Saturday, 8 February 2014

During the 1970s I didn't know I was being mansplained!

Mansplain- delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation……. To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether (Urban Dictionary, 2013).
Of course one of the reasons I didn't know is the word hadn't been invented - and I had never heard of it until I read a post on Paige West's blog entitled My Year in Mansplaining. Both the definition, and Paige's post are highly sexist in that they suggest that it mansplaining involves a man putting down a woman that they disagree with. If Paige had been a coloured man I am sure the complaint would have been about racism. It is very easy to assume that if you are in a minority (sex and sexual orintation, race, nationality, disability, etc) the reason that someone put you down is automatically because of your membership of a minority.

In fact the approach is one used by many "experts" who encounter people who have ideas which do not fit into the expert's personal knowledge and beliefs. Experts frequenlty encounter many people whose ideas are based on shaky foundations and for example a professor of physics may not be able to spare much time on explaining, yet again, why perpetual motion machines are impossible. Some will use a pretty unpleasant brush off approach because they do not have the time or inclination to think outside their personal mental box. I run a web site which gives specialist advice on family history and I face a similar problem when people who have never read an elementary guide to genealogy ask a trivial question which they could have found the answer online themselves in seconds if only they had read "the ****ing manual". I try and be polite, helpful  and not condescending, without spending time I cannot really afford, but some of them might well feel I was simply brushing them off.

As a result I have commented on Paige's post, giving details of my own experience as followed:
While sexism may well be part of the problem in some cases my own experience (as a male research scientist) is that the approach is used by many high status academics (and others) to crush new ideas which do not conform to their expectations. It may not be deliberate in that they may be suffering from extreme confirmation bias and have difficulty in understanding “awkward” ideas and it is easier to reject rather than spend time creative thinking.
An example is appropriate relating to the “Artificial Intelligence” research I was doing in the 1970s. The A. I. establishment were researching games with a closed set of well defined rules such chess, and formal logic problems using sophisticated mathematical techniques. I was looking at computer intelligence from a completely different starting point. My research started after I looked at a working commercial system involving about 250,000 customers and 5,000 products, where the problems were a poor human-computer interface, and the fact that real world marketing involves customer contracts, products, government imposed regulations and competitors activities which were continually changing. I set up a prototype system to test out my idea, and much to my surprise I found it was very good at solving many of the formal logic problems one could find in contemporary A. I. Publications.
But could I publish? Of course not! Any papers had to get passed  establishment peer reviewers. Papers which included the result of computer simulations of perhaps a dozen recognised A. I. problems were returned “too theoretical, will never work.” I also got many verbal put downs along the lines that “A.I. is a very specialist field and people with a commercial computer background could not possibly understand it” and “You can't expect us to understand what you are doing because all competent A.I. Software is written in the pop2 computer language.” In desperation I sent a paper to the top U.S. Journal and got a rejection with four anonymous reviews. Two were vicious mansplaining rejections, one reviewer admitted he did not understand it, and one liked it. I was so dispirited that I abandoned any more research in this direction. It was only years later that I found the covering letter and read it right to the end. The editor would have known who the reviewers were, and perhaps their willingness to accept new ideas, and he actually urged me to continue as there was almost certainly something in what I was doing to annoy people so much!

No comments:

Post a comment