Emily Temple-Wood, OMS IV
Women in Medicine

Correcting Wikipedia’s bias against women scientists

One medical student is making sure women scientists will not be forgotten—one Wikipedia article at a time.

Emily Temple-Wood is not just a fourth-year osteopathic medical student at Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is a published author, moonlights as Wikipedia editor, and was named the 2016 Wikimedian of the Year.

She is leading a fight against systemic gender bias by creating Wikipedia articles about notable women scientists who haven’t yet been included in the largest encyclopedia in history. In a 2015 interview with The Atlantic, Temple-Wood said she had identified 4,400 women scientists who did not have a Wikipedia page even though they meet the site’s notability standards.

A Wikipedia page about the site’s gender bias notes that the vast majority of Wikipedia editors are male, which led to the site having less content about or geared toward women.

Documenting a historical struggle

Throughout history, female doctors and scientists have struggled to practice and be recognized for their work—going back all the way to Agnodice in ancient Greece, says Temple-Wood.

“Agnodice disguised herself as a man to learn and practice and then began treating the women of Athens,” she says. “After it was discovered that she was a woman, she was charged with illegally practicing medicine, but the wives of prominent Athenians, who were also Agnodice’s patients, came to her defense. The charges were dropped and women were allowed to practice medicine in ancient Greece.

“I see these stories over and over throughout history, and getting to tell them and make sure they are not forgotten is such a privilege,” says Temple-Wood.

In this edited Q&A, Temple-Wood discusses the group she founded and leads, WikiProject Women Scientists, and her unique solution to fight the sexist trolls clogging her inbox.

Emily Temple-Wood, OMS IV

What gave you the idea to start updating the Wikipedia accounts of women scientists?

I’ve been a Wikipedian for more than half of my life. I started editing Wikipedia when I was in seventh grade and started Wikipedia’s WikiProject Women Scientists in 2012 when I was a freshman in college. I was just going down the list of women who were in the Royal Society to read about them in Wikipedia. The first woman I looked up didn’t have an article and then I noticed that most of the other women in the Royal Society didn’t have one either, so I just sat right down in the hallway of my dorm and wrote one that night.

How receptive was Wikipedia to your mission to update the pages of forgotten women scientists via WikiProject Women Scientists?

There was some philosophical pushback at first. Some people asked why we needed a separate project for women when we have a project for all scientists and others called it reverse sexism. But we’ve shown that it was needed, that women have been consistently left out of history, and that there needs to be a focus on women.

I also started receiving hate mail from online trolls, but I decided instead of engaging with them, I would just write another article about a woman scientist for every harassing email I get. So right now, I actually have a backlog of articles to work on.

How are you balancing it with medical school?

It’s really hard. I write less than I used to, but I also write about women’s health and medicine now. I also use writing and editing articles as a way to study. I started editing articles about what I was learning in medical school as a way to study and help me remember and also a way to help the world.

Where do you see yourself taking the project in the future?

We’re making multilingual efforts for the project to be in 16 different languages. I also want to make sure we are representing women scientists from all over the world. Also, every year more and more women scientists are doing amazing things and qualifying for a Wikipedia page, so I want to keep up with that and continue to grow it.

Who’s a favorite female physician you’ve written about?

Caroline Still Anderson, MD, was the third black woman in the U.S. to get a medical degree. She was married to a preacher and began practicing medicine in the basement of her husband’s church in Philadelphia. She provided medical care and taught hygiene classes for women. She practiced medicine right up until the day she had a stroke. She was just an incredible, incredible human being. A real inspiration.

Related reading:

10 stories about women in medicine

‘Discrimination affects us all’: When physicians experience prejudice

#MeToo in medicine: Docs who are sexually harassed struggle to report behavior, survey suggests

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