Thank you to Jeremy Stangroom

by Michael Nugent on February 26, 2013

I’d like to thank Jeremy Stangroom for his gracious apology for accidentally misrepresenting my article about a sexist photograph on Facebook. It’s a welcome example of how to stop misunderstandings perpetuating or escalating online. I would also like to reciprocate the apology for phrasing my article in a way that contributed to the misunderstanding arising.

Jeremy thought that I had conducted an experiment using flawed methodology, and indeed his criticisms would have been accurate if I had conducted such an experiment using such methodology. However, I hadn’t conducted any experiment. I was writing about two existing Facebook posts, identical other than one included a sexist photo, in order to lead into a call for action to challenge online sexist comments.

Jeremy is also correct that I used a simplistically adjusted ballpark figure to describe the extent to which the post with the sexist photo was more popular, and that this figure is in reality compromised by any number of statistical issues. The article was a political call for action rather than a research paper, and my priority was to establish that the use of the sexist photo had a major impact on the popularity of the post, using a ballpark figure that I felt comfortable standing over, rather than detailing exactly how the increase in popularity can be precisely quantified.

In retrospect I could have just cited the basic figures, even though these were many times higher than when I adjusted them for original audience size. That would have kept focus on my main argument, which is that including the sexist photo led to many more people sharing this post, which in turn led to more sexist comments including rape comments, that some people challenged those sexist comments while most stayed silent, and that the more of us that publicly challenge these sexist comments, the more likely they are to subside.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeremy Stangroom February 26, 2013 at 5:16 am

Thanks for accepting my apology, Michael. FWIW, I don’t think your article contributed to my misunderstanding. I just didn’t read your opening paragraphs carefully enough (because I’d read elsewhere that you had done an experiment).

Okay, as promised, this is why you’re not justified in concluding that “the sexist photo led to many more people sharing this post”.

Basically, you’re treating this setup as a natural experiment, where the photo is your independent variable and the number of shares is your dependent variable (you’re also making the further assumption that number of shares is indicative of sexism – so in effect you’re operationalising your concept of sexism in terms of a raw count of shares).

All of this is highly problematic.

But let’s just focus on your dependent variable. The problem you have is that your dependent variable isn’t merely affected by the presence or absence of the photo (i.e., the independent variable), it’s also dependent upon itself (i.e., affected by itself). To put it simply, the more something is shared, the more people will see it, meaning the more potential there is for it to be shared, and so on.

Okay, so why does this matter? Consider the following scenario.

You’ve got your two FB groups.

Your sexist photo group has 8 friends, all of whom are friends with each other, but nobody else.

Your no-photo group has 2 friends, one of which is a page that has a million Likes.

So that keeps your original 4 to 1 ratio.

Then this happens:

All of your sexist photo group share the picture with their friends (i.e., each other). So everybody who has seen the sexist picture shares it. *But* that’s only 8 shares in total, because there’s a bottleneck. They’re only friends with each other. It can’t go any further. (So this is where the fact the dependent variable is dependent upon itself comes into play.)

Only 50% of the no-photo group share the joke, and then only a tiny 1% of the friends of that person share the joke, etc. But it so happened that it was originally shared by the page with 1,000,000 “Likes”, so this is going to add up to a large number of total shares.

Now adopting your logic, because the first group – the sexist photo group – is 4 times bigger than the second group, you should divide that group’s total shares by 4. But that makes absolutely no sense, because before the “experiment” even got going, the sexist photo could never reach more than eight people. So even though, as far as we can tell, the sexist photo is highly popular – 100% of the people who saw it shared it – it has a very low total share count. The opposite is true of the no-photo joke – not particularly popular (only 1% share it) – but it gets a huge number of shares.

Okay, it should be clear from this example why raw share figures *on their own* tell us nothing about the popularity of the sexist photo versus the joke.

Trouble is, Michael, you have no idea how this sort of thing actually played out in the particular groups you’re talking about. You can’t look at shares, which might well have grown at an exponential rate in one group simply because early on the photo happened to be shared by people with very large numbers of friends, and conclude that it was the photo that caused (or “led to”, in your words) many *more* people to share the post. You just don’t know.

Tell you what, even if you were able to control for the problem of bottlenecks & exponential growth, you still wouldn’t be much further forward, because then you’d have to deal with the possibility that there are systematic differences between the friends of your two groups (perhaps, for example, a few very popular people who saw the sexist photo early on were 4Chan types, who never got to see the joke, but would have shared it even without the photo if they had seen it).

Thing is, it would be entirely unsurprising if the photo had an effect. But this piece of “research” (I don’t mean the inverted commas in a snarky way) doesn’t tell us anything other than that people will share upskirt photos, which frankly we already knew.

You have no preview function, so it’s possible this will be garbled. But I did my best!

2 Amanda Marcotte February 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Anyone trying to teach the concept of “motivated reasoning” should really look at sexist apologists trying to find any reason humanly possible to discredit observations of sexism that objectively and demonstrably happened. It’s amazing. The minimizing in the above comment is mind-boggling, especially the claim that all this “doesn’t tell us anything other than that people will share upskirt photos”. Wrong, wrong, wrong. He went on to show that we learn more about them than they are generic “people” or that they show it for reasons unknown. He showed the posters are not, contrary to popular belief, marginalized tyeps or teenagers. And he showed that they have *reasons* for sharing the photos, which is to demonstrate their dominance over and loathing for women. We know this, because they basically said so. That’s important information, and I’m curious as to why it’s so important to minimize.

3 Ophelia Benson February 26, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Amanda said what I was drawing breath to say. It’s not “people.” It’s not “people” who (as we already knew) will share upskirt photos. I wonder if we can, if we try very hard, figure out who it is who will share upskirt photos.

4 Arnold MacGrudder February 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm

“It’s amazing. The minimizing in the above comment is mind-boggling, ”

Not when you consider the source.

5 Julie Gillis February 26, 2013 at 8:41 pm

What Amanda said. Wow.

6 Michael Nugent February 26, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Jeremy,

I am going to do some further research on this later, but before I do that I want to respond to your analysis based only on the information that I had available when I wrote the article.

Your argument

Firstly, is this a fair summary of your argument?

1. You say that I am not justified in concluding that “the sexist photo led to many more people sharing this post”, because:

(a) raw share figures *on their own* tell us nothing about the popularity of the sexist photo versus the joke, because of bottlenecks and exponential growth.

(b) even if we could control for bottlenecks and exponential growth, there could still be systemic differences between the friends in the two groups.

2. That said, you believe that the photo could have had an effect, but that the stats I cited show only what we already know, which is that people will share up-skirt pictures.

My initial responses

If that is a fair summary of your argument, these are my initial responses.

You are correct that raw share figures on their own tell us nothing about the relative popularity of the photo and the joke. But I also had other, albeit soft, information beyond the raw share figures. And while that combination is not enough to make certain types of assertion, it is enough to tell us *something* as opposed to *nothing* about what might be more likely explanations than others.

With regard to the bottleneck, you are correct that a group of 8 friends with no other friends would have no impact beyond themselves, while a group of 2 friends one of which has a million likes can have a very large impact while being a smaller group. But we are not dealing with these extreme examples. We are dealing with groups of over 40,000 and over 10,000 members, where such extremes are likely to average out.

With regard to the exponential growth, I didn’t check the rate of sharing, but I did read all of the comments in order to quote the ones that I did. If we assume that there is likely to be some correlation between shares and comments, there did not seem to be any massive peak on any of the days that would suggest a sudden extremely wide share. Again, this is not enough to say anything with certainty, but it is another clue to consider.

With regard to the possibility of systemic differences between the friends in the two groups, you are of course correct. But for the purpose of the argument I was making in the article, and in particular the fact that I was not making an extraordinary claim, it is not unreasonable to assume that these things are likely to average out with groups of over 40,000 and over 10,000 members respectively.

The 200 figure

Ironically, with regard to the method I used to cite the 200 figure, my purpose was to adjust the figures downward, in order to make a more conservative assertion. The only hard figures that I had were that this particular post with this particular photo was liked 848 times more often, and was shared 1,412 times more often, than the same post without the photo.

I didn’t want to cite such high figures without doing comprehensive research that would have been disproportionate for the purpose of the article I was writing, so I was looking for a way to reduce it to a figure I felt I could comfortably stand over without doing such research.

So I divided the figures that I had by the only variable that I also had figures for, which was the different starting point of likes that each page had when the joke was posted there, which was a multiple of 3.7. That gave me relative increases of 229 times more likes and 381 times more shares, of which I chose to use the lower figure and round it down to 200.

This was not an attempt to convey a comprehensively researched figure that took every variable into account. It was an attempt to find a ballpark figure, based on the figures that I did have, that was so conservative that I would feel comfortable standing over it without doing comprehensive research that would have been disproportionate to the purpose of the article. I will try to find time to do some comprehensive research on this later.

Summary

The points that you are making would be very relevant if I had indeed been conducting an experiment of the type that you mistakenly thought I had been claiming to have conducted.

However, now that you are aware that I was not conducting such an experiment, you could consider applying different criteria to how you analyze the argument and assertions I am making.

In this type of discourse, I generally try to make assertions about what I believe to be most likely based on applying reason to the best currently-available evidence, with a lot of unspoken caveats, and remain open to changing my mind if I get new evidence.

You yourself are happy to say (without producing any supporting evidence) that it would be entirely unsurprising if the photo had an effect, and that we already know that people will share up-skirt photos.

This should allow both of us, for our different reasons, to move on to the next stage of the argument that I was making, which is how this generates sexist comments, including rape comments, and how best to tackle this problem.

I’d be glad to hear your ideas on that, as well as any further thoughts on this response to your comment here.

7 Jeff February 26, 2013 at 10:10 pm

“Amanda said what I was drawing breath to say. It’s not “people.” It’s not “people” who (as we already knew) will share upskirt photos. I wonder if we can, if we try very hard, figure out who it is who will share upskirt photos.”

Well it certainly wasn’t the poor aspie bastard at TAM because he was completely innocent and the victim of scurrilous rumors.

8 James February 26, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Amanda, the only reason you find his post “amazing” is because you are simply too stupid to understand it.

9 Tom Swiss February 26, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Amanda, Jeremy has not “minimized” anything. He’s correctly pointed out a flawed argument: “raw share figures *on their own* tell us nothing about the popularity of the sexist photo versus the joke.”

Furthermore — speaking for myself here, not Jeremy — we have no way of knowing whether those who made stupid and sexist comments are “marginalized types” or not. First, as the old joke goes, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” — Facebook profiles are not reviewed for veracity. Second, someone honestly and accurately stating that they like classical music and their local church, or that they served in the armed forces, gives us no information as to their “marginalization”.

It’s all very well to suggest speaking up against sexist (and racist and homophobic and other bigoted) comments. I fully support what Michael is now calling the “political call for action” part of this; a well-placed “dude, not cool” can be an excellent tool for social change.

But the original post made claims that “that the joke is 200 times more popular when accompanied by the sexist photo” and that we can assess “[w]hat type of men are publishing comments like this” based on their FB profiles. The arguments advanced in support of those claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Pointing that out is not supporting sexism, it’s supporting disciplined critical thinking — an important (maybe the hardest!) part of which is not using an argument just because it supports a conclusion you believe to be true.

10 Stacy February 26, 2013 at 11:08 pm

“Well it certainly wasn’t the poor aspie bastard at TAM because he was completely innocent and the victim of scurrilous rumors”

Aspie? Citation needed. But I don’t think so. The fellow had no problem running for local office.

Completely innocent and the victim of scurrilous rumors? Utterly false characterization. Two women reported that he made them feel uncomfortable.

Since nobody saw the photographs he took, neither innocence nor guilt was proven.

Spreading false information to counter what you believe to be false information? Not helpful, Jeff.

11 Michael Nugent February 26, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Amanda and Ophelia, that is one of the most frustrating parts of this type of dialogue. Even if you were to grant that all of these type of criticisms were correct, I find it odd that people would find these matters the most important parts of the article to focus on. But I suppose everybody has their own priorities.

Tom Swiss, I am not using an argument just because it supports a conclusion I believe to be true. I’ve addressed that in comment 6 above. And from my reading of the Facebook profiles, I am satisfied that they accurately reflect who they are. It’s not an extraordinary claim, and there is no reason to be suspicious of it.

12 Stacy February 26, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Tom Swiss:

“Amanda, Jeremy has not “minimized” anything. ”

Yes, he has.

“He’s correctly pointed out a flawed argument: “raw share figures *on their own* tell us nothing about the popularity of the sexist photo versus the joke.”

Michael Nugent:

“The points that you [Jeremy] are making would be very relevant if I had indeed been conducting an experiment of the type that you mistakenly thought I had been claiming to have conducted.

“However, now that you are aware that I was not conducting such an experiment, you could consider applying different criteria to how you analyze the argument and assertions I am making.

“In this type of discourse, I generally try to make assertions about what I believe to be most likely based on applying reason to the best currently-available evidence, with a lot of unspoken caveats, and remain open to changing my mind if I get new evidence.

“You yourself are happy to say (without producing any supporting evidence) that it would be entirely unsurprising if the photo had an effect, and that we already know that people will share up-skirt photos.

“This should allow both of us, for our different reasons, to move on to the next stage of the argument that I was making, which is how this generates sexist comments, including rape comments, and how best to tackle this problem”

It will be interesting indeed to see whether or not Jeremy Stangroom moves on to “the next stage of the argument.”

Tom Swiss:

“we have no way of knowing whether those who made stupid and sexist comments are “marginalized types” or not. First, as the old joke goes, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” — Facebook profiles are not reviewed for veracity. Second, someone honestly and accurately stating that they like classical music and their local church, or that they served in the armed forces, gives us no information as to their “marginalization””

To suppose they’re all lying on their Facebook profiles, that teenagers and middle-aged basement dwellers are pretending to be husbands, fathers, grandfathers, etc., would be strikingly unparsimonious. Especially in light of the fact that we all know unmarginalized men who make sexist comments. They aren’t exactly unicorns.

This sort of hyperskeptical pedantry is another attempt to minimize and distract attention away from Michael’s main points.

13 Stacy February 26, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Sorry, Michael, I did not refresh before I posted my comment. I made the same points you did but you made them far more elegantly and succinctly!

14 Michael Nugent February 26, 2013 at 11:43 pm

That’s fine, Stacy. I had actually considered requoting the same part of my comment that you quoted :)

15 Ophelia Benson February 27, 2013 at 1:45 am

As you say, Michael, everybody has their own priorities. For some, it’s doing something about sexism; for others, it’s looking very hard at a speck of dust in the corner.

16 splashy February 27, 2013 at 10:45 am

It seems like the ones that try to deflect and deny post some of the longest comments. Trying to baffle us maybe?

17 Tom Swiss February 27, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Michael: “I am not using an argument just because it supports a conclusion I believe to be true.”

Let me clarify that I was making a general comment, aimed more at Amanda than at you. I don’t know the motivation or thought process that led to your errors in the original post. But I see posters here (and I’ve seen this in many other places over the years) who seem intent on denying that errors were made, or that the errors are unimportant, because the erroneous arguments support their beliefs.

“And from my reading of the Facebook profiles, I am satisfied that they accurately reflect who they are.” Would you please describe then why you believe that the sort of men who make comments supportive of rape are unlikely to be dishonest or inaccurate in how they reflect themselves on-line? And what sort of vetting and examination you did of these profiles, beyond the selected Facebook “likes” and such you originally posted?

It’s not a matter of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, it’s a matter of “ordinary claims require ordinary evidence”. That someone clicked “like” on classical music and their church just isn’t any evidence at all about what sort of person they are.

Now, a more in-depth analysis of their FB profiles and posts might allow us to profile them in some manner. (I say, *might*.) But you made no such mention of such an analysis in the original post; and to accept it as evidence we’d have to have a long discussion about the methods involved.

Stacy: “To suppose they’re all lying on their Facebook profiles, that teenagers and middle-aged basement dwellers are pretending to be husbands, fathers, grandfathers, etc., would be strikingly unparsimonious. Especially in light of the fact that we all know unmarginalized men who make sexist comments.”

If’ we’re going to make claims that these jerks (I’m assuming we can agree that those who post pro-rape comments are ipso facto jerks) are or aren’t “marginalized”, we need to define that term. You seem to be suggesting that husbands, fathers, grandfathers, etc., can’t be considered to fall into that category. I don’t understand why: the poor, the uneducated, racial and ethnic and religious and cultural minorities, the mentally ill, people with a criminal history…all of these groups who some might call “marginalized” can get married and have offspring.

And, to refer to the original post, many of these groups can also join the military, or like classical music and yoga and their church and so on. There is no conclusion about marginalization to be drawn from the evidence presented — doubly so without an operative definition of “marginalized”.

Furthermore, it also strikes me as possible that such jerks are more likely to be dishonest in general and misrepresent themselves on-line. (E.g., a thought process like “I don’t give a rat’s ass about church, but that hottie is always talking about Jesus so I’m going to click ‘like’ and I’ll undo it after I get into her pants.”) I’m not saying that this is the case, just that it would need to be accounted for if we we going to take FB profiles as evidence.

Ophelia: “For some, it’s doing something about sexism; for others, it’s looking very hard at a speck of dust in the corner.”

And this is the heart of the problem: if you want to effectively make positive change in the world, you must first accurately understand the world (or at least the part of it you wish to change). Crying “we must do something!” without getting the facts and reasoning correct often leads to ineffective or counter-productive or downright evil things being done.

Now, in this case, the suggested action — calling people out on their sexist comments — is independent of the claims made. It *does not matter* to the social disapproval strategy of discouraging sexism whether the photo had an impact on the joke spreading, or whether the jerks who make asinine comments could or could not be said to be “marginalized”. If Michael had restricted his original post to “hey wow, look at the nasty stuff some people are saying on this thread, isn’t it good how some other people are calling them out on it” — fine.

But we are not just engaged in anti-sexist action here. This blog claims to be pro-reason and pro-skepticism. With the original post, Michael has fallen down a bit there. (Hey, it happens to the best of us; and most of us have a lower profile on the web and so won’t have folks pointing out our errors with as much vigor.)

18 AndyM February 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I don’t think pointing out a flawed premise minimizes the problem being talked about…. unless that flawed premise is a key component of the “evidence” offered to prove/support the claims about the problem.

This isn’t just a comment on how ugly and widespread sexism and misogyny is, it was an attempt to portray it as far more common than normal, human behavior.

In illustrating the problem, Michael said/wrote “Taking into account that the first page has nearly four times the audience as the second page, that means that the joke is 200 times more popular when accompanied by the sexist photo.”

That’s a strong statement, makes a strong argument, but it isn’t a valid one. As pointed out, it does NOT mean that the photo makes the joke 200 times more popular (or, perhaps, that the photo, itself is 200 times more popular than the joke).

A statement like “the one with the photo had 800 times the number of shares despite only being four times as widespread in audience” – alone – allows the reader to see the facts, without leading them to a conclusion that can’t really be proven, while illustrating what Michael was getting at.

Why am I now “fixating” on this? Because (A) I noticed it as something that wasn’t necessarily shown when I read his blog post, but then (B) Amanda pointed it out as people trying to discredit the existence of the underlying problem.

Also not necessarily so. We live in a world where facts don’t seem to matter, and where people seem to think that all opinions are equal. As a result, one of the first things I usually comment on is when use of “facts” isn’t necessarily what they claim to be. I do this when it’s offered in a case where I agree with the sentiment or opinion offered, and I do this when I disagree.

It’s about trying to raise the level of critical thinking, as noted. If I only did this to discredit those I disagree with, and ignored or “minimized” it when I agreed with the writer, that would make me both a hypocrite, and a perpetrator of the “selective facts” crows.

I don’t doubt that a lot of people shared the photo because they found the drunken girl showing… whatever (haven’t seen or searched for it) to be amusing. The only problem I have is with Michael trying to extrapolate a specific measure of how much more popular it is, and also attacking the motives of those who simply have an interest in how people use facts and figures to support their positions.

Not everyone who takes issue with something like that disagrees with the over-arching argument, nor do they point that stuff out just because they hate women or are sexist pigs. Amanda seems to be very quick to attribute those kind of motives, but that’s just my opinion, based on a very limited sample of her writings. I could be wrong.

19 AndyM February 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Please excuse my obvious typos…. “crows” instead of “crowd”
missing comma after “, itself”

20 AndyM February 27, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Also, when I referred to Michael trying to extrapolate, and continued with “and also attacking” I was not saying that Michael, generally, was attacking the critics, himself. That was poor construction on my part.

21 AndyM February 27, 2013 at 5:09 pm

And, finally, yes, I do know that Michael, himself, is aware of and pointed out, himself, many of the points I made in my post about accuracy and wording.

22 Michael Nugent February 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Andy, you wrote in comment #18

This isn’t just a comment on how ugly and widespread sexism and misogyny is, it was an attempt to portray it as far more common than normal, human behavior.

That is actually the opposite of what I wrote, which was: “So we seem to have a small minority of sexist comments, a small minority of active challenges to the worst of them, and a large majority of people who are not publicly involved in either making or challenging the sexist comments.”

A statement like “the one with the photo had 800 times the number of shares despite only being four times as widespread in audience” – alone – allows the reader to see the facts, without leading them to a conclusion that can’t really be proven, while illustrating what Michael was getting at.

Yes, that would have been a more accurate way for me to phrase it (although it is actually 1,400 times more shares, not 800). The reason I didn’t use that type of phrase was to avoid making a claim that, while technically accurate, could also be misleading, because the figure would have to be qualified downwards by some other factors in order for it to be meaningful.

23 Steersman February 27, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Michael,

Quite enjoyed your post, including the original one [“Sexist photo ….”] – much food for thought. And I quite agree with your general policy of calling out the egregious sexism in more than a few of the comments you quoted – one can, and should, I think, quite reasonably characterize those individuals as sexists and sociopaths, if not outright psychopaths (“the thought is party to the deed”).

However, where the cheese gets a little more binding, where the wicket gets a little sticky, is in the inferences and conclusions that many seem to draw from those incidents. While it is, I think, a decidedly moot point as to how prevalent that sexism is in any given community, much less the atheist/skeptic one, it really does not help matters much when so many seem to be unclear on the concept and are so cavalier, to be charitable, in levelling charges of sexism and of being a sexist.

And as a rather egregious example of that there is the recent case of a bunch of “Freethought” bloggers who accused Michael Shermer of having issued a sexist comment when he asserted that “[atheist activism], it’s more of a guy thing”. And, in passing, I think that that accusation is tantamount to accusing him of being a sexist, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding: decidedly and entirely analogous to asserting that claiming someone murdered someone else is not tantamount if not completely equivalent to asserting that they are a murderer. But relative to Shermer’s comment and the question of the concept of “sexism” itself, I find it rather curious, if somewhat disturbing and rather problematic, that no one – and I mean absolutely no one; and I’ve asked repeatedly – has been prepared to show or prove how that statement of his qualifies as sexism by the dictionary definition, i.e., exhibiting discrimination – don’t recollect him saying that women weren’t allowed to engage in atheist activism of any kind – or that it was “promoting stereotypes” as simply noting some disparities hardly qualifies as that.

While I quite agree with you that we should be calling out particularly egregious cases of sexism – the broken window criminological theory, one might also suggest that people should be a little more circumspect about their accusations of that. Those guilty of not doing so might want to reflect on the parable of the little boy who cried “wolf” once too often – or, more to the point, the little “feminists” who cried “sexist” once too often.

24 doubtthat February 27, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Does the evil of FtB know no bounds? Calling an obviously sexist comment “sexist” is literally the sort of thing HH Holmes would do.

And then what hope does a poor victim like Shermer have? I mean, it’s not like he could apologize and say he was speaking live and didn’t explain things as he wished, no, that clearly isn’t an option. Backed into a corner like that, all he could do was lash out incoherently and accuse those evil bastards who called his obviously sexist comment “sexist” of using the internet to virtually hunt him down, torture him, then murder him. That’s why he can no longer share his opinions anywhere.

Thank whatever gods may be that folks like Steersman are there fighting for the right of people making sexist comments not to have those comments called “sexist.”

25 Steersman February 28, 2013 at 12:49 am

doubtthat said (#24):

Thank whatever gods may be that folks like Steersman are there fighting for the right of people making sexist comments not to have those comments called “sexist.”

Since no one else seems to have had the chops to actually tackle the question, maybe you would care to take up the challenge and elucidate precisely where the supposed sexism of Shermer’s statement resides and devolves from. As a point of reference, you might note the dictionary definition (1):

sex•ism (skszm)
n.
1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.

So, do explain where he even implied much less insisted with that comment that women had no right to engage in atheist activism, that he was actually discriminating against women. No? How about on the question of “promoting stereotyping of social roles based on gender”? Relative to which consider this salient concept (2):

ster•e•o•type (str–tp, stîr-)
n.
1. A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.
2. One that is regarded as embodying or conforming to a set image or type.

tr.v. ster•e•o•typed, ster•e•o•typ•ing, ster•e•o•types
2. To characterize by a stereotype:

The upshot of which is that characterizing an entire group by the attributes of some segment of it qualifies as an “oversimplified conception” and might therefore qualify as a case of “promoting a stereotype” – aka “sexism” in the case before the courts. But simply noting some factual disparities in some populations is not “oversimplified” and therefore doesn’t qualify. Consider: “[sickle-cell anemia], it’s more of a black thing”. Racist? Or a statement of fact (3)?

And relative to the case in discussion, you might also note that the Atheist Census (4) – 180,000 respondents, 63,000 from the US – puts the atheist population at 25% female and 75% male. And that the Pew Forum (5) puts the same population – US only – at 36% female and 64% male. So: is Shermer’s statement sexist or merely a statement of fact? Do show your work since your “obviously sexist” holds less water than a sieve.

Most unfortunate that folks like doubtthat have never learned to adequately and correctly use and comprehend the dictionary.

1) “_http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sexism”;
2) “_http://www.thefreedictionary.com/stereotyping”;
3) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sickle-cell_anemia#Africa”;
4) “_http://www.atheistcensus.com/”;
5) “_http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Unaffiliated/NonesOnTheRise-full.pdf”

26 doubtthat February 28, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Well, that wins the prize for dumbest fucking thing I’ve read in a while.

First, Shermer’s statement so we’re clear:

“It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

This statement expresses “Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.”

The stereotype, or conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image, is that women aren’t intellectually active about atheism.

In fact, if you read Benson’s first post on this, she says the following:

“The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.””

Now, for the dumbest part of your post (which is saying something impressive):

“So: is Shermer’s statement sexist or merely a statement of fact? Do show your work since your “obviously sexist” holds less water than a sieve.”

Here’s my work: you could have made the same retarded observation about, say, doctors or lawyers in the 1920′s: there was a clear gender disparity, but would it be accurate to say that lawyering was more of a “guy thing,” or were there structural and societal barriers keeping women out of those fields?

Or how about notions that women couldn’t participate in sports. Prior to Title IX, the statistics showing participation in sports would lead some numbnut like you to conclude that sports are just a “guy thing.” The number of women participating in high school sports went from 294,000 in 1971 to 2.9 million in 2006. The Steersman of 1971 would have trouble explaining how the simple fact that sports were just a “guy thing” magically changed. Was there some secret experiment that altered X-chromosomes, or was there legal action taken to end discrimination leading to a societal shift that made participation in sports more acceptable?

Certainly a baffling question. Yes, saying atheism or any intellectual pursuit is a “guy thing,” is very sexist. Your dictionary says so.

27 Steersman March 2, 2013 at 8:19 am

doubtthat said (#26):

Well, that wins the prize for dumbest fucking thing I’ve read in a while.

This would then seem to suit you to a T: “Been down so long it looks like up to me”. And, more specifically, your assertion that Shermer’s statement – “[atheist activism], it’s more of a guy thing” – supposedly manifests the stereotype that, as you put it, “women aren’t intellectually active about atheism” is very wide of the mark from several perspectives. And the first of those is based on the fact that Shermer most emphatically did not say that there were no women who were “intellectually active about atheism” so your assertion is a misinterpretation at best, and a fabrication and a lie at worst.

In addition, he quite clearly used the word more, as in there are more men who are active about atheism than there are women. Which is a statement that has a significant amount of factual data to support it, i.e., the Pew Forum, and the Atheist Census statistics I quoted earlier which you didn’t address, but which suggests the atheist community is currently comprised of from 64% to 75% men, and 36% to 25% women. Maybe you would care to put your statistics on the table showing a 50% and 50% division?

And from a second perspective, your work – rather disingenuous if not actually shoddy – referring to the “structural and societal barriers keeping women out of those fields” is also a complete misinterpretation of Shermer’s statement as he nowhere said anything about the reasons for that disparity. All that statement was was a simple assertion of fact, like “more women are interested in sex with men than there are women interested in sex with other women” without in any way ascribing any reasons for that difference or applying a moral judgement to it. Or maybe you would care to provide specific evidence where he did that? Seems to me that one might argue that you are projecting your own sexism onto him and then condemning him for your own “sins”.

The most that I think one might criticize him for is evading the question somewhat in not offering any tangible reasons for that disparity. However, considering the complexity of it and the number of factors that might produce those statistics, it is quite understandable why he might have responded somewhat wryly or ironically as he appears to have done. But while I will readily concede that at least some part of that disparity is probably due to “structural and societal barriers” or values, I think it not at all improbable that at least a small percentage of that difference is due to genetic factors – as with the prevalence of homosexuality at about 1% to 5% (1). For instance, one might argue that the criticisms of religion if not attacks on it are a consequence of a greater genetic propensity on the part of men to challenge the status quo – the Oedipus complex writ large in the field of religion. It is not at all implausible – actually quite well supported by various studies (2) – that there are some significant behavioural differences between the sexes due to genetics – all sorts of fields or topics or interests which are “more of a guy or a gal thing”.

1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_homosexuality”;
2) “_http://www.pasadena.edu/files/syllabi/txcave_18360.pdf”

28 doubtthat March 2, 2013 at 3:06 pm

This is pointless. You’re making a very basic error, assuming causation based on an existing discrepancy. This is the same error that Shermer made. The issue of whether or not there is a gap is not under disagreement, just like no one is arguing that there were fewer women lawyers and doctors in the 1920′s. Again, did the discrepancy in the 20′s mean lawyering was more of a “guy thing?” Of course not, it’s a dumb, sexist point.

“…referring to the “structural and societal barriers keeping women out of those fields” is also a complete misinterpretation of Shermer’s statement as he nowhere said anything about the reasons for that disparity. ”

It is just impressive that you could write something like that. Recall the context: Shermer was asked a question about the gender divide in atheist speakers. WHY is this the case? The gap was noted, he was asked to answer with a causal explanation. Under your reading of his remarks, he’s a dumbass:

Q: “Why are there more men speaking?”
Shermer: “Because there are more men speaking.”

This is a fucking pathetic defense. The ENTIRE POINT of the question was to have people explain “the reasons for the disparity.”

Amazing.

And you can babble all you want about genetic factors, but you better start with, you know, genetics, instead of vague social observations. There used to be a disparity in women attending universities, was college a “guy thing?” I’ve already mentioned lawyers, doctors, and athletics. Notice that once the military ended its bans on women, the numbers have been shooting up…etc. History has shown the argument that Shermer made and you have (sort of, bizarrely) defended to be really shitty.

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