A group of undergraduates and alumni combated the backlash of “wikiality” and put their own spin on the facts about Cornell in an article about the University on the website Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia elevated the Cornell University page to “Featured Article” status today after impressing Wikipedia editors with its style, completeness and commitment to accuracy.
Benjamin Lowe ’04, who worked on the Cornell article for a year, said that the article has come a long way since it was first written in September 2001. “The original article was seven sentences long, and two of the sentences were missing periods,” he said.
Every day, Wikipedia selects an article that editors judge to be the best on the online encyclopedia for “featured” status. Only 1 in 1,250 articles are chosen.
Some people may question if being featured on Wikipedia is really an honor; the media has paid considerable negative lip-service to Wiki’s policy of allowing users to write and edit pieces, leaving it vulnerable to falsities.
Proof of the site’s handicap is seen in an episode of The Colbert Report where the political satirist Stephen Colbert invited his viewers to fudge the facts about the actual number of endangered elephants in a Wiki article.
Demonstrating how easy it was to transform absurd falsehoods into reality online, Colbert coined the phrase “wikiality,” and a new movement of fact vandalism, or reality adjusting, was born.
Despite the risks of people blatantly lying about information for entertainment value or otherwise, Lowe disagreed that Wikipedia should be discounted as a credible source.
“It’s always frustrating for me when I hear people remark that anyone can go and simply write whatever they want on the site,” he said. “Granted, there are a number of articles that could use healthy editing and fact-checking, but articles like the one about Cornell are about as thoroughly researched as some Ph.D. theses.”
According to Lowe, every assertion required a reliable reference to support it, leaving the article with 109 footnotes due to a collaborative effort of over 200 registered users, and countless anonymous contributors, making 2,500 edits to improve Cornell’s Wiki reputation. Even the administration pitched in to make sure the shade of red used in the color scheme is the official carnelian used by the University.
The article on Cornell University is one of only six articles written about a college or university that has been featured on Wikipedia.