July 13, 2020

Wikipedia biography pages – every edit counts

Posted by Laura Guertin

I’ve blogged previously about Wikipedia – Wikipedia edit-a-thon for women in STEM [Women’s History Month] (2015), Wikipedia turns 15 – but do academics trust this teenager? (2016), Wikipedia Year of Science 2016 (2016), and Why Wikipedia edit-a-thons are needed, and how we can help (2019). And I was finally ready to dive in with my students this past spring semester and have my class edit Wikipedia pages – but the semester shift to online learning had me pull back, with too many unknowns with students’ ability to access technology, and my own lack of confidence in my ability to provide a positive Wikipedia experience through remote instruction. I’ve been taking the time this summer to build my own Wikipedia editing skills, and I’ve been extremely pleased with how many opportunities there have been for my own professional development, how quickly I’ve been able to contribute to Wikipedia biography pages, and how I’ve been able to assist others in making their first edits.

I wrapped up the semester and applied to join the 500 Women Scientists Wiki Scholars program, which provided instruction with Wikipedia experts, live mentoring via Zoom, asychronous support via Slack, and an incredibly supportive community of newcomers to Wikipedia.

The WikiEdu program staff were incredible walking us through the steps to edit existing or to create new biography pages of women in STEM. We were asked to work on two biography pages, but I decided that it was “now or never” to take that deep dive into Wikipedia. I started by editing the page for Diana Josephson, the first female leader of NOAA. Then, I sought to create new Wikipedia pages, and finished three biographies by the end of the course – Rana Fine, Deborah Kelley, and Karen Von Damm. All three are oceanographers and AGU Fellows (as AGU Fellows, they meet the Wikipedia notability guidelines (academics)).

As I was completing the 500 Women Scientists Wiki Scholars program (you can see from the project dashboard that our 20 participants added over 38,000 words!), a one-day opportunity to add to Wikipedia was organized. I added content to the Wikipedia page for RADM Evelyn J. Fields (NOAA Corps), the first woman and first African American to head the NOAA Corps.



Then on June 25, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History led a “virtual micro-crowdsourcing event” for Adding Women in Science to Wikipedia. Just like the previous events I participated in, there was a Wikipedia page for the event with a suggest list of bio pages to contribute to. The online session was recorded and is available to view. I made additions to the page of botanist Velva E. Rudd.

And the opportunities have continued! I just participated in the SACNAS/500 Women Scientists Edit-A-Thon on July 12, where I contributed to the biography page of physical oceanographer Vanesa Magar Brunner. I also served as a Wikipedia “expert” in one of the breakout rooms to help others with their edits. I am far from an expert, but it was great knowing that I had learned enough to be able to help others make siginficant contributions to this effort. The dashboard for this project shows there were 140 editors that came together from across the globe, adding over 53,000 words and creating 15 new bio pages!

Before I wrap up this post, I want to jump back to the work I did as part of the 500 Women Scientist Wiki Scholar program. My intent for my first-ever Wikipedia page was to create one to recognize a woman from where I went to graduate school, University of Miami-RSMAS. I never had the opportunity to be in a class or interact with Rana Fine, and as a student was only aware of a small part of the vast contributions she has made to the discipline. I also saw that her name was on the list of Wikipedia Women in Red/Geoscience AGU Fellows page (“red” because they do not have a page yet, so the hyperlink is not valid). This is where I saw the names of the other two women I created biography pages for.

There is a Wikipedia page that lists everyone on Wikipedia tagged with the Category: Fellows of the American Geophysical Union. When you look at the complete list of AGU Fellows from over the years, it means that many of the AGU Fellow Wikipedia biographies are not tagged, or they do not have Wikipedia pages to begin with.

I started digging into the list of names for the 2019 Class of AGU Fellows. There are 62 scientists that were named with this distinction, as AGU members “whose visionary leadership and scientific excellence have fundamentally advanced research in their respective fields.” Earlier this month (July 2020), I went through that list of 62 names. I found that 19 Fellows already had a Wikipedia page, leaving 43 Fellows not on Wikipedia. Ten of the 19 that already had a Wikipedia page did not have their 2019 Fellow designation on their bio page, and 18 of the 19 did not have the Category “Fellows of the American Geophysical Union” tagged on their page to appear in the Wikipedia listing of AGU Fellows. (I went ahead and added the AGU Fellowship and Category to the Wikipedia pages of members of the 2019 Class of Fellows) It seems that representation of AGU Fellows on Wikipedia is incomplete and could use some work.

There are reasons and opportunities for editing Wikipedia pages, especially pages that feature biographies. I learned from the recent SACNAS/500 Women Scientists Edit-A-Thon that on a typical day, Wikipedia gets 32 million views (650 million views on March 29, 2020). I learned that 18.5% of the English language biographies on Wikipedia are about women. And I don’t have any statistics on this, but with school and public libraries closed, students, teachers, and the public are turning to the internet to find and learn information. What comes up first in an internet search? – for many searches, it is Wikipedia. There are several additional reasons why we should edit Wikipedia (see this EOS article) – and plenty of opportunities to learn how.



What will you contribute? No matter how many words or citations you add, every edit counts.