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July 30, 2014

So Taxpayers Are Paying $202,000 To Figure Out Why Wikipedia is Sexist; Apparently This is Proven By The Brevity of Its Sex & the City Recaps

Science.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is spending over $200,000 to find out why Wikipedia is sexist.

The government has awarded two grants for collaborative research to professors at Yale University and New York University to study what the researchers describe as "systematic gender bias" in the online encyclopedia.

...


An ongoing debate exists over whether the website has sexist undertones.

Zandt argues that Wikipedia is biased because the majority of its editors are "young, white, child-free men."

...

Noam Cohen, a columnist for the Times who does not have a Wikipedia page, has asserted the encyclopedia is biased because articles about friendship bracelets are shorter than entries about baseball cards.

"And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on 'Sex and the City' includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on 'The Sopranos' includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode," he wrote.

The only true thing here is that Wikipedia does have a cultural bias. The bias is towards the cultural phenomenon that Wikipedia's editors are interested in. Some cultural phenomena -- science fiction, comic books -- get a fairly exhaustive treatment, and others get brief blurbs.*

I have trouble imagining this as "sexist," though, even doing my level-best to see the other side. Wikipedia is a volunteer site, and the people who volunteer will, necessarily, tend to bring their own interests and areas of expertise to the site. If (and I'll just assume this is true for purposes of this post) Wikipedia's volunteers tend to be younger men hooked into sci-fi/manga culture and interested in stuff young men are interested in (they have a pretty good article on The Longbow, for example), the site is going to reflect that.

The site is not sexist. Period. But the site inherently appeals to cultural ideas favored by (young) men of a nerdish bent. The very fact that a site exists which gives an exhaustive, 4000 word plus citations treatment of Ant-Man is going to skew male.

I love Wikipedia. There is something about it that appeals to me on a primal level. I feel like... I don't know, that I'm hunting on the great plains of data or something.

Men (well, those of a nerdly bent) tend to be interested in trivia and obscura; women tend to not be, or at least not so much.**

If you want to annoy a date, just keep quoting Midnight Run to her. A male friend might like your calling yourself "Jack Walsh, I mean, John Wesley Walsh" when you put in for a table at a restaurant. A female date will be much less taken with your wit.

I don't care about Ant-Man, but for some reason I find comfort in knowing that someone out there does care about Ant-Man, and has digested Ant-Man's fifty year history for me, should my life ever depend on knowing when Ant-Man married Janet Van Dyne.

If women aren't volunteering in large numbers -- I don't know what on earth a feminist agitator suggests we could do about that. Pay female volunteers (but not male ones) to increase interest?

And the most important thing here is that this is only one small part of Wikipedia. The rest of Wikipedia is about less silly things. It's not as if most of Wikipedia is about Ant-Man, for crying out loud. The rest of it is about history and quarks and evolutionary biology and just about everything else.

So the real complaint boils down to: the ten percent of a website which could reflect the cultural preferences of its unpaid volunteers does in fact reflect the cultural preferences of its unpaid volunteers, and yes, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does get a more exhaustive, nerdishly-loving treatment than Sex & the City.

The federal government needs to pay people to study this and propose "solutions"?

Thanks to @comradearthur and @lizwfb.

* This bias isn't mostly male, though. It's mostly nerdish (which does tend to skew male).

I myself have looked up various cultural artifacts which have not been embraced by the nerdly community, and have found the articles on those to be thin and not nearly satisfying as that for Ant-Man.

I hardly imagined I was the victim of a Bias Crime owing to this, though.

** It also occurs to me that we've spent $202,000 for a "study" which deliberately avoids examining a very simple explanation:

Women just aren't as interested in this type of crap as men.

You don't have to believe that to at least agree: This should have been one of the explanations scientifically studied, if we're going to have a scientific study at all.

Let's get down to brass tacks: I've seen Die Hard 50 times and I would watch it right now if it were on.

I will watch Die Hard only to see the Asian guy steal the candy bar.

And when I click on Wikipedia, I'm expecting them to tell me if the Asian guy stealing the candy bar was in the script, or if it was improvised on the day of the shoot.

And when Wikipedia doesn't tell me this (it doesn't, I've checked), I'm disappointed in it.

Do women watch episodes of Sex & the City 50 times? No, they don't. Maybe the "best" episodes, they'll watch two or three times. Women do watch some things a bunch of times (Law & Order repeats, for example), but this phenomenon is much more a male trait than a female one.

So why isn't this obvious truism even part of this "study"?

Because the academy doesn't exist to do science or scholarship; it exists to collect grants from politicized arms of the government for the purpose of agitation of coalitions of voters in support of the politicized arms of the government.

The difference between a scholar or scientist and priest is that the scholar or scientist, supposedly, will question any and everything, whereas the priest will only ask those questions permitted by his Holy Book, and only seeks to elicit answers which support the dogmas of his Holy Book.

Seems to me we have a lot of Priests posing as scholars.


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posted by Ace at 01:01 PM

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