Grants:IdeaLab/Improve Wiktionary's coverage of women honoured in scientific names (and encourage new editors)

Improve Wiktionary's coverage of women honoured in scientific names (and encourage new editors)
Women naturalists are rarely honoured in the scientific names of plant and animal species, but Wiktionary can improve its coverage of those who are.
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created on04:13, 10 March 2015 (UTC)

Project idea edit

What is the problem you're trying to solve? edit

English Wiktionary doesn't include biographies or entries for individuals, so the scope for adding female biographies is limited. However it does include scientific names. Some scientific names are from the Latinized names of women involved in biology (naturalists, botanists, explorers, etc), typically named for the discoverer of a species or the first to collect a specimen. Creating and improving these eponymous scientific names would both improve Wiktionary's coverage and also play a small role in acknowledging the contribution of women in the biological sciences.

Creating and editing these entries is a good starting point for anyone with an interest to edit Wiktionary. These entries typically do not require knowledge of Latin, and the layout of the entry is relatively straight forward, so it would allow people new to Wiktionary to create entries by copying and editing existing ones.

This work may also help identify notable women who require biographies on Wikipedia. For example, whitefly expert Florence Eugenie Bemis, who gives her name to the whitefly genus Bemisia, was pointed out by Wiktionary user Chuck Entz. In 1904 she published a monograph on whiteflies of California in which she described 15 species new to science. She has no Wikipedia entry as yet.

Only around 15 out of 677 taxonomic eponyms in Wiktionary are named for women (2.1%). This includes 5 which are named for mythological female figures. It's worth noting that the gender imbalance reflects a wider pattern in taxonomy, rather than a systemic bias of Wiktionary editors.

I could not find any information on the gender gap for Wiktionary editors in any of the surveys. I'll leave it to others to speculate how similar the situation is to Wikipedia, and whether this project will have any measurable impact on the participation levels of women editing Wiktionary, or in any meaningful way increase the visibility of women in science.

However, if women (or men) are looking to involve themselves with Wiktionary, and want to do something practical like research, create, and edit some of the many needed entries about women in the biological sciences, and want to work in a smaller, less volatile community than what is typical on Wikipedia, then this is a probably a good project to start with.

What is your solution? edit

0. To increase initial engagement, market the project through banner advertising on Wikimedia sites

1. Identify potential candidate entries

Latin uses gendered word endings which, in some cases, can help in identifying eponymous scientific names which are named for women.

  • example: the specific epithet "kingsleyae" was found to be missing on Wiktionary. It was found by searching through the output of a script which listed candidate species names. It was identified as being a commonly used epithets ending in -ae (Latin's "feminine genitive" case). Its stem, "kingsley", is not found with other word endings (e.g. *kingsleyus), making it a likely candidate. I picked it out of the top 100 results because it looks like a surname, and some research (manual, not automated) showed that the term is found in the scientific name of various fish species, and honours Mary Henrietta Kingsley who first discovered several species. A wiktionary entry, wikt:kingsleyae, was created (bringing the above total to 16). Her image is seen in the thumbnail of this campaign page.

I've created a list of 1000 candidate terms, which is at wikt:User:Pengo/common_epithets/-ae. It would take some work to clean up the script to output something easier to use for volunteers, but it can be used as is. It could also be improved to better narrow down the candidates automatically, such as through matching candidate terms to known first and surnames.

Other candidate entries may be found in books of eponyms. There are Eponym Dictionaries for mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. If no one has access to these, perhaps WMF could provide grants for the purchase for those interested in the project. Other etymological reference books could also be helpful. For bacteria, Wikipedia's List of bacterial genera named after personal names could be a good starting point. Or for some slightly more fun entries there's List of organisms named after famous people.

2. Narrow down the lists to those which are relevant

A manual task. I've started sorting through candidate species names (specific epithets) ending in -ae, and found about 9 relevant eponyms for women in the first 50 candiates (potentially doubling Wiktionary's total count of such entries). There are thousands of other -ae terms which could be considered, given volunteerpower.

Here's some examples of terms found so far, which should have entries on Wiktionary but don't yet:

  • emilyae: Argenthina emilyae: Species named after Emily Vokes, formerly of Tulane University, in honor of her systematic work on the Muricidae.
  • emilyae: Psolidium emilyae Named for Emily Whitfield (Marine Research Group of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria)
  • furbishiae : Pedicularis furbishiae, named for North American botanist Kate Furbish
  • danfordiae : Iris danfordiae -- named for Mrs C.G. Danford, 19th-century traveler
  • (more are currently listed here)

3. Create entries

Existing entries can be serve as a template for new entries. While editing Wiktionary is often more technical than Wikipedia, these entries are similar in form so existing entries can be copied and modified for ease of creation. Examples: wikt:kingsleyae, wikt:mexiae, wikt:annae, wikt:davisae, wikt:Clivia, wikt:Morganella

4. Categorizing and reporting

To allow easier tracking and statistics, I've added appropriate entries to Wiktionary's category of "Translingual taxonomic eponyms", increasing its size from less than 200 entries to more than 600 in the last 24 hours. Further, a new category or list for eponyms of women may be created to help keep track of progress.

5. Improving existing entries

Some existing entries do not have etymological information, so the person who is giving their name to a species is not identified. Any interested volunteers can search around for such entries. To get started, here are some entries which are probably named for women but lack information about the specific women they are named for: wikt:kaalae, wikt:margaretae, wikt:helenae, wikt:mariae, wikt:Allisonia, wikt:Elvira

6. Plant and animal species discovered by women.

A separate idea is to improve the coverage of species discovered or described by women. it would be Wiktionary as well as Wikipedia and Wikispecies. This should probably be listed as a separate IdeaLab idea.

7. Get started

Please add your name if you're interested in helping, and lend a hand.

Wiktionary's editors have been steadily increasing the number of definitions and etymologies of scientific names. If you picked 100 binomial name found in random publications and looked up the meanings of genus and epithet on Wiktionary (e.g. "Boa" and "constrictor"), you would likely find 63 genus and 73 epithet definitions.

Goals edit

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  • Developer I'm generating lists of candidate species names to create on Wiktionary. Pengo (talk) 04:47, 10 March 2015 (UTC)

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