What I believe II (ft. Sarah Constantin and Stacey Jeffery)

Unrelated Update: To everyone who keeps asking me about the “new” P≠NP proof: I’d again bet $200,000 that the paper won’t stand, except that the last time I tried that, it didn’t achieve its purpose, which was to get people to stop asking me about it. So: please stop asking, and if the thing hasn’t been refuted by the end of the week, you can come back and tell me I was a closed-minded fool.


In my post “The Kolmogorov Option,” I tried to step back from current controversies, and use history to reflect on the broader question of how nerds should behave when their penchant for speaking unpopular truths collides head-on with their desire to be kind and decent and charitable, and to be judged as such by their culture.  I was gratified to get positive feedback about this approach from men and women all over the ideological spectrum.

However, a few people who I like and respect accused me of “dogwhistling.” They warned, in particular, that if I wouldn’t just come out and say what I thought about the James Damore Google memo thing, then people would assume the very worst—even though, of course, my friends themselves knew better.

So in this post, I’ll come out and say what I think.  But first, I’ll do something even better: I’ll hand the podium over to two friends, Sarah Constantin and Stacey Jeffery, both of whom were kind enough to email me detailed thoughts in response to my Kolmogorov post.


Sarah Constantin completed her PhD in math at Yale. I don’t think I’ve met her in person yet, but we have a huge number of mutual friends in the so-called “rationalist community.”  Whenever Sarah emails me about something I’ve written, I pay extremely close attention, because I have yet to read a single thing by her that wasn’t full of insight and good sense.  I strongly urge anyone who likes her beautiful essay below to check out her blog, which is called Otium.

Sarah Constantin’s Commentary:

I’ve had a women-in-STEM essay brewing in me for years, but I’ve been reluctant to actually write publicly on the topic for fear of stirring up a firestorm of controversy.  On the other hand, we seem to be at a cultural inflection point on the issue, especially in the wake of the leaked Google memo, and other people are already scared to speak out, so I think it’s past time for me to put my name on the line, and Scott has graciously provided me a platform to do so.

I’m a woman in tech myself. I’m a data scientist doing machine learning for drug discovery at Recursion Pharmaceuticals, and before that I was a data scientist at Palantir. Before that I was a woman in math — I got my PhD from Yale, studying applied harmonic analysis. I’ve been in this world all my adult life, and I obviously don’t believe my gender makes me unfit to do the work.

I’m also not under any misapprehension that I’m some sort of exception. I’ve been mentored by Ingrid Daubechies and Maryam Mirzakhani (the first female Fields Medalist, who died tragically young last month).  I’ve been lucky enough to work with women who are far, far better than me.  There are a lot of remarkable women in math and computer science — women just aren’t the majority in those fields. But “not the majority” doesn’t mean “rare” or “unknown.”

I even think diversity programs can be worthwhile. I went to the Institute for Advanced Studies’ Women and Math Program, which would be an excellent graduate summer school even if it weren’t all-female, and taught at its sister program for high school girls, which likewise is a great math camp independent of the gender angle. There’s a certain magic, if you’re in a male-dominated field, of once in a while being in a room full of women doing math, and I hope that everybody gets to have that experience once.  

But (you knew the “but” was coming), I think the Google memo was largely correct, and the way people conventionally talk about women in tech is wrong.

Let’s look at some of his claims. From the beginning of the memo:

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression

Okay, so there’s a pervasive assumption that any deviation from 50% representation of women in technical jobs is a.) due to oppression, and b.) ought to be corrected by differential hiring practices. I think it is basically true that people widely believe this, and that people can lose their jobs for openly contradicting it (as James Damore, the author of the memo, did).  I have heard people I work with advocating hiring quotas for women (i.e. explicitly earmarking a number of jobs for women candidates only).  It’s not a strawman.

Then, Damore disagrees with this assumption:

  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Again, I agree with Damore. Note that this doesn’t mean that I must believe that sexism against women isn’t real and important (I’ve heard enough horror stories to be confident that some work environments are toxic to women).  It doesn’t even mean that I must be certain that the different rates of men and women in technical fields are due to genetics.  I’m very far from certain, and I’m not an expert in psychology. I don’t think I can do justice to the science in this post, so I’m not going to cover the research literature.

But I do think it’s irresponsible to assume a priori that there are no innate sex differences that might explain what we see.  It’s an empirical matter, and a topic for research, not dogma.

Moreover, I think discrimination on the basis of sex to reach equal representation is unfair and unproductive.  It’s unfair, because it’s not meritocratic.  You’re not choosing the best human for the job regardless of gender.

I think women might actually benefit from companies giving genuine meritocracy a chance. “Blind” auditions (in which the evaluator doesn’t see the performer) gave women a better chance of landing orchestra jobs; apparently, orchestras were prejudiced against female musicians, and the blinding canceled out that prejudice. Google’s own research has actually shown that the single best predictor of work performance is a work sample — testing candidates with a small project similar to what they’d do on the job. Work samples are easy to anonymize to reduce gender bias, and they’re more effective than traditional interviews, where split-second first impressions usually decide who gets hired, but don’t correlate at all with job performance. A number of tech companies have switched to work samples as part of their interview process.  I used work samples myself when I was hiring for a startup, just because they seemed more accurate at predicting who’d be good at the job; entirely without intending to, I got a 50% gender ratio.  If you want to reduce gender bias in tech, it’s worth at least considering blinded hiring via work samples.

Moreover, thinking about “representation” in science and technology reflects underlying assumptions that I think are quite dangerous.

You expect interest groups to squabble over who gets a piece of the federal budget. In politics, people will band together in blocs, and try to get the biggest piece of the spoils they can.  “Women should get such-and-such a percent of tech jobs” sounds precisely like this kind of politicking; women are assumed to be a unified bloc who will vote together, and the focus is on what size chunk they can negotiate for themselves. If a tech job (or a university position) were a cushy sinecure, a ticket to privilege, and nothing more, you might reasonably ask “how come some people get more goodies than others? Isn’t meritocracy just an excuse to restrict the goodies to your preferred group?”

Again, this is not a strawman. Here’s one Vox response to the memo stating explicitly that she believes women are a unified bloc:

The manifesto’s sleight-of-hand delineation between “women, on average” and the actual living, breathing women who have had to work alongside this guy failed to reassure many of those women — and failed to reassure me. That’s because the manifesto’s author overestimated the extent to which women are willing to be turned against their own gender.

Speaking for myself, it doesn’t matter to me how soothingly a man coos that I’m not like most women, when those coos are accompanied by misogyny against most women. I am a woman. I do not stop being one during the parts of the day when I am practicing my craft. There can be no realistic chance of individual comfort for me in an environment where others in my demographic categories (or, really, any protected demographic categories) are subjected to skepticism and condescension.

She can’t be comfortable unless everybody in any protected demographic category — note that this is a legal, governmental category — is given the benefit of the doubt?  That’s a pretty collectivist commitment!

Or, look at Piper Harron, an assistant professor in math who blogged on the American Mathematical Society’s website that universities should simply “stop hiring white cis men”, and explicitly says “If you are on a hiring committee, and you are looking at applicants and you see a stellar white male applicant, think long and hard about whether your department needs another white man. You are not hiring a researching robot who will output papers from a dark closet. You are hiring an educator, a role model, a spokesperson, an advisor, a committee person … There is no objectivity. There is no meritocracy.”

Piper Harron reflects an extreme, of course, but she’s explicitly saying, on America’s major communication channel for and by mathematicians, that whether you get to work in math should not be based on whether you’re actually good at math. For her, it’s all politics.  Life itself is political, and therefore a zero-sum power struggle between groups.  

But most of us, male or female, didn’t fall in love with science and technology for that. Science is the mission to explore and understand our universe. Technology is the project of expanding human power to shape that universe. What we do towards those goals will live longer than any “protected demographic category”, any nation, any civilization.  We know how the Babylonians mapped the stars.

Women deserve an equal chance at a berth on the journey of exploration not because they form a political bloc but because some of them are discoverers and can contribute to the human mission.

Maybe, in a world corrupted by rent-seeking, the majority of well-paying jobs have some element of unearned privilege; perhaps almost all of us got at least part of our salaries by indirectly expropriating someone who had as good a right to it as us.

But that’s not a good thing, and that’s not what we hope for science and engineering to be, and I truly believe that this is not the inevitable fate of the human race — that we can only squabble over scraps, and never create.  

I’ve seen creation, and I’ve seen discovery. I know they’re real.

I care a lot more about whether my company achieves its goal of curing 100 rare diseases in 10 years than about the demographic makeup of our team.  We have an actual mission; we are trying to do something beyond collecting spoils.  

Do I rely on brilliant work by other women every day? I do. My respect for myself and my female colleagues is not incompatible with primarily caring about the mission.

Am I “turning against my own gender” because I see women as individuals first? I don’t think so. We’re half the human race, for Pete’s sake! We’re diverse. We disagree. We’re human.

When you think of “women-in-STEM” as a talking point on a political agenda, you mention Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper in passing, and move on to talking about quotas.  When you think of women as individuals, you start to notice how many genuinely foundational advances were made by women — just in my own field of machine learning, Adele Cutler co-invented random forests, Corrina Cortes co-invented support vector machines, and Fei Fei Li created the famous ImageNet benchmark dataset that started a revolution in image recognition.

As a child, my favorite book was Carl Sagan’s Contact, a novel about Ellie Arroway, an astronomer loosely based on his wife Ann Druyan. The name is not an accident; like the title character in Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith, Ellie is a truth-seeking scientist who battles corruption, anti-intellectualism, and blind prejudice.  Sexism is one of the challenges she faces, but the essence of her life is about wonder and curiosity. She’s what I’ve always tried to become.

I hope that, in seeking to encourage the world’s Ellies in science and technology, we remember why we’re doing that in the first place. I hope we remember humans are explorers.


Now let’s hear from another friend who wrote to me recently, and who has a slightly different take.  Stacey Jeffery is a quantum computing theorist at one of my favorite research centers, CWI in Amsterdam.  She completed her PhD at University of Waterloo, and has done wonderful work on quantum query complexity and other topics close to my heart.  When I was being viciously attacked in the comment-171 affair, Stacey was one of the first people to send me a note of support, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Stacey Jeffery’s Commentary

I don’t think Google was right to fire Damore. This makes me a minority among people with whom I have discussed this issue.  Hopefully some people come out in the comments in support of the other position, so it’s not just me presenting that view, but the main argument I encountered was that what he said just sounded way too sexist for Google to put up with.  I agree with part of that, it did sound sexist to me.  In fact it also sounded racist to me. But that’s not because he necessarily said anything actually sexist or actually racist, but because he said the kinds of things that you usually only hear from sexist people, and in particular, the kind of sexist people who are also racist.  I’m very unlikely to try to pursue further interaction with a person who says these kinds of things for those reasons, but I think firing him for what he said between the lines sets a very bad precedent.  It seems to me he was fired for associating himself with the wrong ideas, and it does feel a bit like certain subjects are not up for rational discussion.  If Google wants an open environment, where employees can feel safe discussing company policy, I don’t think this contributes to that.  If they want their employees, and the world, to think that they aim for diversity because it’s the most rational course of action to achieve their overall objectives, rather than because it serves some secret agenda, like maintaining a PC public image, then I don’t think they’ve served that cause either.  Personally, this irritates me the most, because I feel they have damaged the image for a cause I feel strongly about.

My position is independent of the validity of Damore’s attempt at scientific argument, which is outside my area of expertise.  I personally don’t think it’s very productive for non-social-scientists to take authoritative positions on social science issues, especially ones that appear to be controversial within the field (but I say this as a layperson).  This may include some of the other commentary in this blog post, which I have not yet read, and might even extend to Scott’s decision to comment on this issue at all (but this bridge was crossed in the previous blog post).  However, I think one of the reasons that many of us do this is that the burden of solving the problem of too few women in STEM is often placed on us.  Some people in STEM feel they are blamed for not being welcoming enough to women (in fact, in my specific field, it’s my experience that the majority of people are very sympathetic).  Many scientific funding applications even ask applicants how they plan to address the issue of diversity, as if they should be the ones to come up with a solution for this difficult problem that nobody knows the answer to, and is not even within their expertise.  So it’s not surprising when these same people start to think about and form opinions on these social science issues.  Obviously, we working in STEM have valuable insight into how we might encourage women to pursue STEM careers, and we should be pushed to think about this, but we don’t have all the answers (and maybe we should remember that the next time we consider authoring an authoritative memo on the subject).


Scott’s Mansplaining Commentary

I’m incredibly grateful to Sarah and Stacey for sharing their views.  Now it’s time for me to mansplain my own thoughts in light of what they said.  Let me start with a seven-point creed.

1. I believe that science and engineering, both in academia and in industry, benefit enormously from contributions from people of every ethnic background and gender identity.  This sort of university-president-style banality shouldn’t even need to be said, but in a world where the President of the US criticizes neo-Nazis only under extreme pressure from his own party, I suppose it does.

2. I believe that there’s no noticeable difference in average ability between men and women in STEM fields—or if there’s some small disparity, for all I know the advantage goes to women. I have enough Sheldon Cooper in me that, if this hadn’t been my experience, I’d probably let it slip that it hadn’t been, but it has been.  When I taught 6.045 (undergrad computability and complexity) at MIT, women were only 20% or so of the students, but for whatever reasons they were wildly overrepresented among the top students.

3. I believe that women in STEM face obstacles that men don’t.  These range from the sheer awkwardness of sometimes being the only woman in a room full of guys, to challenges related to pregnancy and childcare, to actual belittlement and harassment.  Note that, even if men in STEM fields are no more sexist on average than men in other fields—or are less sexist, as one might expect from their generally socially liberal views and attitudes—the mere fact of the gender imbalance means that women in STEM will have many more opportunities to be exposed to whatever sexists there are.  This puts a special burden on us to create a welcoming environment for women.

4. Given that we know that gender gaps in interest and inclination appear early in life, I believe in doing anything we can to encourage girls’ interest in STEM fields.  Trust me, my four-year-old daughter Lily wishes I didn’t believe so fervently in working with her every day on her math skills.

5. I believe that gender diversity is valuable in itself.  It’s just nicer, for men and women alike, to have a work environment with many people of both sexes—especially if (as is often the case in STEM) so much of our lives revolves around our work.  I think that affirmative action for women, women-only scholarships and conferences, and other current efforts to improve gender diversity can all be defended and supported on that ground alone.

6. I believe that John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women is one of the masterpieces of history, possibly the highest pinnacle that moral philosophy has ever reached.  Everyone should read it carefully and reflect on it if they haven’t already.

7. I believe it’s a tragedy that the current holder of the US presidency is a confessed sexual predator, who’s full of contempt not merely for feminism, but for essentially every worthwhile human value. I believe those of us on the “pro-Enlightenment side” now face the historic burden of banding together to stop this thug by every legal and peaceful means available. I believe that, whenever the “good guys” tear each other down in internecine warfare—e.g. “nerds vs. feminists”—it represents a wasted opportunity and an unearned victory for the enemies of progress.

OK, now for the part that might blow some people’s minds.  I hold that every single belief above is compatible with what James Damore wrote in his now-infamous memo—at least, if we’re talking about the actual words in it.  In some cases, Damore even makes the above points himself.  In particular, there’s nothing in what he wrote about female Googlers being less qualified on average than male Googlers, or being too neurotic to code, or anything like that: the question at hand is just why there are fewer women in these positions, and that in turn becomes a question about why there are fewer women earlier in the CS pipeline.  Reasonable people need not agree about the answers to those questions, or regard them as known or obvious, to see that the failure to make this one elementary distinction, between quality and quantity, already condemns 95% of Damore’s attackers as not having read or understood what he wrote.

Let that be the measure of just how terrifyingly efficient the social-media outrage machine has become at twisting its victims’ words to fit a clickbait narrative—a phenomenon with which I happen to be personally acquainted.  Strikingly, it seems not to make the slightest difference if (as in this case) the original source text is easily available to everyone.

Still, while most coverage of Damore’s memo was depressing in its monotonous incomprehension, dissent was by no means confined to the right-wingers eager to recruit Damore to their side.  Peter Singer—the legendary leftist moral philosopher, and someone whose fearlessness and consistency I’ve always admired whether I’ve agreed with him or not—wrote a powerful condemnation of Google’s decision to fire Damore.  Scott Alexander was brilliant as usual in picking apart bad arguments.  Megan McArdle drew on her experiences to illustrate some of Damore’s contentions.  Steven Pinker tweeted that Damore’s firing “makes [the] job of anti-Trumpists harder.”

Like Peter Singer, and also like Sarah Constantin and Stacey Jeffery above, I have no plans to take any position on biological differences in male and female inclinations and cognitive styles, and what role (if any) such differences might play in 80% of Google engineers being male—or, for that matter, what role they might play in 80% of graduating veterinarians now being female, or other striking gender gaps.  I decline to take a position not only because I’m not an expert, but also because, as Singer says, doing so isn’t necessary to reach the right verdict about Damore’s firing.  It suffices to note that the basic thesis being discussed—namely, that natural selection doesn’t stop at the neck, and that it’s perfectly plausible that it acted differently on women and men in ways that might help explain many of the population-level differences that we see today—can also be found in, for example, The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, and other mainstream works by some of the greatest thinkers alive.

And therefore I say: if James Damore deserves to be fired from Google, for treating evolutionary psychology as potentially relevant to social issues, then Steven Pinker deserves to be fired from Harvard for the same offense.

Yes, I realize that an employee of a private company is different from a tenured professor.  But I don’t see why it’s relevant here.  For if someone really believes that mooting the hypothesis of an evolutionary reason for average differences in cognitive styles between men and women, is enough by itself to create a hostile environment for women—well then, why should tenure be a bar to firing, any more than it is in cases of sexual harassment?

But the reductio needn’t stop there.  It seems to me that, if Damore deserves to be fired, then so do the 56% of Googlers who said in a poll that they opposed his firing.  For isn’t that 56% just as responsible for maintaining a hostile environment as Damore himself was? (And how would Google find out which employees opposed the firing? Well, if there’s any company on earth that could…)  Furthermore, after those 56% of Googlers are fired, any of the remaining 44% who think the 56% shouldn’t have been fired should be fired as well!  And so on iteratively, until only an ideologically reliable core remains, which might or might not be the empty set.

OK, but while the wider implications of Damore’s firing have frightened and depressed me all week, as I said, I depart from Damore on the question of affirmative action and other diversity policies.  Fundamentally, what I want is a sort of negotiated agreement or bargain, between STEM nerds and the wider culture in which they live.  The agreement would work like this: STEM nerds do everything they can to foster diversity, including by creating environments that are welcoming for women, and by supporting affirmative action, women-only scholarships and conferences, and other diversity policies.  The STEM nerds also agree never to talk in public about possible cognitive-science explanations for gender disparities in which careers people choose, or overlapping bell curves,  or anything else potentially inflammatory.  In return, just two things:

  1. Male STEM nerds don’t regularly get libelled as misogynist monsters, who must be scaring all the women away with their inherently gross, icky, creepy, discriminatory brogrammer maleness.
  2. The fields beloved by STEM nerds are suffered to continue to exist, rather than getting destroyed and rebuilt along explicitly ideological lines, as already happened with many humanities and social science fields.

So in summary, neither side advances its theories about the causes of gender gaps; both sides simply agree that there are more interesting topics to explore.  In concrete terms, the social-justice side gets to retain 100% of what it has now, or maybe even expand it.  And all it has to offer in exchange is “R-E-S-P-E-C-T“!  Like, don’t smear and shame male nerds as a class, or nerdy disciplines themselves, for gender gaps that the male nerds would be as happy as anybody to see eradicated.

The trouble is that, fueled by outrage-fests on social media, I think the social-justice side is currently failing to uphold its end of this imagined bargain.  Nearly every day the sun rises to yet another thinkpiece about the toxic “bro culture” of Silicon Valley: a culture so uniquely and incorrigibly misogynist, it seems, that it still intentionally keeps women out, even after law and biology and most other white-collar fields have achieved or exceeded gender parity, their own “bro cultures” notwithstanding.  The trouble with this slander against male STEM nerds, besides its fundamental falsity (which Scott Alexander documented), is that puts the male nerds into an impossible position.  For how can they refute the slander without talking about other possible explanations for fields like CS being 80% male, which is the very thing we all know they’re not supposed to talk about?

In Europe, in the Middle Ages, the Church would sometimes enjoy forcing the local Jews into “disputations” about whose religion was the true one.  At these events, a popular tactic on the Church’s side was to make statements that the Jews couldn’t possibly answer without blaspheming the name of Christ—which, of course, could lead to the Jews’ expulsion or execution if they dared it.

Maybe I have weird moral intuitions, but it’s hard for me to imagine a more contemptible act of intellectual treason, than deliberately trapping your opponents between surrender and blasphemy.  I’d actually rather have someone force me into one or the other, than make me choose, and thereby make me responsible for whichever choice I made.  So I believe the social-justice left would do well to forswear this trapping tactic forever.

Ironically, I suspect that in the long term, doing so would benefit no entity more than the social-justice left itself.  If I had to steelman, in one sentence, the argument that in the space of one year propelled the “alt-right” from obscurity in dark and hateful corners of the Internet, to the improbable and ghastly ascent of Donald Trump and his white-nationalist brigade to the most powerful office on earth, the argument would be this:

If the elites, the technocrats, the “Cathedral”-dwellers, were willing to lie to the masses about humans being blank slates—and they obviously were—then why shouldn’t we assume that they also lied to us about healthcare and free trade and guns and climate change and everything else?

We progressives deluded ourselves that we could permanently shame our enemies into silence, on pain of sexism, racism, xenophobia, and other blasphemies.  But the “victories” won that way were hollow and illusory, and the crumbling of the illusion brings us to where we are now: with a vindictive, delusional madman in the White House who has a non-negligible chance of starting a nuclear war this week.

The Enlightenment was a specific historical period in 18th-century Europe.  But the term can also be used much more broadly, to refer to every trend in human history that’s other than horrible.  Seen that way, the Enlightenment encompasses the scientific revolution, the abolition of slavery, the decline of all forms of violence, the spread of democracy and literacy, and the liberation of women from domestic drudgery to careers of their own choosing.  The invention of Google, which made the entire world’s knowledge just a search bar away, is now also a permanent part of the story of the Enlightenment.

I fantasize that, within my lifetime, the Enlightenment will expand further to tolerate a diversity of cognitive styles—including people on the Asperger’s and autism spectrum, with their penchant for speaking uncomfortable truths—as well as a diversity of natural abilities and inclinations.  Society might or might not get the “demographically correct” percentage of Ellie Arroways—Ellie might decide to become a doctor or musician rather than an astronomer, and that’s fine too—but most important, it will nurture all the Ellie Arroways that it gets, all the misfits and explorers of every background.  I wonder whether, while disagreeing on exactly what’s meant by it, all parties to this debate could agree that diversity represents a next frontier for the Enlightenment.


Comment Policy: Any comment, from any side, that attacks people rather than propositions will be deleted.  I don’t care if the comment also makes useful points: if it contains a single ad hominem, it’s out.

As it happens, I’m at a quantum supremacy workshop in Bristol, UK right now—yeah, yeah, I’m a closet supremacist after all, hur hur—so I probably won’t participate in the comments until later.

240 Responses to “What I believe II (ft. Sarah Constantin and Stacey Jeffery)”

  1. Erik Says:

    Sarah Constantin makes an analogy at one point to interest groups looking for part of the budget, and I think I’d like to second that by emphasising that STEM is widely seen as an important and prestigious field in general, and jobs at Google in specific doubly so, which drives a particular intensity of interest here.

    Which is a double-edged sword. Seeking neutral hiring practices/fair go/open access for all/etc. in an important and prestigious field pings the alert for a lot of honest activists who realize they can’t be everywhere at once and this place is probably a better use of effort than (say) citrus growers, but it also attracts a disproportionate amount of grifters and assholes who see a field of rich pickings they can feed on while existing in a mutual feedback loop. Grifters can cover themselves with “my critics are assholes who only hate me because they are bigots”, assholes can cover themselves with “these activists are grifters looking for a sinecure for their bloc”, and sorting the matter out requires time and thought.

    (I hope this doesn’t trigger the comment policy on ad hominem because I’m not attacking specific organizations, let alone specific people; if it does, please clarify just how far down we have to tone criticism of abstracts.)

    And so honest activists risk getting ground down by the overweight of assholes, sapping their energy to do everything else, activism quality suffers, encouraging assholes and making activists less distinguishable from grifters, and everything becomes horrible.

    Which I think brings us neatly back around to the Kolmogorov Option and similar courses of action. Avoid fights, to instead spend energy building something useful, even indispensable, and let people watch it in action. Don’t get ground down. Don’t get baited into pointless arguments. Don’t turn into clickbait, like so many reporters did, even if it’s easier and faster than doing the work of reading and understanding.

    I’m also left thinking about some of the integrated sports teams back in the era of mandatory segregation who would flout the law more or less by any means necessary: bribing the local mayor for an exception, repeatedly “accidentally” missing a player and having to call in an “emergency” replacement, simply lying about the races of their players, or whatever else it took, because they saw people with talent of all races and wanted to have those people on their team. Perhaps I’m drawing an overly tenuous connection here, but I find this at least somewhat similar in that they “built” a winning team, and I figure there’s a nontrivial class of people who were (and will be) more effectively convinced by the concrete matter of a winning team than by abstract moral argument.

  2. SquirrelInHell Says:

    The impression I got from Damore’s memo is that as far as truth-saying-in-the-face-of-ideology goes, considering the balance of the directness of his wording vs the culture at Google, he should have been OK. In other words, my model of what is acceptable in this world was off, and had to be quickly corrected after his firing. The model I got after correction is much closer to living under the Spanish Inquisition than in anything that I’d think of as a “modern” world. All of it makes me feel sad and hurt on some fundamental level, which is completely unrelated to the issue at hand, but rather to the fundamental recognition that one cannot be safe to assume that stating bare facts in public is safe. Not anymore. The candle is out. Hide your knowledge, and then hide that you have hidden it. Try to survive, while the world goes to hell. That’s not a workable mindset when trying to do grand things. And yet it’s forced on us, and I fear that the psychological variable it’s pushing on is connected to many other things. Things that we value, the only things that give us hope.

  3. wolfgang Says:

    Scott,

    very interesting, long blog post.
    So what do you think about Norbert Blum’s proof that P != NP ?

  4. New top story on Hacker News: [Scott Aaronson] What I Believe II (ft. Sarah Constantin and Stacey Jeffery) – The Internet Yard Says:

    […] [Scott Aaronson] What I Believe II (ft. Sarah Constantin and Stacey Jeffery) 6 by seycombi | 1 comments on Hacker News. […]

  5. Anonymous Says:

    This is missing them point. He wasn’t fired for talking about evolutionary psychology or for creating a hostile work environment. For one, he did a piss-poor job of the former, and the latter is a specific legal term. He was fired for being a dick. This isn’t academia; there is no academic freedom in private industry. Instead, you have to be able to work as a team with your colleagues. Did his actions help make Google function better as a company? Or were they intended to create conflict? This isn’t an intellectual exercise. Who would want to work with this guy?

    Or, try https://medium.com/@yonatanzunger/so-about-this-googlers-manifesto-1e3773ed1788

  6. Thomas Nyberg Says:

    In reply to Anonymous #5:

    > Did his actions help make Google function better as a company? Or were they intended to create conflict?

    What evidence is there that Damore wanted to created conflict? Was he the one that leaked the document outside the company? Was he the one that disseminated it widely?

    > This isn’t an intellectual exercise.

    Who are you to decide that? Feel free to refute his points. Why does that require firing him?

    > Who would want to work with this guy?

    If you believe the statistic in the blog post you replied to, the majority of employees of Google would prefer him not to be fired.

  7. Svejk Says:

    The comparison between Damore and Pinker draws a false equivalence. Damore, like almost all US workers, does not enjoy academic freedom or very strong job protections connected to speech (with some exceptions for direct political activity), even when that speech is at the best of his employer. He became problematic for Google and so they fired him. Only the market will determine whether Google acted correctly, according to its interests and imperatives. This episode exposes the significant non-governmental sources of restraint affecting public discourse.

  8. adamt Says:

    On Sarah’s argument – Thank you for an incredibly emotional and passionate plea to remember why we love these fields in the first place. I found this to be the best thing I have read on the subject all week. This impulse to let ideological wars and identity politics overtake the true North Star of our shared human curiosity and love for truth is insidious. Thank you again for the reminder that all human groups (regardless of identify politics and ideology) have explorers among them that happily place ideology and politics as inferior motivation to the search for truth.

    On Stacey’s argument – You mirror my thoughts exactly on the self-own this firing has done for the progressive cause that many on the extreme left purport to be fighting for.

    Scott – I think Damore’s essay clumsy and wonder that you say he did not hint at average technical abilities based on gender. I thought I had saw a hint, but I will have to go back I guess and read again. I would also take issue with the claim that Damore supports your principle number five. Other than that I think we are largely in agreement and I thank you for hosting this discussion and illuminating your thinking on this and the previous post and very much hope this doesn’t open you up to an attack from the extreme SJW’s that will hurt.

  9. Erik Says:

    @Anonymous #5:

    Or, try https://medium.com/@yonatanzunger/so-about-this-googlers-manifesto-1e3773ed1788

    This article strikes me as an unfortunate example of how, even where Damore is wrong, Damore is still consistently the, or one of the, least wrong person(s) involved because Damore at least tries to give argument and reference.

    Zunger’s article just declares from on high that Damore is wrong and then shamelessly admits that he’s not going to spend time backing up his first assertion of wrongness, someone else can do that. Then we get further assertions of alleged wrongness, which I’ll consider in some more detail.

    Zunger goes on about how actually it’s men who are the inferior engineers, in a worrying tone that seems to just handwave and assume away all issues of coding competence as though the only variation were in empathic competence, which women have more of. Filter bubble/preselection bias at work?

    Anyone can learn how to write code; hell, by the time someone reaches L7 or so, it’s expected that they have an essentially complete mastery of technique.

    This strikes me as a highly deceptive statement. Anyone can learn to write “code”, yes, in the sense of HELLO WORLD. But I expect that far from everyone can learn to write code at the L7 level! If you casually assume they can, why not just assume everyone can learn the best empathy too?

    From there we get into a watering-down of the notion of “harm”, and a heckler’s veto reminiscent of the Muhammed Cartoon affair: Zunger says he now couldn’t assign people to work with Damore because people might punch Damore in the face. But this sort of logic grants power of extortion to anyone who threatens to get upset or punch the faces of dissenters. This is a terrible argument. Zealots will frequently be “harmed” (read: outraged) by contrary opinions; reasonable societies massively discount this kind of “harm”. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg if my neighbor says there are twenty gods or none, etc.

    What you just did was incredibly stupid and harmful. You just put out a manifesto inside the company arguing that… [misrepresentation snipped]. And worse than simply thinking these things or saying them in private

    I am rather concerned by that phrasing “worse than simply thinking these things”, particularly in that context (italics original). Smells of thought police.

    Zunger then proceeds to repeatedly caricature and misrepresent Damore’s position, and wishcast ‘I would have fired you even faster and harder!’

    And it would have ended with you being escorted from the building by security and told that your personal items will be mailed to you.

  10. clayton Says:

    > Was he the one that disseminated it widely?
    yep: he sent it as a company-wide memo. This is unusual. And that is why Damore got fired. Not for holding non-group-think-pure views, but for spamming his company with something that he knew was misinterpretable (<– not a word) and likely to cause the discomfort of at least some colleagues.

    In any case, and as usual, I agree essentially entirely with the substance of Scott's post

  11. adamt Says:

    My own thoughts on this are some combination of these three essays here and Scott Alexander’s post and Sabine’s post (to a lesser extent).

    * Damore’s essay was clumsy. It also contained some controversial points that I agree with that are currently nearly taboo to say in public.

    * I can not speak to what is in Damore’s heart. I’d place odds that we are more ideologically opposed than idealogically in agreement. I would not be surprised if he turns out to be more extreme than his memo, but who knows.

    * He should not have been fired and this was a terrible self-own on the part of Google and the other extreme SJW’s. It also strengthens the theory of his memo of a Google’s and the extreme SJW movement’s bias and hypocrisy and give lie to the idea that they are fighting for the values of the enlightenment.

    * Women are subjected to sexism and harassment in STEM far too often and face hurdles that men do not.

    * I’m unconvinced this is any more prevalent in STEM than it is in society as a whole. Look at our President for strongest evidence.

    * In general, the world has gone mad and yet I am thankful to know that the Scott’s, Sarah and Stacey and many many others are out their. I understand why people fear speaking up, but also know that because you have it has helped to lessen my own feelings that I’m somehow alone. I don’t identify with any of the extremes and I am thankful to know that people exist who stand on the side of reason and free discussion and the values of the enlightenment.

  12. Dan Says:

    After presenting his arguments for why it’s a biological fact that women are worse engineers than men, he then proceeds to argue that Google should stop both gender-based diversity programs AND race-based diversity programs. That suggests that either (a) he also thinks there are valid scientific arguments showing that white people are inherently better engineers than black people (which he just forgot to mention), or (b) that the whole thing is just a post-hoc rationalization of his dislike of affirmative action (in which case the comparison to Pinker falls flat: Pinker is doing science; Damore appears to be just cherry-picking results to justify his pre-existing beliefs).

  13. Matthias Says:

    Thank you very much for your making these opinions public. To me it was shocking how this memo has been “discussed” in our press. It was hardly ever mentioned without claiming it a piece of sexism if not as a moral abyss. Note: these was the tone of discussion in usually high-quality german-language newspapers. My wife, who worked as a programmer for 40 years, showed me Scott Alexander’s excellent blog entry (http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exaggerated-differences/). Her comment: “I always felt a distance to my male collegues, who have been mainly interested in technics, whereas I always wanted to use computers to help people”.

  14. adamt Says:

    Another follow-up since I just can not shut up…

    One of the most troubling (and ironic) things for me is the very human tendency for people on all sides to merely glance at Damore’s memo (or just grok the subject matter) and to instantly start to form judgements as to his ideological allegiances and inner thoughts.

    I think his memo is not dispositive either way for me, but I have no doubt that many SJW’s instantly identified him as an ideological enemy and many alt-right’ers instantly identified him as an ally. This is such a *human* tendency to try and place people in groups of friends and enemies.

    It is in many ways the underlying tendency powering sexism and racism and stereotypes. It is also a powerful heuristic, but without error correction it also leads to disaster. I recognize this tendency in the back of my own skull.

    I regard this moment in our human history as a species trying to develop appropriate error correction codes for this powerful algorithm that had been so successful in our evolutionary history, but really is acting as a barrier to our future progress. For me, I think the best error correction code for this is a comfortability with uncertainty. Most people are not comfortable with uncertainty and thus feel compelled to jump to conclusions in the face of incomplete data. That is one reason Feynman is such a hero of mine.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    I would like to elaborate on Stacey Jeffery’s comment, especially by the difference that she makes between racism and something which sounds racist. So this comment is particularly addressed to you: I get your point, but I think that there is a perspective that you’re missing.

    Let’s say that I’m your colleague. In fact, we are sort of colleagues but I would rather stay anonymous because speaking out about race has caused me a great deal of trouble in the past.
    As a person of color, if you were to tell me “I don’t see color”, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” or “Slavery/Colonization was a long time ago” or “My best friend is black/Brown/Asian”, you would instantly raise a flag in my head because those are the kind of things that I hear regularly from racist people. However, some of those expressions are now so common that I would probably give you the benefit of the doubt, ask you to elaborate on your opinion or clarify the fact that using those expressions might be misinterpreted. I am all for having an open discussion about race and I understand that most of my colleagues won’t be able to understand the issues that I am struggling with unless I discuss it with them.

    However, imagine that you were to tell me that “Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.” (I’m citing the memo here, and that’s only one of the few problematic parts.) As painful as it might be for me, I will try to discuss this with you. But if we can’t reach a point of agreement or if we can’t manage to meet each other half way, I think that this is a breaking point.
    And this wouldn’t be because you said something racist or something which sounded racist. I’m totally cool with white people saying racist stuffs from time to time, everybody should be allowed to make mistake.

    The problem is: when James Damore wrote that speech cannot be a form of violence (or whatever refrasing of his statement you come up with), the underlying statement is that the pain that people of color (and women) experience from verbal abuse does not matter. And as someone who has been racially abuse by vile antisemitic trolls, I am sure that Scott Aaronson also knows how painful words can be.
    So, I agree with you that it is unfortunate that Google has chosen to fire him so quickly. However, if Google refused to take a disciplinary action against James Damore and if I was one of his colleagues, I would have decided to quit. How can I work with someone like this? This memo is only the tip of the iceberg and I would not be surprise if it turned out that he made some gruesome comments to colleagues.
    I went through two successive severe depressions and I struggle with anxiety because of the racial abuse that I have been subjected to. And I know from experience that if I need to have regular social interactions with a colleague who cannot acknowledge the way I feel, I won’t be able to stay mentally healthy.

  16. tcheasdfjkl Says:

    One thing on the quantity vs. quality point:

    (This isn’t my point, I saw it elsewhere but I think it should be in the discussion.)

    Damore didn’t only say that there were statistical differences between men and women. He also criticized Google’s diversity programs and said they set different hiring bars by demographic. Those diversity programs have existed for a while and have probably already caused some people to be hired who wouldn’t have been otherwise (but not actually through changing the hiring bar, in my opinion). So it makes sense for people in underrepresented groups at Google to feel like he is saying they are lower-quality workers and shouldn’t be there and to take offense (especially since none of Google’s diversity programs are actually affirmative action).

  17. jk Says:

    let me recommend this little essay by roy baumeister

    http://www.denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm

    here’s baumeister’s wikipedia page for his bio/credentials

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Baumeister

  18. Thomas Nyberg Says:

    In reply to clayton #10:

    > > Was he the one that disseminated it widely?
    > yep: he sent it as a company-wide memo. This is unusual. And that is why Damore got fired. Not for holding non-group-think-pure views, but for spamming his company with something that he knew was misinterpretable (<– not a word) and likely to cause the discomfort of at least some colleagues.

    He sent it company-wide, but he never sent it out publicly. I've never seen any evidence he wanted it public nor that he intended to cause anyone discomfort. If those were his goals, he certainly could have done with a shorter piece. Regardless, he certainly wouldn't have been fired if the media hadn't had the feeding frenzy they did. It would have just ended up another internal document.

    The issue was clearly the media response. I'm not surprised that Google reacted as it did after that response (nor do I entirely blame them), but I think blaming that response on Damore is entirely disingenuous. The media and the general public chose to demonize him though a relatively tiny minority ever read anything he said. We should as a society be a bit ashamed at how easily we throw out reason and grab our pitchforks when our anger is stocked by companies selling ads.

  19. N. Says:

    How do you guys feel about the reports that one of the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville was fired from his job at Top Dog in Berkeley after he was publicly identified in photos of the march?

  20. sam Says:

    I just want to say that this is a brave post.

    You didn’t have to put this up, but I think (hope) it’ll make the world a little bit of a better place, and I hope (but I’m far from certain) that it won’t get you sucked back in to the vortex of hatred and didn’t-read-the-post-before-writing-an-angry-thinkpiece-ism.

    Thanks, Scott.

  21. Ashley Says:

    Anonymous #5,

    “Or were they intended to create conflict?” I have a theory about his intentions. Part of his job responsibilities also included helping with the recruitment, and he was pissed off with the higher management insisting on positions being filled up with women. The memo was just him blowing off some steam.

    Scott,

    [Actually, off topic] If you don’t mind me asking – can you please stop bothering Lily about her math skills??? Maybe she wants to be a ballerina or something (like I wanted to be a mathematician when I was younger). Also remember, did your parents try develop your math skills when you were four?

  22. Superguy Says:

    Simply put, Ms. Constantin would like to have her cake and eat it too.

    She wants the reader to believe that she cares about getting more women into STEM, but undermines her position when she states that “I care a lot more about whether my company achieves its goal of curing 100 rare diseases in 10 years than about the demographic makeup of our team.” Unfortunately for the persuasiveness of her argument, that is exactly the mindset which has allowed those with privilege to downplay the glaring lack of gender and racial diversity in the business world and has lead to white males being over-represented in the most prestigious and highest-paying jobs. Ms. Constantin needs to realize that a “meritocracy” has never existed in America and probably never will; it’s just a code word that allows white people to safely ignore or rationalize the ways in which they benefit from institutions which are set up to discriminate against minorities.

    Ms. Jeffery is entirely correct when she states that “it seems to me [Damore] was fired for associating himself with the wrong ideas, and it does feel a bit like certain subjects are not up for rational discussion.” That’s exactly how social progress occurs. It used to be that those who espoused the virtues of slavery were among the most highly respected people in American public life; now those same statements lead to serious and immediate social stigmatization.

    Mr. Aaronson is sorely misguided if he believes labeling the vast majority of STEM nerds “misogynist monsters” is anything close to approaching libel. Many of us who have had the misfortune of interacting with STEM nerds in a co-educational social or academic context can attest to the fact that a large reason why a gender balance exists in the industry is exactly because of “inherently gross, icky, creepy, discriminatory brogrammer maleness.”

    It seems like it would take a literal miracle for STEM nerds to “do everything they can to foster diversity, including by creating environments that are welcoming for women” given that (1) they should have created such an environment in the first place and (2) they haven’t in the decades women and minorities have been bringing up the demographic disparities in the industry.

  23. adamt Says:

    Continuing to not shut up…

    You could interpret that SJW movement as operatring under the theory that the best error correction code is to use this powerful heuristic against itself. To use this tendency to label and identify based on incomplete data on people they deem to be abusing this tendency by using it too much. To taboo the traditional use of the heuristic and then to nevertheless use the heuristic to identify and shame those that continue to use it.

    This just does not work for me. I think it is highly suspect implementation and fails because of the same problems bedeviling the heuristic itself. This is why implore the SJW’s to find another way. We need to, as a species, grow more comfortable with our own uncertainty and hit pause on the output of this heuristic. That does not mean never using it, but it does mean to look for more evidence. It means recognizing the very real limitations and implications of continuing to use this gift provided to us by our evolutionary past so generously.

  24. jonathan Says:

    I believe that gender diversity is valuable in itself. It’s just nicer, for men and women alike, to have a work environment with many people of both sexes—especially if (as is often the case in STEM) so much of our lives revolves around our work. I think that affirmative action for women, women-only scholarships and conferences, and other current efforts to improve gender diversity can all be defended and supported on that ground alone.

    When I was in high school, I was accepted into a highly selective intensive science summer camp. The campers were 50/50 boys/girls, and at some point it came out that this was due to a new quota, and that in past years the camp had been 75%+ boys. As a 16-year old boy, I was *very* happy about the gender ratio; it certainly made camp a lot more enjoyable!

    But I couldn’t help think about how I would feel if I had not been accepted to the program. Clearly, if the summer camp had in earlier years been 75% boys, then 1/3 of boys who would have been accepted in previous years had been rejected this year, to make way for girls who were less qualified (at least by the admission criteria that had been used in past years).

    This immediately struck me as being simply morally wrong, in precisely the same manner that e.g. rejecting black applicants because you wanted an all-white camp would be wrong.

    I honestly don’t understand why other people don’t see it this way. It seems that my brain naturally universalizes moral principles in a particular way, and that other peoples’ don’t. That’s the nearest I’ve gotten to being able to explain it.

  25. Ashley Says:

    Scott,

    But how do you try help Lily’s math skills, anyways?

  26. svat Says:

    To me the core thing worth pondering, about the reaction, seems to be what Zunger says in #3 of his Medium post:

    What you just did was incredibly stupid and harmful. You just put out a manifesto inside the company arguing that some large fraction of your colleagues are at root not good enough to do their jobs, and that they’re only being kept in their jobs because of some political ideas. […] caused significant harm to people across this company, and to the company’s entire ability to function. And being aware of that kind of consequence is also part of your job […]

    Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldn’t assign any women to deal with this […] You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment.

    You […] “I think one-third of my colleagues are either biologically unsuited to do their jobs, or if not are exceptions and should be suspected of such until they can prove otherwise to each and every person’s satisfaction.” Not all ideas are the same, and not all conversations about ideas even have basic legitimacy.

    I think that, out of context, most of us can agree that anyone who creates “significant harm to people”, and a “textbook hostile workplace environment”, is well within what is reasonable to fire. So the questions are:

    (1) Do most people think the document really argued what is above claimed?

    (2) Do (having / airing) such ideas really cause significant harm, and make it hard for other people to function / do work?

    (3) Is this inevitable? Is this ideal? Do we have a choice? Can we move towards a world (or at least certain settings) where ideas (even “incorrect” or “improper” ones) can be debated without harm being caused to people? Do we want to?

  27. Daniel Says:

    > If the elites, the technocrats, the “Cathedral”-dwellers, were willing to lie to the masses about humans being blank slates—and they obviously were—then why shouldn’t we assume that they also lied to us about healthcare and free trade and guns and climate change and everything else?

    John Michael Greer wrote about this two years ago. And he was shunned by anyone outside of his peer and interest group. Scott Adams did a prediction too…

  28. Eric Says:

    Dan #12, Where in the memo does Damore say that “women are worse engineers than men”?

    As far as I can tell, he only ever says that they are less interested in engineering, on average.

  29. Dan Lewis Says:

    @Jonathan 24

    “But I couldn’t help think about how I would feel if I had not been accepted to the program. Clearly, if the summer camp had in earlier years been 75% boys, then 1/3 of boys who would have been accepted in previous years had been rejected this year, to make way for girls who were less qualified (at least by the admission criteria that had been used in past years).”

    Isn’t this precisely the point? The admissions office observes an outcome that makes them suspect the selection criteria. But they have no better ones. So they intervene.

    The idea that they can just fix the selection criteria and make them even more rational is suspicious. What was stopping them from being fair in the first place? How did they fix that problem? Arguably the imbalance was caused by so called objective measures in the first place.

  30. jonathan Says:

    @Dan 29

    Yes, one legitimate justification for adjusting an admissions criteria is that it is producing results that lead you to think it is biased. (For instance, while my memory is hazy, I think that part of the admission criterion for the camp were letters of recommendation from science/math teachers, which might be biased against female students.)

    But Scott’s comment, and the explanation I heard for the policy of this summer camp, was that the goal of equal representation was seen as desirable in itself, not because the previous outcome was taken as a signal that the original criterion was biased. As in, “Think how much nicer it is to have 50% women!”

    (Of course this relates to Damore’s memo indirectly; but I was actually just responding to Scott’s particular comment about the intrinsic desirability of higher representation of women in STEM fields as grounds for justifying affirmative action, with which I strongly disagree morally.)

  31. Tim Says:

    Dan #12: By writing “why it’s a biological fact that women are worse engineers than men”, you casually introduce an ambiguity that Damore worked hard to avoid: this phrasing could be taken to mean that all female engineers are worse than all male engineers, a (plainly false) statement that Damore explicitly denied more than once.

    Separately, I find it remarkable that no one (that I’ve yet read) seems interested in discussing Damore’s claim that 93% of work fatalities are male. I recall checking a similar figure some years ago on a US government website (perhaps the Bureau of Labour?), and finding that it checked out. If someone has an explanation for how it is that reducing *this* gender disparity figure could be less urgent than the Google employee gap (as measured by media word counts, weighted by visibility), I’d be interested to hear it.

  32. Pär Winzell Says:

    Wow, what an incredibly thoughtful conversation. I had not realized high-signal corners of the web like this still existed. Having consumed all the admirable thinking, I must side with the people who feel that a publishing a ‘manifesto’ declaring that your female coworkers are likely statistical anomalies, this is not an emotionally honest way to engender discussion; it is an act of aggression. And while Damore is intelligent enough to write with discipline, I can’t help but feel that in the subtext, the document fairly bristles with just-barely restrained misogyny. I don’t know if it was right or wrong of Google to fire him, but if all I had ever known of this fellow was that he wrote this, I would try to avoid working with him. A highly paid position at Google is obviously not a right, and surely you can disqualify yourself from continued employment simply by being sufficiently unpalatable to your peers — not because of the opinions you privately hold, but because of the actions you take and your general demanour?

  33. murmur Says:

    “[…]then Steven Pinker deserves to be fired from Harvard for the same offense.”

    Harvard fired Larry Summers for precisely this reason, so Steven Pinker’s job might not be safe after all.

  34. Cowardly anonymous Says:

    A very very very very deeply felt thank you (to all three) from a Googler. This post (together with Scott Alexander’s and some others) are the few straws that keep me sane.

    On a broader point I’d like to remark that, IMO, all this, placed in a broader context (ordered by insanity)
    1) Talks of Milo being banned due to violence and riots.
    2) Talks of Charles Murray being banned.
    3) Richard Dawkins!!!!!!!!! talks being banned.
    4) Beating people with bike locks on the head, because you know deep inside of you, that in this case violence is justified.
    etc…,

    is bound to drive swaths of people to white nationalism, because all other reasonable positions are equally damned.

  35. Stacey Says:

    Anonymous #13: If someone says a “racist-sounding” thing to a colleague, I think it makes sense that someone with authority talk to them about why these kinds of things are not appropriate, and if this behaviour continues, this would seem to constitute harassment, and firing would be appropriate. Depending what was said, maybe firing is even an appropriate first course of action. I absolutely do not claim to be an expert on dealing with workplace harassment, and to be honest, if this happened in my workplace, I would certainly need advice on how to handle it.

    But I agree with you that words can be used as a form of violence and should not be taken lightly.

    I do think that this is different, because Damore’s comments were not directed at a specific person. By the way, I would have completely supported Damore being talked to by HR about what is and what is not appropriate workplace discussion. It had also occurred to me that this may be part of a pattern of behaviour, in which case, maybe firing him was justified.

    To give a more personal perspective, when I see someone say something like what is in the memo, it does make me feel hurt, even if only by what I read between the lines. But the effects of one person’s words are usually short-lived, because for every Damore, there are hundreds of allies affirming their support for women in STEM. What makes me feel worse though is the suggestion that the argument for women in STEM is so fragile that apparently a person who questions it must be silenced. This is when I actually feel self-doubt, because it makes me wonder if I can truly trust these allies, or if deep down we all know that our viewpoint doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

    Superguy #22: If someone had sent around a memo at Google attempting to lay down a rational argument about the virtues of slavery, I would think it a good move for Google to fire that person. But I can’t think of an appropriate context for that to be brought up. In contrast, we as a society _are_ still discussing how to get more women in STEM.

    Further, it seems to me that Damore’s memo did lead to immediate social stigmatization (which I have not argued against).

    You also seem to be suggesting that the current crop of STEM nerds is responsible for the low number of women among their colleagues. If part of the reason for the lack of women is a lack of encouragement from a young age (which my experience supports) it seems unfair to suggest this, unless you think that 20 years ago, the fifth-grade boys should have been encouraging the fifth-grade girls to take more of an interest in computers.

  36. Erik Says:

    Disputed assertions are not violence, and I will feel very hurt by anyone asserting otherwise.

    There, I believe that settles both horns of that particular dilemma.

  37. clayton Says:

    Hi Thomas Nyberg #18,

    We simply don’t know what Google would have done. It’s possible you’re right, or maybe enough folks at the company would have been discomfited by the memo to demand action anyway. Perhaps we can agree that the counterfactual here isn’t that interesting? Or maybe not, it’s getting harder to agree these days.

    I’ve read the memo and found, factually, a lot to agree with — as have most people who read it. But the policy prescriptions and the fact that it was sent company wide simply rule out the notion that this was some pure-hearted intellectual exercise.

    So it seems clear that he wanted to cause discomfort. The desideratum was for a top-level executive to say “the scales have fallen from my eyes, virtue signaling and affirmative action are holding us back” or equivalent. How else would the changes he advocated for been implemented? He may not have wanted each and every employee from an under-represented segment of society to feel uncomfortable, but he certainly understood that hurting some of their feelings was collateral damage. Does such collateral-feelings-hurting push his memo into a territory that violates the Google employee handbook? That’s the conclusion that Google came to.

  38. Kelson Says:

    So, I think there are some considerations that are important when talking about his actual dismissal.

    1. Google is under a compliance audit and is being sued over failure to release adequate information for that audit by the DoL. The official statement included that the DoL had received “compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters”

    2. He released this memo company wide on company infrastructure.

    3. He makes arguments to end programs relevant to the compliance argument without adequate substantive replacements.

    Ultimately, I think the words about his firing publicly are quite different than the actual practical reason for his termination. Practically, he was removed because his actions could have easily been used as further evidence in the investigation and termination was the only option for not implicitly condoning the position. This situation was largely due to the manner in which the document was sent and it’s scope of visibility across the company. Potentially furthering legal jeopardy for you employer is a good way to be shown the door as fast as they can sign the paperwork.

  39. Ron Says:

    1. I don’t think Damore was fired because of his opinions or even because he’s believed to have created a hostile atmosphere for women. He was fired because he caused a massive PR crisis for his employer, which required the CEO of a large corporations to cut short his family vacation. Such an incident would be cause for dismissal at any company.

    2. Damore isn’t an expert in the social sciences; his text suggests that beyond cherry-picking a few studies, he hasn’t even attempted to study the subject in any seriousness at all, or even that he’s interested in doing so. Presenting this case as one of “science” against “social conventions” is factually incorrect. Damore is far less knowledgeable of the relevant science (or, more broadly, the scholarship) than his critics. In addition, the opinions he expresses aren’t radical, revolutionary or even anti-establishment. They are largely the prevaling opinion of the ruling party in the US.

    3. Debating the claims in Damore’s manifesto “on merit” is the very opposite of what scholarship suggests we should do (yeah, social scholarship is complicated, and very much self-referencing, or recursive if you will). The reason is that scientific claims are a very common (and so predictable) strategy in the dynamics of marginalization. Science (or whatever that word meant at the respective times) has been used to justify marginalization of blacks, Jews and women pretty much from the very beginning of the use of the word “science”. I am not a woman, but I am Jewish, and I wouldn’t think I would try to debate the science of whether or not Jews are less qualified than gentiles to be in positions of power.

    4. I won’t go through every statement in the manifesto, but Damore shows his colors (and therefore I think that it is you who misinterprets his text with an overly literal reading; think if the text claimed that Jews are less qualified to be engineers, whether you’d still believe the author was really calling for a dispassionate discussion over science) — and shows his lack of scholarship —
    when he writes “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism”. This is not at all the claim behind the calls for actions to increase diversity. Imagine the owner of a chemical plant who pumps large amounts of radioactive waste into a nearby stream, and the local population suffers from a vastly increased incidence of cancer. He then writes, “we must stop assuming that cancer implies pollution,” and cites findings that clearly show that cancer occurs naturally in the population. No one is calling to force Google to immdiately employ 50% female engineers, just as no one is calling on the plant owner to cure cancer. The statement — by Damore and by the fictional plant owner — is clearly an attempt to allow them to keep polluting, by misrepresenting the calls for action. Cancer surely occurs naturally, and maybe there are biological differences that make women perform differently in the workplace, but sexism, like the water’s pollution, is very real and very actionable, and it merits far more attention _before_ trying to cure cancer. Damore’s manifesto is a clear attempt at misdirection, in an attempt to focus our discussion on an issue which is not really relevant.

  40. a-non Says:

    Fundamentally, what I want is a sort of negotiated agreement or bargain, … nerds also agree never to talk in public about possible cognitive-science explanations … nerds don’t regularly get libelled as misogynist monsters …

    I’d take this bargain.

    But it’s not going to happen. There’s nobody who could credibly sign it, and it isn’t a stable equilibrium. Some guys are dicks, for a start. The career niche for journalists bashing “brogrammers” isn’t going away. Nor can we rewind to a point where the science was terrible & locked up in obscure journals.

    Thus sadly I think we’ll get the opposite, for a while: activists on all sides shouting at ever-higher volume, lots of lawsuits and ever more expensive compliance measures for companies, and the rest of us very carefully keeping our heads below the parapet.

    Until maybe something breaks, and we try to find a new equilibrium. I don’t know what this will look like. I think trying to imagine this stage would be a more interesting exercise than dissecting the current one.

    One option is that all the equality laws get torn out of the law books, and the gender activists are reduced to just being people with opinions. (Nobody got fired for not being a vegan, right?) Another option is that we get an official Hate Speech Board, which enforces a fixed dogma so strongly that nobody dares question it. (Everyone goes to church and takes their children, and nobody gets burned at the stake.) Are there others?

  41. AdHominidaem Says:

    at MIT, women were only 20% or so of the students, but for whatever reasons they were wildly overrepresented among the top students.

    This.
    Significant differences in distributions along a credible success metric is a crucially important signal and an iff indicator of bias in the selection process.
    If women who graduate from an MIT CS program do so with an average GPA that is significantly higher than men it is easily justifiable to proportionally adjust the MIT CS program admission score for women based on that evidence alone, further more it is justifiable on economic/utilitarian, socialist *and* pseudo-darwinian grounds.
    Unfortunately the converse side of this argument as well as it application to other groups is where the above alignment ends and problematicity begins.

    P.S. blog is still broken and leaking names and emails though seemingly not as frequently as before.

  42. Luca Says:

    Hi Scott, actually it’s not clear that Andreev’s function is in polynomial time. It gives you a collection of pairs (x,y) and then it asks you to find a polynomial p such that for every x the pair (x,p(x)) is in the given collection. But if you have (x,y) and (x,z) both in the collection, you can choose p(x) to be either y or z. This looks like the kind of problem for which we have algorithms, but, on second thought, I don’t know of any algorithm that actually works, without some bound on the number of choices that you have for each x

  43. Raoul Ohio Says:

    The brief RO view is that there are absolutely differences between men and women, but that has nothing to do with Damore being an a$$hole.

    If I was running Google, I would call him in for a meeting and point out that his explorations in pop social science are his own business, but they are obviously offensive to many, and don’t be posting them on company discussion boards. If you can’t live with that, I am sure a smart guy who got to step 1 of a Harvard PhD should have no trouble getting another job.

    I often teach programming to large classes at a large university, largely composed of engineering students, which are typically about 80% male. Some differences stand out:

    1. Handwriting. The vast majority of women produce easy to read and attractive writing on tests and quizzes. The same is true for less than half the men.

    2. Preparation. Evidence of “being prepared for class” is much higher in women than man.

    3. Screwups. It is rare to have a woman student be a total screwup (skips class, late or never assignments, can’t do anything on a quiz or test, etc.). There are always plenty of men in the screwup category.

  44. Armchair Historian Says:

    “I think the social-justice side is currently failing to uphold its end of this imagined bargain.”

    But why wouldn’t they? It clearly is a tactic that works. The “nerd” side of this conflict is completely powerless, as the Damore incident showed.

    It’s like the Melians suing for peace in Thucydides’ famous dialogue. What exactly do they have to offer?

  45. Bruno Beltran Says:

    Clayton:
    > and the fact that it was sent company wide

    I think this is one of the many serious misunderstandings that plague the document. I think saying he sent it out company wide is a misrepresentation. He didn’t cc the company on an email.

    According to all my googler friends who work at the mountain view office, this document was posted to an internal forum group dedicated to this particular kind of discussion. The fact that it’s accessible to the entire company does not mean that it’s intended audience was the entire company.

    I think given the context of how googlers tend to share internal communications, it is clear that he meant to start a conversation specifically only with people that were interested. The fact that the whole company ended up reading it was frankly also likely due to internal social media frenzy, and not because he was being intentionally inflammatory or intentionally marketing the document.

  46. AdamBW Says:

    -> I started this a while ago, and not surprisingly the discussion has evolved a little since then. In short, I agree with the people saying Google was within their rights to fire James, and I went through the memo to find some examples of why.

    ————

    @Sarah, Stacy & Scott – first, big thanks for sharing your opinions on this. I agree with the bulk of what each of you has said, and where I disagree I suspect the root of the disagreement is simply some minor difference in definitions.

    That being said, I think Google was well within it’s rights to fire James Damore, and I think the argument (quoting Peter Singer):
    “James Damore, a software engineer at Google, wrote a memo in which he argued that there are differences between men and women that may explain, in part, why there are fewer women than men in his field of work. For this, Google fired him.”

    misses most of the complexities of the issue.

    To explain my point I think it might be helpful to hightlight some of the parts of the memo that strike me as particulairly (buzzword!) problematic.

    1. After citing some articles which measured sex differences between men and women, he concludes one of these differences :

    “leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.” (p.4)

    To begin with, this conclusion is (as far as I can tell) completely unsupported by any of the science he cites. He does follow this statement up by saying he’s just talking about “average differences”, but the statement: “women, on average, are worse at leading then men” strikes me as more more motivated by sexism than science.

    2. Probably this is just a terminology problem, but it’s an important one: throughout the memo James refers to Google’s current attempts at reducing the gender gap as “discriminatory”. I suspect he uses the word to refer to a programs which treat men and women differently. To myself, and a significant portion of the population who use the same language as me such a program would only be discriminatory if it gave women an unfair advantage over men after all the cultural/societal effects were also accounted for (think of that equality vs. equity picture that showed up on the internet a while ago: https://goo.gl/images/FGkDcV). When you use language this way, it sounds like James is suggesting women now have things unfairly good when compared to men, and that they are actually overrepresented in tech compared to where they should be biologically. Note — I don’t think this is what he actually means, but I do think it explains some of the backlash against the memo, and I think it’s the sort of thing he should have checked his language for before sending it company-wide.

    3. Many more bizarre/scientifically dubious/potentially sexist statements scattered around. Some examples:

    His use of air quotes around the word diversity, as in: “Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not ‘diverse’ enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)” (p. 6)

    He seems to claim scientific consensus regarding biological IQ differences between people: “Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences).” (p. 7)

    This rather strange tangent: “Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.” ” (p. 7 footnote)

    I’m using all of these examples not to argue that James Damore is necessarily a bad person, but support the following claim:
    If I had to give advice to a female friend choosing between working at Google on a team with James, or at a different company, I’d almost certainly argue in favor of the other company.

    I suspect keeping James on would have cost Google top female (and probably male) talent. He distributed company wide a poorly researched and tone-deaf memo which gave the impression that he may harbor sexist beliefs. The main issue was not that he claimed sex-based differences between men and women, but the conclusions he drew from that claim and the language he used to present his argument. And for that, I think Google was well within their rights to fire him.

  47. John Faben Says:

    “When I taught 6.045 (undergrad computability and complexity) at MIT, women were only 20% or so of the students, but for whatever reasons they were wildly overrepresented among the top students.”

    It seems like this is exactly what you’d expect if ability distributions were the same for both genders but interest was not, unless ability and interest are completely uncorrelated. i.e., women who are interested in CS will on average be noticeably better than men who are interested in CS, but I haven’t seen anyone mention this, so I feel like I must be missing something.

  48. jo Says:

    Well, thank you for these points of view. I think that they are based on the assumption that STEM is the same thing as “an IT company” It is not the same thing, and not the same people group. Apart from that, some comments are very insightful in refuting or confirming some arguments.
    On a wider note about “SJW”, I personally identify more and more with them, this dates from US police shooting black people, migrants dying in the mediterranean and people, who have an almost perfect first world life in my home country (France) voting for the far right… I’m simply fed up with this and I stopped trying to understand or protect the sensitivities of racists and misogynists. You voted for Trump or Le Pen? Well I will call you a racist, no excuses. You write a memo that seems to have an underlying racist tinge and get fired? Too bad, you don’t get my sympathy. I just had enough. To badly translate a french singer “Yes I’m politically correct, and you can go f… yourself” 😉

  49. Anonymous Says:

    I work at Google. I keep hearing the misconception that this document was a “memo” that was “sent company-wide” (e.g. see comment #37). This is completely false. Google has over 50,000 employees. There is no path for low level employees to email the entire company. The document was a Google doc which was made accessible within the company and which was given a shortened URL to access. The knowledge of this URL spread organically through word of mouth and other internal communication channels.

  50. Anders Says:

    There is only one forbidden idea and it is forbidden because is is far too popular. The forbidden idea is that there should be fewer female programmers. Statements about difference in tendency or preference are unobjected to when they are used to propose means to achieve more female programmers but are objected to when they are used to support the thesis that there should be fewer female programmers.

  51. Dan Staley Says:

    I’m a Google employee (not one with any power in this situation, but I watched this all unfold firsthand), and I think it’s really important to clarify something:

    Damore said a lot of things in his manifesto, and if you read the leaked email from Sundar Pichai (Google’s CEO) it’s clear that much of what he wrote was absolutely fine and would not have gotten him fired on its own.

    However, tucked into his reasonable criticisms of diversity efforts and PC culture, he has statements like “Men have more drive for status than women” and “Women have a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.” It’s these statements that got him fired.

  52. Noah Motion Says:

    …what role they might play in 80% of graduating veterinarians now being female…

    I appreciate the symmetry of there being 80-20 splits in opposite directions in (Google-based) tech and veterinary medicine, but I feel compelled to point you to the gloriously gender-unbalanced field I (a white, jew-ish male) happen to work in: Speech-Language Pathology, which is 97.5% female. Ctrl-F “speech” on this BLS site to confirm.

    In case of a need for discussion of racial and/or ethnic imbalance, SLP’s got you covered there, too. It’s only 2.9% African-American, 3.2% Asian, and 9% Hispanic or Latino.

  53. wolfgang Says:

    @Dan #50

    >> “Women have a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.” It’s these statements that got him fired.

    I am either too old or otherwise confused; is this not what feminists are saying?

  54. clayton Says:

    Thanks for the pertinent information, commenters #45 and #48! In fact I was wondering why he had “CC all” privileges…

    At some level this changes how I think about this particular case (though I’ll say for the record that this case doesn’t inform much of my present-day worldview)

  55. szopen Says:

    “the failure to make this one elementary distinction, between quality and quantity, already condemns 95% of Damore’s attackers as not having read or understood what he wrote.”

    I think this is completely wrong and misrepresents the Damore’s memo. Statistical anomalies are things which are extremely rare. The group of people which are less common are not statistical anomalies – they are simply less common.

    @AdamBW
    “it sounds like James is suggesting women now have things unfairly good when compared to men, and that they are actually overrepresented in tech compared to where they should be biologically”
    IF the women are “biologically” less interested in pursuing STEM, and assuming exactly the same abilities, THEN it’s obvious that any attempt at making it easier for women to get a job in STEM field IS unfair discrimination and causes them to be overrepresented.

    ““women, on average, are worse at leading then men” strikes me as more more motivated by sexism than science. ”
    You are (I hope not dishonestly) misrepresenting Damore’s sentence. Damore had not written “are worse” but “have harder time”. This is NOT the same. “Are worse” is about ability “have harder time” is about psychological comfort.

    FInally, I do teach computer science courses in a country where representation of women in STEM fields is far from equal (hence my poor command of English). From my experiences, female students are more consistent on average. Now, I do not claim this is about every student; however, after ten years of teaching I have now a stereotype which usually is confirmed: girls are solid, do what they are expected to do, they follow instructions, and are solid B graders. Male students, on the other hand, are really diverse.

    Obviously, this stereotypes might be because of female underrepresentation: I have about 10 girls in a year, while about 70 to 80 boys; so every year I may expect to see 1-in-100 male expert programmer and 1-in-100 absolute male mistake who shouldn’t be here. But still, all the students who had impressed me with their over-the-average coding abilities (as contrasted with general grasp of the theory) were males. All assembler hackers were male. All students who were early adopters of some weird language or technology were male. All who would code some additional quirk or some non-canon twist in the project just because it would be cool were male. All who wrote in vi when not forced to do it were male. All who tested new linux distributions just because they heard they are new, cool distros were male.

  56. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Dan Staley #50,

    I don’t know if that’s supposed to be more reassuring or simply informative, but frankly, that’s much more disturbing. That women are less inclined to negotiate for salary or ask for raises is very well established , to the point where Linda Babcock wrote a whole book just trying to get women to be more comfortable asking for raises . This is a real and substantial problem (whether it is biological or cultural or some mix of the two), and the idea that bringing that up is part of what got Damore fired is more, not less concerning.

  57. fred Says:

    Is it realistic to expect that every entity in society that’s more than one individual should always reflects all the possible statistical distributions of the population as a whole (in terms of gender, race, economic profile, education, IQ, physical capabilities, religion, politics, body-mass index, disabilities,…)?

    A thought experiment (which become reality pretty soon) – let’s say we start “virtualizing” all human interactions. We would no longer deal with each other face to face, but always through some neutral avatar proxies.
    We would still expect people with common interests and ideas to find each other somehow (e.g. the group of ppl who think that space exploration is way more important than other endeavors).
    Gender/race biases may no longer be an issue, but we would still find that various groups are misrepresented based on ideas/beliefs, bank account, or simply personal character traits (competitive, ambitious, generous,…).

  58. lukkas Says:

    The Trevisan updated his opinion and p np proof status is still not clear.

  59. Anonymoss Says:

    To #24: Regarding the summer camp comment thread.

    Do you know about the experiments with hiring women for orchestras? I don’t recall the details, but orchestras hired mostly men. Then the orchestras introduced a new procedure where a candidate sat behind an opaque curtain during their audition. The number of women hired then increased dramatically.

    Do you think this is unfair to the men who would have been hired had they not introduced the curtains? Or do you think the previous non-use of the curtains was unfair to the women who would have been hired prior to the introduction of this anonymizing audition procedure?

    The point is that knowing the identity/gender of a candidate obviously biased the opinion of a juror on the quality of a candidate. It may have been a (large) unconscious bias rather than rampant sexism.

    Maybe the summer camp’s acceptance criteria was biased and they didn’t know how to fix it. The quota was the substitute curtain.

    In other words, the use of audition curtains exposed the huge bias/discrimation against female musicians. Suppose that there were no curtains available. How to best approximate the outcome achieved by the curtains? An outcome with a quota/no curtain would have achieved a better approximation than an outcome based on no quota/no curtain.

  60. A B Says:

    Damore’s memo was a *reaction* to already in-place policies at Google. It’s fine to hold Damore to a high standard (i.e., should be an expert in the social sciences, etc…). But one should hold the enactors of the policies to the same high standard.

    And let’s be clear — the policies are based on an accusations against male programmers. Usually, we hold accusers to a high standard of proof. Accusers are the ones who have to convince people that the accusations are correct, not the reverse.

    There are many academics here – academics are used to challenges of their statements. So here’s a challenge:

    The claim is that sexism almost exclusively drives the difference in number of male programmers and female programmers. That no other reason could possibly contribute meaningfully to the disparity. Have they shown that?

    If the claim is correct, it follows that one could literally rank all professions in order of sexism just by looking at the proportion of males in the profession. Even if you exclude physically intensive work (i.e., boxing, jack-hammer operator), there are still wide disparities between programmers and, for example, lawyers or doctors. Is the claim that doctors and lawyers are less sexist than programmers? That Radiologists are less sexist than pediatricians?

  61. another anonymous Says:

    Thank you for this great post. Especially that of Sarah Constantin was a joy to read!

    One point I would like to add to this discussion is the concept of “stereotype threat”. In short: If you believe you are inferior, you will perform worse. Which is why I believe that the notion that women are — on average — less suited for CS is a dangerous thing, even if it was true (I have no clue about that).

    Or see it the other way around (this is my personal and not very scientifically informed position): Once you believe that you are great at what you do, and if everyone around you believes in what you do, you will work as hard as you can to prove yourself and everyone else right. You are committed to what you do! On the other hand, if you have doubts, if you believe that are most likely below average … it’s so much easier to give up early. Nobody will be disappointed in you and you have a good excuse why you didn’t succeed.

    So … if you’re told that you are, most likely, not particularly suited for what you do, you might be inclined to give up so much earlier.

    This is why I believe that telling someone that they belong to a group that is, on average, below average, is a bad thing. Even if it was true.

    My position is somewhat backed up by the story of a friend of mine. It’s purely anecdotal of course. The story goes as follows: My friend was one of the very female CS students in our class. For some reason it seemed clear between her boyfriend of that time and her, that he was the gifted one and she was not. And indeed, she was mediocre at best. This changed radically the day she got the best grade in theorectical computer science while he didn’t pass. From then on, she was — and stayed — at the top of the class.

    The moral of this story for me was that our expectations mold our efforts and thus our perfomances. Which is why I believe we shouldn’t lower expectations, even if there was empirical evidence for it.

  62. Doug K Says:

    Dr Constantine and Dr Jeffrey are reluctant to address “Damore’s attempt at scientific argument, which is outside my area of expertise.”
    Let us hear from Dr Sadedin, who does have expertise in this area:
    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/answer/Suzanne-Sadedin
    “the argument in the document is, overall, despicable trash.”

    To the point,
    “how can they refute the slander without talking about other possible explanations for fields like CS being 80% male ?”
    The problem here is that CS is not 80% male, except in the USA in recent history.
    So the explanation we seek needs to account for the USA in the late 20th and early 21st century specifically. Soviet Russia, Soviet East Germany, the USA in the 80s and before, India now, etcetera, etcetera, do not display the 80/20 split. This suggests strongly that Damore’s arguments cannot be correct. The explanation we seek appears to be time-bound and constrained by a specific culture. Grand sweeping biological arguments need not apply.

    Nerds are not the ones under attack here. Nerds are nerds and welcome one another in all their variations of colour and alignment. Male video gamers acculturated to the video game depiction of women, and male fortune-seekers, are the ones mostly responsible for the toxic environment in US IT. These aren’t nerds. I speak as a nerd, who misses all the companionship of all the nerds in my CS classes and work, before CS became a way to make outrageous amounts of money.

  63. Doug K Says:

    ps after reading John Stuart Mill, I can recommend proceeding to read Mrs Warren’s Profession, George Bernard Shaw,
    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1097

  64. Eli Says:

    I feel like the whole furor over Damore’s memo misses the dark heart of why tech fails to diversify: the constant emphasis on passion about the work.

    “I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

    At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.”

    You shouldn’t need to have such passion for your work that you build work stuff in your off time, just to get the job. Change this expectation, and you get a far larger recruitment pool of both men and women. Stop making it about whether your coworkers are “my people” or not. In law and medicine we consider it a problem, a good-old boys’ network, when hiring officers expect candidates to be “my people”.

    Why don’t we consider that a good-old boys’ network in tech, or academia?

  65. Fabricator Says:

    Sometimes I feel like I’m living on Mars. I despise alt-righters like Trump, but I also despise SJWs.

    I resent racism and affirmative action, isolationism and open-door policy seem both absurd to me.

    I just feel that people should get into schools and workplaces based on their abilities, not color of skin or genitalia.

    And I think we should help refugees but that is not our duty to let everyone in just because they want to.

    I’m afraid of Islamists and fascists.

    I am forced to pick a side, but all I see are many bad options.

    Where is place for people like me?

  66. Jr Says:

    Dan #50, the supposedly sexist statements you cite are things I have heard plenty of times from feminists. Of course, they probably would not ascribe the difference to biology (but they don’t always clarify that) and most importantly they they spin it in a different way. That men are status-seeking is portrayed as negative and a problem with men and the supposed lack of female assertiveness is a reason feminism is needed.

    Lots of people are claiming that Damore was not fired for just opposing current SJW thinking but because his actions crossed some other line. Obviously, nobody knows what would have happened if he rephrased it but it is a fact that many SJW called for his firing on the grounds that women could not be expected to work with someone of those opinions. These people did not cite some specific statement in the document, but the basic idea, and it is irrelevant how much he spread his ideas. Just thinking them would disqualify him from working basically anywhere according to them. Since I am less sympathetic to diversity programs than what Damore is it stands to reason that they think that I should be unemployed as well.

    I do agree that Damore could have phrased himself better, if he had cited the Quran instead of scientific studies I think he would have fared a better chance with the current crop of leftists.

  67. E. Oxenford Says:

    he said the kinds of things that you usually only hear from sexist people

    This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you criticize centrists like James Damore for saying things that “you usually only hear from sexist people,” then they’ll stop saying those things, and the only people left saying them will be sexist people. It’s pure survivorship bias.

  68. Erik Says:

    I keep circling around to the Mohammed Cartoons of ten years ago when I think about this affair.

    Many people were upset by seeing or hearing about the Mohammed Cartoons (and exaggerations thereof in the Laban dossier). A large subset of these upset people had certainly had quite unfortunate personal lives, and were also part of communities that had histories of suffering at the hands of certain other communities whose members participated in drawing the ‘toons. So there was quite a range of complaints and demands for how the cartoonists should be punished, from lone wolf murder attempts to ambassadors with their usual vague florid diplomatic language saying the press shouldn’t be allowed to “abuse Islam” like this.

    And yet, I would contend the broad trend of things described here as the wider “Enlightenment” should only have a single unequivocal response: No, we’re not going to punish the cartoonists. No, not even under the table. No subject is off the table, no belief is exempt from scrutiny, no conclusion is set in stone. Cartoons may remind you of past oppression and violence, but the ‘toons are not themselves violence and we are not going to punish the cartoonists.

    And what goes for the publicly mocking, practically content-free ‘toons surely should go twice over for Damore’s privately published discussion essay. If you feel hurt by reading the essay, that is unfortunate. But his essay neither picked your pocket nor broke your leg, to paraphrase Jefferson, so it belongs firmly in the category of statements about whether there are twenty gods or none – the category of statements that one is sadly obliged to put up with as part of living in an open society that has free discourse, questioning and discovery. Even when they sting.

  69. Jamie McCarthy Says:

    C’mon. This:

    “the question at hand is just why there are fewer women in these positions, and that in turn becomes a question about why there are fewer women earlier in the CS pipeline”

    is just not an accurate paraphrase of Damore’s MRA screed. This doesn’t pass the laugh test. You’re not addressing this seriously.

  70. Jr Says:

    By the way, the whole situation is immensely depressing to me. I do support efforts to increase women in science because I think there are women who would do very good work and I care about science. Nor would I be upset if someone was against efforts to have more women in science.

    Unlike Scott I don’t consider the benefits of a nicer atmosphere because of gender balance to be sufficient reason for diversity initiatives. In fact, I would probably not consider a 50-50 mix to give the nicest atmosphere, I think I would prefer a more male-dominated environment for my closest colleagues. That is a personal preference, of course, which I neither expect anyone else to share nor feel the least ashamed of.

    I did enjoy the essays, they make interesting points and gave interesting perspectives. I also applaud the bravery to write them and the ability to write with such nuance under the circumstances.

    One thing I would like to add is that from the point of view of Google making hiring decisions or universities deciding on admissions to graduate school it is might be irrelevant what role biology plays. Early childhood socialization might certainly play a role in explaining why there are fewer female engineers but from the perspective of Google they are as unchangeable as our genetic code and if such cultural factors lead to fewer women entering the field of programming I certainly would not think it is reasonable for Google to aim for a 50-50 split, though in that case one could discuss whether other actions should be taken to change those cultural factors.

  71. Anonymous Says:

    However, tucked into his reasonable criticisms of diversity efforts and PC culture, he has statements like “Men have more drive for status than women” and “Women have a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.” It’s these statements that got him fired.

    Of course, there is context, and this could have been meant the wrong way given that. But there is nothing wrong with this statement per se at a purely objective level — I am a strong diversity advocate, and at least where I come form, it is part of a sane diversity initiative to accept this and think how to change it.

    It could be a literal political mine field to step into the realm of giving reasons for that, but statistically speaking, these are (unfortunately!) somewhat verifiable statements …

  72. Griffe Fan Says:

    I believe that there’s no noticeable difference in average ability between men and women in STEM fields

    This belief may sound reassuring, but even if the average difference isn’t noticeable in everyday life, it can still be important when selecting for high levels of ability. This is because the normal distribution (“bell curve”) is nonlinear—small differences in average (mean) ability can have disproportionate effects on the extreme parts (tails) of the distribution.

    Even if men’s STEM abilities are only slightly higher than women’s abilities on average, that could still account for much of the disparity in the tails.

    Moreover, the M/F ratio in the tails is more sensitive to differences in standard deviation (spread) than it is to differences in mean. So even if the means are identical, relatively small differences in standard deviation can have enormous effects 3–5+ SDs above the mean.

    Given that the SD for men (in essentially all traits) is generally higher than it is for women, this might account in part for the differential representation of men and women in technical fields.

    (Note that this leads to a result that’s difficult to reconcile with the “socialization” and “discrimination” theories of gender gaps: due to the higher male SD, men are overrepresented in both tails. In other words, most of the best STEM performers and most of the worst performers are male.)

    The only way to know how much of the gender disparity might be due to differences in the underlying distributions is to (a) measure the mean and SD gaps and (b) do some calculus with the normal distribution.

    This understandably presents a high barrier to entry for the typical armchair expert on gender gaps in STEM.

    Luckily, you don’t have to do all the work yourself. For an engaging yet rigorous account of these considerations, focusing specifically on the M/F gap in mathematics, see “Sex Differences in Mathematical Aptitude” and “The Math Sex Gap Revisited: A Theory of Everyone” by the inimitable La Griffe du Lion.

  73. Sandia Says:

    Some great points in the above post. For me:

    1. Political positions, academic appointments and jobs are not “prizes” to be doled out demographically. Society works best when these positions are optimally filled. There were many reasons that HRC lost the election but one for sure was the argument that “it was time for a women”. This “prize” mentality deservedly generates opposition that weakens the original objective.

    2. Taking the largest debate issue off the table – ability- is a good way to proceed. Stipulating equal abilities we need to ask if we expect equal demographic representation in all fields. The only argument for that would be the argument that men and women are exactly the same, have the same interests, like to do the same things in their free time, etc. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that this is not true, and not true from an early age.

    3. If you agree that we are not likely to have demographic equality in all fields given difference in interests between men and women, but want to engineer the distribution further because you think diversity has it’s own value above individual efficacy then make that case. You could argue that the diverse group with a lower average individual performance might out perform the non diverse group with higher individual average performance.

    4. This generation of women is hardly helpless, and

  74. anonymous Says:

    I was struck by the juxtaposition of two of the author’s remarks:

    “I believe it’s a tragedy that the current holder of the US presidency is a confessed sexual predator, who’s full of contempt not merely for feminism, but for essentially every worthwhile human value. I believe those of us on the “pro-Enlightenment side” now face the historic burden of banding together to stop this thug.”

    “Any comment, from any side, that attacks people rather than propositions will be deleted. I don’t care if the comment also makes useful points: if it contains a single ad hominem, it’s out.”

    No attacks on people you say? I guess consistency really is the hobgoblin of little minds.

  75. Sniffnoy Says:

    Great post by Sarah (and, y’know, very good post by the rest of you 🙂 ).

    I’ve my own thoughts on the matter which, uh, maybe I’ll get around to posting here, but there’s one particular mistake you make, Scott, which I thought I should point out.

    (…except actually on rereading, um, the mistake I thought I saw doesn’t appear to be there. Uh, I’m just going to post the rest of this comment anyway, if you don’t mind, because the rest I think is important.)

    Namely: It’s a mistake to think that everyone who’s against Trump is against Trump because they’re pro-Enlightenment and he’s anti-Enlightenment! Many are against Trump for entirely different reasons.

    Let me go further: It’s a mistake to think that the “regressive left”, the “illiberal left”, is just, let us say, lapsed liberals. People who still espouse liberal, Enlightenment, ideals but aren’t very good at noticing how they apply.

    This isn’t the case. Much of the illiberal left is openly hostile to the Enlightenment ideals. They are illiberal by ideology, not just by action. Grouping liberals in with them as “the left” is a mistake; the two groups really don’t have much in common. Leftism — that’s Leftism with a capital “L” — simply is not a type of liberalism, and liberalism is not a type of Leftism, even if they’ve often made common cause. (OK, note here: I realize SJ and Leftism are not 100% the same thing. But to my mind they are similar enough and I am trying to outline a sort of pole here, an extreme that people approximate and which makes for a useful reference point, rather than the actual opinions that people actually hold. So I hope you don’t mind if I deliberately conflate them for the time being.) This is one reason I think the left-right political spectrum obscures more than it helps. Personally I tend to think in terms of a 3-polar model, with the poles being liberalism, authoritarianism, and Leftism; sometimes adding a fourth pole which is straight amorality. But who knows if that’s actually a good model at all…

    Still, regardless of what overall model you use, these are three different groups, and there’s no unique way to group them so as to get only two. If we believe in a left-right political spectrum, we’d probably group Piper Harron together with Sarah, noting their common opposition to Trump. That’s surely how Trump would group them. On the other hand, it’s clear that many Leftists think of liberals as accomplices to authoritarianism, seeing as how y’know we believe in such things as free speech even for Nazis. They’d probably put the liberals and authoritarians together. And the third way of grouping them works just as well! Going by Sarah’s description, Piper Harron seems to believe in a zero-sum world, where everyone’s gain is someone else’s loss. Who else does that describe? Donald Trump. A liberal might reasonably seem them both their ideas as threats to the liberal order which has kept the peace and created so many wondeful things.

    The thing to notice here is that different ideologies care about different things. Paraphrasing Taymon Beal, opposing ideologies don’t see each other in reverse, they see each other at an angle. This is why I talk of poles, rather than of axes and dimensions. What happens when you do attempt to draw an axis? Well, if there’s one thing that you primarily care about, you’re probably going to draw an axis based on that. And all these other groups that don’t care about are therefore going to look similar, because, despite all their differences, they don’t care about the thing that you do.

    But yeah — the illiberal left seems to be on the rise, and liberalism on the wane. It’s scary, and I don’t know what to do about it. But you are not going to convince these people by appealing to Enlightenment ideals; they reject Enlightenment ideals. Instead, it seems to me, you will either have to

    A. Accept that they’re different and make common cause with them anyway for the time being… except that they don’t seem very inclined to do that. Or,
    B. Go back to basics and actually make the case for Enlightenment ideals from scratch.

    And fortunately people are starting to do B. (Sarah’s one of them! Although this is an argument against authoritarianism, not what we’re discussing here.) But man — it sure looks like the actual population of liberals was never very thick, and most people were simply going along because it was what they were taught. :-/ Inevitable, I suppose… :-/

    (And remember — if you want to make your case from scratch to someone who’s coming from a very different framework… you really have to seal the edges and make sure you’re pre-answering their objections. Present your point of view as fully as you can; if you just present a fragment, attempting to replace a fragment of theirs, they’ll just, y’know, see that according to the rest of their framework this new fragment is false and reject it. You need to make it clear you’re presenting something trully different, something whole, not something that fails to interface with the rest of their framework but something that isn’t meant to.)

    Anyway. You can see right here in this comments section there’s plenty of illiberalism, often quite open. (Anonymous #15 not only makes the claim that speech can be considered to be violence, but further asserts that he would refuse to work with anyone who would not also endorse this claim! Of course, maybe he’s just a lapsed liberal. I can’t look inside his head. Superguy #22 however is clearly coming from a Leftist, not liberal, point of view. I hope this does not violate Scott’s rule against “ad hominem”; I don’t think this is an “attack” on these people, I’m just pointing out I think they’re very, very, very wrong, about as wrong as it’s possible to be. 😛 But also, if you’re a liberal, take note of how bizarre and nonsensical Superguy’s arguments sound to you — and realize that that is what your arguments will sound like to them unless you do a hell of a lot more work!) But I don’t really want to take the time to argue against every bit of it. So instead I’d just like to remind people: Whether and to what extent James Damore is on the object level correct or not is substantially less important that the liberal principle that it is important not to deter people from telling you when they think you’re wrong — even if they’re wrong. So while I have my opinions on that, I’ll just skip them (also they’d like double the length of this comment 😛 ). “But Damore was wrong!” shouldn’t be an argument for deterring him from speaking.

    That said, since I did just write a defense of liberalism and free speech over in a comment thread on Hacker News, I guess I’ll link that for those who are curious.

    TLDR:
    A. Leftism and liberalism should not be confused
    B. If people think you are wrong it is important that you not deter them from saying this, even if in fact they are wrong; whether Damore was correct on the object level is less important than this

  76. Otterbee Says:

    As a philosophy nerd but self-identified social justice warrior, I think we’ve gotten ourselves into a lot of trouble by pre-committing to certain principles. Specifically, we’ve adopted the deep-seated American notion that meritocracy is an end-in-itself rather than a means to an ends. People who are better, more able, should be rewarded, in recognition of their betterness. Call this “ethical meritocracy.” The problem with this for progressives is that it presumptively ratifies inequality in distribution of outcomes, and any objection has to be based in outside forces getting in the way.

    To me, this seems like an extraordinarily risky assumption! And if you do encounter situations where unequal distributions of either ability or interest lead to unequal outcomes, you’re going to want to fix it. But then you push for equality by focusing on the culture and the inputs instead of the outcomes, and nothing happens, so you push harder, and so on. And pretty soon people are baying for blood. (To be clear, I think oppression is real, and sexism and racism are real, and need to be dealt with. But I want to find them and deal with them effectively, not assume a priori that unequal distributive outcomes are *evidence* of bias).

    So I think we’re on the wrong path to begin with. Instead of treating meritocracy as a moral principle, we should recommit to a robust egalitarianism, where, to the extent possible, we want humans to lead lives of happiness, dignity, and freedom. Meritocracy is often the right way to do this, since finding the best people for a job means more consumer surplus, which is better for everyone! But it’s permissible only insofar as it makes life better for some without making life worse for any (what Rawls calls the “difference principle.” Regardless of your philosophical commitments, everyone should read Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice”).

    As a policy matter, this means we are committed to redistributive policies, like more robust distributive taxation (maybe even something like a Guaranteed Basic Income), and strong regulations around family and medical leave, disability rights, and hiring discrimination laws. Probably also universal medical care and universal housing (although the more robust our basic income, the less the government has to actually do those things outright). It also means that we stop treating genius as inherently praiseworthy, which gets a little Harrison Bergeron-y.

    But I think it’s better in the long run to have our philosophical commitments jive with empirical commitments, and it puts a lot of liberal commitments which right now are only based on a kind of utilitarianism (“it is wrong to let people suffer”) into a framework with more available tools, that jives more with most people’s non-utilitarian notions of justice.

  77. Ash Says:

    Sadly I do not believe your 1 & 2 are sufficient.

    Us nerds can be given respect and we can stop being nerd shamed, but Google’s SocJus (and SocJus in general) literally brags of the blacklists they are maintaining and even how they will disparage people not just currently at Google but to any employer.

    If what James Damore says is true, I am likely a member of Google’s overt discriminatory hiring practices. I am likely a member of a class of people (old farts) that are recognized as disadvantaged in Silicon Valley, and yet there are no feminists or Diversity Officers standing up for us.

  78. Ash Says:

    > “Women have a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.”

    If you google that for times prior to last weekish, you’ll see that’s the basis for a googol articles written by women for women on the importance of learning to negotiate and ask for salary.

    You’ll also see that that’s the basis for Ellen Pao when she was at reddit to do away with salary negotiations.

    It’s why UC Berkeley’s MBA program has a course (or had) on negotiations that was hugely loved, taught by a woman, and at least 50% if not more of the students were women.

    Like a lot of Damore’s article, it was okay when feminists said it or when white coated scientists said it.

    It just wasn’t okay when to be said after a diversity session.

  79. Charlie Croker Says:

    Several commenters seem to take for granted that there are no sex differences in intelligence (or at least single abilities) and blame all statements to the contrary on “sexism”. But the truth value of a statement is generally independent of the intentions of its author. The comment I found the most troublesome in this regard was #39 which explicitly states that we should even ignore whether statements are true as soon as someone feels “marginalised” by these statements. This sounds outright Orwellian to me.
    For example, many researchers believe that while the average IQ of both sexes is the same, the variance is different, implying there are more highly intelligent men and more mentally retarded men, while women tend towards the average. Since fields like software engineering (or STEM in general) require above average intelligence, this is a potential explanation for the “underrepresentation” of women in STEM, even without any discrimination at all and not taking sex differences in career interests in account.
    As many have pointed out, Damore has backed up his claims with sufficient citations. At the same time, recall that this is an internal memo and not a scientific paper. Who else uses citations in internal memos at all?
    At the same time, the argument that Damore is not a social scientist is ad hominem and irrelevant because his points are also supported by researchers in the field – some even support much more radical positions in this context than Damore.

    However, although I (as a free speech absolutist) disagree with the firing of Damore, I can understand why Google did it. Despite their official proclamations, I think it is clear that Google does not value “diversity” at all. Why else would they treat their employment statistics as though they were competitive trade secrets of the utmost importance instead of releasing them to the public?
    The same goes for most other tech companies. They are not interested in abolishing their merit-based admission process and employing anyone below their high standards to increase the number of women (or minorities) to 50%. If they wanted to do that, they would have already done it at some point in the last 10 years. And if someone like Damore reveals that this attitude is present at Google, they are opening themselves up to litigation and therefore have to silence him.

  80. Ash Says:

    > Who would want to work with this guy?

    This is a very privileged and well, socjus attitude.

    Either “we” as society work with this guy, or we as a society pay for his food stamps, housing and medicaid.

    Maybe “we” as society make him a trash collector, which would be a fine way to waste his talents but segregate him in a field that apparently feminists and socjus is fine with keeping mostly male.

    Now, in my day, I’ve worked with PhDs even though everyone knew they were @#%#@!!, and I’ve worked with GEDs and I’ve worked with sailors and Army and Navy and white people, muslim people, rednecks, crackers, black people, bigots, smart people, smart aleck people, jerks, muscle tee wearing people, brown people, asians, women, gays, straights, homophobes, pro war, anti-war, vegan, meat eaters, Christian, Jewish, etc.

    We worked with each other, we sanded down each other’s rough spots as best as possible, we socialized to the extent we could and we got the jobs done.

    Now, and see Walter Olson, Jonathan Rauch, Eugene Volokh, we live in this privileged entitled world where everyone for 8 – 10 hours a day at work has to live in fear of what can be said and fear of each other, and basically at the point of being homeless and hungry “who would want to work with this guy”.

    Well that’s just great. Game over man, game over.

    Stay insulated. Build Walls.

  81. Eva Silverstein Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I did read the memo. Early on, it had a bullet point claiming that women are more interested in people, and men in things.
    It insinuated that the interest differential that was supposedly measured is biological and constant across cultures. Several points: (a) people are things, and are the objects of neuroscience. (b) I looked at the primary literature on this supposed people/things distinction. In physics, this analysis would, at best, be reported as an upper bound on the men-women parameter, rather than a discovery of a nonzero value for it, because even if you believe everything going into it, the result is not statistically significant. (Recall that numerous 3 sigma effects go away in the relatively controlled setting of particle physics and cosmology, and the reported significance of the gender things/people data is much less than that. To even discuss this, you have to believe their conversion of words to numbers, which is obviously fraught with systematics). To belabor this last point, the parameter is not well defined. The research on infants staring at things before they can hold their own heads up is similarly absurd. (c) Regarding interests and its geographical and cultural variabilty, one example I know that 70% of the undergrads in STEM are female in Iran, a relatively isolated social experiment. Any claim to that women on average are biologically less interested in science would need to address this example, among others, rather than cherry picking research results (which themselves are not under control, as I just summarized).

    Even if there were a legitimate measurement of a nonzero value for this parameter, it would be a whole other question how to interpret it (whether dominantly intrinsic biology or group sociology), and that is a strong coupling problem.

    The basic problem with this memo is not the questioning of policy. The problem is that it asserts with breathtaking confidence demonstrably unsubstantiated scientific claims.
    I should emphasize that the primary literature comes with all sorts of caveats (even if it does overinterpret statistically insignificant results).

    It’s so bad it’s good — the people/things comment is truly a joke.

    This is a strongly coupled neuroscience problem. The individual brain is poorly understood, and the social interactions among them is another layer of strong coupling. It makes no scientific sense to assert what the memo’s author claimed.

    It is a gross misrepresentation of the situation to say that he bravely pointed out the hard truths. I am not concerned about whether or not he should have been fired, but if his software analyses were at this level, that alone would be grounds for dismissal.

    I fully agree that policy choices can and should be debated. The aforementioned example is interesting in this respect — I highly doubt that the Iranian government has a diversity and inclusion committee that generated the 70 percent result
    (then it would have to adjust to increase the male fraction!).

    I’m also not in favor of vindictive responses, although if he had made a similar level of unsubstantial pseudoscientific claims about different races, I suspect there’d be more agreement about his firing. This difference in reaction is quite disappointing. In any case, people can learn from their mistakes if they listen, the guy is young.

    But it is simply not accurate to describe the memo just in terms of its policy questions, when it starts with these boldly claimed scientific inaccuracies.

    All the Best,
    Eva

  82. Rafael Says:

    Does the comment policy also apply to attacks on Donald Trump?

  83. Dan Staley Says:

    What makes me sad here is that it seems that many commenters here have not read the Google CEO’s memo about firing Damore, and in some cases may not have even read the original document. Here’s an important quote from the CEO’s email:

    “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.”

    Again, here are some quotes from Damore’s doc, each was presented without the word “maybe” in front or a question mark after, and without citations or references, but from context it was clearly implied that these were due to biology:

    “Women on average are more prone to anxiety”
    “Women on average are more cooperative”
    [Women’s higher agreeableness] “leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.”
    “Men have a higher drive for status on average”

    When Damore agreed to work at Google, he agreed to abide by the Google Code of Conduct, which includes not making blatently sexist statements like these. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how much legitimate criticism he includes in the same document; these statements are in violation of the Code of Conduct and are grounds for dismissal.

  84. fiv0 Says:

    Hi Scott,

    > rather than getting destroyed and rebuilt along explicitly ideological lines, as already happened with many humanities and social science fields.

    I guess I see a bit what you are hinting at, but could elaborate a bit more where social sciences failed?

  85. Ash Says:

    > When Damore agreed to work at Google, he agreed to abide by the Google Code of Conduct, which includes not making blatently sexist statements like these

    Dan, many of us have read the document, read the articles in support and in opposition to it, and read Pichai’s response. And even the underlying scientific papers.

    There seems to be plenty of support for Damore’s science, and plenty of support for theories in opposition to Damore’s science.

    It doesn’t seem to be settled science.

    So what is “blatantly sexist” then about referencing well supported positions in the current scientific literature?

    That’s why the analogies replacing woman for Jew or Black don’t work. There is significant research backing Damore. That is in no way true of the literature regarding Jews or Blacks.

    So yes, on the one hand Damore’s statement makes a statement that the sexes are different. It is trivially sexist.

    But it is not clear that Damore’s statement is *offensively* sexist, and very not clear that Damore’s statement is *offensively* sexist to the degree that mandates firing.

    How does Sundar Pichai go from people must be able to express dissent and minority views to your expression of those have violated our code of conduct?

    Only by shifting from the meaning of “sexist” as in “this is a legitimate point of discussion in the science of sexual differences” to “you are harassing women”.

    Dan when you write “it doesn’t matter how much legitimate criticism he includes in the same document; these statements are in violation of the Code of Conduct and are grounds for dismissal” what I hear is that

    I can no longer trust Google’s search.
    I can no longer trust Google’s your AI development.
    I can no longer trust Google’s self-driving cars.

    There is almost no aspect of Google I can trust. It’s all become tainted with social justice agendas and mediated with Codes of Conduct.

    The one thing a Search Engine company has is integrity. Lose your integrity in a blatant manner, and I can no longer suspend my disbelief. I can’t trust you.

    I used to think The Trolley Problem was a fake problem. No one would design a car that would kill its occupants.

    Today I think I can no longer trust Google Search, I can no longer trust YouTube, and I cannot trust your self-driving cars.

    Today I think it’s quite possible that engineers with a SocJus agenda are working on the Trolley problem, and that my being a cis white male may mean my own Google car could intentionally come after me.

    I cannot trust Google when scientists, engineers and other employees have to fear that reasonable discussion can be twisted into code of conduct violations.

  86. Sniffnoy Says:

    Quick correction to my comment #75:

    I effectively used Trump as an example of an authoritarian; that’s not exactly right. I mean OK personally he’s pretty authoritarian, but he doesn’t really represent the “authoritarian” pole I briefly mentioned, more the “amoral” pole. I often tend to group these since they seem to so often go together but they’re not really the same. “Authoritarian” is maybe a bad name; like I said, I’m trying to hint at extremes rather than precisely describe positions people actually hold. What I mean is more like authoritarian/traditionalist.

  87. srp Says:

    The people/interest dichotomy, contra Eva, is the one with the highest effect sizes and the most consistent finding in studies across countries and large populations. It is basic background psychological knowledge at this point.

  88. srp Says:

    For the purposes of Google’s diversity policy, whether differences in male and female behavior are biologically based or due to cultural programming by the patriarchy is irrelevant. He erred by not making that clear.

    But the important point Damore was making–and that critics of Google have been making for a while now–is that Google’s diversity policies, which are apparently fairly heavy-handed, are failing to produce the desired diversity. Damore argues that they are additionally causing collateral damage and unfairness and proposes that they be changed, because, as he states from the beginning, he favors diversity AND a relatively open intellectual environment as means to Google’s corporate mission.

    The failure of these policies is not surprising, as research on them hasn’t turned up much evidence of this sort of thing being effective:
    https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programs-fail

    The role of the government investigations in pressuring Google to fire Damore should not be underestimated, nor should the powerful effect of he fuzzy “hostile environment” doctrine on employee speech in general:
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/memo-to-a-google-engineer-1502234200
    https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/08/09/googles-attack-dissenting-speech-normal-walter-olson-column/549536001/

  89. Liz Says:

    Thank you for being more clear about your views and allowing comments.

    I agree with Ron #39. Also nowhere did he say we should necessarily be aiming for exactly 50% representation. I think the point is that we already have enough evidence of sexism; the question of whether the gender gap implies sexism (or whether the “correct” ratios are 50/50) is a bit of a red herring because we already know there is sexism to compensate for, and we are far from 50/50 ratios anyway.

    Personally, I would be pretty upset to get an unsolicited link to a memo like that at work. I would feel especially uncomfortable about it within an environment where there weren’t many other women. I like Ron’s analogy about being a Jewish engineer. Imagine being in the minority expected to argue against the “science” of the inferiority of Jews at work while having no expertise in the social sciences (“don’t worry, it’s only ‘most’ Jews, this probably doesn’t apply to you specifically!”). Or if you didn’t take time away from your actual work doing extensive research to rebut it, having to let this view go unchallenged. I would consider this a hostile environment, regardless of the details of the argument. (I know that the actual memo “softened” this by considering instead the question of whether most women actually *want* to do coding, but I find its invocation of various sexist stereotypes — whether or not there is truth in some of what he said — similarly problematic.) The relevant question is whether the women there actually wanted to have that conversation or whether they just wanted to focus on their work. If they didn’t welcome the discussion, the appropriate thing would be to take it up privately with management.

    I agree with Ron that the actual firing may be more of a PR issue, not to mention that the memo probably cost many women and minority employees at Google many hours of lost productivity last week, which Google has reason to be upset about purely from a business perspective. In general I’m all for giving people who violate policy second chances so long as there is follow-up and people are actually punished for subsequent bad behavior. In my experience, things usually go the opposite way: All the harassers I’ve encountered at universities were given *many* “second” chances and even then literally never punished, and in the meantime they ended up creating huge damage.

    I also really agree with the comment that it’s important to consider the effect of such a memo on the performance of women at the company due to stereotype threat.

    Regarding “bro” culture: Based on my experience, this *is* an issue, and it is different than saying that “nerds” are problematic for women. The majority of “nerds” I have interacted with in STEM are great people; however there is a sizable enough minority of people in STEM with actual misogynistic views (for example, the pickup artists who practice their craft at work) to cause a big problem in the atmosphere at some departments I’ve been in, and this is what is meant by “bro” culture.

    Finally, I notice when free speech proponents speak out primarily in support of people who have experienced internet harassment or firing while speaking out *against* feminism. I would hope for consistency sake to see an equal support of feminists (even those you disagree with) who are quite often targets of firing, internet harassment and silencing campaigns.

  90. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #5 (and others with related points):

      He was fired for being a dick. This isn’t academia; there is no academic freedom in private industry.

    Well, I think part of the issue is that the modern world has defined the behavior in question—i.e., writing calmly about the same issues that Steven Pinker writes about in The Blank Slate, except without Steven’s adorable hair and affable demeanor 🙂 —as “being a dick.” It need not have.

    And also, before Damore’s firing, I think many of us had the mental model that, if you were an autism-spectrum individual with a weakness for blurting things out that you think are true even if they might offend someone or lower your social status—a Sheldon Cooper, if you will—then the main “safe spaces” that could accommodate people like you were the academic hard sciences, or tech companies such as Google. From that standpoint, Damore’s firing was basically an announcement to the world that the tech companies are no longer an option, leaving academic STEM as perhaps the only remaining “safe space” (and even there, you probably need to keep your mouth shut until tenure).

  91. Scott Says:

    adamt #8: Thanks for your comment.

      I would also take issue with the claim that Damore supports your principle number five.

    I never said he supported it, only that what he wrote was consistent with it, which is a much weaker claim. Note that he writes explicitly that he values diversity, though of course he and I might disagree about which tradeoffs are desirable (or if not desirable, then at least acceptable, as part of a hypothetical “agreement” between STEM nerds and the wider culture like the one I suggested).

  92. glathull Says:

    @anonymous #15, I don’t think very many people will dispute that some words are equivalent to violence. That idea has been baked into our legal, moral, and religious systems since the beginning of all three.

    But there’s a difference between identifying some combinations of words and inflections as violent and creating an environment where every combination can be construed and punished as violent. I think it’s the latter situation that the memo was referring to.

    I have occasionally been in work situations in the past where any disagreement at all on any topic was countered with accusations of micro-aggression, sexism, and man-splaining. Examples have literally been as absurd as in a code review where a function call is missing a required argument. There’s no way this code will run. And in fact, it fails. Even trying to avoid any direct blame by saying, “We should probably check our CI server. I don’t think this could’ve gotten a full test run because we’re missing a required argument in this function call.” Yeah, that earned me a conversation with HR and some time in micro-aggression training.

    I’m not saying that micro-aggressions don’t exist, nor racism, nor sexism. But the fact of the matter is they aren’t actually everywhere either. There are two numbers I’m always suspicious of: 0% and 100%. Almost every time I see them pop up, my inner skeptic calls my outer skeptic and has a conversation.

    There are some things I’ve done in the past that warranted attention from HR. But of course, those were the things that never got the attention.

    My point is that the reality of the situation (arguments about evolutionary psychology I’m putting aside because I literally know nothing about the topic) is that the rate of actual criminal or moral transgressions that fall into the above categories is no more 100% than it is 0%. These things are real, and they are pervasive at some companies. I worked at a company years ago where the software team’s favorite word to describe solving a “difficult” problem was “rape”. e.g. “Man, did we rape that project into submission or what?” “Totally, dude. That’s what we do. Rape rape rape all day long!” *laughter all around*

    Yeah, I wasn’t even comfortable with that. I can’t imagine anyone being comfortable with that.

    Or there was another company where a guy would name at least one variable in every PR hasasmallpenis. *laughter all around*. I’m sure the women on the team at the time loved it when their name came up.

    There are absolutely absurd, toxic, awful people in the world and companies that do nothing about them–which, in my opinion, makes those companies awful, absurd, and toxic. But pointing out that a function call isn’t properly executed is *probably* not a micro-aggression, racism, or sexism. I’m saying probably because almost anything *can* be. That’s the hard part of this. Verbal communication is nuanced.

    I think that’s sort of what Stacey was getting at with her brilliant point about things that sound racist vs. things that are racist, but I won’t speak for her. I’ll say what I mean: I think that part of the reason that we’re seeing this kind of a divide among people who are, for the most part, basically decent people is that we’re trying to draw hard lines in soft clay. We’re trying to claim that a certain class of words always mean a certain class of things.

    And in certain cases, we as a society have largely agreed. Certain racial slurs are basically proxies for racism in the U.S. and certain words for genitalia are essentially proxies for all the worst aspects of sexism. (although not to everyone. See Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=33594#more-33594)

    But I feel like we’ve slipped down the slope. Because it’s possible to define n***** and c*** as proxies that definitely identify a person as racist or sexist, we now are expanding the vocabulary of racism and sexism to be anything that makes a person have a lack of warm fuzzies.

    It’s not like this in most places, and most people who can gain advantage from this kind of behavior don’t use it. Because, again, most people are not awful. Yet, it’s still practically anathema to point out that this level of over-protection–which I think google exercised here–is bad for everyone.

    *****************************

    In response to no one in particular, just the situation at hand in general:

    This is interesting timing because up until a couple of weeks ago, the entire debate (at least re: hiring) was academic to me. I was recently put in a hiring manager position and given a few reqs to fill. I work as a software engineer on a data science team.

    Prior to this move I considered issues of diversity pretty seriously. When we had open positions I would intentionally try to find qualified candidates with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and gender identities. And I would refer them for jobs when I met them at conferences. Not in any way to the exclusion of people like me.

    But let’s be honest: who really wants to work with a bunch of people just like you? I’m not that interesting. I don’t need or want a room full of white males to agree with me about something. Or anything. I don’t care about that. White males have been agreeing with me since I was a kid. I want to know how people from other countries approach the problems at hand. I want to hear what a woman says about a particular engineering thing. The day-to-day work of making software and using other people’s genius to power your company’s latest internal app is a) not all that difficult, and b) not all that interesting.

    The interesting work is really all about finding better ways to solve problems not solving every problem the same way. And I particularly want diversity because I, myself, was trained as a violinist and music theorist. Not a software engineer. So I basically don’t know what I’m doing.

    So fast forward to now, where I’m inexplicably in charge of a team, and have a few positions to fill. I look at my team–all white males age 30-38 except for our product manager (non-technical role) who is a tiny little bit older than us and female and not white.

    Part of me says, “This is garbage. We’re a data science team. We have to have unexpected and unconscious biases in the ways that we look at data that we don’t have any clue about. There is signal that we’re missing here because we have intellectual, cultural, and emotional blind spots.”

    The other part of me says, “Look at the applicant pool. We are insanely understaffed. We’re all working 16-20 hour days. We are looking for senior level people who don’t need training.” The applicant pool for women and minorities is really small right now. And I need people *now*. Before we fall apart as a team.

    I reached out to some of my past bosses and mentors to ask them about this. I’m new in this role. What do I do? I recognize the need, but I don’t know how to execute. I even reached out to HR to have this conversation, and I work in one of the most liberal, PC, diversity-driven environments you can think of.

    The unanimous response I got was this: don’t hire for diversity. AA doesn’t work, and it’s bad for the team. Rather, ask yourself what characteristics of an intellectually and ethnically and perhaps gender diverse person you are looking for, and hire for that. All those types of diversity come with their own blind spots. So as a person hiring people onto a data science team, you need to find people who are the most curious, the most competent, and the most willing to challenge assumptions.

    I think there’s quite a lot to read into that bit of advice. I would bet literal donuts wrapped in bacon that there is a correlation between ethnicity and willingness to challenge assumptions, or any of those other things mentioned.

    And I know there are untold rivers of talent that we have no knowledge of because there is no opportunity. My brother and I run a music program in the Philippines. It’s an El Sisteme program specifically targeted at the poor to give them options other than crime, prostitution, or homelessness.

    We buy musical instruments and take them over there and teach kids to play violin, viola, cello, and bass. And the level of aptitude and commitment is completely off the charts.

    I am completely sold on the idea that it’s our STEM pipeline that is the most broken of all things. Just like our musician pipeline is incredibly broken. By the time people get to the age where they are hirable, the pipeline has already failed.

    And for that reason, I am strongly opposed to one thing in the memo: cutting specific diversity programs. I have seen specific diversity programs change real people’s lives. I have seen specific diversity programs change entire countries’ crime profiles. These are very real and very tangible benefits to all of society. Not just STEM.

    I’m a conflicted person right now. Because after writing all of that, I’m signing offer letters for two white mid-30s guys and one mid-30s Mexican woman.

    Have I done enough? Not enough? Too much?

    On a data science team of 8, am I a bad manager because only 2 are women? Am I a good manager because our team gets stuff done? Again, it’s probably not 0% or 100%. It’s almost certainly in the middle. But where?

  93. Harry Johnston Says:

    What you just did was incredibly stupid and harmful. You just put out a manifesto inside the company arguing that some large fraction of your colleagues are at root not good enough to do their jobs, and that they’re only being kept in their jobs because of some political ideas.

    Leaving aside the question of whether you can reasonably interpret the “manifesto” that way … it IS apparently acceptable to argue that some large fraction of your colleagues are at root not good enough to do their jobs, and were only hired because of privilege. This does seem like a double standard.

  94. Scott Says:

    Erik #9: I had a similar reaction to that widely-shared Yonatan Zunger piece. Not only did the piece wildly misrepresent what Damore said, but it completely eschewed any attempt at counterargument, in favor of a naked status appeal: in effect,

      “You, STEM nerds like Damore who just write code, are low-status and replaceable, and your skills are common as dirt. The soft ‘people skills’ that you lack—e.g., the skill of knowing what to say so as not to offend your coworkers—are pretty much the only things that matter to higher-level engineering managers like me.”

    I kept asking myself: if that’s true, then how is it that Silicon Valley was so notoriously built by people of the first type rather than the second?

    (Or at least, it seems to have been built by people who were of the first type when they were young, as Damore is, but who may have evolved into the second type as they got older.)

  95. Michael Says:

    @Scott#89- I think that he was trying to create a scene. He also got in trouble with a skit he preformed while in college that was racially offensive. He seems more like someone that likes causing a stir, not someone who accidentally blurted out something offensive.

  96. Harry Johnston Says:

    Scott#92, ironically, the low social status of people with careers in IT seems likely to be both (a) being made worse by those nominally trying to increase diversity in IT; and (b) one of the significant causes of the lack of diversity in IT.

  97. Scott Says:

    tcheasdfjkl #16:

      Damore didn’t only say that there were statistical differences between men and women. He also criticized Google’s diversity programs and said they set different hiring bars by demographic. Those diversity programs have existed for a while and have probably already caused some people to be hired who wouldn’t have been otherwise…

    OK, fair point. But it seems to me that you can’t have affirmative action for a particular group, and have that be publicly known, and also have no members of that group ever worry that some of their colleagues might suspect that they wouldn’t be there without affirmative action. Like with so much of life, you gotta choose one or the other.

    And in any case, Google presumably has such a huge pool of outstanding applicants, of both sexes, that even if female applicants were given extra consideration in the hiring process, that would still be consistent with any difference in coding skill, etc. between male and female Googlers being imperceptibly small. So I don’t think one can attribute to Damore the view that current male and female Googlers differ in ability in any way that matters (as so many people did).

  98. Eva Silverstein Says:

    Hello srp,

    The specific paper I looked through recently was [Su, R., Rounds, J., & Armstrong, P. I. (2009). Men and things, women and people: A meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 859-884.] The statistical insignificance is clear, as I described above, see figure 2 and table 5. In words they describe it as `a full standard deviation’. In physics, we see much stronger,
    e.g. 3 sigma effects disappear routinely — either as statistical flukes or because of unanticipated systematics.
    (Since there are many studies, one also
    has to apply an appropriate look-elsewhere penalty, but even
    without that this is insufficient to establish a nonzero value
    of the men-women things/people parameter.)

    The standards for a discovery of a new parameter in neuroscience should not be weaker than in physics.
    That would not be logical.
    You claim that this parameter has been discovered and that is is `backround psychological knowledge’. In order to substantiate that claim, please present a clean, at least 4.5 sigma detection, with control of systematics.

    I also gave a specific piece of data — that 70% of STEM undergraduates in an entire, rather isolated, country (Iran)
    are female. Were you aware of this? The results you present need to account for this piece of data as well.

    Just declaring something to be common
    knowledge in some field is not a valid argument.
    Human psychology is, as I explained, a strongly interacting
    system. It is entirely reasonable that we don’t know the answer — there are much simpler questions in neuroscience
    that remain mysterious.
    It is simply not valid or reasonable to declare an answer without solid evidence.

    Best regards,
    Eva

  99. Scott Says:

    N. #19:

      How do you guys feel about the reports that one of the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville was fired from his job at Top Dog in Berkeley after he was publicly identified in photos of the march?

    My first thought: if there was any eatery on the planet, for which I felt certain that I knew the political views of the people who worked there, Top Dog in Berkeley was the one! But sadly, apparently not.

    (For those who’ve never been: Top Dog is a hot dog joint whose walls are completely covered with libertarian slogans, cartoons, and manifestos.)

    Second thought: the whole idea of outing people and getting them fired, for political activities conducted on their own time, makes me enormously uncomfortable—including for political ideologies that are against everything I stand for (e.g. Trumpism, religious opposition to gay rights).

    Third thought: but, y’know, if we have to draw a line somewhere, then I’m more than happy to put neo-Nazis (!!) on the other side of it.

    Fourth thought: but even when the targets are neo-Nazis, I still see the tactic of doxxing people in order to ruin their lives as exceedingly dangerous. What if, hypothetically, you were to target the wrong person? Oh, wait, that’s already happening.

  100. Scott Says:

    Ashley #21 and #25:

      If you don’t mind me asking – can you please stop bothering Lily about her math skills??? Maybe she wants to be a ballerina or something (like I wanted to be a mathematician when I was younger). Also remember, did your parents try develop your math skills when you were four?

      But how do you try help Lily’s math skills, anyways?

    Nothing “cruel or unusual”! I just give her stuff like, what’s 2 more than 9? Which is more, a half or three quarters? Which number comes before 15? When you’re six, how old will your cousin be? Can you take these triangle blocks and make them into a square?

    Lily can answer such questions, albeit not consistently. She’ll also extremely quickly get bored, or frustrated, and start giving “poopy” as the answer.

    So yeah, it’s obvious that Lily doesn’t have the total obsession with math that I had when I was 4—an interest that my parents never needed to push on me in any way, though they did encourage it. But I see that as no reason not to try and stimulate her (and similarly with reading and writing and science). Also worth noting: my wife Dana swears up and down that she had no particular interest in math until she was a teenager, but she’s now a theoretical computer scientist who writes monster 100-page proofs.

    I think an unbiased observer would describe Lily as very smart for her age, but more in practical intelligence (e.g., knowing her surroundings, talking adults into giving her what she wants) than in abstract intellectual curiosity. Her main interests so far seem to be gymnastics, dancing, swimming, running around like a wild animal, building castles out of blocks (where she shows impressive concentration), drawing, and typical 4-year-old girl stuff (princesses, mermaids, Barbies, Dora the Explorer, playing dress-up). Of course she has a fair bit of time for her interests to evolve further. 🙂

  101. Scott Says:

    Superguy #22: I judge your comment to have violated my policy against ad hominems, because of its enthusiastic endorsement of dehumanizing stereotypes against male STEM nerds (who happen to be many of the participants here…). I’m leaving the comment up, only because I feel like its casual authoritarianism somehow makes the case for what Sarah, Stacey, and I were worried about even better than we could. But your further comments in the same vein are, and will be, deleted.

  102. Scott Says:

    Luca #42: OK, thanks very much for the correction, and I apologize for giving your comment premature publicity! It’s now fixed. Of course, I still think this is exceedingly unlikely to stand, but finding the bug might actually require the week that I allotted. 🙂

  103. Daniel Kokotajlo Says:

    AdamBW: Excellent post; I agree with much of what you said. One nitpick:

    “To begin with, this conclusion is (as far as I can tell) completely unsupported by any of the science he cites. He does follow this statement up by saying he’s just talking about “average differences”, but the statement: “women, on average, are worse at leading then men” strikes me as more more motivated by sexism than science.”

    I have a copy of the document and I can’t find that quote in there anywhere… maybe you were paraphrasing? In which case it’s a rather uncharitable paraphrase.

  104. Scott Says:

    Armchair Historian #44:

      The “nerd” side of this conflict is completely powerless, as the Damore incident showed.

    Actually, while Damore couldn’t preserve his own job, he seems to have succeeded brilliantly at damaging Google’s brand: for a whole week, the world has discussed Google not as a creator of innovative products, but only as a workplace torn apart by internal strife and strategic leaking—a place where women might fear to work because of Damores, and also where Damores might fear to work because of SJWs. So, while that isn’t the outcome I would’ve wanted, I don’t think it’s clear that the nerds are completely powerless in this conflict.

  105. Scott Says:

    jo #48:

      You write a memo that seems to have an underlying racist tinge and get fired? Too bad, you don’t get my sympathy. I just had enough.

    The trouble is that, as adamt very wisely pointed out above, this is the same logic that racists and xenophobes use on the other side:

    “Oh, so you’re one of the good Third World immigrants—one who’s not going to grope or mug me, but only looks like they might? Too bad, you don’t get my sympathy. I just had enough.”

    No matter how tiring it gets, we always—always—have the moral obligation to treat each other as individuals and to judge each accusation on individual evidence.

  106. Anon Y. Mouse Says:

    +1 to Scott’s comment #89 about Damore’s firing making tech less of a safe space for autism spectrum individuals than it used to be. IIRC men are a lot more likely to be autistic than women. I suspect the autism connection is one of the main reasons why tech has a less balanced gender mix than law or medicine. Also I wonder if the autism-friendly culture in tech contributes to some neurotypical women thinking they don’t fit in.

    On an unrelated note, the aspects of current US culture that are unfair to men often get men killed, e.g. men-only military drafts and “women and children first” prioritization during emergencies. Modern feminism is prioritizing problems such as having ones gender insulted, catcalling, and women doing more housework and child care. These are non-trivial problems but much less serious than death. I’m guessing that benevolent sexism is the cause of these priorities.

  107. Scott Says:

    another anonymous #61:

      One point I would like to add to this discussion is the concept of “stereotype threat”. In short: If you believe you are inferior, you will perform worse.

    Unfortunately, the studies purporting to show that stereotype threat is a real phenomenon have apparently been on shaky ground lately (e.g. failing to replicate), as Scott Alexander has discussed in various Slate Star Codex posts. But I’m not an expert so will defer to those who know more.

  108. Scott Says:

    Doug K. #62: The trouble is that, for every expert who calls Damore’s arguments “despicable trash,” I can see you a different expert who calls them well-accepted cognitive science. That’s part of why I declined to take a position in the post.

      The problem here is that CS is not 80% male, except in the USA in recent history.

    See Scott Alexander on this. Briefly, what you describe is consistent with an extremely robust pattern, whereby many gender gaps ironically increase as countries become richer and more gender-egalitarian (one sees the same in, e.g., the Nordic countries). One possible explanation is that people become freer to choose the occupations that best match their inclinations and self-image, rather than whatever will put food on the table.

  109. victor j yodaiken Says:

    How about looking at some data instead of just making stuff up? Google is like most of Sili Valley, predominantly white male. Far from insisting dogmatically on 50%, it’s having a hard time breaking 20%. All defenses of the Google manifesto rely on one of two silly strawmen. The first is that Google, despite its actual employee distribution is imposing some sort of doctrinaire equality on its staff. The second is that diversity policies rely on the theory that men and women are identical. Given the actual situation at google, Damore’s long whine about how the left wing cabal he imagines as Google management has oppressed him looks pretty damn pathetic. And his gross failure to understand statistics really irritates me. Among other things, the distribution of the general population of programmers says absolutely nothing about the distribution of programmers google can hire. In fact, if Google hiring produces a random distribution, their whole HR process is terribly broken.

  110. Scott Says:

    Eli #64:

      You shouldn’t need to have such passion for your work that you build work stuff in your off time, just to get the job. Change this expectation, and you get a far larger recruitment pool of both men and women.

    That’s fine for a standard office job, but suppose you’re a hungry tech startup trying to change the world. Would you rather hire someone who puts in their 40 hours/week (not counting sick days and personal days) and forgets about work otherwise, or a Steve Wozniak who obsesses about their craft every waking hour?

  111. Scott Says:

    Fabricator #65:

      I am forced to pick a side, but all I see are many bad options.

      Where is place for people like me?

    Welcome to the nerdosphere. 😉

    (Even more so than this blog, you should probably try Slate Star Codex, LessWrong, and other hangouts frequented by the “rationalist community.”)

  112. Scott Says:

    Jamie McCarthy #69:

      [Your discussion of the number of women in the CS pipeline] is just not an accurate paraphrase of Damore’s MRA screed. This doesn’t pass the laugh test. You’re not addressing this seriously.

    Can you quote me an actual passage from the memo, to show me why my characterization of the relevant issue is wrong? When you do, please try to eschew “tribal” arguments—e.g., about whether one thing reminds you of another thing that was said by someone you hate. Keeping in mind the distinction Stacey made in her post, let’s try hard to concentrate on what was literally said.

  113. Scott Says:

    anonymous #74 and Rafael #82:

      No attacks on people you say? I guess consistency really is the hobgoblin of little minds.
      Does the comment policy also apply to attacks on Donald Trump?

    No, when you become a national political figure, you forfeit the right not to be personally attacked. (Indeed—at least for now—libel law in the US explicitly reflects that principle.)

    More fundamentally, the reason to ban ad-hominem attacks, is just that they typically inflame tensions to the point where it’s impossible to debate ideas. But for the particular debate we’re having now, attacking Trump serves precisely the opposite function: namely, that of calming tensions, of reminding the social-justice side that there’s vastly greater evil in the world than whatever evils we’re arguing about here, and that they and we are united against it.

  114. Daniel Says:

    >However, a few people who I like and respect accused me of “dogwhistling.” They warned, in particular, that if I wouldn’t just come out and say what I thought about the James Damore Google memo thing, then people would assume the very worst—even though, of course, my friends themselves knew better.

    Do you still like and respect those people? I wouldn’t.

  115. Scott Says:

    fiv0 #84:

      I guess I see a bit what you are hinting at, but could elaborate a bit more where social sciences failed?

    See, for example, my Ordinary Words Will Do post. Or better yet, read the book Fashionable Nonsense by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.

  116. asdf Says:

    Fwiw, there’s a cstheory.se thread about Blum’s paper:

    https://cstheory.stackexchange.com/questions/38803/where-is-norbert-blums-2017-proof-that-p-ne-np-being-discussed

  117. Daniel Says:

    > But for the particular debate we’re having now, attacking Trump serves precisely the opposite function: namely, that of calming tensions, of reminding us that there’s vastly greater evil in the world than whatever evils we’re arguing about here, and that we’re all united against it.

    Even those who don’t suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome?

  118. asdf Says:

    Added: according to an SE commenter here, one of Blum’s students (cough) proved that P is not equal to the 2nd level of PH, which I think would imply P != PSPACE. Somehow that got past everyone.

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1602.04781

  119. Sniffnoy Says:

    asdf #118: It would prove P!=NP, actually. (Since if P=NP, the polynomial hierarchy collapses to P.) That paper has actually come up here before, no idea to what extent anyone’s checked it.

  120. Erik Says:

    @Dan Staley #83:

    “Women on average are more prone to anxiety”
    “Women on average are more cooperative”
    [Women’s higher agreeableness] “leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.”
    “Men have a higher drive for status on average”

    When Damore agreed to work at Google, he agreed to abide by the Google Code of Conduct, which includes not making blatently sexist statements like these.

    Do you realize that this kind of ludicrous statement only normalizes sexism?

    Anyone with a grain of sense will have noticed that men and women are, in some ways, on average, different. One does not even have to take a position on how much nature or nurture is the cause to notice the effect.

    The proposition that men and women should on average be the same in everything is as ludicrously unlikely as flipping a handful of coins and having them all come up on edge.

    If “blatant sexism” is watered down to include discussing different averages, people are going to start reasoning that different averages can’t be that bad to discuss, so sexism can’t be that bad either.

    It’s something of the same principle that was expressed in the post:

    If the elites, the technocrats, the “Cathedral”-dwellers, were willing to lie to the masses about humans being blank slates—and they obviously were—then why shouldn’t we assume that they also lied to us about healthcare and free trade and guns and climate change and everything else?

    If they lied about the evils of sexism, too…

    Elsewhere, I have seen this phrased as One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens. One person asserts A -> B and mentally holds (A), therefore concludes (B). Someone else hears A -> B, mentally holds (~B), therefore concludes (~A).

  121. Anon Says:

    Scott, did you ask Pinker for permission before doing this? I’m just a little worried that people might bite the bullet on this one and call for his firing…

  122. Arko Bose Says:

    @Sarah Constantin: You had me at “It’s an empirical matter, and a topic for research, not dogma.”

    What else is really required to be asserted/understood here?!

  123. a-non Says:

    @ Eva Silverstein:

    they describe it as `a full standard deviation’. In physics, we see much stronger, e.g. 3 sigma effects disappear routinely

    I think you’re mixing up two uses of sigma here. The physics one is an expression of certainty, i.e. of the chance that what’s seen is just noise, misinterpreted. Essentially a p-value.

    The other use is to say how far apart the means are: \sigma is the unit of measurement, and the MLE is 1 unit. Nothing is implied about the error bar on this measurement (& whether it includes zero).

    The paper you cite (link) gives d=0.99 and 95%CI of 0.90 to 1.08. I’d need another coffee before converting that to physics language, but there’s no way it’s a 1-sigma effect in that sense.

    For another example, height differences M/F are typically about 2 sigma. But if this difference went away it would be much bigger news than a 2-sigma particle disappearing from physics!

    70% of STEM undergraduates in … (Iran) are female. Were you aware of this?

    This is a well-known gradient, e.g. India has a much higher proportion of female programmers than Sweden.

    In rich, free countries, people study whatever they’re interested in. Getting into Harvard is absolutely a ticket to follow your heart; even if you study gender studies you won’t struggle to find a job. And if you want to chase fame and fortune, medicine and law offer more of both than engineering or, god forbid, science. But in poor, and repressive, countries it’s different. Getting into IIT is your big chance to dig your family out of poverty. It’s a prestigious path which is open to all who can pass the exam.

    Something similar applied to communist countries… to get into the American olympic training program it has to be your passion. Getting into the Russian program was much less about individual choice from what I’ve read, more about a talent scout coming around making offers that were hard to refuse.

  124. Scott Says:

    Anon #121: Alas, no! As it happens, Dana and I had dinner with Pinker’s wife Rebecca Goldstein just a few days ago, but we missed seeing Pinker, because he’s hard at work on his new book Enlightenment Now—a book, incidentally, that’s not at all unrelated to what we’ve been discussing in this post, that I was privileged to review a couple chapters of, and that everyone should buy and read as soon as it comes out!

    But Pinker is someone who has the courage of his convictions, so I didn’t think he’d object (if he does I’ll edit the post). And even if there are some ideologues out there who might love to see him fired for his opinions, I’m confident that they got nuthin’ on him. 😉

  125. James Miller Says:

    #51: You wrote: “However, tucked into his reasonable criticisms of diversity efforts and PC culture, he has statements like “Men have more drive for status than women” and “Women have a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.” It’s these statements that got him fired.”

    I teach game theory at a women’s college. I have often told my students something like this: “Perhaps one of the reasons women have lower average salaries than men do is because you are less willing to negotiate salaries. These negotiation games we are about to play will hopefully make you more willing and better able to negotiate.”

  126. Gil Kalai Says:

    Most importantly, I really liked Scott’s points 1-7 and you can count on me, Scott, as an ally in promoting them. As I said last thread I regard advancing the status of women in mathematics, and more broadly in academics and society as a whole to be a crucial and pivotal challenge. By “pivotal” I mean that the needed mechanism for advancing women are likely to effect other cases of injustice and needed diversity. (And this is similar to some of Scott’s thinking.)

    I didn’t read the “manifesto” but I also dont like the firing of the guy. There were cases that people who served in positions of either leadership or “being a role model” made remarks that were insulting to women (and also silly and wrong) and in those case I thought that taking them off their positions is justified. But this is not the situation here.

    The “wide tail” theory that man abilities have larger variance and in particular that this account for more man geniuses is of course familiar. As far as I am concern this is largely irrelevant (but I also regard it as rather silly). Women need to struggle more not only in first-rate places largely occupied by geniuses but also in second rate places and third rate places and fourth rate places. The common explanation of “friend bring a friend” mechanism along with some misogyny has much stronger and wider explanation power. The number of eminent women mathematicians who had to struggle (not to be recognized as eminent but to get tenure) is staggering. An amusing food for thought: One area were women are considered stronger than men is in devotion. Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale come to mind. (Of course, Nightingale was also an eminent scientist.) Yet I was surprised to see recently that a TOC prize for recognition of devotion to the community was given 16 times to 16 men. What could be the explanation?

    But again, the most important thing is my support to Scott’s points 1-7.

  127. a-non Says:

    @Eli #64

    “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.

    You shouldn’t need to have such passion for your work that you build work stuff in your off time, just to get the job. Change this expectation, and you get a far larger recruitment pool

    This is exactly the opposite response to that anecdote to mine.

    Isn’t it amazing that such people exist? Isn’t it great for them that they can find work doing what they love & would do anyway? And great for the rest of us that they develop all sorts of cool stuff: not just basement projects, but things that improve my life enormously. You want to replace all that with people punching in 9-5?

    Is it so terrible that people need to look around & find jobs that fit them?

    It’s not only engineers, BTW. Every language teacher I’ve met seems to be learning several more obscure languages, in her own time (my sample is 100% female) and loves it. Is this wrong?

    Is our offence at what faces then show up in the group photo so strong that we should instead socially engineer these jobs into something else?

  128. Svejk Says:

    1. The comment field on this blog leaks email addresses

    2. I think the argument that Damore was implicitly criticizing his colleagues (intentionally or not) is fairly convincing. His memo included the phrase “Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for ‘diversity’ candidates by decreasing the false negative rate”. If I read this as a Googler, I would assume he meant that at least some existing colleagues hired under current or past practice faced a lower bar than others, even if their lower bar was higher than the bar at other less competitive employers.

    This type of workplace discussion places certain demographics in a bind. It’s easy to dispassionately argue argue about sex differences on a Gaussian when it’s not your suitability for your highly desirable job that is being discussed. To say that these sorts are criticisms are enabled by the practice of affirmative action ignores the fact that in the period before affirmative action was enacted, the abilities of the target demographics were not taken particularly seriously, either. So you have several groups of people with little historical experience of being assessed fairly as individuals and with a reasonably defensible prior expectation that they would be at a disadvantage relative to the general population under a different regime unless a strong prior commitment to individual assessment independent of demographic statistics is made.

    I’m against affirmative action beyond outreach and recruitment efforts, but I think we should acknowledge that some degree of sensitivity to the topic is not misplaced.

  129. Peli Grietzer Says:

    Relevant datum: I happen to be close friends with Piper Harron, despite our extreme disagreement about the tactical merits of ‘Social Justice Culture,’ so I know she doesn’t exactly literally believe what she says in that post, and didn’t expect people to read it that way. What she does literally believe (unlike me) is that extreme rhetoric is helpful. Her follow-up post gives valuable context about how to read someone like her: http://www.theliberatedmathematician.com/2017/06/get-out-the-way-part-2/

  130. Scott Says:

    Peli #129: From a practical standpoint, I find the difficulty with extreme rhetoric that you don’t literally believe is that people often have trouble distinguishing it from the extreme rhetoric that you do literally believe, especially if there’s a lot of the latter as well!

  131. jo Says:

    Scott #105
    “No matter how tiring it gets, we always—always—have the moral obligation to treat each other as individuals and to judge each accusation on individual evidence.”

    Yes I think you’re entirely right, that’s why I applaud you, Sarah, Stacey, and all level-headed commenters.

    As a human being, I have flaws, and that (not tolerating people I consider fools and using some of their own methods against “them”) is one. I try to be a good person in my everyday actions, but nobody’s perfect…And on the subject I just about reached my breaking point. I’m no Gandhi. I sometimes show anger in my reactions. I sometimes judge people quickly.

    Does that make me part of the problem? Maybe…

  132. adamt Says:

    Svejk #128,

    If you amend the hiring process to include criteria other than merit, then it seems reasonable to conclude that it is at least possible some hires were not completely meritorious. Don’t you think?

    OTOH, I think the signal to noise ratio for merit is so bad in tech hiring that this is largely irrelevant. I am intrigued by the suggestion of a blind hiring process, but I suspect this is very tough in practice.

  133. PV Says:

    Consider the following explanation for why the gender gap in STEM is larger in countries with greater gender equality:
    * The countries with greater gender equality are also the ones where men and women find their own mates, and where teenage girls are “allowed” to have/want boyfriends.
    * It is well known that in the US (at least) girls are good at math till adolescence when they stop being as interested/assertive in it.
    * There was some work done in the 80s (I can’t find the book now, “Reviving Ophelia”?) that suggested that the girls were holding themselves back so as not to intimidate the boys they were attracted to.

    In countries with not-as-much gender equality, on the other hand, girls continue to do well in all of school, including math; perhaps because they are not distracted by trying to appear attractive to the boys.

    There is also another explanation available in the discussion following Scott Alexander’s essay: in less authoritarian societies, men are more aggressive because they all have the chance to be alpha males. In such a setting then, while there may be the general freedoms for both genders, women will experience more aggression in the workplace when men are in the majority.

    So I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that that gender gaps in professions in the developed countries reflect the “true” desires of the genders.

    If that were the case, American women must really hate becoming President.

  134. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Nobody has referenced the work of Sean Stevens and Jonathan Haidt to bring all relevant scientific meta analysis in one place to form an informed opinion on the topic.

    Please read https://heterodoxacademy.org/2017/08/10/the-google-memo-what-does-the-research-say-about-gender-differences/

    Here are their conclusions from the current body of research:

    The research findings are complicated, as you can see from the many abstracts containing both red and green text, and from the presence on both sides of the debate of some of the top researchers in psychology. Nonetheless, we think that the situation can be greatly clarified by distinguishing abilities from interests. We think the following three statements are supported by the research reviewed above:

    1. Gender differences in math/science ability, achievement, and performance are small or nil. (See especially the studies by Hyde; see also this review paper by Spelke, 2005). There are two exceptions to this statement:

    A) Men (on average) score higher than women on some tests of spatial abilities, such as the ability to rotate 3-dimensional objects in one’s mind. This ability may be relevant in some areas of engineering, but it’s not clear why it would matter for coding.

    B) There is some evidence that men are more variable on a variety of traits, meaning that they are over-represented at both tails of the distribution (i.e., more men at the very bottom, and at the very top), even though there is no gender difference on average. There is an ongoing debate about whether or not this is true across nations and decades; We are currently reviewing this literature, and will post our conclusions and links to studies next week.

    2. Gender differences in interest and enjoyment of math, coding, and highly “systemizing” activities are large. The difference on traits related to preferences for “people vs. things” is found consistently and is very large, with some effect sizes exceeding 1.0. (See especially the meta-analyses by Su and her colleagues, and also see this review paper by Ceci & Williams, 2015).

    3. Culture and context matter, in complicated ways. Some gender differences have decreased over time as women have achieved greater equality, showing that these differences are responsive to changes in culture and environment. But the cross-national findings sometimes show “paradoxical” effects: progress toward gender equality in rights and opportunities sometimes leads to larger gender differences in some traits and career choices. Nonetheless, it seems that actions taken today by parents, teachers, politicians, and designers of tech products may increase the likelihood that girls will grow up to pursue careers in tech, and this is true whether or not biology plays a role in producing any particular population difference. (See this review paper by Eagly and Wood, 2013).

    In conclusion, based on the meta-analyses we reviewed above, Damore seems to be correct that there are “population level differences in distributions” of traits that are likely to be relevant for understanding gender gaps at Google and other tech firms. The differences are much larger and more consistent for traits related to interest and enjoyment, rather than ability. This distinction between interest and ability is important because it may address one of the main fears raised by Damore’s critics: that the memo itself will cause Google employees to assume that women are less qualified, or less “suited” for tech jobs, and will therefore lead to more bias against women in tech jobs. But the empirical evidence we have reviewed should have the opposite effect. Population differences in interest may be part of the explanation for why there are fewer women in the applicant pool, but the women who choose to enter the pool are just as capable as the larger number of men in the pool. This conclusion does not deny that various forms of bias, harassment, and discouragement exist and contribute to outcome disparities, nor does it imply that the differences in interest are biologically fixed and cannot be changed in future generations.

    If our three conclusions are correct then Damore was drawing attention to empirical findings that seem to have been previously unknown or ignored at Google, and which might be helpful to the company as it tries to improve its diversity policies and outcomes. What should Google’s response to the memo have been? We’ll address that in a followup post next week.

  135. Peli Grietzer Says:

    Scott #130: Yes, that’s very well put.

  136. melior Says:

    2. The fields beloved by STEM nerds are suffered to continue to exist, rather than getting destroyed and rebuilt along explicitly ideological lines, as already happened with many humanities and social science fields.

    I was saddened and depressed when I witnessed exactly this sort of community self-destruction at a once-favorited Science Blogs atheism blog, with the gradual engulfment of the comments by a different game: enforcing the choice of surrendering to group identity or being viciously wolfpacked. For a brief while, I thought that if this could happen in such a rationalist sphere, that the spirit of the Enlightenment itself must somehow be dimming. I was wrong. I can only express how appreciative I feel towards the creators of such wonderful corners of the interwebs as Shtetl-Optimized and Slate Star Codex.

  137. Svejk Says:

    Svejk #128,

    If you amend the hiring process to include criteria other than merit, then it seems reasonable to conclude that it is at least possible some hires were not completely meritorious. Don’t you think?
    —-
    I’m not arguing against this, I’m just pointing out that there is a particular weight borne by certain demographics. Gender and race have always been non-meritorious criteria included in hiring decisions; now the polarity of the preference has shifted in some(many?) cases. If you are a minority supporting abandoning AA, you must trust that population-based statistics including and adjacent to the ones presented in the memo are not being incorporated into hiring decisions affecting you. I think we should recognize that we are asking for a presumption of good faith at odds with historical precedent, and offer concrete assurances that individual merit is paramount. For example, will it still be permissible to consider exogenous emergent factors such as “culture fit” relevant in hiring?

    The “lowering the bar” comment in the memo was strangely put. If only the false negative rate is being reduced, it would seem that the primary complaint of the author is that Google has actually identified a *superior* pipeline for hiring candidates, but strangely only applies it to minority candidates. This would suggest that the diversity programme has produced at least one tangible benefit, and a large one at that. I think that is why it was interpreted as impugning the abilities of minority hires (assuming a tradeoff between type I and type II error).

  138. Eva Silverstein Says:

    @a-non: of course you are right that these notions are distinct, but they both enter into the assessment of whether this constitutes a discovery of an intrinsic biological parameter. A 1 sigma value for the mean is not a strong enough effect to be conclusive given the enormous complexity and room for systematic errors (not least in converting the words ‘people and things’ to numbers). I may also need coffee, but within 1 sigma, the probability is >.6 of the maximum. That is, if you buy the numbers quoted it is at least .6 as probable that for a given person there is equal interest in ‘people’ and ‘things’ as there being ~1 unit more interest in one or the other (the claimed mean). (And this factor of .6 gets even closer to one when we go out to 3 sigma, the 99.7 percent confidence window, in the other sense of sigma.). In a manifestly complicated (in physics language, strongly interacting) system, with lots of ambiguity in the analysis, this is far from compelling evidence for an intrinsic effect. An order 1 value like .6 can easily be swamped by effects that haven’t been taken into account. The reason anomalies go away routinely is only partly that it is a statistical fluke, it is also because of systematics not originally accounted for. This neuroscience question is complex and obviously fraught with many sources of error, especially when treated at the level of psychological surveys. So I do not think this paper exhibits significant evidence, and in physics it would be quoted as an upper bound on the intrinsic parameter rather than a discovery. The upper bound is not zero, so there is room for an effect, but none has been firmly established.

    Regarding different countries: these are all just-so stories. I have heard an equally compelling, opposite interpretation that women are more free to pursue their true passions in Iran because of the unequal dress code, which enables those in conservative families to participate more than otherwise. Sex roles observed by young children from birth in free countries (whatever free really means) have some effect, popular culture still objectifies people etc etc so I don’t buy the argument that true interests are clearly manifested in these places. Anecdotally, when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I knew precisely one family with equality in housework (fortunately my own). In all others I knew, the women cleaned up after the men. The laws are free but the people are not weakly interacting, these effects must be included.
    Times may or may not have changed, but in only 1-2 generations these effects have not dissipated.

    The just-so stories (in both directions), and dubious semi-quantitative psychology analyses, are not a shortcut to solving the actual neuroscience question, which is highly nontrivial.
    This is my main point, I hope it’s clear.

  139. Josh Porath Says:

    Pv #133:

    I hear it over and over again and it drives me crazy: Where were all those math loving girls when I was young? They sure wouldn’t have to hold it back to look attractive to me and I wish the same inclination would have made me more attractive to them… I guess Scott, like so many other nerds, shares my sentiment.

  140. Jane Says:

    Joining this discussion probably too late to be noticed. Being African American, woman, pregnant, overweight, etc. are visible characteristics that cannot be hidden. They are used as weapons in any disagreement that may arise. When you have a person like Damore on your team, he is more likely to conclude he is right in a technical/directional disagreement with a woman. He is probably articulating what many men believe but don’t say, and are feeling emboldened to say these days. Sort of like the KKK no longer feeling the need to cover their heads.

    Mysoginistic behavior is the name given to certain behavior traits and verbal expressions that make women uncomfortable. Being on the autistic spectrum, Asperger’s syndrome and these sorts of things don’t make women uncomfortable, on the contrary more understanding and nurturing because we detect a difference from the norm and are inclined to be protective (Ann Coulter aside). Misogyny in STEM is a big problem in my experience.

  141. Jane Says:

    Seconding Gil Kilai on this point:
    Women need to struggle more not only in first-rate places largely occupied by geniuses but also in second rate places and third rate places and fourth rate places. The common explanation of “friend bring a friend” mechanism along with some misogyny has much stronger and wider explanation power. The number of eminent women mathematicians who had to struggle (not to be recognized as eminent but to get tenure) is staggering.

    PV puts words to what I’ve always thought about western societies. Men are way too aggressive. People may think that women in eastern societies are docile following their husbands but they hold the power not just in the educated masses but also among the uneducated (to a lesser extent). In the workplace a talented women faces less opposition since men are simply less aggressive. An aggressive person will use whatever weakness he perceives to get ahead and my previous comment follows.

    Jo I too have difficulty suffering fools and suffering fools is a necessary skill in any university setting. Gandhi was an extremely smart politician and a lawyer. He figured out just how to free India. Evil without good (like Hitler) burns out fast. The British were evil with good and that’s how they lasted 400+ years. Gandhi figured out how to tap into the good.

  142. Edan Maor Says:

    Excellent post Scott (and great points Sarah and Stacey).

    I agree with almost everything Scott wrote. Ironically the only thing I disagree with is whether Google “should have” fired him (for some value of “should”), but this is largely incidental in my mind – the problem isn’t how Google reacted in light of the bad press, the problem is that this memo caused such bad press in the first place.

    Some thoughts:

    1. “Let that be the measure of just how terrifyingly efficient the social-media outrage machine has become at twisting its victims’ words to fit a clickbait narrative […] Strikingly, it seems not to make the slightest difference if (as in this case) the original source text is easily available to everyone.”

    This is the scariest paragraph in Scott’s post. People keep talking about the whole “fake news” and “post-truth” thing all the time, but look at just how far it’s gotten – we literally have a single piece of text written a few weeks ago, with such varying interpreting of it. Half the people are saying the media is distorting it, and the other half are saying that it isn’t, and the text *itself* is available for everyone!

    2. While I’m definitely on the side of “the memo has been widely misrepresented”, especially in that he focuses on interests and not abilites, I’d like to point out that he *does* mention abilities: From the memo – “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

    3. One thing that does concern me – it feels to me (and to many others, obviously) that we are in a world where PC has gotten out of hand, where the truth, or at least perfectly valid scientific hypothesis’ cannot be discussed, etc.

    However an alternative take – this is how the world has been for the last 30 years, it’s nothing new. The *only* difference, is that now the “other side” has gotten stronger and more prestigious, enough so that we are actually running into cases where people who would’ve just quietly shut up in the past, are now raising these issues. (Promptly getting fired, but *raising them*).

    Just as a statement about how the world is, this would mean that, rather than PC getting “worse” and more prevalent, what’s actually happening is that conservative/etc thoughts are getting more prevalent and more socially/politically powerful. This actually goes well into explaining Trump.

    In which case, the “anti-memo” side kind’ve has a point about what the real harm is.

    (This is a mirror of the argument that racial tensions aren’t worse now because the situation has gotten worse, since it probably hasn’t. Rather, the situation for racial minorities has gotten enough better, that they have the social/political clout to at last be heard, and to go back to the world as it was before is to make minorities worse off).


    Note on why I think Google “should have” fired him: here I’m mostly mirroring other people in this thread who say (correctly, IMO) that talking politics in the workplace is something that is considered off-limits, which I think is totally legitimate – if you want to talk politics, talk about it outside of work hours. This is different than e.g. academia, but this is pretty well understood by everyone. Btw, some people in this thread do have me reexamining my thought on this, because apparently the memo wasn’t as widely “sent out” as some people have made it out to be.

  143. Microsoft Bob Says:

    #59: I don’t think any significant percentage of the anti-affirmative-action side is particularly opposed to blinding the admissions process as far as possible. The problem is that if gender-blind recruitment leads to the opposite of the expected outcome (e.g. in the case of http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-30/bilnd-recruitment-trial-to-improve-gender-equality-failing-study/8664888) as it often does, suddenly the enthusiasm makes way for an array of excuses and god-of-the-gaps style arguments for why the process must have been biased.

  144. Sandro Says:

    @Par Winzell # 32:

    Having consumed all the admirable thinking, I must side with the people who feel that a publishing a ‘manifesto’ declaring that your female coworkers are likely statistical anomalies, this is not an emotionally honest way to engender discussion; it is an act of aggression.

    Except Damore didn’t claim any such thing. If only 20% of engineers are women interested in STEM subjects, then the fact that Google only has 20% female representation simply reflects that fact, and diversity hiring practices are logically impossible. Literally.

    Female Googles thus aren’t statistical anomalies, they would just represent whatever standard fraction of women are interested in STEM. How is that anomalous?

    That and your follow-up that his document “bristles with latent misogyny” is exactly the problem with the current discussion around this issue. You speak to how you interpret Damore’s tone and motives, which is literally impossible to know, instead of the factual status of Damore’s claims.

  145. Svejk Says:

    Most of the debate around this issue is toxoplasma, but I’m sympathetic to minority nerds who find the discussion uncomfortable. Here’s the thought experiment I’m considering:

    Let’s say I’m an idealized Reasonably Charitable and Open-Minded Minority Interlocutor. I’ve been following the debate over this memo on Hacker News, SSC, and this blog. I’ve read the full memo itself and dismissed the media falsifications of same.

    I observe that a lot of informed discussants on these fora do not find the 80/20 sex split, for example, to be unusual in the absence of a significant bias component somewhere in the pipeline unrelated to aptitude or interest. Let’s say I think that that bias and differing opportunities are a significant factor, but they exert their primary effects well before Google’s hiring decisions. I am open to the idea that significant tail variance in relevant aptitudes or interests exists between my group and others, and do not expect to see a split reflecting our precise representation in the general population.

    I am persuaded by the memo and discussion that maintaining the current level of diversity is extremely expensive, as even the search and outreach costs associated with a rather minimal level of affirmative action inevitably accumulate a large amount of corporate overhead. I observe – in the memo fiasco – how quickly Google is to act in its business interests under the current social norms. I conclude that business interests trump common nerd notions of fairness and free speech, and the company’s stated mission.

    I am asked to consider changing the norm to remove the presumption of bias as a significant determinant of disparate outcomes. It is acknowledged that this may lead to a reduction in the costly end-of-pipeline outreach efforts that have benefited some of my group.

    Is it unreasonable for me to believe that a drop to 90/10 or lower (or its equivalent for my group) would not be considered unusual or a cause for concern by the general population, but rather a reflection of inherent aptitude/interest? Is it unfair to assume that vigilance about bias would drop precipitously under this new norm, and that there would be less pressure to address factors other than inherent interest/aptitude affecting the pipeline at earlier stages? Let’s presume that I am aware that the econ/management literature is inconclusive about the profit-enhancing effect of a diverse workplace in and of itself. If there is no signalling value in diversity under the new norm, why wouldn’t Google (or another employer) adopt a prior incorporating population-based statistics into its hiring practices to reduce costs? What is the appropriate level of confidence I should have that I will be recruited and assessed solely on my individual merits?

    It seems like the reasonable minority interlocutor is being encouraged to give up a valuable foothold by people who would not notice if she were to disappear.

  146. Nilima Says:

    Why can’t the world just be about things that I like? it would certainly be a calmer place if the biggest arguments were about D-Wave or something.

    e.g. http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2820

  147. Sandro Says:

    @Anynoymous #59:

    The point is that knowing the identity/gender of a candidate obviously biased the opinion of a juror on the quality of a candidate. It may have been a (large) unconscious bias rather than rampant sexism.

    Absolutely. But if only 20% of CS graduates are women, and ~20% of Google’s engineers are women, as Damore claimed, is there such a bias? It seems literally impossible for the whole CS industry’s workforce to be comprised of more than 20% women, on average. What am I missing?

  148. Scott Says:

    Jane #140:

      Being on the autistic spectrum, Asperger’s syndrome and these sorts of things don’t make women uncomfortable, on the contrary more understanding and nurturing because we detect a difference from the norm and are inclined to be protective (Ann Coulter aside).

    I think you’re underestimating how easily women can misinterpret friendly and well-intentioned but nerdy or Aspergery male behaviors as “creepy” or “inappropriate.” There are many aspects of this discussion where I hesitate to offer an opinion, lacking firsthand experience, but this is one aspect where you could safely consider me a world authority. 🙂

  149. Sandro Says:

    @Doug K #62, thanks for the link, but Sadedin immediately invalidated her own credibility with this claim:

    argues that cognitive sex differences influence performance in software engineering, but presents no supporting evidence. Available evidence does not support the claim.

    Damore didn’t claim any such performance difference. His “dog-whistle to the alt-right” re:IQ and sex differences, in Sadedin’s words, is a hostile motive she ascribes to Damore.

    If one were being charitable to an opposing argument, as it should be, then one can charitably assume Damore is simply informally describing his goal of establishing that gender differences exist across a broad range of characteristics. This isn’t a scientific paper with a narrow, laser-focused purpose, from which all tangential fat has been trimmed, but a broad informal statement meant for discussion.

  150. Scott Says:

    Edan #142:

      if you want to talk politics, talk about it outside of work hours. This is different than e.g. academia, but this is pretty well understood by everyone.

    From what I understand, Damore posted his memo on an internal discussion forum that was specifically created for talking about diversity and related issues. It was only circulated elsewhere in the company, and then to the rest of the world, as part of a successful effort by Damore’s detractors to get him fired.

    So, what rankles is that Google appears not to have had a “no politics in the office” rule that was “pretty well understood by everyone.” On the contrary, it looks as though Google outright encouraged its employees to speak freely about a certain issue, and only later, after a leak of part of the resulting discussion ignited a media firestorm, retroactively declared, “well, when we said freely, we didn’t mean that freely.” Understandable yes, courageous no.

  151. Sandro Says:

    @Otterbee #76:

    Instead of treating meritocracy as a moral principle, we should recommit to a robust egalitarianism, where, to the extent possible, we want humans to lead lives of happiness, dignity, and freedom. Meritocracy is often the right way to do this, since finding the best people for a job means more consumer surplus, which is better for everyone! But it’s permissible only insofar as it makes life better for some without making life worse for any (what Rawls calls the “difference principle.”

    A bold move, questioning the moral justification of meritocratic selection itself! Certainly a way to view these issues that I had never considered, and you made the case well I think. You actually made me change my mind for a minute, so thanks!

    My off-the-cuff thoughts:

    1. Meritocratic rewards encourage ambition, which is a prime driver of social progress that benefits all. The poorest in most first-world countries are better off than ever as a result.

    2. Dove-tailing from the above, meritocratic rewards encourage self-direction, mastery and purpose, all of which are prime indicators of individual human happiness.

    Both of these are ends you yourself claim to seek, but cutting out our seeking meritocratic rewards to serve more short-term ends may simply cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    That said, perhaps there are some circumstances where meritocratic benefits don’t outweigh the benefits of short-term policy interventions. I think there should be a high evidence bar to surmount though, something I’m not sure has been met.

    Thanks for your insightful comment though!

  152. Sandro Says:

    @Dan Stanley #83:

    “Women on average are more prone to anxiety”
    “Women on average are more cooperative”
    [Women’s higher agreeableness] “leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.”
    “Men have a higher drive for status on average”

    When Damore agreed to work at Google, he agreed to abide by the Google Code of Conduct, which includes not making blatently sexist statements like these.

    Assuming those are factual statements that are empirically supported, are you seriously suggesting that stating facts is now sexist?

    Because many on the alt-right have been pushing this narrative, and you’ve just poured gasoline on that fire.

  153. anonymous Says:

    You gave a platform to someone taking a shot at Piper Harron (while saying no ad hominems?). There are a couple things I would like to point out about this.

    1. Sarah’s comment is a misrepresentation, since Piper never said that hiring shouldn’t be based on whether you’re good at math.

    2. Piper has been a target of heavy trolling/harassment as a result of that essay. She has been physically threatened, sent horrible slurs, called to be fired, and effectively silenced and forced off of social media. You often talk about how horrible internet harassment is, and I agree with you. But then why are you giving a platform to someone contributing to this smearing (albeit via misrepresentation rather than outright slurs)? Why aren’t you also standing up for the rights of Piper and women like her to speak (whether or not you agree with their exact positions), or all the women who have been fired for speaking out about sexism and racism, in addition to people like Damore?

  154. yyyyyyy Says:

    “…I care a lot more about whether my company achieves its goal of curing 100 rare diseases in 10 years than about the demographic makeup of our team…”
    And that’s the whole point, well said Sarah!

    P.S.
    Question: Does AMS endorse Piper Harron’s opinions?

  155. Scott Says:

    Everyone who told me about the email addresses leaking: thanks very much for bringing to my attention the recrudescence of this nasty bug. I’ve emailed WordPress Concierge Services asking them to take a look at it (but, since they’ve been helping me for free, they sometimes take a while to get around to my requests).

  156. Scott Says:

    anonymous #153: Sarah criticized something that Piper Harron wrote. It wasn’t, even by the furthest stretch of imagination, an ad hominem attack.

    I denounce the use of threats or slurs against anyone. But Harron’s post really did strike me as inflammatory: did it not literally say that thousands of people, because they were born as “white cis men,” should be permanently denied their aspirations to do mathematical research? Would anyone tolerate that kind of talk for a nanosecond were it directed against women, or Hispanics? You’re not on very solid ground when your strongest defense is the one Peli Grietzer offered, that you didn’t actually mean what you said (but you’re not going to retract it or apologize either).

  157. yyyyyyy Says:

    “Would anyone tolerate that kind of talk for a nanosecond were it directed against women, or Hispanics?”

    you would be recursively fired from current and all possible future jobs till the end of time…

  158. anonymous Says:

    Scott #156: Glad to hear you thought Piper’s post was inflammatory; I found the Google memo (which was also never apologized for) inflammatory.

    I look forward to your future extensive blog post defending a woman fired (and harassed online) for speaking out about racism or sexism. A good place to start looking might be Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.

  159. hypatia123 Says:

    The proposed solution ‘A) ‘Feminists’ don’t smear ‘nerds’ B) ‘Nerds don’t offer ‘cognitive’ explanations of men and women having different interests, C) We all do affirmative action et cetera’
    …seems pretty one-sided

    Here are some more substantive problems with the proposal:
    1) it seems like this will be unsatisfactory to both sides. The ‘feminist’ side ostensibly believe that women actually are are put off from tech due to gross personally sexist men. The ‘nerds’ostensibly do believe that the cause of low numbers is fundamental difference in interests. Neither side should be happy about not being able to mention the thing which they think is actually causing the problem.

    2) Silence about the putative cause(s) of the disparity doesn’t seem to sit well with a policy of ongoing affirmative action to redress the imbalance. An extremely likely outcome seems to be that the imbalance remains largely intractable (because tech is a sexist quagmire or because women are relatively less interested in technical ‘things’ relative to social ‘people’ stuff), and so ever stronger affirmative action (and etc.) policies have to be called for. This would inevitably place pressure on the negotiated silence, as more and more people on both sides call for us to tackle the ‘real’ problem.

    3) including (C) in the solution seems to rely on Scott’s fifth contention that diversity should be promoted for its own sake even if it arose exclusively through women/men’s innocuous preferences. But despite the popularity of the claim that diversity is valuable in itself, the claim seems extremely implausible and damaging.

    Trying to get men/women to move from subjects and careers they are inclined to like those they are less inclined to like seems likely to be a bad idea in a fairly obvious way (in some sense people are probably more likely to like and flourish in the areas they themselves prefer). Sure people might be misled about what career would suit them best, but it takes some hubris to assume that they (women) would systematically prefer tech if we ‘enlightened’ them. Perhaps the reverse would be true and even more women should choose psychology over tech? The push for more women in tech because it’s “nice” also seems to ignore how the distribution of men/women across areas is also intrinsically a *relative* matter in that making tech have more women in it means fewer women in healthcare, education, psychology, social science etc., or requires moving men from tech to English Literature, Art History etc. Maybe more men in those subjects would be “nice” but encouraging the mass transfer between areas people (would) choose and unrelated areas they didn’t choose obviously has opportunity costs. This proposed trade-off reminds me of the part in Scott Alexander’s Tulip Subsidy post where doctors tacitly endorse spending $4bn to add “a touch of class” by having med students study 4 extra pointless years in college. Inevitably one has to wonder whether people really think that the niceness of diversity in itself is so valuable (particularly given that no one is really pressing for reverse affirmative action in the arts, social sciences, education, social work, health care, veterinary science, paediatrics, et cetera et cetera.

  160. anonymous Says:

    Scott #156: And thanks, you’re right that it’s not an ad hominem attack. However the misrepresentation of what she actually said worries me.

  161. AdamBW Says:

    @Daniel Kokotajlo 103 (and part of szopen 55): You’re completely right that it’s not in the document. It was my attempt at paraphrasing the content in:

    “This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue.”

    that I found particularly objectionable. At the time it seemed fair, but I certainly have my biases. Perhaps:

    “(due to biological differences) Women, on average have a harder time leading then men”

    would have been better?

  162. Anonymous Says:

    Excellent post. I agree with almost everything except for one thing: I believe Google was in its right to fire James Damore.

    One of the most corrosive forces in today’s American culture is political correctness from all sides. You don’t fight political correctness with more of it.

    Google, as a corporation, has every right to be a left leaning, coastal corporation with a set of values and to refuse entry into its workforce those it deems ideologically unfit. I am not talking about legalities here, I am talking about principle.

    My problem with what Google has done is the hypocrisy of it all. It wants to be both a left leaning, coastal corporation and then pretend it has no biases for branding purposes. That’s an untenable position to have and sooner or later it was destined to blow up. James Damore made it blow up.

    To those who believe that non-left leaning people will never be able to create successful high tech companies I say: take a long view of history. Nothing is immutable when it comes to success. The original successful “Silicon Valley” companies like Intel or Lockheed were “right wing”. It’s the current crop that are left-leaning, but it is not a given those of the future will also be left leaning. Then, I have another word for you: Fox News. The genius of Roger Ailes was to realize that there was a large segment of the American people, around 50 %, who were not represented by the left wing media. The so called “conservative media” was born, and we as a country never looked back.

    My hope is that the James Damore incident brings non leftists together and alternative, non leftist high tech companies are born as a result.

  163. Sarah Constantin Says:

    Just to set the record straight:

    I’m sorry to hear that Piper Harron has been harassed online and I don’t want to contribute to her getting further harmed. I do disagree with her general viewpoint (yes, even after reading her blog that explained the “Get Out The Way” post wasn’t a literal policy prescription). I read her whole blog archive before writing this. But her right to express her opinions is a pretty standard case of academic freedom & open discourse. I am glad she is free to speak her mind.

  164. Stacey Says:

    Scott, in his original post, and some commenters (A B #60, hypatia123 #159) have said or seemed to imply that certain programs for encouraging more women in tech/STEM are an accusation that the men in these areas are sexist. I completely disagree. In some cases this is pretty obvious, like programs for getting more young girls interested in science (if anything, these are an accusation against the parents and teachers, but I would also not go that far). However, even in cases where, for example, there is a student conference only for women. This doesn’t happen because men are mean to women at conferences and so they need to be kept away. It’s because even in a group of perfectly nice people, it can be difficult to always be in the minority.

    From A B #60:

    The claim is that sexism almost exclusively drives the difference in number of male programmers and female programmers. That no other reason could possibly contribute meaningfully to the disparity. Have they shown that?

    Nobody has shown that, but I would contend that very few people are claiming it either.

    I don’t work for a tech company, but from what I have heard from people who do, it does sound like some changes to the culture could help attract and keep more women. However, even this doesn’t necessarily have to be an indictment of men in tech, who are almost certainly not purposefully fostering an anti-woman culture. I have implicit biases, for example, against women. I don’t think they make me a bad person, but I do feel a moral obligation to do what I can to minimize their impact on other people.

  165. Stacey Says:

    Scott #90:

    if you were an autism-spectrum individual with a weakness for blurting things out that you think are true even if they might offend someone or lower your social status—a Sheldon Cooper, if you will—then the main “safe spaces” that could accommodate people like you were the academic hard sciences, or tech companies such as Google.

    And what if one employee keeps blurting out offensive things to another employee so that the second employee doesn’t feel safe working with the first? Why should the Sheldon character get a “safe space” to make things “unsafe” for others? I think in some cases, you do have to make a decision about what constitutes “being a dick”.

  166. Stacey Says:

    Daniel #114: “Do you still like and respect those people? I wouldn’t.”

    I was one of those people. Although you haven’t said why you hold this view, I can elaborate: Scott had implied that he disagreed with the contents of the memo, but without clarifying, people who don’t know him might interpret his position as completely agreeing with a manifesto that many people feel is offensive to women. Scott is looked up to by a lot of people in our field of research, including young women who are still deciding if they want an academic career, and I worried they might feel alienated. I’m fairly confident I still have Scott’s respect.

  167. Haelfix Says:

    Regarding Eva’s (#98) points about systematics and error within psychology and social sciences.

    Yes! Indeed, there are almost no studies that would ever cross a physicists threshold for confirmation. The entire field is riddled with papers claiming significance for effects that will likely go away during replication studies.

    Ironically, the only ones that would likely survive a hard science threshold, are those based on IQ. There is not a single field in social science that has more evidence backing it than the strong (cross cultural) correlation between IQ and various outcomes.

    Of course strict adherence to this rule would likely remove most evidence for the ‘discrimination’ story as well, for instance the much discussed unconsious bias studies or the various hiring biases.

    At the end of the day, data alone will likely never suffice in social sciences, theoretical prejudices (explanatory power, consistency) must necessarily be a part in what people believe.

  168. Dan Staley Says:

    Erik #120: Of course men and women are, in some ways, different. And if Damore had phrased his statements as “Here’s a link to a study suggesting men are biologically predisposed to be better leaders than women”, then he might still be working at Google today. But he didn’t cite any studies or provide any links for his statement. He didn’t qualify it with “may” or “evidence suggests”. He simply made the blanket statement that women, on average, are less suited to be good leaders.

    If someone were to say “Women, on average, are less intelligent than men”, it appears to me your post #120 defends that statement just as well as it defends those of Damore. That makes it hard for me to believe your argument is sound.

    Sandro #152: That’s a pretty big assumption! If you’re claiming it is, in fact, a true fact that is empirically supported, I’d love for you to point me towards evidence of the scientific consensus that women are biologically less suited to be leaders than men.

    But even if such a consensus exists, the point stands that Damore does not provide any references or evidence of it. If we don’t require people making such statements to clarify exactly what the evidence is for the statement and how much certainty the scientific community has for it, we may as well allow them to make statements like “Women, on average, are less intelligent than men”.

    (And to be clear, I’m talking about within a work context with well-established rules against this kind of thing. I’m still an avid supporter of First Amendment rights and don’t support public shaming – my argument here is about whether Google was right to fire him on the grounds that he violated the Code of Conduct and created a hostile work environment for female employees).

  169. PV Says:

    Josh #139: It could be that they were interested in boys before boys were interested in them, and so they turned off math before you began looking for them? Who knows. 🙂

    In response to Sandro #147, in response to anonymous #59.

    The fraction of women in engineering at MIT is larger than a half. See, for example, “Women break barriers in engineering and computer science at some top colleges”, Nick Anderson, Washington Post, Sept 16, 2016. Other top schools (CMU, Caltech, Stanford) also have a significantly larger fraction of women than the 20% nationwide average.

    Scott says female students in his (required? undergrad?) class are wildly over-represented in the top.

    Arguably, google hires from among the best, and not from among the average. But if “best” can be defined as “top of the class from the top schools”, surely, we are looking at more than 20%?

    So why aren’t tech companies saying the same thing as Scott? Why is 20% an acceptable fraction of women at google?

  170. Adam Treat Says:

    Stacey #165,

    I think this is the problem with safe spaces. It is essentially a call for action (or explicit non-action) motivated by empathy. And fails when the two parties call for it with diametrically opposed actions. And then it devolves into an argument over who is more deserving of empathy.

    Personally, I’m all in favor of people taking actions (or explicit non-actions) based upon compassion. Where I grow uncomfortable is with two parties with opposing needs asking each other in good faith to back down and devolving into an argument which reduces compassion rather than amplifying it.

    I try to teach my kids that through putting other’s needs motivated by compassion that they will achieve happiness for themselves and be a positive force for happiness in others. And then when they start arguing over a toy and insist the other should give in so as to be happy I have to shake my head… I see the same thing at work when I see others *insisting* on others granting safe spaces. That’s not how it works…

  171. Stacey Says:

    Dan Staley #168: In the version of the memo I read, there were also no references, which really makes it sound worse, in my opinion, like he just pulls these statements out of thin air. In fact, he cited many sources (some apparently quite questionable), which were removed in publication by at least some media outlets.

  172. PV Says:

    I am a woman in STEM with degrees in engineering and math, now a tenured prof at a CS department in a private US university. I have read Damore’s manuscript about twice.

    As an undergrad, I studied at an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology); IIT campuses are notorious for their male culture—as mainly engineering institutions, they had a 1:20 female to male ratio when I was a student there. So I grew up around young adult male nerds saying all kinds of stuff; I’m probably fairly robust.

    I think Damore’s manuscript is sexist.

    First, it is not a discussion paper about the possible differences between men and women, their possible causes (nature/nurture) and the possible damage that current diversity practices at google might do to the minority. My position is that such a discussion would be completely acceptable, and that there are many acceptable ways to write such material in a paper. But I’m not sure that Damore could control himself sufficiently to write a discussion paper.

    The manuscript confidently lists differences, explicitly stated as being biological (and not “socially constructed”). Only literature supporting Damore’s point of view is cited. The huge body of work on other results is ignored. Damore’s perception of white men being discriminated against is brought up repeatedly.

    Second, though Damore states that he believes the differences to be responsible (only) in part for the lower numbers of women at google, he also says, in a footnote: [Preceded by something like in the world at large, women are paid less than men] “For the same work though, women get paid just as much as men. Considering women spend more money than men and that salary represents how much the employees sacrifices (e.g. more hours, stress, and danger), we really need to rethink our stereotypes around power.” He also implies that the bar has been lowered, and that he has observed discriminatory behavior.

    Third, as an avowed rationalist, surely Damore (and other rationalists on this blog) understands the limitations of experimental science that is not hard science? There are all kinds of variables involved, and how could a rationalist not know this, unless s/he wanted to ignore it on purpose? Even given the rich history of using such science to discriminate against virtually every different type of human (except the cis white male: don’t get upset folks, that’s just a rationalist stating a fact).

    If, indeed, women are paid less at google then men (completely believable given the crazy negotiating that occurs in SV), how could someone making these statements be allowed to evaluate his peers from underrepresented groups? Why could this not give them a very strong argument that their environment is hostile?

    I think google had the right to fire Damore. While speech is not the same thing as action, it is not without consequence, and can result in action for which the speaker must take at least some responsibility. Speech can start riots, create enemies, disrupt work environments. To pose freedom of speech as having binary utility in all situations doesn’t make sense. Strong speech will surely evoke responses of all kinds, and an employer can choose that the consequences are not worth the employee.

    This doesn’t mean Damore has to be unemployed: Wikileaks has already offered him a job.

    It is no coincidence that he has written this memo after the 2016 US election.

  173. J J Lin 2003 Says:

    @Dan Staley: You are simply wrong in your claim. In fact, James DID in fact include links and citations in his document. Here’s a link to the original document: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586-Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.html

    Look over it and compare that with what you thought happened. Dan Staley, I think you should publicly update your comments acknowledging that you were mistaken. Saying that another person “… didn’t cite any studies or provide any links for his statement” when that is categorically and indisputably incorrect should be personally corrected.

    This is interesting actually. I know a lot of people who think what you just said, but it is in fact not true. This is one thing that needs to be corrected within the tech community. What happened is that someone copied and pasted James’ post and did not include the original links, making it seem more incendiary and controversial than it should have been. The responsibility for spreading the non-linked document lies with the original spreader of this incomplete document, NOT with James. In my opinion, it is this person or people who should take responsibility for this whole mess.

  174. Dan Staley Says:

    JJ Lin 2003 #173: I never said Damore didn’t cite any references at all. I said he didn’t cite references for the specific gender claims I quoted.

    I suggest you go back to the document again, and find the parts I quoted, for example the statement that women, on average, have more gregariousness rather than assertiveness, which leads them to have a harder time leading among other things. The closest he comes to a citation for this is his earlier link (under the heading “Women, on average, have more”), which links to a wikipedia article that doesn’t discuss leadership, but contains a link to another article that discusses gender differences in leadership, listing studies that both find and do not find gender differences. That article is also flagged by wikipedia, by the way, for being “written like a personal reflection or opinion essay”.

    In other words:

    1) The reference isn’t next to the claim
    2) The reference doesn’t support the claim
    3) The reference is of dubious quality

    To me at least, that’s equivalent to “not a reference”.

  175. Igor Bukanov Says:

    I suspect that Google by firing James Damor may just want to spread the message that if one does not understand The Kolmogorov Option, then they are not smart enough to work at Google.

  176. anonymous Says:

    @Stacey #166: Thank you (as a junior woman in STEM). While I still don’t agree with everything Scott says, I certainly appreciate the clarification on points 1-7.

    To be honest, I spent most of last week feeling like quitting. There were multiple senior professors using their platform to jump to Damore’s defense, and while it’s fine to have a different opinion (and I don’t have a strong opinion on the actual firing part myself), I notice when free speech advocates in my field rush to defend men who spread gendered stereotypes yet are quiet when it comes to women fired/harassed for speaking out about sexism/racism (like I said above), and/or aren’t simultaneously speaking out about the harassment and discrimination issues within the field. Not to mention that the whole inflamed situation led to a bunch of sexist behavior from other people around me (and this coming after a long series of pretty blatant harassment and personal safety issues at work).

    Perhaps it will be easier to empathize if Scott pictures me (and others like me) as the future Lily who is quite capable and passionate about math yet slowly being alienated away from it.

    Completely tangential side note: Contact was also my favorite book growing up and Ellie was my hero.

  177. szopen Says:

    @PV
    (1) There is huge body of work stating that there is large difference in people-vs-things and neuroticism measurement between males/females. There is almost none stating otherwise. If you think otherwise, you are mistaken.

    Moreover, as this differences are quite robust across the cultures and age, and as they seem to be correlated with hormone levels (and again, I saw only studies confirming the correlation and I know no study denying the correlation) it is reasonable to postulate, that some part of this differences may be caused by biological factors.

    Moreover, as people in STEM are not just average people, but those from right-tail, there could be a cutoff which would demand some minimum “things over people” preference; if that preference would be far enough distanced from the averages, and assuming males are (as usual) more variable, then even modest differences in this dimension may result in huge results, leading to far more men deciding to pursuing STEM majors

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19883140

    (2) As Scott Alexander eloquently wrote it, if a super-elite school will decide to encourage only gingers, then it can achieve 50% of gingers in IT, but it does not prove that in “no-discrimination” condition naturally there would be 50% in gingers.

    (3) Why there are no affirmative actions for hiring more males as pediatricians, or veterinerians, who earn on average MORE than programmers and are not as ridiculed in mass culture as programmers?

  178. szopen Says:

    I must say that I would treat all those claims about sexism and how important is fighting gendered stereotypes more seriously, if people saying those things would, at the same time, fight more for more fair conservative representation in the science. The number of conservatives had sunk over the years; the average differences in intelligence cannot explain the size of the gap; there is research that shows that education does not cause people to become more liberal; there is research that shows liberal professors openly admitting that they would discriminate against conservatives.
    Moreover, while conservatives may change their views, this process is hard and rare, most do not change and it seems the political views are driven by differences in personality, which are partly heritable, meaning being conservative/liberal is in non-trivial part driven by biological causes and not a matter of choice.

    As long as there are no affirmative actions to increase the number of conservatives in science, I’d say f* all those who are screaming about sexism. You don’t want to be fair to me, I won’t be fair to you. I can play by any rules, but not when I feel those rules makes me a sucker.

  179. szopen Says:

    Sorry for the third comment in a row, but here is a honest question:

    Look here, table 3:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19883140

    “Female–male ratio among top 25% percentage of male participants divided by the
    percentage of female participants among the top 25% in overall population distribution of interests.”

    The score in “things vs people” is 0.287.

    Do I interpret it correctly, that in top25% of people interested the MOST in things, there would be 78% of males and only 22% of females?

    As students in CS and engineering will be in general more interested in things than in people, what is their percentage relative to other students?

    Does that finding mean that the differences in people-vs-things preferences would dictate that there would be 22% in “things-oriented jobs” at most in a natural, gender blind, non-discriminatory environment, or I am missing something due to my generally low intelligence and poor command of English?

  180. Poorvi Vora (aka PV) Says:

    anonymous #176

    Hang in there. I found that it can be hard, but it gets better. After some time, I could predict the arguments and they didn’t feel personal, just predictable. It helped me to identify a couple of the many male CS/engineering academics who do recognize the environment’s bias against women.

    But your own specific environment is most important. Do you have local mentors you can talk about this with? Are folks at work paying attention to your concerns and trying to fix them?

  181. Ash Says:

    Not to pick on you anonymous #176, but does it trouble you that silicon valley is extremely ageist?

    Are you my ally?
    Do you proactively speak up for me?
    What are you doing about ageism?

    Do you vow not to work for companies where the demographics inform you that the structural ageism that must exist?

    Will you speak out at these companies about ageist hiring practices?

    Are you aware Google is the subject of a class action suit alleging Google discriminates on the basis of age?

    Maybe you haven’t been aware of the ageism.

    Is it my responsibility to teach you about that?

    Now that I have informed you, what will you do?

  182. Dan Staley Says:

    Stacey #171: I alluded to this in my comment #174 above, but I wanted to make it clear that I was looking at the version with references included. Indeed, I didn’t even know a version without references existed!

    However, even in that version, *many of the specific claims are completely uncited*. I specifically picked out the claims he made that have no blue text anywhere near them, so we could avoid the argument of how valid those references are (personally I think many of them are baloney, but my argument doesn’t require this). So I stand by my statements.

  183. anonymous Says:

    Thank you for the kind words PV #180. Yes, I have found a few people in the field sensitive to these issues and identifying them has helped.

    I see that Ash #181 is trying to take a shot at me but interestingly enough, I happen to have a family member affected by ageism in Silicon Valley (pure coincidence) so it is something I personally care about quite a bit, even though I am not in tech. I also think that issue ties into women in tech issues a lot, since there is an especially large tendency to discriminate against older women (on top of overall pressure to hire younger employees, which includes discrimination against older men). In general, I do try to pay attention and listen to other peoples’ concerns. I have plenty of friends with Aspergers so I care about that aspect of social justice as well.

  184. fred Says:

    Ash #181

    Exactly.
    I ran into this 7 years ago when interviewing at Google (did great at every question, but …).

    Age discrimination, the big unifier.

  185. Anonymous #5 Says:

    It’s very depressing to see people put this in the context of nerds vs. SJWs or whatever. One can be a nerd and still think about the impacts of your actions on other people. Not that anyone cares, but I was a socially inept nerd in HS and college, too. I get that it’s hard. And I’m not here to defend safe spaces or any of the ongoing attempts to suppress speech in academia. But people have to get beyond the attitude that one should talk about anything one wants without understanding the impacts of that speech. Even more importantly, people should think about the reasons that some speech leads to social opprobrium. It’s not like research into this area is being suppressed — no one who’s spent a second looking at the literature (which exists!) thinks that men and women are identical. But that’s not the *$(#* point. There has been a long history of discrimination against women in the sciences. It would be surprising if this exact instant were the one where we’ve fixed all of that. So, what is this oh-so-polite memo implicitly communicating? That women’s experiences doesn’t matter; that your colleagues don’t deserve to be here; that maybe women just aren’t as smart as men or as good leaders or whatever. I’m sure some here will respond that none of this is in there, but it is, and people need to understand how that is.

    There are times and places to discuss the science of differences between men and women. These are touchy, difficult subjects, and it’s important that one is careful and meticulous. This was the wrong time, the wrong place and neither careful or meticulous. But I guess it was polite.

    Or, maybe, this:

    https://www.economist.com/news/21726276-last-week-paper-said-alphabets-boss-should-write-detailed-ringing-rebuttal

  186. vaibhav Says:

    “I fantasize that, within my lifetime, the Enlightenment will expand further to tolerate a diversity of cognitive styles—including people on the Asperger’s and autism spectrum, with their penchant for speaking uncomfortable truths—as well as a diversity of natural abilities and inclinations. Society might or might not get the “demographically correct” percentage of Ellie Arroways—Ellie might decide to become a doctor or musician rather than an astronomer, and that’s fine too—but most important, it will nurture all the Ellie Arroways that it gets, all the misfits and explorers of every background. I wonder whether, while disagreeing on exactly what’s meant by it, all parties to this debate could agree that diversity represents a next frontier for the Enlightenment.”

    Made my day! thanks!

  187. Michael Says:

    @Stacey#90- there’s a difference between being a dick and making someone feel unsafe. I agree, Damore’s manifesto made him seem like a jerk but I don’t think anyone actually felt physically threatened. Now if he actually said, “Kill yourself, bitch” to one of his co-workers or something like that, then yeah, that would be making his co-workers unsafe but that isn’t what people usually mean when they talk about “nerds” blurting out stuff.

  188. srp Says:

    It should also be noted that Damore has been publicly questioning the legality of Google’s diversity practices and seems to be preparing to claim that firing him is illegal retaliation against someone reporting discrimination. Apparently he had raised such concerns previously as well as in the famous memo. I have no idea what his practical chances are of winning such a claim, but I would not be surprised if he received a low six-figure settlement of some sort.

  189. Anonymous Says:

    Scott #156

    There is something which really disturbs me with the current discussion. I searched through your blog and, to the exception of your blog post about Justine Sacco, this kind of political discussion only occurs when the subject is a white man. But there are plenty of women and people of color who lost their jobs or important career opportunities for speaking their mind.
    Here’s an example: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/06/26/professor-fired-after-defending-blacks-only-event-on-fox-news-i-was-publicly-lynched-she-says/

  190. Michael Says:

    @Scott#148- which behaviors specifically are you talking about? It seems like everyone has a different definition of creepy and inappropriate. I’ve heard feminists claim that those terms only apply to expressing romantic interest but I’ve also heard women use them to describe stuff like not making eye contact or mental illness which really isn’t any of their business.

  191. Otterbee Says:

    @Sandro #151:

    Thanks for your response! I know that the premise itself goes against the grain for a lot of people, especially of a libertarian bent, who I know are particularly prevalent around here.

    I have some ideas for how “short-term interventions,” as you put it, can outweight the benefits of long-term meritocratic selection, which is by focusing on areas that have an outsize impact on public life, while offering little in the way of “value-add” from selecting a marginally more talented person.

    The one I have in mind is politics. Now, this could be done explicitly through something like a gender quota, but more radically, and perhaps more interesting, would be something like demarchy, i.e. random selection of political representatives. If the size of the body is large enough, then the representation-to-minority status should be pretty good. You don’t have to go full demarchist, either: perhaps your local town council, or a chamber in a state legislature (for USians) could serve as an effective trial run. The gains to equal distribution of political power would be substantial, while marginal “political talent” lost seems pretty minimal, since elections aren’t terribly good proxies for things like “good at policymaking” and marginal political talent doesn’t seem to make very much difference in effective governance.

    I’m not really a committed demarchist, and I’m aware of various critiques of it, but I think it provides a good example of a place where an egalitarian intervention could have a big impact with low long-term costs.

  192. Peter Donis Says:

    @Scott #105: “No matter how tiring it gets, we always—always—have the moral obligation to treat each other as individuals and to judge each accusation on individual evidence.”

    I agree with this, but I wonder if you’ve considered its implications. To really treat each other as individuals, to me, means that we do *not* treat each other as members of groups. But if we actually do that, then this whole discussion evaporates, because it’s all about what happens when we treat other people as members of groups.

    In other words, the true Enlightenment ideal is not to have “enough” women, or any other group, in tech. The true Enlightenment ideal is to allow each individual person to do whatever it is that fulfills them most. The question of how many of which group are in which profession shouldn’t even be on the radar.

  193. asdf Says:

    Scott, is it true that if $P\ne\Sigma^p_2$ then $P\ne NP$? Someone on stackexchange mentions that, but it’s not obvious to me. Is there a simple explanation? Thanks. This relates to my post further up.

  194. hypatia123 Says:

    #159 People did discuss the Durden case, but what was noteworthy about it was that an academic was being fired for expressing leftist views (a black woman no less) rather than the reverse. The Salaita case was much discussed for the same reason.

    If it’s less discussed than the Google Memo I think this is largely because the case is less toxoplasmic (in the SSC sense). The main asymmetry is that the Lisa Durden mainstream press coverage was uniformly neutral to sympathetic, with strong defences of Durden from FIRE the main academic free speech org. The Google Memo discussion conversely was hundreds of angry thinkpieces (most outright lying about his claims) which provoked a minority pushing back.

  195. Scott Says:

    Everyone: I’m sorry to have been absent lately. I was busy with the Bristol workshop all day, then I was exhausted and jetlagged and collapsed, even as various attacks on me piled up. In the meantime, please don’t interpret my temporary silence on some issue to imply a particular stance on that issue.

  196. user778451 Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I just wanted to ask you specifically about Damore’s firing.

    You said Google wasn’t right to fire him, but you did not seem to _at all_ consider the business ramifications of not doing so. It seems obvious to many that, had he not been fired, he would have constituted Exhibit A in future discrimination lawsuits, most likely to the company’s detriment. Furthermore, he had created (most likely inadvertently, but this does not matter) a toxic work environment around him and throughout the company—and I say both of these completely independently of whether his argument was right or wrong.

    It would seem that Google had no other real choice but to fire him—the validity of his argument notwithstanding. I can’t blame them for that or claim that I could have done differently, so to me they did the right thing. Do you think it would have been a sound business choice for Google to kepe him?

    Thank you.

  197. Scott Says:

    anonymous #183: I deleted a sentence from your comment that made a passive-aggressive personal attack on me. Future comments that contain such attacks might be deleted altogether.

    It’s not just that I said “no ad-hominems” at the top—for me, the issue goes much deeper.

    Because of the criticisms of people like yourself, I invested days that I didn’t have to craft an overwhelmingly pro-woman, pro-feminist statement that would do justice to what I saw as the truth. I enlisted the help of my friends to make that happen, and they delivered. When Sarah Constantin wrote about reading Contact as a girl, and wanting to grow up to become Ellie Arroway—not because women deserved their slice of the astronomy pie, but because humans are explorers, because she wanted to be an explorer—I was 300% with her in every syllable. I had the same thought that I often have when reading my favorite living novelist, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Namely: I may have been born with hypermale, Asperbergery thought patterns, but had I been born female, this is precisely how I would think, or how I hope I would think. This is writing that lets me temporarily escape the psychological prison of maleness, to do better than to see women as others to whom I ought to be nice and so forth, to see the world as I would see it were I a woman.

    As I said in the post, I’m willing to cede to the social-justice side of this debate every single concrete position that it wants. And the only thing I’ve asked for in return, is that STEM nerds who think about these issues the way I, or Steven Pinker, or Paul Graham, or Peter Singer, or Scott Alexander, or for that matter Sarah Constantin thinks about them, not be treated as villains. We’re each just people trying in different ways to fulfill both our duty to the truth and our duty to society, even when (as sometimes the case) those two masters appear to pull in opposite directions.

    That’s a really good deal. The only thing your side has to do, is something that costs essentially nothing. If I were on your side, I’d jump at that deal.

    So then, any time the reward for my engagement efforts is once again to be portrayed as “the man”—i.e., as some powerful tenured professor figure who for some reason wants to abuse his unearned privileges to keep people like yourself down (!!), and who the various downtrodden need to band together to oppose—all it does is to strengthen the other side, the people who whisper to me:

    “You see? Didn’t we tell you all along? It’s a mistake to cede any ground to the SJWs, because their ideology means that they can never, ever be satisfied by anything short of your head on a pike. At least Piper Harron had the virtue of being honest about it.”

    I’m practically begging you: help me oppose these right-wingers. Throw me a frickin bone here.

  198. Richard Gaylord Says:

    an important article is:

    Nigel Goldenfeld, Sally Wheelwright and Simon Baron-Cohen. Empathizing and systemizing in males, females and autism. International Journal of Clinical Neuropsychiatry 2, 338-345 (2005).

    you can download this from nigel goldenfeld’s website (it’s publication #91)

    the conclusion of this study is: “Studies of empathizing and systemizing have consistently revealed sex differences , with males scoring higher than females on systemizing and lower than females on empathizing”

  199. Scott Says:

    anonymous #158 and #176 (also relevant to Anonymous #189): So, like, are you telling me that the only thing I have to do to prevent you from quitting math, is to defend the free-speech rights of one Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, who I confess I’d never heard of before your comment?

    If so, then today’s your lucky day—or maybe math’s lucky day! 🙂

    From what I read, the comment by Prof. Taylor that caused her to receive abusive messages—namely, that Donald Trump is a “racist, sexist, megalomaniac”—is one that she not only had a perfect right to say, but that I myself am happy to affirm a billion times over, and embellish with additional adjectives (narcisstic, delusional, cowardly, traitorous…).

    Is there any reasonable person who disagrees that Prof. Taylor ought to be free from threats and abuse? Any academic institution that disagrees? Anyone who seriously imagined I would disagree?

    Is the issue just that Prof. Taylor needs police protection, or more police protection, in order to feel safe traveling and giving lectures? If so, then I feel strongly that she should receive that protection.

  200. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #162 and user778451 #196: As someone who neither works at Google nor owns stock in them, I don’t particularly care whether firing Damore was a good business decision for them or not. If you like, I’m interested in a much broader question: namely, should the world be such as to have made it a good business decision?

  201. Scott Says:

    asdf #193: Yes, if P=NP then P=PH, since you can “recursively unwind” any level of PH you want down to P—e.g.,

    NPNP = NPP = NP = P.

    So taking the contrapositive, if P≠Σ2 then P≠NP.

  202. Scott Says:

    Stacey #166: Yes, of course you still have my respect. It would take a lot for you to lose it. 🙂

  203. Anonymous 162 Says:

    Scott #200

    I get your larger question. My answer comes in the form of the lyrics from Paul McCartney song’s Live and Let Die,

    “When you were young and your heart
    Was an open book
    You used to say live and let live
    But if this ever changin’ world
    In which we live in
    Makes you give in and cry
    Say live and let die
    Live and let die”

    I am only a few years older than you, but through my own life experience I have already reached the conclusion that it is impossible to build a “Kumbaya society”. In fact, this is the very same realization that James Madison reaches in federalist paper #10.

    This is not to say that the only alternative to a “Kumbaya society” is an anarchist society. It isn’t. That this is false dichotomy is one of the great ideas behind the American experiment. People self-segregate all the time. Schools for example are now more segregated than in the 1960s https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/06/schools-are-more-segregated-today-than-during-the-late-1960s/258348/ . To be clear, I oppose any form of discrimination by government institutions. The institutions whose funding comes directly from the taxpayer, should be as free of discrimination as it is humanly possible, no exceptions.

    The private world though, is a different matter. Only by instituting a dictatorship you could ensure that people will not self-segregate, but then you’d have what they had in the Soviet Union: a few living the high life at the top, and the overwhelming majority of the people leading equal, but very poor and miserable, lives.

    Once you accept the premise that people will self-segregate in their private lives, and that it is a good thing to live in a society in which people are free to do that, then the whole Damore controversy is a non issue. Google should be free to discriminate against anybody it wants. If there is a pool of white male techies who feel antagonized by what Google is doing, they will eventually create their own Google -it won’t be easy, but it will be possible. It is a great thing to live in a society in which this is possible rather than one in which these while males’ only option would be to put up, shut up and live miserably for the rest of their professional lives. On the other hand, if no such challenger emerges, it will be proof that Google doesn’t really have a problem internally when it comes to how it manages itself. Either way, the firing of James Damore will serve to illuminate what kind of company Google is. And this is only possible because we live in the greatest country on Earth: the United States of America.

    I heard recently somebody say that he believes that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who know that they will be dead some day -shorthand for saying that these people understand in a very intimate way that nothing lasts forever, not even their own lives- and those who are convinced that they are going to live eternally -and by implication that these second group of people believe that certain things like beauty or knowledge are eternal. His contention is that the more you find yourself surrounded by the second type of people, the more miserable your existence will be. I think that something along these lines is happening in the SJWs taking on STEM nerds.

    Thanks for reply and for keeping this discussion honest.

  204. victor j yodaiken Says:

    “Except Damore didn’t claim any such thing. If only 20% of engineers are women interested in STEM subjects, then the fact that Google only has 20% female representation simply reflects that fact, and diversity hiring practices are logically impossible. Literally.”

    I see this claim elsewhere and it is astoundingly innumerate. If 50% of engineers are mediocre or worse, Google can still hire mostly good engineers. Here’s a tip: Google’s hiring process is not required to be a random variable.

  205. Anonymous #5 Says:

    “That’s a really good deal. The only thing your side has to do, is something that costs essentially nothing. If I were on your side, I’d jump at that deal.”

    There’s no deal, and there’s no sides. There’s just people. And there will always be assholes on every side. Stop worrying so much about making deals as if there’s some negotiation among uniform blocs to be had here. How you act shouldn’t depend on what other people do. Just be the best person you can be.

  206. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #205: Yes, I’m well aware that there are no literal unified blocs to make a deal here. But I conceive of politics as fundamentally about making compromises with people who have different values and interests than yourself. So it’s impossible for me not to think about this discussion in those terms: namely, there are all these people who I actually agree with about most issues, yet who hold what Scott Alexander once called “rhetorical superweapons” over my head. What can I offer them so that they don’t use their superweapons?

    On a closely related note, this comment thread has moved in a direction where it’s costing me more emotional energy than I can muster right now. So, particularly given my previous experience with such things, I’ve decided to close the thread by tonight. Please get in any final comments between now and then. Thanks!

  207. Sandro Says:

    @Dan Staley #168:

    If you’re claiming it is, in fact, a true fact that is empirically supported, I’d love for you to point me towards evidence of the scientific consensus that women are biologically less suited to be leaders than men.

    “Suited” is a loaded word with many interpretations, which is where the true landmine lies. In some people’s minds, “less suited” means “incapable”, which obviously isn’t true, but is no doubt the source of much of the outrage whenever these issues arise. This is not the interpretation Damore uses though, and he explicitly states that it isn’t a matter of ability.

    I’ve seen studies which support all of the claims that Damore makes that you cited, but this isn’t a rabbit hole I’m interested in falling down because it’s largely irrelevant to the point I was making:

    But even if such a consensus exists, the point stands that Damore does not provide any references or evidence of it.

    Neither did you before labeling these claims sexist, which is why I replied to you asking whether facts can be sexist. You didn’t even ask the question about they were true before labeling passing moral judgment on them, and this is the problem that I wanted to point out.

    Positive claims of this sort absolutely deserve evidence before accepting them (or making policy on them), but the fact that the factual status of these claims isn’t even questioned before judging their moral status is a serious problem.

    If you can make moral judgments on claims independent of their factual status, then you should seriously review your moral theory.

  208. Sandro Says:

    @ PV #170

    The fraction of women in engineering at MIT is larger than a half. See, for example, “Women break barriers in engineering and computer science at some top colleges”, Nick Anderson, Washington Post, Sept 16, 2016. Other top schools (CMU, Caltech, Stanford) also have a significantly larger fraction of women than the 20% nationwide average.

    Sure, if you cherry-pick a select few examples, the numbers seem to tell a different story. If you look at all the numbers, they seem to look exactly like I described: 19% of AP CS takers are women, and they comprise only 18% of CS degrees.

    Arguably, google hires from among the best, and not from among the average.

    I’ll argue that! Everybody says they hire the best. It’s again, literally impossible that they all do. Furthermore, even if they could, everyone gets bored with their job and moves on to other jobs, so the best necessarily have flexibility to move around for more challenges and better opportunities.

    But if “best” can be defined as “top of the class from the top schools”, surely, we are looking at more than 20%?

    That’s one plausible interpretation. It seems even more plausible that the “best” as determined by Google’s interview process doesn’t match the criteria you describe.

  209. Anonymous Says:

    Scott #198: The issue is that in academia, when women or people of color get fired for speaking their mind, they get far less support from their peers. Another issue is that women and minorities are not offered enough opportunities to express themselves without retaliation.

  210. anonymous Says:

    Asperger does not imply male. I am on the spectrum, and I am a woman. I am also often direct and have people infer things into what I say that I do not mean. This is the truth, not a “rhetorical superweapon.” There are lots of female “nerds” in STEM, as you have pointed out before (and I appreciated).

  211. Sandro Says:

    @Otterbee #192:

    Now, this could be done explicitly through something like a gender quota, but more radically, and perhaps more interesting, would be something like demarchy, i.e. random selection of political representatives.

    I’m actually for such ideas already. There have been quite a few studies demonstrating that a certain number of random selections can make groups like parliaments more efficient, by making deadlocks much more difficult to secure, and so political posturing becomes less effective.

    And of course, no such discussion should go without mentioning the Peter principle.

    But I don’t think such facts undermine meritocratic principles. Meritocratic politics means representatives that properly represent constituents, but current politicians vote along party lines just as often, sometimes at the expense of constituents. The random selection simply destroys the utility of party voting, thus realigning incentives with properly representing your constituents, thus reestablishing the meritocracy.

  212. anonymous Says:

    For the record, the sentence Scott deleted from my post was not at all intended as a passive-aggressive attack on him. It was a general statement about myself. I meant exactly what I wrote, not anything else.

  213. asdf Says:

    Scott #193, thanks! I had also missed Sniffnoy #119’s answer.

  214. PV Says:

    szopen #177-9: I understand that Damore felt isolated as a conservative at google, and agree with him that all should have access to the diversity resources at google. I also believe that political diversity is an asset to most groups, including tech workplaces. I believe he has the right to state his political opinions at google, to ask if their diversity policies help achieve diversity, and to propose others. He also has the right to begin activities, such as support groups, meant explicitly for conservatives.

    I’m guessing you were venting, but in case you weren’t. Do I support institutionalized affirmative action for conservatives? At the moment, no. But I’m open to argument.

    Everything that you say about conservatives in science is plausible to me and is indicative of a difficult environment. But the individual chooses to reveal whether they are conservative or not, and CS/STEM is not political science; that is, your views would not come up in the natural course of doing your job. On the other hand, gender, race, age are difficult to hide. Further, the bias is chronologically local, both in history as well as in the life of the individual. Finally, I’m not even sure what such affirmative action would be. Damore seemed to suggest asking folks to reveal their political opinions and to perform a demographic assessment based on that. I don’t agree, and I would think that libertarians/free speech advocates wouldn’t either. It would make for a dangerous precedent, additionally, why would it be accurate? I’m not sure it’s well-defined and one could make a fair argument that some folks are claiming to be conservative when they are not.

    If you were making the point that we will be splintered into many small groups because everyone will want affirmative action, that’s a fair point and something to watch out for (relatively prosperous groups have been lobbying for special status in India based simply on being in the minority). So I think persistent discrimination over generations is required before one can begin to argue for affirmative action.

    But maybe you were just venting? 🙂

    Ash #181, you are right about ageism in SV. One important point you forgot to mention is that the experience of older individuals is something SV probably needs greatly at this time.

    On a broader note: as a nerd myself, I’m happy that science and reason are contributing in visible ways, and that the contributions of nerds are being valued. However, I do think there is much about the high-tech industry today that is very damaging and it’s not nerdiness. The desire to consume consumer goods has come together with the ability to deliver them, at breakneck speed. Distracted as we are by its cleverness and sleekness, we have been left with no time for reflection on the huge security and ethical implications of technology. Conservatives and older employees could lead the way to try to slow down the growth of technology while we think about it, but, so far, AFIK, this is being spun as a politically liberal position by mainstream political conservatives in the news.

    Scott: feel free to tell me I’m off topic. Thanks a lot for this blog.

  215. victor j yodaiken Says:

    “I remember back in the late ’90s when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture to an economic philosophy class I was taking. It was a great lecture, made more so by the fact that the class was only about ten or twelve students and we got got ask all kinds of questions and got a lot of great, provocative answers. Anyhow, Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol back either during the first Bush administration. The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at The White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at UPenn and the Kennedy School of Government. With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. “I oppose it”, Irving replied. “It subverts meritocracy.” ” – http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2008/10/the-sub-prime-kristol-meltdown

  216. szopen Says:

    @Dan Staley #168
    Once again, Damore is not claiming women make worse leaders. He is saying women have harder time leading, which is not the same.

  217. J J Lin 2003 Says:

    @Dan Staley: Acknowledged. I now understand what your argument is and it is not on its face fallacious.

    Now, if you think that the reason that this guy was fired solely rested on “not having better citations for a few specific claims” then I have to say I disagree with that, but I am not sure. It seems like no matter how well documented he drafted this thing, the “standard” for what counts as not “perpetuating gender stereotypes” would just be raised until what he did becomes fireable. His major crime, as far as I am concerned, was to do something that resulting in an online mob, and a subtle point about one of the references seems kind of irrelevant. This seems like an especially reasonable hypothesis to me given that the online mob seems to have been in part incited by news articles which excluded the citations entirely. Of course, we don’t know this because Google’s statements about the matter were so unclear, including not specifically stating which statements “crossed the line” and which statements were okay.

    I suggest that Google say this clearly so that their employees know what the appropriate line is. For a company trying to become an AI first company, I question how they can do this in a political environment where it seems like many statements about human brains are off limits.

    Dan, you speak with some authority about what the line would be. Literally in your statement you say if James had done one thing different, (that is cited more evidence for one of his personality claims, or excluded that claim altogether), he would not be fired. (I think you also probably have some other examples of this too, so I acknowledge that and am interested in hearing your other examples). Honestly though, do you really believe that? It’s a nice hypothesis but I just don’t think this captures what is going on here. Many of the arguments against him are not as subtle as yours, and in many cases just spurious strawmanning.

    Would you be willing to concede that your argument is merely a theory behind google’s motivations, and not a thing we can be certain of? Morover, is there a way we can test your claim that “citing the thing better” would have saved James from firing?

    Thanks!

  218. Dan Staley Says:

    Sandro#207: Okay, let’s find some common ground. Yes, I agree that if you state facts – facts that are true by general scientific consensus – it’s not sexist. Will you agree that if you state facts about men’s biologically superiority that are not true, then it *is* sexist? And what if you state facts on which there is not consensus, but still present them as unambiguously true?

    I note that you say you’ve “seen studies which support” these statements, which is an excellent way to phrase a statement so that it’s not sexist – you’re didn’t assert the statement is true, you asserted the existence of evidence for it. But Damore doesn’t talk about the degree of evidence or how much scientific consesus there is for these statements – he simply makes the statements with no qualifiers.

    Look, when you make a statement like “Women are more agreeable which makes it harder for them to lead”, which is tantamount to justifying having a different (worse) Bayesian prior about the ability of a huge swath of your co-workers to do their jbs, you are gravely affecting how people can work with them. So you had better make sure your facts are 100% correct and you had better provide citations. The onus isn’t on everyone else to go out and see if there’s a scientific consensus every time someone claims men are biologically superior to women in a slightly different way, it’s on the claimer.

    It brings to mind the quote “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” I mean, when someone writes a math or science paper and makes claims without sources, they don’t get published – they get rebuked and rejected. If you don’t provide evidence your statements are true, they may as well be false.

    And you’re right, we haven’t really touched on whether his statements were, in fact, factually correct. Here’s a link to an actual evolutionary biologist explaining why his statements on biological gender difference are BS:

    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

    So again, to sum up, Damore made unqualifed, uncited, false statements about how men are biologically superior to women. I still say Google was absolutely right to fire him.

  219. Dan Staley Says:

    szopen #215: So if I say “Women, on average, have a harder time understanding programming than men”, would you say that’s also not sexist? After all, I didn’t say they were worse at it, just that they have a harder time programming, which I gues is not the same?

  220. Dan Staley Says:

    J J Lin 2003 #216: I guess I’m willing to concede that my argument is a theory behind Google’s motivations if you’re willing to do the same.

    However, the thrust of my argument is that Damore did something that justifies firing him. If you agree with that part of it, then it seems like your argument is “Sure he did something that justifies firing him, but I bet he was fired for something else that was unjust.” I mean, while I guess it’s possible, I find it wholly unconvincing – you could apply that argument to oppose all sorts of justified putative actions in all sorts of situations. But if that is, in fact, your position, then I doubt I’ll convince you otherwise, so I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    If, on the other hand, you disagree that Damore did anything that justifies firing him, then I think we may have more to discuss.

  221. MW Says:

    PV #213: “But the individual chooses to reveal whether they are conservative or not, and CS/STEM is not political science; that is, your views would not come up in the natural course of doing your job.”

    Do you realize that you are advocating a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for conservatives in the workplace?

    “Sure, we tolerate conservatives here, just as long as they take care to never let their colleagues find out about the shameful views they hold. Otherwise it’s their own fault if they get fired or discriminated against.”

    I bet you wouldn’t agree with that statement if we replaced “conservatives” with “gays” and “political views” with “their partner’s gender”. So what’s the difference?

    People do talk about politics at work, just like they might chat about what they did on the weekend and casually mention their partner in that context. Unless you want to institute a strict “no talking about anything not 100% work-related, ever, not at the water cooler, not at the lunch table, not while traveling to a conference with a colleague” policy and enforce it equally for all parties, this sure seems like discrimination to me.

  222. Jr Says:

    Anonymous #209, Scott (or anyone else) is under no obligation to spend time or effort on your cause even if it were sympathetic.

    As it is, it is illegal to fire someone for complaining about sexism or racism, while SJWs are doing their best to make it illegal to employ someone who express views like Damore by invoking the doctrine of a “hostile environment”. (Indeed they may partially have succeeded.) It is also the case that official policy on gender equality at any Western university I am aware of and most large companies (at least officially) is totally based on the SJW point of view.

    This may suggest that supporting Damore, at least partially, is a point of view that needs to be heard, more than yet another expression of politically correct views. Or if people for personal reason (such as identification) are more interested in defending Damore there is nothing wrong with that, though not reflecting the best side of human nature.

    But of course it is totally wrong to fire or harass any academic who complains about racism or sexism, I think everyone here agrees with that. In a company it is unfortunate, the way Damore’s firing was, but I am not going to say it is always wrong.

  223. Jr Says:

    I attended a semi-mandatory lecture from my employer’s diversity officer today. There were strong claims about discrimination faced by women, without any form of citation to the relevant studies, and logical errors, all aimed to justify making us change the way we work and spending money on gender equality initiatives. Such lessons happen all the time, I imagine in many companies and universities. Even if Damore did not always cite references or got some things wrong, I totally fail to see how did anything worse than countless people of the opposite view.

  224. Ash Says:

    Scott, I can’t imagine how you get anything done. Thanks for clarifying your position and hosting this.

  225. J J Lin 2003 Says:

    @Dan Staley: I think I understand what your argument is: the crucial question of whether James should have been fired rests on having good citations for all the claims that relate to saying things about distributions of populations that could possibly be controversial. Your argument is not that saying something like: “On average group A has this characteristic more than group B has this characteristic” is necessarily grounds for firing; you are saying that such claims must be backed by rigorous scientific evidence and appropriately cited. This mean, from my understanding, that you do not believe that James’ claims about higher rates of neuroticism within the female population is a grounds for firing him, as for that specific claim he cites an article that supports that pretty much exactly (please correct me if you disagree with this).

    The first reason why I don’t agree with firing James is that, quite frankly, he did not support any gender stereotype. To me a “stereotype” is when you make an unfair generalization about the properties of a specific person by extrapolating from real or perceived differences in distributions of populations. It is THAT logical fallacy that underlies the problem with stereotyping. James was trying to argue in what seems to be a very even-handed and professional way a problem with a diversity mandate that seeks to get a 50-50 split between men and women in tech. IF it is true that there are differences in distributions between populations (a question entirely of fact totally removed from any political consideration), then it logically follows that the goal to get 50-50 may not make sense or reach any notion of “equality.” That argument is absolutely eminently reasonable, though obviously debatable, and he presented in a forum designed for people to honestly discuss it, and certainly did not send it “company-wide.”

    It seems to me what you are saying is that, unfortunately, his article, though well cited for most of it, has a specific example of a claim that is not well-cited, even though most of the other claims are.

    As a researcher myself, I have to say that when making a logical argument you DO miss the appropriate citation ALL THE TIME. I can even find examples in prestigious journals where MY OWN WORK was improperly cited (in a way advantageous to me, by the way). Now, my stuff is not a political hot potato, but if the standards of being able to discuss an issue are raised to a level HIGHER THAN THAT OF PRESTIGIOUS MATH AND COMPUTER SCIENCE JOURNALS, then from my perspective you make it impossible to talk about, and that’s dangerous.

    U of T Professor Jordan Peterson argues that James’ article is very close to the scientific consensus. Now, the issue is that Jordan Peterson himself has become kind of a polarizing figure, but he still is a highly respected and tenured professor at a prestigious University. At the very least his expertise on this matter should count for something.

    So yes, I concede you are right that James’ document was not perfectly cited. However, such a high standard basically makes it impossible to discuss these issues, because no matter what you would do the bar would just be raised if other people cause a fuss about what you wrote.

    I’d like to really understand how you think a person who wants to discuss this issue can do so in a way without risking getting fired, or worse, risking online harassment and possible death threats. Because at this point I have to use an alias to even say this because I worry about my own personal well-being, and the well-being of my friends and colleagues who work in tech, specifically those who work at Google.

  226. J J Lin 2003 Says:

    @Dan Staley:

    By the way, when you say in another comment: “Look, when you make a statement like “Women are more agreeable which makes it harder for them to lead”, which is tantamount to justifying having a different (worse) Bayesian prior about the ability of a huge swath of your co-workers to do their jobs, you are gravely affecting how people can work with them. ” this is where I disagree with you.

    I simply think you are not understanding a concept in probability. The main point of the matter is, if you have any woman at Google, they ALREADY PASSED THE INTERVIEW PROCESS. Conditioned on that information, an appropriate prior is that such a Google employee is eminently capable. As far as I can tell you are ascribing to James’ document conclusions that do not flow logically from what he said.

    Now, what I agree with is that many people may THINK that these would flow logically, but that’s the crux of the issue: people are not thinking clearly about this because of all the emotions involved.

    Do you at least understand how questions about distributions in population between men and women simply do not inform the question about whether a particular woman at Google is qualified or unqualified?

    This is what is so astonishing to me about this whole issue. People are mad at James for conclusions they are drawing from what he wrote, and not what he wrote. the argument that James’ claims, whether true or false, are “tantamount to justifying having a different (worse) Bayesian prior about the ability of a huge swath of your co-workers to do their jobs” is just invalid on its face. It is NOT tantamount to this, you are making a mistake about the nature of Bayesian inference.

  227. fred Says:

    The great news is that gender is not a matter of biology but is purely a matter of subjective identity.

    So, to accomplish gender equality, isn’t it enough to convince a sufficient portion of your staff to declare themselves female from 9 to 5 every day?

  228. szopen Says:

    @Dan Staley #219
    “So if I say “Women, on average, have a harder time understanding programming than men”, would you say that’s also not sexist?”

    Not at all. There is absolutely nothing similar in those two sentences. “harder time understanding programming” is about ability (‘understanding’), while “harder time leading” in this context is not, because it refers to well known supposition that if someone is more agreeable, then he feels discomfort with conflict, while leading requires conflict. Hence, agreeable people may feel more discomfort leading people, may avoid being choosen to leadership positions or might not be considered for leadership when they deserve it. Now, you may consider this untrue, you may dispute whether agreeable people don’t want to be leaders and may be more stressed by being leaders, but sentence “women on average may it have harder time leading, because they are more agreeable on average” is not sexist.

    I am high on agreeableness and I really hate conflicts (in real life; internet helps 😀 :D), so I know what I am talking about.

    Anyways, compare “women have it harder time than men to built a career, because the society forces them to commit more of their time to work at home, so they work at two jobs, and because of sexism”.

    Now, there is a conflicting research on effect of agreeableness: it might be that it is males who are actually punished more for agreeableness, but still, saying “agreeable persons have harder time leading” is not the same as “agreeable persons have less abilities or make worse leaders”.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/agreeable-personality-and-leadership-2015-5?IR=T

    It seems that when the same fact is reported on agreeable people, no one cares, but if someone notices that there are more agreeable women than men, so it may explain some gaps, then it is sexism.

  229. szopen Says:

    @PV #214
    You are right that I am venting, but at the same time, you are not right about “revealing” being a conservative, not in the time of facebook, twitter and so on. Even if you would avoid revealing your views every time your co-workers will discuss how stupid some conservative stance is, or how evil some conservative politician is, someone still could search for you blog, for your facebook wall, for your twits. Basically you are saying that one can hide his/hers political views and never reveal them to the public, while women can’t hide them being women. Technically true, but replace “conservatives” with “gays” and see whether you would still find the argument acceptable.

  230. Dan Staley Says:

    J J Lin 2003 #225, 226: You have a scientist that says Damore’s statements match scientific consensus. I have one that says they don’t. I suppose we’re at an impasse on just how “true” the statements are, though I’d point out the disagreement itself certainly lends credence to the “not consensus” side.

    If I understand you correctly, you assert that claims about women’s average ability should not have any impact on people’s ability to work with him, because there’s no way it could affect how he views individuals. I find that to be a flimsy shield – if I tell a woman her achievements are all the more impressive because she’s from the obviously less-intelligent gender, that’s still sexist, and she has every right to be concerned about how much I respect her. In a world (real or imagined) where women are biologically less predisposed towards excellence in these skills, there’s not necessarily any reason why achievement in one area (eg programming) means a woman would be a high achiever in another (eg leadership), and a woman would be justified in feeling she needs to prove herself to have overcome her biological handicap for every skill she displays.

    To answer your question about how to discuss this without getting fired, I think I’ve alluded to the answer several times – instead of saying “Women are more X”, say “here are some studies suggesting women are more X”. There is a world of difference between these two statements. From your comments I suspect you disagree and think he would have been fired just for pointing to the studies, and if so, I believe we are again at an impasse.

    From a purely mathematical standpoint, I’m pretty sure passing the interview process does not equal out the priors – if your prior is that the average woman is less qualified, then the typical woman who passed the interview process is more likely to have just barely passed and the typical man who passed is more likely to have passed by a comfortable margin. (Maybe I’m getting this wrong? But I’m pretty sure this is true since the normal curve acts like e^{-x^2} instead of a pure exponential).

  231. Use Siren Says:

    @Eva Silverstein #136

    What you keep calling a mediocre “1 sigma” result is more like an 8 or 18-sigma result as that term is used in physics and in your postings. It is also an effect size comparable to the difference between the male and female height distribution, where it has easily observed consequences for the disparity in sex distribution of tall people. Similar effect sizes, also with very high significance levels, are found in other studies and meta-analyses.

    There is a factor of Sqrt(N) lost in the mistranslation between the “effect size sigma”, here equal to about 1, and the “statistical significance sigma” that is compared against a normal or t-distribution to obtain a p-value. Sample size 100 with a Cohen’s d of 0.99 would mean about 10 sigmas of normal distribution or somewhat lower (converted to a sigma or p-value) when using a t-distribution. The paper you referenced is paywalled but the abstract suggests the sample sizes were much larger than 100.

    There is a similar change of meaning where you talk about events with “probability > 0.6” stuff. The actual argument (e.g., in Damore’s memo) about sex differences is that if the male and female distributions are different, there will be a large disproportion of one sex or the other in the upper tail (of height, or interest in computer programming, or desire to work in an elementary school). You are talking about different probability questions such as what is the probability that a randomly chosen female is more interested in computers than a randomly chosen male, or has higher math test score, or is taller. Obviously those probabilities will be a lot higher and reflect the fact that the distributions overlap in most of their range (true for most sex differences except physical strength). But the memo, and Larry Summers, and every similar argument about distributions, is about the upper tails where we find Google programmers and physicists.

  232. Dan Staley Says:

    szopn #228: I find it really hard to buy your argument. First, you are asserting context and “well-known suppositions” that I don’t think I agree with. After all, can’t I claim that in context I just meant that “Women have a harder time understanding programming” to follow from the well-known supposition that someone who is more emotional feels discomfort with cold logic, and so may avoid choosing programming positions.” I can continue parroting the logic in the rest of your post, but you get the idea.

    I mean, I really don’t see a substantive difference here. Leadership is a skill like any other. Asserting women are going to have a hard time leading because of their biology (without citing any scientific backing) seems pretty equivalent to asserting they’re going to have a hard time doing anything else due to their biology.

  233. PV Says:

    MW #221:

    This is how you represented what I said:

    “Sure, we tolerate conservatives here, just as long as they take care to never let their colleagues find out about the shameful views they hold. Otherwise it’s their own fault if they get fired or discriminated against.”

    Here’s what I said before the part you quoted:

    begin quote


    I understand that Damore felt isolated as a conservative at google, and agree with him that all should have access to the diversity resources at google. I also believe that political diversity is an asset to most groups, including tech workplaces. I believe he has the right to state his political opinions at google, to ask if their diversity policies help achieve diversity, and to propose others. He also has the right to begin activities, such as support groups, meant explicitly for conservatives.

    I’m guessing you were venting, but in case you weren’t. Do I support institutionalized affirmative action for conservatives? At the moment, no. But I’m open to argument.

    Everything that you say about conservatives in science is plausible to me and is indicative of a difficult environment. ..”

    end quote

    I then went on to explain what I think is different.

    So, I’m struggling to understand how you interpreted my comment as advocating a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for conservatives. I’ve pretty clearly distinguished between not discriminating and affirmative action. I’ll try to rephrase.

    Note: there’s no question in my mind about discrimination; not that Damore cares about my opinion, political views are protected by CA law (they are not in the more conservative states).
    https://www.workplacefairness.org/retaliation-political-activity#2

    I am now trying to think through whether affirmative action based on race and gender should imply affirmative action for conservatives.

    I do think there is a difference between discrimination on highly visible unchangeable traits—such as gender, age and race—and others such as the beliefs one may hold that are mostly independent of one’s job (even if one accepts that these beliefs are somehow biologically determined and are unchangeable). You can choose when and who with you will discuss politics, and whether to bring up your views in an interview, and how to present them; you generally have much more control about how they are received. Additionally, some might never want to reveal them for privacy reasons.

    If you’re arguing for affirmative action for conservatives, because conservative political opinion is as visible and as difficult (or more) for SV techies, and because discrimination against conservatives in STEM has as glorious a history as racism and sexism in STEM, you should absolutely make the case.

    What form would the affirmative action take? Should we hire more? Should we try to find out in an interview? Would conservatives want to reveal this information? What about those who preferred not to reveal their political views? Which category would they fall in? How would we know what anyone’s category was independent of self-reported claims?

    As we’ve seen described many times, studies have shown that those female or colored job applicants who “don’t tell” their gender or race are more likely to make it to the next step. Conservatives do have the choice to not tell.

    I’m unlikely to be able to respond further before Scott’s deadline. Fun talking to everyone, thanks for your time.

  234. PV Says:

    szopen #229, MW #221: I read szopen’s comment after I wrote the recent long one. To spare Scott some more words: thanks for your thoughts. I will think some more about what both of you said.

    Thanks, Eva and Otterbee, too, for your comments. Awww. I’m going to miss everyone.

    Scott, maybe at some time you can tell us if this discussion served any of the purposes you thought it might?

  235. J J Lin 2003 Says:

    @Dan Staley

    “From a purely mathematical standpoint, I’m pretty sure passing the interview process does not equal out the priors – if your prior is that the average woman is less qualified, then the typical woman who passed the interview process is more likely to have just barely passed and the typical man who passed is more likely to have passed by a comfortable margin. (Maybe I’m getting this wrong? But I’m pretty sure this is true since the normal curve acts like e^{-x^2} instead of a pure exponential).”

    Yes, you are getting it wrong, but that’s totally fine, it’s pretty much one of the most common mistakes practically every human makes about interpreting probability. As far as I am concerned the only reason racism and sexism exists is because people generally don’t have good intuition about probability. This is the point I want to clarify and then I think we will basically understand each other.

    So, the way I model the interview process is that it checks for a “high level engineering and programming competence” ability. So, once we know that a person “passed” the interview, from my perspective this is mathematically equivalent to the prior “they are in the population who have this high level competence.” And the reality of the world, as we just observe it, is that among the women who have high level competence in engineering fields, they are distributed over a full spectrum of abilities, all of them passing a bar from “excellent” to “top of the field”. I can attest to this because I’ve been lectured by brilliant female professors who are the top by any standard, and have had many female colleagues who are just indisputably the very top of the field.

    Now, you might infer that “looking at the normal curve” is appropriate in this case to provide some inference, but the point is humans are distributed according to some distribution, but it is simply not necessarily a normal distribution. It’s close to it for some traits, but not for others. The only thing for which a normal curve is appropriate for is when you have the sum of a bunch of independent random variables… human traits and characteristics are obviously far more messy than that.

    Anyways, if you’d like to carry out your argument for why you think that a statement about “differences in average in a group” implies “distribution over the top performing members is skewed lower,” which I think is what you are getting at, I’ll let you do the derivation. Whatever that is though, I consider it irrelevant. The observed reality is that at places like Google, or in academia, the skills of both men and women employees are distributed similarly (with, in some cases, fewer absolute numbers of women). So, if your mathematical argument implied something different than this, it is only something that makes me doubt the validity of the bell curve model for the distribution we are talking about.

    That’s one of the key points. Don’t assume something is Gaussian, that’s just a model. The underlying reality is what we can actually observe.

  236. Use Siren Says:

    @Dan Staley #232

    ” if your prior is that the average woman is less qualified, then the typical woman who passed the interview process is more likely to have just barely passed [than] the typical man who passed”

    The interview process isn’t applied to the whole population (in which case what you say is true), but to a self-selected population of people who became programmers and applied for jobs at Google. If the self-selection works differently for men and women, for the kinds of reasons that Damore argued in his memo, that could easily lead to a situation where Google’s female applicants (above the hiring threshold) are more qualified than the males.

  237. Ash Says:

    Dan Staley #203

    > I find that to be a flimsy shield – if I tell a woman her achievements are all the more impressive because she’s from the **obviously less-intelligent gender**, that’s still sexist, and she has every right to be concerned about how much I respect her.

    Here’s a study:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women-better-leaders-men-study-a7658781.html

    > Women are better leaders than men, study of 3,000 managers concludes

    > “They are decidedly more suited to management positions than their male counterparts”

    > The study, led by Professor Øyvind L. Martinsen, head of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at the BI Norwegian Business School, assessed the personality and characteristics of nearly 3,000 managers.

    > In nearly all areas, they concluded that women were better leaders than their male counterparts.

    > Women outperformed men in four of the five categories studied: initiative and clear communication; openness and ability to innovate; sociability and supportiveness; and methodical management and goal-setting.

    Do you believe that study?

    If you believe that study, what does it say about your understanding of “intelligent” as a one dimensional parameter?

    If you believe that intelligence may be measured in many different ways, that is, there are different kinds of intelligence, why is it offensive to ask if on average, women may be the less intelligent sex when it comes to coding?

    Because hell, they probably are better leaders then men, and thus are more intelligent then men along the management scale of intelligence.

    Or do you disbelieve that study because like the studies that Damore claims supports his views, the conclusion that male and female intelligences can be different is obviously wrong?

    What would you think of someone using the study above in a memo justifying diversity programs at Google? Studies show women are more intelligent then men along the management scale, hence we clearly need more female managers.

    Would that be something worth firing over, even if it does insult all the men at Google?

    Of the two memos, James and one citing the above, published in the Google+ internal Skeptics forum (or wherever it was published), which memo contributes to a hostile work environment?

  238. user778451 Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Thank you for the reply! Just a couple of things before you close this thread:

    1. The 56% you cited is only a few hundred(?) people who responded to the poll. It is most likely heavily biased and not at all a strong support of what you would like to say. I suspect you may have glossed over this, since you would have most likely not used it as evidence otherwise, so just wanted to let you know.

    2. Regarding #200—I completely agree with you that whether or not the world should be this way is the correct question to ask. I just wish you would ask that instead of blaming Google. Or at least explicitly claim that if you were Google, you would have done differently, despite all the obvious caveats regarding the health of your company’s workplace and possible legal threats/issues.

    Thanks for writing this!

  239. Scott Says:

    anonymous #158:

      Glad to hear you thought Piper’s post was inflammatory; I found the Google memo (which was also never apologized for) inflammatory.

    A member of group A writes a memo about the nature and extent of special consideration given to members of group B. A member of group B demands that all members of group A should leave the field permanently. Do you not see the disanalogy between the two situations?

    user778451 #238: It actually wasn’t central to my point whether 56% of Googlers opposed Damore’s firing. Suppose the number is only 30%; then the question still stands: should Google root out and fire that 30%, for creating a hostile work environment? if not, why not?

    For whatever it’s worth, the people who emailed me or left comments here, saying they work at Google, seemed roughly evenly split between those who supported and those who opposed the firing, consistent with the poll results. Of course Googlers who opposed the firing are less likely to say so under their real names, especially now that we know that the wrong stance on these questions can get you fired.

    Were I a Google executive, I hope I’d have the courage to speak out internally against this firing, as apparently some executives did from the accounts I read. But, again according to those accounts, they were overruled by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who sets out her reasons here (without disclosing her own apparent role in the firing). Basically, views like Damore’s are dangerous because they could discourage girls like her daughter from entering technology; the question of truth or falsehood never really enters into it. Even if I were a Google executive who spoke out against, I expect that those making a calculation like Wojcicki would win out in the end.

  240. Scott Says:

    OK, I’m closing this thread now. Thanks to everyone for participating.