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Of Gender and Rationality

41 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 April 2009 12:56AM

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"

Comments (343)

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 16 April 2009 05:40:28AM *  49 points [-]

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 author: nancyhua 25 September 2012 05:19:23PM 7 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 20 March 2011 10:27:45PM *  8 points [-]

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 author: Aurini 16 April 2009 10:03:49AM 5 points [-]

Brilliant posts, Anna. Would you consider doing this?

Comment author: robirahman 12 January 2016 09:25:16PM 1 point [-]

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 author: AnnaSalamon 16 April 2009 02:04:39AM *  42 points [-]

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 author: Nanani 16 April 2009 02:26:44AM 12 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 20 March 2011 10:16:39PM *  2 points [-]

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 author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 April 2009 03:41:38AM 21 points [-]

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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 06:07:42AM *  22 points [-]

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 author: Vladimir_Nesov 16 April 2009 06:51:14PM *  4 points [-]

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 author: Cyan 16 April 2009 07:44:38PM *  13 points [-]

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 author: [deleted] 05 January 2014 05:43:34PM 3 points [-]

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 author: HughRistik 16 April 2009 04:26:21AM *  26 points [-]

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 author: CronoDAS 16 April 2009 02:50:38AM *  20 points [-]

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 author: Vladimir_Nesov 16 April 2009 06:32:32PM 2 points [-]

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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 06:45:18PM *  6 points [-]

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 author: byrnema 16 April 2009 06:58:29PM 1 point [-]

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 author: Alicorn 16 April 2009 05:07:27AM 4 points [-]

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

Comment author: taryneast 20 March 2011 10:55:58PM 1 point [-]

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 author: divia 16 April 2009 02:04:47AM 17 points [-]

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 author: AnnaSalamon 16 April 2009 02:06:27AM 6 points [-]

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 author: divia 16 April 2009 02:22:59AM *  14 points [-]

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 author: astray 16 April 2009 02:10:51PM 10 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 20 March 2011 11:31:10PM 4 points [-]

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 author: rabidchicken 20 March 2011 11:58:32PM 2 points [-]

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 author: Psy-Kosh 16 April 2009 03:26:30AM 5 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 20 March 2011 11:04:56PM 9 points [-]

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 author: divia 16 April 2009 09:35:51AM 3 points [-]

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 author: Psy-Kosh 16 April 2009 03:15:40PM 6 points [-]

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 author: badger 16 April 2009 03:56:29PM *  3 points [-]

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

Comment author: gwern 16 April 2009 05:44:05PM 2 points [-]

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 author: Psy-Kosh 16 April 2009 06:09:49PM 1 point [-]

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 author: gwern 18 April 2009 02:02:43AM 5 points [-]

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 author: AnnaSalamon 16 April 2009 03:15:48AM *  16 points [-]

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 author: Simulacra 16 April 2009 05:00:20AM 33 points [-]

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 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 author: pjeby 16 April 2009 05:07:26AM *  27 points [-]

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 author: AlanCrowe 16 April 2009 12:40:56PM 19 points [-]

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 author: dclayh 16 April 2009 03:59:07PM 1 point [-]

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 author: Jonii 14 July 2010 11:47:16AM 1 point [-]

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 author: Aurini 16 April 2009 09:59:09AM 4 points [-]

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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 05:12:36AM *  9 points [-]

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 author: ciphergoth 16 April 2009 08:12:49AM 3 points [-]

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 author: matt 16 April 2009 10:41:08AM 2 points [-]

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 author: MrHen 16 April 2009 01:47:51PM *  4 points [-]

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 author: dclayh 16 April 2009 04:07:26PM 7 points [-]

(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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 04:29:22PM 10 points [-]

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 author: dclayh 16 April 2009 07:23:59PM 1 point [-]

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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 07:34:45PM 2 points [-]

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 deleted 16 April 2009 08:16:58PM *  [-]
Comment author: pjeby 16 April 2009 09:49:51PM 6 points [-]

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 author: MrHen 16 April 2009 10:05:55PM 2 points [-]

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 author: JackChristopher 17 April 2009 02:37:25AM *  2 points [-]

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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 04:32:10PM 2 points [-]

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 author: MrHen 16 April 2009 06:22:31PM 3 points [-]

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 author: MBlume 17 April 2009 03:53:31AM 1 point [-]

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 author: AnnaSalamon 17 April 2009 01:19:56AM 11 points [-]

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 author: katydee 21 October 2010 04:17:04AM 11 points [-]

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 author: Michelle_Z 28 July 2011 01:22:11AM 3 points [-]

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 author: tenshiko 19 October 2010 11:50:17PM 11 points [-]


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 author: AnnaSalamon 20 October 2010 10:59:12AM 3 points [-]

Are you under 18?

Comment author: tenshiko 20 October 2010 11:19:58AM 12 points [-]

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 author: AnnaSalamon 20 October 2010 08:54:42PM 12 points [-]

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 author: OnTheOtherHandle 29 November 2010 01:38:10AM 18 points [-]

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 author: Perplexed 29 November 2010 01:46:50AM 7 points [-]

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 author: Perplexed 30 November 2010 05:39:02AM 6 points [-]

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 author: shokwave 30 November 2010 06:24:02AM *  5 points [-]

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 author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 08:14:20AM 1 point [-]

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 author: Celer 03 May 2011 12:23:40AM *  7 points [-]

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 author: hamnox 22 January 2011 02:41:33PM *  7 points [-]

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 author: IanKanchax 27 November 2010 10:08:25PM 11 points [-]

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 author: rabidchicken 01 December 2010 07:55:49AM *  7 points [-]

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 author: IanKanchax 03 December 2010 02:34:57AM 8 points [-]

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 author: rabidchicken 04 December 2010 11:21:27PM 3 points [-]

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 author: IanKanchax 06 December 2010 06:45:23PM 2 points [-]

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 author: wedrifid 03 December 2010 02:49:57AM *  1 point [-]

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 author: Solvent 22 July 2011 09:46:13AM 3 points [-]

(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 author: Randaly 30 November 2010 06:46:58AM 3 points [-]

I'm 16.

Comment author: NaomiLong 10 July 2011 08:56:53PM 2 points [-]

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 author: rabidchicken 01 December 2010 07:14:01AM 2 points [-]

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 author: benelliott 25 October 2010 12:57:33PM 2 points [-]

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

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 21 October 2010 03:22:40AM 0 points [-]

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

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 March 2011 03:46:21AM 3 points [-]

Don't call her "kid", grup.

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 18 March 2011 04:05:37AM *  2 points [-]

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 author: Larks 06 December 2010 07:40:12PM 1 point [-]

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

Comment author: peuddO 27 November 2010 06:25:19PM 1 point [-]

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 author: MorgannaLeFey 16 April 2009 02:28:47PM *  11 points [-]

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 author: PhilGoetz 16 April 2009 03:38:02PM *  3 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 21 March 2011 12:04:56PM 5 points [-]

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 author: Nanani 17 April 2009 03:03:21AM *  4 points [-]

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 author: gwern 16 April 2009 05:27:00PM 4 points [-]

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 author: PhilGoetz 16 April 2009 05:37:33PM *  3 points [-]

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 author: swestrup 16 April 2009 08:47:48PM 1 point [-]

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 author: CronoDAS 16 April 2009 10:04:11PM 1 point [-]

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 author: hamnox 22 January 2011 11:37:42PM 9 points [-]

(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 author: Michelle 16 April 2009 05:28:41AM 20 points [-]

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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 05:48:51AM *  6 points [-]

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 author: pjeby 16 April 2009 01:27:26AM 20 points [-]

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 author: AnnaSalamon 16 April 2009 01:41:03AM *  24 points [-]

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 author: Swimmer963 16 May 2011 01:50:52PM 6 points [-]

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 author: patrissimo 10 May 2009 01:32:30AM 6 points [-]

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 author: jimrandomh 16 April 2009 01:46:04AM 6 points [-]

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 author: Tom_Talbot 16 April 2009 04:03:49PM *  16 points [-]

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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 04:22:10PM *  7 points [-]

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 author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 April 2009 04:42:52PM 11 points [-]

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 author: Tom_Talbot 16 April 2009 04:49:30PM 2 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 21 March 2011 11:55:23AM *  6 points [-]

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 author: CronoDAS 16 April 2009 10:09:05PM *  1 point [-]

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.


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 author: dfranke 16 April 2009 08:06:02PM 5 points [-]

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 author: Nanani 17 April 2009 03:12:46AM 4 points [-]

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 author: mattnewport 17 April 2009 06:21:06AM 2 points [-]

Those examples suggest you're hanging out with entirely the wrong sort of people.

Comment author: Nanani 20 April 2009 12:35:54AM 6 points [-]

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 author: PhilGoetz 16 April 2009 02:48:02AM *  5 points [-]

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 author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 April 2009 03:47:44AM 3 points [-]

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 author: mattnewport 16 April 2009 04:11:03AM 16 points [-]

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 author: Jack 16 April 2009 04:16:33AM 3 points [-]

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 author: taw 16 April 2009 05:15:42AM 13 points [-]

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 author: AnnaSalamon 16 April 2009 05:58:29AM *  10 points [-]

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 author: spriteless 26 April 2009 06:31:16AM 5 points [-]

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

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 23 March 2012 10:05:04PM 3 points [-]

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 author: Jack 16 April 2009 05:55:22AM 5 points [-]

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

Comment author: taw 16 April 2009 01:44:45PM 5 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 21 March 2011 11:57:51AM *  5 points [-]

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 author: taw 21 March 2011 05:51:36PM 5 points [-]

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

Comment author: Jack 16 April 2009 06:41:12AM 2 points [-]

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

Comment author: SforSingularity 07 October 2009 11:49:36PM 1 point [-]

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 author: SforSingularity 07 October 2009 10:50:53PM *  4 points [-]

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 author: Virge 16 April 2009 02:30:03PM 4 points [-]

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 deleted 16 April 2009 08:57:23PM [-]
Comment author: MBlume 16 April 2009 09:10:03PM 1 point [-]

Skepchick is also notable, I think.

Comment author: taryneast 21 March 2011 02:21:34PM *  1 point [-]

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 author: mattnewport 16 April 2009 03:38:43AM 4 points [-]

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 author: RedRobot 05 December 2010 05:29:46PM *  15 points [-]

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 author: Alicorn 16 April 2009 02:15:28AM *  13 points [-]

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 author: Jack 16 April 2009 03:51:15AM 13 points [-]

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 author: MBlume 16 April 2009 03:59:11AM 7 points [-]

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.


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 author: MrHen 16 April 2009 07:00:25PM 1 point [-]

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 author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 April 2009 04:03:45AM 6 points [-]

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

Comment author: JulianMorrison 16 April 2009 07:43:50AM 12 points [-]

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 author: PhilGoetz 16 April 2009 03:29:47PM 2 points [-]

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 author: Nanani 16 April 2009 02:38:19AM 2 points [-]

Please don't do 2 and 3.

Comment author: Jack 16 April 2009 03:52:19AM *  2 points [-]

I overreacted a bit. Sorry.


Comment author: Alicorn 16 April 2009 02:46:00AM 2 points [-]

Why in particular don't you like those ideas?

Comment author: Nanani 16 April 2009 03:04:55AM *  8 points [-]

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 author: Alicorn 16 April 2009 05:20:50AM 4 points [-]

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 author: pjeby 16 April 2009 04:43:12AM 1 point [-]

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 author: billswift 16 April 2009 03:27:04PM *  6 points [-]

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 author: pjeby 16 April 2009 03:39:15PM 1 point [-]

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 author: Jacobian 19 July 2015 05:56:13PM *  3 points [-]

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 author: Vaniver 20 July 2015 01:28:06AM *  1 point [-]

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 author: Nanani 16 April 2009 01:53:00AM *  10 points [-]

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 author: MichaelVassar 16 April 2009 06:16:51AM 7 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 21 March 2011 11:42:35AM 2 points [-]

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 author: Indon 16 May 2013 10:36:13PM *  6 points [-]

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 author: lessdazed 09 August 2011 04:15:37PM *  6 points [-]

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 author: James_Miller 16 April 2009 02:08:40AM 15 points [-]


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.


Comment author: HughRistik 16 April 2009 02:58:28AM *  12 points [-]

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 author: astray 16 April 2009 01:59:51PM 2 points [-]

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 author: Alicorn 16 April 2009 02:30:13AM 10 points [-]

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 author: AlanCrowe 16 April 2009 12:10:03PM 3 points [-]

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 author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 April 2009 04:06:55AM *  3 points [-]

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

Comment author: ciphergoth 16 April 2009 10:21:19AM 0 points [-]

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 author: SoullessAutomaton 16 April 2009 10:39:25AM 5 points [-]

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 author: dclayh 16 April 2009 03:33:59PM 1 point [-]

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 author: Zvi 16 April 2009 02:10:03PM 1 point [-]

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 author: AlexU 16 April 2009 10:31:00PM 8 points [-]

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 author: AspiringKnitter 12 March 2012 05:52:12AM 9 points [-]

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 author: swestrup 16 April 2009 01:46:01AM 4 points [-]

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 author: Crampton 16 April 2009 02:11:13AM 5 points [-]

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 author: MAVIS 17 April 2009 01:32:45PM 3 points [-]

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 author: PhilGoetz 16 April 2009 06:24:29PM 3 points [-]

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 author: steven0461 16 April 2009 08:06:44PM 4 points [-]

Karma-based explanations don't explain why we saw the same gender imbalance on OB.

Comment author: hhadzimu 16 April 2009 08:39:51PM 3 points [-]

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 author: aausch 20 May 2011 08:02:01PM -1 points [-]

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 author: aausch 22 May 2011 12:14:23AM 2 points [-]

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 author: AdeleneDawner 22 May 2011 12:25:44AM 1 point [-]

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 author: wedrifid 22 May 2011 06:56:42AM 1 point [-]

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 author: Mike12390 16 April 2009 04:24:38AM -2 points [-]

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 author: Jack 16 April 2009 04:40:09AM 3 points [-]

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 author: Mike12390 16 April 2009 04:58:37AM *  2 points [-]

Well here's a paper about the changes in surnames in Britain between 1600 to 1851. This is recent evolutionary selection.


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.


Comment author: Jack 16 April 2009 05:32:16AM 5 points [-]

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 author: Mike12390 16 April 2009 05:59:58AM *  1 point [-]

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 author: Jack 16 April 2009 06:27:14AM 2 points [-]

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 author: taryneast 21 March 2011 03:09:49PM *  1 point [-]

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 author: AntonioAdan 04 October 2014 10:33:21AM 1 point [-]

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 author: [deleted] 05 January 2014 05:34:52PM 1 point [-]

higher cognitive temperature

That sounds like something very similar to what the Big Five model of personality calls Openness (see here).

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2014 05:32:33PM 1 point [-]

(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?