Category Archives: Media

Recent Editorial Highlights Potential Future Problems for Wikipedia

ba2abdcdcA recent article in the New York Times discusses the challenges faced by Wikipedia in a time when smartphones are becoming the dominant means through which individuals utilize the web. The author notes that this is a problem for the contributors to Wikipedia as increased mobile access to the internet slows down contributor research time that is done through a computer. As such, Wikipedia has experienced seven straight years of decline in editor participation.

As the author notes, “The nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees Wikipedia’s operations but is not directly involved in content, is investigating solutions. Some ideas include touch-screen tools that would let Wikipedia editors sift through information and share content from their phones.”

However, this is not the only problem plaguing Wikipedia, as recent shifts in the Board of Trustees have provided internal struggles for the site. Despite the site’s budget of “roughly $60 million…the foundation’s new executive director, Lila Tretikov, has been hiring developers from the world of open-source technology, and their lack of experience with Wikipedia content has concerned some veterans.”

While it is unlikely that Wikipedia will cease to exist, the company must figure out how to combat changing technology and mobility of the internet and internal struggles if it wishes to continue to bring its’ democratic sensibilities to all individuals.

Nobel Laureate Professor’s Comments Highlight Sexism in the Sciences

sexismTim Hunt, a biochemist from University College London, recently resigned following controversial statements he made at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. Hunt was quoted as saying “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls… Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”

After a backlash in the Science community, Hunt offered the following apology: “I’m really sorry I said what I said. It was a very stupid thing to do in the presence of all those journalists… What was intended is a light-hearted ironic comment. Apparently it was interpreted deadly seriously by my audience… I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It’s terribly important that you can criticize people’s ideas without criticizing them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth. Science is about nothing but getting at the truth.”

Unfortunately for Hunt, this apology was not enough and he resigned days later. A recent article in The Atlantic highlights why Hunt’s statement is so problematic. Most notably, he perpetuates unfair stereotypes about women in STEM fields that have persisted for decades. As the article notes, women are continually paid less for the same jobs as men in Science fields. Additionally, women face an exorbitant amount of sexual harassment in their fields, as well. Thus, Hunt’s statements gesture toward wider biases and systemic issues that need to be solved if women are to close this gap. It is up to education to help further the publicity of this issue and allow for women to advance properly in STEM field on the whole.

Wikipedia, sports and the gender gap

Guest post by Laura Hale

I write about women’s sport on English Wikipedia.  Unlike scientists, artists, and other professional women, the media have paid little attention to how Wikipedia treats female athletes.  The problem is particularly acute in terms of article naming and categorization because English Wikipedia has this tendency to treat sportspeople as men by default, with women being treated as inherently inferior.  The best example of this is the national team naming structure, which almost always has the genderless national team article about men, and the gendered article name about women.  This occurs despite the fact that by rule almost all of these sports are segregated by gender.  If you’re a female sportsperson, that sends a horrifying message.

This pattern is often repeated when it comes to categories.  Men are not categorized by gender, while women are systematically categorized by gender.  Or when a male and female category exists, the men stay in the main category and the women are moved out.  The worst I’ve ever seen was when all the women were systematically moved out of “softball players” and into “female softball players”, leaving only articles about men.  This happened despite the fact that softball has historically been a women’s game.  Again, the message is that women are supposedly inferior and not equal to their male counterparts. This default language part is particularly troubling because it creates barriers.  Despite the verifiability of the fact that sport is segregated by gender and what seems to be an inherently neutral position of gender specifying the teams, the argument on Wikipedia amounts to the fact that men’s teams are inherently more notable, and are thus primary topics.  Neutrality, being specific, following verifiability should be secondary to serving the reader’s interest in finding the most notable team without gender in play.

I’ve seen a fair amount of work discussing the differences between male and female artists and scientists, but none on national teams.  The Wikipedia content for the most popular sports is better for men, has more sources, has more pictures, on average is longer in length, and is created sooner than for articles about female members of national teams.

This situation is particularly appalling given the important role of exercise and participation in sport when it comes to women’s health.  At the same time, women’s participation in sports and sports governance are often reflective of broader societal treatment of women that may not be as publicly visible elsewhere.  Think about the story of the Saudi Arabian women being excluded from the Olympic team and the fatwas issued to prevent women from playing soccer in several countries in Africa.  The portrayal on Wikipedia of women’s participation in sports is systematically marginalized in a way that it violates the “neutral point of view”, one of the five pillars for editing on Wikipedia. This is not good for Wikipedia, and broadly speaking, it is not good for women’s health issues globally.

It also discourages women from editing in sports topics because the sexism is so built into the system. Women get actively discouraged from participating and are being attacked for questioning the assumption that the default is male and should remain male because of the false premise that men’s sport is inherently superior. That’s not the sort of positive messaging that will get women contributing to articles about elite women in sports.

Further, issues on Wikipedia regarding women in sports appear to mirror problems faced by media and sports in general. This includes participation levels both at the athlete and administrator level.  There has recently been a large discussion about media coverage of women in sports and the treatment of female sports journalists.

This is really, really problematic for sports and a situation not necessarily true in other domains. Scientists are not by rule segregated by gender in doing their work and in who they compete against.  The same is true for popular culture topics, academia, art and other domains that have historically been the focus of gender gap work.  Hence, on some level this feels worse than other forms of discrimination at the heart of categorygate (during which women novelists were moved out of the American novelists category} and few people seem to talk about it.  My supposition would be that this is because of the people attracted to writing about the gender gap focus on areas of interest, which can play along feminist lines, and sports does not fit into that mold.

This is an area where I feel particularly passionate about because I feel it has largely been neglected in the gender gap narrative.  That’s sad because I think sports public profile for bringing attention to women’s issue is huge.  The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are starting on February 7 and we’re going to hear all these stories about strong, capable women who are the best at what they do in the world.  Rarely does that happen on a global level where you hear so many stories about so many women.  And the cultural implications for women’s involvement or lack of involvement in sport should be there.  I’ve talked to a number of sportswomen and having a Wikipedia article is seen as a clear sign that they’ve made it. Validating our best is good, because it encourages more of them.

Laura Hale is a Ph.D. student at the University of Canberra, who is studying sport and social media. As a Wikipedian, she has created over 1,200 articles with over 40 percent of them about women.  She has served as a Wikipedian in Residence for the Australian Paralympic Committee and the Spanish Paralympic Committee.  She is also active in a leadership role in the Wikimedia movement, having served as the vice president of Wikimedia Australia, and the provisional chairperson of The Wikinewsie Group.

Woot! A big Wikipedia editing party

Some days an article floats into one of your digital channels that make you instantly happy! I just had to smile when reading about the big Wikipedia editing party Brown University is organizing.

In honor of mathematician Ada Lovelace, Brown is calling on people to ”edit and create Wikipedia entries about women who have made significant contributions to the STEM fields.”

Brown University thus honors all women in science, and via its wiki provides a list of name of women whose Wikipedia entries need work! People can join wether they want to learn how to edit Wikipedia or just do it with others enthusiastic to help balancing out the gender gap.

More about the party also in the Atlantic, the Chronicle of Higher Education and on

By the way, it’s also International Day of the Girl today! The theme: Innovating Girls’ Education. We at Wikid GRRLS hope we can be part of improving girls’ education, especially in confidently handling and contributing to online spaces for knowledge. A happy shout out to all girls around the globe!


Wikid GRRLS logo

Tech writing dominated by white men

Jamelle Bouie posted an article for The Magazine (issue 7) headlined: “An implicit network, not overt racism, keeps tech writing dominated by white men.” His point is that few (that is, there are a few, but not many) people of color are staff and regular contributors to technology magazines, websites, or blogs. Even his own The Magazine, he says, has “issues” with diversity: of the 26 people who contributed to the first six issues, 22 were white men.

Moreover, he notes that everyone uses gadgets, with African Americans and Latinos, for example, using Twitter and Facebook at higher rates than whites. (Bouie’s reference to color does not mean, of course, South Asians and Southeast Asians.)

He partly chalks up the problem for African Americans and Latinos to internships—and the economic issue of who can afford to take an unpaid internship. The same social-economic issue MAY be connected to who enjoys the social status or networks needed (or at least convenient) to breaking into technology journalism.

I don’t think internships are the major issue, since our research indicates that with many such issues (and certainly the relative lack of women throughout STEM fields) begins WAAAY before college and the question of internships. Such notions about what one can or cannot do, what one is likely to be successful or a failure at, begin in childhood. Early childhood. Certainly the internships would not explain why so few white women are writing about technology.

But he is correct, and totally on point, that the technology community is large and diverse: “We should want the community of people who write about it to mirror that diversity. We have nothing to lose, and a huge wealth of perspectives and experiences to gain.”

Thus the need for early education programs to give kids early confidence that they can develop and use online skills, and contribute their knowledge. And we really hope that Wikid GRRLS will attract African American and Latinas girls.