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Women and Wikipedia

| March 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

One online tool that every teacher and every student uses is Wikipedia, the enormous online encyclopaedia. Yet, many teachers discourage students from turning to Wikipedia as a source or reference because it lacks authority: its entries can be edited by anyone. In December last year, physicist Jess Wade, a research associate at Imperial College, London, attacked Wikipedia administrators for being sexist. She has written over 820 entries over the last two years. Her mission was twofold: first, to write entries about women who have, throughout history and up to the present day, excelled in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Second, she wanted to prove that only about 20% of entries on Wikipedia are about women in science and written by women. In December 2019, other Wikipedia editors tagged 50 of Wade’s entries, saying the subject matter was not prominent enough to be on the site. In a radio interview, Wade hit back, saying Wikipedia is biased against women because the majority of its content editors are white men in North America. ‘I’ve been told that I’m diluting the site by putting these profiles up,’ said Wade. The 31-year-old says she was incredibly conscientious about including a rich diversity of women who have made crucial advances in the sciences around the world. Lucy Crompton-Reid, chief executive of Wikimedia UK, said she understood Wade’s frustration. She said: ‘Dr Jess Wade, [has been made] Wikimedia UK’s Wikimedian of the Year for 2019…[She] is doing amazing work in helping to close the gender gap on Wikipedia, and I understand her frustration when articles about women are questioned on the grounds of notability.’ In early February 2020, information flooded Wikipedia about the coronavirus as it emerged as a global health threat, originating in China. In a short space of time, over 18 million people read the entries about the powerful flu-like illness. Posts were not only about the virus itself: entries branched out to include articles such as ‘xenophobia and racism related to the 2019-20 Wuhan coronavirus outbreak’. As the reporting reached hysteria levels, says James Heilman, a Canadian emergency room physician and experiences Wikipedia editor, WikiProject Medicine, a group of medical Wikipedia editors decided to block public editing about the virus. This was to stop the posting of wild, untested conjecture, such as those stories which claim that the virus jumped from some animal (various species are suggested) to humans. Dody Ismoyo, who heads the Malaysian chapter of Wikimedia – the charity that financially backs Wikipedia – and who is among the most active editors on the virus articles, says that there are many diverse stories about the virus that the public needs to know about – ‘for example, food market, government policy, international aid, hospital preparedness and infrastructure and all the economical impacts on tourism and business.’ Professor Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, says that so-called untrained contributors to Wikipedia were trying to provide ‘clinical, epidemiological, public health, to social, economic and political perspectives’. James says his group ‘strives to maintain the highest editorial standards, demanding that every medical claim be backed only by peer-reviewed medical sources’.

Category: Autumn 2020

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