Does your writing style indicate whether you are male or female? As reported in The New York Times Magazine and elsewhere, Israeli researchers recently created an algorithm that can predict the sex of an author from a writing sample.
Members of an online book discussion site, BookBlog, turned the algorithm into a Web application, Gender Genie (www.bookblog.net/gender/genie.html), that enables anyone to punch in prose and receive a verdict.
Then the fun started. From Aug. 15 to last week, Gender Genie analyzed 250,000 documents submitted by 125,000 people, according to Mary Delli Santi, who runs the site. But although the researchers had achieved an 80 percent accuracy rate, Gender Genie correctly guessed a writer's sex only about half the time.
Contacted by e-mail, one of the scientists, Moshe Koppel, argued that the algorithm has not been applied correctly. (The researchers are working with Delli Santi to revise the Web version.) He also said that people were entering texts that were too short and ignoring that the algorithm was designed to assess fiction, not blog entries, e-mail or the other nonfiction samples that dominate submissions.
(For example, the Gender Genie suspected - incorrectly - that a man wrote this column.)
The draw of Gender Genie has been to see how differently men and women react to the site's sexual judgments.
"Men are definitely more sensitive about having their writing labeled as female" than the other way around, Delli Santi said.
Some find the pronouncements too stark, she said: "Transgendered people are asking that the Genie come up with more results than just male or female."