Unbeknownst to international media, a small drama was consumed over the last few days in the Italian media world. In Rio, the female Italian Archery team nearly made to a first-ever bronze medal, prompting regional sports daily QS-Quotidiano Sportivo to headline:
The trio of chubbies nearly achieves an Olympic miracle
Outrage exploded: the President of the Italian Archery Federation issued a protest letter and the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, Giuseppe Tassi, was promptly fired, two months ahead of his planned retirement date of September, 2016.
Today, well-known columnist Beppe Severgnini calls this dismissal “excessive”, on grounds that Italian politicians often trespass the boundaries of gender-correctness (specifically citing as example the leader of the Northern League Matteo Salvini who recently at a rally compared a female political opponent to a sex doll).
Let me offer a scientific reason why I think such a sin by a journalist is more sinful than when done by a politician (despicable as it may be).
In a recent study on machine learning, researchers at Google studied so-called “embedded word associations” using Word2vec, a large corpus of text (nearly three million words) coming from Google News. These associations allow a machine to respond to the query:
London : England = Tokyo : X
with the answer “Japan”. As some other researchers at Microsoft Research have found, however, Word2vec is significantly gender-biased; for example the query:
Man : Computer programmer = Woman : X
returns “Homemaker” or the query:
Father : Doctor = Mother : X
If this gender bias is powerful enough to make its way into something very young like machine learning, imagine what it does to the programming of the human brain. Journalists therefore – as the authors of such texts, hold a special responsibility in being vigilant about this bias, and this is why IMHO, their sin is more despicable.