BBC admits its viral “women write better code” story was fake news

On 12 February 2016, the  BBC published an article with the ridiculous headline “Women write better code, study suggests“. This claim was a BBC exaggeration of an already questionable study, based on pull requests to Git Hub, a site which doesn’t even mention the gender of its users.

The non peer-reviewed paper and the BBC’s cherry-picking of its findings was almost instantly and comprehensively debunked online. Some key facts to note are as follows:

  • There are obvious issues in attempting to identify someone’s gender online
  • There are far more male users on GitHub then one could argue that men are in fact far better at coding because far more are actually doing it and many women are missing in action. Perhaps the small number of women who get involved are marginally better on average, but they would still be vastly outnumbered by men who are equally or more capable.
  • The media have cherry-picked data from the study which also showed clear bias towards those openly identifying themselves as female in many areas.

Whatever the case, there’s no way that such a dubious and non-peer reviewed study should be used to write such divisive headlines. It’s simply fake news and one of the usually daily attempts by the BBC to start a gender war and portray women as victims who’d all make the world a far better place were it not for those pesky sexist men.

In addition to its contempt for the truth, a further issue with the article is its complete lack of balance. The only commentator interviewed is Dr Sue Black, an “advocate of women in computing”. Dr Black’s agenda is blatantly obvious to anyone reading her work, and to any journalist seeking the truth or balance it should be a red flag as bright as her hair. Much of what she says is simply nonsensical radical feminist fantasy, pushing the “Women in tech” agenda to new extremes. She states: “Knowing that women are great at coding gives strength to the case that it’s better for everyone to have more women working in tech.” Of course the study proves no such thing, and therefore give no such “strength” to her crusade. In fact, the make-up of every Computer Science course and the overwhelming majority of the tech sector is pretty firm evidence of the opposite (though again not total proof).

Hidden in the study data we find that female coders were actually harder on fellow women when it came to  accepting pull requests and men hardest on other men too. Therefore the BBC’s insinuation that it’s an issue of male on female sexism couldn’t be more false and we see the exact same pattern as occurs in business, FGM not to mention studies of online harassment of women holding back or attacking other women. Furthermore, if men are harder on other men and more generous to women and tech is male dominated, then it’s surely proof of yet another area where female are privileged and enjoy extra advantages at present, an advantage that would actually disappear were there a 50:50 male/female ratio.

Looking at Black’s blog we see the usual nonsense of pushing lies and myths about Ada Lovelace with the utterly false claim that she was the “first programmer”. While Lovelace was clearly an intelligent women, there has been massive propaganda effort by feminists to embellish her achievements and now much of what is written about her is as much of a myth as the pay-gap, the patriarchy or 1 in 4 campus rape statistics. We’re now at a stage where people pretend someone who would have been able to use and understand Charles Babbage’s “differential engine” is more important and significant than the actual guy behind the whole project. Babbage’s programming pre-dates that of Lovelace by six to seven years, with her work merely building on his.

Anyway, the real villain here is not Dr Black but of course the BBC who not only promote such propaganda, but exaggerate the “findings” of these studies to a greater extent than even those behind them. Using the wonderful Newssniffer site, we can see the BBC actually used a slightly more reasonable headline in its very first version of the article, which read “Women may write better code, study finds”. However, just 35 minutes later someone decided to remove the term “may”, thus throwing all caution out the window and moving fully away from journalism and into feminist activism instead.

women-code1women-code2

Whoever was responsible for attempting to hold the BBC to account for publishing such rubbish clearly had their work cut out. The near useless BBC complaints process is designed to prevent complaints from having any sort of success or at least delay them for as long as possible. As a result it wasn’t until July 15th, when a complaint was upheld and the headline changed to Women write better-rated code, study suggests“.

Knowing this headline was still fraudulent, the tireless complainant presumably rejected this new headline and dragged the BBC kicking and screaming through the process once again, forcing it to stop publishing feminist-activist nonsense as if it were fact. The organisation continued to mislead the public until October 2016, making a total of almost eight months of BBC fake news.

This time the BBC not only completely rewrote its headline, it amended both of the first two paragraphs of the story too. The new headline states “Github coding study suggests gender bias“, clearly a massive change and a huge climb-down by the BBC.

In its complaints bulletin the BBC notes:

A reader complained that the headline of this article was misleading, that the study on which it was based was so flawed as not to merit reporting, and that the terms of the report were not duly impartial in relation to the question of the benefits or otherwise of workforce diversity in particular fields of employment.

Whether the study should have been reported was a matter of legitimate editorial discretion and, in the ECU’s view, the article did not deal with matters which were controversial in the sense which would require a balance of views.  However, there were no grounds for believing that the women among the cohort selected by the study were representative of women in general, and thus no basis for generalising about women’s relative ability.  To that extent, the headline was inaccurate.

The complaint was partially upheld. The headline and the text of the article have been amended to reflect the finding.

If the BBC actually had any sort of integrity it would have actually fixed the article at least within a day or two of its publication yet instead it took an astonishing 234 days. Such a delay in removing false information is appalling at the best of times , but this case is particularly serious. Firstly, news headlines get far more exposure than the body of an article, and thus the most dishonest part of the article was also the most read. Secondly, the article went viral on a massive scale as we’ll outline below:

According to Muck Rack, the fake article was shared 31,639 times on social media. This figure excludes Twitter, making the actual figure far higher. We found over 400 different tweets, some of them retweeted over 100 times, including tweets by BBC staff, the official BBC Tech account and the BBC Newsbeat account for good measure, not to mention the executive chairman of Twitter. On Reddit the article was posted at least 13 times, resulting in almost a thousand comments and a score of over 2,000. Googling the retracted headline still produces over three thousand results even today and the search engine still has the fake headline/article cached rather than the correct version.

Most significantly of all, an archived copy of the article actually shows that within nine hours of publication, the story had become the most popular story on the entire BBC website. As a result, almost all visitors to the BBC site at that time were exposed to the bogus headline via its list of top stories and we can be certain it received hundreds of thousand of views from all across the globe.

bbc-women-better-code

In contrast, the exposure and reach of the BBC’s retraction has been essentially non-existent, and we appear to be the very first people to expose what has occurred. There are zero search results in Google for either the URL or content of the BBC’s retraction (other than for the source page) and it hasn’t been shared even once on social media anywhere, not even by the BBC itself!

Compounding matters further, the fake version of the article is still being disseminated by the BBC. If a reader shares the article via Pinterest or LinkedIn, the BBC still presents the supposedly retracted first line of he article on their screen. The BBC search function also still presents the fake headline instead of the correct one as does a BBC Africa article, and BBC Facebook pages, thus meaning the organisation has more instances of the fake headline on its site than the correct one. Other searches brought up August’s somewhat amended version of the headline, but amazingly there was no way of making the correct version appear when searching and searches for the new version produced zero results:

bbc-search-github-coding

Obviously there are still massive issues with even the amended article and this saga really exposes some of the major problems in the BBC mindset. Its acceptance of the feminist agenda is such that it fails to ever see any controversy in any sort of “women are the best” studies and openly rejects the need for any balance. In fact, the organisation itself actively creates an additional need for a “balance of views” simply because it is taking sides. Such articles therefore needs someone to speak out not only against the likes of Dr Black but against the BBC’s identical feminist position too, and perhaps utilising some sensible non-ideologically driven commentary would have exposed the article as fake far-sooner and helped to produce a semi-accurate headline?

At the best of times its hard to debunk the kind of feminist lies put out by the BBC, and this example is surely one of the worst yet. Despite knowing the content was false the broadcaster went out of its way to resist correcting the headline, thus allowing the fake news to remain in place for almost eight months. Furthermore, as noted by he complainant, the nature of the study, its lack of per review and the relatively small percentage differences involved (sometimes as little as one percent), all bring into question as to whether the BBC should have even reported the study at all! (let alone lied about its findings in a headline). Even if the study is legitimate, then the BBC shouldn’t simply cherry-pick the parts that show sexism against women whilst ignoring all the aspects that counter such a claim.

Unlike most of our BBC-related articles, this particular humiliation for the broadcaster isn’t actually down to us. Unfortunately we’ve been unable to figure out who deserves the credit here, though we’d be happy to do so should they get in touch. Similarly we’ve absolutely no idea of the identity of the BBC editor employee behind the idiotic and sexist article. The complete lack of openness and accountability at the organisation means licence fee payers never get to find out who exactly they are being forced to pay to write such rubbish, let alone what’s been done to stop it happening again.

Whilst it’s not true that “women write better code” what we do know for sure is that the BBC write atrocious articles, particularly when it comes to gender issues.  Seeing as they like to try to start gender wars perhaps they’d like to release genuine information concerning the gender of employees found guilty of writing fake news, not to mention all those who failed to correct it for so long?

If you enjoyed this article and wish to fund further such material please consider donating to HEqual. Thanks.

Update – the reach of this article has been such that we’ve now heard from the complainant who forced the BBC into all the above retractions. He wishes to remain anonymous but here’s his thoughts:

“As someone who wants to retain the BBC as an objective, impartial broadcaster, I was shocked from my exposure to the BBC inner workings- incompetency, bias and misplaced sanctimony. In fact, I am no longer of the opinion that the BBC’s objectiveness needs to be retained, but grafted in- as I am sure it can not exist. How can it exist when the complaints unit has an agenda at each stage?
I didn’t just complain about the headline; I complained about significant amounts of the content. The responses I got, for- from what I can see- direct violations of the BBC’s editorial guidelines, were often contradictory and often wrong.
For example, did you know that this article was apparently not controversial and therefore the BBC does not need to be impartial about it? Worryingly, senior people in the BBC believe all non-controversial content does not have to be impartial. I believe this particular policy is a construct of their own creativity, and not a derivation of the actual rules they have to follow.
Did you also know that they didn’t cover any criticism of the study because there was absolutely ‘none to pull from’? Nevermind that I was told the article was written because it was ‘generating massive online debate’.
These two examples are just a taster of the BBC’s perverse logic. I hope that people will grow intolerant to the BBC’s misinformation, and complain as much as they can.”
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13 thoughts on “BBC admits its viral “women write better code” story was fake news

  1. Pingback: BBC admits its viral ‘women write better code’ story was fake news | Justice for Men & Boys

  2. From the BBC’s complaints bulletin:
    “The article did not deal with matters which were controversial in the sense which would require a balance of views.”

    So they’re trying to rationalize being biased. Another reason to add the BBC to dung heap.

  3. The sense in which they mean “controversial” may be “a matter of dispute between parties represented in the lower house of the Westminster parliament”. This was (apparently – do your own research) the litmus test they used for when to get both sides of a story.

  4. Is it the BBC doctrine now that there might after all be some tasks at which women are better than men on average? But there are still no tasks at all at which men are better than women on average,? But, across the board, men and women are still nevertheless equally good at doing stuff? Because this new doctrine simply doesn’t add up. If women are better at anything than men, for men and women to be equally good at things across the board, there have to be other things at which men are better than women.

    So much for the doctrine. What about my predictions?

    I suspect that software development will turn out to be like driving. Driving used to be a predominantly male activity. Nowadays, women pay lower insurance premiums, but are still not seen driving at Brands Hatch. So which sex is “better”?

    Except that a two women spring to mind immediately as pioneers in the software industry: Ada Lovelace who wrote machine code for Charles Babbage’s machines a century before the first electronic computer, and Grace Hopper, the American soldier who invented Cobol. Were there any woman drivers, when driving was still dirty, physically demanding, and dangerous?

    I spent twenty years in software development, and encouraged my daughters to consider it to be a potential good career for themselves, because it was a techie job, indoors, that didn’t get dirt under one’s finger nails. I am glad none of them took my advice. Software development is not what it was forty years ago, when the job was beginning to recruit more women.

  5. Pingback: BBC admits its viral “women write better code” story was fake news | hequal – tumblr 3.0 :: Nitesh Gautam

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  7. Another first rate dissection of BBC bias by HEqual who are to be congratulated on their continuing good work.

    There is a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has studied A Level results, or the like. Where one group is a small minority, they tend to do better on average than the majority group. For example, females are a minority of those taking physics A level, but a larger percentage of women taking physics A Level are awarded an A grade than men. Similarly, men are a minority in taking foreign languages at A Level, but a greater percentage of these men are awarded an A grade than women. Thus, if one were guided by A grades at A Level alone, one would conclude (preposterously) that women are better at physics than men, and men are better at languages than women. The reason for this familiar phenomenon is self-selection: if you take up a subject which runs contrary to the gender tendency, it is likely to be because you have self-selected on the basis of particular ability.

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  9. Pingback: BBC Finally Admits Its Famous ‘Women Write Better Code’ Story Was Fake News | Heat Street

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