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A Swede in Germany

Archive for October 2020

Quitting the VDE / Follow-up: My experiences with professional associations and similar groups / Follow-up: A few thoughts on English and German language choices around men and women

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I have previously written both about my disappointing experiences with professional associations and similar groups ([1]) and absurd PC language in Germany (e.g. [2]; and, obviously, a number of texts on English PC language).

As I wrote in [1]:

VDE: So far, knock-on-wood, the least disappointing organization and the only one where I am still a member. There are some VDI-like tendencies, but they are nowhere near as strong and there is much more of the engineer mentality I found wanting at VDI.

I have now decided to terminate my membership in VDE, too. This partially for the simple reason that I have switched careers,* but also due to a growing disappointment with the quarterly membership magazine (“VDE Dialog”). About a year ago, in particular, an edition (04/2019) had a great focus on the environment or the climate, which forewent a scientific and “engineery” approach in favor of Greta-Thunberg-style populism and superficiality. One interview spoke derogatorily of nuclear power; and no-one from the VDE spoke in its defense. To my recollection, nuclear power found no serious mention or discussion—remarkable for a magazine/organization ostensibly targeted at electrical engineers.

*This is a German organization for electrical engineers and members of related professions. Even as an IT consultant, I was stretching it; as a writer of novels, I am wasting my of money.

I wrote a letter pointing this out, and also noting that articles were mostly written by non-engineers, including various freelance journalists. I suggested improvements, including that the set of authors be switched to people with a deeper scientific and technical understanding, and that VDE should remember the typical qualification level and field of the readers—a master degree in a STEM field being a typical education.

This letter has so far remained unanswered* and the situation has not improved.

*Not counting a generic remark in the next edition that there had been a large amount of feedback, both positive and negative, on the topic. Reading between the lines, I suspect that there was a considerable amount of criticism.

The latest edition (04/2020) again addresses environmental topics. The result was similar, including a great emphasis on hydrogen as fuel, but nothing or next to nothing on nuclear power.

It also has a 16-page special on “Corona”, with a similar superficiality and lack of probing and understanding—starting with the abuse of “Corona” for the COVID pandemic: the Corona-family is not a one-virus thing and many (most?) infections are indisputably trivial, e.g. as one of the leading causes behind the common cold. Hitler came from Austria, but not all Austrians are Hitler; SARS-CoV-2 is a Corona virus, but not all Corona viruses are SARS-CoV-2.

However, what really pissed me off, and where we have the connection between the two topics*: One article used “Nutzerinnen und Nutzer” (“[female] users and [male] users”), with a footnote claiming “In der Folge verwenden wir aus Gründen der besseren Lesbarkeit nur die weibliche Form.” (“In the following, for better readability, we only use the female [sic!] form.”) …

*I recommend reading [2] before continuing. Search for “Then Germany:”, if you want to get to the point faster.

So: First the article unnecessarily uses “Nutzerinnen” together with the epicene* “Nutzer”, despite the extreme awkwardness of the phrase—and then it tries to remedy the situation by exclusively using the non(!)-epicene female-only form. Idiotic beyond belief and proving a complete ignorance of language and contempt for the readers. (Who, again, are typically highly educated STEM professionals—not brainwashed snowflakes trying to complete a degree in gender-studies without being expelled for wrongspeak or wrongthink.)

*Roughly, a word which can include both biological sexes irrespective of its own grammatical gender, something very common in German. Here, “Nutzer” (without “Nutzerinnen”) would almost always have been taken to imply both male and female users, just like the English “users”.

The typical motivation for this PC nonsense is to not make readers feel “excluded”. The solution to this largely imaginary problem, here, was to remove a form that any native and rational German* would see as inclusive of both sexes, and to use a form that any native and rational German would see as excluding men, barring an explicit statement to a contrary intent. Consider e.g. a U.S. talent agency saying “we represent actresses and actors, but in the rest of this advert, we will speak of actresses to keep things simple”—where no-one (sane) would have raised even half an eye-brow had the text originally just said “we represent actors” and would almost certainly have expected “we represent male actors”, if the contrary was intended.

*Sorry, “Germanin or German”.

To boot, “Nutzerinnen” is about twice as long as “Nutzer”, which reduces readability, and the original order (“Nutzerinnen und Nutzer”) is flawed, as discussed in [2].

VDE is exactly the type of organization which should take a clear stand against this type of anti-intellectual and contemptuous PC nonsense. It is also exactly the type of organization that should speak out for a scientific approach to climate issues, not populist FUD—which includes an objective and neutral take on nuclear power.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2020 at 9:56 pm

The 2020 Nobel Prizes: Women and the Nobel Prize

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I have traditionally posted on the Nobel Prizes and women once a year. I had not intended to do so this year, as I have more-or-less closed this blog. However, the results of 2020 were unusually interesting, and I will make an exception. I might or might not make future exceptions.

(I refer to earlier years for background, assumptions, etc.)

Looking at the three core Prizes, women provided 3 out of 8 Laureates and took 1.25 out of 3 Prizes, including the entire Chemistry Prize and a share of the Physics Prize—both of which are historically quite rare.

Considering 2018, there might be some change underway:* The female Laureates of 2018 and 2020 have doubled the number of female winners in Physics from two to four and almost doubled the Chemistry winners from four to seven. Moreover, the 2020 Chemistry Prize was won without joint male Laureates, which is a further rarity.

*Or just coincidence. If there is change, I leave unstated what type of change, for want of sufficient data. (But I note that I am highly skeptical to ideas like “STEM fields oppress women”, which was an original motivation in this series.)

The last ties in well with a portion of my discussion from 2019: The possibility that some women* have received a (partial) Prize more through having the right husband or male team-member(s) than through own merit. Here there is little risk of that.

*Men too, obviously, but in the context of the proportions of male respectively female winners, these would have a far smaller impact.

The “extra-curricular” Economy Prize went to two men; while the out-of-competition Literature and Peace Prizes went to a woman respectively an organization. We, then, have a total of 4 women to 7 men and 2.25 Prizes to 2.75. Whether looking at the core Prizes or the overall situation, this is arguably the best women’s year of all times.

Excursion on Literature:
Unfortunately, I suspect that some type of quota is in place, striving for approximately alternate male/female winners, or at least a rough long-term 50–50. In the last eight years, we have the sequence* F M F M M F M F, for four male and four female winners, and only one exception to the alternating pattern—and that exception might have been caused by the choice of Bob Dylan.

*F(emale) and M(ale). I tried W(oman) and M(an), but that was near unreadable.

Looking back further, since 2004 and the unfortunate win of Elfriede Jelinek, we have the following sequence: F M M F M F M M M F M F M M F M W. Here the trend is weaker, with three (new) and seven (in all) female winners to six (new) and ten (in all) male winners, with the difference being carried by a single three-in-a-row for men 2010–2012. Noting that other non-literary concerns, including other “diversity concerns”, might have played in, and that woman might well have a harder time as authors in the non-Western parts of the world, this is still suspect. For instance, having an only second (!) Chinese Literature winner in 2012 might have trumped the fear of having three men in a row, as might having the first Peruvian (in any category) in 2010.*

*True, this leaves open why yet another male Swedish winner was needed in 2011, but the general point of sex not being the only concern holds. Indeed, as Wikipedia on Tomas Tranströmer claims: “The Swedish Academy revealed that he had been nominated every single year since 1993.” A “this year might be the last chance” criterion could have played in; and he did die just a few years later.

This type of regularity is unlikely if chance was the only thing playing in. By analogy, flip a coin thrice and there is a chance of 1/4 that it will be three-of-a-kind over just these three throws,* while here the entire series of seventeen only contained one three-in-a-row and no four-or-higher-in-a-row. Further, the above sequence sees a full twelve transitions out of sixteen possible; flipping a coin, the expectation value would be eight.** If the sexes, unlike a fair coin, do not have a 50–50 probability, then the regularity becomes the more remarkable.***

*The first flip is uninteresting, there is a 1/2 chance that the second has the same side up, and another 1/2 that the third does too, for 1/4 in all.

**There is a 1/2 chance of a transition with any throw (excepting the first). 16 x 1/2 = 8.

***For instance, if we assume 60–40, then the chance of three-in-a-row over just the first three throws rises to 0.6^3 + 0.4^3 = 0.28 compared to the original 1/4 = 0.25. 70–30 gives 0.37, etc.

(But I stress that the above is merely suspect—not outside what can legitimately happen by chance.)

Excursion on the Chemistry Prize:
My first reaction when reading the motivation “for the development of a method for genome editing” (cf. Wikipedia on Chemistry Laureates) was that this was more a matter of Medicine/Physiology than Chemistry, which would have made a female win less unusual. However, the last few decades, similar motivations appear to be quite common. I am not certain whether I agree with general idea, but it is, then, not likely to be very important in the current context.

Excursion on references:
I did not keep track on references during writing, but mostly various Wikipedia pages. I am loathe to track them back, as this text has taken much longer than intended—exactly the type of problem that moved me to close this blog.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2020 at 7:24 pm

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A hard to close blog / Follow-up: Closing down this blog (extraordinary post)

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While this blog remains closed in principle, I have to add another type of exception: unusually relevant follow-ups.

Of these, I have two in the pipeline that I intend to publish today or tomorrow, depending on what time allows.

Unlike with an earlier exception and the current text, I will not mark further exceptions with “(extraordinary post)”, as this is clear from context and as the phrase could be misunderstood to imply some other type of “extraordinary”.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2020 at 4:40 pm