Conformation Bias

This is not Sarah, who was called away on some mysterious errand, which I am almost certain has nothing whatsoever to do with taking over the world and leaving it ruthlessly alone. Couldn’t possibly be. And we know where Larry Correia is, so they aren’t plotting, right? And Kate Paulk? Because that would be very, very…. interesting… Yes, interesting, that’s the word I want.

Confirmation bias, also called myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, or remember information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.

What connects this, this, and this?  I’ll wait…

Now that you’re back, and done sputtering over the utter nonsense about the Starship Troopers movie, I’ll begin again. The problem with polls and surveys is that, of course, the people conducting them see what they want to see in the results. In that first link, none of the references given are what I’d call scholarly, and some are downright skeevy. In the second one, the guy wanted to make a point, no matter how far he had to stretch to find it (Mr. Elastic, is that you? Not so fantastic…). And in the final one, when you ask for opinions, you can’t treat them as facts. Which is, of course, the whole point behind infographics and memes. People trust numbers. No, don’t ask me why, I don’t know. Dave is probably your man when it comes to that, I am a mere padawan of statistics comparably. But people don’t ask what is going on to generate those numbers, if they say what they want them to say.

Time did a piece recently, based on a poll of readers in England, that they say shows most men prefer male authors, and most women prefer female authors. How do they know? They don’t really. Here’s the thing. They included, for instance, a book written by Robert Galbraith with the women authors. Why? Well, because the surveyors knew that Robert Galbraith was really a woman. But they don’t seem to care that the readers didn’t. Frankly, I don’t bother to research whether that book I just picked up was written by a male or a female. I bought a book yesterday by an author with an ambiguous name. I didn’t check the picture on the inside cover to make sure it was the right gender (hard to do on an ebook!). I’m fairly sure that were I to poll all of you, O Readers wise and wonderful, you would respond similarly.

So what about that book I bought? What inspired me to get it? Well, as it happens I know the author. Actually, I bought two books yesterday, and I knew both authors. One is a buy-on-sight author (and that book was free, anyway) and the other is someone I think is a nice person, and I want to try more by them. So of the two new releases, I looked at blurbs, thought ‘that looks like fun’ and it wasn’t terribly expensive, so I went for it. This is roughly what my usual process is for buying a book. I don’t care if the author has purple polka dots and is a neuter gender, I just want a good read. I certainly don’t go around asking if anyone knows who a good female writer of, say, military science fiction is. If I want a list of good military science fiction, I don’t give a damn who/what wrote it.

So can you guess the gender of this author? (those of you who know this book, no spoilers!)

 The woman who answered the door was wearing the most amazing shirt. Knitted silk, I think, it clung to her like a second skin, and even though it was dark blue, managed to be transparent. I could see the shadowed curves of a truly magnificent rack, terminating in the slightly darker shadows of her aureoles. I swallowed hard, my mouth suddenly dry. She was looking over my head, and I had seen all this in the time it took her to utter a grumpy “what the hell?” and look down at me.

It was heroic, but I managed to meet her eyes. They widened as she took in all four foot five of me. “You’re a pixie,” she blurted.

I must have been thrown off balance by the boobs, that’s all I can figure. We’re not supposed to admit anything of the sort, dammit. I croaked out a witty response.
“Um, yah.”

She slammed the door in my face. 

The Grammarly poll asked for opinions, and got them. Are you a male and want to be taken for a female writer? Spend lots of time developing your characters. Also, meander, and take a while getting to the point. These are a couple of the things that people believe about female writers rather than males. Can you tell if a man wrote this, or a female? You can try. Chances are you’ll guess right. But that’s because men and women do tend to think differently and focus on different things. But not all women are all about shoes and shopping, and not all men are all about action and adventure. It would be a mistake to stereotype, but that is exactly what these surveys are doing. They are saying that men only like to read manly books, which they anticipate from a masculine author’s name, and women prefer the softer, gentler side, which they expect from a feminine name.

Frankly, my dear, I’ll read what I damn well please.

(in totally unrelated news, I’m running a special Christmas sale on my paper books, signed. Look here if you’re curious.) 


  1. The author of that passage ? A bisexual camel named “Chet”. Next question ? (evil grin, and I know EXACTLY who wrote that. . . )

  2. For the looooongest time, the only reason I’d remember an author’s name was ‘oh hey I like that person’s writing’ and snag the book. The author’s name was a tag in my head that said “This person writes good stories and good books I like to read. Look at title. Oh you don’t have that title yet! GET BOOK NOW.”

    That’s it. All I cared about the author was that they wrote books I liked. Gender? Skin color? Don’t care. I like the stories. That’s all I cared about.

    1. A lot of authors went by their initials way back when, which made gender obscure. J.G. Ballard, for example, which made it impossible to tell. (I have no idea WHAT that particular example was the first to come to mind, I don’t remember any of his books.) Ah, or A.E. van Vogt.

      EandO Binder is a special case.

      Okay, my point isn’t really helped by the fact that these are all male authors.

      Andre Norton used multiple male pseudonyms.

      1. PN Elrod. I went from buying every single book to leaving them at home (deployed to Japan) and then reading them and finding out I was over it before I found out that the author is female.

        Part of it is that I didn’t care……

      2. Yeah, and I thought for years that Andre was a guy because to me, Andre was a male name. And, as a kid, I’d thought Mercedes was a name only a guy would use because I only associated it with the car, not knowing that female names tended to be used for car models. But I think you can see the kid logic there…

        1. Andre is a male name which the Author used instead of her real first name of (IIRC) Alice. Later, she had her name legally changed to Andre Norton.

  3. I just try and tell riveting stories, although it’s darned obvious that I am a female … and I try to split the male/female interests pretty much down the middle. Curiously, guys are the largest part of my die-hard fan grouping,

  4. For a long time I assumed Andre Norton was a guy because, well, Arthur C. Clark, Issac Asimov and Frank Herbert were guys, and they wrote cool books, so Andre must be a guy. She’s not? Doesn’t matter. I admit I’d be a little curious about male names on cozies (the Mitford series sort of books) and women who write techno thrillers, but that is more “that’s unusual” than “ick, don’t bother, they can’t get it right, run away, run away” sorts of feelings.

    1. I should add I’m still amused at the (fewer and fewer) people who swear the Honor Harrington books are really written by Mrs. Weber or another woman, because NO man could possibly write such a good female character. 😛

      1. That’s just because they’re pawns, nay: victims! – willing or un – of the Patriarchy. Honor Herrington is a nerdy writer’s female wish fulfillment made flesh (sort of) and can’t be considered strong, or even a woman, really.

        And all you need to believe that is the appropriate grievance studies degree, which will be worth about the ink with which it is printed, though not – obviously – worth also the paper.

        1. In all seriousness, I hear more that Honor is too unrealistic, too man-with-boobs, too unvictimized or whatever to be a good Strong Female Character. Apparently, SFC have to be strong in the right manner. Not really sure what that manner is, to be honest.

  5. I’ve enjoyed Andre Norton’s books since I discovered them as a teenager. It was only a couple of years ago that I realized that ‘he’ was a ‘she’. My reaction then is the same as it is now: I don’t care one way or the other. I love the books.

  6. The author has to be male, what woman would refer to a woman’s breasts as a “rack”?
    What is the book please?

    1. Or the author is “channeling” a male character. Oh Cedar, can we tell Sam who the author is?

    2. You might look at who has written urban fantasy featuring pixies.

      Aside from that, how many guys have any idea what knitted silk is, or could identify it at a glance?
      Or would shift from the vulgar “rack” to the highbrow “areola” in the same sentence without a major change in tone?

      1. I’m home from classes, and yes, that’s the opening scene to Pixie Noir. Here’s the thing. I did run a lot of that book, which is largely written first person, male POV, by my First Reader for his input. But not this scene, which was intended to make him laugh. And yes, I was trying to channel ‘male’ not only in how it was phrased, but the style.

            1. Authors have gender? I thought they had sex.
              Got it, loved it and the sequel. Eagerly awaiting the next in the series. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.)

              1. I will refrain from commenting on what this author does. However, I can say that in one week, after my final final exam for this semester, the sequel Dragon Noir will begin… I’m hoping to have it done by the time the semester begins again in 2015.

  7. Ok, that one link showed things that woman apparently write differently than men (I don’t know if it’s true or not), then arbitrarily decided that they were better. Riiight.

    1. Yes, that was an opinion piece – as in, they asked for people’s opinions – and then was presented as ‘this is true about…” rather than ‘this is a perception.”

  8. Had a devil of a time researching female Hugo and Nebula award winners a while back for a piece Sarah did with Charlie for PJMedia. Since it was a rush job I didn’t have the option to google every name, and had to go with personal knowledge and middle American guesswork as to likely first name gender. There were by the way a boatload of female winners. Most interesting factoid was that a significant majority of Campbell Award winners were female.

    1. Yes, I’d forgotten about that. There is a definite tilt toward female authors in recent years, which is downplayed by those who are calling for more female authors.

  9. That Starship Troopers article . . . ack . . . gah . . . grrr . . .

    Once again, I call for a home-brew commentary for that movie, starring Ringo, Williamson, Kratman, Hoyt and Correia. It’s the ONLY thing that would make that movie bearable.

    1. Oooh goodie, MST3000 on steroids!
      I have had the honor at one time or another of being in the same room with all of those notables on your list. Each and every one tends to dominate their immediate surroundings in a non confrontational but palpable way. The idea of all of them at once on a panel or such is something I’d pay money to see.

          1. I’m pretty sure that Tom and Larry don’t drink. Or is that for the audience? Like a fine brandy with a show?

            1. I think there’d at least be alcohol on the table, so that everything said could be blamed on the alcohol. A very regrettable beverage, that.

              Myself, I think the entire panel should be in room with a Class III Beverage alert on the door. I mean, can you imaging the coughing and choking and sinus clearing of trying to take a drink right as the rebuttals and one-liners and puns are flying?

              1. It would have to be Demon Rum. A pint glass full, just sitting on the table. Also, I think we’d need to get the opinion of our resident entomologist on the Bugs. Just because.

    2. Or, presuming Ringo and Mad Mike count as of the Evil League of Evil, ELOECon.

      Mmm, ELOECon. That sounds like it would be an awesome Con. Let’s see, given Halliburton, the first candidates for location are Duncan, Oklahoma, Houston, Texas, and Dubai.

      The booklet must be bound in an unknown leather, printed in a strangely angular script, and weep blood.

      A con that could reliably pull a decent chunk of the ELOE as guests would probably need to be pretty strong in gaming, literature, and maybe anime.

      Members must have been indicted for crimes against humanity in a jurisdiction as legitimate as the international criminal court.

      1. OOH Please make it Duncan, I’s can makes Dunkan, surely I’s can. I’m working on Liberty Con; but Duncan, I can invite friends. Course, most of them are afraid of being near that much evil at one time; however, I can tell them I’ll protect… Aw why lie, toss em in and see if they can swim.

  10. I read an interview with the director, Paul Verhoeven who said that he made the movie that way because Heinlein was a fascist.
    I am a huge Heinlein fan, but I have never seen the movie.

    1. I hated what little I saw of the movie BEFORE I first read Heinlein. Now it pushes me into CHRIS SMASH! mode.

      1. It isn’t Heinlein that’s the fascist. Like Christopher, I only saw a little of the movie and it wasn’t nothing like the book. Like fine wine left on the table while lead radiator cooled moonshine is passed to the guests.

        1. It’s an abomination unto Nuggan, and a travesty of an “adaptation.” Beyond that, it’s actually a pretty fun flick. You really have to assume nobody besides Zim has any idea what they’re doing. The “military” aspects of it are laughable, to the point where you have supposed drop troopers charging en masse on foot. You have a “Colonel” who doesn’t so much as put out scouts, and patrols in company strength (admittedly a good idea when dealing with voracious BEMs, but I’m certain it wasn’t done on purpose). It’s … it’s best to watch, actually, when used as a backdrop for dealing with a real life insect infestation, in which case it just adds flavor to the proceedings.

  11. The idea that men and women write so differently that readers can “just tell” the author’s gender by reading a passage is nonsense. Where do they get these “facts,” anyway?

    I’m probably irredeemably evil because I DON’T CARE what an author’s gender is. I think I can live with that, though.

    I did an experiment once with some “gender guesser” computer program that analyses writing samples and tells you if the author is male of female based on writing style. The results were… amusing, I suppose. Definitely NOT accurate, or even close to it. (I wrote about this on my blog, if anyone cares:

    1. I apparently write like a boy. 🙂 My science fiction and my romance come out with the same scores. The closest I got was “weak female” for a bit of memoir. The first fiction I checked was 81.77% male on their “informal” test. I tried non-fiction school papers, which were “more” male. It was funny. The 2nd person experiment story tested a little bit female. The sassy 1st person romance… male.

      1. I also write like a boy. I threw in a bit of really purple prose from a creative writing class in college (since removed-unfortunately not quite purple enough for that ‘Dark and stormy night’ contest) and that was even stronger male than my regular fiction writing. That’s okay, though, the POV character I tried is male, so why shouldn’t the story from his viewpoint read male? (I have more faith in my male first readers judgement on the maleness of characters.)

  12. For what it’s worth, the snippet read “female” to me. I couldn’t say why, exactly. Maybe I’m going on “describes clothes”. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d been wrong though.

    Years and years ago when the internet was a less civilized (but no less rough) place and lots of people used non-gendered pseudonyms, (or were from Finland,) I was on rec.arts.sf.composition on usenet (still exists, still has some of the people) and we were all writers to some measure, and all readers, and a lot of linguistics sorts, too… and we got talking about if a person could *tell* or not by how any individual wrote, if they were a man or a woman. And the conclusion was that it was impossible. A lot of people “came out” and said, oh yeah, my first initial is for “Julie”, and people we’d “known” and been having conversations and arguments with for *years* and we’d be confessing to the picture we had in our heads and how often the man or woman part was just wrong.

  13. I was kinda hoping that “Necessity” came across as female, since it is written in first person from a female character’s point of view.

  14. I just finished ‘Farmhand;, written by a woman using a woman’s pen name.
    My initial reaction when Cedar told me I had to read Romance (ACK! GACK! PFFFT!) was to treat it as an allegory of the evolution of the space program. And I might yet do that. But it points to the problem that it’s not the gender of the AUTHOR of the work that presents issues, it’s the gender of the READER of the work…and if Vanessa finds out I read Farmhand, she’s going to make me watch a Hallmark movie.

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