Wikipedia’s Scarcity of Women ‘Wikipedians’ Gets a Closer Look

Wikipedia has a gender problem.

The online, crowdsourced encyclopedia is open to anyone who wants to edit it, but surveys suggest that nearly 90 percent of these volunteer "Wikipedians" are male. A 2011 editor survey by the Wikimedia Foundation pegged the number of active female editors at only 9 percent. Other surveys have found slightly different percentages, but none exceed about 15 percent female representation worldwide.

Now, researchers are delving into how that gender schism affects the content of Wikipedia, even as the Wikimedia Foundation and independent groups search for ways to get more women involved. [6 Myths About Girls and Science]

"This is something that people have lots of opinions about, but about which there is very little serious research," said Julia Adams, a sociologist at Yale University who is currently running a study on how academia is portrayed on Wikipedia compared with the actual structure and demographics of the academic world.

Study: 90% of Wikipedia medical entries inaccurate 0:50

Adams' work, which is supported by the National Science Foundation, has already come under fire. A blurb on the ongoing study appeared in Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) 2014 "Wastebook," a publication put out by the senator's office that highlights what he believes to be wasteful government spending.

The goal, Adams told Live Science, is to understand how well Wikipedia portrays scientific research and the demographics of the researchers doing the work.

"Girls and women look at Wikipedia, as do boys and men, and this influences how people see, for example, whether they belong in the sciences or not," Adams said.

Initial results should be ready soon, with further information coming in throughout next year, Adams said.

— Stephanie Pappas, Live Science

This is a condensed version of a report from Live Science. Read the full report. Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+.