Thursday, May 9, 2013

A topic that deserves to be talked about, and for that reason we should subject morally attractive propositions to more scrutiny, not less.

Moral posturing is so alluring that it leads us to neglect normal standards of logic. Take, for instance, RPS assuming the moral DEFCON 1 alert posture.
I hope the use of “horrendous” and “despicable” (the source story, still at a slightly lower DEFCON, settles for “disgusting”) stand out, as well as the dogmatic assumption that statistical disparities alone demonstrate discrimination. My point is not that sexism may or may not play a part in the wage disparities that Game Developer Magazine's data allegedly documents, and it definitely isn't that the industry shouldn't pay matching salaries to male and female employees with the same experience and skill sets. Rather, I'm writing to challenge the uncritical assumptions on which both stories are built, and way that the opportunity to publicly sit on the side of the angels seems to contribute to the error. Because both stories note that Game Developer Magazine's numbers offer no information on the years of experience specific to the men and women surveyed, but then arbitrarily banish any serious consideration of alternative explanations from the realm of possibility in order to prescribe the usual preferential policies.

There will be factors, certainly,” RPS writes. “The hugely larger numbers of men in the industry means by nature there will be many more of them who have worked for longer, and thus secured ultimately higher salaries. But there are women who have been involved for a long time too, and this absolutely doesn’t explain away these massive discrepancies.

I trust that the sheer absurdity of the argument speaks for itself.

Similarly, BorderHouseBlog says, “I’m sure there are more details that might make these numbers less damning.  For example, we all know that games have been long dominated by men and the industry is taking small steps to change that.  As a result, many of the women who answered the survey might be new to the game industry, might not be in as senior of roles as the men who responded.” And then, in a comically clumsy attempt at sleight of hand, BorderHouseBlog continues: “However, I don’t think this changes the fact that we need to recruit and encourage more women at all levels of every organization — and we’re failing to do so.”

In other words, the writer acknowledges that while the evidence she predicated her argument on cannot support her claim, we are to accept that that now discarded claim is relevant to another new and equally unsubstantiated claim, no burden of proof required.

And next come the aforementioned prescriptions for preferential policies. As RPS has it, “the only valid response is for those in senior positions at publishers and developers to not pretend it isn’t them, to look at their own figures, and to rectify discrepancies.

This is ridiculous. Since when do we draw conclusions without a scrap of empirical evidence, admit that we lack an argument to stand on, and then issue moral imperatives, demanding that the accused address wrongs for which they haven't actually been convicted? We haven't even determined with certainty whether or not there are discrepancies, let alone ascertained causes should their existence be confirmed. Anyone attempting to explain why more men than women work in a particular industry (indeed a question well worth the investigative effort) has laborious analytical work ahead of them. But it's easier for ideologues to attack potential bogeymen and behave as though they've done their part to change undesirable circumstances than bother to consult the work of those who do such as Cornell professor of economics Francine D. Blau.

Again, to my point, it's all a muddle of poor thinking in the race to righteous outrage. If you were among “those in senior positions at publishers and developers” and believed you could pay group A some fraction of the wages that you pay group B and obtain precisely the same results, plus stand to benefit politically from appearances in the bargain, why would your hiring practices not understandably favor group A at all times, especially in the current economic environment?

Similarly, all of BorderHouseBlog's prescriptions assume that any statistical discrepancies, should they be discovered, are prima facie the result of sexist policies and, as such, can be eliminated entirely by employers: “Leadership: look at your organization. Compare the salaries of the women to the men who work at your company, and align their salaries. If all of your women are junior, evaluate them. How long have they been junior? Are they deserving of an increase in role, capabilities, and salary?”

These are fine policies to follow – notwithstanding the seeming suggestion that employers arbitrarily align salaries according to gender status irrespective of employment history, skill set, hours worked, etc. (In other words, even if an employee has three years of experience and is due for advancement, this will do nothing to equalize salaries if a significant proportion of her male coworkers have fifteen or more years experience a piece.) On their own, however, these fine questions aren't enough. We must also study the male-female ratio among qualified candidates from whom studios receive applications. We must ask what percentage of women pursue educations in programming? What percentage of women whose salaries we survey are married? (Academic women who never married average slightly higher incomes than male counterparts.) How many of the women whose salaries we survey take extended time off for maternity leave? (Different occupations have different rates of obsolescence for their respective skills, so that interruptions of careers in some fields are more damaging to one's career than in other fields.) And the answers that these inquiries yield prompt more pressing questions.

This is a topic that deserves to be talked about, and for that reason we should subject morally attractive propositions to more scrutiny, not less.


Stryker Profile said...

Great post. I agree entirely.
I have similar thoughts on violence in games. Is it possible to have a real discussion about whether or not we want most of the games we play to be violent teenage power fantasies? Even if we decide there's no correlation with real world violence, isn't it boring after a while? Does the fact that politicians cry out against it mean we need to instinctively rally around it and pledge our allegiance to head shots?

Mafuchi said...

Cool article. Nice to see someone in the games biz argue like an academic rather than a writer.

99thdream said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey Grubb said...

Fuck. This a really good point.

I really wish Game Dev would have released the information per gender and according to experience.

Unknown said...

I appreciate the points raised in this post and they are well stated. I can't help but feel that any argument against people using statistics and research poorly is a little pointless. It's unfortunate that this is the norm, and doubly so when it's used to attack the boogieman as you pointed out.

I have to wonder if a piece like this means anything to people that don't already see the issues.

Shvarts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shvarts said...

The annual blog post!

One hopes the person who presented the industry data chose the most representative picture, but we can't speak confidently until we have some medians and standard deviations!--and just more data in general.

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