Revitalising Wikipedia coverage of women scientists

Five women sat at a table, reading and using laptops
The edit-a-thon in full swing

This post was written by Edward Hands, Wikimedia UK volunteer Wikipedia trainer.

Could “Reanimating Ice-cold Rats” and “Resuscitating Hamsters” inspire Wikipedia editors to revitalise our coverage of pioneering women scientists?

This was one of many questions asked at a recent editathon and Wikipedia training session that I attended. Organised jointly with the Medical Research Council and the Royal Society, the event at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Mill Hill, London had a full house (and a waiting list), 20 women and 3 men.

The event included a lunchtime talk and panel Q&A led by Professor Dame Athene Donald FRS, highlighting the many subtle and unconscious biases that make it harder for women to get to senior positions in science. Importantly, the Q&A drew attention to what we can all do to address these biases, such as encouraging more women to edit Wikipedia, and increasing our coverage of notable women in science.

The occasion was 25 July, Rosalind Franklin (of DNA fame)’s birthday, with cake cutting at 5pm (DNA spirals around the sides and her famous “photograph 51” on top) and NIMR goodie bags to reward attendees for their contributions.

All taking place against the backdrop of surely the best view from any London library. Expert support and access to a wide range of paper and online resources was provided by NIMR librarians Frank Norman and Patti Biggs, and Phoebe Harkins from the Wellcome Library.

New articles were started on the day for seven NIMR women: Brigid Balfour, Florence Durham, Mary Lobban, Marjorie Mussett, Delphine ParrottElizabeth Press and Audrey Smith.

And our first Did You Know (three more DYKs are in the review process) appeared on the Wikipedia home page on 1 August, garnering 1,770 page views:

Did You Know that cryobiologist Audrey Smith’s scientific papers include “A Simple Method for Reanimating Ice-cold Rats and Mice” and “Resuscitation of Hamsters after Supercooling or Partial Crystallization?”

We could have mentioned how her accidental discovery of the first practical cryoprotectant molecule, glycerol, enabled the freezing of human red blood cells, but bringing small animals back from the dead is the better hook for a wider audience.

NIMR women biographies expanded most on the day included: Hilda Bruce, Rosalind Pitt-Rivers, Brigitte Askonas, Bridget Ogilvie, Rosa Beddington, Rosalind Franklin and Anne McLaren.

We’ve had excellent press coverage in The Guardian, Times Higher Education, Cambridge News, Athene Donald’s blog, as well as MRC and The Royal Society. Twitter activity (hashtag: #WISWIKI) and retweeting on the day itself helped too.

Our new editors will get credit for these DYKs on their talk pages, and can watch their articles grow, hopefully encouraging them to become regular contributors. They all agreed that they would do at least one edit a month, so we will be sure to give them a gentle nudge in early September.

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