BBC Finally Admits Its Famous ‘Women Write Better Code’ Story Was Fake News
When the issue of “fake news” came to prominence at the end of this year’s election cycle, traditional media outlets were the firsts to engage in relentless finger-pointing. Journalists everywhere deplored the spread of misleading, lazily reported and, in some cases, totally fabricated stories that had been facilitated by social media.
That’d be ignoring — of course — that in a competitive media climate where virality and accuracy go head-to-head, editors will often go for a catchier headline, at the expense of factual accuracy. And as one writer at HEqual noted, even the respectable BBC is not immune from this kind of sensationalism.
In February 2016, the media ran amok over with a study which looked at gender bias on Github, a website where developers can submit code to collaborate on open source projects. Once a code contributed is submitted, it has to be vetted by various members of the community before being approved. The aim of the study was therefore to compare acceptance rates of contributions from men versus women.
The BBC wrote it up and published an article on Feb. 13th under the headline “Women write better code, study suggests.”
The lede read:
“Computer code written by women has a higher approval rating than that written by men – but only if their gender is not identifiable, new research suggests“
To be fair, the BBC did a better job than other outlets to present the results in a somewhat factual and neutral manner. But as is often the case with these pop science stories, many of the study’s findings were conveniently glossed over and later debunked.
One, for instance, is that yes, although women from outside the Github community who conceal their gender have a higher chance of getting their code approved by moderators than those who don’t, this trend also applies to men, albeit with a smaller margin. http://www.orrazz.com/2016/12/bbc-finally-admits-its-famous-women.html