The SJWs are taking over Science Fiction!


I’m not particularly fond of circular logic, but it sure gets used a lot. Here’s an example: there are more men working in tech than women, therefore men are better at coding than women. It’s easy to find people who accept that reasoning without a qualm.

But those same people balk at another example: more women than men are getting published in science fiction now, therefore women are better writers than men. They go to extraordinary lengths to rationalize away the current difference. Why, the SJWs must be actively discriminating against men! I can prove it using math, because men are also naturally better at math than women!

I have found the most remarkable example of this “proof”. This fellow has gone through back issues of various magazines and tallied up the number of male and female authors published — and also the number of “not real sex” authors, which sort of tells you right there what kind of regressive asswipe we’re dealing with. He comes to the conclusion that there’s a huge discrepancy in the numbers of F&SF stories getting published by men and women, and that it’s the product of a conspiracy by SJWs to actively harm men. Really!

It’s been obvious for a long time in publishing that men need not apply, you’re not welcome. But now in the 2% where men were actually allowed to compete, it’s been completely taken over by social justice warriors who don’t care in the least about equality, but want to actively harm men both as professionals and readers.

In order to demonstrate this, he engages in some amazing cherry picking and distortion of the statistics. He plugs numbers into a spreadsheet and then does some weird analysis. For example, here’s the month-by-month counts for a podcast, the Escape Pod. The thing is, there are huge numbers of podcasts out there — why is he selecting this one? Is he going to exhaustively summarize the state of the podcast genre (no, of course not, because that would be a huge undertaking), or is he selecting this one because it will support his claim? You know it’s the latter. I looked it up, and here’s one of the criteria for entries in the podcast:

We are especially interested in seeing more submissions from people of backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented or excluded from traditional SF publishing, including, but not limited to, women, people of color, LGBTQ or non-binary gender people, persons with disabilities, members of religious minorities, and people from outside the United States.

If you identify as part of these or other underrepresented groups, we welcome and encourage you to indicate so when you send us your story. We acknowledge the reality of unconscious bias and will make our best efforts to account for it during the editorial review process. Our goal is to publish fiction that reflects the diversity of the human experience.

So yes, they intentionally are casting a wide net, and are trying to bring in diverse writers. They aren’t discriminating against men at all.

So let’s see the numbers.

So a podcast that is actively encouraging diverse submissions still includes 20 stories from men, vs. 30 stories from women. That’s not bad at all. But wait: what’s that number? He’s saying that there are 50% more stories by women than men? That’s odd. How does he get that?

Looking at several of his examples, it becomes obvious: he’s taking the difference in the number of stories by men and women, and then dividing, not by the total number of stories, but by the number of of stories by men. It’s a way to amplify and exaggerate the differences — it allows him later to claim that some magazines publish 247% more women! 306% more women! Aaaiee! It’s a bullshit statistic, though.

And then there’s this interesting table: these are the long-standing big names in SF publishing: Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF. There are more men getting published in the established magazines than women! You would think this would be a troubling statistic for his thesis.

So magazines that encourage diversity in their authorship get fewer submissions from men, which is totally unsurprising. What is odd is that a couple of magazines buck the trend. Why? Our intrepid investigator has an explanation.

The oldest of the old guard of magazines still seem to be a safe place to submit if you’re a man. Now the numbers look very skewed in men’s favors and a feminist might cry foul here saying that these magazines actually discriminate against women. This is where they’re wrong. A source that will remain nameless told me that the editor of Asimov’s, Sheila Williams, prints male to female stories in the ratio of submissions she receives. Even though the monthlies look a little suspect, if these periodicals still work in an old way of proportionate representation of submissions, this is probably an accurate picture of what Science Fiction authors make ups are overall, and what one should expect were that more the case.

Uh, wait. This is actually a bit bothersome. I expect the role of the editor is to select the best quality stories for publication, without regard for the identity of the author. This guy is actually saying that this is not true for Asimov’s — that they have a quota system. If 60% of the submissions for that month are from men, they decide that, regardless of quality, 60% of the published stories for that month have to come from that pile? So all the guys have to do is throw lots and lots of trash at the magazine, and they’ll effectively squeeze out stories from women authors?

Excuse me, but I don’t really believe that. If true, though, that works both ways, and all the women have to do to break the male hegemony at Asimov’s is to submit, submit, submit stories. Fish the crappy stuff out of the wastebasket and send it in anyway — it probably won’t get published, but it will enable more of your sister writers to get in.

Which is why I don’t believe this story.

But then take a look at his conclusion.

If you’re a man, even with the skewed results of the legacy three magazines of Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF, that are vocal about the fact that they’re proportionate in representation of submissions, you’re hosed. An analysis of all the markets that accept these submissions on a monthly basis (I left out Lightspeed Magazine which has dead even results), the total discrimination against men is big. The totals of all stories published in this market survey over a year are:

Men: 426

Women: 487

Which means women have a 14.3% advantage just in sheer numbers of stories published. If the industry holds with ratios of 4:1 submissions, and say the accepted represents about 1% of all submissions, it means there’s about 91,300 submissions in the industry. Rough estimates puts men at 73,040 submissions and women at 18,260 submissions.

First look at that bit I highlighted: he threw out a data point because Lightspeed Magazine happened to have equal representation of men and women authors — that is, he discarded data that didn’t fit his hypothesis. You don’t get to do that! He doesn’t even seem to be aware that this is a great big flaming no-no in data analysis. Of course, given how he chose to inflate numbers throughout, it’s not surprising that he’s clueless here.

Second, he’s claiming that discrimination against men is big, yet all he’s got to show for it is a difference of 426 to 487? What’s the statistical significance of that? Wait, scratch that: his methodology means that at best he’s confirming a bias he favored with his process, which isn’t particularly interesting. He intentionally selected magazines that are trying to acquire a diverse audience, so of course he sees some underrepresentation of men. It doesn’t say there’s a conspiracy, or that men are being harmed.

Third, to amplify his claim of discrimination, he brings in this other statistic: men submit more stories than women with a ratio of 4:1, so there’s even more invisible bias! To back up that claim, he mentions a submissions tracker and market database called The Grinder. I poked around in there, but didn’t see a way to pull up stats on women’s vs. men’s submissions — maybe someone could explain how you do that. But the thing is that in his one specific example of Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF, he claims that the proportion published is representative of the proportion submitted, and it’s nowhere near 4:1. I also rather suspect that those magazines that encourage submissions by underrepresented groups also tend to get relatively fewer stories from your traditional white male engineering types, so the 4:1 doesn’t hold.

But given that 90% of everything is crap, I don’t find submission rates to be particularly compelling, so that line of argument is also crap.

But here’s my bottom line: of course there is bias! It’s everywhere! Some places will favor women, others will favor men. Go to your supermarket and look at the magazine racks: there are magazines “for men”, and magazines “for women”, and they tend to propagate some ugly stereotypes. In a field like science fiction that tends to encourage innovation and change, and that like all literary fields goes through waves of new emphases, there will be times when people are trying to shake up the old staid tropes, and that means that the previous beneficiaries of convention will fall out of favor, and will find it harder to publish. People are looking for new twists and interesting ideas in their fiction, and of course if you want to write stories exactly like the ones you read 30 years ago, you’re going to be discriminated against.

Or you’ll find a niche publishing market.

Really, I don’t choose my preferred reading material by the color of the author’s skin, or what genitals are slung under their pants. I read Nnedi Okorafor, or Scott Lynch, or Ann Leckie, or NK Jemisin, or China Mieville, because they challenge me with new ideas and good writing. Sometimes to get new ideas you have to encourage new perspectives, which tends to disrupt the Old Guard.

But here’s another factor that influences what authors I favor. The good ones (even the white male authors!) will read those new authors, too, and praise what they like and grow and change themselves to value those novel approaches, and their writing will get better.

The bad ones will read stories by authors different from themselves and resent it, and run away from the challenge, blaming others for their lack of adaptability and talent.

But don’t worry, White Men! You’re just as capable of writing great stories as people who are not White Men, as long as you don’t get tangled up in your persecution complex.

Comments

  1. robro says

    How does this guy have the time to do all of this research? Doesn’t he have a job? Doesn’t he have a life? Perhaps he needs to occupy himself on something productive and useful.

  2. Larry says

    First off, numerically more women publishing SF than men? So fucking what? Get a life, man.
    Second, apparently not all men are better at math then women. Some of them are worse than a 4th grader learning about percentages.
    Third, I was disappointed not to see a graph of the Escape podcast spreadsheet data. I would have expected to see the Y-axis starting at 20 and the largest Y tick at 30 with no label on the Y axis.
    Lastly, what a whiney snowflake!

  3. anthrosciguy says

    Isn’t it likely enough that the (supposedly) massively lopsided submissions to acceptance ratios show that women are far more likely than men to have a realistic and accurate view of their writing ability? BTW, has anyone done a study to see if Dunning-Kruger effect is more pronounced among men compared to women?

  4. anthrosciguy says

    Ok, just a quick googly found this passage:

    Dunning and Ehrlinger wanted to focus specifically on women, and the impact of women’s preconceived notions about their own ability on their confidence. They gave male and female college students a quiz on scientific reasoning. Before the quiz, the students rated their own scientific skills. “We wanted to see whether your general perception of Am I good in science? shapes your impression of something that should be separate: Did I get this question right?,” Ehrlinger said. The women rated themselves more negatively than the men did on scientific ability: on a scale of 1 to 10, the women gave themselves a 6.5 on average, and the men gave themselves a 7.6. When it came to assessing how well they answered the questions, the women thought they got 5.8 out of 10 questions right; men, 7.1. And how did they actually perform? Their average was almost the same—women got 7.5 out of 10 right and men 7.9.

  5. blf says

    I suspect I could get a more insightful analysis by scribbling numbers on each sheet of a pad of paper, throwing the pad’s separated pages into a sausage grinder, turning it on and feeding the ground paper back into the input several times, discarding any numbers I believe I can still read, and then making something up. Add spices to taste and gently pan-fry, turning occasionally.

  6. starskeptic says

    You reminded me of when Bluegrass mandolinist Sierra Hull released her first real studio album at the age of 16 and was called a ‘prodigy’ as if that was the explanation for her skill – not that she’d already been playing for 8 years at that point.

  7. says

    The biggest lie this type regularly spouts is But I just want good stories! No you don’t. You want the same stories over and over again. It’s also very telling that they seem to only think that straight white men are capable of telling “good stories”.

    robro @1

    How does this guy have the time to do all of this research?

    It’s easy to find time to do research when one doesn’t have to look any further than up one’s ass.

  8. zibble says

    Has the possibility occurred to them that people who are terrified of changes to the current status quo might not be the best at imagining the future?

  9. chrislawson says

    A source that will remain nameless told me that the editor of Asimov’s, Sheila Williams, prints male to female stories in the ratio of submissions she receives.

    What utter bullshit. The only way this could be even remotely true is if the stories Sheila Williams selects are roughly in the same proportion she receives them. Which would mean that the proportion of submissions she likes is much the same for men and women writers. Which has nothing to do with any implied quota.

    (Although I don’t know Sheila Williams personally, I do know her editorial professionalism and the idea that she would resort to such a crude and counter-productive quota system is the twisted fantasy of an idiot loser determined to find reasons why the world is against him. Next up: why umpires are always biased against my team, why hot women won’t date me even though I’m a nice guy, and why white guys are the real victims of the way companies select their CEOs.)

  10. says

    Wouldn’t sales figures be a better proxy than publication ratios? Because, in principle, people are buying books that they don’t expect to use to line the catbox. Although, perhaps they buy John Ringo so they can read it and then line the catbox.

  11. says

    I actually helped compose that statement for Escape Pod, when I was the Assistant Editor (a.k.a. chief slushmonkey). :-) There are always dickbags complaining. I remember particularly vividly someone who posted on our forums ranting about our gay agenda because of how stories about lesbian characters had *completely taken over* the podcasts, and they put up their math showing that BETWEEN TEN AND TWENTY PERCENT of stories had lesbian or gay protagonists. To which the general response was, “Uh, isn’t that about the proportion of people in the general population here in the West who identify as LGBTQ?” And ye gods, the reaction to the Escape Artists’ annual “Artemis Rising” event where we all published only female/nonbinary authors for one month, i.e. four stories. (Hell, even the internal reaction wasn’t great on all fronts, which is one reason why I eventually got burned out and left.)

    Isn’t it likely enough that the (supposedly) massively lopsided submissions to acceptance ratios show that women are far more likely than men to have a realistic and accurate view of their writing ability?

    Ding ding ding! Speaking from about ten years of reading most of the stories that came through two full podcasts’ submissions queues, I can tell you that my observation is that this is one hundred percent the case. Male authors start submitting the most mind-bogglingly stupid crap the minute they’ve finished their first story, and they tended to keep submitting despite rejection after rejection until they’d clearly emptied out their entire “MY RITING!!!!!” folder on their computer. The good male authors were still good, of course, but the proportion of good to crap was very close to Sturgeon’s Law, if not worse. Female or nonbinary authors, in contrast, tended to submit more rarely and to send a few stories, with the result that a much higher percentage of their stories were in the range of “pretty good, might be a possibility” and could go into the pile for consideration on other grounds, like whether we’d just done a story about robot pirates recently or whether we had a reader in mind who could do a great job with the voices etc. My personal read on it is that the male authors tended to assume that they were awesome by default, whereas female/nonbinary authors who submitted were more likely to already have some reason to believe they were skilled at writing, i.e. prior publication credits/encouragement from respected authors running workshops/etc. There were still clunkers, of course – one of my favorite stories to pull out of the pile and read aloud to terrify new slushers was by a woman, in fact – but the ratio of chaff was vastly lower.

    Either that or women are inherently more skilled at writing science fiction than men, I guess. :-P Writing stories about robots is obviously something with deep evolutionary roots and is governed strictly by chromosomes, after all. Jane Goodall’s discussion of AI and post-apocalyptic fiction publication rates among the chimpanzees seems particularly apropos here.

  12. says

    I didn’t visit the link until after the URL—dellarroz.com—caught my attention. It so happens that there’s a SF writer named Jon Del Arroz who is currently trying to stir up some sort of feud or something with Jon Scalzi. It seems that Scalzi posted a tweet in which, without mentioning any names, he said that a particular form of sleazy writer-behavior was in fact, sleazy… and Jon Del Arroz popped up to complain about how dare Scalzi smear the good name of Jon Del Arroz and like that.

    Personally, if it was me who actually was guilty of the behavior Scalzi described, I sure wouldn’t have been eager to connect my name with it. And if Del Arroz is, in fact, not guilty of the behavior Scalzi described, one can only wonder why he was so eager to cram his foot into that ill-fitting shoe and then whine about the poor fit…

  13. says

    Huh. I don’t really read sci-fi — or, at least, I don’t sit down in cold blood and say “today I will read some contemporary science fiction”, it’s not like I go out of my way to avoid it — and so I somehow managed to be totally unaware that there was massive and consistent discontent with the quality of work which is being published in recent years, which required some sort of explanation. It’s a little surprising, come to think of it, the way none of the people whose blogs and things I do read, who themselves read contemporary sci-fi, mentioned this burgeoning discontent. I guess we should all be grateful to this guy for discovering the source of the problem.

    Or, you know, maybe most people aren’t complaining about the quality of what’s being published, which means there’s nothing wrong and this guy is full of shit right from the start? Also a distinct possibility.

  14. felicis says

    Yes – the white mens have it so hard – let’s look at some case studies:

    The Martian.
    Ready Player One.

    Ugh – two mediocre books that have been picked up to be turned into blockbuster movies. At least I expect Ready Player One to be a blockbuster once it comes out. The preview I saw doesn’t really make me want to see it, but Spielberg…

    But the mens have such a tough time of it.

  15. says

    You couldn’t get more than 3 paragraphs without calling me swearing names? who are you and why do you feel the need to do that? I’d like an apology. Extremely bad behavior. I’ll read the rest when you act like a human being.

  16. says

    Had this pointed out to me too: your ramble about my manipulating numbers by not including lightspeed is a lie — lightspeed is included, I said so on the post. You don’t have to swear AND completely tell people what I’m saying is something different than what I said. Let them read for themselves if you can’t figure out some basic reading comprehension.

    Really, I deserve a big apology for this. This is just disgraceful. Tell the truth and treat others as humans.

  17. says

    Had this pointed out to me too: your ramble about my manipulating numbers by not including lightspeed is a lie — lightspeed is included, I said so on the post. You don’t have to swear AND completely tell people what I’m saying is something different than what I said. Let them read for themselves if you can’t figure out some basic reading comprehension.

    That is a huge discrepancy. Over that big of a sample size, and as so far every magazine writer tells me the submissions of men outweigh women by a huge a mount, it’s obvious — and admitted by many of these rags — that there’s a problem going on.

    Really, I deserve a big apology for this. This is just disgraceful. Tell the truth and treat others as humans.

  18. KG says

    Really, I deserve a big apology for this. – Jon Del Arroz@19

    I wouldn’t advise you to hold your breath until you get one. Although it would be amusing to watch you try.

  19. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    I agree that an apology is owed, PZ. Asswipes are used to clean up shit, while the Riceman is intent on spreading shit all over. He’s more the proverbial fan.

  20. says

    JDA in his original post: “I left out Lightspeed Magazine which has dead even results”

    JDA here: “…your ramble about my manipulating numbers by not including lightspeed is a lie — lightspeed is included, I said so on the post”

    ‘Nuff Said?

  21. chrislawson says

    So it’s OK for JDA to smear the professionalism of SF editors based on what looks like a made-up story that a nameless source once told him, but JDA deserves an apology for having his own errors pointed out by direct quotation? Welcome to Massive Entitlement 101.

  22. says

    “JDA is a regressive asswipe” is what JDA is complaining about. Which is fair enough because “JDA is a regressive jerk” would be much more accurate.

  23. linear says

    Jon:
    “Over that big of a sample size, ”

    What are you talking about? Your sample size is 14. You are sampling the magazines, not the writers. Your sample size is small, your standard deviation is high, and you should feel bad.

    “as so far every magazine writer tells me the submissions of men outweigh women by a huge amount…”
    I am baffled as to how you think this is a good point. First, how would individual writers know what the makeup of a slushpile is? Secondly, unless you have hard data on the makeup of the slushpile of every magazine you studied (I’m not even sure how you figure that out, since things like pseudonyms and intials and unisex names exist, and few magazines ask you what gender you are when you submit) there is no possible way you could claim that the submission ratio is the same for all of them. It just isn’t logical.

  24. says

    @Nathaniel Lee – Although I used to love listening to Escape Pod and PodCastle, I haven’t listened to Escape Artists podcasts in years primarily because I haven’t found time to listen to any podcasts in years. However, reading your statement here makes me determined to go back and start again. Thanks for the reminder!

  25. amercrustad says

    What a great breakdown, PZ. Thanks for saving my eyeballs (and the dude’s website views) from having to dredge through the linked post.

  26. methuseus says

    @Tabby Lavalamp #8

    The biggest lie this type regularly spouts is But I just want good stories! No you don’t. You want the same stories over and over again. It’s also very telling that they seem to only think that straight white men are capable of telling “good stories”.

    you’re absolutely right. This is why I don’t even really care about the byline of anything I read, really, unless it’s been recommended by someone. For example NK Jemisin has been recommended by PZ. I believe this author is female, though it really doesn’t matter as I would read it because of the recommendation rather than whether it was a man or woman. By the same token, I avoided reading Scalzi for some unremembered reason. Then PZ mentioned him, so I read Old Man’s War. I loved that book and again wouldn’t have cared who wrote it. My favorite author growing up was Anne McCaffrey who is a woman. I remember finding people who were surprised, but I never understood why until I found out later that I wasn’t supposed to read women writers since I was a boy. Even then, it didn’t stop me from keeping her as my favorite author.

  27. methuseus says

    Oh, and as for the “statistics” in the post PZ is talking about, it makes my brain hurt and my eyes bleed to see someone try to make anything scientific out of it. I know all about submission biases: people who think they’re awesome submit 10x the amount of stuff as the people who don’t know they’re awesome. Therefore, even though 9/10ths of it is shit, they still submit way more than those whose ratio is 1/2 great or more.

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