Meet the Physicist Who Has Created 1600+ Wikipedia Entries for Important Female & Minority Scientists

I find noth­ing more reward­ing, hon­est­ly, than see­ing peo­ple get rec­og­nized and cham­pi­oned for what they’ve done. — Dr. Jess Wade

As far as cen­turies go, the 21st one is a rel­a­tive­ly good time to be a girl with an inter­est in STEM.

Mod­ern sci­ence-lov­ing girls find them­selves born into a world where books and TV shows cel­e­brat­ing their inter­est pro­lif­er­ate. Their class­rooms are fes­tooned with posters of trail­blaz­ing female sci­en­tists. Even Bar­bie has ditched her bathing suit for a lab coat and a micro­scope.

You’d think Wikipedia would have kept pace in this cli­mate.

And it has…thanks almost entire­ly to the efforts of Dr. Jess Wade, a 33-year-old Impe­r­i­al Col­lege Research Fel­low who spends her days inves­ti­gat­ing spin selec­tive charge trans­port through chi­ral sys­tems in the Depart­ment of Mate­ri­als.

Her evenings, how­ev­er, belong to Wikipedia.

That’s when she drafts entries for under rec­og­nized female sci­en­tists and sci­en­tists of col­or.

“I had a tar­get for doing one a day, but some­times I get too excit­ed and do three,” she told The Guardian in 2018.

To date she’s added more than 1,600 names, striv­ing to make their biogra­phies as ful­ly fleshed out as any of the write ups for the white male sci­en­tists who flour­ish on the site.

This requires some foren­sic dig­ging. Dis­cov­er­ing a subject’s maid­en name is often the crit­i­cal step to find­ing her PhD the­sis and ear­ly influ­ences.

A hand­ful of Wade’s entries have been strick­en for the tru­ly mad­den­ing rea­son that their sub­jects are too obscure to war­rant inclu­sion.

Wade’s own Wikipedia entry notes the hypocrisy of this log­ic, refer­ring read­ers to a 2019 Chem­istry World arti­cle in which she’s quot­ed:

When you make a page and it is dis­put­ed for dele­tion, it is not only annoy­ing because your work is being delet­ed. It’s also incred­i­bly intru­sive and degrad­ing to have some­one dis­cuss whether someone’s notable enough to be on Wikipedia – a web­site that has pages about almost every pop song, peo­ple who are extras in films no one has ever heard of and peo­ple who were in sports teams that nev­er scored.

Below are just a few of the 1600+ female sci­en­tists she’s intro­duced to a wider audi­ence. While his­to­ry abounds with near­ly invis­i­ble names whose dis­cov­er­ies and con­tri­bu­tions have been inad­e­quate­ly rec­og­nized, or all too fre­quent­ly attrib­uted to male col­leagues, these women are all con­tem­po­rary.

Nuclear chemist Clarice Phelps was part of the team that helped dis­cov­er, ten­nes­sine, the sec­ond heav­i­est known ele­ment.

Math­e­mati­cian Gladys Mae West was one of the devel­op­ers of GPS.

Phys­i­cal chemist June Lind­sey played a key role in the dis­cov­ery of the DNA dou­ble helix.

Oceanog­ra­ph­er and cli­mate sci­en­tist Kim Cobb uses corals and cave sta­lag­mites to inform pro­jec­tions of future cli­mate change.

Vac­ci­nol­o­gist Sarah Gilbert led the team that devel­oped the Oxford/AstraZeneca vac­cine (and inspired a Bar­bie cre­at­ed in her image, though you can be assured that the Wikipedia entry Wade researched and wrote for her came first.)

Wade’s hope is that a high­er rep­re­sen­ta­tion of female sci­en­tists and sci­en­tists of col­or on a crowd­sourced, eas­i­ly-accessed plat­form like Wikipedia will deal a blow to ingrained gen­der bias, expand­ing pub­lic per­cep­tion of who can par­tic­i­pate in these sorts of careers and encour­ag­ing young girls to pur­sue these cours­es of study. As she told the New York Times:

I’ve always done a lot of work to try to get young peo­ple — par­tic­u­lar­ly girls and chil­dren from low­er socioe­co­nom­ic back­grounds and peo­ple of col­or — to think about study­ing physics at high school, because physics is still very much that kind of elit­ist, white boy sub­ject.

Our sci­ence can only ben­e­fit the whole of soci­ety if it’s done by the whole of soci­ety. And that’s not cur­rent­ly the case.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, Wade is often asked how to fos­ter and sup­port girls with an inter­est in sci­ence, beyond upping the num­ber of role mod­els avail­able to them on Wikipedia.

The way for­ward, she told NBC, is not atten­tion-get­ting “whiz bang” one-off events and assem­blies, but rather pay­ing skilled teach­ers as well as bankers, to men­tor stu­dents on their course of study, and also help them apply for grants, fel­low­ships and oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties. As stu­dents pre­pare to enter the work­force, clear­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ed sex­u­al harass­ment poli­cies and assis­tance with child­care and elder­care become cru­cial:

Ulti­mate­ly, we don’t only need to increase the num­ber of girls choos­ing sci­ence, we need to increase the pro­por­tion of women who stay in sci­ence.

Lis­ten to Jess Wade talk about her Wikipedia project on NPR’s sci­ence pro­gram Short Wave here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Women Sci­en­tists Launch a Data­base Fea­tur­ing the Work of 9,000 Women Work­ing in the Sci­ences

“The Matil­da Effect”: How Pio­neer­ing Women Sci­en­tists Have Been Denied Recog­ni­tion and Writ­ten Out of Sci­ence His­to­ry

The Lit­tle-Known Female Sci­en­tists Who Mapped 400,000 Stars Over a Cen­tu­ry Ago: An Intro­duc­tion to the “Har­vard Com­put­ers”

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Wikipedia’s Surprising Power in Shaping Science: A New MIT Shows How Wikipedia Shapes Scientific Research

If you were in high school or col­lege when Wikipedia emerged, you’ll remem­ber how stren­u­ous­ly we were cau­tioned against using such an “unre­li­able source” for our assign­ments. If you went on to a career in sci­ence, how­ev­er, you now know how impor­tant a role Wikipedia plays in even pro­fes­sion­al research. It may thus sur­prise you to learn that stu­dents still get more or less the same warn­ing about what, two decades lat­er, has become the largest ency­clo­pe­dia and fifth most-vis­it­ed web site in the world. “Many of us use Wikipedia as a source of infor­ma­tion when we want a quick expla­na­tion of some­thing,” say MIT’s cita­tion guide­lines. “How­ev­er, Wikipedia or oth­er wikis, col­lab­o­ra­tive infor­ma­tion sites con­tributed to by a vari­ety of peo­ple, are not con­sid­ered reli­able sources for aca­d­e­m­ic cita­tion.”

That quo­ta­tion appears, some­what iron­i­cal­ly, in a recent MIT research paper called “Sci­ence is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evi­dence From a Ran­dom­ized Con­trol Tri­al.” Its authors, Neil C. Thomp­son from MIT and Dou­glas Han­ley from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh, use both “Big Data” and exper­i­men­tal approach­es to sup­port their claim that “incor­po­rat­ing ideas into a Wikipedia arti­cle leads to those ideas being used more in the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture.”

Test­ing the exis­tence of an under­ly­ing causal rela­tion­ship, they “com­mis­sioned sub­ject mat­ter experts to cre­ate new Wikipedia arti­cles on sci­en­tif­ic top­ics not cov­ered in Wikipedia.” Half of these arti­cles were added to Wikipedia, and half retained as a con­trol group. “Review­ing the rel­e­vant jour­nal arti­cles pub­lished lat­er, they find that “the word-usage pat­terns from the treat­ment group show up more in the prose in the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture than do those from the con­trol group.”

In oth­er words, Wikipedia does indeed appear to shape sci­ence — or as Whar­ton pro­fes­sor Ethan Mol­lick put it on Twit­ter, “The secret heart of acad­e­mia is… Wikipedia.” Expand­ing on the idea, he added that “Wikipedia is used like a review arti­cle,” which sur­veys the cur­rent state of a par­tic­u­lar sci­en­tif­ic field. “Review arti­cles are extreme­ly influ­en­tial on the direc­tion of sci­en­tif­ic research, and while Wikipedia arti­cles are gen­er­al­ly less influ­en­tial, there are more of them, they are more up-to-date, and they are free.” That last point — and the implied con­trast to tra­di­tion­al, sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals with their often shock­ing­ly high sub­scrip­tion fees — becomes a key point in Thomp­son and Han­ley’s advo­ca­cy for pub­lic repos­i­to­ries of knowl­edge in gen­er­al, with their pow­er to gal­va­nize research across the whole world. The pow­er of open cul­ture is con­sid­er­able; the pow­er of open sci­ence, per­haps even more so.

You can read Han­ley and Thomp­son’s study on the pow­er of Wikipedia free online: “Sci­ence is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evi­dence From a Ran­dom­ized Con­trol Tri­al.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Wikipedia: A Web Site That Turns Every Wikipedia Edit Into Ambi­ent Music in Real Time

NASA’s New Online Archive Puts a Wealth of Free Sci­ence Arti­cles Online

Roy­al Soci­ety Opens Online Archive; Puts 60,000 Papers Online

Free Online Cours­es: The Sci­ences

200 Free Text­books: A Meta Col­lec­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge: Part 2

Edi­tor’s Note: This month, MIT Open Learning’s Peter B. Kauf­man has pub­lished The New Enlight­en­ment and the Fight to Free Knowl­edge, a book that takes a his­tor­i­cal look at the pow­er­ful forces that have pur­pose­ly crip­pled our efforts to share knowl­edge wide­ly and freely. His new work also maps out what we can do about it. In the com­ing days, Peter will be mak­ing his book avail­able through Open Cul­ture by pub­lish­ing three short essays along with links to cor­re­spond­ing sec­tions of his book. Today, you can read his sec­ond essay “On Wikipedia, the Ency­clopédie, and the Ver­i­fi­a­bil­i­ty of Infor­ma­tion” (below), plus down­load the sec­ond chap­ter of his book here. Read his first essay, “The Mon­ster­verse” here, and pur­chase the entire book online.

When the ideas that mat­ter most to us – lib­er­als, democ­rats, pro­gres­sives, repub­li­cans, all in the orig­i­nal sense of the words – were first put for­ward in soci­ety in order to change soci­ety, they were advanced fore­most in print. The new rules, new def­i­n­i­tions, and new cod­i­cils of human and civ­il rights that under­gird many of the free­doms we val­ue today had as their heart text and its main deliv­ery mech­a­nism, the print­ing press.

In that sense the first Enlight­en­ment was based upon the foun­da­tion of the print­ed word. And of the 18th century’s con­tri­bu­tions to knowl­edge and soci­ety – Newton’s physics, Montesquieu’s laws, Linnaeus’s tax­onomies, Rousseau’s polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, the Dec­la­ra­tion of the Rights of Man – there was per­haps no greater print­ed offer­ing than the 22-mil­lion-word Ency­clopédie that the French Enlight­en­ment philoso­phers start­ing writ­ing, com­pil­ing, and offer­ing to the pub­lic in 1750.

The Ency­clopédie was mon­u­men­tal. Not just from a con­tent-assem­bly per­spec­tive – an effort to gath­er all the world’s knowl­edge and to print and pub­lish it – but also from a sociopo­lit­i­cal one, giv­en the pow­er­ful forces sup­press­ing knowl­edge that such an effort would pro­voke. The Ency­clopédie found the state and the church ban­ning at one time or anoth­er almost every one of its 72,000 arti­cles, 18,000 pages, and 28 vol­umes and invok­ing a hun­dred ways to for­bid its dis­tri­b­u­tion.

The encyclopedia’s entire approach to col­lect­ing and pre­sent­ing knowl­edge was rad­i­cal.  The arti­cles pre­sent­ed truths – some hereti­cal, some blas­phe­mous – that aston­ished con­tem­po­rary read­ers.  And its inno­v­a­tive approach to the ver­i­fi­ca­tion its own con­tent, to prov­ing what could be proved, which was real­ly its nuclear core, rocked the West­ern world.

The Ency­clopédie smote 18th-cen­tu­ry ortho­doxy with ink-and-paper sledge­ham­mers. The arti­cle on “RAISON,” or “REASON,” for exam­ple, told every read­er who for cen­turies had been steeped in church doc­trine and the divine rights of roy­als that:

No propo­si­tion can be accept­ed as divine rev­e­la­tion if it con­tra­dicts what is known to us, either by imme­di­ate intu­ition, as in the case of self-evi­dent propo­si­tions, or by obvi­ous deduc­tions of rea­son, as in demon­stra­tions.  It would be ridicu­lous to give pref­er­ence to such rev­e­la­tions, because the evi­dence that caus­es us to adopt them can­not sur­pass the cer­tain­ty of our intu­itive or demon­stra­tive knowl­edge…

Cler­ics and kings, need­less to say, were not fans. Arti­cles on reli­gion, phi­los­o­phy, and pol­i­tics and soci­ety chal­lenged the gov­ern­ment and the church even as the cen­sors watched.  Direct swipes at the monar­chy and the church appeared even where you might not expect – in arti­cles on CONSCIENCE, LIBERTÉ DE; CROISADES; FANATISME; TOLÉRANCE; etc.  The entry for FORTUNE spot­light­ed the gross inequal­i­ties of wealth already evi­dent in 18th-cen­tu­ry Europe. And a zing­ing con­dem­na­tion of slav­ery in the arti­cle on the SLAVE TRADE made few friends among any who had a hand any­where in the busi­ness.

Slave trade is the pur­chase of Negroes made by Euro­peans on the coasts of Africa, who then employ these unfor­tu­nate men as slaves in their colonies. This pur­chase of Negroes to reduce them into slav­ery […] vio­lates all reli­gion, morals, nat­ur­al law, and human rights.

The Ency­clopédistes announced from day one that this new work would be, as we would say today, fact-based. There would be an under­ly­ing and over­ar­ch­ing com­mit­ment on the part of all con­trib­u­tors and the work as a whole to the ver­i­fi­ca­tion of all of its source mate­ri­als. Ver­i­fi­ca­tion is poten­tial­ly “a long and painful process,” Diderot wrote in his intro­duc­tion to the whole enter­prise – the famous “Pre­lim­i­nary Dis­course” that these philoso­phers used to sell in the whole project:

We have tried as much as pos­si­ble to avoid this incon­ve­nience by cit­ing direct­ly, in the body of the arti­cles, the authors on whose evi­dence we have relied and by quot­ing their own text when it is nec­es­sary.

We have every­where com­pared opin­ions, weighed rea­sons, and pro­posed means of doubt­ing or of escap­ing from doubt; at times we have even set­tled con­test­ed mat­ters.… Facts are cit­ed, exper­i­ments com­pared, and meth­ods elab­o­rat­ed … in order to excite genius to open unknown routes, and to advance onward to new dis­cov­er­ies, using the place where great men have end­ed their careers as the first step.

What this meant in prac­tice was rev­o­lu­tion­ary.  There would be no accept­ed truths but for those that could be proven and cit­ed. Fact-based ver­sus faith- and belief-based: the start and spark of the Enlight­en­ment.  One of Diderot’s biog­ra­phers explains that approx­i­mate­ly 23,000 arti­cles had at least one cross-ref­er­ence to anoth­er arti­cle in one of the encyclopedia’s 28 vol­umes. “The total num­ber of links – some arti­cles had five or six – reached almost 62,000.” And all while retain­ing a sly sense of humor.  The arti­cle on CANNIBALS end­ed with “the mis­chie­vous cross-ref­er­ence,” as anoth­er his­to­ri­an would lat­er describe it: “See Eucharist, Com­mu­nion, Altar, etc.”

That com­mit­ment to ref­er­ence cita­tion con­tin­ues in the Enlightenment’s most impor­tant suc­ces­sor project – Wikipedia, found­ed by Jim­my Wales and col­leagues 20 years ago this year. It’s the foun­da­tion of what today’s Wikipedia terms ver­i­fi­a­bil­i­ty, and in many key ways it’s the foun­da­tion for truth in knowl­edge and soci­ety today:

“Ver­i­fi­a­bil­i­ty” … mean[s] that mate­r­i­al added to Wikipedia must have been pub­lished pre­vi­ous­ly by a reli­able source. Edi­tors may not add their own views to arti­cles sim­ply because they believe them to be cor­rect, and may not remove sources’ views from arti­cles sim­ply because they dis­agree with them.

[V]erifiability is a nec­es­sary con­di­tion (a min­i­mum require­ment) for the inclu­sion of mate­r­i­al, though it is not a suf­fi­cient con­di­tion (it may not be enough).

In 1999, free-soft­ware activist Richard M. Stall­man called for this uni­ver­sal online ency­clo­pe­dia cov­er­ing all areas of knowl­edge, along with a com­plete library of instruc­tion­al cours­es – and, equal­ly impor­tant, a move­ment to devel­op it, “much as the Free Soft­ware Move­ment gave us the free oper­at­ing sys­tem GNU/Linux.”  That call (repro­duced in full as the appen­dix in my book) is cred­it­ed by Wikipedia as the ori­gins of the work that is now the largest knowl­edge resource in his­to­ry.

The free ency­clo­pe­dia will pro­vide an alter­na­tive to the restrict­ed ones that media cor­po­ra­tions will write.

Stall­man pub­lished a list of what that the ency­clo­pe­dia would need to do, what sort of free­doms it would need to give to the pub­lic, and how it could get start­ed.

An ency­clo­pe­dia locat­ed every­where.

An ency­clo­pe­dia open to anyone—but, most promis­ing­ly, to teach­ers and stu­dents.

An ency­clo­pe­dia built of small steps.

An ency­clo­pe­dia built on the long view: “If it takes twen­ty years to com­plete the free ency­clo­pe­dia, that will be but an instant in the his­to­ry of lit­er­a­ture and civ­i­liza­tion.”

An ency­clo­pe­dia con­tain­ing one or more arti­cles for any top­ic you would expect to find in anoth­er ency­clo­pe­dia – “for exam­ple, bird watch­ers might even­tu­al­ly con­tribute an arti­cle on each species of bird, along with pic­tures and record­ings of its calls” – and “cours­es for all aca­d­e­m­ic sub­jects.”

1999, and it sounds famil­iar. Wikipedia, of course, is one of the world’s most pop­u­lar web­sites (the world’s most pop­u­lar non­com­mer­cial one) now and an irre­place­able source of ver­i­fi­able infor­ma­tion – open to any and all.  Its process­es are trans­par­ent, and thanks to hack­ers affil­i­at­ed with the project, you now can watch and lis­ten to its edits live online:

Com­mu­ni­ties that work with Wikipedia are like­ly to ben­e­fit from this com­mit­ment to cita­tion, and new col­lab­o­ra­tions that take effect around it are like­ly to ben­e­fit soci­ety. The Inter­net Archive is work­ing with Wikipedia now, dig­i­tiz­ing books so that links to sources in Wikipedia link all the way through to the books them­selves – and ren­der images and text on the cit­ed pages. The ref­er­ence link to a biog­ra­phy by Tay­lor Branch at the bot­tom of a Wikipedia arti­cle on Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., for exam­ple, now hotlinks to the read­able book online at  That work is essen­tial.  “Only the use of foot­notes and the research tech­niques asso­ci­at­ed with them” – as Prince­ton his­to­ri­an Antho­ny Grafton writes – “makes it pos­si­ble to resist the efforts of mod­ern gov­ern­ments, tyran­ni­cal and demo­c­ra­t­ic alike, to con­ceal the com­pro­mis­es they have made, the deaths they have caused, the tor­tures they or their allies have inflict­ed.…  Only the use of foot­notes enables his­to­ri­ans to make their texts not mono­logues but con­ver­sa­tions, in which mod­ern schol­ars, their pre­de­ces­sors, and their sub­jects all take part.”

Can we take ver­i­fi­a­bil­i­ty fur­ther now, espe­cial­ly as our epis­temic cri­sis deep­ens?  Can we improve cita­tion for the medi­um that’s begin­ning to over­take us all, which is video?  Can we make resources on the web – also a new thing – ver­i­fi­able?  What is a cita­tion like in a … pod­cast?

The great his­to­ri­an of the Ency­clopédie, Robert Darn­ton, tells us in his new book, “When the print­ed word appeared in France in 1470, the state did not know what to make of it.”  So, 700 years from now, what will tomorrow’s his­to­ri­ans say about us?  Fur­ther thoughts about how we can start more con­scious­ly col­lab­o­rat­ing with one anoth­er and pro­duc­ing – but imme­di­ate­ly – for our bur­geon­ing knowl­edge net­works: next week.

Peter B. Kauf­man works at MIT Open Learn­ing and is the author of The New Enlight­en­ment and the Fight to Free Knowl­edge. This is the sec­ond of three arti­cles. You can find the first one in the Relat­eds below:

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The New Enlight­en­ment and the Fight to Free Knowl­edge: Part 1

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Voltaire: Enlight­en­ment Philoso­pher of Plu­ral­ism & Tol­er­ance

The Diderot Effect: Enlight­en­ment Philoso­pher Denis Diderot Explains the Psy­chol­o­gy of Con­sumerism & Our Waste­ful Spend­ing

Social Media in the Age of Enlight­en­ment and Rev­o­lu­tion

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The CIA’s Former Chief of Disguise Show How Spies Use Costumes in Undercover Operations

Think on this as you ready your Hal­loween fin­ery. Some­times it’s not a case of win­ning a cos­tume con­test, or impress­ing your friends with your wit­ty take on cur­rent events or pop cul­ture.

Some­times, mas­quer­ade is a thin line between life and death.

The CIA’s for­mer Chief of Dis­guise, Jon­na Mendez, rose up through the ranks, hav­ing signed on as recep­tion­ist short­ly after her fiancé revealed—three days before the wedding—that he was actu­al­ly an under­cov­er agent.

As Chief of Dis­guise, her mis­sion was to pro­tect case offi­cers in dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions, as well as for­eign sources who rou­tine­ly put their lives at risk by meet­ing with Amer­i­can oper­a­tives.

Trans­form­ing their appear­ance was an addi­tive proposition—while it’s dif­fi­cult to make some­one short­er, slim­mer, or younger, it’s not dif­fi­cult to ren­der them taller, heav­ier, old­er…

In her expe­ri­ence, women are eas­i­ly dis­guised as men. (She shared with The New York Times’ Matthew Rosen­berg how she her­self passed unde­tect­ed in male mufti, thanks pri­mar­i­ly to a lit cig­ar.)

Men have a tougher time pass­ing as women. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race might take excep­tion to this posi­tion, were it not for the asser­tion that blend­ing in is key.

The goal is to be for­get­table, not fab­u­lous.

For Amer­i­cans abroad, this pos­es cer­tain cul­tur­al chal­lenges.

Mendez stress­es that dis­guise is much more than a sim­ple facial trans­for­ma­tion, involv­ing make­up, false hair, and pros­thet­ics.

It’s dress, car­riage, gait, jew­el­ry, scent…

The biggest Amer­i­can give­away is our shoes. An Ital­ian civil­ian can peg ‘em with one swift glance.

Pass­ing requires fur­ther behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tions in the realms of table man­ners, gait, and even hang­ing out. (Euro­peans dis­trib­ute their weight even­ly, where­as Amer­i­cans lean.)

To fly beneath the radar, the dis­guised oper­a­tive must shoot to trans­form every aspect of their appear­ance. Imag­ine a sur­vey where­in the par­tic­i­pant recalls every phys­i­cal aspect of some­one they’ve just encoun­tered. The goal is to nudge that par­tic­i­pant into answer­ing every ques­tion incor­rect­ly.

What col­or are your eyes? Your hair? How much do you weigh? How tall are you? How old?  How would you describe your nose? Your voice? Your cloth­ing?

Change it.

Change it all.

You can do so by low tech meth­ods, using what­ev­er is on hand. Mendez once maneu­vered an agent out of a tight spot on the Sub-Con­ti­nent, by impro­vis­ing a quick change with Dr. Scholl’s pow­der and cos­met­ics col­lect­ed from local CIA wives.

She cred­its her own sec­ond hus­band, CIA “mas­ter of dis­guise” Tony Mendez (the inspi­ra­tion for Ben Affleck’s char­ac­ter in Argo) with many trade secrets she put into reg­u­lar prac­tice: den­tal facades, speech-alter­ing arti­fi­cial palettes, pros­thet­ics…

At the high end is the mask she wore to brief for­mer CIA Chief, Pres­i­dent George HW Bush, on devel­op­ments with­in the dis­guise pro­gram. The Pres­i­dent was none the wis­er.

Mean­while, a masked Amer­i­can agent chucked his mask under a Moscow rock when dan­ger com­pelled him to scup­per his mis­sion mid­way through. That mask now resides in the KGB muse­um where Mendez can­not vis­it it.

Check out the Mendezes’ book Spy­dust for more infor­ma­tion on their adven­tures in the field.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read the CIA’s Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al: A Time­less Guide to Sub­vert­ing Any Orga­ni­za­tion with “Pur­pose­ful Stu­pid­i­ty” (1944)

The CIA Assess­es the Pow­er of French Post-Mod­ern Philoso­phers: Read a New­ly Declas­si­fied CIA Report from 1985

Declas­si­fied CIA Doc­u­ment Reveals That Ben Franklin (and His Big Ego) Put U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty at Risk

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Novem­ber 12 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Creative Commons Announces “School of Open” with Courses to Focus on Digital Openness

Just in time to cel­e­brate Open Edu­ca­tion Week, here comes a new ini­tia­tive, the School of Open, a learn­ing envi­ron­ment focused on increas­ing our under­stand­ing of “open­ness” and the ben­e­fits it brings to cre­ativ­i­ty and edu­ca­tion in the dig­i­tal age.

Devel­oped by the col­lab­o­ra­tive edu­ca­tion plat­form Peer to Peer Uni­ver­si­ty (P2PU) with orga­ni­za­tion­al sup­port from Cre­ative Com­mons, the School of Open aims to spread under­stand­ing of the pow­er of this brave new world through free online class­es.

We hear about it all the time: Uni­ver­sal access to research, edu­ca­tion and culture—all good things, with­out a doubt—made pos­si­ble by things like open source soft­ware, open edu­ca­tion­al resources and the like.

But what are these var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties and what do they mean? How can we all learn more and get involved?

School of Open has rolled the con­ver­sa­tion back to square one so that under­stand­ing the basics is easy. Through a list of new cours­es cre­at­ed by users and experts, peo­ple can learn more about what “open­ness” means and how to apply it. There are stand-alone cours­es on copy­right, writ­ing for Wikipedia, the col­lab­o­ra­tive envi­ron­ment of open sci­ence, and the process behind mak­ing open video.

These free cours­es start March 18 (sign up by click­ing the “start course” but­ton by Sun­day, March 17):

These free cours­es are open for you to take at any time:

The approach at P2PU encour­ages peo­ple to work togeth­er, assess one another’s work, and pro­vide con­struc­tive feed­back. It’s a great place to learn how to design your own course, because the design process is bro­ken down step-by-step, and course con­tent is vet­ted by users and P2PU staff. The tuto­r­i­al shows you how the process works.

P2PU is also a place to learn more about what is open con­tent and what is not. Par­tic­i­pants in the ongo­ing course Open Detec­tive learn to iden­ti­fy open source media and then demon­strate mas­tery by mak­ing some­thing of their own using only open con­tent. What if you’re real­ly, real­ly proud of the resource you cre­ate in Open Detec­tive? Take it to the next lev­el and get a Cre­ative Com­mons license to make your work avail­able with­out giv­ing up full copy­right. You guessed it, there’s a course for that too.

Open Edu­ca­tion Week is in full swing (through Mon­day the 18th). There’s a full sched­ule of webi­na­rs to check out, includ­ing dis­cus­sions about the impli­ca­tions of open access for polit­i­cal struc­tures like the World Bank, and the impact of open, glob­al teach­ing in Syr­ia.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Total Noob to Learn­ing Online? P2PU’s Peer-to-Peer Cours­es Hold Your Hand

700 Free Online Cours­es

A Meta List of MOOCs

What Entered the Pub­lic Domain in 2013? Zip, Nada, Zilch!

Noam Chom­sky Spells Out the Pur­pose of Edu­ca­tion

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Vis­it her web­site at .

The State of Wikipedia Animated

Amidst the cel­e­bra­tion of Wikipedi­a’s 10th anniver­sary, Jim­my Wales has nar­rat­ed an ani­mat­ed his­to­ry of the web-based ency­clo­pe­dia, and where he sees it head­ing in the future. One place you can expect to find Wikipedia going (some­thing slight­ly hint­ed at here) is the class­room. In the months ahead, look for Wikipedia to devel­op an “open edu­ca­tion­al resource plat­form” that will help stu­dents make bet­ter use of Wikipedia in the class­room, if not con­tribute to writ­ing stronger articles/entries. The Wired Cam­pus has more on this new ini­tia­tive com­ing down the pike.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Big Thinkers on Wikipedia’s 10th Anniver­sary

Big Thinkers on Wikipedia’s 10th Anniversary

Wikipedia just turned 10 this week­end. And, to mark the occa­sion, The Atlantic asked ten “All-Star Thinkers” respond to a sim­ple ques­tion: “What do you think about Wikipedia?” The respons­es? Well, they express the usu­al range of opin­ions, from appre­ci­a­tion to some­thing approach­ing dis­dain. Take for exam­ple the two excerpts below:

Yochai Ben­kler, pro­fes­sor, Har­vard Law School: That’s the biggest gift that Wikipedia has giv­en to us — a vision of prac­ti­cal utopia. What gift can we best give back? Per­haps it is just this, to rec­og­nize the trans­for­ma­tive role that thou­sands of indi­vid­u­als have played for all of us in how we can imag­ine our lives togeth­er as pro­duc­tive, engaged, social beings.

Jonathan Lethem, nov­el­ist, Pomona pro­fes­sor: With all respect to the noble vol­un­teer army, I call it death by pedantry. Ques­tion: had­n’t we more or less come to under­stand that no piece of extend­ed descrip­tion of real­i­ty is free of agen­das or ide­olo­gies? This lie, which any Ency­clo­pe­dia implic­it­ly tells, is cubed by the infi­nite regress of Wikipedia tin­ker­ing-unto-medi­oc­rity.

Oth­er con­trib­u­tors include Clay Shirky, NYU jour­nal­ism prof Jay Rosen, and Mari­ette DiChristi­na (edi­tor-in-chief, Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can). Get the full list here.

Open Video Coming to Wikipedia

Wikipedia is now open­ing the online ency­clo­pe­dia to video, giv­ing con­trib­u­tors a new way to con­vey infor­ma­tion in a rich­er way. And they’re mak­ing a point of using video in an open for­mat (Ogg The­o­ra).

Among the con­flu­ence of fac­tors com­ing togeth­er in 2010 are: 1) the grow­ing aware­ness that video is the dom­i­nant medi­um of the web and that video can help make Wikipedia arti­cles even rich­er; 2) the devel­op­ment of open source play­ers and codecs (alter­na­tives to Flash, Quick­time, Win­dows Media, and H.264, 3); the intro­duc­tion of pub­lic brows­er tools—Firefox’s Fire­fogg exten­sion, for example—for upload­ing and play­ing non­pro­pri­etary video for­mats; 4) the will­ing­ness of non­prof­its like the Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry Cul­ture Foun­da­tion and the Open Video Alliance and for-prof­its like Kaltura and Intel­li­gent Tele­vi­sion to ded­i­cate them­selves to open video; and the pro­vi­sion of strate­gic fund­ing from the Mozil­la Foun­da­tion and Ford Foun­da­tion, among oth­ers, to sup­port devel­op­ers, pro­gram­mers, and activists.  As Wikipedia board mem­ber S. J. Klein explains in a recent Open Video Alliance video short, the day is fast com­ing where video will be as easy for users to write, edit, anno­tate, and remix as text is today. (You can find more details on the cam­paign here and here.)

What are the rec­om­men­da­tions for video con­tributed to Wikipedia? They should be relat­ed to cur­rent arti­cles, short and under 100 MB, free, and avail­able to share and reuse (offered under a Cre­ative Com­mons BY-SA or equiv­a­lent license). In com­ing weeks new videos are expect­ed to pro­lif­er­ate and new strate­gies will be unfurled for work­ing with edu­ca­tion­al repos­i­to­ries of lega­cy video.

This post was con­tributed by Peter Kauf­man, the CEO and pres­i­dent of Intel­li­gent Tele­vi­sion, who shares our pas­sion for thought­ful media.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.