18/10/2012 11:06 BST | Updated 19/10/2012 05:51 BST

Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon At Royal Society Aims To Fill In Gaps Of Women In Science

A marathon session of Wikipedia by a group of pioneering women in science aims to correct the staggering omissions of female scientists on the reference site.

Friday's event at the Royal Society, in association with Wikimedia UK, will be a group "edit-a-thon", using the Royal Society's library of biographies and studies of famous female scientists, from doctors to botanists, palaeontologists to physicists.

Professor Uta Frith, professor in cognitive development at UCL and a fellow of the Royal Society, wrote in The Huffington Post UK: "It is one of those pesky facts, that apart from the amazing Marie Curie, there are few heroines of science. Be honest, how many famous women scientists can you name?

"In the network I have set up for high flying women in science we took a quiz set by Rosalind Franklin Prize winner Eleanor Maguire.

"We did embarrassingly poorly on this. For example, none of us knew Alexa Canady, the first female and first black resident in neurosurgery). You too can test yourself by taking this quiz."

"Eleanor Maguire is a scientific heroine. She has made major discoveries about the memory of taxi drivers - yes, that study that showed that the training that London taxi drivers undergo results in increases of the anterior parts of the hippocampus and shrinks back again after the taxi drivers retire. But she doesn't have a Wikipedia entry."

"How many more stars are there and why are they so hard to see?

"Fellows of the Royal Society often talk of the alienating effect on young female scientists produced by a lack of role models, or concretely, lack of portraits of women to adorn the walls of the Society, and we are keenly aware of the pervasive but usually unconscious sexist biases, that exist."

The event is part of many celebrations of the legacy of mathematical engineer Ada Lovelace, who worked with Charles Babbage on an "analytical machine" 163 years ago considered the foundation for all modern computers.


Nathalie Pettorelli is one of the female scientists working to correct Wikipedia's gender gap

Women under consideration for Wikipedia entries are Dr Elsie Widdowson who introduced vitamin supplements to food during World War II rationing and Mary Buckland, mentioned only in her husband William's Wikipedia entry although the pair of palaeontologists worked as a team on fossil discovery in the 1800s.

Nathalie Pettorelli, from Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London and L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow, is one of the women participating in the edit-a-thon.

She told The Huffington Post UK: "I've never created or edited a Wikipedia page before, but it's such an important way to make women in science more visible.

"Obviously there are fewer women in science overall, that's why there's fewer Wikipedia page, but there are still so many glaring omissions.

"For example, there is ecologist Emily Williamson, who was the founder of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, that's one of the largest and most important charities for ecology in Britain. And she doesn't have a Wikipedia page. No-one knows who she is."

Pettorelli said she hoped that, by hosting the event, the Royal Society itself would take a good look at the poor showing of women among its own fellows.

"It's around five per cent of its fellows who are women, it's a shame. Maybe they will give more thought after this initiative about how they can promote female scientists, show their work online and give them more opportunities."