Of Gender and Rationality

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T00:56:11.827Z · score: 50 (50 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 360 comments

Among all self-identified "rationalist" communities that I know of, and Less Wrong in particular, there is an obvious gender imbalance—a male/female ratio tilted strongly toward males.

Yet surely epistemic and instrumental rationality have no gender signature.  There is no such thing as masculine probability theory or feminine decision theory.

There could be some entirely innocuous explanation for this imbalance.  Perhaps, by sheer historical contingency, aspiring rationalists are recruited primarily from the atheist/libertarian/technophile cluster, which has a gender imbalance for its own reasons—having nothing to do with rationality or rationalists; and this is the entire explanation.

Uh huh.  Sure.

And then there are the less innocuous explanations—those that point an accusing finger at the rationalist community, or at womankind.

If possible, let's try not to make things worse in the course of having this discussion.  Remember that to name two parts of a community is to split that community—see the Robbers Cave experiment:  Two labels → two groups.  Let us try not to make some of our fellow rationalists feel singled-out as objects of scrutiny, here.  But in the long run especially, it is not a good thing if half the potential audience is being actively filtered out; whatever the cause, the effect is noticeable, and we can't afford to ignore the question.

These are the major possibilities that I see:

(1)  While the pure math of the right Way has no gender signatures on it, we can imagine that men and women are annoyed to different degrees by different mistakes.  Suppose that Less Wrong is too disagreeable—that relative to the ideal, just-right, perfectly-rational amount of disagreement, we have a little more disagreement than that.  You can imagine that to the men, this seems normal, forgivable, takeable in-stride—wrong, perhaps, but not really all that annoying.  And you can imagine that conversely, the female-dominated mirror-image of Less Wrong would involve too much agreement relative to the ideal—lots of comments agreeing with each other—and that while this would seem normal, forgivable, takeable-in-stride to the female majority, it would drive the men up the wall, and some of them would leave, and the rest would be gritting their teeth.  (This example plays to gender stereotypes, but that's because I'm speculating blindly; my brain only knows half the story and has to guess at the other half.  Less obvious hypotheses are also welcome.)  In a case like this, you begin by checking with trusted female rationalists to see if they think you're doing anything characteristically male, irrational, and annoying.

(2)  The above points a finger at the rationalist community, and in particular its men, as making a mistake that drives away rational women.  The complementary explanation would say:  "No, we have exactly the rational amount of argument as it stands, or even too little.  Male newcomers are fine with this, but female newcomers feel that there's too much conflict and disagreement and they leave."  The true Way has no gender signature, but you can have a mistake that is characteristic of one sex but not the other, or a mistake that has been culturally inculcated in one gender but not the other.  In this case we try to survey female newcomers to see what aspects seem like turn-offs (whether normatively rational or not), and then fix it (if not normatively rational) or try to soften the impact somehow (if normatively rational).  (Ultimately, though, rationality is tough for everyone—there are parts that are hard for anyone to swallow, and you just have to make it as easy as you can.)

(3)  It could be some indefinable difference of style—"indefinable" meaning that we can't pin it down tightly enough to duplicate—whereby male writers tend to attract male recruits and female writers attract female recruits.  On this hypothesis, male writers end up with mostly male readers for much the same reason that Japanese writers end up with mostly Japanese readers.  In this case I would suggest to potential female authors that they should write more, including new introductions and similar recruiting material.  We could try for a mix of authorial genders in the material first encountered on-site.  (By the same logic that if we wanted more Japanese rationalists we might encourage potential writers who happened to be Japanese.)

(4)  We could be looking at a direct gender difference—where I parenthetically note that (by convention in such discussions) "gender" refers to a culture's concept of what it means to be a man or woman, while "sex" refers to actual distinctions of XX versus XY chromosomes.  For example, consider this inspirational poster from a 1970s childrens' book.  "Boys are pilots... girls are stewardesses... boys are doctors... girls are nurses."  "Modern" cultures may still have a strong dose of "boys are rational, girls are un-self-controlled creatures of pure feeling who find logic and indeed all verbal argument to be vaguely unfeminine".  I suppose the main remedy would be (a) to try and correct this the same way you would correct any other sort of childhood damage to sanity and (b) present strong female rationalist role models.

(5)  The complementary hypothesis is a direct sex difference—i.e., the average female human actually is less interested in and compelled by deliberative reasoning compared to the average male human.  If you were motivated to correct the sex balance regardless, you would consider e.g. where to find a prefiltered audience of people compellable by deliberative reasoning, a group that already happened to have good gender balance, and go recruiting there.

(6)  We could be looking an indirect gender difference.  Say, boys are raised to find a concept like "tsuyoku naritai" ("I want to become stronger") appealing, while girls are told to shut up and keep their heads down.  If the masculine gender concept has a stronger endorsement of aspiring to self-improvement, it will, as a side effect, make a stronger endorsement of improving one's rationality.  Again, the solutions would be female authors to tailor introductions to feminine audiences, and strong female role models.  (If you're a woman and you're a talented writer and speaker, consider reading up on antitheism and trying to become a Fifth Horsewoman alongside Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens...?)

(7)  We could be looking at an indirect sex difference.  The obvious evolutionary psychology hypothesis behind the imbalanced gender ratio in the iconoclastic community—the atheist/libertarian/technophile cluster—is the idea that males are inherently more attracted to gambles that seem high-risk and high-reward; they are more driven to try out strange ideas that come with big promises, because the genetic payoff for an unusually successful male has a much higher upper bound than the genetic payoff for an unusually successful female.  It seems to me that male teenagers especially have something like a higher cognitive temperature, an ability to wander into strange places both good and bad.  To some extent, this can be viewed as a problem of authorial style as well as innate dispositions—there's no law that says you have to emphasize the strangeness.  You could start right out with pictures of a happy gender-balanced rationalist unchurch somewhere, and banner the page "A Return To Sanity".  But a difference as basic as "more male teenagers have a high cognitive temperature" could prove very hard to address completely.

(8)  Then there's the hypothesis made infamous by Larry Summers:  Male variance in IQ (not the mean) is higher, so the right tail is dominated by males as you get further out.  I know that just mentioning this sort of thing can cause a webpage to burst into flames, and so I would like to once again point out that individual IQ differences, whether derived from genes or eating lead-based paint as a kid, are already as awful as it gets—nothing is made any worse by talking about groups, since groups are just made out of individuals.  The universe is already dreadful along this dimension, so we shouldn't care more whether groups are involved—though of course, thanks to our political instincts, we do care.  The remedies in this not-actually-any-more-awful case are (a) continue the quest to systematize rationality training so that it is less exclusively the preserve of high-g individuals, and (b) recruit among prefiltered audiences that have good gender balance.

(9)  Perhaps women are less underrepresented on Less Wrong than may at first appear, and men are more likely to comment for some reason.  Or perhaps women are less likely to choose visibly feminine usernames.  The gender ratio at physical meetups, while still unbalanced, seems noticeably better than the visible gender ratio among active commenters on the Internet.  Not very plausible as a complete explanation; but we should consider hypotheses that involve unbalanced participation/visibility rather than unbalanced attraction/retention.

 

Part of the sequence The Craft and the Community

Next post: "My Way"

Previous post: "Bayesians vs. Barbarians"

360 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T05:40:28.557Z · score: 49 (49 votes) · LW · GW

We should also look for specific, teachable “gateway” skills that might allow more women to participate in LW.

I remember reading some story about how women did persistently worse in a particular organic chemistry course than men did, until they added a training session explicitly teaching mental rotation (there’s a gender gap in visual/spatial abilities), after which point test scores equalized because mentally rotating the molecules was no longer a barrier, and other skills could come into play. I can’t find the webpage, though (though there’s a bit of corroboration here), so take the story with a grain of salt.

Given the comments elsewhere in the thread about gender differences in expected agreeableness, and about women being discouraged by downvotes, it sounds like one plausible barrier concerns how to have heart in the face of criticism. Maybe someone should write a post or two on process/growth vs. trait models of ability, and how to have the former. Or on how to keep in mind that people are responding to your words, not your inner soul, and that there’s some system of rules that determines their responses that you can learn to hack. Or something along these lines. There are skills here, and they can be broken into small, learnable chunks. And probably many LW-ers could use a boost here; I know I’d like one.

Such posts could be linked to a welcome page for newcomers, with mention that some find LW difficult at first and later like it and that these posts might help the transition period, but without mention of gender.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T22:27:45.570Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I had a number of "aha" moments along these lines when I read a book called "Hardball for women". It's a book about how to explain the cultural difference of business to women - another notoriously all-male province. It really changed the way I thought about a lot of things - pointed out the alternative point-of-view etc.

There are some really great anecdotes about differences between male and female culture - which are somewhat US-centric, and very generalised, but worth thinking about.

The one I can most easily bring to mind is that in general, boys, while growing up, rough-house a lot when they play. So they learn that a bit of ribbing is just in fun... whereas a lot of girls never do - the only exposure girls have to either physical or verbal roughness is when they get told off for doing something wrong... so they learn that when it gets rough, they're in for trouble.

I recognised in myself that when my boss told me I'd done something wrong, I had a really strong negative reaction compared with most of my male colleagues. They had realised that the boss was just letting them know what not to do, so it didn't happen again. I'd automatically gone into "fear and shame" mode, when really I should have just recognised my mistake and moved on.

What the book pointed out was that this difference in thinking can actually be systemic... cultural, if you will. There is nothing wrong with the way I reacted - I was just reacting out of context to what was actually going on. Once my context was realigned... well, I can't say it was easy, but at least I realised that it was "me, not you".

Addendum: Note that this insight was in the context of a huge behemoth of a culture that isn't likely to change (ie business culture).

LW has the near-unique trait of being a bunch of people who are actively trying to change... therefore it's entirely possible that we can avoid the at-first-blush-alienating-to-the-majority-of-women approach that is common in other masculine-only cultures.

There's nothing wrong with the masculine culture. But it isn't the only way we could be.

There should be room for all of us. :)

comment by nancyhua · 2012-09-25T17:19:23.294Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Teaching thicker skin a good idea. Even a blog post on the psychology of receiving and responding to anonymous Internet criticisms and engaging in debates without taking it personally would be interesting to me.

As a woman, I suspect the people on the internet forums on which I feel most at home make an effort to be nicer to me (and other women). Whenever I comment on those forums anonymously, there are many more negative comments and they are more aggressive than any I receive when I'm not anonymous- comments both from men and women. Maybe just associating a comment with a name or a face makes people more friendly in general- I don't know.

As a person who is more motivated by criticism than praise, I tend to be careful about researching and crafting my comments to avoid unhelpful or obvious attacks, because criticisms tend to attract an inordinate amount of my attention and I'll fixate on the one criticism and forget about all the upvotes and praise. I try to keep things in perspective but it's my personality to focus more on errors.

In my experience women like to share their thoughts with everyone but can be less inclined to argue with random strangers. Depending on the topic, some of the lesswrong comment threads seem to be a forum for debate, and less of a place to share thoughts. Maybe if they were reframed as "share your take" instead of "dive into the debate," they'd have more more appeal, but I don't know if that's the goal.

comment by Aurini · 2009-04-16T10:03:49.811Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Brilliant posts, Anna. Would you consider doing this?

comment by robirahman · 2016-01-12T21:25:16.133Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is there somewhere I can find a comprehensive list of mental skills that men are typically worse at than women? I'm male and it just occurred to me that I probably ought to practice those.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-03-24T08:29:27.758Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think teaching "gateway skills" is an excellent idea. One potential impediment to making it work here (as far as I can tell, this is still the case 3 years later) is that the Core Sequences are essentially prerequisites to understanding most of the content here. In order to successfully bring in new people with differently inclined personalities (including, but not limited to more women), posts on "gateway skills" will need to be accessible to a more general audience. This is certainly doable; it would just require a break from routine.

Another potential benefit of this idea is that it may help current readers develop skills that they are less inclined to develop, and are consequently somewhat lacking in (I would consider myself part of this category).

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T02:04:39.796Z · score: 46 (43 votes) · LW · GW

I was talking to my brother the other day about the blinders that come from hanging out only with math/physics/compsci nerds. And he suggested that yes, it is valuable to expose oneself to many types of people, but looking for “normal people” or “non-nerds” is the wrong way to do it; normal people are boring. The thing to do is to find people who share some other kind of passionate interest -- people’s whose enthusiasm for public speaking, or windsurfing, or whatever it is has driven the creation of their own interesting, idiosyncratic culture.

As a student, I participated in a (fairly small) number of programs for women in math. The programs were all lousy. I love it when I find other women I can really talk to -- it makes me feel more at home with myself, my gender, and my ability to learn to think. But these programs weren’t like that. These programs were blah. “Adding more women” is a boring aim, like “meeting normal people” or “meeting non-nerds”. Usually it’s achieved by taking whatever it is that might make the program distinctive (e.g., math talent, or an analytical/argumentative spirit) and watering down that distinctiveness until more women are involved.

I don’t know if there’s a viable alternative here, but it’s worth asking if we can find something distinctive and interesting that:

  1. Usefully adds to, compliments, or extends the existing OB/LW content base, and
  2. Automatically includes more women in its set of skilled/passionate practitioners, without need to water down its distinctiveness or its virtues.

Pjeby, elsewhere in this thread, suggested that instrumental rationality (using rationality to achieve visible, concrete aims) might be a useful, distinctive skill-set that naturally includes more women among its passionate practitioners. Another candidate might be rationality components that emphasize inter- and intra-personal skills, such as emotional self-awareness. (I’m fairly lousy at that one myself, but understanding one’s own motives is clearly part of making good decisions in the face of human biases. And stereotypes suggest we might get better gender-balance here.) Anyone have any other suggestions?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T03:41:38.663Z · score: 25 (24 votes) · LW · GW

I do want to emphasize - it was in a previous version of the post, in fact, but I took it out - that I am maintaining my phrasing of my goal as create rationalists not create female rationalists. But if half of the audience is being filtered for some silly avoidable reason, then I want to fix that.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T06:07:42.372Z · score: 19 (24 votes) · LW · GW

I am maintaining my phrasing of my goal as create rationalists not create female rationalists

There is a strong selfish incentive for single male rationalists to pursue this goal, though. I know I would love to have my next girlfriend be a rationalist (if only to avoid my most recent failure mode), and given the numbers, that's probably not something every male rationalist can hope for right now.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-16T18:51:14.438Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

But if half of the audience is being filtered for some silly avoidable reason, then I want to fix that.

One point is that it's rather silly of people to filter out for silly reasons. You don't stop reading a good book because it uses a funny font. This may be made into a general warning, a failure mode to be avoided, and linked to from the introductory article. Although I understand that it's not a mode of thinking that is likely to work where the mistake surfaces.

comment by Cyan · 2009-04-16T19:44:38.767Z · score: 18 (17 votes) · LW · GW

You don't stop reading a good book because it uses a funny font.

You very well might, if you found the font so distracting that you couldn't enjoy the book. I think that you can only assert that this is a failure mode by misunderstanding who is being "silly" and who has control of avoiding the "avoidable".

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-04-16T21:01:58.153Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

You don't stop reading a good book because it uses a funny font.

Of course not! You stop reading it because there are too many plot holes, the characters irritate you or the author is just too naive for you to stomache. Meanwhile the guy who bought the other printing of the book which has a more aesthetic font keeps reading to the end and then gives it to his friends.

comment by Nanani · 2009-04-16T02:26:44.024Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I had similar experiences in my first year of university (though it was Women in Science instead of Math, a slightly larger population). It was boring.

Women in Rationality screams "pointless PC navel-gazing" because of association with these experiences.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T22:16:39.389Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yup, me too, but it was "Women in IT". I stopped going to that and started hanging out with the local linux group - far more interesting, despite the inevitable gender-imbalance.

comment by toonalfrink · 2018-05-25T18:49:48.226Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is what we're doing at LW Netherlands. The "partner" community we've chosen is the spirituality community, which strikes me as remarkably complementary to LW in multiple ways. We're going to weekly ecstatic dance parties, some of us are signing up for zen retreats (which is a bit more masculine), and there's the potential that some of us will try tantra at some point.

And it's really gold for learning rationality, because when it comes to lines of attack on becoming smarter, spirituality couldn't be more different from, yet as potent as, our strategy.

Bonus is that their gender ratio is pretty much the inverse of ours.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-05T17:43:34.688Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Another candidate might be rationality components that emphasize inter- and intra-personal skills, such as emotional self-awareness.

(To anyone else reading this nearly five years after it was posted: one year later, Alicorn did this.)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T03:40:26.347Z · score: -2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do want to emphasize - it was in a previous version of the post, in fact, but I took it out - that I am maintaining my phrasing of my goal as create rationalists not create female rationalists. But if half of my audience is being filtered for some silly avoidable reason, then I want to fix that.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T03:40:18.615Z · score: -2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I do want to emphasize - it was in a previous version of the post, in fact, but I took it out - that I am maintaining my phrasing of my goal as create rationalists not create female rationalists. But if half of my audience is being filtered for some silly avoidable reason, then I want to fix that.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T03:39:38.540Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I do want to emphasize - it was in a previous version of the post, in fact, but I took it out - that I am maintaining my phrasing of my goal as create rationalists not create female rationalists. But if half of my audience is being filtered for some silly avoidable reason, then I want to fix that.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-04-16T03:43:16.093Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Triple post. Please fix.

comment by Simulacra · 2009-04-16T05:00:20.176Z · score: 37 (39 votes) · LW · GW

I've lurked OB/LW for quite some time now (about a year) and haven't posted much for many of the same reasons as divia (intimidated by the quality, felt like I wasn't familiar enough, etc) and have tried to get a few people that are interested in this kind of thing to follow along with me to little success. This post made me wonder why people I was so sure would care about rationality didn't care to join the community here and further why I sit on the sidelines.

My first thoughts were that this group feels "cliquey". There are a lot of in-phrases and technical jargon floating around, which to an outsider can be very intimidating.

On top of that every incorrect comment is completely and utterly destroyed by multiple people. I know and you know we're dismantling ideas in an attempt to kick out biases and fallacies every time they appear, but to an outsider it looks/feels like an attack on all fronts. I think this stems from the separation of ideas from the self, which is really the first step on the road to rationality. Anyone who hasn't made that step feels like they are being personally attacked, and it isn't an easy step to make. Dislodging your ideas from your self-image is already required by the sciences, which may be part of the reason science-types are so well represented, but there are many fields where it isn't necessary (or even beneficial). Consider business where defending your ideas like they were your life will get you ahead most of the time.

I know of no "fix" for any of these, but perhaps a section for beginners would be beneficial. Perhaps something similar to simple.wikipedia.com would work. The OB backlogs are useful, but there is something to be said for being able to discuss new topics and it just isn't available for the older posts. How to implement such a thing without creating in/out groups I don't know. Maybe just flagging submissions as beginner->advanced would be helpful (along with actually posting things for beginners). In any case, some more "back to basics" posts couldn't hurt.

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-16T05:07:26.816Z · score: 27 (31 votes) · LW · GW

I think this stems from the separation of ideas from the self, which is really the first step on the road to rationality. Anyone who hasn't made that step feels like they are being personally attacked, and it isn't an easy step to make.

Even if you've made the step in general, it doesn't help when people use status-signaling language in their comments. e.g. "Have you thought of X?" is a lot better than, say, "Clearly you haven't paid any attention to X", if your goal is to actually improve discussion, rather than to get a charge from demolishing your opponent. (I suspect that the concept of a martial art of rationality doesn't help with this, from a priming perspective.)

Setting a frame of etiquette that indicates we are all here to help people become rationalists rather than to show off our own skills at rationalism might help with this.

comment by AlanCrowe · 2009-04-16T12:40:56.639Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

We are engaged in a collaborative effort that produces a webpage documenting the interplay of ideas. For example

The comment does not consider X

The reply does not explain why X is important

X is important because ...

The argument for the importance of X is unconvincing because ...

The flaw in the argument is easily remedied thus ...

Addressing the commentor is a mistake. It invites the replier to read the commentors mind to the detriminate of responding to the actual words of the comment.

I'm sensitised to this from attempting to teach Go to beginners. It is Black's move that makes bad shape/is too close to thickness/small/slow. If I have to correct a mistake I don't say "your move was bad", I say "black's move is bad". Black and White are characters in a collaborative fiction and me and my pupil are having an Author to Author conversation about how to maintain the dramatic tension and not just have White beat up Black.

comment by dclayh · 2009-04-16T15:59:07.801Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Off-topic, but: surely you want to teach your Go student to win, not to have a close game? As per Eliezer's favorite swordfighting quote?

comment by Jonii · 2010-07-14T11:47:16.541Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In go, good move stretches as far as possible, but not further. Moving too far away from your group is just as bad as moving too close. If both players follow the flow of the game, neither can expect to crush the other, the game is symmetric. This is why you just take the board position and see how the game should flow from there. If your opponent is weak, he loses much because his moves don't accomplish enough, and maybe even actively defeat each other. You can't do anything but avoid falling prey for that same thing, making each of your move count as much as possible, being as sharp as possible.

It's easiest to win against those players who have something like intention to kill. When they stretch further than they actually could, you can just lazily defend yourself. Defending is much easier than attacking in go. After a while, opponent has overstretched formations around the board, and you can start retaliating with no noticeable weaknesses, making the game totally one-sided. You just can't do better than playing the sharpest move possible. If opponent answers well, the result is even, but that's just how the game is.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-03-23T21:36:50.824Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Down-voted for being pedantic. The game of Go is not the point here.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-03-23T22:24:24.605Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh? The great-grandparent explicitly moves the topic to Go, and especially in the context of beginners, teaching students to win leads to poor habits later on. Jonii was trying to explain that in more detail.

comment by Aurini · 2009-04-16T09:59:09.864Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As a student, I would love to see this.

As an argumentative SOB I need to consider this.

As an opinionated member of LW: damnit, this is front page stuff, right here! This is bang on the money, and a hell of a lot less misogynistic than my own reactions to the post!

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T05:12:36.070Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

My first thoughts were that this group feels "cliquey". There are a lot of in-phrases and technical jargon floating around, which to an outsider can be very intimidating.

This is a feature, not a bug. If you spend a day discussing, say, Newcomb's problem, and it doesn't change the way you think and speak about similar situations in the future -- if you don't find easier, faster ways of describing the situation, which were previously unavailable to you -- then you've probably wasted a day.

The effect this has on newcomers is a bug though. Hopefully the Wiki, once it's active and fully implemented, will help to address this.

On top of that every incorrect comment is completely and utterly destroyed by multiple people.

I desperately wish that there were a way to emotionally differentiate between attacking a meme someone is carrying and attacking a person.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-16T13:47:51.291Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

This is a feature, not a bug. If you spend a day discussing, say, Newcomb's problem, and it doesn't change the way you think and speak about similar situations in the future -- if you don't find easier, faster ways of describing the situation, which were previously unavailable to you -- then you've probably wasted a day.

I don't agree with this. Maybe it is because I am new, but I spend half of my time here translating everything into a more common language. I find it easier to keep track of different arguments and reasonings once I translate it into the linguistic matrix I have been using to learn about everything else in my life.

Brand new concepts need new words and terms, but Newcomb's problem isn't one of them. The term "one-box" is jargon. "Omega" is jargon. It speeds up discussion on Less Wrong, not the real world. If I translate those terms into short sentences I can begin to have the conversation with anyone and the reusable terms will bump into topics I remember from other conversations I have had with people outside of Less Wrong and I see no harm in typing four words instead of one.

To beat this to death: If I always talk about Omega as "Omega," I think about it as Omega. If I think of Omega has someone who has a perfect guessing rate at what I am going to do, this reminds me of omniscience and that reminds me of how a lot of Christians view their God. Is there any relation between Newcomb's problem and God? Who knows, but it seems an interesting train of thought. If I end up talking to a Christian about Newcomb's problem and they state that Omega seems like God I have a better recourse already in place than simply saying, "No, Omega is Omega; not God."

That being said, I have to register the terms "Omega" and "one-box" because I am engaging in conversations here at LW. But even if I spent all day talking about Newcomb's problem using these new terms, I do not consider the point of the conversation to have the same conversation faster or easier. Neither do I consider the point to be having similar future conversations faster or easier. Faster and easier are luxuries; they are icing on the cake. I want to learn new concepts and I consider this to be very different than learning new jargon.

Backing up a little, "cliquey" holds negative connotations. In-phrases and technical jargon can be useful but I have also seen other communities latch onto their jargon and begin to skim over what would be relevant distinctions. It also forces newcomers to learn from the top down because they see a lot of words they do not understand. They register the jargon in their linguistic matrix and assign it an estimated meaning due to context. Eventually they can learn that some terms apply in certain circumstances, but they will never understand the concept until someone teaches it to them or they head off to the wiki and look it up.

This site is not newcomer friendly and that in and of itself is not a problem. Newcomers are justified in feeling intimidated because it is intimidating but there is a difference between the subject matter being intimidating and the community being intimidating. If the community is the source of a lot of intimidation because it feels cliquey, that is a bad thing. Labeling it a feature does not make it less of a bad thing.

(Side-note) I have also seen communities "name-drop" terms in attempts at status. That seems less of a concern here.

comment by dclayh · 2009-04-16T16:07:26.068Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

(Side-note) I have also seen communities "name-drop" terms in attempts at status. That seems less of a concern here.

Agreed. I know that when I'm talking with philosophers I tend to use their special prepositions ("On X's view...", "Y consists in...") to sound more in-groupy and thus give extra weight to my arguments.

On OB/LW this primarily takes the form (started by Eliezer, I think) of embedding a link to a previous article in every other sentence, which certainly comes off as intimidating, at least to me.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T16:29:22.299Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

On OB/LW this primarily takes the form (started by Eliezer, I think) of embedding a link to a previous article in every other sentence, which certainly comes off as intimidating, at least to me.

That's interesting -- I quite enjoy that convention, and feel like it makes the site more penetrable to newcomers. To me, the purpose of the links seems to be "if this sentence seems to follow from the last, keep reading. If I seem to have made an unsupported leap, you may profit by following the link."

comment by dclayh · 2009-04-16T19:23:59.080Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's nice for reading, yes (although it does mean that reading one Eliezer post can quickly turn into eight tabs' worth of previous posts), but when it comes to writing a post (or even a comment), I feel like if I don't have a bunch of references I'm leaving myself open to accusations of "Oh, that point was addressed here, here, and here. Try doing some reading."

Which might not be a bad thing, necessarily: it's certainly not too productive to be constantly going over the same ground as MrHen says below, but it certainly does affect what I choose to write.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T19:34:45.097Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

reading one Eliezer post can quickly turn into eight tabs' worth of previous posts

I spent a lot of happy afternoons this way last year (didn't get much done on my quantum problem sets though)

but when it comes to writing a post (or even a comment), I feel like if I don't have a bunch of references I'm leaving myself open to accusations of "Oh, that point was addressed here, here, and here. Try doing some reading."

Ah, this I totally get. I think this might be a good function for the welcome thread -- you could just leave a comment saying "hi, I'm thinking about writing something about X -- is there anything I ought to be reading first?"

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-16T22:02:19.349Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, this I totally get. I think this might be a good function for the welcome thread -- you could just leave a comment saying "hi, I'm thinking about writing something about X -- is there anything I ought to be reading first?"

I imagine that some of this task will be handled by the wiki or the tags assigned to each post.

That being said, I have little problem with someone talking about a topic that was broached seventy times previously as long as it either adds a new perspective or is a decent summary or launching point for people not there during the past discussions.

That being said, having "little problem with" may mean I will not read it because I consider the topic saturated.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-04-16T20:16:58.248Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On OB/LW this primarily takes the form (started by Eliezer, I think) of embedding a link to a previous article in every other sentence, which certainly comes off as intimidating, at least to me.

It's interesting to see how that comes across to you. When I include links one of my motivations is actually to towards less exclusiveness. Something along the lines of "I'm using this term but acknowledge that it is in group jargon. Here's the several pages of text I saved reproducing for anyone who wants it." I usually associate the in group status game with making it difficult to get information and so ensuring that you can gain status through every piece of knowledge the newcomers must aquire. Why show them where to learn stuff when you could be shooting them down every time they speak?

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-16T21:49:51.380Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It's interesting to see how that comes across to you. When I include links one of my motivations is actually to towards less exclusiveness. Something along the lines of "I'm using this term but acknowledge that it is in group jargon. Here's the several pages of text I saved reproducing for anyone who wants it." I usually associate the in group status game with making it difficult to get information and so ensuring that you can gain status through every piece of knowledge the newcomers must aquire.

When Eliezer does it, I interpret it as a desire not to repeat himself. When other people do it, sometimes my first impression is that the person is implying they are better-read and more knowledgeable, i.e., that they're trying to signal superior status by implying "I have been here longer and know more," as well as implying a stronger in-group affiliation, by the amount of work they've done to dig up appropriate scriptures and link to them.

The tone of the non-linked portion of the comment of course makes a big difference, of course. "Have you read XYZ? It seems to me like what you're saying contradicts point Q; how would you address that?" would be a lot different than some of the comments I've seen that look like trying to win an argument by the volume of their citations.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-16T22:05:55.210Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think I see it as something between you two. I sometimes see it as "I agree with these articles so these articles agree with me." This probably qualifies as a weird form of appealing to authority.

To make it fit better with your view, "If I put my article in a list of their articles I am like them."

The charitable side of me thinks of it as tracing someone's train of thought backwards. "Oh, so that's why they were thinking about this subject."

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T22:41:33.906Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yup - especially when the linked-to post doesn't actually support what they were trying to say. I sometimes see it as a form of thought-stoppage.

comment by JackChristopher · 2009-04-17T02:37:25.763Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I get link fatigue when read LW/OB. But I think it's unavoidable. It has to be done for at least two reasons:

  1. There's a lot of conceptual "bittage". As the writer, you not only have to close the inferential gap between new concepts, but close it for every new word. That's a lot to explain (and to see, if a new reader) at once.

  2. The medium of blogging wasn't designed to visualize information of this depth.

And that means heavy link back.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-16T18:27:52.494Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. I know that when I'm talking with philosophers I tend to use their special prepositions ("On X's view...", "Y consists in...") to sound more in-groupy and thus give extra weight to my arguments.

Yeah, my philosophy classes had a lot of people who would skip over discussions by using a well-known name. This is similar to what Andrew's You don't need Kant post was talking about.

That being said, the other extreme is not terribly useful, either. I have trouble remembering philosopher's names because the arguments and logic are more interesting and I never bothered associating it with the person who was speaking. As it turns out, I spend a lot of time going over ground that has already been covered because I did not learn the shortcut term.

This could be seen as a counter-point to my comment above.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T16:32:10.488Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't actually mean that it makes it easier to talk about Newcomb's problem, more that if, say, we're talking about the Israeli government dealing with a hostage situation, and someone says the Israelis should "one-box," they mean to communicate that "not only the effects on the current situation, but the impact their decision-making process will have on others trying to predict their actions, should be salient to their decision"

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-16T18:22:31.080Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Funny, I would not have associated one-boxing to mean what you described. I assumed that it only really matters when dealing with a perfect predictor. Apparently I missed some form of "action implies predicability" side of the discussion? In any case, looks like I get to go do some research/thinking. Thanks.

I didn't actually mean that it makes it easier to talk about Newcomb's problem [...]

Ah, okay. Thanks for the clarification. I think my points more or less stand as is but could probably have been less targeted at the Newcomb's problem example.

(Topic branch) Something I personally do dodge issues in terms is to rotate synonyms throughout a discussion to troll for bad assumptions in terms. If anyone gets a "Wait, what?" look on their face it means we may not be on the same page.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-17T03:53:31.582Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Something I personally do dodge issues in terms is to rotate synonyms throughout a discussion to troll for bad assumptions in terms. If anyone gets a "Wait, what?" look on their face it means we may not be on the same page.

That is an excellent idea.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T08:12:49.650Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hopefully the Wiki, once it's active and fully implemented, will help to address this.

The wiki is entirely ready to go; all it needs is more contributions.

comment by matt · 2009-04-16T10:41:08.162Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We have a styled and integrated wiki under development, but it's on the same platform as the current wiki - we'll pull in all content from the current wiki when we finish. Full support for ciphergoth's sentiments from the devs - go forth and enwiki the good stuff.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T11:35:10.755Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Will it cause you any trouble that not all users have the same username on the wiki as they do here?

comment by matt · 2009-04-16T20:32:41.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We may look into it later, but we're not currently looking to merge user accounts. LW is Python, MediaWiki is PHP; the database formats are different; we don't generally love working in PHP; etc.

Both will continue to be open source projects (of course), so contributions will be welcome :).

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T23:05:59.659Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think MediaWiki has some provision for supporting SSO, but yeah, I don't fancy hacking on it myself and I imagine you have better things to do too!

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-16T19:23:43.943Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The wiki is entirely ready to go; all it needs is more contributions.

It also needs a long-term hosting, so that you can safely link to it, and not worry that the target URL will go away or get abandoned.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T23:06:31.197Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Another solution would be to support wikilinking in the markup language; that way if the wiki moves the links can move with it.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-16T23:18:22.738Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is too hard to enforce outside the wiki, where anyone can fix failures to conform.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T23:41:37.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The greater convenience of the wiki markup might be enough, though?

comment by gwern · 2009-04-16T17:31:02.049Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My first thoughts were that this group feels "cliquey". There are a lot of in-phrases and technical jargon floating around, which to an outsider can be very intimidating.

I think ameliorating that issue is one of the main reasons for the Less Wrong wiki. Is it helpful in even its current state?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T23:10:05.401Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We could add a "Jargon request" category, so if you want to know what a term means and Google can't tell you, create a page on the wiki and just put {{pagewanted}} in there, and then I or someone else might notice and fix it.

EDIT: I've done this.

comment by SforSingularity · 2009-10-07T23:14:58.225Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

his group feels "cliquey". There are a lot of in-phrases and technical jargon

every incorrect comment is completely and utterly destroyed by multiple people.

These apply to both genders...

comment by HughRistik · 2009-04-16T04:26:21.498Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW · GW

There are a number of average sex differences in personality traits that would contribute to more males identifying as "rationalists" than females.

Here are the sex differences found in the Big Five personality inventory, from a cross-cultural survey by Costa et al.:

  • Women score higher on Agreeableness

  • Men score higher on the Assertiveness facet of Extraversion

  • Men score higher on Openness to Ideas, especially in the US. Women score higher on Openness to Feelings and Openness to Aesthetics. In the US, men also score higher on Openness to Fantasy.

  • Some particular items, such as identification with the word "logic," were skewed strongly towards males

An interest in rationality may depend on Openness to Ideas. Otherwise, someone just isn't going to care about the kind of things we talk about here.

Furthermore, the identification of males, but not females, with words like "logic" suggests that perhaps part of the gender gap of interest in rationality is about words like "logic," and "rationality." Women are often labeled as "irrational" or "illogical" when they are perceived as overemotional, and this labeling may put them off words like "rationality," regardless of whether they appreciate the underlying thought processes of rationality.

Another major sex difference relates to Simon-Baron Cohen's theory of autism as an example of the "extreme male brain." Baron-Cohen argues that males tend to be higher in "systemizing" traits, while women tend to be higher in "empathizing" traits:

Empathizing is a drive to identify another person's emotions and thoughts and respond to them appropriately. Systemizing is a drive to analyze systems or construct systems. The Empathizing-Systemizing (E-S) model suggests that these are major dimensions in which individuals differ from each other, and women being superior in empathizing and men in systemizing. In this study, we examined new questionnaires, the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and the Systemizing Quotient (SQ). Participants were 1 250 students, 616 men and 634 women, from eight universities, who completed both the EQ and SQ. Results showed that women scored higher than men on the EQ, and the result was reversed on the SQ. Results also showed that humanities majors scored higher than sciences majors on the EQ, and again the result was reversed on the SQ. (cite)

Here is an interesting summary from Baron-Cohen:

Evidence is reviewed suggesting that, in the general population, empathizing and systemizing show strong sex differences. The function of systemizing is to predict lawful events, including lawful change, or patterns in data. Also reviewed is the evidence that individuals on the autistic spectrum have degrees of empathizing difficulties alongside hypersystemizing. The hypersystemizing theory of autism spectrum conditions (ASC) proposes that people with ASC have an unusually strong drive to systemize. This can explain their preference for systems that change in highly lawful or predictable ways; why they become disabled when faced with systems characterized by less lawful change; and their "need for sameness" or "resistance to change". If "truth" is defined as lawful patterns in data then, according to the hypersystemizing theory, people with ASC are strongly driven to discover the "truth".(cite)

This sounds like a rationalistic cognitive style.

If autistic-spectrum traits, or "systemizing," are related to interest in rationality, and in identifying as a rationalist, then it would be unsurprising that females are less likely to do those things.

comment by Michelle · 2009-04-16T05:28:41.473Z · score: 21 (23 votes) · LW · GW

A few thoughts:

(1) I agree with Nanani, and think it would be awful to actively try to "recruit" females, or even really do anything to entice them to come/stay. Though I appreciate the spirit of the post nonetheless because I think it's a very interesting and important issue, and I think it's okay to acknowledge it and question it. If anything, efforts to even out the male/female imbalance would have to be made on a much greater scale to start to see change.

(2) Do people really think that it's an issue of females frequenting Less Wrong and then LEAVING? I doubt it. I suspect that a much lower proportion of females even happen upon the blog in the first place. This would eliminate a number of the explanations.

(3) This is an issue that deeply intrigues me. I have some fairly simple theories. Unfortunately, I am not well-versed enough in evol. psych., gender studies, history, sociology, etc. to feel like I have enough background to really get at the heart of the matter. So most of my ideas are purely anecdotal.

I believe that females on a whole are less interested in intellectual pursuits. Particularly intellectual pursuits that are HARD and take a higher amount of mental horsepower to grasp. Period. The question is: Why?

From my own experience, I've found myself to be less INNATELY CURIOUS than many of my male counterparts. Once I get onto a topic, I can puzzle over it for hours at a high level, but if the topic is not in front of me, my brain can be content to space out and think trivial things. Once I realized this was the case, I started to actively work to be more curious and to think more. When I'm sitting around spacing out, I will actually tell myself that I should start thinking about a problem. My brain does not do this automatically.

Now, I don't know if this is purely a messed up issue that I have to deal with, or if it extends across the female gender. From observing other females, it doesn't seem unreasonable that others would face the same lack of intellectual curiosity.

My big question is where does this come from? It's either biological or social. I used to think it was biological (this helped me reconcile the fact that I had to work overtime and be more aware so that I could become more interested in things in the first place). Now I think it's entirely possible that the explanation is social and that females, through media/peer groups/etc. simply are not encouraged to be as curious about intellectual issues and by the time they are older, they've simply stopped thinking. (This is all pertaining to females as a group, not particular individuals).

(4) I don't think the atmosphere (meanness) of this site is the problem. Enough females are thick-skinned. I think it's simply the subject matter. Though I agree that it's possible that the ratio of females is slightly higher than what is apparent because of their relative silence. I personally have a much higher fear of rejection to comments, etc. This extends to in-person interactions, and upon the slightest rejection, I will quickly shut up.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T05:48:51.342Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

From my own experience, I've found myself to be less INNATELY CURIOUS than many of my male counterparts.

I distinctly remember my first meeting with one of my female friends, she was staring at a poster on the wall which explained why e^(i pi)=-1, copying down each step, and clearly trying to understand it. This was not in connection to any class, she was just interested. And I remember being immediately, strongly attracted to her simply for that reason, because of that demonstrated, genuine curiosity. Which indicates that on some level, I perceived that trait as being remarkable, though I'm not sure that that's specifically because she was a girl.

(For those looking for the end of the story, my best friend was already actively pursuing her (which is why we were being introduced), and I chose to respect the friendship.)

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-04-16T20:44:23.314Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

From my own experience, I've found myself to be less INNATELY CURIOUS than many of my male counterparts. Once I get onto a topic, I can puzzle over it for hours at a high level, but if the topic is not in front of me, my brain can be content to space out and think trivial things. Once I realized this was the case, I started to actively work to be more curious and to think more. When I'm sitting around spacing out, I will actually tell myself that I should start thinking about a problem. My brain does not do this automatically.

Fascinating. I can somewhat emphasise with that having as I do the exact reverse experience. I haven't managed to create a habit of telling myself to think about trivial things while spacing out but I have done so with regards to (at least an acceptable fraction of) social encounters. It seems that thinking up trivial things is a distinctly non-trivial task! How ever do you manage it?

I don't think the atmosphere (meanness) of this site is the problem.

This site is full of cute fluffy puppies.

Enough females are thick-skinned.

I agree and obvserve that projecting the apearance of thin skin is a somewhat more effective gambit for females than males.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T16:46:52.079Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm the most intellectually curious person I know (in non-Less Wrong circles, anyway), but of course I could be an exception.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-04-16T20:56:46.832Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm the most intellectually curious person I know (in non-Less Wrong circles, anyway), but of course I could be an exception.

And that serves to remind me that my default image of posters is skewed slightly too far in the male direction. It takes a kick in the face by an unambiguous implication in the post body to make me even consider that the author isn't a relatively young male with a science, engineering or programming background. I had finished Alicorn's post and got up to (2) in Michelle's before I was prompted to check the author's name for gender association.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T23:35:49.201Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Considering that an alicorn is a unicorn's horn, I think mine is a fairly girly username. Unless there is a unicorn-loving male element I should be aware of.

comment by BethMo · 2011-06-01T08:44:26.708Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting... all the places I've seen the word, it meant a winged unicorn*. But reading this post drove me to look it up, and I did find both definitions. Less Wrong: raising new interest in definitions of mythological creature parts! :)

*Speaking of mythological definitions, I learned somewhere to distinguish between an alicorn, which has the goat-like body, lion's tail, beard, etc. of a unicorn, vs a horned pegasus, which has horse-like features. Not sure where that came from, but it's firmly implanted in my stores of useless knowledge.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-12-13T23:22:46.304Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, unicorn pegasus actually is a meaning of alicorn? I always thought that was limited to the My Little Pony community.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-06-01T19:06:21.699Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fantasy authors are not as a general rule inclined to adhere so rigidly to your taxonomy ;)

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-17T00:12:15.895Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently sufficiently girly that I didn't even know that's what it was...

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-17T08:50:35.403Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The downvote suggests I need to elaborate. Alicorn thought she was fairly clearly signaling her gender by using a feminine username. I had seen her username in previous comments and did not know the word so it did not signal her gender effectively to me. Perhaps my vocabulary is just inadequate but if I'm at all representative then I think the misunderstanding is worth noting as one small way in which male and female posters may fail to communicate due to hidden assumptions.

comment by Pavitra · 2014-09-11T20:38:14.006Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Wacky theory: it sounds masculine because it ends in a consonant.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T22:48:18.922Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry alicorn... I thought you were a guy too The nick isn't girly enough for this girl to pick up on. May be a cultural reference that's not common enough?

comment by SforSingularity · 2009-10-07T23:22:04.029Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If high intellectual curiosity is a rare trait in males and a very rare one in females, then given that you are here this doesn't surprise me. You are more intellectually curious than most of the men I have met, which is itself a high intellectual curiosity sample.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T22:50:02.526Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think you're the only one. I'm one of the most curious people I know (and I'm a girl)...

comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-20T23:00:59.003Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would not describe myself as curious, but my brain automatically creates a few absurd theories per day, and I go nuts if I don't test them all. (which generally means I spend half an hour on wikipedia, and then repeat the process tomorrow with the new data)

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T03:15:48.883Z · score: 20 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Far from a complete explanation, but it often is hard to simultaneously view oneself as female and as intellectually able, even given evidence of intellectual ability. Role models can help, but artificially manufacturing role models (e.g., by preferentially making women’s writing visible) has its own costs. Others’ remarked surprise at how one is at once female and intellectual/rational/etc. can make this harder.

One relevant subskill here is... I don’t know how to say it. Something like “the ability to keep in mind the whole complex layout of the evidence, without letting your anticipations get overwhelmed by the nearest cliche”. So that even though gender is terribly salient (more salient than, say, GRE scores), gender doesn’t affect one’s views of one’s abilities to a greater extent than do similarly informative non-gender data points.

A second relevant subskill is the ability to put in a full effort even in the presence of threatening stereotypes and probable failure. Eliezer has written about many aspects of this one, but not the “in the presence of threatening stereotypes” part.

If anyone feels up to writing a tutorial on one of these skills, I'd like to read it. And it might be useful to both members of underrepresented groups and everyone else.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-04-16T02:50:38.053Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Do women, on average, have more connected social lives than men do? It's very easy for a few people with no life to effectively dominate a community like this simply by spending more time than any "normal" person would want to. If women are more likely to have "a life" and less likely to become fixated on a specific hobby, that could explain why we see fewer women commenters. (One reason I'm here is that I have very few people in Real Life that I talk to regularly.)

A possibly relevant data point is that males are roughly four times more likely to have autism or Asperger's syndrome than females.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T05:07:27.544Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

May or may not be connected, but I do have Asperger's.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T22:55:58.264Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My dad has Asperger's. I have some of his traits... serious introvert (need a lot of time alone), can't deal with too much stimuli (light, music, social situations)

...but I'm actually pretty good at the "recognising emotions from faces" tests, so I tend to test negative.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-16T18:32:32.722Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A possibly relevant data point is that males are roughly four times more likely to have autism or Asperger's syndrome than females.

I don't believe that any significant portion of this community has these conditions, so it's not a relevant data point.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T18:45:18.902Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't believe that any significant portion of this community has these conditions

This is, to me, a non-obvious claim. (For example...)

so it's not a relevant data point.

That depends on whether you consider autism or Asperger's to be discrete states, or to be extremes of traits which may be found to a lesser extent in individuals labeled neurotypical. If the latter, then gender distribution of autism/Asperger's could be relevant to discussion of the milder versions of those traits

comment by byrnema · 2009-04-16T18:58:29.835Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was considering the consequences to the gender ratio if it is true that LW draws from people who are nerdy and social. It seems that "nerdy" qualities tend to be associated with men (perhaps due to correlation with autism traits), and social skills tend to be associated with women. While plenty of men have great social skills, even nerdy men, what fraction of nerdy women have good social skills? From my experience, women in math and science have a good chance of not feeling socially comfortable. While men have a higher chance of autism traits, I wonder if within the sub-population of math and science, women have a higher incidence.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-16T21:28:12.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

However you interpret my message, these factors can't significantly account for male/female participation ratio, as I'm pretty sure they don't concern at all, in any form at least 70% of the community.

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-16T22:04:28.893Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think MBlume's point was that there is a fairly mainstream theory of autism spectrum disorders (which includes Asperger's) that claims they can be explained as extreme cases of the 'male brain'. If there is a correlation between the male brain traits that in extreme form are diagnosed as autism/Asperger's and the patterns of thinking that would lead to an interest in this community and if it is true that autism/Asperger's fall on a continuum rather than being discretely identifiable conditions then the gender bias observed here could be explained by the same factors that explain the gender bias in these conditions.

The implicit hypothesis here is that the average community member on this site would score higher on tests designed to diagnose autism spectrum disorders than the general population, without necessarily scoring high enough to be diagnosed with the condition. That seems at least plausible to me.

comment by Aurini · 2009-04-16T10:06:26.752Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This suggestion accounts for women being underrepresented, but not for their distinct absence (unless if several popular posters are, in fact, female).

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T22:57:29.834Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Um, Anna Salamon... Alicorn... I don't count as "popular" but those two are top 10 karma-wise, (Alicorn is third). I'm sure there are others.

There is a severe under-representation, but we're not entirely absent :)

comment by Aurini · 2011-03-21T16:52:13.154Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

2 year old comment. They may not have been as prominent back then (in fact, I think that was the post that made gender an issue here). :)

I'm trying to get Girlfriend into this site, because that will make her sexier.

comment by taryneast · 2015-06-04T23:30:36.243Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They were prominent then too (I was there then too) :)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-05T17:48:38.739Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

2 year old comment. They may not have been as prominent back then (in fact, I think that was the post that made gender an issue here). :)

BTW, 8.4% of respondents to the 2011 survey were female, compared to 3% in 2009.

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-16T01:27:26.966Z · score: 20 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Remember that to name two parts of a community is to split that community

Gender's far from the only division here, I would say. There's also a difference in approach to rationalism, that may also have some overlap with gender differences.

I personally consider myself interested in rationalism for the practical benefits: models that are useful, for real-life definitions of useful... not useful for "Knowing The Absolute Truth And Being Right". However, this doesn't appear to be a common attitude on LW.

In the computing field, there's a stereotype that says the difference between men and women is that men care about computing for its own sake, whereas women care about doing other things with computers, how computers can be used to interact with people, and so on. In other words, that women have a more instrumental view of computers than men.

Of course, some men take this to mean that women are therefore not as skilled as men with computers, but I have not found this to be true. The women I've known in computing were happy to develop as much skill as was required by their instrumental aims -- quite often more skill than the men I knew! They just didn't make a religion out of it.

Now, in the case of rationalism, I have to say I've seen what looks like the flip side of the stereotype: namely, a bunch of guys ranting about what's true or right and correcting what they see as "mistakes" in a patronizing manner... whether their targets are male or female. (And I have to admit, I was doing some of that here myself at first... and maybe still am, relative to non-tech discussion norms.)

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say that LW is not (IMO) an especially friendly forum for instrumental rationalists at the present time. And if the gender stereotype from computing applies, then it is therefore also not a particularly friendly forum for women who haven't already gotten thick-skinned through similar experiences in a technology field. (i.e., if we assume that women are statistically more likely to orient on practical and social applications of a field than men in that same field are.)

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T01:41:03.436Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

Strongly seconded. To sum up the most important points:

  • Instrumental rationality has its own skillset, related to but far from identical to the current OB/LW corpus. It's a skillset we need if we want to deal well with the practical world.

  • Right now, folks with skill at instrumental rationality who come upon LW are likely to leave again. We aren't set up to give them what they're looking for, or to avoid misinterpreting them, or to ask for what they can teach us.

  • Adding a partial focus on practical, visible applications (i.e., including instrumental rationality in LW) might well improve the gender balance.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-08-09T16:45:29.636Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pleased to note that there's rather more instrumental rationality at LW (though perhaps not so much recently), with AnnaSalamon having contributed a good bit of it.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T02:15:28.789Z · score: 17 (20 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a female-type person. I can't speak to anyone else, but I did make a post a while ago, and it was met largely with indifference and I wound up taking a (small) karma hit. This did a variety of things, some useful and some not, but one thing it hasn't done is encourage me to take the time to write another top-level post.

If I'm wandering around a large in-person gathering and I drift over to an interesting conversation and say something and get shot down - even if it's because I said something stupid - I'm more likely to drift away or at least shut up rather than continue to hang out with and seek approval from Those People Who Were Mean To Me™. "Drifting away" is much easier on the Internet, and if more women are giving up after making one or two poorly-received comments, that could easily explain the gender bias.

Possible solutions if I have the right idea (no idea how palatable they are to others):

1) Be more parsimonious with downvotes and generous with upvotes in general.

2) Attempt to draw out individual women Less Wrong ers on particular topics (solicited input puts one out on less of a social limb).

3) Identify who makes each vote on a comment or post, so people can identify Those People Who Were Mean To Me™ and not have to consider the entire Less Wrong community as a whole to be united against them.

comment by JulianMorrison · 2009-04-16T07:43:50.436Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if there is a gender difference in tone of the way people introduce themselves to a group. Per my experience, the girl way seems to be personal sharing (signal: "I'm approachable"), the guy way seems to be chiming in on topic (signal: "I'm capable"). Since your article was weighted more to personal sharing than to providing something topically useful, I think you might have gotten a confused reaction from the regulars ("how is this supposed to help me be a rationalist?").

I wonder if allowing explicitly flagged "hello / about me posts" would help? Normal contextual politeness would kick in and the response to such a post would be much less aggressive.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T08:46:18.076Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Regular open threads for introductory posts?

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T09:07:14.639Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

how's this?

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T09:22:26.551Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I like it :). Two small suggestions:

  1. You might consider changing the phrase "please feel free to leave a comment" -- it might be more welcoming to just ask people to "please leave a comment", giving the impression that we want to hear from them. (Though I'm not confident this would be better.)

  2. It would be nice to invite questions, not only on LW jargon (which you do), but on the etiquette of posting and voting, why those mean people may have downvoted one of your comments (and why you shouldn't take that to mean we won't appreciate you), etc. I'm not sure how to gracefully incorporate this into your text.

Eliezer should add a link from LW's "About" page. (Except, the link should move somehow with the month's welcome thread, if we have new ones every month. What's your plan here?)

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T09:37:00.084Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

hmm, here's a spiel on voting and karma, I'm a little worried that it sounds too forbidding -- what do you think?

You may have noticed that all the posts and all the comments on this site have buttons to vote them up or down, and all the users have "karma" scores which come from the sum of all their comments and posts. Try not to take this too personally. Voting is used mainly to get the most useful comments up to the top of the page where people can see them. It may be difficult to contribute substantially to ongoing conversations when you've just gotten here, and you may even see some of your comments get voted down. Don't be discouraged by this. If you've any questions about karma or voting, please feel free to ask here.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T20:46:32.217Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My non-confident impression is that it's good. One slightly friendlier suggestion would be to replace "Don't be discouraged by this." with "Don't be discouraged by this; it happened to many of us."

Thanks for building us the welcome thread.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T21:11:56.919Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Don't be discouraged by this; it happened to many of us.

I like that

Thanks for building us the welcome thread.

No problem =)

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T09:28:14.011Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

1 Done =)

giving the impression that we want to hear from them.

Is "We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, and how you found us." too strong do you think?

2 Good idea -- let's see what I can come up with....

What's your plan here?

Yeah, I'm not sure how well this works with the one-a-month structure. Ideally I'd like this thread to be stickied to the front page, but I know that requires some admin-help.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T09:36:27.391Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

hmm, here's a spiel on voting and karma, I'm a little worried that it sounds too forbidding -- what do you think?

You may have noticed that all the posts and all the comments on this site have buttons to vote them up or down, and all the users have "karma" scores which come from the sum of all their comments and posts. Try not to take this too personally. Voting is used mainly to get the most useful comments up to the top of the page where people can see them. It may be difficult to contribute substantially to ongoing conversations when you've just gotten here, and you may even see some of your comments get voted down. Don't be discouraged by this. If you've any questions about karma or voting, please feel free to ask here.

comment by byrnema · 2009-04-16T15:45:59.652Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I really like the newcomer welcome page. I also really like what ciphergoth and others are doing with their self-introductions; explaining when and how they came to LW, and a little about their perspective and what their goals are in LW . While this is a big step in the right direction, I think it could go further to be a lot better.

When a newcomer comes to LW, a warm welcome consists of two parts. First, they introduce themselves to you; this is the welcome page. Second, an introduction from you should be available to them, at the click of a button. When you first arrive at LW, it feels like a huge dark opera hall of masked voices. It would be great if whenever you read an interesting comment, you can click on that person's name and read their self-introduction. The problem with the welcome page as it is currently built is that it would difficult for a newcomer to retrieve introductions over the weeks or months that they are getting to know us.

I don't know how Reddit works, but it just occurred to me that one simple solution would be to make comments written on the welcome page special so that they're always listed first in the list of comments, regardless of when it was written.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T08:47:03.403Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good idea. With the threads for introductory posts linked to from the (to be built) welcome page, and with newcomers encouraged to introduce themselves and ask questions.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T09:10:45.835Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I just had a go at an introductory/welcome page. Any suggestions?

welcome

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-16T19:46:05.136Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Regular open threads for introductory posts?

The monthly Open Thread may be repurposed to also act as a more fleshed-out introductory & welcome thread.

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T03:51:15.792Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I like your solutions but I think your sort of experience might not be atypical. My female friends and family have often reacted to criticism of their ideas with what I (a man) found to be an overly defensive posture. My reply was always to tell them not to take things so personally. My guess is that boys are tend to receive more encouragement and confidences boosting from parents and teachers and so are more confident putting their ideas out there and don't take poor reception as hard- but I don't really know.

I've definitely made comments (here and elsewhere) that were taken poorly and lead me to back off commenting for a while. I know where your coming from but I think identifying votes can easily lead retaliatory voting which is all kinds of irrational and is a disincentive for honest voting. I'd also be wary of devaluing karma by being more generous with it.

I'm curious what you have in mind for (2). I guess if topics were specifically about gender-related biases there would be room for it. I think some of few women here might be annoyed by this.

My suggestions are two fold.

  1. It would be nice if there was some information on individual comments regarding either the poster's join date, post count, or karma. I'd prefer one of the first two to avoid people favoring comments by people with higher karma counts. I suggest this specifically so that we can easily identify newcomers and not treat them too harshly. There are pretty high barriers of entry here (the OB back catalog is almost required reading and if you're not familiar with Ev psych, cog sci or programming you're gonna get lost at times). We could be a lot more welcoming if we knew who we were welcoming.

  2. Down votes should be followed by comments that explain them whenever possible. The whole point of rating comments and posts, in addition to sorting them, is to provide feedback. But frankly people don't get more rational just because one of their comments has a negative number attached. People need to know what the community didn't like about their comment and what facts they should consider that might lead them to change their mind. And in critical replies education should take priority over scoring rationalist points for mocking cleverness.

I think these ideas might help with the gender thing, but frankly they'd just make for a more sustainable community.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T04:03:45.069Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Explaining downvotes for newcomers (as shown by join date) would economize on effort where the marginal payoff is high.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T04:08:30.285Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to think of a simple icon which could appear by user-name in comments to indicate either "I have been an active member for <X weeks" or "I have posted <X comments". My first thought was a cartoon of a newborn, but that seems a bit patronizing.

ETA: Ideally the icon would be the same height as the username itself, which doesn't give us many pixels to play with.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2009-04-16T18:26:30.314Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Why not just when you click Vote Down, if they're considered new, a little message appears that says " is new to the site. Could you gently explain why you are disrecommending their comment to others?"

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T18:28:04.379Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I like this

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T10:13:59.415Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Lots of sites have this kind of thing - and the commonest implementation I see is "five whatevers" (eg five stars or five coffee beans or in our case five paperclips?) where they start out grey and progressively get coloured-in to indicate... not time-since joined but a combination of that and of active participation in the community (usually numbers of posts and replies).

We could easily compare time-joined to karma points. EY et al would get five paperclips, a newbie with no karma would start with none. The paperclips could work on a logarithmic scale.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-21T13:04:55.321Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

At which point the natural desire to earn status within communities would drive many of us to maximize paperclips. Which would be funny.

comment by billswift · 2009-04-16T15:17:45.971Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why not use what we've already got and use their karma score? Maybe show it when you mouse over the name or something?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T18:26:42.102Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe some average karma-per-comment/post number, rather than an absolute karma number, would skew slightly less in favor of people who have high karma scores half for sheer volume?

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T18:29:38.080Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, we're trying to signal whether you should treat a particular commenter gently. If a particular commenter has posted 1000 comments, and none have been voted up, there's no need for kid gloves.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-16T19:01:58.469Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think our tribe is small enough, and blatant mistakes made by commenters are rare enough, for senior members to be able to recognize the new members simply by memory, checking the commenting history on the user pages when in doubt.

comment by William · 2009-04-16T20:17:54.507Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But if the tribe expands?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-24T08:19:30.105Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But if the tribe expands?

We worry about any problems that brings when they happen. (Premature optimization is usually a bad idea.)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-24T08:18:17.768Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

and blatant mistakes made by commenters are rare enough

By 'rare enough' do you mean "only about 1 in 3 comments" or is my standard of "blatant mistake" stricter than yours? (I was under the impression that you were actually more fussy than I since you mentioned being wary of hitting your downvote cap despite being in the same karma ballpark as I.)

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-03-24T10:26:47.753Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with Nesov_2009 is that I'm prohibited from downvoting him by the site rules.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-24T10:39:34.586Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hey! How did I end up here? Must have been a bump somewhere in the recent comments.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T10:16:15.211Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not the senior members that I'd be worried about... but, say, myself. I have already made one mis-application so far - where I thought somebody was making a rookie mistake, but they actually had been around for a while and he was very upset at my correction.

I think we don't have too much problem at either end of the scale, this sort of solution would help the mob in the middle.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-03-23T21:19:00.370Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Getting upset at being corrected sounds like a rookie mistake to me.

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-16T04:19:56.940Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've seen a few forums where a user's name is accompanied by a 'rank', often humorous, indicating standing in the community. I'm not sure whether this is generally based on number of posts or length of membership or some combination of the two but it might be apt here. I'm sure someone else can do a much better job of coming up with ranks than me but something along the lines of:

neophyte, aspiring rationalist, follower of the way, master rationalist, etc.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T05:11:27.094Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Or in keeping with the martial arts theme, a series of belt colors? I know this varies from art to art and dojo to dojo, though.

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2011-01-04T10:00:54.896Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's a while afterward (and it does not seem that this idea caught on), but I think the obvious choice would be to use the EM spectrum. Describing Eliezer as a "gamma ray rationalist" seems quite fitting to me.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T03:59:11.659Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My female friends and family have often reacted to criticism of their ideas with what I (a man) found to be an overly defensive posture.

While acknowledging that we're talking about a small sample size here, this matches my experiences -- especially in the area of religion.

We could be a lot more welcoming if we knew who we were welcoming.

Agreed.

Down votes should be followed by comments that explain them whenever possible.

This can be time-consuming -- it's a good ideal, but we should not have a norm of down-votes requiring an explanation.

And in critical replies education should take priority over scoring rationalist points for mocking cleverness.

Cannot agree enough.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-16T19:00:25.152Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

While acknowledging that we're talking about a small sample size here, this matches my experiences -- especially in the area of religion.

I wonder if you are subconsciously more aggressive in the area of religion.

Another explanation would be that religious women are inherently more defensive.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T15:29:47.724Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

3) Identify who makes each vote on a comment or post, so people can identify Those People Who Were Mean To Me™ and not have to consider the entire Less Wrong community as a whole to be united against them.

If you click on "Preferences" under your name in the upper-right corner, you can check the box "Make my votes public".

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T17:18:26.842Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Where can we see the votes of people who have ticked this box?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T18:30:59.549Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

After experimenting with it, I don't think you can. Looks like it's unimplemented.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-16T18:53:36.706Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Does that preference affect which posts you have up/down voted?

comment by billswift · 2009-04-16T15:33:03.892Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, I didn't realize about preferences, you solved several problems for me.

comment by Nanani · 2009-04-16T02:38:19.831Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Please don't do 2 and 3.

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T03:52:19.196Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I overreacted a bit. Sorry.

(Edited)

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-04-16T03:55:40.103Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That sounded somewhat harsh.

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T03:58:12.116Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, my page hadn't loaded the rest of the thread. I didn't see someone ask why and answer. Had I I would have held off. Still.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T02:46:00.866Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why in particular don't you like those ideas?

comment by Nanani · 2009-04-16T03:04:55.266Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

For 2) It reeks too much of the navel-gazing "women in X" boredom occuring in education that AnnaSalamon pointed out in her comment. I certainly don't want my ideas and imput valued because of my chromosomes; I want them to be valued if and when they have merit.

For 3), anyone who thinks the entire community is against them based on one negative reply has insufficiently thick skin to deal with the internet in general. The burden of effort not to think this way is on you, not on the community. If it helps, assume the mean person was just that, a Mean Person. Also, be Awesome so that anyone who is Mean to you will look stupid in comparison.

Overall, I just think that encouraging niceness is just going to be more trouble than its worth, and a turnoff to participating in the community for the already-interested nerdy set that doesn't much care for such things.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T05:20:50.318Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

There's no reason male Less Wrong ers couldn't be drawn out individually in the same way; I only phrased it that way to keep it germane to the topic. If we had individual profiles on which we could sum up our relevant interests/activities, for instance, I could put in a little non-intrusive box "I am writing a paper on why the Reflection Principle is stupid for school" and somebody interested in the Reflection Principle could say "hey, Alicorn, do you feel like crossposting the précis of your paper here on Less Wrong? I'd like to read it." I'd be more comfortable sharing something like that at someone's request than I would just posting it on my own initiative, but there would be nothing stopping someone else of any gender from being solicited to make another post on another subject.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T03:41:55.376Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

strongly agree with 2, only partly agree with 3.

There is such a thing as efficient niceness. This isn't kindergarden, and you don't get a big gold star for 'participating'. Still, it shouldn't be a crime to post a few words acknowledging a good point, encouraging someone, or wishing someone well. Even among us guys, who are conditioned to pretend we don't need them, such practices can help keep people motivated, and keep people coming back.

tl;dr: rationality/honesty should not be compromised for niceness' sake. Niceness is still possible, and indeed desirable within these constraints.

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-16T04:43:12.032Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Identify who makes each vote on a comment or post, so people can identify Those People Who Were Mean To Me™ and not have to consider the entire Less Wrong community as a whole to be united against them.

Strongly seconded. This would be particularly helpful in discounting systematic downvoters.

comment by billswift · 2009-04-16T15:27:04.495Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Much more than finding out who voted what way, I'd like to see the total upvotes and downvotes on a comment. It would be very useful to know if I got 5 upvotes and 5 downvotes or if the comment just sat there getting nothing. I'd much rather know how many people found it interesting or useful than who didn't like it. The original comment also wasn't thought through - if the "community as a whole to be united against them" occurred they'd get trashed, not a few down votes.

Off-thread: I recently up voted a comment with -7 votes, because I thought it was worth reading even though probably wrong.

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-16T15:39:15.821Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Much more than finding out who voted what way, I'd like to see the total upvotes and downvotes on a comment

Oh, I'd love that too, I just want to know who the person is who logs on once or twice a week and systematically downvotes everything I posted since the last time they were on.

Something like a "5 points (10+/5-)" display, linked to a page that displayed the votes would be nice. I'd contribute it if I could afford the time to really dive into the codebase and learn how it works.

comment by Simulacra · 2009-04-17T03:56:25.320Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Something like reddit commentroversy would be nice as a feature of the site. Sadly it doesn't work on LW, maybe I'll try to look at it and figure out if there is a possible hack to getting working until (if) the feature is implemented here.

A random comment I selected to show what it looks like [Username Changed]:

username 70 points(+184/-116) 7 hours ago[-]

If anyone uses reddit and doesn't have this get the greasemonkey add-on then go back to the commentroversy and click install.

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-17T04:19:47.968Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Something like reddit commentroversy would be nice as a feature of the site. Sadly it doesn't work on LW, maybe I'll try to look at it and figure out if there is a possible hack to getting working until (if) the feature is implemented here.

A very quick bit of troubleshooting shows that the json load doesn't appear to be occurring, i.e. the $.getJSON apparently doesn't work.

Edit: to be precise, the script bombs out when trying to do anything with '$.getJSON', which perhaps is not available in LW's version of jQuery?

Edit 2: Ah, LW doesn't use jQuery. It uses Prototype. The script would have to be converted. But it does indeed appear that LW exports the needed data in JSON form.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-16T19:16:08.213Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Off-thread: I recently up voted a comment with -7 votes, because I thought it was worth reading even though probably wrong.

I think another advantage a +x/-y display would be that sympathy votes or outcome skewing would be harder. If I see a post that is rated -7 and disagree with its status, should I vote the comment up? What if the post was -1? Would that change my vote? I think +5/-12 is harder to sympathize with than -7.

I have a strong opinion that votes should be independent of each other.

comment by divia · 2009-04-16T02:04:47.365Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I am reminded of Paul Graham's explanation for the low number of female startup partners from Ideas for Startups:

I didn't realize it till I was writing this, but that may help explain why there are so few female startup founders. I read on the Internet (so it must be true) that only 1.7% of VC-backed startups are founded by women. The percentage of female hackers is small, but not that small. So why the discrepancy?

When you realize that successful startups tend to have multiple founders who were already friends, a possible explanation emerges. People's best friends are likely to be of the same sex, and if one group is a minority in some population, pairs of them will be a minority squared. [1]

I would suspect that all the more fundamental reasons (2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) are factors, but that they are then magnified by 1 and 3. As far as 9 is concerned, I am female myself and have never commented on Less Wrong before, to provide a single, anecdotal data point.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T02:06:27.246Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As far as 9 is concerned, I am female myself and have never commented on Less Wrong before, to provide a single, anecdotal data point.

Any idea why you haven't?

comment by divia · 2009-04-16T02:22:59.755Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Not entirely sure, though I believe I did post a couple of comments to Overcoming Bias a while back. I used to comment on reddit and comment semi-regularly on Hacker News, which refutes the first explanation that I thought of, that it was a matter of my time, since clearly I do sometimes take time to comment on the internet.

The comments here are high quality, which is somewhat intimidating, and also makes things take longer, since I want to think more carefully about what I say, but that would probably apply to Hacker News as well.

A possible explanation consistent with the quotation I mentioned is that even though I read all the posts here and on Overcoming Bias, I don't think I've thought about the issues deeply enough to have much original to contribute. And that may have something to do with the fact that most of my friends aren't all that interested in the topics. I imagine if I were talking about the posts more often in real life I would feel like I had more to contribute.

comment by astray · 2009-04-16T14:10:51.924Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I'm in a similar situation - I comment (sometimes) on reddit and HNews, and have occasionally posted a few sentences to OB, but I am much less likely to comment here. The high quality of the posts and comments leads me to agonize a bit overmuch about every part of a comment, and sometimes I will write, edit, and rewrite a comment before deciding to just not comment at all. I, too, often feel I would not be contributing anything original.

(I should also note in this comment that I am male.)

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T23:31:10.274Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I'm female and I agree with what you say. I often get the feeling that I'm barely well-read enough to follow a conversation here, and the comments I make are only on side-issues, or ones that I have experience of from "the outside" (eg IT or on being female).

I've made a few witty quips and minor points elsewhere... but they really aren't part of a full discussion.

I get the feeling that I am a complete and total novice (not a problem), and that I need to have at least read all the way through all the sequences (million words or thereabouts wasn't it?) before I can even get around a lot of the nuances brought up by the other commenters... and if I try posting before then, I'll get it wrong, get some rather swift kicks in the premises (which are a downer even if well-intended) and feel less likely to stick my neck out the next time...

there's an awfully steep learning curve here, and it feels very hard to break in unless you're still suffering from serious overconfidence bias ;)

comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-20T23:58:32.763Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I lurked on lesswrong for about a year, because I used to be worried about losing karma and looking like an idiot. I guess I got used to it after enough terrific failures. If you want to appear consistently intelligent, this is a very hard site to do it on (even after you do the research)

comment by Tripitaka · 2011-03-20T23:42:37.288Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I feel absolutely the same way but contribute it partly to having english as only second language. Although I am told to have a better grasp of it than most of my english-speaking peers, the high-level-concepts and language need a lot more time, and formulating original, coherent answers is even harder. I am male.

comment by Psy-Kosh · 2009-04-16T03:26:30.428Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, that minority-squared effect is interesting, but I'm not sure it need apply here. It'd be individuals coming here, right? It doesn't take a group to, well, come to LW.

Or am I misunderstanding your point in some way?

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-20T23:04:56.618Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Network-effect makes a big difference too. After all - you have to arrive here some way - usually by being told about it by friends. Sure, some people arrive by accident - just happen to be browsing through HP fanfic or something... but a lot will arrive through their friends... and a lot will stay because they find friends.

...which leads us back to people's friends tending to be same-sex. If there are few people of your own sex in the group then it's got less... er... ambient friend-potential...

you have to work harder to be with a bunch of people that have a different culture than yourself. Genders have different cultures, so add that on top of the new culture of LW itself and unless you're a particularly socially-capable person (and LWs tend not to be), then it's less likely that you'll find friends.

Obviously this is a generalisation and likely only a very small part of the pressures involved in a very complicated process... but it's there.

comment by divia · 2009-04-16T09:35:51.413Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

While it's ultimately true that individuals come to LW, not groups, I'm far more likely to follow and especially to comment on blogs that my friends also read. For me, one primary way I get really interested in subjects and motivated to understand them well is by talking about them to my friends in real life. And most of my friends are girls.

comment by Psy-Kosh · 2009-04-16T15:15:40.396Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

hrm... actually, I'm reminded of something. Several years back, someone designed these simulations that basically ran an algorithm like "assume people don't mind being around people that are different, so long as at least some small fraction of their nearest neighbors are also like themselves.", and basically simulated people moving around to fulfil those criteria.

The simulation would consistently produce highly segregated results. Aha! here's a site with applets that run such simulations: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~segregation/segregation-simulator.html

comment by badger · 2009-04-16T15:56:29.156Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Just an short addendum: Thomas Schelling is the one who originally thought up this model.

comment by gwern · 2009-04-16T17:44:05.322Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the point is that there are multiple factors which all reduce the chances. In startup founding, you need multiple similar people; in LW browsing, you need multiple personal characteristics. Maybe 90% of women can handle the disagreeableness; maybe an independent 90% can handle the male-style-writing; maybe another 90% is unswayed by cultural gender differences; maybe another 90% are unaffected by a female genetic predisposition against reasoning (I'm just running down Eliezer's list), and so on.

A LW commentor who is female would be in the subset of women who is in all these groups. (Just with these few factors, we're down to something like only 60% of women are 'eligible' for LW membership to begin with!)

comment by Psy-Kosh · 2009-04-16T18:09:49.645Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, that all makes sense, but an LW commentor who is male would also have to fall into multiple subsets.

The question isn't "why are so few members of the total human population on LW?" but "what's with the different proportion of males and females?"

comment by gwern · 2009-04-18T02:02:43.863Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, that all makes sense, but an LW commentor who is male would also have to fall into multiple subsets.

No, remember that our various sets are already biased towards males (obviously males don't mind 'male-style-writing'). The point of my comment is that a few small biases can quickly multiply up. If on all these factors, the males are at 95% where the females are at 90%, then we only need like 10 factors before we would expect twice as many males than females based just on those factors alone and ignoring any feedback or network effects.

Why we mostly have male-style-writing, or why there might be a female genetic predisposition against reasoning, are all different issues one would expect different answers to.

(That there are such gender differences isn't too terribly surprising to me, personally - finding that males and females are exactly the same on all these factors would be like finding that all of humanity is 100% genetically homogeneous, and that there's no truth to, say, the Japanese having a low tolerance for alcohol or some groups being lactose-intolerant or Africans being disposed to sickle-cell anemia.)

comment by Tom_Talbot · 2009-04-16T16:03:49.319Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I have some conjectures.

1) People tend to hold beliefs for social reasons. For example, belief in theism allows membership of the theist community, the actual existence of a deity is largely irrelevant.

2) For most people, in order to maintain close social relationships it is necessary to maintain harmonious beliefs with nearby members of your social network. Changing your beliefs may harm your social ties.

3) The larger your social network, the more you have to lose by changing your beliefs.

4) Less Wrong encourages questioning and changing of beliefs.

5) On average, women have larger social networks than men.

6) Less Wrong encourages the adoption of strange and boring beliefs, largely based in maths and science.

7) Advocating strange and boring beliefs does not signal high status, rather it signals a misunderstanding of widely accepted social norms, and therefore poor social skills.

8) Much of a woman's percieved value as a human being is tied to her ability to navigate the social world, men may be forgiven for making the occasional faux pas, women are not. Women are therefore strongly averse to signalling poor social skills.

Some predictions:

1) Willingness to join Less Wrong is inversely proportional to the size of your social network.

2) The exceptions to this rule (Less Wrong members who have large social networks) will be members of fringe groups, where challenges to group beliefs are normal and do not lead to reductions in social status.

3) Less Wrong will never be popular among people with large, mainstream social networks, as long as it advocates self-examination and questioning of recieved beliefs, and promotes discussion of strange and boring beliefs. It will never be popular among women, and the women who do post here are unusual in some way.

ETA: for the sake of complete accuracy, let "fringe belief" be defined as one that is held by <0.1% of the population of the host nation.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T16:22:10.398Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Rationalists should win, and human beings need social networks for emotional well-being. Is it possible to

  • hold true beliefs
  • be honest about those beliefs
  • make friends and keep them?

In my experience, my atheism, for example, has not been a huge handicap (with one glaring exception), but it's certainly hurt me from time to time. People feel that if nothing else, their beliefs deserve "respect," and I have learned no graceful way of indicating that I have given long consideration to the matter, and give their beliefs no greater probability than I do Santa Claus or the Harry Potter novels, without giving insult.

This would, I think, be an art worth learning.

(The closest, I think, I've ever come, was by saying that "where I come from," the way you give respect to a belief is by actively working to see if it's true or not -- which often simply means attacking it; that "in my culture," an attack on a belief is a sign of deep respect.)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T16:42:52.685Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I find myself prefacing a lot of statements with "Where I come from" or "On this side of the water" when I'm talking to a religious person whose friendship I desire to keep e.g. my parents. This lets you provide exactly the same argument, which probably ends up being processed in exactly the same way, while letting the other person know that you don't expect them to assent immediately.

comment by Tom_Talbot · 2009-04-16T16:49:30.828Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the answer to your question may be no. I've thought on my original post some more and realised that I made a mistake in number (8), one cannot signal poor social skills since signalling is a social skill (it serves no other purpose), a person who cannot signal optimally is a person with poor social skills.

So if a tendency towards telling the truth disrupts a person's ability to signal optimally, then rationality and popularity must forever remain opposed, since in order to be rational you must give up your ability to signal popular, false beliefs. Even if we say that "rationalism" is only believing the truth - you can lie if you want to - your ability to signal is still disrupted, since the most effective way to signal is to sincerely believe what you're saying

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T11:55:23.076Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'd re-address point 8 by saying that a women is rewarded socially for subverting her own beliefs at the expense of those of her social group.

She is actively punished if she steps away form group-norms (eg by pointing out errors in the groupthink or common misconceptions) - starting by getting a "boy you're weird" look, glances amongst the others to indicate that "they all think you're weird" and other social pressures.

If you persist, this can go to the "polite pulling aside" - where usually one of the women will explain to you that you are being disruptive (usually by couching it in "we're really concerned for you" language)... and then on to hostility, usually involving a heavy dose of "you're not respecting our opinions"... finally to shunning/ostracism from the group.

Women learn pretty quick that you either put up or shut up... and that if you "don't have anything nice to say, then don't say it at all".

The exceptions I've found are mainly amongst girl-geeks, SF-fandom and the other usual haunts no doubt familiar to all here... which also are nearly always predominantly male.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-04-16T22:09:05.449Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1) Willingness to join Less Wrong is inversely proportional to the size of your social network.

I suggested something similar above; participating in an online discussion forum, such as this one, is a time sink that competes with maintaining an offline social network.

If

5) On average, women have larger social networks than men.

is true, then there will be more male commenters, because women have better things to do than waste time commenting here.

comment by James_Miller · 2009-04-16T02:08:40.194Z · score: 15 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer,

You once responded to someone's comment by writing:

"It would seem we don't appreciate your genius. Perhaps you should complain about this some more."

I'm a professor at a women's college and when I read this comment I thought to myself that a significant percentage of women who read this would not want to participate in this site.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/7i/rationality_is_systematized_winning/4zp

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T02:30:13.932Z · score: 14 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. This reminds me of an anecdote a high school teacher once shared with me about when he switched from coaching the boys' track team to the girls' track team. He didn't adjust his coaching strategy at all and in short order had a fair number of crying high school girls on his hands.

comment by HughRistik · 2009-04-16T02:58:28.624Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I am male with Agreeableness probably at least as high as the average female, and that comment annoyed me also. I wouldn't say that such dismissive sarcasm is never deserved, but I don't see how that post came anywhere near deserving it. Eliezer seems to have a short fuse with some individuals, but without knowing the history between them or being interested in digging it up, such comments seem mean-spirited. They may also look like an evasion.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-04-16T21:23:22.538Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am male with Agreeableness probably at least as high as the average female, and that comment annoyed me also.

I've noticed that 'Agreeableness' seems to be closely related to tollerance for 'tit for tat' responses. Ironically this means I often find the most 'Agreeable' people altogether disagreeable rather frequently.

comment by astray · 2009-04-16T13:59:51.428Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It is an answer short on patience, but it was a comment short on insight. In response to a post relayed in short as: 'The common definition of rationality is stupid. Here is a new proposal that is a basic tenet of most of my writing. (Implicitly, keep this in mind when you see me talk about rationality.)', the poster simply added 'Well, I think the original definition of rationality is right, and I've said this before.'

The inciting comment seems just like the responses (on Fark, HNews, etc.) to Pullum's article about Strunk & White- people who like what they learned flatly deny any counterargument.

comment by Aurini · 2009-04-16T10:14:13.602Z · score: -4 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read the original post? Yudkowski had his reasons for being hostile. Whether or not they're valid is debatable; but since that's not what you're debating I'm calling you out.

Accusing somebody of 'seeming' mean spirited is BS. Either he was mean spirited, or he wasn't. Any level of 'agreeable quotient' is inadequate reason to make ad hominem attacks, while simultaneously refusing to provide evidence.

If the 'seemingness' of his hostility was sufficient reason to scare female-types away - then point that out! Say: "I did the home work, and his hostility was/wasn't justified for reasons A,B,C,D, but regardless, it intimidates female-types, and the solution is X."

The half-assed, poorly thought out, emotional post you just made undermines the entire purpose of this site, and is degrading to women; it implies that the curvier members of our species are incapable of admitting failure, and must be cottled and comforted any time they make a whoopsie. Grow a pair.

[meta]Well, that was a delicious bit of irony.[/meta]

comment by HughRistik · 2009-04-16T19:52:18.325Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read the original post?

Yes. Here is what Timtyler said:

Of course, this isn't the first time I have pointed this out - see:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/33/comments_for_rationality/

Nobody seemed to have any coherent criticism the last time around - and yet now we have the same issue all over again.

The thread he was referring to is here. I agree with his characterization that nobody had conclusively refuted the Wikipedia notion of rationality; Eliezer hadn't even responded to it in that thread.

Tim was raising a valid criticism, and then added another post saying that he had pointed it out before and that it was unaddressed. Eliezer responded substantively to the first post, and gave the response under discussion to the second post.

I agree that Eliezer had reasons to be hostile, yet I do deny that they justified such a level of hostility, which is why I hypothesized that his response was due to a short fuse with the particular individual since I know that there is a weird dynamic between them. It would have been enough to say something like "I saw your post, so you don't need to keep bringing up the Wikipedia definition of rationality. See my response above." As the person advancing a definition of rationality, I think that the onus is on Eliezer to defend it from all comers. And as the owner of the website which is trying to build a community, it may be advantageous to reign in hostility even when justified, and try to always take the high road if only for reasons of impression management.

Accusing somebody of 'seeming' mean spirited is BS. Either he was mean spirited, or he wasn't.

Or, in my subjective opinion, his comment was mean-spirited, while granting that others, such as you, might disagree and think that the comment was deserved. My reference to my level of Agreeableness is so that others can have context to interpret my impression. (e.g. "Well, Hugh is just bothered by Eliezer's comment because he is high in Agreeabless")

Any level of 'agreeable quotient' is inadequate reason to make ad hominem attacks, while simultaneously refusing to provide evidence.

This is an incorrect usage of ad hominem, since Eliezer was not making a factual claim, and my impression of his comment as mean-spirited is not implying that he is wrong. I think you are engaging in the common confusion of ad hominem and personal attack. It is neither an ad hominem nor a personal attack to characterize someone's comment as mean-spirited; note also that I was calling the comment mean-spirited, not the person.

If the 'seemingness' of his hostility was sufficient reason to scare female-types away - then point that out! Say: "I did the home work, and his hostility was/wasn't justified for reasons A,B,C,D, but regardless, it intimidates female-types, and the solution is X."

Yes, I do think it's possible that such a level of hostility will intimidate female-types (though it is also possible that women who would participate here in first place wouldn't mind). There is no reason for me to attempt to make an objective judgment about whether or not the hostility was justified in order to make this point. As for a solution, I suggested an example response earlier in this post. But I'm not going to claim that I have all the answers. I just think that it's possible to deal with people who are potentially annoying or trollish without losing the high ground, and without injecting a tone of hostility into the website that might drive people away, especially if it becomes a common practice for many commenters.

The half-assed, poorly thought out, emotional post you just made undermines the entire purpose of this site, and is degrading to women; it implies that the curvier members of our species are incapable of admitting failure, and must be cottled and comforted any time they make a whoopsie. Grow a pair.

I think you missed the entire point of my post. As Eliezer and others have suggested, average personality differences between men and women may be a factor in why women are less likely to participate on this website. One of these potential personality differences is in Agreeableness. The point of my post was to show how that comment by Eliezer could be perceived, offering myself as a data point of someone with a female-typical level of Agreeableness; I wasn't particularly interested in trying to make an objective judgment about whether Eliezer's comment was justified or not, nor did I think that such a judgment was necessary.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-16T20:02:56.964Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

From where I'm sitting this whole conversation is surreal. Yes, Eliezer said something uncivil once and was downvoted only to -4, but on the whole the tone here has been less hostile than most of the internet by any reasonable metric.

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-16T19:58:33.670Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

While you make valid points, I can't help feeling that some people are missing the fact that Eliezer's comment was funny. Maybe not everyone was amused but I think it would be a shame if the occasional flippant/comical remark was not welcome here. I couldn't help but think of this which just makes me chuckle.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-04-16T21:26:22.040Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

While you make valid points, I can't help feeling that some people are missing the fact that Eliezer's comment was funny.

Exactly!

comment by AlanCrowe · 2009-04-16T12:10:03.786Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've found this comment too elliptical to be helpful. I've left to guess why "a significant percentage of women who read this would not want to participate in this site."

Here is my guess. A comment whines of unappreciated genius, the reply is a sarcastic put down. That is not just a person-male interaction. That is a male-male interaction. I expect stereotypical female readers to tune it out as boys-will-be-boys bullshit. It is noise, so it makes the signal to noise ratio worse, but it is also tuned out pretty automatically, so it is not a large enough deterioration to drive any-one away.

So my guess doesn't work. I fail. Shrug.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T04:06:55.944Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

(And the said comment was voted down to -4, the threshold at which comments (by default) become invisible.)

comment by Zvi · 2009-04-16T14:10:03.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That comment was so far outside what I expect to see on this site in general or from Eliezer in particular that I didn't initially realize that he was being hostile. On any comment board I've seen more than a glimpse of outside OB/LW I doubt I make that mistake.

There's almost always room for improvement in this area but this is one place where I think we do an admirable job. If this were a primary cause, I would expect most forum-based sites to have the same problem, usually far worse than we do. Is there a general gender imbalance in most forums?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T10:21:19.799Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'm bothered that this is voted up so high. Perhaps EY's words were intemperate, but this feels more like taking the opportunity to have a jab at him than sitting down to address the broader problem he raises.

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-04-16T10:39:25.049Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps EY's words were intemperate, but this feels more like taking the opportunity to have a jab at him than sitting down to address the broader problem he raises.

The point is valid that, probably for reasons of social training, more women than men are likely to be turned away by such snide criticism.

However, it's not clear that that sort of tone is even remotely common in comments here, and in fact the negative score Eliezer's comment received is strongly indicative that the community as a whole disapproved.

comment by dclayh · 2009-04-16T15:33:59.911Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I hardly think -4 (now -3, apparently) is indicative of wholesale disapproval. Of course, if most people keep the default viewing threshold and don't click through often then it' would be impossible to tell. But since this very thread has a comment at -8, and I've seen several below -10, I don't think that's the case.

comment by RedRobot · 2010-12-05T17:29:46.848Z · score: 12 (21 votes) · LW · GW

If you really truly want to improve the gender balance on LessWrong.com, you will delete this post from the sequence, and never bring it up again. I know it's well-meaning, but as a woman it just makes me feel weird and singled out. I am convinced from long, sad experience that as long as the conversation circles around gender, it'll do more harm than good; I find the research on stereotype threat to be powerfully convincing and explanatory.

In reading through the comments (I didn't get to all 240 of them, I'll admit), I found it striking that constructive suggestions occurred when someone reframed the question from "How can we make women feel more welcome?" to "How can we make newcomers feel more welcome?"

And to everyone who was so ready to come up with biological/evolutionary theories to explain this possible gender imbalance, I have a stunning, heretical statement to make:

Men's and women's brains are not significantly different. Observed differences between genders in thought patterns and behavior are cultural and can change.

I humbly suggest that if you disagree, then read the actual studies that make claims to the contrary. Ask yourself, "How emotionally invested am I in the idea that men and women are fundamentally different in the way their brains work? Would I find any of these conclusions to be convincing if they didn't reinforce my preexisting ideas? Do these studies really meet a minimum standard of evidence?" I know I was pretty shocked at my answers to these questions.

"Delusions of Gender," by Cordelia Fine, is an excellent primer on this topic, btw.

comment by taw · 2009-04-16T05:15:42.724Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Personally I'm really annoyed by all the complaints about gender imbalance in so many smarter-than-average communities. There is high male to female ratio on almost every possible extreme of the society, both "good" extremes and "bad" extremes. This is natural. Until rationality hits the mainstream, it will stay this way. If it hits the mainstream, it will automatically balance itself. That's all.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T05:58:29.859Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Regardless of whether the current gender imbalance is natural, some aspects of rationalist community and of rationalist activism might work better if we could get a more even gender-balance, all else equal.

comment by billswift · 2009-04-16T15:49:06.826Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Off-thread; but I hate the phrase "all else equal" in the real world all else is never equal. I think we need to try to decide what people are trying to say with the phrase and come up with a clearer way of saying it.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-16T16:52:32.598Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"In a hypothetical situation with no confounding factors"?

comment by spriteless · 2009-04-26T06:31:16.080Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Does this mean when one says 'we need more females' they mean 'we need to be more mainstream?'

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-03-23T22:05:04.906Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My intuition says that improving the gender balance would help us become more mainstream; more diverse groups look less exclusive/threatening, so people feel more inclined to join them. Does anyone know of relevant research that would support/refute this hypothesis?

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T05:55:22.488Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This is really intriguing. Do you think this is the case because of greater IQ variance in men or is there something else?

comment by taw · 2009-04-16T13:44:45.273Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There is greater everything variance in men, not just IQ. To say it crudely women stayed with the tribe, played it safe, and reproduced this way - median success was close to mean; while men took part in one big tournament, where the winners had much higher reproduction rates than losers - and median success was much lower than mean, playing it safe was like half losing.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T11:57:51.792Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Taw - the women also got half of their genes from the men who won those games. How does this affect the way that men behave, but not women?

I am aware of research (eg the visual wall stuff) that male babies are more likely to take risks than female babies... but I'm not sure that your example gives the whole picture.

Can you expand on it a bit?

comment by taw · 2011-03-21T17:51:36.486Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Genes can easily act differently based on gender, and do it all the time, there's nothing remotely surprisingly about it.

comment by Tripitaka · 2011-03-21T13:26:14.659Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I, too, find myself sceptical about a lot of the claims about fundamental brain-ware-differences between men/women that are often made here.I rarely see sources & credible studies linked. May I ask for reading material?

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T14:59:55.199Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Did a quick google for it and can't dig up anything easy to reach. I'm remembering stuff from first-year psych that was basically a decade ago now.

The only keywords I recall are that it was a "visual wall experiment" that was done with crawling infants (ie mainly pre-language). I'll describe the experiment in case anybody else recognises it and can point us at better references.

I can remember watching the video, where infants were placed on a glass tabletop - underneath which was an obvious drop off, visible through the glass. ie the infants weren't in actual danger of falling - but it looked (to them) as though they might. The drop-off went down about a metre and was painted with a grid-pattern so the infant had clear visual clues of what it was.

A reward (toy? food? can't remember) was placed at the other end of the table, and the infant could go get it by crawling across the glass, over the visual drop-off.

I do not recall how many infants were in the study - but it produced a clearly distinct average gender-difference in the likelihood of whether the infant would brave the scary-looking crawl to go get it.

The take-home conclusion was that males were more likely to risk more for the reward, whereas females were less likely to do so.

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-03-21T15:05:06.843Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

IIRC, the keyword for that experiment is "visual cliff", not "visual wall".

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T16:15:05.783Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aha! thank you :)

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T16:20:00.933Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, so now that we've got the correct key-phase ("visual cliff") I see that there's heaps of research using this apparatus, and most of the studies are on development of depth-perception, or infant reactions to maternal prompting etc...

Can't seem to find anything on the study that I remember. Sorry.

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T06:41:12.495Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So down voting me for asking a question is a little weird.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T06:41:52.957Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I thought the same thing.

comment by SforSingularity · 2009-10-07T23:49:36.443Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted. I came to exactly the same conclusion. Men are extremophiles, and in (7), Eliezer explained why.

As to Anna's point below, we should ask how much good can be expected to accumulate from trying to go against nature here, versus how difficult it will be. I.e. spending effort X on attracting more women to LW must be balanced against spending that same effort on something else.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-17T01:19:56.288Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Unrelated to gender, but related to inclusion: should we make LW, or some portion of LW, more accessible to teenagers somehow? It's been argued that we'll the best rationalists will be people who learn it young; but to judge by introductions in the new welcome thread, and by responses to the current survey, we seem to have few to no teenagers.

comment by katydee · 2010-10-21T04:17:04.650Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I found LW as a teenager and it seems extremely accessible, at least to me, but nobody in my age group who I've shown it to has agreed.

comment by Michelle_Z · 2011-07-28T01:22:11.094Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Very old, but I wanted to post that I've found the exact same issue. I find it accessible, especially when I do some research, but so far no one I know has shown even the slightest interest. I've mentioned it to two friends, both of whom I consider very intelligent, but neither took the bait. My female friend loved HP MOR, though.

comment by KPier · 2011-07-28T02:07:45.449Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm another data point (16 when I first started reading) who found it very accessible.I've tried a couple different ways of getting my friends interested, with varying degrees of success. I think the problem with getting most people (regardless of age) interested in a site like this is that you have to expend a lot of time even to understand what everyone's talking about, and it doesn't seem worth it "just for a blog".

comment by tenshiko · 2010-10-19T23:50:17.058Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

...

This is a very old thread, but I would still like to comment to make the point that I had assumed for a couple years (seriously, years) that, like so many other places on the internet, "open to anyone" actually meant "open to anyone over eighteen". And then I had assumed that I would make an embarassment of myself here, like I did some years ago on the good old sl4 wiki.

Seriously, you want us to come along with our /argumenta ex silentium/ and all? ...if this is really the community sentiment I have to wonder why the "popular Harry Potter fanfiction" angle isn't being milked more for its recruiting potential. I suppose that's what dignity is.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2010-10-20T10:59:12.432Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are you under 18?

comment by tenshiko · 2010-10-20T11:19:58.827Z · score: 12 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Fifteen right now, a sophmore at a magnet high school. Quite shallow (for instance, my biggest concern right now is my upcoming Haruhi Suzumiya cosplay). Too emotional (my AP Computer Science teacher makes me cry twice a week). Pitiably immodest (see aforementioned gratuitous reference to AP Computer Science and AP BC Calculus). I fooled around on the sl4 wiki when I was about twelve. Some people might still remember that.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2010-10-20T20:54:42.075Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for letting me know. If you want any help charting a good education, especially a good rationality education, I'd love to talk to you (I just sent you a PM also to that effect, which you can see by clicking on the red mailbox icon next to your name).

Are there any other teenagers on LW who care to reveal themselves?

comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2010-11-29T01:38:10.074Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

More than a month too late, but I'm fifteen, and also a girl. Got here from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which I found out about from TV Tropes. You really should milk that, you know. :)

comment by Perplexed · 2010-11-29T01:46:50.195Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You really should milk that, you know.

Any suggestions how?

A question that might trigger some ideas: When you first started looking around this site, what did you see that you found appealing, and what did you see that made you not want to stick around?

Oh, and btw, Welcome to LessWrong.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-11-30T05:39:02.728Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

OnTheOtherHandle replied to this (below). Unfortunately, she is still not sure how the site's various buttons work, so it got sent to me as a PM. I'm pretty sure she wanted it shared, so I am doing so. If you want to upvote her ideas, I suppose you will have to upvote the grandparent. Here is what she wrote:

Hi, um, I got your message from the envelope-shaped button on the sidebar. I don't even know if it was private or on the comments, but I can't seem to access that page to write a reply there, so I'll just send you this. Sorry if this isn't the right way to do things, it takes me a while to navigate a new site.

As for ideas, well, those are difficult, so I'll start with what attracted me to LW. As I said, it was Methods of Rationality that brought me here, and what I liked about that was it was very scientific and logical without being The Spock - without shunning emotions as wrong or illogical, something I never really got. It made me laugh out loud many times and even cry once or twice.

Because of this, it worked as a story first and foremost. If a piece of fiction is overtly trying to promote a philosophy, then it earns HUGE bonus points for actually being a good story in its own right. I'd say it served as a nice, fun way to "ease into" the rationalist community. Plus, it really made me feel for the transhumanist cause, and made me think hard about the idea that death was inevitable or acceptable, even though I can't say with certainty yet that I'm a transhumanist.

As for what made me stay, well, this is fascinating stuff. I love science and psychology. I was already an atheist and a huge nerd and had already read some Dawkins and Feynman before seeing this site, so I guess that helped me to not become so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material here. I think a little background is important, because even though LW is pretty accessable, I can't say it's for beginners. (But of course, since I've been randomly article-hopping, it's likely that I missed the material intended for newcomers.)

Another reason I want to stay is because LW hasn't been purged of the emotionality of Methods of Rationality. I see here a community of people that cares deeply about their cause, and that helps a lot.

But this might be a deterrent for a lot of people actually. The debates get heated here, and you can feel tempers running high. I got the feeling, initially, that I would read an article, and then in the comments read a huge list of reasons why it was totally wrong, almost as long as the original piece itself. I don't mind too much, but I think I have a higher tolerance for argument than most people (most teenagers and most female teenagers especially). I can see how someone could look at this and think "YouTube flame wars but wordier", conclude you're "immature", and leave. Unfortunately, I can't really think of a solution, except maybe hiding the comments unless someone clicks a specific button to read them.

Hope this helped. :)

comment by shokwave · 2010-11-30T06:24:02.463Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is a reply the comment that got accidentally sent to Perplexed.

I got the feeling, initially, that I would read an article, and then in the comments read a huge list of reasons why it was totally wrong

I, too, got that feeling when I first browsed here. My solution to it was to look at the karma of comments: if the edit: comment got up above 5 karma, it probably is a reason why the post is wrong. If the edit: comment was at neutral or negative karma, it probably isn't a reason why the post is wrong. I don't have much data on how effective this method is, but it seemed to work for me. That's not a general solution, though.

The general cure to looking immature might be to further promote a community norm of resolving disagreements. I see many arguments ending with one person admitting/realising they were mistaken (this is something that I had never seen anywhere else on the internet), but I see more disagreements left hanging. I think if we saw lots of disagreements with the posts, and most of them were resolved by reading through the comment tree, new people would see disagreements being resolved on the internet and be very impressed!

comment by wedrifid · 2010-11-30T08:14:20.804Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I, too, got that feeling when I first browsed here. My solution to it was to look at the karma of comments: if a [comment] got up above 5 karma, it probably is a reason why the post is wrong. If the [comment] was at neutral or negative karma, it probably isn't a reason why the post is wrong. I don't have much data on how effective this method is, but it seemed to work for me. That's not a general solution, though.

Are those comment/post substitutions what you intended to say? I was initially confused but that correction made sense of it. That policy seems to be a reasonable one. I use approximately the same interpretation except on topics that get political. "Correctness" becomes much less correlated to karma in such cases.

I see many arguments ending with one person admitting/realising they were mistaken (this is something that I had never seen anywhere else on the internet), but I see more disagreements left hanging.

Resolving disagreements on the internet is impressive, isn't it? People just stopped being wrong on the internet! WTF? At the same time there is a place for leaving things hanging. Sometimes leaving aside disagreements without making a fuss or engaging in status battles can be good enough. Particularly in those (frequent) cases where the issue isn't cut and dry. When there is merit in both points but this can't be simply acknowledged without reconstructing and translating from not-quite-compatible models of reality.

I bother to mention this because I've noticed that sometimes trying to resolve differences can at times do more harm than good, despite the best of intentions. Some people actually get offended if you try to be conciliatory, bizarre as it may seem.

comment by shokwave · 2010-11-30T08:37:09.793Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, thanks for correcting. And I definitely agree, disagreements are not universally solved by one party admitting fault - but I do feel that there are a large number of cases on LessWrong where I don't know if one side made a mistake, or if the case doesn't have a right answer, or whatnot. And I would like to see more of those cases, the ones floating in between, to be resolved in either one direction or the other.

comment by anon895 · 2010-12-01T09:07:01.040Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Part of the problem is that any attempt at direct enforcement or pressure could deter people from commenting in the first place, knowing that if they did they'd be expected to see any disagreements through to the end. (That's been mentioned in previous threads, I think.)

Random thought: Would individuals trying to shift the norm by setting an example work any better? Like, one person going through their comment history (possibly using the link here), and making a list in their profile page of unresolved disagreements and their current status (possibly including otherwise unvoiced ones), plus a list of resolved disagreements and how they were resolved, or a list of posts and comments that led them to shift their beliefs (incrementally or otherwise) on something?

Not volunteering either way, though. In the past I've occasionally killed time reading my old posts on forums, and on reading regrettable things I've tried to fix them by amending them in replies or putting notes about them my profile, but that doesn't seem like the same thing.

Basically, it seems you(general) would need to make a deliberate effort to continue discussions even after it becomes pure work, because you value having a site where disagreements are resolved more than you value anything else you might be doing with that time.

Edit: I idealistically hope that when agreement is impractical, people who try long enough can still reach a better level of understanding than the standard "agreement to disagree" cliché.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-11-30T10:01:49.502Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know what you mean. There isn't always time to go and do the research oneself on each topic so as to judge between the positions.

comment by rabidchicken · 2010-12-01T07:36:45.108Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(responding to perplexed's copy) When I came here from MOR, I just started by reading the sequences one by one, and then started going through new posts whenever they came up, and it seemed to work fairly well. There have been a couple of posts on the site which I did not completely agree with, but I still learned something from all of them, and it helped me get into the habit of updating my beliefs more easily. Also, I am glad that there are other people my age out there who are interested by sites like this :p

comment by [deleted] · 2010-11-30T13:57:05.436Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome aboard!

comment by IanKanchax · 2010-11-27T22:08:25.887Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I am 18 years old, somewhat new to LW and not as congruent/rational as desired. If your offer stands for others who are not under 18, I'd love to hear about that. I could use some help.

I do not think there is a need make LW more accessible to teenagers. I am not even sure I know what that means. Are we, those younger, that alien? (rethorical question) "Teenage" is a joke. Not as funny as religion, though. (A 12 years old is sitting at a bar with coworkers after a long day of work, 150 years ago: normal) As far as a I am concerned the differences between "teenagers" and adults are from age segregation. Differences in style, not principles.

That said, I am new. To the Welcome page!

comment by rabidchicken · 2010-12-01T07:55:49.212Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted. I am always surprised how widespread discrimination against teenagers is, considering that everyone has to be one at some point. Every difference between people below the age of majority, and people above which an adult has been able to point out to me when I have discussed this seems to be a product of the culture we are raised in, not an inherent quality of humans within an arbitrary age range.

comment by IanKanchax · 2010-12-03T02:34:57.187Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

You might be interested in reading The Case Against Adolescence by Dr. Robert Epstein. (I believe the last edition is called Teen 2.0)

It is eye-opening on many aspects. There is a story in it that struck me. A twelve year old had an affair with his married teacher (who had two kids on her own). She went to prison for two-three years. Once out of the slammer, she had sex again with her ex-pupil. This time around 7-8 years of prison. While in prison she gave birth to a child. The child was raised by the father (the student) and that father's mother. Reporters asked the young man if the imprisoned woman had abused of him; he answered negatively, that love united them. Once the ex-teacher got out of prison for the second time she married the then adult lover, went into their car with their kid and rolled into the sunset.

How immature. Both of them. Love at teenage? Meh. Love is only for old people like Romeo (~16) and Juliet. (~14) Those crazy homo sapiens.

comment by rabidchicken · 2010-12-04T23:21:27.739Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

12 seems too young to me for a sexual relationship, but that may be due to social conditioning. On average, males become capable of reproduction when they reach 12-13. (which probably is also when they become capable of enjoying it) If he was willingly involved there should not be an issue, but the general assumption seems to be that if someone in early puberty already is having sex, (particularly with an adult) they are being threatened or coerced into it. To make matters more complicated, I have heard of cases where children willingly were in a relationship like what you mentioned, and then condemned the adult under parental pressure.

the flip side of the argument for protecting children is that since older teens and adults can also be forced to have sex against their will, how can we remove restrictions at any age? having stronger muscles and a bit more experience is of limited use if someone threatens you with a gun.

I don't know if I can actually come to an opinion on whether we should have an age of consent to shelter children, (even the ones who may want to have sex) or assume that anyone who has reached puberty is mature enough to have a relationship, and tell someone if they are being abused. I probably have not collected enough information at this point :p

comment by IanKanchax · 2010-12-06T18:45:23.038Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There are driver's licenses how about sex' licenses? (minus the minimal age requirement) You have to show your ability to have sane sex through a written test and a practical test. Or something.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-12-06T18:55:18.155Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

a practical test

Ummmmm.

comment by shokwave · 2010-12-06T19:17:46.124Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Much like the job of ruler or king, anyone who wants the job is disqualified.

comment by Vaniver · 2010-12-06T19:20:23.127Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My hope is that means "correct use of contraceptives."

My problem with a 'qualification' to go through a rite of passage is that the rite of passage is what turns you from unqualified to qualified. When can we trust someone to make decisions about sex? When they're not a virgin.

And so we either need hard control (no sex until your wedding night with the socially approved partner) or little-no control combined with acceptance of mistakes (regretting your choice for your first time is commonplace). The idea that a licensing agency could differentiate between people that will make good and bad choices about sex is as ridiculous as the idea that a licensing agency could differentiate between people that will make good and bad choices about driving. The future is too uncertain to have good predictive ability.

comment by rabidchicken · 2010-12-06T20:04:28.248Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Errr.... I'm an not sure how exactly that would work. People already are taught how to use contraception from an early age, (maybe not young enough though), and the rest of what you need to know appears to be instinctive. My question was how could you have a country with no age limit for consent which does not become a refuge for child predators. If a child wants to have sex with someone older, it should not be an issue, and if the child is forced into it, then it is rape whether there is an age of consent or not. So as long as children are encouraged to speak out if they are being forced into sex, having an age limit may be unnecessary. Nobody here has actually argued in favour of an age of consent yet, which I find interesting. Does it have any benefits compared to only punishing adults who have been proven to act without a child's consent?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-05T00:01:28.280Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if I can actually come to an opinion on whether we should have an age of consent to shelter children, (even the ones who may want to have sex)

One option would be to allow it but require that the younger individual specify the desire publicly in a suitable manner.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-03T02:49:57.717Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A twelve year old had an affair [...] How immature. Both of them. Love at teenage? Meh. Love is only for old people like Romeo (~16) and Juliet. (~14) Those crazy homo sapiens.

Well, technically... ;)

comment by Celer · 2011-05-03T00:23:40.295Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I am a 16 year old. To be honest, most teens wouldn't handle the site. The requirement for an understanding of mathematics, logic, and science are beyond the reach of most, and the desire of most of the rest. That said, I have introduced two friends of mine to HPMOR and they have taken to it, and I am leading them towards Less Wrong. On the other hand? I don't know how many adults would handle less wrong either. If you want my advice on how to be more appealing to teenagers, it is relatively simple.

Link everything, so that someone who doesn't understand can follow your links and find out. Useful more for teens than for adults, it is still good practice. Few intelligent teens will tolerate a teens area for long.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2011-09-07T17:49:11.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To be honest, most teens wouldn't handle the site. The requirement for an understanding of mathematics, logic, and science are beyond the reach of most, and the desire of most of the rest.

The same could be said about most adults.

comment by hamnox · 2011-01-22T14:41:33.265Z · score: 7 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I don't feel quite comfortable admitting that I am only 18 over the internet. (But I'll do it anyways, obviously.)

Irrational fear of internet predators is irrational >.>

It's hard not to feel a little intimidated by the sheer sanity of what's written here. For a long time I felt like I was obligated to at least get my GenEd done before I could sign up to comment. If I haven't managed to pass society's standard of intelligence yet, how can I expect respect and understanding here, where the standards are so much higher? There's probably quite a few teen lurkers out there, waiting hopefully for some small sign to inform them when they are high enough on the sanity-waterline to converse with gods.

Edit: Oh yes! And I'm a female. Slightly relevant to the original posting :)

comment by Solvent · 2011-07-22T09:46:13.483Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(insert standard creepy late post disclaimer...)

I'm 17, but have been reading LW for more than a year (and telling all my friends to do the same, of course.) I think that at least for the smart, nerdy, sciency type teenagers I hang out with, LW isn't too scary to get into. I could certainly manage it.

It was a bit hard to get into, though. If I didn't love Three Worlds Collide and philosophy so much, I probably wouldn't have bothered. All the "initial reading" that LW provided at the time felt to me like the worst of Eliezer's output: the Simple Truth, and so on. The first truly awesome post I saw on here was the one which introduced "Shut Up and Multiply" to my vocabulary.

And I think I might PM you about that good education, hoping you extend that offer more generally.

comment by Randaly · 2010-11-30T06:46:58.359Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm 16.

comment by NaomiLong · 2011-07-10T20:56:53.682Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a little less than a year late, but oh well. I'm an almost-18 year old female who found LessWrong through HPMoR, which a friend of mine recommended to me (he is also interested in LessWrong and regularly reads the site). If you see this, I would love any advice you have to offer about "charting a good education, especially a good rationality education."

comment by Michelle_Z · 2011-07-28T01:32:35.923Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Same! A good rationality education is extremely interesting to me. I would love to hear more information about that. I am also an 18 year old female who found Less Wrong through HPMoR, here, Naomi.

comment by rabidchicken · 2010-12-01T07:14:01.163Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am male and seventeen, started reading LW when I was sixteen after being directed to H:MOR from TV tropes. I recommended MOR to a few friends and they enjoy it, but don't seem interested in rationality as much as I am. I generally find the site accessible and to have material which is easy to understand, but still teaches me new things regularly. I am working through the sequence about quantum physics right now, since the major sequences listed as 3.1-3.4 + 3.6-3.8 did not take long to read through. also, seeing "disagreements being resolved on the internet" is honestly one of the most inspiring parts of this site to me :p

comment by benelliott · 2010-10-25T12:57:33.475Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm 17, if anyone's still looking.

comment by Larks · 2010-12-06T19:40:12.614Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm still a teenager! I think I've already mentioned it, but maybe not.

comment by peuddO · 2010-11-27T18:25:19.790Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One of the reasons why I took the step from lurker to user - a month or so ago - was that I thought I should reply to this comment. I subsequently forgot where to find it, and stumbled upon it again just now.

I'm 18. Whether or not that makes me qualified for whatever help you had in mind I do not know, but I'm certainly interested.

comment by EStokes · 2011-03-18T21:29:14.765Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, I was wondering if you had any advice on education for LW'ers outside the US?

edit: That is, general education advice that applies to people even outside the US?

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2010-10-21T03:22:40.597Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd take her up on that, kid :)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-03-18T03:46:21.520Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Don't call her "kid", grup.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2011-03-18T04:05:37.680Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Definition from Urban Dictionary: "A grown-up in the minority, finding themselves among younger people. Coined by Adrian Spies, writer of the Star Trek episode featuring a post-apocalyptic world where only teenagers survived."

Which fits because I am on the far upper end of the age distribution here (which Eliezer knows because I attend meetups in the Bay Area).

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-17T01:37:45.961Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If this can be done without significant compromise, it definitely should be.

comment by MorgannaLeFey · 2009-04-16T14:28:47.833Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I've only just come into contact with this place, and normally I avoid commenting the day I start somewhere, but this post was compelling considering how I found LW.

A very good friend of ours sent a link to LW to my husband, but not to me. Usually he will send links to both of us he believes we'll both be interested in, and links only to me that he feels I'll be interested in but not my husband, and vice versa.

So clearly he felt I wouldn't be interested in this place, despite knowing that I am fond of rational discourse. Fortunately, my husband knew I would, and so I am here. I just found it an interesting data point in the context of this particular conversation.

Edit: Though this makes me wonder, why didn't I come across LW myself? Why didn't I bother searching for such things?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T15:38:02.317Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting point: How does anybody find LW? Suppose you're out in cyberspace, wanting to discuss rationality. What search term could you enter to find this place? Googling "rationality" doesn't turn up LW.

Should I put a link to Less Wrong in the Wikipedia page on rationality? Is there a better keyword than 'rationality' for LW?

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T12:04:56.362Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My sister sent me a link to HP:MOR I read it, got to the end, and decided I wanted more MOR...

So I dug into it. EY's username is "lesswrong" which I googled and found this site.

As a side-point. My sister doesn't seem to have been interested in coming to lesswrong.

I also posted the link on facebook... so all my friends (male and female) would have seen it. I've also blogged about it on my tech-blog (I have 175 regular subscribers - mostly male but some female through girlgeek blogs).

No idea if anybody followed me through the looking glass.

comment by Nanani · 2009-04-17T03:03:21.086Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How about linking to it on TV Tropes? Clearly many participants of LW are Tropers already. Tropers are young, nerdy, and numerous, after all. Also less likely to be put off by dense linkage throughout articles.

Such as This one for some Weird But True topics, or This One for the Weirdest topic of all.

After all There Is No Such Thing As Notability

comment by gwern · 2009-04-16T17:27:00.015Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Should I put a link to Less Wrong in the Wikipedia page on rationality?

Please don't. As a long-time Wikipedian, I can tell you any sane editor will nuke that addition on sight becuase it looks like (and IMO, is) self-promotion.

More logical places to add it, where it might make sense, would be the pages on Eliezer Yudkowsky and SIAI.

(I'd add Robin Hanson, but I get the impression he's chosen to remain only associated with OB. What's up with that anyway? Sometimes it feels like LW/OB is a schism - the EY-ites have migrated to LW, and the Hansonites squat on the remnants of OB.)

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T17:37:33.519Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've migrated to LW because threaded discussions are SO VERY MUCH BETTER! Locating old posts is easier; commenting is quicker; karma is fun (and a rationality test - not the getting it, but the not caring too much about it).

EDIT: The ability to edit my comments is also a huge win. I always write something wrong the first time, even when taking this rule into account.

Also, if I catch up on my reading and make 3 comments, on OB I have to wait an hour before I can make a 4th comment.

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-04-16T23:47:07.424Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More logical places to add it, where it might make sense, would be the pages on Eliezer Yudkowsky and SIAI.

The latter is of debatable relevance; and it's already linked from the former (and has been for weeks, it seems).

comment by swestrup · 2009-04-16T20:47:48.229Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, as an additional data point on how folks find less wrong, I found it through Overcoming Bias. I found that site via a link from some extropian or transhumanist blog, although I'm not sure which.

And I found the current set of my extropian and/or transhumanist blogs by actively looking for articles on cutting-edge science, which turn out to often be referenced by transhumanist blogs.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-04-16T22:04:11.828Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I, too, found Less Wrong from Overcoming Bias; I'm pretty sure I found Overcoming Bias from some comment on author David Brin's blog, but I don't remember when.

comment by Nanani · 2009-04-16T01:53:00.997Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

As a rationalist who happens to be female, here is my take on this:

1) On an ideal amount of agreement vs disagreement : while it may be true that female dominated segments of the internet have much more agreement in their comments than male dominated ones, these same segments are significantly less rational, on average, and to a degree so are the topics they revolve around.

Rationalists tend not to bother with stating the obvious, and there isn't much "nice post" type commentary around here, so even if the amount of agreeing were higher on this community, it would not be obvious. This "invisible agreement" issue has been discussed before isn't really all that tied to gender as far as I can tell.

2) Can't comment on this because obviously, LW and OB do not contain significant turn offs for me.

3) If a recruit is attracted because the poster shares their sex organs, they aren't a very promising recruit.

How about an experiment where a male writer posts under a more feminine name?

As for recruiting Japanese rationalists, good luck doing that in English. Maybe some of your key posts ought to be translated instead. Hire a professional.

4) Agreed.

5) Sad, but probably correct. (Though I can only say this by observation and not by biological study.)

6) Not all that different from 4), and again all I can do is agree.

7) Your armchair evopsych again... Have you read Cochran and Harpending's The 10,000 Year Explosion? It might significantly improve the quality of these thoughts.

8) Like 5), sad but probably true.

9) Seems very plausible to me. Female readers have probably experienced the GIRL reaction quite often.

Conclusion : There will, in all likelyhood, always be a higher proportion of males to females in rationalist communities. However, putting more rationality into the world at large is a good in itself regardless. I would vastly prefer to see the recruitment efforts continue to deal with people as individuals. Focusing on recruiting women is not likely to work very well, and is quite likely to cause backlash, especially if done badly. The rationaly inclined women, if anything like me, will not react positively to attempts to feminize the community.

Just treat people as people.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2009-04-16T06:16:51.828Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I have my own issues with armchair evolutionary psychology, and to a much lesser degree, with Eliezer's armchair evolutionary psychology, but he said nothing very rationally questionable here IMHO, and certainly nothing that "The 10,000 Year Explosion" (well written but not very persuasive on most of the claims that I didn't already agree with and occasionally flat-out poorly reasoned) would call into question.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T11:42:35.726Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Female readers have probably experienced the GIRL reaction quite often.

Yup. In fact I recall, in the early days of the internet, pretending to be male most of the time. I found it annoying to be continually hassled by a mob of lecherous boys when I just wanted to kick back and blow of steam bogging about on the local MUD or with a few rounds of networked doom.

These days, of course, it's different. For one thing - even here there is a considerably higher proportion of women that are actually likely to be women IRL. :)

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-03-12T05:52:12.957Z · score: 9 (17 votes) · LW · GW

This is an old post and I have little to add, but I notice that I'm very surprised and a bit put off by it. I'm surprised and put off by many similar things.

I speak as a female with an intuitive grasp of logic, anal-retentiveness and detail-orientedness. I also have primarily made friends with neurodiverse people, with a disproportionately large percentage being on the autism spectrum. I almost became a standard computers-and-stuff-that-xkcd-talks-about geek, but ended up becoming a video-games-and-anime-and-fanfiction geek instead. In an alternate universe, I might have eventually ended up a technical writer or computer programmer.

And as such, it always feels strange and off-putting to me when people talk about how there aren't women on Less Wrong (/playing video games/whatever the "masculine" pursuit of the week is) and speculate about how these mysterious, socially-oriented creatures are put off by the most attractive qualities (e.g., people not being agreement-bots). I'm probably exceptionally prone to thinking that I should go away because nobody wants me here (or at whatever other place it is), but things like this make me feel unwelcome. But so does everything else anyone does, often. Also, I tend to feel that way all by myself before anyone says anything. So I wouldn't worry all that much, unless women are more prone to...

Hey, that's a possibility.

What surprises me is that I truly don't know. I should... but I don't. Until recently, I really hadn't thought about it; I hadn't noticed the trend, and if I did... it seriously didn't occur to me. "Female (computer geeks/programmers/gamers/autistics/math geeks) are rarer than their male counterparts" never quite implied, to me, "female non-geeky, non-computer(/gaming/math)-oriented neurotypicals are more common than their male counterparts." Almost as if women were just rare or something, except I obviously didn't think that, either.

Wait a second, that actually makes sense, too. What if the skewed gender ratios in video games put off females, causing them to have less in common with the kind of person who plays games (and also is more likely to be geeky and more likely to be rational), making them gravitate toward different hobbies that bring them into contact with different kinds of people, influencing them in different ways?

My quick eyeball-it-probably-inaccurate guess from a relatively small sample is that the ratio is around 5:12.

Surely it wouldn't account for the whole difference, though. That just seems kind of bizarre. Huh.

comment by hamnox · 2011-01-22T23:37:42.622Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

(This looks pretty old, but I decided it couldn't hurt to be the Female with an Anecdote)

I'd found Less Wrong when I was already looking for a better understanding of rationality than could be found browsing through random atheist blogs, so I pounced on the sequences like a rabid kitten. When I went looking for how to actually apply the general principles of rationality, my mind naturally gravitated towards, well... Its own functioning. And the ways I wound up applying what I learned were substantially less about the 'calibration' and 'winning' that had first caught my eye.

I came for the dissent, like a good Intellectual Hipster, but I think I stayed for Luminosity.

It's not true to say that I just don't have a great personal interest in abstract epistemics, or winning, or making sure that my beliefs are correct, because I do. I really, really do. But as soon as I calmed down from Man-With-A-Hammer-Syndrome, I found that I don't like straight-up arguing nearly as much as I thought I did, though I absolutely stand by the necessity of sharpening our minds against each other. I enjoy pieces on how fully rational people might interact with others more than I like the more abstract musings on the prisoner's dilemna and newcomb's box, as fun as they might be. And to me, being able to comprehend and influence your own mindstate has more obvious potential for benefit than the similar idea of improving your entanglement by knowing and correcting for your cognitive biases.

As Eliezer said, there's no real distinction between "masculine" and "feminine" rationality. The examples I listed do not exist in a vacuum, they depend on or lead to, connect, and interweave with every other facet of rationality. I just highly suspect that Luminosity is a better perspective to form a basic grasp of Rationality from for those who tend towards {Social, Emotional, Passive} traits. I could be wrong or overgeneralizing, but it definitely feels like part of my femininity (or at least the traitset associated with the female gender) exerting itself. A Social, Emotional, and Passive leaning as opposed to Experimentative, Argumentative, and Dominant. Whether that really characterizes women in general is something I'm much less certain about.

comment by AlexU · 2009-04-16T22:31:00.051Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

1). There is a lot of, for want of a better term, "mental masturbation" around here: arguing for the sake of arguing, debating insignificant points, flashy but ultimately useless displays of intellect etc. Men tend to enjoy this sort of thing much more than women. Perhaps the female equivalent would be "social masturbation" -- endless gossiping about other people's trivia.

2). There's a major bias toward discussing math and science topics on here, and objective rather than subjective experience. Rationality, as a meta-construct, arguably isn't necessarily limited to these domains. I don't see why it can't be applied to equally good effect to literature and the humanities, art, interpersonal relationships, etc. Broaden your conversations to include some more of these topics (but, of course, with the same characteristic rational approach) and you may win over more female participants.

comment by Indon · 2013-05-16T22:36:13.959Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps, by sheer historical contingency, aspiring rationalists are recruited primarily from the atheist/libertarian/technophile cluster, which has a gender imbalance for its own reasons—having nothing to do with rationality or rationalists; and this is the entire explanation.

This seems immensely more likely than anything on that list. Libertarian ideology is tremendously dominated by white males - coincidentally, I bet the rationality community matches that demographic - both primarily male, and primarily caucasian - am I wrong? I'm not big into the rationalist community, so this is a theoretical prediction right here. Meanwhile, which of the listed justifications is equally likely to apply to both white females and non-white males?

Now, that's not to say the list of reasons has no impact. Just that the reason you dismissed, offhand, almost certainly dominates the spread, and the other reasons are comparatively trivial in terms of impact. If you want to solve the problem you'll need to accurately describe the problem.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T22:48:58.659Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to solve the problem you'll need to accurately describe the problem.

Conversely, if some here see it as a feature and not a problem, it would be in their interest to deflect attention away from this cynical and oh-so-unfair explanation.

Really, isn't it impolite to suggest that some people might dread acommodating different backgrounds and perspectives that threaten the neatness and comfort of an exclusive community? Any drive to become less exclusionary is basically a moral signaling spiral, a kind of creeping social justice activism! It corrupts and dumbs down everything it touches, it has no use for our brilliance and fearless dissent!

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-09T16:15:37.343Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Conspiracy theories tend to be male dominated, much more so than LW is. Yet the anti-vax conspiracy seems to be female-dominated and cater heavily to females.

One explanation is that the issue has to do with children, meaning that it appeals to parents and general and mothers in particular (for, so sue me, evo-psych reasons).

Nonetheless, it would be interesting to study that conspiracy theory and see what sort of other effects occurred indirectly from any original significant difference.

Was there unfulfilled demand among irrational females for a conspiracy theory to join, as irrational males dominated all the others and were unwelcoming? Did men unused to not outnumbering women in political groups get spooked and leave, leaving women as a majority (as perhaps occurs in liberal religions)?

There may be lessons to learn from the anti-vaxers. I never thought I'd say that, but there it is. If anyone suspects they will want to make me look stupid by quoting me out of context, bookmark this comment!

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-05-16T13:50:52.331Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Whatever it is that makes women less likely to participate in sites such as Less Wrong, I am completely oblivious to it. For whatever reason, a high percentage of boys would find Less Wrong boring, and so would an even higher percentage of girls. It is true that my everyday-life interests are more "feminine" than seems to be the LW average (writing fiction, composing music, singing in a choir, as opposed to hard-sciences math and physics, which I chose not to study in university partly for the reason that my teachers wanted me to because I'm a girl. And I refused to be told what to study based on the fact that "we need more women in X." So I'm in nursing, a program that fulfills my requirement of immediately providing me with a well-paid job.

comment by patrissimo · 2009-05-10T01:32:30.390Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

One thing I'm sure it's not is the example in #6 - that men are more into self-improvement. My wife is involved in the female self-improvement community, and there are endless workshops, conferences, books, etc.

What is different is the approach - it's on things like becoming more integrated, more aware of cultural prejudice, more aware of the impressions you give other people, more in touch with your body, avoiding repression. Not how to apply Bayesian reasoning to ordinary life. (I know that's a caricature of LW, but you get the idea). Women, on average, seek to change in different ways than men.

Whether or not those ways are considered part of LW in theory, starting with mainly male posters and commenters starts a self-reinforcing pattern of focusing on the male parts of LW. I commend Eli for trying to understand the details, but no one should be surprised by this - men and women are different, cognition is an area where they are different, and something written by men about male cognition is going to attract more men. It would shock me if it happened any other way.

comment by jimrandomh · 2009-04-16T01:46:04.998Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Computer scientists are very highly represented here; a show of hands on IRC found more than half had some CS background. This site is particularly appealing to the CS mindset, so that's not so surprising, but it means that Less Wrong inherits the same massive gender imbalance that computer science has. Of course, this only pushes the question one step away, to the reasons why CS has a gender imbalance; but that's a question that's already been studied, with many hypotheses put forth.

comment by dfranke · 2009-04-16T20:06:02.486Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The gender ratio at physical meetups, while still unbalanced, seems noticeably better than the visible gender ratio among active commenters on the Internet.

That part is perfectly predictable. Men are less deterred than women by lack of face-to-face contact in relationships. Film at eleven.

comment by Nanani · 2009-04-17T03:12:46.682Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I may just be a strange person, but lack of face-to-face contact is a Feature for me, not a Bug. Simply put, I find it easier to connect to a person's ideas and judge them on merit when my senses aren't throwing in distracting tidbits that often make me want to run away (such as "he is looking at me funny" or "he smells bad").

This is also the reason I prefer text to video blogs, emails to in-person meetings, and so on.

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-17T06:21:06.798Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Those examples suggest you're hanging out with entirely the wrong sort of people.

comment by Nanani · 2009-04-20T00:35:54.426Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

No no, I very explicitly do not hang out with the sort of people that elicit that sort of response. The problem is that the person eliciting it might not in fact be deserving of it, but I can't get far enough to find out.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T23:16:48.372Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There were, I think, 7 OB men and no OB women at my OB meetup. (There were several women, but they had nothing to do with OB.)

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T02:48:02.489Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You're brave to even touch this topic.

The obvious evolutionary psychology hypothesis behind the imbalanced gender ratio in the iconoclastic community - the atheist/libertarian/technophile cluster - is the idea that males are inherently more attracted to gambles that seem high-risk and high-reward; they are more driven to try out strange ideas that come with big promises, because the genetic payoff for an unusually successful male has a much higher upper bound than the genetic payoff for an unusually successful female.

I don't know if that's a factor, but it's a very good idea.

One thing puzzles me about evolutionary arguments for genders being interested in different subjects: It would be an evolutionary win to be interested in things that the other gender is interested in. Many women value a man who knows fashion; many men long for a woman who likes sports and video games. I would have expected an equilibrium with nearly-equal interest in subjects across genders.

(Yes, video games haven't been with us for an evolutionary timespan; but if there's an evo-psych explanation for men liking video games, then the things that make them like video games have been with us for an evolutionary timespan.)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T03:47:44.684Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One thing puzzles me about evolutionary arguments for genders being interested in different subjects: It would be an evolutionary win to be interested in things that the other gender is interested in,

You're right, this is puzzling. Has it only been true for an evolutionarily short amount of time? Is seeking members of the opposite sex who share these kinds of interests a recent cultural invention? Is the claimed preference not as strong in reality as people think?

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-16T04:11:03.238Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I would say both.

For much of our evolutionary history the idea of a consumption partner rather than a production partner would have been an unaffordable luxury. Desirable properties in a mate were primarily those that would support survival and reproduction.

I think the claimed preference is also weaker in reality than people think. This is a common theme in the seduction community. What people are actually attracted to is not necessarily what they say they are looking for - sexual attraction is not based on a conscious rational weighting of positive and negative attributes.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T14:14:20.722Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Really interesting link, and I'd never thought of it that way before either.

Also - extra points for being the very first comment referencing the seduction community that actually provided a net plus to the conversation (regardless of gender) ;)

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T04:14:14.905Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the link -- I'd never seen that distinction made before and I suspect now I'm going to see it everywhere.

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T04:16:33.332Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I think its only been a win for a short time. Maybe, for most of history hierarchy within the genders has mattered a lot more for sexual selection. And your position in the hierarchy is usually determined by your success at gender specific roles. So if you want to be the the alpha male you need to be really good at hunting and so the best hunters win. Similarly, power in the female hierarchy was dictated by things like child rearing and social knowledge. So those that focused on that won.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T03:51:03.119Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One thing puzzles me about evolutionary arguments for genders being interested in different subjects: It would be an evolutionary win to be interested in things that the other gender is interested in.

It seems like that would simply set up a sort of elastic restoring force opposed to whatever force is causing (for example) men to like video games, and you wind up at a sort of equilibrium. Presumably that's what we see around us.

comment by SforSingularity · 2009-10-07T23:54:55.594Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It would be an evolutionary win to be interested in things that the other gender is interested in.

Why? I think that perhaps your reasoning is that you date someone based upon whether they have the same interests as you. But I suspect that this may be false - i.e. we confabulate shared interests as an explanation, where the real explanation is status or looks.

comment by Crampton · 2009-04-16T02:11:13.899Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

This of course just pushes the problem back a step, but isn't the breakdown in Myers-Briggs between Thinking and Feeling types something like 60:40 for men and 30:70 for women? Mightn't this have something to do with it?

comment by SforSingularity · 2009-10-07T22:50:53.755Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious evolutionary psychology hypothesis behind the imbalanced gender ratio in the iconoclastic community is the idea that males are inherently more attracted to gambles that seem high-risk and high-reward; they are more driven to try out strange ideas that come with big promises, because the genetic payoff for an unusually successful male has a much higher upper bound than the genetic payoff for an unusually successful female. ... a difference as basic as "more male teenagers have a high cognitive temperature" could prove very hard to address completely.

You ask evo-psych why we have a problem, and evo-psych provides the answer. The gender that has a biological reason to pursue low risk strategies - shockingly! - tends to not show much interest in weird, high-risk, high-payoff looking things like saving the world.

Ask evo-psych how to solve the problem then. We already know that women tend to like doing highly visible charitable activities (for signaling reasons). Maybe we should provide a way for people to make little sacrifices of their time and then make it visible over the web. I am thinking of a rationalist social network that allowed people to very prominently (perhaps even with a publicly visible part here on LW) show off how many hours they had volunteered next to a picture of themselves. I once attended an amnesty international letter writing group that was 90% female, for example.

However, remember that association with any radical sounding idea is high-risk compared to association with a less radical but equally charitable sounding idea. Thus I would predict that women will, on average, tend to not get involved with singularitarianism, transhumanism, existential risks, etc, until these ideas go mainstream.

comment by Virge · 2009-04-16T14:30:03.181Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I've noticed strong female representation (where I least expected to find it) in The Skeptic Zone,an Australian skeptics group. The feeling I get of that community (even just as a podcast lurker) is that it's much more lighthearted than LW/OB. Whether that makes any difference to sex ratios, I don't know.

For most of the time I've listened to the podcast, there's been regular strong contributions from females. My gut feel would have been that having good female role models would encourage more female participation, however I just did a quick eyeballing of the Skeptic Zone's FaceBook fans and it looks typically about 5:1 biased to males.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-04-16T20:57:23.070Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The feeling I get of that community (even just as a podcast lurker) is that it's much more lighthearted than LW/OB. Whether that makes any difference to sex ratios, I don't know.

Which came first? The chicks or the egg?

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T21:09:24.214Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

nice

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T21:10:03.396Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Skepchick is also notable, I think.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T14:21:34.583Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm... sometimes a "girls division" of a group can be a net plus. "linuxchix", "geekgirls" and "devchix" are also strong, enjoyable groups that tend to hang off the larger mainly-male groups, to the benefit of all.

Of course, the opposite is also sometimes true... but would it hurt to start up, say, "LW girls" or similar?

Anecdote: the annual linux.conf.au that was held in Sydney a couple of years back had the highest female:male ratio of any linuxconf.au so far (1 in 10), and that was due to the extremely strong support from the local linuxchix chapter. It took a local hero (Pia Waugh) and friends to make it happen... but it did help

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-16T03:38:43.061Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't really know what the reason for the gender imbalance is, though I suspect reasons 4 to 8 all play a part, but I think it's highly likely that if you could find explanations for the gender imbalance in undergraduates studying math, physics and computer science, among sci-fi fans, programmers and libertarians and within the classic works of philosophy then you'd have sufficient explanation.

The fact that this question has been debated in all those areas for many years and we don't have very good answers suggests that it is not easy to answer. I think the suggestion of a greater focus on instrumental rationality and concretely useful applications for the real world is a potentially good approach to reducing the imbalance and likely to deliver better results than a likely extended effort to find an explanation for the imbalance.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think our efforts would be better directed to attempting to address the imbalance than in trying to explain it (though obviously theories about why it exists might be useful in guiding attempts to address it).

comment by swestrup · 2009-04-16T01:46:01.965Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This touches on something that I've been thinking about, but am not sure how to put into words. My wife is the most rational woman that I know, and its one of the things that I love about her. She's been reading Overcoming Bias, but I've never been completely sure if its due to the material, or because she's a fan of Eliezer. Its probably a combination of the two. In either case, she's shown no interest in this particular group, and I'm not sure why.

I also have a friend who is the smartest person and the best thinker that I've ever met. He's a practicing rationalist but of the sort who uses it as a means to an end. In his case its the design of computer systems of all kinds. Now, I haven't even bothered to point out the Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong communities to him, as I can't imagine he'd have any interest in them, although I'm sure he'd provide useful insights if one could get him interested.

So, of the three most likely candidates to participate in this group that I know of, only one does. This may well be partly due to my own biases in which groups of people I select to tell about which blogs I read, but I think some of it has got to be due to this site being somehow appealing to a narrower segment of the population than those who it might be most valuable to.

I have no proposed solution. This is simply an observation.

comment by Jacobian · 2015-07-19T17:56:13.207Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Did you know that according to the last survey females (sex at birth) on LessWrong have a higher IQ with p=0.058?

Irresponsible speculation alert: people join LW because they dig the ideas and/or because they dig the community. The ideas are more enticing for people with higher IQ, the community is more enticing for.. guys. Thus, at equal levels of IQ more women will be filtered out because they feel (on average) less comfortable with the community.

Like I said, I don't assign the above explanation an overwhelming epistemic status, but I do think that the IQ results are non-zero evidence against point #8 and general arguments of the "women aren't smart enough for LW" type.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-07-20T01:28:06.421Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eh, check the SAT scores. The difference is 0.14 points favoring men on the 1600, 29 points (about a tenth of a standard deviation) favoring women on the 2400, and .44 points (about a tenth of a standard deviation) favoring women on the ACT, and 3.7 points (about a quarter of a standard deviation) on the IQ self-report. I wouldn't trust the IQ numbers enough to rest an argument on that point.

I would also state the argument a bit differently--it's not that at equal levels of IQ more women are filtered out than men (in which case the IQ distributions of the two would only be different matching any underlying population differences), but that the IQ filtering effect is stronger for women than men (or, stated symmetrically, less women are filtered out at higher IQs than lower IQs).

comment by MAVIS · 2009-04-17T13:32:45.609Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

i am a female and have been following OB and LW for about 3 months in googlereader, really liking it, although i never comment (how can i improve on elezier's genius?). may not matter, but i do work in IT. at any rate, i was compelled to register with this site since i wonder if the LW "group" doesn't contain more females than we think. Is the definition of a "member" anyone who consistently reads this blog, regardless of registration status, or anyone who has taken the extra 15 seconds to register, or those registered members who end up posting comments and/or posts? also haven't given this too deep of an analysis, but on the day the gender question came up, that morning i commented to a male friend of mine that i don't know how everyone can keep up this manic pace of reading & writing. it's a lot to take in. i love both sites, though, and i do feel like i'm smarter and think better for it.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T18:24:29.375Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Exposing yourself to karma judgements is similar to asking someone out on a date, or otherwise risking rejection. Men have to do this all the time; I think a typical man has to approach or flirt with over 100 women just to get 1 date. Women don't have to do it, and so don't get used to doing it.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-16T20:06:44.521Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Karma-based explanations don't explain why we saw the same gender imbalance on OB.

comment by hhadzimu · 2009-04-16T20:39:51.138Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Exposing yourself to any judgments, period, is risky. The OB crowd is perhaps the best-commenting community I've come across: they read previous comments and engage the arguments made there. How many other bloggers are like Robin Hanson and consistently read and reply to comments? Anyway, as a result, any comment is bound to be read and often responded to by others. There may not have been a point value attached, but judgments were made.

comment by AntonioAdan · 2014-10-04T10:33:21.610Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was introduced to LW with a link and an endorsement that probably appeals more to the little boy in me than the little girl in others: "it's like martial arts for your mind."

Any thoughts on a 5 second sales pitch for women?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-05T17:34:52.745Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

higher cognitive temperature

That sounds like something very similar to what the Big Five model of personality calls Openness (see here).

comment by [deleted] · 2014-01-05T17:32:33.795Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(By the same logic that if we wanted more Japanese rationalists we might encourage potential writers who happened to be Japanese.)

BTW, in the 2012 survey there were zero Japanese, one Chinese, and two Koreans. Any idea what's going on?

comment by MichaelGR · 2009-04-16T01:42:38.862Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps women are less underrepresented on Less Wrong than may at first appear, and men are more likely to comment for some reason. Or perhaps women are less likely to choose visibly feminine usernames.

I think it's pretty frequent on the Internet, especially among those that have been around since the early-to-mid 1990s, to assume that everybody online is male by default until proven otherwise.

Being one of those, my first guess would be that the LW audience is > 90% male, but I'd love to see the results of an anonymous survey...

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T14:53:34.138Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Less wrong survey is here

and the results are:

160 (96.4%) were male, 5 (3%) were female, and one chose not to reveal their gender.

comment by MichaelGR · 2011-03-24T03:06:28.023Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you.

Goes to show that nothing goes away on the internet; I posted the parent comment 2 years ago.

comment by Grognor · 2012-02-11T20:55:57.248Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(Just pointing out to any futureland readers that the situation has changed slightly.)

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-24T17:52:52.368Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah - I saw it was an old comment... older than the survey. I figured I'd post it - in case anybody who came by later wanted to know.

comment by MichaelGR · 2011-03-26T03:37:04.604Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Very cool of you. At least one person noticed!

comment by JGWeissman · 2009-04-16T02:23:40.625Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

http://xkcd.com/322/

comment by Document · 2017-08-10T00:18:34.328Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Did you mean to post that somewhere else?

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T14:52:09.311Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

:) ah xkcd... much, much love!

comment by Jacobian · 2015-07-19T17:53:06.956Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Did you guys know that according to the last survey females (sex at birth) on LessWrong have a higher IQ?

comment by elharo · 2013-05-20T16:34:13.455Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hypothesis 8, male variance in IQ, is irrelevant to the extent that this site is about rationality, not IQ. Whatever IQ tests measure, it is neither instrumental nor epistemic rationality. See What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought by Keith E. Stanovich for extensive discussion of this point. Even if there is male-female variance in IQ, that does not imply a male-female variance in rationality.

comment by Articulator · 2015-06-01T02:48:16.523Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty sure that the average IQ on LessWrong is above the mean, though. Therefore, a group with higher variance is more likely to have member in LessWrong.

The causality of that statement is atrocious, but I think the overall picture should still come through.

comment by shaih · 2013-04-16T02:31:44.958Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Does anyone have any unbiased statistics on gender in workforce, career choice, education, and any other relevant statistics?

comment by taryneast · 2015-06-04T23:32:54.578Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

curious: how would this help?

comment by duckduckMOO · 2012-04-01T12:34:05.459Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On this hypothesis, male writers end up with mostly male readers for much the same reason that Japanese writers end up with mostly Japanese readers.

Because they can speak japanese?

comment by Swimmer963 · 2013-07-18T22:11:00.688Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Or because they share basic cultural assumptions: how parents ought to treat their children, how children out to treat their parents, how teenagers ought to decide what to do as adults, how strangers ought to behave towards other strangers, etc. Japan and the USA have definite cultural differences, the most basic of which, massively simplified, is individualism versus collectivism as a society. This makes fiction written by Japanese authors and set in Japan seem alien to readers from the USA; in an appealing, artsy, interesting way maybe, but still alien.

I can easily see such a mechanism operating with the cultural differences between males and females who both live the USA (or in Japan) could have a similar effect, making male-oriented fiction feel a bit odd and alien to girls who read a lot of chick lit because it's what their mothers and sisters and friends recommend all the time. I can see this transferring over, more subtly, to differences in styles of non-fiction writing and blogging. I don't know if it actually does, but it might.

comment by taryneast · 2015-06-04T23:34:05.248Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It does (#justonedatapoint)

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2009-04-16T20:09:49.703Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

it looks like an easy way to get some karma would be to create a female username and post in this thread. If we say that women's comments in a thread about how to attract more women are more valuable we're making some unstated assumptions.

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-16T22:00:22.987Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

it looks like an easy way to get some karma would be to create a female username and post in this thread. If we say that women's comments in a thread about how to attract more women are more valuable we're making some unstated assumptions.

What makes you say that? At the present moment, only one female comment in this thread is rated higher (20) than my highest-rated comment in this thread (17). My second-highest rated comment (11) is higher than most other female comments in the thread. There are plenty of other male comments with comparably high scores, in the 9-12 range.

It appears that people are simply voting up more in this thread in general, not merely to persons with female handles. My personal guess would be that this is because the air is getting cleared on some topics of general interest that nobody has felt comfortable expressing prior to this point, and the refreshment of hearing those things (and a few good proposed solutions) is encouraging upvotes.

(Of course, there could also be a priming effect of focusing on stereotypes around social support and being a welcoming community in general, which would also skew things more towards upvotes and away from downvotes...)

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-04-16T20:18:53.874Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The profusion of upvotes did make me feel a bit odd, as though I'd wandered into a discussion with a tone of politics and random applause instead of collaborative thinking as I'm used to.

But discussion here has nevertheless been a lot better than discussion on such mind-killing topics usually is (a testament both to LW and to EY's careful post). And I agree with mattnewport's point about erring on the side of being welcoming, especially for those who said they are nervous and new.

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-16T20:45:10.080Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You may have a valid point but since a common theme seems to be that newer posters do not feel welcomed or that their input is appreciated I believe people are making an effort to be more generous with up-votes in this thread. I've generally been quite parsimonious with up-votes and comments here and in the welcome thread have made me feel that I should bias myself more in favour of up-votes over down-votes.

Since this is a thread about how and why females are underrepresented on LW their input is particularly relevant and so higher karma scores do not necessarily imply any further bias. In conjunction with a hypothesized general realization that more up-voting, particularly of new commenters, would be of benefit to the community I think it's possible to explain the high comment karma without postulating further bias.

I'd be interested to know what you think the unstated assumptions are though.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-16T20:15:49.204Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can you name an example of a wrong assumption that we might be making if we're saying this?

comment by aausch · 2011-05-20T20:02:01.765Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Could some of this be resolved through technology?

Imagine a voting system which takes into account the gender of the person voting, as well as the gender of the person viewing the page. A woman reader's view might place higher value on women's votes, relative to men's, such that maybe a single downvote from another woman will count much farther towards making a comment invisible than several upvotes from a men.

(with maybe a twiddle somewhere that says something like "show me the men's view" "show me the women's view" "show me both views, highlighting differences" "show me both views, ignoring differences")

comment by aausch · 2011-05-22T00:14:23.901Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a bit confused by the downvotes. Did I miss something? I figured that my suggestion, or some approximation in the same solution space, would both provide useful information about the cause of the gender imbalance, and tools to try and address it.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-05-22T00:25:44.525Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Collecting information on the voting patterns of different categories of people might be useful. Having different things shown to different people based on what category they're in, though? Ew, no.

comment by aausch · 2011-05-22T00:40:37.221Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you opposed to it because it's divided along gender lines? Would you be more receptive to it if it was divided along, say, age lines, or proficiency in rationality lines?

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-05-22T01:45:12.193Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If proficiency at rationality could be shown to be a single skill or a set of skills that are consistently improved on in an even way (so that there aren't people who are very good at one kind of rationality and very bad at another), and if we had a reliable way of measuring that trait, that might be usefully used to weight votes, though it wouldn't make sense for low-rationality people to see scores based on the votes of other low-rationality people rather than scores based on the votes of high-rationality people. I'm not confident of either of the premises, though.

In the other cases, no, it's still a bad idea.

comment by aausch · 2011-05-22T07:54:15.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to understand where the bad is in this idea.

Are you maybe opposed to details of the implementation? Would you think the idea is bad if the option to filter out results is opt-in and explicitly stated? For example, offer users a "only use votes from teenagers when displaying data on the site" option, which they can enable or disable at will.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-05-22T08:04:50.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If it's opt-in, explicitly stated, and not limited to groups that the user has declared themselves to be a member of, there's probably no harm in it - it'd just be another kind of information.

Your original suggestion was missing some of those features, most notably the opt-in option.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-22T06:56:42.995Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I upvoted for practical thinking. Some of the complaints made about this kind of topic would, in fact, be resolved by the solution you propose. That said the overall effect of implementing the change would be detrimental.

comment by thoughtengineer · 2012-09-07T21:26:20.594Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Although I would be in favor of increased statistics on comments / votes in order to allow the community as a whole to analyze what writing styles, etc. favor different subgroups, I think having a voting system that prioritizes different voters simply due to characteristics they display isn't a healthy way to handle this issue, as IMHO it would lead to more "us vs. them" dichotomous thinking instead of viewing us as a group of individuals focused on understanding and developing rationality in our lives and others.

After all, the question is not, at least in my mind, how can we get more people onto LessWrong and not offend them when they get here, but rather to culture a intellectual pocket that fosters open discussion and self-improvement. If some people are offended when their ideas are not accepted (as long as it isn't rudely accomplished) I don't think that's something that we should address through the voting system, as rationality is at least partially dependent on not getting besotted with a single idea or concept, regardless of its value and accuracy.

comment by Mike12390 · 2009-04-16T04:24:38.068Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'll expand on the controversial stance as to why this is. It's obviously extremely complicated and I can't really do it justice in this specific comment. However I will try to give a cursory explanation. I personally tend to think that rational thinking may in part be genetically encoded in the brain and is a trait that may be somewhat distinct from aspects of general intelligence. I think its very likely that their has been differential selection pressures on male and female brain's over the course of evolution. There has been a lot of evolutionary selection pressure over the last 10,000 years in humans. You can think every time an important invention arose in a specific location of the world, then their were resulting shifts in human evolution as a result of that new technology. Genes that allowed their host vehicle to best exploit that new technologies propagated.

So in a society where the written language was more common (for instance), there was selection to build brains that could seek out and absorb more written material. People who had more analytical/rational/logical brains that could seek out the most salient written material were probably selected for. Those who spent a lot of time reading nonsense or were not good/logical readers were not as reproductively fit. They would probably have less information in painting a correct world picture and would be less likely to avoid dangers to their life. To me, it seems obvious that evolutionary selection pressures between men and women were different in this regard. This is especially true in societies where women were relegated to a much different societal roles than men. Gene expression patterns have been shown to be different in female vs. male brains, for instance.

Their is probably a huge variation of human brain abilities depending on where a person is located in the world and their unique evolutionary history on the branch of life. In places where a written language was uncommon until recently, then you might conceivably expect a different neural architecture to be in place. Evolution does not necessarily lead to improved abilities in all traits over time, though. For instance chimps have a superior numerical working memory than humans. So their is probably a wide swath of individual variation with people having specific aspects of intelligence that are quite different. I definitely believe in the construct of general intelligence, but I do think there are subsets to intelligence (working memory being one example, creativity being another that is a harder trait to define, logical/rational thinking).

Gregory Cochran has posited the unique history niche of ashkenazi jews as leading to their higher verbal IQ over non-jewish europeans. This is another instance of a historical branch on the evolutionary tree of life resulting in a shifted bell curve when comparing two population groups. I would imagine in certain historical evolutionary niches, men were probably in positions where they need to seek out and digest written material in a rational/logical way and women less likely to be in those positions.

However until you have a complete understanding of history, gene expression profile changes over the course of history, how they relate to brain/behavior changes, sex differences in phenotypical gene expressions and meme propagation, your always going to have an incomplete picture as to why any specific "macroscpic phenotypical trait" is different when comparing macroscopic "groups". All group categorizations are ultimately going to be fuzzy and phenotypical traits are as well. The evolutionary tree of life is complex and a group classification is ultimately going to have to have some arbitrary cut off. I think a lot of "macroscopic phenotypical traits" can be found on a bell curve. So the bell curve for any phenotypical trait (like a majority of Less Wrong readers being male) has a long universal evolutionary history behind it that defies easy synopsis.

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T04:40:09.493Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There is no way. I mean no way, that there was any significant selection pressure in favor of reading more and a reading more salient works. For the vast majority of human history there were no written works to seek out. Even once writing was developed it was used almost exclusively for book keeping. Then people wrote down myths. I like the legend of Gilgamesh as much as the next guy but reading it never conferred an evolutionary advantage on anyone. Were our ancestors seeking ancient hunting manuals?

comment by Mike12390 · 2009-04-16T04:58:37.208Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well here's a paper about the changes in surnames in Britain between 1600 to 1851. This is recent evolutionary selection.

http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/gclark/Farewell%20to%20Alms/Clark%20-Surnames.pdf

Wealthier people quickly out bred poorer people. I think its highly probable that genes were selected for to be able to better seek out and absorb written material. Being able to learn information has a huge fitness benefit to propagating your genes. There was plenty of scientific reading material available at this time (1600-1851) that could have conferred a fitness benefit.

Any factual information you learn about the world (through reading) can improve your odds of avoiding death. Death was very common in the recent past.

http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/2007evolutionofintelligence.pdf

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T05:32:16.613Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Its an interesting study but I don't think it proves your point. Wealthy people out bred poor people in a span of 10 generations in England. But I have no particular reason to think that the reason the rich outlived the poor was their ability to read. Access to better food, more sanitary living, less stress all indicate higher survival rates. Its not surprising the the children of the wealthy were more likely to survive into adulthood.

Now maybe we think the rich were better readers to begin with and the gene spread that way. But we have no particular reason to believe this either- or rather we might have reason to believe the rich were better readers but we have no reason to believe this advantage was genetic.

comment by Mike12390 · 2009-04-16T05:59:58.812Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Being able to learn and absorb written material allows a person to create more wealth. This is presumably why people go to school at all. Being able to accumulate more wealth as a result of learning allows a person to have increased reproductive fitness. So when you say "Access to better food, more sanitary living, less stress all indicate higher survival rates", these things could be the result of learning information. Like if you learned how to build something from a book that could improve your surrounding living conditions. Of course this could be highly variable depending on an individual person's evolutionary past.

Genes have been correlated with reading ability. http://www.physorg.com/news142091390.html I would imagine their could have been selection pressure on these genes in the recent past.

See here for more info. http://jmg.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/44/5/289

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T06:27:14.519Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well the second article claims that ev psych cannot explain reading ability and that this is-- wait for it!-- evidence of intelligent design. Pretty sure thats neither of our advocacies.

Being able to learn and absorb written material allows a person in our economy to create more wealth. Its not clear to me at all that that has always been the case- at least in degrees high enough to exert enough selection pressure over only a handful of generations to account for a reading ability gender gap. Your average man in 17th century England doesn't learn to read because his best opportunity to increase his earning is to put in an extra hour on the farm. Or apprentice as a black smith. Or become a sailor. Those with the means might go to school and become lawyers or doctors- but they were already rich. Its not like they had academic scholarship or pell grants.

Its also recalling that in this time period the literacy rate was considerably lower than it is today. And thats not because vast majorities in Europe didn't have the genes to read during the 18th-- its because they weren't taught to read. That means any selection that was happening was only happening within the small subset of the population that was given the opportunity to learn.

comment by Mike12390 · 2009-04-16T06:38:39.570Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

http://books.google.com/books?id=DyMjW21HwHwC&pg=PA89&lpg=PA89&dq=reading+literacy+england+1600&source=bl&ots=SL1ct7yRfW&sig=0Hz6txLaE3_51PwzxFQTxSdEka4&hl=en&ei=4NHmSdjPF8LgtgeVvvCVBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1 30 percent of english men could read in 1600. I would say that is a considerable amount. Only 10 percent of women could read at that time. By 1700 50% of men could read.

So I would bet that the 30 percent that could read in 1600 out bred those who couldn't. It's possible that the increase in reading literacy was partly genetic in origin.

Rational/logical/analytical abilities could help with learning.

There are obviously a lot of complex interactions at work in our evolutionary past that I think we are just begining to understand.

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T07:00:08.522Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All those older literacy statistics, as it says in the very next sentence in your source, are based on the ability to sign one's name. Thats not exactly evidence of superior analytic reading and writing skills.

There are perfectly ordinary, non-genetic reasons for the increase in literacy. For one, doesn't it seem strange to you that literacy rates increased all across Europe at roughly the same time? Shouldn't some nations have remained illiterate until they interbred with the literate ones? Instead, literacy correlates perfectly with widespread economic and cultural changes. How exactly did people start reading in Europe at all? For a long time it was only the monks who could manage it and they weren't passing their genes on.

Also, from a quick google it looks like the dyslexia gene set, which is the one you previously identified as evidence for the genetic basis of reading, is autosomal, which means its spread should be equal among males and females.

comment by Mike12390 · 2009-04-16T07:29:13.466Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

About the literary statistics, it specifically says "These figures may be pessimistic because reading was taught before writing at school". So the figures may actually underestimate the literacy rate. I don't have the time to found other sources.

I'm not saying the increase in literacy rates was all genetic in origin. The fact that literacy increased on a societal scale probably had to do with new inventions that made it easier to publish and distribute written material (I'm not sure of the whole history to be honest so that is somewhat of a guess). However these societal changes may have also led to genetic changes as well. Read the "10,000 year explosion" for more examples of how societal changes lead to gene frequency changes that led to more societal changes. Some animals have rudimentary reading capabilities. Being able to read may just be an offshoot of some other brain process (reading facial expression for example). So evolution is often good at co-opting brain processes for alternative uses. With a wider distribution of reading material it is possible that evolution selected gene frequencies that altered reading ability (speed of reading, logical analysis, etc.)

I don't think the it matters if the dyslexia gene is the same in females versus males. The phenotypical effect of the gene on the host (male vs. female) would likely be different. The fact that men and women have different hormones could alter the expression of any single gene (for example). The phenotypical effect of any gene in an organism is going to depend on a multitude of factors (like environment, other genes).

That's all I can say for now.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T15:09:49.368Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you may have your cause and effect backward here.

in the 1600's wealth is the cause of people going to school - not the other way around.

The vast majority of people had no access to schooling at all (unless they joined the clergy and thereby their line ended).

Accessible schooling is a very modern phenomenon.

You may thereby be confusing correlation with causation. Reading and wealth are correlated because the latter causes the former, rather than vice versa.

Genes are correlated with reading simply because wealth is correlated with the ability to multiply and support many descendants. Therefore we should not be surprised that reading correlates with genes, any more than that there is likely a correlation between genes and wearing expensive, fashionable clothing.

comment by thoughtengineer · 2012-09-07T21:35:47.222Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. Furthermore, I think that we should consider the fact that even if there was significant selection pressure for the ability to be literate (I would argue that this is most likely not the case) that there is insufficient evidence that this pressure could result in a significant social difference so quickly.

Furthermore, the converse appears to be currently true: the more educated a women is (I would assume this relates to reading comprehension, although not necessarily so) the expected number of children she will have generally decreases (http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/25/educated-women-opting-for-motherhood/).

comment by scientism · 2009-04-16T11:41:17.936Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

My hypothesis: Women can find sexual fulfillment more easily and hence spend less time fantasizing and hence spend less time in communities that talk about fantastical things that have little to no relevance to things they could realistically achieve in their lives (rationalists, atheists, libertarians, WoW players, etc). Men have greater difficulty finding sexual fulfillment and hence spend more time fantasizing and hence spend more time jostling for social status in communities that talk about fantastical things that have little to no relevance to things they could realistically achieve in their lives.

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-16T15:09:25.131Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

My hypothesis: Women can find sexual fulfillment more easily and hence spend less time fantasizing and hence spend less time in communities that talk about fantastical things that have little to no relevance to things they could realistically achieve in their lives (rationalists, atheists, libertarians, WoW players, etc).

I think if you talk with -- and more importantly, listen to -- some women, you'll find that the above is a projection, because, among other things:

  1. Women fantasize plenty

  2. Finding sexual fulfillment is MORE complex for a woman than a man

(Actually, just reading a few romance novels with a sufficiently open mind might suffice to illustrate these points.)

comment by randallsquared · 2009-04-16T15:35:18.431Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

WoW has quite a few female players, actually -- way more than the other groups you mention, I think. This report [PDF] suggests that of adult WoW players, some 40% are female! This matches my experience in various (casual, non-raiding) guilds.

comment by Jack · 2009-04-16T12:06:29.421Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why do we think women can find sexual fulfillment more easily?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T15:39:51.067Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps we should discern sexual from romantic fulfillment.

ADDED: Or not. Men and women both want sexual and romantic fulfillment. Women find it easy to get the first, but difficult to move on the second. Men are stuck trying to get the first; moving on to the second is an unrealistic goal for many men.

Female mate choice means that, while the average woman has a decent chance of marrying a man who's in her top 5 choices, a man is lucky if he marries a woman who's in his top 100.

comment by pjeby · 2009-04-20T05:44:05.875Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Female mate choice means that, while the average woman has a decent chance of marrying a man who's in her top 5 choices, a man is lucky if he marries a woman who's in his top 100.

Men's preferences are such that they can be satisfied by a much wider variety of women, whereas women's ideals are satisfied by a much smaller number of men... for whom they are competing with many other women.

Men also compete for women, of course, but not in a way that's as systematically based on their rarity or the amount of competition! In a way, women get screwed by their biology much worse than men do.

This is actually a fundamental premise of most "pickup" literature, btw: most women are dreadfully unsatisfied sexually and romantically by the vast majority of men.

The goal of the PUAs, therefore, is to develop themselves into the most interesting, exciting men that most women have ever met or will ever meet.... and thereby take up some of the slack in the generally-unfulfilled female population.

(Not that I needed pickup literature to learn that; you learn a lot from just living with a woman for 18 years, if you really listen, and try to understand. And it certainly doesn't hurt that she's in the lingerie and sex toy business, and shares gossip from work...)

Men are stuck trying to get the first; moving on to the second is an unrealistic goal for many men.

Fortunately, this needn't be the case for any individual male, if they're an instrumental rationalist.

Hell, you don't even need to be a rationalist, you just have to be willing to put in the work to develop the qualities that will be desired by the kind of woman you're looking for... and be willing to accept the likelihood that that some of the qualities that that woman will respond to, may be ones that aren't particularly PC for either you or her to admit to having or responding to.

Actually, one of the funny things that my wife and I have discovered, discussing some of the PUA literature, is that some of the things that sound so very un-PC that they do, actually have more PC terms that women use, but which to an uninitiated male sound like they want something else.

For example, when a woman says she wants a man with a good sense of humor, that usually means something very different from what a man usually thinks of as a "sense of humor". Typically, it means she wants somebody who is playful and flirtatious with her, not somebody who tells funny jokes or makes fun of other people. (Of course, my geekier female friends would probably also want potential mates to be able to keep up with their rapid-fire punning and obscure reference abilities. But that's still something different from the usual female definition of "sense of humor" in a man.)

(I hesitate to write some of this, because I'm almost positive there will be people on LW who will -- quite rightly -- disagree with some or all of it. However, if I don't speak in generalities, there's very little that can be said about this.)

Anyway, a lot of PUA stuff, as far as my wife and I can tell, is translating abstract qualities that women desire, into male-language descriptions and concrete steps/examples of how to materialize those qualities. The shocking revelations and deep secrets turn out to only be shocking and secret because:

  1. They're not always the qualities men would want, think women would/should want, or they're qualities men would appreciate in a woman, but never thought about from the opposite perspective, and...

  2. They're things that men and women would not describe using the same words. (e.g. "sense of humor", "confident", and "romantic" are just a few of the concepts that can be seriously different in each language.)

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T14:47:20.249Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, great summation. Thanks for the new insights.

I'll add to this that the PUA are isn't the only place that language gets used differently in different cultural contexts.

I mentioned in a previous comment that I'd read a book ("Hardball for women") about grokking the business culture - and that also has a number of terms where men and women say the same words and the pictures in their heads are quite different.

The example I recall most is the well worn "be a team player" concept.

Speaking in pure generalities, men use that phrase and think of, say, a sports team - where the coach calls the plays, and everybody that "gets behind it" (ie agrees enthusiastically, no matter what) is considered a good team player. Everybody is trying to win, and the coach sets the rules because the way to win is often to present a united front.

Whereas women often think of the more open-ended games they're used to - eg "playing house" - where there is no coach, and telling other people what to do is looked on as bad form (you're considered a bit of a bitch). You are a good "team player" if you are good at co-constructing a reality with the other players so that everybody's needs are satisfied.

This story was another of my "aha" moments - because my boss had been telling me I'd not "been a team player" because I'd tell him if I found fault in something he'd planned... whereas I'd thought I'd been an exemplary team payer because I'd been supportive of my colleagues and helped them with their work when they were under particularly tight pressure.

...sometimes we don't even realise we have a different culture - because it's obscured by the blanket of words.

comment by Hans · 2009-04-20T00:53:22.766Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do the women reading this post think of these statements?

As a man, I often find myself thinking the same thing, however I have yet to meet a woman who does.

comment by taryneast · 2011-03-21T14:49:11.352Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience, women do not find it easy to find satisfying male mate choices.

After all, consider the well-worn phrase "all the best ones are either married or gay"... the phrase wouldn't exist if it was easy for women to get their best choices.

I should point out that women can find it reasonably easy to find a mate... but a mate is definitely != a satisfying mate... let alone the kind of mate you'd actively choose.

comment by randallsquared · 2009-04-16T15:31:00.620Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Observation.

comment by Lojban · 2009-04-16T03:55:52.420Z · score: -4 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Do we have any transexuals here? As a eunuch, I became more rational. I've tried testosterone replacement as well, with mixed results.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T04:57:53.346Z · score: 4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

As a eunuch, I became more rational.

I'm curious -- what exactly is the response you hope to get by repeating this claim in thread after thread? Are you waiting for someone to stand up and applaud? Are you waiting for someone to shout at you and call you a freak? I'm sorry, but neither is particularly likely here. If you'd like to discuss the differences in your mental life since undergoing this treatment, by all means, do so. For now, you are not adding to the discussion.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-04-16T15:45:25.766Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The claim is relevant in this thread. I agree, though, that Lojban should elaborate instead of simply repeating. P(troll(Lojban)) >> average(P(troll(X))).

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-16T04:22:02.747Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Voted down only because the original poster keeps saying that over and over without amplifying further.

Transhumanism tends to overrepresent "everyone else" (i.e. non cisgendered-heterosexuals). I would be surprised to find the same didn't hold true here.

comment by Lojban · 2009-04-16T05:01:14.139Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Look, I haven't had the chance to really put together the whole story. I try to at least by somewhat on-topic.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-16T05:11:13.085Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry if it seems like we're attacking you, but really, even though you try to be on-topic, the effect is still "oh look, I've found a way of stretching this so it's about what I want to talk about". Take the time to put together the whole story. Tell it cleanly, completely, once, and see what happens. I'm interested to hear it myself. Until then, there's no need to advertise with "coming soon"-style comments.

comment by HughRistik · 2009-04-16T16:47:55.166Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Can't we all request that Lojban elaborate without jumping on him and down-voting him? It sounds like he has an interesting story, and I don't want to risk scaring him off. It takes time to sit down and crank out a good post. I've been saying "coming soon" about a couple things I've talked about and that some people are asking for more detail on.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-16T23:39:30.414Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Look at his posting history. We have tried that, and we are now at the "shit or get off the pot" stage.

comment by HughRistik · 2009-04-17T01:12:37.119Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe I'm more manipulative than you guys. I don't care that he is being obtuse and bringing up the same point over-and-over again. I just want him to tell his story, and I believe him if he says that it takes time to put it together. Treating him like a pariah isn't going to help anything. His comment seemed address to transsexuals reading this thread, who might not have been familiar with his previous posts. The opinion of transsexuals on this thread is very on-topic.