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Radical action for gender equality in Antarctic science

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

An international team of scientists have organised a global ’Wikibomb’ to blow up the perception once and for all that Antarctic science is a boy’s club.

Woman of the Antarctic Wikibomb aims to tell the world about many great, and generally under-recognised, female Antarctic research role models.

A Wikibomb is like a weather-bomb, but with pages of information instead of rain. It’s also a quantum-shift in publicly available information. Hosted via Wikipedia, the Wikibomb contains profiles of around 100 top female scientists from 30 countries - 10 of which are from New Zealand.

The team is led by La Trobe University Marine Biologist Dr Jan Strugnell, and includes New Zealand’s Dr Craig Stevens on the committee, and NIWA’s Dr Aitana Forcen-Vazquez.

In an article published today in the prestigious international science journal Nature the team said: ‘It is important that senior women scientists are visible to younger female scientists so they know that careers in science are possible - You can’t be what you can’t see.’

These profiles will be officially unveiled at a meeting of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 22 - 26 August 2016. Dr Forcen will be speaking at the opening.

Among the Wikibomb profiles are internationally renowned New Zealand scientists including Dr Nancy Bertler, Professor Pat Langhorne and Dr Christina Hulbe.

Dr Stevens, President of the New Zealand Association of Scientists, and well-known Antarctic researcher said, "It is vital we give the next generation of scientists, both male and female, a true sense of who does Antarctic research. Women have been playing an increasing role in Antarctic research since the 1950s."

"The time has come for them to gain far greater public recognition. Methods of communicating are changing and the Wikibomb taps into this. It’s challenging enough dealing with funding, the weather and drifting sea ice - there should be no other limits on achievement."

Leading Palaeobotanist Dr Marie Stopes was rejected for Scott’s historic 1910 expedition to the South Pole. Soon after 1300 women applied for another British Antarctic Expedition. None of which were accepted.

"There has been a lot of high-impact research and leadership by women in Antarctic science over the last ten years," Dr Strugnell said.

"For example, Germany’s Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the British Antarctic Survey are both led by women. Korea recently appointed its first female Antarctic station leader. A previous Chief Executive of Antarctica New Zealand, Gillian Wratt, has a profile on her achievements."

The team’s Wikipedia expert, Dr Thomas Shafee, said Wikipedia was now the world’s most widely viewed reference site, and many people turn to it for their information about science. When Wikipedia began, less than ten percent of scientists featured were women. Today, that number is just over 16 percent’. He said, "Despite such heroic efforts, it’s still an up-hill battle."

Jeanine Foster, Antarctica New Zealand General Manager of Communications said, "The New Zealand Antarctic Programme is proud to support such a high calibre of female Antarctic scientists working on some of the most pressing questions facing the world today. New Zealand has a proud history of women earning positions in some of the nation’s most influential roles - as such it is befitting to have New Zealand’s women in science celebrated at this level."

Other scientists’ profiles are from Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Morocco, Netherland, Australia, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, UK and the USA.

The Wikibomb project is part of the global Athena Swan Charter for advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine.

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