Saturday, March 29, 2008

Gender Genie: Fritz your wits about which sex you belong to?

There is an interesting exchange in the combox at "Neuroscience: Vive la (hardwired) difference between boys and girls." Recently, another commenter was annoyed by the fact that I reported on skepticism about whether this difference really shows up in communication patterns.

Science, I was informed, has settled the issue.

Well, I am not sure that the matter is simple enough to be "settled" by science. And, as it happens, the Gender Genie has just popped out of its lamp or castaway bottle or whatever today's genies use, to provide me with a handy tool.

Using an algorithm developed by Moshe Koppel, Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and Shlomo Argamon, Illinois Institute of Technology, you can find out whether the genie thinks you are a man or a woman by submitting a sample of your writing.

Given that the genie works best on texts of more than 500 words, I have decided to submit my five most recent columns for ChristianWeek.

It should be a fair test. The columns are always about 750 words in length. Editing is minimal, but in any event, I am submitting what I sent, not what was published. Let us see what the genie does. I am beginning right now at 9:09 am EST. The only changes I will make are to take out my byline and bioline. (I don't know whether these stereotyped elements prejudice the sample, but they are useless for our purposes.)

1. "Why science without God destroys itself":

Female Score: 560
Male Score: 1030
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Well, look up at the (authentic) photo in the box at the top right and see if you agree.

2. "Atheist philosopher follows the evidence wherever it leads ... to God!"
Female Score: 632
Male Score: 1011
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

You know, even genies have bad days. Let's try again.

3. "Key lessons from the stem cell controversy"

Female Score: 598
Male Score: 944
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Well, the male score is falling. Could the genie be having his (its) moments of intuition? On to No. 4.

4. "Transplant ethics: Dr. Murray, meet Dr. Market!"

Female Score: 814
Male Score: 921
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Well, the genie is clearly beginning to suspect something. Now for our last test:

5. "When our theories are wrong but don't feel wrong"

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!
Female Score: 716
Male Score: 873
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Of course, I am not alone. Pamela O'Connell of the New York Times submitted her arts column to the Genie, who also announced that she was male.

Genie-ologist Moshe Koppel told O'Connell that this happens because "people were entering texts that were too short and ignoring the fact that the algorithm was designed to assess fiction, not blog entries, e-mail or the other sundry nonfiction samples that dominate submissions."

Okay, I don't write fiction, so I can't offer a sample to test. But I know people who do write fiction for a living - and fiction is governed by conventions just like non-fiction.

Which is what set me thinking ... I wasn't born knowing how to write non-fiction. I was taught. Denyse O'Leary thinks that the editors of her work have mostly been: male!

The basic proposition was, write the stuff he wants or go get a job at WalMart.

So, down to one option, I wrote the way he wanted. And that's how I learned.

I will probably never know how I would write if no one had ever taught me any formal writing skills. I do not really want to know either. Those guys were good editors.

Thanks to their coaching, my work won a number of independently judged awards. In a country where most writers reportedly make about $5000 a year from the sales of their work, I am privileged to write for a living, thanks in large part to them.

So, given the complexity of human communications in the real world, I would say, Gender Genie, don't throw away that lamp and then float around waiting for Harvard to call ....

Oh, and by the way, the Gender Genie thinks that the author of this blog entry is ...

Do I really have to tell you? Okay, I will.

Female Score: 977
Male Score: 1091
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Note: Please do NOT panic if you try the Genie and it misassigns you as consistently as it has misassigned me. I don't take the Genie seriously and would not advise you to either. I assume that, like a roller coaster, it was meant to be fun. So if it's fun, fine. If you think it won't be, don't get involved, m'kay?

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