Changing the way stories are told – Ada Lovelace Day outcomes

Ada Lovelace Day 2016 attendees (Ewan McAndrew, CC-BY-SA)

By Ewan McAndrew (reposted from Ewan’s blog with permission)

Wikipedia has a problem with representation. Its mission is to be “the sum of all human knowledge” yet it only covers, by very rough estimates, only 5% of the number of articles that it needs to. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done. However, that it has amassed over 40 million articles in 300 languages in its short existence is quite incredible and is a testament to the dedication of its community of volunteers.

Yet the fact Wikipedia is human-curated means that it reflects the editors that engages with it. The late Adrianne Wadewitz, wrote an article on why teachers should engage with Wikipedia:

“Wikipedia is the encyclopedia anyone can edit but not everyone does. You and your students can dramatically affect the most popular and important reference work in the world.

If you want your students to learn about how a small community is influenced by demographics and how they can change that community by participating in it, Wikipedia is the place to go.

Google takes information from Wikipedia, as do many other sites, because it is licensed through a Creative Commons Share-Alike license. Those little boxes on the left-hand side of your screen when you do a Google search? From Wikipedia. The information that is on Wikipedia spreads across the internet. What is right or wrong or missing on Wikipedia affects the entire internet.” (Teaching with Wikipedia: the why, what and how” HASTAC Blog February 21, 2014)

Since I began my residency in January 2016, the figure we have cited in terms of female editorship of Wikipedia is 15%. Better than the 10% of 2014 but still shamefully low. This lack of female representation also skews the content in much the same way; resulting in only 15% of biographies on Wikipedia being about notable females.

According to figures from Equate Scotland, Women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) represent similarly low percentages (only 14-18%) of the STEM workforce. If Scottish education & industry is serious about becoming a realistic competitor in STEM sectors and Wikipedia is serious about attaining the sum of all human knowledge then both need to take action to become more inclusive spaces; and both have an important role in highlighting success stories in providing role models for young & old women alike so they can see a career in STEM as viable.

With this in mind, the university held an Ada Lovelace Day event on Tuesday 11th October 2016 which incorporated guest talks, fun technology activities and a Wikipedia editathon which created 9 brand new articles on Women in STEM and improved 9 others. The event was enthusiastically received by its attendees and attracted the attention of STV News.

Ada Lovelace Day 2016 attendees (Ewan McAndrew, CC-BY-SA)

Articles created

  • Sheila May Edmonds – British mathematician, a Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, and Vice-Principal of Newnham College from 1960 to 1981.
  • Ann Katharine Mitchell – Decrypted messages encoded in the German Enigma cypher at Bletchley Park. Wrote several academic books about the psychological effects of divorce on children. Won a place to study maths at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford (1940–1943). At the time relatively few women went to Oxford and even fewer studied maths. There were only 5 women in Ann Williamson’s year at Oxford and she remarked that the men coming to university had been taught maths much better at school than the girls. Indeed, it was suggested to her by the headmistress of her school that studying maths was “unladylike” and her parents had to overrule her school to allow her to take up her place at Oxford. Returned to university in 1970s to study social policy and in 1980 she graduated with a Master of Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh.
  • Margaret Marrs – Senior Operator of the original Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Computer (EDSAC). EDSAC was an early British computer constructed at the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory in England, and the second electronic digital stored-program computer to go into regular service.
  • Code First: Girls – Not for Profit Social Enterprise that works exclusively with women in Britain to develop coding skills. The organisation promotes gender diversity and female participation in the technology sector by offering free and paid training and courses for students and professional women. It also supports businesses to train staff and develop talent management policies. As of June 2016, Code First: Girls is reported to have provided in excess of £1.5 million worth of free coding courses to more than 1,500 women since 2013.
  • PLUS another 5 Wikipedia articles were translated from English Wikipedia to Portuguese Wikipedia using Wikipedia’s new Content Translation tool.
  1. Tamar Ziegler translated to Tamar Ziegler here. Ziegler is an Israeli mathematician known for her work in ergodic theory and arithmetic combinatorics. Much of her work has focused on arithmetic progressions, in particular extensions of the Green–Tao theorem.
  2. Vyjayanthi Chari translated to Vyjayanthi Chari here. Chari is an Indian–American professor of mathematics at the University of California, Riverside, known for her research in representation theory and quantum algebra. In 2015 she was elected as a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
  3. Stefanie Petermichl translated to Stefanie Petermichl here. German mathematical analyst who works as a professor at the University of Toulouse, in France. Topics of her research include harmonic analysis, several complex variables, stochastic control, and elliptic partial differential equations. She became a member of the Institut Universitaire de France in 2013.
  4. Cornelia Druțu translated to Cornelia Druțu here. Romanian mathematician working in the areas of geometric group theory, topology, and ergodic theory and its applications to number theory. She is a fellow and a tutor in pure mathematics at Exeter College, and lecturer in the Oxford University’s mathematical institute.
  5. Mildred Sanderson translated to Mildred Sanderson here. American mathematician, best known for her mathematical theorem concerning modular invariants. She is mentioned in the book Pioneering women in American mathematics. A Mildred L. Sanderson prize for excellence in mathematics was established in her honor in 1939 at Mount Holyoke College.
Ada Lovelace Day 2016 attendees (Ewan McAndrew, CC-BY-SA)

Articles improved

  • Place of education data (University of Edinburgh) was added to Mary Fergusson (Q37215) and a new improved Histropedia timeline of female graduates of University of Edinburgh working in mathematics and engineering was created.
  • A summary infobox and additional information was added to the early life and academic career sections of Nora Calderwood‘s page.
  • Links, references & formatting were all fixed in Margaret Rock‘s page – Rock was an English cryptoanalyst who worked as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park during World War II.
  • The size of the Athena SWAN page was doubled.
  • Links were improved from Joan Robinson (British economist well known for her work on monetary economics) linked to John Eatwell (British economist and the current President of Queens’ College, Cambridge) and then Nicholas Kaldor(Cambridge economist in the post-war period) linked to Joan Robinson. Text has been drafted in sandbox to improve the Cathie Marsh page. Marsh was a sociologist and statistician who lectured at the University of Cambridge and University of Manchester. The Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research (CMIST) at the University of Manchester was named following her early death from breast cancer, aged 41.
  • Spelling mistake fixed on the Sue Black (computer scientist) page.
  • Hut 6 linked to Ann Katharine Mitchell‘s page.
  • Our editors learnt ab
    Ada Lovelace Day 2016 attendees (Ewan McAndrew, CC-BY-SA)

    out Wikidata and improved the Wikidata list on female mathematicians. They also identified sources to create the Katherine Clerk Maxwell page.

  • The ‘Sweden‘ section in the Elizabeth Blackwell (illustrator) page which covers the fact that Blackwell has a genus of plants named after her.
  • Entrepreneur First page was improved by making a link to Code First: Girls

Highlighting female success stories like these is massively important soWikiProject Women in Red (the second most active WikiProject out of 2000 or so WikiProjects) hold 5 editathons every month on and gets editors from all over the world to turn those red-linked articles on Wikipedia (i.e. ones that don’t yet exist) into blue clickable links that do; whether it be Women in Art, Women Writers, Women in Nursing, Women in Religion or Women in STEM.

To date they have been very successful, averaging 1-3000 articles a month and shifting the balance from 15% of biographies on female to 16.52%. Still a long way to go but it is important for projects like these to write women back into history.