By Guest Author 19/12/2019


Stuart Yeates continues a blog series following the process of creating biographies in Wikipedia. See part one here.

What does (and doesn’t) get included

There is some information I deliberately leave out of biographies of the living: dates of birth are out (but not year of birth, since this is how librarians distinguish between people of the same name and can be invaluable for disambiguation); as are messy private lives and tabloid-type coverage. There are a lot of aspects of professors’ lives which will happily await the appearance of obituaries before it gets added to Wikipedia.

Inevitably there are some professors whose research kaupapa I personally disagree with or who are linked to international intrigue, in which case I use reliable independent sources that have addressed the issue directly rather than editorialise.

This information goes into a template I have created and is saved as a new article. I check the links work and go where they should, add categories (“New Zealand medical researchers”, “University of Canterbury alumni”, etc.) and run the article through a script that converts bare URLs to nicely formatted references.

Health, family and work commitments allowing, I can do one article a day.

Who I didn’t write about

Some of the nominated professors were men, some were adjunct or assistant professors and some were former professors; while making no judgement on whether enough secondary sources exist about these people to write Wikipedia articles about them, I excluded them from my project to limit the scope. Others are welcome to try their hand.

Of 356 nominations, 28 were out of scope. I failed to find sufficient secondary sources for another six professors, with common threads their not having (or me being unable to locate) their Ph.D.. Not being able to find the subject’s Ph.D. was not necessarily fatal to the biography, see for example Edwina Pio, whose profile in the press made up for me failing to find their Ph.D. thesis.

Three biographies Erin G. Carlston, Gillian Whalley and Heidi Thomson ran into issues with the consensus-based Wikipedia quality control processes but were upheld.

Two of the biographies I wrote were for the same professor, under slightly different names.

One professor wished her biography to be removed and it was.

Several professors (or parties associated with them) attempted to completely rewrite their articles, their changes have generally been reverted.

If anyone with a Wikipedia biography is reading this and want their biography to be removed, there is a relatively straight-forward process. Every article has an associated ‘Talk page’ (look for a link labelled ‘Talk’ near the top of the page). Cut and paste the following to the addition to the talk page:

==Please delete this biography==
{{Help me}}

I am the subject of this biography and want it removed. ~~~~

If there are minor issues with your biography you can take a similar approach to have them fixed, or you can reach out to the editor community via social media. People like myself and @adzebill can help you on twitter and there’s a collective called ‘Wiki Women In Red’ working for increased coverage of women on Wikipedia, they have a presence on pretty much every social media platform and they are more than happy to help people get started.

If the issues are with someone else’s biography, you’re welcome to jump right in and fix them, again  ‘Wiki Women In Red’ can be an aid to get started.

Kate Sheppard, c. 1905. Public domain.

There is a lot of work to do even on the biographies that I have created. I was creating stubs with a focus on quantity, but creating the fabled Wikipedia ‘Featured Articles’ is estimated to take between three and six months full-time professional work in addition to access to the required secondary sources.. For what that looks like see:

Those are the articles we’re aspiring to.

How you can help

Some of the things that I didn’t do (or didn’t do consistently) which readers at home are more than welcome to jump in and do include:

  • Tracking down and adding to the article PhD supervisors
  • Linking the names of co-authors in ‘Selected Works’ section to their biographies, if they exist
  • Writing paragraph text about the subject’s research field and their contributions to it. This is easiest for people with at least a passing knowledge of the academic fields in question.
  • Tracking down and writing early life information
  • Documenting awards, editorships and similar
  • Getting copyright cleared photos of the subjects.
  • Add articles to categories.
  • Creating entirely new biographies. Honours lists and obituaries are always great places to look for people to write about.

Check back in tomorrow as Stuart celebrates a special anniversary.

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.