Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Damore Affair

James Damore was a Google engineer who wrote an internal memo criticizing his employer's "ideological echo chamber," mainly on the subject of diversity, and got fired for it. This has become a celebrated cause for both the far left and the far right. A number of people I often agree with have written stuff on the matter that I consider nuts (Eli, Arun, and Kevin Drum). Here is a link to the controversial memo. I really wonder if those who are so hysterical about it have actually read it.

Of course Damore showed spectacularly bad political judgement in choosing a moment when Google was already under fire for its gender imbalances to publish his memo, unless his real goal was to get fired and become a cause, but his views are not unusual and his claims are mostly well documented in the literature.

Google's cited reason for firing Damore was that he was guilty of “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”

Well he did claim, truthfully, I believe, that, on average, there are systematic differences in attitudes and inclinations between men and women, and furthered argued that these might account for some of the difference in representation in the Google workforce. Also, he made some suggestions for adjustments to the workplace culture that he thought would make it more attractive to women.

Perhaps most offending was his criticism of Google affirmative action programs:

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:

Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race [5]

A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates

Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate

Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias) Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination [6]

Pretty sure Google did manage to confirm one of his claims:

Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

Message to all Googlers: STFU.

The best discussion I've seen is from Sabine at Backreaction:

Damore’s strikes me as a pamphlet produced by a well-meaning, but also utterly clueless, young white man. He didn’t deserve to get fired for this. He deserved maybe a slap on the too-quickly typing fingers. But in his world, asking for discussion is apparently enough to get fired.

I don’t normally write about the underrepresentation of women in science. Reason is I don’t feel fit to represent the underrepresented. I just can’t seem to appropriately suffer in my male-dominated environment. To the extent that one can trust online personality tests, I’m an awkwardly untypical female. It’s probably unsurprising I ended up in theoretical physics.

There is also a more sinister reason I keep my mouth shut. It’s that I’m afraid of losing what little support I have among the women in science when I fall into their back.

I’ve lived in the USA for three years and for three more years in Canada. On several occasions during these years, I’ve been told that my views about women in science are “hardcore,” “controversial,” or “provocative.” Why? Because I stated the obvious: Women are different from men. On that account, I’m totally with Damore. A male-female ratio close to one is not what we should expect in all professions – and not what we should aim at either.

But the longer I keep my mouth shut, the more I think my silence is a mistake. Because it means leaving the discussion – and with it, power – to those who shout the loudest. Like CNBC. Which wants you to be “shocked” by Damore’s memo in a rather transparent attempt to produce outrage and draw clicks. Are you outraged yet?

Increasingly, media-storms like this make me worry about the impression scientists give to the coming generation. Give to kids like Damore. I’m afraid they think we’re all idiots because the saner of us don’t speak up. And when the kids think they’re oh-so-smart, they’ll produce pamphlets to reinvent the wheel.

Fact is, though, much of the data in Damore’s memo is well backed-up by research. Women indeed are, on the average, more neurotic than men. It’s not an insult, it’s a common term in psychology. Women are also, on the average, more interested in people than in things. They do, on the average, value work-life balance more, react differently to stress, compete by other rules. And so on.

Here is one spectacularly dishonest statement sentence on the affair from Google CEO Sundar Pichai:

First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it.

By "strongly support the right" he means "will fire your ass."

Of course Google is hardly the only corporation to impose a fascist code of silence on its employees, but it is somewhat unusual in being on the left rather than the right. Usually universities occupy that space.