A faculty-student research group from Earlham College is working to reverse a gender imbalance they became aware of on the go-to internet source for information, Wikipedia.
Led by Associate Professor of Psychology Rachael Reavis, the team is publishing profiles of prominent women of achievement on Wikipedia, where it has been documented that fewer than 20 percent of pages are devoted to women.
“This project started out as a way for my students to learn about notable women in psychology and neuroscience,” Reavis says. “Now this project is being expanded at Earlham to include women from other fields of study.”
Despite Wikipedia’s vast network of information, the lack of resources dedicated to women has been surprising, the research group says. That includes the omission of Joanne E. Berger-Sweeney, a pioneer in the field of neurobiology for her work on a popular Alzheimer’s drug. Berger-Sweeney also was hired in 2014 as the first woman and first African American to become president at Trinity College in Connecticut.
“I’m trying to make an impact on the world of neuroscience like Joanne has,” says Jerilyn Gillenwater, a senior neuroscience major from St. Louis who conducted the research on the noteworthy scholar.
“Being able to create a Wikipedia page — providing this information to a large group of people — means so much to me as a woman of color,” she says. “Knowing that this information didn’t exist before me makes me feel really good about the impact we’re having.”
Research related to issues of equality and social justice are a natural fit for Earlham, a national liberal arts college with Quaker roots and an ongoing commitment to its founding values, which include striving for peace and human rights, and respect for others and the environment.
While Wikipedia isn’t always a reliable source for research papers, Reavis says, it’s typically the first resource people encounter when they use a search engine.
The project is already having an impact. Reavis says the profiles generated more than 1,000 page views when they appeared on the Wikipedia homepage. Seven of the 10 profiles have been published in Wikipedia’s “Did you know?” section.
“One challenge that we’ve discovered in adding women to Wikipedia is they often get nominated for deletion,” Reavis says. “We’ve been really careful about meeting the standards and documenting that the standards have been met so people can’t come and delete our work.”
Reavis’ research group is inspired by London physicist Jess Wade’s commitment to better represent women and people of color on Wikipedia. Reavis also notes that her team’s work has been observed by the Wikiproject Women in Red, a group of global editors seeking gender equality in the wiki movement. Since 2015, this initiative has been a driving force in increasing the number of English women biographies on Wikipedia from 15.5 percent to 18.23 percent.
“They are aware of our work,” Reavis says. “They have been encouraging and helpful. They even sent us little buttons that say, ‘I made the internet less sexist.’”
The project will continue this summer to include students from other areas of study.
“We anticipate significant interest in this project moving forward,” Reavis says. “Not only does this work allow students to learn about key women who have worked in their chosen field of study, it has the capacity to unite students from across the College who have a common goal of creating a more equitable world of research and discovery.”
Earlham-authored profiles on Wikipedia
- American neurobiologist Joanne Berger-Sweeney: Known for her work on a popular Alzheimer’s drug; president of Trinity College.
- American developmental psychologist Cynthia García Coll: associate director of the Institutional Center for Scientific Research at Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico; former editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Child Development.
- American academic and researcher Leslie Leve: University of Oregon professor in the Counseling Psychology and Human Services Department and associate director of the university’s Prevention Science Institute.
- Canadian social psychologist Kerry Kawakami: professor of social psychology at York University in Toronto; editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
- South Korean psychologist Heejung Kim: professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara; co-editor of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.
- South African educational psychologist Catriona Ida Macleod: professor of psychology and head of the psychology department at Rhodes University.
- American behavior geneticist Jenae Neiderhiser: distinguished Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University; co-director at PSU’s Gene Environment Research Initiative.
- American psychologist Paula R. Pietromonaco: principal investigator of the Growth in Early Marriage Project at the University of Massachusetts; editor-in-chief of the journal Emotion; associate editor of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes section.
- American psychologist Karen Saywitz: developmental and clinical psychologist and professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and Department of Psychiatry and Development.
- American psychologist Marion Underwood: dean of Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences; leading researcher in social aggression.