by Laura Mariani
We all love to roll our eyes at stories of undergrads trying to cite Wikipedia (or in one memorable case from a class I taught: copy and paste from Wikipedia, without even bothering to make the font match the rest of their paper). We also know that without Wikipedia, we’d be so screwed. Whether you’re looking up obscure science terms that no one bothers to define in their journal articles, or just killing time during an incubation by reading about weird animals (ocean sunfish don’t have tails and must swim by “waggling their anal fins”), Wikipedia is an important source of information. But it can always be made better.
Why edit Wikipedia?
Since Wikipedia is a public resource, editing Wikipedia can be viewed as a form of public outreach. In fact, the Society for Neuroscience has previously offered a professional development workshop on writing for Wikipedia. Furthermore, it seems only fair to contribute to a resource that you personally use. If you always ignore the annoying banner ads that pop up during Wikipedia’s fundraising drives, consider donating some of your time instead. As a scientist, you have a combination of expert knowledge and obsessive interest in an obscure topic that make for the best kind of Wikipedia editor.
One serious issue with Wikipedia is that it is a total boys’ club. Somewhere between 84% and 91% of Wikipedia’s volunteer editors are men. This gender disparity behind the scenes leads to many forms of bias, which, while not necessarily intentional, lead to an under-representation of women on Wikipedia’s digital pages. With that in mind, Emory Women in Neuroscience (EWIN) took to the internet on February 27 to increase the number of women scientists featured on the 7th most popular website in the world. At the time of our event, there were only 37 names linked from the “Women neuroscientists” category. As of this writing, the tally is at 93. We made progress, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
How you can help
Three ways to improve women neuroscientists’ representation on Wikipedia: 1) linking existing articles to the “Women neuroscientists” category (to make them easier to find), 2) adding more information and citations to existing articles about women scientists, and 3) creating new articles about notable women who don’t yet have their own page. These tasks were organized into a public spreadsheet so that anyone, whether or not they were able to attend the EWIN event, can see the work that needs to be done and chip in. With help from Sarah Melton, a PhD candidate in the Institute of the Liberal Arts and Digital Projects Coordinator for the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, EWIN members learned the basics of how to edit a Wikipedia page and got to work.
EWIN’s to-do spreadsheet is still live, and we could use your help! Here are some things that you can do right now to help us build a better public reference for people interested in neuroscience:
- Add women scientists to our spread sheet. Identify notable women scientists who should be on Wikipedia, or who are on Wikipedia but who have crappy articles, and add their names to our spreadsheet. Wikipedia does use certain notability criteria, so we are not able to create pages for all of the scientists on our list… yet. But if you add someone, we will look into it!
- Edit the pages listed in the spreadsheet under “Scientists whose articles need improving.” This is easier than writing a brand new article and sometimes can be as simple as adding a few references. To cite a journal article, use the “cite journal” template under the “Cite” menu on the Wikipedia editing page. Just enter the PubMed PMID, click the magnifying glass icon, and it will autocomplete the rest of the citation! Wikipedia is officially better at citation management than me.
- Dive in and write a whole article. Anyone highlighted in green under “Scientists w/o articles” has given permission for us to write about them. (We also took the liberty of assuming it’s fine to write about dead people.) I personally tackled a biography of Sue McConnell for this project. It took several hours, split up over a couple of days, but it turned out to be really fun. I learned that in addition to teaching at Stanford and studying cerebral cortex development, Dr. McConnell is a wildlife photographer whose work has been featured in places like National Geographic. I also had the pleasure of contacting her to let her know that she was getting a Wikipedia biography and to request a photograph. It feels really good when a member of the National Academy of Sciences replies to your email with “This is fabulous! Thank you!!!”
Although the Wikipedia interface is not as user-friendly as it could be, there are lots of tutorials available. The “preview” feature also lets you check your edits before publishing them, so it’s possible to empirically determine an optimal editing strategy (aka, randomly try some stuff and then check to see if it worked correctly). Finally, any member of the EWIN executive board should be able to help you out with novice-level Wikipedia questions.
With that in mind, EWIN encourages everybody to participate! EWIN is also planning more group Wikipedia editing sessions (with snacks) for the future, so stay tuned for announcements about that. Happy editing!