In my limited capacity to comprehend her work I have the utmost respect for Clarice Phelps and I hope that those who are qualified to assess her achievements value her as a colleague accordingly. And, if for some bizarre misunderstanding or sequence of events someone sought my consent to them profiling her as a role-model as a woman of colour in the sciences, I’d enthusiastically grant it. I applaud Jess Wade for writing 270 wiki-entries profiling of female scientists, as did Jimmy Wales who gave her an honorable mention in the Wikimedian of the Year last year. But as noble and urgent her cause might be; that does not absolve her entries from the same rigor and review and out of 270, chances are a few will fall short. Even then I have no real qualm with Wade. While I disagree with her that the issue not notability but lack of sources, her response to the issue on twitter at least was measured.
By saying that Phelps possibly being the first African American women to help discover a new element isn’t enough Wikipedia, suggesting the poor optics of the deletion coinciding with Black History Month and International Day of Women and Girls in Science, comparing this case with that of James Andrew Harris*, and insinuating that the objections were the result of trollish impulses, you clearly arguing there is something at the root of this other than legit concerns about notability.
The draft entry is not clear on what Phelps contributed to the discovery of tennessine, neither was her bio on the ORNL website. The most exhaustive resource I could find on the ORNL’s part in the discovery was this pdf (see link), which for some reason fails to mention both a Clarice Phelps and a Clarice Salone. I don’t know how many people at ORNL were involved in producing “22 milligrams of Bk-249 with impurities of less than one part in 107” and sending it to the JINR, or why Phelps’ name is absent from the brochure, but what I do know is that, of all the team members named, only one other has a Wikipedia entry. It’s not James B. Roberto or Krzysztof P. Rykaczewski, who appear to have led the team, but Julie Ezold, an entry also authored by Jess Wade. I can’t exclude the possibility that Phelps was the brains behind it all and that these men are just stealing her work similar to case of Watson and Crick and Rosalind Franklin, but were it not for the efforts of Jess Wade none of the team members would be noteworthy enough for a Wiki-entry, regardless of contribution. This is not to take anything away from the accomplishments of Phelps, Ezold, or denounce the efforts of Jess Wade. If I played a role in producing any amount of a transuranium element of any degree of purity which was instrumental in discovering a whole other element I’d be rather chuffed probably put it on my CV, but possibly the first African American woman is arguably a few qualifiers too many to warrant a Wikipedia entry with insufficient sources. It doesn’t have to be a conspiracy of trollish anonymity, and if Wikipedia’s biggest problem is systemic bias surely there has to be a better example to speak volumes.
The Entry for Tennessine does not mention Phelps. Of the names included in text two appear in blue. The first is Yuri Oganessian, the leading researcher in superheavy elements; the second is Dawn Shaughnessy, a radiochemist and principal investigator at LLNL who was also involved in the discovery of five super heavy elements with atomic numbers 114 to 118. (Her entry also authored by Jess Wade.)
I have no problems with using Wikipedia as a vehicle to proactively to address historic and current underrepresentation and under appreciation of women and non-European figures in science. There is nothing necessarily wrong with having a motivation behind your contribution, but cutting corners or even demanding less stringent guidelines, as you suggest, undermines the integrity of what you were trying to accomplish in the first place. It is fine for inspiring more young girls to join Phelps being Wade’s priority, or yours. It can’t be that of wikipedia. If Clarice Phelps’ entry is reinstated she could be added to List of African-American women in STEM fields just after Hattie Scott Peterson, the first African American woman to gain a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
*Although I’m not sure how the comparison helps make your point. An article being flagged for sources isn’t all that strange, and flicking through old revisions of the page reveals a pretty ordinary editing history. I went to the entry “List of African-American women in STEM fields” and clicked on a few names; hardly a formal survey but I couldn’t find any evidence of a campaign to undermine African American entries.
Isn’t it condescending to black women to put her biography in Wikipedia just because she is a black woman? It is reverse racism.
Is there hard evidence that she is the first black woman in her field? Also, how is her achievement significant? Wikipedia does not even have a separate entry for the element she helped purify. It is just listed in a table as one of many isotopes of berkelium.
The precise account of what Phelps did and what significance it holds for women and minorities, now varies depending on what piece you read. Who is responsible for that? Wade and Chapman. Private tweets? Unpublished books? It’s like nobody has the first clue how Wikipedia is supposed to work, those two people first and foremost. It’s not like it is difficult to understand either, it should be well within the capabilities of scientists and authors to understand why they have the rules they have, to understand which ones could be relaxed to account for systemic bias and which ones are absolutely non-negotiatiable if their already pretty widely discredited claim to be an encyclopedia is to hold water. There used to be some merit in letting suboptimal Wikipedia pages be “live” works while they are refined. Wade’s use of Twitter to instantly broadcast her creations, and a lazy and ignorant media which reads them uncritically, has put paid to that being a good idea.
Stop talking: start acting: Wikipedia is free; you can copy it. Take the articles (https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Data_dumps) and open up a better one with your own rules! No anonymity, 50% women as contributors aso.
Just talking does not help! Act now!
The Wikipedia rules for notability rely on the person being notable in the media which we know to be biased. The Wikipedia bias is a reflection of society outside of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia has a whole page of rules (WP:PROF) which effectively lets scientists be considered worthy of inclusion in the encyclopedia based on their career achievements, without any requirement for coverage in the mainstream media, just the not unreasonable standard that the claims can be verified to be true. The problem is, not even that is considered acceptable by the activists such as Jess Wade, who are by their own admission seeking to abuse Wikipedia to gain publicity for these supposedly invisible people, ironically so they can then get covered by the media. The basically want Wikipedia to write about any scientist that is just doing science (some even not for that, some just for talking about other people doing science), if they are heroically doing it while hampered with the condition called women, or minority, or the really tragic cases where the sufferer has both conditions. They want to lower the bar, but instead of changing the rule that sets the bar, either for everyone or just for women or minorities (either approach would be reasonable, but only one addresses the bias of the wider world), they are trying to do it via the back door, by creating individual pages that don’t pass, then whipping up a stink on Twitter and in the blogosphere when Wikipedia does the only sensible thing it can do in that situation, and denies the entries.
Some of these comments are so disappointing. These unabashed displays of willful ignorance show how far we have to go in the fields of STEM to receive proper acknowledgement for our achievements.
Excellent article. This is exactly what bothers me about Wikipedia. What did the Wiki Police actually use as the fundamental basic reason for removal? Not an ‘amazing’ enough profile? A factual error that they can prove? They should restore the article and leave an invitation for more information if that is what they seek. By the way, a US Government Lab should be considered an authoritative source as can an independent or industry lab, especially for highly specialized technical areas. Would these same people quibble about NASA sources for articles on space probes, manned space developments, planetary information, or planetary rovers? I certainly would hope not, since that would be quite laughable.
You have to be joking. Articles with no backing from a solid set of primary sources should not be published period. It’s not bias, it’s quality control and common sense.
With a first line “Clarice Phelps may have been the first African-American woman to help discover a chemical element.” you condemn an article. She is or she is not.
Perfectly sensible qualification, given the acknowledged bias. We don’t yet know of another black woman that has been instrumental in the discovery of an element. That is not to say there are none, so may is the correct qualifier.
Shouldn’t the criteria be for accuracy and honesty and not simply “notability”?
Through the years, I’ve tried multiple times to contribute to Wikipedia. Every single time, my contribution has been erased for some wacko reason. Every. Single. Time. Apparently, the editors have software that combs through the site looking for changes and that enables them to perform a “bulk reverse” of changes that don’t meet their strange criteria.
As an example of strange: I read a book that acknowledged in the author credits a debt to Rudyard Kipling’s _Kim_. Intrigued, I looked up the Wikipedia entry for Kim and discovered that it had a list of other books that were also based on the character. I added the title I had just finished reading, and it was erased. When I questioned the editor, he said, “There’s no good reason to have a list of books in this entry.” However–the list predated my addition, AND he didn’t delete the whole list, just the title I’d added to it.
Honestly, it’s surprising that anyone takes the time to contribute (beyond the wikipedians who patrol the site to eject interlopers).
Unfortunately I had exactly the same experience. Some people are more equal then others on wikipedia.
A fabulous person no doubt .Are you advocating for Rose Boll and Shelley Van Cleve to have articles as well?
i think you’re making a big issue out of a discussion about appropriate contributions to a scientific discovery. Yes i am a woman scientist but i don’t see why this is in itself evidence of bias. now Rosalind Franklin is another story. why doesn’t Wade respond with information that makes a cogent case?
Wikipedia has known history of bias. I mention this in connection with the topic of Indology. I have read that any addition alteration made by experts from Indian background took too long to appear. Whereas those from American experts(so called) appeared in much shorter time.
Great read, thank you for highlighting this fabulous woman and wiki’s ignorance.
Phenomenal article, thank you.
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