I’m a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researcher and programmer living slightly north of Castle Black. I study online communities, focusing on how people consume content, how user behaviour varies between desktop and mobile platforms, and how we can best understand systemic bias in peer-production communities.
He writes C++ and R code. His perspective sounds like the kind of contribution a lot of programming communities need, so I would think it valuable to keep him around. Unfortunately, he has resigned from the R community. He found something simple, obvious, and wrong, so he fixed it and submitted a report. Exactly as you’re supposed to do, right? Only this was the problem:
It points to a line in the R source code containing a variable called, with all seriousness…
I don’t think that this is an intentional sexual reference – far from it, I’m certain it’s just due to an absence of familiarity with one particularly crass English idiom, and I have only ever known the developer who wrote the code (whose first language is not English) to be entirely proper, entirely reasonable, and the model of what a productive Core member should be.
But it needs to go anyway: it’s exclusionary as all hell to have language like this in the core implementation and we can’t expect people to instantly understand intentions.
It seems like a minor issue, easily dealt with, and that the R Foundation ought to be appreciative or at least accept a slight improvement that does nothing but slightly sanitize the publicly available code. Nope. There were cries of “SJW thought-policing!” and shrieks of “PC!” and oh horrors, a line must be drawn in the sand to stop this slippery slope into a flaming tar pit of feminist sensitivity, a mixed metaphor which sounds like the worst beach ever. The fix was locked out.
The second was a set of emails from Duncan Murdoch, President of the R Foundation and an R Core member, in which he dismissed my “bug report” (note the skeptical scare quotes he put on it) “about some variable name that you find offensive is clearly an example of nothing more than shit-disturbing” and stated that myself, and those who had commented in favour of changing it, were no longer welcome to participate in R’s bug-tracker.
I independently confirmed that our accounts had been banned and locked – as had the bug, and replied to Duncan explaining my thinking and motivation and asking in what capacity the ban had been made.
There is some good news, though. The R Foundation eventually came around to reason and accepted the change, which only makes sense. Unfortunately, though, the news got spread around first, and there’s a certain kind of person in programming communities — usually white, male, libertarian, and extremely sensitive to suggestions that perhaps they are insensitive to their own privilege — who exploded in fury and demanded the immediate ejection of everyone who thought this was a reasonable change. You know the kind of person I’m talking about. The ones who object to political correctness so forcefully that they start policing everyone’s language, and the ones who tell everyone to grow a thicker skin while they are melting down in impotent fury because someone laughed at their dick pic.
You know, like Vox Day.
Theodore Beale (Vox) featured the story of the “IGiveHead” variable on his blog, and of course, his fans agreed with his demand to
Don’t cut them any slack. Don’t give them any second chances. Identify, eject, and ignore, and started the policing and impotent fury act, sending Oliver lots of email.
“Lots of email” to a data person says “lots of data”. So he analyzed it. Of course. And came up with a useful definition of “Arsehole”.
This isn’t a formal study so my definition of arsehole can be basically whatever I want it to be. I settled for any comment which exhibited one of the following traits:
Accused me of lying about everything that had happened to get some benefit that apparently comes alongside threats, harassment and weird emails. Nobody has explained to me what this benefit is but I eagerly await my cheque in the mail from the nefarious SJW cabal apparently causing me to make things up;
Contained threats, goading-towards-suicides, or generally obscene and targeted harassment;
Used terms like “SJW” or “pissbaby” or “whinging” or really anything else that indicated the author had, at best, a tenuous grasp on how the world works;
Was premised on the idea that I was “oversensitive” or “overreacting” which is pretty rich coming from people whose idea of acceptability includes insulting people they’ve never met on somebody else’s website.
So I took this definition and hand-coded the comments and grabbed the data. We ended up with 107 users, of whom a mere 40 weren’t arseholes, producing 183 comments in total. Then I worked out their referring site and geolocated their IP address, et voila.
And then he was able to say what the frequency of arseholes on various media were. The results were a little surprising, but of course, also skewed because he was only looking at individuals on those sites that had heard of his little conflict. But still, only 25% of user complaints from Twitter were arseholes? I would have put that number much higher. Only a bit more than 50% of the emailers from Reddit were arseholes? Impossible. But OK, that’s his data.
The one result I found entirely plausible: if your posting is prompted by reading something on Vox Day’s website, there’s a 100% chance you’re an arsehole.
Unsurprisingly, Vox Day’s readers are arseholes. Not just some of them, but all of them: every one of them who managed to painfully peck at their keyboard and hit save was a pillock of the highest calibre, contributing absolutely nothing of value to to the conversation.
It’s good to have empirical confirmation of something I always simply assumed was obviously true.