So, a tweet came across my desk this morning that intrigued me, via Seth Mnookin:
80% are self-id’d geeks RT @rosannecash: An abysmal statistic: only 15% of Wikipedia contributors are women.
The original link wasn’t working for me, but I was intrigued enough to go over to the NYT to find the story: Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List.
This caught my attention for a number of reasons. First, we have seen a lot of chatter in bioinformatics, and biology in general, on the wikification of stuff. I’ve been a bit less enthused that some folks around this. Not because it can’t work, but because of various types of barriers and biases that I thought were likely. I get the appeal–really–I do–but the reality of volunteer curation with the depth, quality, and breadth needed for biology just seems unlikely to me. There have been some successes–as reported from a recent GMOD meeting–and I applaud those. But they haven’t been enough to convince me.
But I hadn’t even considered a gender issue–at least on that scale. For me, the internet has leveled the playing field. I have just as much access as any guy to anything I want. But I have to agree–that stat about Wikipedia was surprising.
Is this true in biowikis too? If we do get grant agencies and employers to count alternative outreach and productivity metrics like a lot of us would like to see–and that people like Paul Nurse want us to be engaged with–is this going to happen there too? What’s up with this?
I don’t know, really. I do have to say I’m surprised at how few women appear in certain online places I’m hanging out. For example–BioStar. Look at the users page here–which gives the top contributors. Not all the names are gender-identifiable, and there may be more women than it appears at first glance. But it looks a little lonely to me (I’m Mary in that list, btw). And, of course, there’s the documented lower rates of women in science blogging.
And this doesn’t make sense to me. In almost all of our workshops we do, we have greater than 50% women in attendance. We’ve been counting. So they are out there–they have bioinformatics needs and questions. They have cool projects and good science we know they could talk about. Where are they?
I don’t think this is active discrimination. I haven’t been subject to any unwelcome language or anything of that sort. If I had to guess, or design a survey, I’d wonder if it was: reluctance to jump in and get started at all; fear of being wrong; other fears of being public; lack of time for what doesn’t seem to be of career value; lack of other benefits; other outlets are more attractive…. I don’t know, really.
But it makes me dismayed.
I know we want more voices–people are working to broaden the diversity in informal science outreach–here’s another example: Stumbling, imperfect allies: supporting diversity in science and the blogosphere. And there’s a great link in there to collected articles on The women scienceblogging revolution.
We can see it…we have the data…why isn’t it different? I really just don’t know.