Students Seek to Correct Gender Bias on Wikipedia

In fall 2023, students in BIO-204 (Women in Science), taught by Assistant Professor of Biology Natasha Butz, sought to correct gender bias on Wikipedia by nominating pages for women scientists.

In 2018, Wikipedia received criticism about the underrepresentation of women on the website. That year, when Donna Strickland became the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, she did not have a Wikipedia page. Months before Strickland received the award, a submission entry for her page was rejected as a Wikipedia editor decided she did not meet the site’s notability criteria. A 2021 survey found only 17% of the biographies on their website are about women.

Dr. Butz assigned students to contribute to “Wiki Project Women Scientists” or “Underrepresentation of Science and Women in Africa”, two projects that aim to correct the gender bias on Wikipedia. The requirement was to write an article about a woman scientist who does not have a Wiki page.

One group of students exceeded expectations by reaching out to Melissa Hawkins, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Hawkins replied to the students to thank them for their efforts and acknowledge the value of highlighting women in science.

Because of the importance of the subject, the biology department plans to start offering BIO-204 more often. “Even presently, there is still an imbalance in the representation of men and women in STEM,” said Butz. “Young women are still reluctant to join the field because of the persistent stereotype that science is for men and their lack of knowledge about many successful women scientists. And this is not surprising because most times, there is no mention of women in science! That is why this course is relevant.”

Melyssa Allen

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