It makes sense that the physicist who worked with pulsed lasers should have had a Wikipedia page long before receiving a Nobel Prize.
But that individual was a woman.
Wikipedia’s Gender Bias
During the months before she won the Nobel, Donna Strickland had done auspicious research. But a Wikipedia editor rejected the biography that had been submitted. The reason was insufficient notability. Only when she got her Nobel did Wikipedia quickly respond.
Then she had the “notability” that Wikipedia requires.
Women have more difficulty than men achieving notability. For team written papers, women get less credit. Reducing her status, a woman is typically referred to as the “wife of.” Notability can also become a self-reinforcing cycle whereby women become more notable when they get red hyperlinks in Wikipedia articles. But, just 19 percent of Wikipedia’s 1.5 million biographies are on women. You see where this is going. Fewer links create fewer links signifying notability. The bias loop continues when Siri, Google, and Alexa find fewer Wikipedia females.
Our Bottom Line: Tragedy of the Commons
As economists, we can say that Wikipedia’s gender bias is an example of the tragedy of the commons. Usually, the tragedy of the commons has an environmental application. We use it to describe the abuse of a public resource. Because everyone owns the air or water or even a pasture, few feel the obligation to preserve them. Instead, we overfish the oceans, pollute the air, and overgraze a pasture.
Similarly, there is no private ownership of Wikipedia, Populated by volunteers and somewhat anarchic, Wikipedia is like a common resource. Consequently, it can be subject to more abuse. Yes, I know there are certainly gender bias problems in the private sector. But they are not subject to the tragedy of the commons as was the scientist Donna Strickland.
We should add that one of the few female economics Nobel winners (called the Sverges Riksbank prize), Elinor Ostrom told us that we can voluntarily reduce the tragedy of the commons. At Wikipedia, the initiative is coming from the Women in Red that are actively trying to add to female focused content.
From the “Women in Red” page:
My sources and more: Thanks to Marketplace Tech for reminding me of Wikipedia’s gender bias. Next, they linked to this paper and that took me to articles in The Washington Post and the Wikipedia Foundation.
Our featured image is from Marketplace Tech.