31 January 2011

Is Wikimedia Dumbing Down the Idiocracy?


Several areas of commerce, enterprise, and science remain the province of mainly-male participation. Physics, mathematics, advanced computer science, technical engineering, math-intensive sciences, aircraft test pilots and combat pilots, commercial sea captains, and so on. Most informed people understand that research is dominated by males, but few people realise that technical information intensive areas -- such as highly demanding reference information providers -- are also dominated by males. A lot of politically involved feminists would like to change that situation, but is there a danger in moving too forcefully from the top down when changes may adversely affect critically important services?
...surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of [Wikipedia's] hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.

About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University.

...The notion that a collaborative, written project open to all is so skewed to men may be surprising. After all, there is no male-dominated executive team favoring men over women, as there can be in the corporate world; Wikipedia is not a software project, but more a writing experiment — an “exquisite corpse,” or game where each player adds to a larger work.

...The public is increasingly going to Wikipedia as a research source: According to a recent Pew survey, the percentage of all American adults who use the site to look for information increased to 42 percent in May 2010, from 25 percent in February 2007. This translates to 53 percent of adults who regularly use the Internet.

Jane Margolis, co-author of a book on sexism in computer science, “Unlocking the Clubhouse,” argues that Wikipedia is experiencing the same problems of the offline world, where women are less willing to assert their opinions in public. “In almost every space, who are the authorities, the politicians, writers for op-ed pages?” said Ms. Margolis, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.

...Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas.

“Gender is a huge hot-button issue for lots of people who feel strongly about it,” she said. “I am not interested in triggering those strong feelings.”

Kat Walsh, a policy analyst and longtime Wikipedia contributor who was elected to the Wikimedia board, agreed that indirect initiatives would cause less unease in the Wikipedia community than more overt efforts.

But she acknowledged the hurdles: “The big problem is that the current Wikipedia community is what came about by letting things develop naturally — trying to influence it in another direction is no longer the easiest path, and requires conscious effort to change.” _NYT
The Wikipedia world is indeed a rough and tumble world of competitive edits and re-writes. If a person cannot withstand criticism and competition, they will not likely last long in that world.

The male hormone testosterone shapes the human brain in multiple ways not yet fully comprehended by science or society at large. Much of what science has learned about the influence of hormones such as testosterone on the gender differences so prevalent in society, is considered not politically correct -- and thus essentially unmentionable in left-leaning tabloids such as the New York Times, quoted above. Testosterone makes males more interested in objects than people, more competitive, have generally superior spatial and higher math skills, physically larger and stronger with greater stamina, tending to greater independence, and generally more logically determined and less emotional in the face of distractions.

Charles Murray's fascinating book, Human Accomplishment, provides a historical reflection of the phenomenon that Wikimedia's executives and critics are struggling with. Males have tended to achieve the lion's share of discoveries, inventions, and masterpieces of art, music, and literature as far back as history can tell.

A population shrinkage is occurring among the more intelligent people of the world -- Europeans and Northeast Asians -- while an explosive growth of population is occurring among the less intelligent people of the world. The average intelligence of the human population is inexorably dropping from near 90 points of IQ, downward -- close to the mid-80s and below. That qualifies as an Idiocracy.

In order to dumb down the Idiocracy, one must institute foolish rules of arbitrary and counter-productive governance, while educating the populace to accept dumbed-down groupthink rather than to think for themselves. It is easier than you might think. What Wikimedia is contemplating -- and what many western governments have done, and called affirmative action -- is an excellent example.

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