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Google’s Hypocrisy On Gender

A (female) reader writes:

This Google controversy really has me steamed.  It struck me this morning just how monumental, blatant, and agenda-driven the hypocrisy of Google actually is in the James Damore case. One phrase says it all:  “targeted ads”.

Obviously, Google’s revenue (billions of dollars worth) comes from the most successful methods of targeting advertising and marketing in human history.  When I told this to my husband this morning, a light bulb went off.  He retired last year from his position as a [senior engineer at a major tech firm.] One area of his research and expertise was data mining.  He has educated professionals in the United States and Israel in the field of data mining.  He supervised the work of a young research scientist who was just snapped up by Google specifically because of his work in this field.

Of course, the main thing that Google wants to do with all of this data is to match advertising appropriately with potential consumers.  Gender obviously plays a role on this.  Even if a person has not explicitly revealed their gender in the form of a checkbox or statement, it is very easy for them to figure out your gender based on your interests as indicated by searches and website visits.  Obviously, men and women have different interests, and they know this very well.   In fact, it took me about a minute to located this article:  https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/marketing/when-do-targeted-online-ads-constitute-discrimination/article25405510/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&service=mobile [1]

As we all are aware, advertising companies place great value on obtaining accurate data on various demographic groups.  Thus, they are aware of all of the research regarding these groups, including differences in interests of men vs. women. Google knows this data and has it.  Given James Damore’s skills and interest level in behaviors of populations (as he has stated in various interviews) they should have offered him a job in their Google Ads arm instead of firing him!

I slightly edited the reader’s e-mail at her request, to protect her husband’s privacy.

The article she cited is from the Globe & Mail. It explores the question of when targeted advertising is discriminatory. Excerpt:

It is not unusual for advertisers to target consumers for their ads based on gender or age. In the most obvious case, a female Web user would be more likely to see ads for women’s clothing, while male Web users might be more likely to see ads for men’s clothing. This happens in other media too: It’s why you see more commercials for trucks on TV during sports broadcasts, for example, or cosmetics ads in magazines aimed at women.

It may well reinforce gender stereotypes, say, to consistently advertise makeup to women and trucks to men. The difficulty is identifying when ad targeting – which, by its nature, excludes some audiences – is discriminatory.

“While neither of our findings of opacity or discrimination are clear violations of Google’s privacy policy and we do not claim these findings to generalize or imply widespread issues, we find them concerning and warranting further investigation by those with visibility into the ad ecosystem,” the researchers wrote.

It is also hard to assign blame for the alleged discrimination. Google’s policies allow advertisers to target ads by gender, and the targeting may have been the result of other factors, such as a pattern in which men click on the ad more often, causing it to be automatically targeted to more men.

This is crackpot egalitarianism. Of all the things in the world to worry about, some people are concerned that an advertising algorithm might direct certain ads to men, based on what they’ve been reading on the Internet, and not send them to women, and vice versa? Why can’t we simply live with this kind of imperfection?

The reader’s comment shows why it’s so hard to understand the rules of this game progressives and diversocrats within academia and corporate American play. There are times when noticing differences (gender, ethnic, etc) is treated as a virtue, and times when it is taboo. For example, a college dorm set aside for black people [2] is seen (by progressives) as a virtue, but a college dorm set aside for white people would be a crime. If you want to stay on the right side of this stuff, you should keep track of who the in-groups are in progressive ideology, and who the out-groups are. Discrimination that favors the in-groups is good, but that favoring the out-groups is bad. Principle has very little to do with it.

Alan Jacobs is trying to figure out what Google’s position really is: [3]

Google’s position could be:

Jacobs goes on to say:

Their goal will be to create a climate of maximal fear-of-offending, and that is best done by never allowing employees to know where the uncrossable lines are. That is, after all, corporate SOP.

Yes — and lo, none other than James Damore himself says in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today: [5]

Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Conor Friedersdorf is always at his best writing about issues like this. He has a question for Google’s CEO [6], Sundar Pichai, who said publicly that “portions” of James Damore’s memo [7] violated Google’s Code of Conduct:

Given that the full text of the memo is public, that it is the subject of a national debate on an important subject, that many educated people disagree with one another about what claims it made, and that clarity can only help Google employees adhere to the company’s rules going forward, would you be willing to highlight the memo using green to indicate the “much” that you identified as “fair to debate” and red to flag the “portions” that you deemed Code-of-Conduct violations?

He continues, addressing Pichai:

I wonder if you believe the truth of a proposition is relevant to whether it violates the Code of Conduct. Can something be both the scientific consensus on a subject and unmentionable?

Excellent questions. Remember that in a June shareholders’ meeting [8], Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said that dissenters are welcome at his company:

“The company was founded under the principles of freedom of expression, diversity, inclusiveness and science-based thinking. You’ll also find that all of the other companies in our industry agree with us.”

Well, James Damore just showed what a load of nonsense that is. You cannot have freedom of expression and science-based thinking, but also diversity and inclusiveness (as Google defines it). It sounds all wonderful and progressive, but these ideals cannot be entirely reconciled. If they can be, then Sundar Pichai needs to do it, and do it publicly. Because right now, he looks like a bully and a hypocrite.

How are Google employees supposed to know when it’s okay to share their opinions and analysis, and when doing so could get them fired and publicly shamed as a bigot? If Damore could not say what he said, even as he explicitly stated in the memo that he favors workplace diversity, then how fragile is the job security of anyone at Google who opens his or her mouth?

A scene from the Google cafeteria:

46 Comments (Open | Close)

46 Comments To "Google’s Hypocrisy On Gender"

#1 Comment By AndrewBH On August 11, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

Here’s my “hot take”: the Google mess is all about the tragic inadequacy of empirically-based reason.

I understand that Pichai initially resisted firing Damore. The factor that ultimately swayed him was the fact that Damore invoked biology to account for gender differences. What if race were substituted for gender? If Damore were advancing arguments that seemed to suggest the racial disparity at Google had roots in biology, would there be any question about letting that argument stand?

This is a knock-out blow–of course Damore would have to go, if race were the subject. But still….the analogy doesn’t hold. It feels false, but it’s hard to explain why it’s false in logical, empirical terms. One can invoke scientific consensus: evolutionary psych holds that biology plays an appreciable role in gender difference but not in racial difference. But this is a bad argument. It seems to suggest that, if the scientific consensus changed, it would be okay to yammer about biologically-based racial disparities at work, and we all know that isn’t true.

The falsity of the analogy only becomes clear when you bring cultural-wisdom into the equation. Whether it’s new parents chatting about their babies at the backyard barbeque or spurned lovers commiserating with friends at the bar, people generally feel free to make casual comments about how males and females are “wired differently.” The same people would never dream of saying that different races are “wired differently.”

Does this show that people are more sexist than racist? That doesn’t seem right. So then, what’s the reason? I submit that we feel comfortable talking about gender difference in essentialist terms because we think of those differences as being complementary. Women are yin, men are yang, both are necessary, neither is greater than the other. So we can talk about difference without implying value judgements. But we can’t talk about racial differences as being complementary–difference always implies a hierarchy.

The idea of gender complementarity is embedded so deep as to be invisible. Even in the Bay Area, even among overeducated knowledge workers, even when we have gay or transgender friends…or are gay or transgender ourselves. We liberals nuance the idea and carve out exceptions, but it still governs our thoughts and values, unless we make a very explicit effort to rationalize it away. As some do.

Pichai likely felt that the “gender = race” analogy was flawed, but he couldn’t argue against it in the way a Googler must: using evidence-based reason. So he gave in. As a result, Google now looks to the world like an intolerant hive of groupthink.

Of course, on another level, Damore made the same mistake of privileging empirical reason over embedded wisdom. Had he better understood the cultural currents around him–the pressures experienced by female engineers, the pressing mandate to humanize the image of tech in the wider world–he might have worded his document better.

#2 Comment By Matt Thullen On August 11, 2017 @ 7:52 pm

An enterprising class action attorney should have no problem rustling up a couple of companies that used Google’s ad targeting services to file a suit claiming that Google misrepresented the effectiveness of this service. The basis of the claims should be that the CEO has more or less rejected the use of scientific studies (which your reader noted should be known to Google) as a sound basis for drawing population distinctions. The claim would be that Google oversold their targeted ad services by claiming that one can draw distinctions between men and women in broad population groups, when in fact their upper management claims this isn’t really possible or accurate.

It would be entertaining to see Google march into court to defend themselves by affirming exactly what their CEO and Diversity Commissar have explicitly rejected.

#3 Comment By CMPT On August 11, 2017 @ 8:32 pm

“Conor Friedersdorf is always at his best writing about issues like this. He has a question for Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, who said publicly that “portions” of James Damore’s memo violated Google’s Code of Conduct.”

If Conor and others were truly interested in understanding what’s so problematic with the memo, they could simply read all the many reactions to it from scientists and former Google employees who have been critical of it. Instead, those who are critical of Google have created a straw man (usually the unhinged, anonymous rants of internet commenters with whom they disagree), stuck him in their own echo chamber and beaten the heck out of him, thereby convincing themselves of their own righteousness.

This is an absolutely horrendous way to debate a serious issue, and it illustrates the point reader Aint Benedict made the other day on a separate thread: Damore has become a mythical hero/martyr that is now the icon of everything that, depending on your political ideology, is either wrong, or right, with whatever cultural issue triggers one’s passions. Literally, some people have even claimed that Damore’s firing is the reason they voted for Trump. Where did they get their time machine?

If you want to criticize Google and you haven’t wrestled with the points made by others in the links below and readily available elsewhere on the internet, then you’re not truly trying to understand the issue. If you’re so convinced of the correctness of your position, confront the arguments these people make instead of the ones you believe lurk in the hearts of the always nameless “progressives,” “SJWs,” “elites” or whatever other bogeymen you believe exist.

[9]

[10]

[11]

[12]

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#4 Comment By Brendan On August 11, 2017 @ 8:34 pm

How are Google employees supposed to know when it’s okay to share their opinions and analysis, and when doing so could get them fired and publicly shamed as a bigot? If Damore could not say what he said, even as he explicitly stated in the memo that he favors workplace diversity, then how fragile is the job security of anyone at Google who opens his or her mouth?

Well, I think the answer is this: don’t open your mouth on topics like politics, religion, contentious social issues and the like. Stick to things like business and personal innocuous life-sharing “small talk” that isn’t “issue oriented”. This is what 99.9% of people do in workplaces, especially in “mixed company” — which doesn’t only mean mixed by sex, but also mixed by ideology, which, because this is harder to judge beforehand, effectively makes almost all corporate social settings subject to this rule. Personally I am comfortable with it. I do not feel the need to speak my mind at work, I keep the realms separate. I would strongly advise anyone who isn’t a lockstep progressive SJW to do the same.

[NFR: But Damore could easily argue that he *was* talking about business. His mistake — perhaps because he’s on the autism spectrum and didn’t appreciate this subtlety — was assuming that if he pledged allegiance to the goal of Diversity, he could actually talk about better ways (ways informed by science!) that Google could achieve its goal. This is why this thing is so corrupting: it compels people to remain silent about real inefficiencies, injustices, or consequential errors a business may be committing, because it is too ideologically risky to speak about such things. — RD]

#5 Comment By ludo On August 11, 2017 @ 8:52 pm

“Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.”

Right, so this statement alone torpedoes his entire manifesto on socio-cultural grounds, as he’s essentially stating that women are statistically more prone to neurotic dysphoria, whether it be clinical or subclinical, and that (implicitly) he doesn’t want to work with such people, but then again that such people tend not to be especially likely to be recruited by Google in the first place: a supposed fact directly contributive/translative to less women working, relative to men, at Google in the first place. This, plainly put, is a regurgitation of the witch/’hysteric’ stereotype of temperamentally strong, less culturally submissive women. Who knows, there may be underlying statistical biological truths behind these stereotypes, however, it must also be noted/considered that in human societies (and there is no humanity without some sort of society) culture is almost inextricably enmeshed with biology and vice versa, so that if there is a determinism, it is likely reciprocal and literally ambi-valent: culture can influence biological processes and characteristics, in ways that may be profoundly influential in key ways and categories of intellectual and psychological functioning/achievement. It is precisely this potential and ongoing research into the biological/physiological effects of culture that undergirds what otherwise would be viewed as mere utopianism or psychological idealism: what appears as a fundamentally biological problem or phenomenon can effectively respond to cultural transformations in a way that essentially recalibrates the stereotypicity of the statistical subject in question: example, the intellectual/technological operancy of populations following formalized knowledge schemes, such as though implemented in modernizing/industrialization projects in mid-19th century Japan and 20th century South Korea, when a purely biological statistical model, based on recorded historical achievement, would have produced dissuasive predictions as regards intelligence quotients and mathematical/analytical thinking.

#6 Comment By Note On August 11, 2017 @ 9:04 pm

The genie will not soon go back into the bottle at Google. Those salaries, break rooms, cafeterias, nap pods, and massages are now the terms of a Faustian bargain.

Damore, raised his pen (keyboard), mightier than a sword: “Get thee behind me!”
(There had to be a moment, before he hit “send.”)

I might have some sympathy for Pichai if I hadn’t experienced so many pointed silences in healthcare situations in the past year or two. Normal people are becoming afraid to make– what used to be — normal conversation. It is lowering the quality of care, in my opinion.

#7 Comment By Ken’ichi On August 11, 2017 @ 9:09 pm

>>AndrewBH

Of course, on another level, Damore made the same mistake of privileging empirical reason over embedded wisdom.

“Privileging empirical reason over embedded wisdom” has been the method of the West for centuries now. Perhaps even far back as the Socratics and the Cynics.

#8 Comment By CMPT On August 11, 2017 @ 9:25 pm

AndrewBH: “Pichai likely felt that the “gender = race” analogy was flawed, but he couldn’t argue against it in the way a Googler must: using evidence-based reason. So he gave in. . . Of course, on another level, Damore made the same mistake of privileging empirical reason over embedded wisdom.”

But the guy who performed the research upon which Damore’s memo was, in part, based says his research does not help explain the gender gap at Google or, more generally, in tech. Consequently, Pichai absolutely can reject Damore’s memo using evidence-based reasoning.

There is a huge chasm between Damore’s hypothesis (i.e. biological differences explain the gender gap at Google and in tech, not social constructs) and the research that Damore relies on in his memo. The research Damore relies on says there is a statistically significant difference in the levels of neuroticism and stress intolerance between males and females, and that difference is biologically determined. The people who are critical of Google seem to believe that the research is impeachable so, therefore, the conclusions Damore draws from that research are also impeachable. But, the researcher who conducted the tests (along with many other evolutionary biologists) say Damore misunderstands the research and its implications.

#9 Comment By stillaninterestedobserver On August 11, 2017 @ 10:51 pm

Sure hope after this extended week of…what, 20 or so posts on the subject…that maybe one post could be made on the people currently marching with torches at UVA about white power.

(Not trying to be flip — you’ve obviously held no truck with such fools over the years — but when your single-mindedness kicks in, as it can, and it can with me too, the forest can be missed for the trees.)

[NFR: Because I have limited time, and I judge that the James Damore situation matters far more than what that small band of racist fools in Charlottesville are doing. — RD]

#10 Comment By Acilius On August 11, 2017 @ 11:43 pm

Maybe the problem is that the two sides agree about more than either wants to let on. If I may recommend my own small contribution to this debate, that’s the theory I lay out here: [14]

#11 Comment By Anonne On August 11, 2017 @ 11:57 pm

For crying out loud, Google has to worry about its female employees too, not just the socially inept one who doesn’t want to care about their issues.

#12 Comment By Gretchen On August 12, 2017 @ 12:05 am

Alan Jacobs’ take is disingenuous, as are many right-leaning takes. They’re not saying that men and women are indistinguishable. They are saying that there is a benefit to having both men and women, and people of varying backgrounds, in your workforce. They are a global company, trying to appeal to both men and women and both Americans and people from other countries. All those people have different desires, and excluding people like that from the Google workforce hurts Google’s competitiveness, because they won’t hear what those non-white-guy people want. Ford Motor Company balked at hiring female engineers in the ’70’s. Then it turned out that the female engineers had different ideas about what customers wanted. They pointed out that women wanted smaller steering wheels, bodies that were easier to get children into, things like that. Their profitability increased when they started listening to representatives of the other 51% of the buying public. That continues today: [15] Companies increase the voices they listen to because a variety of experiences leads to better decisions.

[NFR: This completely evades the core issues of the Damore situation. Damore endorses workplace diversity, as you would know if you actually read his memo. — RD]

#13 Comment By Gretchen On August 12, 2017 @ 12:09 am

Usually conservatives are very supportive of corporations being able to fire any employee for any reason: see right-to-work laws. Yet when a corporation fires an employee for causing a big public stink that makes the empoyer look bad and interferes with the employer recruiting candidates they want, conservatives thing they should have kept him on and held his hand and held counseling sessions. What?

[NFR: Yawn. “Usually liberals are very supportive of the free speech rights of dissenters, especially in the face of big corporations. Yet when a dissenter gets fired by a multinational corporation for transgressing against liberal dogma, liberals fall all over themselves to justify his firing and public shaming. What?” — RD]

#14 Comment By Gretchen On August 12, 2017 @ 12:14 am

Let’s remember that Google is a for-profit company. Their interest is not in promoting political correctness, but in maximizing profits. Studies show that diversity increases good decision-making. People are more comfortable with a group that’s just like themselves, but they make better decisions when in a group that has multiple viewpoints that make the group consider all the options: [16]

[NFR: It would be helpful if you would compile everything you want to say on this thread into one post. And if you would address the actual issues in play. Damore actually supports workplace diversity. I know that complicates the anti-Damore narrative, but it’s true. — RD]

#15 Comment By MikeS On August 12, 2017 @ 12:30 am

The first photo also was taken in the Goolag cafeteria, where Patriarchal Roaders are publicly humiliated in the weekly Defense of the Revolution company assemblies (mandatory attendance) , all overseen by the Red (and Yellow, Green, and Blue) Guard.

#16 Comment By John Spragge On August 12, 2017 @ 5:26 am

I don’t know why Google fired James Damore. I think we may eventually decide Talleyrand’s dictum applies: “it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.” Still, I think the famous memo badly misses the point.

As C. S. Lewis once suggested he wanted his standing as a moralist to rest on what he had to say about the world as one of the three great tempters. The worldly vice he focused on, the passion to belong, in a secular sense, appears by many accounts to exist in Silicon Valley as a “bro” culture where significant numbers of women report experiencing serious disrespect.

C S Lewis memorably laid out the reasons an individual ought to resist the allure of belonging, including his observation that of all the worldly desires, the hope of belonging to a privileged circle has the most corrosive effect on ethics, to lead “someone who is not yet a bad man to do very bad things.” An organization has the same very good reasons to want to discourage the formation of a culture based on “belonging” as opposed to the work the organization exists to do.

If we at least provisionally grant the accounts of a highly sexist “bro” culture in silicon valley, Google has every reason to try to keep it from taking hold in their own ranks. Doing so by attempting to encourage outstanding women to work at Google would seem to make a lot of sense.

Mr. Damore’s statistical arguments don’t necessarily apply. Even if biological reasons naturally skew the ratio of engineers in favour of men, Google does not recruit from the statistical norm; they recruit from the best. As we have already seen in the history of computing, women have made huge contributions, so it makes no sense to doubt the highly talented cohort Google seeks to recruit includes a fair number of women. For the reason I have outlined above, it makes sense for Google to want to recruit these women.

The only mystery here concerns James Damore’s firing. Google had a perfectly good argument for their policy handy. They had no reason not to simply state it.

#17 Comment By BlairBurton On August 12, 2017 @ 7:01 am

@AndrewBH: Had he better understood the cultural currents around him–the pressures experienced by female engineers, the pressing mandate to humanize the image of tech in the wider world–he might have worded his document better.

The pressures felt by females in STEM are real. As an example, a friend of mine who is an extremely talented mathematician – 99th percentile on standardized tests – and whose father was such a brilliant mathematician that he was offered a position at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study at the time Einstein was there – tells a story about her time as a physics major at a large state university. In one of the upper level courses, where there were something like four women and fifteen men, three of the top grades in the class were given to the women. The professor, a male, called them in and harangued them about this – how dare they show up their fellow male students? My friend eventually changed her major from physics to biology, for a variety of reasons including a battle with cancer but this story is representative of the experience of so very many women in STEM.

So can you not see that this manifesto, whether well-meant or not, is seen by very many women in STEM as just another attempt in a long line of attempts to minimize their contributions to the fields they have chosen, questioning their abilities, their toughness, their emotional stability?

I worked in STEM before retirement, and after reading something like this I would not want to work with, or God forbid, for its author.

#18 Comment By Jack B. Nimble On August 12, 2017 @ 7:41 am

For conservatives, James Damore is to workers’ rights as Charlie Gard was to health care.

Conservatives in the US agonized over the fate of one very sick infant, while simultaneously working to degrade or remove access to affordable health care for millions of Americans.

Conservatives are agonizing over the fate of Mr. Damore, while simultaneously working to undermine workers’ rights: attacking the NLRB, attacking unions and collective bargaining, attacking academic tenure, etc.

I’ll resist the temptation to speculate on why conservatives can obsess publicly over individual cases while at the same time working behind closed doors to reduce workers’ rights, reduce patients’ rights, etc. Maybe someone on the conservative spectrum can explain this inconsistency.

Mr. Dreher frets about the job security of anyone at Google. The vast majority of employees in the US are ‘at will,’ which means that they can be fired for any reason or no reason [unless a member of a protected class]. Other countries [Greece, France, etc.] have figured out how to give private sector workers greater much protection against dismissal. Here, conservatives rail against such protection. Other countries have also figured out how to ensure access to affordable health care. Here, conservatives rail against such policies.

Who’s the hypocrite here?

#19 Comment By Devinicus On August 12, 2017 @ 7:58 am

AndrewBH says,

the Google mess is all about the tragic inadequacy of empirically-based reason.

It’s not quite clear to me for what empirically-based reason is inadequate here. For a convincing argument? If so, from whose perspective? Why do you believe that the Susan Wojcickis of the world *can* be convinced of Damore’s position? Would an argument fully embedded in the culture of Google still be Damore’s argument at all?

#20 Comment By Jack B. Nimble On August 12, 2017 @ 10:04 am

[NFR: Because I have limited time, and I judge that the James Damore situation matters far more than what that small band of racist fools in Charlottesville are doing. — RD]

A small band??? Here’s a report today from Inside Higher Ed:

Hundreds of white nationalists marched and rallied at the University of Virginia Friday night. They carried torches and chanted “you will not replace us and “Jews will not replaced us.”

It’s time to wake up and smell the torches.

#21 Comment By Philly guy On August 12, 2017 @ 10:35 am

The reason we have a Black student union and not a White student union, was that the majority group is not given as much leeway as a minority group.Targeted advertising/ marketing is most obvious in sports. Traditionally one needed a car company, a shaving cream, an insurance company and a beer to get a network contract.

#22 Comment By Devinicus On August 12, 2017 @ 10:41 am

Jack B. Nimble said,

It’s time to wake up and smell the torches.

The SJWs have summoned forth the alt-Right from cyberspace into the world.

As Ross Douthat [17], “If you dislike the religious right, wait till you meet the post-religious right”.

#23 Comment By mrscracker On August 12, 2017 @ 11:00 am

Jack B.Nimble,
One of my children lives near the foolishness going on in Virginia.
They’ve told me that both sides of the issue know the statue of Gen.Lee is protected from removal under the law so it’s really just an excuse to carry on and get in the limelight.
I think it’s a shame and believe Robert E Lee would be disgusted too.

#24 Comment By Nathan Steinke On August 12, 2017 @ 11:07 am

@Brendan: “Well, I think the answer is this: don’t open your mouth on topics like politics, religion, contentious social issues and the like. Stick to things like business and personal innocuous life-sharing ‘small talk’ that isn’t ‘issue oriented’.”

– – –

Ah, yes, “contentious” social issues. And who adjudicates what falls under this label again?

The word “contentious” (or “controversial”) says nothing about the issue itself. It is a worthless adjective. It only describes the reaction to the issue, which is, fittingly enough, the main more of viewing most anything in a post-modern world where “How does this make you feel?” is a more important question than “Is this true?”

The implication here is that if a group can rally enough passionate support to oppose any issue, they can make it “contentious”, then shut down that space to further discussion. This is basically how the identity left has been operating for the past decade or more.

1. Find issue on which there has traditional been widespread social and empirical consensus.

2. Rouse up “controversy” through activism.

3. Tell people that it would better if nobody talked about this anymore because it is “contentious” and people “should no better” than to be so boorish and ignorant by professing former truths that are now “problematic”.

4. Go to work changing things on this social issue under the cover of societal silence (through higher education, the courts, bureaucracies, etc)

5. Emerge from the cover of silence having changed the consensus. Declare that there is a new consensus and dissent will be crushed. There is no longer a “controversy”, but a clear-cut division between wrongthink and righteousness.
They realize that it would not be a good idea to leave the same path they took open to conservatives, so they shut down the possibility of questioning their established order.

Damore’s mistake was believing we were somewhere around step #3, where things could still be changed with some pushback. We are clearly at #5.

#25 Comment By Rob G On August 12, 2017 @ 11:13 am

No offense, Jack. B. Nimble, but if you can’t differentiate between the vast majority of conservatives who post here and the right-liberals who constitute the bulk of the mainstream right/GOP noise machine, you’re a twit.

#26 Comment By Prof. Woland On August 12, 2017 @ 12:05 pm

For a counterpoint on the Google situation:

[11]

Note–she notes that there are biological differences between men and women–something that we can all notice with our own eyes.

But she makes th important point of context–the differences that Damore cites as evidence DO NOT support his claim for why there is such a hiring differential.
Numbers matter.

Perhaps these biological differenes would explain a 52 to 48% male dominance in IT–but they do not explain an 81 to 19% difference.

Citing them as evidence to justify the current state of affairs is not supported.

Beyond that–this is entirely within the realm of libertarian ideals of property holders being able to hire and fire who they want and to set up rules of conduct. Free speech does not exist at companies. We may not like this–but it is how it is.

#27 Comment By ludo On August 12, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

Ironically, it seems to have turned out that Damore was the neurotic: evidencing counterproductive/maladaptive behavior that seriously concerned his coworkers, made him seem unhinged, and ultimately got him fired.

#28 Comment By Stay At Home Wife On August 12, 2017 @ 12:26 pm

Jack B Nimble:

Maybe if the broader culture weren’t so busy equating “people who think that maybe affirmative action college admissions aren’t necessarily the best way to go about righting historical wrongs and that the federal government should do a better job of coming up with an effective immigration system that both serves American citizens and cares for others of the world’s poor as best we are able” with **people carrying actual pitchforks and torches**, we’d all have a lot more energy to deal with the literal KKK.

#29 Comment By Gretchen On August 12, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

[NFR: This completely evades the core issues of the Damore situation. Damore endorses workplace diversity, as you would know if you actually read his memo. — RD]
No it doesn’t. He pays lip-service to diversity and then spends 10 pages saying why he thinks it’s impossible and/or not important. Google considers diversity to be vital to its business, and has plenty of research to back that up, and is trying to convince a diverse group of people to come work there. Damore gives all the reasons why most women won’t be very good software engineers, what with being neurotic and people-oriented, so Google shouldn’t be concerned with this. Making this a public statement, which potential hires will read, makes Google seem a less-desirable workplace to the very people Google is trying to recruit, thus undermining Google’s business goals. You may disagree that diversity is a worthy business goal, but it is a fact that this is one of Google’s business goals, and Damore undermined it. People who undermine an employer’s key business goals usually don’t last long.

#30 Comment By Gretchen On August 12, 2017 @ 1:28 pm

[NFR: Yawn. “Usually liberals are very supportive of the free speech rights of dissenters, especially in the face of big corporations. Yet when a dissenter gets fired by a multinational corporation for transgressing against liberal dogma, liberals fall all over themselves to justify his firing and public shaming. What?” — RD]
I did read the memo, several times. This isn’t a free speech issue. This is a case of someone who supervised other employees showing that he is unable to judge people as individuals, that he sees women as a class that isn’t quite as good as men and, while there are a few outliers, most can’t be expected to cut it. If you were a woman he supervised, would you be confident of getting a fair evaluation from him? There is a well-known problem of women in tech facing harassment, Google is trying very hard to show the world that this isn’t a problem in their company, and this guy comes out and says, actually, you can’t really expect the little ladies to compete. He backs it up with evolutionary psychology, which isn’t and actual science, and Wikipedia links, and the bros cry “science!”

#31 Comment By Devinicus On August 12, 2017 @ 1:28 pm

Prof. Woland said,

Perhaps these biological differenes would explain a 52 to 48% male dominance in IT–but they do not explain an 81 to 19% difference.

Clearly you did not read Damore’s memo.

#32 Comment By Gretchen On August 12, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

[NFR: Look, Gretchen, if you had been keeping up with this blog’s threads on the Google situation, you would know that the ex-Google manager’s memo has been posted more than once. Believe me, it must have been posted to this blog at least 30 times. I didn’t approve most of them because it had already been posted. Follow the discussion, please. — RD]

#33 Comment By Jerry On August 12, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

Let’s suppose a company has a sincere interest in recruiting more women and creating a supportive working environment for women employees. How can the company achieve those goals without expressing strong disapproval for sexist statements in the workplace? Silicon Valley is notorious for its sexism, and especially for sexism that claims to be based on neutral scientific studies of natural sex differences. Damore is not an original, iconoclastic thinker–“bro-grammers” who mumble about how women aren’t logical enough to code are a dime a dozen in Silicon Valley. Damore is exactly the kind of guy that Silicon Valley women are talking about when they describe sexism in the tech industry. Damore is not a well-meaning guy with a new take on how to eliminate sexism; he’s actually the most common example of sexism. When a tech company says they don’t tolerate sexism in the workplace, what they mean and what their female employees expect is that they won’t tolerate behavior like Damore’s. Firing Damore is the exact opposite of hypocrisy. If Google wants to eliminate sexism in its company, Damore had to go and there was nothing else Google could do.

#34 Comment By Jen On August 12, 2017 @ 2:21 pm

Kevin Drum this week made an interesting argument that Damore wanted to get fired so he could file a lawsuit. Some of his statements since the firing back up this theory.

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 12, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

Professor Woland, when did you become a fan of Kerr-McGee libertarianism, the right of property holders to hire and fire who they want and to set up rules of conduct? Be careful what you argue for, you might get it in spades. Next you’ll be talking about reversing the French Revolution and restoring feudalism.

Perhaps these biological differenes would explain a 52 to 48% male dominance in IT–but they do not explain an 81 to 19% difference.

That is conjectural. I suspect Damore did not use numbers because neither he nor anyone else HAVE exact numbers. In fact, his critique was of setting exact numbers as a goal. As a very rough guess, I suspect that biological differences would explain anywhere between 40-60 and 25-75. Certainly one cannot pontificate with assurance that 81-19 is fully explained by biological differences. One can’t be sure they are not, but it seems unlikely.

This is the entire problem with the Google Party Line, or rather, that in Google and other corporations, plus the chatteratti, there IS a bright line rule about this stuff. Its up for discussion. There are many unknowns. We want to remove barriers but not shadow box in a dark room.

So can you not see that this manifesto, whether well-meant or not, is seen by very many women in STEM as just another attempt in a long line of attempts to minimize their contributions to the fields they have chosen, questioning their abilities, their toughness, their emotional stability?

Sorry BlairBurton, that’s not a reason Damore should shut up. In fact, silencing Damore is ethically on the same level as a male professor haranguing female physics students for “showing up” their male colleagues. What he meant to say is significant. The fact that he explicitly said he was NOT suggesting women are incompetent means something. You don’t get to silence a reasonable and well-intentioned set of talking points for further discussion because on some emotional level it reminds female fellow employees of the physics professor who damn well should have been fired for what he said to them.

If we at least provisionally grant the accounts of a highly sexist “bro” culture in silicon valley, Google has every reason to try to keep it from taking hold in their own ranks. Doing so by attempting to encourage outstanding women to work at Google would seem to make a lot of sense.

True. And a good response to Damore’s memo would have been to put on the table, ‘maybe so, but there IS a bro culture and female employees have serious problems with it.’

The only mystery here concerns James Damore’s firing. Google had a perfectly good argument for their policy handy. They had no reason not to simply state it.

True again. Best outcome would have been a concerned female employee sitting down with Damore and hammering out a draft manifesto that addresses both sets of concerns in a manner both could accept. Its not impossible. It requires EVERYONE concerned to admit, well, I could be wrong in part.

#36 Comment By Steve Gerrard On August 12, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

Google fired Damore because not doing so would create a liability if he was ever involved with a peer review of another employee. Regardless of his intent, he is on record as negative about women working at Google. Just saying “I support diversity” doesn’t make it so.

The problem is not how other white men interpret his memo, but how various other groups interpret it. Obviously others see it differently, else there would have been no controversy.

What he should have done is first run it by some co-workers he knew to see what they thought, including female ones if possible, and maybe a manager or two. Then take any criticism or recommendations seriously before going public with it.

A major issue in developing diversity is to get it through white mens’ heads that not everyone sees things the same way they do. First you have to establish trust and good faith with others, before laying your analytical arguments on them.

White men can often assume trust and good faith with other white men, and are not yet accustomed to the need to establish it first with members of other groups. It is a bit like joining the foreign service and learning that you should first get to know the people and their culture, and not enter into technical discussions until trust and clear communication is well established.

#37 Comment By Cole On August 12, 2017 @ 3:39 pm

I read the Vox counterargument, was not impressed. Her major claims, as she set them out in bold numbered headings:

1. Women feel very sensitive about having their right to work in tech questioned, and people other than Damore used the memo to be mean towards women. So the issue was too sensitive and hurtful to bear discussion.

2. Weird insinuation, sans evidence, that Damore was practicing a “divide and conquer” strategy, which didn’t work because sisterhood is powerful.

3. Google employees are superlative, not average, so average doesn’t matter. This makes no sense. If most women (on average, across all levels of competence) are less interested in programming than men are, the pool of talent to be drawn from will be smaller, since a lot of otherwise competent women simply won’t have applied.

4. Damore says he doesn’t approve of the company’s approach to racism either, but doesn’t choose to focus on it in the memo. Therefore . . . something? She seems to be saying that racism is even MORE sensitive, so imagine how bad the memo he didn’t write would have been.

5. A farrago of goofy claims. He does not make a concrete policy proposal, and existing policies were made by very smart people who worked hard on them (and therefore are good). De-emphasizing empathy is intrinsically hostile to women. We can’t talk about biological differences until the indeterminate future point when we have eliminated workplace sexism entirely.

I really like the Slate Star Codex’s thoughtful and thorough exploration of the subject. Rod, you should totally post about it. Cynthia Lee, on the other hand, leans heavily on emotive claims, blames Damore for things he can’t control, and at no point addresses his claims directly.

#38 Comment By mrscracker On August 12, 2017 @ 3:48 pm

: [18]

For jack b nimble or anyone else who might be interested, here’s an editorial from the Charlottesville newspaper attempting to explain the history leading up to the recent protests. And their take begins with a local politician who was highlighted in an earlier TAC blog.

#39 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 12, 2017 @ 10:21 pm

I think Cole is about right. Nazi Germany was also created by some very smart people who worked hard on it. (The SS, before it was expanded to a larger war-time military formation, was about 2/3 people with Ph.Ds).

What he should have done is first run it by some co-workers he knew to see what they thought, including female ones if possible, and maybe a manager or two. Then take any criticism or recommendations seriously before going public with it.

What he did do was submit it to an internal forum for discussion by employees, not go “public” with it. There, it would have been fair game for harsh and pointed counter-memos, which would have been a perfectly legitimate response. The ensuing discussion would have clarified what he was and was not advocating, and capable of.

White men can often assume trust and good faith with other white men, and are not yet accustomed to the need to establish it first with members of other groups.

White men are a myth, kind of like the unicorn, except some homo sapiens flatter themselves that they are that myth. Sad. When William Bradford Huie researched Three Lives for Mississippi, he interviewed a former SNCC volunteer who said Michael Schwerner was the first white man she ever met who didn’t remind her every moment he was talking to her that he was white and she wasn’t. A good example, but not the same thing as grovelling and abasing himself for his whiteness. My first question is always “Who you calling white? Ain’t nobody white except lepers and albinos. II Kings 5:27.”

#40 Comment By Gretchen On August 12, 2017 @ 10:39 pm

Let’s take Damore at his word. Women’s brains are wired differently. Therefore, there are fewer women than men who want to be software engineers. Ok. Let’s accept that as true.
Google thinks that those people whose brains are wired differently can make a valuable contribution to their product development, adding something different than their other engineers contribute. There are fewer of those people available for hire. We will have to work harder to find, recruit, and retain those people. That’s what Damore is objecting to. Google has decided, based on objective evidence, that they need to devote extra resources to recruiting and retaining people who are not like him. Scarce skills require more recruitment than common skills. Google devotes more resources to recruiting and retaining the CEO than the janitorial staff.
There is a German IT company that thinks that the different wiring of autistic brains is a useful trait in their industry,and is recruiting such people and offering special help for them to succeed: [19] Are you outraged about that?
Companies identify people who can further their business needs. This doesn’t need to be a left-right issure.

#41 Comment By John G. Spragge On August 13, 2017 @ 1:07 am

Responding to Siarlys Jenkins:

Best outcome would have been a concerned female employee sitting down with Damore and hammering out a draft manifesto that addresses both sets of concerns in a manner both could accept. Its not impossible. It requires EVERYONE concerned to admit, well, I could be wrong in part.

Doing that would require a clear understanding: every person, and particularly every woman and/or person of colour employed at Google deserves their job. Period. The scope of legitimate discussion does not extend to questioning that, even by implication. Otherwise, whether you assign a woman to the dialog or ask for volunteers, you place her in the invidious position of having to defend herself against someone whose fitness for their job the terms of the discussion simply assume.

I would also emphasize this: we do not now know, and we may never learn, the full scope of the events leading to James Damore’s termination. I have no background in law, but I have read about plenty of employers who decline to discuss personnel matters because employees can take legal action over statement affecting their opportunities for subsequent employment. If those constraints hold here, we cannot assume we will ever know exactly what transpired between James Damore and the management at Google.

#42 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 13, 2017 @ 10:05 am

That’s what Damore is objecting to.

No, Gretchen, its not. Damore raised some questions, for further examination, discussion, and debate, as to whether it is realistic to aim for perfect parity. He may be entirely wrong. But there is no excuse for firing him. Google needs to let a hundred flowers bloom and have an ongoing conversation.

But let’s take a step back from the contending passions, and try to look objectively as the process.

Recently William Tighe was motivated, for reasons best known to him and God, to send me a copy of John A.T. Robinson’s book, The Priority of John. Its about the ongoing theological debate as to whether John’s gospel follows and relies on the three Synoptic Gospels, or not. Yes, I’m going to draw a modest analogy between arguing over the priority of John, and arguing over recruitment and retention of women in digital technology…

After outlining four assumptions on which the literary dependence of John on the Synpotists rests, Robinson notes, “The presumption that John’s dependence on the Synoptists no longer holds means that these four things can no longer be assumed. It does not mean denying them outright… It means proceeding on the hypothesis that they need not be taken into account as formative factors. One begins elsewhere. A postiori they may still turn out to be true, but a priori they cannot be included in the reckoning.”

This kind of logic is sorely needed in the debate over Damore’s memo and all the implications for larger, ongoing, debates. We have people who favor the presumption that the small fraction of women in certain fields results from artificial barriers and obstacles which need to be removed. We have people who favor the presumption that the small fraction of women in certain fields results from hard-wired differences between the sexes.

Either one is a reasonable presumption, provided we all recognize that after proceeding from whichever presumption as a starting point, we may end up finding it is true, false, or true in part and false in part.

The problem lies in making a presumption, and then being so irrationally committed to it that one take grave offense at someone starting from the opposite presumption. And that is true of the more fanatical adherents of either presumption.

I think it is more than likely that both presumptions will, in the long run, turn out to be true in part and false in part. That is, there are real obstacles that can and should be removed which hold back women who aspire to the field, and are capable of making a valuable contribution. And, there are real differences between the sexes, that make perfect parity unrealistic in most fields. Some fields will see more women aspire to them, some will see more men aspire to them, but, as Damore says explicitly, there is a lot of overlap, so there will be individuals of both sexes in some ratio in every field, who deserve to be treated with respect, civility, and full access.

#43 Comment By Gretchen On August 13, 2017 @ 12:33 pm

Siarlys, Google isn’t aiming for perfect parity. It’s aiming to increase proportion, and, since there are fewer women than men in tech, they’re making extra efforts to recruit them. That’s what Damore was objecting to. 20% of the Google tech workforce are women. They recruit heavily from Stanford, where 30% of the tech students are women. Well-regarded Harvey Mudd has 50%. Google is asking the question, is there some reason more of them don’t want to work here? Damore is asking the question, maybe it’s because they’re not as good as the men? A “discussion” about whether women are really suited to the work is harmful, both to the women whose worth is doubted, and to the company, whose recruiting goals are being harmed.

#44 Comment By grumpy realist On August 13, 2017 @ 1:08 pm

If you want to know why women may be more “neurotic” than men, remember the old saw:

“Men are scared that women will laugh at them. Women are scared that men will kill them.”

#45 Comment By Deggjr On August 13, 2017 @ 3:01 pm

Damore’s chart labeled “Populations have significant overlap” and Google’s reported hiring of only 1% of its applicants should have led him to conclude male/female differences in the full population might not apply at Google.

Setting aside full population male/female differences, the rest of the memo is highly critical of Google’s management.

Google clearly puts much thought and effort into designing its hiring and employee development programs. Maybe Damore’s social awkwardness prevented him from seeing the only possible outcome of such a critical discussion of top management. See it or not, Damore and Google parted ways.

#46 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 13, 2017 @ 9:02 pm

Gretchen, all your arguments would be sound, if you would stop trying to weave “what Damore said” into your preferred narrative. Few if any here are saying Damore is stone cold right and really has the truth down cold. What he said is plausible, and worthy of discussion, including throwing the stats you offer back at him in a similar memo. There was no excuse to fire him.

I think the main question about “parity” is not so much that women couldn’t do that work, as that a larger fraction of women may not really want to be in that field. They may aspire to other pursuits. No individual woman has a duty to go into tech fields because some feminists want to see parity, or larger percentages. If a woman wants to be in that field, she should go for it, if a bunch of overgrown juveniles with an overweening pride in their testosterone make it hard for her, they should be slapped down, hard, and if not so many women apply, sure, open the door a little wider, try harder to lead the horses to water, but remember, you really can’t make them drink.

Even women in the tech field may not want to work at Google. They may have a bright idea of their own and want to develop their own start-up. Maybe with a couple of other women as co-owners and/or co-investors.