A self-professed geek, Emily Temple-Wood was 12 years old when she waded into the world of Wikipedia. Bullied in school, as geeks often are, Temple-Wood found Wikipedia to be an outlet where she could be judged by what she contributed. Having read an entire volume of children’s encyclopedia from cover to cover at the age of five, it was only natural to go from consuming knowledge to creating it. “I love to collect information, and I love that I get to share that information with the world,” said Temple-Wood.
Temple-Wood made her first mark on Wikipedia by editing an entry for an album released by Taiwanese singer Angela Chang titled “Flower in the Wonderland”, which she says was a “random” selection to get her feet wet. Since then, Temple-Wood, now 19, has been more selective about the content she edits. Over the years, she has edited or initiated articles on a wide-range of subjects, from genetic diseases to endangered languages. Two of her first big projects included Cannon and History of Timekeeping Devices, which were both promoted as featured articles. Her article on Birt-Hogg-Dubé Syndrome, became her first good article in the area of Medicine. Her eclectic interests are also exemplified in her academic choices. As a sophomore at Loyola University, in her hometown of Chicago, Temple-Wood is majoring in molecular biology and minoring in Arabic Language and Culture, Islamic World Studies, and Women and Gender Studies. Plus, she works in a developmental biology lab.
Despite her academic commitments, Temple-Wood has made it her mission to ensure that female scientists get their due recognition on Wikipedia. She co-founded the WikiProject Women Scientists last November after coming across WikiProject Women’s History-Ada Lovelace Day 2012, which exposed a significant gender bias across Wikipedia’s science domain. A substantial number of female fellows belonging to the prestigious Royal Society, a sort of who’s who in the world of science, had no Wikipedia articles written about them. “I got pissed and wrote an article that night,” Temple-Wood said. “I literally sat in the hallway in the dorm until 2am writing the first women in science (Wikipedia) article.”
As Temple-Wood chipped away at the article, she got the idea to start the Women Scientists Wikiproject, and eventually enlisted the help of the Royal Society, which opened up its archives to support her research. As part of her project, Temple-Wood reached out to other women scientists, prodding them to lend their authority and contribute as Wikipedia editors. While her recruits have expressed interest in the idea, their follow-up has fallen short of expectations. She has since started a pilot project at Loyola in hopes that by bringing together women science students in a regular and structured environment, interest in editing will grow.
Temple-Wood says the scientific community has been keen to get more involved with Wikipedia, a trend that is not only positive but necessary. “If we want Wikipedia to survive, we need to engage more experts,” she said. Yet the end game is not for Wikipedia to become a venue where only the experts share their knowledge –a balance needs to be struck where interested voices can be heard.”
“It’s about marrying the enthusiasm of the amateur and the expertise of the expert,” Temple-Wood explained. “We need a diversity in opinions … to survive. We need diversity of subject authors to survive to become the sum of human knowledge. A white girl from Chicago is one perspective and we need our white girls from Chicago but we [also] need people from Maloui and Tuscany — we need people who speak every language from every culture from every perspective.”
Temple-Wood’s involvement with Wikipedia is not only limited to content; she also touches the operational side. A trusted Wikipedian, she is an appointed mediator on the Mediation Committee and a virtual mentor to new editors through the Wikipedia Teahouse. Temple-Wood’s also serves as an administrator and helps with maintenance tasks; having passed Requests for Adminship (RfA) in November 2007 and January 2008. She is an Online Ambassador for the U.S. Education Program and an OTRS agent answering email queries directed to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. Now, far from being castigated as a nerd, Temple-Wood oozes cool, and for that, she credits her involvement with Wikipedia. “It’s such an integral part of my identity; I love to help spread free knowledge, and people think it’s cool because everyone uses Wikipedia,” said by Temple-Wood.
If Wikipedia didn’t exist, Temple-Wood said she would still find a way to volunteer. “I’d work in a lab and volunteer in my community. My mom says that if Wikipedia didn’t exist, I’d have written a book by now.” By the looks of things and with a potentially big future ahead of her, don’t put it past Temple-Wood to check ‘book author’ off her list in the near future.
Rita Chang, Wikimedia Foundation Communications volunteer
This story was updated on Feb. 24, 2014.