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Royal Society Hosts Wikipedia Edit-athon To Add Information on Female Scientists

 

By Mancunium, with Yerucham Turing

Bustle, the somewhat controversial news website for women, wrote in its February 23rd edition:

No matter what you tell your college professors, we all know that Wikipedia is everyone’s go-to source for basic information about pretty much everything. So when women are massively under-represented on the site – both in terms of editors and in terms of subjects – it’s a big problem. Which is why Britain’s Royal Society, a 350-year-old institution dedicated to science (not that I got that off Wikipedia or anything), is working to fix this problem by hosting an edit-athon to bulk up entries for female scientists. […] The organizers also hope that simply by training more women in the ins and outs of Wikipedia editing that these women will feel more confident making edits and that, slowly, the gender imbalance among Wikipedia editors will become smaller. […]

On March 4, Wikipedia held its “Women in Science Wikipedia Edit-a-thon” at the Royal Society in London. According to the Guardian, “40 volunteers used the society’s resources to expand and create articles about women in science and engineering. ”

Bustle understands that a Wikipedia BLP can’t just present a few dry facts about a person’s professional career. For instance: “Marie Skłodowska-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Physics and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry”; that’s just boring, and we can find that kind of information anywhere. Wikipedia, in contrast, gives us all the facts we need to judge Mme Curie as a woman:

In 1911 it was revealed that in 1910–11 Curie had conducted an affair of about a year’s duration with physicist Paul Langevin, a former student of Pierre’s.[45] He was a married man who was estranged from his wife.[43] This resulted in a press scandal that was exploited by her academic opponents. Curie (then in her mid-40s) was five years older than Langevin and was portrayed in the tabloids as a foreign Jewish home-wrecker.[46] She was away for a conference in Belgium when the scandal broke; upon her return, she found an angry mob in front of her house, and had to seek a refuge, with her daughters, at a house of a friend.[43]

So Bustle has helpfully included some real excerpts from Wikipedia biographies of high-profile women, to show the scientists to be newly included in “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” what their biographies might look like after a week or two.

Martha Stewart
“Stewart dated Sir Anthony Hopkins, but ended the relationship after she saw ‘The Silence of the Lambs.’ She stated she was unable to avoid associating Hopkins with the character of Hannibal Lecter”

Megan Fox
“Fox has revealed that she is not too social, stating, ‘You won’t believe this, but I never go out. I don’t like drunk, sweaty people whose only goal is to have sex. I stay home and play computer backgammon. Every once in a while, I go to Color Me Mine to do pottery.’”

Charlize Theron
“During her early months there, she went to a Hollywood Boulevard bank to cash a check her mother had sent her to help with the rent. When the teller refused to cash it, Theron engaged in a shouting match with him. Upon seeing this, talent agent John Crosby, in line behind her, handed her his business card and subsequently introduced her to casting agents and also an acting school. She later fired him as her manager after he kept sending her scripts for films similar to ‘Showgirls’ and ‘Species.’”

Beyoncé
“Her pregnancy announcement earned a Guinness World Record for ‘most tweets per second recorded for a single event’ on Twitter, receiving 8,868 tweets per second, and ‘Beyonce pregnant’ was the most Googled term the week of August 29, 2011.”

Emma Stone
“Stone’s low-pitched husky voice is a result of having baby colic, a condition of frequent screaming as an infant, resulting in the development of nodules.”

Miley Cyrus
“Francois Navarre, the proprietor of the X17 photo agency, said Cyrus’s market value had picked up considerably after the Vanity Fair photo controversy: ‘She’s started to sell more. […] It used to be $300, and now it’s $2,000 for a picture.’ Estimates for a picture of the then-15 year old’s first kiss ranged from $30,000 to $150,000.”

 

“Gossip – At every Sip a Reputation Dies”

 

Does Wikipedia’s TMZ-like biographical coverage also extend to men? Are they as likely to be trivialized as their female counterparts, or are they treated more seriously? This matter bears investigating.

Image credit: Flickr/Boston Public Library, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

6 comments to Royal Society Hosts Wikipedia Edit-athon To Add Information on Female Scientists

  • Radiant Orchid

    Wikipedia treats some women with more respect than others. Look at Belle Knox, a university student recently outed as a porn performer and harassed because of it. Although several “reliable sources” have printed her real name, a small group of Wikipedia editors have successfully fought to keep it out. If Marie Curie wanted a better Wikipedia entry, she should have gone into porn.

  • Wikipedia seems to have some misogynists and some fierce advocates of greater participation and representation for women.

    What is doesn’t seem to have is… women editors. At least not in numbers needed to overcome this imbalance.

    The WMF needs to put a boot on the neck of the misogynist culture, or women will stay away, or stay hidden.

  • eagle

    The point is that Wikipedia’s coverage of all scientists, both men and women, are lacking. A group of dedicated volunteers needs to be recruited and trained to address that deficiency. I would hope that we could get past the silly goal of having each group editing only biographical articles of their own kind. Men should do a competent job of editing the bios of female scientists, and Catholics should do a competent job of editing the bios of Protestant scientists, etc. If I had to assign bio projects at an edit-a-thon, I would ask each participant about their science background, and assign a Chemist bio to a volunteer with a Chemistry background, a theoretical Physicist bio to a volunteer with a Mathematics or Physics background, and so on. If you understand the ethics of the scientific community, then you would understand that the race, religion and gender is secondary to the substance.

    At present, Wikipedia does a much better job of covering pokemon characters than it does scientists. I question how seriously the Royal Society is dedicated to changing that or is it just providing a free meeting room for one day.

  • Arildnordby

    “At present, Wikipedia does a much better job of covering pokemon characters than it does scientists”

    The problem being???

    Read about pokemon and Tolkien characters on Wikipedia, read about scientists elsewhere.

    • Radiant Orchid

      The problem is that men are generally over-represented on WP, when compared to their equally qualified female counterparts. This is such a well-known and well documented thing that the WMF’s outgoing Executive Director Sue Gardner set a goal in 2011 to have female contributors comprise 25% of all contributors by 2015, in an effort to address both the lack of content about notable women and the lack of (actual) women editors.

      Gardner will likely be gone by 2015 and if her efforts will be regarded as a failure, if they are evaluated at all.

      • Arildnordby

        Radiant Orchid:

        Pick out any peer-constructed and reviewed encyclopedia edition published well into the 1990s, and I can virtually guarantee you that female scientists (or overachievers in general) are underrepresented there as well.

        That is, of course, mainly the result that new editions retain a large degree of conservatism (due to monetary expenses) relative to previous editions/other encyclopedias, it is by far cheapest to retain a maximally unchanged encyclopedia. (How much money do we have for fully revised, utterly new encyclopedic projects, anyway??)

        Now, I’m sure that if you do detailed studies here in relevant time frames, you’ll find that gradually, the new editions of peer-reviewed encyclopedias HAVE become much improved on the issues of female overachievers. But, that process is by far not finished, there’s a lot of catching up here!!

        That Wikipedia should in any way represent a regressive phenomenon to this ongoing improvement process is hardly anything that can be evidenced.