Debra Smith


This conversation is closed.

Why is it that every time I ever see a talk rated as 'Obnoxious" that the speaker is always a woman?

I expected better from the TED community.
Is it just prejudice against women?
Is there any other explanation?
Why is a woman's world view so objectionable to TED watchers?

  • Mar 3 2011: Is this personal opinion? If not get the data and perform a statistical analysis on it, prove it, then we will discuss.
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    Mar 3 2011: It seems like you went out of your way to come to a conclusion you had already devised. I'm not sure in what interest though. Now if I could only rate this question as 'obnoxious'...
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      Mar 3 2011: Nice. Thanks for underscoring the exact issue that I was referring to. And YOU are part of the TED staff?
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        Mar 3 2011: Debra, everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. For that same reason you also see so many different, sometimes even opposing ratings on the same talk. That's how democracy works.
        As to the staff question: Matthieu is not a staff member, but puts in his own time as a VOLUNTEER to translate talks and make them available for not English speaking members.
        As to the "obnoxious" issue, It's regrettable that you feel like that, because, as I tried to show on the first 10 pages of talks, there are almost no obnoxious ratings (as the top rating). And even if a talk would be rated obnoxious by general consent, we still would have to accept the wisdom of the crowd, even if we might not agree with the rating. Personally I find heavy metal music obnoxious, but other people would strongly disagree with me. So who is right ?
        My suggestion is, if you like a talk, just enjoy it, regardless of the ratings ;-)
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        Mar 3 2011: So because I disagree with your 'question', I'm sexist? Isn't that jumping to conclusions a little prematurely, like you have on this whole issue? Do you find my response hostile? Isn't that hypocritical after writing: "Why is a woman's world view so objectionable to TED watchers?", doing away with the very probable possibility that you might be wrong in your hasty analysis. Aren't you implying with that statement that TEDsters are collectively sexist?

        Now of course there are some individuals on TED that display views that can be deemed as misogynistic and I have called them out on it before. But they really are an insignificant minority.

        I'm not TED staff, I translate talks into French. It's my way of paying back TED for hours of free knowledge.
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          Mar 4 2011: Matthieu, I did not object to your disagreeing with me in fact, when I posed the question I expected disagreement. I did object to you using the term obnoxious in regard to my question. Obnoxious is a word filled with dismissal and rejection. I commend you for your translation work, however, as a person who appeared to represent TED itself, I think you might have chosen a more civil form of communication.

          If I understand the rating system in terms of statistics, I did not condemn all TEDsters as sexist -that is a huge generalization. I simply pointed out that whenever I rate a talk and OBNOXIOUS is large and bold a women is the speaker. IN my follow up questions I asked if there was any other explanation. Only one appears to have been offered and that is that my observation is wrong. For me that is insufficient.
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        Mar 4 2011: I object to you using a question that's based on certain unproven assumptions:

        "Why is a woman's world view so objectionable to TED watchers?"

        ...thus my derisive finishing touch. You get as good as you give.
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          Mar 4 2011: It looks like everyone posting on this topic agrees that women are not inherently obnoxious, and that it's not fair for talks to be rated so simply because they're given by women. I'm going to see if I can find data on where and how often this rating tag is being used; in the meantime, I'd appreciate it if we could give each other the benefit of the doubt in this discussion, and tone down the hostility.


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      Mar 3 2011: Thank you Mark. You have given me a thoughtful answer. My intension was to draw attention to a phenomenon that I had observed and was surprised to find at my favourite intellectual destination on the internet. I appreciate your clarification of the badges.

      As a mother of four adult sons and one daughter that I got with a long term male spouce, I hope that I can say I have no prejudices against men but perhaps I do have a heightened awareness of societal reactions to women especially in position of knowledge or power. It is not just men who diminish the accomplishments of women. I love the debate and the TED community is strong enough to handle my question even if it was inelegantly framed. I did ask why "A" woman's world view was considered objectionable not why women's world views were.

      For us to pretend that there is not still substantial diminishing of women's contributions is not born out by many facts of this world. When some countries are admonished for human rights absues and other countries, which have fully half of their populations without fundamental rights and governments which fail to acknowledgement the personhood of women, do not even get a frown- its still happening.

      My observation remains after watching and rating almost every talk on the site for the past two years- I believe that the rating of obnoxious is disproportionately assigned to women speakers.
  • Mar 17 2011: This is obviously one of those discussions that is going to end in a stalemate, so I won't add anything except to say that if I saw a talk rated as OBNOXIOUS, I would almost certainly watch it, if only to see why it was rated that way.

    So maybe every cloud still has a silver lining.
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      Mar 16 2011: Hi Birdia, that I certainly agree with. As a matter of fact and after watching a countless number of talks, I'm not aware of one single obnoxious talk. So people probably use the term lacking any better option to describe the talk.
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    Mar 15 2011: Hi Harald, You may have 'concluded' the conversation but I have a response to your conclusion.
    "In probability theory and statistics, skewness is a measure of the asymmetry of the probability distribution of a real-valued random variable. The skewness value can be positive or negative, or even undefined. Qualitatively, a negative skew indicates that the tail on the left side of the probability density function is longer than the right side and the bulk of the values (including the median) lie to the right of the mean. A positive skew indicates that the tail on the right side is longer than the left side and the bulk of the values lie to the left of the mean. A zero value indicates that the values are relatively evenly distributed on both sides of the mean, typically but not necessarily implying a symmetric distribution."
    No mention of anyone manipulating results in this statistical definition.

    I notice that you declined to respond to my questions. or examples- which is of course your right.
    Please take note however that I did not gloss over your assertions but addressed them to the point that I looked up each speaker you pointed to and from the tallks themselves- not one of the talks you mentioned clearly had OBNOXIOUS in 3rd place independently. In some cases they were tied with several other adjectives for 3rd+ place. You had to go back more than a year to find any of the talks that you referred to. Can you honestly say that musical performances and playing with Lego are on par with serious discussion such as head injury or some ot the other issues of the womens talks to which I have referred.
    While I have found you to be interesting and I appreciate your comments in other questions, I do not find you to be sincere since from the very beginning you took offense to my premise and have done very little to investigate whether my assertions are accurate.
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      Mar 15 2011: Debra, this discussion isn't leading anywhere. You made up your mind that women speakers are somehow less appreciated than male speakers.
      Since I can't see any basis for your claims, I can't really add anything else beyond what I already said.
      I guess we can leave it at that. As I said in one of my early posts, just enjoy the talks of your choosing and don't get distracted by the rating.
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    Mar 15 2011: Harald, thanks again for your attempt to set me straight. You might wish to consider that every parliamentary democracy and many republic houses are democratic in name and yet in most about 20% of those elected are women. My point remains that women are far more likely to be given an OBNOXIOUS rating for TED talks which I firmly believe is a systemic problem that can be corrected by a change in word opportunities. It happens over and over. What point are you making when you tell me that Aja is a woman?Are you suggesting that I am not convinced that I am going to have this issue attended to by a man in that position? That is certainly not my thought. I am just trying to have this form of 'democracy' scrutinzed for an unworthy attribution toward women. Men and women participate in systems that are easily remedied. PS At least you are no longer dismissing my argument that women do receive this rating more frequently than men do. That is progress.
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      Mar 15 2011: Debra, whether the term "obnoxious" will be removed or not doesn't really make any difference how people feel. Let's say you can rate a movie as "good" or as "bad". Now somebody comes and says he doesn't like the "bad" rating and removes it. Now you are left only with the "good" rating. What do you think, will that a movie rated as bad suddenly make good just because the rating of bad was removed ?
      The point is, the tags are only attempts to give people a choice of expressing there feelings. And I think we can be reasonably certain that TED doesn't manipulate the ratings, hence, the rating reflects the voice of the public watching the talks.
      Btw, I still can't see why you keep believing that women get more obnoxious ratings than men.

      I didn't want to make any point about Aja. I just pointed out that she is a woman, since you called her "he".
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        Mar 15 2011: Harald, Your premise is that the moive is bad. What if people are rating it 'bad' because they do not understand the meaning of the word- as demonstrated by the first response in the related thread that was closed by the moderator. Can you honestly say that anyone would be likely to rate the world regarded speakers and researchers of TED as 'obnoxious' if they understood the real meaning of that word or had other more objective words to use -And rate women consistently 'obnoxious' in their top three adjectives more often than men without some sort of bias?. I think this is highly unlikely. - I actually challenge you to list 3 talks by men who were rated 'obnoxious' in the top three adjectives. Are you actually defending that sort of skewed result? Are you agreeing that women are more likely to be 'obnoxious speakers'? In fact, not all women are great speakers. Not all women have the greatest speaking style but I have to hasten to add that not all men are either i would guess that they have those attributes in roughly equal numbers. For you to deny this pattern exists in the TED ratings is just as likely to be a biased assessment as you seem to continually indicate that my version of it is.You had something to say in the question of biases. Have we both considered our own? Are you defending TED? If so, I am not attacking TED but working to make it more objective and fair in its rating system.
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          Mar 15 2011: 1) if you assume that a majority didn't understand the meaning of a particular talk, then one should probably ask, whether or not the speaker expressed his/her ideas properly.
          2) Talks by men rated obnoxious within top 3 ratings:
          a) David Byrne: Nothing but flowers
          b) Hillel Cooperman: Legos for grown ups
          c) Cameron Herold: Lets raise kids to be entrepreneurs
          and here you get even a "bonus" 4. talk
          d) Gary Vaynerchuk: Do what you love
          As I already mentioned at the very beginning of this discussion, there are very, very few talks that got obnoxious ratings within the top 3 ratings.
          3) I can't understand why you talk about skewed results. If you call it skewed, you imply that somebody is manipulating the results. If so, please provide proof for your claims.

          Concluding this issue: My impression is that you see a problem where none is.
          The only thing I can agree with you is that the "obnoxious" tag is neither a good choice of a tag, nor necessary. But that's about it.
          I clearly disagree with your idea of a conspiracy against women.
          No, I'm not defending TED, neither do I believe TED needs my defense. The rating is fair insofar that everybody can vote and nobody manipulates the votes/rating. How much fairer do you want it ?
          You can't very well say a system is not fair or not objective just because the result disagrees with your personal opinion.
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    Mar 15 2011: Just a further note to anyone still interested in this topic: of the recent talks on the TED visual presentation page - the only two talks to get an OBNOXIOUS rating in the first three adjectives are both women and another woman rated an unconvincing.
    Aji promised to look into those ratings and I hope he will have the courage to report his findings.
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      Mar 15 2011: Debra, the rating is a democratic process. EVERYBODY can vote. In the case of the Martin/Lindsey talk, over 500 people voted. The main ratings were: Inspiring, Beautiful and Obnoxious. Rather than criticizing a democratic process, one should probably ask, why are the opinions so polarized.
      It can be debated, whether the obnoxious tag makes any sense or not. Personally I think it's not needed, because, as Birdia already mentioned, it's hard to imagine that TED would show obnoxious talks.
      But beside that, you just have to accept the viewers opinion. Maybe some people hit the obnoxious button in lack of a better tag that expresses their feeling.

      P.S. Aja is a She
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    Mar 5 2011: You have a good point. I can't speak to the statistics of the whole thing but TED is all about presenting new ideas. Those who suspend judgement are those who will benefit most.
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    Mar 4 2011: Hi Debra,
    There were a couple bullies cruising through the TED sites for awhile, and we know they had several accounts and were manipulating the TEDcred. These same people seemed to target women with their bullying. Perhaps they messed with the ratings as well? Just speculation, but it wouldn't surprise me.

    The good thing is that TED was responsive to concerns, has improved the system and addressed these issues. The other good thing I noticed, is that several male tedsters often gave the bullies some of their own medicine:>) Ted seems to be a pretty good cross section of people, and I think on the whole, it's a good community:>)
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      Mar 4 2011: Hello Colleen,

      Thanks for your insights. I agree that the TED community is among the best in the world and although I was shocked by the OBNOXIOUS rating for too many female speakers, that is why I felt that this was a topic that I could raise. I rate every talk that i watch because I surmised that it helps to shape the future of TED presentations. I see from Aja's response below that the administration is at least considering my observations and request for statistical analysis and that validates your comment about their responsiveness.

      I have to admit that this felt like trial by fire for my very first question.
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        Mar 4 2011: I don't pay attention to the ratings before viewing a talk, but I do usually rate them because I agree that it might help shape the future TED presentations. It doesn't seem like TED would support an "obnoxious" presenter or topic, so perhaps that word can be struck from the choices?

        Hang in there:>) Maybe some of your words could have been different in your original statement?
        "Expected better of the ted community? Prejudice against women? Women's world views objectional to ted watchers?". I don't agree with any of that, which is why I offered the possibility of another explanation:>)
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          Mar 5 2011: Excellent and valid point, Nafissa. I appreciate your insight.
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      Mar 4 2011: It would be interesting to have a debate on whether certain keywords with negative connotation should be allowed or if; just like the comment rating system, the keywords should be limited to the positive. I guess the good thing at least is that there are only 3 negative terms for 10 positive terms.
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          Mar 4 2011: I pay very little attention to the ratings too. In fact I rarely give ratings to talks, I usually comment and/or favorite.
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          Mar 4 2011: Hello Birdia,

          Your point is well taken that many people do not choose to watch a talk by its rating but some do. I noticed this imbalance in OBNOXIOUS ratings as I watched every TED talk for the last two years as they appeared (or as I discovered them in the archives) and rated every one. My fear is that it is far less likely that any speaker with an OBNOXIOUS rating will be invited back or referred as an expert to other speaking venues (perhaps hampering a career).

          We all have an obligation to encourage fairness whenever we can and I simply felt that it was time for me to speak up. I love your idea of re-evaluating the rating words. Many times as I rated a talk, I wished that I had other words such as 'thought provoking' or 'strongly argued.' Can you suggest others?
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          Mar 4 2011: Hi Again Birdia,
          At the lower right hand corner of your screen is a red button that is labelled RATE. Part way into any talk you can press the button and you can choose three votes from the following words: jaw dropping, persuasive, courageous, ingenious, facinating, inspiring, beautiful, funny, informative, OK, unconvincing, confusing, longwinded, and obnoxious. When you have checked 3 boxes which can all be for one word or for three different ones, you can close the box and up will pop the culmulative ratings of all the people who have ever rated the talk. This is presented like an infographic with the words with the largest number of votes enlarged and bolded.
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        Mar 15 2011: Did you notice the most recent ratings for Courtney Martin and Elizabeth Lindsey?
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    Mar 4 2011: Definitions for OBNOXIOUS

    •objectionable: causing disapproval or protest; "a vulgar and objectionable person"

    •Very annoying, offensive, odious or contemptible; exposed to harm or injury

    •obnoxiously - offensively: in an obnoxious manner; "he said so in one of his more offensively intellectually arrogant sentences"

    •obnoxiousness - hatefulness: the quality of being hateful

    •obnoxiousness - The characteristic of being obnoxious
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      Mar 3 2011: Thanks for your response. It may be accurate but given that you work at TED that response could be just as easily "A Texas sharpshooter effect". I do not have the data to do such an analysis but you do. I am hoping to encourage TED to do so. Harald Jezek's response considered only the strongest rating of each talk not the degree to which male vs. female speakers rated an obnoxious rating.
      I may be that I am oversensitve to this issue and I admit that my impression is not scientific but I believe that I have seen every TED talk on this site and think my observation deserves better than Matthieu Miossec's response that cements my view.
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    Mar 3 2011: Debra,
    when you go to the "talks" main page, you´ll see the main rating for each talk in bold. Now, let's check how many "obnoxious" overall ratings there are. My sort criteria is English-all events - all lengths, order talks by newest release, show talks related to all.
    page 1: none
    page 2: none
    page 3: none
    page 4: none
    page 5: none
    page 6: 1 (Hanna Rosin)
    page 7: 1 (Kim Gorgens)
    page 8: none
    page 9: none
    page 10: none

    So, looking at the ratings, I can't really see why you find that women are rated more obnoxious than men. As a matter of fact, over these 10 pages, there are almost no negative overall ratings for either men or women, which actually shows us the high standard of the talks.
    That said, tastes and interests vary, so almost any talk also gets some negative critics, but, what counts is the strongest rating which is the one in bold.
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      Mar 3 2011: Thanks, Harald for considering my question and doing a little research. I appreciate the good will in that. I did, however, feel that in response to the rating for Hanna Rosin and Kim Gorgens, TED posted a strong series of talks by women (simply an impression). You are considering only the top rating for the talks and in aggregate the people who watch TED talks are more educated and balanced than to allow the aggregated evalutation to be OBNOXIOUS. There appears to me to be a strong undercurrent that does rate these talks by women as obnoxious.
      You have the stats and I do not. I think I am pulling on a valid thread.
      I wonder what the results would be if the analysis was done.
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    Mar 2 2011: For a good reason you cannot search tags like "unconvincing" or "obnoxious", but I am quite certain that I have seen talks given by men tagged with both.
    If you can expect people to be fair and unbiased anywhere on the internet, then it's probably here on
    Whatever the reasons behind the tags were, I feel they just reflect the way people felt and not a prejudice.

    By the way, whilst responding I just noticed that TED has 30 talks tagged "women" and 2 talks tagged "men"
    I also demand an explanation! :D jk
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      Mar 2 2011: I have taken note that women's talks are disproportionately rated "obnoxious" and that seems quite different than 'unconvincing'. Unconvincing simply implies that there are flaws in the logic or progression of the arguement while 'obnoxious' really has a strong negative element of rejection.