Harvard coverage

Wikipedia gets double coverage at Harvard

College newspapers seem particularly prone to write about Wikipedia, as interest among students continues to contribute to its press coverage. In fact, The Harvard Crimson had not one but two articles last week referring to Wikipedia, one of them a full-length review of the project.

The first mention came from Alex McPhillips, who used the law of averages as the theme for a sports story last Monday about the university's women's basketball team. Leading off the article with a reference to Wikipedia as "that quintessentially laissez-faire website", the reporter then made the quintessential mistake of identifying Wikipedia as a .com rather than a .org. McPhillips went on to the law of averages article, commenting, "I... got, more or less, what I expected". (What those expectations were isn't clearly stated, but it may at least be satisfying to know that Wikipedia lived up to expectations.)

On Tuesday, however, the Crimson published a thorough review of Wikipedia by Matthew A. Gline, entitled "Citing Riots". This article takes a more obviously positive approach (and gets the .org part right), while still acknowledging some of the questions about Wikipedia's reliability.

Gline starts off his article with the question of the name for a 77-sided polygon, which is apparently heptacontakaiheptagon, as he learned from Wikipedia. Curiously enough, that article was submitted to Votes for deletion only a few days earlier, along with several other articles dealing with many-sided polygons, though Gline may not have known this, as he could have simply gotten the name from the polygon article. The submitter, Curps, argued that mathematicians would actually refer to it as a 77-gon, or an N-gon for any polygon with N sides. All of the votes have been to delete the article or merge it back into polygon.

Gline says many laudatory things: "To Wikipedia's credit, it looks, and in most cases is, fantastic. Its coverage on even the most obscure topics generally stands up to extensive critical scrutiny". In support of its trustworthiness, he mentions the many writers who have given it "de facto support" by using it as a reference, while also citing some of the critics of this trend.

Like a few other journalists, Gline discusses the possibility of errors in Wikipedia by mentioning one that he introduced himself. He relates that he changed the founding year of Harvard's rival, Yale University, from 1701 to 1702. It appears that he committed this act of vandalism back on 5 February, and did not even wait one minute to see if someone else would revert it, but did so himself. He keeps the reader in suspense somewhat longer, but clears it up at the close of the article.

In his conclusion, Gline comes out in favor of healthy skepticism and an admonition to "know thy sources." But he still ends up by encouraging the reader to use, and even correct, Wikipedia, saying that the project's momentum is too valuable to lose and people need not shy away from it.

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