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Gender bias on Wikipedia
September 18, 2012 6:26 AM   Subscribe

A data visualization reveals the gender bias in thousands of Wikipedia articles.

While articles on the 1940 Pride and Prejudice film, gender identity, the sport of reining and scoleciphobia (fear of worms) were edited by a relatively even balance of men and women, the same cannot be said for articles on The Sting, worry, mud-wrestling and the Marvel cinematic universe, all entirely edited by men.

Previously.

via reddit's delightful r/dataisbeautiful and Digital Analog.
posted by dontjumplarry (50 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
What if the editor self-reports their identity as "dog"?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:31 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Enrique Iglesias?
posted by nathancaswell at 6:32 AM on September 18, 2012


Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, that figures I guess.
posted by ominous_paws at 6:35 AM on September 18, 2012


Also, Tom Brady and Human Penis Size both on the women side of the line! This chart is fun.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:36 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


=D Ok, Tom Brady being there is an excellent surprise.
posted by ominous_paws at 6:37 AM on September 18, 2012


The visualisation of this data makes one thing clear: More men should write about cloth menstrual pads and fewer women should write about gender identity.
posted by three blind mice at 6:38 AM on September 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'd like to see a similar graph with height, weight, hair color and eye color as axes.
posted by DU at 6:40 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


13x more male editors than female? Is it a competitive thing?
posted by MangyCarface at 6:45 AM on September 18, 2012


It isn't immediately obvious that the 1:1 line is the steep one to the far left.
Also, Tom Brady and Human Penis Size both on the women side of the line! This chart is fun.
The only thing I see on the woman-majority side is Cloth Menstrual Pad.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:48 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


13x more male editors than female? Is it a competitive thing?

The graph is pretty hard to read, I believe the placements on the X axis are adjusted for the fact that there are 13x the male editors as female editors or something... actually it looks like both axes are adjusted now that I look at it again.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:49 AM on September 18, 2012


How do they know which editor is which? If they go by the editors' home page, then there must be a fair amount with no gender information. The gender-anonymous may well skew far more female than male.
posted by Jehan at 6:50 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was initially assuming that the 3 numbers were total edits, number of female editors, number of male editors for some reason... but I have no basis for that because there is no indication anywhere what those numbers represent.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:51 AM on September 18, 2012


13x the male editors as female editors or something

Exactly. Also, the 3 #s are male editors, female editors, and ratio. Graph is adjusted according to the user demographics survey of wikipedia, which puts editors at that 13:1 gender ratio
posted by MangyCarface at 7:12 AM on September 18, 2012


Where is the evidence of gender bias? Typically the phrase is reserved for unequal treatment or expectations based on gender. I don't why we would or should expect men and women to edit their hobby articles in equal amounts.
posted by Brian B. at 7:19 AM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


WHAT?!?! The article on "cloth menstrual pads" is biased towards women? That's crazy talk!*


please note, the views expressed above do not necessarily reflect the views of the user making the comment
posted by blue_beetle at 7:20 AM on September 18, 2012


[Make your mansplaining jokes elsewhere and talk like an adult who wants to talk to other adults, please. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:25 AM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


By this logic, a woman that writes an article on Ernest Hemingway is sexist?
posted by four panels at 7:26 AM on September 18, 2012


I'm confused. What, specifically, is the evidence of "gender bias" shown by this graph?
posted by dfriedman at 7:27 AM on September 18, 2012


What's interesting to me [and I am on the advisory board of the Wikimedia Foundation, so my interest is not just a sideline thing] is that if you go to the survey that the NYT article links to, the self-reported stats on gender indicates that the bulk of the edits are done by men but also the bulk of the reading of Wikipedia is also done by men (69% to 31%). This is different from other statistics that don't show much of a difference between whether someone is a contributor or a reader (percentage with children, for example). I wonder about that and what, if anything, it says about who responds to surveys, and also who willingly identifies as female.

I know that working towards having a more diverse contributor base is something really important to the Wikimedia Foundation and some of the new options for interacting with Wikipedia (the little rating options at the end of the articles, some steps to make the editing process easier) are part of that.
posted by jessamyn at 7:34 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


"WHERE ARE THE WOMEN WIKI CONTRIBUTORS" laments a contrite internet, just before making a sandwich joke.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:37 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


bias (n) /ˈbīəs/:

1) Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair

- there was evidence of bias against foreign applicants
- the bias toward younger people in recruitment
- a systematic bias in favor of the powerful

2) A concentration on or interest in one particular area or subject

- he worked on a variety of Greek topics, with a discernible bias toward philosophy


3) A systematic distortion of a statistical result due to a factor not allowed for in its derivation

4) An edge cut obliquely across the grain of a fabric

5) In some sports, such as lawn bowling, the irregular shape given to a ball

6) The oblique course that such a shape causes a ball to run

7) A steady voltage, magnetic field, or other factor applied to an electronic system or device to cause it to operate over a predetermined range
posted by graphnerd at 7:44 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I get that the diversity of article topics does skew towards 'male' interests, especially in the realm of entertainment, sports and hobbies, but is there any evidence to suggest that there really is a gender bias within articles where one would consider the topic itself gender-neutral? Would an editorial team of women produce a radically different article than a team of men or team of men and women if the topic was Inflation... or Magnetism... or Taiwan... or Cyanobacteria... or Baked Beans?
posted by rh at 7:44 AM on September 18, 2012


How do they know which editor is which?

If you have an account there is an option to disclose gender on the preferences page, beneath which it says "Optional: Used for gender-correct addressing by the software. This information will be public". The default is "undisclosed".
posted by mattn at 7:45 AM on September 18, 2012


So... more male editors write about Mrs. Doubtfire, but masturbation is split 50/50? I really don't know what to do with this information, but at least I have learned something today.
posted by harujion at 7:48 AM on September 18, 2012


This visualization is awesome even without politicizing what gender bias might mean. It's a bit confusing at first. Zoom way out with the mouse wheel or the slider in lower right; it's easier to start with the giant overview. Note that the nearly vertical line is 1:1 gender ratios, and the orange line from corner to corner is the average editor population of 12.9:1. Those two lines are interesting benchmarks.

There are almost no articles edited more by women than men. That's a pretty striking observation.

I'm also curious about the outliers that don't have obvious gender specification. Why is "The Beatles" so heavily male edited? Or "President of the United States" or "India"? My pet theory is that it's that men are more willing to get into edit wars than women, but I have no evidence for that. It'd be interesting to correlate the gender data with edit activity or some other measure of contention.
posted by Nelson at 7:53 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


While Wikipedia likely has more men than women editing entries, the methodology of this visualization seems dubious. I only spent a few minutes delving into this, so I'm no expert, but I don't see how you can make any broad assertions based on the data Wikipedia actually offers.

When you sign up, the default gender of your Wikipedia account is "Undisclosed". The API used for this visualization doesn't reflect that, and shows only "male" or "female" editors. A quick read of this 2011 study on gender bias in Wikipedia edits says that only 2.8% of all Wikipedians actually make a gender choice public.

Also, many of the same editors show up repeatedly, making consecutive edits. So someone who makes several short sequential edits rather than submitting multiple edits at once may make their gender look much more prominent.

The survey that Jessamyn links to above is also based on voluntary, self-selected responses. It would be nice to see a more rigorous effort to acquire hard data on the subject before making too many sweeping generalizations. It may be that women are just more likely not to declare their gender at all.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 8:03 AM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you have an account there is an option to disclose gender on the preferences page, beneath which it says "Optional: Used for gender-correct addressing by the software. This information will be public". The default is "undisclosed".
I have an account which, unlike my one here, reflects my actual gender. Yet I've never switched that option to "female". I would guess that women have more of a reason making a gender-neutral account, though I guess this gender disclosure isn't easily viewable? Jessamyn's link to survey results suggest that there really is a bias toward men editing Wikipedia, but I'm still dubious that this fine grained page-by-page data can really work. If we know 15 women and 50 men have edited a page, that might be meaningless if they're only 65 out of 130.

On preview, as above.
posted by Jehan at 8:10 AM on September 18, 2012


Would an editorial team of women produce a radically different article than a team of men or team of men and women if the topic was Inflation... or Magnetism... or Taiwan... or Cyanobacteria... or Baked Beans?

Some of the articles that skew extremely male (like a 20:1 ratio of male to female contributors) include India, China, the Roman Empire, World War One, world population and the world wide web. These articles are the go-to information resource on these topics for the entire English-speaking world, and I think it's hugely significant if they are being written almost entirely by men (and yeah there's a big question mark over the data validity due to self-selection).

But the gender bias of contributors certainly seems to translate to article content in many places. Take the article on India. Nothing at all on the role of women in India, except for a brief mention of patriarchy in North India in ancient times. Oh, and two sentences describing traditional Indian women's clothing. Of course, there is a copious amount on sport, a traditionally male domain in India.
posted by dontjumplarry at 8:14 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


2) A concentration on or interest in one particular area or subject

- he worked on a variety of Greek topics, with a discernible bias toward philosophy

3) A systematic distortion of a statistical result due to a factor not allowed for in its derivation


Neither of these definitions makes much sense in the context of an article having bias. Even if the information here is reliable it doesn't finish the sentence "The article has a concentration on or interest in one particular area or subject because..." or "The article has a systematic distortion of a statistical result due to a factor not allowed for in its derivation because..."
posted by Winnemac at 8:34 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


dfriedman: I'm confused. What, specifically, is the evidence of "gender bias" shown by this graph?

The answers above are pretty oblique, so in plainer English; this graph tries to correct for the overall inequality of males to females on Wikipedia (about 13:1), and then tries to figure out what topics are of more interest to either gender.

In other words, if you have 13 men for every woman, then a topic of equal interest to both should have roughly 13 edits from men for every 1 edit from a woman. So, that's how this graph is divided; the 45 degree diagonal is the 13:1 ratio. Subjects near that line are, if you're willing to grant the hypothetical that we're actually measuring this, roughly of equal interest to both sexes. The further left something is, the higher the female ratio becomes; right of the line, men are even more dominant than usual.

It's not measuring Wikipedia's bias, it's trying to measure the inherent bias of topics, and then graphing those topics so that you can see that, say, women are much more interested in Justin Bieber than men are (to grab the most obvious example).

This graph, in other words, isn't accusation, it's exploration.
posted by Malor at 8:58 AM on September 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


A simple pie diagram of "she" vs "he" in English language Wikipedia articles would probably also predictably skew towards "he".
posted by Harald74 at 9:13 AM on September 18, 2012


TIL: Metafilter does not know the meaning of the word bias.
posted by Artw at 9:21 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Years ago, I encouraged a 6 year old girl to edit the Wikipedia. It was satisfying to see the transition from "hey, I'm allowed to edit!" to "let's fix this."

(an article on Bratz dolls. One works on what one knows.)
posted by zippy at 9:26 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


One thing I'd be curious to know is if the gender bias has shifted much as Wikipedia has become more insular. Of course, we could debate cause and effect regarding that gender bias till the cows come home.
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on September 18, 2012


Well put, Malor.

As for the limitations of the dataset, an ad-hoc check of a couple of the low editor-count pages from the graph shows things don't look so good.

I took a look at the revision history for Helen Keller in Her Story, chosen because the editor-count appeared low enough to be able to just tally things up by hand.

The graph has for this page (leftmost dot on the third row of dots from the bottom) the numbers (8, 2, 4), which seems to mean that they've counted 8 male editors and 2 female editors, for a male:female ratio of 4.

Counting up the unique editors by hand, however, shows edits from 19 logged-in users, 8 unique anonymous IP addresses, and 9 bots.

So the graph's dataset for this entry is restricted to around half the logged-in users and around a third of the total users.

Applying the same to a second page -- this time Affliction (film) (leftmost dot on the second row of dots from the bottom) -- we see the chart showing (9, 1, 9), 9 male editors and 1 female editor, while the history page shows (assuming I haven't erred in some of this manual counting) 47 logged-in users and 26 unique IP-address edits (and 17 bots). So here we have the chart sampling only ~21% percent of logged-in users and down to as little as ~13.7% of total editors.

Still, this is neat, even if not as precise as one would like.
posted by nobody at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd encourage women to edit things on Wikipedia, but given that I don't edit Wikipedia because I've learned that pretty much whenever you do some idiot with more time than sense will come along and re-error it for you, maybe with a condescending message on the talk page, I think that might be kind of a dick move on my part.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:42 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Take the article on India. Nothing at all on the role of women in India, except for a brief mention of patriarchy in North India in ancient times. Oh, and two sentences describing traditional Indian women's clothing. Of course, there is a copious amount on sport, a traditionally male domain in India.

I would ask you to add that information since this is Wikipedia we're talking about, but it appears you're likely a man and I don't want to make the problem worse. Maybe you could encourage a knowledgeable female friend or relative to contribute the missing information.
posted by michaelh at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd encourage women to edit things on Wikipedia, but given that I don't edit Wikipedia because I've learned that pretty much whenever you do some idiot with more time than sense will come along and re-error it for you, maybe with a condescending message on the talk page, I think that might be kind of a dick move on my part.

That is totally unrepresentative of my experience.

And I also think that comments like this may be part of the problem, in that they encourage the expectation that editing Wikipedia will be an endless struggle against aggressive idiots who revert helpful edits off hand -- and women, for reasons due to their socialisation and relative lack of leisure time, are more likely to be deterred by the possibility of such aggressive confrontations than men.
posted by mattn at 11:00 AM on September 18, 2012


I hope someone brings to light the gender bias in the fashion world too. When will someone think of all the straight males that are under-represented in the fashion world?!?! There's just SO much bias!

Seriously people. Some things tend to interest one gender (or sexual orientation, or race even) more than others. It's not the end of the world. I bet Wikipedia is largely edited by people on the autistic spectrum, which (correct me if I'm wrong) tends to affect males more.

Articles like this cheapen the cause of identifying actual discrimination and bias, y'know, the kind with REAL WORLD ramifications. The author should be ashamed. This was really weak.
posted by MattMangels at 11:54 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Quoting MattMangels: Seriously people. Some things tend to interest one gender (or sexual orientation, or race even) more than others. It's not the end of the world. [...] The author should be ashamed. This was really weak.

You're knee-jerking about a valence of the word 'bias' that isn't being activated here. There are literally no conclusions being drawn.

Please tell me you did not just use the word "manspailing" in a serious fucking context. (-_-)'

(I assume the deleted jokey comments must have been using the word?)
posted by nobody at 12:27 PM on September 18, 2012


This is cool. As someone who pretends to be aware of gender bias online, I was actually quite surprised to learn that there are 12.9 male wikipedia editors for every female. Yes, I know it's based on self-reported stats, and I'm sure there are potential reasons why females are less likely to self-report on their own gender, but as a male, I was still surprised to learn how pervasive this bias is.

Second, the extreme "male-dominated outliers" are pretty interesting topics in and of themselves. Gives a whole new meaning to "Apple fanboys," eh? Other interesting male-dominated topics include (for those who don't click the link) India, Apple, Google, Windows Vista, Microsoft, China, The Korean War, Avatar.

There's obvious gaming going on right now, as "cloth menstrual pad" has moved closer to being the only article listed with a 1-1 ratio, implying that /b/ has discovered the survey...
posted by antonymous at 12:27 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and women, for reasons due to their socialisation...are more likely to be deterred by the possibility of such aggressive confrontations than men.

You say this like it's a bad thing but as I gain in years (and presumably wisdom) I find myself starting to make a comment somewhere and then thinking, "Dude, are you about to get into an argument with a madman or a fool? Why?"

If women are wise enough to eschew arguments with fools and madmen, maybe the right answer is to do something about the fools and madmen rather than encourage women to have arguments with them on the internet.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:21 PM on September 18, 2012


Women don't write about Sachin Tendulkar?
posted by mattoxic at 2:21 PM on September 18, 2012


The article title is a bit misleading for those of us who think in the vernacular, but it's absolutely correct. My initial reaction was "what bias?", after which it became "so what's the problem?". Now I've realized that the article isn't calling this (necessarily) a problem, so I'm sadly bereft of things to complain about.
posted by Edgewise at 3:11 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you'd like to introduce female friends of yours to the friendly side of English Wikipedia so they can feel more comfortable editing, show them the Teahouse, which is peer support for new editors. "We are here to help new editors become accustomed to community culture, ask questions, and develop community relationships – supporting you on your journey to become experienced Wikipedians."
posted by brainwane at 3:26 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Disclosure - I work for the Wikimedia Foundation, but not on the Teahouse.)
posted by brainwane at 3:26 PM on September 18, 2012


I'm also curious about the outliers that don't have obvious gender specification. Why is "The Beatles" so heavily male edited? Or "President of the United States" or "India"? My pet theory is that it's that men are more willing to get into edit wars than women, but I have no evidence for that.

It's a hell of a hypothesis, though. Would there be a straightforward algorithmic approach to identifying which articles tend to invite edit wars?
posted by mr_roboto at 3:51 PM on September 18, 2012


In other Wikipedia news: Corruption in Wikiland? Paid PR scandal erupts at Wikipedia
posted by homunculus at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2012


Malor, thanks for the advice on how to read the graph. I got a lot more out of it after reading your comment.

mattn: "And I also think that comments like this may be part of the problem, in that they encourage the expectation that editing Wikipedia will be an endless struggle against aggressive idiots who revert helpful edits off hand -- and women, for reasons due to their socialisation and relative lack of leisure time, are more likely to be deterred by the possibility of such aggressive confrontations than men."

Huh? I'm not getting that second half from his comment at all. It reads to me as "editing on Wikipedia is a thankless struggle against idiots, so I would be a dick to recommend that other people do something that I myself find too repugnant to engage in".
posted by Bugbread at 12:35 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]




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