Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Outraged about the Google diversity memo? I want you to think about it.

Chairs. [Image: Verco]
That leaked internal memo from James Damore at Google? The one that says one shouldn’t expect employees in all professions to reflect the demographics of the whole population? Well, that was a pretty dumb thing to write. But not because it’s wrong. Dumb is that Damore thought he could have a reasoned discussion about this. In the USA, out of all places.

The version of Damore’s memo that first appeared on Gizmodo missed references and images. But meanwhile, the diversity memo has its own website and it comes with links and graphics.

Damore’s strikes me as a pamphlet produced by a well-meaning, but also utterly clueless, young white man. He didn’t deserve to get fired for this. He deserved maybe a slap on the too-quickly typing fingers. But in his world, asking for discussion is apparently enough to get fired.

I don’t normally write about the underrepresentation of women in science. Reason is I don’t feel fit to represent the underrepresented. I just can’t seem to appropriately suffer in my male-dominated environment. To the extent that one can trust online personality tests, I’m an awkwardly untypical female. It’s probably unsurprising I ended up in theoretical physics.

There is also a more sinister reason I keep my mouth shut. It’s that I’m afraid of losing what little support I have among the women in science when I fall into their back.

I’ve lived in the USA for three years and for three more years in Canada. On several occasions during these years, I’ve been told that my views about women in science are “hardcore,” “controversial,” or “provocative.” Why? Because I stated the obvious: Women are different from men. On that account, I’m totally with Damore. A male-female ratio close to one is not what we should expect in all professions – and not what we should aim at either.

But the longer I keep my mouth shut, the more I think my silence is a mistake. Because it means leaving the discussion – and with it, power – to those who shout the loudest. Like CNBC. Which wants you to be “shocked” by Damore’s memo in a rather transparent attempt to produce outrage and draw clicks. Are you outraged yet?

Increasingly, media-storms like this make me worry about the impression scientists give to the coming generation. Give to kids like Damore. I’m afraid they think we’re all idiots because the saner of us don’t speak up. And when the kids think they’re oh-so-smart, they’ll produce pamphlets to reinvent the wheel.

Fact is, though, much of the data in Damore’s memo is well backed-up by research. Women indeed are, on the average, more neurotic than men. It’s not an insult, it’s a common term in psychology. Women are also, on the average, more interested in people than in things. They do, on the average, value work-life balance more, react differently to stress, compete by other rules. And so on.

I’m neither a sociologist nor psychologist, but my understanding of the literature is that these are uncontroversial findings. And not new either. Women are different from men, both by nature and by nuture, though it remains controversial just what is nurture and what is nature. But the cause is besides the point for the question of occupation: Women are different in ways that plausibly affect their choice of profession.

No, the problem with Damore’s argument isn’t the starting point, the problem is the conclusions that he jumps to.

To begin with, even I know most of Google’s work is people-centric. It’s either serving people directly, or analyzing people-data, or imagining the people-future. If you want to spend your life with things and ideas rather than people, then go into engineering or physics, but not into software-development.

That coding actually requires “female” skills was spelled out clearly by Yonatan Zunger, a former Google employee. But since I care more about physics than software-development, let me leave this aside.

The bigger mistake in Damore’s memo is one I see frequently: Assuming that job skills and performance can be deduced from differences among demographic groups. This just isn’t so. I believe for example if it wasn’t for biases and unequal opportunities, then the higher ranks in science and politics would be dominated by women. Hence, aiming at a 50-50 representation gives men an unfair advantage. I challenge you to provide any evidence to the contrary.

I’m not remotely surprised, however, that Damore naturally assumes the differences between typically female and male traits mean that men are more skilled. That’s the bias he thinks he doesn’t have. And, yeah, I’m likewise biased in favor of women. Guess that makes us even then.

The biggest problem with Damore’s memo however is that he doesn’t understand what makes a company successful. If a significant fraction of employees think that diversity is important, then it is important. No further justification is needed for this.

Yes, you can argue that increasing diversity may not improve productivity. The data situation on this is murky, to say the least. There’s some story about female CEOs in Sweden that supposedly shows something – but I want to see better statistics before I buy that. And in any case, the USA isn’t Sweden. More importantly, productivity hinges on employees’ well-being. If a diverse workplace is something they value, then that’s something to strive for, period.

What Damore seems to have aimed at, however, was merely to discuss the best way to deal with the current lack of diversity. Biases and unequal opportunities are real. (If you doubt that, you are a problem and should do some reading.) This means that the current representation of women, underprivileged and disabled people, and other minorities, is smaller than it would be in that ideal world which we don’t live in. So what to do about it?

One way to deal with the situation is to wait until the world catches up. Educate people about bias, work to remove obstacles to education, change societal gender images. This works – but it works very slowly.

Worse, one of the biggest obstacles that minorities face is a chicken-and-egg problem that time alone doesn’t cure. People avoid professions in which there are few people like them. This is a hurdle which affirmative action can remove, fast and efficiently.

But there’s a price to pay for preferably recruiting the presently underrepresented. Which is that people supported by diversity efforts face a new prejudice: They weren’t hired because they’re skilled. They were hired because of some diversity policy!

I used to think this backlash has to be avoided at all costs, hence was firmly against affirmative action. But during my years in Sweden, I saw that it does work – at least for women – and also why: It makes their presence unremarkable.

In most of the European North, a woman in a leading position in politics or industry is now commonplace. It’s nothing to stare at and nothing to talk about. And once it’s commonplace, people stop paying attention to a candidate’s gender, which in return reduces bias.

I don’t know, though, if this would also work in science which requires an entirely different skill-set. And social science is messy – it’s hard to tell how much of the success in Northern Europe is due to national culture. Hence, my attitude towards affirmative action remains conflicted.

And let us be clear that, yes, such policies mean every once in a while you will not hire the most skilled person for a job. Therefore, a value judgement must be made here, not a logical deduction from data. Is diversity important enough for you to temporarily tolerate an increased risk of not hiring the most qualified person? That’s the trade-off nobody seems willing to spell out.

I also have to spell out that I am writing this as a European who now works in Europe again. For me, the most relevant contribution to equal opportunity is affordable higher education and health insurance, as well as governmentally paid maternity and parental leave. Without that, socially disadvantaged groups remain underrepresented, and companies continue to fear for revenue when hiring women in their fertile age. That, in all fairness, is an American problem not even Google can solve.

But one also doesn’t solve a problem by yelling “harassment” each time someone asks to discuss whether a diversity effort is indeed effective. I know from my own experience, and a poll conducted at Google confirms, that Damore’s skepticism about current practices is widespread.

It’s something we should discuss. It’s something Google should discuss. Because, for better or worse, this case has attracted much attention. Google’s handling of the situation will set an example for others.

Damore was fired, basically, for making a well-meant, if amateurish, attempt at institutional design, based on woefully incomplete information he picked from published research studies. But however imperfect his attempt, he was fired, in short, for thinking on his own. And what example does that set?

115 comments:

Eli Rabrtt said...

Well meaning is questionable.

Ambi Valent said...

I was outraged. Not because he stated men and women are not identical, but by his fundamental dishonesty.

In a honest discussion, I would agree that if the world was fair, there probably would be more men than women in tech jobs - because from culture, men are just more interested in those jobs. So of course, in such a world, it would be normal and fair if more men than women are hired. And any "diversity" order might actually do harm in such a world.

And then, he makes his far-reaching demands based on this idealised scenario.

The point is, it's obvious we don't live in such a fair world, but one where women are kept from succeeding by sexism. By not hiring them, or not promoting them, or not treating them fairly otherwise, not because they as individuals have flaws, but just because they are women. In this situation, noticing this and attempting to neutralise it is actually beneficial.

But Damore just made his demands ignoring this obvious evidence, and since there's no way he never heard about women and also men reporting about this sexism, he is basing his demands on his assumption they are liars, or blind. And that's why I'm outraged, and why I think it was fair that he was fired.

The flaws in his reasoning are so great that they completely invalidate his conclusions. Other examples would be: "Let's use nukes to accelerate a manned expedition to Mars. They'd get there really fast." or "Politicians just promise the moon from the sky, and may be unprepared. Let's have a king instead, he'd get prepared for his job during all of his life."

And so on. Demanding small points speaking for one's idea must be considered while the much larger flaws should be ignored is unreasonable to begin with.

Giulio Prisco said...

Hi Sabine, I am a frequent but mostly lurking reader, this is probably my first comment.

Thanks for this thoughtful and balanced post.

To me, what's really outrageous here is that a person (perhaps one with a family to feed) has been fired for expressing an opinion in a calm and measured way.

The issue is not whether Damore is right or wrong. I guess he must be half right and half wrong, like it's usually the case. The issue is that thought policing and violent (yes, violent) repression of (calm and measured) dissent is definitely wrong. W R O N G.

driod33 said...

Thank you for a non polarised look at the problem.

Outer M. said...

Honestly, I don't think he was fired because of the content of his memo. He was fired because he made it way too public. There might be some true in some of his points, but there's also a lot of racism, sexism and nasty things in general. Once that's public, the company have two options: keep him as an employee and send a potential message of approval for that type of ideology; or fire the employee to prove zero tolerance for sexism/racism/xenophobia in all shapes and form.

And this is exactly why HR departments ask you to go to them with these kind of issues. He put the company in an impossible situation and he got the only possible outcome. If he had handled this through the appropriate channels, I'm sure he'd still be a Google employee.

TL;DR: He wasn't fired because of the content of his memo, he was fired because he was an idiot when he decided to send it to everyone.

By the way, in science and technology, conservatism is a minority ideology (he says so himself in his letter). How would he feel if we start saying that conservative people aren't apt for science and technology? That if he doesn't feel welcome he should find a different profession? It's ironic he complains about it even though, in a way, he understands the struggle.

Pfogle said...

Great points here. A lot to think about!

I especially got the argument for affirmative action. I think that a too homogeneous culture can become a dangerous (self-selecting) goldfish bowl very quickly.

There are many tragic (and heroic) stories of great woman scientists of the past, but once the shackles are off, I think a sort of self-balancing may lead to the appropriate ratios being found.

Antoine Bourget said...

Thank you for your balanced opinion about this complex problem. I basically agree with everything, and I'm not sure I would have been able to formulate it as clearly as you did.

Arun said...

I think Sundar Pichai explained the firing perfectly:

Quote:



This has been a very difficult time. I wanted to provide an update on the memo that was circulated over this past week.

First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”

The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being “agreeable” rather than “assertive,” showing a “lower stress tolerance,” or being “neurotic.”

At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo—such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all—are important topics. The author had a right to express their views on those topics—we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.

The past few days have been very difficult for many at the company, and we need to find a way to debate issues on which we might disagree—while doing so in line with our Code of Conduct. I’d encourage each of you to make an effort over the coming days to reach out to those who might have different perspectives from your own. I will be doing the same.

I have been on work related travel in Africa and Europe the past couple of weeks and had just started my family vacation here this week. I have decided to return tomorrow as clearly there’s a lot more to discuss as a group—including how we create a more inclusive environment for all.

End quote.

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

Dear Dr B
"I used to think this backlash has to be avoided at all costs, hence was firmly against affirmative action. But during my years in Sweden, I saw that it does work – at least for women – and also why: It makes their presence unremarkable."

I think this is the source of much of the opposition to affirmative action: It works. Which means that those who used to get into college or the good jobs easily will now face competition. So they complain.

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

A large corporation is not, repeat NOT, a university or other academic setting. This is a business setting and the culture and goals are very different.


The diversity programs at a large corporation are not meant to bring men and women or blacks and whites employees into numerical proportions with the surrounding population. It is meant to enable the corporation to attract and retain from the widest pool of talent that is available.

Among other things the corporation wants these employees to be productive - and so has to give them good working conditions. Google has done an extraordinary amount of research on what makes teams productive. Look up what they found, it is educative.

Another anecdote - and this is in this time, not years ago. Our leadership of a very large technological firm told us that just doing the following made a big difference. When there is a position - internal or external hire, or a slot for a promotion - Human Resources picks five candidates and sends to the hiring manager. Without any instructions to the hiring manager, Human Resources was told that if there is a qualified woman, include her as one of the five. This all unbeknownst to the manager who is going to actually make the hiring decision. Think about why this would make a difference.

Further, if Damore had a clue of understanding, he would know how to bring his legitimate concerns up without creating a hostile workplace for the women employees of Google.

And if Google is like other corporations, each employee undergoes 10-20 hours each year being educated on the conduct expected within the corporation, ethics and how to deal with various situations, what is unacceptable behavior, and so on. I don't think Damore has any excuse that he did not know how he should behave.

Google and Sundar Pichai did absolutely the right thing. And if you don't like it, you can sell your Google stock, if you have any.

Best wishes,
-Arun



Arun said...

Maybe here's a simple way to understand what happened at Google.
Bee, you've face criticism from say, Tim Maudlin; and you've faced criticism from Lubos Motl. I think you clearly understand the difference. Damore crossed the line from being Maudlin-like to being Motl-like. That is not tolerable.

Ambi Valent said...

@Giulio Prisco:
It wasn't thought policing. Damore didn't just make an unpopular statement about evolution, or global warming, or even whether Trump was the greatest president of all time. He asserted in no unclear terms that female employees had an unfair advantage at Google and that anyone who thinks otherwise has to be ideologically blinded.

If Damore believed in the bell curve he used that there is a significant overlap in populations he would have come to the conclusion that women were about as trustworthy as men, and he'd have paid attention to their experiences. He chose not to do that, he only used that bell curve to assert men were superior to women in tech jobs - the old "I'm not a sexist but..." excuse.

There was no attempt at an open discussion - if he wanted one, he could have just asked female employees about their experiences about the hiring or promotion process and how it might be made fairer. He probably would have found someone like Sabine who would point out where his reasoning is good and where it's faulty. And if he took such an approach, it wouldn't be seen as accusing all female Google employees - which is the reason he was fired.

Bjørn said...

Hi Bee,

I cannot read most of the papers re: gender differences you linked to, but as far as I remember, most differences between men and women come in at less than one sigma, is that true for those also?

Also, you say that affirmative action leads to “every once in a while you will not hire the most skilled person for a job”. That is true, but the coorporate (and other) biases that lead to hiring of white cis christian (and whatever else you want) men do the same thing, only not that obvious, by recognizing fewer skills on everyone who does not resemble the predominant group of people already present. Thus, the biaes tend to not create meritocracies, but to mirrortocracies.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Arun,

I understand that Google is a company and not a university. I also understand that given the publicity it would have created an uproar had they not quickly gotten rid of the guy. I still think it's a mistake though.

The reason is that I think his opinions are quite widely spread and Google is, company or not, a nerd's place. The uproar you'd have heard would have come from a small but loud group of people. And that, I think, is a very general problem which we have seen abundantly on social media in the last years. We give disproportional relevance to opinions a lot of people don't share because of manufactured outrage and because too many of us remain silent. Google could have, but didn't, make a case that it's possible to calmly discuss the matter. They didn't.

Frankly, it makes me very pessimistic about what's to come.

I don't own stocks. Best,

B.



Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Bjorn,

The common standard for statistical significance in sociology and psychology is a p-value of .05 which is something like 2 sigma I think. But, yeah, this isn't particle physics.

Uncle Al said...

"I just can’t seem to appropriately suffer in my male-dominated environment" You are competent and creative. Suffer back the toadies.
"a woman in a leading position in politics or industry is now commonplace" Indira Gandhi, Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton were profound disasters claiming deserved dispensation. Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher were despised by social intent.

The natural ratio of males to females in tasks of creative, intensive, and extended endeavor is that ratio in felony imprisonment. Men are sweating, swearing, lusting, hairy, ugly, violent, and driven when accomplishing things (admittedly on the bell curve’s other side).

"he was fired, in short, for thinking on his own. And what example does that set?" Social intent triumphant!

Asher Wood said...

Yonatan Zunger makes a good point that I agree with. Because of James Damore's ignorance, he created quite the predicament in his workplace. He was fired, not because of his attempt at a discussion, but because in his ignorance he insulted and belittled his co-workers.

As Yonatan says, how could any of his superiors ever expect him to be able to work with women or minorities now?

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Bee,

As usual, you are wise and reasonable in a world that is frequently hysterical. I really appreciate your writing, especially on scientific topics, but also, as now, when you venture into more general questions of society.

Kevin Van Horn said...

"The bigger mistake in Damore’s memo is one I see frequently: Assuming that job skills and performance can be deduced from differences among demographic groups. "

Damore never says that. His focus is on differing preferences as an explanation for the dominance of men in software development.

Bjørn said...

Bee, I'm not talking about significance, but variance. AFAIR, the differences between means are significant, but the spread of basically everything is larger than the difference.

Phil Bull said...

Hi Sabine. It's important to distinguish between effect size and statistical significance here. You're measuring differences between broad distributions, so while you may measure a *statistically significant* difference in (say) the mean of the male vs female distributions, this might only correspond to a small absolute difference in the means. Many of these studies coming out with "statistically significant" differences between genders do indeed have tiny effect sizes (e.g. see this recent Guardian article: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/08/why-are-there-so-few-women-in-tech-the-truth-behind-the-google-memo) that can't possibly explain the huge differences in workplace demographics. Plus, psychologists and sociologists are going through a big replication crisis right now that will possibly invalidate a big chunk of even the "significant" findings.

So, I'm in complete agreement that differences between populations are a poor explanation for the gender imbalance in tech and science. The root causes are probably sexism, social conditioning etc, all of which is well known. These appeals to population differences are spurious, and only serve to disrupt attempts to fix the situation -- this Google memo reminded me a lot of the sort of pseudo-scientific treatises that climate change deniers use to disrupt efforts to address that problem too. Quite right to pour scorn on them.

Matthew Rapaport said...

Written outside the company on his own time would have made it different, a free expression of a view (if perhaps wrong) made available for discussion.

Geert Depuydt said...

"I’m not remotely surprised, however, that Damore naturally assumes the differences between typically female and male traits mean that men are more skilled."

Does he actually say or mean such a thing? Maybe i missed it?

JimV said...

On sigmas, I read somewhere recently (maybe here) that something like 50% of published 3-sigma results turn out to be wrong. I think because we don't know what we don't know and therefore don't factor it into the sigma calculation (and because of biases).

I will come down somewhere in the middle of the firing debate. I think he should have been suspended or otherwise punished for violating the Conduct Code in a very public way, but not fired for a first offence (assuming this was a first offence). Here again, I don't know everything that transpired, e.g., maybe he was asked to apologize and refused.

When I started working as an engineer, female engineers were as rare as hen's teeth. When I left GE, they were about 20-30% of my department. A couple were great engineers (by my standards); all of them seemed to work hard, which is more than I can say of all the male engineers. Also there were a few male engineers who were good technically but very hard to work with. That seemed to be more of a male than female trait, in my anecdotal experience.

Ambi Valent said...

Sabine,

I'm curious - how do you think Google could have calmly discussed this matter? In a less entrenched situation I would have seen the possibility that Google could have made their female employees welcome by Google openly stating it stands by them, while Damore would express sincere regret on causing them stress with his assertion they were not suited for tech jobs.

But given Damore's entrenched claims of male superiority, would anyone believe he sincerely regretted hurting the female employees?

naivetheorist said...

bee:

an excellent blog entry. surprising only because it was written by a woman (hey, that's supposed to be a joke LOL).

richard

Unknown said...


Goolag confirmed that gender quotas means empowering incompetent feminists allowing them to fire brave men who dare to agree with biology, rather than with gender ideology. If having women at work means this Thought Police and a sub-critical number of children, I don't think it's good for society.

Kevin Van Horn said...

"The bigger mistake in Damore’s memo is... [a]ssuming that job skills and performance can be deduced from differences among demographic groups."

Damore never made any such claim. In fact, he quite explicitly says that we must judge each individual on their own merits, and not based on what larger aggregate they belong to. Furthermore, his focus is on exactly the point you agree with -- that men and women *tend* to have different preferences, and these lead to different career choices.

blackhead said...

Damore got fired because his views aren't compatible with Google's policy on "diversity".

If a man is employed as a strip-o-gram for female clients, and then writes a Facebook page complaining about homophobia, lack of BDSM diversity in the company, then he's likely to get fired. He's questioned the agenda of the company, threatening its existence and agenda.

People need to get their heads around the fact that ever society needs a set of rules to maintain its existence, and those that don't conform will need to leave, despite their cries of "free speech", "free expression".

Kevin Van Horn said...

You write: "If you want to spend your life with things and ideas rather than people, then go into engineering or physics, but not into software-development."

I've been in software development in one form or another for 37 years, and the idea that SW dev is people-centric rather than thing-centric is ludicrous. Just because one is analyzing people-data doesn't make the work people-centric -- the fascination is in the algorithms, mathematics, systems architecture, etc. For example, I worked for a marketing research firm for six years implementing Bayesian models of consumer behavior, not because I was interested in marketing research for its own sake, but because the job gave me an abundance of interesting mathematical modeling, statistical inference, optimization, and algorithm design problems to solve.

James Garnett said...

Sabine.
Nice.
I would like to see James rehired. Your post is exactly the response I wanted to see to his pamphlet, which is, how do intelligent women in the work place deal with all those issues, and define the milieu.
I was greatly tickled by your
" The bigger mistake in Damore’s memo is one I see frequently: Assumifg that job skills and performance can be deduced from differences among demographic groups. This just isn’t so. I believe for example if it wasn’t for biases and unequal opportunities, then the higher ranks in science and politics would be dominated by women. Hence, aiming at a 50-50 representation gives men an unfair advantage. I challenge you to provide any evidence to the contrary."
I would say gender dominance, always evolving, starting to tilt towards parity, is the main obstacle.
I think Google would actually benefit by rehiring Mr. Damore, and use this event to thoroughly explore the territory, which is badly in need of AIRING.

G said...

Leaving aside the politics and the disruption of business, it was a badly written document. It cherry-picked evidence and used awful leaps of logic to pretend to be a carefully reasoned argument.

Arun said...

I am of the opinion that the Google CEO made the case that it is possible to calmly discuss the matter.

But Damore can't ask people to drink the water that he first spit in.

Unknown said...

I agree with ambi valent, the argument where fundamentally dishonnest.
In particular, arguing that talent distribution follows a bell curve is extremly stupid: it is multidimensionnal and has been showed to follow a power law anyway. In short talents are rare and can come from anywhere.
However, he has a point. The divide between left and right ideas seems to be aggravated currently, with the election of Pres. Trump by a minority of Deep states. Firing him made him a martyr, while listenning to his BS would have disarmed it ( at least for left and moderate).

Arun said...

In an attempt to give a clue to those who still don't understand the Google firing of Damore:



It would be perfectly OK for Damore to say that all employees should get the opportunity to be mentored. It would have been perfectly OK for Damore to demand it. It would have been perfectly OK for him to have organized a public demonstration at the public entrance to the Google headquarters.


It is not OK for Damore to say that the employees in Google who currently get mentors are biologically disadvantaged and that is why the mentorship program is in place, and why it is misguided, and so on. Your colleagues who have been through the hiring process and who have worked in the corporation and have had satisfactory performance are your equals.


And if you can't/don't get this, then I can't explain it any further.

oluoye majek said...

Dear Sabine, thanks for this article. The problem most times is that the pendulum swings too far either way. Its easy to be happy when a one's side is ascendant and to justify its actions forgetting that when the other side becomes ascendant, the same justifications would be used to act.
Sundar's letter sounds a tad hypocritical saying google supports diversity yet sacks someone who writes an INTERNAL memo concerning such. I know education doesnt always work but i fear that the left's resort to labelling of dissidents with any of the -isms or -phobics would only cause more arm than good. what happened to good old reasoning (though i would concede that doesnt always work) especially considering the author of the memo backed up his essays with science.
PS: Has anyone refuted the science of the memo???

ryandreece said...

Bjorn and Sabine,

Claiming that the difference in mean between two distributions is about 1 standard deviation (of either distribution) says nothing about the significance of the claim, which could be 2,3,5 sigma. The later involves the width of the confidence interval, which could be made smaller than width of the difference in means by having more data / better precision. In other words, one could claim that the difference in two bell curves is 1 standard deviation at 5 sigma or arbitrary confidence.

I don't no anything about the confidence in psychology studies, but I would bet some subtle differences between sexes are known with great confidence.

Alex said...

Did anyone, and I even question Damore himself, actually PAY CASH MONEY DOLLAR BILLS to read the FULL TEXT of the research articles? Or did everyone just read and misinterpret the abstract? Let's just ignore the embarassing Wikipedia article citations.

As someone who majored in sociology, I was "forced" to read many research papers, and often times abstracts are easy to misread. They are literally TL;DRs so that people doing research can get a glimpse of whether the literature being reviewed is relevant to them. The full text often contains extra data or conclusions that isn't mentioned in the abstract.

Asher Wood said...

Sabine,

Bjørn's point is right on the money. While it is certain that there is a statistical difference, it is very small. Funny enough, one of the charts from the beginning of James Damore's memo shows exactly this conundrum (https://diversitymemo.com/). In short, the differences have minute practical effects. There is also some uncertainty as to how real these differences are, since they are sometimes not universal across cultures (https://phys.org/news/2011-08-disputes-notion-men-spatial-women.html), can be eradicated with education (http://nautil.us/issue/32/space/men-are-better-at-maps-until-women-take-this-course), and can be accounted for by social stereotypes, and overcome by mentally pretending to be the group unaffected by the stereotype (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1041608008000216, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11199-008-9448-9, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797616667459).

A very good (and mildly entertaining) video on this matter is THUNK's 109th episode, Statistical vs. Clinical Significance (https://youtu.be/MEr-gEWXJxM).

P.S. I didn't see James Damore advocating that women managers should get paid more and should dominate management: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women-better-leaders-men-study-a7658781.html

Sharat said...

Hi Bee,

When you say that you believe that women would dominate in science and politics, you directly contradict the gender gap the authors of this particular study, which you link in this post, find. At least, according to the abstract. I'm not pointing this out to be snide or clever. It's just that you're arguing for the rationality of your (and to some extent Damore's) position in the authority of the studies you're citing. Reading the article on Science Alert that you later linked, it occurs to me that you've downplayed the significance of disagreements on this issue. Specifically the article quotes the scientists involved in one of the studies Damore cited as saying, "They are differences of degree, with large overlaps between men and women." The article also points out that in many of these studies, the data collected was self-reported, which makes its usefulness a little dubious.

My position is that this is an ethical issue. After all, less than a hundred years ago, eugenics was a scientifically acceptable hypothesis. How you interpret the data is an indicator of your moral compass. Given more decisive science about the very real harms discrimination inflicts on people, I think its hard to stomach people citing less decisive science about how psychological gender differences explain gaps in participation and interest. How could we even begin to disentangle the interaction between these psychological harms and inherent aptitudes? Perhaps we can, but none of the studies you cited seem to have done so, and I would be surprised if any exist. In light of that, I just don't think there is a debate to be had about whether this gap is natural or cultural. The only reason that question still seems reasonable is because it defends a long-standing social truth.

In respectful but complete disagreement,
Sharat

Zack Yezek said...

Firing him is only going to make things worse.

It simply comes across as retaliation for committing a thoughtcrime, for daring to express an unapproved opinion where others would hear it. The quality or correctness of the man's actual position won't matter: Drawing such a heavy-handed, censoring reaction will act as its own form of validation. Co-workers who agree with him will now simply keep their heads down and let their resentments fester. Resentments that will likely grow with time.

The right way to handle this would've been to open the floor to a genuine, free debate over Google's various policies. Allow everybody to give their 2 cents without fear of reprisal, including the "racists", "sexists", and all other 'bad' people. Allow the 'offensive' opinions, because every ideological orthodoxy finds dissenting opinions offensive. After awhile this initial essay would've become one drop in much larger sea, and any policy consensus that emerged would've been far more robust than a phony one imposed from on high & upheld by fear. But that's now no longer on the table, if it ever was.

And no, Pichai (the supervisor?)'s statement won't help. It actually makes things worse, because management comes across as bald-faced liars. Claiming that they will "not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions" right after FIRING a guy for doing precisely that. The obvious inference the employees will draw is: "Yeah, I'm sure free to express my reservations about company 'diversity' programs and left-wing politics all right. Free to immediately be labeled a hate-filled bigot whose opinions therefore don't matter, and then fired because my opinions were 'offensive'". That's not a recipe for long-term harmony or genuinely happy employees.

btilly said...

I'll take up your challenge to explain why men should dominate the higher ranks in science and politics.

See https://www.edge.org/response-detail/10670 for quantitative data indicating that variation in ability is higher among men than women. As a result when you select for extremes of ability, men are overrepresented, no matter which extreme you are looking for. The higher ranks of science and politics should have a high concentration of extremely capable people, which means that men should dominate even if women are on average better at those roles.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Sharat,

I don't understand how you get from the results of that study to the claim that women should be underrepresented in industry and politics. Could you elaborate?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

btilly,

The argument you mention means that it's statistically more likely to find men who are highly skilled in some specialized task. This is not what brings you forward in the higher ranks. I think putting men with these skills in such positions is a big mistake, though you see this all over science. I would agree that this means you'd be more likely to find men among students and postdocs, but less likely to find at higher levels. In reality, though, the situation is exactly the other way round.

Frankly I think that a lot of the problems we see in theoretical physics - overspecialization, people competing to solve problems that aren't problems, an overproduction of entirely irrelevant models - are typically "male" problems. (On the average, on the average.)

As I said earlier, you can plot your means and sigmas all you like, it's another thing entirely to conclude from that who will and won't succeed in science. Men, for example, like to overestimate the relevance of a high IQ. I have known and met a lot of people with high IQ (self-declared but have no reason to doubt) and many of them are bad scientists (indeed not in science to begin with). They lack other qualities that are more important.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Alex,

First, you can find most of these articles online without having to pay. Second, I did indeed read a whole pile of those, though not yesterday. I got quite interested in this after reading Pinker's book some years ago and looked into the matter for a bit. I won't pretend I actually understood everything that's in the paper (not being from the field, much of the references to other studies eludes me).

I actually think the details of these studies aren't so relevant here. The only relevant point is that it's exceedingly unlikely all of these studies are wrong and there are really no (statistically significant) differences between men and women.

Marcel Weiher said...

Hi Sabine,

thanks for you thoughtful article, and for urging thinking instead of yelling!

A couple of issues:

1. Predominance of people-centric work at Google?

Are you sure about this? Google is very much "backend-centric" and "algorithm-centric", with humans taken out of the equation as much as possible and computer systems talking to other computer systems. Or in Google's case data-centers talking to other data-centers. In fact, Google is notorious for automating and for its products not being very human-friendly, even for paying customers.

2. Assumption that females are less skilled

Where did you get that from? I don't see it in the memo at all. First, he talks mostly about preferences, not skills, and second is very adamant about the large overlaps and the statistical, population-based nature of the differences. Both of which mean you could never make such a sweeping statement about any of the characteristics mentioned, and certainly not "skill".

Third, and somewhat more subtly, since it is about skews in representation at Google, this means he is never talking about his female colleagues being "less" of anything. There was much outrage about him "denigrating" his colleagues, but that is simply not possible with the argument he is making.

3. Biases

He also says that biases exist and should be eliminated. Your text doesn't say but seems to imply he didn't.

4. 50-50 challenge: accepted :)

First, I agree that if it were purely a matter of suitability for the job, we would probably have many more women in politics and leadership positions, possibly a majority.

However, you are again missing the point that it's not just about skills/ability. It's also (for politics maybe primarily) about motivation. Looking at leadership in the world, I think it should be uncontroversial that we're not governed by the people who were selected based on their skill for governing (i.e. creating the best conditions for their country and its population, rather than just triaging interests in order to remain in power).

In fact, there are many who say that the skills and temperaments required for governing vs. gaining and maintaining the power to do so are so disjoint that actually wanting the job should disqualify one from every getting it.

The other point is that the question is phrased wrong. It shouldn't be "why are there so few women in these jobs", but rather "why are there men who want them". Because these jobs suck if you want to have a life worth living. My dad was a high-ranking executive in the auto industry. He went to work at 7:30, came home at 19:30, had dinner with us, watched the Tagesschau and retreated to his den to work until around 1 in the morning.

Most people of either gender are too smart to want that, but a few men are sufficiently driven that they are willing to sacrifice basically their life for their career. Jordan Peterson put it more eloquently, giving the example of why law firms have such a hard time to retain their brilliant and highly qualified/competent women:

Women in High Paying Jobs -- Jordan Peterson

And preference also appears to be the main factor in the STEM disparities. It turns out that there is an actual difference in ability between men and women, in that women who have high math skills also tend to have high verbal skills, whereas men who have high math skills often lack correspondingly high verbal skills. And it turns out that people who have both skill-sets tend to favor non-STEM jobs, regardless of gender. So it's not that women don't go into STEM because they don't have the skills, it's that men go into STEM more because they lack other skills. Again: statistically.

Giulio Prisco said...

The results of this incident are easy to predict.

Now everyone at Google (and everyone in large tech companies, and everyone in academy) knows that they can be fired for expressing opinions that dissent from the party line.

Of course they'll shut up for fear of losing their job and the means to support their family.

But they won't change their position. If anything, their position will be radicalized. For example, from classical liberal to alt-right.

Yes, they'll stop expressing their opinion in public. But they'll express their opinion, with a vengeance, in the only place where one can do so in secrecy without fear of witch-hunting mobs: the voting booth.

Yes, that explains Trump.

Patrick said...

FWIW, my experience in large firms would suggest that the main reason the guy was fired was not his screed per se, bur rather because he stepped out of bounds. His opinion on corporate policy was not sought or wanted. Nonetheless, he criticized the Google leadership and created a huge PR headache (with associated expense). This annoyed and embarrassed his bosses. When one annoys and embarrasses ones boss, in the private sector, termination ensues. This is not unique to Google.

When it comes to ones employer, discretion is the better part of valour. At least while still collecting a pay cheque.

btilly said...

@Sabine,

When you have increased variation in multiple independent dimensions, you should not expect to simply find people who are extreme in a single dimension, but you should also expect to find other people who combine multiple dimensions well simultaneously. So on straight ability you should expect to find your greatest extremes among men. Even when the ability that matters is some sort of combination of other abilities.

That said, the argument that I am making only applies to the true extremes. Averages matter a lot more when it comes to the hordes of work-a-day professionals who are needed to make society tick.

Furthermore the model is just a model. People are not simply multi-variate Gaussian distributions in some number of dimensions. As you have noted, male-dominated organizations have a tendency to become dick size measuring contests. And this does not make for good organizations.

And finally, I would like to point out an interesting extreme data point. The first person to win 2 Nobel prizes, and to date the only person to win in two different areas of science, was a woman. Madame Curie. So no matter the odds, it is possible for a woman to come out on top. :-)

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

btilly,

Yes, maybe you are right. The data are so insufficient that I don't even find it particularly interesting to argue over it. Maybe the long tails will turn out to impact the ratios in the end.

John Greene said...

If fluency in science and technology didn't equal status then nobody would care.

(Have you ever noticed how status-obsessed everybody is?)

I for one think that men are better at sciencey stuff than women. I also think that the ability to do sciency stuff is not an entirely good thing. Sciencey stuff takes a certain kind of culturally-accepted mental disease. Voila, dominance struggle diffused!


zoltrain said...

I think his issues was that fact that by pointing out the differences in physiology, and stating it as a weakness shows he doesn't actually understand the full software picture at Google. Those differences are a strength, not a weakness. Google make software for people, so employing based on skillsets that understand people is not only good for business, it's good for software in general. I'm pro-dominantly a systems programmer, and I've identified that my strengths in say, human-centered software design are left wanting, I'm not good at every area of writing software so I need people around me that are good at the things I'm not good at. I'm glad I have people in my company who excel in this area. Empathy for the user are critical to making anything work for real people. The fact he didn't understand that these type of skills are necessary to building software people love tells me he doesn't get how Google write software. You can't boil and imperfect world down to a set of math. I think I just pity the fact he doesn't value the skills women bring to software, skills I can definitely say I don't possess. Embrace the differences, otherwise you'll just end up with a workforce that's all the same. I also don't agree with "removing emotion" from the workplace, we're human that's an impossible thing to do, also passion is definitely an emotion if you don't have that when you turn up for work, what the hell are you doing turning up for work. But I think it was written by someone from an naive stand point, and can understand someone deep in thought trying to over analyse the problem, so do I disagree with him, on the most part yes. Do I think he should be chastised in public for making a mistake, or trying to start a conversation, no. Things like "he'll never work at another company in Silicon Valley" is a pretty extreme stance to take for voicing an opinion. Knee jerk reactions, rather than thoughtful discussion has no place in the industry otherwise we all become oppressors.

Daniel Sedlacek said...

Disagreeing with Damore’s arguments is perfectly ok.
Not liking the style of his memo is perfectly ok.
Calling Damore young and clueless is useless ad hominem. Chances are he is smarter than you and me and the memo is actually well sourced.
Calling him a WHITE MAN is an essentialism that reveals the author's bias.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Daniel,

This is a blog, not a scientific article. I've offered my own opinion. If you don't think that's ok, too bad.

I mentioned he's a young, white, man because I think it matters. If the author of the memo had turned out to be a 50 year old black woman, do you think the reaction would have been the same?

Jacek Marchel said...

I have read the memo and I agree with the memo in far more points than I disagree. It is a shame, that we cannot discuss this issues in a civilized manner anymore. I hope someone will hire this man with better salary than he got at Google. Shame on Google for fascist reaction.

Ambi Valent said...

If Damore had simply argued that less women _choose_ a tech career, and that one therefore shouldn't attempt a 1:1 ratio, just fairness in hiring, nobody would have had any problem.

Instead, the arguments he uses say that women are _less qualified for_ a tech career - and that was not a call for fairness but a claim of superiority. If he wanted to do the first, why did he do the second?

Tyler Neely said...

You make the claim a few times that if a big chunk of a business values something, it's important. I think Google faced a situation where a lot of people felt that his firing was pretty important. I think that it was the right move for google to have fired him, rather than risk losing others for deciding to keep him around. It's hard to say how much damage they mitigated by firing him, but it's hard for me to imagine that it was not the right decision for the business.

I saw a number of my friends get stressed out by this whole thing. Maybe less severe responses would have been warranted if this particular case had not been the root of a huge stress event at the company, but that's what this became. Stuff like this is going to spark scandal and amplified stress to the extent that these issues are ones that have few effective mechanisms of dissent.

BS persists, stress builds, things like this serve as rare common ground through which that stress can be expressed, and it blows up.

Sharat said...

Hi Bee,

I understood that you were drawing from these data that the gender differences present argued that women should dominate scientific fields (I didn't mean to include politics in that context) But the data about aptitude for mathematics/science skew in favor of men: "Sex differences favoring men were also found for more specific measures of engineering (d = 1.11), science (d = 0.36), and mathematics (d = 0.34) interests". I was making the point that your position, if based on these data, contradicted them. I'll quote one of the studies again: "Although most biologic scientists accept that sexual selection has led to sex differences in physical traits such as height, musculature, and fat distributions, many social scientists are skeptical about the role of sexual selection in generating psychological gender differences." All of which is in service of saying, contrary to your claim early in your blog, it is controversial in the social sciences to say that there are determinative psychological differences between men and women. The burden of proof is rightly on those who want to argue for those differences. Lacking that strong proof, I think arguing in favor of these differences is morally indefensible. I, too, don't know if firing Damore was the correct response, but there ought to be no doubt that he was wrong.

Elena Freeborn said...

Hi. Psychologist here.
Yes, we can see differences in the average personality of men and women. The personality traits that are mentioned are based on the five factor model, the only current valid model of personality. It's data-driven, but from people's perception of personality, so the model, which itself is already influenced by culture and experience of the world, it's not a hard "people just work like this" fact, it's how the majority of people perceive themselves and other people.
Additionally, it leaves out huge parts of individual differences in people, it's the best that we currently got, but it's not very good.

So then we administer this test then to the population, and what a huge surprise, we find differences on how men and women are perceived.

Where this difference comes from is quite important however. Because if we keep insisting on this difference between men and women, we will keep shaping women and men to be different from one another, through culture, poorly understood psychology, religion etc.

If we stopped that, and allowed women to be more analytical, aggressive, strong minded and if we give them the freedom to make important decisions for themselves we would be better off.
If we allowed men to show emotions, be softer, create an environment where men can take care more of their children and have a better work-life balance we would be better off.

Both genders need to gain more freedom and be less stereotyped by nonsense arguments founded in an insufficient understanding of psychology.

Exodus said...

Arun, Blackhead, it is your kind of hateful, intolerant, extremism that is generating a backlash in support of Damore. At one time society had rules against interracial couples in public. It probably made them feel "unsafe." Thank goodness your logic was not applied there. People openly and aggressively questioned those rules. All rules are subject to question and simply saying they make you feel unsafe is no excuse. Damore did his best to make a sound argument, backed by science. But like the church, declaring that the Earth is flat and burning those that dare even provide small evidence to the contrary, you would prefer to just to be rid of a dissenter. Out with the heretic! It is astounding to me that so many smart people can be so primitive.

Michael Musson said...

I am a father and shame on me for not paying attention to these issues until I was married with children.

I want my daughter to have the opportunity to pursue whatever path she ultimately chooses. I am not wedded to any particular remedy because that misses the forest for the trees.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Sharat,

I think you misunderstood that statement. It was a way to say that I don't think the data is conclusive. Hence, tongue-in-cheek, try to prove me wrong when say the ratio should be this number and not that number.

I never said anything about the role of sexual selection in generating psychological gender differences. On the contrary, I stated explicitly that the nature/nurture debate is unresolved (and probably will remain for a long time).

Uncle Al said...

Management is politicians with support staff, college entry IQ 110. The California Academic Performance Index 700,000 student Los Angeles Unified School District is ~85 IQ, 2/3 immediate exclusion. Product resides in ore not dross.

Technical warriors are idiot savants, autists, or hard science PhD entry level 130 IQ, 2% incidence. Technical populations favor Ashkenazic Jewish and Chinese, culled East Indians (Indian Institutes of Technology); demonstrated technical ability plus obsession.

Male versus female IQ distribution is flatter and broader. Qualifying women average ~35% not 50% incidence at the far right. Wage inequality is discrimination. The Manhattan Project was successful not "equitable."

Chris2048 said...

There's a lot of claims in these comments about what is in the memo, or what it claims. Can the respective authors provide links/quotes etc to the parts they are referring too?



@Ambi Valent:

"fundamental dishonesty"

"he makes his far-reaching demands based on this idealised scenario"

"Damore just made his demands ignoring this obvious evidence ... he is basing his demands on his assumption they are liars, or blind"

"The flaws in his reasoning are so great that they completely invalidate his conclusions."

"Demanding ... larger flaws should be ignored"



"He asserted ... that anyone who thinks otherwise has to be ideologically blinded."

"There was no attempt at an open discussion"



"his assertion they were not suited for tech jobs."

"Damore's entrenched claims of male superiority"



"the arguments he uses say that women are _less qualified for_ a tech career"



@Outer M.:

"How would he feel if we start saying that conservative people aren't apt for science and technology?"



@Arun:

"if Damore had a clue of understanding, he would know how to bring his legitimate concerns up without creating a hostile workplace for the women employees of Google."

"[claim: *He* is responsible for "creating a hostile workplace"]"



"I am of the opinion that the Google CEO made the case that it is possible to calmly discuss the matter."

"Damore .. spit in [the water]."



"Damore [said employees] are biologically disadvantaged"



@G:

"it was a badly written document. It cherry-picked evidence and used awful leaps of logic to pretend to be a carefully reasoned argument."



@Sharat:

"he was wrong."

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

@Exodus
"But like the church, declaring that the Earth is flat and burning those that dare even provide small evidence to the contrary,"

What church declared the earth to be flat? The old Greek already knew the earth was round.

Maybe you are confusing the argument about the center of the universe with an American myth about Columbus?

Louis Tagliaferro said...

Again your logical reasoning not being corrupted by passion or self interest demonstrates why I have such high regard for you as a physicist and your blog. You discuss facts as they are and not how we’d like them to be. Genetic differences among sex’s and races are a fact that result in a general difference in traits for the groups they are attributable too, yet individuals don’t necessarily have the traits of a group and may not even fit neatly in a specific group category. I am a father of two daughters whose desire is to see them not be prejudged in pursuit of their goals. Yet I still know and have raised them to understand that equality is about not being pre-judged, equal opportunity, and being treated equally when demonstrating equal ability. Knowing we are NOT equal, it is unrealistic to expect or demand equal distribution in careers or pay.

As usual human behavior causes the idealistic to rationalize, distort, and ignore facts to fit their passion and unrealistic expectations are what result.

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

Here is a point by point discussion:

How the Internet got the ‘Google memo’ wrong
https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2017/08/10/how-internet-got-google-memo-wrong/US4NlaIvQ00UdsyofYbMyM/story.html

I think "cherry picking of evidence" and wild extrapolations of small differences does fit the memo

From the article:
"Back to the tech world: There is ample evidence of sexual harassment, unwelcoming workplace environments, and in some cases quantitatively measurable discrimination in scientific and technical fields. Why focus on biological differences, many of them quite small, rather than other factors that could explain certain discrepancies? That’s why some researchers, particularly those with a feminist bent, think it’s beside the point that the differences Damore mentioned are borne out by studies."

Kevin Van Horn said...

@Ambi Valent, Damore DID argue that fewer women choose a tech career, and therefore we shouldn't attempt a 1:1 ratio. He DID NOT argue that women are less qualified for a tech career. Here are some quotes:

"Many of these differences are small and there's significant overlap between men and women, so you can't say anything about an individual given these population distributions"

"I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism)."

The media have lied to you about what Damore said. I suggest you read his document for yourself: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586/Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.pdf

Gregory said...

Most useful content:
"For me, the most relevant contribution to equal opportunity is affordable higher education and health insurance, as well as governmentally paid maternity and parental leave. Without that, socially disadvantaged groups remain underrepresented, and companies continue to fear for revenue when hiring women in their fertile age. That, in all fairness, is an American problem not even Google can solve.

But one also doesn’t solve a problem by yelling “harassment” each time someone asks to discuss whether a diversity effort is indeed effective."

Wise words indeed.

JDoe said...

The available science does not support his conclusions, and his arguments are based on sexist assumptions.

https://medium.com/@adljksbvkj/heres-your-point-by-point-refutation-of-the-google-memo-b7201d0cca04

John Deer said...

Peter Singer weights in: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/google-wrong-article-1.3399750

PaulDavisTheFirst said...

@chris2048:you ask that question as if you have not even read the main article article let alone the comment thread. There are plenty of answers (read: citations) sprinkled throughout.

Kaleberg said...

My mistress started as a programmer and worked her way fairly high up in the corporate food chain. She says the situation was rather simple. Damore was fired for making a problem for the boss. If Silicon Valley, and Google in particular, were not under fire for its "bro" culture, Damore would probably have been warned that his public writing on company time was against company policy and probably forced to take some kind of course in understanding the issue and corporate policies. It isn't easy for a woman to win a sexual discrimination suit, even in California, but having idiots - and I'll use that term in its original sense of one being oblivious to others - like Damore spouting off makes it a just a bit easier. Google, and a host of other Silicon Valley companies, however, are being challenged for their attitudes and actions towards female employees and job candidates, so this kind of public exposition became a problem for upper management at Google.

As far as my mistress is concerned, having an employee create such a public problem would kill not just his career, but hers and likely her boss's career as well. I was never that high up the food chain, so I have to rely on her judgement of the situation. As others have pointed out, using Google terminology, when your job title has a number in it, odds are you can pretend to be a machine person, but when your job title is all words, odds are you are a people person. The pay is better too.

Silicon Valley does have a problem in its attitudes towards and its treatment of women. I have a niece in venture capital, and she has, as they put it, seen plenty. Despite the mystique of engineers not being people oriented, the whole point of engineering is to do stuff for people. Google search does not exist to sell advertising targeted at robots searching the internet. Google ads are targeted at people. Apple, Dell, Samsung and all the rest sell computers to be used by people. Even the supplier of the most esoteric component only has a job because that component is incorporated into something that is either sold to people or performs a service valuable to people.

Jim Luyten said...

I think you're way to generous in making excuses for this guy....

Kenneth Almquist said...

"Damore was fired, basically, for making a well-meant, if amateurish, attempt at institutional design, based on woefully incomplete information he picked from published research studies."

That's part of the reason he was fired. But as he tells it, he wrote the memo, and some people associated with the diversity program read it but didn't comment. (The memo is pretty broad, so a short response would have to ignore a lot of the content, and I imagine that nobody who read it thought that it was sufficiently well thought out to be worth spending a lot of time on.) So he posted it on a skeptics discussion group. I assume the group was a non-work-related discussion board devoted to the application of the scientific method to things like paranormal abilities. It was posting to that forum that ultimately led to him being fired.

In other words, at Google or pretty much anywhere in the corporate world, having heterodox ideas about diversity is risky if you don't have a clear understanding of where and when the company will tolerate discussion of those ideas.

Frank Krasicki said...

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rabble-rouser/201707/why-brilliant-girls-tend-favor-non-stem-careers

manyoso said...

Sabine, I liked your post and deemed it very thoughtful and full of good points. Here is another post which I think tried to treat this memo with respect and to look at the research on whether motivational differences can help to explain the gender disparity in tech and in other professions: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exaggerated-differences/

If you have time, please have a look! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Ambi Valent said...

I read the memo. I also read some of the much sicker stuff by people who rushed forward to support Damore. I may have assumed a connection between them when there actually is none. From the memo alone, I guess Damore is only motivated by his conservative beliefs and the hope his personal situation would improve if Google got rid of its diversity programs, and he wasn't actually motivated by real misogyny.

However, other points still stand. First off, there's the whole setup. People who rarely encounter it may fall for it but it's actually a strategy in political "discussions".

It goes like this: Person A makes the claim that they are neutral and want an open discussion and so on. Then they make their claims and present references backing them up, often to the point of complete certainty, and conclude that their opponent B who says different must therefore be untrustworthy or even oppressive. It might look somehow scientific at first glance, but you actually have only A and A's carefully chosen evidence.

A then shifts the burden of proof - instead of A having to prove their evidence still backs up their demands after some scrutiny, A demands that B or a third person C who criticizes A has to disprove all the evidence.

This is nearly a textbook case of this strategy: Damore claims to be neutral and wanting a honest discussion, but is perfectly sure that what the Google management does is extreme, authoritarian and ideological while he as a conservative is what a mature company needs. Read it yourself again and tell me whether you think Damore would ever change his own views or whether he just sees them as the truth which others must accept.

I think an actual open honest discussion about Google methods - at Google - would look very different. Damore could still state that diversity programs that exclude white men would be divisive and present his alternate proposals about what Google should do instead. If he did that, he'd have no guarantee of winning, but nobody would have been under pressure and nobody's job would have been in danger.

(More on other points later, if people still want to read it. If Sabine tells me to better stop after this post to avoid further division and fighting, I'll stop quietly)

Desmond Smith said...

Dear Bee,

Many thanks for your most thoughtful and interesting discussion.

I found myself thinking along the same lines as yourself. But then I wondered what my reaction would be if "black" or "jew" or "moslem" would be substituted for "women".

I realized I would be outraged.

I was a bit confused by my change in attitude toward the memo. Does this mean I am more of a subconscious sexist than a subconscious racist? (We all have subliminal biases and must constantly guard against them using our higher brain centers.)

Anyway, this thought experiment changed my attitude to the memo and made me feel it was more harmful than helfpul (in the absence of more convincing evidence).

Arun said...

What a scientist who actually knows some of the relevant science has to say might be of interest, I hope.
https://www.quora.com/What-do-scientists-think-about-the-biological-claims-made-in-the-anti-diversity-document-written-by-a-Google-employee-in-August-2017/answer/Suzanne-Sadedin
What do scientists think about the biological claims made in the anti-diversity document written by a Google employee in August 2017?

Achim Kempf said...

This seems to be relevant to the discussion:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyguttman/2015/12/09/set-to-take-over-tech-70-of-irans-science-and-engineering-students-are-women/#15bc13cd44de

Uncle Al said...

@Ambi Valent "diversity programs"

Michigan State, September 1969, 1200+ students packed Organic Chemistry's first day lectures. Next term's Organic Lab held 250 spaces, and not all filled. June 1973 graduated 14 BS/Chem. We sought nobody's mercy. UCLA graduates hundreds of BS/Chem each year, lilies of the field.

One can craft beautiful knives - damascene, mokume-gane; all sorts of aesthetics. Absent a hardened edge they are diadems not useful knives. "Diversity" is worse than bullšit. Diversity promulgates garbage.

Ambi Valent said...

@Uncle Al:
That was almost incomprehensible. But I guess you think I advocate giving degrees to the unqualified. I don't. But I wish every child could go to well-funded schools (not dependent on what a rich or poor region could finance with their taxes alone), so they would have roughly the same chances to get a good education, and finally a good job - and a degree if they're good enough. From their own abilities, not from what their parents or local taxpayers could pay.

JimV said...

I hate to disagree with our esteemed Uncle Al, but we define diversity differently. For me, diversity affects who you let in to the 1200+ in 1969, not who graduates.

(Did that big, bowl-shaped auditorium really seat 1200+? We pretty much filled it with Honors Chemistry students in 1965, and I would have said there were about 400 of us. There must have been more empty seats than I remember. Prof. Hammer kept us 15 minutes late in one lecture and a sleeping student's alarm went off.)

MAtT said...

Agree with some of this, but:

"the cause is beside the point for the question of occupation: Women are different in ways that plausibly affect their choice of profession"

doesn't lend any support to: "A male-female ratio close to one is not what we should expect in all professions—and not what we should aim at either"

The first presents the current situation, and as pointed out is down to nature and nurture. The second presents a future situation which could differ from the present one based on changes in nurturing, so "not what we should aim at either" is just an opinion, and one without a stated reason. You'd need to say both why more women shouldn't become like most men are now and why more men shouldn't become like most women are now.

And if neither, how you justify the better material rewards associated with professions reliant on the more stereotypical male traits (think low pay in the caring professions).

Uncle Al said...

@Ambi Valent Resources are finite and expensive. Test out losers before they matriculate, losing 5% who might versus excluding 20% who will.

@JimV The room seated ~250. Monday packed solid, seated and standing; cycled hourly. Wednesday had empty seats. Glassblowing! Fabricate a 6-inch 4-bulb Liebig condenser from tubing. First, you lose all hope. Then, you do it anyway. A decade later 50 vacuum polymerization ampoules from tubing needed no RFP. They company-defunded an academic. Budget is finite; work Saturdays.

Creating certified fools to run things is demonstrated madness. Colleges, trade schools, sports, entertainment, trained labor, personal endeavor fill out society.

I stand with engineer James Damore. Success is bloodsport. Hire gladiators with hidden weapons.

Haelfix said...

I think one of the things that bothers me about the diversity police, is that it implicitly calls into questions women's own judgement and that nothing really happens one way or the other.

Right now more women than men go to college. If you want equal treatment in STEM, that automatically means that you have to walk into the Psychology department (which has something like ~70% female enrollment) and tell a women.. No you aren't interested in psychology, you want to be a theoretical physicist. Here look, we will make the field more attractive by shaming a bunch of males and making some nice speeches.

My point is that this appears to be very weak motivation. There is nothing that really makes the choice attractive to a women. There is nothing about extra pay, lower hours, maternity leave, less demands on the child bearing years and so forth. And until that sort of thing is proposed, all of this is just more endless blah blah blah.

Liralen said...

I think we need to sever IT out of what we consider STEM, at least with respect to the treatment of women.

IT has attracted too many people who wanna be rock stars. And like rock stars, the criteria for success tends to be more subjective, possibly based upon luck or upon a flash of brilliance of finding that killer app, that doesn't necessarily correspond with the skills needed in the other STEM fields.

Arguably, that incentive holds true in other STEM fields. But there's the hacker meme that draws people that in ancient societies would have appealed to guys who would have been drawn into roving war bands. Most people in IT, of course, do not fit that description (I'm married to one). But it only takes a few to create the kind of drama we're seeing from IT today.

I'm female and received my degree in electrical engineering in 1985, and while there was certainly huge amounts of sexist disparity in my education prior to college, such as having no classes in trig or calculus in high school, as well as no chemistry and no physics, I received huge amounts of encouragement once I was in college. My opinion of my engineering peers is hugely positive, especially my professors in college who convinced me that being better than average was good enough, despite my feeling that I needed to be perfect in order to justify being there. My peers have been great, ranging from telling me they wish their daughters could be like me to wishing their wives shared their interests as much as I do.

If I had chosen IT instead, it would have been different. The very fact that I was noticeable would make me a target. I actually feel the same about physics. Despite my love of physics, I chose not to pursue it, since like IT, whether or not people like you matters.

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

@Haelfix
"Right now more women than men go to college. If you want equal treatment in STEM, that automatically means that you have to walk into the Psychology department (which has something like ~70% female enrollment) and tell a women."

I do not know how "diversity" politics work elsewhere, but over here in the Netherlands, the discussions center on the fact that hiring for academic post-docs and higher does not reflect the demographics of the available pool of post-graduates/PhD and higher. Women make up far over 50% of the student and post-graduate population in many fields, but much less of the Full Professor hirings. The same discussion is going on in the private sector where women and minorities are under represented in the higher compared to the lower "feeding" echelons.

"Diversity politics" are aimed at targeting hiring practices that make women and other groups to be under represented in the higher positions compared to the entry positions. Quota can be used to force those that cannot be motivated otherwise to adapt their hiring practices.

Unknown said...

Hi Sabine,

thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for this post. Although I felt that the original memo was wrong about certain things, the main point about this whole debate was how uneasy it made me feel that someone was fired to asking for a nuanced discussion about some issue (even if he was wrong about some points of his stance). I feel that firing somebody who probably means well, simply because of him showing his unconscious bias, does nothing more than give ammunition to the people who are against diversity. Now they can point a finger at this issue and say "See, the gender lunatics fired someone just because he spoke the truth they don't want to hear".

Giulio Prisco said...

'...nothing more than give ammunition to the people who are against diversity. Now they can point a finger at this issue and say "See, the gender lunatics fired someone just because he spoke the truth they don't want to hear".'

Exactly. The excesses of the Crrl-Left give ammunition to the real enemies of social justice.

Phillip Helbig said...

The problem in many such discussions is that people focus on what they deem to be a desirable field where their demographic (or the one they are supporting) is underrepresented. Yes, there are more men than women who have won Nobel Prizes. There are also more men than women who are in jail or mentally retarded. Is the former purely due to the power of the patriarchy and the latter purely due to genetics?

IF, and that is a big IF, one sees a 50-50 male-female split as desirable, then this should be for all areas, with no exception: more male nurses, more female garbage-disposal workers (there is the word "dustman"; is "dustwoman" even a word?), more male preschool teachers, more female soldiers, and so on.

As always, Steven Pinker has the correct views on this topic with data to back them up.

Phillip Helbig said...

"I found myself thinking along the same lines as yourself. But then I wondered what my reaction would be if "black" or "jew" or "moslem" would be substituted for "women"."

Apples and oranges. There is absolutely no evidence of differing intellectual power, or interests, between races. Zilch. As for religions, apart from the fact that one can choose to leave them, whereas race and sex are inborn, you are bringing discrimination into the mix. It is a mistake to think that ALL non-balanced situations are the result of discrimination.

Phillip Helbig said...

"As usual, you are wise and reasonable in a world that is frequently hysterical."

Quite ironic, whether or not you are aware of the etymology of "hysterical". :-)

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

@Philip Helbig
"There is absolutely no evidence of differing intellectual power, or interests, between races."

But there is a fairly complete overlap between people who believe women are inferior and those who think other races are inferior. I have yet to meet a racist who does not think women are inferior to men.

Kevin Van Horn said...

Phillip Helbig: "absolutely no evidence of differing intellectual power... between races."

Not true. It's well known that East Asians have an average IQ higher than whites, and Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic/racial group (115). Quoting Rushton and Jensen:

"Neither the existence nor the size of race differences in IQ are a matter of dispute, only their cause,"

Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law
2005, Vol. 11, No. 2, 235–294

Ambi Valent said...

@Uncle Al:
I see no problem with entry tests for higher education. But I think kids deserve decent schools that allow them to learn. Some will still be better qualified in the end than others, but it shouldn't depend too much on whether their parents and/or community are well off or poor.

@Philip Helbig:
Women and men are slightly different in their bodies. This could of course influence their athletic abilities - but individual differences would be greater. Women and men are also slightly different in their hormones. I don't think that leads to intellectual power difference between sexes. The difference in hormones could lead to life choices being different on average - but just as one of the factors, and you still couldn't make conclusions for individuals.

As for male nurses and preschool teachers, or more female soldiers and garbage disposal workers - I think the only problem with that would be some people looking down on them for their jobs, and I think those people would be wrong. (As for the soldiers - I think soldiers both male and female shouldn't be cannonfodder for bloodthirsty commanders. As a conscientious objector, I served in replacement service instead of the forces before the draft was abolished - if my country had ever been attacked, I would have had to serve as well, just not with a gun in my hands.)

Phillip Helbig said...

@Rob

I agree; most racists are also misogynists, and vice versa as well.

Nevertheless, lumping all "oppressed minorities" into one class is problematic. "Women and other handicapped people are especially encouraged to apply." :-)

Religion is something one can choose (although some people choose not to choose (to leave the religion of their parents) and is thus in a completely different category than sex or race, which one cannot really change (ignoring for the moment true intersexuals and the entire issue of transgender people). As far as race goes, any biologist can tell you that differences are mainly superficial (literally), mainly adaptations to various climates, and perhaps influenced by sexual selection. Nothing to do with different intellectual abilities. (Note that for a long time in the history of humanity in the broad sense, different species of hominids with different mental capacities did exist at the same time.)

As for differences between men and women, of course a) they exist and b) are not completely due to nurture. (It is obvious that they cannot all be completely due to nurture (even if many are) merely due to the fact that some exist; if there were no innate differences, there would be no reason---right or wrong---for different nurture.) Of course, even if significant differences (however large) do exist, this is no reason for any sort of discrimination. Some women are taller than most men, and conceivably a woman could be taller than all men. So, not giving a job as an apple-picker to a 2-meter woman on the basis of her sex is just stupid. :-)

I think that there is something to the idea that, while the differences within each group are much larger than the difference between the mean of each group, the means are roughly the same, but the male curve has longer tails (this would be a pun if in German), i.e. more geniuses but also more mentally handicapped. Some people believe that the former is entirely due to nurture and the latter entirely due to nature.

stuff said...

@Arun
"It is not OK for Damore to say that the employees in Google who currently get mentors are biologically disadvantaged and that is why the mentorship program is in place, and why it is misguided, and so on."

Damore didn't say that in the Google memo. At all.

Phillip Helbig said...

Not true. It's well known that East Asians have an average IQ higher than whites, and Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic/racial group (115). Quoting Rushton and Jensen:

"Neither the existence nor the size of race differences in IQ are a matter of dispute, only their cause,"


I should have added "genetically based". It is pretty clear that the cultural environment of both of these groups favours abilities which are measured on IQ tests.

Phillip Helbig said...

@Sabine: Gibt es ein Kommentar von mir, der nicht erschienen ist? Falls im Spam-Ordner, bitte herausholen. Falls abgelehnt, bitte schicke mir ein Email mit Begründung!

Phillip Helbig said...

"As for male nurses and preschool teachers, or more female soldiers and garbage disposal workers - I think the only problem with that would be some people looking down on them for their jobs"

Yes, but that is no different to what those people experience now. At least you and I don't look down on them.

From one of the documents linked to above:

To be fair, this is something feminism has, I think, got wrong. We've focused too much on the ways in which patriarchy is bad for women, while neglecting the ways in which it's even worse for men.

https://www.quora.com/What-do-scientists-think-about-the-biological-claims-made-
in-the-document-about-diversity-written-by-a-Google-employee-in-August-2017/answ
er/Suzanne-Sadedin

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Phillip,

ich hab nichts abgelehnt und im Spam ist auch nichts, sorry.

Ambi Valent said...

@Philip Helbig:
That's a definition question. What I want is a society in which people enjoy equal rights. But if I said "feminism is wrong, I want equal rights instead", I'd lose my allies while the others would reply "we already have that, now go home". So I keep supporting feminism.

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

@Philip Helbig
"It is pretty clear that the cultural environment of both of these groups favours abilities which are measured on IQ tests."

IQ is one of those things that get abused in these discussions. It is simply defined as completely genetically determined and then observed IQ group differences are attributed to genetic inferiority. The innate nature of IQ is almost a religious dogma in the US, especially the US right.

Amos said...

Philip Helbig wrote: "...for a long time in the history of humanity in the broad sense, different species of hominids with different mental capacities did exist at the same time"

I don’t know anything about the historical populations of hominoids (e.g., Neanderthals, Cro Magnon, etc), but it’s interesting that we seem to have a fairly homogeneous human population today, in terms of mental capacities. How did that homogenization take place? If you think about it, we are very lucky it did. Imagine the difficulties of sharing the world with other homonoids whose mental capacity and level of consciousness was, say, half way between us and the apes. Or, more realistically, imagine living in a world with computers that have significantly greater mental capacity than ourselves. (The google memo may soon be completely irrelevant, when google coders are replaced by computers.) Would the process of homogenization repeat itself? Is it an “anthropic” requirement for any sentient population to have a (more or less) uniform level of consciousness?

Rob van Son (Not a physicist, just an amateur) said...

Yet another article explaining the real science behind Damore's amateur memo:

https://www.wired.com/story/the-pernicious-science-of-james-damores-google-memo/

Bill Lama said...

Google = The Circle

Liralen said...

@Ambi Valent,

I'm with you on the definition issue. I hate being labeled, then attacked over something I never said just because someone else with that label said it. I wasn't even aware until recently of the baggage that the term "feminism" carries with it because back in the old days, it was "Women's Liberation" which more accurately conveyed its goals. I'll still accept the feminist label, although equal rights literally convey my goals. I just don't accept that we've achieved equal rights until people feel that a woman being average in a male-dominated field is good enough.

That might sound unfair, but our feelings on this issue is very deeply caused by our culture. European culture is much further along, but I live in a former slave state in the US. We have a statue of Jefferson Davis in our state capital. I am actually much more concerned about that issue than the status of women, but as others have pointed out, race and gender discrimination are related. Despite my disappointment that I never worked with another woman engineer until 12 years ago (after 20 years as the only female), I am keenly aware that we out-number blacks, even accounting for the smaller demographic.

And I hope Europeans understand that in the US, we have much cause for despair recently.

Jim said...

We really need an observer in a many-worlds scenario who can see how humans would have evolved in three very distinct scenarios - if the extreme right had won (with Hitler), the extreme left had won (with Lenin, or maybe Stalin, or maybe even Pol Pot) and the current scenario, where the average idiot on social media has as big an influence as the philosophically educated pamphleteers of the past.

Wonder which one has the best ending?

Liralen said...

@Philip Helbig: "To be fair, this is something feminism has, I think, got wrong. We've focused too much on the ways in which patriarchy is bad for women, while neglecting the ways in which it's even worse for men."

Absolutely. Back in the '70's, it annoyed the heck out of me that men did not see that. But 40+ years later, I'm not as sympathetic, except for those who feel overwhelming guilt for things they did not do. Especially those like my husband, who was raised as a very conservative Christian, a Calvinist, an extremely patriarchal sect that deliberately installed a guilt button in them, and it's such an extreme pain in the butt to avoid pressing it accidentally. I know without a doubt that it was done with the best intentions, to provide some balance to male privilege, by linking responsibility with that privilege. I had never understood the phrase "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" until I encountered them. But I respect them a lot for having the grace and wit to understand that the privilege must be linked to responsibility to be fair.

But that's not generally true anymore where I live. Males still claim the privilege, but not the responsibility. Your mileage may very, especially if you don't live in a former slave state in the US.

And I do understand absolutely that in a more primitive culture, males were needed for protection. I've been through combat training, and have toted an M-16 chanting "I wanna be an airborne ranger" while wearing combat boots, and have jumped out of airplanes. But that taught me that in a real hand to hand combat situation (despite US military attempts at being egalitarian - I'm not a dumbass), I'd just slow you guys down (unless you haven't had similar training) and get you killed trying to protect me if that responsibility button is active.

While I see that responsibility button active in my husband, I don't see it generally here. I just see the privilege, playing the game on easy mode. I don't doubt that us feminists are partly responsible, because in trying to destroy male privilege, it also destroyed the responsibility that went along with it.

But the responsibility part was never that huge, except among sects like the Calvinists. Women in my part of the world are much more likely to be harmed by their husbands/boyfriends than they are a stranger.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Dear Sabine,

You should have warned Damore that he can’t preach atheism in the Vatican. Even if atheism happens to be true. Google happens to be the Vatican of diversity and the VP of diversity is the Pope LOL Of course he can’t argue with the VP because she’s infallible! If he could reason with the faithful, it wouldn’t be the Church. It would be a philosophical club. I think Damore grew up with rationalists. He should spend time with evangelicals and feminists to cure his rationalism.

On another Gospel according to Gore, what do you think of AGW? Do you believe in exploding glaciers, mass extinction and Michael Mann’s Nobel prize? If you’re a ‘denier’ you must be reading No Tricks Zone whose motto is – “fake and vulgar” climate news from Germany LOL

RealityMonster said...

Damore absolutely NEEDED to be fired. Not for his opinions per se, but by the manner in which he voiced his opinion and his obvious bias on the topic, he revealed himself not to be a good-faith actor in the system.

Companies like google don't just operate under review by superiors, but also by peer review of your performance. After this memo, nothing Damore ever said could be trusted as unbiased again. People with bad reviews would legitimately have cause to wonder if the review was from him. He'd cause for more legal headaches by remaining than being fired. As it was, the women at google were moving to blacklist him as someone they'd work with.

He was impossible to promote into any position of authority, and keeping him would mean incredible amounts of work to just find a team that would take him.

True, if he'd been more discreet or circumspect, he'd still be able to carry his bias into reviews and have power though he shouldn't, but once someone reveals themselves to be an actor that's undermining the whole system, you MUST remove them. There's no choice.

(I got here from the Nautilus repost of your article. I tried my best to make sure nobody else made these comments before me, and I saw some allusions to what I'm saying here, but nothing quite like what I'm trying to get across.)

itr said...

Imagine if this guy wasn't white. No one would be having these conversations right now and the individual would still have his job. Think about that. Then think about how easily many of you are led along by a media that caters to your ideologies.

e. rêgo said...

You seem to have misunderstand Damore's claims. His 'thesis' is much more modest than trying to convey that men are better than women in any area, what he was trying to convey was that the numerical gap between genders in some areas of profession should not be solely explained by cultural segregation, although it is also a factor to consider.

Natural inclinations, he advocates, play a central role in the choices of genders. Although he warns that this is to be taken with a grain of salt, as both genders mostly overlap in overall inclinations.

That said, there is also another misunderstanding. He does not suggest that people should be judged by virtue of being part of a group, be it of gender, race or nationality. Actually he states quite clearly, that people should not be judged by these means, since this is precisely the error which made Google push its inadequate gender policies.