Salon disses dismisses Google memo as “biological determinism” that can “slip into eugenicist doctrines”

UPDATE:  A new piece at the Heterodox Academy by Sean Stevens and Jon Haidt, ‘The Google Memo: what does it say about gender differences?“, examines Damore’s claims about sex differences in ability and preferences by reviewing a great deal of the relevant literature. Some of it supports his claims; other bits don’t. Their general conclusions are below, but you should read their piece:


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). The one exception to this statement seems to be 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. Thus, the large gender gap in coding (and in tech in general) cannot be explained as resulting to any substantial degree from differences in ability between men and women.

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).

Our verdict on Damore’s memo: Damore is correct that there are “population level differences in distributions” of traits that are likely to be relevant for understanding gender gaps at Google. Even if we set aside all questions about the origins of these differences, the fact remains that there are gender differences in a variety of traits, and especially in interest/enjoyment (rather than ability) in the adult population from which Google and all other tech firms recruit.

They’ll have a followup post on the memo’s claims about the value of viewpoint diversity.


I’ve reread the infamous Google memo by James Damore, and my opinion is about the same: it’s a mixed bag insofar as it makes some weak biological/evolutionary claims about male versus female preferences, and it could have used some citations (but of course there’s lots of literature to cherry-pick, and that would have made it into a paper, not a memo). Damore seems to take observed sex differences in behavioral traits like “neuroticism” to argue, implicitly or explicitly, that differences in psychology or ability are biological differences instilled in our ancestors by natural selection. He doesn’t consider that some part of these differences, or even the bulk of them, could be cultural—due to socialization and biases—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.

That said, I think the memo makes points worth considering, has been grossly misrepresented by people who attacked it, and likely led to Damore’s firing simply because he violated the Regressive Leftist dictum that there are no biological, or even existing, psychological differences between men and women, and therefore differential representation must be due to sexist bias leading to failure to hire or promote. But, as I’ve said, there are three reasons for disproportionate representation: different abilities, different interests, and unequal opportunity (sexism, cultural expectations, socialization, etc.). The simple observation of gender disproportionality doesn’t single out only one of these factors as responsible, especially given we know that there are, on average, psychological differences (whatever their cause) between men and women that could lead to difference for preferences in what they want to do.

What Damore was trying to say, I think, was not to indict women as having lower abilities in tech professions, but to suggest that the nature or culture of tech is such that it leads women to be less interested in the field. Nor did he deny the existence of sexism. He was making points for discussion that were considered taboo, and therefore he was fired. After all, he did say that he favored diversity, but suggested that present ways of achieving it may be less than optimal if it reflects more than sexism. And he suggested ways to increase diversity. At the very least, Google’s employees could have discussed his ideas, some of which have considerable merit (see this article by Scott Alexander for a reasoned discussion of differential average preferences). But Google was subject to an anti-Damore campaign, their managers seem amenable to ideas of the Regressive Left, and so they let Damore go. Damore was shamed and fired simply for expressing an opinion worthy of consideration. This is the demonization by the Regressive Left that we’ve come to recognize.

Yesterday I posted about a Slate article written by a woman physicist who thought that Damore’s argument showed that the very structure of science was unreliable, and played into right-wing tropes, so that science itself was responsible for discrimination against minorities. You would have expected such a piece in the truly regressive Salon, but not in Slate, and not by a scientist! Well, a Salon article appeared on Tuesday, and it basically makes the same claim: the Google document cites pseudoscience that justifies sexism, and is one more bad example of “biological determinism” used to buttress the status quo. (Never mind that Damore says he favors gender diversity in the workplace, but thinks there are better ways to achieve it—ways that recognize differences in psychology between men and women. Note again that he does not say that women are less able than men to do the work at Google.)

The Salon article is “The ugly pseudoscientific history behind that sexist Google manifesto“, and is by Keith A. Spencer, a Salon writer whose scientific training appears to be a B.A. in astrophysics/English at Oberlin (double major) and then subsequent work in the humanities and writing ever since (he also has a master’s degree in literary and cultural studies from Carnegie Mellon).  Although I’m not a credentials monger, perhaps Spencer’s lack of biological training is shown in the way he refutes Damore’s “pseudoscience”: his refutation relies on a single book published in 1984Not in Our Genes, by Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon Kamin (henceforth LRK). I am well familiar with that book, as the first author was my Ph.D. supervisor, and I have to note two things. First, The book not a dispassionate review of the literature: the authors wrote it because they were committed to dispelling biological determinism, and were certainly diehard opponents of evolutionary psychology, then called “sociobiology”. You cannot count on that book to be an objective review of the literature, as it’s a polemic. It should not have been used by Spencer as an authoritative refutation of gender differences.

Second, the book is outdated. It is now 33 years old, and a considerable literature has accumulated since then. Not one thing is cited from that literature save in support of the absence of two sexes (see below)—Spencer just emits quote after quote from that book. And he uses it to refute three assertions that, he claims, Damore makes—at least implicitly:

Men are better at certain fields like engineering. He quotes LRK’s argument that there are no differences between the sexes in various tests on things like reading, vocabulary, and so on. Now I’m not familiar with the literature on differential abilities on the job, but there are certainly extensive data about sex differences  seen on tests of spatial abilities, verbal and reading skills, and so on. And that data shows that there are differences, whatever the cause. Pity that Spencer didn’t look this up, but he had to crank out that ideological piece for Salon quite quickly.

Spencer also notes that sex differences could well be based on socialization and not genetics. That is true, and it’s a point I make above, having noted yesterday that to equalize the playing field, we must make sure that young boys and girls aren’t told that they are better suited for one thing or another, or pushed toward one type of behavior or another, or directed to different studies. That said, I think there’s no doubt that some of these differences are manifest before infants can even be socialized, and are also seen in other primates. This is clearly the case for sexual behavior, for instance. The reason men are more promiscuous and females more choosy is based at least in part on evolution.

Hormones make us who we are.  Again, to refute this, Spencer exclusively cites the polemic LRK book, but he’s not successful. What he says is this:

Another of Damore’s persistent claims is that the “biological differences” between men and women “have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone.” This myth, too, has been debunked.

“Insofar as sex differences are determined by hormones, they are not a consequence of the activities of uniquely male or female hormones, but rather probably of fluctuating differences in the ratios of these hormones and their interactions with target organs,” Lewontin, Rose and Kamin write. In other words: there isn’t hard science that shows that “testosterone = drive for leadership.”

But this is weaselly. Yes, both men and women have estrogen and testosterone, but the balance between these hormones has substantial effects on secondary sex characteristics, including appearance, aggressiveness, and other behaviors. There is certainly hard science showing that “testosterone titer is correlated with aggressiveness”, and, seriously, does Spencer think that aggressiveness has nothing to do with drive for status or control?

Note, though, how LRK weasel on this well known result, attributing it not to hormones but to their “fluctuating ratio” and “their interactions with target organs.” That does not refute the claim that hormones cause differences in behavior. We know that injecting biological women with testosterone makes them exhibit more “masculine” secondary traits and behaviors, while the opposite holds with men having low testosterone. To deny that hormones have nothing to do with behavior shows a deep desire to avoid reality in favor of ideology.

Career choices prove biological difference. Spencer attacks Damore’s claim that the innateness of biological differences is proved by the fact that different professions are differentially “gendered” in different places (i.e., LRK note that there were relatively far more physicians in the Soviet Union). That certainly shows that social factors can affect these proportions, but it doesn’t say that there’s no biological underpinnings to them. After all, we know well that cultural change can overcome evolution; if it couldn’t, we wouldn’t have people choosing not to have kids. But what Damore is claiming is that given equal opportunity, psychological differences and (to a lesser extent) differential ability may still lead to disproportionate outcomes in the gender composition of professions.

Spencer, however, is correct in saying that universality says almost nothing about genetic determinism of a trait (though it doesn’t say nothing: virtually all humans have two legs and go to sleep, and that’s certainly coded in our genes), and Damore should have stayed away from that.

In the end, though Spencer places the Google memo in “the dark history of biological determinism”, lumping Damore in with early racists, with sexists, and with transphobics. (Spencer asserts that “the mere idea of two sexes may be a myth”, which is deeply misleading, for the supporting evidence he gives is the usual argument about the presence of intersexual individuals or other “intermediate cases.” Yet these constitute a very, very small percentage of all humans. Those intermediates occur in flies, too, and also at a low frequency, but no geneticist says that “the idea that there are two sexes of fruit flies is a myth.”)

In his last paragraph Spencer goes Full Weasel: hastening to assure us that Damore is not advocating eugenics (what? it’s not even relevant to his memo!), but adding that his arguments might lead to it:

Damore doesn’t go as far as to advocate for eugenics, to his credit; he argues that men and women have differences that need to be respected, and rather doesn’t say men are “superior” — even if in his estimation, men are predisposed to be traditionally successful by our current social metric. Still, biologically deterministic arguments like his can easily slip into eugenicist doctrines of yore.

The last sentence is simply a “Chicken Little” way to dismiss Damore’s arguments without engaging them. “We can’t discuss this because it could slip into eugenics.” That would be laughable if we didn’t have someone using that argument to stifle discussion about how to achieve diversity.

I conclude that Spencer’s article is misguided, for it is a Regressive Leftist piece that relies on a single outdated polemic to make its case. If Spencer wanted to refute Damore’s arguments, he should have done a bit more research. But regardless, unless there’s something I don’t know about Damore’s other activities at Google, it is shameful that he was fired for writing this memo.



  1. DrBrydon
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    The current idiom on the Ctrl-Left seems to be that any prejudice or bias is racism, so there really isn’t a slippery slope. The person who uses the term “undermanned” or thinks Asian women are bad drivers is already stoking the fire in the ovens. Salon is just providing the kindling for the auto-de-fé.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      I’ve been trying to use the term “lady hours” instead of “man hours”. It’s not catching on. 😀

      • Paul S
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        We use FTE

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          But that’s just how many bodies, I need how many hours those bodies need to put into something.

          • John Taylor
            Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

            FTEs and man hours are different units that measure the same thing.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

              Sighs. Please explain to me more about how to measure hours. I think I just said that above. I don’t care that there are so many FTEs required. I need to know how much time those FTEs need to spend on a project.

              • Posted August 12, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                If full time is 40 hours a week and you have three workers each working 20 hours a week that is 1.5 FTE.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 12, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                I’m trying to say that FTE is cumbersome when I’m trying to estimate how many hours it takes to do something. I want to know how much time, elapsed or real time, it takes to complete a task, not how many resources the task requires. That can come later. That question needs to be answered before you get to how many FTEs because FTE can be divided up among all sorts of partial and full FTEs and that can be up to a resource manager but if you don’t know how many hours, the resource manager is skeptical about how you decided you needed so many of their resources.

                Anyway, I can see my joke about lady hours didn’t have the desired humorous effect and just resulted in me, again, being told I don’t get it. It was just a fucking joke.

              • Posted August 12, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

                Sorry, I was trying to be constructive.

                And I did get your joke. 😀

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 12, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                I’m just in a bad mood because of the way the discussions have gone on WEIT for a while. Not your fault. Sorry I was a bit snarky.

              • Posted August 12, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                I know what you mean. On the positive side, the Google memo discussion exposed issues and attitudes that need more daylight.

            • Posted August 13, 2017 at 5:51 am | Permalink

              Man hours is time x people. FTE is just people.

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        Humph! If you’d used the term “women hours” instead of the sexist and patronising “lady hours”, I am sure it would have caught on in a flash.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

          I honk you missed my point. I picked lady hours because of the lack of a “man hours” equivalent. The joke is in the lack of symmetry and meant to point out the silliness of “man hours”. People find it funny.

          • Posted August 12, 2017 at 4:55 am | Permalink

            You need to stop honking at people – not very ladylike 😉

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 12, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

              Haha. What you don’t know is I, actually a Canada Goose.


  2. Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I guess I am getting very tired of the simplistic thinking I see in our public discourse. It is now becoming apparent that our genes basically interact with our environment to help shape our responses. So the old question of Nature or Nurture? is a poor one, because it is nature and nurture.

    There seems to be an epidemic of simplistic thing, claiming there are simple solutions for complex problems. Would that that were true but wishful thinking aside, can we just take a considered approach from time to time, just to refresh everyone?

    The issue is not that that Google engineer help opinions, but that he felt empowered to write a memo about it. “Hey, gang, I don’t have any special expertise about this and it has nothing to do with my work here, but here are some of my profound thoughts on irrelevant topics for you to waste your time upon.” Maybe that should be a firable offense.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      He had done a lot more research than the people who fired him. Also, “it is nature AND nurture” is meaningless; the question is “what is the proportion of variation that is due to variation in genes versus variation in environment.” Nearly all of us have two arms save for some environmental mishaps, but are you going to say, “hey, arm number is both nature AND nurture.” The notion that the truth is somewhere in the middle when two factors influence a trait is itself simplistic thinking. The notion of heritability is an attempt to partition out nature and nurture.

      It seems to me the engineer’s approach WAS considered, and Google’s firing him was simply reactionary. When the firer knows less than the writer, then there’s trouble.

      • jay
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        There is an excellent interview with him by Jordan Peterson on youtube, where he comes across as very interested in testing his ideas, NOT assuming he is completely correct.

        What’s bizarre is that he was fired for ‘promoting a false stereotype’. I as not aware of that being a normal termination basis. And in the PR language of Google’s announcement, there is talk about an ‘open’ environment being a core principle of the company…. so open that one gets fired for having the wrong opinion. Sheesh.

        • Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know about the memo, but I would consider going on Jordan Peterson’s YouTube channel a firing offense! Just kidding. I do not understand people’s fascination with Jordan Peterson, though.

          • Travis
            Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

            The fascination comes in part because he was one of the few professors or lawyers willing to speak up against bill C-16 last year in Canada, and even voicing his position on it lead to him being threatened that it might cost him his job (by his university).

            In addition to this, he’s one of the only outspoken professors against post-modernist feminist literature which fills up libraries, uncited.

            Other than that, I think he’s a bit overblown and personally don’t care about philosophizing of character archetypes in religion as he seems to do, but there’s no doubt that he has been influential for the above.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      OK, you’re tired of simplistic thinking, but then you engage in it yourself.

      How are the topics addressed in the memo irrelevant to the thesis of Google being an ideological echo chamber? They’re directly relevant.

      Also, he does have special expertise in the subject including a background in biology. I’m not sure if it’s a PhD or not.

      Finally, why do you have a problem with the fact that he felt “empowered” to get his thoughts out?

      The memo is here, have you read it?

      • Craw
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        And he WAS empowered to write such memos. Google encourages such stuff, as long as it toes the line. There’s a lot on the other thread about this, especially from Diana.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I wonder if Google fired the people who leaked an internal document to the public. That to me is a bigger firing offense.

      I agree about the simplicity of things in general. There seems to be a lot of correlation of variables that get pointed to for reasons why women are under-represented in various professions and then a dogmatic clinging to said variables when we all know that social sciences have numerous confounding variables and there cause isn’t going to be a couple of small things.

  3. tomh
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it was the content of the memo that got Damore fired, I think it was the disruption that it caused. When the CEO has to interrupt his vacation to deal with the situation, you can bet the disrupter’s days are numbered.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      But if the content of the memo caused the disruption…?

    • johnw
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      I suspect that Google’s senior leadership team knows more about the origin and distribution of the memo than anyone. And like any corporate SLT, they won’t like employees at any level people turning into company critics, particularly publicly. Has nothing to do with free speech too, if they think what he said will cause the company problems that’s it. A company can fire you for a bumper sticker they don’t like in their parking lot. I don’t see much difference here.

      • Posted August 12, 2017 at 5:04 am | Permalink

        A company can fire you for a bumper sticker they don’t like in their parking lot. I don’t see much difference here.

        That’s interesting. I’m no expert in UK employment law, so I hope others will comment, but I believe that in the UK it is actually very difficult to fire someone for a trivial offence. In fact I think the offence has to be substantial, and repeated after several written warnings, before an employee can be fired without legal repercussions.

        • Posted August 13, 2017 at 6:00 am | Permalink

          That’s more or less it, although there are situations that can lead to immediate dismissal e.g. fraud or violence in the work place.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Funny enough, disruption is what the IT industry encourages. I actually market myself as a “disrupter”. I know I’m being pedantic and that’s not what you meant but I found the whole thing mildly ironic.

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        I think they like disrupting a competitor’s market more than having their workplaces disrupted.

        • Paul S
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          Not necessarily. Modern IT environments want disrupters because they bring to light practices that could or should be changed.
          The IT environments I’ve worked for have been highly adaptable and fast paced.
          With the exception of a stint at the State of Illinois, complacency is discouraged.

          • Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I can imagine a firm in a competitive environment wanting to be lean and mean. A fat and happy monopoly like Google might be quite content to be complacent.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 11, 2017 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

              No they definitely wint want to be complacent. They are in competition with Amazon and Apple right now and they aren’t about to let either eat their lunch. It’s highly competitive in IT and you can’t rest at all. Fat cat companies that are complacent art less innovative. Think AT&T, Toshiba, I’d even say some divisions of IBM.

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

                Don’t want not wint want. Try harder Apple text recognition or I’ll get Alexa after you.

  4. GBJames
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink


  5. Dick Veldkamp
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Dear PCC(E),

    You have some double text in your article, from “Although” to “gender differences by Spencer.”

  6. Posted August 11, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    All the details aren’t in, and may well not be, unless Damore reveals his employee history with Google. This didn’t happen in a vacuum.

    Aside from observable behaviors, the immediate screeching from the Ctrl-Left and the weird silence except in the company of right wing sites of Damore, I would like to see what is on those forums at Google. That would explain much as well. Anyway the dance continues, unfortunately some are slam dancing to a waltz.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I agree this didn’t happen in a vacuum. The fact that he lied on his LinkedIn profile about having a Systems Biology PhD from Harvard makes me believe that he might not have been a stellar employee overall. His recent Twitter activity also doesn’t make him look like much of a team player either (something I assume is important at Google).

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        The problems with culture is it’s populated with humans. 😉

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

        He reveals in his chat with Dr. Jordan Peterson the other day that his employee ratings were stellar across the board, putting him in the top 2 percentile. He also said he got several promotions over the 3 years he worked there.

    • yazikus
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      From the post:
      He was making points for discussion that were considered taboo, and therefore he was fired.
      I’ve got to be skeptical of this interpretation, and I think you are right. Google is probably well aware of legal consequences of firing someone simply to bow to the whims of the ‘ctrl-left’. What if he was a disruptive employee, and this was just the final straw?

      • yazikus
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        Missed the blockquote. Oops.

      • Taz
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        What if he killed someone?

        I think the public backlash, combined with the fact that Google is already being accused by the labor department of gender discrimination, had a great deal to do with why he was fired.

      • tomh
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        “Google is probably well aware of legal consequences of firing someone simply to bow to the whims of the ‘ctrl-left’.”

        There are no legal consequences for firing someone on a whim, unless his contract specifies exactly what conditions he can be fired under, or the employer runs afoul of anti-discrimination laws. “At-will” employees are just that, employed at the will of the employer.

  7. John Crisp
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    For a very full discussion of the scientific State-of-the-art relating to the content of the memo, see

    You can also find a conversation between Damore and the ubiquitous Jordan Peterson on YouTube (for those of you who don’t know, Peterson faced similar tribulations as an academic when he came out in opposition to Canada’s daft gender nomenclature law, which criminalises the refusal to address somebody with their preferred gender pronouns).

    As I said in a comment yesterday, Damore’s argument seems to be broadly supported by the existing science (the Scott Alexander piece that Jerry mentions is also a good summary), but there remains the question of why he did it. He says in his conversation with Peterson that he loves Google, and that he was a highly rated employee, so it could simply be that he was trying to contribute to its improvement. In any case, I suspect he won’t be short of job offers, not to mention media coverage.

    • John Crisp
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Either way, he also suggests in the Peterson interview that some of Google’s affirmative action practices are close to crossing the line of legality.

      • John Crisp
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        Sorry, that should have been “By the way…” – voice recognition is not yet perfect.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      I expect he’ll do fine with some start up. I don’t know that a major corporation concerned about its PR will take him on, what with his propensity to circulate his evolutionary psychology musings about the differences between men and women to other employees. Too bad he didn’t finish his PhD so he could have landed an academic job in a psychology department where such musings are more appropriate. Even then he had better wait until he has tenure before arguing his female colleagues are prone to neurosis.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        “…where such musings are more appropriate.”

        Lord knows we don’t want people in the business world musing about things. Musing should definitely be a firing offense, especially in tech.

        • Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          I am talking about the way the corporate world is, not how some might wish it would be.

          • Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

            You are saying that because something is the way it is, it’s therefore right. You are making the ecological fallacy the writer was accused of.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          It’s okay if it’s “amusing” because it uses the alpha privative which negates the musing and also it’s funny. #fakegreekjoke

  8. George
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    While “the culture of tech is such that it leads women to be less interested in the field”, there is no need for this culture. It was not there at the start of tech but arose later. There was an article about this a while back which I am trying to find and will post it if/when I find this.

    I was a programmer from 1977-79 – writing COBOL for “Big Iron” (IBM System 370). Back then, the nerd-bro culture which subsequently infected tech did not exist. Somewhere from 30% to 40% of the programmers were women. The original computer was a human being – usually women, sometimes African American (see/read Hidden Figures). They carried out calculations of artillery trajectories for the military. They were the users of the first computers which they programmed quite literally by hard wiring them with patch cords.

    The article that I remember seeing said the nerd-bro culture arose with the advent of the personal computer. The most important one was the TRS-80 from Tandy Radio Shack which came out in 1977.

    Soon, many nerd boys were locked in their bedrooms playing with their computers. They came to dominate tech bringing with their ignorance of everything else, their fear of women and their inability to deal with them. There is no need for this culture and tech would be better off without it.

    One field to look at is accounting. If you can do accounting, you can code. In the 1960s, there were the Big 8 public accounting firms. Only one would hire women. Today, they are down to the Big 4 public accounting firms (through mergers, the collapse of Arthur Andersen). Over 50% of the new hires by these firms are women. I believe that today over 60% of those sitting for the CPA exam are women.

    What is going on is a change in culture. It is not that women were incapable of doing the work, but the culture of the profession kept them out.

    Damore’s memo demonstrates remarkable ignorance and a complete lack of historical perspective. He should look at himself and his assumptions. Look at where his field has been and where it needs to go. He needs to grow up and toss aside his grossly inaccurate view of women.

    Who knows, if he actually treats women as human beings, maybe he will finally get laid.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      “Soon, many nerd boys were locked in their bedrooms playing with their computers.”

      Of course this fails to account for why many nerd girls weren’t locked in their bedrooms playing with their computers.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        Nerd girls weren’t looking for excuses to lock themselves in their bedrooms.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

          We’re half way to Tautologytown!

      • jay
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        This is one of the possible gender differences.

        It is fairly established that boys and girls DO tend to socialize differently, girls are less likely to cut themselves off like that.

        And when you think of someone becoming obsessive with a single activity, to the virtual exclusion of everything else, it’s usually an adolescent male.

        That stereotype is (like many others) partially true and does explain the current abundance of young males in the coding business (and when you get to the population working on open source, the obsession is even stronger)

    • TJR
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Yes, it’s all the fault of low-status men.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Merilee shared the link on the other thread.

      • George
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        This was not the article I had in mind. I imagine there is a lot of material on this subject. I saw an article about tech in the US and specifically the influence of the early PC adopters – mostly young men and boys.

    • J. Quinton
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      “Damore’s memo demonstrates remarkable ignorance and a complete lack of historical perspective. He should look at himself and his assumptions. Look at where his field has been and where it needs to go. He needs to grow up and toss aside his grossly inaccurate view of women.

      Who knows, if he actually treats women as human beings, maybe he will finally get laid.”

      As I wrote in the other thread, when there is more sexism in a country, the IT field is more gender symmetrical. This might account for why in the past — when women had less rights — we also had closer gender parity in IT.

      As countries become more gender egalitarian, where women are actually free to choose which professions they go into, they’re choosing not to go into IT fields.

      And claiming that Damore doesn’t treat women as human beings due to his memo is strong evidence that you didn’t even read the memo.

      Indeed, what he said in the memo regarding differences in interests between men and women is backed up by multitudes of research; it’s getting to the point where denying this difference exists is putting you in the same camp as Creationists.

      Damore even has a section in the memo dedicated to possible avenues to improve outreach and retention for women in programming (at Google); his memo is a pro diversity memo and it’s explicit about it. Again, if you had bothered to read it this would be obvious.

      It’s not Damore who is displaying remarkable ignorance here.

      • George
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I did read Damore’s memo. In some ways, it reminds me of the big book of multiple choice, the Bible. You can pull out sections from either to support any position. But overall, they have one thrust.

        Damore is a product of the tech culture which is hostile to women. And his writing reflects that. This culture is not just detrimental to women, but also to the tech industry and the overall economy. Tech is very insular. It is not good at looking at the big picture. It has a very narrow focus. I think the internet is still poorly implemented. The big focus is on something trivial – social media. And how do I become the next Facebook. Despite the huge investment in tech and all the perceived advances, US productivity remains stagnant. Read Tyler Cowen and Robert Gordon.

        Damore and his nerd bros share something with the catholic priests I got to know during my 12 years of catholic “education” – an amazing lack of social maturity and total cluelessness on a wide range of issues, especially humanity.

        • Posted August 12, 2017 at 12:07 am | Permalink

          “In some ways, it reminds me of the big book of multiple choice, the Bible. You can pull out sections from either to support any position. But overall, they have one thrust.”

          Comparing something to the Bible on a primarily atheist website sure is a sign of poor argumentation. Sorry to hear that you were educated with a bunch of inhuman catholic priests, but that doesn’t change the fact that his memo has the backing of a fair number of scientists and more or less thrusts in that direction. At worst, he’s wrong. But writing him off like you do seems like an easy way to avoid addressing the arguments, and to deny people the right to be wrong.

    • Taz
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      The pervasiveness of a monolithic “nerd-bro culture” has been greatly exaggerated.

      • George
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Why do you say that – despite all the evidence to the contrary? Won’t bother citing sources. Too many. Find them yourself.

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

          It’s probably not worth replying to someone who says there’s “a ton of evidence, but I won’t present any”.

          I’ve worked in IT for over 20 years. The reason I say the pervasiveness of “nerd-bro culture” is exaggerated is because it’s a stereotype which doesn’t apply to most tech people. The majority of tech workers are no different than any other employees. They don’t work at Google, they work in the IT department of some company which may or may not have anything to do with technology. They’re most likely married and are worried about putting their kids through college.

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

      I believe there are some logical fallacies out there to do with arguing by negative stereotypes and prejudice, but I am too ill and exhausted to chase them.

  9. Jacques Hausser
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    To add to the discussion: a good paper in Quillette, by Heather Heying, a professor of evolutionary biology at The Evergreen State College: Should We “Stop Equating ‘Science’ With Truth”?. Her conclusion: Perhaps we should, in the spirit of inquiry and logic and the values of the Enlightenment, focus on understanding what is true, rather than throwing temper tantrums because we don’t like what’s true. Then we can begin to disentangle societal gender roles from the rule book of evolutionary sex differences that gave rise to them. Because the deepest truth is that those roles have an ancient and important meaning, which is now desperately out of date.

    • Jacques Hausser
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      I didn’t realize immediatly Evergreen College is, well, THE Evergreen College, and she is the wife of Bret Weinstein. I never had a memory for names…

  10. Randy schenck
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I have to think a little bit of that statement – it’s not what you say but how you say it, comes into view here. It can also be the venue you say it in. I just don’t like the venue that Danmore decided to present his ideas. In the perfect world that does not exist anywhere, this company critique and criticism might be fine. But since that world does not exist we have other avenues to present our views, particularly within the company we work for. Maybe in any number of college classes and venues it would be great.

    At google, they are currently undergoing an investigation of accusations concerning sexual harassment. Maybe a big open air discussion of work environment hostility is not what the doctor ordered. It really does not matter how right or wrong Danmore may be, that is all open for discussion, but the way he did it was in error and the company let him know it.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I’m having trouble understanding this. Had it not been an open air discussion, do you think the nature of the discussion would’ve been different (more productive maybe?), leading to – possibly – a different result?

      • Randy schenck
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        I suspect, if the memo had been directed to the management within the company and it then got a hearing and a proper review, Danmore might have gotten the feedback he was looking for and not attack and fired instead. Now, if Danmore took this course and was simply rejected, then the wide open approach would still be available.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Unless it was recorded, the discussion wouldn’t be out there for the world to see.

        I think Randy’s right. Google is currently being investigated for issues around the treatment of women employees and a staff member dustributes a controversial memo. Of course it’s going to leak and as soon as that happens Google didn’t really have a choice in the current environment except to fire him.

        Imo, whatever the rights and wrongs of what he wrote, he showed poor judgment in distributing it the way he did. Whether you like it or not you do have a certain responsibility to your employer in such circumstances.

        Perhaps an anonymous blog, for example, would have been a better outlet.

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        It appears that the memo was originally passed up privately through appropriate internal channels and, as part of that process, submitted to a sub-group within Google called “The Skeptics” for further evaluation.

        At which point, things blew up and an unknown person, possibly within that sub-group leaked it.

        This point was covered in Jordan Peterson’s three-way interview with the memo author (the third person is a mysterious anonymous Google employee that seems to have a hint of seniority about his mannerisms).

  11. jay
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink


    ’nuff said.

  12. Craw
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Even David Brooks sees the issues clearly. He has a very good piece.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      It is rare that I can give credit to David Brooks for being more than dopey. But this time I think he’s pretty much got things clear.

  13. Posted August 11, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Relying on a single source is bad regardless of what is being done – except the occasionally review of the same one source.

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

    The fact that almost all people in all cultures are religious (or at least believe in some kind of disembodied minds), is argued — by a number of cognitive scientists– to be an exaptation. So I think your counter example at the beginning might be a little wrong headed.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, and some think it isn’t an exaptation. We simply don’t know–and it could have just spread and changed from an original non-evolved way of looking at the world.

      So don’t assert that what “some people think” makes my claim wrongheaded.

      • James
        Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Notice the *might*. Wasn’t an assertion. More of a possible suggestion.

        Can you link me to some of the work that you’re thinking of?

        I was referring to some of the thought by Pinker, Bloom et al that near universal belief in disembodied minds is probably a by product of theory of mind (dennett might say intentional stance).

  15. Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps some of you would be interested in a philosophical analysis .

    The ‘proven’ differences between men and women should not effect pay and placement in the workforce. The idea of ‘systemic’ issues is that operators within the system can never gain an unbiased view. The solution to this, so far as productivity, is to address the simple problem: equality is defined by the least problematic (efficient) mode of production, that which has the greatest chance of selling and people buying, but so they can the produce more.

    • jay
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      “The ‘proven’ differences between men and women should not effect pay and placement in the workforce’

      It sometimes does ‘voluntarily’. Physically demanding or dangerous (high paying) jobs are almost exclusively male, partly because quite a few men (as part of the spectrum of ‘male agression’) really do get a rush out of putting it all on the line. Far fewer women are interested in doing this (and I believe evolution explains that well). Aggressive, competitive environments often attract men and turn off women.

      Other factors include jobs with shorter hours (women tend to have different style of ‘work/life’ balance).

      A while back I was talking to a guy who sponsors intense bicycling tours along trails in Vermont. These are bone jarring high speed travels over rocks and gullies etc, and not surprisingly mostly male participants. He observed that the most aggressive of all were top tier investment bankers. He mentioned one who broke his thumb but kept on going, finishing the ride before he would stop to be treated.

      • Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps the tech industry is a site where gender differences are not a parent from the production standpoint. For sure, in cases like you talk about like heavy construction or things like that there are overt recognized situation that no one really argues about so far is gender (and race maybe). But in the tech industry it all has to do with one’s mental ability really. And I think it is interesting if not ironic that it is in the context of mental ability that here a person is referring to the old stereotypes and well-known a priority judgements about male and female roles that convey somehow automatically to ability.

        Perhaps the tech industry is the site where this kind of negotiation, this kind of systemic social renegotiation of gender value and their concordant rules, I figured out.

        Like sure within any military operation maybe back behind the lines we have all sorts of competitions like boxing and wrestling and running and things like that and each side has no real dispute over gender values and norms. But then you get on the front lines; maybe the tech industry is kind of the front lines of figuring out these new norms.

        • Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

          … and I would add the best way to figure out what these norms would be is to place a standard upon which they shall be figured out. And this is to recognize systemic sexism, and place the threshold for recognition and negotiation at the ground of no longer considering all the tropes about the difference between male and female ability to produce in the tech center.

          There’s a much longer conversation here, I know we don’t need to go into the effects of trauma and systemic oppression and how people behave within a system of oppression.

          In a family where there is an abusive dominant figure, once the oppressed and abused members of that system realize their situation they really only allow certain types of input from the oppressor, and that under certain conditions of the oppressors state of being.

  16. Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  17. Posted August 11, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    In future, attracting equal numbers of men and women into tech would still leave the number of men higher.

    How would any ad campaign to attract more women than men into tech work, bearing in mind that there are no differences between men and women which could be used to target one group rather than another?

  18. Koray
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think I’ve seen any research on this topic that I consider *relevant*. Please correct me if I’m wrong about my observations below.

    A lot of research seems to focus on math ability of “boys and girls”, say, around age 13. But, both groups undergo massive biological transformations after that age. Yes, they also undergo cultural/social transformations, but to insist that both groups had the same mean value at age 13, so any differences that arise at age 18 can *only* be due cultural/social effects is just silly.

    Secondly, “mean math ability” means nothing because people at the mean don’t become engineers or physicists. You have to be looking at the top single-digit percent, and even better than that for places like Google. For all I care, the mean math ability of boys could even be lower than that of girls, but if boys are dominating the very upper end, who cares?

    Thirdly, people do bring up “interests of boys vs interests of girls”, but I’ve never seen anybody bring up “competition”. Since this is an evolution website, boys that are able seem to *have to* go after that high & stable engineer salary because it improves their mating prospects significantly, while similarly accomplished women tend not to marry attractive coffee shop baristas. This asymmetry alone should cause some difference even if the abilities and interests were identical.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Regarding your 3rd, I’m detecting some probable bias in the apparent assumptions underlying your argument.

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

    There are a couple of things that get lost in the controversy:

    First, a taboo exists that makes it acceptable to brand the offender, ostracise him, and fire him. The firing is a simple fact, the branding and ostracism is obvious when reading plenty articles that make it a point to locate the views of the taboo breaker on the political right wing, and as beyond the pale. It’s underscored further by a failure of most critics to even engage with the argument, while being most interested in all the metas, from who is argueing, who agrees and who is interviewing Damore and what side they are on. This is very typical for the partisan divide, and especially typical for the identity politics faction. These people aren’t left; they are typical authoritarian followers, Mitläufers, who exist in every context whenever rules need enforcers. The author is only by accident not an Auschwitz warden, or a fire and brimstone preacher.

    Second, the taboo exists despite that the science is at least controversial. It’s not even necessary to show whether Damore is correct on everything to illustrate something is deeply wrong about the whole situation. There is a taboo on something that plausibly might be true, and the taboo is strong enough to ostracize and fire someone for expressing it. This is truly remarkable.

    Third, we see a banality of evil in a simple dynamic. Scientifc matters are located politically, and create a powerful runaway effect. They simply decided that Damore is “right wing”, and everyone who shares similar views. Those who wish to be seen left are forced to shut up due to the extreme taboo enforcement, creating a self-fulling prophecy that eventually only right wingers to come out (and those who don’t care about their tribe membership). This makes it so. Conversely, believing in the blank slate becomes an article of faith in the other camp, and a virtue signal. What’s more, we must expect the effect to be even stronger the more controversial a matter. Faith shows commitment.

    That way, the political sides are charged up with all sorts of nonsense that bear no resemblance to actual political aims. Alan Sokal, in response to Andrew Ross (editor of the magazine he pranked), attested the same twenty years ago (Ross had claimed that postmodern humanities were left wing, so called “left academia”, and naturals science or realism was a right wing position). Tying epistemology, or matters of science to political sides, and helping their narratives find acceptance is dangerous, and a project of political extremists.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      First: I call this “Bop-a-Mole management”. It is the other side of the coin from dealing with the misbehaviors or infractions of one, or a few employees, by lecturing or making rules affecting all employees instead of addressing the problem individual.

      The person with the best qualifications for the job, whatever the qualifications are in any industry or profession,is the person who should be hired for the job, regardless. Those people responsible for hiring need to be trained to be color-blind, gender-blind, handicap-blind, particularly if it has no pertinence to the job or work force environment. Workforce cultures may not change as quickly as we want, but they do change.

    • Posted August 11, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Permalink


      Google appears to have facilitated and condoned a good old-fashioned mobbing. Tweets and social media posts from people on the ground indicate classic mobbing tactics, such as informing women they are in danger from the individual involved and then using the fact that they are too scared to come in to work as leverage to slander.

      Also, a statement from a prominent ex-Google employee seems to suggest that staff physically assaulting the memo author would be well within their rights for doing so (“punch you in the face” was the term used).

      Manipulation of employees into moral panic, unreasonable fear and mobbing each other is the hallmark of a psychologically abusive/damaging workplace that requires urgent intervention from authorities and/or unions.

      This is also a #NetNeutrality issue, because the most significant gatekeeper to the Internet has publically declared its intent to censor search results and YouTube content that is “controversial”.

      Of course, people assume they mean ISIS recruiting videos and Nazi propaganda, but if the leaks appearing in the last few days turn out to be real, they do mean legitimate criticism of Islam, Communism, Feminism, Social Justice, etc.

      The firing of the memo author, combined with press releases by Google executives, already strongly implies that any attempt to engage in scientific criticism of a favoured ideological viewpoint is considered “controversial”.

      According to the press release, targeted videos on YouTube will demonetized, unable to be commented on and will not show up in search results except as automated redirections to “educational videos”.

      This is all very disturbing.

  20. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink


  21. Richard Metzler
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Whether the observed differences between men and women are culturally determined or biologically hardwired or some combination of the two is, for the matter at hand, completely irrelevant. This is the population that companies recruit their employees from, and even if the differences would go away if children would grow up in some gender-neutral utopia, it cannot be expected of a company to change society in such a manner in a time frame that is relevant for their hiring process right now.

    Furthermore, I would not WANT a company, especially an extremely powerful one that basically provides large parts of the infrastructure for our communication, to be active in social engineering, without any accountability to the public. This sort of thing cannot possibly end well, especially if the people in charge have put on their ideological blinders and casually dismiss the current state of science (and anyone foolish enough to bring it up in the hope that simply being correct will protect him).

    Lastly, I am convinced that human nature is more obstinate that many people believe. We have come a long way in suppressing its nastier aspects – so far that when they emerge, everyone acts surprised. Oooh, a violent crime! Who put the notion of violence in the perpetrator’s mind?! Ooooh, a sexual assault! Who taught the guy to hate women?! Likewise, we are now acting surprised if typically male or female behaviors manifest in men or women. Men are more ambitious! Men like technological contraptions more! The shock! The horror!
    Ignore human nature at your own peril. It’s better to be aware of it, and to try to channel it into productive activities, than to deny and suppress it.

    • jay
      Posted August 11, 2017 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Commentator Thomas Sowell (who is black) observed that even benign cultural differences could make for different outcomes, and we shouldn’t worry about that. He observes that there are very few black male ballet dancers, not because black men can’t dance but because most have never adopted that culture. It’s not racial discrimination, it’s not a defect… it’s just the way things are.

  22. Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Amazing that someone would quote “Not in Our Genes” as a source, 20 years after such reliable stalwarts of the Left as Scientific American and PBS left it behind. The ancient Blank Slaters are like the Bourbons. They’ve learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

  23. jay
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Here’s clue… right from an SJW

    Apparently the problem is that math is masculine and heteronormative* and apparently THAT’S why there are fewer women in those fields (apparently it’s ok for a SJW to say this, but no one else)

    Unpacking the Male Superiority Myth and Masculinization of Mathematics at the Intersections

    From the article via campusreform which reports behind the paywall:

    According to that study, those associations “may be reified through teacher-student interactions,” leading students to associate “masculine traits of independence and confidence” with innovative problem-solving approaches while attributing the use of “standard algorithms” to “feminine traits of compliance and meekness.”

    *not that there’s anything wrong with that 😉

  24. Posted August 12, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Jerry claims, “He doesn’t consider that some part of these differences, or even the bulk of them, could be cultural—due to socialization and biases—and therefore should not be taken as `evolutionarily hardwired’.”

    This seems to me to be unfair. The memo actually says that genetic differences “may in part” determine differences in distributions of traits that affect either preferences for or performance in tech occupations. Removing the “in part” caveat changes the argument entirely.

    I find the argument about the memo interesting in part because I am working on some stuff that involves the determinants of sexual dimorphism in certain physical traits. I have not attempted to get a handle on the parallel literature on behavioural traits, but out of curiosity, I wonder if any biologists here might offer an opinion on the large literature on dimorphism in personality?

    Consider neuroticism, specifically. The media seems to think that that term is intrinsically sexist, but as far as I can see it not controversial in the literature. For example, papers like

    “The sex-specific genetic architecture of quantitative traits in humans”
    LA Weiss, L Pan, M Abney, C Ober – Nature genetics, 2006

    “Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT): a gene contributing to sex differences in brain function, and to sexual dimorphism in the predisposition to psychiatric disorders”
    PJ Harrison, EM Tunbridge – Neuropsychopharmacology, 2008

    attempt to learn about the possible genetic basis of phenotypic variation in traits like neuroticism. How controversial is this branch of the literature in evolutionary biology circles?


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