October 9, 2019

Why Wikipedia edit-a-thons are needed, and how we can help

Posted by Laura Guertin

In 2019, Wikipedia moves from its teenage years to adulthood at 18 years in existence. Yet despite its growing pains, the growth phase of this resource is still not complete when it comes to representing all individuals in STEM. I’ve blogged previously about Wikipedia edit-a-thons for women in STEM. I’ve blogged about academics still struggling to trust Wikipedia, and the Wikipedia Year of Science in 2016, which had a mission of “improving science content on 5,000 Wikipedia articles, enhancing visual representation of science topics on Wikipedia, developong science communication skills among thousands of students, and improving the coverage of the lives and works of women scientists”.

So how has Wikipedia aged in the eyes of academics and profiling underrepresented groups in STEM, especially since the official Wikipedia Year of Science? This tweet from Dr. Jacquelyn Gill in 2014 has not yet resulted in a Wikipedia page for this scientist.

And even if scientists are present, their pages are still brief, not just in 2014 but also today.

Despite numerous Wikipedia edit-a-thons for women in science, such as one by Brown University in 2013 the Royal Society in March 2014, we’re still holding STEM edit-a-thons for all underrepresented groups (see Science History Institute in October 2019).

In 2014 only 15% of English-language Wikipedia biographies were about women. Today, through the work of Women in Red, AfroCrowd, and countless other volunteers and organizations, that number has risen to almost 18%. Still, the scientific contributions of women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals remain underrepresented on Wikipedia. — Science History Institute

So why such a small amount of growth overall in Wikipedia profiles of underrepresented populations? Maybe you saw the article on Slate from April 2019, titled Wikipedia’s Refusal to Profile a Black Female Scientist Shows Its Diversity Problem. This doesn’t stop Dr. Jess Wade, a rock star when it comes to adding more STEM diversity to WIkipedia (and be sure to check out her TEDxLondonWomen talk!). She has written over 500 Wikipedia articles on women in STEM and has been recognized with awards for her work – but it hasn’t been without its challenges.

Yes, her pages are getting flagged, targeted for deletion. But that isn’t stopping the community – we can all play a role in making a change in who represents STEM scientists in Wikipedia. We can individually issue a call and work on our own:


…or join an edit-a-thon! It just so happens that AGU has one coming up!

I just participated in my first Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, an event hosted by the University Libraries at my institution to add new/more information to profiles of LGBTQ+ individuals. It was so easy to create a Wikipedia account, and it felt good knowing that my character contributions of text, although not large for my first time, are still a contribution that improves this resource widely used by all audiences – including our students.

Give it a try! It is going to take our collaborative and collective efforts to make the difference we want to see – and as I stated above, every character counts!