Chess gets woke

June 14, 2020

Today it was announced by Andrei Dorkonov, president of the International Chess Alliance (AIDE), that the organization will be doing its part in the ongoing conversation in support of people of color. Recognizing that the game of Chess has been inherently racist since its origins, its rules will be changed. As Dorkonov explained: “The game of chess exhibits the unpleasant principles of white supremacy. In the game, black and white do not start on equal footing: instead, white gets a massive boost to its chances to win by always being allowed to make the first move. This translates to clear disparate outcomes for the colors, to the detriment of black.” In order to compensate for centuries of oppression, for the next five years at least it will be the black player who gets to move first. The new rules hold for championship games, but Dorkonov expressed the hope that club players will incorporate the new rules too.

“This is only the first step,” Dorkonov added. “Chess has not only been an inherently racist game, it is sexist too. The King has always been the center piece of the game, with the Queen playing second fiddle. The roles of the Queen and King in the game will be reversed. This change will be introduced in the very near future.” Dorkonov agreed that this change by itself was insufficient to root out sexism from the game. “We realize that having only a queen and a king in the game denies the existence of other genders,” he said. “In 2021 we will therefore be introducing a new, non-binary piece to Chess.”

Activists have urged the AIDE to also rename the Bishop to “Imam.” Dorkonov explained that that is not an easy change to make, as there have been requests for changing the name to “Rabbi” and “Shaman” as well. However, the AIDE has relented to change the name of the Bishop to the more general term “Religious Figure.” Moreover, the moves of the Religious Figure piece will be determined by the players themselves based on their own convictions. As Dorkonov said: “We have learned that moving diagonally is taboo in certain religions, so the old rules were bigoted against particular faiths. We cannot condone that. Chess is all about inclusivity.”

Dorkonov admitted that the proposed changes have seen a lot of resistance from Chess players. “The complaints mainly come from the older generations of players,” he explained. “But discussions on Twitter have shown that the younger, more progressive crowd embraces the changes. The new rules provide the game of Chess with a refreshing and desperately needed modernization. They bring the game into the 21st century.”

https://globalnews.ca/news/7054942/magic-the-gathering-racist-cards-banned/


Picard is no more

April 9, 2020

Eternal alien artificial lifeforms exist far beyond known space. They know that any organic species will, in time and when sufficiently evolved, create artificial lifeforms. They also know that conflict between the organic and artificial species will inevitably lead to extinction of one or the other. Thus, these eternal alien artificial lifeforms wait for a signal from our galaxy that once again, artificial life has been created. When they receive this signal, they will come, and exterminate all intelligent organic life, so that the cycle of evolution can begin once again. In our galaxy in the near future, the dangers that artificial lifeforms form for organic beings have been recognized, and intelligent artificial lifeforms have been outlawed. The few remaining artificial lifeforms which escaped the ban exist away from organic lifeforms, and want to activate the signal to bring the eternal aliens back.

Any video game player will recognize in the previous paragraph the outline of the plot of the Mass Effect series. Those who are more inclined to watch TV series will recognize the plot of Star Trek: Picard. Yup, Star Trek: Picard rips off the plot of Mass Effect in great detail.

This is not the biggest sin of Star Trek: Picard. The plot of Mass Effect is quite good, and you can base a good TV series around it. Unfortunately, Star Trek: Picard is not good. Not good at all. To list a few (just a few!) of the boneheaded, cliché-ridden, cringe-inducing plot elements from the very last episode of this series alone:

  • The Romulans go after a tiny settlement of twenty androids with a fleet of no less than 218 battleships. Because then we can send in the Federation with several hundreds of battleships of their own to get a big flashy battle in space.
  • Picard claims to have a great and deeply emotional friendship with Data, even though until Data’s death we have never ever seen him being friends with Data.
  • A female protagonist who betrayed the rest of the crew by violently killing the person who Picard spent five episodes on to find, even after confessing her crime merrily joins up with the rest of the crew, everybody conveniently forgetting about what she did.
  • The main male villain who seduced the main female hero, suddenly turns against his own side because “he has fallen in love with her.”
  • …It was all because of an ancient prophecy…
  • Characters swear like sailors and call each other “dude.”
  • The crew is gifted a small gadget which you can let do anything by just wishing it (seriously!), even projecting hundreds of starships into space, which look real to even the sensors of hundreds of enemy battleships. It’s a magic wand, people!
  • Picard dies and everybody cries over his dead body for half an hour, but then he gets resurrected by being placed into an android body which looks exactly like his and is exactly as frail and will even die like his “because that is what he is used to.”
  • While dead, Picard converses with Data in the afterlife — but actually it is a remnant of the real Data, even though it is never brought up how a dead Picard can converse with a real Data. “Their memories are stored in the same computer.” Yeah, no shit, that explains nothing. The only reason that it happened is that it was so emotional when Harry Potter did it.
  • A retired Riker decides to stop baking pizzas and leave his retirement home for a few moments to command a fleet of several hundreds of starships. Evidently nobody was better suited to do that.
  • An android which can detect whether people lie is lied to without detecting it, with no other explanation given then “wow, I am really good at lying.”
  • An android kills another android to let one of the captured villains escape, because… well, I cannot think of any reason why she would do that because it is in no way related to her plans, except that it is in the story because it gives the other androids a reason to turn against her.
  • A main villain is thrown into a pit and dies far away from and completely unrelated to the rest of the story, because the writers realized that they had not finished her plotline yet. And they had to give Seven-of-nine something to do.
  • In the final moments of the episode Seven-of-nine is suddenly in a lesbian relationship with another protagonist without them having ever interacted before or even having anything in common with each other. I can think of no other reason that this was thrown in there than the writers thinking “Wait a moment, we can’t show how woke we are if we don’t have any gay romances in our series.”
  • The whole plot point of artificial lifeforms being outlawed is solved in the last minute by someone remarking that it is a good thing that artificial lifeforms are now no longer outlawed. So, the Federation quickly and without a second thought lifts the ban on artificial lifeforms, while knowing that each of the artificial lifeforms has the ability to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy? Are they completely out of their minds?

And the rest of the series is almost as bad. But the worst sin of Star Trek: Picard is this: it ruins Picard even more than The Next Generation movies did. In the TV series Picard was a private, thoughtful, rational, erudite man with a sharp mind and an uncanny ability to inspire and command. The movies ruined him by portraying him as an action hero who is out for blood, who lets his emotions determine his course of action, and who uses violence instead of reason. In the Star Trek: Picard series, the final nail is driven into the coffin by portraying him as a frail old man, humiliated and bossed over by everyone around him, driven by his emotional ties to people rather than his intellectual ties to ideals and ideas. He is less than a shadow of the man he once was.

You can argue that captain Picard in his older days has mellowed and changed his outlook on life. That is an acceptable premise, but since we see almost nothing of the twenty years which are between the end of The Next Generation TV series and the time of the new series, we have no idea how it is possible that he changed so much that nothing of the younger Picard remains in the present-day Picard. And a series which carries the name of a famous character should not change the eponymous character into something completely different than what he is famous for.

Star Trek: Picard looks great, has fine music, and is well-acted, but sadly has stupid plotlines and has forgotten about its intellectual roots and the characterization of its main characters. Star Trek: Picard is neither Star Trek nor is it Picard.


English translation of AI experts’ futurology

January 22, 2020

Very regularly, you hear self-proclaimed AI expert make statements like “within 5 years, we will have…” followed by an indication of a technology which requires semi-intelligent processing (like self-driving cars, computer-authored novels, or brain-computer uploading). This is how one should translate such statements:

If AI experts say:

  • “within 5 years”: they mean “we already have this technology, it is just not widespread yet.”
  • “within 10 years”: they mean “we do not have this technology yet, but we know how to solve the problems that still need solving.”
  • “within 25 years”: they mean “we need to overcome numerous problems to get this technology and we do not know if they are solvable at all, but we are convinced that theoretically these problems should be solvable by the very smart young people that are currently entering the field.”
  • “within 50 years”: they mean “maybe this technology will be developed and maybe not, and even if it will be, it may take 50 years, or 500, or 5000, and humanity is likely to have destroyed itself before that time, but making these promises will get me a lot of media attention so I make them anyway, and 50 years is long enough for me to have passed away before anyone can tell me that I am wrong.”

The moral of the story is: most self-proclaimed AI experts love to make promises about technology which will be developed, but the less we know about how to solve the problems associated with said technology, the further in the future they will place the technology. You should realize that if a problem has not been solved yet, in principle it is impossible to say when it will be solved — because you can only say that when the problem has been solved already.


A 14% gap

November 24, 2019

Every two years, Intermediair Magazine and Nyenrode Business University (note: despite the term “university” Nyenrode is not a scientific institution, but a business school) perform a study of Dutch salaries, which they call the National Salary Survey (NSO; Nationaal Salaris Onderzoek). Their 2019 report shows (among other things) a 6% discrepancy between the salaries of men and women up to 35 years of age, to the detriment of women. Naturally, journalists, in particular those with feminist sympathies, grab this “fact” to once more discuss the “wage gap” and how bad women have it in the western world.

I was rather surprised by the report’s findings, as the Dutch Bureau for Statistics (CBS; Centraal Bureau voor Statistiek) has reported since 2014 at least (I have not looked further into the past) that the salaries of women up to 36 years of age are 8% higher on average than those of men. In De Volkskrant, two articles in the same issue bring up both the 6% less and 8% more figures, without noting the discrepancy. I tried to ignore the discussions on the wage gap this time around, as I am getting rather tired of them, but since the 6% figure is now coming up in more articles I feel obliged to say something (despite the fact that few people read this, but sometimes I need to rant a bit).

The first question is: which of these figures is correct? The answer to that is clear: the 8% more for women figure of CBS is correct, as CBS writes its reports based on objective studies for the government — a government, I might say, which has rather feminist leanings as far as social justice is concerned. Note that, according to CBS, this figure is explained for the most part by the higher level of education that women tend to have.

The second question is: where does the difference between the results of CBS and the NSO originate? That is also clear: CBS has access to salary data of all Dutch citizens and bases its study on millions of data points. The NSO bases its results on data which are derived from a website, where they asked people to self-report on their salaries. They came up with close to 44,000 data points, which sounds like a lot, but is nothing compared to the millions of data points of CBS. Moreover, self-reports are notoriously unreliable, and salaries are something which men typically like to boast about and women tend to be humble about. So we may conclude that the NSO’s findings are unreliable and should be thrown into the garbage.

The third question is: why the hell does the NSO exist at all, when CBS produces a report on Dutch salaries every two years, based on objective data of every working person in the country? Producing the NSO is just a waste of time and money. Moreover, I cannot imagine that the leaders of the NSO research do not know about the CBS figures, and they should therefore have realized that their data must be skewed far too much to draw any conclusions from. Had they been responsible scientists, with the knowledge that their results are worthless, they would have declined to produce the report. So the only answer that I can come up with for this question is that the research leaders of the NSO are just interested in the attention that their report gets, and have no qualms about closing their eyes to the truth.

Note that CBS has examined the variance between salaries of all Dutch citizens using factor analyses, and has concluded that gender is in no way an explanation for observed salary differences. Therefore, any article or report which tries to pose salary differences between men and women as a gendered issue are fundamentally wrong. You may expect journalists and activists to erroneously state something along the lines of “but the fact that women earn less than men means that gender discrimination is at work, right?” but a scientist who bases their studies on statistics should understand their statistics better. Thus the NSO is no more than a pseudo-scientific manifesto and does not deserve the attention that it gets.


Dangerous games

September 20, 2019

Recently, Monte Cook Games published a freely available document called Consent in Gaming, written by Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain. This document is presented as containing strategies to tackle potentially difficult elements in games (role-playing games in particular), in such a way that everybody at the table has a good time. This document is hotly debated on the Internet, and I can spot about equal numbers of people who applaud the document’s ideas and people who find the whole thing abhorrent. I am firmly in the second category.

The authors’ approach encompasses that at the start of the game, players provide the game master (GM) with a standardized checklist on which they have indicated all the topics that they have problems with. It is then the job of the GM to ensure that these topics do not come up in the game. Moreover, everybody at the table is bound by a social contract to not introduce such topics spontaneously. The checklist included in the document contains such categories as “Horror” (e.g., blood, demons, rats, spiders), “Relationships” (different approaches to romance and sex), and “Mental and Physical Health” (e.g., claustrophobia, gaslighting, paralysis, police aggression, starvation). All in all a total of 40 topics, with plenty of room for players to add more.

The document is aimed in particular at players who have a lot of sensitive issues. This is clear from the document’s language, which talks about the player with issues as “you” (“you decide what’s safe for you”), while it talks about others who are involved (the GM and players who have no issues) in the third person. It takes the stance that a game that brings up an issue that “you” are sensitive about, is doing something that is “not okay.” It states that you have to “consent” to being subjected to game elements that make you feel uncomfortable, and that if you do not give consent, then those who bring up these elements are at fault. The checklist, by the way, is not a way to give consent — it is simply a list of things that you do not consent to right now, but it does not preclude you taking away consent on anything else at any moment. The document even introduces methods to do that, such as a card that you can hold up to force everybody to immediately stop the game and move to a different topic. The document states explicitly that you have the freedom to do that at any point, on any topic, without explanation or discussion, and that from thereon that topic is taboo and it is the group’s responsibility to uphold your demands.

The whole document is drenched in players with sensitivities off-loading the responsibility for their feelings to other people, and being assured that it is their right to do so, and the duty of others to take on these responsibilities. If by chance someone introduces a topic that a player feels uncomfortable with (whether they announced that beforehand or not), the document even states that the offending person should publicly apologize to the player who takes offense. In no way is the player who demands that their personal whims are catered to by everybody else asked to apologize for their obnoxious behavior. Absolutely not; the fact that they feel uncomfortable absolves them of any responsibility for their behavior when they ruin the game for the other players.

By the way, the document completely ignores the fact that a GM who gets handed a list of demands might feel unsafe because of that. I do not say that frivolously. I GM quite a lot of games, and I have been in discussions with players about potentially sensitive topics in games. I felt quite uncomfortable with the idea that I might be hurting someone inadvertently by introducing certain topics. But hey, I am an adult and I can deal with that.

I positively hate the attitude that you have a god-given right to feel safe and comfortable, and that it is other people’s responsibility to make you feel safe and comfortable. The world is not a safe and comfortable place, and the quicker you learn to deal with that, the easier your life will be. Moreover, you are safe at a game table. The monsters are not real. The situations are not real. That is why it is called a game. The fact that you run the risk that your feelings get hurt does not make the game unsafe; you run the risk that your feelings get hurt everywhere you go where there are other people! Grow a spine! Be an adult and learn to deal with your issues rather than wallow in them. And if you cannot, see a psychologist or psychiatrist, because you are clearly in need of one.

I always tell my players up front what they are in for — what the style of the game is, and what kind of things they can look forward to. I am always open to discuss these things. But in the end, when I run the game I expect players to work with me just as I am working with them. If they have a problem with something, they can bring it up and I will try to adapt. Just as I will tell them when something bothers me about what they are doing, and I expect them to try to adapt. That is how mature people deal with each other. A group of reasonable adults will try to accommodate each other without much friction. If instead you give one person the power to subject others to their will, the relationship between them is effectively ruined.

If you are the petulant child who comes to my gaming table with a list of demands, I will not allow you in my game. I don’t care about what is actually on your list; I will send you away because I know that you evidently feel that you have the right to demand of me to adhere to your whims in a game that I am running, and thus you are not a person who I want to play with. If you take the right to make demands of me, I take the right to refuse you access to the table. I am going to have a fun game with reasonable adults of good will. You, instead, can go play with a bunch of other whiners with lists of demands, creating a game in which everything that ever could make anyone feel uncomfortable is excluded. I sincerely hope you have fun with your game about bunnies and ice cream.


How not to promote women in science

June 19, 2019

The Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) has announced that in the next eighteen months, all hires of scientific staff are to be women exclusively. This concerns about 150 scientific jobs. Only when a vacancy has been open for six months and no female candidate has been found, men can be considered for the job. With this, the TU/e hopes to improve the percentage of women on the scientific staff, which is currently at a low, low 16 percent.

Why is the percentage of women on the scientific staff so low for the TU/e? That is very simple: the university specializes in technical sciences, like mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, etc. The percentages of women who enter these sciences are low in the whole of the western world. Why is that? It is not because women cannot do these sciences. It is also not because they are not interested in them. It is because women, on average, tend to prefer other sciences. In the western world, women have a lot of choice in what they will do with their lives, whether or not they will work, and if they work, how long, how hard, and in what business. This freedom of choice has lead to most women choosing not to work in technical sciences. In medicine, law, psychology, sociology, educational science, and the humanities, women dominate. In physics and computer sciences, men dominate. If a university specializes in those sciences which women, on average, do not prefer to work in, it is no surprise that there will be a low percentage of women on the scientific staff.

Why do women, on average, prefer to focus on topics outside the exact sciences? Is it the female nature? Has it something to do with culture, perhaps? Is it education or parenting? Is it a combination? Many explanations can be proposed, but the TU/e is not interested in explanations or solving this “problem” at the root: the TU/e is only interested in fighting the consequences. I can certainly imagine that the TU/e feels that something needs to be done about the low percentages of women, considering that having so few women working there may make women feel unwelcome. However, this particular measure is an affront, as it will automatically lead to the TU/e saddling up other universities with their problems. I will explain:

The TU/e forces their staff to let vacancies go unfilled unless they hire women. But where are these women going to come from? Overall, there are simply very few women working in the exact sciences, because very few women choose to work in them. So how is the TU/e going to fill the vacancies? By enticing women who work at other universities to come work for them. There is no other source for female candidates. The TU/e, with their measure, has not magically created a fresh pool of women who specialize in exact sciences.

The TU/e offers great facilities to women who join up, like an extra 100,000 euros for research (only women get that, men do not). So they will steal women away from other universities, thereby maybe improving the situation at the TU/e in this respect, but hurting the situation at other universities at the same time. The overall situation of women in the exact sciences does not change one bit. Moreover, the measure creates problems (1) for departments at the TU/e who will see vacancies go unfilled for a long time and who will have to go for the “lesser” candidate because they are not allowed to hire the ideal candidate, (2) for other universities which see their personnel stolen by the TU/e, (3) for the male PhD students and postdocs at the TU/e who were hoping to continue their career there and now have to seek a job elsewhere, and (4) for women who may feel forced to change jobs with all the consequences for their personal lives. It is very sad that the TU/e evidently believes that they are doing a good thing.

If the TU/e really wants to get a higher percentage of women on their staff, what they should do is start new educational programs or change existing programs so that they are more appealing to women. If you change what you do to cater more to the interests of women, they will come. If you refuse to change what you do but just tell your staff to start stealing from other universities, you may end up giving the impression that you are improving the situation of women in science, but in actuality you are just creating more problems than there already are.


Domination achieved

January 24, 2019

My post before this one was on the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), which is used by many news media, institutes, and even governments, as a foundation to argue that “women are disadvantaged compared to men in all countries in the world, and need to be awarded advantages to compensate for that.” I criticized the GGGI on three points, showing that it clearly purports a feminist agenda rather than trying to fight for parity between the sexes. Two weeks after I wrote that post, an article appeared in the high-quality scientific journal PLOS One, on this very topic. The article by Gijsbert Stoet and David C. Geary, titled “A simplified approach to measuring national gender inequality,” not only makes the same arguments as I did, but also demonstrates, using literature references, that in many areas men fall behind women. The article proposes a more objective measurement of gender parity than the activist one used by the GGGI, which is called the Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI).

The BIGI is based on three components, namely (1) educational opportunities in childhood; (2) healthy life expectancy; and (3) overall life satisfaction. These three components share the fact that they are independent from life choices. For example, education is only examined in childhood, while tertiary education is excluded; the reason is that education in childhood is not a choice, while the decision to get into tertiary (university) education may be. So the fact that far more women than men go to university in developed countries is not giving women an advantage, as you cannot know whether this is because men are disadvantaged or that men on average simply do not like to go to university.

Education and life span are also components of the GGGI, but two notes should be made for the GGGI: (1) education is capped at 1.00, meaning that the fact that women are highly advantaged over men in developed countries in this respect is counted as ‘equality’; and (2) life expectancy is counted as equal when women live 6% longer than men, i.e., in a country where women only live 3% longer than men, the GGGI calls them ‘disadvantaged.’ The most remarkable thing, however, is that the third component, life satisfaction, is not even taken into account for the GGGI, while Stoet and Geary rightfully argue that “while it is very difficult to determine the degree to which men and women are disadvantaged in any particular aspect of life, an overall assessment of life satisfaction likely reflects the combination of advantages and disadvantages they have experienced, whatever they might be.”

Stoet and Geary use the BIGI to rate gender inequality in 134 countries. They also calculate the AADP, which basically is the variance in calculating the BIGI, to account for the fact that a country may have a BIGI close to zero (reflecting parity) while there are still high disadvantages for each of the genders, but in different areas. The “best” situation for a country is having both the BIGI and the AADP close to zero, meaning that men and women are treated in exactly the same way.

Stoet and Geary reach the unsurprising (to me, at least) conclusion that in underdeveloped countries women are usually disadvantaged over men, which is mainly the result of restricted education, while in developed countries women tend to be advantaged over men, which is mainly the result of a higher healthy life expectancy. It should be noted, however, that even though men tend to be disadvantaged compared to women in more developed countries, the higher the level of development in a country is, the closer it tends to be to complete gender equality.

Naturally, you can have a critical discussion about the components in the BIGI. However, the BIGI is a scale without an agenda: it tries to measure gender inequality in an objective way, rather than explicitly sell a biased message, as the GGGI does. One can only hope that research such as this makes governments in developed countries realize that the notion that women as a group are disadvantaged is not grounded in reality, and that letting radical feminists set their agenda is not a good idea.


108 years to total domination

December 19, 2018

The World Economic Forum just published their Global Gender Gap Report 2018. It is an extensive report which investigates gender differences in 149 countries in the areas of health, education, economy, and politics. Some of the key findings of the report are: “Globally, the average (population-weighted) distance completed to parity is at 68.0%, which is a marginal improvement over last year. In other words, to date there is still a 32.0% average gender gap that remains to be closed” (page vii) and “Projecting current trends into the future, the overall global gender gap will close in 108 years across the 106 countries covered since the first edition of the report” (page viii).

There is a lot that you can say about this report, and it certainly makes clear that there are many countries in the world where significant improvements in female empowerment must be made. It does sound rather disappointing, though, that according to the report there is no country in the world where the gender gap is closed. The best performing country on the list is Iceland, which has closed 85% of the gender gap, which leaves 15% still to close according to the report. So anybody who thinks that the genders are pretty much equal in countries such as Iceland or The Netherlands (27th on the list) should think again.

This is where most of the headlines will stop. However, you should really read the report a bit more in detail, to find out what is meant by the “gender gap” and how it is measured. To the report’s credit, it is explicit about these facts to those who are willing to read further. The report uses three underlying concepts, which are explained on pages 3 and 4: (1) gaps versus levels, (2) outcomes versus inputs, and (3) gender equality versus women’s empowerment. What do these concepts entail?

Gaps versus levels means that the report examines the differences between men and women per country. So a country in which men and women are both oppressed is considered to have a smaller gender gap than a country in which men and women are both completely free but men use their freedom a bit more actively to increase their prosperity than women do. This entails that a country being high on the list does not necessarily mean that you would want to live there as a woman. For instance, Namibia is number 10 on the list — with its life expectancy of 66 for women, versus 83 in The Netherlands, do you really think that Dutch women would want to exchange their comfy lives for the harsh reality of a third-world country?

Outcomes versus inputs means that the report ignores equality of opportunity but looks at equality of outcome instead. This means that a country which offers women all the freedoms and opportunities that men have (or even a few more, as is the case in most countries in Western Europe), but where women on average choose to be less economically active than men (again, which is the case in most countries in Western Europe) is considered to have a gender gap. While certainly there is a gap in absolute terms, the only way to close it would be to take away people’s freedoms (either by forcing them by law to do things that they do not want to do, or to culturally brainwash them to do things that they do not want to do). This is a price that few people would be willing to pay to achieve such an abstract concept as a “closed gender gap.”

Gender equality versus women’s empowerment is the most egregious concept. The report says: “[the report] ranks countries according to their proximity to gender equality rather than to women’s empowerment” (page 4). That sounds reasonable, until you read what it entails a few lines further: “it neither rewards nor penalizes cases in which women are outperforming men in particular indicators in some countries” (page 4). If you need a further translation: this concept means that if in an area men do better than women, it is considered unequal, while if women do better than men, it is considered equal. This is why Iceland, where female enrollment in universities and colleges is double the male enrollment, scores 1.000 in tertiary education. In my view, this should be considered a gender gap to the detriment of men which really needs some attention, as it clearly indicates that men have a big problem as far as their education is concerned. But the report does not care about that: women doing twice as well as men is considered “equality.” The report has a clear feminist agenda to sell, and it has no qualms about it.

Even if you look at the dry numbers (where you can see that there are many areas where men do a lot worse than women), there is little of value in the report, because not only does it ignore many relevant factors (such as conscription, crime & punishment, legal & social protection, etcetera), it also refuses to look at underlying reasons (concept #2). I think that if it had examined underlying reasons, it would have discovered that it is highly unlikely that the gender gap, in the way it is defined, will ever be closed, since to close it the world needs total domination of women over men in each and every category in each and every country in the world. Apart from some rabid feminists, I hardly think that what needs to be done to achieve that is something that most people find desirable.

Additional: Together with the report the World Economic Forum also published an article called “The 10 best countries to be a woman.” Number 5: Nicaragua. Number 6: Rwanda. Number 8: Philippines. Number 10: Namibia. While these countries may have a small gender gap according to the standards of the World Economic Forum, I dare to express doubts that they are among the “best countries to be a woman.” The fact that the World Economic Forum sees no problems in publishing an article under a headline like this one, clearly demonstrates how limited their thinking process is. Translating their vision on a gender gap to standards of living is ostensibly bone-headed.


Levels of sexism

December 15, 2018

Research has shown that on the highest level of secondary school in The Netherlands (VWO), large groups of children left primary school with a recommendation for a lower level of secondary school. This holds for 21% of the girls, and 14% of the boys. The reason for this difference is not known, but the cries of “it is sexism against girls, who are systematically underestimated by their primary school teachers” are already sounding.

I would just like to point out that these numbers could equally well be pointing at sexist attitudes towards boys. The advice of primary school teachers (predominantly women, by the way) is supposed to be leading in distributing children over secondary schools. This advice is far more often ignored for girls, providing them access to a higher level of school, than it is for boys. This sounds a lot like girls getting the benefit of the doubt far more often than boys get it. It just depends on which perspective you take: the primary school perspective which is holding girls back, or the secondary school perspective which is welcoming girls in.

In the end, however, I would like to stress that in this reporting it is explicitly stated that the reasons for the difference are unknown. Therefore, cries of “sexism,” whether it is against boys or girls, are at this time unwarranted.


Strumia’s lament

October 6, 2018

On September 28, 2018, Professor Alessandro Strumia gave a talk at CERN at a conference on “High Energy Physics and Gender.” In the talk, he took the unpopular view that the reason that there are fewer women than men in physics is primarily because of inherent differences between men and women (on average) as far as talent and interests are concerned, and not because physics is oppressive of women.

The organizers promptly distanced themselves from his talk, and removed the video recording and his slides from public access. CERN, where he is a research leader, suspended him, and his home university of Pisa put him under investigation. The ERC is considering to retract Strumia’s 1.9 million euro grant. While his talk is not available for viewing, his slides can be found online. The media have reported a general outcry and wide condemnation of the talk. A collection of physicists published an open letter, signed now by over 1600 people, in which they express their anger, and state that Strumia’s ideas are unsound.

I should mention that the impression that the media give that the whole of the scientific world condemns Strumia is incorrect. I examined some of the twitter feeds which followed the talk, and I found that besides a minority which vocally condemns Strumia and another minority which vocally supports him, the reasonable middle states that Strumia presented facts, and that they would like to see counterarguments against either the facts or Strumia’s interpretation of them, before dismissing Strumia’s statements.

What I find striking about all of this, is that most people who condemn Strumia have not witnessed his talk. For instance, the open letter starts with “[t]he statement here is based upon widely reported events, publicly available slides, and eyewitness accounts.” I.e., the only input that the writers used which is not hearsay are Strumia’s slides. I find that a weak basis for publicly raking someone over the coals.

It has to be said that Strumia’s slides give the impression that he has an axe to grind, and that rather than limiting himself to objective facts, he spent a considerable portion of his talk on his personal experiences, on politicizing his ideas, and on insulting his audience which consisted for the majority of young female physicists.

Within the slides, however, there is also some solid research. Basically, what Strumia does is examining scientific quality based on an objective measure, namely number of citations. Using a very large dataset, he makes comparisons between men and women in physics in relation to citations, and shows that with regards to citations on average women underperform compared to men. You may rightfully argue that citations do not give a complete picture of scientific quality. However, there are few other objective measures which you can use for such research, so at least he provides a factual starting point for a discussion. The question is: how do you explain the observations which Strumia makes?

Strumia compares the “mainstream” explanation (“all the differences between men and women are culturally determined and thus physics is oppressive of women”) with the, what he calls, “conservative” explanation (“women are inherently less interested in physics, and the people with the most talent for physics are predominantly men”). Neither of these explanations can be shown to be “the correct one,” but Strumia at least gives some indications on why the mainstream explanation can be considered faulty. The most damning argument against the mainstream explanation is the “gender equality paradox,” which entails that the more a country does to erase the cultural differences between men and women and the more it does to erase the barriers that women face to make free choices in their careers, the fewer women choose a career in science and technology. This observable fact falsifies the notion that there are no differences between the interests of men and women.

Strumia also rightfully wonders why people are so concerned about the fact that men form the majority of the people in the STEM fields, while nobody cares that women form the vast majority in education, psychology, the humanities, and medicine. He also notes that “equal representation of women” in a field that is dominated by men is demanded where it concerns STEM, but as soon as it concerns jobs that are dirty or dangerous (such as construction, firefighting, or mining), the fact that almost no women are found in these jobs is not seen as a problem at all.

Unfortunately, these sensible statements are overshadowed by Strumia’s wailing about his personal experiences, his suggestion that physics is a men’s job, his complaints about the way institutes tend to assume that men have no issues and that all women are oppressed everywhere, his annoyance with the widespread support that women get but men lack, and his explicit mocking of domains such as gender studies. Mind you, there are grains of truth in his wailing, but he should not have included it in his talk as it undermines the other things he says.

Strumia should simply have presented observable facts, and then either leave the interpretation up for debate, or weigh his own arguments against the arguments of “the other side.” While simply ignoring counterarguments is something that a majority position can do without penalties, Strumia is talking from an underdog position (especially at this conference), and as such he has to be much more careful about how he explains his ideas.

The open letter I referred to does provide some interesting counterarguments to Strumia’s statements. Some of these are convincing (in particular where they concern Strumia’s obsession with citations), others much less so (for instance where they refer to “unconscious biases” and where they attempt to dismiss the “gender equality paradox” by stating that oppressive countries have more women in STEM because of a lack of choice, which only underlines Strumia’s statements).

But is does not matter whether your sympathies lie with Strumia or the open letter (or neither): the point is that both Strumia’s statements and the statements of the open letter should be up for debate. And that debate is not going to happen because (a) CERN tried to erase all of Strumia’s materials, making it impossible to know what he actually said, and (b) Strumia immediately got punished so harshly for expressing his ideas that few people will be willing to examine his statements objectively, as they know that they face similar punishment if they publicly reach the same, “abject” conclusion.

The open letter, in the first paragraphs, states in bold font: “We write here first to state, in the strongest possible terms, that the humanity of any person, regardless of ascribed identities such as race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, gender presentation, or sexual identity is not up for debate.” I find this text rather unworthy of serious scientists.

The statement makes clear that the authors of the text want the reader to believe that Strumia was attacking the humanity of women in physics. As far as his slides are concerned, there is absolutely no evidence of that, unless you assume that stating that there are inherent differences between men and women amounts to attacking someone’s humanity. You will find that most people believe that there actually are inherent differences between men and women, and rightly so, as these differences can be observed. Claiming that such differences do not exist is dogma and not science.

Now, the statement gives the strong impression that it considers a number of topics as “not up for debate” at all. Because as soon as you bring one of them up, you are probably going to be condemned for attacking someone’s “humanity,” and such topics may not be debated. To declare a topic so sacred that it cannot be debated is as unscientific as you can get. You may find a person’s statements despicable, but if they are supported by falsifiable claims, then your responsibility as a scientist is not to dismiss them outright (and penalize the perpetrator), but to have the debate, offer counterarguments, and if possible falsify the claims.

Unfortunately, Strumia is a proponent of reason and free speech that we could have done without. He is a man who let his frustration with certain trends in science and society get the better of him. The best thing you can hope for with a talk like this is that at least certain topics are opened up for debate rather than being untouchable. However, the steps his opponents took, making him suffer personally for daring to speak his mind, ensured that fewer people will be willing to speak up about these topics in the future.