Are the MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant winners represented on Wikipedia?

On Wednesday, the MacArthur ‘Genius’ grants were announced for 2019. The Wikipedian part of my brain, the part that I can’t turn off anymore, immediately wanted to update the Wikipedia article for the Fellowship with the most recent awardees, linking to the biographies that already existed and highlighting which still needed to be created. I already planned on reaching out to the Women in Red community for help writing about any women who didn’t have biographies yet, as women are severely underrepresented on English Wikipedia.

In linking to articles that already existed, the name Andrea Dutton caught my eye. As she’s a paleoclimatologist studying the effects of climate warming on ancient sea levels. I was thrilled to see she was being recognized for her important work through this grant. So many women scientists don’t have a Wikipedia biography, and won’t have a biography until they’ve been recognized in a big way (like Dr. Donna Strickland). But sometimes, it’s just that no one has taken the time to write it yet. It’s a problem that’s often indicative of larger structural disparities facing women in STEM (i.e. that their accomplishments aren’t covered in the media to the extent as their male peers). In the face of Wikipedia’s gender gap, there’s so much work to be done!

But in Dr. Dutton‘s case, that work was already done. There was her Wikipedia biography already well-developed! I just had a feeling about the author based on how much work Wiki Education does supporting the creation of biographies of women scientists, so I decided to click through the edit history and see who wrote the biography and when. As it turned out, it was created by one of Dr. Rebecca Barnes’ students at Colorado College who I helped support this spring in our Student Program. That student wrote the biography from scratch as an assignment just months ago. I thought the name sounded familiar!

Dr. Barnes has been guiding her students at Colorado College in Wikipedia writing assignments since Fall 2018. Each term, a new batch of students writes biographies for women in STEM. So far, they’ve written more than 70 into existence.

The existence of Dr. Dutton’s Wikipedia biography (and the biographies of women scientists in general) is not only important for recognizing her contributions to her field. The act of recognizing also has an effect on the students who are participating in that visibility work. And having them write Wikipedia biographies for women in STEM not only demonstrates to them that diversity and inclusion belongs in STEM, it asserts that to the world. It’s important for women in science to be visible to future generations, inspiring women to pursue scientific careers and providing possible roadmaps for doing so.

So go on over to Wikipedia to read all about Dr. Dutton’s fascinating work. You’ll see that the page has been updated to include her latest achievement. You can thank Dr. Barnes’ student for that. Even though their course ended in May, they came back to make the change! And as for the five women who won the MacArthur Fellowship but didn’t have a biography yet? All five are written now.

Further reading: Thanks to these Washington University students, the winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine were already represented on Wikipedia when they won.

Interested in incorporating a Wikipedia writing assignment into a future course? We provide support and free resources to instructors teaching all disciplines! Visit for more information.

Header image by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0 via MacArthur Foundation.


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