It’s a simple recipe. Gather together some people who want to change the world. Put some inspirational speakers in front of them to get people fired up about diversity in science. Provide cakes and biscuits. Teach some basic skills in editing and writing for Wikipedia, then set them loose on a list of scientists who deserve, but don’t yet have, biographical articles in Wikipedia. The room ignites in a silent flurry of activity and two hours later the cakes and biscuits have been transformed into Wikipedia articles about scientists from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
That’s what happened on 9 November 2018. Nearly 40 people gathered to hear our speakers and learn about Wikipedia. Yolanda Ohene (UCL) and Sara Essilfie-Quaye (Imperial) talked about their experiences as black women in academia and their desire to see much-improved diversity and inclusion in science. Jess Wade (Imperial) talked about how increasing visibility through creating Wikipedia articles about women scientists and BAME scientists really can change perceptions, and change the world. No-one hearing her speak can have been left in any doubt about this. (If you want to understand what I mean, try watching Jess’ talk at the Royal Society’s Research Culture conference last month. Her talk starts at 4hr 25mins and lasts for about 12 minutes).
Finally, Alice White (Wellcome) provided simple instructions for creating effective Wikipedia articles, and some tips on how the Wikipedia community works. She was a good teacher and people learnt quickly.
I’m very keen on Wikipedia (WP), but I am a rather sporadic contributor. I was first introduced to WP editing in 2011, when I attended a workshop at the MRC. The following year I participated remotely in a Royal Society editathon, on Ada Lovelace day. Then in 2013 I helped organise an editathon at NIMR for women scientists, which gained some attention, and another smaller one in 2014.
I’ve been wanting to arrange a WP workshop at the Crick for a couple of years but lacked the spark to make it happen. Last year I had a chat with Beatrice Mikuzi, the then chair of our PRISM network, for black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff. She commented that wikipedia editathons for BAME scientists always seemed to focus on USA scientists. That implicit challenge sewed a seed in my head.
This summer I went along to a women-in-science wikipedia editathon at UCL, and there met Jess Wade and Alice White. I tweeted about the event and then my fellow Crick open science enthusiast Martin Jones saw my tweet and commented:
I think @franknorman and @jesswade would make an amazing
dynamic duo for a future wikithon!!
Well, how could I refuse? The sparks from Beatrice and Martin united and Diversithon was born. I got to work with Alice and Jess and set a date for the event, then I liaised with the new PRISM co-chairs Karen and Esther. They injected a ton of enthusiasm and organisational skill. Actually Esther and Georgiee (from the engagements team) took on most of the organisation work from then on – they were the real dynamic duo.
The second recipe for success then was: someone keen on Wikipedia, someone with a vision for BAME in science, someone to light a spark and someone to enthuse and organise.
We came up with an initial list of names of BAME scientists and via Twitter invited people to add to it. Jess Wade used her extensive Twitter following to solicit more names, and in October we added more names thanks to Black History Month as many people were tweeting on the subject.
When it came to the day, 9 Nov, it was a relief to see people enthusiastically turning up to the event. I want to say that our speakers were the stars of the day, but on reflection it was the attendees who deserve the limelight. They absorbed the Wikipedia ways of working – getting to grips with notability criteria (especially for academics) and neutral point of view, and the guidelines for biographies of living people. Then our new editors started reading about the scientists they’d chosen to work on, becoming enthusiastic as they learnt about the achievements of these people.
By the end of the afternoon some articles had been created, or started, and I sensed that many new converts to Wikipedia editing had been won over. If we could have kept going into the evening I think some people would have gladly done so.
The pages created and page views can be tracked here (though some of those listed were created at other events). The BAME scientists who still need articles to be created are listed at the bottom of this page.
The most important recipe is also the easiest – make sure you have some good stories to tell about scientists of colour who have been overlooked in Wikipedia. It turns out that there are plenty of them, and their stories will inspire you to write about them.
The case for more events such as Diversithon was driven home by this recent salutary reminder in Nature of the need to democratise knowledge.
We are planning to run another event in 2019, and other events are also planned at Imperial College and Cambridge Univ.