More on Google: Peter Singer and David Brooks

This will be the last I write about the Google memo for a while, as I suspect we’re getting weary of the fracas. But readers recommended two pieces, and they’re worth reading. The first is a summary of research on gender differences published at the Heterodox Academy, and I’ve put it (and its summary) as an addendum at the top of the last post.  The second is a piece at Quillette by Heather Heying (an Evergreen State biology professor, wife of Bret Weinstein, and currently demonized along with him); it’s about the evolutionary psychology of gender differences with respect to the Google memo, and it’s called “Should we ‘stop equating science with truth‘”. Heather’s answer is “no!”

I’ll add two pieces here. The first is by renowned moral philosopher Peter Singer, in New York’s Daily News, of all places. Singer has been an advocate for affirmative action, but he’s not so sure that Google needs it. In Singer’s piece, “Why Google was wrong: Did James Damore really deserved to be fired for what he wrote?” (Singer’s answer is “no”), he deals with both the causes of the gender imbalance and the ethicality of firing Damore:

Singer on affirmative action at Google:

Google is rightly troubled by the fact that its workforce is largely male. Sexism in many areas of employment is well-documented. Employers should be alert to the possibility that they are discriminating against women, and should take steps to prevent such discrimination. Some orchestras now conduct blind auditions — the musician plays from behind a screen, so that those making the appointment do not know if they are listening to a man or a woman. That has led to a dramatic increase in the number of women in orchestras. More businesses should look at the possibilities of similarly blinding themselves, when hiring, to the gender of applicants.

But once such anti-discrimination measures have been taken, to the greatest extent feasible, does the fact that a workforce in a particular industry is predominantly male prove that there has been discrimination? Not if the kind of work on offer is likely to be attractive to more men than to women.

If the view Damore defends is right, that will be true of software engineering. If it is, then moving beyond the avoidance of discrimination in hiring and promotion to a policy of giving preference to women over men would be questionable.

That is not to say that it would be impossible to justify. For example, In some professions, having female role models is important, and a valid reason for giving preference to women, when there are otherwise equally qualified candidates. There may also be other reasons, specific to different industries and professions, for thinking it desirable to have a more even balance of men and women. But the case would need to be made for this in the particular area of employment in which such a policy was suggested.

And on Damore’s firing:

Why then was he fired?

Pichai, Google’s CEO, says that “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.” But Damore explicitly, and more than once, made it clear that he was not reducing individuals to a group, and so was not saying that all — or even, necessarily, any — women employed by Google as software engineers are less biologically suited to their work than men. Google is a very selective employer, and so it is highly probable that Google’s selection processes have led to Google employing women who are, in specific traits, uncharacteristic of women as a whole. The target of Damore’s memo was the idea that we should expect women to make up half the software engineering workforce, and that Google should take measures directed towards achieving that outcome.

Pichai also quotes Google’s Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.” Damore’s memo did not harass or intimidate anyone, and in a society that protects freedom of expression, there was nothing unlawful about it. Was it biased? To show that it was, it would need to be demonstrated that Damore was biased in selecting certain scientific studies that supported his view while disregarding others that went against it. Perhaps that case could — and should — be made, but to do so would take some time and research. In any case, Pichai does not attempt, in even the most cursory way, to make it.

Ironically, what Pichai has done, in firing Damore, is precisely contrary to the passage that he quotes. He has created a workplace culture in which those with opinions like Damore’s will be intimidated into remaining silent.

Those who say “A company has the right to fire anyway they want” may be technically correct, but they may not be ethically correct, and firing Damore has not, I think, been to Google’s advantage.

*******

I’m not always a fan of David Brooks, but I do like his piece in today’s New York Times, “Sundar Pichai should resign as Google’s C.E.O.” It’s especially useful because the NYT has lately shown signs of becoming more regressive itself.  Brooks rates the players, saying that the memo’s author, Damore, was right to some extent about evolved differences (I’m not as certain as Brooks), but that those who were offended by it should also be considered:

We should all have a lot of sympathy for the second group of actors in this drama, the women in tech who felt the memo made their lives harder. Picture yourself in a hostile male-dominated environment, getting interrupted at meetings, being ignored, having your abilities doubted, and along comes some guy arguing that women are on average less status hungry and more vulnerable to stress. Of course you’d object.

What we have is a legitimate tension. Damore is describing a truth on one level; his sensible critics are describing a different truth, one that exists on another level. He is championing scientific research; they are championing gender equality. It takes a little subtlety to harmonize these strands, but it’s doable.

Google’s diversity officer, Danielle Brown, comes in for a drubbing, with Brooks saying that she practices “ideology obliterating reason.” And Brooks faults the media (I’d add bloggers to that) for their pervasive mischaracterization of what the memo says, arguing that they showed “a rare and comforting sense of moral certainty when they are purging an evil person who has violated one of their sacred taboos.” Indeed, for Damore’s firing is the best example I know of someone being made to suffer for questioning policies that should be questioned, but aren’t because even asking such questions is off limits. But Brooks reserves his greatest rancor for the Google C.E.O.:

Which brings us to Pichai, the supposed grown-up in the room. He could have wrestled with the tension between population-level research and individual experience. He could have stood up for the free flow of information. Instead he joined the mob. He fired Damore and wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.”

That is a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.

Regardless which weakness applies, this episode suggests he should seek a nonleadership position. We are at a moment when mobs on the left and the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats. That’s when we need good leaders most.

 Pichai took the coward’s way out.

65 Comments

  1. Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you say: “He doesn’t consider that some part of these differences, or even most of them, could be cultural—due to socialization—and therefore should not be taken as “evolutionarily hardwired”. And even “evolutionary hardwired” differences can be susceptible to cultural change. Further, Damore’s argument that these differences are “universal and therefore genetic” is not only a priori illogical (nearly everybody in the world is religious, but does that mean we have a gene for it?), but I even doubt that every society has been surveyed to show the universality of sex differences in psychology, preference, or ability.” – want to make a special comment “is there a gene for it?” It is true that humans have a natural tendency to imbue inanimate things with agency (that was said by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion). That in part may explain the rise of religions independently in many different populations.

    Actually he does consider what you say he doesn’t (my remarks between [] and emphasis of some words in capitals):

    “Neither side is 100% correct [about the cultural vs. the biological biases, or as he calls it there, left and right biases] and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company. ”

    “Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.”

    “Note, I’m NOT SAYING THAT ALL men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” 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. Many of these differences ARE SMALL and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.”

    “I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for EXISTING BIASES, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority.”

    “Once we acknowledge that NOT ALL DIFFERENCES [note he does not say “no differences”] are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.”

  2. Liz
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    “‘Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.'”

    Exactly.

  3. Tom
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Mr Damore could only rightly be accused if he personally recruited all of googles staff (obviously a nonsense) since the company was formed
    Surely then, it is those that actually recruited the employees that should face accusations of bias?

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes, basically he said that the gender imbalance was t Google’s fault, Google said ‘Yes it is, we are sexist ****s’ and then sacked him.

      If they genuinely believe they have failed to employ enough women it should be HR that are facing life on the dole.

  4. Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Did anyone mention this commentary by Cynthia Lee in Vox? She is a CS lecturer and tries to explain why the memo was upsetting, and also exposes some of its gaping flaws. The memo’s alleged analysis of populations draws conclusions about a narrow subpopulation — google employees — based on differences in the general population. But google employees have already been ruthlessly screened to select those with appropriate talents and interests; they’re all outliers. While the memo is a little muddled on just what kind of diversity policies are addressed, I took it to be aimed against career development programs for retention and promotion of women within google. Any biological differences in interest or aptitude should have been screened out of that population, so the argument is just inapplicable. Should an employee be expected to carefully check their logic before announcing a recommendation that could personally impact their colleagues’ careers? Maybe so, at least I can see a feasible ethical argument in that direction.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      There’s nothing in the memo that implies that the author believes that the women who are already working at Google are any less qualified or any less desirable to keep as employees than men who are working there. There’s absolutely nothing in the memo that implies that the thin slice of the population that works in Google is similar to the population at large in terms of ability or interest.

      Indeed, the fact that it’s different is part of the memo’s exact point. A company like Google is going to get a very tiny non-representative slice of the population – people who are very good at and very interested in computer science and engineering and data analysis and other such things that Google does. The argument of the memo is that what we know from social science research tells us that if we choose a sub-population of humanity with those characteristics, we would expect it to have a higher proportion of males than females compared to the general population, because on average males both have more aptitude for and more interest in such subjects.

      Again, this doesn’t imply that the women who Google accepted are any less capable at or interested in the types of math-y pursuits that Google engages in – in fact, the very argument depends on the point that the women working at Google should be JUST AS CAPABLE AT and JUST AS INTERESTED IN those pursuits as men working at Google.

      Thus, for instance, it’s absurd to suggest that the memo could be insulting to women who work at Google. Anyone who took the memo to be that way clearly was not engaging in basic reading comprehension or logical reasoning skills when reading the memo (or perhaps engaging in motivated reasoning).

      It seems that the memo’s author’s criticism of Google was his perception that Google was trying to, by hook or by crook, get the gender ratio at the company to 50/50 – the criticism was that, given what we know from well supported social science, even if we removed all forms of unfair bias and discrimination from the environment both within and outside of Google, given that Google employees are a very specific and weird slice of the population in general, it is unreasonable to expect Google to reach 50/50 ratio. Thus if Google’s diversity goals were to reach 50/50 ratio, then continuing to double down on anti-bias or similar efforts wouldn’t be helpful.

      Of course, any unfair bias, discrimination, harassment, etc. are still wrong and should be stamped out whenever possible. The memo wasn’t disputing that. The strongest thing the memo said with respect to that was that the lack of a 50/50 split is not a priori evidence that the workplace or hiring practices had a problem with unfair bias or discrimination or harassment, etc.

      • improbable
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        “A company like Google is going to get a very tiny non-representative slice of the population – people who are very good at and very interested in computer science and […] research tells us that if we choose a sub-population of humanity with those characteristics, we would expect it to have a higher proportion of males than females compared to the general population,”

        This is the very basic stats point which almost everyone seems completely unable to get their heads around. Nicely stated.

        The less basic point is that this theory makes a prediction. As you make the slice more and more extreme, you expect the proportion male to increase. This is also true, if I read the data correctly, but not as blatant as (for instance) Google’s employment stats. (I have yet to see someone base their outrage on this, in fact I’ve yet to see anyone outraged who shows evidence of being able to pass Stat101, but I’m looking!)

        That applies if it’s an honestly made slice. One of Damore’s claims is that Google already discriminates in hiring (i.e. applies affirmative action). In which case those hired under such preference are by definition less capable/interested, and I’m sure this would swamp my point above. (Presumably those who base their outrage on this aren’t keen to say so!)

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      But google employees have already been ruthlessly screened to select those with appropriate talents and interests; they’re all outliers.

      He was talking about why Google employs more men than women not criticising the women it hires so I don’t see how this is relevant.

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        It’s relevant because (1) diversity policies do not just address hiring, they address retention and advancement, and (2) the subpopulation of top-tier talent who are eligible for consideration at google are already screened for talent and interest. They may have more top-tier male applicants than female, but that doesn’t mean they have to hire males in the same proportion to their applicant pool. If a thousand candidates are equally fit for a hundred entry level slots, you can choose whatever distribution you want in the final selection. If biological differences have any influence on who gets CS degrees (and I would argue that they’re a small factor to begin with), that influence should play a diminishing role at the top of the profession.

        • Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          “If a thousand candidates are equally fit for a hundred entry level slots, you can choose whatever distribution you want in the final selection.”

          That’s… that’s not how hiring works. At all. Companies don’t have some large number of functionally identical positions, and candidates are never “equally fit” in high numbers. Positions aren’t always unique, but they tend to be specific, and for each specific position, companies are looking for the one best fit. They certainly might find a handful of candidates who are all equally the best fit, but they’re never gonna find something in the scale of 1,000 equally best fit candidates to fit into 100 positions.

          In the course of choosing the best fit for each job opening that comes up, the breakdown people who are hired is going to look somewhat like the sub-population of the people who tend to have the qualifications and are likely to apply for jobs at the company, just through random chance. And the sub-population of people who have the qualifications for Google and desire to work there are generally going to be those who have the aptitude for and the desire to work on things like computer science, data analysis, IT, etc. And uncontroversial social science tells us that if we lived in a world entirely free from unfair bias and unfair discrimination, that sub-population is likely to have a higher proportion of males than the general population at large.

          • Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            Having been on dozens of search committees for top-tier people over the past decade, I have a decent idea of how hiring works and how diversity considerations fit into it. Having delivered thousands of new grads into entry-level positions (including at Google), I think my description is pretty accurate for entry level engineering hires. If you look at the memo itself, it refers to hiring practices like “decreasing the false negative rate,” which sounds to me like resume screening. A standard diversity recommendation is to have rejected resumes re-evaluated to ensure they were properly screened. That is something that happens on the scale of thousands of applicants. But set hiring policies aside and notice that the memo’s very first bullet point under “The Harm of Google’s Biases” refers to mentorship programs and professional development classes. This is as much about retention and promotion as it is about hiring, since the rate of attrition among women computing professionals is much higher than the rate among men, and that isn’t explainable by differing biological aptitudes.

            • Kevin
              Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

              Hiring practices where I work (nearly all Phd candidates) are complex but they rarely achieve the highest success for what is desired. It’s almost always a strategy to minimize risk: risk of either a future unproductive or, worse, unpleasant worker.

              At the highest level flipping it’s flipping coins. Both specificity and versatility are at odds. A trule genius in one area may be completely unadaptable to what an organization needs.

              • Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                Heh, yes most of my experience in screening processes has come down to flipping coins at some point. Out of a few hundred applications maybe ten are equally distant from what we want. From those we narrow to 3-5 picks, ultimately 1-2 will be selected. But there’s no simple metric that will perfectly sort any group of people from best to worst. It’s true for hiring, for grants, for scholarships, for promotions. All the pitfalls and distortions that come with professional evaluations are an entirely different bucket of crap. Professional metrics (and all the associated myths and folklore) have a big influence on diversity but maybe it’s better not to step in that bucket today.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      From the Cynthia Lee article:

      “In other words, it is clear that we are still operating in an environment where it is much more likely that women who are biologically able to work in tech are chased away from tech by sociological and other factors, than that biologically unsuited women are somehow brought in by overzealous diversity programs.”

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        She made some elegant points, but sadly most commenters seem to be missing what’s alluded to here: women being “chased away” from tech. People keep harping on imagined 50/50 gender quotas but it’s more about curbing the attrition and preserving the diversity already present among new grads.

        • Kevin
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

          That makes it sound like women can’t fight for high end tech jobs. Maybe CS world is truly creepy, misogynistic, but I have not seen this in the sciences.

          I recall when some British Nobel laureate harped on women in science as being either cry babies or looking for husbands. I have never seen this in science. Women in science tend to be more ambitious more readily capable of standing up for their work. Those do not sound like traits of people likely to be chased away.

          • Posted August 11, 2017 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

            It’s not about fighting for jobs, it’s just a statistical fact that women leave the tech field at higher rates than men. Studies indicate they tend to be assigned different roles, have lower access to mentors, get fewer opportunities to show their talents, are promoted less and leave their companies sooner than men. And when they leave, more women leave the field completely than men.

            Something is different about CS. Women were 37% of undergrads in the early 80s, down to about 19% now. Mathematics, a closely related field, also peaked in the early 80s but has not seen the same same decline in women enrollment. Something weird has happened in CS.

          • Michael Waterhouse
            Posted August 12, 2017 at 12:54 am | Permalink

            No British Nobel Laureate ‘harped on’ in the way you misrepresent.
            But as many people misunderstood him as they do this.

          • Posted August 12, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

            That British Nobel laureate story turned out to be mostly fraudulent reporting. He was invited to the women’s conference because he had been long been an advocate for women in science and many of the women he had helped get hired stood up for him. His feminist wife helped get the story corrected in Britain. Also, the other attendees at his speech and a short recording of the end of the speech contradicted the reporter’s account. The laughter and applause in the recording showed that most of the audience was in on the joke.

            http://reason.com/archives/2015/07/23/sexist-scientist-tim-hunt-the-real-story

            Louise Mensch wrote a long post documenting the misinformation. She did dig up quite a few contradictions with the early sensational reporting.

    • Posted August 13, 2017 at 2:27 am | Permalink

      I found that article to be atrocious and wanted to respond to it ever since I read it. So sorry in advance for this exhaustive reply, but I had to get this off my chest.

      She starts by talking about how exhausting it is when people in tech question her competence, and offers up a fresh example from Twitter, featuring a tweet that…uh, argues that she dismisses ideas that challenge her own. For whatever reason, she seems to have taken this tweet as questioning her competence, not her political ideology, so she responds by noting that she totally understands averages. Why? It can’t be the tweet she’s directly responding to; that tweet is basically a response to another response of hers, which reads “Yeah no” – sure sounds like a dismissal to me. And the “Yeah no” tweet is sent in response to a guy who basically says that he’s puzzled that so many intelligent people were outraged by the memo – according to him, the outrage would at least be understandable if the outraged hadn’t mastered the concept of averages. In other words, we have a guy who literally argues that Cynthia does understand averages, and another guy who basically calls her a political ideologue. At best, you can argue that I phrased things a bit more eloquently than the original writer, and I must admit to having an above-average reading comprehension…but the bottom line is, this isn’t a good start to the article.

      By the way, if you want to see for yourself, here’s the original thread of tweets: https://twitter.com/sarah_eliz_gray/status/894394040866746369

      Next up, she talks about some weird concept of “divide and conquer”. It honestly just seems like Cynthia has the equivalent of PTSD or something, and I sympathize with her for this, but holy crap, this has nothing to do with the memo.

      After this is arguably the lowest point of the entire article; after bitching (inaccurately) that she’s been accused of misunderstanding the concept of averages, she…well, either misunderstands the concept, or more likely just throws out an epic nitpick, without even having the decency to defend the conclusion of this nitpick – probably because she knows how ridiculous it is. Basically, she argues the same thing that cjwinstead argues – the people at Google aren’t “average”, so why talk about averages?

      Well, let’s put it like this: imagine if men, on average, were twice as likely to be interested in working in tech jobs as women. All things being equal, at the top percentile of intelligence, you should still expect to see twice as many men as women. However, the nitpick here is that all things aren’t equal – which is true, but what specific things is she arguing for?

      I originally planned to talk about a bunch of potential arguments she could make to justify her original nitpick, and then rebut them. But it occurs to me that all of those arguments, though technically not without merit, were really dumb, and if Cynthia wants to write an article in a major publication, she needs to do the work of making her own arguments, instead of throwing around nitpicks and expecting everyone else to do the work for her. In my opinion, she avoided making any of these arguments precisely because of how stupid they actually are.

      Anyways, after nit-picking, she decides to cherry-pick too, by pointing out two colleges (Harvey Mudd and Stanford) with higher-than-average rates of female CS majors. Meanwhile, a 2015 Fortune article I found notes that 18% of computer science majors are female, which syncs pretty well with Google’s workforce being 19% female. I guess Google needs to start building its own universities or something?

      By the way, amusing side note: James Damore recommends making changes which are in harmony with differing gender preferences in order to boost diversity. And if you look at Harvey Mudd, it seems like that’s sort of what they ended up doing. An LA times article notes that Harvey Mudd discovered that women want to change the world and solve problems, whereas men tend to be interested in just coding and personal projects, so they started marketing coding as a way to help change the world and solve problems. (They also did other stuff, granted – it may be that having a lot of men in the class discourages women. But seeing as a lot of men are still usually more interested in coding, I don’t think you can solve that without either self-segregating or kicking out a lot of men.) By the way, this segues nicely into pointing out that, contra Cynthia’s fifth point, there are a lot of real-world diversity programs that would probably meet Damore’s standards. It’s just that all of the ones she likes literally don’t work. So all we’ve got left is the fourth one, where she brings up race to try and distract from the issues at hand. (By the way, if you look in the dictionary for the term “intersectional feminist”, that’s the definition that comes up. Just kidding, but seriously though.)

      So yeah: not a good look for Cynthia Lee. Or Vox, for that matter.

      • Posted August 13, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        You are not paying attention. The pipeline argument is a red herring because (1) diversity policies are not designed to enforce hiring quotas, and (2) google’s workforce is not comprised entirely of new 2017 college grads, there should also be a healthy supply of mid-career workers who graduated when there was a higher share of women in the field. Diversity programs are usually focused on two things: increasing visibility of underrepresented groups in the applicant pool, and providing career development and retention incentives for them within the institution. The memo seems to describe policies like that. But don’t pretend that the memo was clear or specific on how its author would design or reject a given policy.

        I’m sorry that your argument is long, but I only see a couple of relevant points in it (i don’t really care about the “nitpicks”). First, references to top-tier schools like Harvey Mudd and Stanford are not cherry picking. These schools are both geographically local to google and top ranked; so google hires disproportionately from those schools. At many of the top schools you will find a higher representation of women CS grads compared to lesser ranked programs. So the “pipeline” needs to be judged relative to those source institutions, not relative to bulk nationwide statistics.

        But this all still misses the point that diversity is mostly about retention and promotion. Damore seems most upset about policies that provide extra career development resources based on race and gender. Those policies exist to improve the long-run productivity of people who are statistically more likely to fall off the ladder. There are only a few things google can do about the 19% hiring pipeline; most diversity policies will be focused on keeping that initial diversity and maximizing their potential over the course of a full career.

        • Posted August 13, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          “You are not paying attention. The pipeline argument is a red herring”

          Then why’d she bring it up?

          “(1) diversity policies are not designed to enforce hiring quotas,”

          They’re meant to increase the share until it reaches the generally desired quota, but we can leave that part of it aside; the bottom line is that they are still meant to hire more people than the pipeline produces.

          “and (2) google’s workforce is not comprised entirely of new 2017 college grads, there should also be a healthy supply of mid-career workers who graduated when there was a higher share of women in the field.”

          Well, let’s take a look at those numbers, shall we?

          https://www.engadget.com/2014/10/20/what-happened-to-all-of-the-women-coders-in-1984/

          So the highest point reached was 37%. Bear in mind that 1984 was now 33 years ago, and you’d need to be around 18 years old to get a degree, so we’re talking about 50-year-olds. The average age of a Google worker is 29 years old, which tells me there aren’t many 50-year-olds at the company. If anything, Google has been accused of age discrimination, and I bet they are doing this, for reasons they consider worthwhile. (Young minds easier to mold, et cetera.)

          “Diversity programs are usually focused on two things: increasing visibility of underrepresented groups in the applicant pool, and providing career development and retention incentives for them within the institution.”

          Sounds pretty authoritative. But sadly, this isn’t always how it works out. And even if it were…why are those things not provided to everyone? Don’t you think there are white males whose resumes languish in obscurity, or who leave because they don’t feel the incentive to stay? Why don’t they get these things? You’d say it’s because they don’t suffer from these things, but I’d say it’s because Google wants to be diverse, not good.

          “The memo seems to describe policies like that. But don’t pretend that the memo was clear or specific on how its author would design or reject a given policy.”

          Are you serious?

          The memo basically says “increase diversity by acknowledging gender preferences and working with them”. But since that’s anathema to Cynthia, she acts like the memo was being disingenuous – when it’s really her that’s being disingenuous. She’d rather gender-neutral policies which not only discriminate but are ineffective as well.

          What’s most interesting is that researching the next paragraph led me down the same path the first post did; other colleges have also figured out that you can get more female CS majors if you sell it to them as a way to improve the world. But in order to do that, you have to acknowledge that women and men have different preferences, so thank God the people running these colleges are a bit quicker on the uptake than Cynthia.

          “I’m sorry that your argument is long, but I only see a couple of relevant points in it (i don’t really care about the “nitpicks”).”

          Good. It’s just something silly Cynthia said and refused to back up, no need to take it any further.

          “First, references to top-tier schools like Harvey Mudd and Stanford are not cherry picking. These schools are both geographically local to google and top ranked; so google hires disproportionately from those schools.”

          For starters, Harvey Mudd is an enormous nitpick, since Google tells me they have about 800 students (total). So we’re left with Stanford, one top-tier school which is centrally located and has about 10% more than the average. In 2015, Google hired 5,000 programmers, and in 2015, Stanford graduated a total of 1,093 CS majors – graduate and undergraduate. Even if Google hired every single one of these CS majors – because Stanford is so centrally located, and so on – they’d still have a fairly marginal impact. Imagine if half of these CS majors went to Google, and the rest found other jobs in Silicon Valley or San Francisco (there are a lot of these, so not implausible). That’s still a pretty small impact. In other words, it’s cherry-picking.

          “At many of the top schools you will find a higher representation of women CS grads compared to lesser ranked programs. So the “pipeline” needs to be judged relative to those source institutions, not relative to bulk nationwide statistics.”

          Really? Because my research turned up no indication of this. And I’m getting tired of Googling all over the place, so feel free to back up your assertions anytime.

          “But this all still misses the point that diversity is mostly about retention and promotion.”

          This is patently untrue. Google specifically has different practices in hiring as well as retention and promotion. And again, you say that the people who receive these resources are statistically more likely to fall off the ladder…but I’m not sold that this is the case, or more importantly that these resources shouldn’t be expanded to others likely to fall off the ladder, just because of skin color or genitals.

          “There are only a few things google can do about the 19% hiring pipeline; most diversity policies will be focused on keeping that initial diversity and maximizing their potential over the course of a full career.”

          Listen, what you’re saying here makes a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean that diversity advocates agree with it – it might even mean the opposite.

  5. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    “Engineering does not care about your color, sexual orientation, or your other personal and private attributes,” [Indrek] Wichman believes. Just “do the work well.”

  6. Secularjew
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the comments on the Brooks piece on the NY Times site, two things are clear.

    1)People don’t understand statistical analysis. Almost every person voicing an objection ends up presenting anecdotal evidence -usually of a personal nature- as proof of a narrative that they happen to support. For example, a woman may write, “He said women are not X? Do you know what I went through and am capable of?” (Disclaimer: I don’t agree with everything in the memo either, but we should be careful not to misrepresent the guy’s view).

    2)Just as there are racist people who say, “I’m not racist, but…,” there are many people who say, “I’m not against free speech, but…,” and then they proceed to show that they want the book thrown at anyone who dares to voice a controversial opinion. Usually, this fits the pattern of “Yeah, you’re free to voice your opinion, and, in return, we’re free to ostracize you and shame you for mere opinions that aren’t lies or hate speech.” And I’ve never seen such vocal support for company policy. Just because the company had a right to fire the guy, doesn’t mean they should’ve. He has not done anything terrible, even if it was rather unwise and presumptuous. If I find fault in his actions, it is primarily in his burdening of co-workers with a memo that was longer than half a page.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      My read of Damore is that he very much made a “I value diversity and inclusion, but…” style argument.

      Saying it doesn’t make it so. Valuing diversity means supporting diversity programs, even if they are not optimized to your satisfaction.

      If you go on to suggest “De-emphasize empathy,” you are not really supporting diversity efforts.

      • Pali
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        “Valuing diversity means supporting diversity programs, even if they are not optimized to your satisfaction.”

        Nonsense. First off, this statement acts like values are held in a vacuum – we hold many values, and sometimes something aimed at promoting one value is going to trample unacceptably upon our other values. That doesn’t mean we aren’t valuing the first subject. I value freedom of speech, but I also value public safety, so I have to make concessions both ways to find an acceptable line between them: we don’t get to yell “fire” falsely in crowded theaters, but we also don’t get to shut dissenting opinions down in the name of public harmony.

        Second, effectiveness is a very legitimate concern regarding any program we use, for both practical and political reasons. Practically, we don’t want to spend more time and resources on a problem than it is worth. Politically, doing so just gives ammunition to those who truly do oppose such programs in principle, making it easier for them to convince the undecided that it isn’t worth doing – take the example of anti-poverty programs and Republicans harping about every case of fraud or abuse they can find to discredit the entire concept.

        Lastly, while empathy is justly lauded for motivating people to support diversity programs, it falls short in terms of determining exactly how those programs are set up and is prey to personal biases. If you’ve got a lot of black friends, you may be highly focused on improving the situation for blacks – which could lead to disproportionate resources spent on blacks when latinos and others might be equally or even more in need of aid in that context. Dispassionate judgment of statistical data is more likely to lead to a fair distribution of effort than empathy alone.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted August 12, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          I can actually agree with much of this. We probably share a lot of common background in our education and work experience, and are used to this kind of analysis.

          I think the real issue in diversity is that many of the people we seek to include do not share that background. For them, your reply sounds more like “a white man babbling fancy words to cover for taking away our jobs.” (Even if you are not a white man.)

          It is in trying to overcome that cultural divide that diversity efforts have to first focus on maintaining “safe and supportive” workplaces, even if an objective analysis of the program says it is not working great yet.

          You have to establish trust and good faith first, before you start in on the analytical arguments. Damore didn’t do that. (As an aside, women are often quite good at doing that first.)

          • pali
            Posted August 12, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            “I think the real issue in diversity is that many of the people we seek to include do not share that background. For them, your reply sounds more like “a white man babbling fancy words to cover for taking away our jobs.””

            This isn’t a problem with Damore’s memo, this is a problem with education across the country. Huge numbers of white people suck at statistical analysis as well. However, anyone working at somewhere like Google should be sufficiently-schooled to recognize and parse such without much difficulty – and this was Damore’s intended audience, not the general population. If Google is hiring a bunch of women/minorities that can’t deal with statistical analyses, then Damore’s criticisms may be more on target than I thought.

            I’m all for maintaining safe and supportive workplaces. My objection was to your implication that failing to support any and all diversity programs means that one is not supporting diversity. There is no one single strategy that has been shown to be the ideal way to combat bigotry and enhance diversity, at least, not to my knowledge. I fail to see how holding back criticism of a program that isn’t working as intended is going to lead to better results than attempting to improve that program or replace it with a better one – for every person offended by the criticism, you’ll probably find another who sees the flaws and is offended by having to go along with the program.

            Perhaps Damore failed to establish trust and good faith in your eyes, but I have to ask: what more should he have done? My reading of his memo has him consistently hedging what he’s saying, consistently repeating that he’s discussing statistical models of populations rather than ascribing anything to individuals, and consistently states his support for diversity among Google’s staff – just not necessarily for the particular ways that Google currently tries to improve that diversity.

      • Taz
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, but I can’t accept the idea of blindly supporting any program that’s badly designed or executed.

  7. Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Those who say “A company has the right to fire anyway they want” may be technically correct, but they may not be ethically correct, and firing Damore has not, I think, been to Google’s advantage.

    Quite. It’s amazing how free-market fundamentalist the Left gets when they find a massive, tax dodging virtual monopoly, when it comes to sacking people for wrongthink.

  8. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    When I first saw that xkcd cartoon about free speech (https://xkcd.com/1357/) I thought it sort of made sense, but with all the ctrl-left ideological purity enforcement of which the Google kerfuffle is just the latest, I’m thinking maybe we should think about the consequences of defining anyone who disagrees with the ideologically pure as an asshole. How does that effect the market place of ideas on which basically all progress starting with The Enlightenment is based — depends?

    • improbable
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      The XKCD heading says “Free Speech” but the body says “1st Amendment”. Conflating the two seems to be a common problem with people’s thinking. (Or worse, as here I think, a deliberate bait-and-switch.)

      Free speech is a much bigger concept. It’s really important that a free society discusses its problems in the open. It’s the main mechanism by which we change course before having a bloody revolution. This is easily harmed by lots of things (such as one guy owning all the newspapers, or the mob baying for heretics’ blood) which have nothing at all to do with 1st Amendment Rights.

      The fact that you have laws protecting parts of the edifice doesn’t mean the whole thing will stand by itself forever. It also needs people to value it, and defend it.

      • improbable
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        The XKCD hover text is even worse:

        “Title text: I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”

        Clearly these laws only exist to protect awful awful people. I mean wasn’t Tom Paine in the KKK or something?

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        Back before social media was such a huge thing the Left was very concerned about the virtual monopolies people like Rupert Murdock held over newspapers and TV.

        Imagine the stink then if Murdock had fired someone for questioning his hiring policies.

        Now its ‘Businesses have the right to fire who they like, when they like.

        Google are acting pretty much the same way as Trump is. The difference is that you can vote that lunatic out in a few years. Google will continue to dominate the internet worldwide, controlling what you see and hear*, for at least another generation.

        * You think they’d have got away with their tax dodging if they didn’t control the narrative?

        • Harrison
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

          I always recognized that as a fundamentally libertarian argument, so it perplexed me to hear it uttering from the lips of people I knew to have a very poor opinion of libertarians.

          It’s a very bad idea to go through life not knowing the provenance of your own arguments.

    • Harrison
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Probably the best rebuttal of that particular ill-conceived comic:

      http://sealedabstract.com/rants/re-xkcd-1357-free-speech/

      The takeaway: “Free speech is more than a Faustian choice of whether governments or corporations set the limits of our discourse.”

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      Okay, I am going to bite on this. What exactly does xkcd say wrong? If you think he is wrong then you must believe at least one of the following:

      1) We have an obligation to listen to every and any speech someone wants to make.

      2) We are obligated to provide a forum to anyone who wants to make a speech

      3) We are not allowed to criticize someone’s speech.

      4) We are not allowed to heckle a speaker or boycott a company.

      5) PCC is not allowed to ban a commentator for violating his roolz.

      6) A producer cannot cancel a program she is paying for after an actor or speaker makes a nazi rant.

      So those who think xkcd is wrong, please tell me which of these rights do you want to take away.

      • Taz
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps not wrong so much as misapplied. I’ve seen it used to justify the heckler’s veto, particularly in college speaker controversies. If a group of students invite someone to speak on campus, and other students physically prevent it, is that ok? The cartoon says “they’re showing you the door”. Who’s the “they” that gets to determine who can speak and who can’t? I don’t want to only hear the people who shout the loudest.

        • Posted August 11, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

          I agree that a mob cannot shut down someone’s speech. To do that requires force or threat of force. But xkcd didn’t say that, did he?

          • Taz
            Posted August 11, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

            That’s why I said “not so much wrong as misapplied”. The commenter “improbable” did point out one way in which it’s wrong: it conflates the 1st Amendment with Free Speech.

      • Harrison
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

        Regarding 5 specifically, if rules are fair, unambiguous, and known in advance, then you can make a fair case for kicking someone out who fails to respect them.

        However, those conditions are frequently not met in many forums, including most cases of campus censorship. When rules are ambiguous or applied arbitrarily, it becomes less defensible. It also means that the hosting party is on the hook for any objectionable speech they do allow, because by engaging in censorship they are clearly delineating between acceptable and unacceptable, and by definition anything not censored must be acceptable to them.

      • improbable
        Posted August 12, 2017 at 1:04 am | Permalink

        @darwinwins:
        “3) We are not allowed to criticize someone’s speech.
        4) We are not allowed to heckle a speaker or boycott a company.”

        You are allowed to do all of these things, and should be. The problem is that if everyone does them all the time, then we do not have free speech. If every dissenting view is shut down by the hecklers, then open discussion cannot function as a means to avoid conflict.

        Free speech is more the goal than the rules or laws enforcing that goal. There is no system of rights which can ensure this. The 1st amendment is a great thing but only prevents a narrowly defined fraction of abuses. (And I worry that, along with the written constitution in general, it has driven people to an overly legalistic interpretation of rights & freedoms.)

        Honesty is similar, in a way. We punish dishonesty by putting people in jail for fraud, but we can’t create honesty by writing laws. In no society is everyone fully honest, but quite a high level of honesty is essential for ours to function.

      • Posted August 13, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        The first panel is egregiously wrong. The right of free speech is not defined by the US First Amendment which merely defines how the right of free speech may be controlled (or not) by the US Government.

        And no, you do not have to provide a platform for somebody else to speak, but on the other hand, if they have been offered a platform by somebody else and you make it impossible for them to be heard (e.g. by heckling or treating violence) you are infringing their right of free speech. Note that, a right of free speech must include the right of those that want to listen to the speech to be allowed to do so.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I predict this post will make PCC(E) a happy PCC(E) by kicking the subscriptions over 50,000.

  10. Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    When Sundar Pichai was faced with the decision of how to respond to James Damore’s memo, he had one overriding consideration: what is best for Google? That’s his responsibility as CEO. And in that context he did the right thing.

    Imagine that you are a female engineer called into an engineering meeting with Mr. Damore. Will you be concerned that your comments and opinions might not be taken seriously? Or, since that happens anyway according to numerous studies, might be taken even less seriously? Imagine that he is asked to comment on your performance when annual review time rolls around; this sort of peer review is the norm at Google. Would you be confident of a fair evaluation? Even if Mr. Damore thinks that he can be fair and objective, many Social Psychology studies indicate that his biases will unconsciously affect his feedback.

    Damore poisoned the well, for himself as well as for others. And Pichai knows it.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Imagine that you are a female engineer called into an engineering meeting with Mr. Damore. Will you be concerned that your comments and opinions might not be taken seriously?

      If you are a female engineer with a grasp of basic reading skills, no.

      • Maya
        Posted August 12, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        I am a female software engineer (albeit not at Google). There are plenty of men in our industry who publicly say all the right, PC things about female colleagues, but privately hold, and act on, opinions that are much worse than those expressed by Mr. Damore in his (mostly well thought out) memo.
        If you are suggesting that women engineers should be so fragile as to be more wary of people like him, you just sent a clear message of encouragement to those other men, validating not only their duplicitous behavior, but reinforcing their private misconceptions about women.

        • Posted August 12, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

          I am not suggesting that women are fragile or should be more wary, and I don’t have the slightest clue how you managed to get that out of reading my article. I am saying that employers should not be in the business of policing the thoughts of their employees.

          • Maya
            Posted August 12, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, I was replying to “Speaker to Animals” comment about imagining being a female engineer in a meeting with Mr. Danmore. I completely agree with everything you said in your article.

            • Rambler
              Posted August 12, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

              If you look again at the previous posters you will see that

              “Imagine that you are a female engineer called into an engineering meeting with Mr. Damore. Will you be concerned that your comments and opinions might not be taken seriously?”

              is a comment by the user fredzlotnick.
              While the user Speaker To Animals responded to section of fredzlotnick’s comment with

              “If you are a female engineer with a grasp of basic reading skills, no.”

            • Posted August 13, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink

              Speaker to Animals did not make that comment, she was quoting from fredzlotnick

              • Posted August 13, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

                Apologies. I just effectively parroted the point already made by Rambler.

              • Maya
                Posted August 13, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Quite right, thank you both and apologies to Speaker to Animals.

                In short, my post should’ve read: “Not only would basically literate female engineers have no concerns about working with Mr. Damore (after all, he seems to have a reasonable understanding that population statistics have no predictive relationship to individual abilities); but there is a shadow concern that some other male engineers, for fear of getting fired, might publicly toe the PC line, while letting their ambivalence fester below the surface, until it erupts with much more unpredictable and damaging consequences.”

    • Carey Haug
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      How can Social Psychology studies predict the behavior of one individual? I’m not being sarcastic. I don’t see how studies can take individual differences into account.

      Are these Social Psychology studies well designed and replicated? I think I have read that Social Psychology has a replication crisis and that many findings in the field can’t be replicated and are questionable.

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted August 12, 2017 at 1:00 am | Permalink

        Crisis is an understatment.
        Sample size (18).
        Demographic (College)
        P/ Hacking ??

    • Taz
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      And in that context he did the right thing.

      That’s yet to be determined.

      • tomh
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

        By whom?

        • Taz
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

          Probably not by anyone – I’m just saying that we don’t know yet. I certainly think the entire incident will be a net PR hit, but I don’t know whether the firing makes it better or worse.

  11. Steve Gerrard
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    There is a legal argument for Google to fire Damore:

    https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/08/09/googles-firing-of-engineer-a-clear-cut-legal-decision/

    A Stanford law professor says: “Employers have been held liable when they’ve done nothing to repudiate or correct for those points of view.”

    If they didn’t fire Damore, and Damore participated on a woman’s peer review, Google could have a serious liability on their hands.

    He should not have posted it as a company memo!

    • jwthomas
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      And he should not have started out by stating that Google did not listen to those with “conservative” views. Once he identified himself as “conservative” he placed himself in an unpopular (at Google) political position and from then on almost everyone read his text as political bias rather than considering his arguments on their merits.

      • Harrison
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

        The document I read is clearly walking on eggshells. How much more cautious should he have been? More importantly, would it REALLY have made any difference to the regressives? I honestly think not.

    • Posted August 13, 2017 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      That article misrepresents the memo both times it mentions it. Furthermore, if Google were worried that Damore could not participate in employee reviews, without being biased then they could just not let him take part in reviews. They didn’t have to fire him.

  12. Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    One thing is for sure, there is one less male at Google… and for a company i would have thought where logic and analytical skills would be seeping from the walls, it was a failure.
    A failure to progress enlightened thinking and values, you know, providing ‘software nutriments’ for the human brain, what! google does not do human behaviour? remind me, what behaviour does it do then?
    yes well, from here it seems they talked, over, under and around but not ‘at’, all that money and they couldn’t organise two chairs in a room. OK, I have no idea of the reality of working inside mega wealthy google…
    so the chairs would have been very comfortable i imagined if they had, or did? what about the snacks, wholesome or junk?
    So i will say this, they are no different from every bat crazy big company, we are only human.
    The Quillette piece by Heather Heying was good for me.

  13. nicky
    Posted August 13, 2017 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    I have finally been able to read Damore’s “Google’s Ideological Echo Chambre”.
    Any company should (and often do -by outsiders) pay good money to have itself scrutinised, examined and analysed on how to improve itself. Damore did it for free.
    Firing him is not just unconscionable, it is shortsighted, if not plain stupid.
    Google should have thanked him on their bare little knees and promoted him, or at least have given him a fat bonus for his constructive analysis.


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