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“Women in Science Wikipedia Edit-a-thon” @ Royal Society

“Women in Science Wikipedia Edit-a-thon” @ Royal Society

This week I made my first visit to the Royal Society, a grade I-listed building just off the Mall, laptop in tow, for the Women in Science Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. This was the Royal Society’s bid to enhance the representation of women scientists on Wikipedia and train new female Wikipedia editors. While it wasn’t a prerequisite for signing up, most attendees were female. Women make up half of the Wikipedia readership but, I was surprised to hear, only 10% of its editors. The event aimed to redress this balance.

To start, the Royal Society’s Wikimedian-in-Residence John Byrne presented a brief history of Wikipedia. Since 2012 Wikipedia readership has been in decline, partly due to the advent of Google ‘boxes’. As a crowd-sourced, open content online encyclopaedia, it relies on “the community” to generate content and its editorial philosophy is shaped by ‘The Five Pillars’. We were given a crash course in Wiki editing and general Wiki etiquette.

We then set about creating new Wiki pages or bulking out existing pages on eminent female scientists. I selected Dr Margaret Liu, a pioneer in DNA vaccines for HIV, who I’d never heard of before but chose on the basis of my work in vaccine development. Wikipedia techie helpers were on hand to help us get to grips with editing. In the allotted time I managed some Google searching, to write a few notes in my ‘sandbox’ draft page and learn about coding for subheadings and references. Watch this space for a link to the finished page, My-First-Wiki-Edit™.

Increasing the online presence of unknown but accomplished women scientists is important for expanding the pool of role models for young girls considering going into science. Historically, it was considered unfeminine for women to work as scientists. Those that did either published their work under an ‘anonymous’ pseudonym or the men they were working with took all the credit. While we’ve come a long way since those days there is still work to be done to before we see complete gender equality.

The problem with women working in science isn’t garnering interest at entry level but preventing mid-career scientists from dropping out around the time they’re starting families, reducing the numbers of women heading into senior positions: the ‘leaky pipeline’ phenomenom. This week, the only senior lady in the small biotech company of fifteen people I work for resigned to move to a position where she can work at home more to be there for her teenage daughter. At 33, I’m now the oldest woman. Where are all the role models?!

Media coverage of the event:

Stop female scientists being written out of Wikipedia history

Don’t just use women in science – listen to them too

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