Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
I'm starting to think LEGO is evil (sinker.tumblr.com)
398 points by Sukotto on Dec 15, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 283 comments

When I see these stories taking companies to task over why they sell what they do, I always wonder why nobody holds consumers to task.

For example: why doesn't Lego sell to girls? Why doesn't Barbie have more realistic features? Why don't car manufacturers offer an electric vehicle? Why doesn't McDonalds sell salads instead of fries? Why do record labels offer such crappy music?

It's easy to blame the companies -- but in reality it's very hard for a single company to change the macro culture that informs their product decisions. If you want to find the root cause, look at the users and ask why they demand the products they do. In this case: "why are so few parents buying Legos for their girls?" or "why do girls feel a stigma about playing with Legos?"

"When you're young, you look at television and think, There's a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that's not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That's a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It's the truth."

I think Steve has the answer here. But I am just as frustrated as you are.

I've always wondered if Steve was inspired by the movie "Network":

"We'll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in illusions, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds... We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God's name, you people are the real thing! WE are the illusion! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I'm speaking to you now! TURN THEM OFF..."

I highly recommend it.


The second episode of Charlie Brooker's current Black Mirror series of scifi dramas contains elements of Network, but set in a future dystopia where people sort of live inside an ipad that's stuck running farmville. It's a lot better than I've just made it sound. In fact, it's incredible, and terrifying.


Also highly recommended.

To be honest the whole thing should be at the top of HN, but I doubt it would get upvoted. Maybe we need a summarising blog post...

I watched this last night, really good viewing. Especially poignant was the ending where the protagonist traded in his morals for a comfortable life and fame. It evoked feelings of disappointment that he was so cheaply bought off, the same kind of disappointment i felt at the end of 1984 when Winston was re-educated.

In some ways it was a case of reductio ad absurdum, but the more you look how popular culture is evolving the more it seems like a logical, yet depressing, conclusion - people's constant pre-occupation with celebrity culture and seeking fame even if it means selling themselves cheaply. I also enjoyed how it captured how people like Simon Cowell are exploitative and manipulative when it comes to shows like the X factor, it's audience and it's contestants.

The big irony was that i watched it online, meaning the show was interspersed with adverts which i could not skip. Made me laugh, i expect Charlie Brooker foresaw this as to further solidify his vision

I know this isn't a movie forum, but typically, when discussing movies, one doesn't start off with a spoiler of the ending.

Thanks a ton. :-\

Oops! It's not really a twist or anything, but yeah that was a bit of a faux pas. Pardon my stupidity!

And here's Aaron Sorkin's first attempt at a hommage to The Network (his second attempt being, of course, The Social Network): http://youtu.be/5zyOhZsvIzI (warning: lots of cursing).

I like to rephrase that: "When you are powerless you think, There's a conspiracy. When you are powerful, you realize that people are getting what they want." With these ideas neither group has to accept any personal responsibility.

That's too much of a simplicistic view. I'll give an example.

A family brings their children to McDonald's, often. McDonald's blasts large amounts of marketing in the children's head. The children grow up and become adults. The adults frequently go to McDonald's.

Is fast food what they want? Or is it what the past generation's powerful marketing wanted?

It's a grey area, without any obvious answers.

Naturally, kudos to Steve for his pompous rethor... ahem, for his powerful and revealing words.

What you're shown and what you want is undeniably a continuum.

The problem is that the people who watch TV aren't the customers. Advertisers are the customers and viewers are the product being sold. To the extent that TV gives viewers what they want to watch, it's a case of optimization-by-proxy, with all the attendant pitfalls.

The Chinese gov is a bit more hands on regulating the morality and frivolity of TV. Even totally apolitical TV shows like match-making shows, which they feel degrade the moral character of the citizenry, are taken off the air by fiat.

For example: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07...

True. I'm sure it is the same in Singapore. It is likely a (valuable?) relic of Confucianist paternalism. I'd like to know if it is similar in Japan and Korea.

I tend to agree, but there's a missing element in this economic model, though one that others have mentioned (cf. sunahsuh's comment): marketing. If you look at Marx, or even Smith, it's clear that the wants and demands of the consumers are not always organic, but are often fabricated by the companies themselves. Smith thought this was cool, Marx thought it was evil; in any case, you are right to some extent, but few people go out of their way to buy something they haven't been told they want.

> marketing

Exactly. When I was a child, Lego held the patent on the plastic brick and therefore could sell bland collections of 4x2s at enormously inflated prices.

When the patent expired, the market was flooded with clone bricks at greatly reduced prices. Lego floundered a bit before figuring out their value was no longer technology but instead "brand recognition".

Since then Lego has been primarily a marketing-oriented company. In fact, "bricks" aren't even close to their main product anymore and only really exists as a branding element at this point.

It would be great if some Chinese company sold huge tubs of quality bricks for a penny each. But it's not going to be from Lego.

The person responsible for this, and much of the modern world, is Edward Bernays, the "father of public relations". He got most of his ideas from his uncle, Sigmund Freud.


Everyone interested in Bernays and how modern Marketing and Public Relations came into existence (and how they are used to control/manipulate us) should take the time and watch the four part BBC documentation 'The Century of the Self' by Adam Curtis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyPzGUsYyKM

I'm not so sure Smith thought it was cool:

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary."

It's possible you're right, but that quote is irrelevant. That's about monopolies, specifically in the form of trade associations. Smith thought any kind of monopolies—trusts, unions, import duties—were bad, that's for sure.

I was talking about fabricated demand, which I don't have a quote for because I don't have my notes or copies of Wealth of Nations or Theory of Moral Sentiments with me at the moment. But my basic argument, even if he didn't explicitly treat the subject, would be that fabricated demand is an accumulation of capital, thereby increasing national opulence, which Smith holds as the highest good.

twitter and ipad strongly come to mind here. (whored by the media vastly more than they marketed themselves).

I blame companies instead of consumers because they market the shit out this stuff.

No one is born with an innate desire for that specific Barbie or Lego set. The companies market to you, make you feel like you want it. The companies may not be able to change the entire macro environment, but they actively profit and exploit it.

So yea, they are way more to blame than what 11 year old girls think their place in the world is. Who do you think told them?

> No one is born with an innate desire for that specific Barbie or Lego set. The companies market to you, make you feel like you want it.

True, but it's the fault of both companies and consumers at the same time. It's a feedback loop. Marketing strategies are based on what people are willing to buy, which is based on what companies market. The system feeds on itself.

The company is trying to maximise profit (NB the single use point made in this article). It is not the 'fault' of a child to want whatever fad is current. Yes, there are broader influences from society, but to paint the child as some kind of active and equal player in this game (aside from their natural love of awesome (eg. superheroes are better than vegetables)) is disingenuous, imo.

Yeah, but they used to market stuff to girls, and generically, but they started doing analytics and switched to marketing stuff that sells more- branded toys to boys. A minor variation in natural preference is expanded by the feedback loop.

That said- you can still buy all of the plain bricks you want from their website. If you don't want the complicated sets, don't buy them. The blocks on their own are fine.

What about the role of parenting?

Depressing to see people blaming advertising and marketing as if they as parents are powerless to buy their daughter a lego set unless an advert says they can.

If adverts have more of an influence on your kids than you do, then you're a terrible parent.

People who work at corporations have consciences. They are not run by robots yet. Corporations consist of people with kids of their own. They are human beings. They are not without blame just like the parents.

It's not immoral to give the public what they are asking you for.

You speak as if 'the public' were unable to be shaped by offer, advertising, the consumption of peers, as if, in the end, consumption wasn't part of culture, and part of a grand feedback loop all of it.

Indeed when we talk of material culture, we are talking about consumption, in essence, right?

Giving the public what they're asking for has no necessary relationship with morality at all. Simply because it's what they're asking for doesn't mean it's moral either.

For the downvoter(s), a thought experiment: lynch mobs.

Dude, the advertisments are at least halfway directed at the parent.

It goes along with the "soft bigotry of low expectations". We've come to a common mental model of the world that disempowers the individual, especially in the realm of responsibilities. The state and the corporation are the sole seats of responsibility and of blame, and thus the sole seats of power.

It's more than a little disturbing to see people willingly disempower themselves in such a fashion for so little in return.

There is nothing wrong with lamenting a change that takes away an easy, beneficial option. It is tacit acknowledgement that if you make the best choices easy to make, then more people will make them.

Given this basic fact, it is our responsibility to exert pressure on states and corporations to make the better options available to us.

All I can say is my son hacks lego sets. He also hacks M4 science kits occasionally too. The fact that it is a model kit doesn't mean that after the model is done, you can't tear it apart and put it in a spare parts box that can be used for freeform building.

>"why do girls feel a stigma about playing with Legos?"

What about marketing and the outsize influence it has on culture? Companies don't just passively follow markets, the biggest ones use advertising to actively create them.

Girls feel a stigma about playing with Legos because Lego has clearly signaled it's a "boys' toy" with their marketing.

edit: typos

What possible reason would the Lego corporation have for discouraging 50% of their potential market from buying their products?

By discouraging one 50%, they are encouraging the other 50%. If the increase by encouraging the latter 50% offset the decrease by discouraging the former 50%, they get a net increase in profits. It is a lot easier to market to either boys or girls than to market to boys and girls, so marketing to one half or the other tends to be more profitable than marketing to both.

A possible reason is that they believe they'd be less successful if they actively tried to broaden their consumer base.

Whether that's correct, I couldn't say, but it's certainly not an impossible scenario.

My daughter feels no stigma about playing with the "boys" LEGOs, in fact she does not particularly like the girl oriented Bellville series.

She likes other girl oriented things, so I wonder where LEGO failed with their girls series.

Also, you can still buy regular general LEGO pieces as in the old days, you do not have to buy the latest Star Wars or Harry Potter set.

Problem, with the general LEGO pieces is that about $100 or so can be plenty enough for a kid, while with themed series you can continue selling.

> It's easy to blame the companies -- but in reality it's very hard for a single company to change the macro culture that informs their product decisions. If you want to find the root cause, look at the users and ask why they demand the products they do. In this case: "why are so few parents buying Legos for their girls?" or "why do girls feel a stigma about playing with Legos?"

I don't believe there's a "root cause", or at least it's not on the same conceptual level as "companies" and "consumers". It's a feedback loop. Companies create markets and needs by marketing, but marketing is never done in vacuum, it's correlated with what people already need. There are lots of loops like that (concept of popularity, or TV - as the quote of Steve somewhere in this thread goes), and we have one side of the loop blaming the other side of the loop, where in fact each side is fine by itself; it's just the combination that's broken and seems to converge on something bad.

It's much easier for a single company to make some changes than it is for a single or even very large group of consumers to drive a change.

It stinks, but every complaint about products asks for an Apple comparison. I would say both Apple and Pixar have demonstrated that sticking to the purity of your craft can be both fulfilling and extremely lucrative.

You assume people want a change. I do not think they do.

Do people want an end to gender specific toys? Certainly some do. But the vast majority do not.

I firmly believe, through interacting with people in general, and my own children, that female and male brains are completely different. They are hard wired to like different things, and behave differently. I don't see anything wrong with that, and don't see any reason to pretend there aren't those differences.

I take massive issue with this.

We start the training with regard to gender so early that it's hard to tell what's "nature" and what's "nurture". I'm watching the choices my sister makes during her pregnancy with fascination. Gender is the earliest thing we bombard them with -- painting rooms pink, buying gendered clothes, choosing certain toys.. we don't even thinking about it because it's so normal until, for instance, you make a conscious effort to try and raise your child in a gender neutral environment.

I have 4 kids, three girls and a boy, and they play with other kids their ages, so I have a fair amount of experience with little kids. There are corner cases where you can't tell what's nature and what's nurture, but you haven't really watched little kids if you haven't noticed that little boys (i.e. 2 year olds) bounce off walls much more than little girls, and there's no realistic nurture mechanism for that difference, at least among my friends and neighbors kids. More or less none of us have televisions, and it's too young to be training them at sports (or at least I haven't witnessed any of the parents doing so).

Legos, on the other hand, seem to be nurture: my daughters play with legos more days than not, and we don't have any pastel bricks.

So here's a news story about twin boys, one of whom decided he'd rather be a girl. Pretty much essentially the same "nurture". Still want to blame society when the girl decides she wants to wear pretty dresses? I think that's a hard sell.


Given that they're identical twins, I think it's also pretty clear that this case undercuts the argument that it's all just genetics as well.

Oh, and "decided he'd rather be a girl" is generally considered offensive to trans people. She believes that she's always been a girl, and did not "decide" anything of the kind. Her physical characteristics were simply misleading regarding her true gender.

>"is generally considered offensive to trans people"

Isn't that just being delusional. If I decide that I should have been born as superman, does that mean you now all have to refer to me as the Man of Steel and ignore the fact that I wasn't born with the organs (X-ray eyes, etc.) that would make it possible for me to be said person.

Except in cases of genetic sex indeterminacy a person is born either male or female regardless of what they think they should have been or currently want to be.

You're welcome to adopt your own self-vision but imposing unreality on others is beyond reasonable expectations of society.

The heart of the matter is, what is gender? It's clearly not the case that gender is identical to being biologically male or female, eg, based on which sex organs are present, or on the chromosome. You need only read the Wikipedia pages on "intersex" and "third gender" to see some of the diversity in the world. Sex indeterminacy is only one of many possibilities.

Go back to the original Turing Test. In "The Imitation Game", the questioner must determine which of two people is male and female based only on written notes. (Presumably typewritten or some other means which doesn't even reveal handwriting.) If the only way to tell that a person who looks like a female is actually a male is through a close physical examination, then will you at least agree that they are doing a good job of acting as a female?

Of course there are many people who do that, including actors and cross-dressers, who see it as a different persona which they can put on or take off. For those who work hard at it, it's a sign of respect to be called "she" because it's a recognition of the effort needed to get the body language, and voice patterns, and dress style down.

But some people feel that being born male was a mistake, a birth defect. A cleft palate is a birth defect which is easily fixed nowadays. Nose jobs and breast implants and LASIK are usually voluntary procedures to change a genetic characteristic. Gender reassignment isn't as simple, but much easier pre-puberty. One worry is that the person, decades later, may decide that the choice made as a child was wrong, or at least deluded. That's why there's a lot of counseling involved.

If someone considers themself a female, takes on female gender roles, and to every extent possible acts like a female, then can you see why there's some offense that some side effects of some stupid little chromosome still make others call them a "he" instead of "she"?

That person may still be deluded. The question for you is, how do you tell the difference between a delusion and (what you consider to be the impossible case of) actually being born as the wrong sex? What are the negatives and benefits of encouraging vs. denying that delusion? Bear in mind that clearly a number of transgender people are happier having made that change.

As to your Superman example, "Superman" is a specific person from a fictional world. But suppose you thought you were Kryptonian, and you underwent hypothetical genetic tinkering and technological augmentation to get x-ray vision, super-strength, and so on. Then yes, I would call you a Kryptonian, or a human transformed into a Kryptonian if I wanted to be more precise. Just like my Dad, born Canadian, is now a US citizen. But if you just decide one day that everyone should call you "Superman", without making any effort at it, then don't be surprised if people don't agree with you. What would that effort look like? I saw a Superman impersonator on the Strip in Vegas, and would have no problems calling that person the Man of Steel.

Gender is entirely a social construct very loosely tied to biology but not at all determined by it.

I personally think the same thing is probably true of sexual orientation (which really is sexual attraction to gender not necessarily the same sex).

I would add that many anthropologists don't think people are born with a gender.

Gender is entirely a social construct very loosely tied to biology but not at all determined by it.

This doesn't sound plausible.

[tl;dr: If evolution didn't build in a powerful urge to make our gender behavior match our reproductive sex, then it made a huge error and missed a very easy and effective optimization.]

It may be the case that gender could be very loosely tied to biology in a philosophical or theoretical sense, but in the world that we're in right now, there are very strong adaptive reasons that gender expression and reproductive sex tend to stay close (statistically, of course) in any sexually dimorphic species, which I'd call a very strong "tie to biology".

Evolution 101-wise, gender can only be allowed to diverge from reproductive sex to a limited enough extent that it's more or less irrelevant to reproductive success. Evolution will make sure of that on a long enough time scale (at least up until the modern era, where we can to some extent decouple reproduction from sex).

If the two diverged commonly enough that animals were often foregoing sex with reproductively compatible partners in favor of incompatible ones that nevertheless matched the gender role they were interested in, then an adaptation that better facilitated reproductive matchings would easily emerge and dominate the population.

Note that such a compensating adaptation might even emerge as some form of social behavior, even if the impetus to that behavior was genetically driven; IMO, this doesn't make it any less tied to biology.

As an example, one suggestion [1] to solve the "gay problem" in evolution (why has full homosexuality, where a person is not at all attracted to members of the opposite sex, not been eradicated from the gene pool, since it should be so devastating to reproduction rates?) is that getting rid of the "gay gene" (or genes, or whatever) is actually a very difficult task for evolution to carry out (I'm anthropomorphizing evolution here for ease of speaking, not because I don't realize why that's wrong) for some reason. Difficult enough so that accepting the ~10% homosexuality rate was a better option, though obviously not ideal. So instead of getting rid of homosexuality, evolution tried to mitigate the "damage" that such behavior causes by enhancing an inclination for people to disapprove of it, which meant that even when people/animals were fully homosexual, they still tended to mate with members of the other sex due to social pressure. Thus the seemingly fitness-devastating 10% homosexuality rate was bumped down to a more ignorable number via social effects, and the presence of the gene was a net win. This is not to say that there's a "homophobia gene"; if this theory is correct, I'd guess that evolution more likely leveraged existing social behaviors (like wanting to fit in, or hating people that act differently) and turned them up to a slightly higher level.

In the case of gender identity, I suspect that there is a heavy dosage of social conformity involved in training people to signal their reproductive sex through gendered behavior. But I think it's biologically driven, or at least that it would be extremely surprising if it wasn't, since it's such low-hanging fruit. I'm sure that these biological imperatives are somewhat flexible, and that if pink was considered a boy color then boys would flock to the pink section of Toys R Us, rather than these things being hard-coded into the genome (though certain behaviors are definitely going to be hard-coded, since sex signaling had to take place before higher-level thought centers could be leveraged). But the inclination to figure out what these socially derived sex-signaling behaviors are is not a social construct - that's an evolutionary imperative, so while we may be able to change the particular expressions of gender that we see in the world, it's probably going to be rather difficult to prevent people from seeking them out and conforming to them.

This is why I'm always uncomfortable with nature vs. nurture questions - the environment that evolution optimizes any particular genome to succeed in includes the entire existing social structure, which was also influenced by previous rounds of evolution. So picking apart what is a "social construct" and what is "biological" is really a fool's errand, when it comes down to it - there's a delicate interplay between the two, and they always play off of each other.

[1] I should mention, there are other theories as well, the simplest being that even with the "gay gene", a person is only sometimes fully homosexual (twin studies have shown that homosexuality is definitely not 100% determined by DNA, though it's not 0%, either), so they do rather limited damage, and if tied to useful adaptations, there would be no particular evolutionary imperative to get rid of such a gene; the point, though, is that such arguments only hold up to a point, and if a large percentage of the population was gay, there would be much more selection pressure against that behavior, tamping down the ratio rather quickly to a lower level.

"If evolution didn't build in a powerful urge to make our gender behavior match our reproductive sex, then it made a huge error and missed a very easy and effective optimization."

That's not how evolution works! Evolution works at the level of genes, and not individuals. It's easy to construct a model where a 10% gay population ends up being overall better for a population. Consider this made-up hypothesis: gay people are better at caregiving than non-gay people, so a population with gay people ends up with healthier adults who are able to have more, and healthier, children. For this scenario, gayness won't be "optimized" away because that leads to worse reproductive success for the population of genes involved. Nor is the presence of gay individuals "damage", because the result is an evolutionarily better population than one without gay individuals.

As another example, why does Down's syndrome exist? By your logic, shouldn't evolution have optimized that case away? That it hasn't means that changing how the 21st chromosome works is much harder than the impact of having a 1:733 failure rate. Why do you assume that any genetic component to being gay would be easy to change, without having negative consequences elsewhere in the population?

So your error is the belief that evolution emphasizes the reproductive success of individuals, when it deals instead with the reproductive success of genes. Some individuals don't need to reproduce so long as the overall gene population reproduces itself.

BTW, 100 years ago, pink was a boy's color, and young boys wore dresses too. Quoting from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-St... "yet social convention of 1884, when FDR was photographed at age 2 1/2, dictated that boys wore dresses until age 6 or 7, also the time of their first haircut. Franklin’s outfit was considered gender-neutral."

> "If evolution didn't build in a powerful urge to make our gender behavior match our reproductive sex, then it made a huge error and missed a very easy and effective optimization."

I think this is actually a pretty reasonable statement, as long as it includes the caveat "on average" or "most of the time". Just as Down's syndrome isn't a huge problem for a population -- as long as it stays relatively uncommon.

A population comprised largely of people with Down's syndrome would likely be poorly adapted, and that's probably the case with a population comprised largely of gay people or transgender people as well. (Obviously, this is complete speculation, so I could be utterly mistaken.)

But yes, a population with a certain percentage of gay people could be better adapted just for having them, or alternatively, it could be better adapted because the same genetic diversity that leads a percentage of the population to be gay could be desirable in other ways.

I think this is actually a pretty reasonable statement, as long as it includes the caveat "on average" or "most of the time". Just as Down's syndrome isn't a huge problem for a population -- as long as it stays relatively uncommon.

Certainly. In the field of evolution, "on average", "statistically", or "most of the time" should be assumed to attach itself to almost every sentence (including this one).

All of this can be made much more precise, by the way, I just didn't mention it above because I already put up a huge wall of text. When it comes to deleterious mutations, there's a rule of thumb in evolution, which is to some extent mathematically provable: one mutation, one death. Statistically, what that means is that a single bad mutation will kill (where by "kill" I really mean "cause to not pass on one's genes to the next generation"), on average, one creature, no matter how bad the mutation is. If it's critical, then it will kill the first carrier before it's born; if it's not so critical, something like poor eyesight, then it will spread much further throughout the population before it kills (on average) one being.

This applies even in the face of mitigating factors. Taking the eyesight example, the fact that we have eyeglasses, and can correct poor vision, means that because poor eyesight kills less often than it did before eyeglasses the genes that cause it will spread much further throughout the population. The presence of the mitigating factor (eyeglasses) allows a potentially deadly gene to spread much further, so that on average it still kills one person per mutation.

So the fact that homosexuality has spread relatively far throughout the population either indicates that a) it is not a deleterious mutation overall (there's some significant benefit to the gene(s) that outweighs the lack of reproductive drive), b) that the mutation happens fairly often, so there are a lot of deaths due to it (this is the case with Down's syndrome), or c) that some damage-control mechanism exists so that the "death" rate is fairly low compared to the incidence of the gene.

In reality, it's probably some combination of all three possibilities; like I mentioned above, everything in evolution is statistical, so it never helps to look for single right answers.

I'm a bit doubtful about the statistics, and I think I know why. There's a circularity to your use of "deleterious mutations" and "bad mutation."

Is the mutation which causes sickle-cell anaemia a "good mutation" or a "bad mutation"? It increases reproductive fitness in places where malaria is or was common, so it must be good, in an evolutionary sense.

How many deaths has it caused once the population of people carrying the haemoglobin gene mutation migrated to a location without malaria? Is that mutation now "good" or "bad"? How do you incorporate those numbers into your statistics?

Is the loss of eyesight a deleterious mutation? Definitely for a bird of prey, but not so for cave-dwelling creatures living in absolute darkness. For that matter, some people are attracted to people who wear glasses (and wearing zero-prescription glasses is such a turn-off!), so it might increase reproductive fitness.

Evolution doesn't know the future. If a population loses genetic resistance to a disease that's seemingly extinct, is that a "good" or "bad" mutation? How long does it take to judge that? After 1,000 years, should some thawed carcass reintroduce it and the species become extinct, does that count finally as a bad mutation and a single death?

For a real world example, consider the birds of New Zealand. They filled ecological niches which elsewhere were filled by mammals. Were these good mutations or bad ones? And when rats and weasels and cats and more were introduced to New Zealand, helping make many of those species extinct, then did those mutations retrospectively become deleterious?

If a genetic madness affects the leader of the US Strategic Air Command to issue orders which end up nuking a dozen Soviet cities, then what are the other cases which make that average out to one? If the nuking didn't occur, then what would the average have been?

What of a mutation which causes a speciation event? Is that a good mutation or a bad one? It's better for one environment and worse for the other.

There's a 10^-9 chance (1-in-a-million) that a "bad" mutation will mutate again back to the "good" form. With nearly 7 billion people in the world, that almost certainly happens a few thousand times every generation. In a generation we may be able to cure some genetic diseases through genetic engineering, so a "bad" mutation can be fixed.

With all those in mind, I can't figure out a way to get the numbers to come out "1" unless the definition of deleterious is defined to make it come out that way.

Yes, the one-mutation-one-death idea is vastly oversimplified when it comes to the real world, so I shouldn't have presented it as being more meaningful than it is. But while it can't be taken as a mathematical truth in the unsimplified real world, the "moral of the story" will holds (that worse mutations can't spread as far as less bad ones).

It's rather simple to prove in the simplified case, it's just a typical steady state assumption. If a population is in an equilibrium state, then the rate at which any mutation is introduced has to be equal to the rate at which it is removed from the population. So if one mutation has a 1% chance to kill its owner each generation, then to maintain equilibrium (in other words, to make sure the prevalence of the mutated gene in the population is stable), every time the mutation shows up anew, it must spread to 100 people, killing one of them. One mutation, one death.

Yes, that's super simplified, it neglects the possibility of multiple mutations, positive or neutral ones, back-mutation, interactions between members of the population, non-equilibrium states, etc. These will change the details of the math, sometimes quite substantially.

But the basic idea, that the worse a mutation is the less prevalent it will be, should hold.

With the steady-state assumption, doesn't every beneficial mutation also lead to a single death?

Beneficial and neutral mutations are essentially left out of the equation - they would spread to 100% of the population, so in the steady state, the probability of mutation newly creating a beneficial mutation has to be 0% (since it's already present in every member).

The motivation for ignoring beneficial mutations (and back-mutations to beneficial states) is that they're extremely rare as compared to deleterious ones - most selection pressure in nature is aimed at merely preserving the functionality in the genome, weeding out new deleterious mutations rather than supporting new beneficial ones (though that is a critical role in the very long term, of course).

I still think that your definition of beneficial and deleterious is defined post-hoc as "survives/does not survive long enough to reach the stable state."

In my example earlier regarding extinct bird species on New Zealand, were there ever any beneficial mutations? After all, the genes no longer reproduce.

My point is that there is no stable state, so it's better to have a shorter-term definition of "beneficial" and "deleterious" based on relative reproduction fitness compared to others in the species population over a short time frame.

Additionally, beneficial and neutral mutations do not always spread to 100% of the species population. A Y-linked trait won't spread without a male lineage.

I still think that your definition of beneficial and deleterious is defined post-hoc as "survives/does not survive long enough to reach the stable state."

Yup, that's a pretty good description of the assumption/definition, for all the good and bad things it brings with it; I mostly agree with the rest of what you've said.

FWIW, I've mainly seen the one-mutation-one-death rule applied to arguments that attempted to place informational speed or capacity limits on the process of evolution, and in most cases it has turned out that these arguments fail when applied to the real world because of precisely the types of arguments that you've made against this rule (sexual recombination and the fact that evolution is never in a steady state tend to be the biggest problems).

An aside on the topic of defining beneficial/deleterious mutations: the problem is a very difficult one, because in reality the effect of a mutation is at best distributional and not measurable along a single axis of goodness/badness. I don't know much about the state of the art here, but if I was going to sit down and try to figure out a way to try to estimate "benificial-ness" of a mutation (even as a distribution), I'd say you've put your finger on exactly the right question to focus on, that there's a tension between what might be immediately beneficial and what would be beneficial in the longer term. For instance, a gene that made someone have babies like crazy by always sacrificing one's grandchildren for nourishment would be fantastic for 1-generation-out fitness, but terrible for 2-generations-out. Similarly, in an environment where pre-reproductive death was very common, an adaptation that decreased the likelihood to have children by a small factor but significantly increased the ability to keep them alive would be very beneficial at 2-generations but deleterious at 1. So pure-local effects measured 1 generation down the line won't necessarily tell us enough (though in the vast majority of cases, it's probably good enough).

On the other hand, a purely-global view is not right either, because as you've mentioned, environmental changes or genetic shifts within the species can turn previously helpful traits into "bad" ones. So measuring regret after the fact will not suffice, and further, it misses the fact that at the moment the mutation happens, there is some distribution that describes the likely outcomes of that mutation given the current state of the world, using no information from the future (even if we don't know it or can't feasibly calculate it). The extinct bird species definitely had beneficial mutations even though some freak event wiped them out later, and we need to account for that. So something more subtle is required.

In order to do better we'd probably have to make some assumptions to eventually cut off the familial dependencies, like perhaps that the presence or absence of a gene in an N-th grandparent can have no direct causal effect on the survival of the animal in question (i.e. direct nurture effects are limited in time - even this assumption is questionable in the face of things like family wealth). We'd also have to assume that we could quantify the expected changes in the environment into some sort of distribution, including distributional assumptions for expected changes in the rest of the population (luckily these changes should be rather slow, when measured in generations). Then we could in theory compare the expected size of a family tree branching from a member that possesses a new mutation after that N-th generation, to the base case, the family tree without that mutation. Of course, the "expected size" is a trivialization of the real distribution, which would better describe the possible effects of a mutation (and the details of that distribution might strongly effect the population dynamics).

It quickly gets messy, and requires a lot of assumptions. And even after all that, we wouldn't have a very clean number to work with, i.e. we couldn't easily continuous-ize the situation and write down an ODE that took the "beneficial-ness" of a mutation and showed us what would happen, because other details of the distribution would be important, as well.

That's not how evolution works! Evolution works at the level of genes, and not individuals.

Yes, of course, though in many cases genes achieve their own survival by boosting the survival and reproduction rates of their hosts.

It's easy to construct a model where a 10% gay population ends up being overall better for a population. Consider this made-up hypothesis: gay people are better at caregiving than non-gay people, so a population with gay people ends up with healthier adults who are able to have more, and healthier, children.

You're invoking group selection here, which is exactly what The Selfish Gene debunked in great detail; given your comment above, I'm surprised that you would make this argument.

From the point of view of the gene, in a society that contained a 10% gay population who were better at caregiving, a gene that selfishly reduced the probability of its host's homosexuality would thrive, because not only would its carriers benefit from the caregiving boost thanks to the other members of society without that gene, they would not suffer from the reduced reproductive potential. Only in the long term, as the gene spread throughout the population, would the caregiving benefits start to fade, and that's not a present-enough change in fitness to apply any evolutionary pressure against the gene (more precisely, it can't apply evolutionary pressure because it depends on the prevalence of the gene in other members of the population; it's a classic prisoner's dilemma situation, and if you're going to take one lesson from Dawkins, it's that evolution always chooses to defect).

As another example, why does Down's syndrome exist? By your logic, shouldn't evolution have optimized that case away? That it hasn't means that changing how the 21st chromosome works is much harder than the impact of having a 1:733 failure rate.

Down's syndrome would be exceedingly difficult to optimize away, because it falls into the category of commonly-reproduced-mutation; it is not the result of code that specifically causes Down's syndrome, it's the result of our genetic material being evolutionarily close to a state that results in Down's syndrome, so whenever something goes wrong, the maladaptive trait is rediscovered over and over. Same thing with most other chromosomal disorders (most of which end up filtered out very quickly, well before birth).

FWIW, that's another common theory about how homosexuality has survived, that normal people are "one mutation away" from being gay (or rather, of having the mutation that makes them potentially gay). Both of these cases still presume, however, that the negative consequences of the trait, when combined with the probability of the trait manifesting, are negligible enough compared to the genetic changes that would be required to move us more than "one mutation away".

Why do you assume that any genetic component to being gay would be easy to change, without having negative consequences elsewhere in the population?

I quite explicitly assumed exactly the opposite. My whole comment on that matter was predicated on the assumption that it is not easy to change susceptibility to homosexuality, and that social mitigation was a workaround.

The main reason I brought up homosexuality at all was that it is often pointed to as a counterexample to the idea that reproductively negative traits are weeded out of the gene pool; I wanted to make the point that evolution doesn't necessarily need to weed out such traits directly as long as it can find some way to control their side effects.

BTW, 100 years ago, pink was a boy's color, and young boys wore dresses too.

Yup, that doesn't surprise me. I absolutely believe that much, if not most, of what signals male/female in today's society is arbitrary. However, I think that the existence of some set of traits that each sex uses to signal reproductive class is very much innate.

bermanoid wrote: "You're invoking group selection here" ... "it's a classic prisoner's dilemma situation, and if you're going to take one lesson from Dawkins, it's that evolution always chooses to defect)"

It's kin selection, not group selection. Consider Dawkins' "Twelve Misunderstandings of Kin Selection" wherein he writes:

"To stick my neck out a little, it seems to me that, far from genes for altruistic behaviour being implausible, it may even be that a majority of behavioural mutations will turn out to be properly describable as either altruistic or selfish." ... "A gene for altruism, then, is any gene that, compared with its alleles, causes individuals to benefit other individuals at a cost to themselves." ... "But the kind of mutation that could lead to such altruistic restraint could be ludicrously simple. A genetic propensity to bad teeth might slow down the rate at which an individual could chew at the meat. The gene for bad teeth would be, in the full sense of the technical term, a gene for altruism, and it might indeed be favoured by kin selection."

The example I gave seems perfectly aligned with this definition of altruism and kin selection. Indeed, it's a weaker but analogous form of what leads to eusociality. You say "it can't apply evolutionary pressure because it depends on the prevalence of the gene in other members of the population", .... and I think I understand why we disagree. I wrote "population" but sometimes meant "species population" and at other times meant "gene population."

In an extreme hypothetical case, suppose that having a gay sibling help to raise a family meant a 5% improved chance that each child would live to adulthood and children in turn. Suppose also that having two gay siblings meant a -1% improved chance (perhaps because the person consumes more food, which could otherwise go to the children). Then there's strong kin selection here to have some, but not all, gay children. The descendants then become a larger part of the species population.

In this case, I don't see how homosexuality would be a "reproductively negative trait" for the gene, only for some of the individuals carrying the gene.

Ah, you're absolutely correct, I did misunderstand what you were saying - indeed, your argument is a classic example of kin selection, I'm just so used to hearing group selection arguments that I jumped the gun [1] (when I wrote "given your comment above, I'm surprised that you would make this argument" that should have been my first clue that you did, in fact, know better). You're 100% right that help-out-those-with-the-same-genes altruism is not only possible, but expected, and your argument makes perfect sense in that light.

Personally, my suspicion is that homosexuality is more directly linked to a positive physical trait in the individual, though I don't have much to really back that up other than a vague sense that kin selection effects in evolution are rarely as strong as direct expressed ones. But yes, the "gay uncle" effect could explain it, too, and it's definitely an interesting enough phenomenon to be worth keeping in mind.

[1] In fact, I probably shouldn't react as negatively as I do against most invocations of the group selection argument, because oftentimes the points would be valid if expressed as kin selection arguments instead.

Whoa! There's agreement on the internet! :)

Being proven wrong once is worth being right a hundred times; it's only when we realize we're wrong that we learn anything useful. In this case, I was reminded of an evolutionary fact that I hadn't thought about in quite a long time, and that's fully worth being wrong.

In theory, agreements should be more common than they are (sadly) in practice: http://www.scottaaronson.com/papers/agree-econ.pdf

What I've always wondered is which particular assumption of Aumann's agreement theorem is usually lacking on the Internet: honesty, rationality, common priors, or simply the willingness to continue the conversation long enough to resolve the disagreement.

I lean very much against the idea of rationality, in the precise economic sense used by Aumann and others. I find the work of the behavioral economists more believable. I believe there is some truth in the saying that the only people who make economically rational decisions are economists and sociopaths.

BTW, in this thread I learned that I need to be more careful about how I use the term "population." :)

Culture is not determined by biology though. If it did, third-generation Chinese immigrants would be more Chinese than American.

The problem here is that culture determines gender. Some cultures have two, some three, some even have more. Many cultures treat children as genderless and initiate them into genders in rites of passage. In some cases gender is contextual, so among the Norse and among the Greeks, there was a specific gender-based stigma attached to being the penetrated partner in male-male sex. Male-male sex was not stigmatized, only crossing the gender line and being penetrated as a woman.

I think it is a grave error to look at one's own culture and assume that it is biologically determined.

As for the "gay problem" we have to recognize at some point that every culture addresses human sexuality differently, and human sexuality is remarkably malleable. For example there are tribes in Papua which make young boys give oral sex to tribal elders as a part of a rite of passage as a way of them literally ingesting manliness in order to become men.

Once we look at our own sexual taboos involving who and what we are forbidden to have sexual relations with, and we recognize that these are socially contextual, not innate taboos, things change a great deal.

The problem here is that culture determines gender.

Absolutely. I never claimed otherwise.

All I think is that some sort of robust signaling mechanism that displays a person's (or animal's) reproductive "team" should be expected to exist in any sexually dimorphic species. In many animals, this is hard coded, but I suspect that in humans that was generalized to a high level imperative, "figure out what sex you are, and clearly display the appropriate characteristics so that mates can find you".

Once we look at our own sexual taboos involving who and what we are forbidden to have sexual relations with, and we recognize that these are socially contextual, not innate taboos, things change a great deal.

But this is exactly my point: the fact that these social sexual taboos so often go against behaviors that reduce evolutionary fitness suggests that supporting those social behaviors may, in fact, be precisely the way that evolution ended up most easily controlling those behaviors.

To be very clear about this: the fact that behavior is influenced socially rather than genetically does not necessarily mean that it's an accident of history. It very well could be a direct evolutionary adaptation that leaned on social behavior to implement itself. Nature tunes nurture, and nurture tunes nature, so arguing for one to the exclusion of the other is usually wrong.

That doesn't, of course, mean that we shouldn't try to overcome such evolutionary imperatives. But we should be aware of the fact that in such cases, the social behaviors are not completely arbitrary, and that we have an uphill battle to fight.

Structuralists and Post-structuralists though tend to see most cultural constructs as arbitrary on an atomic level, and to the extent they are useful to a group that comes out of context with other cultural constructs. So for example the fact that we associate pink with girls and blue with boys is entirely arbitrary. It could be (and indeed historically has been until surprisingly recently) the other way around.

With humans though the linking of physical sex and gender is not as simple as you suggest. As I have said, some cultures (like ours) have two genders. Some have three, with children being genderless, and some have more genders than three. To pretend that gender is only about display of sex-based characteristics is to gloss over the fact that in most cultures it doesn't really work that way, nor does it really even in our own.

Gender is instead a social category and a social position. It affects division of labor and all sorts of other things. Different genders often have different taboos and these are often aimed at preventing gender-crossing, as well as maintaining a symbolic order between genders.

This is a very broad category of anthropology, and it's dangerous to assume that everyone structures their society around two genders fairly closely tied to biological sex, since this is not really the case.

As people who have been in certain kinds of accidents or been treated for certain kinds of medical conditions can tell you, having a certain set of body parts is not a requirement for being a member of either gender.

The overwhelming majority of people are born with a certain set of chromosomes, a set of parts between their legs, and an idea in their head that all agree with one another on what gender they are. It's a large enough majority that it's easy to think that these are the same thing, because for most people, they are.

But for trans people, these things disagree, and the gender that they think of themselves as in their heads wins. Since they are being treated by the world at large as something they don't consider themselves to be, they take steps to correct how the world views them by transitioning. Given money, access to treatment, and other constraints, this may include surgery, hormones, etc. But even in the absence of these things, they can still be trans people who know what their true gender is.

I don't know what "true gender" means scientifically. Physical characteristics are objective. I would expect something we can say is intrinsic, like true gender would also be, but I can't find a way of determinign it objectively or even intersubjectively, can you?

In fact, anthropologically I am not even sure anyone is born with a gender.

They're identical twins. So, same "nature" too. So what does this story tell us?

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl (P.S.) http://www.amazon.com/As-Nature-Made-Him-Raised/dp/006112056...

Some things you can't change

I expected people would take issue with it. Unfortunately some people really really want it to be the case that girls and boys are only different because of their environment.

Given the way evolution works, doesn't that seem ridiculously unlikely?

Given the way we evolved to have clearly defined roles, and how we have obvious physical differences to enable that, doesn't it seem pretty obvious that we evolved our brain power differently also? eg men lots of brain power for spacial awareness for hunting etc.... women caring nuturing, far more brain power for language, communication etc

The other funny thing is that it's usually the same set of people who firmly believe that you are born homosexual, and that you can't be made homosexual by your upbringing. They believe sexual orientation to be biological. But at the same time claim that being 'girl' or 'boy' is something that you've been taught by culture??

Your grandparent post took the argument farther than just saying that evolution has given men and women certain tendencies or proclivities (as an aggregate, allowing for the massive range of individual differences that are possible). You flat-out claim that men and women have brains that are hard-wired a certain way. If there's anything evolution has given us as humans, it's brains that are amazingly adaptable and plastic. Research has shown that things like basic perception differ across cultures (see, for instance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCller-Lyer_illusion). You make an apparently logical assumption based on what you understand of evolution and biology (and how the human brain works) but I proffer that there's a fair amount of evidence that those assumptions might be wrong. (For instance, we have this recent study questioning the widely-held belief that men are by nature better at spatial reasoning: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/women-math-science...)

> But at the same time claim that being 'girl' or 'boy' is something that you've been taught by culture??

You misunderstand the argument. The argument is that what it means to be a boy or a girl has been taught by culture. That being said, I do personally believe there's more room for inquiry into the nurture side of the equation and that the "entirely biological" argument is something that's currently politically expedient to counter the people claiming that it's entirely a personal choice. On a personal note though, my earliest memory of having a crush on another girl was in 2nd grade and my uber-religious parents certainly weren't nurturing such notions in me (nor was anything else in my environment explicitly).

You make an apparently logical assumption based on what you understand of evolution and biology (and how the human brain works) but I proffer that there's a fair amount of evidence that those assumptions might be wrong. (For instance, we have this recent study questioning the widely-held belief that men are by nature better at spatial reasoning: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/women-math-science...)

The problem is, there's a "fair amount of evidence" on both sides, and it's universally shoddy research.

On the "innate difference" side, the most that can usually be done is to show that a discrepancy exists, and that it exists broadly in a statistical sense, argue that it exists broadly enough to posit that the effect is at least partially biological.

On the "no innate difference" side, the most that can usually be done is to pick out a couple of instances where the claimed effect doesn't exist, argue that if it doesn't exist everywhere then it's not real, and claim that this exception proves that it can't possibly be biological at all.

The "innate difference" folks then reject the debunkings as relying on cherry-picked data (in some cases this is fair, in some cases probably not, and unfortunately the level of statistical rigor in most papers on both sides is horrendous, so it's hard to say for sure), the "no innate difference" people disagree, and nothing is ever resolved.

The problem, of course, is that there's absolutely no realistic way to do a study that removes the effect of people growing up in a world that has the current set of gender roles, so both sides are right, in a sense: none of the "innate difference" papers actually prove that the differences are primarily biological, and none of the debunkings prove that they're not.

So everybody falls back on their priors. And our priors on these matters are pretty naive, more based on emotion and the minimal set of observations that we each personally have than anything else. Women that are good at math, feminists, and those that generally side with nurture assume that the burden of proof is on the "nature" folks to prove that there is an innate difference (because it's "obvious" that men and women are equal intellectually), and the nature types assume the burden of proof goes the other way (because they look at the observed statistical discrepancies and assume that they should be taken at face value until debunked). So we all end up arguing over what set of assumptions is more reasonable, throwing meaningless references to studies at each other as if the studies actually prove anything, which they usually don't.

It's quite the mess. I would ask, at least, that everyone on either side of this try to think of at least a few experiments that would actually change your mind on these matters. They're actually kind of tough to come up with, because it's so difficult to separate culture from the equation...

On top of that, you have an epistemological problem. How can you separate culture and biology in something like this without repeating the same experiment in a wide range of people in different types of cultures?

Is it not possible that it's a bit of both? Given this scenario, which is clearly very likely, enforcing gender stereotypes could dissuade a child from walking a certain road down which their nature would have led them.

Boys and girls are naturally different, yes, but as demonstrated by the many women in science, that doesn't mean that all females want to grow up to become hairdressers or models.

Stereotypes do affect a child's development. Please don't limit their potential.

Yes it's obviously both. It's genetics, and sometimes bad stereotyping parents/upbringing.

One interesting experiment is to try HARD to create a realistic person of the other gender in an environment like Second Life. It's remarkably difficult but once you do, it's quite an interesting experience to see how socially conditioned so many things are.

> hard wired

I keep on hearing those words with respect to brains. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

Brains are not "hard wired" for much. They are really quite malleable and adaptable. They are affected by many things in the environment; experience, culture, training. The biggest differences between male and female children will come about from how they are raised, not innate differences. Once they hit puberty the hormonal differences will have more of an effect, though nothing that could be described as "hard wired", it's more a question of predisposition.

You state these things as if they are fact. I disagree. People are born with different strengths and weaknesses. They may have particular skill in certain areas.

If brains are just "general" "maleable" "matter", then why as a man am I attracted to women and not men? I certainly didn't "learn" that. I'm attracted to women, because my brain was hard wired like that.

So you don't think people are "born gay"?

I actually don't think people are born gay or born straight. I think there are biological factors in sexual orientation but these are hardly determinative. Instead most people are born somewhere along the bisexuality spectrum and end up defining themselves as gay or straight as a way of dealing with unacceptable sexual urges.

The fact is that if you look at male-male sexual relations in a place like Greece or Rome, the differences in structure and approach to gender and sex are markedly in contrast to how we approach things in our society today.

I personally think that one element of the argument that people are born gay, in the context of a culture which aggressively sells the idea that heterosexuality is normal, is to tell people, "you aren't born gay, are you?"

Edit: I could point people to longer write-ups I have done on this subject but the above I think is a fair summary of what cross-study and trans-historical comparisons have lead me to believe.

Sure, different people will have different strengths and weaknesses. But that's different than "hard-wired." You may have some natural talent or predisposition, or you may have some particular disability or difficulty with something. But most of those can be melded and shaped by your environment, your culture, your experiences, your hormones, practice and learning, your desires, and the like.

I've known several people who have transitioned between genders. Were they "hard-wired" the way you claim they are? One of them, who transitioned to being a man, took testosterone as part of the transition (and presumably still does). He reports that the testosterone was significant in changing some of his behaviors to being more masculine; when upset, he has a harder time crying than he did before. Now, is that what you would call "hard-wired"?

I don't pretend to know whether you are born gay, or if it's something environmental during your childhood, or whether it really is more flexible than some people like to admit. Surely there is a predisposition to be attracted to the opposite sex; but that doesn't meet the criteria I would use for "hard-wired."

"Hard-wired" says that something is absolute; immutable. It cannot be changed. There is a binary; you are either this way, or you are that way. And that's just not how people work; at least, behaviorally, for the vast majority of behaviors. Really, there are multitudes of different axes on which people's behavior differs; and while their sex might influence their behavior a bit, the results tend to be overlapping bell curves with slightly different averages, not two entirely different sets of behaviors.

The whole "women do this, men do that" or "hard wired" type of reasoning is an over-simplification, which is amplified culturally.

(sorry for the late followup, I didn't see this comment until just now)

And yet there are plenty of kids who are gender atypical, sometimes in a few ways, sometimes in many ways, sometimes such that they identify with the opposite gender.

The reality is not that there are hard categories of things that we can simply say a person's brain is "hard wired" to be either A or B, but that there are clusters and statistical probabilities. Some people are one or more standard deviations removed from what we think of as "gender typical."

There's definitely an element of truth to the "hard wiring" thing -- you can't change a child's personality and enthusiasms simply by wishing it so or trying to "train" them. But the picture is far more complicated than you seem to think.

I am not sure that "gender" (as opposed to 'sex') is a biological state, though. Gender-atypicality may have a lot to do with navigating between social ideals of normality and a need of individuality.

Well, yeah. But it's no excuse for some witless profit-maximizing / revenue-stabilizing Danish corporate drone to subsume all nuance into Boy and Girl.

Lego, create things that sell. They give the public what they want. You just have a different idea of what the public want, than the public do.

You have to understand you're a minority.

I was referring to the broader argument, not just the gender aspect.

And, yes, I think people do want change. This is proven by the success of Apple and Pixar who both reject a lot of commercial demands.

Lego Star wars is MASSIVE. It sells by the boat load. Kids lap it up. Same with the other movie tie ins. Why would it not?

I play Lego star wars the game, and obviously I now want all the characters in real Lego.

Doing movie/character tie ins, gives customers what they want.

I was pretty excited to see http://www.legosuperheroes.com/ (Lego are making a new superhero range in January).

And for people who don't want the movie tie ins, there are still tons of generic building sets you can buy.

Here's the main quote from the post I replied to: "why doesn't Lego sell to girls? Why doesn't Barbie have more realistic features? Why don't car manufacturers offer an electric vehicle? Why doesn't McDonalds sell salads instead of fries? Why do record labels offer such crappy music?"

It references gender once and movie tie-ins not at all.

I actually think movie tie-ins are pretty reasonable especially from one of the best movies ever made (Star Wars, not the pre-quels) as well as some of the best animated story-telling and characters ever made (Pixar).

Why doesn't Barbie have more realistic features?

The conclusion that my wife (both a programmer and a female) came to is that she has to have the crazy features to make the clothes look right at scale and still have working fasteners.

With Barbie, the clothes are the real toy and the doll is just an accessory.

It has never occurred to me that girls don't play with Lego. My five year old daughter loves them. Hardly a tomboy either, she uses Lego to build little rooms for some little dolls to play in. She has made little desks and beds. Then she play acts with the dolls like any little girl will.

Of course, it did start with me(her dad) having fond memories of Lego as a kid and wanting to make sure my daughter had a chance to build with them. But the fact that she actually likes using them is up to her.

"Why don't car manufacturers offer an electric vehicle? "

Really? After the early attempts were basically just cover projects doomed to be cancelled? After car companies bought up streetcar companies in the US in order to run them down and close them? You really think consumers should be taken to task over Big Oil and the Big Three?

Interesting list. Where I live there are electric vehicles, and McDonalds sells salad. There are even record labels that sell not so shitty music. You're probably rigth on a global level with respect to Barbie though.

I don't think companies are of the hook here, especially large ones who control large segments of their industry. It might be hard for them sometimes to change what consumers want, but at the same time they often are the ones resisting change. Often times change in market preferences means that the company has to do extra work and spend extra money to adjust and offer new products. Sometimes they see that it would be cheaper to disrupt the change instead. Marketing and lobbying, as others have pointed out, are tools they use for that purpose.

Or maybe, just maybe, "why don't girls want to play with Legos?" Children aren't just blank slates to be shaped by their parents and advertisers.

because facing up to the fact that other people have different values from you and most of them SUCK is intellectually easy to grapple with, but on a gut level not so much.

> For example: why doesn't Lego sell to girls?

LEGO has and has long had a line of sets that are focused on girls and traditionally feminine fantasies/archetypes. pink and ponies and kitties and hair brushes, etc. and if anyone wanted to buy them they can, and if not, they don't. a guy could get a "pink" set and a girl could buy/get a guns/trucks/cops/ships set. there's no evil conspiracy or gun pointed at anybody's head, honest.

As a girl geek who grew up on Legos, this makes me really, really sad.

From the NPR article linked to from the article above: "Lego also consciously aimed for boy customers when it embarked on its stunning turnaround. Boys were easier to sell to than girls."


"The new Lego girl minifigures have names like Stephanie, Olivia, and Emma, and the building sets include a veterinary clinic, a hairdressing salon, a horse academy and a clinic."

We need more women scientists, girl geeks, etc. And for every person who loves to say "But boys and girls are just different!", there's a stunning example of sexist stereotypes embedded in the very things we buy our kids because our generation cherished them too...

(By the way, if you ever want a conclusive argument that girls being raised to love pink and hate math is societal, not genetic, read "Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference". It's pretty eye-opening, and has plenty of proof to back up its assertions.)

(By the way, if you ever want a conclusive argument that girls being raised to love pink and hate math is societal

The most staggering thing about these assumptions is not merely how they contradict current scientific understanding, but they contradict reality. Pink used to be a boys' color: the idea of pink as "girly" didn't exist 100 years ago. Ironically, this commonly-given-example is itself a fantastic example of how wrong such assumptions about gender differences actually are.

It's rather laughable -- and sad -- how almost every single "scientific study" (often evolutionary psychology, a popular pseudoscience) claiming such absurd biological gender differences just happens to support 1950s stereotypical American gender roles, as opposed to gender roles anywhere else in history, anywhere else in the world.

The reality is that the biological differences are negligible in most regards, at least mentally -- claiming "girls naturally prefer pink" is just as absurd as insisting that blacks are genetically predisposed to like playing basketball. It denies the vastly greater importance of societal and cultural effects, dumps blame for problems -- such as gender bias in STEMS -- on biology instead of humans, and is pretty much flat-out sexist.

>'The reality is that the biological differences are negligible in most regards, at least mentally -- claiming "girls naturally prefer pink" is just as absurd as insisting that blacks are genetically predisposed to like playing basketball. It denies the vastly greater importance of societal and cultural effects, dumps blame for problems -- such as gender bias in STEMS -- on biology instead of humans, and is pretty much flat-out sexist.'

Perhaps instead of picking strawmen then we could address something closer to the real questions being asked: whether girls prefer to mimic nurturing behaviour or act out creativity in their play (and the converse, that boys prefer aggressive or constructive play) and that blacks are genetically predisposed to excel at sports similar to basketball (I'd have probably picked East Africans and long distance running).

Surely biologically speaking females should prefer play that mimics nurturing behaviour? (No, not exclusively, nor indeed every female, but generally as a population compared with young males). If males carried the developing human in utero I'd expect it to be different.

Agreed. Thank you for your post! That's basically exactly what the book I recommended says, except she goes into 200+ pages of detail about it (with much supporting evidence.)

It is -- and that book should be required reading for anyone making any comment on this subject. It's shocking how often I see posts, especially on Hacker News, that take for granted "gender differences" that have been proven not to exist! And often by self-proclaimed scientists and skeptics, no less.

Just be careful to not fall into some sort of extremism.

Gender differences appear to be a blend of nature and nurture. If one thinks nature doesn't matter, it's pretty easy to obtain direct proof to the contrary - just alter one's hormonal chemistry (especially the estrogen / testosterone balance) and watch what happens to the mind. The experiment is simple enough and there might even be ways to do it without falling into legal hot waters.

Nurture is also important, no doubt.

It's really sad, but it wasn't that long ago that Lego was in deep financial trouble with horrible sales. Geeks can say what they want, but it seems to have worked out for Lego pretty well

On the bright side, you can make your own custom Lego set: http://designbyme.lego.com/en-us/Default.aspx

There's more time and money involved but if it's really important to people, if there's a will there's a way.

The building sets also include an "inventor's workshop", which looks pretty cool, and seems to be exactly the right thing to encourage women scientists & girl geeks.

For whatever reason, the NPR article (http://www.npr.org/2011/12/15/143724644/ith-new-toys-lego-ho...) doesn't bother to mention the "Inventor's Workshop" set (http://www.brickset.com/detail/?set=3933-1) which, perhaps despite the pink & violet splashes, is at least a little bit encouraging, no?

The line that "Boys are easier to sell to than girls" is a simple statement of fact: namely that the marketers at Lego back in 2005 (many of whom were probably men themselves) had more ideas about how to sell to boys. I don't think that's necessarily sexist, it was just a recognition of their limitations. There are other companies that find it easier to sell products to girls than boys.

Deliberately selling to a smaller market was how they chose to try and build a healthy business at the time, and it certainly seems to have been very lucrative for them. You might read that as narrow-mindedness, but to me it just sounds like they were trying to focus. Anyway, the whole point is that Lego now appears to have outgrown this approach! The people at Lego actually do want girls to buy their products.

The Business Week article (http://www.businessweek.com/printer/magazine/lego-is-for-gir...) mentioned in the NPR piece goes into considerably more depth about why Lego found it more difficult to create products that appealed to girls. It also talks about how Lego have actually recognised that simply splashing pink over something isn't a guaranteed way to sell to girls. They're actually trying to look beyond the superficial stuff like colours, at the psychology of play and how that differs between boys and girls, and they genuinely seem (to me at least) to be trying to be as inoffensive about the way they go about that as they can.

Some of the stuff the Lego researchers found is actually quite interesting too: that girls particularly hated the minifig, for instance (something which would have never occurred to me!), because they found it harder to project their personalities onto something so abstract.

I don't think it's fair at all to say that Lego is in any way to blame for any of this. Their products are (mostly) designed for kids of 4+, by which time it's impossible to say which gender differences have been externally "imposed" by society and which may be gender-innate. As a father of both a girl and a boy I am aware that there are differences of both sorts, but that they're so entangled that objectivity about the subject is nearly impossible for a lay-person. My wife and I both try to discourage the superficial gender stuff as much as we can, but we're not going to stop our 3-year-old daughter from owning a Barbie (I bought her the computer engineer one) or declaring that her favourite colour is pink if that's what she wants (FWIW, she's also very interested in Daddy playing StarCraft II - she likes the Zerg).

Lastly, here's a quote from the BW piece that is sadly absent from the two follow-up articles it spawned, “There is no reason to think Lego is more intrinsically appealing to boys.” I'm really not sure why the news that Lego are trying to market their products to girls is being given such a negative spin here. I look forward to buying Lego for both my kids when they're older.

Why do we need more girl scientists and geeks? I'll never get that. Will having more women in roles traditionally held by men somehow make the world better? Will the woman scientist have a better chance at curing cancer? Will the woman construction worker lay better brick?

I just don't get it. It seems like there's a subset of women who are into science and are smart and are going after or currently holding roles that are traditionally held by or usually dominated by men who for some reason want every other woman to be into the same things because somehow it's for the betterment of the world. If women and men really are equal (and I can't and won't say women are any less capable) then a woman doing "man work" shouldn't produce any different result.

>Why do we need more girl scientists and geeks?

You are only considering a symptom of the problem. It isn't just a question of more women as geeks or scientists. It's how women are treated in society. Things like getting catcalled while walking to class. Being called a slut for wearing a skirt, a prude for wearing a dress, manly for dressing in slacks, or sexy rather than professional.

No, we don't need more women as scientists, or doing math, or building things, or designing video games, or writing books, or plays or tv scripts. And we don't need women collecting garbage, serving in combat roles in the military or elected to government.

But the sum total of a person's experiences add up.

When someone in a video games says "You got raped, bitch." Or a little girl feels shamed into playing with bratz dolls rather than legos. Or while walking down the street a stranger demands she smile because she's so pretty, ignoring she might have her own feelings. Or she plays a video game where the female characters all have impossibly giant breasts spilling out of impractical armor. Or when watching block buster movies where no two main character women (if there even are) talk to each other about something other than a man. Or every time she steps out side someone helpfully reminds her that she could be raped at any moment; she better accept a man's offer to chaperon her. Oh, and why hasn't she married a nice man yet and had some children? She's not getting any younger you know. It all shapes who a woman is.

So no, we don't need more women working as scientists. But if you work to build and maintain a culture where women are guilted, shamed, and literally forced into stereotypically feminine roles because that's the way it is and you're content with that then you certainly help to guarantee she won't be curing cancer, building a better engine, developing a faster computer, or a creating a realistic lead woman character in the next blockbuster game or movie.

True, but if they never try to do it because society tells them that they shouldn't (devil's advocate here, not claiming this is what happens) then we're missing out on 50% of the potential cancer-curing talent who, by your argument, are equally capable of doing so but end up shampooing dogs or whatever instead.

But then if they're equally capable but prefer shampooing dogs then is that really a problem? All of us are capable of things that we prefer not to do. I was on a track to become a doctor but decided to program instead. I'm capable of both but prefer not to be a doctor. See what I mean?

Yeah, absolutely - clearly people should be able to choose what they want to do. The problem would be if you wanted to become a doctor but were told by everyone that you shouldn't be (because, you're a man, or a woman, or black or white or yellow or whatever it happens to be). You might still do it (and let's hope so, we generally need more doctors) but it would be harder for you and thus statistically you'd be much less likely to do it. That would be society's loss - especially if you ended up shampooing dogs :-)

  > if they're equally capable but prefer shampooing dogs
  > then is that really a problem
The problem is that their like/dislikes/personalities are not formed in a bubble. Society has influence over these things.

So then why should it be alright for men? No one really makes a stink about needing more men florists or hospice nurses? Doesnt it seem like instead of really talking about or trying to fix the gender stereotype issue we aren't doing much good by singling out women. It seems like we're making them into victims. Wouldn't you say the problem works both ways and focusing on one gender or race turns them into victims imstead of addressing the entire issue as a whole which could be more helpful?

  > No one really makes a stink about needing more men
  > florists
That's because people aren't clamoring for more florists in general.

  > hospice nurses
Why did you specify hospice nurses rather than just nurses in general? There is a demand for more nurses in general, and part of that is a push to get more men into nursing.

  > It seems like we're making them into victims.
Huh? We're talking about how children are influenced. They aren't victims. Unless you think society at large has no influence over the development of a child, I'm not really sure what you're up in arms about here.

The whole point is to spend less time discouraging some types of play while encouraging others based on gender roles (i.e. Billy shouldn't be playing with dolls, he should be playing with toy guns).

Also, if a child only ever sees male doctors, do you think that doesn't subtly influence whether or not being a doctor is seen as a male-only thing to do? (The same could be said of only seeing women nurses. It cuts both ways.)

Actually, when I put "we need more male" into Google, the two cases it suggests are "we need more male teachers" and "we need more male nurses" which were the two cases that I had immediately thought of.

I don't think it is a question of needing more girl scientists and geeks. If there is a question, I think it is merely one of removing institutional barriers to those who want to take this path.

> We need more women scientists

Are you a scientist?

Nope, I'm not. I basically really suck at school, and am pretty awesome at computers and making money. That's why I started a startup at age 20 instead of finishing college, then sold it for a nice profit when I was 26. Now I'm on to another startup, and run a popular blog to boot.

Hey that's really cool. I wasn't meaning to be insulting, if that's how you took my comment. I had this awesome dialog planned that would have resulted in deep insight all around but then the comment was downvoted to hell and I became flustered.

Dude, I run a popular blog. I've had every insult imaginable thrown at me. No offense taken. I tend to answer every question in the same dry, blunt manner. ;)

Are you capable of realizing that your comment is unhelpful and does nothing to advance the conversation?

No, I don't understand why my comment does nothing to advance the conversation.

The poster ericabiz says the US needs more women scientists and I asked her if she was a scientist. If not, I was going to ask her why she wasn't.

EDIT: I don't give a damn what ericabiz does. I wanted to know whether she really believed toys or suggestive advertising or whatever was really to blame for the lack of women in science. Because I think there are some other reasonable possibilities, for example, that science is a shitty career with huge uncertainty. A person with the skills and inclination to be a scientist can easily be a doctor/surgeon, vet, engineer, etc and have much better career potential.

BURGERBRAIN: LOL guess I wasn't thinking. Good thing you are here to spread sarcastic bullshit around.

Just put more of your point in your original post, and people will realize that you actually have a point. They'll be less likely jump to conclusions about your intelligence. >.>

For example, "Are you a scientist? If not, why not? I ask because I wonder if we're jumping to conclusions about the cause of the gender disparity in STEM [...]" would suggest that you're a sane person who has a real point to make.

I want this discussion to go somewhere, by the way. It was an interesting thought.

No, I don't understand why my comment does nothing to advance the conversation.

It's too short, and your intent isn't clear from just "Are you a scientist?"

The poster ericabiz says the US needs more women scientists and I asked her if she was a scientist. If not, I was going to ask her why she wasn't.

Putting all that into your first comment would have made it clear what you were trying to accomplish, and spared you the downvotes.


So you got downvoted. It happens to all of us. No need to get disrespectful over it, just diagnose what went wrong and avoid it in the future.

"we need" does not imply "I personally have an obligation to provide with my own career decisions"

We need more brain surgeons. We also need more welders.

Why am I not simultaneously a brain surgeon and a welder? Baffling stuff!

We must make brain surgery and welding less baffling!

Personally I think we should invent brain-welding, whatever that may turn out to be.

> By the way, if you ever want a conclusive argument

Does it negate any evidence for the fact that for hundreds of years our predecessors were hunter and gatherers, whose roles were distinctly filled by men and women? There is a theory that hunters (men) largely looked for large blue horizons (hence a blue sky) to go hunting for animals and gathers (women) looked for berries (hence red, or a hue of red) and thus why we are drawn to those colors. I'm curious as to how far back in history her books relates back to.

I could just as easily make up a story about how males are intrinsically attracted to pink and red, the color of animal flesh from a recent hunt and how females are attracted to blue waters since in many pre-agrarian societies women had to carry water back to camp.

Without empirical studies with solid controls these are just stories. Evolutionary psychology theories are especially guilty of these kinds of story-making explanations that aren't held up to evidence.

Prior to WWII, though, pink was usually associated with boys' clothes and blue with girls' clothes. So that doesn't fly.

I find it interesting how many people assume the current cultural preferences that are less than a century old have some hundreds-of-thousands of years of biological conditioning behind them...... Why is there a need to ground these things in biology? Why not look at culture as culture, and recognize that large parts of it are entirely biologically arbitrary, but that they fit together in meaningful ways?

I'm having trouble understanding the backlash against the new Lego for girls initiative. As the father of a couple of pre-school girls, I'm loving the new initiative.

It appears to consist of 3 things:

- realistic looking minifigs. Not square and not oversexed.

- additional brick colors, and not just pink.

- sets not based on movie tie-ins, but in real-world locations like an inventor's workshop, a café, an animal hospital and a beauty salon

These look like the perfect toys for young girls -- they encourage both creativity and role-playing. And as the latest science-based parenting books (Welcome to Your Child's Brain, etc) tell you, role-playing is the best way to develop self-control, which is the most valuable skill that can be imparted into a pre-schooler by a parent.

Sure, they're girly. So what? I want my girls to grow up proud to be girls, and aware that they can be whatever they want to be.

But to my mind, they seem better than most of the "boy" Lego sets out there, which appear to be much less repurposable, and are blatant commercial tie-ins or weapons of war.

It's the hard gender division. Why are there "girl legos," and "boy legos"? And it also seems like they're offering the same "girl themed" play sets that all the other toys offer, except you have to put it together first. Who plays with lego that way?

I think my 4 year old girl is going to greatly prefer their new legos. Right now, she plays with Duplos, and all is well. However, I can see a day when legos are "too boy". That's just what they reported happening in the Lego studies. Duplo works, and then the girls doen't make the transition to regular lego.

We have an older boy as well, and so our house has every lego you can imagine, plus lots of really cool vehicles, trucks, etc. Our daughter never goes near them. If this can make them more attractive to her, that's fantastic.

Interesting. We have a 9yo boy, and twin 2 yo girls. So we have all the lego stuff, plus lego designer on the computer, etc. The girls LOVE getting into their brother's stuff, and one of them sleeps with a toy garbage truck (she also sleeps with a bus pass, a collection of stuffed puppies, and an Olivia board book...) It may be because I'm interested in this stuff, too, because they're too young to have "girl" vs "boy" divisions, or because they're just different. It's hard to tell. I do know that when I was a girl, I loved lego, and had a huge collection of matchbox cars (also my little ponies...).

  > And it also seems like they're offering the same "girl
  > themed" play sets that all the other toys offer, except
  > you have to put it together first. Who plays with lego
  > that way?
You could easily describe all the boy-targeted movie tie-in Lego sets that same way. Heck you can describe any Lego set that way. I had a Lego train set and a freighter with a dock as a kid (as an example). You could easily claim that these were no different than "an HO train set that you have to put together first" and "a toy boat that you have to put together first."

Who plays with lego that way?

Little girls do.

But why would you want two different products? It sounds like you like the "girl" lego much better than the "boy" version. Why not make it accessible to all kids?

This new set does seem to be relatively accessible to all kids. Perhaps not on it's own, but certainly as a mix-in with other sets.

For instance, on it's own you'd probably guess that the power drill and robot came from a boy's set rather than a girl's set.

Outside of the box packaging, lego's are gender neutral in terms of red/blue/black/white snap together boxes. My daughters built play houses and towers until they were 12. We (society) have missed the point if all we do is encourage building what the 'set' advertises ... In my generation it was Tinkertoys and I built lots of interesting creations using my imagination instead of using directions.

This is one of the big reasons I grew to like the lego technic sets (and the train sets before harry potter). The entire point of them was to be resused in new ways, along with letting you build robots.

The top items on my daughter's (she's 9) Christmas list this year are the LEGO Space Center and LEGO Space Shuttle, both from the City collection. Other items on the list included some of the Alien Conquest sets.

The kid's got a ton of LEGO. The last thing she needs is more LEGO, but it's hands-down her favorite toy. She builds the sets and will play with/admire them for a while, then eventually all of the pieces get dumped into the Giant Bucket of LEGO, which is a huge 30gal bucket overflowing with bricks from sets we've bought her, and from my childhood and my husband's childhood (though oddly lacking in wheels). That's the beauty of LEGO and that huge mish-mash of a dozen sets works for any gender.

Maybe it's the fact that I already have a geek child who's into geek things (She's also getting a D&D red box this Christmas, per her request), but the marketing doesn't seem to have any effect on her. She just sees sets that she thinks looks cool and wants to buy them. I don't think that list would include veterinary clinics and pet spas from this new pinkification effort, either.... but even if it does, so what? You still end up with a bucket of mixed pieces for hours of endless, free-form creativity and building.

I do think that there are more sets available these days that are targeted toward boys, but I don't know that it's come at the expense of other options. You can still buy basic brick sets. There are still several items in the City series that aren't "cops and robbers" and things like the Mars Mission and Pharaoh's sets, or even the Harry Potter sets are no more boy-centric than the old LEGO space stuff used to be.

Look: I will fully admit that these sets are really, really cool. My son is getting a gigantic Millenium Falcon set from Santa this year (DON’T TELL) and both my wife and I are excited to play with it too.

But it’s a model kit. We will put it together once and we will play with it a lot and that will be that. It won’t get remixed, won’t get hacked. Eventually it’ll come apart and be put away and not rebuilt because 1000 pieces is a pain in the ass.

This doesn't make any sense to me. Why on earth wouldn't you mix those pieces in with the rest of the pieces you already have from sets you've already disassembled? Sure, the marketing is a little much these days but unless I am sadly mistaken all the pieces still fit together like they did 30 years ago.

It won't get remixed because at $140 from Amazon, the author will impose adult values upon the way in which the child uses it. As he notes, he no longer sees it as a toy but as a model kit...and the use - or rather non-use will reflect his view of it as a collectable rather than a bunch of parts.

In all fairness, I went through some of the same thing before I came to a more sensible position - now everything gets remixed to my child's content. They aren't mine after all.

I played with Legos in the era of the ad, and I was completely blown away the first time I went shopping for Legos with my child. They are just orders of magnitude better due to the massive increases in diversity of pieces and far more thoughtful assembly of sets.

Indeed, I have built far more stuff as an adult than I ever did as a child - and my child has had far more entertainment from Legos than I ever did despite the massive competition from Cable TV and console games as well as far more time spent reading and completing homework.

BTW, the author's complaints about tie ins is a bit ironic given his tradition of buying Advent sets.

Seconded. There's no way in hell my kids would keep the pieces from one model together, anyway. We probably have tons of "unique" pieces, but let me tell you, they all get remixed just the same. Another reason to not keep them as kits: all Legos eventually are considered communal in our house after a certain period. It was just too hard to keep track of whose little orange brick it was that they were fighting over.

This Christmas (don't tell!) they're getting five pounds of bulk bricks. Also, no kidding, this for storage: http://www.harborfreight.com/mobile-double-sided-floor-rack-... . The mess was getting to be a problem.

I've noticed that some of new Lego sets have very specific pieces. Not really the kind you can mix and match between sets as in the 'old days'.

This kind of thing was popular during the LEGO "dark ages" in the early 2000s but has really died out as of late. The Millenium Falcon that's being referred to has very few, if any, unique parts. LEGO has really gone back to its roots in the past 2 or 3 years, especially with the AWESOME creator series.

The creator series _is_ very awesome. it's the only kind we buy for our girl.

Lego contraptions is the best though. Hard to find, not too many pieces. But gears, springs, and lots of flexibility.

Unique pieces are great for remixing once one stops imposing the idea of sets upon Legos. If they don't all wind up intermingled, an adult is probably in charge.

I think what he's saying is that he won't rebuild the Millenium Falcon, that the pieces will get scattered and used for other stuff. That's how it goes in our house. The set gets built very quickly, and just as quickly is dismantled and used for bigger, more creative projects.

Wait -- no I see that he won't hack it. I wonder why not??

As a kid I found with some of the predesigned kits, the result was distinctly cooler and more sophisticated than anything I'd ever be able to come up with. As a result I was always loathe to dismantle them. Darth Vader's Tie fighter, for example.

It was much easier to tear apart my own creations because I could make something better.

I remember actually finding it very easy (and fun!) to hack my stupendously detailed X-wing LEGO set when I was little; the main difference was that the mix-and-match would generally take place with larger units (partial assemblies from smaller "model-set" type sets) or involve adding little bits coming off of things (flames from some fantasy castle set went onto the barrels of some generic set and made extra rocket engines to go onto my X-wing!)

On a side note, I remember a LOT more of my childhood play than I thought.

That's probably pretty well accounted for in Lego Group's design and marketing philosophy. They have a vested interest in getting bricks "locked up" in creations that are too cool to take apart. Once you've done that, how do you build something else? Buy more Lego sets, of course!

One problem (afaik) is that the pieces are more and more specialised. A single regular lego piece can be anything. Look at the old ad; almost all pieces shown are regular rectangular pieces. And it even says Universal Building Set. But now you just get 1000 distinctly "millenium falcon" pieces.

Except that's not true at all. http://www.peeron.com/inv/sets/4504-1 is the brick list for the Millienium Falcon set. The minifigures are clearly specific to the Star Wars franchise, but aside from the minifig accessories and maybe half a dozen pieces that have decorative patterns, everything else is quite generic. I remember hearing that there's even an official Lego policy against introducing new pieces unless they have 3 different sets to put them in.

When I was a kid, I would have loved all of the specific sets that they have now. Why? Because it increases the possibilities of what you can build. Those 'specific pieces' are mix-and-match with other Lego blocks.

It is hard psychologically to realize you can never built the set as intended again. You end up lots of sets in big ziplocs. We've finally moved most of our son's legos into a single big bin, but he was opposed to it for a long time.

My friend's daughter, 8, has this kit[0] and it's one of the most awesome play kits ever. She's already added a heap of extra modifications to hers, and only yesterday it was transporting a load of camels for Princess Tamina(?) who happens to be from Prince of Persia, I think

[0] I'm assuming it's 7965 http://lego.wikia.com/wiki/7965_Millennium_Falcon

s/LEGO/toy manufacturers/

(There, I fixed it for you!)

The trend towards highly gendered media-tie in toys that are designed to generate follow-on sales opportunities for accessories rather than to encourage kids to develop their imagination through semi-structured but open-ended play nauseates me. I am doubtless betraying my personal bias here, but the corporate discovery that the quickest way to a parent's wallet is through their offspring is a bleakly exploitative example of market amorality; it may be legal, but is it decent?

Hasn't this always been the case... the marketing influence, I mean? I've gone to the Lego store in my town. You can still assemble a nice set outside of the movie tie-in stuff.

Now, whether you can get you kids to think that's cooler or not? That's the real problem.

IIRC, Lego was on verge of bankruptcy in the early 2000's and had to figure out a way to get kids to keep buying. We're witnessing the same type of turnaround Apple had. We snort at this one, though, because we've constructed memories of childhood that remove the marketing we now see as adults.

we've constructed memories of childhood that remove the marketing we now see as adults

You're telling me this: http://www.innovationinpractice.com/.a/6a00e54ef4f3768834013...

Is a piece of marketing? Because that & similar pieces was 95% of what I used.

That's the product, not the way it was sold. That product is still available. My nephews are guilty of the same build the set and chuck it type behaviors. I've got my own son and daughter interested in the building aspect.

I remember looking a the awesome pictures of what you could build with the Technics sets (this is way before Mindstorms). That was me being marketed to. I wanted those sets without knowing anyone that owned one or having ever seen one outside of the adverts. That's being marketed to.

I guess my experience was probably a little different from the usual. My parents simply bought a sack of old pieces unprompted from Goodwill one day and gave them to me and my brother. I suppose they could have been acting on marketing they saw though.

I think one has to see toy manufacturers as a conservative (in a politically neutral sense) cultural force. Let's take this a step further and look at the way heterosexual relationships are sold to kids. We can't see lesbian Barby & Kendra sets because that would be sexual, but Barby and Ken are evidently not.

So here we are selling a specific model of sexuality to young girls as normal. And this is a major aspect of our cultural heteronormality.

BS @ trend.

Go back 50 years and it was dolls and toy guns. Nothing has changed, boys still like building and destroying, and girls still like caring about things and craft things.

You can try all you want to make boys play with dolls, and girls play at killing each other, but they won't in general, because it's not in their biological makeup to do so.

I think the point here is that Lego is fondly remembered as -- and maybe even should be -- a gender-neutral toy. There was never anything inherently male or female about Legos. In fact, I remember playing with my younger sister often -- I'd be building a spaceship on one side, and she'd be putting together a house on the other.

The problem is that Lego has gotten away from being a gender-neutral toy and is now marketed specifically to boys. And the travesty is, they've dug themselves such a deep hole that the only way to get back any female users is to pander to their lowest common denominator.

It's not marketed specifically to boys though... Sure, some of the sets are obviously more male-oriented (perhaps even the majority), but there are also sets that are either specifically designed to appeal to girls, or which appeal more to girls for whatever reason.

This trend is really nothing new, either. More than 20 years ago I wanted the Lego spaceships, and my sister got pissed off at me for making wars against her happy little Lego town people. Even 20 years ago there were more sets that appealed to boys than girls, I'm reasonably sure.

We also had a pile of the plain old "gender-neutral" bricks, which either of us might have employed to augment our various constructions.

BS. Utter BS. It is marketed to everyone.

(Speaking as a father of a daughter who has a massive Lego collection and plays with it lots).

It's depressing to see so many comments that seem to believe we're all powerless to go against marketing and advertising. YOU are the problem.

If you're a parent, BUY YOUR KIDS SOME LEGO.

"boys still like building"

"girls still ... craft things."

I think this says everything that needs to be said: children like making things!


I think that the general idea is that if a girl wants to play with 'boy' toys, people shouldn't look at her weird like there's something wrong with her. If boys and girls in general will trend to certain types of toys, that's ok. It's the "Billy is playing with dolls, let's make fun of him" or "Billy is playing with dolls, let me beat the crap out of him because I don't want no gay son" attitudes that we want to discourage.

I agree, but I really don't understand how or why scientifically minded people could claim that they believe male and female brains to be absolutely biologically identical.

We evolved to have specific gender roles. We have obvious physical differences related to those roles. We have obvious psychological differences as well.

I can only imagine that to some people, the truth is inconvenient to them in their "everyone is absolutely identical" utopia.

I'm no proponent of "everyone is absolutely identical", but I would go with "everyone is absolutely much more similar than the cliches pushed by e.g. the toy industry". The role of cultural influence in this is enormous and impossible to separate from intrinsic biological differences. I'm from New Zealand where (at least in my peer group) gender roles are not too clearly defined. However I live in Spain where they absolutely are - are New Zealanders biologically less sexist than Spaniards? Of course not.

There's another interesting discussion to be had around brain plasticity and whether people raised in cultures which promote differences are actually more different, but I'm not aware of research in this area. It would be interesting to see.

Right, but before WWII, pink was a boy's color and blue was for girls.

Few here are saying that brains are entirely identical, but the fact is you cannot overlook cultural aspects. These aspects are at best only loosely tied to biology and many are purely arbitrary (such as color preferences).

Here are some HN perspectives from 2009 (when Lego announced a large increase in profits (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=768093). The article is no longer available on Yahoo Finance, but can be found here (http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/news9940.html).

Branded, themed Lego sets simply sell really well and Lego is responding to the demand with increased capacity and more focus on these markets.

Here is a scenario of why it works: Visualize a parent and child walking down the toy aisle at a typical large retailer (e.g. Target, WalMart, ToysRUs, etc.). The shelves are full of dozens of single-focus, low cost, electronic toys that are flashy and are very appealing to kids. A big box of Lego bricks just doesn't provide the same instant gratification as a talking toy with a "demo" button. Although, the long-term value of the box of Lego bricks is clearly much higher, explaining that to a 4 year-old is very difficult as they are concurrently making a strong appeal for, an even cheaper, talking doll.

Lego has responded with purchasing shelf space in retailers for branded sets that offer instant gratification while also satisfying the parents need for a more creative toy. Regardless, most of the pieces from the branded sets end of in the "big box" of Legos :).

You've nailed it on the head. Virtually all criticisms of this nature can be summarized as "Humans often want things that aren't best for them." Unfortunately, putting anyone else in charge of people's preferences usually ends up being even worse than letting them decide for themselves.

A bit OT, but a fun exercise: every time you see the word "millennium", count how many "n"s there are. The answer is "one" an astonishing amount of the time, even in professionally edited copy. In fact, as of this writing the Google search for "Millennium Falcon" brings up an Amazon ad for—you guessed it—a "Lego Millenium [sic] Falcon". (Full confession: Around 2000, I was mortified to discover that I, a card-carrying spelling Nazi, had been misspelling it for years.)

N.B. You can remember the right spelling by recalling that a millennium is a thousand (mille) years (anni).

Got one of the castle themed products for a friend. The LEGO approved story: "The Dragon Knights have captured the fair princess and locked her in their tower. The King’s brave Knight sets forth to rescue her, but the tower is heavily fortified and well defended. Can he break through the iron gate and past the catapult to free her?"

I think my friend decided to retheme as an S&M brothel.

I don't think they're evil so much as just catering to modern society. Legos are from an era where way more people built, fixed, and tinkered with things. Nowadays what do you do when your computer, phone, dishwashers, tv, etc. breaks? Take it to get repaired or get a new one. No tinkering, no opening it up to see how it works before you throw it away, none of that. So rather than thinking Lego is to blame for this attitude, I think Lego is just following their market. And can you really blame a company for wanting to stay afloat instead of following a shrinking breed of people and a idealistic mindset into the grave?

It's simple - universal construction kits don't do well in commercials targeted at children.

The very ad he's mentioning targets parents not children. Marketing for toys used to be targeted at parents.

But not anymore - there are cartoon TV stations airing all day, filled with commercials for shitty toys. Then the child sees these toys in stores and starts crying. Parent gives up and buys them. End of story.

Funny thing is, that's not new. When I was a kid, nearly all the cartoons I watched were basically just commercials for toys (G.I. Joe, He-man, Transformers, M-m-m-mask). Same for my little sisters (My Little Ponies, Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, Jem). Legos were the only toys that didn't tie-in to a movie or TV show.

I've actually had similar thoughts about Lego in the past. When I was younger I used to love playing with the generic "space" Legos or the generic "castle" legos. Looking back, it was great because those sets where generic enough that you could imagine your own story for them. You wouldn't just be building sets, you'd be building universes.

Much of that is lost with movie-themed Legos. If a kid sees Star Wars and then goes to get the Star Wars Lego set, then the Luke Skywalker figure will always be Luke Skywalker, and the Vader figure will always be Vader, and you'll always need a Millenium Falcon around to join the party. Media tie-ins seem to greatly restrict (though of course not totally destroy) the potential for a kid to make up his own adventure. The universe is already imagined for you; in a sense, you become a participant, not a creator.

This is, unfortunately, part of a trend against "make" culture. While it does impact LEGO (the tie-in stuff is pretty useless and the LEGO city sets still have more wholesome brick sets that can be used in more than one fashion), it is going on across many facet of toy manufacturing.

Those of us who are parents of young children now may remember the days in school when they taught us basic programming as part of computer training (either logo or basic, for example) which put us on the path to learning how to get the computer to do stuff we wanted it to do instead of consuming pre-made stuff on it. In today's world, a large amount of what's offered to kids is stuff that tied in to TV shows or movies, with little interest in helping develop the next generation of makers.

Sadly, LEGO's initial downfall was because it try to keep on focusing on the makers and its resurgence was on the back of pre-made, pre-imagined tools: when a kid is given a star wars or harry potter set, he/she is now letting his/her imagination run wild but is constrained by the pre-established story lines set in place by Hollywood (because let's face it, the tie-ins are to movies, not books).

The sad part is that the long term impact of this may be that it creates grown-ups further down the line who will feel that laws like SOPA are OK.

I was thinking the other day how much I really miss GW-Basic. A relatively simple set of instructions that I used at age 10 or so to start simple programming. How do I teach a 10 year old to program now? Class instantiation? Grab a bunch of libraries off the internet and put them together?

Really sad that people don't want to build things anymore. I recently fenced in my acre yard(no I don't live in SV, couldn't afford an acre over there). Six foot privacy fence. Took me months. Everybody thought I was crazy, including the guy next door who makes a living doing commercial construction. My wife's friends thought she was crazy. They would never let their husbands keep construction materials around that long. But I remember my dad building a fence years ago when I was a kid so it just seemed natural I would do it as well.

I am starting my son with perl and C. Today is his 8th birthday.

Why perl and C?

1) Perl is very good at ad hoc programming, and it;s a very good language for learning very basic things.....

2) C is simple language for very basic stuff, but it is exacting and makes you think like a programmer.

Once he gets half-way decent with simple things in Perl, he's ready for Lego Mindstorms ;-)

I think the key is to remind you kids that once you've built something according to the instructions and you're bored, it's time to take it apart and build something else. I remember playing with a lot of LEGO kits when I was a kid, and I always did this. It's true that, like coloring books, building from kits discourages creativity. But that's easy to fix with something called parenting. Let the instructions be an inspiration, not a prescription.

(And, it's not a bad skill to be able to follow instructions. I hear people on forums like HN complaining about how difficult it is to build IKEA furniture. If they played with LEGO when they were a kid, they'd probably be able to build their bookshelf too :)

Take a look at modern Lego kits - this is no longer really possible. Half of the pieces are now completely custom pieces that will only ever fit in one way. Gone are the Lego kits where just about all the pieces will recycle into your future creations.

Ya know, as a father of a 7yo boy and a 9yo girl who together have put in about 40 hours of lego building in the last week alone, using lego from my childhood as well as a dozen kits purchased in the last 5 years or so, this simply isn't true.

Its not true that the pieces will only ever fit in one way.

The reality, I've come to realize after playing with these things quite a lot recently, is that they're simply 'higher-resolution'.

For instance, I have watched this brick (from a Star Wars ship)


become variously, a foot, an ear, a beak, part of a dragon's wing, part of a temple, part of half a dozen spaceships of completely bespoke design, part of some sort of epic death dealing mechanized tank/robot thing, and probably several more models where I didn't even notice it.

Whereas I had to be content with "8-bit" round shapes with my old Lego brick pieces, my children and I are able to produce models with much higher resolution - and that're pretty satisfying.

My kids play with these "model" kits by building them as per the instructions, learning a few new construction techniques in the process, playing with the finished model for a day or two, then tearing them apart and applying any new techniques they discovered into their constantly evolving storyline.

Just like Dad did... does...

That’s complete and utter bullshit.

Stuff like that used to happen (the dark late 90s and early 2000s) but not anymore. And even during that time (which was during my childhood) I always found a cool new way to use the special pieces. I actually always loved having special pieces I could repurpose in some way.

This meme needs to die. It’s not based in fact.

Case in point: http://city.lego.com/de-DE/Products/Default.aspx#4643

That big windshield is awesome. I could make a big fire truck with it or other kinds of vehicles, maybe integrate it into a building.

Oh, and Lego has tons of sets that are just awesome and pretty much only made from normal bricks. Take this awesome house: http://creator.lego.com/de-DE/products/default.aspx#5771

Lego has diversified their product line. That means you can get more, well, normal toys. But they are still selling as much classic Lego stuff as they always have.

Wow, you have strong feelings about Lego, don't you?

I do have strong feeling about this particular meme – but I really should have toned down my writing a bit. Ah, well, you can’t always find the right words.

You and me both!

I agree that the new Lego pieces get a bad rap; my kids have done ridiculous things with them; in fact, I'm not sure they've ever actually built the thing the box told them to.

Strongly stated, but I agree. When I first started buying Legos for my eldest a few years ago, I was initially turned off by all the special pieces they include in kits nowadays. I thought they'd be a deterrent to building his own creations. In practice, it hasn't been a problem at all. He's always excited to build the model on the box, but it's never together more than an hour or two before he's torn it down to create his own things. Which is awesome, since I think that's where most of the fun and a lot of the value of Legos comes from.

Take ANOTHER look at modern lego kids... I think you will find that they CAN be re-purposed. Yes some of the big moulded pieces are single purpose, but a castle wall can turn into a tower wall can turn into a alien cliff face can ....

You get the picture... You may as well complain that a lego rubber tyre is single purpose... well duh.

Before you complain, you can still get a big bag of Lego:


I say still, because it is a family business and it seems those who would have gone on to run it have left the family tradition and are now much more interested in enjoying their wealth (which is considerable, in that they are one of the richest families in Denmark).

They would be the fourth generation, so I guess it was bound to happen. At least my children should be able to cut their teeth on Legos.

It's not Lego that's "highly-problematic". They're simply trying to give the kids(parents?) of today what they want.

If you follow the NPR article linked in the article, you'll see that Lego clearly did their homework before embarking on this new line. In light of this, I think it's odd for them to be accused of reinforcing stereotypes when their research showed that this is how (most) girls like to play.

I do think it's sad that we now have 'boy-lego' and 'girl-lego', but (for the moment), that appears to be appropriate for the world we live in. Maybe some of those girls will want to do more than just play with handbrushes and handbags and check out the Technics or Mindstorms. Who knows.

NPR article: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/15/143724644/ith-new-toys-lego-ho...

LEGO product lines: http://www.lego.com/en-us/products/default.aspx

Just spoke my gf. She's doing grad research on children's play and is actually (partially) funded by Lego. I'll just quote her (but bear in mind that it's a soundbite - there's likely a whole PhD in boy/girl play behaviour).

"Generally speaking, boys will happily construct just for the sake of it and although girls will also build things, for them there's no point if they can't breath life into it."

Here's the article (Businessweek) amirmc is referring to:


I read through this article the other day and it does a great job of showing the position Lego has worked themselves into and how they're trying to right the ship.

I think it is commendable that they are trying to go after the girl market with something other than princesses. I didn't like the new 'ladyfigs' at all at first either but then again, I was a little boy and I loved the minifigs. The part about boys playing with minifies in the third person but girls wanting to play in the first person really resonated with me. I never pretended that I was a minifig. If that's what I wanted to do, they should have had more individual personality. Like what they came up with.

I think the fact that they are willing to break from tradition to capture this market is a good thing. The fact that it doesn't appeal to me is probably also a sign they're doing it right.

I'm an equal-opportunity lego distributor. Girls as well as Boys get just one kind of toy from me: Lego. Duplo for the urchins, 'regular' for 4 to 8's and technic for the older ones. Never seen a kid turn it down, whatever age or gender. For a lark I gave a bunch of it to some adults, claiming that I'd forgotten their birth dates. They ended up being at least as happy as the kids.

I've never given any 'themed' lego, just the plain stuff, no minifigs or other non constructive bits.

Lego is what made me see the power of building using re-usable blocks, the best possible primer for becoming a programmer that I am aware of outside of maths (and you typically don't start math beyond counting when you're a toddler).

Whomever decided to kill Space Legos needs to be shot into orbit.

The model kits all suck. I went and bought $15 tubs of the wall of bricks recently and my kids get far more use from those random pieces than they do kits.

I hear ya. Space Legos were the first sets I really came to love. Although, I got pissed back then because of those odd specially-formed pieces like the engines. NOW, it seems 80% of a lego kit is special pieces.

I've heard this complaint for years and years, but we're living in a golden age for non-specially-formed pieces. You can buy the builder sets, order arbitrary quantities of pieces online, or just buy by the bucket at Lego stores (that's what I do).

What do you think about Bionicle? I can't even consider that stuff to be LEGO.

I can't get in to Bionicle, but I'm not offended that it exists.

This is not a new development. Lego has had sets loudly targeting girls (or better: stereotypes about girls) since 1991. Lego Paradisa set where sold all through the 90s. Here is the Poolside Paradiese from 1992: http://www.brickset.com/detail/?Set=6416-1

The Lego Belville sets are similar and are still sold today. Here is the Pony Trekking set from 1997: http://www.brickset.com/detail/?Set=5854-1

It’s possible to go even further back in time for more stunning displays of sexism. In 1971 many sets had photos of kids on them. There was a boy pushing a truck or putting together a car. Now guess what the only sets with girls on them were. A kitchen and a living room: http://www.brickset.com/detail/?Set=261-4

All that does’t make it better. Yes, this is a problem that has to be remedied. But it is not a recent development.

In general I have to say that Lego improved massively since the dark ages (late 90s and early 2000s). I was just looking at some new Lego Creator sets and blown away by them. You couldn’t get cool stuff like that during my (late) childhood (i.e. late 90s and early 2000s). I still loved the heck out of Lego during my childhood but today’s sets are just cooler.

That cops-and-robbers LEGO advent calendar is pretty weird.

I still have this guy hanging on my tree: http://www.1000steine.com/brickset/images/1627-1.jpg

I remember that guy! But I think he got assimilated into the large box of LEGO in my parents' basement.

My daughter loves legos and seems to really love the Harry Potter legos. I do agree that getting generic legos instead of boy centric seems more challenging but they are out there.

What I really connected with more in this article was the advent calendar with the cops and robbers. My wife told me a while back, "I got this cool lego advent calendar online". I was like, "cool!". Then I saw this cops and robbers theme and I told her, "Is this really what Christmas is about in the US now? <santa voice>Hey kids! Be careful out there as there are people that want to break into your house and steal your stuff!</santa voice>"

I know, I know... If I don't like it then don't buy it. I agree. I still think it's a strange advent calendar even though my son actually likes it.

The cops and robbers theme is really just a play on the good v. evil theme that permeates most childrens books, stories, movies, etc.

I think it's pretty benign and just part of the process of helping kids make sense of the world through play and storytelling.

" But if they’ve become toys marketed to a single gender, then we’re just reproducing the already awful gender imbalance in STEM education and employment."

Why is it we never hear anyone decrying the 'awful gender imbalance' in Human Resources, Nursing and Teaching?

Because when women dominate the workplace, it's "The End of Men" (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-...) and reason for smug, thinly-veiled gloating. Also, men can't be teachers because we're all pedophiles.

Because you're in technology. There are a number of organizations dedicated to increasing the number of men in nursing and teaching.

Because this is "Hacker" news so there is a very strong bias towards science and engineering. I imagine it might be different on a Nursing forum, but I've never seen one so I don't actually know.

LEGO is very closed source. I'm fixing that with my http://bitbeam.org project. It's an open source hardware Lego Technic compatible building toy that you can manufacture yourself. (I lasercut my bitbeams at TechShop in San Francisco.) My long term plan is to make a bitbeam-based CNC milling machine that can make more beams. I won't just sell the "bricks", I'll open source and sell the machines that make the bricks. Opening up the manufacturing process is something I suspect LEGO would never do. Also, I'd like to see a fully open source equivalent to Mindstorms - Arduino for the electronics and Bitbeam for the mechanics.

I don't get it.

You complain that a 5000 piece lego set is movie themed, when the only thing movie themed are the minifigs and the box it came in.

As kids every single lego set we had was built into the "model" precisely once, and then dumped in with the rest of the lego. We kept the instructions, but would never rebuild the original set. That's hardly the point of Lego.

As an adult I have a huge collection of Star Wars lego sets, including the Imperial Star Destroyer and Death Star. When my son is old enough (he's not yet 3), they'll get dismantled and put in a bucket all together. From that day on they WILL be generic lego pieces. The fact that they came in a Star Wars box is then irrelevant.

Except so many of those pieces are not generic. There's dozens of color and shape specific pieces in there. Things that will never go on anything else.

That said, you can still buy generic lego boxes.

No, actually. These days there are very few non-generic pieces. If we're talking bionicles, then yes. But 99% of pieces in any modern set (branded or otherwise) are generic. The exception is usually things like fighter windshields (if they're called that in space?).

e.g. The Star Destroyer engines are actually wheels presumably borrowed from some other set. The Death Star as far as I can tell has no "special" pieces, nor the AT-AT, AT-ST or X-wing. The millenium falcon has a few special bits, but even they look repurposed from some other set.

Except so many of those pieces are not generic.

That you think these pieces will never go with anything else shows you aren't thinking about what you can do with them, only what they are intended to be.

Thats the beauty of lego and imagination. The piece can be anything you want it to be. Is it the exhaust of a spaceship or the ear of an alien space monster? You decide!

This is not new. When I was growing up with lego in the early 80s, there was a line of lego marketed at girls which were sets of lego that you made jewelery with.

Also, what nonsense is this that you won't make anything with the millenium falcon because 1000 pieces is too many? What garbage. How can lego possibly fix the issue that you refuse to make anything else with a set with lots of pieces?

Anyway, lego sets aren't atomic - buy a lego set, play with it, then mix it with your other stuff. You've just waxed lyrical about an ad where you can 'just make stuff', right after refusing to do so with a large set, with no real reason given.

My daughter is 4. She loves LEGOs. She also loves bugs, snakes, sharks, dinosaurs, Star Wars, her train set, Barbies, princesses, fairies, puppies, and sneaking into her grandma's makeup.

My son is 11 months old. He's taken a liking to cars and balls, but he also loves his sister's Barbies. Particularly, he likes to pull their hair, but I think he's drawn to the (ahem, slight) humanness they possess. They look friendly.

Separating "boys' toys" from "girls' toys" is pretty much nonsense. Of course, older boys aren't going to want to play with Barbies. Not necessarily because they wouldn't enjoy it, but because they are marketed to girls, and, most importantly, they would get made fun of for doing so. Were it socially acceptable for boys to play with Barbies, I promise they would.

Realize that when we're shopping for toys for my daughter, the toy store is twice as big for her, because she's not aware that she isn't supposed to like action figures and rc cars.

I think the genderizing of colors is just crazy. What makes pink a "girl's color" and blue a "boy's color" ? I'm convinced it's just marking influence. Most girls' clothes are pinks and purples, and similar "girly" colors. With that, most of what my daughter wears is pink or purple. Of course she loves the colors; we drape her in them daily. She chose blue, green, and red for her bedroom, and we let her do that, instead of saying "No, no, those colors are for boys."

I disagree. I think, with many of the new sets, a whole class of new pieces were explored.

As a kid, the only cars I really remember were the ones with the small base (3x4 with an elevated segment for the tiny wheels). When I rediscovered legos, I noticed that many sets have larger base plates (for larger vehicles) -- width 6 stubs.

And the pick-a-brick are surprisingly deep in terms of shapes and sizes (I definitely don't remember the curved translucent pieces designed to emulate glass).

I don’t know how to fix this for the whole society, but it is possible to fix this for your daughter: Go and buy a generic Lego set, for example http://www.amazon.com/b/ref=amb_link_355233462_11?ie=UTF8...

The same rule applies for yours nieces. And for the (female) friends of your children (If you really want to look more normal, you can buy the "pink" box.).

My 9 years old daughter has:

* Her own chemistry set

* An "X-100" microscopy (It is really of my wife.)

* A Meccano-like metalic cosnstruction set.

* A Snap Circuits Jr electronic Set.

And this year, one of her "Christmas" present is an Arduinos Sparkfun Professional Inventor's Kit, because she wants to make a robot, but she didn’t want a robot kit. (I still don’t know we will complete the robot, but the idea is to start with something simple and iterate.)

If you think that it is important to give your daughter a good scientific formation (or if you think that it is the only sensible way to raise a children), you can fight back.

To see another example, go to the Sylvia's Super-Awesome Maker Show! : http://sylviashow.com/

Just stop buying lego and start buying K-nex instead.

They are almost infinitely better. They are incredibly open ended, and can be used to build some very complex stuff.

definitely agree with that. k'nex is way more creative.

I don't besmirch LEGO for doing what is an entirely rational for them: design products whose pieces, like puzzle pieces, don't have much versatility outside the context of that playset, leading children to tire of them quickly and want a new set.

Of course, LEGO still sells the general-purpose sets with instruction books to show you how to construct dozens of different buildings/vehicles/etc. My son prefers those, but every kid is different.

The No Girls Allowed theme is pretty easy to explain: mass-market films of the type that will have product tie-ins are almost universally aimed at boys, and LEGO is simply downstream from that trend.

There are toys that give kids' imaginations some exercise, and there are those that, like video games and Harry Potter LEGO sets, don't deliver quite the same workout. It's up to you to cultivate in your child a healthy appetite for the former.

EDIT: I would add that the Toy Story movies do a good job of echoing the nostalgia that adults feel for those older, simpler toys. My son and my affection for those movies has in some way conditioned us to stretch our imaginations and breathe new life into old toys.

I've been a Lego fan for, what, 45, 50 years? I've never in that time bought a single "kit" from them. You buy bricks. And other parts. But kits? Why would I want to build someone else's design. The whole idea behind Lego, as I've understood since I was 5 years old, is that you make your own cool stuff.

I've built space ships and air planes and monsters. I think I even built a Starship Enterprise once. But designing the things yourself is part of the process.

When my nieces were prime Lego age, at the advice of their mother, I did look at some kits, but was horrified at the prices. The bricks are pricy enough. I converted my money into tubs of bulk bricks. You can never have enough bricks.

(Now I did make some Tinker-Toy machines from company plans, but only enough to understand the principle. I then adapted them to my own nefarious purposes. I did the same with balsa wood flying model airplanes later.)

I was also dismayed by their focus on movie tie-ins and set-specific pieces, but I really like the LEGO landmark/architecture series:


They're built with pretty much all standard pieces (though not necessarily standard colors).

Christmas present score! Now I have a Christmas present idea for my wife to compliment the far-too-functional present already got her!

I'd like to make a point that applies to some (but by no means all) of the comments above. Outrage isn't a very useful emotion. It's become the default emotion for things like this because politicians like to keep people in a state of frothy indignation. That's carried over to the rest of our culture but it's not a good thing.

Resolve is a much better emotion than outrage. What can I do to encourage better behavior? Buying good LEGO sets as presents for children and evangelizing about LEGO to friends spring immediately to mind. Or maybe getting involved with the 3D printing movement.

In summary, I'm suspicious that alternating between "intellectual curiosity" and "resolving to take action" is a much better way of reading articles on the internet than the alternate strategy of alternating intellectual curiosity and outrage.

The BrikCrate has changed how my kids approach Lego. It was completely "build the set, forget about it" prior to installing it. Now they build like crazy in free form. http://www.brikcrate.com/

Our daughter enjoys building too.

We just have three enormous rubbermaid bins with lids. Half the fun is searching for the right piece, and possibly finding an old lollypop stuck to it. The sound of kid hands pawing through a vat of legos is awesome.

I'm waiting for the day I have enough to do a Scrooge McDuck and swim through mine :)

It's true, one person's "half the fun" is another's "most of the suck"

So I played the Lego board game series Heroica recently and at first I thought it was brilliant. It's pretty much a simplified version of D&D where you build the map with Legos. Then at the end I realized that the game-play pieces were set specific and you couldn't do what I thought was the point.

What I thought was that you could use any lego piece you want and add it to the set and use any lego figure and add it to the set and simply follow the same gameplay mechanics to a map limited only by your imagination. Let's play Heroica with Harry Potter pieces. Nope can't do that. You have to purchase their overpriced sets and only play what the sets let you do.

Looks like they're just looking for cash based off of numbers. Bummer.

I think he forgot you can now order whatever LEGO piece you are looking for online.

So basically LEGO tries to sell to people who will not hack on the LEGO with very cool models but provides formidable tools if you want to hack your own LEGO.

You can even submit your own models if I'm correct.

Yeah, LEGO's CAD software lets you design models and then order all of the requisite parts[1]. I haven't used it yet, it's a really cool idea.

So there are unfortunate movie-themed prefab kits for the masses, and powerful design software for creative folks. LEGO still sells bulk quantities of classic bricks, you just have to look a bit.

1. http://ldd.lego.com/

I've been extremely sad the past 5 years with lego. I graduated college in 2006 and when I got a real job I thought that for Christmas I would be getting my niece and nephew legos. I loved them growing up (technic for the win!) and wanted to get them started on this obsession as well. But try as I might the trend that I saw start when I was 10 or 12 has continued to almost completely corrupt what I recall lego as being. No longer is it a where you get to imagine and design, and then play, all the "work" of design and imagination has been removed leaving only the "play". That's all kids want right, to play? Aw well, at least I got to have some good times.

Side note but the ultimate evil present for parents of small kids is to buy the kid a Playmobil Castle for Christmas - http://www.amazon.com/Lion-Knights-Castle-by-Playmobil/dp/B0...

As a parent that spent over 16 hours assembling one last Christmas then watching it disintegrate again, the "joy" this gift brings cannot be described. A great present if you have a brother or sister with kids you feel compelled to annoy.

Ah, but remember this castle? http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_jX9QklC3G4E/TIRfrl9uVRI/AAAAAAAADK...

That was one really great toy.

> We will put it together once and we will play with it a lot and that will be that. It won’t get remixed, won’t get hacked.

My kids have gotten their share of Star Wars and Harry Potter themed Lego over the years, and in every case the original set was eventually taken apart - usually bit by bit in a kind of salvage operation for needed parts - and incorporated into the Lego bin. Once the pieces go into general circulation, they're used to build an arbitrary collection of original ships, buildings and so on.

I just bought a couple of the Builders of Tomorrow Set #6177. All regular pieces, no tie-in or specialist parts. Expand with a couple of specific sets for the minifigs or custom pieces and you are set. If you are lucky enough to live near a Lego store you can also expand the collection using the wall of bricks.

I've never liked the Lego kits (even as a kid) for the reasons already mentioned. You build them once and then the (building) creativity is gone. Give me a pile of 4x2 bricks any day.

My daughter grew up with LEGO and still plays with them. She doesn't need pink or purple blocks or over-sized female figures. All she wants different is a few female minifigs once in a while. I don't think there is a single one in either advent calendar. There are almost none anymore except Hermione in the Harry Potter licensed sets. Somewhat ironically, one of the few we have is the female doctor from last season's FIRST LEGO League competition set.

While I vastly prefer the open-ended building blocks to the themed sets, I did like the semi-generic Lego space theme as a child. Also very cool were Tente, a Spanish space themed building kit series... they were very futurist and stylish: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tente_(Toys)

The more open ended toys clearly have an advantage in terms of creativity, and most children have creativity to spare.

Ahh Tente! Brings back memories. I thought that Tente had more specialized pieces than Lego.

Yes, they were more specialized. Still better than a 'kit' though, in terms of creativity.

I think I still have all my Tente, sure would be fun to pull 'em out!

Lego's patent on the basic block design has run out so it's actually a pretty smart strategy of Lego to move to licensed properties over the last decade - what else could they do? I've already seen some Hello Kitty "minifigs" with Lego compatible blocks, that's just the tip of the iceberg.


Applications are open for YC Winter 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact