Brown University professor organises Wikipedia edit-a-thon for women

Professor aims to increase the number of female scientists and technologists featured on the site

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 9:30pm


Look up a female scientist or technologist on Wikipedia, and you might not find what you're looking for. Many don't have detailed pages or any page at all on the free online encyclopedia created by contributors, the vast majority of them men.

It's a symptom of a larger problem for women in so-called Stem fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - where men far outnumber women. Even women who have done pioneering work in these fields don't always get recognition. Since 2009, no woman has won a Nobel Prize in science.

A biology professor and an alumna of Brown University in the US state of Rhode Island hope to help chip away at the problem with a Wikipedia "edit-a-thon", one of many that have been held in recent years in an effort to increase the representation of women on Wikipedia.

They gathered dozens of students and some faculty members this week at Brown to train them on how to add and edit pages. They also provided lists of suggestions for women to add, entries to clean up or those who needed more detail, along with links to source material.

Among those listed was Ingeborg Hochmair, who does not have a page even though last month she won the prestigious Lasker Award for medical research for her work developing the modern cochlear implant. By contrast, ter husband, Erwin Hochmair, an accomplished engineer who helped develop the device but did not win a Lasker prize, has his own page.

Another is Anny Cazenave, who last year won the William Bowie Medal for outstanding contributions to fundamental geophysics. She's on Wikipedia in French, but not English.

Maia Weinstock, a Brown graduate, organised the Tuesday event with Anne Fausto-Sterling, a professor of biology and gender studies.

Weinstock, who has run other edit-a-thons for different fields, said she had targeted Wikipedia because it was so influential and was one of the most popular encyclopedias in the world. It was the first place many people go to find out about a subject.

"You're helping change what everybody else gets to see on a particular topic," she told trainees. She said she also hoped to increase the number of women who contribute to Wikipedia. Fewer than 20 per cent of Wikipedia editors are women.

Sara Hartse and Jacqueline Gu, both Brown computer science students, said they had seen big gender imbalances in science and technology classes and activities and heard their female computer science professor bemoan the fact that talented women often leave the field.

Neither had edited a Wikipedia page before this week.

"I like this because it's about empowering women to contribute to this," Hartse said. "It's a good feedback loop."