November 24, 2014
MarkBernstein.org
 
Follow me on Twitter

Call To Arms

Randi Harper (@freebsdgirl) has been getting death threats.

A staggering number of men that I know and respect have spoken to me privately, apologizing because they didn’t know this was happening. I’ve related those conversations to other women, and they were shocked. They didn’t understand how men could not see these problems.

When I was a doctoral candidate in chemistry, about half of my fellow candidates were women. A little less than half – we weren’t there yet, but we were getting close.

When I was getting started in Hypertext research, about half of the top researchers were women. A little less than half – we weren’t there yet, but clearly many of the top people in the field were women. Two of the first three Hypertext program chairs were women, and program chair was the seat of power. Another of that crew has since been president of the ACM and has been knighted.

Throughout my career, my perception has been that about half my colleagues were women. A little less than 50%, perhaps, but we were still getting there. I don’t teach and I don’t spend time in universities, but naturally I do try to know the top grad students and best young scholars in my field, and it’s been clear throughout that more than half have been women.

It’s also clear that I’ve been fooled by a statistical illusion. Enrollments in physical sciences are roughly what they were, enrollments in medical school have remained roughly the same, but the proportion of women in computer science is way down. I’m not seeing this because I’m not seeing a sample: the average student doesn’t come to my attention. I’m only likely to notice the best – the ones who not only publish papers as students, but the ones who publish good papers as students, the ones who are already near the top of the field before they leave school.

And I had no idea of the venom that could be directed – not just by crazed zealots but by supposedly neutral and sensible Wikipedians – against women in computing generally, and specifically against one particular woman who may once have romanced a reporter. She’s an adult, she can have dinner with whomever she likes. But the Wikipedia pictures and headlines must name her and shame her (Allegations Against ___), and we must discuss at endless length, over and over, just what she might have done and whether anyone anywhere has said that it was wrong, because a campaign of GamerGate supporters is ever-vigilant for any way to condemn her and women like her, which is to say women in computing.

And then, an editor – a Wikimedia admin! – writes about this specific woman that:

I know other other allegations exist but will not state what those on WP are because that would be a BLP violation at the current time.

and

We need to be aware that there are other things the proGg side would like WP to say but we are nowhere close to having any sources

Holy McCarthy! In my view, no one can honorably assist an enterprise that condones this.

So, yes, GamerGate has been an eye opener.