Thursday, May 26, 2016

The New Demos Study On Twitter Misogyny. A Procedural Fail.

Demos in the UK tells us that it has carried out a new study on Twitter misogyny (the hatred of women and girls).  Newsweek headlines its summary of the study findings like this: 

Half of Misogyny on Twitter Comes From Women

Which is interesting.  Another summary tells us a little bit more of the study, such as the words it picked for measuring misogyny: "whores" and "sluts".   That "cunt" was left out is odd.  I would have thought that it would be the very choicest of words to measure woman-hatred.

The  study found 1.5 million tweets with either one or both of the search words "slut" and "whore" during a three-week period.  That sample was then winnowed down by using a Natural Language Processing Algorithm to remove from the original sample all pornographic marketing tweets (which were 54% of all tweets with those words!)*, and all other tweets which do not express anger in the use of those terms.  The remaining 10,000 aggressive tweets are the focus of future analysis, such as the sex of the tweeter.

Now, how did Demos decide if a tweet was sent by a man or a woman?  In my experience few people (at least in politics) tweet under their own name or any normal type of name.  Most people have Twitter handles, and many of those are very hard to attribute to either men or women.  Pictures?  I know several people on Twitter who have the picture of some famous man or woman whose apparent gender is not the same as the tweeter's gender.  And I, for instance, have a picture of embroidered snakes on my Twitter page.

After thinking all that, I was eager to learn how all that was done in the study.  But guess what?  There is no written study anywhere on the wide and varied Internets!

I then e-mailed Demos to ask for the url of the study.  The rapid response I received (thanks, Demos!) told me --  and here comes the fun part! -- that there IS NO WRITTEN REPORT THAT PEOPLE COULD ANALYZE.

That is bullshit.  Absolute bullshit.  Just think about what that approach means for scientific inquiry:  Nobody, but nobody, can tell if you have done the research correctly and nobody, but nobody can post a criticism if your study is a bouquet of nose hairs with dried snot on them.
* How can we be sure that these tweets aren't based on misogyny?  Do corporations get an automatic pass?

Added later:  That there is no report does not imply that the results are incorrect, only that we cannot tell if they are correct or incorrect.  But a written report is very important.  The reason that researchers write their studies up is so that others can see what they did, how they did it, and also so that others can judge whether the study was done right or not.

Do Brutes Vote For Trump Or Sanders? I address Tyler Cowen's Theory.

At the Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen takes a crack at explaining what's wrong with today's world (well, today's world from Cowen's angle):

Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria.  I could list more such events.
Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up?  What the hell is going on?
I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis.  I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.
The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males.  The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them?  Brutes?
Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer.  They do less well with nice.  And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

Wow.  What a thesis!  Lots of men are brutes, and that's why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have their support in the US, while in Austria the brutes almost voted in a far-right president.*  How do you like them apples?

Reading that post (and the attached comments**) reminded me of the weird feeling I get when I venture into the evo-psycho blog-land.  Those blogs are among the places where I truly feel like an alien from outer space, because people like me (women) are the object of various dissections and the target of quasi-evolutionary explanations for our innate inferiority and the narrow and small lives nature forces us to lead, all couched in sciencey-sounding language.  We are viewed as an alien species, necessary to domesticate and to manage but not to befriend.

But Cowen's post is almost a reversal on that!  Now it is men who are more likely to be brutes, though the implied reason for that is still innate, and the subtle hints Cowen gives us suggest that the Uprising Of The Brutes is partly due to feminism:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Short Posts, 5/25/2016: Elizabeth Warren, the gender gap in STEM salaries, Iranian women And Birds

I.  Read Elizabeth Warren's speech, if you haven't done so already.  My first reaction was that this is how to attack Donald Trump.  But then the cynical me wondered if Trump has a dispensation from all ordinary political rules so that nothing, whatsoever, can harm him in the eyes of those who find him delicious.

2. A study looking at the gap in men's and women's early-career salaries in STEM field argues that only two variables explain why men earn more:

Women earn nearly one-third less than men within a year of completing a PhD in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field, suggests an analysis of roughly 1,200 US graduates.
Much of the pay gap, the study found, came down to a tendency for women to graduate in less-lucrative academic fields — such as biology and chemistry, which are known to lead to lower post-PhD earnings than comparatively industry-friendly fields, such as engineering and mathematics.
But after controlling for differences in academic field, the researchers found that women still lagged men by 11% in first-year earnings. That difference, they say, was explained entirely by the finding that married women with children earned less than men. Married men with children, on the other hand, saw no disadvantage in earnings.
I haven't read the study, but the results don't clash with my expectations.  The starting salaries for men and women in the same jobs tend to be roughly the same*.  Most differences accrue over time, and that's why studies looking at early career salaries or wages are not as informative as they might seem.

The study's leading author notes that the results don't explain why mothers would be paid less:

Weinberg says that the data cannot identify or tease apart factors that might explain why married women with children earn less — among the possibilities, whether employers assign different responsibilities and salaries to these women, or whether the women spend less time or energy on their careers. But, he says, “our data suggest that these positions, as they are currently structured and operate, are not fully family-friendly for women”.

This is where not reading the study might get me in trouble, but if the salary data really is from the first year on the job it sounds very unlikely that the pay difference would be caused by the women spending less time or energy on their careers.**  That's because all the academic salary contracts I know of have been annual, the year's salary being set in advance, and not something that can be easily changed after observing how the worker is doing, and I believe the same is true of corporate contracts in STEM-type jobs. 

But all that depends on the time period the salary data applies to. (Say, the first year after graduation vs. the fifth year after graduation)  --  In any case, I'd like to see a study of this type done with questions about the amount of parenting the worker's partner does.  That could cast further light on those questions, if we find that mothers get lower salaries even if their partners do most of the child-care.

3.  Some young Iranian women dress as boys, to avoid the police-enforced Islamic dress codes for women.  They are not trans men, just women who want to have the freedom of movement that comes with men's clothes. 

I hope they don't get caught, because the punishment for such a large breach of the female dress code is probably more than a verbal warning.  But because the male dress is both literally and symbolically freer and more comfortable the risk might be worth taking.

4.  I was going to give you a cat picture (an old Internet tradition), but Blogger refuses to cooperate.  Instead, I'm going to tell you about my so-called lawn. 

It was recently the Home Depot equivalent for several different types of nest-building birds, each with its beak full of dry grass.  That made me feel virtuous about that thing called "thatch."  I do wish the birds weren't so very noisy at four am, but I'm thankful for their presence.  

 *  The reasons for this are several, but one of them is that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 makes it illegal to pay men and women different amounts for the same work and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes sex discrimination in employment also illegal.  An employer bent on discriminating against women can still do so, provided that individual salary offers remain secret.  That's one reason why the American secrecy about wages and salaries is problematic.  Note that it's also quite possible that employers don't discriminate in hiring.

**  It's not impossible.  But an employer assigning a woman with children different tasks from the beginning is more likely, as is the possibility that the woman herself asks for some kind of accommodation on the basis of her family responsibilities, and that accommodation decreases her earnings.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On The Political Treatment of Harry Clinton, Hillary's Identical Twin Brother

 Jia Tolentino at Jezebel has thoughts about David Brooks' recent column which wonders why Hillary Clinton is so disliked.  Brooks thinks she needs to become warmer, more appealing, to have hobbies.  Tolentino points at the invisible elephant in the room: Misogyny, or at least very gendered expectations,  might have something to do with the Public Drubbing of Hillary.

I've told you before how very hard it is to judge the role of sexism or misogyny in the treatment Hillary Clinton has received over the years.  That's because the number of powerful women in American politics (or, indeed, on this globe) is so small that we can't really generalize anything from those samples.

But one mental experiment is worthwhile:  Imagine that Hillary Clinton has an identical male twin (never mind the impossibility of that)  whose career matches hers exactly.  This Harry Clinton has committed all the same political "crimes" Hillary Clinton has.  Would he have gotten the same press, provoked the same primal rage from so many, been subjected to equally elaborate right-wing slaughter parties?

I doubt that, though your mileage can vary.  That's because people don't expect, say,  Ted Cruz to show a softer side, to tell us about his hobbies (ohmygoddess, torturing little animals?*).  And I, for one, do not want to learn anything about Donald Trump's hobbies.

It's quite feasible to see all the flaws in Clinton's political career, to frown on her hawkishness in foreign policy, to criticize her shifting statements about her basic values, to not want to vote for her, ever, and to still ask if that imaginary Harry would have been weighed on an equally sensitive scale of anger and disapproval and found equally wanting.

Harry wouldn't have to be likeable, and if he had to, he could just offer to have a beer with you.  Hillary sharing a beer with you?  That's inauthentic, and, besides, for some men sharing a beer with a woman has undertones of flirtation, for others it raises concerns about whether women should drink at all or what a beer-guzzling woman means.

My points are that  a)  the possible ways of signaling likeability are not the same for men and women in politics, b)  we don't necessarily demand likeability from male politicians and c) the traditional expectation that women should be likeable can clash with how we define competency**.  That last aspect can results in a Catch-22.

Harry wouldn't need a justification to run for the president of the United States.  Nobody would ask him if he's simply blinded by his own selfish ambition, because ambition is an admired characteristic in men, not, even now,  so much in women, unless it is siphoned into indirect ambition and avid support for the husband (think of Nancy Reagan looking at Ronald with admiring eyes) or for the children.

How does one begin to disentangle that knot of gendered expectations from Hillary's personal qualifications and character?  Even using our imaginary friend, Harry Clinton, doesn't get us very far, because his prior life wouldn't have included being the spouse of a former president of the United States.***  It's an impossible job, that disentangling.

Still, I smell something in the political winds buffeting Hillary Clinton that is not entirely attributable to her own flaws of behavior or personality, an exaggerated reaction, one which our Harry would not have been subjected to. 

Public Health Announcement (for my emotional health!):

This post is not about Clinton vs. Sanders and it is not about Clinton vs. Trump or Sanders vs. Trump or about what each of them stands for.  It's about trying to measure sexism in American politics and the difficulties of using the Hillary Clinton case for that purpose.

* A joke.

** I would think these conflicting expectations are even trickier to satisfy if a politician is not only female but also black, because of the "angry black woman" stereotype.

*** Or if it had, we'd have to change the past to too large an extent to keep this mind experiment going.  A gay Harry, the spouse of former president Bill Clinton, for instance, would change the  imaginary past United States into a far more advanced country than it really was.

But would such a Harry be seen as abetting Bill's philandering in the 1990s?  I doubt that.