Last updated January 30, 2020 at 4:56 pm
If you want to talk about merit, these women have it in spades and deserve to be recognised.
Why This Matters: Science isn’t just old white dudes – raising visibility for women in STEM because you gotta see it to believe it.
A group of Australian science icons have had their achievements recognised on the world’s biggest information repository thanks to an intrepid group of volunteers. And because profiles of women in STEM are woefully rare, the new additions are all women.
The Franklin Women wiki-a-thon was responsible for adding 34 brand new entries to Wikipedia in one hit. An additional 16 pages were improved upon by the effort. It means that Australian legends such as Fran Baum and Suzanne Chambers now appear on the site along with world-leading researchers like Dharmica Mistry, while others such as Lyn Beazley and Caroline McMillen had their pages updated and improved.
“Wikipedia editors are mainly men in North America, and, unfortunately, that impacts the representation of women – and anything in the Southern Hemisphere. When a Wikipedia page was created for Canadian physicist Donna Strickland it was quickly deleted for not demonstrating her notability – she went on to win the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics,” says Wade.
Deeper: Diversity in STEM
Only around 18% of the people profiled on Wikipedia are women. This means that not only are high achieving women in STEM not getting the recognition they deserve, but it also reduces how much people know about the contributions that women make to science, technology, engineering and maths.
“If articles on female scientists are missing on one of the largest and most popular encyclopaedias, it skews public perception of their contributions,” Melina Georgousakis, a public health researcher at the University of Sydney and founder of Franklin Women, told the ABC.
“We are excited that because of this Edit-a-Thon more women scientists will get the recognition they deserve for their work and the role it has played in shaping society today.”
The visibility of these industry-leaders of different backgrounds and their achievements is also one way to inspire more young people to study science.
Here are some of the new pages:
Karlie, of the Gamilaraay people, was the first Indigenous person in Australia to graduate with a double degree in maths and physics. In 2019, she followed it up to be the first Indigenous student to obtain a Masters of Astronomy and Astrophysics Advanced from ANU.
Long a populariser of Indigenous knowledge, her research involved understanding the sophisticated astronomic knowledge deeply embedded within Indigenous culture and their understanding of moon halos.
She is a multiple award winner, and was named as one of the BBC’s 100 Women for 2017.
Karlie has also been an advocate for Indigenous students and other minorities in STEM. “A lot of the population, at least in Australia, is kind of systemically locked out of those [STEM] opportunities, and so having STEM delivered from different perspectives includes more people, [especially those] wanting to get involved in this.”
However, in addition to her oncology career, Jennifer has become known as a whistleblower of scientific fraud and junk research in cancer research. While reading research papers dealing with a gene she had previously studied, she noticed inconsistencies in the research and results. When she began examining a group of papers more closely, she found that the same DNA sequences had been used for opposite purposes in different papers, while the reference lists in the papers were almost identical.
As a result of her examination of research papers, ten have been retracted by publishers, and another 5 marked as suspicious. In collaboration with computer scientist Cyril Labbé, she has also developed an online tool which scans papers for incorrect gene sequences, and has identified another 60 cancer papers with flaws.
She now researches the evolution of galaxies, while also working at Sydney Observatory teaching Aboriginal Astronomy workshops. While training at the observatory she began discovering her own Indigenous ancestry, and the rich knowledge of various Indigenous groups. This included finding rock carvings that described the solar system and potentially Earth’s position in it, thousands of years before Western astronomy came to the same understanding.
She has appeared on ABC TV programmes multiple times. Brian Cox appeared with Kirsten during Q&A’s Science Special in 2019.
Originally from Brisbane, Cynthia has worked at the University of Queensland and University of California San Francisco, before returning to Australia to establish her own research group.
Whitchurch’s research has focussed on biofilms – layers of bacteria which attach themselves to surfaces and are extremely difficult to remove. Biofilms are a particular problem in hospitals, where they can form around medical devices such as catheters, and in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis.
She found that bacterial DNA was present outside of the bacterial cells, and was essential for the forming and organisation of biofilms. Then, in 2016 she and her team witnessed bacterial cells exploding, releasing their proteins and DNA to other bacteria and supporting the formation of the biofilm. The team then discovered the gene which causes this cell bursting, which could lead to a treatment to prevent biofilm formation.