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Wikipedia rejected an entry on a Nobel Prize winner because she wasn’t famous enough

By Corinne Purtill & Zoë Schlanger

Today, optical physicist Donna Strickland received the Nobel Prize for her work on ultrashort lasers.

When her name was announced, a search for Strickland’s name on Wikipedia would have turned up nothing. As recently as May, Wikipedia editors weren’t convinced that Strickland’s work was significantly covered enough to merit an article on the site.

Strickland is an associate professor of physics at the University of Waterloo in Canada—a title that, as many observers have noticed, does not seem to reflect the significance of her work.

Strickland and colleague Gérard Mourou shared half of the 2018 prize, which was also awarded to scientist Arthur Ashkin. Strickland is now currently the only living female Nobel laureate in physics, joining Marie Curie and the theoretical physicist Maria Goeppert-Mayer as the only women of the award’s 209 recipients.

Prior to winning the Nobel Prize, Strickland’s only previous mention on Wikipedia was in an article about Mourou, her male co-inventor. On May 23, a Wikipedia editor rejected a draft of an article about Strickland, claiming that it failed to “show significant coverage (not just passing mentions) about the subject.” The rejected draft noted that she was at that time the associate chair of the physics department at Waterloo, and a past president of the Optical Society.

A revised draft including her Nobel win went live about 90 minutes after the prize was announced. Only 17% of the current biographical entries on Wikipedia are about women, and the site is particularly thin on women in science.