International Women’s Day has become an occasion for philosophers to edit and contribute entries on Wikipedia. I asked Ege Yumusak about the edit-a-thon she organized with the Women in Philosophy group at the University of Cambridge. She points out that many Wikipedia entries could “benefit from philosophers’ attention”, including those entries that fail to even mention work done by women. She also gives some useful advice, explaining the role editors play on the site today.
Wikipedia has a relatively low participation rate from women editors, and Wikipedia itself is worried about the “unevenness of coverage” that results. Do you think philosophers have any special reasons to address this?
Although this is not the approach we adopted as part of our International Women’s Day intervention with the Women in Philosophy group at the University of Cambridge, I think moral, social and political philosophers are particularly well-positioned to point to resources for more in-depth analysis and criticism on entries in these areas. Even an entry like “housewife” (which is not particularly short) can benefit from philosophers’ attention. Another example would be the entry for “straight allies” or the entry on “pornography”. Philosophers who care about public philosophy should consider Wikipedia as a way of reaching people that they can’t otherwise reach. I think it is a very good platform to cast doubt in people’s minds or point them to places there might not otherwise know to look.
Had you noticed certain topics or authors were not being represented on the site?
There are plenty! “Objectification”, for instance, has an embarrassingly short entry, despite the fact that it is one of those entries that all sorts of people from teenagers to adults might be turning to Wikipedia to learn about. Another example is “injustice” which is another entry that can benefit from the attention of philosophers. Philosophers can edit this entry to include a section on different kinds of injustice (adding, for example, epistemic injustice). Also, often female philosophers from history of philosophy lack the long entries that their male contemporaries are awarded—for instance, take a look at Lady Mary Shepherd’s wiki page. As Rae Langton noticed at the time of our intervention, Maria von Herbert’s correspondence with Kant does not get a mention in Wikipedia. I later noticed that even though Alice Ambrose has her own short Wikipedia page, she is not mentioned in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s entry, not even under the section on the Blue and Brown books. This kind of erasure is present across the board.
It used to be a simple matter to make a Wikipedia entry, I remember creating one (on “duty”) in front of a class, but it has gotten far more difficult. Have you found an efficient approach?
We were very lucky to be aided by a team of editors from Wikipedia who were holding an event on the day of our intervention at Newnham College. So, a group of us got to attend a training with the editors first. There we learned that making lasting additions to Wikipedia can be quite difficult.
Other editors will scan new entries and report your entry as not meeting the standards (and guess which entries are usually held to the highest standards!), so you have to make sure each fact is followed by a citation. In addition to having citations, another important factor is the “notability” of the person when you are adding a biography to Wikipedia. Linking to institutional websites and any press coverage usually helps with that.
The last thing I would caution against is getting very involved with this project and adding biographies of living philosophers that you are excited about without asking them first. Although this might strike one as a good gesture, some people don’t enjoy having coverage online and these entries do get hits. So I would always send a message to somebody that you are thinking about adding with a note about why you think their biography should be accessible on a more public platform than their university website.
Do you have any suggestions for how Wikipedia can help correct their unevenness of coverage?
I think Wikipedia can do a better job of spotting the destructive editors who target women editors or other editors who are adding entries on women or entries related to social and political philosophy. It is easy to see how pervasive this phenomenon is (an example I have noticed recently is from the “Talk” tab of Ruth Barcan Marcus’s entry). This is especially discouraging for students who might write Wikipedia entries as part of an assignment for a class who will be notified shortly after that their entry was taken down or for those who have taken time out of their already extremely busy work schedules to add an entry (which I repeat is no easy task!).