Does Gender Bias Skew Facebook Code Reviews?


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

Ruiwen Chua | Flickr

Programming code isn’t gendered. It’s inhuman, mathematical, objective — or so many engineers believe. But it’s also a product of human minds, judged by human beings. When one Facebook engineer conducted a study of code reviews inside the company last year, she found that women’s contributions were rejected 35 percent more often than those written by their male colleagues (Deepa Seetharaman in The Wall Street Journal).

The study caused a ruckus inside Facebook and led to a follow-up investigation by a Facebook executive that arrived at a different conclusion. Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of infrastructure, found that the different rejection rates were the result of differences in engineers’ rank at the company, not gender. Less experienced, more junior engineers got more rejections. And of course it turns out that many more of Facebook’s female engineers — who make up only 17 percent of the company’s technical workforce — fit that description.

At least Facebook took the issue seriously. Now it should go a step further and share its data so independent scholars can review these conflicting studies and sort out what’s really happening. Whether looking at software developers writing code, entrepreneurs raising money, or designers shaping products, Silicon Valley continues to have a big blind spot when it comes to women as leaders, employees, customers, or any other kind of stakeholder. We’ll never get past this cultural roadblock unless industry giants like Facebook start opening up about it.

Obamacare Cured A Lot of Bankruptcies

As anyone who’s ever had to pay a catastrophic medical bill can attest, a personal health crisis is an extremely common cause of individual bankruptcy in the U.S. (It’s different in other countries that have universal health care plans.) So it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that, in the time since a new law extended health insurance to tens of millions of the formerly uninsured, the personal bankruptcy rate fell precipitously, too.

As Congress continues to wrestle with Republican proposals to gut the Affordible Care Act (aka Obamacare), a new study by Consumer Reports is a timely reminder of what’s at stake: not only the well-being of millions of citizens, but the health of the economy itself.

In the years since the ACA’s passage in 2010, the number of individuals filing for bankruptcy in the U.S. has dropped in half. Obamacare isn’t the only factor in play here: The time of the program’s rollout coincided with the economy’s general recovery from the lending crisis and Great Recession of a decade ago. The government also rewrote the bankruptcy rules in 2005 and made it harder for individuals to take that road.

The feds don’t ask bankruptcy filers whether their woes stem from medical bills, so the statistics here are hard to nail down. But even conservative analysts among those Consumer Reports consulted admit that the ACA deserves credit for at least some of the reduction in bankruptcies. We’ll want to keep an eye on this number if Congress succeeds in repealing Obamacare or radically altering the healthcare funding landscape.

Take Two VR Trips and Call Me in the Morning

Our medical system gives opioids to patients in chronic pain, and a lot of the time those patients become addicted. You’ve read about this crisis by now, but here’s a potential new solution: treatment via virtual reality (Jo Marchant in Mosaic Science).

Marchant visits a Knoxville, Tennessee clinic where doctors have begun experimenting with using VR tools, typically in conjunction with drug programs, to help chronic-pain patients. The best-known VR therapy tool of this sort, SnowWorld, surrounds burn victims with a cool winter landscape.

Some researchers believe that VR’s immersive quality actually persuades the nervous system to alter its signals, while others are skeptical. In some ways the approach is simply a distraction — even a kind of placebo.

But since pain is subjective to begin with, what matters is whether it actually affords relief. And in Knoxville, it seems to be doing the trick, for now. We don’t know if the benefits hold up over time. More rigorous studies need to be conducted. They might disappoint enthusiasts, but the sooner we get them, the better.

There’s No Such Thing as an Ad-Free Zone

Candidate Donald Trump peddling steaks during a campaign appearance? Sure, it was tacky. It was also just another form of what Mark Bartholomew calls “ad creep” (Fast Company)— the thing that happens when previously non-commercial spaces and realms of our lives get permeated with commercial messages.

One giant zone of ad creep that we confront every day: the entire world of social media. (Before Facebook and Twitter, your conversations with your friends didn’t get interrupted by “promoted messages.”)

Sure, our living rooms have been occupied by radio and TV advertisers for decades already. But with the entrance of voice interfaces like Amazon Echo, these messages will be personalized like never before.

Beyond the digital realm, Bartholomew says that ad creep is now happening in public physical spaces everywhere. Devices like parking meters and fire hydrants, structures like bridges, places like parks and schools — they’re all being colonized by ads as governments and institutions try to eke out a few extra bucks for their budgets.

Bartholomew thinks we need tougher laws, and that could be. We also need businesses to take more responsibility for knowing when a message is one too many.

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