Monday, August 28, 2017

Take a memo...

I felt it was time to make a more detailed response to the James Damore (JD) memo and the increasingly long thread on my Facebook page. Please excuse the insane length of this posting (3x the original memo!) and its potentially repetitive nature; I wrote it over several sessions and wanted to address JD's entire memo and all the rebuttals properly.

For those who don't have time for 10,000 words, here is a TL;DR, or summary, as we used to call it ITDBABSP (in the days before acronyms became so popular):

1. There is credible evidence to support Damore's most controversial assertion that there are some fundamental differences between men and women, but I think he did himself no favours by making these such a core of his argument, when even he accepts they are not extreme, don't apply universally, and can be reduced through nurture and opportunity.

2. This whole episode raises wider concerns about the direction of much of Western society in terms of in-built bias to a particular ("progressive") way of thinking, which he highlighted as being a problem in Google, and had his point well proven by being fired for it.

3. A core reason for my having debated this so vociferously and for writing this long response is because this is a free speech issue. Even Damore's most contentious and unproven assertion is well within the bounds of reasonable discourse that can be taken apart in a grown-up manner by people who disagree. Efforts to simply silence him, smear him, and compare him to the extreme right are very distasteful.

4. I'm interested in genuine equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome. I get that there is a cascade effect of lack/bias of opportunity in society, ie girls don't get toys that guide them to engineering as kids, aren't encouraged to study it at uni, don't fancy applying to Google as it seems so bro-ey, or whatever. But forcing a 50-50 outcome despite this is not the right solution. Ensuring equal opportunity at each level is.

I think that covers about 90% of it. Now, here is my original posting, which linked to his WSJ op-ed, "Why I Was Fired By Google":
I've been following this story very carefully. Please read the full original version of Damore's document (not the Gizmodo redacted one) and its links to supporting evidence of some of his more contentious statements before passing comment. I'm not in agreement with every word but certainly most of it, and I definitely believe it's a cop-out of Google to fire him and most of his detractors to criticise him without properly rebutting his arguments, which to date I've not seen anyone do - just lots of repetitive knee-jerking and shrill virtue signalling.

What I'm going to do here is try to clarify, per the above, what I'm in agreement with, and what I'm not. It's unfortunate that - exactly as people have done with JD himself - many responses to my posting the above have been knee-jerk and shrill, even though I don't agree with much of what he has said (or how and perhaps even where he has said it). The message from one particular party has been clear - if you agree with ANY of it, you are a wicked, misogynist bigot, and woe betide you for even trying to have a discussion about the finer points.

As luck would have it, JD has been obliged to add a top-line response to his detractors, which neatly sums up my own position:
I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can't have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.

If you don't believe him or his motives, that's up to you, although having seen several interviews with him, I happen to think he is sincere, if not particularly brilliant in some regards. If you don't believe me or mine, this is the time to stop reading, and also please take the liberty of unfriending me now. I won't miss you. I'm used to being contrarian and outspoken, but I'm also used to being surrounded by intelligent, articulate people who may sincerely believe I am wrong and once in a while convince me of this. At the very least, they certainly temper my views. 

I actively seek to befriend and debate people with whom I disagree strongly, provided they are capable of reasonable, good-humoured dispute. Fortunately most of my friends have commented and debated in a civilised way, even though they may not agree entirely. This is the juncture at which I want to thank those of you who have disagreed respectfully and posted thoughtfully on the subject, especially where you have included links from credible sources that demonstrate a counterpoint to the basis of JD's arguments.

Firstly I think it is worth adding a little information on who JD is and what qualifies him to make the assertions he has, because he has been accused of writing a "screed" containing "pseudo-science". He seems to have been quite a child prodigy, a multiple youth chess champion, high-flying undergrad in molecular and cellular biology, and has a Masters from Harvard (PhD started but I guess he didn't have time to finish it until now!) in systems biology, as well has having done research at Princeton and MIT. So the guy is not a simpleton, has some background in biology, and knows a thing or two about research. I daresay he is more academically qualified than many of his detractors to discuss this particular topic; he is not a "pseudo-scientist".

Also it was raised by several people that he wrote and published this in a manner intended to provoke, but in fact it transpires that he had attended a diversity-related meeting within Google, and they had particularly asked for written responses. When his was ignored by the very people who had requested it, he put it on the internal blogging network of Google along with myriad other people's opinions, and from there it went viral, internally and then externally.

·         Background·         Google’s biases·         Possible non bias causes of the gender gap in techo    Personality differenceso    Men’s higher drive for status·         Non discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap·         The harm of Google’s biases·         Why we’re blind·         Suggestions
  • The human sexes and races have exactly the same minds, with precisely identical distributions of traits, aptitudes, interests, and motivations; therefore, any inequalities of outcome in hiring and promotion must be due to systemic sexism and racism; 
  • The human sexes and races have such radically different minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and insights, that companies must increase their demographic diversity in order to be competitive; any lack of demographic diversity must be due to short-sighted management that favors groupthink.