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Physicist accuses ‘white men in North America’ Wikipedia editors of sexism


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Physicist accuses ‘white men in North America’ Wikipedia editors of sexism for flagging her profiles of prominent female scientists as ‘not notable enough’

  • Dr Jess Wade has written around 800 biographies for the online encyclopedia
  • Last week 50 of Dr Wade’s entries were flagged by Wikipedia editors 
  • They were tagged for not being prominent enough to stay on the site

Dr Jess Wade (pictured) is a research associate at Imperial College London. She has spent the last couple of years writing in the region of 800 biographies for the online encyclopedia

A physicist who added hundreds of biographies for female scientists to Wikipedia has expressed her shock after seeing a number of them removed because they weren’t considered prominent enough to stay on the site.

Dr Jess Wade, who is a research associate at Imperial College London, has spent the last couple of years writing 800 plus biographies for the online encyclopedia.

The 31-year-old had honed in on women who have made a significant contribution to science, maths, technology and engineering, but who hadn’t previously had an entry on the site.

However, last week, 50 of Dr Wade’s entries were flagged by Wikipedia editors for not being prominent enough to stay on the site.  

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Dr Wade said content editors, who she described as ‘white men in North America,’ went through all the profiles she’d written.

As a result some were taken down with editors giving them a tag ‘saying they weren’t notable.’

‘I’ve been told that I’m diluting the site by putting these profiles up,’ Wade said.   

She expressed her amazement that one of the most worthy in her mind was tagged for deletion. 

‘One of the most memorable was a phenomenal woman chemist called Clarice Phelps,’ Wade told Woman’s Hour.

Clarice Phelps (pictured) who went through the Navy's Nuclear Field program and contributed to the discovery of an element was one of the additions marked as not notable enough by Wikipedia editors

Clarice Phelps (pictured) who went through the Navy’s Nuclear Field program and contributed to the discovery of an element was one of the additions marked as not notable enough by Wikipedia editors

‘She works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US and was probably the only African American woman ever to contribute to the discovery of an element – element 117, which is Tennessine.

‘She went through the Navy’s Nuclear Field program which is incredibly competitive – it probably has a fail rate of 90 per cent. She’s at the top of her game. 

‘Anonymous Wikipedia editors in some part of the world were deciding this story, this person’s profile, isn’t important enough and we don’t need this on the site.’       

Following the interview Dr Wade said on Twitter that she had a problem ‘with a few rogue + arrogant editors’ rather than Wikipedia itself. 

‘ … it is *our* responsibility to make the encyclopedia less biased. you, me, your readers, the rest of the world. it is not wikipedia’s job.’

She also called on ‘more women, people of colour and people from other historically underrepresented groups to start editing and contributing their knowledge.’     

The chief executive of Wikimedia UK, Lucy Crompton-Reid said: ‘As the national charity for the Wikimedia movement, Wikimedia UK is working to build an inclusive online community and ensure that the Wikimedia projects reflect our diverse society and are free from bias.

Dr Jessica Wade of Imperial College London (pictured) expressed her astonishment to BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour

Dr Jessica Wade of Imperial College London (pictured) expressed her astonishment to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour

‘Half of our leading volunteers are women, and we work extensively with partners to improve and increase content about women.’

Both Dr Wade’s parents are doctors. After attending an all-girls school as a child she won a place to study physics as an undergraduate at Imperial College, London. She works in the field of plastic electronics at Imperial. 

Wade has given talks at schools and has been involved in outreach work to encourage more girls to take up science.  

Wikipedia’s content is written by volunteers. A small number of editors decide which biographies stay on the site with how well known the person is taken into consideration.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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