Banner
    Wikipedia’s Women Woes
    By Hank Campbell | July 16th 2012 02:09 PM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

    View Hank's Profile
    Last year I wrote about somewhat silly claims that Wikipedia must be sexist because it had poor female representation. Wikipedia is an open, voluntary community, I argued, some people are just not going to do it.

    Since then, the Science 2.0 wikipedia page has been hijacked to a point where there is no mention at all of Science 2.0, it is instead some jargon about being a subset of open access and mentions virtually every site except us. I don't even bother to link to their Science 2.0 page because that might increase their authority in search and I generally feel like, at least from the point of view of an independent in science media who does not have corporate marketing people running around fixing this stuff, the world would be just fine if Wikipedia ceased to exist tomorrow.

    Women, they say a Republican is just a Democrat who got mugged so in that same spirit I am now in agreement with you about Wikipedia and sexism, because Wikipedia has mugged us. Wikipedia probably is sexist because it sure as heck is overrun by people who know nothing about topics and they are really biased about lots of other things.

    The sexism may be subtle, though. My point last year was that anyone can sign up, there is no way to know gender and so that was the defense but, as Torie Bosch on Slate notes, why will women stick around if some topics they might like are ridiculed and dismissed?  Take, for example, Brit Kate Middleton's wedding gown.

    Now, I am a healthy heterosexual man so I can tell you she is the first attractive female member of the British royal family ever.  Women oohed about Princess Diana but I couldn't find any men who gave a hill of beans about her. No one saw Middleton in that dress and didn't think she looked good.


    Is this wedding dress unimportant?  Only if you are some angry misogynist on Wikipedia. Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images. Link: Salon

    Yet Wikipedia thinks it is unimportant, much like Science 2.0 is considered unimportant in their Science 2.0 entry.  They have 100 articles on Linux distributions but an article on a wedding dress seen by tens of millions of people is too trivial for Wikipedia, detractors said. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales supported keeping the article, so it stayed, but Bosch found an example even more telling. 
    Sarah Stierch told me that a few months ago, she organized an “edit-a-thon” at which women—some Wiki veterans, some newbies—used Smithsonian records to create new articles on under-recognized female historical figures. Two of the fruits of their labor were rapidly nominated for deletion—and after the decision was made to leave them both intact, one was nominated again. The figure in question: Helen M. Duncan, a paleontologist and geologist who worked in the mid-20th century. 
    Her point was obvious; if a scientist is important enough to be in the Smithsonian - picked by people who actually know what they are talking about - why would some know-nothing militants on Wikipedia keep wanting it taken down? The obvious answer, though not evidence-based, is that women scientists are treated differently and the implied message is that if women scientists are discriminated against, and topics women find interesting are discriminated against, women are not going to get involved.

    It's a tough road to come back from sexism and shows the downside of a voluntary community, no matter how great the intentions; only the craziest people are inclined to fight crazy people long enough to stick around.  

    How Kate Middleton’s Wedding Gown Demonstrates Wikipedia’s Woman Problem By Torie Bosch, Slate

    Comments

    This doesn't surprise me. I am a Wikipedia editor and sometimes I'll find an article that needs serious editing and I'll think to myself "do I really want to get into a war with some tyrannical editor who thinks the article belongs to them?" and I'll just skip it and find some other article with maybe spelling errors or typos. Ya, this is typical Wikipedia. It's infested with people who have nothing better to do and who's entire self worth seems to revolve around how many articles they can create or control. It's a serious problem and needs to be dealt with and in my opinion is the root cause of why Wikipedia is hemorrhaging editors.

    UvaE
    If the authors wanted the wedding dress article accepted in Wikipedia, they just had to make it a little more encyclopedic, like this :   :)

    FYI, there is Wikidrama galore about the guy who proposed deleting the Helen Duncan article: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Alan_Liefting&oldid=... - The end result was this: "Due to the laughable, ludicrous and lame accusations levelled at me and the inability of some editors to keep the goal of the project in mind I am taking a wikibreak while I consider what sort of future I want to have with Wikipedia."

    Hank
    After reading the history on the Science 2.0 talk page I am thankful we don't need them for accuracy.
    My point in posting the comments above is that even though it is true that one editor wanted to get rid of the Duncan article, that a) that person had a history of excessive deletions of content, and b) the community of editors chastised him for this behavior to the point that he would likely have risked being banned from further edits had he not voluntarily stepped back himself.