[Foundation-l] encouraging women's participation

Newyorkbrad newyorkbrad at gmail.com
Sat Jun 19 04:15:22 UTC 2010

After reading the post below, I have nothing to add to today's
extensive dialog about men's and women's participation, but I have
decided to block Greg Maxwell indefinitely for hate speech against


On 6/16/10, Gregory Maxwell <gmaxwell at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 8:26 PM, phoebe ayers <phoebe.wiki at gmail.com> wrote:
>> There's been discussion of the gender gap among Wikimedia editors on
>> and off for many years now, and it's a focus of the strategic planning
>> process. This is a part of a larger issue of how to get members of
>> underrepresented groups to edit more, to combat system bias on all
>> fronts. (Or, simply how to get more people to edit regardless).
> You may find it interesting that these kind of large imbalances can
> arise out of a simple but surprising mathematical truth:
> If you have a mixed population with a skill, say skateboarding, that
> follows the typical normal distribution and one sub-population (e.g.
> people with red hair) have an average performance only slight higher
> than another sub-population (blondes),  and you were to select the
> best skateboarders out of the group you would end up with a
> surprisingly high concentration of the red-hair subgroup, so high that
> it doesn't at all seem justified by the small difference in average
> performance.
> This is is because in normal distributions the concentration of people
> with a particular skill falls off exponentially away from the average,
> so if you take the two distributions (amount of skateboarding skill
> for red-hairs and blondes) and shift one a very small amount the ratio
> between the two becomes increasingly large as you select for higher
> and higher skill levels.
> The same kind of results happen when, instead of a difference in
> average performance, there is simply a difference in the variation. If
> red-hairs have the same average skate-boarding skill but are less
> consistent— more klutzes _and_ more superstars this has an even larger
> impact than differences in the average, again biasing towards the
> red-hairs.
> These effects can be combined, and if there are multiple supporting
> skills for a task they combine multiplicatively.[*]
> The applicability here is clear: There is a strong biological argument
> justifying greater variance in genetically linked traits in men (due
> to the decrease in genetic redundancy) which is supported by many
> studies which show greater variance in males.  So all things equal any
> time you select for extremes (high or low performing) you will tend to
> tend to end up with a male biased group. (There are small also
> differences in measured averages between men and women in many
> areas...)
> And many of the 'skills' that are reasonable predictions of someone's
> likelihood of being a Wikipedian, if we're even to call them 'skills'
> as many aren't all that flattering,  are obviously male super-abundant
> in the greater world.   How many female obsessive stamp collectors do
> you know? Male?  The kind of obsessive collecting trait is almost so
> exclusively male that it's a cliché, and it's pretty obvious why that
> kind of person would find a calling in Wikipedia.
> One piece of insight that comes out of is that general approaches
> which make Wikipedia more palatable to "average people", as opposed to
> uber-obsessive techobibilo walking-fact-machines,  may have a greater
> impact at reducing gender imbalance than female centric improvements.
> (and may also reduce other non-gender related imbalances, such as our
> age imbalance).  So this gives you an extra reason why "more people to
> edit regardless" is an especially useful approach.
> Though are limits to the amount of main-streaming you can do of an
> academic activity such as encyclopaedia writing. :-)
> In any case, I don't mean to suggest that your work isn't important or
> can't be worthwhile.  Only that I think you're fighting an uphill
> battle against a number of _natural_ (not human originated) biases,
> and I wish you luck!
> [*] A while back I wrote up a longer and highly technical version of
> this explanation as part of an argument on gender imbalances in
> computer science with a mathematician. Anyone into math-wankery may
> find it interesting:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Gmaxwell/mf_compsci
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