Wikipedia gendergap part 1

Hmm the title suggests there will be a part 2. Is that misleading? We shall see.

The debates over the gender gap issue have largely dropped to the level of background noise by wikipedia standards. The mailing list carries on but is on a firmly downward trajectory. There are a few other bits and pieces going on but for the most the conversation appears to have stalled.  So lets look at some of the problems the debate runs into.

The first one is how to deal with the claim that writing encyclopedia like articles is more of a male activity than a female one.

Usually this gets bogged down by two somewhat automatic and not particularly helpful positions.

The first is that while there may be differences between genders they are smaller than the differences within genders. This seems to usually seems to be backed by the spoken or unspoken statement that anyone trying to argue the point any further fails to understand gender issues and thus can be ignored. The problem is that the “differences between genders they are smaller than the differences within genders” factiod/claim doesn’t provide any useful guidance when you are working at the far end of the bell curve (and the reader to editor ratio suggests we are). Under such conditions it’s entirely possible to end up with situations where tiny differences between genders can be magnified until they become a significant factor (this is mathematically provable). On the other hand we have no idea if this is happening or not.

The second unhelpful position is people attempting to hold wikipedia up as their final proof that men and women are different. They argue than in an environment where most people are anonymous and entry is open to all any difference has to be due to gender differences. This hits the problem that there are far to many confounding factors for any such determination to be made. Not least of which is that the default assumption on wikipedia is that an editor of unknown gender is male which instantly creates a gender asymmetry.

Since there is a little possibility of common ground between the two positions and in many cases a lack of interest in finding any the argument tends to stall there. This is unfortunate since it’s actually rather an important question. If wikipedia’s gender gap is due to such differences between genders then there is little point in attempting to reduce the gap without first changing wikipedia to at least some extent. If it isn’t then trying to change the fundamental nature of wikipedia in order to reduce the gap risks damage for no good reason.

I don’t pretend to know if the gap is due to innate gender differences or not but it is a valid question but one not helped by people jumping to answers that support their agenda without proper investigation.

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One Response to Wikipedia gendergap part 1

  1. Pingback: Gender, open technology and culture « digitalcollaboration

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