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Girls & Women

A London Academic Wrote Hundreds of Wikipedia Pages to Get Female Scientists the Recognition They Deserve

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Science is sexist. Right now, it will take 258 years for the gender gap to close in physics — and change is happening far too slowly. So when someone takes action to get female scientists the recognition they rarely receive in a male-dominated industry, we want to talk about it. Take action on gender inequality here.

Dr. Jess Wade has spent the last year writing hundreds of Wikipedia articles.

“I’ve done about 270 in the past year,” Wade said. “I had a target for doing one a day, but sometimes I get too excited and do three.”

Wade is a postdoctoral researcher at Blackett Laboratory in Imperial College London, according to an interview with the Guardian. But when she’s not exploring plastic electronics, she moonlights as a historian, storyteller, and documentarian.

Call it whatever you like — but she’s drawing vital attention to currently unrecognised work of female scientists across the world.

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Wade spends her spare time writing up the achievements of fellow female scientists.

“I kind of realised we can only really change things from the inside,” she said. “Wikipedia is a really great way to engage people in this mission because the more you read about these sensational women, the more you get so motivated and inspired by their personal stories.”

“I guess it’s to make science a better place for everyone working in it, which happens when we recognise the contributions of these awesome women,” she added. “Then the girls who do come – because they will! – will come to a much more empowering environment.”

Her first page was for American climate scientist Professor Kim Cobb. And when she writes something new, she might even tweet about it, too.

The lack of women in science barely registered for Wade until she started her PhD. She went from an all-girls school and a science-mad upbringing to studying physics at Imperial College London. Now, she talks to schools, teachers, and parents about getting more women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) work.

“Being isolated is hard – this goes for all underrepresented groups,” she said. “Then there are all those challenges during your PhD that amplify that isolation. If you don’t have anyone you can really get on with around you it’s so, so hard.”

It will take 258 years to close the gender gap in physics, according to a study cited by Dazed, as women currently hold just 12.8% of STEM jobs. The problem starts early too: just 21% of A-level physics students are female.

And Wade said she was frustrated watching the lacklasture efforts to address it unfold.

“There’s so much energy, enthusiasm, and money going into all these initiatives to get girls into science,” she told the Guardian — reportedly up to £5 million a year is spent on outreach from both the public and private sector. “Absolutely none of them is evidence-based and none of them work. It’s so unscientific, that’s what really surprises me.”

Wade cites the example of the European Commission’s “Science: It’s a Girl Thing” video, featuring models in high heels and sunglasses strutting from a pink background into a laboratory. She also criticised the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s 2016 “9% is not enough” campaign — referring to the percentage of women in engineering jobs — as “fundamentally negative.”

“It infuriates me that even for a blink of an eyelid they think that kind of thing will change anything,” she added.

Wade has also bought and distributed 70 copies of the book Angela Saini’s book Inferior — a text that applies science to gender stereotypes.

She also nominates other women for science prizes, including Imperial astrophysicist Emma Chapman, who won the Royal Society’s Athena prize last week for changing national policy on sexual harassment in higher education.