Is Your Report Biased? How To Tell.

I wonder if Rachel Brenc thinks the Iraq Study Group's report was biased. After all, of the ten members of the panel who issued the report, nine were all of one gender, with only one of the opposite gender.

Oh wait a minute, it's okay. There were nine penises on the Iraq Study Group, so bias clearly isn't an issue here.

Actually, there are two factors at play here. If the NSF report Beyond Bias and Barriers had been issued by a panel of seventeen men and one women, I am pretty sure Rachel and her ilk would still not have been happy with it. No, the fuss about the supposedly biased panel members is just a cover for the dissatisfaction with the message. If they didn't have the panel to fuss about they'd still deny the evidence in front of their eyes, even if they had to distort it and misread it - as Rachel did in her "critique". (Though whether she did so intentionally or because she really was unable to correctly read and interpret the various text and figures is unclear.)

With something like the Iraq Study Group, people can go right to fussing about the contents of the report, because they automatically accept the authority of panels dominated by men - though notice the particular way in which they do not fuss about its contents. Those who disagree with the report's contents do not claim that the contents are biased because of the gender composition of the panel. They do not claim that the panel selectively chose information favorable to their perspective as men investigating the Iraq war. They do not claim that the nine male panel members must have "de-feminized" the one female panel member just by there being so many men present in the room with her at one time.

No, they don't do any of that silly stuff, because they don't see the contents as controversial in the light of gender. Only controversial in the light of war and politics, which they think have nothing to do with gender (though, of course, both do).

To sum up:

  • Your panel has authority when it is dominated by men.
  • Your panel is biased when it is dominated by women.
  • Your report's contents can be considered and debated at face value if they don't explicitly address gender.
  • Your report's contents are automatically suspect and biased if it in anyway appears to explicitly address gender.
  • Your group, if majority male, will not de-feminize a lone female.
  • Your group, if majority female, will of course emasculate a lone male.
  • You and your report are treated with respect and grave consideration - if majority male.
  • You and your report are treated with mocking scorn and hostility - if majority female.

To sum up the sum up: Men, who are important and to be taken seriously, issue serious reports on serious topics. Women are a joke; long live The King!

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this is why a room of 1,000 men and 1 woman, in french, would still be referred to by a male plural pronoun, such as "ils".

i was a little surprised the first time i had this clarified for me.

interesting, non? and yet they might still have a female president, and i doubt we ever will.

but the swiss-germans are the best. they call women by "it". and that might well be related to why women as a whole got the vote there in the late 80's.

language matters so much because it does in fact reflect what we think.

I can't believe I'm going to write this, but, it's not really the same to compare a study on why women are so slow to achieve equality in the sciences that was conducted by women scientists to an Iraq study group report produced by male Americans. I'm not saying having men on the panel would have made it more accurate (I suspect it would have made it less accurate), just that I grudgingly see the point, although I don't think the report was biased. It's like this argument I was having with a (really stubborn) colleague of mine about rising global surface temperatures, yes, the thermometers may have changed in proximity to urban centers due to sprawl, a possible bias, but I think the conclusion is correct.

And, sigh, I think the points you listed are far enough from the truth that I disagree with them. I can't believe I'm writing this. I love your blog, and I know you're an attack engineer, so I feel I should end my post with "You want a piece of me? Bring it on!!!" I experience the subtle devaluation of women's views, but I don't think the effect is strong enough to warrant your statements. If it were I might as well go kill myself now. And I'm all for screaming out when necessary, you don't need to talk nicely to anyone.

But ask yourself this question: Can you imagine an Iraq report authored by women?

Let alone actual Iraqis? Maybe that is a better parallel.

The whole thing is a farce on several levels. I agree, Nicole, that the analogy is not really direct, but there is still something to shake a stick at here. We can't trust women to write about their own condition in the same way that we can't trust Iraqis to write about theirs. Oh, those silly women and violent arabs! They should leave real decisions to the big white boys from the West.

anon said

We can't trust women to write about their own condition in the same way that we can't trust Iraqis to write about theirs.

If this is what Zuska was getting at, I'm afraid it's not very clear in her post. It's correct, though. I would point out however, that the Iraq study group's report is an attempt to rearticulate America's strategy in Iraq, not Iraq's strategy in Iraq. The Iraqis are welcome to write their own strategy, and to try to implement it.

The US is a male-biased society, in terms of policy, with little value placed on human quality of life, and government policy is typically focused on business and the military. There is little real concern for education, equality, health, and most other forms of human welfare, although there is much interest in privatizing these sectors. I would agree that the bias issue is evident in most things, except people can't really see outside of the box they are in. Americans are generally ignorant of the lives and benefits of the largely secular, and more humane, EU societies.

That said, my real concern is that Baker, the more well-known of the ISG, and likely others on the panel, has an incentive in prolonging the war, since he and his clients make money from war and its effects, including exaggerated profits from oil flow disruption.

Zuska's point stand even if her example was slightly off: the white middleclass or preferable upperclass heterosexual male is the measure of all things, anybody else may be added as a token figure, but if too many of "those people" join any group it becomes weird.

The furore about "Beyond Bias and Barriers" is a special case of an old truth: that any observation only matters if it's done by a white middleclass or preferable upperclass heterosexual male and not so much if it's done by a person "obviously" biased like, well, a woman or a black person or whatever.

I've seen the same effect in so many online discussions of racism in American society for example, where one black person after another told of their obvious racist encounters only to have them arily dismissed by white participants that "they've never encountered this and something must be wrong with you that you have".

And you should believe me, because I am a white middleclass or preferable upperclass heterosexual male...

Wake up, people.
If it happened to be composed of 9 Iraquis and one American, then she'd probably think it was biased. When the victim/group in question is the majority, that's where it loses credibility. I don't know who the women on the panel were, but if they've all had an axe to grind against men the last few decades of their life (maybe originating with some incident regarding some puking on a shoe), then it's going to show up in the report.

Blog owner's comment: "I don't know who the women on the panel were..." Then you aren't terribly qualified to comment on their credibility now, are you?