Royal Society hosts Wikipedia edit-a-thon to write women into history of science

17 October 2012

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, is to host a group edit-a-thon, in partnership with Wikimedia UK, to improve Wikipedia articles about women in science on Friday 19th October. Places at the event were snapped up almost as soon as it was advertised however anyone interested can still take part remotely.

Female botanists Female botanists from the US Department of Agriculture, mid 20th century. (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

At the event people who are new to Wikipedia and experienced Wikipedia editors will have the opportunity to raise the profile of female scientists who have been largely overlooked. Representatives from Wikimedia UK will be on hand to explain how Wikipedia works and answer questions about editing and improving Wikipedia articles. Attendees will work together to edit articles, using the library's resources.

The Society's library holds a rich collection that contains many works by and about women in science, including biographies and works authored by scientists. The Society's librarians have already located relevant information and will be on hand to help attendees find sources. The event is being held in conjunction with Ada Lovelace Day (16 October), which celebrates the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Professor Uta Frith FRS, who has been involved in organising the event, said:

 “It’s shameful that when you ask people, including scientists, to name well-known female scientists and engineers they can barely get past Marie Curie. I think this is very much because they are not in our consciousness or they have not been given high enough profile for their work. Wikipedia is one of the first places that many people go for information but if it’s not there how will we ever learn about our scientific heroines. This event is a very small but important step towards putting these very special women in the spotlight they deserve.”

Jon Davies, Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK, a key partner in this event, said:

"Ada Lovelace was an incredible mathematician and it's fitting that we honour her contributions in this way. It's equally fitting that in remembering Ada we're working to acknowledge the efforts and breakthroughs of other women in science, technology, maths and engineering. What could be a more appropriate partnership to do this than one of the world's premier scientific institutions and the world's largest reference work?"

Anyone wishing to take part remotely can do so using Twitter and the hashtag #WomenSciWP. Wikipedia entries that the organisers intend to edit include those of Alexa Canady, the first female and first black resident in neurosurgery, who only has a stub Wikipedia entry and Eleanor Maguire, who made major discoveries about the memory of taxi drivers and runs an inspirational essay competition for London school children to write about women scientists. She currently does not have a Wikipedia entry. A full list of potential entries to create or edit has been put together by Wikipedia.

Articles in the Royal Society’s journals, including Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, provide an excellent resource for editing entries and will be freely accessible from 19 October 2012 to 29 November 2012 as part of the Royal Society’s support for Open Access Week.

Following the Edit-a-thon there will be a panel discussion led by Uta Frith FRS on women's experiences in science and diversity in the scientific workforce more generally. Panel members will include:  Suw Charman-Anderson, founder of Ada Lovelace Day; Daria Cybulska from Wikimedia UK; Georgina Ferry, a science writer, author and broadcaster based in Oxford; Professor Emily Holmes who serves on the Royal Society's EDAN (Equality and Diversity Advisory Network) committee and prize-winning historical writer Professor Richard Holmes FBA among others.

Places for the panel discussion are limited and those who are interested in attending should visit the event page.

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