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On Tuesday morning, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced three winners for this year’s Nobel prize in Physics. As we mentioned in Data Sheet, one of those winners–Donna Strickland of the University of Waterloo—was the first woman to win the award in 55 years and only the third woman ever, following atomic modeler Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and radiation research pioneer Marie Curie in 1903. As has also been widely reported, Strickland was also the only one of those three women who lacked a Wikipedia page prior to Tuesday.
Back in March, someone tried to write a Wikipedia entry for one of the most important optical physicists on the planet, only to have their proposed entry rejected on May 23 by one of Wikipedia’s volunteer editing crew because the “submission is about a person not yet shown to meet notability guidelines.” That the draft entry cited four major scientific awards Strickland had won and her stint as president of the Optical Society seemingly went over the head of said editor. As Quartz pointed out, the sad story isn’t all that surprising, as only 17% of Wikipedia’s biographical articles are about women. Thankfully, yesterday’s female Nobel winner, chemist Frances Arnold of CalTech, was not among the overlooked—she’s had a page since 2008.
The overall state affairs remains sad, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Recently, the New York Times decided to begin correcting a terrible historical oversight in its obituaries. Since 1851 and until only a few decades ago, the paper ran obits mainly for men and overlooked the lives of hundreds or perhaps thousands of worthy female subjects. Even pretty famous people like the poet Sylvia Plath, the writer Charlotte Bronte, and the photographer Diane Arbus were ignored at their passing. Now the paper is trying to rectify those oversights by slowly adding obituaries for people from the past. Some recent entries include journalist and anti-lynching advocate Ida Wells, who died in 1931, and Chinese poet Qiu Jin, who passed away in 1907.
Fixing the thousands of overlooked women, alive and dead, in Wikipedia could be even easier. That’s because anyone can write an entry in the gigantic online encyclopedia. The site itself has an excellent beginner’s guide to writing entries. Physics researcher Jess Wade is already hard at work on the task—she’s added hundreds of entries covering women scientists. As they say in journalism, write what you know. Who’s a leader, a standout, a pioneering woman in your field who is lacking a Wikipedia entry? What are you waiting for, get busy.
(This story was updated on October 5 to clarify that a proposed article about Strickland was rejected by a Wikipedia editor.)