Monday, January 31, 2011

Wikimedia: Dumbing Down the Idiocracy?


Several areas of commerce, enterprise, and science remain the province of mainly-male participation. Physics, mathematics, advanced computer science, technical engineering, math-intensive sciences, aircraft test pilots and combat pilots, commercial sea captains, and so on. Most informed people understand that research is dominated by males, but few people realise that technical information intensive areas -- such as highly demanding reference information providers -- are also dominated by males. A lot of politically involved feminists would like to change that situation, but is there a danger in moving too forcefully from the top down when changes may adversely affect critically important services?
...surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of [Wikipedia's] hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.

About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University.

...The notion that a collaborative, written project open to all is so skewed to men may be surprising. After all, there is no male-dominated executive team favoring men over women, as there can be in the corporate world; Wikipedia is not a software project, but more a writing experiment — an “exquisite corpse,” or game where each player adds to a larger work.

...The public is increasingly going to Wikipedia as a research source: According to a recent Pew survey, the percentage of all American adults who use the site to look for information increased to 42 percent in May 2010, from 25 percent in February 2007. This translates to 53 percent of adults who regularly use the Internet.

Jane Margolis, co-author of a book on sexism in computer science, “Unlocking the Clubhouse,” argues that Wikipedia is experiencing the same problems of the offline world, where women are less willing to assert their opinions in public. “In almost every space, who are the authorities, the politicians, writers for op-ed pages?” said Ms. Margolis, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.

...Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas.

“Gender is a huge hot-button issue for lots of people who feel strongly about it,” she said. “I am not interested in triggering those strong feelings.”

Kat Walsh, a policy analyst and longtime Wikipedia contributor who was elected to the Wikimedia board, agreed that indirect initiatives would cause less unease in the Wikipedia community than more overt efforts.

But she acknowledged the hurdles: “The big problem is that the current Wikipedia community is what came about by letting things develop naturally — trying to influence it in another direction is no longer the easiest path, and requires conscious effort to change.” _NYT
The Wikipedia world is indeed a rough and tumble world of competitive edits and re-writes. If a person cannot withstand criticism and competition, they will not likely last long in that world.

The male hormone testosterone shapes the human brain in multiple ways not yet fully comprehended by science or society at large. Much of what science has learned about the influence of hormones such as testosterone on the gender differences so prevalent in society, is considered not politically correct -- and thus essentially unmentionable in left-leaning tabloids such as the New York Times, quoted above. Testosterone makes males more interested in objects than people, more competitive, have generally superior spatial and higher math skills, physically larger and stronger with greater stamina, tending to greater independence, and generally more logically determined and less emotional in the face of distractions.

Charles Murray's fascinating book, Human Accomplishment, provides a historical reflection of the phenomenon that Wikimedia's executives and critics are struggling with. Males have tended to achieve the lion's share of discoveries, inventions, and masterpieces of art, music, and literature as far back as history can tell.

A population shrinkage is occurring among the more intelligent people of the world -- Europeans and Northeast Asians -- while an explosive growth of population is occurring among the less intelligent people of the world. The average intelligence of the human population is inexorably dropping from near 90 points of IQ, downward -- close to the mid-80s and below. That qualifies as an Idiocracy.

In order to dumb down the Idiocracy, one must institute foolish rules of arbitrary and counter-productive governance, while educating the populace to accept dumbed-down groupthink rather than to think for themselves. It is easier than you might think. What Wikimedia is contemplating -- and what many western governments have done, and called affirmative action -- is an excellent example.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The "Skyscraper Index" and China's Building Boom

Table 1: World's Tallest Buildings
Completed Building Location Height Stories Economic Crisis
1908 Singer New York 612 ft. 48 Panic of 1907
1909 Metropolitan Life New York 700 ft. 50 Panic of 1907
1912 Woolworth New York 792 ft. 57 ——
1929 40 Wall Street New York 927 ft. 71 Great Depression
1930 Chrysler New York 1,046 ft. 77 Great Depression
1931 Empire State New York 1,250 ft. 102 Great Depression
1972/73 World Trade Center New York 1,368 ft. 110 1970s stagflation
1974 Sears Tower Chicago 1,450 ft. 110 1970s stagflation
1997 Petronas Tower Kuala Lumpur 1,483 ft. 88 East Asian
2012 Shanghai Shanghai 1,509 ft. 94 China?
Lawrence showed that in almost all cases the initiation of construction of a new record-breaking skyscraper preceded major financial corrections and turmoil in economic institutions. Generally, the skyscraper project is announced and construction is begun during the late phase of the boom in the business cycle; when the economy is growing and unemployment is low. This is then followed by a sharp downturn in financial markets, economic recession or depression, and significant increases in unemployment. The skyscraper is then completed during the early phase of the economic correction, unless that correction was revealed early enough to delay or scrap plans for construction. For example, the Chrysler Building in New York was conceived and designed in 1928 and the groundbreaking ceremony was conducted on September 19, 1928. "Black Tuesday" occurred on October 29, 1929, marking the beginning of the Great Depression. Opening ceremonies for the Chrysler Building occurred on May 28, 1930, making it the tallest building in the world. _Mises

China is building 44% of the 50 skyscrapers to be completed worldwide in the next six years, increasing the number of skyscrapers in Chinese cities by over 50%, says Andrew Lawrence, an Asian property analyst at investment bank Barclays Capital.

China is already host to six of the 15 tallest, completed buildings in the world, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

..."The appetite in China for high-rises, in the last five years and the next five, is bigger than ever before in the history of building," says Silas Chiow, China director for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the U.S. architectural firm, founded in Chicago, responsible for the Burj Khalifa.

The firm is currently engaged in 50 China projects, including the tallest buildings in eight separate cities.

Chinese government officials believe high-rises "show their progress in terms of urbanization and modernism," spur wider development by boosting investor confidence, and symbolize "a city's desire to become modern and international," says Chiow, a Chinese-American based in China for the past 15 years. _USAToday_via_ImpactLab

Friday, January 07, 2011

Bombing the Planet with Tree Seedlings: Terraforming Earth?

In most modern forestry operations in the developed world, at least 5 new seedlings are planted for each tree that is cut down. But in the third world, the emerging world, and in the non-forestry world, there is plenty of room for planting new trees.

MIT researcher Moshe Alamaro wants to pull fleets of old military transports and bombers out of mothballs, and use them to bombard the planet with special tree seedling bomblets.
Alamaro collaborated with U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin in the late ’90s to replace the tedious and back-breaking work of manually planting trees by dropping saplings from the sky. The idea, which could see nearly one million trees planted per day, was based on research done at the University of British Columbia in the 1970s. The concept involved using a small fertilizing plane to drop saplings in plastic pods one at a time from a hopper. But it wasn’t very fruitful—most pods hit debris during pilot tests and failed to actually take root.

“It was pretty crude,” says Dennis Bendickson, a forestry professor at UBC, who was a student when the first tests were conducted. He says the upgraded idea, which is meant to create new forests on empty landscapes instead of debris-strewn cuts, “could get success rates of probably 90 per cent.”

The process Alamaro advocates places trees in metal pods that rot on contact with the ground, instead of the low-tech and less sturdy plastic version. He says the process can be adapted to plant shrubs, and would work best in places with clear, loose soil, such as sub-desert parts of the Middle East, or newly habitable Arctic tundra opened up by global warming. “What is needed is government policy to use old military aircraft,” he says, adding that thousands are in hangars across the globe. _Macleans
Observant persons will recognise the undercurrent of climate hysteria which runs beneath most proposals such as this. Unfortunately, large scale geoengineering projects are as likely to plunge the planet into a new ice age as they are to improve living conditions for the planet's lifeforms.

Nevertheless, there are large areas of the third world that have been stripped bare by human and other animal plant-abusers. Large areas of borderline desert could be transformed into more diverse habitats by wise re-vegetation policies. Perhaps even profitable food or biomass farms can be seeded and re-seeded economically using this approach.

Certainly the experiment is worth performing.