BENGALURU: On Saturday, about 14 people gathered at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to help create and update Wikipedia pages on Indian women scientists.
Twelve scientists have found better representation on the web now, thanks to this effort. Many of these are Bengaluru-based academics and researchers, including those from IISc and National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS).
Women were a majority at the third edit-a-thon organised by IndiaBioscience.
Shyamal L, an independent researcher in the field of ecology and environment and an avid Wiki editor, says, “There have been movements across the world to increase pages about women — it has been found that they are under-represented.”
According to him, updating pages with the bios of Indian scientists — men and women — is none too easy because of the dearth of material available in the public domain that users can cross-reference as citations.
“Wikipedia guidelines require such citations, and more often than not, websites of institutes these scientists work with have very little about them,” says Shyamal, a resource person at the event.
Records of awards and honours a scientist has been conferred with are often easily accessible online.
“And of late there have been many interviews with women scientists in the media,” he says. “These can also be re-worded and referenced.”
But in some cases, an editor can only look to the scientist’s work or articles about it. “So most people who edit for Wikipedia are the sorts who read such publications — even in other countries,” he says.
However, what’s different abroad is that much more information is available under creative commons licensing. “I think everything institutes like IISc publish should be copyright-free,” he says.
Awareness about this is on the rise the world over, he adds. “But here, we are stuck with colonial practices,” he rues.
So the edit-a-thon also had sessions that addressed these issues, and he is hopeful that the participants, many of them part of premier institutes IISc and NCBS, can help change this.
“But it will take time because, in most places, each department has its own website,” he says.
Pictures to go with articles are also hard to obtain because of copyright restrictions. So Harini Barath, programme coordinator for science communication at IndiaBioscience, had written to a few scientists for commons-licensed photographs. “A couple of them responded. Many scientists are disinterested in sharing such information unless it would directly impact their career. This needs to change,” he says.