Ada Lovelace Day celebrations 2019: ‘Women in Physiology’ Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at The University of Manchester

Image showing a button badge, with an image of Rosie the Riveter and a caption saying "We Can [edit]!"

On the 17th October 2019, The University of Manchester hosted a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon as part of the Ada Lovelace celebrations. This public event addressed the inadequate representation of women on Wikipedia, focussing on improving the number and quality of women Physiologists’ biographies. Talks by esteemed Physiologists, Dame Prof. Nancy Rothwell and Prof. Susan Wray and experienced Wiki-editors Drs Jess Wade B.E.M. and Duncan Hull, were followed by training and hands-on editing. 

Mathematician Ada Lovelace has long-been recognised as the first computer programmer from her work in the 1800s. Since 2009, her contribution to the sciences is honoured annually with events to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM), and to create new role models for girls and women. Many events are based on Wiki edit-a-thons, where groups come together to increase the number of women editing and profiled in Wikipedia.

“Just 18% of biographies on Wikipedia are about women”

Wikipedia is a free world-wide resource which often serves as the first ‘go-to’ source for information. Currently just 18% of biographies on Wikipedia are about women, this has increased from 15% in 2014 (an increase of 86,182 new articles) through focussed efforts, but still falls far short of what is possible.

We are still seeing gender inequality in STEM. The lack of entries on women scientists on Wikipedia offers the narrative that ‘women don’t do science’, or ‘women don’t do good science’, when the reality is their achievements are being brushed under the carpet or wrongly attributed to someone else. Raising the profile of those unrecognised women scientists and their achievements through Wikipedia can send a powerful message to its readers and achieve great impact in gender equality.

Many of the recent increases in articles on women have been achieved through the tireless work of largely volunteer wiki-editors such as Emily Temple-Wood and Dr Jess Wade B.E.M. Jess, a Physicist at Imperial College London, has committed to publishing one Wikipedia entry per day since 2016. In 2019 she was awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of her contributions to gender diversity on science. The WikiProject ‘Women in Red’ further highlights how many notable women* without a wiki biography have already been identified – although this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The aim of the ‘Women in Physiology’ Wikipedia Edit-a-thon was to create new articles for some of those ‘women in red’ (notable individuals without a Wikipedia profile), using the ‘Women Physiologists: Centenary Celebrations and Beyond’ book coedited by Prof. Susan Wray for content.  

“….notable women researchers […] many of whom still do not have a Wikipedia biography despite their significant contributions to the discipline”

We were honoured to have both Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell and Prof. Wray describe the rise of women in the Royal Society of Physiologists. The event benefited from the expertise of wiki-editors; Dr Jess Wade B.E.M. additionally spoke about why she edits and the importance of representation and stayed for the full day to help train and advise budding editors.

Image showing Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell addressing the audience
President and Vice Chancellor, Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell shares her experience

Three images showing University of Liverpool Physiologist, Prof. Susan Wray, gesturing towards information projected on a screen out of view. Two inset images show slides presented by Susan, with dates of key moments in the history of The Physiological Society from the inclusion of women members in 1915, to the election of a woman President in 2018.
University of Liverpool Physiologist, Prof. Susan Wray, describes key moments in The Physiological Society’s history; from the eventual inclusion of women to the current first woman President.

collection of four images showing Jess Wade talking. One image lists things people can do to improve diversity on Wikipedia. The list states: "write/improve a page about a woman/underrepresented minority scientist. Write/improve a page about a science topic. Translate a Wikipedia page into another language. Improve categorisation/number of links to a page. Encourage journalists to cover the stories of women + people of colour."
A further image in the bottom left quarter shows the covers of two books by the Journalist, Angela Saini - 'Inferior' and 'Superior'. Jess recommended that everyone read these two books and is campaigning to have them in every high school in the UK.
Jess Wade highlights the importance of representation, along with tips of how to improve online representation of diverse scientists. She also highlighted two books by Angela Saini which talk about the problematic bias against women and ethnic minorities and how these stem from prejudices with no scientific basis.

Dr Duncan Hull standing, pointing at a screen where three figures can be seen.
Dr Duncan Hull talks about role models and those Physiologists who impacted on his learning

This event provided an opportunity for attendees to train in Wikipedia editing and have real hands-on experience of creating or editing articles under the guidance of experienced Wikipedia Editors. The day focused specifically on notable women researchers in the field of physiology, many of whom still do not have a Wikipedia biography despite their significant contributions to the discipline. Some multilingual attendees advanced  expectations by editing in languages other than English. 

Attendees received Wikipedia gifts including booklet guides to editing and image use, pens and badges donated by Wikimedia UK. We were honoured to be able to present Dr Jess Wade B.E.M with her own ‘red star’ from the Wiki Women in Red Team, celebrating her immense contribution to gender equality in Wikipedia.

This was the first edit-a-thon by the organisers. Attendees helped to create biographies for Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell (in Romanian), Prof Maria Fitzgerald (in Maltese), Prof. Shamshad Cockcroft, Prof. Anne McArdle and Prof. Susan Brain.

Image showing attendees sitting in a classroom, working on laptops. Jess Wade and Duncan Hull are stood at the front of the classroom.
Attendees actively editing Wikipedia, with support from Jess Wade and Duncan Hull

We plan to create a Wikipedia editing resource page on the University’s EDI pages and run regular edit-a-thons with occasional themes to tie in with significant celebrations. Wikipedia is the largest open-access source of information across the world; available to anyone with an internet connection, it has amazing potential in changing the stereotype of a successful scientist and inspiring young minds and this work fits in with the University’s EDI and social responsibility aims perfectly.

“If you put content on [Wikipedia] people don’t only read it, it changes their perception about who they think does science and what they think science is.” Dr Jess Wade B.E.M.


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