Friday, August 11, 2017

bionic mosquito: Thank You, Google

Google engineer James Damore wrote a ten-page memo (PDF), titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”  Google fired him.

You know all about the contents already.  To make a long story short, he suggests…

…that biological differences could help explain the gender gap in tech employment in Silicon Valley, and criticized Google’s policy of silencing discussion on the issue.

And wouldn’t you know it, Google attempted to silence discussion on the issue.

The ten-page memo is well written and well documented; based on my quick (and likely not perfect) count, he has thirty-four hyperlinks and eleven footnotes.

The reaction from the left is exactly what you would expect.  A typical example is offered by The Guardian.  They found an expert on the topic:

One former Harvard student, who was in the systems biology program at the same time as Damore, told the Guardian that it was not surprising to find out he was the author of the controversial manifesto, which was widely criticized for relying on shoddy science.

“His comments do not reflect the ability to read literature critically that a typical Harvard student develops over the course of actually completing a PhD,” the former classmate said.

A systems biology student.  What is systems biology?

Systems biology is based on the understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It has been responsible for some of the most important developments in the science of human health and environmental sustainability.

This doesn’t sound like someone qualified to pass judgement on the science in Mr. Damore’s memo.  Let’s find someone who is.  How about Jordan Peterson?  Who is Jordan Peterson?

With his students and colleagues, Dr. Peterson has published more than a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, and revolutionized the psychology of religion with his now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. As a Harvard professor, he was nominated for the prestigious Levinson Teaching Prize, and is regarded by his current University of Toronto students as one of three truly life-changing teachers.

He sounds qualified.  What does he have to say?  Interestingly, he has just done an interview with Mr. Damore; it can be seen here.  To summarize, the science cited by Mr. Damore is consistent with the current academic research.

Lee Jussim is a professor of social psychology at Rutgers University and was a Fellow and Consulting Scholar at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (2013-15).

The author of the Google essay on issues related to diversity gets nearly all of the science and its implications exactly right.

Since earning his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in personality psychology from the University of Michigan David P. Schmitt has authored or co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.

Alongside other evidence, the employee argued, in part, that this research indicates affirmative action policies based on biological sex are misguided. Maybe, maybe not.

Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychology professor at University of New Mexico.

Among commentators who claim the memo’s empirical facts are wrong, I haven’t read a single one who understand sexual selection theory, animal behavior, and sex differences research.

For what it’s worth, I think that almost all of the Google memo’s empirical claims are scientifically accurate. Moreover, they are stated quite carefully and dispassionately. Its key claims about sex differences are especially well-supported by large volumes of research across species, cultures, and history.

Debra W Soh is a Toronto based science writer who has a PhD in sexual neuroscience from the University of York.

As a woman who’s worked in academia and within STEM, I didn’t find the memo offensive or sexist in the least. I found it to be a well thought out document, asking for greater tolerance for differences in opinion, and treating people as individuals instead of based on group membership.

Within the field of neuroscience, sex differences between women and men—when it comes to brain structure and function and associated differences in personality and occupational preferences—are understood to be true, because the evidence for them (thousands of studies) is strong. This is not information that’s considered controversial or up for debate; if you tried to argue otherwise, or for purely social influences, you’d be laughed at.


Why do I thank Google?  Google, by firing Mr. Damore, might have done more to smash political correctness on this topic than anyone who came before him.  We will have to see how all of this progresses; let's just say I have the same feeling I had during Trump's campaign.

We have seen, with the Trump election, that there are things under the surface – taboo topics – that are only looking for an opportunity to break wide open.  Trump offered that opportunity to those who were previously not allowed to voice rejection of the progressive agenda.  Mr. Damore might have done the same thing here.  And he has the scientists of academia on his side – an advantage that the Trump supporters didn’t (and still don’t) enjoy.

Google has brought to the fore this discussion, out in the open.  The science is on the side of Mr. Damore and on the side of reason:  men and women are different.

Why is this controversial?