April 30, 2013
On Wednesday a formal proposal appeared for discussion: “Propose merging Category:American women novelists to Category:American novelists.” Nominator’s rationale: “As per gender neutrality guidelines, gender-specific categories are not appropriate where gender is not specifically related to the topic. This subcategory also creates the unfortunate side effect that Category:American novelists contains only male novelists.” Many users quickly posted comments agreeing. - James Gleick at NYRBlog.
A large majority of commenters voted “Merge.” Some deployed the terms “ghettoization” and “back of the bus.” Then again, a few are voting for ghettoization — or as they say, “Diffuse women but not men,” diffuse being the term for sending members of a parent category out into a subcategory. At least it’s arguable that “women novelists” is a category of cultural and sociological interest. It was noted that Wikipedia features an extensive article on Women’s Writing in English, as part of Wikiproject Gender Studies and Wikiproject Women’s History.
“We should not let the media impose their view of political correctness on Wikipedia,” wrote Petri Krohn, who identifies himself as a Finnish “writer and Internet commentator.” He added — I think with a straight face — “We might also add some generic warning on American people category pages that they mainly contain white males and one should look into the subcategories.”
The research used something called a “memory confusion protocol”. This works by asking experiment participants to remember a series of pictures of individuals, who vary along various dimensions... When participants’ memories are tested, the errors they make reveal something about how they judged the pictures of individuals – what sticks in their mind most and least.- Tom Stafford at BBC Future.
Using this protocol, the researchers tested the strength of categorisation by race, something all previous efforts had shown was automatic. The twist they added was to throw in another powerful psychological force – group membership. People had to remember individuals who wore either yellow or grey basketball shirts, and whose pictures were presented alongside statements indicating which team they were in. Without the shirts, the pattern of errors were clear: participants automatically categorised the individuals by their race (in this case: African American or Euro American). But with the coloured shirts, this automatic categorisation didn't happen: people's errors revealed that team membership had become the dominant category, not the race of the players.
So despite what dozens of experiments had appeared to show, this experiment created a situation where categorisation by race faded into the background. The explanation, according to the researchers, is that race is only important when it might indicate coalitional information – that is, whose team you are on. In situations where race isn't correlated with coalition, it ceases to be important.