Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has fessed up to editing articles on the online encyclopedia to reverse what he refers to as the site’s “gender imbalance problem”.
Talking to the Media Matters podcast, Wales revealed that he constructed a bookmark that directed him to the category “British women novelists” and would edit articles until he changed web browsers and lost his bookmark.
Wales said: “One of the things that I’m aware of is that Wikipedia does have a gender imbalance problem and that gender imbalance problem is reflected in the content in various ways.
“One of the specific ways is that if you look at novelists who have won important literary awards, and you look at the female novelists and the male novelists, the male novelists tend to have much longer biographies. Somebody did a study showing this.
“I can tell you—I know hundreds of Wikipedia editors. It is not because the male wikipedia editors think female novelists are not worth reading or are useless…it’s an unconscious bias.
“People write about the books they’ve read and turns out there is a gender imbalance in the quality novels. There is such a thing as literature that is written by women and more read by women than men. OK?
“But that shouldn’t be reflected as a bias in Wikipedia and I thought I should on a regular basis take a look at these articles and click the page and just say, ‘Here’s a short entry. I’ll go and do 10 minutes of research and see if I can find some basic facts to add to the articles. I’ve done things like that and I think that’s an interesting thing to do.”
Wales has previously been exposed as having edited a wiki page on another website he co-founded to remove references to its porn coverage.
Among Wales’ most recent gender-based edits have been removing a reference on the Wikipedia page of the novelist Marisha Pessl to her being included in an “11 of the Hottest Female Writers in the World” listicle and editing the entry of scientist Dr. Kiki Sanford to add in the first sentence of her entry that she is a neurophysiologist in addition to being a science communicator. (Wales wrote, “I was just comparing how we write about male vs female scientists in the public eye”, stating that female scientists should have their professional qualifications in their first sentence of their entry as is the common practice with their male counterparts.)
Wales concluded on the Media Matters podcast: “The gender imbalance is important and it’s something we are trying to focus more on but it’s a tough problem.”
Especially when you lose your bookmark…