Dissertation Defense - Amanda Menking
You are cordially invited to join us for the Dissertation Defense of Amanda Menking.
Speculum: Characterizing the creation, curation, reproduction, and neglect of women’s health information on the English language Wikipedia
Monday, August 12, 2019
10 AM - 12 PM
Communications Building (CMU) Room 202/204
Wikipedia is one of the most powerful and ubiquitous information sources in our world today. Content from the English language Wikipedia—the oldest and largest of more than 300 language Wikipedias—populates a range of information systems, topping Google search results and shaping the responses of intelligent assistants like Siri and Alexa. In recent years, the online encyclopedia has also become a prominent source of health information for both patients and practitioners. Wikipedia, however, is not without its problems. Although Wikipedia purports to be the encyclopedia “anyone can edit,” as Ford & Wajcman observe, “not everyone does” (2017). By best counts, more than 80% of Wikipedians are men (Hill & Shaw, 2013). This demographic skew in participation has come to be known as the gender gap. The gender gap in participation has led researchers and Wikipedians alike to ask if who edits Wikipedia results in related gaps in content. Given what we know about Wikipedia’s gender gap, what does the encyclopedia have to say about women’s health? Who is creating, curating, and controlling women’s health information on the English language Wikipedia? Does it matter? What else might matter? In my dissertation, I adapt object biography—a material culture practice used in anthropology—to reconstruct the life-history of a selection of women’s health articles on the English language Wikipedia (n=5). Drawing from article revision histories, talk page discussions, trace data, interviews with editors (n=15), and five years of ethnographic research, I write the biography of each one of these articles, noting how they have grown, been neglected, become boundary objects for different communities (e.g., editors, readers, medical practitioners, laypeople), sparked debates about how scientific knowledge is reproduced, and complicated assumptions about the relationships between participatory gaps and content gaps. The contributions of this work are threefold: (1) by being the first study to explicitly interrogate women’s health information on the English language Wikipedia, this work makes a clear empirical contribution; (2) by adapting object biography to tell the life-history of digital objects, this work makes a methodological contribution to information science; (3) finally, by interrogating assumptions about the relationships between participatory gaps and content gaps in user-generated content systems like Wikipedia and by providing empirical evidence that these relationships are more nuanced and complicated than prior work suggests, this dissertation makes a contribution to future social computing research by providing a unique lens through which we might study these relationships. This work also has broader implications for the field of information science, particularly health informatics, given the rise of Wikipedia’s reach and influence and the pervasive medicalization of women’s health it perpetuates.
- David W McDonald, Co-Chair
- Wanda Pratt, Co-Chair
- Carmen Gonzalez, GSR
- Benjamin C. Hill
- Anna Hoffmann