Is Overcoming Bias Male?

We have few comments and no posts by women here.   A few women have mentioned to me privately that our whole project seems rather male.   Since they declined to give me quotes for us to ponder, I have turned to a review of feminist epistemology:

Feminist standpoint theory claims an epistemic privilege … on behalf of the standpoint of women.  … The masculine cognitive style is abstract, theoretical, disembodied, emotionally detached, analytical, deductive, quantitative, atomistic, and oriented toward values of control or domination. The feminine cognitive style is concrete, practical, embodied, emotionally engaged, synthetic, intuitive, qualitative, relational, and oriented toward values of care. …

Postmodernism … questions attempts to transcend our situatedness by appeal to such ideas as universality, necessity, objectivity, rationality, essence, unity, totality, foundations, and ultimate Truth and Reality. It stresses the locality, partiality, contingency, instability, uncertainty, ambiguity and essential contestability of any particular account of the world, the self, and the good. …


The conceptions of objectivity considered problematic by feminists include … what is really ("objectively") real exists independently of knowers. … "objective" knowledge is ascertained through "the view from nowhere," … knowers have an "objective" stance toward what is known when they are emotionally detached from it. … knowers have an "objective" stance toward what is known when they adopt a neutral attitude toward it, declining to judge it either good or bad. … "objective" knowledge of an object (the way it "really" is) is attained by controlling it, especially by experimental manipulation … "objective" knowledge consists of representations whose content is dictated by the way things really are, not by the knower. …

Some feminists have offered methodological guidelines … explaining how to avoid androcentrism, overgeneralization, gender insensitivity, and sexual double standards in research.

There is a lot of food for thought here.   I can’t sympathize much with the apparent rejection of a reality independent of knowers, but I do see validity in warnings against overconfidence and in questioning how often emotional detachment and value-neutral attitudes really reduce bias.   But while I can see the objection if we claimed to have overcome bias, I don’t see why people with these concerns would dislike our attempt to try to better overcome bias.   

An important hint comes, I think, from this review of how feminist bioethics objects to general ethical principles: 

Virtually all feminists have doubts about the emphasis on abstract universal norms and the framework of allegedly universal moral principles that have dominated bioethical theory. The conception of the generic subject … tends to justify the prevailing status quo inhibiting consideration of social change. … Care theorists … press for an ethics that stresses … love, care, and responsibility. They emphasize the suitability of such values for capturing contextual subtleties and relational bonds that are overlooked within principle-oriented frameworks. … feminist bioethics … emphasize the holistic nature of human persons, their particular social contexts, the centrality of emotional responses in ethical reasoning, and refusal to judge actions apart from the lived narrative that confers meaning on them.

Also note that male social status is more about job rank and rankable achievements, while female status is more about relations with family, friends, and neighbors.  I see two main possibilities for explaining female disinterest:

  1. Our goal of overcoming bias is a kind of rankable achievement, but does not clearly enhance particular relationships, and can threaten loyalty to them.
  2. Our method of identifying and encouraging relation-blind principles and institutions does not rely much on emotionally-rich relationships.

Added 28Jun’08: "I see two main possibilities" just meant those were possibilities that occurred to me at the moment – not that those are the only possibilities to consider.

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  • JMG3Y

    What is the empirical evidence from studies comparing errors due to cognitive bias between male and female decision makers? For example, do male physicians make different types of errors than female physicians with equivalent training in the same specialty when assessing subjective information such as vague clinical signs, classifying histology slides or reading radiographs? Does the error frequency in Bayesian reasoning differ between the genders?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    JMG3Y, males seem to be more overconfident, and so for example churn their investments more.

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    Robin’s last point may provide part of an answer. Males may have more of a problem with bias because we are less aware that we are biased. We think of our ourselves, or many of us anyway, as objective, rational, scientific, abstract, able to rise above petty emotionalism, blah blah blah, when in fact we are very much the creatures of all kinds of biases. We become overconfident in our own perception of our own unbiasedness. Thus we do dumb things like mismanage investment portfolios, and Robin is fully correct regarding the gender-related evidence on that point, although there is also some evidence that males are more willing to take risks, which means they may do better in some areas of investing.

    Presumably females are more conscious of their own biases. They know that they care about certain individuals or things and act on that, but are not as self-deluded as men about their biases. They might well say, don’t overcome your biases, but know them well.

  • Yan Li

    It is not that women lack of interests in overcoming bias. It is that the biases they are interested in overcoming are different from those for men. Here is an example. “Shallow” it may seem, but when you pick a topic in that area, women will listen. http://www.amazon.com/Hes-Just-That-Into-Understanding/dp/068987474X/sr=8-1/qid=1171997850/ref=sr_1_1/002-5084292-0546441?ie=UTF8&s=books

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Yan, so you want to hear more about biases in romance? You were the only woman to comment on our last two “Mating” posts, but we should keep trying. Contributors?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    The true Way has no gender signatures on it; there is no such thing as male or female probability theory. Only irrationalities can be characteristically male or characteristically female.

    I observe that both sexes tend to be much more annoyed by irrationalities of the type that are characteristic to the other sex. Men may overestimate their own rationality, relative to women, because when a young male picks a needless argument, other men are much less annoyed by this particular form of rationality than are women. Conversely, the mistake of being too cooperative, in a situation where argument is called for, may seem much more excusable to women than to men.

    A skilled rationalist of either gender should understand full well that there is such a thing as the right amount of argument: no more, no less; and this right amount is not different whether you are a man or a woman, because it depends only on the issues of fact. But anyone who knows the first thing about evolutionary psychology knows that men and women have temperaments distributed around different statistical means; and on average, men and women may need to adjust their instincts in different directions to achieve the proper balance.

    The reason you should worry if a woman tells you that “The whole project seems characteristically male”, is that they may be indicating their annoyance with a characteristically male mistake. Of course it is also possible that they are misunderstanding the Way in some fashion that is characteristic of their gender, or more likely, characteristic of 21st-century culture as it pertains to First World females, including those types of postmodern idiocy that are marketed especially to women. But it is worth paying attention to such comments, precisely because, as a male, you may tend to overlook characteristically male irrationality as being “not really important”.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Eliezer, the concrete suggestion I get from your thoughtful comment is that we should discuss more the bias toward needless argument.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    Perhaps more focus on the practical advantages of reducing biases would help? Such as showing specific, rather than universal issues, working through them, and showing how reducing bias can make the world specifically better off? Maybe with examples of real people suffering through biases?

    The whole feminist project was about correcting biases, after all. And they didn’t seem to lack energy or devotion.

  • Matthew

    I think Stuart is on to something.

    In my experience, women are much more interested in tangible issues than intangible abstractions. This blog is a project engaged on behalf of a very abstract ideal: unbiased truth. Many more men than women are likely to idealize abstractions: for a good example, Eliezer’s romantic description of the rational truth discovery process as “the Way”. The only woman I can name with such a devoted attitude towards such abstract concepts was Ayn Rand.

  • http://www.rationalfuturism.com Riley Gutzeit

    I think this search for gender-specific biases for different beliefs and levels of interest regarding cognitive biases themselves is a bit premature. Kahneman and Tversky have shown us knowledge of cognitive biases is, to make a vast understatement, rare. Even with knowledge of such biases, correcting them is mentally taxing. I speculate that cognitive biases should be most interesting to those smart enough to overcome them. Those to whom it is obvious that Linda is more likely to be a bank teller than a feminist bank teller should be confused, dismayed, and endowed with a sense of superiority by seeing experiments in which so many people fail to understand what they see as common sense. If you finish the paper not fully convinced that those stuffy scientists’ methods really apply to Linda’s feminist involvement at all, the subject’s incredulity just further supports your intuition. A person’s interest in overcoming bias puts a lower bound on his/her intelligence.

    If that bound is high enough, male dominance should be expected. While most studies find males and females to have roughly equal average IQs, the variance in females is around 90% of what it is in males. Differences in variance are most pronounced at the tail ends of the distribution, so the more of Spearman’s g a subject requires, the greater the level of male dominance.

    Granted, there may well be specific biases involved here as well. Male drives for status are probably a big one — after all, the most respected and well liked probability theorist in the tribe gets first pick of the virgin captives when the neighboring tribe is defeated and enslaved — but we can’t ignore simple intelligence as a major contributing factor.

  • zzz

    Riley, it’s not at all clear that correcting bias is “mentally taxing” or requires above-average IQ scores.

    It’s a common misconception to equate bias correction with complete rationality or perfect foresight. But even if people are only boundedly rational, they are best off making _optimal_ inferences, i.e. inferences that use the most relevant information while not differing systematically from actual outcomes, so that errors will be unpredictable within the agent’s informational and cognitive constraints.

    In general, the _precision_ of inferences or forecasts will be higher the greater the agent’s cognitive acumen, but their mean should never deviate systematically from the true outcome.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Riley, zzz seems right; surely this is more an issue of interests and framing than of ability.

  • http://www.rationalfuturism.com/ Riley Gutzeit

    “Riley, it’s not at all clear that correcting bias is ‘mentally taxing’ or requires above-average IQ scores.”

    If you have any evidence to back this up, I’d love to see it. Everything I’ve ever read on the subject says that high-IQ individuals are less susceptible to known cognitive biases. The following is from from Kahneman and Frederick’s “Representativeness Revisited”, available online at http://www.mit.edu/people/shanefre/RepRevisited.pdf :

    “Stanovich and West (Chapter 24, this volume) and Stanovich
    (1999) observed a generally negative correlation between conventional mea-
    sures of intelligence and susceptibility to judgment biases. They used trans-
    parent versions of the problems, which provide adequate cues to the correct
    answer and therefore provide a test of reasoning rationality. Not surprisingly,
    intelligent people are more likely to possess the relevant logical rules and also
    to recognize the applicability of these rules in particular situations. In the terms
    of the present analysis, high-IQ respondents benefit from relatively efficient
    System 2 operations that enable them to overcome erroneous intuitions when
    adequate information is available. When a problem is too difficult for everyone,
    however, the correlation is likely to reverse because the more intelligent respon-
    dents are more likely to agree on a plausible error than to respond randomly
    (Kahneman, 2000b).”

  • zzz

    Riley:

    Stanovich and West seem to be confusing simple lack of knowledge or understanding with cognitive bias. If someone makes systematic errors in some unclearly-worded problem, that might be just due to their failing to understand the wording. If the problem text happened to be written in Latin, should we say that people are “irrational” or “biased” for failing to understand it?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Riley, why should the group that naturally succumbs to biases the least be the group most interested in talking about overcoming bias?

  • conchis

    Robin,

    I would think it would be for the same reasons that the best people in most spheres are often also those most interested in improvement: they’re the best because they’re more interested in improvement. Similarly, part of the reason some people succumb less to irrationality is probably because they were more interested in overcoming bias to begin with. The reasons they were more interested in overcoming bias to begin with probably have to do with smarter people (a) being more likely to realize that they’re biased and (b) having higher marginal returns to effort in overcoming bias (for any given level of bias).

    That said, I’m not convinced that Riley’s “men are smarter in the tails” argument actually has much at all to do with the popularity of this project amongst women.

    My own hunch is that it probably has more to do with scepticism of value free/unbiased truth as an ideal, either because the ideal is seen as incoherent, or simply because of a healthy scepticism of anybody who claims to have reached it. Robin says of the latter that “while I can see the objection if we claimed to have overcome bias, I don’t see why people with these concerns would dislike our attempt to try to better overcome bias.”

    While I’m personally very sympathetic to that response, I can also appreciate that it’s quite easy to generalize a scepticism about claims to having found objective truth to a scepticism of those who claim to be seeking it. As has been pointed out a number of times on this blog, it’s pretty easy to start using a lot of the findings on bias to selectively bolster one’s own position, and it may be fears about this sort of thing that explain some lack of interest in the project. (Of course it may be that it explains lack of interest, without necessarily justifying it.)

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Conchis, you point to a very important issue we need to get a better handle on – how can we avoid giving people more excuses to feel superior to others, and avoid giving the impression that we feel superior?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    An anonymous reader asked me to post this comment:

    You missed the best explanation: Women are biased and proud of it!!!
    But Henry Higgins says it better than I ever could:
    “Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that, their heads are filled with cotton, hay, and rags.”

  • Anna

    From a professional point of view, I don’t think posting an anonymous post of such taste, helps to find a solution.

    Like Yan said, the problem lies in the choice of topics. I am interested in overcoming bias and enjoy reading the posts yet if “you want” (the key words), women to be more interested and get involved, then you have to find topics that are of interest to them.

    Anna

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Yan, I took a closer look at that book you pointed us to. The book does claim to identify biases, and those biases would be interesting and relevant here if real, but the book doesn’t try very hard to convince us its claimed biases are real. So the question is how far we want to go down the road talking about biases that people claim exist, but offer little evidence for.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/hollerith/ Richard Hollerith

    When I joined the internet in 1992, most of it was overwhelmingly male. Posts on technical and scientific Usenet for example were written >95% by males. The only forum I can recall from that time with >20% female participation was a mailing list devoted to a chronic
    illness that afflicts more women than men. That does not mean that the internet of 1992 was on the wrong track. During its first 14 or so years, Richard Stallman’s free-software movement was >98% male. Again, I do not consider that a sign that it was on the wrong track.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/hollerith/ Richard Hollerith

    If there’s a change we can make that does not interfere with the mission that will attract more women, I’m all for it. No need to take extraordinary measures to accomplish that, is all I’m saying. Women in large numbers will take up whatever innovations we create once those innovations have the general approval of society (e.g., when they are taught in schools or after mainstream media have covered them such as happened with the internet starting in 1993).

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    I like being around women, and so for that reason would like more women around here. But that isn’t a good reason by itself to change much of what we do. The more interesting question is whether the lack of woman is a clue about our own biases, about things we are neglecting or overemphasizing.

  • http://www.rationalfuturism.com/ Riley Gutzeit

    zzz:

    I don’t understand what you’re getting at. If you mean that a systematic error found only (or mostly) among people without knowledge and understanding thereof is not a cognitive bias, then you narrow the definition of “cognitive bias” down to the errors we cannot correct – quite odd considering the title of this blog. Also, failure to understand the wording of a problem should produce random answers, not the very specific judgment errors in the standard cognitive bias problems reported by Stanovich and West. To use your example, if I ask someone in Latin whether Linda is more likely to be a bank teller or a feminist bank teller (randomizing the order in which the alternatives are presented, and with other Latin distracters thrown in), would you expect non-Latin speakers to gravitate toward the second response?

    Robin:

    As for why those least susceptible to biases should be the most interested in them, I think conchis summed it up nicely. Also worth noting is Slovic and Tversky (1974), which shows people with more understanding of probability axioms are more likely to accept their validity. Why should one care that subjects’ intuitive judgments deviate from probability theorems one doesn’t believe to be true? I cannot imagine such a person to be any more intrigued by these problems than would be a reader of this blog by the question of why so many educated people deny having an Oedipus complex, when Freud so clearly demonstrated they must.

    You also ask, “how can we avoid giving people more excuses to feel superior to others, and avoid giving the impression that we feel superior?” I have to ask in response why we should want to. If overcoming bias isn’t something to feel superior about, what is? If you see other people falling for known cognitive biases you know to avoid, you’re perfectly justified in valuing their opinions less than your own.

  • Liz

    Hi,
    I saw a statistic somewhere recently that noted that more men than women comment on blogs/forums etc. I have no idea why that is so and unfortunately don’t remember where I saw it. Maybe in general the male interest in the abstract that you note in your post extends to the internet. Maybe it seems more important to men to comment on blogs or create blogs.

  • http://rationallongevity.blogspot.com/ Anne Corwin

    I read this blog regularly and have thought about trying to become a contributor, but I’ve got a lot of other projects going on right now. I can’t speak for any other women aside from myself, but I will say that it always makes me wince when people start going on about attracting women to various areas through providing stereotypically feminine topics.

    I realize that the stereotypes exist for a reason, but at the same time, you can’t necessarily assume that if someone is a woman and they’re not participating in this blog, it’s due to the fact that there aren’t enough posts about fluffy bunnies or tea parties. Not that anyone here was necessarily making that assumption, but I’ve often been confused at attempts to manufacture interest as opposed to simply letting people gravitate toward what they find intriguing.

    There might be fewer women than men posting here, but there are also fewer migrant fruit framers posting here than academics, and probably fewer professional chefs than computer scientists. Is that an issue? Is the desire here to get a more diverse group of people discussing bias and how it might be overcome, or simply to get a more balanced gender ratio?

  • anon

    Generations of male chauvinists would have agreed with “Feminist Standpoint theory”. Do we have any reason to believe that it actually describes systematic and significant differences between the reasoning styles and interests of the sexes? Or is it just a collection of traditional stereotypes given an impressive name?

    I prefer to trust research rather than ideological assertions.

  • http://fashion-incubator.com/mt Kathleen Fasanella

    Great comments Anne. Practicality is an issue for me. I’ve been reading this blog since it started. I’m interested in topics that I can apply and a lot of this stuff is theoretical. Still, I read it. In general, I’m interested in how people think; I’m intensely curious about it. As a practical matter, I’m most interested in how I can get my readers to change their minds, change their practices and change their perceptions. The thing is, most of my readers are women. The thing I’m discovering is that I really don’t think or process information in the way that many of them do. I don’t share their interests to a large extent. I’m looking for ways to positively redirect women’s thinking; to be a change agent. Not having a background in any of this means I have to wade through a lot of stuff like this but that’s okay. It’s growth. But still, I’d be drawn to material with more potentiality for application.

  • dilys

    Interesting question. Here’s another response from a distaff reader and commenter. Yes, please don’t look for “topics” that are thought to appeal more to women. Home-Work Balance, God forbid! Holding an Ivy League professional degree, I regard myself as neither stupid&trivial, nor outstandingly logically brilliant. Women often find me objectionably unsentimental and logical. I am extremely interested in how people make logical and practical errors, in fact, that’s the key to my personal coaching practice.

    As I notice my own response to many of these posts and comments, I experience something like too little oxygen for my mental metabolism. Nothing sensory to hang my hat on. My impression here reminds me of the studies reported years ago about giving travel directions (I assume they are still respected). Women typically rely on landmarks, men on vectors and paths. Examples with a few specifics (like the wikipedia Scotsman story) make all the difference. I rub my eyes and start to cry :~[ when there’s nothing to see or hear or handle, when X intersects only with Y, or when a universe of explanation is made up of a sheer web of nominalizations.

    In short, the exposition is deficient for me –there’s too much NNW absent left turn by the stone courthouse. Women live in, or at least are most interested by, an embodied world, I think. I am plenty capable of abstracting and schematizing, am in fact driven to do so; and constructing and comparing differing implications is not a strain. I don’t require practical application and health-effects-on-babies so much as to find sounds, pictures, tastes, and other sensory features as I think my way through something. Move around the colored blocks, perhaps…

    Those colored blocks might help me replicate how conclusions were reached, too, which is less important but perhaps relevant. The status dynamics at work in male culture may not so readily induce women to agree, or even follow, arguments. This is probably not always because potential women participants are inferior in intelligence, unless Mr. Gutzeit’s definition of intelligence is geared in a conclusory fashion to what initially engages and motivates interest and investigation.

    These are the parameters in which I think I differ from a man otherwise temperamentally and intellectually exactly like me, who would probably read these discussions with more patience and engagement. Hope this is useful or interesting.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Dilys, thanks for the thoughtful response. Perhaps more disagreement case studies will satisfy your thirst for concrete detail.

  • anon

    I’d like to second Dilys’s suggestion.

    My impression is that women, even smart women, are more likely to trust in concrete sensory patterns and emotions. Did so-and-so sound egotistical as he spoke? What do self-deception and useful action feel like in particular instances? How do the emotional dynamics of group impact its conclusions and results? What happens to relationships when one or both parties avoid bias in particular ways? What does it look like?

    Gender differences aside, it would be interesting to see biases discussed in concrete sensory and emotional terms if possible. It might be that bias can be overcome by modifying system 1 or system 2 and that both approaches should be explored.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    I think that, when discussing feminism and gender, it’s vital to make a distinction between biological sex (males and females) and gender (men and women). People are acculturated in certain ways in various cultures based on their biological sex, but just because biologically female people tend to have their self-worth related to their care giving abilities, for instance, and biologically male people tend to be taught to associate self-worth with status, doesn’t mean that these ways of looking at things are a natural part of having male or female sex organs.

    In short: this post is positively dripping with gender essentialism, and I find that rather disturbing, particularly as a woman surfing the site because of her interests in the issues you’re discussing.

    This blog didn’t strike me as a particularly man-oriented space until I read this post, and then I began to wonder if, instead of saying that we biologically-female people are too busy with “emotionally-rich relationships” to care about “identifying and encouraging relation-blind principles and institutions,” perhaps the way that you embrace and fail to question those kinds of dismissive stereotypes is what makes this place feel unwelcoming to women.

    You might have taken your friends words as an invitation to be welcoming to women instead of as an excuse to explain why we’re too fluff-headed to care about certain things.

  • mitchell porter

    Angel, this was only the second post ever on the topic of gender; gender stereotyping was not previously a theme, but the male majority among commenters already existed.

    Also, when Robin talks about the differences between “male status” and “female status”, it’s just meant to be a factual description of the way things generally are. He says nothing about causes (biological or cultural) or norms (whether these differences are desirable), nor does he say that it’s a law of nature with no exceptions.

    On the general topic of gender biases, real and imaginary, I have a grand total of two thoughts.

    1. Riley says: “While most studies find males and females to have roughly equal average IQs, the variance in females is around 90% of what it is in males”, i.e. the further you deviate from average intelligence, whether towards genius or stupidity, the more men you find. There is an explanation for this, in that many genes for intelligence are located on the sex chromosomes, and sex-linked characteristics exhibit more variation in males. This is because of the difference between XX and XY. In XX, each allele has its counterpart on the other chromosome, so the effect of an anomalous allele may be reduced by the existence of a commonplace allele as counterpart. But in XY, an allele may exist without a counterpart, and so the effects of variation won’t be moderated.

    2. Some imaginary ideas about gender difference arise from unsatisfied desire. For example, there is apparently a tendency among men to say that they don’t understand how women think. I would think some of that stems from the desire that they should be sexually predictable. What they’re really saying is something like “I don’t understand how women think, well enough to score at will” – which is a lot of “understanding” to ask for! In any case, I then utilize (1) and (2) to explain some of the true cases of gender essentialism in history, like Otto Weininger, who wrote that genius and masculinity are the same thing. I put that down to the loneliness of high-IQ males, basically. The high-IQ males are rare to begin with, but the comparably high-IQ females are even rarer (on account of the reduced variance of sex-linked traits in women), and so some of the high-IQ males convince themselves that female genius is nonexistent, that maleness (of which they are an instance) is the essence of high intelligence (of which they are also an instance), and so forth.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Angel, this was only the second post ever on the topic of gender; gender stereotyping was not previously a theme, but the male majority among commenters already existed.

    The division of gender and sex is an important analytical tool used by people interested in overcoming sex bias to work around the sexism encoded in language and human concepts of the groups men and women. Effectively, it’s one of the ways feminists differentiate between “the map and the territory,” to borrow a phrase I’ve learnt here. Not using that tool indicates a certain lack of familiarity with the discipline of academic feminism. Robin took it a step further and only quoted gender essentialist arguments, then used those arguments to explain how the problem women had brought to his attention is, in fact, a problem with “females,” not with the site.

    If I’d come along when there was only one post on gender–or when there were none–I’d have got the same unwelcoming impression that deconstructing the biases surrounding women and gender is not very important to the posting community here.

    It might have been nice, actually, to gather that without having to witness Robin play mouth-piece for the hate speech of “an anonymous reader” later in the thread. I could have done without that piece of nastiness. I get that it was supposed to be a joke; it would be nice if Robin got why saying that “‘Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that, their heads are filled with cotton, hay, and rags,'” isn’t funny at all.

    It’s hurtful and it’s biased: it’s the blunt, sexist version of the argument he’d made earlier with his gender essentialist “explanation.” It’s a man pulling out the dehumanizing stereotypes of women yet again. And it told me quite clearly what sort of bias Robin is unwilling to overcome.


    Also, when Robin talks about the differences between “male status” and “female status”, it’s just meant to be a factual description of the way things generally are. He says nothing about causes (biological or cultural) or norms (whether these differences are desirable), nor does he say that it’s a law of nature with no exceptions.

    Making and/or perpetuating generalizations about people who have been shoehorned into culturally constructed groups without actively questioning the validity of (a) the culturally constructed group and (b) the generalizations is a highly problematic activity. By using gender essentialist arguments to “explain” why women just aren’t the sort of people to be interested in Overcoming Bias, Robin was being biased against women.

    I think that the fact that real live women showed up later to admit their interest in the site itself is evidence that the generalizations Robin made are pretty useless, since variation between individuals outweighs perceived differences between the invented groups “men” “women.”

    On the general topic of gender biases, real and imaginary, I have a grand total of two thoughts.

    1. Riley says: […]

    I’d like to see a bit more evidence to back up Riley’s assertion before embracing it as a given fact to discuss.

    2. Some imaginary ideas about gender difference arise from unsatisfied desire. For example, there is apparently a tendency among men to say that they don’t understand how women think. I would think some of that stems from the desire that they should be sexually predictable. What they’re really saying is something like “I don’t understand how women think, well enough to score at will” – which is a lot of “understanding” to ask for!

    Men are also unable to find one sure fire way to score other things from people. For instance, they can’t reliably get men give them the things they want from them, yet men don’t feel all right universalizing this frustrating by saying “I just don’t understand how men think!” They don’t do this because, to them, men are individual people who are both means and ends, but women are a homogenous sex class which exists solely to gatekeep sexual favors.

    You see, the fact that men feel this particular type of frustration indicates that there are several layers of sexist assumptions at work beneath the surface to begin with, because this frustration isn’t the frustration of one human seeking to understand another: it’s the frustration of a man who can’t get stupid snack vending machines work right reliably.

    In any case, I then utilize (1) and (2) to explain some of the true cases of gender essentialism in history, like Otto Weininger, who wrote that genius and masculinity are the same thing. I put that down to the loneliness of high-IQ males, basically. The high-IQ males are rare to begin with, but the comparably high-IQ females are even rarer (on account of the reduced variance of sex-linked traits in women), and so some of the high-IQ males convince themselves that female genius is nonexistent, that maleness (of which they are an instance) is the essence of high intelligence (of which they are also an instance), and so forth.

    This is an interesting explanation. Unfortunately, there are far more adherents of gender essentialism than there are geniuses, I believe. Historically speaking, the assumption that women are fluff-brained morons has been the majority opinion. This can’t be explained by the possible lonely experiences of a few male geniuses.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Angel, it seems you are trying hard to be offended. Just because I do not mention a distinction does not mean I am not aware of it – it means I did not think it worth mentioning. And my mentioning a hypothesis does not mean I “fail to question” it. Also your second comment is too long for a blog comment.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Robin, telling someone who’s tried to articulate why your approach to an issue is harmful and how it could be made less so that they’re “trying hard to be offended,” is dismissive, unkind, and it reflects badly on you. I can assure you, I am quite pleased every time I fail to run into sexism.

    Many people have given their energy and time to create tools to negate gender bias encoded in language; it is difficult to understand how their work could be considered “not worth mentioning” when you’re talking about gender. That’s like saying that math is irrelevant to a conversation about Quantum Physics.

    I tried to make my second post as short as possible. As it stands, my portion of the comment is exactly 610 words long. It might seem longer than that since I thought it was necessary to quote select portions of Mitchell’s comment for context.

  • Z. M. Davis

    “Angel, it seems you are trying hard to be offended.”

    Hanson, it seems you are trying hard to be offensive.

  • mitchell porter

    Angel: “Historically speaking, the assumption that women are fluff-brained morons has been the majority opinion. This can’t be explained by the possible lonely experiences of a few male geniuses.”

    Has it? The Henry Higgins quote represents one tendency but not the majority, I would have thought. Isn’t there a long tradition of attributing cunning to women, as well? And both are rather emotive judgements, anyway. If you judge history by its more considered opinions, you’ll find platitudes like: women are good at practical matters, but men are better at abstractions. Possibly backed up with an appeal to the preponderance of men among history’s high intellectual achievers. That last factor is precisely where a difference at the far ends of the Bell curve might be mistaken for a difference in essence. And while it might not take a genius to make that mistake, it might take a genius to turn it into a culture-defining philosophy.

    As to whether something like Riley’s assertion is correct, perhaps we can first agree that there is a historical phenomenon to be explained. The narrow version might focus on the majority role of men in philosophy and the sciences (for example), up until the present. The broader version might also include men in more active roles, as political and military figures, for example. In theory, you could explain all that with the more-male-geniuses hypothesis, on the grounds that intelligence is crucial to success in any of those fields, and empirically it’s only a few exceptional men who are doing all this achieving. Against that, we have all those other hypotheses, e.g., men are just more competitive, women are steered into domesticity, lack of female access to opportunity due to anti-female ideology backed up by male physical strength, etc. Of course, the actual explanation may be a combination of several factors.

    The argument from genetics interests me because its two premises – intelligence is a sex-linked trait and male traits exhibit greater variance – do appear to be true. The evidence from IQ tests seems equivocal to me, or at least the data are complicated, and the construction of IQ tests also seems such an inexact art that I would always be a little skeptical of any claimed result that wasn’t screamingly and undeniably there. Personally, I am impressed most by what I called the narrow version of the historical phenomenon: a dozen Platos for every Hypatia, so to speak. The fate of Hypatia is certainly a reminder that there were other factors at work besides relative success on standardized tests, but then Bruno and Archimedes met violent ends as well.

  • Nick Tarleton

    On variance:
    “There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper.”
    – Camille Paglia

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Mitchell, in respect for the rule here regarding comment length, I’ve replied to your comment in my personal blog.

  • Z. M. Davis

    (The following is cross-posted, with relevant edits, from a comment thread at Angel’s blog:)

    Arthur Jensen, in his tome The g Factor, concludes that “[t]he generally observed sex difference in variability of tests [sic] scores is attributable to factors other than g.” (This is supported in that “[f]or all but one test [in Jensen’s analysis] (WAIS), greater male variability on the subtests is negatively correlated with the subtests’ g loadings.” Emphasis in original.) When Arthur Jensen, whom I doubt anyone has ever accused of being an egalitarian ideologue, says “No difference,” it can hardly be asserted that greater male variability in intelligence is an established fact.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Z.M. Davis, you are a gentleperson and a scholar!

    I doff my hat to you.

    ((doffs))

    ((notes down Arthur Jensen’s name and the book title))

    🙂

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    FYI, last night I had a conversation with Angel and others over at her blog. Apparently I am a terrible person because in this one blog post above I did not offer a thorough review of the many possible ways to conceive of male female differences, and because I allowed the Henry Higgins quote in the comments.

  • Rashaka

    —-
    Nick Tarleton said:
    “There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper.”
    – Camille Paglia
    —-

    That quote in itself is an expression of bias, because of the inherent assumption that extremity (of genius or of cruelty) is a male dominated realm. Blanket stereotypes that assume women are incapable of extreme cruelty is as damaging and offensive as claiming that women are incapable of genius works of art composition.

    And although I wouldn’t normally make this point as it is off-topic, but because it was stated earlier that men are more interested in nitpicking pointless arguments for the sake of illuminating The Truth, I’ll give you this nitpicking detail: citing an anonymous person, whose identity and gender *cannot be proved* as an example of male dominance does nothing except to display the bias in your own thoughts. “Jack the Ripper” is a gendered name given to an anonymous person, based on assumptions of crime, murder, sex, and power. If you want to make a point that people will take seriously, at least try to use someone you can guarantee as an actual man before you use their maleness as evidence in a discussion.

    ————
    Robin said:

    “FYI, last night I had a conversation with Angel and others over at her blog. Apparently I am a terrible person because in this one blog post above I did not offer a thorough review of the many possible ways to conceive of male female differences, and because I allowed the Henry Higgins quote in the comments.”
    ——-

    “Apparently I am” is a dismissive comment that characterizes the other person’s opinions as subject and not to be taken seriously. I haven’t read that discussion, but I am sure that the path toward overcoming bias in not found by dismissing the opinions of someone out of hand. Try not to take a personal offense at what you perceive her comments are implying and look to the message her original responses. They are what matters here, not personal grudges.

    Instead of dismissing the complaint as a problem inherent to females, look for the bias you have already. Overcoming bias is a work-in-progress, and just asking the questions doesn’t mean you have overcome them. You may not believe that is what you conveyed, but that is the arrogance that has come through in your comments, regardless of your intention. Rather than turn away from this complaint, use this as an opportunity to reach out to female readers and to try to understand things you may have overlooked in your website. Try to understand Angel’s point rather than being biased toward it.

  • Tim Tyler

    Greater male variance in intelligence test scores is now an established-enough fact for Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_and_intelligence#Variance_in_IQ

    Most of the references this page cites date from after Jensen’s book was published.

    The result is not very surprising: males exhibit greater variance in many traits. In evolutionary theory, this seems likely to stem from their greater variance in reproductive success.

  • caia

    You know, if I were a decision-maker at famous university, and I were establishing a blog about overcoming bias, I’d perhaps pick some people open to querying their own biases, and responding thoughtfully and self-critically when the issue of their own privilege(s) were raised.

    Oh, what am I saying! Of course the more logical conclusion is that women’s prioritization of relationships is threatened by the high purpose of this noble endeavor, impeccably carried out by ideal enlightened men.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    “There is no female Camille Paglia.”
    -Hopefully Anonymous

  • Rashaka

    In terms of internet discussion, the act of citing Wikipedia as a source of facts for an ‘academic’ discussion is only one step less stupid than the act of proving Godwin’s Law true. Which I’m sure will happen soon enough anyway.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: citing Wikipedia – that Wikipedia article was well referenced with sources in the scientific literature on the subject. If you really want to mak a contrary technical argument, your sources should do the same.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessantsion/ Jessant

    “Oh, what am I saying! Of course the more logical conclusion is that women’s prioritization of relationships is threatened by the high purpose of this noble endeavor, impeccably carried out by ideal enlightened men.”

    I’m reading this blog and cackling. The bias here is blinding and fairly typical of this kind of academic. Evolutionary psychology might as well be voodoo. I do not consider it a science at all. It doesn’t even have an organized approach to human psychology. It’s a young, immature branch of study. Most of the time it seems to me ideal speculation. Fodder for popular science magazines and blogs like this one. Some men love to create useless theories that correspond to what they already believe about the world (and women of course) and thus Evolutionary psychology was born. It doesn’t do a whit of good for humanity in general. These theories crop up on my google news page from time to time, always going on about the supposed reasons for women’s inferiority to men. It’s a self serving branch of study, I’m beginning to believe. It’s fodder for news at its most harmless and male propaganda at its worse.

    And yes, I’m a woman, and I think buried in the language you use is a lot of hatred for women. That’s just my biased opinion.

  • Erika

    I am responding here not only to the discussion in this entry, but also to comments made by Hanson and Yudkowsky in the recent LiveJournal posts that spun off from Angel’s comments above.

    It is incredible to me that two academics who are so inspired by Kahneman & Tversky’s work should be so ill-informed about social cognition, which is a broad and robust framework for analyzing the ways in which cognitive heuristics and biases play out in social interactions. There are any number of good graduate-level introductions to the topic out there, although Social Cognition: From Brains To Culture by Fiske & Taylor is probably the classic.

    Sexism, racism, and other biases against particular groups of people are not simply social justice issues; they are also cognitive issues that arise out of the same information-processing strengths and weaknesses that govern our economic choice behaviors. In fact, some of K & T’s classic heuristics have been demonstrated and analyzed in the context of social interactions right from the very beginning, such as the availability heuristic and the representativeness heuristic.

    When people comment on the irony that a blogging community dedicated to overcoming bias should have such problems with gender bias, to claim that that is some entirely different use of the word “bias” is quite simply wrong. If you choose not to use the analytical tools at your disposal to investigate such matters, well, that is your choice (or, one might say, your privilege). But thousands of social psychologists around the world would agree that such matters are well within your reach, without you having to learn anything about feminist epistemology, even.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Erika, I believe that’s what I said on mswyrr’s blog – that the two concepts of “bias” are different but with the obvious overlap from social psychology.

  • Tim Tyler

    My understanding of the term “bias” – in the context of sexism, racism, ageism, etc – is that it is often used to refer to deviation from an ideal of not assuming anything about a person’s abilities from their gender, race, age – despite what is normally mountains of experience suggesting that such inferences would, in fact, be valid statistically.

    From the point of view of the usual meaning of the word “bias”, such usage represents a hijacking of the term by the politically correct – probably in the interest of helping to enforce the social norm behaviours – by making deviations sound bad. The implication is that the social norms represent accepted societal truths – and therefore deviations from them inevitably represent biases.

  • Laura ABJ

    I agree with Jessant that there is an underlying current of misogyny latent in this blog. However, I also think there is as much fear of women as disdain, and this is only sensible. Many men clearly do not understand women AT ALL, and when you have some unknown creatures, as smart as you, and nearly as large, with the full capability of ripping your heart out and squishing it with the heal of a shoe, and you have to live with these things… well, it makes sense that men come up with some coping mechanisms- like demonizing and thereby avoiding them, or putting them in neatly labled zip-lock bags, or comforting themselves with the false pretense that women are weak and silly and stupid and the cruel incisive things they say can be merely discounted as irrational ramblings… I never entertained the pretense that women are ‘better’ or ‘more good’ than men, just that they are not necessarily worse…

  • Erika

    Looking through the blog, I see very little evidence that you (the plural you, since Hanson seems to be most of the problem) are aware that your perceptions and analysis of gender issues could be swayed by cognitive biases, and that those biases are the mechanisms by which interpersonal and societal-level biases are produced and maintained. Instead, when it comes to posts about gender issues (including reproduction) I see references to “everyone knows” and “it sure looks to me” and other such indicators of non-rigorous thought that I would never expect to see in a blog dedicated to extirpating irrational, unexamined thought processes.

    Incidentally, I also see entries referring to women as whiners who overestimate their suffering relative to the suffering of men, and entries arguing that possibly women should be considered a commodity, much like food, to which men should be granted access. Do I really need to explain that entries like these help make the blog unappealing to women? Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that women require sweetness and niceness. I am not suggesting that women prefer to be protected from challenging ideas. But what I am suggesting, in the strongest possible terms, is that blog entries (particularly those dealing with gender issues) be written from a point of view that assumes that women are fellow examiners, not merely the objects of examination.

  • http://www.allancrossman.com Allan Crossman

    Rashaka: “Jack the Ripper” is a gendered name given to an anonymous person, based on assumptions of crime, murder, sex, and power.

    What probability would you yourself assign to the proposition “Jack the Ripper was female”?

  • http://econoblag.blogspot.com/ Daniel Reeves

    A few things:

    1. Angel: look at your marginal cost/marginal revenue curves! They don’t intersect at the 100,000 words mark. Nobody here wants to read a novel unless it’s by Eliezer.

    Also, that quote at the end of your first post in your blog was taken way out of context. Shame.

    2. Hanson: that Higgins comment you made was definitely trolling and unfair.

    Are you familiar with P.C. Wason’s 1960 experiment? He gave his subjects three numbers (2, 4, 6) and asked them to identify the pattern. When he said that the pattern the subjects were giving him was wrong, the subjects insisted! They basically thought, “well, maybe if I explain what I’m trying to say differently…” Haha, those fools!

    We’re often clingy with bad ideas, as if to prove our silly and fallible presuppositions. I guess it has to do with cognitive dissonance or something like that. I don’t know; I’m not a psychologist. But I do believe that you’re being biased.

    Also, the fact that many women are mad at what you said should signal that you’re doing SOMETHING wrong.

    3. Jessant: “Some men [<- ???] love to create useless theories that correspond to what they already believe about the world … and thus Evolutionary psychology was born.

    Seems like that’s how every theory is made, no? Would anybody say, “I made this theory… but I don’t actually believe it corresponds to anything that happens, is happening, or has happened?”

    I hope you’re not attributing all studies that say “women are inferior to men” (aside from being a horrible generalization, it may be a horrible straw man you concocted from your own biases) to evolutionary psychology.

    Lastly, “hatred” is a gross exaggeration. I have a hard time believing that even feminists believe that men like Hanson literally hate women. Disrespect and jest =/= hate.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/halfinney Hal Finney

    Keep in mind that Robin Hanson did not endorse the Henry Higgins quote or accompanying comment (“Women are biased and proud of it!!!”). It’s possible that he was concerned that this was an unstated view among many readers and that he thought it should be brought out into the open so that it could be discussed and criticized. I don’t think a fair reading of his blog posting would suggest that he agrees with the comment, especially noting his final two sentences where he gave his opinions. I’m not saying that his own opinions are correct, merely that his presentation of an idea without comment should not be assumed to imply endorsement.

    On this point see his Against Disclaimers. The Higgins quote is a good example of what he writes there: “since most who say such things do add the required disclaimers, observers can infer something unusual about the few who do not.” Robin Hanson did not offer any disclaimers about how he didn’t necessarily agree with the comment, so readers are drawing conclusions about what he meant by presenting it as he did.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Tim, the kind of work that goes into creating the sex and race (and other) stereotypes that intersectionally minded feminists work at revealing and uprooting is not carried out by individuals working out the way things generally are from experience. It’s a product of systematic, astonishing power imbalances between groups. Racial stereotypes come from colonial justifications for, among other things, taking other people’s land, kidnapping and then buying and selling them, depleting their natural resources, and carrying out mass violence against them. Sex stereotypes in the West hail from the days of mass, legally protected violence against women, including legal rape and wife beating, where women’s legal and social existence was that of chattel under the practical ownership of male relatives and husbands.

    I won’t speak for anyone else, but for myself I will say that it’s not a silly, idealistic thing I want. I want to be recognized as equally human, and I want other people to be treated the same. I want the filthy, disgusting rhetorical tools which were used to justify the abuse of people to be recognized as the absurd, horrific things that they are.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Angel, no matter how inaccurate and constructed by power stereotypes are (and they are, no doubt), Tim would still be right that “such inferences [from gender, race, age, etc.] would, in fact, be valid statistically” as long as there are any statistical differences between genders, races, or ages – it’s just that different inferences are valid than people think. It’s still plausible that those inferences should be discouraged, though, something that perhaps too many rationalists ignore.

  • http://dl4.jottit.com/contact Richard Hollerith

    I also see entries . . . arguing that possibly women should be considered a commodity, much like food, to which men should be granted access.

    I wrote one like that, here, but I hope it is not one of the ones you mean because it was not meant to be taken seriously: it is so absurd I thought every reader would realize that.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Nick, setting aside sexism for a moment, which is its own big bag of worms, race is a wholesale invention of mankind. It doesn’t really exist. People tied their misuse of other people to physical markers that humans tend to find noticeable, like melanin levels. If the human species on the whole had bad eye sight and keen smell, maybe we’d have created “race” categories based on variations of scent among humans.

    Comparing people of difference “races” is starting from a false premise to begin with. We might as well choose some other genetic variation, like people who can roll their tongue and people who can’t, and compare them. Both ways of categorizing people are equally arbitrary, but the one (race) has some kind of silly weight to it caused by culture. We say that race exists, and then we make it so as best we can by advantaging one group and disadvantaging another.

    Coming back to sex groups. As a species we do need to be able to recognize who we can successfully mate with. But beyond who has the ova and who has the sperm, we’re more alike than we are different. In larger contexts, sex is just used as a convenient generally human-noticed trait to tag with all kinds of grandiose baggage.

  • Nick Tarleton

    If race is only an arbitrary classification of melanin levels, how come it’s possible to, oh, determine a person’s race from their skull shape? Does tongue-rolling have correlates like that? (But this is getting off-topic.)

    Men and women are more alike than different – nobody’s disputing that! The question is what other traits are correlated with “who has the ova and who has the sperm”.

  • http://www.allancrossman.com Allan Crossman

    Angel: race is a wholesale invention of mankind. It doesn’t really exist.

    I would say that racial categories are an invention. If you look at people from all over the world (Jared Diamond does this in a series of photos in – I think – Guns, Germs and Steel) you see that different “races” blend into each other, with no clearly defined borders.

    So yes, I agree, in part. But it remains the case that genes are not spread perfectly evenly throughout humankind, but rather have different frequencies in different populations. Sometimes two or more genes are correlated, such that (statistically) if you have gene A you’re more likely to have gene B.

    Thankfully, as far as I know, there are not significant innate differences in psychology between different populations (though as you’d expect, there are some obvious cultural differences). And even if there were such innate differences, racism would still be a great evil (this point often gets overlooked).

    [On sexes] But beyond who has the ova and who has the sperm, we’re more alike than we are different.

    Of course, but that’s not the same as saying that there are no innate sex differences at all.

    … Damn, Nick made these points more concisely and before I did … 🙂

  • Z. M. Davis

    “race is a wholesale invention of mankind. It doesn’t really exist.

    Well, maybe.

    I say this sort of thing all the time, but only because it bears such repeating: it’s important to keep one’s facts and values separate. We don’t want to make the moral struggle against race-/class-/gender-/sexuality-based oppressions depend on the empirical propositions that race does not exist, and that sex is nothing but genetalia, because to the extent that you make falsifiable claims about reality like that, you could just be wrong. And what would we do then?

    No, better to leave a line of retreat, seek the cold, hard facts of the matter, and say “The utility function is not up for grabs.” It’s something I’m presently coping with, on this question of gender. Angel, I sympathize, I really do. I love the spirit of the “more alike than different” line, and we can go on loving that spirit, but as an argument, it’s just not going to fly.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Nick, I admit my ignorance re: “race” going forward.

    Let me ask: is it possible to determine a person’s “race” from their skull shape, or the general location on earth that they/their ancestors hailed from and what kind of environmental factors influenced people in that area? I think it’s the second case. And I think that “ethnicity” has been created as a way to refer to things like that (as well as cultural heritage?) without the baggage of the whole delusional pack of idiocy that “race” represents.

    Damn, I need to read more on this.

    Okay, now on a little bit firmer footing… outside of medical research into treating diseases of the sex organs and secondary sexual characteristics (i.e. breasts), I don’t see the usefulness of studies on biological sex differences. I lift my hands to the sky and cry out: “But what’s it for? What good does it do?” It doesn’t do any good, from what I can see. At worst its minuscule findings are used to lend credence to sexism, a much more pressing problem than someone’s curiosity over whether male and female brains differ. Why spend time and money on it? It isn’t improving anyone’s life. On a more rationalist level, I don’t think this path is the one that’s going to take us to Truth with a capital T, either.

  • Z. M. Davis

    My initial attempt at posting this got eaten by the spam filter, and it somewhat mirrors Allan and Nick above, but this issue is near to my metaphorical heart, so I’m editing and trying again.

    race is a wholesale invention of mankind. It doesn’t really exist.

    Well, maybe.

    I say this sort of thing all the time, and I already said it on your blog, but only because it bears such repeating: it’s important to keep one’s facts and values separate. We don’t want to make the moral struggle against race-/class-/gender-/sexuality-based oppressions depend on the empirical propositions that race does not exist, and that sex is nothing but genetalia, because to the extent that you make falsifiable claims about reality like that, you could just be wrong. And what would we do then?

    No, better to leave a line of retreat, seek the cold, hard facts of the matter, and say, ” ‘The utility function is not up for grabs.’ ” It’s something I’m presently coping with, on this question of gender. Angel, I sympathize, I really do. I love the spirit behind the “more alike than different” line, and we can go on loving that spirit, but as an argument, it’s just not going to fly, for essentially the reasons Nick and Allan give.

  • Z. M. Davis

    “Why spend time and money on it? It isn’t improving anyone’s life.”

    Oh, but neuroscience research is incredibly important! If you want to change things for the better, it would certainly be helpful to know how things actually work right now. And if we stumble across some uncomfortable facts along the way, we can only recite the Litany of Gendlin and press on. If it turns out that your worst case scenario is true, and you fear that your ideological enemies are going to spin the facts against you poltically, then start your counterspin now; don’t wait for the old theory to be slowly, agonizingly disproven.

    Or–I don’t know–become a transhumanist and fight for the day when psychological androgyny by technological fiat is available to anyone who wants it.

    And I don’t care if it’s difficult.

  • Wendy Collings

    Rule of life #3: First fix the problem you can see, then deal with what’s left.

    Lack of posts and comments by women here isn’t the problem itself, just a symptom of one. Try fixing the ones that are apparent, then see what’s left. Sometimes weird symptoms just go away when you do that.

    So what appears to need fixing? There are some interesting blogs, and a fairly high standard of forum commentary here. But …

    – A lot of the posts are based on some premise that’s unresearched, and only supported by a journalist’s comment or the poster’s own perception. It might lead to interesting debate, but if you want to overcome bias it’s not where you start from.

    – Having seen that the advice for would-be contributors (“ideal posts are short, direct, have a clear thesis, and clear support”) is regularly ignored by the editors for their own posts, and that they reserve their approval against some unpublished standard (“we don’t always have time to explain why a topic is not appropriate”), I wouldn’t bother submitting a post. It just seems too bizarre to submit essays on overcoming bias to a biased approval process!

    I’d be interested to see what would happen if the contributor approval process were changed, so that all posts were checked independently against a published list of standards. If the editors don’t know what to put in the checklist, they don’t actually know what they’re looking for.

    In short, it’s an interesting blog about bias (usually), but “overcoming” bias? Start again!

  • Unknown

    The insults being given on this thread are not a sign that anyone is overcoming bias.

  • Nick Tarleton

    And even if there were such innate differences, racism would still be a great evil (this point often gets overlooked).

    *applauds*

    Let me ask: is it possible to determine a person’s “race” from their skull shape, or the general location on earth that they/their ancestors hailed from and what kind of environmental factors influenced people in that area? I think it’s the second case. And I think that “ethnicity” has been created as a way to refer to things like that (as well as cultural heritage?) without the baggage of the whole delusional pack of idiocy that “race” represents.

    Same thing, really; “race” is the abstract category we use as a shorthand for the correlations (‘clusters in person-space’) between skin color, bone structure, ancestry, and anything else that might correlate with these. You’re probably right, though, that racial categories have been laden with so much crap (and people are so functionally ignorant, often self-servingly, of statistics) that discouraging inferences from race (or sex, age, whatever) is desirable. There can’t be many cases where an important decision must be made depending on some variable correlating with race, but more detailed information that (almost) completely screens off race isn’t available.

  • Doug S.

    Gender seems to be a mind-killer. I suspect that we are unable to talk about this subject in this forum without the conversation degenerating, any more than if we started talking about who to vote for in the next election.

  • http://dl4.jottit.com/contact Richard Hollerith

    I think so too.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: “race is a wholesale invention of mankind. It doesn’t really exist.”

    Race is real enough for forensic scientists to use it to catch criminals.

    Humans are naturally xenophobic, and use appearance clues to make ingroup vs outgroup judgements.

    Denying the existence of race seems unlikely to help deal with the associated social problems – you have to understand the issues before you can intelligently deal with them.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Race exists as a wholesale invention of mankind. Biologically produced characteristics which humans find noticeable are adopted to shore up stereotypes, but the stereotypes themselves are a little patch of gangrenous insanity within the human brain.

  • Erika

    Richard: No, your comment is clearly tongue-in-cheek. I was referring to Hanson’s post titled “Food Vs. Sex Charity”.

  • Tim Tyler

    Racial concepts are utilitarian. E.g. it really helps to tell the police whether your mugger was asian, african, white, or whatever. The racial categories that exist do so mostly as a result of isolation, inbreeding, selection and the founder effect. See:

    Race: The Reality Of Human Differences

    The History and Geography of Human Genes

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: I want to be recognized as equally human, and I want other people to be treated the same.

    Anybody who had been treated poorly would at least wish for equal treatment.

    However, problems arise when this sentiment results in denial about the existing knowledge of human differences.

    Nature doesn’t do equality in these areas. Everyone is different – and abilities run from substantial, right down to the severely disabled.

    Scientists have been pointing out such inequalities for a long time. From Lawrence Summers to James Watson.

    Arguing that everyone is equal results in an unstable world view that is prone to collapse – since the available evidence says otherwise.

    IMHO, it is better to argue for equal treatment than for equality of ability or potential. We still give disabled people the vote – though it is true that we don’t give votes to cats and dogs.

    Argue only for equal treatment and you are much less likely to have your views run afoul of scientific studies.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Tim, I was arguing for equal treatment when I said that I want to be recognized as equally human and that I want that for other people as well. How does “equally human” translate into “having the exact same abilities” in your mind?

    “We still give disabled people the vote,” do we? You say that as if there’s two groups, “we” and those “disabled people.” That right there is known as “othering”: it assumes that those disabled people are floating around somewhere, and we here, we normal people, are speaking about them. In fact, if you looked at studies of human physical and mental ability, I believe you’d find a range of abilities among people, not neatly separate categories.

    I’d like to give myself as an example. I am one of those “disabled people” the “we” you speak for so kindly allows to vote. I have a cognitive disability which affects my memory and processing.

    Who is this “we” I should address an open letter of thanks to for letting me vote?

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    Isn’t it shocking when not only women, but those disabled people pop up in your precious, oh so distant and rational conversation, conducting themselves as if they were real people who occupy the world just like you do, instead of abstractions that live in some distant limbo and whose fate clever, able men like you must weigh?

  • unfortunate conflict of data

    “We still give disabled people the vote,” do we? You say that as if there’s two groups, “we” and those “disabled people.

    How would you like him to phrase the thought? Presumably, it’s the case that Tim’s society, which he not-unreasonably refers to as “we”, gives the vote to – amongst others – disabled people. So what else is he supposed to say?

    Perhaps you don’t like the idea of being “given” the vote. But frankly, democracies are a highly unnatural state of affairs. It’s not like “the vote” is something we’d have in a state of nature. It is indeed something we’re all given.

  • unfortunate conflict of data

    I’m sorry Angel, my last reply was composed too quickly, and was a bit rash.

    I don’t mean to dismiss the way that subtleties of language can reinforce discrimination. So I do accept that that sentence might have been better phrased. Forgive me if I was overly eager to weigh in against you.

    Your point is basically valid. As for me, I might be described as mentally ill (I’ve not been diagnosed with anything though I suspect I could be). If someone said “we allow the mentally ill to vote”, would I be offended? I’m not sure. Maybe I would. Maybe not.

    So my apologies for being overly argumentative.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    unfortunate conflict of data, thanks for your understanding. There’s a wide range of abilities among people, and often abilities change throughout the course of a person’s life. (To give an example of physical ability: curb-cuts are necessary for people who have permanent mobility issues, but also for people who are experiencing temporary ones, like having thrown their back out, or having been in a car accident. And a person who may not need them when young will grow to find them vital as they age. Therefore, providing curb-cuts isn’t a gift of the able to the disabled, it’s a sensible provision for every human being, because human beings live within a range of ability which varies over time. These same principles apply to other areas of ability, such as cognitive abilities.) I felt personally offended at being excluded, but also I felt angry because Tim was including me in the “we” (read: “us normal people”) side of his false dichotomy. As someone who’s disability isn’t one that people consider noticeable, or have been taught to consider noticeable, I can often “pass” for “normal.” Because of this I escape the brunt of ableist bias that other people receive the full force of. I feel that that is utter bullshit, and I feel like it’s important to point out how this kind of thinking is (a) ignorant of the realities, (b) dismissive of people, (c) personally hurtful to me.

  • http://mswyrr.livejournal.com/ Angel

    *”whose”, not “who’s” 😉

    Also, to address a point I passed over in my reply, mental health isn’t a static thing, either. It’s not a choice between absolute health and absolute illness. There’s a range. As they live, people’s brains change and experiences effect them. If you find that you’ve having a problem, it might be an enormous relief to seek answers/treatment from a reliable source.

  • http://econoblag.blogspot.com/ Daniel Reeves

    Nick, setting aside sexism for a moment, which is its own big bag of worms, race is a wholesale invention of mankind. It doesn’t really exist. People tied their misuse of other people to physical markers that humans tend to find noticeable, like melanin levels. If the human species on the whole had bad eye sight and keen smell, maybe we’d have created “race” categories based on variations of scent among humans.

    Sorry if I’m beating a dead horse.

    I agree wholly with the political implications of your argument. In short, I see people, not people of race.

    But let’s not forget that race is still a useful classification tool for social and genetic purposes because of how people isolate themselves. It’s Baynesian probability. If I said, “John is a young American male who dislikes rap music,” he’s more likely to not be black than anybody described only as a “young American male.” If I said, “Jimmy is an American Olympic runner,” you could assume with plenty of confidence that he’s black.

    For more, read “The Salamander’s Tale” in Dawkins’s tome, The Ancestor’s Tale. He basically says what I have said, only in more detail.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: Who is this “we” I should address an open letter of thanks to for letting me vote?

    Society? The government? But probably not some group that excludes disabled people: both society and the government include disabled individuals.

  • Tim Tyler

    Why does this blog have a male bias? My guess at the proximate reason seems to be that this is mostly a nerd blog, by nerds, for nerds – and nerds are mostly male.

  • maej

    Discussions of this nature are always difficult for me. My interests are skewed toward the abstract and rigorous. I am a scientist by both inclination and training. I learned long ago not to attempt to speak for women as a class, but do my best to understand what relates to me and others’ perceptions of me as a member of that class.

    In light of that, posts like Robin Hanson’s rankle me because they do not confirm my personal experience and yet, given my uncertainty about the beliefs and pursuits of other women, I cannot deny that his claims may be on average correct. My concession of my own lack of knowledge in this matter, which does not spring from a lack of observation or research, makes me skeptical of others’ pronouncements on the motives of either sex.

    I will simply disclose that I read this blog mostly for it’s relation of interesting datapoints on observable biases. These are always of interest to me since, as a researcher, I work very had to design experiments which produce a given result independent of the operator. Or at least experiments where one can also study the impact of operator on result.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t checked all the posts, but just in case people do pointing out that the “feminists” mentioned don’t speak for all women.

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