By Guest Author 18/12/2019


Stuart Yeates

In August 2017, the Royal Society Te Apārangi provided physical space and some funds for a group of people to get together and edit Wikipedia on topics related to Women in Science, to try and combat the overwhelming maleness on Wikipedia.

Participants at the Women in Science Wikipedia workshop, Wellington, New Zealand, 6 August 2017 #WikiSciWomen.
Giantflightlessbirds, Wikipedia CC-BY 4.0

The event was largely run by Mike Dickinson, ably assisted by a team of volunteers and catered thanks to Rebecca Priestley at Victoria University of Wellington.

I’ve been going to and organising such edit-a-thons for a while and knew that a key resource was a list of suggested topics for participants to edit, so everyone can find something that interests them. My contribution to the day was a google spreadsheet with a list of a couple of dozen female New Zealand professors, harvested from university websites.

Due to family commitments, I wasn’t there for the entire day and while everyone had topics to edit, no significant progress was made on my list; many female New Zealand professors remained without Wikipedia articles. As things were wrapping up, I commented to Mike that I’d add them to my to-do list to get them done.

I repeated the comment on twitter (Mike and I are rarely are co-located but keep in touch on twitter) and broadcast a general call for additions to my list, since there are apparently no public comprehensive lists of university staff members (I attempted to OIA one from the TEC, but they declined for privacy reasons). A number of twitter users nominated professors, but through leaving anonymous editing open on the spreadsheet, dozens and dozens were added. Shortly there were hundreds of professors on the list (thanks to @KnitMeAThneed who appears to have been a significant contributor).

With the project size beginning to alarm me, I took steps to limit the scope to current full professors at New Zealand institutions whose university profile covered their research in the present tense. Emeritus, honorary, associate, part-time and former professors and those whose institutions portrayed them as being in admin and/or teaching-only roles weren’t covered.

Thankfully, some professors already had articles, think Margaret Mutu, Janet Holmes, Prue Hyman, Marilyn Waring and so forth.

I wrote a couple of stub articles (short minimal articles contain just enough information to unambiguously identify the subject and hopefully allow others to build on it), while developing a feeling for what information should (and shouldn’t) be included in stub articles and a template for what the articles should look like, based on my previous decade writing Wikipedia articles.

Useful resources

A professor’s institutional profile page was key, because it provided evidence of who they were, their current research and their title of professor. Finding evidence of the professor’s PhD at the granting university was the second key plank of academic credentials, since the PhD remains a key milestone in academic circles. Usually the PhD is the best chance of identifying the subject’s full name.

For a professor’s research outputs I look in three places, VIAF, which is the peak aggregator for library authority control systems and has good coverage of those who publish monographs and textbooks; ORCID, which automatically pulls bibliography from some of the big science journal publishers; and Google Scholar, which has reasonable coverage of both science and the humanities but like ORCID requires subjects to sign up. Usually, VIAF is the best chance of getting a year of birth for the subject. For the list of selected works, I use the top-ranked items in Google Scholar. I use Google Scholar’s implementation of the Chicago style, for the simple reason that it includes the most co-authors and the most information about each author, making later inter-linking of co-authors easier.

At my place of work, I have access to all manner of proprietary tools in this area, but with the exception of double-checking an occasional ambiguous case,  I don’t use them for Wikipedia work, since on Wikipedia open, online sources are preferred to pay-walled ones, where both are available, because they are more useful to the reader.

Next I do google searches for the professor, both a plain search and a news search. Big users of Twitter, ResearchGate or Linkedin get links to their profiles added to the article along with press coverage they’ve received. I also google for authoritative links confirming any honours they have, looking for the granting body to say they granted the honour, rather than the subject or their institution to say they received it.

Tomorrow: check back in for more of Stuart’s advice on Wikipedia editing.

After an undergraduate at Canterbury, a PhD at Waikato and some time at Oxford, Stuart Yeates works in the Library at Victoria. Stuart is on WikipediaTwitter and occasionally maintains @KiwiPhDs.


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