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Wikipedia’s dark secret, and why women should care

by Shari Graydon

Wikipedia, increasingly the go-to reference for historical and contemporary general knowledge, has a dark secret. It is chiefly written by 25-year-old males.

…So wrote novelist Katherine Govier in an op ed in The Ottawa Citizen last week, in a piece that gave context to recent research finding that only 13% of those who contribute to the online dictionary are female. Given Informed Opinions’ own research, this didn’t surprise me a bit when I first read about the study in the New York Times the week before. If women expert in their fields are too busy to write op eds — for which they’ll at least get a byline credit — why would they invest precious time updating Wikipedia?

This is not to suggest that most — or even many — of the women who do write op eds are motivated by the credit. Informed Opinions’ own research has found that women’s general disinterest in increasing their profile or making a name for themselves is one of the fundamental obstacles to ensuring a better gender balance in the media.

In addition, although Wikipedia’s reputation has improved somewhat over the years, given the nature of how it’s written, the site is still not viewed as terribly authoritative. So for scholars, in particular, there’s little incentive to weigh in.

But Katherine Govier makes a good case for why we should care that women’s contributions to the site are so low, and she encourages women to help change the fact that women’s history is often ignored. As an occasional contributor herself, she argues that logging onto to the site and creating or altering entries that they know something about is not a difficult or time consuming thing to do.