Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2022

Though the world has made some strides in gender equality, there is certainly still room for improvement, especially in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM for short). 

Unfortunately, women continue to be underrepresented in most STEM fields. For example, only 38 percent of physicians and surgeons and 15 percent of engineers are women. 

Women are not the only ones affected by historical exclusion in these fields. The efforts and achievements of Black and Hispanic STEM college graduates continue to be diminished (an obstacle made even more intense for women scientists who belong to these communities). 

Pay in STEM fields is also skewed by race and gender; STEM professorships continue to be dominated by men, and one of the world’s largest reference databases, Wikipedia, ignores women and scientists of color. 

Enter Dr. Jessica Wade, a British physicist who is dedicating her career to creating over 1,600 Wikipedia pages for illustrious but under-appreciated scientists.

Who is Dr. Jessica Wade?

Dr. Wade, who studied Raman spectroscopy at Imperial College London‘s Blackett Laboratory, discovered several years ago that only 20 percent of Wikipedia biography pages were about famous women. While other issues, such as wage disparities, will necessitate larger-scale solutions, Dr. Wade began by changing what she could with simple keystrokes. Dr. Wade started creating pages for impressive women and people of color in STEM in 2017 with Dr. Kim Cobb, an American climate scientist.

Dr. Wade has created over 1,600 pages since 2017. Highlights include Dr. Ijeoma Uchegbu, a Nigerian-British nanotechnology pioneer, and Dr. (and Dame) Sarah Gilbert, an Oxford vaccinologist who helped develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and has an honorary Barbie in her likeness. 

Many of the world’s women and scientists have created devices and developments that shape our modern lives. Gladys Mae West, for example, was recently inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame for her groundbreaking mathematical work that helped lay the groundwork for GPS technology.

Why is Dr. Wade’s Wikipedia work necessary?

On top of her own research, Dr. Wade dedicated her career to advancing women in STEM. Adding Wikipedia pages is an important step toward righting past wrongs, specifically the work of female scientists that has historically been overlooked. Wikipedia is biased because it is largely written by volunteers who are predominantly white and male. “The process is finding people first—usually it’s an award holder, someone who’s been given a fellowship, someone who’s published a really great paper, or somebody who’s done a recent really good talk,” Dr. Wade explained to The New York Times in 2019.” Every morning, I go on Twitter and I’ll look.”

When she finds a candidate, she compares their credentials to Wikipedia’s notability criteria. If they reach the page creation level, she researches their career to write a biography. For many women, this may entail looking for work published under their maiden names. Dr. Wade is also working to make use of “mass editing sessions” (edit-a-thons), which are focused on revising existing pages. 

She explained to the Times how she and her “heroic friend,” Maryam Zaringhalam, a science communicator and policy fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, had organized edit-a-thons around the world. “In general, most people think making the internet better—particularly the content people see and use in education—is a good thing.” 

To these impressive scientists, their efforts are worth it, even if only a few people read each page.  The effect of more visible female scientists cannot be understated as they may help make more young girls aware of the wide breadth of possibilities there are for their futures.

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