0 was running in 1956. The 1604 was released in 1959, five years after TRADIC.
  3. Cray Research started with a uniprocessor design, the Cray-1. The company's first multiprocessor machine was designed by Steve Chen (computer engineer), after Cray had left for Boulder.
  4. The Cray-2 could perform either 2Gflops or 4Gflops, depending on the version. The 1.2 number is an average speed for the 4-CPU version.

Birth year of Roger Waters

According to

Pink Floyd. (2005). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 19, 2005, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service

Roger Waters was born on Sept. 6, 1944. According to this Pink Floyd FAQ this is an error, and the correct birth date is September 6, 1943, as confirmed by Mark Fenwick, Roger Waters' manager. That is the date found in the wikipedia article Roger Waters. regards, High on a tree 01:52, 19 October 2005 (UTC)

Still not corrected as of July 24, 2007. Other sources corroborating 1943 as the birth year:
For the importance of this one year difference with regard to Roger Waters' emotional life and musical work, see Eric Fletcher Waters.
Regards, High on a tree 19:03, 24 July 2007 (UTC)
Still not corrected ("bassist Roger Waters (b. Sept. 6, 1944, Great Bookham, Surrey)") in:
Pink Floyd. (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 08, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
Another reliable source which has since appeared and gives September 6, 1943 is Glenn Povey: "Echoes: the complete history of Pink Floyd", Mind Head Publishing, 2007 [7]
Regards, HaeB (talk) 16:11, 8 November 2010 (UTC)
Corrected as of 2012 ("bassist Roger Waters (b. September 6, 1943, Great Bookham, Surrey)") in Pink Floyd 2012. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 14 March, 2012, from
Regards, HaeB (talk) 08:17, 14 March 2012 (UTC)

Birthday and birthyear of Joseph Stalin

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica [8] it is 21 December (9 Dec OS), 1879; but this date was made up by Stalin later in his life. The actual date and the one in the wikipedia article is 18 December (6 Dec OS), 1878.

Kostroma Cathedral

Britannica article on Kostroma says that "the city's cathedral, dating from 1239 and rebuilt in 1773, is situated in the kremlin (fortress) and is a fine example of old Russian architecture". Actually, the Dormition cathedral, first mentioned in the 16th century, was destroyed by the Bolsheviks on June 8, 1934. They cited the ugliness of this Neoclassical structure as a pretext for its demolition, so the cathedral could hardly be described as "a fine example of old Russian architecture". --Ghirlandajo 10:10, 16 December 2005 (UTC)

The origin of the Dolgorukov family

Britannica article on Dolgoruky Family alleges that its origins "are believed by some to go back to Yury Dolgoruky". This is a typical example of pseudo-science. Every genealogical account of the family, starting with the 16th-century Royal Genealogical Book and the 17th-century Velvet Book, asserts their descent from one of medieval princes of Obolensk, whose sobriquet was Dolgoruky (or the "Long-Armed"). In fact, their original surname was "Dolgorukov-Obolensky" but they dropped the second part of this name later in history. Therefore, the family descended not from Vladimir Monomakh or his son Yury, as Britannica states, but from his cousin and woe Oleg of Chernigov. --Ghirlandajo 10:19, 16 December 2005 (UTC)

Matthew Basarab

According to Encyclopedia Britannica [9], he was "a last scion of the ancient Basarab dynasty". However, according to the Wikipedia article, he was not a real heir to the dynasty, but it was a fabricated lineage. bogdan 22:55, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

Still as above. -- Zanimum (talk) 20:56, 31 January 2009 (UTC)
Still as above as of 17 August 2012.

Dispute official name change of Democratic-Republican Party in 1798

A knowledgeable Wikipedia contributor disputes Britannica's claim that the old Republican Party officially changed its name to Democratic-Republican Party in the year 1798.[10] The details of the dispute can be found here. The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition claimed that the name was officially changed in 1801.[11] This is also disputed. In fact, the claim of any official name change prior to the break-up of the party is disputed.

Ignaz Semmelweis, wrong quotation from scientific journal

Ignaz Semmelweis reduced the mortality rate from puerperal fever an order of magnitude, by implementing chlorine handwash for doctors. His findings were reported in the Viennese Medical Weekly (Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift. The editor remarked sarcastically that it was time people stopped being misled about the theory of chlorine washings.

A popular translation into English is "it was time to stop the nonsense of hand washing with chlorine", it probably originates from Encyclopedia Britannica (e.g. the Semmelweis entry of Encyclopedia Britannica 2004 ed. (CD version)). There is little support for the nonsense translation however. The page in question (page 536 of the Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift 6, 1856) is accessible on the Internet (access 11 May 2008). Actual quote is "'Wir glaubten diese Chlorwaschungs-Theorie habe sich längst überlebt; die Erfahrungen und statistischen Ausweise der meisten geburtshilflichen Anstalten protestiren (sic) gegen obige Anschauung; es wäre an der Zeit sich von dieser Theorie nicht weiter irreführen zu lassen. D. Red." [D. Red. = Die Redaktion]. Irreführen means to misguide, deceive or mislead - there is really no support for the nonsense English translation. Power.corrupts (talk) 12:36, 19 September 2008 (UTC)

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Corrected. The article, as of 16 July 2006, said she was born to Polish Jews, despite the fact her mother was German Jewish. The correction was noticed as of 31 January 2009.

Red Army Faction

"Red Army Faction (RAF)." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 30 Nov. 2009 <>.

This article about the most well-known German postwar terrorist group contains several factual errors:

  • "Baader, escaping one imprisonment in 1970, was arrested again in 1976." - The first part is correct, but he was rearrested much sooner, in 1972, and stayed imprisoned for the rest of his life. (For example, if Britannica were to be followed, the famous visit of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to the imprisoned Baader could not have taken place in 1974.)
  • "Three others, including Baader, were found shot dead in their cells on October 18, 1977." - Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe died from gunshots, but Gudrun Ensslin died from hanging (and a fourth member, Irmgard Möller, survived with stabbing wounds). This error might be excused as just a macabre detail if not for the decades of conspiracy theories about these deaths (part of which focused on the likelihood of prisoners owning guns in a high-security prison). It surely matters if the gun which was featured on the title page of Der Spiegel as late as 2007 was one of two or of three.

As a minor concern, "formed in 1968" is a bit misleading - while it is true that some of the core members met in 1968, 1970 is generally given as the year that the group actually formed. For example, in this chronology on the web site of the BPB (the German government agency for historical education), Professor Christopher Daase states that the beginning of the Rote Armee Fraktion is either dated to Baader's escape in May 1970 or the return of him and his liberators from Jordan in August 1970.

Garret Hobart

Britannica article: [12]. Contains errors including: Garret Hobart was admitted to the bar in 1866, not 1869. He served two one-year terms in the State Assembly, not one two year terms. He left the State Senate in 1883, not 1882.

As of 17 August 2012, "admitted to the bar in 1866" has been fixed. The article now reads, "Was its president for two years.", which sort of fixes the second error. He "left the state senate in 1883" is still a problem. "Later he served in the state senate (1877-82)".

Birth year of Louis Adamic

There is a widely held misconception that the Slovene-American author Louis Adamic was born on 21 or 23 March 1899, such dates are also engraved on Adamic's gravestone and included in his biography in the Britannica. However, sources from his homeland clarify that he was actually born on 23 March 1898; the wrong date was written in Adamic's certificate of origin by the mayor in Grosuplje in 1913, in order to enable Adamic to emigrate; as a 15-year old he wouldn't be permitted to do so because he was to be conscripted.

Dardanelles Campaign

Encyclopaedia Britannica 2005 Deluxe Edition CD-ROM "The naval bombardment began on February 16 but was halted by bad weather and not resumed until February 25." Wikipedia's Gallipoli Campaign article states that the first attack started on 19 February. So does the History Learning Site.


Logarithmic spiral

EB's article on spiral suffers from severe problems in the layout of mathematical formula, at least in the online version. The formula for the logarithmic spiral is given as exp θ cot φ, which should be exp(θ cot φ). See logarithmic spiral.

Fixed in "spiral." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 31 July 2007 <>.
It reads now The general equation of the logarithmic spiral is [...] every ray from its centre intersects every turn of the spiral at a constant angle (equiangular), represented in the equation by b.

NP problems

In "NP-complete problem" you can find the statement

A problem is called NP if its solution (if one exists) can be guessed and verified in polynomial time;

The insert "(if one exists)" makes clear that the author does not understand that only decision problems belong to the class NP. Every instance of every problem in NP has a solution: it is either YES or NO. Only YES answers need to be verified quickly. See Complexity classes P and NP.

Arguably, they weren't actually talking about the Yes/No solution to the NP problem, but a solution to the underlying problem (which in our lectures was called a "certificate"). Example boolean satisfiability: Whether an expression is satisfiable is a Yes/No question, but if the answer is "Yes", you'd really like to know the truth values that satisfy the expression. It is my understanding that a problem is indeed NP if you can verify such a certificate in polynomial time. -- Timwi 13:04, 2 Mar 2004 (UTC)
That doesn't resolve the fundamental mistake: the insert implies that a problem may be in NP even if a solution does not exist. This cannot be: if a solution really didn't exist, the problem would be undecidable, or at least only partially decidable, but certainly not in NP. You're right when you say that a problem is in NP if it has a certificate verifiable in polynomial time, but a problem without a solution has no certificate at all. (NO answers have certificates too, but these need not be verifiable in polynomial time.) The author of the sentence might indeed have been thinking about the underlying problem (either conflating "not satisfiable" for SAT or "YES" answers without an accompanying certificate with "no solution") -- that explains it, but doesn't correct it. As an aside, the sentence is also sloppy when it states that the solution "can be guessed and verfied in polynomial time": the author means "can be guessed [nondeterministically] in polynomial time and [has a certificate that] can be verified in polynomial time", not (as might easily be read) "can be guessed and then verified in polynomial time". Not wrong, but not award-winning either. --JRM 11:20, 2 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Guessed in polynomial time, and then verified in polynomial time? Please forgive my ignorance, but, wouldn't that be P instead of NP? --Fibonacci 03:16, 19 Jan 2005 (UTC)
No, it is correct with the right interpretation of "guess". What this really states is that one can make a guess in polynomial time and then proceed with the computation verifying in some way if the guess was correct (all in polynomial time). It does not mean that it should guess the correct solution on the first try, just that it can make one guess in polynomial time. The core property of NP is that the time the computation uses is defined as the time the longest computation path a guess can cause uses. If one wants a "realistic" view on how a device that calculates this works it actually makes all possible guesses at once and then proceeds with all the following calculations in parallel, when all computations paths are done it will answer "yes" if and only if one path answered "yes". I suspect that the wording about solutions existing is really meant to talk about decision problems about existence (which is after all what most decision problems come down to), it is still not quite right to say that a NP problem is always solved by guessing the solution and verifying it. Sure some guess about some property of the problem is made, it is far from clear that it must (or even that it can) always be the something one should call the solution.
Yes, this seems correct in EB, even if it could be better expressed. It mixes the notions of FNP and NP but this is a rather finicky distinction and is often glossed over in informal prose. Gdr 06:33:50, 2005-08-03 (UTC)
I don't think the EB is supposed to contain informal prose. It's formally wrong, and the fact that people who already know about the correct definition of NP can guess the author's intention doesn't make it any better. User:Aragorn2 12:16, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
It is. EB is not a technical manual or mathematical handbook. It describes NP accurately enough for a layman. Carewolf 07:42, 24 July 2007 (UTC)
It is very misleading because the sentence is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for NP completeness. Just because a guess can be verified in polynomial time does not mean that the problem is NP complete. E.g. sorting is verifiable in polynomial time, but it is not NP complete. To me, this error is the larger one.
The statement is describing NP, not NP-complete. Sorting is in NP.
Oops, my bad. I misread the sentence (mentally adding the word "complete"). As such, then my only objections are as other posters have pointed out - the "if a solution exists" bit and the "guess" bit. You could categorize the former as superfluous and the latter as poor wording, but not necessarily incorrect. Nonetheless, the sentence is still misleading, even if the definitions can be twisted to make it technically correct.
I agree, particularly given that Wikipedia's definition of FNP was, until three minutes ago, incorrect. Bitwiseshiftleft 03:53, 28 July 2007 (UTC)
An error is an error, whether Wikipedia contains it or not. The average intelligent layman would understand from the EB description that problems with no solution are in NP, and that is plainly false. Telanis (talk) 19:12, 7 December 2010 (UTC)

Poincaré Conjecture

The EB entry on Henri Poincaré gives the following description of the Poincaré conjecture: "Poincaré asked if a three-dimensional manifold in which every curve can be shrunk to a point is topologically equivalent to a three-dimensional sphere (a solid ball). This problem (now known as the Poincaré conjecture)..."

It would seem that EB is equating a 3-sphere with a solid ball, which is completely wrong. The actual entry on the conjecture is part of the topology entry and is correct. Not a surprise really, since the topology entry was written by RH Bing.

Wikipedia's entries on Poincaré and his conjecture make no such mistake, or any mathematical mistakes, for that matter (as of now).

By "topologically equivalent" do they mean homeomorphic? --Fibonacci 22:10, 25 November 2005 (UTC)
Yes. --C S (Talk) 03:23, 23 December 2005 (UTC)

Real numbers

In the article about "real number", it is claimed that

The real numbers can be characterized by the important mathematical property of completeness, meaning that every set that has an upper bound has a smallest such bound

This is incorrect, since it doesn't take the empty set into account, which has an upper bound but not a smallest upper bound.

The class of real numbers is generally extended to include the first transfinite number

This is not correct. In integration and measure theory, the real numbers are sometimes extended by adding two symbols, +∞ and -∞, neither of which is a transfinite number. A transfinite number is either a cardinal number of an infinite set, or an ordinal number of an infinite well-ordered set. See real number and extended real number line.

Should also say "... every subset that has ...". --Fibonacci 03:25, 19 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Transfinite numbers

The entry about "transfinite number" in EB claims that aleph-one is the cardinality of the real numbers. This is in fact neither provable nor disprovable in the currently accepted formalization of set theory; see cardinality and continuum hypothesis for the full story.

I've seen this nomenclature several times on the web (most recently on Narrow Road), which have made me wonder whether this is actually a mistake, or just another nomenclature for the transfinite numbers. The one Wikipedia uses are more intuitive, but the other might still be used.
Yes, it's a mistake, albeit a common one: is by definition simply the first cardinal after . The beth hierarchy, with , and so forth, tends to be what non-set theorists need, but unfortunately the beth notation is not well-known outside of set theory circles. Presumably the confusion arises because people incorrectly assume that the notation they've heard of is for the hierarchy they know. --Andrewbt 08:29, 24 July 2007 (UTC)
In the Wikipedia entry on Cardinality, cited here: he continuum hypothesis states that there is no cardinal number between the cardinality of the reals and the cardinality of the natural numbers, that is, , So, both EB and wikipedia agree on the continuum hypothesis. ( I would hope that the formilazation of '=' on Wikipedia, 'is' '=' to the formalization of 'is' on EB. ). I will defer, or course to the MathWorld Entry:


The continuum hypothesis asserts that aleph_1==c, where c is the cardinality of the "large" infinite set of real numbers (called the continuum in set theory). However, the truth of the continuum hypothesis depends on the version of set theory you are using and so is undecidable.

Would Wikipedia also like to claim that it has found an error on MathWorld? 22:16, 24 July 2007 (UTC)

In both of your quotations, the variable c is used for the cardinality of the reals, and is used for the first cardinal number after . The continuum hypothesis, which is neither provable nor disprovable in the currently accepted formalization of set theory, asserts that c is equal to . If the continuum hypothesis is true, then is the cardinality of the reals, but if the hypothesis is false, then is something different. EB is apparently using to represent the cardinality of the reals, thus implicitly assuming that the continuum hypothesis is true. —Bkell (talk) 02:19, 25 July 2007 (UTC)

Ferrers graph/diagram

The entry in EB is titled The Ferrer diagram. Of course, this notion is named after Norman Ferrers and is corrected in this subsection.

Carl Friedrich Gauss

Encyclopaedia Britannica states in its article about Carl Friedrich Gauss following ([14]): Gauss’s first significant discovery, in 1792, was that a regular polygon of 17 sides can be constructed by ruler and compass alone. In fact, he made this discovery in 1796, four years later than EB claims. --QWerk (talk) 19:03, 12 June 2008 (UTC)

Loxodrome / Pedro Nunes

According to mathematician J. F. Queiró from the University of Coimbra,[15] [16] he notified Britannica in 2002 about "serious mistakes of fact in two articles where the Portuguese mathematician Pedro Nunes is mentioned", namely the entries "loxodrome" and "analytic geometry - curves of double curvature" in the online and DVD versions, also in "loxodrome" in the 1994-2000 electronic version (CD-ROM):

Queiró states:

The same errors are made in the two articles:
1) The 1550 date is wrong: Pedro Nunes wrote about this subject in books published in 1537 (Tratado da Sphera, Lisbon) and 1566 (Petri Nonii Salaciensis Opera, Basel, Switzerland). No book of Nunes was published in 1550.
2) Much more important, Pedro Nunes did not believe the rhumb line to be the shortest path between two points on the sphere. Actually, his main point in the 1537 book [...] is precisely that distinction. [...]

Both errors still persist in

  • "loxodrome." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 07 Jul. 2008:
Pedro Nunes, who first conceived the curve (1550), mistakenly believed it to be the shortest path joining two points on a sphere (see great circle route).

Rhumb line and Pedro Nunes do not contain these errors.

Regards, HaeB (talk) 01:45, 8 July 2008 (UTC)


Demographics of the Sathya Sai Baba movement

EB states, retrieved 22 June 2013

Six people died in his bedroom in 1993 during an apparent assassination attempt, and some young devotees alleged that they had been sexually exploited. The BBC TV documentary The Secret Swami (2004) brought international attention to these controversies but failed to deter his millions of followers.

The correct information with reputable references in the Wikipedia article Satya Sai Baba movement states, retrieved 22 June 2013

In 2000 there were widespread defections in the West due to publications about sexual abuse by Sathya Sai Baba.


  • Velde, Koert van der De Ondergang van een goeroe/The downfall of a guru Sai Baba in the Dutch newspaper Trouw 6 September 2000
  • Brown, Mick, Divine Downfall in The Daily Telegraph Saturday Magazine, 27 October 2000, "There has been a rash of defections from Sai Baba groups throughout the West. In Sweden the central group has closed down, and so too has a school based on the Human Education Values programme devised by educationalists at the Puttaparthi college."

Andries (talk) 23:53, 21 June 2013 (UTC)


Carnot efficiency

EB claims in its article on steam power that Sadi Carnot gave the formula for the efficiency of a steam engine as (T1-T2)/T1, where T1 (T2) is the absolute temperature of the hot (cold) reservoir. Carnot actually did not give this formula. He rather stated that the efficiency is some function of the two temperatures, independent of the working fluid. The concept of absolute temperature was unknown to him, so he was not able to put the formula into the form accredited to him.

Crookes Radiometer

EB states that Crookes Radiometer rotates the direction it does because of pressure differences. This may not be accurate. It rotates due to the effect of the gas molecules on the edges of the vanes. Some argue that the Einstein effect acting on the edges of the vanes is a pressure difference, just as the Reynolds effect of thermal transpiration is also a pressure difference.

This topic open for debate, which is what the Wikipedia article states. EB simply states the one characterization as fact.

Leap years

EB claims in its leap year article that years divisible by 4000 may be non-leap years. This is in fact not an official rule and would not increase the calendar's accuracy. See leap year.

  • I couldn't find anything in our leap year article that mentions this. Timwi 16:54, 31 July 2006 (UTC)
  • Umm, years divisible by 400 (not 4000) are NOT leap years. This is the 400 year exception.
  • Hi, no, the opposite is true. Years divisible by 100 are not leap, except if they are also divisible by 400 (in which case they are indeed leap). For example, 2000, being divisible by 400, was leap. Gakrivas 10:24, 10 September 2006 (UTC)
  • I believe this was a more recently-proposed extension to the Gregorian calendar that hasn't been implemented yet (and need not be for another 2000 years). The 1/4000 rule amounts to a correction of 21.6 seconds per year, (with the 1/400 year rule the Gregorian calendar is 27 seconds off). 08:05, 24 July 2007 (UTC)
  • EB is practical in its PROPOSAL ( read 'may' ). The Gregorian Calander corrects the problem of having too many leap years, by NOT having a leap year every 100 years, and having those divisible by 400 leap. The Gregorian Calendar improved upon the accuracy of the Julian Calendar. A Proposal to improve the accuracy of the Gregorian Calendar by removing a leap day every 8,000 ( 20x400 ), has met with enthusiam in time science circles, but probibly not be considered for widespread adotion for at least 2,000 years. ( you can do all the math you want to improve the accuracy of the calendar. One Tropical or Solar year = 365.2422 days. It would make sense, that if over 8000, that the Gregorian calendar drifting a full day, that the years divisible by 4000 may be not be leap years. Its fairly simple:

We are correcting for an error in syncronization between the day and the year. ( orbit vs rotation ).

  • Julian Calendar: every 4 years is leap ( Calendar year is 365.25 )
  • Gregorian Calendar:
    • Every Century is NOT leap, except every 4 centuries has a leap day. ( Calendar year is 365.2425 )
  • Improvement upon Gregorian Calender( As proposed by EB ):
    • A day too many is added every 8,000 years, so if it MAY be added it would improve the Calendar years accuracy to make it NOT have a leap day. ( i.e. remove a leap day in the year 6,000 so that the error of adding a day in 2000, 2400, 2800, 3200, 3600, 4000, 4400, 4800, 5200, 5600, only accumulated to 1/2 a day, rather than waiting until the years 6000,6400,6800, 7200, 7600 added a full day error to the syncronication of the Calendar year to the Tropical year.
  • BUT due to the varation in both the orbital and rotational frequency of the earth, the EB Improvement upon the Gregorian Calendar MAY or MAY NOT improve the syncronication between the day and the year, although it looks promising, it will not be known for a few thousand years if it will help.

If this explanation is lacking in any way, please feel free to leave feedback on my talk page as to how the explanation can be made simpler and clearer. I have been interested in this idea for decades, and did the math as far back as 4th grade. Artoftransformation 22:49, 24 July 2007 (UTC)

Lungs and swim bladders

In its article on fish, EB claims

Most bony fish have a swim bladder, a gas-filled organ used to adjust swimming depth. In a few species the swim bladder has evolved into a lung-like respiratory organ, enabling these fishes to breathe air.

This was the view of Charles Darwin; nowadays it is generally accepted that primitive lungs came first and swim bladders evolved from them. See e.g. [17], [18].

I think your assumption "that it is generally accepted" is false. Richard Dawkins agrees with Darwin on this. I would suggest it is still open to debate.

In The Ancestor's Tale, Dawkins' newest book, he says that swim bladders evolved from primitive lungs.

The EB is correct. A small number of ray-finned fish have developed mechanisms for breathing air using their swim bladder, for example the tarpons, Megalops spp. See for example [19], [20]. (The general point about swim bladders evolving from lungs is correct too, but I think that is not what the EB is referring to here.) Gdr 06:50:29, 2005-08-03 (UTC)
As of 2007, Dawkins' newest book is actually The God Delusion. -- neoshroom

If both sides in this debate can adduce evidence to support their assertions, I would suggest that both are correct. Both forms of evolutionary development could easily have happened separately.

anyway it's wrong to mention only one of them. with no hint to a discussion in progress. ergo - eb is wrong and this article at wiki is right :-)

Speed of X-rays in glass

Under "refractive index" in EB, the definition of the refractive index does not clarify the crucial distinction between phase velocity and signal velocity; it is stated that the velocity of x-rays in glass is higher than the velocity of x-rays in a vacuum. This is true for the phase velocity, but the speed with which information can be transmitted is not higher in glass than in a vacuum.

I agree that that is pretty serious if correctly represented --AndrewCates 15:23, 14 May 2004 (UTC)

Sperm storage

In the entry on "Semen", EB writes:

Sperm mature in the epididymis; they then pass through a long tube called the ductus, or vas deferens to another storage area, the ampulla. [...] During the process of ejaculation, liquids from the prostate gland and seminal vesicles are added

In fact, the vas deferens propels sperm directly from the epididymis to the outside during ejaculation. Sperm is stored before the ejaculation in the epididymis, not in the ampulla. They describe it correctly in their article on "Ejaculation". See also Ejaculation and vas deferens.


The article on "Electric charge" claims that 1 Coulomb equals 3 billion statcoulombs. This is incorrect.

  • The original quote is:
One coulomb of electric charge equals 3,000,000,000 esu, or one-tenth emu.

Ok, so the exact number is 2,997,961,386.257345. Perhaps they should have added roughly 3,000,000,000 esu. --Cantus

No, that wouldn't be correct. By convention, every digit you give for a constant is presumed to be accurate, unless you indicate otherwise. So, "approximately 3 billion" would be right, "approximately 3x10^9" would be right, and "approximately 3.000x10^9" would be right. "3,000,000,000 +/- 50,000" would be technically correct but misleading (because it falsely suggests that there is uncertainty about the value). Generally, the EB statement suggests that the person who wrote the entry isn't a working scientist.

Which could be pretty serious if you were relying on it! --Soapy

Sure, this is nitpicking, but it is wrong, and it helps make the point that even the most "authoritative" general reference still contains errors.
They should at least make it clear that they're only giving one sig fig instead of 10. --Laura Scudder | Talk 23:02, 5 August 2005 (UTC)
Well, to anyone who would use the number, sig fig rules imply that there would only be one. And for those that need the number that critically, but don't know how to use sig figs.... well, yippie for them.
Anyone who needs the number that critically should probably be getting it from a technical publication, not a general reference...mzellman

Actually the original quote does not suggest 10 significant figures since the zeros if not followed by a decimal point are not considered significant but only place holders. So the original quote only has 1 significant figure. I am pretty sure that that was not by accident. -- René Kanters

In science there is a requirement for one (and only one) specific meaning in any quantified statement. The number "3,000,000" does not have a specified number of significant figures. It is equal to both 3.000000 x 10^6 and 3 x 10^6. This is why standard notation is used. In either case, it's clear that whether a simple breach of proper format or actual mistake of value, the article was in error. Arguments following the form "If the stipulation is that minor (from my biased perspective) then you should look elsewhere" are nebulous regardless of where they are found.

You are all incorrect. Trailing zeroes are not presumed significant figures unless there is a bar over a zero (or sometimes under it). This convention is common in chemistry, but seen in other scientific fields as well. Maybe they don't teach this in science classes anymore, but one can hardly fault EB for following it. Besides, the online concise article for "electric charge" now says "The unit of charge is the coulomb, which consists of 6.24 * 10^18 natural units of electric charge" so this whole "error" has been corrected and this listing is now irrelevant. JamieMcCarthy 13:21, 22 July 2007 (UTC)

Apparently lots of people learnt something about significant digits in school. Apparently there are several different conventions. Apparently there is a definition that states an exact relationship between the two units, with enormous accuracy. Who is right? Nobody is. It is unprofessional of EB to mention a "close" number and ignore the (exact) definition. -- REW 24 july 2007 9:43 CEST.

Uncertainty Principle

EB has two articles about Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: one about the principle itself and another one inside the quantum mechanics treatment. Unfortunately, the two articles give different formulas: one uses h/2π and the other h/4π. Furthermore, they never make clear what exactly is meant by "uncertainty".

  • The latter is true. I'm not sure why they would have the first one in there. The only non-editing mistake explanation I can think of is if they took some specific example. The principle is that Δx Δph/4π, so it is possible to pick specific examples where Δx Δp = h/2π. Still sounds fishy. User:laurascudder
  • Maybe they were confused by h-bar, and h. h-bar=h/2π


In the article Organic Compounds/Alcohols/Ethanol, EB claims that yeast secrete an enzyme called "zymase" to convert sugar into alcohol. In fact there is no such secreted enzyme; the conversion is much more complicated and takes place within the yeast cell. See alcohol dehydrogenase.

Rotor machines in cryptography

In their article on cryptology, Britannica credits US inventor Edward Hebern for the rotor machine (a type of cipher machine of which the German Enigma machine is the most famous example). Research published in January 2003 revealed that the machine had been invented earlier by Dutch engineers Van Hengel and Spengler. This has been reflected in the Wikipedia article on rotor machines since September 2004; the EB is still out of date. — Matt Crypto 19:13, 3 October 2005 (UTC)

Solid vs. liquid nitroglycerin sensitivity

From the Nitroglycerin talk page:

The solid is less sensitive. There are historical instances where an explosion of the liquid material has caused heavy machinery and big blocks of iron to fall on the frozen material in storage without additional incident. The assumption the solid was more sensitive is a very early mistake not repeated in academic books for a good 60 years or so...
A very early mistake not repeated for a good 60 years or so? How about the current Encyclopædia Brittanica? "A serious problem in the use of nitroglycerin results from its high freezing point (13{degree} C [55{degree} F]) and the fact that the solid is even more shock-sensitive than the liquid." Source: 21:04, 28 January 2007 (UTC) [Still in talk page context.]

Color of water

In the article water, Britannica Online says water is a "colourless, tasteless, and odourless liquid at room temperature". No mention is made of the fact that actually water has an intrisic color.

Languages and linguistics


In the article 'Dogon language' the EB recites the popular belief that Dogon, the language spoken by the Dogon peoples, is one language (acknowledging that 'six dialects of Dogon have been identified'). However, starting with Bertho (1953) it has been established that Dogon is in fact a family with a high internal diversity and that the varieties are not merely dialects of one monolithic language. In the most recent published survey, Hochstetler (2004) distinguishes at least seventeen distinct speech varieties, noting that many of these are not mutually intelligible. The Wikipedia article Dogon languages has all the details.

  • Bertho, J. (1953) 'La place des dialectes dogon de la falaise de Bandiagara parmi les autres groupes linguistiques de la zone soudanaise,' Bulletin de l'IFAN, 15, 405–441.
  • Hochstetler, J. Lee, Durieux, J.A. & E.I.K. Durieux-Boon (2004) Sociolinguistic Survey of the Dogon Language Area. SIL International. online version


Britannica Online:

Kwa languages

In the article 'Nigeria', section 'Linguistic composition' the EB (2005 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD) claims that the Nigerian languages Yoruba and Igbo, among others, are Kwa languages. It is true that Joseph Greenberg classified them as such in his 1966 The Languages of Africa, but since Bennett & Sterk 1977 it is widely accepted that the Yoruboid and Igboid languages are in fact members of the Benue-Congo family, as acknowledged in the Wikipedia article Kwa languages. Strangely enough, EB's article on the Kwa languages has it right; it seems that they have updated the main article, but have forgotten to update other ones affected by advancing insights.

  • Bennett, Patrick R. & Sterk, Jan P. (1977) 'South Central Niger-Congo: A reclassification'. Studies in African Linguistics, 8, 241–273.


Britannica Online:

Gbe languages

In its article "Kwa languages", EB2005 claims that "..of these languages [i.e. the Left bank Kwa languages] the Gbe cluster (better known as Ewe) is by far the largest with some two million speakers."

This statement is erroneous and misleading because it first equates Ewe to Gbe and then takes into account only the speakers of Ewe, the largest of the Gbe languages. According to recent statistics (Ethologue 15th edition, Kluge 2002), Ewe has about three million speakers and other Gbe languages like Fon and Aja account for at least another 1,5 million each. EB2005 furthermore fails to mention that Ewe as a term for the Gbe cluster as a whole has fallen out of use at least since 1980 (Capo 1988, 1991, Kluge 2002, Ameka 2001). To add to the confusion, EB2005 claims in its article 'Fon' that Fon is a dialect of Ewe and that "the Fon numbered some 3,010,000 in the late 20th century"

  • Capo, Hounkpati B.C. (1991) A Comparative Phonology of Gbe, Publications in African Languages and Linguistics, 14. Berlin/New York: Foris Publications & Garome, Bénin: Labo Gbe (Int).
  • Gordon, Raymond G. Jr. (ed.) (2005) Ethnologue report for Gbe. (Ethnologue, 15th edition.) Retrieved May 11, 2005.
  • Kluge, Angela [2000] ‘The Gbe language varieties of West Africa – a quantitative analysis of lexical and grammatical features’. [unpublished MA thesis, University of Wales, College of Cardiff].


Belarusian language

The entry (I saw it in 2000 or 2001 editions, needs to be checked):

"Belarusian also spelled BELORUSSIAN, or BYELORUSSIAN, also called WHITE RUTHENIAN, or WHITE RUSSIAN, Belarusian Beloruska, East Slavic language that is the major language of Belarus. Belarusian forms the link between the Russian and Ukrainian languages, since it has dialects transitional to them both. Although two dialect areas exist, standard Belarusian is based on the dialect of Minsk, the capital city of Belarus. The language contains many Polish loanwords and is written in a form of the Cyrillic alphabet. An older form of Belarusian was used by the Lithuanians as the official language of administration during the 14th century, when they were in control of the area of present-day Belarus."

I couldn't understand the purpose of this word "Beloruska" implanted into the English-language text until I looked up the entries for other languages. In the article on Bulgarian language it said "bulgarski ezik," so I figured here we should have the name of our own language in our own tongue. This should then have read "bielaruskaja mova". To the best of my knowledge, "Beloruska" is the adjective "Belarusian" in Bulgarian and some other Slavic languages.

More mistakes or misconceptions in this short but error-ridden entry

This should then have read "bielaruskaja mova". That statement is wrong. Spelling is always a problem, but Beloruska is much closer to reality than "bielaruskaja"

  • No, this statement is right, that is my native language. Maybe, only slightly changed to "belaruskaja mova". --Melirius (talk) 14:54, 25 January 2012 (UTC)


In its article "Kalenjin", EB2005 defines Kalenjin as follows: "any member of the Nandi, Kipsikis, Pokot, Tatoga, and other related peoples of west-central Kenya, northern Tanzania, and Uganda who speak Nilotic languages of the Nilo-Saharan language family".

First, a glaring error: the Tatoga (Datoga) are not Kalenjin, but form together with the Omotik a separate branch of the Southern Nilotes called Omotik-Datoga (cf. Rottland 1982, Ethnologue 15th edition). This is outlined in the Wikipedia articles Kalenjin languages and Southern Nilotic languages.

Second, this entry could be interpreted as suggesting that the Maasai and the Luo, also speakers of Nilotic languages and certainly historically and genetically related to the peoples mentioned, are Kalenjin peoples as well. In fact, Maasai and Luo are Eastern Nilotic and Western Nilotic languages, respectively, whereas the Kalenjin languages are Southern Nilotic languages; EB2005 fails to make this important distinction.

Third, EB fails to make clear that there are two crucially different uses of the term Kalenjin and indiscriminately uses 'Kalenjin' in wholly different contexts. In its article 'Eastern Africa', subsection 'Identifying and classifying peoples', it observes that "the Kalenjin of western Kenya have come into being since 1960 by a conscious fusing together of older and smaller peoples". 'Kalenjin' in this context is the name various Nandi-speaking peoples adopted in the late 1940's/early 1950's when they united to form a larger ethnical and political entity (cf. Kalenjin and references cited therein). This use is different from the term 'Kalenjin' in the linguistic sense as outlined in the Wikipedia articles Kalenjin languages and Kalenjin language.

  • Omosule, Monone (1989) 'Kalenjin: the emergence of a corporate name for the 'Nandi-speaking tribes' of East Africa', Genève-Afrique, 27, 1, pp. 73–88.
  • Rottland, Franz (1982) Die Südnilotischen Sprachen: Beschreibung, Vergleichung und Rekonstruktion (Kölner Beiträge zur Afrikanistik vol. 7). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  • Sutton, J.E.G. (1978) 'The Kalenjin', in Ogot, B.A. (ed.) Kenya before 1900, pp. 21–52.


First extant book written in an African language

In the article 'Niger-Congo languages', section 'Early records', the EB (2005 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD) tells us that The first extant book written in an African language was published in 1624 (...) It consists of a catechism in Portuguese with an interlinear translation into Kongo. It probably should have read "the first extant book written in a sub-Saharan African, or more specifically, in a Niger-Congo language", because literature has been produced in some African languages long before this; see for example Old Nubian language, Coptic language and others.


Not to mention Ancient Egyptian and Ge'ez

Yom 23:03, 1 April 2006 (UTC)

Non an error: it refers to printed books.-- 14:27, 10 November 2007 (UTC)
It doesn't say "printed books," though. It says "extant," and there was plenty of literature going around Northeast Africa while much of Europe was still banging rocks together. In fact, the first printed book in Africa was in Morocco in 1516, and dealt with Hebrew Liturgy. Ian.thomson (talk) 12:19, 20 October 2009 (UTC)
That book was then probably printed in Arabic which is not an African language. I'm wondering about your statement about 'literature from NE Africa' vs the banging of rocks. (talk) 19:33, 16 July 2011 (UTC)

Monkey wrench

In the entry for 'wrench'[21] Britannica states: 'On one type the jaws are at right angles to the handle; this wrench, invented by Charles Moncky, is known as a monkey wrench.' They do not state (and perhaps they should) when he invented it but if it's taken to be in 1858, the OED has an entry thus: '?1807 in E. S. Dane Peter Stubs & Lancashire Hand Tool Industry (1973) 219 Fleetwood, Richard..Parr, Rainford. Screw plates, lathes, clock engines..monkey wrenches, taps.' It would appear that the phrase was already in useage prior to 1858.


Matsu Island[s]

Matsu is

  1. the alternate (and now rare) name of an island (the Nankan Island), and
  2. the official name of a micro-archipelago of 20 islands, which contains Nankan

However, EB chose to give only an article on the first (single island), thereby misguiding the reader into thinking that Matsu of the Republic of China is one island (Nankan). (See Matsu Island)

However, the country controls the entire mini-archipelago of the Matsu Islands as a county (called Lienchiang). Although Nankan is the largest of the Matsu Islands, when referring to Matsu, one usually speaks of the entire archipelago. Metonymy, in this case, ignores other integral parts of Matsu and provides an incomplete picture of Lienchiang County.

Quemoy Island[s]

Same problem as Matsu (see above). See also Quemoy.

Eastern Europe

EB claims that Chotyn lies in Moldova (actually it lies in Ukraine), errors in the location of Belovezhskaya Forest, and that the European bison only exists in Poland (as opposed to elsewhere in Eastern Europe). All these errors were discovered by a twelve-year-old boy. (BBC)


In 2008, Hamlet Isakhanli, scientist and poet, founder and president of Khazar University conducted a comparison of Encyclopaedia Britannica and English Wikipedia on Azerbaijan and related subjects. His study found that Wikipedia has covered the subject much wider, more accurate and detailed, even though with some disbalances, and that Wikipedia is best source for the first approximation. The confused identity of Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev in Britannica has been already corrected in its online version. [3]

Reseau Jean Bernard

EB claims that Reseau Jean Bernard is the deepest cave in the world, but this fact, although widely reported, is incorrect. There are at least three caves known to be deeper [22].



Lafia. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 26 July, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

Britannica claims that Lafia is a town in the Plateau State of central Nigeria. Actually, it is the capital of the neighboring state Nasarawa, according to the state's home page [23].

The likely reason for this error is the fact that Nasarawa was newly formed in 1996 by dividing Plateau State - apparently the Britannica article has not been updated during the last 11 years.

This has been corrected as of December 16, 2009, the entry now starts as "town, Nassarawa state, central Nigeria." ("Lafia." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Dec. 2009 [24])
However, the entry still does not mention that it is the state's capital, the administrative history ends with "and in 1976 it was allocated to Plateau state."


  • Vilnius (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 17 March, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online

10 mistakes/inaccuracies/outdated information/dubious descriptions in an article of 450 words... and no action on their behalf in the past seven months. Details here.

Novo Mesto

  • Novo Mesto (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 26 July, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online

The modern city has a hydroelectric power plant as well as ... FALSE!

1 mistake in an article of 80 words. --Smihael (talk) 14:24, 26 June 2008 (UTC)

Still as above as of 20 August 2012.

Battle of Tannenberg - Grunwald - Stębark

Britannica states: "(July 15, 1410), battle fought at Tannenberg (Polish: Stębark)". In fact as our article clearly explains, Tannenberg is a German name for Grunwald and Stębark is a nearby village. There is a ton of sources referring to "Battle of Grunwald" (the Polish name of the battle is "bitwa pod Grunwaldem"), the few sources that refer to the battle of Stębark refer to the 1914 battle... --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk 17:18, 20 April 2009 (UTC)

Length of the Rhine river

The article

"Rhine River." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 30 Mar. 2010

states that "It is 865 mi (1,390 km) long". This disagrees with most reference works (such as Brockhaus) and school books in Germany, which give a length of around 1320km. But even that number is too high, as biologist Bruno Kremer found during research for a 2010 book (ISBN 978-3874634564) - the correct length is around 1230km. The error is conjectured to have come from a simple transposition of digits, which then permeated and persisted for decades. See also Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2010-03-29/In the news.

Other topics


This may be a bit nitpicky, but EB thinks there is hip hop music (which they problematically call rap) that is either not rhythmic or non-rhyming. I suppose there may be hip hop with no rhymes at all (I've never heard of it), but it's certainly always rhythmic. Also, hip hop as the backing music for rap, the musical style incorporating rhythmic and/or rhyming speech that became the movement's most lasting and influential art form is a bit odd, I think. They apparently use "hip hop" to refer to the beat/instrumentation behind the rapping, which is not normal, at least -- if "rap" is the "musical style", then the "backing music" is an integral part of it, and "rap" doesn't "incorporate" a kind of speech... it is a kind of speech, and is only a "musical style" when combined with "hip hop". Furthermore, "most lasting and influential art form" being applied to "rap" is silly -- graffiti, breakdancing and DJing have lasted just as long as rapping (early 70s to present); I suppose EB is allowed to be biased and call "rap" more influential than DJing, but I note that rapping is not widely used outside of hip hop, while DJing had a major influence on electronic music. Of course, if by "rap", they are referring to hip hop music, then that would make sense, but that would be inconsistent with the first part. So, it's at best confusingly written and misleading. Tuf-Kat 19:19, 20 September 2005 (UTC)

  • Rap evolved from MC'ing over the beats, and the origin of hip hop came from looping music (soul, funk, jimi hendrix) so the core is correct, but the phrasing is bad.
  • Sounds like original research to me. And rap music definitely is more influential than graffiti, DJing and break dancing combined. Eminem sold 86 millions records. 2Pac sold 75 millions records. Name me a DJ who sold more. Netrat (talk) 14:10, 16 September 2011 (UTC)

It seems that hip-hop music is the hardest genre for some music scholars to write about. --FuriousFreddy 23:46, 28 September 2005 (UTC)

The above statement is somewhat confusing in and of itself. Very simply Britannica's error is that hip-hop is not simply a form of music, but a culture. It encompasses four basic elements- graffiti, breakdancing, DJing and MCing. Although, some people do incorrectly use the term "hip-hop" to describe the musical genre of rap. Rap music is the combination of two elements of hip-hop culture (the DJ and the MC) but it is NOT synonymous with hip-hop. It is impossible to have rap music without a DJ and an MC. However an art form known as "spoken word" consists of a person rythmically reciting poetry. Some may consider this person an "MC" without a DJ. Cadentsoul 00:05, 23 July 2007 (UTC)

  • If it's "impossible to have rap music without a DJ and an MC", what are The Roots? They have never had a DJ; instead their MCs are backed by live instrumentalists and beatboxing.—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 14:55, 24 July 2007
  • And in fact, many hiphop (this term is one word and has no hyphen) MCs do not use DJs at all, just DATs or other digital recordings to back them. This may not be in accord with the principles of purists, but it is reality. As for the so-called four elements, this is an oversimplification. All of the elements are present in hiphop culture, but each has forms outside the context (grime has rap but is not hiphop; graffiti predates hiphop by thousands of years; turntablism has become a feature in non hiphop music e.g. breaks; bboying is just as much an electro - by which I mean real electro, not "electroclash" - tradition as it is a hiphop one). The only definition of hiphop is its history, by which I mean history up to and including the present day.

Here's the full text of the first paragraph of the Britannica article: cultural movement that attained widespread popularity in the 1980s and '90s; also, the backing music for rap, the musical style incorporating rhythmic and/or rhyming speech that became the movement's most lasting and influential art form. I agree that the author was probably going for what Cadentsoul explained, but there are at least 5 errors in this one sentence:

  1. Hip hop can mean a lot of things, but no one uses it to mean "the backing music for rap" if rap is defined as a "musical style" (or even if not).
  2. The cultural and specifically musical movement they are discussing in this trend includes a wide variety of music without any speech at all e.g. various kinds of DJing.
  3. They define "rap music" as only that which includes "rhythmic and/or rhyming speech", then they further limit it by ignoring that not all rap has hip hop backing music, but is still a part of hip hop, the cultural movement the article purports to be about.
  4. Then, they bizarrely imply that there is rap with speech that does not rhyme at all (doubtful) or is not rhythmic (absurd).
  5. Last, they claim that rapping has become hip hop's "most lasting and influential style". "Influential" is dubious, IMHO (and as discussed above), but "most lasting" (in addition to being weird grammatically) is objectively false -- all the major facets of hip hop arose at roughly the same time, and there's no way to pinpoint precisely enough to know in which order they were truly invented. Thus, since they all lasted basically from the early 1970s to today, they are all equally lasting.

Tuf-Kat (talk) 08:08, 23 November 2007 (UTC)

Fenghuang (Phoenix)

Concise EB sees fenghuang as female (EB article). But the accurate (as defined in all non-children Chinese dictionaries) and still popular Chinese mythology says that fenghuang is a species with both males and females. In fact, "full" EB says "Like the qilin (a unicorn-like creature), the fenghuang is often considered to signify both male and female elements [...]".

Frank Zappa

According to a long-time Wikipedian (in a post on Slashdot), Britannica states (see also the title of the article Zappa, Francis Vincent) that Frank Zappa was originally named "Francis", while the Wikipedia article is consistent with Zappa's autobiography in stating that he was christened "Frank" and was never named "Francis".

  • In the Britannica 2005 Ultimate Reference Suite, Frank Zappa's full name is given as 'Frank Vincent Zappa'. I can see no mention of 'Francis' in the text. -JonB.
    • As the person who pointed this out, it's nice to see EB catching up :) I'm sure they gave me a credit. (What? They didn't? I'm shocked, shocked.) -- GWO
  • But the Britannica Concise Online Edition given in the link does in fact state his first name as 'Francis'. So Britannica has some diversity in its various editions.
    • Now see, that's the problem with Britannica. You just never know whether you're looking at a good edit or bad at any one time. ;) -- John Owens (talk) 23:48, 2005 August 7 (UTC)
  • I keep checking EB for a sandbox. No joy. Basilwhite 18:43, 6 March 2007 (UTC)

Qala'un Mosque

In its article "Qala'un Mosque", EB2005 claims that the Mosque is a "building complex, including a mausoleum, a madrasah, and a hospital, built in 1283-85 on the site of present-day Cairo by the fifth Mamluk sultan."

There is, indeed, a building complex in Cairo that was built in 1283-85 by the fifth Mamluk sultan, and this complex includes a mausoleum, a madrasah and a hospital. However, this complex is not the Qala'un Mosque; usually, it is called the Qala'un Complex. The Qala'un Mosque itself, more exactly termed the Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala'un Mosque is generally not considered part of the complex (though it is adjacent to it), and it was built about forty years later (in 1318) by the Mamluk sultan Al-Nasr Muhammad, son of Qalawun referred to as 'the fifth Mamluk sultan' by EB2005. This EB2005 article therefore is a dangerous misnomer at best. The EB article proceeds to talk about the madrasah and mausoleum of the older Qala'un Complex and fails to even mention anything about the history or the architecture of the (very notable) Mosque itself.

  • Behrens-Abouseif, Doris (1989) 'Architecture of the Bahri Mamluks'. In Islamic Architecture in Cairo: An Introduction. Leiden/New York: E.J. Brill, pp. 94–132.
  • Rabbat, Nasser O. (1995) The citadel of Cairo: a new interpretation of royal Mamluk architecture (Islamic history and civilization, vol. 14). Leiden/New York: E.J. Brill. ISBN 90-04-10124-1


Just one correction, the Qala'un Mosque mentioned in Wikipedia, which is officially termed the Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala'un Mosque, is not the one adjacent to the Qala'un Complex. In fact, the Qala'un Mosque (Mosque of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad) is located in the Cairo Citadel, and the Qala'un Complex is close to Khan el-Khalili within the city. But there is one more mosque of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, officially termed the Madrasah and Tomb of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, which is adjacent to the Qala'un Complex. It was initiated by Kitbugha in 1295 and completed by al-Nasir Muhammad in 1304. --Chapultepec (talk) 01:33, 19 April 2008 (UTC)

The creator deity of the Gbe peoples

In the traditional religion of the Gbe peoples, there is a creator deity called Mawu (see Ewe (people), Dahomey mythology and Mawu). EB2005, in its article 'Ewe', states that "Ewe religion is organized around a creator god, Mawa". A typo, and an unfortunate one at that — who is going to point out that this foreign language word should in fact be spelled Mawu?

  • Gavua, Kodzo (2000) 'Religious Practices', in Kodzo (ed.) A Handbook of Eweland (vol. 2). Accra: Woeli Publishing Services, pp. 84–98.
  • Greene, Sandra E. (1996) 'Religion, history and the Supreme Gods of Africa: a contribution to the debate', Journal of Religion in Africa, vol. 26, fasc. 2, pp. 122–138.


Giacomo Casanova

EB claims that full name of Casanova is "Giovanni Giacomo Casanova", but according to his birth certificate the right name is "Giacomo Girolamo Casanova" (take a look at the transcription of the certificate, here).


The article on the US National Security Agency (NSA) in EB's online edition, December 2005, states that:

"Being a target of the highest priority for penetration by hostile intelligence services, the NSA maintains no contact with the public or the press."[25].

This is false. The NSA maintains an extensive website which includes an "about NSA page", numerous press releases, a section on declassification initiatives, a kid's zone, etc. Moreover, the "NSA press room" page states that, "The NSA/CSS Public and Media Affairs Office fosters relationships with media outlets throughout the world, responding to thousands of requests each year for information about NSA/CSS and its missions, interviews with leadership or experts, and filming opportunities."

The NSA has communicated with the public or press in the past as well. Bobby Ray Inman, the NSA director in the late 1970s, provided information to the press (as long as it was in NSA's interests), even appearing on TV (ABC Nightline). — Matt Crypto 13:11, 18 January 2006 (UTC)

The concise version reads, "until recently it maintained no contact with the public or the press". That's less egregious an error, but still inaccurate unless "recently" includes the 1970s. — Matt Crypto 11:25, 14 December 2006 (UTC)
They probably ment the real NSA charon 08:20, 25 July 2007 (UTC)
Ah, and what is the "real NSA", by your understanding? Please god, no more conspiracy theories about the NSA. -.- -- 08:56, 25 July 2007 (UTC)

St James's Square

EB states that, "although some of the structures were built in the 20th century, most date to the 17th and 18th centuries". This is not true. There isn't one surviving 17th century building in the square (though it was originally developed in the 17th century); well under half are 18th century (only 4-5, 9-13, 15, 20, 31A and 33) ; and there are a good number which date to the 19th century, which EB omits to mention altogether. Wikipedia has complete information based on the authoritative Survey of London, confirmed by personal observation and updated for recent reconstructions (none of which involved magically reappearing a 17th century building). Hawkestone 21:58, 4 April 2006 (UTC)

Arnold Palmer

The Britannica article is a catalogue of errors and omissions. It doesn't mention that his tally of PGA Tour wins was revised from 61 to 62 when British Open victories before 1995 were retrospectively designated as PGA Tour wins in 2002. It doesn't mention that from 1968 the PGA Tour was independent of the Professional Golfers' Association of America, meaning that it is incorrect about the sanctioning body for all his PGA Tour wins after that date (indeed it doesn't mention the PGA Tour at all). The statement that he was the leading figure in world golf through to the mid 1960s is incomplete at best (see Jack Nicklaus). There is no such event as the "PGA Senior Open"; in 1981 he won the United States Senior Open, which is organised by the USGA not the PGA. He did however win the Senior PGA Championship in 1980 and 1984, as well as two other senior majors which EB doesn't mention at all.

As well as getting its facts wrong, EB omits all the broader reasons why Palmer is important in the history of golf: his charismatic prominence in the early TV era; his rivalry with Nicklaus; his popularisation of the British Open in the U.S; his status as the first client of the key figure in the history of sports marketing (Mark McCormack). Hawkestone 22:25, 4 April 2006 (UTC)

Language of the Congo (DRC)

In 2006, the online edition of EB lists French and English as official languages. However this has never been the case. English was added as an official language in a proposal by Laurent Desiré Kabila, but that proposed constitution never got promulgated. The newest constitution still specifies French is the only official language, along with 4 national languages.

--moyogo 09:28, 13 September 2006 (UTC)

Update: EB has updated this webpage accordingly.


Three errors have been identified over the years; all of them have been corrected. They were:

  • Suggested that IP address blocking was only instituted after the Seigenthaler affair; correct as of at least 24 July 2007.
  • "In 1998 Jimmy Wales... to establish Bomis, Inc..." Incorrect as of 24 July 2007, correct at least by 31 January 2009.
  • "In 2004 Nupedia was terminated and its articles moved into Wikipedia." Inaccurate as of 24 July 2007, correct as of at least 17 October 2007.


Largest English-language Encyclopedia

One statement that has been sometimes called an error is Britannica's statement in the article "Encyclopædia Britannica" that it is the "oldest and largest English-language general encyclopedia." If Wikipedia's claim to be an encyclopedia is accepted, then this statement is erroneous because Wikipedia contains more words and articles than Britannica. (Source: Wikipedia article "Wikipedia") Although Britannica has at times referred to Wikipedia as an encyclopedia [26], it has also referred to Wikipedia as "the Internet database that allows anyone... to edit" when responding to Nature's defense of Wikipedia, apparently rejecting Wikipedia's claim to be an encyclopedia. [27]

It is perhaps worth noting that the accuracy of the label "oldest English-language general encyclopedia" hinges on the meaning of the words "oldest" and "general". Encyclopedia Britannica is certainly not the first English-language encyclopedia (cf. List of historical encyclopedias); though it may be considered the one with the greatest longevity, as many of the earlier English-language encyclopedias are no longer published.



The Britannica 2005 Deluxe Edition CD Rom states "At 26.22 miles (42,186 metres) the marathon is the longest race of the track meet". This is incorrect as no marathon is ever competed on the track. Wikipedia does not contain this error.

The athletics entry of Britannica Online contains the same statement (as of April 18, 2008). Long-distance track event (14 Apr 2008, 18:30 UTC) states The 10,000 meters is the longest standard track event.

Just to clarify, the marathon article of Britannica 2005 Deluxe Edition CD-Rom does not have the sentence. However, the athletics article does. "At 26.22 miles (42,186 metres) the marathon is the longest race of the track meet."


  1. As pointed out by Jimmy Wales in reaction to the Nature comparison: "I have very great respect for Britannica. [But] I think there is a general view among a lot of people that it has no errors, like, 'I read it in Britannica, it must be true.' It's good that people see that there are a lot of errors everywhere." In: Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica CNET News, December 15, 2005
  2. Jorge Cauz (president of Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.): "Britannica won’t be able to be as large [as Wikipedia], but it will always be factually correct." In: Template:Cite news
  3. What is Happening in the Educational System of the Contemporary World and How "The State Program on Reforms of the Higher Education System in the Republic of Azerbaijan for the Period of 2008-2012" May Best be Carried Out (in Azeri). Khazar University Press, 2008

See also