Wikipedia gets overdue makeover to give recognition to science's female pioneers

Royal Society hosts edit-a-thon to raise the profile of women whose contribution has been overlooked

They are some of the most important names in modern science, pioneers in their fields. But, unless you work in academia, it is unlikely that you will have ever heard of them.

All that is set to change, though, as the Royal Society hosts a mass "edit-a-thon" to improve the Wikipedia profiles of leading female scientists who have been ignored and overlooked by the online encyclopedia's male-dominated army of contributors.

The scientific body, founded in 1660, has drawn up a list of prominent women who it believes deserve greater prominence on the site. Volunteers are invited to scour the society's archives for information which can be used to improve the women's Wikipedia entries, allowing internet users around the world to learn about their work.

Organisers believe that a perceived under-representation of women on the site is emblematic of a wider ignorance of the contributions of women to science. "I was completely astonished that the bias exists," said Professor Uta Frith, the University College London neuroscientist leading the project.

"This issue pervades all age groups. I and some colleagues took a quiz [on female scientists] and it was embarrassing how few even we knew. Most of the names we could get, but we knew very little about some of the most stunning people. Everybody needs to be educated; the knowledge is not there, it is not cultivated."

Dr Patricia Fara, Senior Tutor at Clare College, Cambridge University, said it was important to raise the issue of undervaluing women in science. "I am against positive discrimination in the long term but this is important in the short term," she said

She added that, historically, women were confined to roles which were uncredited. "Charles Darwin, for example, farmed out a lot of his research work to female family members and friends. He later wrote to them thanking them but their names did not appear on the cover." If successful, Professor Frith said, next month's one-day edit-a-thon could become a regular fixture, after Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales backed the idea.

"We would love to see more of this and we are actively pushing for it," said Mr Wales. "It should be a fun event; it is always interesting to get new editors coming to see what it is all about.

"It is good to have someone draw the attention of our community to people who may have been overlooked. People have not really compiled a list of women scientists, so it should be interesting. We have been seeing this type of thing within our community and it has been quite successful, I think we will see more and more."

Professor Frith said she had the idea after reading an article in The Independent last year in which Mr Wales complained that the typical Wikipedia editor was a "26-year-old geeky, male" and announced that he was seeking more female contributors to balance the site's content.

Professor Frith said: "I see this as something that more women's and minority groups could get into because, at the moment, there is an element of scarcity; people don't necessarily know who is writing these entries and who can write them."

During the session, 15 editors will work through a list of scientists, including some who have no entries, some who have only small entries, and others who are mentioned only in their husband's entries. "Then we will use it as a platform and see what the reaction is and what can be done before going to other institutions," she said.

A similar event in America recently sought to add women who were mentioned in the Smithsonian Archives. However, some entries were reportedly later earmarked for deletion.

The Women in science: Wikipedia workshop event, which will be followed by a discussion, takes place from 2:30pm on Friday, 19 October.

Brief lives: Women underrated online

Elsie Widdowson

A pioneer in the study of nutrition, her calculations for wartime rationing were invaluable but she merits only a relatively small mention on the site.

Kathleen Lonsdale

Joint-first female Fellow of the Royal Society and first female president of the British Association. She discovered the structure of benzene. Wikipedia devotes fewer than 400 words to her life.

Muriel Robertson

Despite vital work in the field of protozoology, which included advances in the understanding of the deadly gas-gangrene during the Second World War, the record of her career runs to only six sentences on her Wikipedia entry.

Mary Buckland

The wife of geologist and archaeologist William Buckland, she worked with him on some of the most important archaeological discoveries of the early Victorian age. She is mentioned only in his Wikipedia entry.

Marjory Stephenson

The joint-first female Fellow of the Royal Society, with Lonsdale. She studied metabolism before and after the First World War and ran Red Cross hospital kitchens in France during the conflict. Her life is summarised in 69 words.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance Manager

£50000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'