'There are not many women in science'

'There are not many women in science'

Chat  WINDOW

'There are not many women in science'

In early March, the internet was introduced to the best-case scenario for what happens when women are the butt of online abuse: Emily Temple-Wood.

Since she was 12 years old, The 24-year-old Loyola University of Chicago biology student has contributed hundreds of biographies of prominent women in science to Wikipedia, in the name of improving its coverage of female scientists. With her mission came exposure, and with exposure, a hail of lewd and misogynist emails that objected to her work.

But in the past two weeks, she’s become known for something else: converting her anger at each nasty comment she receives into one new Wikipedia entry for a forgotten pioneer.

Among her hundreds of entries are Ann Bishop, the parasitologist whose second world war-era work was key to understanding malaria, and Rosalyn Scott, a pioneering black surgeon.

“As a woman on the internet, I get a lot of harassment,” she said in a recent interview. “I was getting fed up with having so much rage directed at a faceless someone.” Adding a new biography for each crude email, she reasoned, was a better channel for her anger.
But in addition to swelling the ranks of women scientists in Wikipedia’s vast catalogues, Temple-Wood’s mission is raising another question: why was there such an imbalance in the first place?

It’s a problem that has dogged Wikipedia contributors for years, and is a big factor in why, a year ago, only 15% of all the site’s biographical entries were written about women.

Statistics provide part of the answer: there just aren’t as many women in science. Only 24% of workers in the Stem fields are women, according to a recent census estimate. There other issue, she says, is a sore lack of information. Even finding historical information about women in science is a challenge.

“There is just not a lot of information on women in science that is readily accessible to the average Wikipedia editor,” she says. “And that’s because of the way that women’s contributions to the sciences have been brushed under the rug for centuries.”

Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, another editor who runs a Wikipedia project aimed at boosting that number, said the same research challenge tends to apply across all professions and cultures.

Open any historical work or biography, she says, and “it will have five paragraphs for every man and only one paragraph about the woman doing the same work … I can’t imagine that’s because the men’s work was twice as good as the women’s.”

What’s more likely, she says, is that the male biographers were uninterested in the contributions of women. And as their knowledge – compiled in encyclopedias and anthologies – migrated online, so did their embedded biases.

A year ago, only 15% of all the site’s biographical entries were written about women
As a result, compiling information about a woman to include in a Wikipedia entry often requires an effort to piece together her biography from many scattered sources. Whereas most Wikipedia contributors can source at least parts of their articles from the web, Temple-Wood said her work often calls for her to trawl rare journals or library basements.

Wikipedia is aware of the imbalance, and it has undertaken projects to increase the number of articles about women and women contributors, who currently make up less than a quarter of the site’s writers. For instance, it has sponsored editathons focused on adding more entries about Asian and Pacific Islander American women, and Wikipedia regularly hosts meet-ups to recruit new female editors.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)