When offense trumps truth: the demonization of “inconvenient ideas”

The Conversation site has featured a lot of stinkers lately, but occasionally a good piece manages to sneak in. One of these is by my old friend, philosopher and writer Russell Blackford: “Don’t shoot the messenger when confronted with inconvenient ideas“.

As we know, there are certain ideas that, in many political circles—and Blackford is talking about both Left and Right here—are not to be expressed because, although they might be true, they contravene the political narrative of the group.

For the Left, evolutionary psychology is one of these. The field, though it sometimes uses unacceptably low standards of evidence, also has an undeniably intriguing and worthwhile purpose: to figure out what part of our behaviors and thoughts reflect natural selection in our ancestors. After all, if our bodies show traces of our evolutionary ancestry—and they do in spades—then why not our minds?

Yes, culture can alter behaviors and ideas more easily than it can change bodies (though, with fast foods, plastic surgery, hair dye and the like, the difference is waning), but it would be foolish to deny flat out that evolutionary psychology is a worthless field that’s foolish to pursue, much less think to ponder. In fact, as I wrote in January about one of the most rabid and thoughtless of evo-psych critics:

P. Z. Myers is on a constant tirade against evolutionary psychology, and has made the ludicrous statement that “the fundamental premises of evo psych are false.” But those “fundamental premises” are only that the human mind, like the human body, bears traces of our evolutionary ancestry and the selective pressures that molded it. (See my longer response here and here.)

Yet only a blinkered ideologue would refuse to even consider the possibility that the difference between men and women in their sexual behaviors, preferences, and in their variance in reproductive success—the difference among males in the number of offspring they produce is much larger than the difference among females, a reflection of differences in sexual behavior—is due to sexual selection in our ancestors. After all, other primates and most animals show the same difference, which is nearly universal in our species. It would be very odd of this distinctive pattern across nature was due to sexual selection in all other animals, but only to culture in humans! That’s a bizarre form of Leftist human exceptionalism.

Another demonized idea is connected with evolutionary psychology: the claim that differential representation of sexes in professions like teaching or STEM areas must reflect discrimination and sexism and cannot be due, even in part, to differential preferences of men and women for areas of work. (See here for a recent analysis that supports a “preference” explanation for some differential representation.)

But I digress. In his piece, Blackford concerns himself with these taboo topics, referring to the infamous Google employee James Damore:

Damore had suggested that part of the over-representation of men in software engineering at Google might be due to psychological differences between women and men: not intellectual differences, but differences in what activities the sexes find attractive and enjoyable. He argued that Google should focus on equality of opportunity for individuals, without necessarily expecting equality of outcomes across its workforce.

Damore’s firing from Google was an example of an increasing intolerance of inconvenient or controversial ideas within democratic societies. Here, then, is one great moral challenge of our time. Once an issue becomes politically toxic, we may reject inconvenient viewpoints out of hand. We may reject opponents – viewing them as ill-disposed people – without listening to them, and we may even try to punish them for their views.

. . . Though Damore expressed his ideas thoughtfully and mildly, his memo is often referred to online as a rant or a tirade. Its tone is unemotional, but it evidently stirred passions in others. After the memo was publicly leaked, Damore was shamed on social media platforms, then promptly fired. Throughout these events, his opponents blatantly demonised and misrepresented him.

Indeed—even though the Damore issue may be more complicated, as I’ve heard he had a history of being obnoxious at Google. Still, the memo was not obnoxious to those who aren’t looking for offense, and if that had any part in his firing, it’s wrong. Damore may have mis-cited some data, but his aim was to make a point about preferences, not to say that women are less qualified for STEM jobs. Firing, it seems to me, was an overreaction, but then I don’t know all the details (note, though, that Damore was fired two days after his memo appeared).

Blackford cites an example of what he calls a “compassionate feminist response” to Damore cited in a Guardian article.  Surprisingly, the compassion came from Cordelia Fine, a critic of biological differences between men and women whose own agenda, as I’ve mentioned several times before, seems to have involved cherry-picking her own data. Yet while decrying some of Damore’s data and the possibility they could be used to feed gender bias, Fine says this (from the article):

Despite authoring two acclaimed books on gender, Fine, a leading feminist science writer, feels “torn in many different directions” by Damore. She believes his memo made many dubious assumptions and ignored vast swaths of research that show pervasive discrimination against women. But his summary of the differences between the sexes, she says, was “more accurate and nuanced than what you sometimes find in the popular literature”.

Some of Damore’s ideas, she adds, are “very familiar to me as part of my day-to-day research, and are not seen as especially controversial. So there was something quite extraordinary about someone losing their job for putting forward a view that is part of the scientific debate. And then to be so publicly shamed as well. I felt pretty sorry for him.”

As Russell notes, “This shows a level of human decency that is often missing from public debate. Fine expressed compassion for an intellectual opponent who was poorly treated.”

Then considering the Right, Blackford uses global warming as an “inconvenient truth” rejected by Republicans.

Because they dislike government intervention in economic markets, Republicans baulk at proposed solutions to climate change. They begin here and “work backward” to reject climate science itself.

Often, indeed, the situation is even worse. Once an issue has become intensely politicised, we may interpret others’ views as evidence of their overall ideology, which then sways whether or not we regard them as fundamentally ill-disposed people who are not worth listening to.

In a recent article, Neil Levy presents evidence that this is now the case with global warming. For many American conservatives, acceptance of the scientific consensus has become a marker of untrustworthiness. It’s a cue to stop listening.

As a scientist, I’m appalled when certain ideas that may be true, but offend some group or other, are considered off limits, even when those ideas—like global warming—must be accepted and discussed if we’re to save the planet. Psychological differences between men and women aren’t as dangerous to the welfare of Earth as a whole, but if we’re to figure out the reasons for sex disparity in professions, we have to take them seriously and figure out what effect, if any, they have on gender parity.

Russell’s conclusion, which sounds positively Pinkerian, would seem to be a no-brainer, but won’t appeal to those for whom ideology trumps truth (something true for many post-modernists):

All too often, we automatically dismiss ideas with potentially unsettling implications for our worldviews. We may go further in rejecting, and even attempting to harm, the messenger.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it has become so common that it frustrates good-faith efforts to discuss and solve the large problems confronting humanity in the 21st century. Such rejection of messages and lashing out at messengers blocks useful discussion across moral and political divides.

To make progress, we will need to reboot our thinking. We need to focus on evidence and arguments, and on ordinary fairness and compassion to others, even when we disagree.

As Pinker has said, let’s first accept what seems to be true, and then worry about whether it should have any influence on social policy (global warming will, while difference in gender preferences should not influence equal-treatment and equal-opportunity policies). There is never anything to be gained by ignoring empirical truths, though those never by themselves imply social or moral consequences. Even the fact of global warming itself has no moral lesson unless you add to it the preference that humanity and other species are worth saving.

77 Comments

  1. Posted March 16, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I recently had to attend a “diversity training” course at work. The conductor of the session mentioned research showing that even very young children (aged 1 to 2) show systematic differences, according to their sex, in which toys they prefer to play with.

    She commented that this shows how prevalent social conditioning and stereotyping must be to affect children that young.

    So I said, in all innocence, that surely the difference in preferences could be innate?

    Boy did that not go down well (not just with the session conductor, but with others taking the session also). The suggestion was not treated as something to be evaluated on the evidence, but as heresy.

    In another session, where the topic was educational performance, I mentioned that it was now established that much of the disparity in intelligence within a population was genetic in origin.

    I had thought that this was a pretty innocuous and uncontroversial thing to say (given twin studies). Boy was I wrong.

    It may be relevant that I was the only person from a hard-science background at those sessions.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      If the trend continues, your deviancy could get you into bigger trouble. And i am not just trying to be melodramatic.

      • BJ
        Posted March 16, 2018 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        Things just a little worse are already resulting in doxxing, campaigns by “activists” to get people fired from their jobs, and social media mobs being raised against them. Innocuous jokes between two people (remember Donglegate?) have already resulted in activists who overhead them getting people fired and harassed by thousands of others.

    • Davide Spinello
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      I am surprised that you still have a job.

    • barn owl
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      It will be struggle sessions for you, Comrade Coel, if you don’t mend your ways.

    • glen1davidson
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      It’s “training,” not “thinking” that was being taught.

      The sad thing is, her sort of confirmation bias was probably what she learned in “higher ed.” Whole “disciplines” have been built upon fallacies like hers.

      Glen Davidson

    • BJ
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      I hope you’re not fired for “creating an hostile/unsafe work environment.” It’s very likely an employee (or even several) and/or the trainer have filed a complaint about you to HR.

      It’s fucking frightening. I guess this is what “tolerance” looks like.

    • eric
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      My boy has a few ‘girl’ toys and games. I try to make purchase decisions based on quality, cost, my expectation of how long he’ll play with it, etc., and not whether it’s ‘girlish’ or ‘boyish.’ IMO the important thing is to give my kid a good environment to pick for themselves.

      I agree that in principle, men and women may naturally gravitate towards careers in different percentages based on biological preferences, and that statistically this may mean different %s of men and women in different fields.

      However, more importantly, I don’t think we’ve created the “good environment” needed for women to be allowed to make truly preferential choices. And I think spending effort, money, and social capital on improving work and school environments is perfectly fine. So sure, in a hypothetical future where sexism is insignificant, it might turn out that 60% of computer game designers are men and 60% of surgeons are women. But we haven’t reached that hypothetical future yet, and right now, it’s a pretty good bet that the fact that 65% of surgeons today are male, that statistic has much more to do with our school and professional environments than it does with biological preference.

      So in short, ‘preferences are real’ may be true but is no excuse for social inaction.

      • Posted March 19, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        I recently bought my young nephew some blocks that also double as a puzzle. One puzzle they assemble into is a stereotypical pink and frilly “princess castle” and such.

        Which gender stereotype am I fulfilling? The usual one because I gave a boy blocks, or the anti-one because I gave a boy a frilly “princess castle” toy? 😉

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      What the hell is ‘diversity training’? It sounds like unmitigated nonsense to me. Like most things that HR departments come up with.

      But then I suspect HR departments are constantly having to find or invent more and more irrelevant procedures and programs to justify their existence, since they never produce anything of financial value to the company.

      (Probably just as well I retired when I did before my level of cynicism made me unemployable…)

      cr

      • Helen Hollis
        Posted March 16, 2018 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

        I am nearly always wrong, but I do not think that the role of HR is to produce anything of financial value for a company unless you think their role in preventing possible litigation against the company would be a positive in terms of financial value.
        The HR people I know actually care to make sure their company is not at financial risk for silly reasons.

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

      Do you have citations for that? I want to make sure I have a few studies on hand when I say those facts.

      • Posted March 17, 2018 at 5:17 am | Permalink

        On IQ? This is a recent review: https://www.nature.com/articles/mp2014105

        The intro starts: “Such studies have consistently shown that genetic influence on individual differences in intelligence is substantial”.

        • jaxkayaker
          Posted March 17, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for this, I’ll be looking it over and passing it on to interested friends. I saw a GWAS recently that identified loci involved in IQ but could only account for less than 7% of variance in IQ, if I understood it correctly. Admittedly, I’ve only glanced at the study for the bottom line.

          The better strategy might be to ask the “trainer” to cite the evidence for their claims. Tell them you want to do research in the area and make certain you have the facts straight from the horse’s mouth.

        • Posted March 17, 2018 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          Thanks!

  2. glen1davidson
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the worst example of demonization is labeling the mere utterance of some opposing idea aggression. “Fascist” and other disparaging terms are cheaply thrown around, but they legally they mean mothing.

    But to pretend that any opposition is simply aggression is an attempt to not only dismiss the dissenter, but to punish the “deviant” as well. Of course they can say it, but it’s certainly important that such nonsense be rationally opposed–definitely not allowed to become the standard for a new aggressive censorship.

    Glen Davidson

    • Steve Cameron
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Ad hominem and “poisoning the well” attacks are good indicators that there might be a “tribal” origin to the opposition rather than a rational or evidence-based one. Straw-manning and taking comments out of context are good signs of that too, as we all know from experience with creationism. And it goes without saying that describing your opponents with deliberately negative and dismissive words, such as being “rabid”, “thoughtless” or on a “tirade” do no favors to your arguments either.

    • Adam M.
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Not only “aggression”, but “violence”…

  3. W.T. Effingham
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    When FFFFs (fossil fuel funded f####s) point out the ice-age warm age cycles and natural sources of methane, co2 and other green-house gases, remind them that we Do NOT need to exacerbate the heat unnecessarily. Don’t shoot the messenger, but maybe a wet sponge to the face…

  4. Liz
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    In my opinion and from what I understand, out of body experiences is a topic like that. There isn’t too much research out there. Someone having had an experience like that doesn’t mean that there are souls or anything like that, but there are people who say that their visual perception changes from being “inside” their bodies/eyes, to “being” outside of their bodies with a “visual” perception that is not necessarily ocular. That is something that is worth researching more. Furthermore, there are people who have out of body experiences during org***. It happens in conjunction with sexuality/sex. That is worth researching also in my opinion just to figure out what’s going on. What neurons, parts of the brain, blood work etc.

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I’d like to see more research in this area as well.

    • Posted March 19, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Skeptical Inquirer had a review a couple years back if I remember correctly. (It was before I subscribed.)

      Conclusion seems to be that the “tunnel of light” and OOBE thing (for example) is due to anoxia.

      • Liz
        Posted March 19, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        The vestibular system might also be involved. “Neuroscientists now think that out-of-body experiences involve the vestibular system—made up of canals in the inner ear that track a person’s locations in space—and how that information gets integrated with other senses in the brain.”
        https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/the-neuroscience-of-out-of-body-experiences/534696/

        I believe Steven Novella said in a debate called “Death Is Not Final” (by IntelligenceSquared Debates) with Sean Carroll that out of body experiences can be induced, and that he can induce them. So there might be more information there.

  5. Posted March 16, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Confirmation bias is alive and well. Is this surprising?

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      I’ve noticed that confirmation bias is most prevalent in people with whom I disagree.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    This is a very good summary of the situation involving Evo Psych, which I see as a field with some good data but is wanting for more rigor. Right now there seems to be a lot of studies from the field that are more like what one would see in the soft sciences like sociology.

  7. Jon Gallant
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    We can expect that Diversity trainings and workshops will soon teach that the so-called X and Y “chromsosomes” are just another socially constructed narrative invented and spread by the cisheteronormative patriarchy, to support its insidious doctrine of sexual differences. In fact, the Diversity Officers at universities will soon denounce Biology curricula in general, for their frequent mention of various kinds of “chromosomes”. It is, after all, the very idea of genes on chromosomes which underlies the notion that some things in life may not be subject to adjustment by trainings, workshops, Diversity Offices, and the insights of our post-modernist progressive thinkers.

    It is worth recalling that the current progressive insights on Biology were prefigured long ago by the great Soviet philosopher I. I. Prezent, who explained that the idea of genes on chromosomes itself was “bourgeois pseudoscience”, used by counter-revolutionary wreckers. In such great works as “Class Struggle on the Front of Science” (1932) and “The Great Innovator Trofim Denisovich Lysenko” (1939), Prezent anticipated not only the spirit of contemporary post-modernist Progressivism, but even the unique clarity of exposition we find in the writing of its more recent scholars.

  8. Steve Cameron
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of a recent You Are Not So Smart podcast episode : “How our unchecked tribal psychology pollutes politics, science, and just about everything else”, which can be found here :
    https://youarenotsosmart.com/2018/02/26/yanss-122-how-our-unchecked-tribal-psychology-pollutes-politics-science-and-just-about-everything-else/

    It delves into current research on the human need for “in” and “out” grouping and how easily (and arbitrarily) it affects how we evaluate arguments or positions from opposing groups.

  9. Colin Foley
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to point out one additional element of the Damore memo which made me lose any belief that he was acting in good faith. Damore’s recommendations regarding women *could* be correct, although he does not support his proposed course of action (simply arguing that women tend not to join Google does not mean that there are not benefits to having women in Google or fostering success among those there). But his big problem is race.

    Damore specifically presents an argument for why women and men’s innate psychology may make them differently-suited for technological work. But his proposals also suggest ending diversity programs for non-white staff. While there is an argument to be made for that, he *does not make that argument*. So we are left to conclude that Damore believes that similar factors apply across races as across sexes, and that African-Americans, Hispanics, and others tend not to have the psychological prerequisites for computer engineering. If he were *not* arguing that, then his proposals there would have been in no way relevant to his writing.

    The idea that African-Americans have an innate weakness when it comes to technology is silly, is not supported by the evidence, and is racist. And his willingness to jump to that conclusion, among others, with absolutely no supporting evidence, demonstrates that his memo does not deserve the serious consideration that has been called for.

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      “So we are left to conclude that Damore believes […] his willingness to jump to that conclusion, among others, …”

      Who is jumping to the conclusion, Damore or you? Are you reading into him things he hasn’t said? Perhaps you can supply more context so we can judge whether you are being fair?

      • Colin Foley
        Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        His paper is freely available online – I would suggest rereading it with an eye to race. He offers citations to suggest that women are cognitively distinct from men; he offers no such citations about race, nor does he mention the topic. He then offers a list of recommendations, among which are suggestions to kill diversity programs based on race or gender. What alternative conclusion should be drawn?

        • Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          OK, I’ve scanned it for all the mentions of race. The relevant bit is his recommendations, starting:

          “I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).”

          Followed by suggestions including:

          “Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races. These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive”.

          I think you’re being unfair to leap to your conclusions about how he thinks.

          What could one conclude instead? How about, that he opposes all programs restricted to certain classes and wants people treated as individuals.

          • Colin Foley
            Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

            If he were advancing an abstract philosophical argument, I would agree with you. He’s not, though; that recommendation is based on his earlier argument that hiring numbers for women ought not to reflect the gender distribution of the overall population (and, therefore, that diversity programs that *try* to do so are counterproductive). It makes sense because he believes that discrimination against women does not lower female participation in the Google workforce, which is naturally lower. So to make a recommendation regarding race, a parallel argument must exist with racial representation; otherwise, he is coming to a wholly random conclusion which does not relate to the rest of his paper.

            This paper is him trying to build an argument. If a friend of yours was arguing for anything and then decided to throw in as a conclusion that diversity programs to help non-white applicants were a bad idea, you would be very skeptical of your friend’s motives. Damore’s memo merits the same skepticism.

            The *best* alternative is that Damore is writing this paper as a way to factually justify his philosophical beliefs. If that is the case, then the paper does not reflect an interest in the truth.

            • Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

              Your argument would be stronger if the memo were only making one argument, centered around that one issue you mention. But the memo is broader than that and covers a range of topics.

              He gives reasons for disliking race-based discrimination just after the bit I quoted, including that it might alienate some people and that it might be illegal:

              “These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.”

              “I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.”

            • BJ
              Posted March 16, 2018 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

              The way to interpret it is to read what he said and conclude that it’s what he meant to say, and that any implications you might think are being made need a lot of evidence beyond, “he didn’t make certain arguments; therefore, he must be arguing for something else.”

              Damore was arguing against hiring based on what he believes to be irrelevant factors, and for hiring based on individual merit. He was arguing for pure meritocracy. Evidence of cognitive differences between races is neither necessary or relevant to these arguments, as it’s a matter of philosophy whether pure meritocratic hiring or affirmative action is the preferable course of action. This is not a random conclusion, it doesn’t imply he believes the same issues apply as they do with regard to men and women, and to ascribe to him views not only unexpressed, but which require several leaps to try and uncover, is not a proper analysis in any sense.

              Plus, considering the amount of research and citations he put into the memo, the proper conclusion for any lack of citations or research being included with regard to an issue is that he doesn’t believe that research is relevant to his point.

        • Adam M.
          Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

          Well, IIRC, his stated reason was that those programs (which variously excluded whites or males or white males) constituted illegal discrimination on the basis of race and sex and that he believed Google should seek ways to promote women and minorities in ways that aren’t illegal and exclusionary. (I’m not saying it actually was illegal, but he said so.)

          I doubt that was his complete motive, but a possibility for his ulterior motive is that he was offended by being denigrated as a white male and excluded from so many events (even if he wasn’t really interested in those per se).

          I’m not saying that’s the most likely – I don’t know – but I think it’s at least as likely as him being anti-black.

        • Posted March 16, 2018 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

          Damore doesn’t mention penguins. Why is he silent on the subject of penguins? Or zebras? Or nuns’ habits? We can only conclude that he hates the sight of black and white in close proximity.

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      Did it occur to you that sex disparities and race/ethnicity disparities might have different origins?

      To what do you ascribe the disproportionally low numbers of blacks & hispanics in high-tech?

      To what do you ascribe the disproportionally high numbers of asians in high tech?

      NB: the percentage of whites employed by google is actually lower than of whites in the general population.

      • Posted March 16, 2018 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        Quite. For the ‘racism’ accusation to work Damore would have to agree that Asians are genetically superior to whites people. And I don’t think he’s a self-hating white person as he doesn’t appear to be SJW on any other axis.

        • Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

          Asian’s success is the elephant in the room (Elephas maximus, I suppose) around which SJW polemics on systemic racism etc. must always skirt.

        • Steve Cameron
          Posted March 17, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          Being racist–and I’m not saying Damore is or isn’t–doesn’t always mean you think your race is superior. It can also simply be the stereotyping races with positive and negative qualities. Then the belief that certain abilities, such as math skills, are inherent in a race, can be both a positive and a racist belief. That’s why Trump still sounds racist when he praises the good financial sense of jewish people.

    • Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      To me, it is the diversity programs for non-white staff that imply innate weakness of said staff, not a person who wishes these programs a (long overdue) ending.

  10. Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I was listening to a program (for as long as I could tolerate it) on my local NPR station and you should have heard the pearl-clutching and tut-tutting that went on when Damore’s name was mentioned!

    (All they noted was that he had the temerity to say that men and women might be different in their propensities, affinities, and capabilities. I’ve not read “the memo” so I don’t know what he actually said. Something tells me the great majority of the tut-tutters haven’t read it either.)

    • Christopher
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Tolerance I find in rather short supply when listening to NPR these days. For the past several years, if I’m honest. They have, at least since the Ferguson incident, taken sides based on ideology rather than fact of rational thought. I still enjoy Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, but I do not have them as my sole radio preset or go-to news source since they’ve become the “everything is racist, sexist, homophobic” news station.

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t been able to tolerate NPR since they became part of obama’s 2008 primary campaign.

  11. Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    “the difference among males in the number of offspring they produce is much larger than the difference among females, a reflection of differences in sexual behavior”. It’s a difference in Biology. The maximum number of offspring that a human female could produce is in the neighborhood of 30. There are men (supposedly the last Sultan of Brunei is one) who have had thousands of offspring. It is reasonable to at least hypothesize that this difference would result in a difference in behavior, purely by natural selection.

  12. Posted March 16, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t evolutionary science the study of innate inequalities?

  13. grasshopper
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    RosaRubicondior recently quoted a piece of research about the use of gestures by chimps and bonobos.

    … this piece of research published yesterday on the subject of bonobo (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzee (P. troglodytes) and their use of non-verbal communications or gestures which both use extensively to communicate with others of their species. It turns out that there is an approximate 90% overlap between the two species. This is far more than chance alone could account for. The research was conducted by scientists based at the Department of Psychology, University of York, York, United Kingdom and the School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom.

    Since there is almost zero probability that the two species could interact and learn from one another, there has to be another explanation.

    I think it requires a mind to interpret a gesture (even if you get it wrong). Two closely related species use gestures to convey information, so you could argue that aspects of their minds are similar, which is another point of entry into exploring evolutionary psychology.

    http://rosarubicondior.blogspot.com/2018/02/chimpanzee-gestures-confound.html

  14. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    If ‘the blank slate’ is true then the human race is perfectible by education. Order reigns.

    If ‘the blank slate’ is not true then it might not be possible to perfect people by education. Chaos ensues.

    Therefore ‘the blank slate’ *must* be true and anyone who disagrees must be against the perfectibility of humankind and in favour of evil.

    Or at least some would insist you believe…

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Going to put your statement on a 3×5. Excellent point.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      ok, but it is most likely not an either / or situation. There is the 3rd option which is we have innate behaviors, in part due to genetics and other factors, plus social conditioning. The slate is not blank but it can be over-written a bit with teaching.

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted March 17, 2018 at 3:52 am | Permalink

        But it doesn’t help that some ‘teachers’ try to ‘overwrite’ behaviours that are resistant or impossible to change – and then the ‘teachers’ get all humpty that the ‘awkward people’ aren’t responding.

  15. BJ
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    “Once an issue becomes politically toxic, we may reject inconvenient viewpoints out of hand. We may reject opponents – viewing them as ill-disposed people – without listening to them, and we may even try to punish them for their views.”

    There’s another enormously negative effect of this situation: scientific research itself will not be undertaken on certain subjects, and studies that are undertaken on such subjects will be performed with the “right” conclusion in mind and, quelle surprise, end up finding said conclusions to be true.

    “After the memo was publicly leaked, Damore was shamed on social media platforms, then promptly fired. Throughout these events, his opponents blatantly demonised and misrepresented him.”

    This description of the reaction to Damore’s memo doesn’t fully describe the reaction to it and the dangerous implications the reaction. It wasn’t just shaming on social media and lies from opponents; he and his memo were, and continue to be even now, demonized, misrepresented, and outright lied about by journalists and nearly every journalistic outlet on the left — the very people and places where tens of millions of people get their information on events.

    The risk of suppressing inconvenient ideas and truths isn’t just that they and those who express them will be demonized, but that these ideas and truths will either unheard of and unresearched, and will be believed to be the exact opposite of the “truth” by the public

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      There’s another enormously negative effect of this situation: scientific research itself will not be undertaken on certain subjects, and studies that are undertaken on such subjects will be performed with the “right” conclusion in mind and, quelle surprise, end up finding said conclusions to be true.

      This is already occurring. For example, James Caspian wanted to do a clinical study on gender transition regret, but was blocked by his university, Bath Spa, which called it “politically incorrect.”

      • BJ
        Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        And there are far more that we’ll never hear about because the researchers won’t bother. Researchers know that =some universities might not support the research, but, more importantly, they wouldn’t want to do research on the “wrong” subject or that ends up with “wrong findings” because it will hurt their reputations and future opportunities.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        I know nothing about that one, but can well believe that there is such a thing. There is a spectrum of gender identity, including gender fluidity and I expect that those who identify as transgendered are more likely to have a bit of gender fluidity. So they go through a sex change and later find themselves not identifying so much with their new anatomy. Poor blighters.

        • Posted March 16, 2018 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

          The bulk of the research indicates transition regret is c. 20%. But that spoils the narrative that transition is a miracle cure and happy shiny people and society and bigots are the problem. So they latch onto one poorly-conducted study that found 0.2% to 0.8% regret among a narrow, self-selected group, truncate that to 0.2% and the narrative is saved. Cherry-picking to support a priori conclusions at its finest.

  16. Posted March 16, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  17. BJ
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I would like to post this very long post from Scott Alexander, which has reams of citations to respected studies in journals of status and is an excellent collection of information on sex differences, preferences, and job choice and numbers: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exaggerated-differences/

    Here’s one interesting section, which is just a small point among many others (from section IV. Hyperlinks removed and can be found in original article):

    “Meanwhile, men make up only 10% of nurses, only 20% of new veterinarians, only 25% of new psychologists, about 25% of new paediatricians, about 26% of forensic scientists, about 28% of medical managers, and 42% of new biologists.

    Note that many of these imbalances are even more lopsided than the imbalance favoring men in technology, and that many of these jobs earn much more than the average programmer. For example, the average computer programmer only makes about $80,000; the average veterinarian makes about $88,000, and the average pediatrician makes a whopping $170,000.”

    It should be perplexing that people so interested in parity between the sexes are only interested in the issue when it comes to fields in which men hold the greater number of jobs. If these activists believed parity was such an important issue for all people and society as a whole, they would be just as concerned about the jobs listed here, but I have never seen them mentioned even once as fields that needs to be addressed. How strange

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted March 16, 2018 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      And in the UK 98% of nursery (kindergarten?) teachers are women. It’s said that many would be uncomfortable with ‘a man’ teaching such young children. If this is at least partly true then it is sexism.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted March 16, 2018 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        As has been pointed out at least part of the gender disparities where women are a minority is because they are less often interested in those kinds of jobs.
        It feels (to me) that this is even more starkly clear from this other perspective. If I may be allowed to just go with my gut here, most men don’t see themselves as Kindergarten teachers. It isn’t a thing we say we want be as kids, and that lack of interest persists.

      • Posted March 23, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Call it sexism, but I find the risk of having an adult male predator in charge of preschool children too great.

  18. BJ
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to make one more post, but I don’t know if people here have had a chance to read the complaint filed by Damore in his lawsuit against Google.

    To say Damore may have been fired for being obnoxious is very hard to believe, unless the word is defined as disagreement with any far left politics or policy.

    One will find in the complaint that Damore only wrote the memo after Google asked employees for feedback on the issue. It wasn’t as if Damore typed of and disseminated this memo out of the blue (it wasn’t even sent through a mass email, but via the internal response system). Damore was responding to an explicit request by the company for feedback, and when his feedback wasn’t what everybody else was expected to say, he was fired for it.

    There’s a ton of direct evidence in the complaint regarding how people at Google (including both fellow employees and superiors) regularly harass Damore and anyone else who deviates from the progressive line in even the slightest way.

    Some excerpts from the complaint:

    “On August 3, 2017 George Sadlier (“Sadlier”), a Director at Google, sent out a mass email condemning James’ essay as “repulsive and intellectually dishonest” and promising an HR investigation into Damore. Sadlier also promoted posts that advocated for physical violence against Damore. Subsequently, On Friday, August 4, 2017, Damore received a late-night email from Alex Hidalgo, a Site Reliability Engineer at Google in Sadlier’s organization, which stated, “You’re a misogynist and a terrible person. I will keep hounding you until one of us is fired. Fuck you.” Damore forwarded Hidalgo’s email to Google HR, and was told to work from home for some time until emotions cooled down.”

    “Not only did Google terminate Damore for his political views relating to workplace issues, but they then rewarded individuals who disagreed with and disparaged Damore.

    The Google Recognition Team allowed employees to give fellow employees “Peer Bonuses” for arguing against Damore’s political viewpoints. Peer Bonuses were typically reserved for outstanding work performance or for going above and beyond an employee’s job duties. Defending the liberal agenda, or defending violations of California employment law, is not in any Google employee’s job description.

    In one example of this, an employee gave a Peer Bonus to another employee, and stated that the bonus was for “speaking up for googley values and promoting [diversity and inclusion] in the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is [Damore’s Memo].” The Google Recognition Team reviewed this justification, considered it appropriate, and allowed the bonus to proceed.”

    There is much more. I encourage people to read it if they have the time. Here’s a link: https://www.scribd.com/document/368688363/James-Damore-vs-Google-Class-Action-Lawsuit

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      I’d give the ‘Damore was obnoxious’ meme more credibility if it was t coming from people who disagreed with his post. There’s a lot of history being reinterpreted here.

      It’s like what happens when someone gets the boot from FreeThought Blogs. Apparently they have always been a creep/racist/Islamophobe/Terf and nobody ever liked them.

      • Angel
        Posted March 16, 2018 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        My opinion is that a company has the right to terminate any individual that by actions/omitions/etc tends to alter the “work environment and culture”, indepentlely of what I think he did try to accomplish.

        • Helen Hollis
          Posted March 16, 2018 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

          Vauge at best, wishy washy at worst. Everything can tend to alter the work environment and culture and sometimes, if not most times for the better. Yes, the company has the right to do nearly anything under this vauge umbrella. Not to mention Illinois for example, is an at will state. You work at the will of your employer.
          You do not have to be very creative to use this argument to literally fire anyone for any reason at all. You could be a nice person and feed squirrels at your workplace and someone may claim you are altering the work enviornment and culture.

        • BJ
          Posted March 17, 2018 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          Considering all the direct evidence in Damore’s complaint, it’s easy to argue that he was fired for his political views, which is illegal in California.

  19. Posted March 16, 2018 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    What i find depressing, nay, surprising and possibly a little dim witted on my part, i thought google was full of smart people. Where did i get this impression from?
    Damore made the same mistake it seems.
    IMHO, it’s also a case for evolutionary psychology, that is, the basis of tribalism sustained by intellectual deceit and powered by emotion.

  20. Nobody Special
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of PZ, his purist mask slipped a llittle bit earlier, ‘joking’ that a man whose girlfriend attacked him in his sleep with a samurai sword deserved it for being smug and a gamer of an on-game PZ disapproves of. PZ, victim blaming!
    Needless to say, the Horde didn’t see the humour.
    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2018/03/15/by-the-end-of-the-story-i-was-ready-to-chop-him-up-myself/

    • chrism
      Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      “Speaking of PZ…”

      Must we? I’ll have to take some Zofran.

  21. colnago80
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I freely admit to knowing almost nothing about evolutionary psychology and thus have no opinion on the subject but in fairness, I would like to point out that retired Prof. Larry Moran, who AFAIK is not an
    SJW, seems to be rather negative about it. Consider the quote from the linked article.

    I pointed out that the field of evolutionary psychology is a mess and many scientists and philosophers think it is fundamentally flawed. The purpose of this post is to provide links to back up my claim.

    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2018/03/is-evolutionary-psychology-deeply.html

    • Posted March 16, 2018 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      PCC(E) said that he thinks the field needs to be more rigorous too. It is not fundamentally flawed though. Evolution has left an imprint on our bodies. Our minds are part of our bodies. Why wouldn’t there be evolutionary remnants in our psychology?

  22. grasshopper
    Posted March 16, 2018 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    The horse has left a physical record of descent with modification from eohippus (which was about the size of a fox terrier!) to equus. So we can see what change has occurred over time with regards to equine morphology. But a mind leaves no record (culture and memes excepted). We can’t tell whether an evo-psych atttibute was present in an ancestor, whether it is a result of convergent evolution in “cousin” species, or even whether our ancestor lost the trait, but we “re-evolved” it.

    Certainly, there are some behaviours common to many species. The flight or fight response, for instance. Or aversion to pain across species. Unless you are named William Lane Craig.

    Fossil minds are hard to find, Popes and Cardinals excepted.

  23. chrism
    Posted March 17, 2018 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Quoth Blackford:
    “Damore’s firing from Google was an example of an increasing intolerance of inconvenient or controversial ideas within democratic societies.”

    Damore’s ideas are in no respect controversial: they are well-established facts. People differ, they make different choices and maximising freedom to do just as you please actually maximises those differences. I see nothing wrong with that. Politically unacceptable to those who believe in blank slates, perhaps, but to declare it untrue is to move into the 2+2=5 territory of 1984.

  24. Posted March 18, 2018 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I read the entire memo, as posted by Damore on his website.

    I found:

    1. I didn’t seem particularly controversial. He identifies that women and men trend differently. However, it was written in a way (maybe due to Damore’s Asberger’s spectrum position — I’ve heard he is on “the spectrum”), rather ham-handed, that was certain to offend.

    2. He was arguing against quotas. He was arguing against exclusive supports for women and minorities.

    3. It would have been easy to predict the consequences, given his description of the Google culture. (He was foolish to write it down.)

    4. It was extremely unlikely to have the any kind of effect preferred by Damore. Some trends at work cannot by opposed. Either adapt or move on.

  25. Posted March 19, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I followed the Danmore thing for a while. As far as I can tell he was fired for spamming the memo everywhere, not restricting it to places where it was appropriate.


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