All the way back in 1842, when humans still spent all their time huddled around in the dark, gnawing on potatoes and reveling in abject confusion (basically), brilliant genius Ada Lovelace penned the world's first computer program. Nowadays, Ada Lovelace is a women-in-STEM hero; annually, we honor her and celebrate the achievements of all women in STEM.
Sadly, though, Lovelace stands out as a glaring exception to the rule: in most accounts of the history of scientific achievement, there's a striking paucity of female names. So, very fittingly, Anne Fausto-Sterling and Maia Weinstock (both of whom are women scientists) are hosting a mass Wikipedia edit this Ada Lovelace Day. The event is meant to improve the online encyclopedia's coverage of female scientists.
The lack of lady scientist representation has been around since time immemorial, and it hasn't gotten much better in recent days. As an example, Fausto-Sterling recalls when she was first hired as a professor of Biology at Brown:
“At one point I was taken out to lunch by a senior history professor. I think he meant well and was trying to be encouraging but the way he encouraged me was to say, ‘It’s really exciting that they’ve hired a woman scientist but this is the first time it’s been possible because before your generation there were none.’”
That's obviously not true. Women scientists have existed for as long as male scientists have — their achievements just have not been valued or discussed in the same way. Changing that perception is important. According to the Ada Lovelace Day website, a study conducted by psychologist Penelope Lockwood found that women benefit from having female role models more than men do from having males to look up to. In the words of Lockwood, "Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”
Fausto-Sterling agrees adamantly with that sentiment: “What we lose by not having a full panoply of information about women scientists is that we continue to perpetuate this idea that this historian had that women haven’t done science at the same level as men or are somehow deficient in this area." As a method of recourse, she's spent years gathering books and news clippings that document women scientists, and she intends to donate them to Brown one day.
On October 15, Brown students have been invited to gather in order to expand upon and create Wikipedia entries detailing the accomplishments of women in STEM. The event has its own Wikipedia page (of course), with a long and respectable list of articles that need to be written and fleshed out/cleaned up. Says Fausto-Sterling, "[The edit-a-thon] has a kind of guerilla warfare aspect to it that appeals to me... Anybody can do it, but in addition to having metaphoric value it has a real corrective value.”
Not only will it make valuable information about women scientists more readily available, the event will also ostensibly train women how to edit and create articles of their own. You know the old saying: address a historical tendency to overlook accomplished women alone, and you laugh in the face of patriarchy for a day; empower young women to do the same whenever they please, and you dance on the grave of male-centric bias for life.
Happy Ada Lovelace Day!
"Wiki editing sessions at Brown University recognizes women in science" [Brown.edu]
Image via Getty.