Where is my wiki-biography?

Birth to death flows of academics from the UK to North America: brain drain from 🇬🇧 to đŸ‡ș🇾

A paper published earlier this year [1] has some fascinating insights into biographies of people in Wikipedia from 3500 B.C. to 2016, such as the birth to death flows pictured above. From the abstract

A new strand of literature aims at building the most comprehensive and accurate database of notable individuals. We collect a massive amount of data from various editions of Wikipedia and Wikidata. Using deduplication techniques over these partially overlapping sources, we cross-verify each retrieved information. For some variables, Wikipedia adds 15% more information when missing in Wikidata. We find very few errors in the part of the database that contains the most documented individuals but nontrivial error rates in the bottom of the notability distribution, due to sparse information and classification errors or ambiguity. Our strategy results in a cross-verified database of 2.29 million individuals (an elite of 1/43,000 of human being having ever lived), including a third who are not present in the English edition of Wikipedia. Data collection is driven by specific social science questions on gender, economic growth, urban and cultural development. We document an Anglo-Saxon bias present in the English edition of Wikipedia, and document when it matters and when not.

There’s lots more insights here, such as gender bias over time. One of the authors tells me the paper is a result of more than eight years of work!


  1. Laouenan, M., Bhargava, P., Eyméoud, JB. et al. (2022) A cross-verified database of notable people, 3500BC-2018AD. Sci Data 9, 290 DOI: 10.1038/s41597-022-01369-4

Congratulations and thank you Jess Wade for 1000 new biographies @Wikipedia đŸ†


Jess Wade, editor extraordinaire, in 2017. Portrait by Dave Guttridge via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA

Today Jess Wade published her one thousandth new Wikipedia article, a wiki-biography of Sylvie Briand. This biography joins 999 others Jess has written at a rate of one per day since September 2017. All of these articles have been about people from under represented groups, with a particular focus on women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Passing the 1k milestone is a fantastic achievement in its own right, but also something we should all be grateful for because:

  1. She has significantly improved Wikipedia. Wikipedia is undoubtedly one of the Seven Wonders of the World Wide Web but it also has well known limitations. The gender of editors on Wikipedia is notoriously unbalanced and coverage of many people and topics is incomplete or non-existent. For example, according to the Wikidata Human Gender Indicators (WHGI), as of May 2020, there are around ~1.7 million biographies on English Wikipedia but only ~300,000 of them are about women, a paltry 18% or so. [1]  While we are a long way off gender parity in Wikipedia, we are slowly moving the needle in the right direction thanks to work from Jess and many other editors. Back in 2017, the gender balance of articles was down at 15%. [2]
  2. She has brought lots more attention to an important ongoing issue. Jess’s work as an editor has received lots of media attention including from the New York Times, Sky News, the BBC, HuffPost, ABC News, El PaĂ­s, CNN, Nature, The Guardian, New Scientist, Physics World and many others. Like many other blokes, I was aware of the problem gender inequality but didn’t realise the magnitude of the issue until she drew my attention to it. Redressing this inequality is in all our interests because a more inclusive and diverse Wikipedia will be a better Wikipedia.
  3. She has inspired many others to do more. Plenty of people have been influenced and inspired by Jess’s work. For me personally, watching her training sessions and editing from a distance gave me a much needed virtual kick up the backside to finally get around to organising events myself. We hosted our first training session in October 2019 for Ada Lovelace day (which Jess helped with) and we’ve got more planned for the future in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum North on the subject of Women in War and Peace in June 2020.

Talking of wars, Jess’s recent edits have been focusing on women fighting in the great  coronavirus war through their work in public health, virology, vaccine development, epidemiology, immunology and medicine. This includes people like Sarah Gilbert, Nicola Stonehouse, Nishi Chaturvedi, Marion Koopmans, Eleni Nastouli, Devi Sridhar and Isabella Eckerle alongside many others. If you’d like to find out more or get involved, visit womeninred.org and explore their list of articles wanted , there’s even a dedicated sub-list for COVID-19 Women.

So congratulations Jess and thanks for all one thousand of your valuable contributions – here’s to your next 1000 biographies! đŸ’Ș


This week is mental health awareness week in the UK. Over the last month, I’ve been doing Yale’s most popular course with Laurie Santos on The Science of Well-being which has been worthwhile. [3] One recurring theme of the course is that we are biased to “mis-want” things that we think will make us happy but actually don’t. One way to combat this annoying built-in feature of your brain is to intentionally overcome your biases by deliberately doing things that are proven to make you happier and healthier. Experiencing gratitude, being kind and more socially connected are several scientifically proven ways to do this and improve the mental health of yourself and your peers. Which is where this post came from – it’s also part of my coursework on Coursera. Thanks also to Sarah Mohammad-Qureshi for comments on an earlier draft of this article, and thanks to Uli Sattler for encouraging me to take a look at Laurie’s well-being course. 😃


  1. Anon (2020) Wikidata Human Gender Indicators (WHGI): Gender by language, Wikimedia Foundation, wmflabs.org
  2. Piotr Konieczny and Maximilian Klein (2018) Gender gap through time and space: A journey through Wikipedia biographies via the Wikidata Human Gender Indicator, New Media & Society, 20 (12), p. 4608–463, DOI:10.1177/1461444818779080
  3. Anon (2018) ‘The Science of Well Being’: Yale’s most popular class ever available via Coursera, Yale University News, yale.edu

(NOTE: Jess tells me she won’t be celebrating her 1k milestone until she’s created 1011 articles, because 11 of them have been deleted, although 3 have been re-created by other users)

Learn to edit Wikipedia: Thurs 17th October, University of Manchester. All welcome…

Ada_Lovelace_color.svgTo celebrate the work of the world’s first software engineer, Ada Lovelace, we’re holding an edit-a-thon on Thursday 17th October at the University of Manchester where you can learn how to edit Wikipedia. This is a great opportunity for anyone looking to improve their digital skills and written communication skills, regardless of their level of computer literacy. Held in association with the Physiological Society, we’ll be focusing on creating and improving biographies of Women in Physiology.

Come and develop or improve your skill set using the world’s largest encyclopedia and ninth most visited site on the entire web. You don’t need to be a physiologist or a Wikipedian to participate, make a contribution or learn. Confirmed speakers for the morning include:

  • Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, Physiologist and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester
  • Professor Susan Wray, Physiologist, University of Liverpool
  • Dr Jessica Wade, Physicist, Imperial College London
  • Dr Duncan Hull, (yours truly) Computer Scientist, University of Manchester

After lunch (provided) we’ll have hands-on sessions with experienced editors to help you start your Wikipedia adventure. Registration is now open on eventbrite at bit.ly/ada-lovelace-editathon, you can attend either or both morning and afternoon sessions.

Any questions, please contact the organisers Sarah Mohammad-Qureshi (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion office) and me. We look forward to seeing you on Thursday 17th October from 10am, North Campus, Sackville Street Building B-Floor Entrance Hall, (5 minutes walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station) more details on the eventbrite registration page above.

[Update January 2020: See equality and diversity report on the event]

(Original watercolor portrait (Ada lovelace.jpg): Alfred Edward ChalonWoodcut-style graphic (Ada Lovelace.tif): Colin Adams, for the Ada InitiativeSVG conversion (Ada Lovelace.svg): Fred the OysterColorization: Kaldari [CC0] via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ada_Lovelace_color.svg)


Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most viewed of them all?

Wikipedia is mirror that reflects the world around it. Sometimes the reflections are accurate, other times they get distorted. [1] Either way, we can look at the data in Wikipedia to see which reflections are being looked at the most using powerful analytics tools that are part of the platform.

Two weeks ago, as part of Physiology Friday, I gave a talk examining how biographies of scientists are viewed in Wikipedia, using the crude measure of PageViews.

Melissa Highton from the University of Edinburgh also gave a talk about the Edinburgh Seven, changing the way stories are told and their Wikipedian in Residence scheme.

Our convenor, Andy Mabbett (normally found on a Brompton) gave a talk introducing Wikimedia since our reason for being there was to recruit and train new editors of Wikipedia.

Thanks to the Physiological Society for having us and Anisha Tailor for putting the program together.


  1. Samoilenko, Anna; Yasseri, Taha (2014). “The distorted mirror of Wikipedia: a quantitative analysis of Wikipedia coverage of academics”. EPJ Data Science. Springer Publishing. 3 (1). arXiv:1310.8508 doi:10.1140/epjds20

Another 50 new portraits of leading scientists, now available in Wikimedia Commons

As part of an ongoing collaboration between Wikimedia UK and the Royal Society, there are now another 50 high quality portraits of leading scientists and engineers available in Wikimedia Commons, published under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license. Unlike many portraits of scientists that you can find on the web, these images can be:

  • Adapted — remixed, transformed, and built upon

Provided that:

  • Attribution — appropriate credit must be given, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.
  • ShareAlike — If remixed, transformed, or built upon the material, they must be distributed under the same license as the original.

These images add to a growing collection started in 2014, of over 200 images released by the Royal Society. Have a browse and take a look at the pictures (and their associated biographies) by clicking on the links above and below.

Thanks to John Byrne, Rachel Ford and Robert Rutter for their work in making this data available.

Portraits released this year include Chris Abell, Jas Pal Badyal, Steven Balbus, Polina Bayvel, Graham Bell, Martin Bridson, John P. Burrows, Katharine Cashman, Sarah Cleaveland, James Collier, Alastair Compston, Brian Cox, Jack Cuzick, William I. F. David, Christl Donnelly, Marcus du Sautoy, James S. Dunlop, Artur Ekert, Maria Fitzgerald, Antony Galione, Harry J. Gilbert, Patrick Gill, Anne Glover, Neil A. R. Gow, Ian A. Graham, Richard P. Harvey, Adrian Hayday, Ramanujan Hegde, David Hight, Sue Ion, Eugenia Kumacheva, Corinne Le QuĂ©rĂ©, Mark A. Lemmon, David Lodge, Eleanor Maguire, Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, Gilean McVean, Russell E. Morris, Luke A. J. O’Neill, Simon Peyton Jones, Jonathon Pines, James I. Prosser, Sriram Ramaswamy, Caroline Series, Ted Shepherd, Alison Mary Smith, David J. Wales, Philip J. Withers, Paul Workman, Adair Turner, Baron Turner of Ecchinswell, Robert Cava, Vint Cerf, Mark M. Davis, Jennifer Doudna, Gerd Faltings, John M. Hayes, Svante PÀÀbo, Pasko Rakic, Rino Rappuoli, Ellen D. Williams.


FRS vs Oscars: Scientists and Hollywood in Wikipedia

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An Oscar, picture via mafleen on flickr.

As of 2016, Wikipedia now has a page describing the award of Fellowship of the Royal Society. For the last ten years, this page (which is linked to by more than 5000 other wikipedia articles and visited about 800 times per day) had a redirect that sent readers to the “Fellows” subsection of the Royal Society wikipedia article, which was not very satisfactory.

Now, if you believe The Guardian newspaper, Fellowship of the Royal Society is the (quote) “equivalent of a lifetime achievement Oscar”, so the award probably deserves a page all of its own. For example, The Academy Awards (aka Oscars) have a separate article to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that awards them.

So, how does interest in scientists compare with interest in oscar-winning actors and the like? If page views are anything to go by, then the actors are winning by about an order of magnitude. Where the FRS page gets around ~800 visits a day, the Oscars page gets around ~8000, though there are significant seasonal spikes in traffic for both, see screenshot below from Pageviews Analysis.


Pageviews Analysis of FRS vis Oscars





Fellows of the Royal Society: Now available in Wikidata

Thanks to Magnus Manske, as of 2015, all 8000 Fellows of the Royal Society have been imported into Wikidata.

The data needs tidying up, as it has been imported from a spreadsheet of data from the Royal Society. Thankfully, Mix-and-match can help. If you play in “Game mode”, you are presented with four options shown below:

  1. Set Q (e.g. confirm that a given entry already exists in wikidata)
  2. No wikidata entry (given entry does not yet exist)
  3. N/A (no applicable)
  4. Skip (leave this entry for now, show a new one)

Playing this game, allows users to quickly run through the data and match it with what’s already in wikidata (and wikipedia) or flag entries that do not yet exist. Thanks Magnus!

Some places to start editing wikipedia

If you’re interested in improving the scientific content of wikipedia, there are several places you can start:

If you haven’t edited wikipedia before, Darren Logan’s introduction to editing wikipedia for scientists is a good place to start.