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Britannica Goes After Wikipedia and Google 385

kzieli writes "Britannica is going to allow viewers to edit articles, with changes to be reviewed by editors within 20 minutes. There is also a bit of a rant against Google for ranking Wikipedia above Britannica on most search terms."
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Britannica Goes After Wikipedia and Google

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:19AM (#26559055)

    Well Jorge, first of all you take a swipe at Google for respecting the very encyclopedia that you yourself are tacitly acknowledging is at least somewhat superior (by imitating it). Then you show just how PROFOUNDLY out of touch you are by insisting that your changes will require editorial review (unless you're about to expand your editorial staff with thousands of new hires, you must not be expecting much participation).

    Sorry, but this is just pathetic. If this is the best you can do online, just stick with what you do best (the printed page). Admittedly, Brittanica has always been a great source for academic quality articles, especially back when basic information was hard to come by. But this sort of half-hearted effort only highlights just how much you still don't "get it."

    • by Taevin ( 850923 ) * on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:31AM (#26559201)
      His swipe at Google also highlights the difference between Wikipedia and Britannica. From the article:

      "If I were to be the CEO of Google or the founders of Google I would be very [displeased] that the best search engine in the world continues to provide as a first link, Wikipedia," he said."Is this the best they can do? Is this the best that [their] algorithm can do?"

      The algorithm does not care one bit about which link is more elite, classy, or respected, only about it's relation to other pages on the web. The fact that Wikipedia comes up as the number one result simply illustrates just how popular it is. Ironically, if Jorge read Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], he might know that.

      It's interesting to see that while Britannica lacks a search result for PageRank, Wikipedia has a full article containing mathematical formulas and informative history and commentary about the algorithm. It also cites 16 references and an additional 6 in further reading. Which encyclopedia is inferior, again?

      Now, certainly, Wikipedia should not be used as an authoritative source, but its PageRank alone demonstrates just how effective it has been at bringing knowledge to the masses. Wikipedia is almost always my first stop for a search because it often has a full article for a topic that I might otherwise spend minutes searching for on Google and will have many links to related topics and sources for the article if I want to dig deeper. Most of the time though, I'm not looking for a fully researched, academic quality paper, just a quick overview of the subject. I have a feeling that most people use it for the same reason.

      • by Bromskloss ( 750445 ) <auxiliary.addres ... y@ g m a i l.com> on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:58AM (#26559581)

        Now, certainly, Wikipedia should not be used as an authoritative source

        Nothing should be used as an authorative source.

        That might be a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one.

      • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:59AM (#26559585)

        You're absolutely right.

        Wikipedia is ranked higher because it is more linked throughout the web. But this is just another example where PageRank really is working: it's returning results that are most useful to the searcher.

        For instance for "neutron" on Google, the first link is to Wikipedia. Britannica is nowhere on the first page. If you go directly to Britannica, they do indeed have an article on "neutron" [britannica.com]. However, it is a "premium topic" and keeps asking me to become a member. So when someone is searching for information about neutrons, what source is more useful: the one that immediately provides some information, with references; or the one that asks you to pay some money (or try the free trial...) in order to get full access, so that you can then figure out whether the information they have is useful or not... ?

        The fact is that Wikipedia is more heavily linked because it is a more accessible, therefore more useful, source of information. Even if Britannica's content were superior, this would still be the case. The fact that Wikipedia is more expansive, more timely, and frequently more detailed/referenced than Britannica just makes the choice even clearer.

        PageRank works. Wikipedia is overall a more useful source to the average web surfer, and thus deserves a much higher rank.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mr2cents ( 323101 )

      Of course they don't get it, they reserve that realisation for the day they are out of a job. When I was a kid, I often looked in my father's copy of Britannica, and I really do respect what they have created, but, you know, times have changed. Thinking that they haven't is just foolish.

      To quote the article:

      "It's very much used by many people because it covers many topics and it's the No.1 search result on Google. It's not necessarily that people go to Wikipedia."

      Hmm, Ridiculous. I often just bypass google and go to Wikipedia directly. The only reason that I sometimes use google for reaching wikipedia articles is that the search engine of wikipedia itself is way

    • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:38PM (#26569647) Journal

      Well Jorge, first of all you take a swipe at Google for respecting the very encyclopedia that you yourself are tacitly acknowledging is at least somewhat superior (by imitating it). Then you show just how PROFOUNDLY out of touch you are by insisting that your changes will require editorial review (unless you're about to expand your editorial staff with thousands of new hires, you must not be expecting much participation).

      Bingo! They aren't expecting much participation. When you contribute to Wikipedia you're contributing to a freely accessible resource run by a non-profit. People can justify spending time improving such an animal. Contrast this with Britannica which, apart from behaving badly in this instance, charges for access and suddenly the prospect of contributing to Britannica means I've gone from contributing to the public good to contributing to some jackass company's revenue. One that belittles the contribution no less.

  • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:26AM (#26559129) Homepage

    Google ranks Wikipedia articles higher than Britannica articles because Wikipedia.com is linked to more than Britannica.com.

    In fact I would wager good money that Wikipedia.con is one of the top 5 linked to domains PERIOD, probably shortly after sites like cnn.com, myspace.com, facebook.com

    Google doesn't just manually set it's rankings. They're set by the web. If Britannica wants higher rankings they need to get more people to link to them as an authority.

    • by fruey ( 563914 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:32AM (#26559211) Homepage Journal

      Britannica is "full text for subscribers only" so you can understand just why Wikipedia is linked to so much. You don't have to write a paragraph to explain something any more, you just link to Wikipedia. That's why it's so highly ranked for many terms.

      The worry of course is that high ranked sources of encyclopedic information are self sustaining. Why link anywhere else... do you have time to find anywhere better when you've got a post or article to write?

      Maybe sometimes we should think more about our outgoing links, spreading the juice around more evenly... but then we should all drive more economically and eat better too ;-).

    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )

      I think it's not just links, but also how often people click from Google to the sites as well. If it's more popular, they go higher up. It just makes sense.

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday January 22, 2009 @11:13AM (#26559769)
      It's also the fact that Wikipedia just has so much more content and depth, especially on specific topics (Britannica just has articles on the big and obvious stuff). The sheer volume of information on Wikipedia makes Britannica look like a Kindergartner's encyclopedia. Just this morning, on an earlier topic on plutonium, someone on /. pointed to a fascinating Wikipedia entry on "Cherenkov Radiation [wikipedia.org]" (in response to someone saying that radiation didn't actually make things glow in real life). Later I went and typed in "Cherenkov Radiation" in Britannica just to compare and got...well nothing. Britannica has an article on "radiation" in general, but nothing nearly as specific as this.
      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday January 22, 2009 @11:22AM (#26559907)
        As a follow-uy I finally did find a Britannica entry on Cherenkov Radiation [britannica.com], featuring all of a paragraph of info and no pictures (had to use Google, not Britannica's own search engine, to find it). Now, compare that to the Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org]. And they WONDER why Wikipedia's articles rank higher?!?!
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by skeeto ( 1138903 )

          On top of that, the first Britannica article I looked at [britannica.com] had all kinds of errors. There are grammar errors, like an capitalized sentence. And factual errors, for example,

          Three other "pillars of wisdom" are: not to use copyrighted material, [...]

          Uh, wrong! It is only to use free content, which almost always is under copyright.

          Britannica has no redeeming features compared to Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not only cost-free but also speech-free, which is a major plus. Wikipedia articles are at least as accurate, more detailed, and more plentiful. The Britannica website is an unusable, wort

  • by Gybrwe666 ( 1007849 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:29AM (#26559179)

    Quote: "If I were to be the CEO of Google or the founders of Google I would be very [displeased] that the best search engine in the world continues to provide as a first link, Wikipedia," he said."Is this the best they can do? Is this the best that [their] algorithm can do?"

    I don't know...maybe that's because a few hundred million people visit Wikipedia every year, and maybe because someone like me, who remembers when Lynx was the only web browser available, has never actually gone to Brittanica's website? Just maybe? Perhaps if they resolved their rectal-cranial inversion and made an accessible, easy to use, accurate product their PageRank might improve?


    • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:50AM (#26559485) Homepage

      Perhaps if they resolved their rectal-cranial inversion and made an accessible, easy to use, accurate product their PageRank might improve?

      Also, if it was free instead of being a subscription based service, it might be more popular. It's an inescapable fact of economics. All other things being roughly equal, a free alternative will beat one that costs money... And for what "people" want, Wikipedia and Britannica are essentially equal. No one's looking for exhaustive scientific research on a subject. They're looking for the atomic number of Tin, or how many eggs a chicken lays per week. Who the fuck is going to pay $70 a year for that?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by fruey ( 563914 )

        You can get the answers by asking slashdot too.

        Tin = Sn = Atomic number 50 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin]

        Google directly replies with 50 if you ask "what is the atomic number of tin"

        Chickens = 300 eggs/year = 5.77 a week [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken]

        Second result in Google for "how many eggs does a chicken lay in a week" contains the answer in the summary.

        So, you can just ask Google these questions in natural language and it's not bad at all, quicker than scanning the Wikipedia article (esp. fo

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:57AM (#26559569) Journal
      If I were the CEO of Britannica, I would be ashamed to have a website full of ads and nag screen
    • by Requiem18th ( 742389 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @11:37AM (#26560129)

      What? you can read Britannica on the web? I had no idea, I've never stumbled on a Britannica link, never, not even in Google.

        But then again, this new information is useless anyway.

  • Rankings (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:30AM (#26559181)

    There is also a bit of a rant against Google for ranking Wikipedia above Britannica on most search terms.

    Well, I guess that Google doesn't like to read teaser summaries that demand a paid subscription to read "premium content" any more than I do.

  • Wisdom of the crowd wins again.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisdom_of_the_crowd [wikipedia.org]

    Respected journals such as 'Nature' have (finally) acknowledged they they have published bogus or falsified claims in the past. I'm sure all here know the exmaples, plus of course patent research on prior art, FOSS... Huge pressure exists now for scientific, and other publications, to go this way. Which of course, raises other questions - like what's the 'final' version of 'the truth'?

    Where the Britannica guys (may) have the e

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cgenman ( 325138 )

      I suspect that while we grew up with the concept of "final" versions of thing, including truth, people who grow up with the Web as a reference will think of works as constantly evolving and never rooted. Truth, as it is, will always be revised to be (hopefully) more accurate, or occasoinally defaced.

      Somehow this seems better than the authoratative books in the library which still say that dinosaurs were slow lizards and there is no water on mars.

  • by IBBoard ( 1128019 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:32AM (#26559213) Homepage

    I just checked Britannica.com and I can see another reason why people avoid it - it's terrible for access, where as Wikipedia is a nice and simple browsable site, much closer to a reference book with cross-reference links.

    You hit the front page of Brittanica.com and you get two Flash movies (which I don't see because I use Gnash and have it set to pause on load and not play) and the side panel animates itself open. I decide to try and browse and I can't because the Flash is rendered above the "browse" pop-up layer. I do a search and there's no obvious search button, you just have to hit the Enter key and assume it'll work. Rather than giving you results or the page you want it gave me a quick "light box" animation before popping up another layer. Once I do get to the article it takes ages to load because of the adverts and a slow caching site (ironically) and then it proceeds to plaster its "pay for premium" advert over what I was just about to read! When you close the "pay for premium" layer it won't even go away - apparently details about "encyclopedia" are a premium topic and so it keeps popping back every few seconds!

    With an interface like that there's no wonder people prefer Wikipedia given that it's "accurate enough" for most people's needs.

    • by McGregorMortis ( 536146 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:47AM (#26559449)

      I just did a quicky informal comparison. Searched Britannica for a few terms that I know Wikipedia has good articles about (because I read them recently). And I don't mean the pop-culture kinds of terms that Wikipedia is really great for (just try to find an article about, say, Bubba Ho-tep, in Britannica.)

      ADO(ActiveX Data Objects): nothing at all. Much ado about Shakespeare, though.

      OLE DB: nothing at all.

      But it did suggest an article about "decibel" (the unit of measurement.) Ok, let's see what it's got: One brief paragraph. Textually describes the math (rather than giving an equation). Doesn't really explain at all _why_ people like decibel measurements. Mentions the confusing 10*log vs 20*log thing for powers and amplitudes, but doesn't deign to explain why it is that way.

      Wikipedia: Lengthy, informative, and as far as I can see, completely accurate.

      That is why people link to Wikipedia. And that is why it has a high Google rank.

      Perhaps with more user contributions Britannica can catch up somewhat, but it'll be one hell of an uphill climb at this point.

    • But...but..Jorge's overpaid hip web designers and marketing committees said that flash is in and everyone loves it. His no-nonsense MBAs claim that teaser summaries will increase sales, but to never give a whole article away for free.

      Some companies deserve to fold. This is your classic "we wont adopt to the new web-based market, we'll just keep doing what we've always done and use the web purely as a sales and marketing platform."

      Shame really. If they would get re-do their annoying site and give more conte

    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
      You forgot to mention that when you scroll down the page, it keeps loading content in, and makes you wait for it each time. Also, in 1024*768 at least, the info window is woefully small.
  • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:33AM (#26559239) Homepage Journal

    In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Britannica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

    First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

  • by styryx ( 952942 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:34AM (#26559261)
    Scholarpedia [scholarpedia.org] looks set to address this difference, it is already quite good in its early stages. Essentially wikipedia where only scholars can edit.

    Britannica is now out of date. The FLASH ADS on their site are abrasive and annoying; I will refuse to visit there site anymore due to this behaviour alone.
  • by MollyB ( 162595 ) * on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:36AM (#26559289) Journal

    Out of curiosity I visited www.britannica.com and did a sample search. The result came up, but when I tried to scroll down the article, it faded away and an offer for a "Free Trial" wafted into view. I'm not sure how long the free trial is, but they want to charge you a nickel less than $12/month, or $70/year or bundled with Merriam-Webster for $85/year. I don't see how they expect a casual user to pay these prices when Wikipedia and Wiktionary only ask for donations.
    I'll use the free services for most things. If one needs further verification, there are external references available.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gsslay ( 807818 )

      Exactly. Out of all the whining in the article, not once is in mentioned that Britannica charges subscription. Sure, they have free access for a small amount. But you almost inevitably reach a "subscribe now" page within a couple of clicks in any normal use.

      If I was a paid subscriber of Britannica I would be entering and searching site directly, ensuring I got my money's worth. I wouldn't be accessing it via Google. So the root of their complaint is that they want Google to pull in non-subscribers for

  • Google Rankings (Score:3, Insightful)

    by breadstic ( 1396173 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:37AM (#26559317)

    There are valid reasons that Wikipedia appears before Britannica on Google search results.

    One of them is that if users wanted to pay for their information, then they would have already taken out a subscription with somebody like Britannica. And then they would be using their paid subscription to Britannica by using their search engine and NOT searching for free information on Google.

  • by VShael ( 62735 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:40AM (#26559359) Journal

    they're going to have an expert review it in 20 minutes?

    What about a change to some obscure British scifi novel, like The Last Legionary? (By Douglas Hill)

    This is never gonna work.

    (* I have made changes to both of those pages in wikipedia, and though obscure topics, it wasn't long before further changes were made clarifying my own poorly written points.)

  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:44AM (#26559407)

    Mortimer Adler is the author of numerous books such as, "How to Read a Book", and I believe he was once an editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Alas, despite writing many good books, Adler was maddeningly patronizing towards his readers. For Britannica to let the great unwashed masses actually modify one of his sacred texts almost makes me giddy.

  • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @10:46AM (#26559437) Homepage

    Back in the earlier day of the web encylopedia Americana was free. Britannica was a pay site. Then Britannica went free and it was dominant. But for most of this decade Britannica has not been a free site, which means links are low value.


    1) Wikipedia has vastly more articles than Britannica. It isn't even close.

    2) Wikipedia covers a wider range of topics.

    3) Wikipedia articles are longer and more detailed

    4) Wikipedia articles are much more web friendly with their "see also" web references.... In many ways playing the role yahoo used to play

    5) Wikipedia articles offer history and talk pages which can provide tons of additional information

    I can't see why Britannica would even think that in 2009 they should rank above Wikipedia. Wikipedia vs. Britannica discussions were interesting in 2005/6 and you could make a case. Today they aren't even close. Wikipedia functions reasonably well against specialized encyclopedias in their specialties.

    I have always been a strong supporter of Britannica. I've bought lots of their products over the years and still use their encyclopedia on my laptop as a mobile solution. But they really aren't in the same league anymore as reference works. I think Columbia Encyclopedia [amazon.com] makes a fantastic one volume reference work but I wouldn't rate it not to Britannica. Quantity matters.


    Even assuming they started to get a flood of content I don't see how they would deal with it. Are they really ready to fact check say 1000 pages of new content a day? If they want to do what they are talking about they need to do something like partner with http://en.citizendium.org/ [citizendium.org]
    Britannica could create a distinctive advantage for citizendium and at the same time Singer has put in place enough people to help with content additions.

  • by Kizor ( 863772 )
    We are far indeed from knowing the extents of the Internet's potential, but know it's large enough to make the largest reference work in human history spring up out of nowhere. There's hardly a better time to experiment. If this goes wrong, the Britannica staff if anyone should be able to tell and they have an encyclopedia-wide revision to fall back on.

    The rebellious air of Wikipedia's earlier years has dissipated, and editors no longer (widely) see the site as a competitor to Britannica. Both are used t
  • by Artifex33 ( 932236 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @11:15AM (#26559801)

    Just looking at Britannica.com's home page will reveal why they aren't ranked as well as Wikipedia. Upwards of 90% of the home page content is irrelevant to the majority of users, who are there because they want to look something up, not look at the video of the day, play with the "Featured" flash movie, or read about how Britannica is involved in Advocacy for Animals. This is an excellent example of web design molded around the needs of internal customers and requirements rather than the needs of the end user. The flash movies swoop in as they load, drawing attention away from the user's goal: the search box in the upper-middle of the screen, which itself is visually subservient to the arrogant "Premium Membership - Free Trial" button in the upper-right.

    Both google and wikipedia did it right. Give the user a search box, a logo, and some language options. Trust them to explore your system on their own.

  • This is funny (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I interviewed there a couple months ago for a strategic product manager. Basically, they wanted someone to come in and help them figure out how to beat Wikipedia and reclaim the spot as reference provider of the world. It's pretty funny that this major strategic decision got made a few short months after they hired someone else (presumably). The real problem, and I told them this while interviewing, is that they are requiring people to pay for content, and wikipedia charges nothing, for "good-enough-for-mos

  • The issue... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by commo1 ( 709770 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @11:26AM (#26559967)

    The real issue here is that the "authoritative" (emphasis on the quotation marks) status of Wikipedia as THE place to go for information in the sense that it will in time be generally accurate. If Britannica is successful, Wikipedia's status will be diluted. Case in point: probably 90% or more of Slashdot users use Google for general web searches, while going to Wikipedia for encyclopaedia research, IMDB for movie research, Sourceforge for open source product research, etc.... We know better than to put up with a MSN or Yahoo query (unless the Google search came up unsatisfactory). If the Wikipedia results are unsatisfactory, we research and add to the article, making it more complete and authoritative. Are we going to feel compelled to verify that Britannica is correct as well? (keep in mind that Britannica would never have allowed free access, let alone editable content if it weren't for the success of Wikipedia). Do we really care that MSN and Yahoo perform poorly for most queries other than perhaps looking up the latest Katy Perry video or editorial content? This, of course, comes with a massive theoretical cost to freedom by concentrating the power with a small number of authorities (Google and Wikipedia, for example) but with the benefit of optimizing accuracy and reducing time required to "authoritate" the web.

  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @11:48AM (#26560333) Homepage Journal
    wikipedia is so easy to use, so vast that it is much easier to resort to wikipedia for something than britannica. when we are debating, discussing, or wanting to give information about something to someone in a quick fashion, we link the wikipedia page. in our sites, forums and so on. therefore the pageranks of those wiki pages goes up and up, whereas britannica's sucks tit.

    it doesnt matter that wikipedia's content can be contested, objectionable, at times unreliable for some controversial subjects - it gives an easy, neat, formatted, quick glance presentation to convey what you are talking about to the person you are linking it to. moreover, the articles that are created with solid references and common knowledge cant be contested, so there isnt too much difference in linking "Anita Ward" or "French-Indian Wars" wiki pages to someone to give out a broad info, and give them a place to start with. not to mention that stuff that doesnt make into britannica editions because 'editors' would find too controversial or distasteful for their political/financial alignment, can easily be found in wikipedia in all their bare truth.

    sorry britannica. you are proprietary technology. this is the 21st century of participation and interactivity. wikipedia is participative, and interactive. you are way behind. its good to see you trying to adopt, but its annoying to see that you people rant about stuff that are better than you in many respects. lighten up, its the century of the people. people are the custodians of information now, not a minority literate elite.
  • by Ohio Calvinist ( 895750 ) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @03:00PM (#26563561)
    What Brittanica should do is contribute its most polished articles to Wikipedia (or integrate the content) and then periodically, check on those articles or other "good" ones on Wikipedia and do whatever "fact-checking", copy-editing, and the like that they do already and produce better articles in both encyclopedias and still sell their dead-tree version.

    The biggest problem both are facing are the questions of "what should an enyclopedia be" or put, "how broad should a general-purpose encyclopedia be", and "to what audience should it be." For example, with a B-Tree Algorithm; should it be in here, and if so, to what level of detail should we go? For Wikipedia, having the ability to have near limitless time and space, articles can be as indepth as contributors wish, and given the near limitless time and space their encyclopedia can have intesive breadth. Brittanica has a cyclical publishing nature, high quality requirements (e.g. Wikipedia can "get away" with articles in development, incomplete, uncited, etc... for a while, where the prior can not), no easy way to remedy inaccuracies; in other words, very limited time and space.

    However, Wikipedia is running into issues where certain moderators are under the impression that they too must "trim the fat" and delete articles who need a little TLC; to get the same respectability of Brittanica. The major problem is they are in two totally different situations. Brittanica is trying to be too much like Wikipedia (which might not be a bad thing) and Wikipedia (at least parts of it) are trying to be a little too much like Brittanica; when their delivery mechanisms, editorial/community structure, and ultimately purpose is completely different.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.