Archive for the 'Meta' category

A Note to the Trolls Re: Comment Policies

Oct 17 2013 Published by under Meta

Since yesterday's post, I've been deluged with trolls who want to post comments about their views of sexual harassment. I've been deleting them as they come in, and that has, in turn, led to lots of complaints about how horrible unfair and mean I am.

I've been doing this blogging thing for a long time, and I've watched as a number of sites that I used to really enjoy have wound up becoming worthless, due to comment trolls. There are tons of trolls out there, and they're more than happy to devote a lot of time and energy to trolling and derailing. When I started my blog, I had a very open commenting policy: I rarely if ever deleted comments, and only did so when they were explicitly abusive towards other commenters. Since then, I've learned that in the current internet culture, that doesn't work. The only way to maintain a halfway decent comment forum is to moderate aggressively. So I've become much more aggressive about removing the stuff that I believe to be trolling.

Here's the problem: Trolls aren't interested in real discussions. They're interested in derailing discussions that they don't like. I'm not interested in hosting flame wars, misogynistic rants, or other forms of trolling. In case you haven't noticed, this is my blog. I'll do what I feel is appropriate to maintain a non-abusive, non-troll-infested comment section. I am under no obligation to post your rants, and I am under no obligation to provide you with a list of bullet points of what my exact standards are. If I judge a comment to be inappropriate, I'll delete it. If don't like that, you're welcome to find another forum, or create your own. It's a big internet out there: there's bound to be a place where your arguments are welcome. But that's not this place. If I'm over-aggressive in my moderation, the only one who'll be hurt by that will be me, because I will have wrecked the comment forum on my blog. That's a risk I'm prepared to take.

Let me add one additional comment about the particular trolls who've been coming to visit lately: I've learned, over time, a thing or two about the demographics of the people who visit this blog. As much as I'd prefer it to be otherwise, the frequent commenters on this blog are overwhelmingly male - over the history of the blog, of commenters where gender can be identified, the comments are over 90% male. Similarly, in my career as an engineer, the population of my coworkers has been very, very skewed: the engineering population at my workplaces has varied, but I've never worked anywhere where the population of engineers and engineering managers was less than 80% male.

But according to my recent trollish commenters, I'm supposed to believe that suddenly that population has changed, dramatically. Suddenly, every single comment is being posted by a woman who has never seen any male-on-female sexual harassment, but who was a personal witness of multiple female engineering managers who sexually harassed their male employees without any repercussions. It's particularly amusing, because those rants about the evil sexually-harassing female managers are frequently followed by rants about how the problem is the difference in sexual drive between men and women. Funny how women just aren't as sexually motivated as man, and that's the cause of the problem, but there are all of these evil female managers sexually harassing their employees despite their inferior female sexual drive, isn't it?

Um, guys?! You're not fooling me. You're not fooling anyone. I'm not obligated to provide you with a forum for your lies. So go away, find someplace else. Or feel free to keep submitting your comments, but know that they're going to wind up in the bit-bucket.

14 responses so far

Gender Bias, Sexism, and the Science Cheerleaders

Nov 25 2010 Published by under Meta, sexism, Society

My dear friend Sci seems to have stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest by posting something less than entirely complimentary about the science cheerleaders. That sounds like a sarcastic way of saying that she wrote something taking them down - but actually it's an accurate description of what she did. What she wrote wasn't entirely negative or entirely positive. It was an honest, balanced assessment of just what she thought about the idea of the science cheerleaders and why they made her feel uncomfortable.

I think Sci's assessment was dead-on. But over at Labspaces, there's a whole discussion about it which has largely devolved into a bunch of people shouting at each other (complete with a sub-discussion about which dudes successfully banged hot but crazy smart chicks).

I don't have much too say about the basic issue that hasn't already been said. Personally, I'm very much behind Sci's take on it. I've got a daughter who loves science, and I'd be very proud if she grows up to become a scientist; but I don't like the message that I think the science cheerleaders actually deliver.

What I think gets missed in discussions like this is that there's an awful lot of societal context that you need to consider in things like this. An awful lot of the criticism that's been aimed at the people who aren't thrilled with the science cheerleaders is, I think, based on ignoring that context.

We live is a highly patriarchal society. In our society, there is a constant message that men are important, and that women exist in order to serve men. A woman who isn't attractive, who isn't dressing in ways that show off her fuckability, is considered less valuable as a person.

This isn't just an attitude of the misogynistic assholes in our society. This is an attitude of our society, reinforced virtually everywhere. It's something that's virtually impossible to avoid. No matter how much you think you're better than that, that you don't believe that you're a sexist or a misogynist, you've still absorbed that message. Living in this society, it's pretty much impossible to not absorb that message. Whether you're a man or a woman, whether you're young or old, whether you're smart or stupid, whether you're straight or gay, it doesn't matter. This is a very deeply engrained attitude in our society, and you can't avoid it.

I'm not saying this to insult men, or to insult women. But I am saying that if you deny that you've been influenced by the society you grew up in, if you deny that you've internalized the incredibly strong messages of sexual and gender roles that are such a part of your society, then you are fooling yourself.

Just, for a moment, think about cheerleading as a sport.

Cheerleading is the most popular sport for young women in high school. There are thousands of girls who want to be cheerleaders, with huge competition for the few available spots. As a sport, it's extremely demanding and difficult physically. It takes a tremendous amount of effort, practice, skill, and strength to be any good at it.

But what does a cheerleader actually do? What is their role as an athlete? It's not to go out and win. Not even to compete. The primary role of a cheerleader is to support the male athletes. Cheerleaders are dressed up in impractical costumes - tiny skirts even in the coldest weather - and to dance, jump, and do all sorts of rythmic gymnastics while men are competing at the real sport. The women's sport is very much subservient to the men's, and the women's sport is highly sexualized.

Even when you have co-ed cheerleading, you'll find that the men typically wear long pants and a loose sweater, while the girls wear miniskirts and tight clinging, revealing tops.

In the male sports that have cheerleaders, the primary role of the male participants is to show off their strength and skill at the sport. The primary role of the chearleaders is to show how a group of attractive, fuckable women are supporting the talented male athletes.

This is basically the problem that many people have with the science cheerleaders. It isn't that there's anything intrinsically wrong with cheerleaders - but the societal context of cheerleading is that the cheerleaders aren't part of the thing they cheer - they're outsiders who support it by showing off how hot they are.

The "science cheerleaders" don't actually cheer about science. They don't show off their scientific skills. They don't show that they know or care anything about science. Taken in the context of the society that they're part of, and the traditional role and purpose of a cheerleader, they're basically removing themselves from any role as an actual participant in science. Cheering isn't part of the activity being cheered. A football cheerleader doesn't play football; she supports the football player. A science cheerleader isn't doing science; she's supporting the scientists. And in our society, when you put together a group of hot women in hot costumes nad have them cheer about science, the basic message isn't "Women can be interested in science" or "Women can be scientists". It's "science is cool, and you girls can support it by showing off how fuckable you are to all those smart science dudes".

At best, what the science cheerleaders do is say "You can be interested in science and still be hot". But put in context, that's a very sad message: what it says is "As a woman, your primary responsibility is to be hot; you can be a scientist too, as long as you're hot."

Most people don't want to think of themselves as being sexists or racists. Our self-image is that being a racist or a sexist is bad, and we're not bad people. So we reject the idea that we've got these deeply ingrained racist and sexist attitudes. The problem is, we are sexists. We are racists. We're not deliberately racist or sexist - but we all share the common context of our society, and it is ridiculous to pretend that we have somehow overcome that. And that causes some of the most pernicious problems of discrimination. The majority of discrimination today isn't conscious and deliberate. It's subconscious: it's the attitudes and beliefs that we have internalized, which color our perceptions in ways we don't even recognize.

I've done a lot of work recruiting, interviewing, and hiring people. And when you look at that, it becomes ridiculously obvious just how strong those subconscious biases are.

For example, in an experiment I've actually witnessed: Give a guy a bunch of resumes with names removed, and stripped of any content which could show the gender of the candidate, and they'll pick out a bunch of resumes. If you look at the resulting selection, you'll typically find that the number of women's resumes who get selected are slightly above the proportion of women in the population. (This is another manifestation of sexism; in order to succeed, women need to be better than the corresponding male candidates; in a technical job, the average woman candidate will have better qualifications than the men she's competing with, and in a blind resume search, that will result in the women being selected at a higher rate, because they have better qualifications.

Now, take the same batch of resumes, and an equivalent batch of screeners, but leave the names/gender identifiers on the resumes. You'll get a dramatically different result. In the resulting pool of selected resumes, you'll find that nearly all of the top male candidates from the initial round - better than 90% - were also selected in the open search. But of the women selected in the blind search, less that 20% will get selected in the open search.

And it's not just men who do this. Use women as screeners, and you'll see something similar. It's not quite as as extreme - with women screeners in the open search, about 40% of the women from the blind search will also get selected. But still, the majority of women will be excluded, when the only additional piece of data is gender.

That's the problem with the science cheerleaders. Not that there's something wrong with cheering about science. Not because it's impossible to be both a cheerleader and a scientist. The problem is that given our societal biases, the science cheerleaders play right into gender stereotype, and end up reinforcing the message that the primary role of women in science is sexual and supportive. You can be a female scientist - but if you are, it's important that you do it in a way which shows your sexual subservience to the men. You can be a female scientist - as long as you're also a hot chick who's sexually available to male scientists.

As a closing point, before you start flaming me: just ask yourself, honestly: what would you think if a group of men dressed up in speedos and filmed a video cheering about science? Not doing any science - just dancing in their speedos chanting "science is cool." In fact, can you even imagine a bunch of really great male scientists agreeing to dance in speedos while cheering?

67 responses so far

Back to Life; Comments Open!

Sep 07 2010 Published by under Meta

Hi folks!

Scientopia has moved to a new host, which is relieving the issues that messed us up so badly last week. So commenting is working again, and everything should be smooth sailing.

One response so far

Searching for Topics

Jun 28 2010 Published by under goodmath, Meta

As regular readers have no doubt noticed by now, posting on the blog
has been slow lately. I've been trying to come back up to speed, but so
far, that's been mainly in the form of bad math posts. I'd like to get
back to the good stuff. Unfortunately, the chaos theory stuff that I was
posting just isn't good for my schedule right now. Once you get past
the definitions of chaos, and understanding what it means, actually
analyzing chaotic systems is something that doesn't come easily to me - which
means that it takes a lot of time to put together a post. And
my work schedule right now means that I just don't have that amount of

So, dear readers, what mathematical topics would you be particularly interested in reading about? Since I'm a computer scientist, my background obviously runs towards the discrete math side of the world - so, for the most part, the easiest topics for me to write about are from that side. But don't let that limit you: tell me what you want to know about, and I'll take the suggestions into consideration, and figure out which one(s) I have the time to study and write about.

I don't want to limit you by making suggestions. I've tried that in the past, and the requests inevitably end up circling around the things I suggested. But I really want to know just what you want to know more about. So - fire away!

90 responses so far

The Best Dog in the World is Gone

Apr 09 2009 Published by under Meta


Things on the blog are probably going to be quiet for a while. My beloved pup, Nutmeg, died last night. He had pancreatic cancer, which had spread to his lungs, liver, and bones. He finally reached the point where even potent medication wasn't enough to relieve his pain enough, so we had to euthanize him. He died with the entire family
there holding him. I've never known another dog like him; he had the most
amazing, wonderful temperament. He was one of the sweetest, gentlest, most loving creatures I've ever known. I miss him terribly.

21 responses so far

Comments Should be Working

Mar 20 2009 Published by under Meta

Seed's tech guy did a reset and restart of the server, and it appears that now I'm able to turn off registration without completely disabling comments. So everyone who's been having trouble commenting, please give it a try again, and let me know if you have any trouble.

5 responses so far

Commenting Problems

Mar 07 2009 Published by under Chatter, Meta

Just a quick status notice: a bunch of commenters have been having problems with the system demanding authetication to be able to comment. I'm trying to fix it with the help of the SB tech folks. My first attempt made things worse, and made it impossible for anyone to comment. I'm trying to re-enable comments now, but since I'm not sure what disabled them, I'm not sure of what will work. Commenting ability using typekey authentication will be re-enabled ASAP; and commenting without authentication will be re-enabled as soon as the SB techs can figure out what's causing the authentication requirement.

4 responses so far

Framing and Expelled: Why the Framers are Mis-Framing

Mar 25 2008 Published by under Meta

I'm going to jump into the framing wars again. As I mentioned last time,
I think that most folks who are "opposed" to framing really don't understand what they're talking about - and I'll once again explain why. But on the other hand,
I think that our most prominent framing advocates here at SB are absolutely
terrible at it - and by their ineptitude, are largely responsible for
the opposition to the whole thing.

Continue Reading »

95 responses so far


Mar 18 2008 Published by under Meta

As you've probably noticed, things have been rather slow around here lately. I've got more posts in the works on group theory and abstract algebra - but they take a lot of time to research and write, so they'll be coming out slowly - one a week or so.

In the meantime, I'm looking for other topics to write about, and I'd like to know what you, my faithful readers, are interested in hearing about.

Some things I've considered:

  • Cellular automata: CA are very cool. I've been wanting an excuse to read my copy of Wolfram's text.
  • Data structures: my programming-related posts have always been very popular; and there's a collection of unusual data structures that have interesting mathematical properties.
  • Game theory: a pretty cool area of math.
  • Conway's games: basically the second half of Conway's ONAG.

Or any other mathematical subject that you're interested in learning about. Suggest away in the comments.

And keep those bad-math links coming!

No responses yet

Science Diversity Meme: The CS Mutant

Mar 11 2008 Published by under Meta

At Science, Education, and Society, the Urban Scientist
posts a meme to name five women scientists from each of a list of fields. Sadly, my fields are left off the list. So I'll respond in my own way
by adding computer science. This is a very idiosyncratic list - it's women
who are particularly important to my own experience as a student and later
practitioner of computer science.

It's worth noting that I've got a very atypical experience as a computer
scientist, in that many of the most influential people in my
career have been women. That's very unusual, given the incredibly skewed
ratio of men to women in computer science. But as an undergraduate student,
a graduate student, and a professional researcher, the majority of people who had a great influence on my education and career have been women.

  1. Fran Allen. In a list of women in computer science, Fran has to
    be at the top. (I've met Fran Allen personally, and she told me
    to call her Fran.) Fran was the first woman to earn the Turing award - and
    the only real question concerning her getting it is why the hell it took
    so long. I used to work at IBM Research, where Fran also works, but I knew
    about her long before I went there. Fran is one of the people who
    created the field of compilers. I had the amazing good
    fortune to meet Fran on several occasions, and she's one of the
    most pleasant, interesting people that I've ever spoken to. She's also
    an incredibly active advocate for women in math and science, and her
    tireless effort has probably brought more women into the field than
    anyone else. (Yes, when it comes to Fran, I am pretty much a drooling
    fanboy. Fran is my idol :-). If in my career, I can accomplish 1/50th
    of what Fran did, I'll be a very proud and happy person.)
  2. Grace Murray Hopper. Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was one of the designers of the
    Cobol programming language. You could make an argument about whether
    Adm. Hopper or Fran Allen really deserved to be the first woman to earn
    the Turing award. Personally, having heard her talk a few times, I don't
    think she held a candle to Fran. But it's undeniable that she played
    a crucial, formative role in the creation of what become computer
    science and software engineering.
  3. Ada Lovelace. You can't fairly talk about women in computer science
    without mentioning Lady Ada Lovelace. She was, arguably, the first
    programmer ever.
  4. Jeanne Ferrante. Professor Ferrante once worked at IBM, but left before I
    got there. I've never gotten to meet her. But she wrote one of the first
    static analysis papers that I ever read, which had a whole lot to do with what
    I've ended up doing with my life.
  5. Barbara Ryder. Barbara is a professor at my undergraduate alma mater.
    I never had the good fortune to take a class taught by her, but I got
    to know her anyway. She's one of the leading researchers in static analysis,
    and her students are some of the leading lights in compilers, programming
    languages, static analysis, and compiler optimization. She's also one
    hell of a tough person, who's done an amazing amount to fight to get
    women involved in computer science.

This list leaves off some women who've played major roles in my life and career. Like, for instance, my wife, who is a brilliant computational linguist (smarter and a better researcher than I am); my PhD advisor, Lori Pollock, who is an amazing researcher and
the best advisor a student could ask for; my academic grandmother,
Mary Lou Soffa; and one of my favorite current researchers in
software engineering, Gail Murphy.

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