Wikipedia is the 5th most visited website in the world and is an important first stop when looking up any topic – it is truly an incredible resource. But its power can be dangerous. It lacks diversity both in its editorship and its articles. This means that its systemic biases can have a large impact on the way we think. Wikipedia, like most mainstream publishing and media, is very disproportionately white and male. However, unlike traditional information resources, Wikipedia’s users can have a direct positive impact on its content. This is why Information Services held a Diversithon event for the Festival of Creative Learning on the afternoon of 20th February 2019:
“To increase the diversity of voices, genders, and cultures among its contributors and editors, the Wikimedia Foundation has made it a strategic goal to recruit and foster more women, people of colour, and other underrepresented individuals—including LGBT+ populations… the Wikimedia Foundation recognizes that the majority of its Wikipedia contributors and editors are disproportionately male, under 22 years old, and (most likely white and straight) from “the Global North”. They also admit that Wikipedia’s coverage is skewed toward the interests, expertise, and language skills of the people who created it…”— Wexelbaum, Herzog, & Rasberry, “Queering Wikipedia” (2015).
The Diversithon was a Wikipedia editing event held in a social and supportive setting to celebrate diversity for LGBT+ History Month 2019 and Black History Month.
This event trained its attendees in the skills required to contribute to and improve Wikipedia – a useful skill for anyone to have – and focused on creating new articles to include notable Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic professionals; LGBT+ professionals; as well as continuing our work to address the systemic gender gap on Wikipedia where only 17.83% of biographies are about notable women.
The Diversithon in a nutshell:
12 new articles were created.
2 more were drafted.
28 articles were edited.
249 edits in total.
9,530 words added.
9,190 articles views.
Our co-hosts for the event, the student support group Wellcomm Kings, kicked off the event.
Rosie Taylor, a Biological Sciences student and Wellcomm Kings convenor, presented on why we hold LGBTHistoryMonth, which she had stated she had orientated herself about using Wikipedia. Rosie discussed the history of the Section 28 and the protests against it. This legislation stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. It was repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000, as one of the first pieces of legislation enacted by the new Scottish Parliament, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of the United Kingdom. Rosie also provided some context on the Queer Community in Scotland and posed the question as to whether Scotland was indeed ahead of the curve? Homosexuality was, after all, decriminalised 13 years later than in England. She closed by stating there was still a long way to go. Despite the progress being made in some quarters, 1 in 5 LGBT+ people still report to have experienced a hate crime in the past year.
Tom and Henry from Uncover_Ed presented following Rosie’s talk; outlining the student research project they had been involved in, which focused on surfacing the lives and contributions of the University of Edinburgh’s global alumni. The UncoverED exhibition launched 31 January 2019 in the Crystal Macmillan Building.
“UncoverEd is a collaborative and decolonising research project, funded by Edinburgh Global, which aims to situate the ‘global’ status of the University of Edinburgh in its rightful imperial and colonial context. Led by PhD candidates Henry Mitchell and Tom Cunningham, the team of eight student researchers are creating a database of students from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the Americas from as early as 1700, and writing social histories of the marginalised student experience. The aim was to produce at least one biography each of a ‘notable’ alumnus, leading up to a website and exhibition in January 2019”.
Roger Bamkin, co-founder of WikiProject Women in Red, was also in attendance and helped support the staff, students and members of the public at our Diversithon to create and improve Wikipedia pages over the course of the afternoon. WikiProject Women in Red is the second most active WikiProject on Wikipedia and its aim is to turn red-linked articles about notable women which don’t yet exist into blue clickable links which do.
“In November 2014, only about 15% of the English Wikipedia’s biographies were about women. Founded in July 2015, WiR strives to improve the figure, which has reached 17.73% as of 18 February 2019. But that means, according to WHGI, only 284,439 of our 1,604,512 biographies are about women. Not impressed? “Content gender gap” is a form of systemic bias, and WiR addresses it in a positive way through shared values.”
Through our combined efforts, over the course of an afternoon, the following pages were produced:
Jane Pirie (1779-1833)opened a girl’s school in Edinburgh and was accused of lesbianism with the school’s co-founder Marianne Woods. The story of the court case was the inspiration for Lillian Hellman’s play “The Children’s Hour”.
Lisa Middleton is the 1st transgender person to be elected in California for a nonjudicial position. Lisa was included in the 2016 Pride Honors Awards recipients from Palm Springs Pride with the Spirit of Stonewall Community Service Award.
Xheni Karaj is a LGBT rights activist and co-founder of the Aleanca LGBT organization. Xheni, together with Kristi Pinderi, were among the first activists to launch the LGBT rights movement in Albania. Translated from Albanian Wikipedia.
Clara Marguerite Christian (1895-1964), was born in Dominica and was the 1st black woman to study at the University of Edinburgh. Her university experience speaks to the “double jeopardy” of “navigating both race and gender within whiteness”, embodying “the simultaneous invisibility and hyper-visibility” of being a black woman in Edinburgh during the 1910s”.
Jabulani Chen Pereira is a queer South African activist & visual artist. In 2012, Pereira founded Iranti (South African LGBT organisation), a non-governmental organisation focusing queer human rights issues primarily through visual media.
Annette Eick (1909-2010) was a Jewish Lesbian writer. During the 1920s, a liberal time period in the Weimar republic, Eick wrote poems and short stories for lesbian magazines. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, she had to give up on journalism and started working as a nanny. In 1938, she was granted a visum to live in the UK and fled to London after surviving an attack by Nazis on the farm she was staying at during the Reichkristallnacht. Her parents were murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In London, Eick worked as a nanny and housekeeper and met her partner Getrud Klingel. They moved to Devon, where they opened a nursery and Eick started writing again. Her collection of poems, Immortal Muse, was published in 1984 and turned into a short film called The Immortal Muse by Jules Hussey in 2005. Eick became known to a wider audience through the documentary ‘Paragraph 175’ from 2000, which told the experiences of five gay men and one lesbian woman (Eick) that were prosecuted under the paragraph 175 which criminalised homosexuality.
Elizabeth Kerekere is a scholar, artist & activist within the LGBTQ+ community in New Zealand. Kerekere has been an active member of the Green Party, promoting suicide prevention, anti-violence, healthy relationships and housing for all.
Jessica Platt is a professional hockey player and an advocate for transgender rights. She plays for the Toronto Furies in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and was the first transgender woman to play in the CWHL.
Les+ Magazine was started in 2005 by a group of young Chinese lesbians. The slogan of the 1st issue states ‘After the darkness fades away, I’ll be holding ur hand, walking under the sunlight with pride, boldly & happily living our lives!‘.
Lala is a non-derogatory Chinese slang term for lesbian, or a same-sex desiring woman. It is used primarily by the LGBT+ community in mainland China, though the term has origins in the Taiwanese term for lesbian, lazi (Chinese: 拉子).
NEWLY drafted to Wikipedia: Mala Maña is an all-female vocal group from New Mexico, fusing contemporary & folkloric rhythm of the African diasporas with Latin American music. Can you help finish the article so we can publish it?
NEWLY drafted to Wikipedia:Marsha H. Levine is the founder of InterPride, an international organisation for Pride committees. She was Parade Manager of San Francisco Pride from 2000-2018. Can you help finish the article so we can publish?
If you want to know more about the Diversithon or would like to suggest a Wikipedia event yourself then the Wikimedia residency is a free resource available to staff an students at the university. Message me at email@example.com
Addressing the challenges of digital and information literacy, digital scholarship and open knowledge at the University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is the first university in the UK to appoint a university-wide Wikimedian in Residence as part of its institutional strategy to develop information and digital literacy skills for staff and students, and contribute to the creation and dissemination of open knowledge.
The role of the Wikimedian in Residence is to work with course teams and students across the University, to demonstrate how learning to contribute to Wikipedia can enhance staff and students’ understanding of how knowledge is constructed, curated and contested online. Editing Wikipedia also provides valuable opportunities for students to develop their digital research and communication skills, and enables them to make a lasting contribution to the global pool of open knowledge.
The residency also focuses on redressing the gender balance of Wikipedia articles and has been hugely successful in encouraging more women to become Wikipedia editors.
A growing number of courses at undergraduate and Masters level have successfully incorporated Wikipedia editing activities in the curriculum, and student societies have also developed their own Wikipedia projects. The University is also engaging with Wikipedia’s newest sister project, Wikidata, in the context of the growing importance of data literacy and open data initiatives.
A number of other UK universities are learning from the Edinburgh experience, and are developing their own projects with Wikimedia UK, the UK chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation.
A strategy for digital and information literacy
Wikimedia UK is the UK chapter of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which supports a range of open knowledge projects, of which Wikipedia is the best known. Wikimedia UK fosters engagement with these projects through the placement of Wikimedians in Residence within institutions in the education and cultural sectors.
Having seen the potential of the Wikimedian in Residence model, Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, identified how such a placement could help improve information literacy and digital skills at the University.
An initial Wikipedia editathon, a facilitated event that brings people together to edit the encyclopaedia, was held at the University in 2015, on the topic of women, science and Scottish history. This editathon was independently evaluated by Professor Alison Littlejohn of the Open University, in order to establish its impact and explore the value of collaboration with Wikimedia UK. Professor Littlejohn found that both formal and informal learning and knowledge creation took place at the editathon. In two research papers,[i],[ii]she analysed the formation of networks of practice and social capital through participation in editathons, with sufficient momentum generated to sustain engagement after the event itself, and participants valuing it as an important part of their professional development. She also found that, in becoming an active Wikipedia editor, participants engaged in important discussions about how knowledge is created, curated and contested online, and the positive impact that Wikipedia can have in sharing knowledge and addressing knowledge gaps.
As a research-based institution, this evidence of the benefits of engaging with Wikipedia helped to make the business case for integrating Wikipedia editing as part of the University of Edinburgh’s information literacy and digital skills strategy. The following year, the University appointed a new Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. This was the first residency in the UK with a remit to work right across a university, rather than within a specific area such as a library. Based in the Digital Skills team within the University’s Information Services Group, the Wikimedian in Residence provides a centrally supported service accessible to all staff across the institution. Initially a one-year, part-time appointment, the residency focused on helping colleagues to make connections between their teaching and research and the Wikimedia projects, in order to explore areas of mutual benefit. As a result of the positive response to this service, the Wikimedian in Residence has since become a full-time permanent post.
In addition to providing educational opportunities, the residency supports a number of key institutional missions, including open knowledge and open science; the Scottish Government initiative on creating a data literate workforce; commitments on gender equality including the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) charter; and public and community engagement. The residency provides opportunities for the University to expand its civic mission, through new forms of collaboration with city-wide and Scottish national bodies.
Wikimedia in the Curriculum
Wikipedia is integrated into the curriculum at the University of Edinburgh by engaging students in the creation of original Wikipedia articles, on topics that are not currently covered by the encyclopaedia. These included articles of particular relevance to Scotland, e.g. Scottish women in STEM, often created in collaboration with local external partners, and those of more general interest. Students are provided with training on how to edit Wikipedia and how to undertake relevant research, enabling them to write informed articles that are fully and accurately referenced. Writing articles that will be publicly accessible and live on after the end of their assignment has proved to be highly motivating for students, and provides an incentive for them to think more deeply about their research. It encourages them to ensure they are synthesising all the reliable information available, and to think about how they can communicate their scholarship to a general audience. Students can see that their contribution will benefit the huge audience that consults Wikipedia, plugging gaps in coverage, and bringing to light hidden histories, significant figures, and important concepts and ideas. This makes for a valuable and inspiring teaching and learning experience, that enhances the digital literacy, research and communication skills of both staff and students.
Wikimedia curriculum assignments supported by the Wikimedian in Residence have now been incorporated into a number of different disciplines including:
Reproductive Biology Honours
Translation Studies MSc
World Christianity MSc
Online History MSc
Data Science for Design MSc
Global Health Masters courses
Intellectual Humility MOOC
Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice.
Discussions are also underway to incorporate Wikipedia editing into the curriculum for postgraduate and undergraduate students at the School of Law, and into Masters courses in Digital Society, Psychology in Action, and Digital Education.
Supporting Equality and Diversity
Another significant remit of the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency has been to support the institution’s commitment to Athena SWAN. Many of the editathons facilitated by the Wikimedian in Residence focus on addressing the under-representation of women on Wikipedia and encouraging more women to become editors. A 2011 surveyshowed that around 90% of English language Wikipedia editors were male. Since then Wikimedia has made a concerted effort to improve the gender diversity of its community, however women editors are still a minority. In contrast, 69% of participants at University of Edinburgh editathons are women.
These events also help to address the fact that only 17.73% of English Wikipedia biographies are about notable women. To help combat this systemic bias, a range of editathons have focused on women in science and Scottish history, history of medicine, history of veterinary medicine, history of nursing, women in espionage, women and religion, art and feminism, women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), reproductive biology, Gothic literature, and celebrations of Ada Lovelace Day.
Promoting Data Literacy with Wikidata
In line with new open data initiatives supported by government and research councils, there has been growing interest in working other Wikimedia projects such as Wikibooks and Wikidata. The University of Edinburgh has recently been awarded additional public funding to lead the development of a data-literate workforce of the future over the next ten years, equipping them with the data skills necessary to meet the needs of Scotland’s growing digital economy, and helping the city of Edinburgh to become an international centre for data-driven innovation. In order to support this initiative, the University has been exploring the introduction of Wikidata activities in the curriculum.
This provides students with an opportunity to:
Engage with issues of data completeness, data processing and analysis, and data ethics.
Learn to make practical use of a large range of tools and data visualisation techniques.
Work with linked open data on the semantic web, across disciplines ranging from science to digital humanities and cultural heritage.
Initial curriculum activities have focused on converting existing datasets from the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft (1563–1736) database into structured, machine-readable open data and adding it to Wikidata. This data is then enriched by linking it with other complementary datasets in Wikidata to help build up a semantic open web of knowledge.
Student reaction: formal and informal learning
“It’s a really good exercise in critical thinking … It’s a motivating thing to do to use the knowledge you’ve learnt, to see how it is relevant to the real world and to contribute … Knowing people are finding the article useful is really gratifying.” –University of Edinburgh Reproductive Biology student, Áine Kavanagh, reflecting on a Wikipedia editing exercise
The vast majority of students have reacted extremely positively to engaging with Wikimedia, seeing it as enjoyable and with the added reward of contributing to the common good. Most students quickly become technically adept at using the new Wikipedia Visual Editor interface, which they described as making editing ‘super easy’, ‘fun’, ‘really intuitive’ and ‘addictive as hell’. A few felt that Wikipedia editing wasn’t for them, but they too benefited from greater understanding of how knowledge is constructed online, and are now well placed to make informed choices about whether or not to actively contribute to its creation in the future.
Reproductive Biology students who took part in an assignment writing Wikipedia articles for previously unpublished medical terms found it provided valuable training in communicating scientific ideas to a lay audience, something they will have to do in their professional careers. One student wrote an article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most serious and deadly forms of ovarian cancer; this addressed a significant knowledge gap on the encyclopaedia using high-quality scholarly research communicated in non-specialist terms. The high-grade serous carcinoma article, which has now been viewed over 50,000 times, represents a perceptible and lasting contribution to the common good. At the same time, the article has contributed to the student’s professional development, and become a source of lasting satisfaction for them.
The Wikimedia residency has also had a significant impact on students outwith the curriculum. Several student societies, including History, Women in STEM, Law and Technology, Translation, and International Development, have seen the potential for Wikipedia editing to enhance their activities, and have approached the Wikimedian in Residence for help, support and training. The student History Society held an editathon as part of its programme of activities for Black History Month, adding entries for notable black women not previously represented on Wikipedia. A key motivator for History Society students was contributing to public understanding of history by improving the coverage of under-represented areas such as social history, women’s history, the history of people of colour, and queer history.
Meanwhile the Law and Technology Society ran a Wikipedia editathon focused on improving coverage of technology law and intellectual property rights. The success of this editathon led to discussions with course leaders at the School of Law, initiated by students themselves, about including Wikipedia editing in the course curriculum as a collaborative exercise involving undergraduate and postgraduate students researching and editing topics related to Scottish law for a lay audience.
Digital skills development
Digital skills that the collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK has helped to develop include:
Critical information literacy
Academic writing and referencing
Writing for different audiences
Course leaders experience
Course leaders who have engaged with the University’s Wikipedia in the Curriculum initiatives have found the exercise to be popular with students and successful in achieving desired learning outcomes. Students learn valuable research and communication skills that contribute to their learning and help prepare them for future careers. In addition, they are better able to evaluate the quality of Wikipedia articles and the veracity of information they encounter online.
Wikipedia assignments are not presented as an additional overhead for already time-poor course leaders, but rather as an approach that can be used to enhance learning outcomes where they are not being meaningfully achieved by existing course elements. This has been an important factor in encouraging uptake. For example, the MSc in World Christianity, introduced a successful Wikipedia assignment in place of an existing oral assessment.
Several courses have now run Wikipedia assignments over successive years and the number of departments involved is expanding, in line with the evolution of course planning, and as awareness of the opportunities grows. For academic staff, in addition to the teaching and learning benefits, engaging with Wikimedia has provided useful insight into the editorial process of how Wikipedia pages are created, and information and knowledge is constructed online.
Sustainability and capacity for expansion has been built into the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency since its inception. By focusing on digital skills development and employing a ‘train the trainers’ approach, the Wikimedian in Residence has been able train a large number of staff and students to support Wikipedia editathons and course assignments. Staff, including learning technologists, digital skills trainers, academic support librarians, digital curators, open educational resource advisors, and deputy directors of IT are now able to lead training across the University.
The Wikimedian in Residence has also developed and curated a wide range of training resources, including:
A lesson plan for how to lead a Wikipedia editing workshop, available to download under open licence from TES (https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/how-to-conduct-wikipedia-editing-training-11548391).
Over 250 open licensed educational videos and tutorials
A growing number of self-directed online tutorials using easy to navigate WordPress SPLOT sites.
The residency is helping the University of Edinburgh to expand and enhance its civic mission, with many opportunities for collaboration with city-wide and Scottish national bodies arising both inside or outside the curriculum. In order to support growing engagement with Wikipedia in Scotland, Wikimedia UK recruited a Scotland Programme Co-ordinator in April 2018. Other Scottish institutions that have employed Wikimedians in Residence include the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Library & Information Council, Museums Galleries Scotland and, most recently, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Wales, meanwhile, has a permanent National Wikimedian based at the National Library of Wales.
Lessons learned and wider impact
With interest increasing among academic staff and course leaders in exploring how Wikimedia can be incorporated into their curricula, and appreciation growing of the opportunities Wikipedia offers to engage with the creation and dissemination of open knowledge, the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedia residency, has successfully demonstrated that engaging with Wikipedia and its sister projects can enhance teaching and learning and benefit the institution’s civic mission.
The residency has also shown how the process of editing Wikimedia can be demystified and made accessible and enjoyable for students through a range of activities and events that provide a variety of opportunities for collaboration and sharing good practice, with scaffolded support and training. Activities such as ‘train the trainer’ workshops expand understanding of how to engage with Wikipedia and support colleagues and students to become editors.
Reaction to the residency has been positive among both staff and students, and has increased understanding of the important role Wikipedia, and increasingly Wikidata, can play in Higher Education and in knowledge creation and sharing more generally.
In order to share their expertise, the Wikimedian in Residence is now developing open educational resources for staff and students that explain quickly and easily how and why to engage with Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. Wikipedia training is now embedded in University’s Digital Skills training programme, with introductory ‘How to get started editing Wikipedia’ workshops led by staff within the Digital Skills team. This approach fosters greater sustainability in the longer term, and enables the Wikimedian in Residence to deliver more specialised workshops including:
Teaching with Wikipedia
Introduction to open data with Wikidata
Introduction to Wikisource: The digital hyperlibrary
Sharing research on Wikipedia and Wikidata
Wiki games: Learning through play
Histropedia: The timeline of everything.
The success of the University of Edinburgh residency has helped Wikimedia UK to build new collaborations with education institutions across the UK, and has led the chapter to develop its first Wikipedia in the Classroom publication. This forthcoming booklet of UK case studies will help demonstrate how universities can engage meaningfully with Wikimedia projects, to support their institutional missions and enhance learners’ digital skills. Happily, a growing number of universities across the UK have sought to learn from the Edinburgh experience and have begun exploring their own Wikipedia projects with Wikimedia UK.
Find out more
Contact: Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University of Edinburgh.
Rehm A, Littlejohn A and Rienties B (2017). Does a formal wiki event contribute to the formation of a network of practice? A social capital perspective on the potential for informal learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 26 (3). tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10494820.2017.1324495
This case study was edited by Lorna M. Campbell, University of Edinburgh, from a case study produced by Jisc in November 2018. Education consultancy Sero HE was commissioned by Jisc to interview Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence at the University.
CC BY SA, Jisc, Sero HE, and the University of Edinburgh.
Creating new role models on Wikipedia to encourage the next generation of #ImmodestWomen
By Siobhan O’Connor, Dr. Alice White, Dr. Sara Thomas and Ewan McAndrew.
Wikipedia, the free, online, multilingual encyclopaedia is building the largest open knowledge resource in human history. Now aged eighteen years old, its English language version receives over 500 million views per month, from 1.4 billion unique devices, and has over 130,000 active users collaboratively writing and editing millions of articles online. As topics on Wikipedia become more visible on Google, they receive more press coverage and become better known amongst the public.
Yet while English Wikipedia has significant reach and influence as the go-to source of information around the world, it also has significant gaps in its coverage of topics, articles in other languages and the diversity of its editors. Less than 18 per cent of biographies on English Wikipedia are about women, while most editors on the platform are white men.
This disproportionate gap on Wikipedia silences women’s contribution to science which continues their marginalisation in public life, a vicious circle that leads to more women being lost to careers in STEM. This gender imbalance mirrors the 2017 findings of the WISE campaign with women making up just 23% of those in core STEM occupations (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the UK and 24% of those working in core STEM industries. Only 17% of physicists worldwide are women and studies have shown that it will take approximately 258 years for equality in physics. The rate of progress is even starker for the fields of computer science (280 years) .
“Our research shows that scientists are using Wikipedia and that it is influencing how they write about the science that they are doing… Wikipedia isn’t just a record of what’s going on in science, it’s actually helping to shape science.” – Professor Neil C. Thompson
The randomised controlled trial the researchers undertook evidenced a profound causal impact that, as one of the most accessed websites in the world, incorporating ideas into Wikipedia leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature.
Chemistry graduates were asked to create forty-three new Wikipedia entries about topics in chemistry, with half being posted on Wikipedia while the rest were held back. Two years later, the chemistry entries created on Wikipedia had collectively over 2 million views. Analysing the text of publications from fifty high-impact chemistry journals during this period, showed words in the publications were influenced by content from the new Wikipedia entries.
For example, the ‘History of Chemistry’ entry on Wikipedia features over 200 men but only mentions 4 women and is missing notable female chemists such as Nobel Prize winning biochemist Gerty Cori and Professor Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist and one of the pioneers of a new breakthrough genetic engineering technology called CRISPR.
Another example of the gender imbalance can be seen in the entry for ‘Benzene’ on Wikipedia. There are several paragraphs describing many male scientists who tried to discover the structure of this chemical compound in the 1800’s. However, only one single sentence in the same Wikipedia article acknowledges the female scientist, Kathleen Lonsdale, who finally confirmed the structure of benzene in 1929.
Consequently, the Wikipedia community has established numerous initiatives to address this acknowledged systemic gender bias as they are committed to diversity and inclusivity to ensure knowledge equity. One such initiative, “WikiProject Women in Red (WiR)”, aims to crowdsource turning dormant red links for biography articles that do not yet exist into clickable blue ones which do, directing readers to female biographies and works by women on the platform.
New articles recently created by Women in Red volunteer editors from around the world include: Zheng Pingru, a spy whose life inspired a film; Bridget Jones (academic), a pioneer in the field of Caribbean literature studies; and Paquita Sauquillo, a campaigner in defence of democratic freedom. Entries recently improved by Women in Red editors include: Ruth Schmidt, an award winning American geologist; and Wilma Mankiller, an activist and social worker who was the first woman elected as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
As a result of targeted Wikipedia editing events, or ‘edit-a-thons’, there are also now entire series of articles for the Edinburgh Seven, the first female students to matriculate at a British university, and the nineteen pioneering women chemists who, in 1904, petitioned the Chemistry Society (later to become the Royal Society of Chemistry) for the admission of women as Fellows of the Society.
“These were a group of extraordinary women who had done chemistry to degree and postgraduate level at a time when you couldn’t do that… and they had extraordinary stories and they did extraordinary chemistry.” – Dr. Michael Seery, Director of Teaching at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry.
Often if articles are not missing entirely, the contributions of women in science are reduced to bit part status as an addendum on the Wikipedia articles of their husbands or male contemporaries. Marie Curie’s Wikipedia article reportedly started out shared with her husband. That was, until someone pointed out that her scientific contributions might just warrant an article of her own. There is also a new article for Scottish physical scientist, Katherine Clerk Maxwell, whose contribution to measurements of gaseous viscosity was recorded by her husband, James, and is associated with his paper “On the Dynamical Theory of Gases”, where he states that Katherine “did all the real work of the kinetic theory” and that she was now “…engaged in other researches. When she is done I will let you know her answer to your inquiry.”
The achievements of extraordinary pioneering women are recorded in various sources, however no one has chosen to write their stories on Wikipedia. Focused attention in themed editing events means more articles are being created all the time.
Surveys have indicated that only 8.5–16% of Wikipedia editors are female. One particular 2011 survey suggested that on English Wikipedia around 91% of editors were male, and typically formally educated, in white-collar jobs (or students) and living in the Global North. The same survey found that fewer than 1% of editors self-identified as transsexual or transgender.
“if there is a typical Wikipedia editor, he has a college degree, is 30- years-old, is computer savvy but not necessarily a programmer, doesn’t actually spend much time playing games, and lives in US or Europe.”
This means that articles within Wikipedia typically reflect these gender, socioeconomic and cultural biases. Among the findings of the 2016 research article, Women through the glass ceiling: gender asymmetries in Wikipedia, were that women in Wikipedia were more notable than men; that there was linguistic gender bias manifest in family-, gender-, and relationship-related topics being more present in biographies about women; and there was also linguistic gender bias in positive terms being used more frequently in the biographies of men while negative terms appeared more frequently in the biographies of women. The authors also found structural differences in terms of the metadata and hyperlinks, which had consequences for information-seeking activities. Wikipedia is only ever as good as the diversity of editors who engage with it, with many articles reflecting the perspective of white male English speakers in the northern hemisphere, and many of the topics covered reflect the interests of this relatively small group of editors. Wikipedia therefore needs a diverse community of editors to bring a range of perspectives and interests that truly represent human knowledge.
Awareness of this systemic gender bias has prompted the development of a tool called the Concept Replacer which simply highlights the gendered nouns and pronouns in the text of an article and temporarily shows you how a biography article of a notable woman would read if it was written instead as a biography for a man (and vice versa). This easy to use tool is useful for editors and article readers alike in order to help identify instances of unconscious bias at a glance. For instance, exposing why the marital status is included in the first lines about some biographies, and not others.
Wikipedia is also a community that operates with certain expectations and social norms in mind. Sometimes new editors can have a less than positive experience when they are not fully aware of this. As mentioned previously, there are over 130,000 regular contributors to Wikipedia. Of these, only 3,541 are considered ‘very active‘. That’s the population of a small village like Pitlochry in Scotland trying to curate the world’s knowledge.
There is a need to increase both the diversity and number of Wikipedia editors. One way to do that is to run ‘edit-a-thons’ and other facilitated activities that introduces some of the norms and expectations of the online platform while at the same time learning how to technically edit Wikipedia pages and create high quality content.
Despite this global campaign and investment to encourage more female editors and the creation of content related specifically to women, progress is slow. Since 2014, WikiProject Women in Red’s volunteer editors regularly help create in the region of 1000-2000 new articles every month. As a result, this has increased the proportion of biographies on women from 15% to 17.83% of the total. It has been estimated that it will take until 2050 or later until gender parity is achieved on Wikipedia.
Tackling this bias online requires collective responsibility. A number of actions at an individual, organisational and national level can be taken to bring about positive change.
“Women in STEM are under-represented and maybe the lack of role models is one reason why. Also biographies of women in STEM on Wikipedia are much fewer than they should be and maybe if we can change that, we can change the way future generations look at science and technology as a career path”
Firstly, those of all genders everywhere could commit time and energy to becoming dedicated Wikipedians, who regularly create female scientific biographies and other content related to women in science. Those who do so tend to benefit from a sense of reciprocity and altruism which results from the direct impact that Wikipedia has worldwide.
For instance, Dr. Jess Wade, a physicist and postdoctoral researcher in electronics at Imperial College London, attended a Wellcome Library editathon and was horrified to learn about the gender gap on Wikipedia.
“The majority of editors are men. The majority of editors are white men. So representation of people of colour, of LGBTQ+ people is really, really bad. So many young people use [Wikipedia] as the sole source of their information. They don’t use textbooks anymore. They go to Wikipedia first when they’re looking something up. And I don’t want that to be an incredibly biased view of the world… you could be looking up some kind of new solar material, you could be looking up a cathedral in Florence [but] the people that you read about will be men. And that really frightened me… So I just thought I’d start off by doing one a day. And yeah it’s really fun.”
Secondly, organisations in these fields could provide training for staff at all levels via edit-a-thons to build capacity for an inclusive, global, online community. Investing in a Wikimedian, an in-house expert that is dedicated to educating and supporting an organisation to contribute to Wikipedia, would enable larger institutions to permanently embed gender equality within their organisational culture.
Institutions that currently host, or have hosted, a Wikipedian in Residence include libraries (e.g. the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Wellcome Library), charities, museums, archives, the Royal Society of Chemistry, heritage organisations (eg. Museums Galleries Scotland), UNESCO and universities (University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford).
At the University of Edinburgh, discussion around meeting the information literacy and digital skills needs of staff and students, and how to better meet the university’s commitment to Athena SWAN led to working with Wikimedia UK. Research by Professor Allison Littlejohn at the Open University validated that running editathons at the University contributed to the formation of networks of practice and development of social capital.
“Editathons, if run well, can develop not just technical knowledge but also workplace cultural capital and networks. These are the things women need in STEM (science, technology, mathematics and engineering) workplaces. ” – Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal at the University of Edinburgh.
Participants also saw it as an important part of their professional development and felt that editing was a form of knowledge activism which helped generate important discussions about how knowledge is created, curated and contested online and how Wikipedia editors can positively impact on the knowledge available to people all around the world and addressing those knowledge gaps.
“It’s an emotional connection… Within, I’d say, less than 2 hours of me putting her page in place it was the top hit that came back in Google when I Googled it and I just thought that’s it, that’s impact right there!” Anita – editathon participant.
Thirdly, national policies across education, research and workforce development could put the spotlight on the powerful impact online platforms like Wikipedia have on women in science and recommend strategies to capitalise on them. For its part the University of Edinburgh has recommended that Wikipedia Women in Red editing forms part of its new four year action plan for meeting its commitment to the Athena SWAN charter by surfacing role models in ten academic disciplines; to encourage and inspire the next generation of immodest women.
“Search is the way we live now”
According to 2011 figures in the book “Google and the Culture of Search”, Google processed over 91% of searches internationally. Google’s ranking algorithm also narrows the sources clicked upon 90% of the time to just the first page of results.
American feminist scholar of 18th-century British literature, and a noted Wikipedian, Adrienne Wadewitz noted the important role in addressing knowledge gaps on Wikipedia and Google could have:
“Google takes information from Wikipedia, as do many other sites, because it is licensed through aCreative Commons Share-Alike license. Those little boxes on the left-hand side of your screen when you do a Google search? From Wikipedia. The information that is on Wikipedia spreads across the internet. What is right or wrong or missing on Wikipedia affects the entire internet.”
More recently, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University have underlined the substantial interdependence of Wikipedia and Google. The results of two deception studies, whose goal was to better demonstrate the relationship between Wikipedia and Google, demonstrated Google depends on Wikipedia and vice versa. Click through rate decreased by 80% if Wikipedia links were removed. Wikipedia was shown to depend on Google. 84.5% of visits to Wikipedia were noted to being attributable to Google.
This means that addressing knowledge gaps on Wikipedia will surface the knowledge to Google’s top results, help populate and power Google’s ‘Knowledge graph’ (presented as a box to the right of search results) and increase visibility, click through and knowledge-sharing. Wikipedia editing can be seen as a form of activism in the democratisation of access to information.
A powerful reminder of the impact Wikipedia can have can be seen among young women and girls, who often lack easily identifiable female role models to follow. Bringing female role models to the fore beyond the world of celebrity and reality television is something that both Girlguiding UK and psychologist Penelope Lockwood noted was necessary for female students to feel that success is possible in order to broaden their future career aspirations.
Last Summer, schoolgirls from across London were invited by the Mayor of London’s office to take part in a editathon at Bloomberg for London Tech Week to redress the gender balance on Wikipedia through adding new entries on women CEOs, editors, entrepreneurs, lawyers and artists. The hope is this will kickstart further editathons across London and the UK; to further empower students up and down the country that their contributions are valued and that there are inspirational people out there achieving success in fields they just might aspire to join.
A new Open Access book on Gender Equality in higher education, EqualBite, asserts that the problem is persuading girls to consider and apply for STEM courses in the first place when they could apply for any number of courses, given that girls outperform boys at school including in STEM subjects. Recognising women’s achievements and contributions through creating and editing Wikipedia articles can encourage the next generation to take up careers in science. This could help address workforce shortages across many STEM fields and generate significant amounts of economic growth through diversifying innovation and entrepreneurship. Beyond this, we need to look at how improving the visibility of women role models in the online world can better shape our physical environments. The University of Edinburgh Student Association has recently worked on a project to improve diversity in student spaces through replacing the all-male portraits on the walls with more diverse group of portraits to encourage a greater sense of belonging. Similarly, a project in Hertford College, Oxford to mark 40 years of women at the college specially commissioned photograph portraits of women graduates, staff and students to replace the all-male portraits on the walls. By increasing awareness of female achievements online, we can create more inclusive, more diverse, more representative, more empowering physical environments to help breed confidence and undo the negative impact this lack of representation engenders.
“Meanings are projected not just by the buildings themselves, but by how they are furnished and decorated. And where almost every image –portrait, photograph, statue – of academic achievement and leadership is masculine (and nearly always white middle-aged), the meaning is clear: to be a successful leader, gender and ethnicity matter.”
The benefits are clear but the scale of the challenge is massive. It has taken Women in Red editors two years to move the percentage of biographies of women on Wikipedia up by 2%. Looking to the future, Artificial Intelligence may prove one method to help address the gender gap. The software tool, Quicksilver, developed by San Francisco startup Primer has been created to help address the blind-spots on Wikipedia, with women in science a particular focus. Using machine-learning algorithms, Quicksilver searches the internet for news entries, links to sources, scientific citations and helps pull all this information together to auto-generate fully-sourced draft Wikipedia entries. This has since been tested at an editathon in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History.
“Maria Strangas, the museum researcher who organized the event, says it helped the 25 first-time editors update the pages for roughly 70 women scientists in just two hours. “It magnified the effect that event had on Wikipedia,” Strangas says.”
So far, over 40,000 summaries have been generated by the Quicksilver method. These entries then need proofread by Wikipedia editors before they can be added to Wikipedia’s livespace. Given that the number of ‘very active’ Wikipedia editors on English Wikipedia remains low at around 3,541 (the population of a small village) the importance of encouraging and empowering a diversity of editors to engage with Wikipedia editing is crucial in terms of increasing the visibility of inspirational female role models online to, in turn, encourage and empower the next generation of women in STEM whose scientific breakthroughs can continue to shape our world for the better.