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Re: Debian, lists and discrimination

On Mon, Aug 09, 2004 at 04:42:06PM -0500, Peter Samuelson wrote:
> > I'm not convinced that this is a useful data point. Sounds like a
> > sample with a built-in bias. Anybody who writes a "style guide"
> > obviously has an axe to grind.
> Errrrr.  You act as though the style guides she looked at talked about
> nothing *except* gender pronouns.  Do you really think editorial
> guidelines for publications do not have anything else to talk about?
> You should consider the distant possibility that these guidelines would
> have existed anyway, with or without the third person singular pronoun
> issue.  To conclude they were necessarily composed by someone with an
> axe to grind about pronoun use is silly.

Who said anything about pronoun use? They're obviously written by
somebody with an axe to grind about writing style.

If you've ever read any of these things, you'll observe two common
themes: "My way is the only correct way to write English", and huge
numbers of essentially arbitrary rules.

> > The opposing data point is to observe that out of all the people who
> > are qualified to write such documents (hundreds, maybe thousands),
> > only six have made such comments.
> Are you implicitly accusing telsa of picking and choosing the style
> guidelines she wanted to quote?

Pretty much; that's the nature of a sample with a built-in bias. I
expect you're imagining that she did it deliberately, though. Most
people don't.

> I don't see how you can come away with the conclusion that
> these guides are not likely to be representative.

I recommend you obtain and read a copy of "How to lie with
statistics"; it will teach you how to properly interpret this sort of
thing, without actually having to study statistics.

Anyway, here's the classic extreme example, from memory:

A mail-in survey of white mail American homeowners asked the
respondants whether they liked filling in survey forms. The response
was almost entirely comprised of positive or neutral responses -
almost no negative responses.

(The book proceeds to explain why it's wrong and what the missing data
points are, and then covers some more subtle examples).

> It's not like the hundreds or thousands of people capable of writing
> style guidelines all happen to work for publishing companies that need
> such a thing written up.

That's another variation on the theme (think it through - such things
are really an exercise in bureaucracy, not literacy).

Have you ever heard of somebody writing a style guide to say that
"Actually, it doesn't matter which way you do it"? Can you see why the
notion of somebody doing this is absurd? That's a built-in bias. Style
guides will only be written by the people who will say that it *does*
matter; the people who will say that it doesn't have been excluded
from the sample because they don't see any reason to write it down.

  .''`.  ** Debian GNU/Linux ** | Andrew Suffield
 : :' :  http://www.debian.org/ |
 `. `'                          |
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