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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Wikipedia not your typical resource

    Wikipedia knows things traditional encyclopedias don’t.

    Type in the phrase “”more cowbell”” on the Web site, and there is an article about the “”Saturday Night Live”” sketch responsible for infusing pop culture with Christopher Walken’s proclamation, “”I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.””

    The article goes on for four pages.

    The online, user-controlled encyclopedia features articles on everything from the legitimate to the obscure, from the Pythagorean theorem to people you went to school with.

    The technology pages are really good because the nerds that work on math entries, they’re not going to let something fly. You are more likely to see contradictions in (articles about) history.

    – Charlie Bertsch, assistant professor of English

    Charlie Bertsch, an assistant professor of English, said he knows this firsthand.

    “”Recently, I found an entry about my ex-girlfriend from undergrad school,”” Bertsch said. “”She called and said, ‘Did you write that?’ I didn’t write the article, but it contained some very specific information.””

    Bertsch, who started a similar online information site called Bad Subjects in 1993, said the concept of continuous fact checking and editing is something Wikipedia articles have that traditional encyclopedias don’t. Bertsch said the articles make good teaching tools to show his class how entries are constructed, and he believes that the site’s existence is a testament to the progression of the Internet as an information tool.

    “”At least five to 20 years ago, students would stumble across a Web site and they wouldn’t have any sense of how accurate that Web site was,”” he said. “”At least on Wikipedia, there’s a decent chance the facts will hold up.””

    Bertsch said the pages are only as good as the people who edit them.

    “”The technology pages are really good because the nerds that work on math entries, they’re not going to let something fly. You are more likely to see contradictions in (articles about) history,”” Bertsch said.

    Bruce Bayly, an associate professor of mathematics, said he often turns to Wikipedia for general knowledge, such as looking up terms he was unfamiliar with for a finance class he was instructing.

    Although he has yet to notice any errors, Bayly said he knows they exist.

    Mistakes in information resources aren’t unique to Wikipedia, Bayly said.

    “”It’s not a new thing, when we are using a textbook, every textbook will have a few mistakes,”” Bayly said. “”Any source has to be checked, and Wikipedia is the latest incarnation of that idea.””

    Andrew Carnie, a professor of linguistics who contributes to Wikipedia articles, said he is fine with his students using the site as a source, but they need to have other sources that corroborate.

    “”My first reaction to it is that it’s a fine first path, a good option for students doing preliminary research into a topic,”” Carnie said.

    He started editing articles when he noticed “”gross inaccuracies”” in some of them and said he remains wary of the site’s role in academics because many articles lack an authoritative source.

    Wikipedia, which now has more than 1.4 million English-language articles, was launched in 2001 and contains about 5 million articles in more than 200 languages.

    The name combines encyclopedia with the word wiki, which describes a type of Web site that allows users to edit its content, according to Wikipedia.

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