Wednesday, May 25

I found 180 factual errors in Store norske leksikon in 2021

  • David Tørre Asprusten

    Quiz author, World Cup medalist in quiz and active user of Store norske leksikon

Large Norwegian encyclopedias (SNL) have less money than most people are aware of, the debater writes.

SNL needs to get money to have full-time writers.

This is a debate post. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.

To Minister of Education Tonje Brenna (Labor Party),
I love Store norske leksikon. It is led by an editorial team with fabulous people. In 2020, for the first time, 3 million unique users were passed in one month.

It is easy to agree that the social mission is enormous, not least when pupils and students are the most frequent users. Therefore, criticism is also necessary.


I am a trained teacher and librarian and work as a quiz writer. In my profession, I need to check a lot of facts in the course of a year.

I have now made a list of the factual errors I found, in the past year.

The number 180 is in practice one factual error in SNL every other day. We can not accept that «Norway’s largest knowledge base with quality-assured content» claims that our first female party leader was Eva Kolstad (instead of Berit Ås).

Or that Texas borders Louisiana to the west (instead of the east). I agree that the latter is less serious, but also careless mistakes lower confidence.

All 180 are now corrected. The proposed amendments have thus been approved by an editor or subject manager.

Important “forget-me-nots”

Besides, it’s not just about factual errors. Just as important is the “forgetting mistake”: that things that should be included are forgotten. For example, the honorary prize winner at the Sports Gala 2022, Karen Espelund, is missing her own article. She is just one example of female under-representation.

Or that article Edvard Grieg says a lot well, but never mentions titles like “Morgenstemning”, “Solveig’s song” or “Våren”.

Or that Buddhism does not include concepts such as guru, dharma (Buddha’s teachings), the three jewels, lotus flower or Buddhist holidays.

The Nansen passport itself was never mentioned in Fridtjof Nansen before I suddenly came across it.

The examples are to illustrate a general challenge, not to hang out individual authors.

Too little money

Why such errors? Because SNL has less money than most people are aware of. Revenues in 2019 were 28.1 million.

The universities and other member organizations are responsible for the majority. The state itself contributed a modest 5.6 million.

Increased support for Store norske leksikon is a cheap way to even out differences

Therefore, the income is far from being able to work with the 900 subject managers full time with this. I have roughly calculated that the money is equivalent two weeks work in year.

In comparison, I find that Encyclopedia Britannica has an annual turnover of somewhere between 600 million and one billion kroner (!) It is over 100 times the Norwegian state aid (Growjo, Owler and Zippia).

At the same time, it does not have to cost so a lot to raise SNL to where we should be. I think we will go a long way with, for example, a tenfold increase in state aid to 56 million. It is a small sum with a large gain.

Heavy for children

Not least, the gain applies to children and young people. There is a lot in SNL that is not adapted to them.

For example, I think Knut Hamsun is a lovely article. Nevertheless, it becomes too difficult for the 12-year-old to read about “an important figure both in the neo-romanticism of the 1890s and in the more realistic novel literature of the interwar period”.

Therefore, the editors have published plans for “Little Norwegian encyclopedia”. If the financing is in place, the goal is launch in 2023.

So far, there has been one donor, the member organization Fritt Ord. More are needed. I think the state should take the opportunity.

In the New Year’s speech, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor Party) had no doubt that the corona era has made our society more unfair. It becomes fairer the more equal access everyone has to knowledge. Therefore, increased support for Store norske leksikon is a cheap way to even out differences.

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