Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch are paid less because they’re women – but the real reason why will shock you!

Clickbait title… #drink… But I couldn’t think of anything snappier that got the point across.

Yes, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch are paid less to star in The Big Bang Theory than the rest of the cast, and that’s about to change, it seems, thanks to a fairly honourable decision by the rest to take pay cuts to finance this.

Yay for gender equality!

Or not… as people insist on saying, because being paid less has nothing to do with them being women.

Except it does. Really, it does. Just not in the way you think. No one in a studio has sat and said “they’re women, they don’t deserve better pay”. Precious few people think that, thankfully, so if that’s your impression when you hear some feminazi whine like a harpy about the wage gap, you’re just wrong. The actual reason is a bit more nuanced and complex than that.

To my regular readers – all 0.78 of you – the reason I’m about to go into won’t actually be shocking. In fact, it should be fairly trivial and obvious. Everyone else, though, this may take a bit of thought and processing.

First, I should say that I… like The Big Bang Theory, I suppose. I watch it, find it funny, and that’s it. It don’t roll around the floor like the studio audience does and it hasn’t changed my life and I don’t eagerly await each new episode as if it’s the ejaculate of Christ himself, nor do I froth at the mouth every time it’s mentioned, feeling the need to take to the internet to proclaim my dismay that it’s still a thing. That’s allowed, you know. All I’m trying to say is that, unlike most other people who are bone-crunchingly critical of it, I actually bother to watch it.

Onward…

Let’s go through the non-gender reasons for why two actors would be paid less than the rest of the cast in any particular TV show, and break them down for this show in particular.

  • They’re not in the main cast. This is no longer true, Bialik and Rauch have been full-time main cast and not supporting/recurring for some time.
  • They’re main cast, but not as important to the story. Also no-longer true. Since they finally painlessly euthanized the aged and decrepit will-they-won’t-they between Penny and Leonard, Amy and Bernadette are pretty much the only characters given any real plot or development any more. Good for them.
  • They’re main cast, and important, but not as good. Oh, please. You’ve watched this, right? No, of course you haven’t.
  • They’re main cast, important, and good at it, but haven’t been in it as long. Yep,  there we go.

And that’s where the train of logic and reason ends for a large bunch of people. All is fair, they claim, because these two haven’t been in the show as long. And you know what? That is very much valid as a reason. It wouldn’t be practical, nor expected, that they’d be paid on par with Jim Parsons after a few weeks on the show.

However, it is a bit of a stretch to use this as the only reason, since Bialik and Rauch have been in the show longer than they haven’t. In fact, I think they’ve been main cast in the show for longer than they haven’t been in it and were only recurring. And it would be an extreme stretch to justify the absolute magnitude of the pay disparity between them considering their position in the cast and that the entire show now pivots around them as much as it does with the others.

Now we need to go into why they haven’t been in it as long as the other five actors. For this, we need to fly back to 2007 when I was a pesky project student, the worst we had to worry about was Sarah Palin, and The Big Bang Theory first started.

The show began as a pretty troperific sitcom about standard nerds-who-can’t-get-dates and the hot blonde that moved in next door. I don’t want to go into how tired that trope was even by 2007, but my main point is that out of five central characters, only one was female. The entire cast was systematically one-sided to favour male leads from the start. This is important to realise, although right now I can hear the cogs working in your brain screaming out “beta cuck mangina feminazi snowflake”.

In the grand scheme of things (we’re on double-digits of seasons now), this state of affairs didn’t last very long. Two women were added way back in season 3 and gradually made into main characters. Although the show’s had/has a remarkable habit of tossing interesting women aside quite quickly, these two stuck around and helped balance out the utter sausage-fest that was the first 2-3 years.

Their introduction wasn’t perfect, by any means. They were presented as two competent (by TBBT’s lax health & safety standards) and passionate scientists, and have often been allowed to be funny in their own right – but they still fell into the usual sitcom trope of the nagging, disapproving wife/girlfriend. They’re in with the science, but look down on the nerd-culture aspects of TBBT because girls simply aren’t allowed to be into cosplay, comics, superheroes or Star Trek Wars. (note: my ‘Standard Nerds’ friends list on Facebook is predominantly female) They were also underused when it came to making any kind of commentary on women and science in society; there was a brief flirtation with asking whether women in science could also be considered sexy , in addition to intellectual, but this important commentary came a couple of years too late to the party and was brushed aside quickly by the writers who clearly were out of their depth in addressing social context. (If you think that’s a weird thing for me to want to see, note that the sexuality of the male characters informs much of the founding premise of the show), Despite these flaws, on balance, Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette Rostenkowski are probably a net-positive contribution to the world of televised fiction for both women and science.

Yet there was absolutely no place for them at all for the first few years of the show. If the casting call went out, it would have been four reasonably developed male leads with backgrounds, ambitions and personalities and one girl that must be hot. If ten people auditioned with an equal 50:50 gender split, then one man would have been disappointed, but four women would have been.

This is what we mean when we talk about various -isms being systematic. The system was built up to disadvantage them in the first place. There’s actually no route that Bialik and Rauch could have taken for them to satisfy the criteria of being on the show for as long as the other cast. Even if they hopped into a time machine to get their past selves to audition for the first season, their gender would have systematically and significantly lowered the probability of them landing a leading role. Which is the point.

More broadly, since there is more to life than one sitcom, there are fewer leading, well-paid roles available for women.  When they open up in later seasons of a show, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to stick around and build themselves up to the same level as the initial cast.

Since the opportunities are fewer, and the availability to progress is lower, this manifests as a major disparity in pay between men and women. Yes, women do take on roles that are lower paid, but that explains the existence of a tangible wage gap in the same way that “because it’s in orbit” explains why the Earth goes around the sun – it’s a tautology that fails a test any four year-old could administer by saying “….why?“.

Of course, immediately people are going to lash out and scream “but there are other shows with leading women!!” and probably mention Two Broke Girls (I don’t watch it, so have no opinion on it, I assume from the title that there’s at least two female leads) or something. Yet actual studies show this holds to be true systematically – with fewer roles made available to women who aren’t 20-something and hot, fewer in leading positions and fewer with opportunities to earn as much as male leads. This situation is gradually improving, at least. There are more roles coming out and more opportunities now than there were even a decade ago. Although people are still steadfast against accepting this incredibly basic statistical argument coupled to a simple logical syllogism; if all was equal, we wouldn’t see a broad discrepancy, we see a broad discrepancy, so all can’t be equal.

Have shows, movies and games with female leads been less successful? Yeah, pretty much. Is it because they’re objectively worse forms of art? Why is that? Is it because only novice writers get to make them? Is it because they’re given low budgets because studios and publishers consider them a risk? Is it because they lack the publicity and marketing budgets to ensure their success? Is it because society will outright reject them because of conditioning? Or is it because women are literally worse at everything so either belong in the kitchen or deserve unequal representation in fiction?

Those are questions that are worth asking, and worth discussing. And, to be honest, I don’t particularly mind if you do think that “yes, women are shit and unfunny so don’t deserve to be well-paid to appear in a comedy” – because that’s at least a reason, and not a flat-out denial like “it has nothing to do with gender”.


Addendum: as, generally, a skepticism/rationalism blog – I think, what is my subject, again? – undoubtedly someone is going to bring up Bialik’s vaccine stance or her attachment-parenting thing. Great. But that’s not for here. Go find another blog that is hosting that discussion right now if you need to say it.

Chemistry re-written… again!

A while back, I asked whether creationists had ever gone after chemistry as much as they try (and fail) to tackle biology and physics. Yes, came the unfortunate answer – and lead me to doing a quick write-up on it.

To cut it as short as I can, Artem Oganov and co. from Stony Brook University managed to make some unusual sodium chloride compounds. NaCl is common table salt, and is a classic example of how an ionic solid is created, and stabilised, by transferring one electron from where there’s an excess (in sodium) to where it’s needed (in chlorine) because that gives them 8 electrons each – the “octet rule”. Oganov’s team, however, managed to make a lot of new and strange combinations that should, on the face of it, violate this neat little principle – such as Na3Cl, Na3Cl2 and NaCl3.

To chemists, this was cool but mostly unsurprising. Solid state structures aren’t exactly known for following such arcane rules on covalency. Sodium metal itself, for instance, violates a strict and literal interpretation of the octet rule by being made purely of atoms with apparently 1 valance electron each. But to the popular press (driven by a rather naughty university press office, IMHO), this was chemistry “overturned”. A fundamental rule had been violated, chemistry must be rewritten, everything we know is wrong… and so, up steps the Discovery Institute, who declared “If chemistry is wrong, then so could evolution!

Fast forward a few years, and Oganov has done it again, and gone one better. He’s made solid state compounds of helium. Helium – the last bastion of noble gases, since xenon and krypton (and even argon, now) have known compounds.  Absurdly high pressures are needed, of course, to get helium to form a solid state structure, but the data support the compound’s existence. As with the sodium chloride, this used an evolutionary algorithm coupled to some theoretical predictions to find a structure that should, in theory, be possible before then going ahead and making the thing!

A rewrite of chemistry is needed, again, declares some of the press articles on it.

Then again, maybe not. Helium compounds are quite well known, and even a trimer of helium is known to exist at ridonkulously low temperatures where van der Waals forces will hold it together more strongly than heat can tear it apart. It’s just a case of finding the conditions where these compounds will be stable, and sufficient heat and pressure will overcome most energy barriers eventually – the activation energy to convert graphite into diamond is immense, yet natural or synthetic diamonds can still be made if we shove sufficient energy into it.

So, as before, it’s not that textbooks need re-written. The textbooks were probably wrong to start with…

Actually, not even that. I don’t recall a textbook that says all of this is outright impossible, just that it doesn’t happen easily, or in ambient conditions, with just any old reactants. Which, despite Oganov’s fantastic work, still remains shockingly true and is highly unlikely to be overturned any time… ever.

Anyway… the final question – do I want to go through the Discovery Institute looking for them misrepresenting this story?

Every argument I ever see on the internet…

A: “Gloobs are the worst, they’re wrong.”

B: “But it isn’t a Gloob, it fargles.”

A: “You’re wrong, it is a Gloob, because Gloob’s bargle.”

B: “But it fargles, so it isn’t a Gloob by definition. And that’s fine.”

A: “No, it’s a Gloob. The definition includes how it bargles. And bargling is bad because Gloobs do it.”

B: “Then it’s fine because it’s not a Gloob. So it’s good.”

A: “But bargling is a bad.”

B: “Yes, bargling is bad, but it’s not a Gloob so it’s okay, it’s good.”

A: “Even though it bargles?”

B: “No, it fargles.”

A: “What’s fargle got to do with it?”

B: “Because it fargles.”

A: “Yes, I know it fargles, but it’s a Gloob.”

B: “But it’s not a Gloob.”

A: “Yes it is. So it’s bad.”

B: “But it fargles.”

A: “I think you find it bargles.”

B: “But that doesn’t make it a Gloob.”

Confused? Follow that? Possibly not. In fact, I hope not – because honest-to-fuck, people, this is what reading most of your crap sounds like to me. Well, not your crap, other peoples’ crap because you’re an intelligent rational being, and everyone else is an unenlightened sheep, QED.

“But it’s racist!” “No it isn’t!”, “It’s sexist!” “It’s not sexist!!!”…really, it’s inanity personified. You’re not fighting over what something is, you’re fighting over what to call it. And what’s more, you want to call it something because that controls what you can do with it and what you’re allowed to think about it afterward.

Okay, fine, let’s add in actual example since the above comes across as abstract nonsense.

Is an unborn baby a “life”?

“YES! And YES some more!” screams the pro-life crowd… and I’ll stick to and pick this one apart because the pro-choice argument mostly doesn’t make the identical but opposite argument of “no”.

When the pro-life crowd argue that a fetus is a “life”, they don’t care about that question. “Life” is an arbitrary concept, it separates the inanimate world of objects that we can’t eat and can’t eat us from the objects that we can eat or could eat us – and when examined in more rigorous detail, it repeatedly fails to find any real edge to it, the fuzzes away to nothing, as a continued spectrum. At no single point does “not-life” become “life” – because life is a process, not an event. Whether something “is” or “isn’t” life has little relevance to reality, only our social responses to it. Anyway, I don’t want to unpack this any further – if you disagree with this assessment, go ahead and assume that you’re just plain and simply wrong, it’ll save time later.

Instead, the question pro-life crowd are really asking is “should we be allowed to abort that pregnancy?” They want the answer to that to be a resounding “no” – but they don’t want to just come out and admit to that. Gods forbid, that might require some self-reflection.

The answer to abortion question is the reason they want the “is it a life?” question answered. Because it lets them treat abortion one way, rather than another – in other words, this is their motivation for the answer to be “yes” or “no”. The problem of whether someone is motivated toward one answer or another taints the question with an ulterior motive. In this case, and many others, it stops anyone realising the objective truth: the question is nonsensical.

(And not least it’s problematic for any pro-choice proponent who buys into this narrative and is forced to haphazardly argue the opposite. This makes it a very effective rhetorical strategy on the pro-life side. The only option open to refuting it is to clumsily go along with it and argue that the answer is “no”, or pick it back to the bare bones and convince them of the irrelevance of the question. The latter just isn’t going to happen ever.)

What about a different track… is something sexist?

Well, the thing itself is the thing itself, that’s not going to change. But if we get to slap the “sexist” label on it, it’s Bad. If we don’t, well, we can safely let it continue.

So, a woman working in a recruitment agency spots a man’s CV, and then throws it immediately into the discard pile because “why would a man want that job?”

“Sexist!!” cry one side. “She actively discriminated against someone because of their gender, that’s sexist by definition.”

“Not sexist!!” cries the other. “That doesn’t have a systematic bias against men as a class because sexism by definition requires power.”

Well, duh. It fargles and it bargles. But it’s only bad if we call it a Gloob. And Gloobs fargle, but they also don’t bargle, by definition, what are we to make of something that does both or neither?

Ultimately, these arguments are as absurd as arguing whether a blue ball is a round object xor a blue object.

For And Against Article 50 – What I’ve Seen So Far

There have been speeches presented in Parliament recently based around whether MPs should vote for an Act of Parliament to trigger the Article 50 process with the EU – and so start the process of leaving it. That Parliament should have this decision is a democratic and legal no-brainer, only opposed by complete idiots who have been suckered in by fascist newspapers. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s as fair an assessment as I can muster.

So, what are the for/against arguments?

Based on some of the speeches and comments I’ve read so far, the arguments basically boil down to the following:

Arguments for MPs to vote against an Act of Parliament to invoke Article 50 Arguments for MPs to vote for an Act of Parliament to invoke Article 50
  • Consider the rights, views and future of 15 million people too young to vote
  • Consider the rights and views of 72% of the population that didn’t vote for this
  • Consider long term strategic stability of the country over the short-term points scoring of the government
  • Consider the lack of a strong democratic mandate from a supermajority for a major constitutional change
  • Consider that the Leave campaign on the referendum was built on many lies
  • Consider the number of people voting Leave only as a protest vote and have since changed their mind
  • Consider a lack of clear communication and planning from HM Government on the details of leaving the EU
  • Consider the lack of trained negotiators in order to continue the 2-year Article 50 process
  • Consider the effect of the US election on the world, leaving us only with a proto-fascist to trade with
  • Consider economic changes since June, including the strength of the pound
  • There was a vote, so shut up!

Pretty conclusive in favour of leaving hard and fast, I suppose.

Here’s an image version if you’d like, since apparently JPEG is now the standard format for communicating text.

bregsit

Piers Morgan’s self-emasculation

I don’t frequently comment on “current events” because by the time there’s enough information out there to make an informed decision they’re no longer current.

But here’s one observation regarding the last day or so of Pier’s Morgan’s triggered-snowflake meltdown over women invading his safe space…

Piers Morgan 12 hours ago:

morgan_1

I’m planning a ‘Men’s March’ to protest at [sic] the creeping global emasculation of my gender by rabid feminists. Who’s with me?

Piers Morgan 1 hour ago:

morgan_2

Given 127k more people now follow me than you, I’d pip down, [Lord Sugar]

Yeah… about that. Dude, if you’re getting into a petty spat with Alan Sugar about who has more Twitter followers, it’s not the ‘rabid feminists’ that are making you feel emasculated.

What You Need To Understand About Fake News

You think it’s that people literally believe the facts — but these stories are really a measure of how they believe.


I’ll try to make this one quick… Let’s look at some comments selected from below an article from the Snopes.com Facebook page:

incredulous

The general message, when it comes to extreme and obvious hoaxes, is that many people are utterly incredulous that others might believe blatant nonsense. They’re right to be incredulous, of course, given how blatantly absurd some stories are. But this isn’t the take-home message from these fake stories. Far more importantly, with relatively few notable exceptions, I don’t think people literally believe “fake” news.

To consider if people actually believe them would miss the point, and miss some vital lessons that we could learn from these stories. So instead, we have to treat “fake” news more as fable, or as metaphor. It should be treated as something that is quasi-mythological that speaks to what people believe or, more accurately, what they hold as prejudices.

To illustrate, I’m going to mostly focus on the crap that makes its way around the Lefty-Liberal-o-sphere. You know, the stuff we share around our echo chamber when we’re not plotting to turn half the planet into a Safe Space, convert everyone to enforced homosexuality, or replace Capitalism with Islam.

For instance, just today, I read the story that Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death. Yes, that’s true, and not fake, and is a genuine real news event that did happen. Yet, I decided to remark to someone that he was either going to get executed or given a position in Trump’s cabinet.

Ha! “Lol” as the kool kids say.

Do I literally believe that?

Do I literally believe that a mass murderer would be given a position under the President of the United States? Of course not! That’s absolutely absurd in the highest degree. It’s nonsense – because we all know that, really, he’ll get a pardon and then a half-hour slot on TheBlaze, instead.

Okay, okay… I’ll break with character for a moment and pray to any god that will listen that those two remarks don’t end up on Snopes. No, I don’t literally believe either of those statements. But I said it anyway, not so much as a joke as such, but as a wider comment on the situation that we live in.

Those two remarks do speak to me and what I think. I look around and see a world where if you’re the wrong skin tone you get years or decades behind bars for having weed on you, but if you’re a different skin tone you can avoid jail time for causing multiple deaths – and there are just too many cases to link to of white, wealthy athletes happily getting rape charges dropped because, well, what the fuck do you think the reason is. It’s a rhetorical exaggeration (and evidence of my dire levels of cynicism) for me to say that a mass murderer may well get a promotion out of their racially-motivated hate crime when the rest of those leaders being parachuted into positions of power seem to be racist assholes up may well applaud Roof’s actions or sympathise with him. But it’s absolutely not literal, and I don’t believe it, and it’s not even a case of “Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did happen, lol!!” because I would be surprised and horrified. It is a simple, exaggerated fable.

Today, when we all woke up to the “news” that Donald Trump has been caught on camera doing some harmless watersports with some Russian hookers in Moscow, did we really believe it?

Really?

I hope not. But regardless, it speaks to our prejudices. We look around and we see a world where Trump probably curries favour with Putin, so some dirt on him would be largely unsurprising. We look around and see the potential for corruption (in all politicians, to be fair) and assume this sort of tape or something of its ilk must exist – if not specifically based around hookers and urine. This latest allegation is a fable of “what if?”; what if it were true? What if it was another politician? What if it already has happened and is being used for blackmail? Would we be surprised? Would we have seen it coming? And so on.

(We could use it as a fable to show public moralising over reasonably harmless as presumably consensual sex acts, while remaining silent over harmful and non-consensual ones, but that’s another post entirely and I’d argue it’s a largely academic one so long as this story is as-close-as-philosophically-possible-to-definitely false. It’s also yet another post entirely to discuss it in terms of how it speaks to our fears that our dirty little secrets will get out and society will harshly and needlessly judge us for them.)

In most respects, it’s not too dissimilar a situation to the, absolutely not true I should add, story of David Cameron getting piggy with it at Oxford. Do we literally believe it? No. But that story spoke to us about our distrust of the ruling classes, their clubs, and their unfathomable privilege. Anyone with a strong bias against David Cameron and the culture he came from may well consider it believable, but not necessarily believe it, but above all it would be a fable of how they see the wealthy ruling class of Britain. They see them as living in a world where such acts are “japes”, that it can be covered up and used as revenge and blackmail in their dodgy dealings, and the myth, the story, the fable vocalises those fears better than any description. It’s possibly even a better description of those feelings than even a true story.

As a result, you need to look at false news and its spread not as merely disinformation. A false meme isn’t going around that could easily be displaced with the truth. After all, people don’t readily alter their opinions based on new evidence – they’ll just warp their reasoning around the new evidence to keep it. So simply providing the real story won’t help – because that assumes the problem stems from whether people believe it or not, when it doesn’t stem from that at all.

Fake news, then, should be considered more as a barometer for peoples prejudices and prior biases. It should be used to judge how they think the world works, or at least how they think it should work. Fake news tells us who people fear and why, and what they find most pertinent to be scared of. It shows us what they wish was true about the worst parts of society, and what they want to project on to them whether it be due to fear or anger.

Or, maybe, I’m entirely wrong and people are just gullible idiots. And I don’t know which of those two options is worse…


Addendum: I just want to append a quick rant here. While I’m happy the idea of “fake news” is now going a bit mainstream and precipitating a near-global conversation, I want to point out that skeptics and rationalists have been saying this for years, if not decades, if not centuries. This isn’t some “I did it before it was cool” argument, it’s because each time we were shouted down as irrelevant killjoys. “What’s the harm!” you’d hear people cry. “But let them believe what they want!” Well, here we fucking are. Years of letting people get away with living in their own version of reality has brought us to this. Lies upon lies upon lies have been built over mounds of bullshit formed on foundations of utter bollocks and now we might get to see some unfortunate consequences as people have built entire universes out of shit and nonsense so large, so inter-connected, so impervious to reason, that they are literally impossible to shift. Thanks for that, you stupid fucks.

More Or Less Organised Thoughts on New Sherlock…

sherlock

A year ago I knocked up something of a review on the Sherlock Christmas Special. Re-reading that post is, so far, the only link I have to what actually went on in that episode since I recall the ending being so dire that I’ve just never got around to re-watching it and have no real intention of doing so again. Apparently I insisted that I enjoyed the first half.

So, as there’s a new series, at last, and as it has developed a bit of discussion about how it’s trying to be James Bond, how Moffat and Gatiss are over-using their one-shot jokes again and again, and how its substituting a once witty and true adaptation of Conan Doyale’s original for senseless action, I thought I’d offer my two cents again. Thankfully, this is far shorter than last time:

As long as they stay out of the Mind Palace and stop running around pretending to be the Matrix or fucking Inception, I’ll be happy.