Sunday, November 18, 2018

Do they really believe in a black model who is an achieved iOS coder?

MC Virgo has provided me with some entertainment in the morning. He has recommended Alessandro Strumia to learn from a female IT CEO (named Maya Visheva or something South/East Slavic like that) who has said: "girls are quite lazy... they're not good programmers... at the end your company is going to suffer". Some people are dissatisfied with such general statements. Do they have any justification?

You bet – and it is cool. As MC Virgo mentioned, Lyndsey Scott (born 1984, Wiki) has been a (black) Victoria's Secret model, achieved lots in modeling, and now is a successful developer of iPhone and iPad apps. Her reputation at the Stack Exchange – mostly questions about coding – is almost 30,000.

And she's an ambassador for diversity in tech, has a Twitter account with her baby reading a book about baby feminism, and you may find some discussions with her on YouTube. She is lovely – but as far as I can see, her speech doesn't differ from the "somewhat smarter than average" Miss USA contestants.

Now, this would be really cool. But you know, rationally thinking people ask: Is it true? And if we can't settle this question with certainty, is it likely?

Needless to say, you may find tons of websites and cheesy journals that attack everyone who dares to question the claims. They're sexist dinosaurs and chauvinist trolls, you are told. Rational, critical thinking has turned into a heresy in many corners of the U.S. – and Europe.

Fortunately, the rules are very different on this website. In fact, everyone is encouraged to think as much as he or she can here. There are two basic explanations of the data:
  • She has really written the 400+ answers on Stack Exchange herself, and she was the key in writing all the iOS apps, programming tutorials, and other things.
  • Her picture has only been used as a marketing symbol and she, a girl with an acting degree, has agreed to play the role of the clever girl in order to help the IT companies she cooperates with. All the technical work is actually being done by some real IT experts, probably a team of white men.
Both explanations need numerous assumptions and some of them make each option less likely than it would otherwise be.

The "real deal" story starts with a girl who had a (newly released) TI-89 graphics calculator (sold in 1998-2004) when she was 13-14 or so. You could program it in TI-BASIC – or, more ambitiously, in the Motorola assembly language. Programming in C would be very indirect. We're told that she was making games on that TI-89. It almost certainly had to be in TI-BASIC but for some reasons, she hasn't used that term in the videos I could see. Coding in C was only possible on TI-89 with an extra computer and some complicated compiling and data transfers.

In a college, she learned Java and C++, got a mixed acting/coding Bachelor degree, later learned Python, Objective C, and iOS, and started to publish apps in the Apple Store – while she was employed as a model. Her 400+ Stackexchange answers place her in top 2% and there are many similar achievements like that.

OK, how plausible does it sound? Let's first talk about the ordinary IQ which is close enough to be the same quantity as the quantity needed to evaluate the ability to achieve the aforementioned outcomes in coding. The average U.S. blacks' IQ is 85, about the same for men and women. It's not too shocking because 85 is the average of 70, the average sub-Saharan IQ, and 100, the average whites' IQ, and the U.S. blacks are "half-black in average" for them to pick "black" as the dominant "color".

For coding at that truly successful level – to get through the barriers in the App Store etc. – you may need the IQ close to 130 which is 2 standard deviations above the universal mean but 3 standard deviations above the mean for U.S. blacks. For black women, coding really is extremely rare because black women are an "intersectional" minority – a minority squared. Here you have a Wikipedia page about black women in coding.

According to the page, some 1600 black girls got a bachelor degree in computer science in a year a decade ago, 300 got a master degree, 12 got a PhD. Now, she may have gotten through some basic bachelor degree but the achievements such as the top 2% on Stack Exchange indicate much more than that. In fact, I would argue that people who are among top 2% in the reputation at the Stackexchange about coding (but also other hard fields) must be good enough, basically on par with PhDs, and they would arguably deserve a PhD in that field themselves.

You know, her Stackexchange output could be said to be comparable to Ron Maimon's or someone like that. A single individual can't get this high without a sufficient focus.

The purpose of these comparisons is to say that the number of black women in the U.S. who are this good at coding could be between a dozen and a few hundreds. This should be compared to the number 20 million of black females in the U.S. If she does coding and related things as well as we are told, she is "one in one million" within the set of black women in the U.S.

But you know, we know many more things. When she was expanding her coding empire most quickly, she was also a full-time model. (Curiously, the less time she is spending with modeling, the less she produces in coding, too. Don't you have a possible rational explanation for that strange positive correlation? I do.) Even if you ignored that she must be "one in one million" black women in coding, you should still ask how many women among the 12-300 black women coders at the master or PhD level are spending their days by coding, to keep their coding job, and how many of them are only doing that programming job as a "second activity" after some obviously primary job such as modeling.

I think it's clear that a vast majority of the (already extremely scarce) black women in coding must really focus on the coding. The mean value of the expected number of black models who are doing a successful iOS coding career as their hobby seems to be much smaller than one.

Also, you can't really find any videos that would make it clear that Ms Scott is doing something technical. Why isn't there at least one video that shows how she is actually coding (or at least typing!) something? At least one monologue that goes beyond the generic motivational talk and basics of her story involving TI-89? Isn't it strange? Well, most people don't even ask this question. But even for those who do ask this question, there exists a perfect answer on the market. According to a June 2017 article in The Times, she likes to code in the bath! ;-)

OK, this could explain why you cannot really see her coding. If you saw her coding, you would see her in the bath, and therefore probably naked, and you can't expect that much. Some true heretics could still ask whether the bath is actually a necessary condition for her to be able to code but we don't want to be this heretical!

You know, my Alma Mater – the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at the Charles University (MFF UK) in Prague – has arguably attracted a majority or 1/2 of the girls (and boys) in the whole country (and maybe even Slovakia) who are really good at things such as coding. Aside from many boys, I have also interacted with some girls who were really really smart. With some bullish retroactive interpretation ;-), I have dated some, too.

There have been girls who were really good, a girl with a gold medal from the International Mathematical Olympiad (I only got a bronze there in Moscow after winning the last Czechoslovak contest). Girls were given homework to write a program and we had to help them. They clearly could learn some Pascal or C and use it in some way.

I think that I know something about the distribution of their approaches, limitations, and other things. First of all, girls are obviously a small percentage at MFF UK. Second, MFF UK has four basic fields to major in – physics, mathematics, computer science, and teaching of STEM. Boys really dominate in the first three – the harder ones (except for e.g. weather science where girls are normal) – while girls have a reasonably high percentage in teaching of STEM, for obvious reasons. Some of these girls are still very smart and could do the "real" three (non-teaching) fields, too.

But despite the many very bright (and sometimes also stunningly beautiful) girls (these two things really don't exclude each other) girls, I have never met one who would really have the usual male-style geeky obsession with coding, who would be enthusiastic to start a difficult enough project, complete it, and do it again because it looked like fun to them. At most, the approach of the girls-in-coding was similar to that of those boys who weren't really thrilled with computers much. In Scott's context, we want to talk about a similar situation in which the "mean value of the relevant abilities" is smaller by one standard deviation – the equivalent of 15 points on the IQ scale. Sorry, I just don't buy it.

One could debate "how unlikely" are all these unlikely assumptions you need to believe the story that she has really done those iOS and other things herself. People's estimates of the probability – and the number of black women obeying a certain property – could differ by orders of magnitude.

But there's another side of the reasoning: It's the other explanation. And this explanation looks so totally plausible and requiring no "very unlikely assumptions" at all that I find it almost obvious that it is the right explanation. The model was just used as a marketing tool to make some IT projects – most likely, by a bunch of white men – more visible and successful. And they just wanted to make it "more cool" which is why they decided that the black woman would not only be their ambassador. She would actually be presented as "the woman who did all those things".

With this goal in mind, they were looking for a pretty enough woman – from an intersectional minority – who could be "remotely plausibly" claimed to do such things herself. So they were (inevitably) actively looking for the ideal candidate. And they found a model with a mixed acting/coding degree and simply created the fairy-tale. It is very clear that:
  • some people have a commercial motivation to do such tricks
  • some of their supporters have the ideological motivation to spread the idea that the story is real (incidentally, if there were a real iOS coder-model, it would be very unlikely for her to talk like just another generic "activist promoting diversity")
  • the atmosphere of political correctness is so extreme in the U.S. that people who dare to question the story are easily and immediately attacked
So stories like that, however ludicrous, may spread like fire. You don't need to believe any conspiracy theory here. The unpopularity of common sense in such discussions is a fact in the U.S. There is demonstrably a "war on common sense" underway in the U.S.: it is often called "the war on stereotypes" but it means exactly the same thing. Sorry, Gentlemen, but I won't buy these claims before I see it with my naked eyes and I think that the people who quickly buy these stories are just hopelessly gullible morons.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

You know, I am not quite sure that this coder is fake. I am not quite sure about anything. But it's exactly like Feynman and the flying saucers. It is much more likely that the reports of the iOS coding black models are the results of the known irrational characteristics of the terrestrial intelligence rather than the unknown extraordinary intellectual efforts of a group of people usually seen as extra-STEM.

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