Friday, June 12, 2015

Why Women Don't Code. Echidne Answering Comments From Another Reality.

I don't usually write blog posts about anonymous comments elsewhere, but these particular ones are too juicy to miss, because they give us the condensed arguments from anti-feminists as to the reasons why coding is so male-dominated, and thus offer me a chance to respond to those arguments.

The first common argument is that girls just don't like to code.  Here's the current version of it, from Eschaton comments:

Are we really going to pretend that as many women as men want to code? For fuck's sake.
That's worth pondering about.  Note, first, that there was this magical era, about thirty years ago, when computer science students were almost equally likely to be men or women.  Then something changed, and in a fairly short time the field was one for the bros.  This post goes into much more detail about it.

So in a sense it might be true that women don't want to code now, given the work environment they'd meet (with people like the one I quote above probably working there)*.  But there's no evidence that a dislike of coding would somehow be an inherent female characteristic.   If it were, it would have been operating in the early 1980s, too, and I personally suspect that not as many women would be in accounting, say, if the idea of sitting still and staring at numbers or letters wouldn't at all apply to women.

The second common argument is that girls just can't code.  Or:

Right, male and female brains are exactly the same.
Did you know that male and female IQs are the same on average, but that males have more representation on both tails of the bell curve?
Have you considered the implications of this?

This is a bit hilarious, because the extreme upper tail in the IQ distribution seems to be equated with being a coder!  I doubt that, to be honest.  We in the extreme upper tail are not many enough to fill that occupation.

This commentator is saying that guys are smarter (and also more stupid, but that's the other guys, the losers), based on the peculiarity that the results from IQ tests on men show greater variance than the results from IQ tests on women.

I have written about various aspects of the "extreme tail" theory about gender and intelligence many times before. This post summarizes several of the issues:  The gender differences in the extreme tails are getting smaller over time (which suggests that we are not looking at something innate), gender differences in attitudes towards risk (such as likelihood of guessing when the answer is unknown) could create the observed results if men were less risk-averse than women (or played the testing game that way), even if there was no underlying average gender difference in the characteristic under study and so on.

Third, sooner or later this particular conversation turns into a wider one about women and men being innately different In Ways Which Matter (no, men don't have wings and fly and women don't have fins and swim; we are supposed to regard small differences as humongous for the purposes of allocating societal power; and no, differences in aggression etc. do not matter).  This time we get:

OK, let's play make pretend. Yes, women on average are interested in heavy tech, coding, data...
Male and female brains are exactly the same. Oh, except when someone is transgender, then male and female brains are different...

There you go.  As a bonus we get one of the reasons for some trouble between certain feminist strains of thought and certain strains of trans thought.

The research into gender differences in brainz is pretty difficult to do, especially if someone wishes to argue that those differences are both innate and not subject to change.  I've written loads and loads on various studies (start here and here, say), but even if one accepted innately different brains by biological sex (or by gender identity???), that acceptance would not tell us that women can't code or don't want to code.

But it's not the question whether women and men would be equally eager to code if the industry wasn't so broish (and if there was no steering of boys and girls into certain culturally accepted roles) that fascinates me here.  Who knows what would happen in that ideal world?  The point of those comments I analyze seems to be that what exists TODAY cannot be at all improved, because of that assumed innate stuff.  This means that whatever percentage women make out of all coders is the RIGHT percentage.

And just to make everything crystal-clear, the commentator also notes that if there are girls in the industry then they can be found in non-essential roles:

Well, research, data, technical project management are the roles that matter...
I'm sure women are represented in marketing, HR and PR, which are simply less important to the heavy tech companies.

I hope this post didn't infect you with a stereotype threat.

*See also this post about a study concerning the effect of gender stereotypes in getting access to math-heavy fields.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lightning Posts, 6/11/15. On Caitlyn Jenner, Syrian Refugees and A Bro With No Ho

1.  These three articles on the sometimes troubled relationship between feminism and the trans movement look a bit like thesis, antithesis and synthesis, but I'm not intending that.  Still, it's best to read them in order, first this one, then this one and finally this one.  I picked these because they are more nuanced than the average diatribes in this area.  Notice the absence of similar debates about cis men and trans men.  Why they are missing isn't clear to me.

2.  Why does Saudi Arabia take no refugees from the war-torn countries of Iraq and Syria (or from Palestine)?  The same appears to be the case for other Gulf states?  I spent some time looking for the answer.  Sure, those countries provide funds, but as far as I can tell they don't offer any shelter for refugees, even though the cultural chasms to be bridged would be considerably smaller there than in, say, Sweden (which does take in a lot of refugees for its size).

3.   Then today's smart Republican comment from Mark Kirk:

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Thursday, the Illinois senator was heard on the live microphone talking about the Republican presidential candidate.
"I've been joking with Lindsey," Kirk was overheard saying. "He's going to have a rotating first lady. He's a bro with no ho."

No comment on that, because I'm in a hurry to bang my head against the garage door.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Meet Tim Hunt, A Nobel-Winning Biologist With Opinions On Girls In Laboratories

I love these foot-deep-in-the-throat stories, especially from those people whom the world has coddled and revered to such an extent that they now believe their utterances about everything is of great value.  Not just their utterances about the area of their expertise, mind you, but about everything.  It's a bit like Echidne criticizing opera singers or explaining to you in excruciating detail how to make a perfect souffle.

In other words, a joke.  And Dr Hunt did tell us that he was joking when talking like this at the World Conference on Science Journalists in Korea:

In remarks yesterday before writers, scientists, and engineers attending the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, Hunt stood and after thanking the women journalists “for making lunch," and warning attendees that he had a reputation as a male chauvinist, offered up his groundbreaking ideas on women in the field.
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” Hunt said, according to science journalist Connie St Louis, who tweeted the most disgusting points in his unrecorded speech. “Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.” He continued that while he was in favor of single sex laboratories, he didn’t want to “stand in the way” of women.
Mmm.  I laughed, because the joke is so good.  Whether it's the joke Dr Hunt intended is an open question.  For instance, I immediately saw that to avoid those falling-in-love problems we need to separate not only women from men but gay men from all other men and lesbians from all other women.  Put the gay guys with the women and the lesbians with the men!

Monday, June 08, 2015

Sam Brownback's Utopian Experiment Looks To Be Over

Brownback is the fundamentalist Republican governor of Kansas who in 2012 went wild on those popular tax cuts, with the simple-and-flawed idea that if only most firms could avoid paying any state taxes on their profits the Kansas economy would boom*.

The obvious (and completely predictable) consequences were, well, obvious.  The state of Kansas couldn't make ends meet, because of a giant drop in tax revenues.  So what did our Sam do next to balance the shrinking state budget?  He cut expenses, naturally.

The tax cuts favor mostly people who earn more, the expense cuts hurt mostly people who earn less.  Internal income inequality in Kansas grew.  

But those rounds of cutting expenses were not enough to balance the state budget.

Now the Republicans in control of the state must face up to raising taxes, poor things.  For a financial conservative this is like having to pull your own milk teeth with pliers (done that, been there), so the debates are still largely about how to roll more of the tax load on the shoulders of the poorer people in the state.  Sales tax increases??  Grrreat idea, because those taxes tend to be regressive.  To cover that up, let's not tax food.

Of course raising the sales taxes will make purchases more expensive for the consumers in Kansas and that might make them buy less.  This, in turn, would drive many local firms' profits down, having a further negative effect on any remaining state taxes on corporate income and so on and so on.

The debates are still ongoing, but here are some of the proposed tax increases and other changes:

The Kansas Senate passed Sunday what would be the largest tax increase in the history of the state of Kansas.
The measure passed by a 21-17 margin. Kansas Sen. Julia Lynn, who represents Johnson County, Kan., was the deciding vote on the bill.
Details on the $471 million tax increase:
    •    The sales tax increases to 6.55 percent from 6.15 percent.
    •    The cigarette tax will go up by 50 cents each pack, bringing the total tax to $1.29.
    •    The food tax will drop on July 1, 2016. However, it will be 6.55 percent until that time.
    •    Most itemized deductions on state income taxes are repealed.
    •    Reduced deductions for property taxes, charitable contributions and mortgage interest.
    •    There's a property ta
    •    tax lid for cities and counties.
    •    A new school voucher program that will provide tax credits to those who donate funds for private and religious schools.
    •    $24 million on taxes for business owners.
Tax increases are supposed to mean rapid death for American politicians in power, and that is certainly the case in the Tea Party -wing of the Republican Party.  We shall see what happens.  But as I have written before, watching this Nutty Economists' Tax Experiment Gone Wild would be entertaining (beer and pop corn entertaining) if the pain wasn't affecting so many real people.

On the other hand, Brownback was re-elected after he wrecked the state.

*This is flawed mostly because it ignores the important question about the demand side:  What effect have Brownback's policies had on the aggregate demand by people in the state?  If demand is insufficient, giving more money to firms won't work to create a boom.

The Women's World Cup in Soccer. Sod It?

I'm exceeding myself in stupid headlines.  The reference to "sod" is meant to capture the flavor of a complaint from one player in the cup:

The Women’s World Cup got underway over the weekend and while excitement was high after host country Canada’s thrilling win over China in stoppage time, the start of play has renewed frustrations over the controversial decision to force the women to play on artificial turf in all six venues.
After Sunday’s Norway vs. Thailand game, Norway midfielder Lene Mykj√•land voiced her discontent about the short, dry turf, which she said made it difficult for either team to “get a decent tempo and rhythm.” The playing surface was watered using two fire hoses instead of the standard sprinkler system.
When the tournament kicked off Saturday, the temperature of the playing surface was reportedly 120 degrees, despite the fact that it was a pleasant 75 degrees that day in Edmonton. That’s because artificial turf, a combination of rubber and plastic, gets a lot hotter than natural grass. Natural grass, on average, stays 20-30 degrees cooler than its artificial counterpart.
The linked article suggests that on Saturday the temperature of the turf in Edmonton was only a few degrees below the level regarded as unsafe for players, and anecdotal evidence hints that artificial turf makes the game less interesting to watch and possibly more dangerous for the players.  Not a welcoming mix to the participants in the women's World Cup,

Here's the interesting point:  This is the first soccer World Cup which is played on artificial turf.  Does this have any connection to the fact that it's women playing?

That's one of those questions which cannot be answered without detailed data on what went on when the decision was being made.  I think it's unlikely that anyone chose artificial turf to consciously make the women's games look less interesting. 

But that doesn't mean that the idea of saving money wouldn't have looked a lot more doable when the world cup was about women rather than about men.  Men would complain, their many, many fans would complain.  Perhaps the decision-makers were betting that us girls would not?

Today's Frustration

Do you know what is truly annoying?  To write not one but two posts on different topics and then to find out really recent news information (like an hour old) which makes them outdated.  Sure, you can go and edit, just as you can rip a sweater apart and try to patch it into a vest.  But that's agony.