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If you want to change the world, Wikipedia is the last place to begin. You can correct all the pages you want, someone will soon come along and make them wrong again. It's like writing in water.

John - "It's like writing in water."

Most of the world is covered in water.

Last summer I went back to the beach where I spent many happy hours in my childhood. There are logs there - big, ancient, old-growth logs, with roots and gnarls and wormholes. They were washed up by the tide decades ago, and are still there.

Sometimes words get washed away by the tide with 24 hours. Sometimes they don't.

Sure, there are more effective ways of having an impact on the policy debate - having lunch with a cabinet minister or Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for example.

But a Wikipedia entry will be far more widely read than an academic journal article, and have a far more lasting impact than a typical march or protest.

Here are some more reasons from Sue Gardner's blog. Sue is Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

No offense Frances, but whatever the defects in the original description of Employment Equity, replacing it with the pap from the Canadian Human rights commission isn't an improvement (given that the CHRC is, understandably, interested in presenting employment equity in the most positive light.

Moreover, it might have been helpful had you also included the next "answer" from the CHRC webpage: "The goal is to institute positive policies and practices and make reasonable accommodations so that the representation of persons in designated groups in the employer’s workforce reflects their representation in the Canadian workforce."

The meaning of "positive policies and practices" is (intentionally, I'm sure) ambiguous and can be as harmless as encouraging otherwise qualified candidates from "disadvantaged" groups to apply for jobs or as pernicious as saying "white men need not apply" (http://www.canada.com/national/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=8b38e8a9-f7de-460b-9bd7-723991e9d12e). In that light the original definition of employment equity was more accurate (if still imperfect), since "positive policies and practices" goes beyond non-discrimination (which is, inherently, a negative policy and practice). I'm not sure I could say with a clear conscience that "employment equity does not encourage or require preferential treatment". Even if it doesn't require it, in practice it does encourage it.

I suppose, however, that you've unintentionally proven your point about gender bias on wikipedia.

A while ago, I was reading an essay on the transmission of Keynes to North America, Timlin's thesis came up and I searched for it for a bit, but gave up. A wikipedia page would would have been useful, since people have fairly short attention spans.

Bob - I don't want this to get into a debate about the pros/cons of employment equity, if for no reason other than it's pretty boring. My next piece in the Globe and Mail piece will talk about some of the problems with the Act. I'm no great lover of the policy.

So, please, logon and edit that employment equity entry some more. For example, the 'history' section just has that standard blurb about special measures, and says nothing about the act's lack of a clear definition of what a special measure might entail.

I also thought of adding to the 'controversy' section at the end some of the implementation problems. One of the problems with employment equity is that the progress of employers in meeting employment equity goals is judged against census data on visible minorities. If someone says 'Lebanese' for their ethnic origin, they're counted as a member of a visible minority in the census. Now when employers try to assess their progress in achieving an integrated workforce, they ask their employees 'are you a member of a visible minority?' Lots of people who fit the official Statistics Canada definition of visible minority don't consider themselves members of visible minorities, so they either leave the question blank or answer no. So it looks as if the employer isn't meeting its employment equity targets, even though it might have lots of members of the designated groups on staff.

Informed debate is one thing; uninformed vitrol is another.

Brett, edeast, thanks.

"A recent blog comment by Jaques Giguere attributed some gender differences in on-line behaviour to lekking - a form of sexual display where males congregate and compete for mates. I like the theory, but it strikes me that posting anonymously on Wikipedia is a pretty ineffectual way of displaying one's prowess."

Up to fairly recently the human specie grew up in small bands. So competing within a small community feels natural. It now may be somewhat dysfunctionnal , like recreating the savannah in your suburban lawn instead of happily living in a 35th floor condo, but we are talking primal impulses here.
Anonymity? It has been estimated that a science journal sprouts at about 150-200 people in a field. Approximately the Dunbar number

Anyone who has reviewed an anonymized article as a referee know how easy it is to recognize the author (style, precise subject, choice of references, the sheer buzz of the community..).
Same thing in a wiki war...

And the game soon becomes the end. Like in a war, you fight with your squad buddies, don't even know the cause of the conflict and don't care.

If I only knew enough about the subjects you mention to confidently start as an alpha , I'd happily start the lekkink process...

Brett, that's a really excellent (if slightly discouraging) link.

Thanks for the thought-provoking ideas Frances. I enjoy reading your "micro" take on these issues. I wonder what sorts of mechanisms would afford different patterns?

Wow. I never thought I'd see such a nakedly sexist and bigoted post here on WCI. This is pretty outrageous.

To draw the lines clearly, the professor claims:
1) Contributions by men generally are somehow to explain what she deems to be an inferior article.

2) Then this bit of bigotry: "whether you like employment equity or loathe it, as a definition, that's simply wrong." Sorry professor, but you've substituted one point of view for another, and do so while intolerantly denying the other point of view has any merits. That's bigotry. The article is discussing the Act and its implications and its consequences, not the term 'employment equity' abstractly. There are some POV of issues in that passage but that does not make it 'simply wrong'.

I'm sure neither of these were your intention. So an apology and scrubbing will soon be forthcoming.


I'm going to be generous and presume that this is a deliciously dry form of irony. Well done!

Jon "Sorry professor, but you've substituted one point of view for another, and do so while intolerantly denying the other point of view has any merits. "

Jon, let's get one thing straight. The employment equity act is a piece of legislation that requires employers to do a certain set of things.

What the Act requires of employers is a matter of law, not a matter of opinion.

The changes that I made added a statement about what the law *actually requires*. What I deleted was one particular interpretation of the impacts of employment equity (that it causes employers to give preference to certain groups). Yes, there is - and should be - debate about the impacts and effectiveness of the law. But that's something to discuss in the controversy section of the entry *once it is clear what the law actually requires of employers.*

I will look forward to receiving the forthcoming apology.

Michael "I wonder what sorts of mechanisms would afford different patterns?" One big upside of blogging is that you know who has said what. Yes, Stephen Gordon has power over all parts of the blog, and I can delete comments that I deem offensive, but we very rarely use those powers.

On a blog there's some sense of debate, you can read what different people have said and make up your own mind. I don't know exactly who, say, "Determinant" or "Adam P" or "RSJ" or "Patrick" is, but from their posts on WCI I have a pretty good sense of how sensible they are. Wikipedia lacks that, and this is unfortunate.

Yeah. More seriously Jon, you are most certainly NOT allowed to barge in and accuse one of us of 'naked sexism and bigotry' without coming up with more than you did. Your next post here will be an apology.

Stephen: I'm sorry we don't see eye-to-eye on this one. Calling the argument bigoted was harsh. I am sorry on that point for provoking you and being needlessly insulting. The sexism, however, is apparent. I'd like to think it was unintentional. The second sentence of this post deserves to go.

Last, its disappointing that you consider this a 'personal attack'. I was quite diligent in suggesting that the wording of post is at issue not Professor Wooley's intentions. I understand your visceral reaction to my remarks; what you see as dry irony, I see as as clumsy and offensive. I've said my bit. Speaking up when you're offended is part of maintaining a dialog. I hear you. I hope you hear me.

Frances: You miss the point. Wikipedia is about NPOV. In politics and legal interpretation, points-of-view abound. Its just not as simple and clear cut as you make it out to be. I don't have a view on the employment equity act. Someone took a different view than you when they wrote that entry. Calling something 'simply wrong' is the road to great frustration and little satisfaction on wikipedia.

You may want to try again. This isn't a negotiation.

Jon - er - why are you apologizing to Stephen?

The Neutral Point of View does not imply that all points of view are equally valid. Some people put a lot of time and careful research into writing Wikipedia entries. Some people don't. Some people write things that are incorrect or, more bluntly, wrong.

And, let's face it, none of us are 100% neutral, no matter how hard we try. If you or your husband or your son or your student is struggling to find a job and is not a member of one of the "designated groups" covered by employment equity, that's going to affect how you view the policy. It affects how I view the policy.

Our points of view are shaped by our experiences, which are shaped by our gender.

Which is the point of my post.

The intriguing thing about Wikipedia is that it *could* be a history of our times written by everyone, not just the winners. Through the ages the winners typically get to dictate the bias in history books. What Frances is suggesting is that those who have tended to have the political and economic power over the past century ([white?] males) may be the ones writing the story of our times on Wikipedia. It's not that women couldn't write entries (>50% of master's degrees go to women these days, so there are at least as many qualified female authors as male ones if we use this as a guide). It's that they choose not to do this with their spare time.

But a female perspective can sometimes introduce a perspective on an issue that males may overlook (in the same way an immigrant's perspective may be different from a native-born Canadian). We can all better understand the issue if everyone's voice can be heard. Plus we might actually think of new ideas or solutions if this were the case.

I work in physics research and most wikipedia articles on technical subjects are excellent. Especially for things like techniques or instruments. But these are issues (like Frances' point about what is written in the law) where you are right or wrong. Put "FTIR" into wikipedia's search and you will get correct information about Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy.

I like wikipedia. For better or for worse it is the encyclopedia people use now. Whether or not one "should" use it, we all do. So we have to work to make it as correct as possible.

Wendy, take a look at the article Brett cited in the comments earlier, it's really good. Your comments make me think back to some of the points I was making in my post about the tipping point. It sounds horribly paranoid, but women are taking over scholarship (as you say, >50% of master's degrees) just as people start to ignore scholarship and read Wikipedia instead? And Wikipedia is written/edited by men. (I'm so glad Nick's just written a post, his are always so much more cheerful than mine!)

Chris J - agreed. I was hoping my post would inspire feminists to work on Wikipedia, but perhaps I just pitched it wrong.

By the way, my Globe and Mail post on the problems with employment equity is now up:


My apologies if I came off as being snarky, this is an issue I've thought about over the years, so my post may have been abrupt.

I don't want to belabour the issue, but I will say, though, that I don't think your conclusions as to what the Employment Equity Act requires is complete, both because (i) the Act creates real incentives for employers to do precisely what it says it doesn't require (and, at the end of the day, incentives are what matters about the law. By way of example, there's nothing in Canadian law which requires you not to murder people, but Canadian law imposes pretty harsh penalties on those who do) and (ii) because while it does not require that employers hire or promote people who do not meet the "essential qualifications", the meaning of "essential qualifications" is an open one and much of the litigation that goes on around employment equity relates to whether or not a particular qualification is essential (and while, no doubt, a great many "qualifications" weren't really essential in any objective sense, in many instances I have grave doubts about whether a human rights commission or a court is well situated to comment on whether a qualification is essential or not).

I politely disagree with your revised version. No one I know accepts your re-written description of 'Employment equity'. After a group discussion we agreed that 'employment equity' is about hiring people from the four groups in order to avoid all sorts of negative publicity and news focus, or worse, that you or your company is branded a 'racist' or 'discriminatory' since the majority of your company is composed of white males.

Whether you like it or not the following description is highly accurate:

"Employment equity refers to Canadian policies that require or encourage preferential treatment in employment practices for certain designated groups: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities.[1] Employment equity goes beyond mere non-discrimination in requiring these specific groups be targeted for proactive treatment."

Frances: "By the way, my Globe and Mail post on the problems with employment equity is now up:

It's an interesting paper, but one which raises as many questions as it answers. Part of what strikes me about these sort of studies is that they really highlight the problems with a lot of conventional thinking about employment equity and, more generally, differences in performance of different groups (and, I suspect that's how the authors read their results).

Implictly, these sort of studies are interpreted as re-affirmations of Rosie Abella's conclusions about discrimination in the work force. Yet the actual results raise serious questions about that interpretation. First, the obvious point raised from the results contained in table 3 of the Pendakur and Pendakur paper, is that discrimination can't plausibly explain all the variation between groups shown in that table. I mean, does anyone really believe that there's subtle discrimination in favour of Ukrainian, Belgian and Portuguese woman over their WASP neighbours, or that Canadians are systematically prejudiced against Canadians of Spanish descent, but not people who descended from their Portuguese neighbours? Setting aside, for a second, the question of whether there exists discrimination against visible minorities, unless we're willing to accept that Canadian employers seem to have some very eccentric prejudices in terms of who they employ, discrimination can't be the entire story.

Moreover, the results for visible minorities also suggest that, at least, discrimination isn't the only story going on. Consider the coefficients for South Asian woman. In 1995 it was not significantly different from WASP woman, in 2000 it was significantly less, and in 2005 it, again, was not significantly different from WASP woman. I may have missed it, but did we have an upswing in racism in 2000, which dissipated by 2005? Similarly, are we prepared to accept that Canadian employers discriminate against Chinese males, but not Chinese females (who are, apparently, paid significantly more than their white sisters)? Moreover, how do we explain the opposite trends between different groups of Black Canadians. If discrimination explains the wage gap for "Black" (as used in the P&P paper) Canadians, does it explain the growth in that gap for "Black" males since 1995? But how does that link to the declining (although still significant) wage gap for "Carribean" males since 1995. I'm prepared to accept that Canadian employers discriminate in hiring, but I have a hard time accepting that such discrimination is so refined as to differentiate between "Black" and "Carribean. And what was it about Canadian society which really discriminated again Canadians of latin American descend in 1995, which had almost disappeared a decade later (certainly for woman, with a significant decline in the wage gap for men).

But, this raises a problem for proponents of employment equity. Part of the logic of employment equity is that differences in group performance must be explained by discrimination, either explicitly or through implicit systemic discrimination. And, I suspect, part of the force behind that logic is that the alternative, that different groups ACTUALLY perform differently, is seen as an inherently racist idea, with implications of inferiority for poorly-performing groups (perhaps because that is precisely the conclusion a racist would raw). So we end up stuck between a position that is, one hand, racist by association, and on the other, untenable in light of the evidence.

My own theory (though I haven't seen any research on the point, perhaps because it's methodologically difficult) is that (1) while discrimination may be one factor, there are real differences in group performance and (2) it has nothing to do with race/ethnicity (if for no other reason than that, genetically, humans are too closely related, and for most of our existence have faced the same evolutionary pressures, for there to be significant biological difference between groups - between men and woman, of course, that's another, different, story). The missing link is culture. It certainly isn't implausible to think that a group's cultural characteristics might interact with their employment income.

There's a whole myriad of cultural factors which might interact with, and affect, employment (or other income). Off the top of my head, you might think of (1) culture-linked preferences and conceptions of the good life (which might, for example, put a greater emphasis on family obligations then market income, or which might reject employment in certain industries), (2) culture linked family structures and related obligations (a culture which puts an emphasis on caring for elderly parents, for example, might be expected to suppress the relative incomes for female members of that group - who, let's face it, are going to bear the brunt of that cultural expectation - as might cultures which emphasize large familes), (3) cultural differences in expectations (the "Tiger Mom phenomenon").

Moreover, "cultural" differences may go beyond "core" concepts of what constitutes culture, and might include traits which are associated with a particular group which are not, neccesarily, cultural per se (what comes to mind is the large presence of Italian and Portuguese Canadians in Toronto's construction industry - that is, to an extent, an accident of history rather than an element of Italian or Portuguese culture, per se. But, at the same time, to the extent it is self-propagating, as sons follow their fathers into the industry, for example, it becomes a group trait).

Note that, in this context, cultural difference (and corresponding differences in income performance) doesn't, unlike the suggestion of racial difference, neccesarily imply inferiority (or supremacy). People can, after all, choose (to a degree) the elements of their culture that they wish to govern their lives , and discard the elements that they don't. In that sense, to the extent there is a link between a cultural group and market incomes, that reflects the preferences of the members of that cultural group and is, in some sense, "chosen" by that group. That's very different from saying that that group performs worse than another group because they are "inferior". Moreover, cultures can change, whereas race is, for all intents and purposes, immutable, cultures can evolve and change over time. If a cultural trait is disadvantageous (and doesn't have offsetting benefits) it can be abandonned over time.

Moreover, cultural difference between groups might explain some of the odd phenomenon in the P&P paper. For example, to the extent that a particular group consists of multiple cultural groups (South Asian, South East Asian, or Carribean) some of the seemingly odd changes in the coifficients might be driven by changes in the cultural composition of those groups (similarly, the settlement of different groups in different regions, might also explain some of the intra-city variation - since this is a study of second generation Canadians, it would be interesting if you look back to see if there were meaningful differences in the composition of earlier groups of generations to those three cities). Similarly, some of the observed advantages might have cultural roots. Maybe Canadians don't discriminate against Greeks and Spaniard, maybe the have different conceptions of the good life from their Portuguese or Italian neighbours (or maybe they lack the family connections of those groups to access relatively high paying construction industry jobs (at least from 1995-2005, it would be curious to see whether that has changed).

Now, I have no idea how you might test this hypothesis, since I'm not sure how you can pull apart the effect of culture from the effect of discrimination based on culture or ethnicity (which is likely to be closely linked to culture), but I think that's probably a large part of what's going on in this story. And to the extent it is, employment equity isn't going to do much to change it.

Bob - On your longer comment: proof positive that the comments section of WCI wipes the floor with the comments section of the G&M.

On you shorter comment - I think if you'd sat on a few university hiring committees you might have a different opinion about the extent to which employment equity actually influences hiring decisions.

Mitch - Back up what you say with some kind of reference to empirical evidence or legal decision-making. Then come back to me on this one.

"Bob - On your longer comment: proof positive that the comments section of WCI wipes the floor with the comments section of the G&M."

Thanks (I think, although given the quality of the GM comments section...) :)

We'll have to agree to disagree on the other point.

And having said that (damn it, constitutionally incapable of letting things go), I wouldn't expect that employment equity (at least as mandated by statute) would have any impact on hiring decisions at any university in Ontario, given that such universities are not subject to the federal Employment Equity Act (it applies only to federal regulated industries), and the Ontario Employment Equity Act (which did apply to Ontario's universities - and I seem to recall this was a source of some concern at some of those universities when it was introduced) was repealed when the Harris Tories came to power in 1995.

Bob, federal contractor's program.

I couldn't resist: http://xkcd.com/545/

"deleting someone else's entry is kind of the scholarly equivalent of checking someone into the boards and taking the puck off them."-Frances Woolley

Is that what you felt like you were doing when you edited an article? I'm unclear on whether you think this is the sort of thing that one should feel comfortable doing or something one should not feel comfortable doing.

Personally, I would say that one reason I'm uncomfortable editing articles on Wikipedia is a lack of confidence in my own knowledge. Perhaps that's a factor in all of this.

I happen to be someone who spends a large part of his day on Wikipedia. The main reason for that is probably the organic atmosphere of it. I wouldn't base any sort of action or strong belief on what I read on WIkipedia, but the site offers by far my favorite way of interacting with information. I can process vastly more information reading articles on Wikipedia than I would be able to reading something in a regular book or article, watching TV, or listening to the radio. More importantly, I enjoy it.

Blikktheterrible: "Is that what you felt like you were doing when you edited an article?"

A little. As a hockey player myself, I know how incredibly satisfying it is to get the puck off someone, though I have no checking experience (women's hockey is no-checking).

Lack of confidence could be another thing holding people back.

Lack of confidence could be another thing holding people back.

They should take inspiration from Ratbert

"Mitch - Back up what you say with some kind of reference to empirical evidence or legal decision-making. Then come back to me on this one."

Certainly. Have you ever seen an application form for a government job? Right in the application they ask if you are part of a 'visible minority', and some even go as far as to list many different minority 'types'. This is to ensure that certain people are represented in the hiring numbers and that the company isn't perceived as being too Caucasian or too male.

Admittedly most private firms aren't so explicit. However, I have worked with some firms that do consciously have similar hiring practices to ensure they are not perceived as 'too Caucasian'. They'll skip the well qualified person for the 'not so well' qualified person. This 'not so well' qualified person almost always has a less than ideal grasp of English, both written and oral.

I don't think I can find any legal judgments to support this, and admittedly i haven't looked yet. But the Globe and Mail contains a treasure trove of articles that constantly hold the white male up as some 'benchmark' that needs to be taken down, as well as portraying him as some conspiring villain who dislikes women and minorities.

Mitch, take a look at my article in the Globe and Mail on the problems with employment equity: here

People who are concerned about justice, equity, and the disadvantages experienced by racialized minorites should have serious reservations about our employment equity policy as it currently stands.

If you look at the part I added to Wikipedia under controversy, I cite an article that talks about the need to include men, i.e., if the goal is an integrated workforce, then it would make just as much sense to encourage men to apply for nursing jobs as to encourage women to apply for electrician jobs. If the policy did that, I think it would feel fairer to people.

But having said all of that, the starting point for discussion has to be a solid understanding of what the law says, what employers are legally required to do.

I think this is one of the (many) areas in which the optimal policy (by any measure) would still seem pretty imperfect.

It's hard to advocate for "positive" freedoms in this society, as they are almost ALWAYS imperfect. That seems, prima facie, to be enough to disqualify them from legitimacy in spite of the fact that the status quo is often so GROSSLY unjust. "What we have is what we have, so if you're going to change it, it better be perfect!" is the implied takeaway I get from discussions like this. I think employment practices and associated legislative fixes fits this description well. Commenter "Mitch" puts it thusly:

"Employment equity refers to Canadian policies that require or encourage preferential treatment in employment practices for certain designated groups: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities.[1] Employment equity goes beyond mere non-discrimination in requiring these specific groups be targeted for proactive treatment."

Other things equal (i.e. the status quo), it sounds fine to me for now. I just have a hard time thinking "Heavens, a white male might not get a job they're the most qualified for. The inefficiency of it all!" Is anyone, besides Francis, who is commenting (particularly in the negative) NOT a white-ish male? Just asking.

For the record I am a US white male of 41 years of age. I'm willing to take a chance on a little discrimination against me to try and make a less crap world, having watched my single mother struggle with these issues through a good portion of her life. Put yourself behind the "veil of ignorance" and look at the "discriminatory" and "distorted" world post-this legislation and I bet everyone would still put their chips on white males and the rest of the upper end of the employment hierarchy.

As far as "lekking" goes I'll leave everyone with this moment of levity.

Nothing further to add. Thanks for your writing here all WCI "team."

I wish people would take more care with their use of words like dominance and dominating. To say that only 15% of the contributors to wikipedia are women should not be construed as dominance by the men contributors. Granted, participating in wikipedia might be distasteful to many women but there is nothing to bar them from doing so. And if you find something in an article that is incorrect or misleading then why wouldn't you simply correct it or draw attention to it?

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