This craze for daft facts is getting out of hand

It was thoughtful of Gary Lineker on Match of the Day, just before the Aston Villa v Newcastle match, to share with us that if Newcastle managed to keep a clean sheet, it would be the first time that they'd had three back-to-back clean sheets away from home in 110 years. You what, you what, you what?

I was so confused by this - I was thinking, "Does that mean 1891 or 1901?" and "Would Newcastle have been in the First or Second Division?" and "If it was 1891, were they called Newcastle United or Newcastle East End?" - that I missed the first ten minutes of the game.

I can see that these stats fill up time in an introduction, but they are becoming awfully annoying.

The next day, before the Man United v Chelsea game, we were overwhelmed by daft facts. It was Fergie's 2,054th game as a manager, compared to Mr Goodhouses' 92nd, which left me wondering about the referee - how many games had he reffed in his career and why were we not being told? And the ballboys - how many games had they ballboyed? What about the hot dog salesmen outside? I bet one of them was notching up his 100th consecutive appearance at Old Trafford, with or without a clean sheet. And Giggsy, if he had come on, would have been appearing for United for the
837th time - or was it his 8,370th or 8,370,111th?

Footer fans have loved facts and figures ever since leagues began in 1888 and Preston North End were nicknamed the "Invincibles", after going through that first season unbeaten. Now, that was an interesting fact. It's getting out of hand, though. Experts bombard us from every angle with ever madder facts, just because they can.

I blame computers - able to store forgotten footer stats going back to 1863 - but also the geeks, so many of them, coming into the game, the swotty, middle-class kids who sit in their bedrooms playing with their, er, "apps", whatever apps are.

I've just been reading my copy of October's edition of FourFourTwo, which was probably written and printed two months ago.

All glossy magazines get so far ahead of themselves that I feel that Christmas is already over. It is my fave footer mag, but it has become oh-so-dependent on statistics.

Stat of the nation

The issue devotes a whole page to boasting that it has teamed up with something called Opta to produce "the ultimate iPhone app that will change the way you watch football". As I understand it - and I might have got it completely wrong, as most of it seems to be in a foreign language - it allows the obsessed, the pathetic and the Billy-no-mates types to dissect and analyse every Premier League game this season while watching it.
You can check every player's passing, crossing and tackling and compare the stats with those of any other player, or whizz back to look at their performances in other games.

“Focus on a particular period of the game," the advert screams, "using the match timeline, by dragging the handles on the left and right to select
the time frame. Once you've found something of interest, share it. Humiliate your mates on Facebook or tell the world about your outstanding discovery on Twitter."

In other words, these twerps aren't really watching or enjoying the match. They're just using it to acquire stats and notch up stupid facts, and then show them off to other, equally deprived creatures.

I hurried on to find a proper feature to read, such as Ask a Silly Question, my favourite bit, in which someone from the magazine rings up a well-known player and asks him whether he would rather drown a kitten or a puppy, or, if he had to bed both Angelina Jolie and Angela Merkel, in which order he would do it.

Then another survey caught my eye, this time of Europe's top 30 clubs, ranking them by attendance. Barcelona had the highest average gate last season, with 79,200, but who do you think came a very close second, with 79,100?

Come on, indulge a poor, pathetic football fan with not enough mates. The answer is: Borussia Dortmund. Wow. Totally fascinating . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The fifty people who matter

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.