At Remarkable People, we believe in shining a light on those making a difference in their communities and the world at large. That’s why we’re thrilled to introduce you to our latest guest, Dr. Jessica Wade.

Jessica is a physicist, researcher, and advocate based in London who has earned recognition for her work promoting diversity in science. She has written over 1,750 Wikipedia biographies for women scientists and has been awarded the British Empire Medal for her efforts. Jessica is also a research fellow at Imperial College London, investigating new materials for optoelectronic devices, specifically chiral organic semiconductors.

In addition to her research and advocacy, Jessica is also a children’s book author. She has written a book called “Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small,” which is a fascinating and fun introduction to the world of nanoscience for young readers.

We can’t wait for you to hear more about Jessica’s journey and her inspiring work. Don’t miss this episode of Remarkable People!

Please enjoy this remarkable episode with Jessica Wade: Evangelizing Diversity in Science!

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Jessica Wade: 

Guy Kawasaki:

I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. We're on a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is Dr. Jessica Wade.

Jessica is a physicist and researcher based in London. Her work has earned her recognition around the world. You may have heard of Jessica because of her work as an advocate for diversity in science.

She has written over 1,750 Wikipedia biographies for women's scientists who have not received their due recognition. Her efforts in this regard were acknowledged by the late Queen Elizabeth who invited Jessica to Buckingham Palace for sandwiches and to receive the British Empire Medal for services to gender diversity and science.

In 2018, Jessica was the honorable mention for the Wikimedian of the Year award. Later, she won the Wikimedian of the Year award for the United Kingdom.

In a role as a research fellow at Imperial College London, Jessica is investigating new materials for optical electronic devices, specifically chiral organic semiconductors.

In addition to her research and advocacy, Jessica is also a children's author. She has written a book called Nano: the Spectacular Science of the Very,Very Small. It is a fascinating and fun introduction to the world of nanoscience for young readers.

I'm excited to have Jessica on the show today, so we can learn about her work in physics, as well as fostering diversity in the sciences.

I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. now here is a remarkable Jessica Wade.

Did you really take a Tupperware container to Buckingham Palace? I really want to hear this story.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Yes, I got invited to the Garden Party, the Queen's Garden Party.

Fortuitously, I got invited the last year. It still was the Queen's Garden Party. When you got an invite like that, it's quite overwhelming and exciting, but it also says you can only bring one guest. Of course, I had to take my mom.

I think I'd probably be kicked off the family if I didn't take my mother, but my father is the one who really likes sandwiches, so I thought there's got to be somewhere around this.

I took my little Tupperware box. I took not only sandwiches, I also took a small tart and a slice of cake. I can tell you that everyone else at that Garden Party was jealous of my Tupperware. Not only was I scoring in the family department, but also other people there thought I was cool.

Yeah, I definitely did take it.

Guy Kawasaki:

Did you post a picture of your Tupperware score after the party anywhere?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I put a picture of it online. I didn't get in any trouble with the Royal Family, if that's what you're saying. There's no little sign saying you can't take your sandwiches with you. It's quite an extraordinary thing they put on. I'm sure you've been to events where maybe PhD scientists or early career scientists are gathering, and if there's free food, it makes the event a whole lot more awesome. I just took that to Buckingham.

Guy Kawasaki:

That's why you are who you are, Jessica. That's why you're on Remarkable People. You could qualify for Remarkable People just for that. Forget all the Wikipedia and the STEM stuff. That's just a great story.

Steve Wolfram is a friend of mine, and I'm going to tell him if he ever goes to Buckingham Palace, don't forget to bring the Tupperware.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Of course. Everyone in there probably uses Mathematica all the time.

Guy Kawasaki:

The Queen thought she had problems with Meghan Markle and you were lifting sandwiches out of her reception. Oh my God.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

As little scientists, that's who she should have been worried about.

Guy Kawasaki:

Okay, that's the first question I had to get off my chest. The second question is, is the Casio pink calculator story true? Were you one of the Casio women scientists and they made it in pink? Tell us that story.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I didn't think it was pink. Casio made a range of beautiful calculators with cartoons of extraordinary women's scientists on them. One of the people who was working on the campaign I think had seen a lot of the work that I was doing to try and support young women in science.

I had just done a big campaign to get a book that had been really important to me into all high schools across the UK, and that had gone pretty well. I teamed up with my friend to do that.

Casio saw that this was happening, and I think they thought, "She seems like a nice little scientist." They have this extraordinarily distinguished collection of women on their calculator, Marie Curie, and then they had a Jess Wade calculator. I think if I was teenager in a shop getting my parents to buy me a calculator and I had this eminent list of extraordinary women and then just this unknown physicist from London, I'd be like, "Who is that?"

But they did it and it's quite remarkable. It's so remarkable that I actually can't look at it, because I think it's so embarrassing. I love celebrating other people and I love championing and shouting about how brilliant women scientists are, but when the spotlight is on you, it's a little bit much.

Yes, they did make a calculator. I don't think it was overleaping, but I do think it's a pretty awesome thing to put women on calculators. I think the organizations like Casio are just doing great work in that area.

Guy Kawasaki:

Do you have a box full someplace in your closet?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

A box of calculators? But they're all of the calculators that I'm sure you can cast your mind back when you last did a math or a physics exam at university, and they always give you a calculator to make sure that you've not programmed a bunch of stuff into your own personal calculator. Invariably, I'd walk out of that exam with that calculator. I have a box of calculator, but they're all perhaps belonging to Imperial.

Look at this, now I seem like a sandwich and calculator thief, when in reality-

Guy Kawasaki:

I'm seeing some kleptomania in you. I actually meant if you had a box of the calculator with you on it.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

No, I couldn't.

Guy Kawasaki:

You just have one?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I have one. My biggest joy in life is when I see really incredible people, particularly people from historically excluded groups, or people who I know have been doing extraordinary work and I see them getting recognized enough and will come to it.

But when I write these Wikipedia pages, when I see those people going to get awards or be mentioned in newspapers or be on news shows, it fills me with so much joy than I'd have a box of those calculators. But if it's about me, I'm like, "Oh no." I don't know why.

Guy Kawasaki:

I am going to dive deep into Wikipedia, but first, let's talk about your day job right now. What exactly do you do? Because I read a description and I could understand about every other word in that description.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

That means I wrote a bad description.

Guy Kawasaki:

Can you give us the gist of what you're working on?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I work on new materials for optical and electronic devices. They're carbon-based materials, carbon-based semiconductors, probably most people if they're listening to the podcast on a mobile phone has an OLED display than organic lights missing diode display.

They're these really exciting emerging class of materials where we can use the chemistry of the molecules to control the optical and the electronic properties. By changing the chemical structure of the molecules in the active layers of your device, we can change the color they emit, the color they absorb, we can control the way that electrons move through those systems.

But particularly at the moment, I'm really excited about organic semiconductors that are chiral, and chirality is this really extraordinary property of symmetry and shape that we can harness in molecular electronic devices to control the spin of photons or the spin of electrons to make devices more efficient.

Organic semiconductors exist. They're in your mobile phone, they're in your tablet, they're in your laptop, they're in your fancy TV screen, and I'm trying to say, "Hey, let's think about making them chiral, so we can do these even more sophisticated processing or have more efficient displays."

It's a really exciting world to work in because it's that intersection between me in physics and materials and people in chemistry and people in computational chemistry, predicting how these things would work and then us trying to do the material science to optimize them, to put them into a device that has real world significance and also to try and work out what's going on."

Yeah, it's just this beautiful medley of different backgrounds and different skills, and I just love working in it.

Guy Kawasaki:

Have you ever heard of the story of the physicist and the limo driver?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I haven't heard of it, but now I have to hear about it. Please tell me it.

Guy Kawasaki:

This is going to lead somewhere to my next question. There's a reason why I am going to tell you this story. The story is that this physicist has written a new book. He's on a book tour. He lands in a city.

Or she, let's say she. She lands in a city, limo driver picks her up, and from now they're going to various events, or breakfast speech, lunch speech, dinner speech, all that. She has to give three or four speeches that day about her new book about physics.

They go about this and towards the end of the day, she's already done three or four and they're about to do the fifth one and she's exhausted. She says to the limo driver, "You've heard me say it this four times now. Let's reverse, you give the speech and I'll just sit in the audience."

He says, "Okay, I heard it. I can give that speech." He gives the speech, but he ends too early. Now there's time for Q&A. Someone in the audience asks a question to the limo driver. He has no idea what the answer is. He just knows exactly what she's been saying.

He says, "That is such a rudimentary question about physics. I'm going to let my limo driver answer it." He pulls her on stage. Now, you're wondering, "What the hell does this have to do with anything?" The answer to that question is what does chiral mean?" C-H-I-R-A-L, is that a... What is that? You say that it's obvious to everybody.

I'm going to let my physicist answer.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Okay, perfect. It's a really interesting word, because I think it means different things to different people. You ask a chemist or a physicist or a person working in inorganic spintronics or something, everyone has a different definition. But really chirality is this property of symmetry.

Chiral objects exist as non-superimposable mirror images, and your left and your right hand are perfect examples.

If you put them together, counter palm, they're mirror images of each other. But if you put one on top of the other, then they're obviously not mirror images of each other. It's that non-superimposable mirror image property that we can impart to molecules, so we can get molecules that are left or right-handed. We see it in seashells, we see it in fusilli pasta.

We see it in the box of some plants. You see it in galaxies that rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. The really interesting aspects of chirality emerge in the subatomic scales, in photons and electrons in left and right-handed light in up and down electrons. We're really trying to manipulate that with molecules. Chirality is a property of symmetry and shape and really left and right hand are the best examples of it.

Guy Kawasaki:

I've had Stephen Wolfram and I've had Neil deGrasse Tyson, and now I have you, and I have come to the conclusion that I can only have a physicist once a year or so, because it just makes my head explode when they talk about what they know. I need to rest until my next physicist, sometime at the end of 2023. Okay?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Well, we can do a lot of physics now then, I load you up. We can go further in-depth.

Guy Kawasaki:

I'm in the deep end of the pool already.

Now, we know what your day job is, basically making our computer and phone monitors better, I hope. Now, what did you do at Wikipedia?

I want to hear the Wikipedia story. Before you answer that, let me tell you, I was a trustee of Wikipedia, so I did a two-year board of trustee of Wikipedia. I know the answer to the question, but not everybody listening does.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Probably all of your listeners know as well how important Wikipedia is. It's this democratized platform for knowledge sharing. By far, the world's largest encyclopedia, and certainly the most popular and frequently accessed one. It's probably on any given day, the fifth most frequently accessed website in the world, which is really remarkable, and it's entirely contributed and built by volunteers, which is another really remarkable thing.

It exists in almost 300 different languages and then in-society academics, makers, journalists, parents, children, teachers, scientists themselves. Everyone uses Wikipedia. While it can feel like everything's on Wikipedia, it actually has really big gaps, and it has particular content gaps in things to do with women or biographies about women or biographies about people from other historically excluded groups.

That could be Black people, it could be LGBTQ+ people, and also actually pretty much science in general is not very well up to date on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is super important. Wikipedia has these huge knowledge gaps, and I realize these two things simultaneously. I also realized it could be this huge platform for communicating breakthroughs science and also the stories of scientists themselves.

Since I started my journey in science, in physics and chemistry and materials, I've fallen completely in love with what I do, and I've become more and more passionate that we need to improve the diversity of people working in these fields for science to truly benefit all of society.

I found Wikipedia was this critical platform for information sharing, for knowledge sharing, but also for improving awareness of science and of scientists to everyone in the population. Four years ago, when I learned that, I started a campaign to better represent particularly women scientists and scientists from other historically excluded groups on Wikipedia, and I just haven't stopped.

I started writing these biographies every single night from the beginning of 2018, and now I'm over 1,800 biographies, and there's never been a night when I've sat down and thought, "I don't have anyone to write about."

Every single night I'm like, "I wish I had more time, so I could write about more awesome people."

Then that's the next night, so I can start again. I realized Wikipedia was critical, and then I just realized that I could use it as this platform to tell these stories and hopefully get people the recognition they deserve for the breakthroughs that they've made, make sure that these names are protected and documented for future generations and celebrated now, but also to inspire new generations of scientists, because the world really needs that.

Guy Kawasaki:

How long does it take you to write an entry?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Completely honestly, it depends who the person is. If they're in American, maybe your podcast research team will know this. If they're an American, it's usually quite easy to write about them, because they're quite good at documenting all the awesome things they've done, and their websites will have a whole bunch of links to things, and they're institutions are really good at writing about them. If they're from France, it's really hard, bizarrely hard to find information out about French scientists. It really will depend geographically where they're from, where they're from in history, probably one or two hours an evening.

Guy Kawasaki:

There's almost like a catch-twenty-two here. You're writing about people who don't have entries in Wikipedia, but how did you figure out that they exist if they don't exist in Wikipedia?

Is there a list of these are 1,800 women scientists that aren't in Wikipedia? How do you know to write about them if they're not in Wikipedia? It's catch-twenty-two.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

It's such a big catch- twenty-two, and it gets even more complicated than that. I can find names of phenomenal women, women who are leading important clinical trials, people who've made huge breakthroughs and got really nice papers, people who are speaking at conferences, people who've won awards, people who've been made fellows of the AAAS.

Those lists exist and those people exist. But often these people also haven't received enough coverage, independent coverage of who they are. Historically, there were lots and lots of phenomenal women scientists who were working alongside their brothers or their husbands and just not getting the credit and no one was writing about them.

I can find the names, but finding enough references and sources, which is what Wikipedia is built on, this isn't a primary information site that can be quite tricky. Sometimes I have to go and do all of this researching and be able to work it out, but actually these people exist.

Just because they're on Wikipedia doesn't mean their history isn't there and their story can't be told. It just means it takes longer to put it together. Then I've made the Wikipedia page for someone to use the next time that they want to put together that bio or that prize nomination or citation.

Guy Kawasaki:

Maybe you can explicitly detail. There's a very subtle fact in what you just said, which is, Wikipedia is not people just writing. They have to cite. I'm not sure everybody understands the citation requirements, so maybe you can explain that.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Sure. Wikipedia is not a primary information source, or it's not built from primary information sources. If I wanted to write a Wikipedia page about you or a Wikipedia page about one of your listeners, I couldn't just do an interview with you and then transcribe that on Wikipedia, because that would just be me asking your listener where they went to university, what things they've achieved in their life, and it would be a very biased opinion, but also it would be impossible to be neutral, and it would be impossible to fact-check that.

Wikipedia is built from facts and it's built from reliable sources, so I need a secondary source. I need someone to have written about you or written about that topic, hopefully providing a comprehensive, neutral, impartial view. It needs to be a really trustworthy source.

There are certain newspapers that we can and can't cite on Wikipedia. There are certain platforms that aren't okay. I can't cite things like a CV, because anyone could write anything on their CV.

The same processes that it takes for me to write an academic science paper is what goes into writing a Wikipedia page, doing that research, finding that list of impartial sources, finding that whole comprehensive picture of someone or something they've contributed to.

I think that's the challenge, especially when you're writing about people who haven't been recognized widely enough by society, is finding those impartial sources, making sure they've had that recognition. The part of my work as a Wikipedia editor is certainly making sure that those Wikipedia pages are up, but it's also nominating people for prizes. It's also making sure that journalists are aware of their name so that they can go on and then use that. I can go on and use that as a Wiki source.

Guy Kawasaki:

In the case of Clarice Phelps, that entry went up and down because of other Wikipedians thinking that she was insufficiently cited?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Clarice Phelps is a really interesting one. She's an absolutely phenomenal woman. Next time you need a nuclear chemist, definitely get Clarice Phelps. She was working and works at Oak Ridge National Lab, and she is the first African American woman to contribute to the discovery of an element in the periodic table.

This is one of those super heavy elements. It only exists for a really tiny amount of time that human made elements, they're not naturally occurring elements. You have to make the element, you have to check that you've got the element, you have to characterize the element, and then you have to verify really rigorously that to be able to say conclusively that you've discovered a new element for the periodic table.

Clarice Phelps was part of the team that made that happen, and she was part of the team that made that happen after an extraordinary career in the US Navy working on ships, doing the nuclear chemistry for ships.

She's just the coolest person, but there's very little, or there was very little written about Clarice Phelps. There were her scientific papers where she was an author in a long list of names of authors for her contributions. But being the first, and particularly being the first in such an extraordinary field in a day and age when there shouldn't still be the first Black woman chemist did this, right?

We shouldn't still be saying that, it's 2022. Clarice Phelps was the first, and yet she hadn't had those accolades, she hadn't had journalists writing about her, she hadn't had a book written about her, so it's harder to write an encyclopedia entry. I wrote a Wikipedia page with what if it had been written about her white male counterparts, that Wikipedia page would've probably been fine, but it wasn't.

There's certainly a little bit more scrupulous checking from other Wiki editors if it's about someone from a historically marginalized group.

But anyway, I wrote this Wikipedia page. I asked other Wikipedia editors to help me fit up and improve it, and unfortunately it got taken down and there was a long dispute. One of the other beauties about Wikipedia along with incredible reach and also that process of what does and doesn't make a good source, is that discussion amongst Wikipedia editors about what should and shouldn't be on Wikipedia, Meta Wiki, the torque part of Wikipedia.

There was a long discussion about ways we could improve Clarice's page, what needed to be done for it. In the end, it got resurrected and it got massively built upon and translated into different languages, and Clarice Phelps is finally getting recognition in circles beyond Wikipedia.

My tiny part of that is my part of that is done, although one day maybe I'd love to write a book about her, but certainly in that scenario it was that there weren't enough sources written about Christ Phelps, and now hopefully she's getting those awards and honors, so it's easier to profile her in there.

Guy Kawasaki:

Who decides what is a good enough source? Is Fox a good enough source? Or if you're a conservative, is the Washington Post a good enough source? Who decides what's a source?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

It's an interesting question. I think there are certainly some news agencies, there are British tabloids that aren't considered as reliable sources by other Wikimedians.

You try and use that as a citation, you'll get a little error message saying that this isn't a recognized and trusted source, so you've got to find another source if you want to make this claim. For every sentence I write on Wikipedia, I should provide an inline citation.

I couldn't use that. Certainly, there are news agencies that your listeners would've heard of that wouldn't be trusted by Wikipedians. There's a council, a team of Wikipedia and senior editors on Wikipedia, people who have been around since the beginning of Wikipedia twenty or so years ago.

Just by nature of being there for so long, they have these administrative privileges and they've made huge contributions to the site.

There's kind this arbitration committee that decide recognizing this huge responsibility they have because of how many people use Wikipedia. I think society does a pretty good job of discussing what doesn't make a good enough citation or a reliable or credible source.

Wikipedia reflects that discussion as well. One of the golden rules of Wikipedia is that there are no firm rules. If there's a rule there, it's open to interpretation and debates, because we are the ones who are building this site, the Wiki editors or Wiki users that everyone in society and in humanity, so everything is open for discussion. But yeah, certainly there are some of those new sites that you mentioned that wouldn't be trusted on Wikipedia.

Guy Kawasaki:

What do you say to people and teachers... My kids' teachers have told me this, "Who can't cite Wikipedia? Because anyone can change anything."

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I'd say to those teachers, “Let's make this an educational challenge. Try and put a misleading fact or statement on Wikipedia and see how long it stays up. Try and put something on that that's an outright lie or try and put something on there that you don't cite and put a citation for, and then see how long that statement stays up.”

Because actually Wikipedia is so meticulously and rigorously fact-checked that it's much more reliable and usually much more up to date than published books. As soon as someone publishes a book, as soon as that book goes into print, the facts in it, if it's science or something like that can change, people can learn more. People can change their interpretation.

The way that we address an issue could change. You can't update a printed book, but you can have entire encyclopedias or entire stories or history books about the discovery of a topic that completely emit women or completely emit Black scientists and don't ever go back to retrospectively correct that.

Wikipedia is rigorously fact-checked, but it also is giving a whole new opportunity to get the stories and the discoveries and the breakthroughs of people who haven't had their time in conventional printed literature to a whole bunch of new audiences, a whole bunch of people can read it.

I would say to those teachers, "You try putting a lie on there and see how long it flies," and they will have their IP address blocked very quickly by other Wikipedia editors who are committed to truth and honesty and facts.

Guy Kawasaki:

Tell me how you really feel, Jessica.

When I was on the board of trustees of Wikipedia, I had this semi-existential question and controversy with other people. The question was, "Who is the customer of Wikipedia?"

Wikipedians in general told me that it's the community of the editors and contributors. I, on the other hand, said that the customer of Wikipedia is mankind, or humankind, or society.

We got into some pretty, shall I say, pointed discussions about that. I'm not going to ask you who you believe is the customer of Wikipedia, but it seems to me, one of the things I was saying to them is if you decide that the customer of Wikipedia are the contributors, what happens when AI can generate every entry?

Does that mean that now you don't have any more customers, because AI is generating everything?

And that day is coming, if it's here already, what happens when a Wikipedia entry can be generated by artificial intelligence?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Yeah, what happens? Think we're here, that AI platform that can write extraordinary text, if you just give it the appropriate prompts, probably could generate some pretty rudimentary Wikipedia entries.

I would say if that was the scenario, then I would want to make sure that the data that were being fed to that AI were as neutral and as representative and as inclusive as possible. Because I don't doubt that some very sophisticated language model could learn from a bunch of old history books or a bunch of science papers or a bunch of press releases and put together a pretty good Wikipedia entry.

But I would say that if those language models were being fed history of science books, they were going to get a pretty biased view of the world. That's because historically we've done a very good job of celebrating the contributions of white western men in science and not a very good job of celebrating the contributions of everyone else.

So I would say, go ahead, let your AI build us a new Wikipedia, but make sure that we're loading it, that the data we're feeding it are truly representative and inclusive, because I think there are even the cases out of this new AI, the new language model that everyone's getting very excited about online.

I think there are cases of an examples of bias already in that you ask it a question, it's been built from this quite biased data set because a huge amount of what exists online is quite hideously skewed against certain groups.

As a result, it regurgitates this quite biased answer. I would say, we want to encyclopedia in a knowledge sharing platform. If it's going to truly serve everyone in society, we want it to be as inclusive and as representative as possible.

Guy Kawasaki:

Now, let me ask you an even more existential question. The scenario is that a Wikipedia contributor, or let's say AI, creates a Wikipedia entry. And so, fundamentally, other people who follow go to Wikipedia and read the entry about Clarice Phelps or Jessica Wade.

What happens when AI and computing is so fast and so good that you go to a search engine, you type in that name and on the fly an entry is generated, you don't have to go to Wikipedia, it's there. What happens then?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Yeah, that's kind of existential and kind of already here. If you ask a home assistant a question, the home assistant is going to give you a fact. If you asked them a biography of a person, or whatever your brand of home assistant is, if you said, "Who is Clarice Phelps? Who is Gladys West?"

All of these extraordinary people, they'll tell you a summary biography at the moment that in their data, their information is coming from Wikipedia. I guess, we are imagining a future scenario where we just type a name and then somehow there's some story populated already.

I don't know what that would be like. Again, it would come down to where it's getting that information from where it's pulling that information from. How do we fact-check a black box? How do we check that it's pulling information from the right sources, or that it's not going through someone's private social media accounts to pull together their biography?

Because I could go on whatever network I wanted right now and say, "I'm president of Harvard University." How would I stop that AI generated biography just spewing out a lie? I have absolutely no issue if someone wants to automate some of this research process.

I don't mind if we get to a stage where students can pull together a pretty good literature review summarizing a topic without having to go and draw through old papers or old reference books and things like that.

But I do want to be able to question them on it. I really want to say to that AI, I want to say to that student, "Where did you get that information, and why do you trust it? And how do you know that you've considered all of the story? How do you know that you've got this impartial, neutral perspective? And so, I don't mind.

Back to your first question, do I see the Wikipedia customer as the editor or as the society that it's serving? On the side of the society, that it's serving, that's who I'm writing this information for.

I don't mind if you automate some of those steps, but I do want that opportunity, like I want with history books, to be able to say, "How have you fact-checked that, and how do I know that you've been neutral?”

At the moment, I don't think we can do that.

Guy Kawasaki:

I've had history professors on this podcast and cutting to the chase. They basically said most of the history books are utterly completely wrong and prejudiced and totally biased.

Starting with the Thanksgiving celebration in the United States, it wasn't all hunky-dory Indians and pilgrims eating together in brotherly love. That was hardly what was really going on, but I digress.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

But I like it.

Guy Kawasaki:

Let's get off Wikipedia.

Dr. Jessica Wade:


Guy Kawasaki:

Let's stop with Wikipedia.

Now after you've done your chiral stuff and your Wikipedia, now you're trying to make the world a better place for underrepresented people in science.

How are you doing that? What are the challenges you face or society faces, and what can be done?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I guess one of them we've already spoken about with the Wikipedia part, and that's really celebrating and recognizing people. If we've got these extraordinary women or people of color or whatever it is, we need to make sure that we honor them enough to really give them the recognition they deserve.

But I think there's other parts of this challenge too. There's a huge challenge globally, but particularly in the US and the UK on recruiting and exciting enough young women to study subjects like physics or engineering, anyway. You just have to look in AP classes and physics in the states or high school physics classes here.

We've got a huge underrepresentation of women, but also people of color. We see that marginalization of certain groups out of science extraordinarily early. I think we need to do more to improve that, but then we really need to do more to support people throughout their scientific career.

It doesn't solve it if we just push young women and young Black women or young people from another historically excluded group into our physics degrees and our engineering degrees.

We need to make sure that those disciplines and those degrees are ready to welcome them. We need to open up barriers to this hidden curriculum. We need to provide people with funding to set up their own labs. We need to make sure that they're in an inclusive and a non-sexist and a non-racist community when they're doing their science, because truly the best science and the best engineering is done by really diverse teams of people who feel they included and feel valued.

At the moment, I don't think we're doing enough of that.

You asked me what could be done about it, and I think I would transform high school education. I would really better support our incredible science teachers and math teachers, because we don't have enough of those globally. We don't recognize or value them enough, and we definitely don't pay them enough.

I'd focus a lot on reforming high school education. Then I would say, "Once you get into university, you are going to be valued, or when you get into your engineering job or your internship or your apprenticeship, your experiences and your ideas are just as important as everyone else in that room.

You're going to have this research opportunity and you're going to get this mentor and you're going to get that funding to set up this really sophisticated lab to do that discovery, to make that breakthrough." I think that's what we need to do. We need to focus on supporting people throughout their career, and we need to do that legwork on transforming education to make sure it's as useful for young people as possible.

Guy Kawasaki:

Do you have any insights into how we got into this mess? Why is it that there's such a paid discrepancy, there's so many barriers for women and other groups?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I think how we got into this mess from a historical education side is actually really interesting. I've been reading this history of science education books. Particularly in the UK, but I think it would hold internationally, in the early 1900s, men were all learning Latin and Greek, that was considered as exceptionally important for men to learn Latin in Greek.

Women were doing the physical sciences, the chemical sciences, and doing them quite extraordinarily well. Then there was this shift over the early 1900s when women were pushed.

First, men went off to war in the first World War, and then the second World War women momentarily got their opportunity to study science in university.

But then there was this movement in the early 1900s towards the 1950s where women really were only recognized and honored for their careers as homemakers, for their careers, as mothers, for their contributions to society that were basically all caring responsibilities.

Then women were pushed out of these subjects that they could have gone on to have really high achieving and really extraordinary careers in. I think from an education side and an education perspective, it hasn't always been this bad, but recently, the way that we teach, the way that we force young people to specialize, the huge shortage we have of skilled specialist teachers, that critical person who inspires you in the classroom, who says “Physics is this cool, exciting, extraordinary subject that will let you save the planet.” It will let you explore outer space. It will let you understand biology better.

You need a really good teacher to be that inspirational spark to make it happen. If we have a society that has systematically undervalued and underfunded our teachers, then we're always going to have an issue.

I think that older generations have quite a lot of stereotypes about these subjects and the types of people who do them. Society has an awful lot of these loaded gender stereotypes.

Then you only need to go into these academic institutions, particularly the most prestigious ones, the ones where people have the most access to resource and see the huge inequity and inequality that still exists, the huge discrimination against women or against people of color from being offered less prestigious positions to being offered an allocated smaller labs to be given less funding.

But there are still these barriers, and in my mind, they should be relatively easy to fit. It should be easy to say, "Let's do this, pay transparently. Let's make sure everyone who's starting on this fellowship has the same size lab, or the same access to studentships, or the same invitations to privileged networks."

But we haven't done that. Institutions haven't done that. Society hasn't done that. Now I feel like there's this movement, this uprising that's happening amongst people from historically marginalized groups to say, "Our voices are coming together now empowered quite a lot to social media, and we're going to make those louder and we're going to be heard."

I think you're seeing this shift happen, a really exciting shift that is happening right now, but historically it's just not happened before. People haven't been connected in that way.

Guy Kawasaki:

Despite all the gloom and doom about social media, you just painted a very optimistic pitch curve about how social media is empowering disempowered people.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I think it definitely is. I think it's definitely giving people this opportunity to connect, to find like-minded people, even if they're in a different continent or in a different time zone. I've certainly connected with outstanding leading voices in science and in academia and in inequity and in policy through interacting with social media.

It's broadened my network. It's broadened my perspective. There are dark sides of it for sure, and I hate to see what's happening to it at the moment. I think particularly Twitter has been such a crucial key to an awful lot of people opening doors who wouldn't have had that opportunity otherwise.

But I do think there's the toxic side of it, and it's really hard to balance it.

There's the supportive visionary, “Let's get together and let's change this side.” There's the Black Lives Matter. There's all of the progressive movement, that school strike for climate that happened, that was galvanized, that was supported, that was amplified because of social media.

But then you have horrific things to happen to people, particularly young people online, particularly people who present themselves in certain ways. It's really hard to strike a balance. Humans hate doing anything to within their limits.

We have to push everything to excess, and I think we've all become a bit hooked on this social media thing because of that. Yeah, it's a tricky one.

Guy Kawasaki:

Is Twitter your platform of choice for the kind of work that you do?

Dr. Jessica Wade:

If we'd recorded this like a month ago or two months ago, 100 percent loved it, felt it was a really positive space and we were all connecting and everyone was still sharing experiences and opportunities. It feels very different now.

It feels like an awful lot of the voices that I trusted most on there, the huge people who are involved with ethical policies for social media sites and moderation, people who are in any way critical of some of the major tech platforms. I followed them quite intently on Twitter before, and now those voices are going, and now I feel like the mood has certainly shifted, and it's really sad.

I think that for early career scientists, for scientists whose voices hadn't had that platform and that opportunity before Twitter was that galvanizing force, and now I feel like it's disintegrating, it doesn't feel right anymore.

Potentially, we'll all migrate into move some somewhere else. The thing about it that was really remarkable is academia can feel very hierarchical. You've got the named prestigious chairs, you've got professors, you've got provost, you've got this hierarchy of privilege.

As an undergraduate or a postgraduate or a PhD, it's sometimes really hard to get onto that ladder. Twitter was this great leveler, but I could go and speak to a Nobel Prize winner, or I could go and speak to a professor at a really prestigious university or an editor of really big publishing.

Now I think for early career people or for people trying to build those networks, they won't have that opportunity. I'm hoping something comes out of the ashes of it, but it was my major platform, and now it doesn't feel right.

Guy Kawasaki:

My favorite and main platform is LinkedIn, because I believe that the probability of someone being who he or she says he or she is much higher on LinkedIn than anywhere else. I think that LinkedIn, if they would just wake up, could take the place of Twitter, but-

Dr. Jessica Wade:

It could.

Guy Kawasaki:

... That's not a commonly held belief.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

Yeah, right now it feels a little bit stiff. It might do. I'm really terrified to go on LinkedIn, because my capacity is being able to do things, and I'm terrified if I'm on LinkedIn, more people ask me to do things more of the time, whether that's, "Will you come and speak to our high school students? Will you come and get this seminar? Will you come and train people how to edit Wikipedia?"

I get too many emails like that. I'm just worried LinkedIn would be one more place that people could ask me to do things. I just want to be in the lab. Maybe I'll have to get on there, but for now, you are right. They could capitalize on it. It's the beginning of the pandemic, and Skype could have nailed it, but everyone went to Zoom.

LinkedIn can probably nail this migration, but everyone's going to this bizarre platform that no one knows how to use. That's massive.

Guy Kawasaki:

That's a very good analogy, that when the pandemic happened, why didn't Skype become Zoom?

Dr. Jessica Wade:


Guy Kawasaki:

I don't know the answer to that question.

Yeah, why not? They probably had a man running it. That's why.

Dr. Jessica Wade:

I'll have to look on Wikipedia to find out.

Guy Kawasaki:

We know it'll be properly cited and fact-checked.

That's all the time we have for today, but what a fantastic conversation we've had with Jessica Wade. It's truly inspiring to hear about her work as a Wikipedian physicist, researcher, author, and advocate for diversity in science.

I hope you enjoyed learning about her journey and her passion for making a difference.

Remember, as Jessica said, not only do we not have enough women in science, but we aren't doing enough to celebrate the ones we have.

Let's all do our part in promoting and celebrating the contribution of women in science.

I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. My thanks to Peg Fitzpatrick, Jeff Sieh, Shannon Hernandez, Luis Magana, Alexis Nishimura, and the drop-in Queen, DIQ, of Santa Cruz, Madisun Nuismer.

Until the next episode, Mahalo and Aloha.