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Death of body builder Rich Piana / Follow-up: Reality disconnect

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Had I known one day ago what happened two days ago, I might have been far more specific:

This Friday, a body builder named Rich Piana died, after* suffering a heart attack, hitting his head falling, and spending several weeks in an induced coma.

*I have read several somewhat conflicting accounts today, including those speculating on opiate use and, obviously, the mandatory “steroid overdose”, but the claims above seem to be reasonably main stream, and I will stick to this scenario for now. Beware, however, that this need not be the exact truth of what happened.

Not only was he one of the people I had in mind when I wrote about the extremes some go to, having watched possibly two dozen of his videos, but I am also reasonably certain that he was the one with the insulin-injecting friend*—and his death is a perfect, if very sad, illustration of some of the problems involved when assigning blame:

*Sometimes the weirdest coincidences occur. I recall e.g. watching “Black Swan” the first time, being blown away, reading up a bit afterwards, and seeing a claim about Oscar-winner Natalie Portman. ???When the hell did she win an Oscar??? Mere hours earlier—for her part in … “Black Swan”.

  1. If drugs were involved in his death, they were so in an indirect manner. They might have caused or contributed to the heart attack, but the cause of death was likely brain related. (And if so, likely because of the blow to the head, possibly in combination with a deliberate decision to “turn off the machines”; remember that the modern criterion for death is the brain, not the heart.)
  2. Among the drugs most likely to have been the cause, we do not have steroids—but various forms of growth hormone. I definitely recall one video discussing how his hands, feet, gut, likely even head, had grown due to growth hormones—and that even he more-or-less took it for granted that his heart was affected too. In as far as steroids were involved, well, he apparently started taking them as a teenager and kept it up for several decades…
  3. The heart attack could have been caused by his eating habits, which included a daily pint of Ben and Jerry’s, tons of fast food, and up to twelve meals a day during some phases—eat like that and a heart attack at 46 is no surprise. At the same time, IIRC, he also used a “ketonic diet”, which effectively amounts to starving the body of carbohydrates, and causing its energy processing to change. I am not aware of any known health problems associated with this, but there is a decided possibility that such extremes have side-effects.
  4. He was a positively enormous, almost grotesquely large, man. Where some body builders have upper arms like other people have thighs, he had upper arms like other body builders (!) have thighs. Just carrying that amount of weight must have been an enormous stress on his heart (and knees, and whatnots).
  5. He was quite extreme in a number of other regards too; some, including endless hours spent in the gym, that could possibly have had some relevance; others, including tattoos, that almost certainly did not.

Those interested can find his YouTube account under https://www.youtube.com/user/1DAYUMAY/. Please beware that the possible first impression of “complete moron” is very far from the truth—on closer inspection, he was a fair bit above the average in terms of intelligence.

To boot, it seems that another body builder, Dallas McCarver, died earlier in the week, with speculation that an insulin over-dose was the cause. (To re-iterate: Insulin is indisputably very dangerous. Even for diabetics, it is merely a lesser evil.)

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Written by michaeleriksson

August 27, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Reality disconnect

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I have often, including in some of my latest posts, written about a “reality disconnect”* among e.g. politicians, journalists, feminist propagandists, … where the things that they loudly claim** in public simply do not match reality. And, no, I am not saying that they simply see the world differently than I do (if I did, I might be the problem!): There are many points where main stream science says something very different; where actual statistics are incompatible with the claims; where the statistic might seem superficially compatible, but logically must be interpreted differently than they do***; etc. Not to mention the many cases where a certain set of data allows a handful of conclusions and they just jump to and stick with the one single conclusion that matches their world view, without even considering the possibility that one of the other conclusions could be true.

*I am not certain whether I have ever used this particular phrasing, however.

**What is genuine opinion and what attempts to manipulate the public is often hard or impossible to tell. In the case of high level politicians, I would tend towards manipulation attempts; in the case of journalists, feminists, and lower level party sympathizers (including many bloggers), genuine opinion could be more likely.

***Cf. e.g. the the “77 cents on the dollar” bullshit.

To date, I have been focused on issues relating to e.g. political correctness; however, there are many, many other instances where similar reality disconnects exist.

Take e.g. the issue of doping (in general) and anabolic steroids (in particular)*: The view painted in media and “public information” is invariably that this is a great evil, with numerous unavoidable and debilitating side-effects. The high use among e.g. gym goers is viewed as a major issue. If we look at actual experiences and data a much more nuanced picture arises, up to the point that the overall effect on someones life can be positive.

*Disclaimers: a) The intent is not to paint doping in a positive light, nor even to paint it in a more nuanced light (although I would see it as positive if some of the readers develop a more nuanced view). The purpose is rather to demonstrate the problems of reality disconnect, intellectual dishonesty, lack of critical thinking, etc. The apparent topic matter is just a very suitable example, especially since I would rather not write yet another piece on e.g. feminism. b) The only drugs I take myself are coffee (large quantities), alcohol (small quantities), and the odd aspirin/tylenol/whatnot. (However, I did originally look into the topic with an eye on a possible future use, to compensate for the effects of aging that will eventually manifest. I leave this option open for now.) c) No-one should ever take these types of drugs before knowing what he is doing. (Cf. e.g. item 1 below.)

Consider some common problems with reporting:

  1. Severe problems, let alone disastrous ones, usually go back to people taking drugs without doing the appropriate research (either not researching at all or going by what some guy in the gym said) or people simply being stupid.

    For instance, I once saw a YouTube video speak of a body-builder friend who, as a first time user, had taken a large shot of insulin* on an empty stomach and not eaten anything afterwards. He started to feel weak and, instead of now urgently eating something, went to bed to rest. He fell unconscious and hours of seizures and life in a wheel-chair followed. Notwithstanding that insulin is a drug that is generally considered dangerous, being a “lesser evil” even for actual diabetics, this shows a great degree of ignorance and stupidity: Even five minutes on the Internet would have taught him that it was vital to compensate with carbohydrates; indeed, an at least vague awareness of “insulin shocks” and similar in diabetics should be present in anyone who has even graduated junior high school, and that at least the potential for danger was there would follow immediately. To boot, chances are that a low blood-sugar level would have diminished the results he was hoping for, because one of the main ideas would be to increase the muscles uptake of glycogen, thereby making them larger**—but with low blood sugar…

    *Insulin is used by many (non-diabetic) body builders for the purpose of muscle growth.

    **Whether this actually works, I do not know—the line between science and “bro science” can be hard to detect on the Internet. It is notable, however, that body builders often go for size over strength. Glycogen can contribute to overall muscle size, but the actual “weight pulling” parts of the muscle remain unchanged.

    A common issue is failing to “cycle” (effectively, taking a break from drug use): This is basically the first thing to pick-up when even considering to use drugs—yet many fail to do so and see a health detriment with no off-setting benefit. Cycling has the dual benefit of a) giving the body time off to function normally and to at least partially restore it self from side-effects, and b) to diminish the “tolerance” towards the drug, so that a smaller dose is needed once the break is over: As with e.g. alcohol, the more the body is used to it, the more is needed to get the effect one is looking for—and the greater the damage to those parts of the body that cannot or are slower to adapt. Take a break and the effectiveness of a smaller dose increases again.

  2. Many reported cases go back to misrepresentations of the actual events.

    A particular notable case is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heart surgery, which has been blamed on steroids. In reality, there is no proof of a connection whatsoever. More over, his version is that it was a congenital problem… (Schwarzenegger could, obviously, be lying, but there is no obvious reason for him to do so: He has already publicly admitted to drug use and what he did was, at the time, perfectly legal.)

    Another is Gregg Valentino and his “exploding arms”: This issue, including the invasive surgery needed, did not stem directly from use of any type of enhancer—it stemmed from being sloppy with injections, especially re-using dirty needles. This sloppiness led to a severe infection, the situation was made worse through amateurish attempts at self-surgery, and the professionals were forced to take drastic measures. With proper handling of injections (possibly even with a sufficiently early visit to a physician) this would not have happened; with such improper handling even medically legitimate injections (e.g. to treat diabetes) would have led to similar problems with equal probability. (With some reservations for where injections for what purpose take place.) To boot, one documentary that I saw claimed that “steroids” ruined his arms—which is not at all the case. What he injected was synthol, a type of oil which is used for localized, artificial optical improvements (often highly unsuccessfully…), which has nothing at all to do with steroids (or any other actual performance enhancer). We could equally claim “dieting ruined her breasts” when a looks obsessed woman suffers a breast-implant burst—a ridiculous non sequitur.

  3. Comparisons are usually made based on extremes. If e.g. a world-class body builder spends twenty years taking steroids, HGH, IGF-1, and whatnot in enormous doses, and develops some form of health problems, this does not automatically mean that an amateur who uses much more moderates doses of a single drug will immediately develop such problems—or necessarily even after twenty years.

    Similarly, much of the public perception on steroids (and PEDs in general) go back to the East-German (and other Eastern European) athletes from the 1980s, in particular the female athletes. What was seen there, however, does not necessarily have much importance for the average gym goer of today, including that we compare with world class athletes on a forced regimen—but also because the knowledge of how drugs work has grown and the drugs available has become more sophisticated. For a man, the partial comparison with women is also misleading, both because the physiological reactions can be different outright and because some effects considered negative for a woman need not be negative for a man. Some, e.g. a deeper voice, might even be seen as positive. (Of course, those that affect health, not just superficialities, are negatives for everyone.)

  4. Effects of various drugs are often conflated, especially through “steroid blaming” (e.g. with Gregg Valentino above). For instance, the so called “roid gut” appears to have little or nothing to do with steroids. Instead, it arises through growth hormones*, which simply make everything grow—including the internal organs. This to the point that some people appear to think that any and all PEDs are steroids.

    *Generally, I have the impression that growth hormones are considerably more problematic than steroids in terms of side-effects. This impression could be wrong, however.

  5. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to associate any health problem in a body builder or strength athlete with drugs in general or steroids in particular. However, a proper comparison must look at aggregates and not individual examples: There are plenty of non-drug users who have developed severe health problems, including e.g. the heart, at forty or fifty, even many who have died. The question is therefore not whether such cases occur among drug users—but whether* they are more common and/or more severe. However, this differentiation is not made: Instead it is X died at age 50, he took drugs; ergo, the drugs killed him.

    *The result of such an investigation can very well be that they are more common and/or severe—I am not saying that e.g. steroids are harmless. The matter at hand is one of scientific thinking and intellectual honesty, not the pros and cons of drugs.

    Similarly, there is often a blanket attribution of cause and effect whenever a potential cause is known—and this is not limited to e.g. PEDs. If x percent of the users of a certain drug has a certain problem, we cannot conclude that this drug caused the whole x. Instead, we have to make a comparison with an otherwise comparable control group. If we find that y percent of these have the same problem, then the drug, approximately/statistically speaking, caused x – y percentage points of the cases. Similarly, a smoker who dies of lung cancer did not necessarily develop lung cancer because he smoked: Chances are that he did, and smoking certainly did not help—but he could still be among those caught by another reason, e.g. air pollution. There simply is no guarantee that he would have lived, had he not smoked.

    Strictly speaking, we would also have to make more detailed comparisons in order to judge various issues, but this too is never done (at least outside of scientific research): How is a particular aspect of health influenced by spending hours a day training with weights? By eating twice, thrice, or even four times as much as ordinary people? By using a diet with unusual fat/carbohydrate/protein proportions? By repeatedly “bulking up” and then forcing the body fat down to just a few percent? By weighing a hundred pounds more than normally expected, even be it muscle instead of fat? What if there is some genetic link between an inborn increased ability to build muscle, as would be expected even in a drug-taking top body-builder, and some medical problem? …

  6. Side-effects are often overstated or misreported. For instance, hypogonadism is often cited as a negative side-effect of steroid use: “If you take steroids your testicles will shrink!” Now, this is at least potentially true; however, there is an important addendum that is virtually always left out: They will usually* bounce back again after the steroid use ceases. Not all steroids have the same strength of various side-effects. Some side-effects can be countered by other drugs**, notably where excess estrogen is concerned.

    *Depending on the state of research, where I lack the depth of knowledge, “usually” might be an unnecessary addendum or replaceable by “almost always”. The time frame and the probability will naturally depend on length of use and quantities used; as well as whether the user has “cycled”.

    **Whether this is a good idea, I leave unstated. It will likely depend on the specifics of the situation, notably what side-effects the second drug has. However, when viewed in light of some arguments against steroids, the possibility must be considered. To e.g. try to scare someone away from steroids with the threat of gynecomastia without mentioning potential counter-measures is just unethical.

  7. A particular nefarious issue is the constant phrasing with “abuse”: Basically, any and all use of e.g. steroids is called “abuse” in a blanket manner. Good journalism should be impartial and stick to the facts. This includes using value-neutral words like “use” and not value-loaded words like “abuse”—no matter the journalist’s own opinions.

Of course, a side-effect of such propaganda is that we no longer know what we can or cannot trust: Is this-or-that recreational drug as dangerous as claimed? It might or might not be—but we are robbed the opportunity to learn this without doing time consuming research, because what is said in the media simply cannot be trusted.

In the bigger picture, I suspect that at least part of the problem is that some people come to the conclusion that something is evil, and take it upon themselves to prevent others from coming to a different conclusion through deliberate distortion of facts, demonizing something or someone, irrational emotional arguments, whatnot—they believe* that they have the truth and fear that others are not smart enough to find this truth, if left to their own devices. Indeed, this explains very well the apparent paradox that the surest way to be censored on a feminist blog is to comment with a strong counter-argument, a link to statistics contrary to the point of the original post, or otherwise doing something that could bring other readers away from the (often outrageously untrue) “truth”.

*The twist is, of course, that these people, more often than not, are less intelligent, less informed and more prejudiced, and worse at critical thinking than many or most of the people they try to “protect”. Unsurprisingly, they are also often wrong…

A good example of this is a group of anti-tobacco campaigners who visited my school class when I was some 10 to 12 years old: They started off trying to disgust the pupils away from snus, by discussing the potash content* and how potash was gathered for snus production through doing something** to the contents of chamber pots***… Now, snus is a nicotine product, it is addictive, it can cause health problems: These are all things that could, conceivably should, be told to school children and/or the public in general. Putting forth an absurdly wrong story in order to convince children through a shock effect is simply unethical, intellectually dishonest, and likely does more harm than good: When adults lie about one thing, how can children trust them on another? Why should they believe that snus is addictive, that this is not just another lie to scare them away? Etc.

*I seem to vaguely recall that even this claim was outdated, potash once having been an ingredient, but no longer being so. I could be wrong, however.

**I am a little vague on the details, especially since they simply did not make sense to me even then. (And, of course, the claim had nothing to do with reality, starting with the simple fact that chamber pots barely existed in Sweden at that time.) The story was so preposterous that it can be safely assumed that they were neither ignorant nor stupid enough to believe this themselves—it had to be a deliberate lie told to children in order to manipulate them.

***Surprisingly, the implied pseudo-etymology works almost as well in English as in Swedish: potash -> pottaska, chamber pot -> potta

Another example, which depending on developments might result in a separate post, is the recent claims of the German SPD that women would earn 79 cents on the euro—and, oh my, how unfair! I contacted them per email to complain and the answer (among a number of naive statements) showed that they actually, indisputably knew that any true difference was far smaller at, on the outside*, 5–8 % (i.e. 92–95 cents on the euro)—even using their own numbers. They are deliberately lying to their voters! See also e.g. my discussion of the 77 cents on the dollar and note the similarity of numbers over geography and time—this is exactly the kind of similarity that tends to indicate a biological (rather than e.g. a cultural or societal) variation.**

*Contrary to the beliefs of the SPD, an unexplained difference of 5–8 % does not mean that we have a systematic wage discrimination of 5–8 %—this interval is just an upper limit on the maximal size of any wage discrimination. Using studies with more factors, there is no reason to expect more than at most a marginal variation to remain. Interestingly, they also claim that while the West-German difference was 23 % (i.e. exactly the U.S. 77 cents), the East-German was a mere 8, which ties in well with some thoughts in my previous post. Note especially, this the eastern parts of Germany are still worse off than the western part and that there are still plenty of educational choices made and careers started during the GDR era.

**However, two data points does not make for any degree of certainty.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm

A few thoughts after watching Hjernevask

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A while back, I wrote a post with an excursion on the TV series “Hjernevask”. Having a number of thoughts in my head after watching said series, I wrote most of the below a day or two later, but I never got around to complete it, in particular having several other sub-topics unstarted. As is, I just publish what I have—especially since I want to reference it in the post I started today…

Thoughts on homosexuality:

An often cited problem with the existence of homosexuality is the apparent contradiction of evolutionary principles: Reproduction is not possible between members of the same sex in humans (and a great many other animals, likely including all mammals); ergo, men who like men and women who like women will not have children; ergo, if homosexuality has a genetic background*, it should be a fringe phenomenon.

*This is not a given, even if we see homosexuality as something mainly or entirely congenital. An entirely different line of explanation is then simply that homosexuality has a non-genetic background. Below I will make the “for the sake of argument” assumption that the reasons are genetic (or otherwise inherited by a sufficiently similar mechanism).

This has led to all sorts of speculation and explanation attempts, e.g. that homosexuals could benefit their non-homosexual relatives (who share a considerable amount of genes) in a way that partially outweighs the immediate reproductive disadvantages. This might or might not be true; but is not that convincing because the proper focus of selection is usually the genes themselves and the non-homosexual relatives would still have to share in the “homosexual” genes for this to work out. (While this is by no means impossible, e.g. through some constellation of recessive genes, it requires additional assumptions to be true.)

There is an easier way out, however: What if homosexuals do reproduce in the ordinary manner? My own father, e.g., is a gay man with two children; I am a straight man with no children. (In both cases, that I know of.) In fact, in cultures with a low tolerance for homosexuality, chances are that most homosexuals will lead more or less normal reproductive lives. They will try to fit in, they will marry, they will have children*, and they will pass their genes on. A low-tolerance society is good for homosexuality (but not for homosexuals). In contrast, in a high-tolerance society, like the current, homosexuals will have a far lower probability of having children—it is bad for homosexuality (but not for homosexuals). There is much more evolutionary pressure against homosexuality in the tolerant society.

*It is true that they will be less interested in intercourse with their partners. However, we have to consider factors like the own wish for children (no need for “gay adoption”), the partner’s wish for children, the partner’s wish for sex, and that lack of other release possibilities can make sex with even the “wrong” partner a positive. The latter in particular in cultures that frown upon masturbation.

This applies already for homosexuals. If we widen the field to include bisexuals*, the effect in the low-tolerance society is strengthened; however, it is weakened in the high-tolerance society.

*If homo- and bisexuality do have a genetic background, it would be surprising if they were unrelated.

Thoughts on comparisons and the effects of variation:

A problem with making comparisons is the lack of a common base line, as well as the choice of an unsuitable base line. This is exemplified e.g. by claims that men and women are so similar that it does not make sense to focus on the differences: For some base lines and some purposes this will be true; for others, it will be false. (Cf. also the “math professor” example from the original post.)

If we make a four-way comparison between a male and a female human and a male and a female horse, e.g., we will likely see (although this could depend on what is compared) that the interspecies differences dwarf the intraspecies differences. (Still there will be some aspects of being a male shared by horse and human, but not male and female, and so on.) Add a mollusk and even the human/horse differences seem small. Throw in a rock and they might seem negligible. Why? Because the reasonable base line for the comparison changes.

Still, while a horse and a human may seem similar when compared to a rock, horses and humans are normally seen as living very different lives, having very different capabilities, whatnot. Why? Because when comparing humans and horses in everyday life, the relevant baseline is not the baseline from the comparison with the rock. The observable differences do not arise out of similarities—but out of underlying, genetic* differences. Now, the smaller the differences are, the lesser the effect might be and the fewer areas might be affected. Indeed, the differences between men and women are much smaller than between humans and horses, and their lives, abilities, whatnots, are correspondingly closer.

*The human–horse differences can probably be safely considered genetic; however, quite often the wider set of congenital differences should be considered, including when comparing humans with other humans. (In all fairness, even the human–horse difference could have a non-genetic component, because minor parts of the differences could go back to the uterine environment and gestation process—and in the highly unlikely event that a horse/human could be gestated by a human/horse, then some of these difference might manifest in the wrong species. For species that are considerably closer related, e.g. donkeys and horses, this might be an interesting experiment.)

However, men and women are biologically different, even mentally. Open for discussion is only by how much and how relevant the differences are. It borders on a statistical impossibility that there would not be some difference. Sign two letters, even the one immediately after the other, even using the same pen, same ink, and same type of paper, even while deliberately trying to keep the signature constant, and there will be differences in the result. Likely, they can be seen by the naked eye; if they cannot, a microscope will show plenty of differences. Even the minor differences in input that will still occur, say a minuscule difference in the placing of the hand, a slight hesitation in a stroke, whatnot, will lead to differences in the result. Male and female brains have physiological differences akin to writing on a different day, with different pen, ink, and paper, …—possibly even a different hand. That they would happen to neutralize so perfectly that differences in behavior, abilities, preferences, whatnot, are not obvious is unlikely—that there would be no difference at all, well, that is virtually impossible.

Now take even a small difference and look at what can happen in sub-populations. Imagine a hypothetical type of competition where men have an average result of 100s, women 98s, both (unrealistically) a standard deviation of 10s in an approximate normal distribution and assuming equal amounts of training* (etc.). Gather your colleagues, put them through training, and have a competition: Pick a man and a woman completely at random and the chance of the man or woman placing better is toss up; and whether a man or a woman wins will depend mostly on whether there are more men or women among your colleagues… In stark contrast: What would be the sex of the (non-segregated) Olympic Champion? Very likely a male if a higher time is better; very likely female if a lower time is better. Indeed, chances are that the field would be dominated accordingly. This through a difference of two parts in a hundred in one single aspect (resp. one fifth of a standard deviation, which is mathematically more significant). Let us say that you have to be one in thirty thousand**/*** to make the final. This corresponds to being roughly four standard deviations above the mean. Looking just at women and assuming that a lower time is better, the limit for a final would be 58 (= 98 – 4 x 10). Any man who wants to make that final has to have a score no worse than 58 (but possible better). Now, this corresponds to 4.2 standard deviations (58 = 100 – 4.2 x 10) or roughly one in eighty thousand. In other words, if 240 thousand women compete at this sport, roughly eight would be candidates for the final; among 240 thousand men, only 3. Assuming eight-people finals (as in e.g. the 100m dash), we might have six women and two men. We might have two or three female medalists to one or no male medalists—and the winner is very likely a woman.

*This is of course unrealistic in the real world, or even when looking at the Olympics (cf. the rest of the discussion). It might e.g. be necessary to use a greater standard deviation in the example calculations, which would make the effect smaller—but would not change the principles. When looking e.g. who excels at what profession, we might find a variety of unrelated caused (notably variations on interest and ability), some of which might favour the one sex, some of which might favour the other. It is, however, enough for there to be a net difference to be present in these for a net difference in outcome to result. Of course, depending on how these turn out, they can make the net difference larger than if only one factor had been present, just as they could make it smaller or turn it around.

**In the following some numbers are a mixture of experiments with a statistical package I am unfamiliar with and rough guesstimates. The math could be wrong in detail, but not in a manner that invalidates the principle. For the purposes of demonstrating the effects at extremes, the above should be sufficient. If in doubt, just throw on another standard deviation and any misestimate will be dwarfed.

***Looking at the global population in sports, we have to factor in the many people who do not compete in a given sport, are too old or too young, or might have some other reason for being out of the race. Olympic champions are typically nowhere near one-in-seven-billion. A small sport might have someone as low as one in a few hundred; a large one might conceivably go into one in a few millions. (However, feel free to do calculations based on one in billions—my point will be even clearer.)

A pseudo-paradoxical result of attempts to “even the playing field” is that those factors that are not evened out will be the more important. Now, barring massive interventions, congenital factors cannot be evened out after the fact; while e.g. factors like number of school years can. Consider a situation where men and women are perfectly equal in all rights, responsibilities, opportunities, whatnot. Any variation of outcome will now be explained by one of two things: Congenital factors and coincidence. Looking at sufficiently large samples, the effects of coincidence will even out and disappear—and differences in sample outcome will depend only on congenital factors!

When we look at sufficiently exclusive groups, then, (even small) differences in e.g. ability distribution have a larger effect* on an even playing field than they do on an uneven one. To boot, using the same principles as above, given a sufficiently exclusive group, even very small differences will have an effect. The result is that if it were true that a difference in outcomes was un- or only weakly related to ability in 1917, 1967, or even 1987, it could very well be strongly related in 2017.

*Which is not automatically to say that the differences in outcome are larger. If women are not allowed to run for office, they will not land in office (barring some exceptional scenarios like a woman running for office under a false, male identity). At the same time, in that scenario, no difference in ability distribution, no matter how large or in what direction, between men and women will have any effect on the sex distribution of those successfully elected. Allowing women to run will decrease the difference in outcome—while increasing the importance of the differences.

A somewhat similar mechanism is suggested in Hjernevask: Women (and men) might be more prone to follow their natural inclinations in today’s West than in poorer parts of the world or in the West of earlier days. Because society is more affluent, survival is easier, etc., they have less external restrictions in the form of e.g. lack of money, and they can afford to forego a better paying career in, say, software development, for a worse payed career in nursing or teaching (should they find the latter more interesting). If women do not move into lucrative careers that are open to them, chances are that they have other, natural preferences; ditto, if e.g. Norwegian women stay away from tech and Indian* do not. If and when India grows more affluent, it will be interesting to see whether its women will be more or less interested in tech careers.

*As occurs to me, the proportion of female software developers (in particular) and IT people (in general) with a foreign background has been considerably higher than for male ones in the projects that I have worked in. (With both men and women, Eastern Europe has been the main source.) For instance, out of three women in the IT department of my current client, one was a native (German), one is Romanian (?), and one was Iranian—and at the moment only the Romanian remains. The project before that had one out one being native but likely from the former GDR area (the project was in an “East-German” city, Chemnitz, and most of the team members were “Easterners”); the one before that one out one Eastern European; with similar numbers going back. However, I caution both that the statistical sample could be too small to draw conclusions and that foreigners are by no means rare among the men either.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 26, 2017 at 7:10 pm

The feeling of being unfairly treated and its consequences

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In my previous post, I stated in a footnote:

I suspect that the extremely negative attitudes that e.g. the Swedish PC crowd displays towards everything non-PC actually serve to worsen problems with e.g. racism and xenophobia: Because even legitimate discussion of topics like immigration or immigration problems are so hard to do in public forums, many who try to start such discussions are driven out and end up in discussions with actual xenophobes instead, where they have every opportunity to be “radicalized” or whatnot. The same danger is present with e.g. the above renaming, being a signal (or, if not, very likely will come across as a signal) of “you are either with us or what you think and feel does not matter”.

Since then, I have pondered a related phenomenon: Feeling* unfairly treated.

*The most common reason for such feelings is actual mistreatment. However, it is important to understand that it is the subjective assessment of the violated or “violated” party that matter in this particular discussion. (See also several below disclaimers.) The assessment of a neutral third party (let alone the subjective assessment of the violators/”violators”) is not of interest—no matter how important it can be in many other discussions.

People who feel that they are unfairly treated often play by different rules. They are more prone to ignore or bend the rules—because they feel that the rules have already been ignored or bent by the other party. They are less likely to respect the wishes, interests, even rights of the other party—because they feel that their own wishes, interests, even rights have already been ignored. They are more likely to take action against the other party—because they feel that action has already been taken against them. Etc. That they will tend to see the other party as the “bad guys” hardly needs mentioning.

A very pertinent example is the rise of Hitler: He benefited very substantially from the sense of unfairness against the Treaty of Versailles and the post-WWI developments in Germany. A significant part of his official program, and a significant contributor to his popularity, was the restoration of what had been taken from Germany by the Treaty* and the removal of the ensuing** problems in the population.

*I have not put in the leg-work to judge the fairness or unfairness myself. However, I note that it is widely considered unusually harsh, making it an understandable target for unusually large feelings of unfairness—even were these feelings subjective. (Some feelings of unfairness are more-or-less unavoidable.) This included not only loss of significant portions of land and rights, but also enormous reparations that negatively affected the post-war economy.

**Note that it is enough for a connect to be perceived for this to happen. Even negative events not or only partially caused by the Treaty and the general treatment of Germany could very easily be blamed on the Treaty.

To take a more trivial example: Some of the readers might be inclined to unofficially take twice as long breaks from work as they do officially, even “without provocation”; some (I hope: most) will handle breaks in a fair manner, respecting the interests of the employer. Now image that there had been “provocation”, say, a promised raise that never materialized, a forced re-location, or just an accumulation of little things. In this situation, the likelihood of artificially prolonged breaks (and other actions to the disadvantage of the employer) increases radically—because many will now feel* that they are just retaliating an unfairness or that the employer no longer deserves their loyalty.

*Depending on the circumstance, they might or might not be correct. My personal advice, however, would be to stick to the rules and to find another employer, if the circumstances allow it—sticking around will quite likely be a source of more grievance than pleasure.

Similar examples, both large and small, are easily found.

To boot, it seems that feelings of unfairness are often stronger and more long lived than many others; especially when combined with frustration and lack of power. For instance, my own strongest memory from pre-school, at possibly six years of age, is an incident starting with one of the other children setting me up to take the fall for something he had done. This was bad enough, but would likely have been forgotten within a week and/or after a brief fight. What filled me with indignation even several years later was the behavior of the teacher*, who was supposed to be a wise adult, a helper, a righter of wrongs, …: Not only did she punish me and refuse to punish the other boy, but she also refused to even hear my side of the story and, here is the clincher, refused to even tell me what I allegedly had done. (To this day, I have absolutely no idea what was up.)

*For want of a better word: I am very uncertain, after so much time, what her exact role and the then terminology was, even barring the possibility that something would be lost in translation.

Of course, this is by no means restricted to children (or I would not be writing this post). I see examples among others again and again, especially (cf. above) in a work place setting, where an employer treats the employees badly and they start to bend the rules more and more, because the feel unfairly treated or that there is no loyalty from the employer (so why should the employees show loyalty back). In situations when people really go on the barricades (mostly on political or consumer issues), Kafkaesque refusals of remedies by incompetent bureaucrats or dishonest businesses are often strongly contributing. In my own case, the curious reader should be able to find plenty of examples in my writings, both with regard to myself (e.g. when a comment has been censored without a legitimate reason, allowing a factual error or outright lie to stand unopposed) and to unfair treatment of others (e.g. some discussions of the Swedish party SD or, partially, the previous post).

To come back full circle:

What happens when group A is e.g. physically attacked by group B, sees its agenda or methods equaled to that of a more extremist group in a blanket manner, or is not even allowed a fair say, not even to correct straw-man portrayals by group B? What if additionally the police, the press, the politicians, fail to act against these behaviors, even participates in them, and then adds insult to injury by blaming group A? (Who are “obviously” in the wrong, because group A is “evil”—according to the propaganda of group B…)

Naturally, its members will feel unfairly treated, will be less likely to try “democratic channels” (if in doubt because they are blocked), more likely to try violence, more prone to associate with more extremist elements, and so on. In a twist, the fifties/sixties “Black rights” movement in the U.S. saw similar (if likely not identical) problems, and it can be safely assumed that this contributed to the flowering of the extremist wing, with e.g. the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, compared to a more cooperative treatment by “the establishment”.

It should be clear that it is highly pragmatically* unwise for someone genuinely looking for a peaceful solution, greater understanding between people, whatnot, to use such tactics. These tactics will do less to destroy the enemy than it will in driving opponents into more and more hostile positions, quite possibly strengthening the enemy in the process.

*Which is not to say that pragmatic concerns should override all others—it is one of the aspects to consider. However, in the situations prompting my previous post, the non-pragmatically “right” thing to do has usually gone in the same direction. For instance, “freedom of speech” that only applies to those who agree with us is not freedom of speech at all—and selectively suppressing our opponents right to speak is truly deplorable and thoroughly anti-democratic.

Disclaimer: As stated in my last post, I have not investigated the Charlottesville situation in detail and do not necessarily say that the “Right” groups have been unfairly treated in this particular case. However, a) if they have not, there are countless of other cases to draw on, b) for the risks discussed here, it is enough that these groups feel unfairly treated.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 20, 2017 at 11:11 pm

A few thoughts around the Charlottesville controversy

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Disclaimer: I have not had the time to look into the details of the specific situation, and cannot rule out that the blame for the events rests e.g. on Neo-Nazi groups or the KKK. However, the events tie in, especially in light of Trump’s controversial statements, with a number of general thoughts I have entertained for quite some time, and I am taking the opportunity to discuss at least some of them.

  1. On a great number of occasions, I have read both German and Swedish news stories starting with a headline in the direction of “Extreme-Right march results in violence”, followed by a main text discussing victims, property damage, whatnot, leading to the natural assumption that the violence stemmed from the extreme Right*. However, at the very end of these stories there is a small, hidden away sentence: The original demonstrators had been marching more-or-less peacefully—and then been attacked by members of the extreme Left… (Those who only read the head lines or never get to the end of an article will get a very distorted world-view indeed.)

    *I restate my opinion that speaking of “Right” (extreme or not) is entirely pointless; “extreme Right” the more so, since the “extreme Right” does not correspond to a more extreme set of methods or “Right” opinions than the “moderate Right” (and so on)—very much unlike the Left. In fact, the “extreme Right” is often arbitrarily defined as nationalists, racists, and the like, without any regard for other opinions—even when those opinions, as is very often the case in e.g. Sweden, are otherwise mostly on the “Left”…

    Indeed skimming* through the Wikipedia page, I see e.g. that the “Right” used statements like “White lives matter”, while their opponents used extremes like “Kill All Nazis”. Let us turn this around: One group says “Black lives matters”, the other “Kill all Black Panthers”**—what is your take on that situation?

    *I do not claim that these examples, or even the Wikipedia entry as a whole, give a full picture of who is evil, holds what opinions, …, in this specific situation. However, this matches what I have seen in other contexts very well—and should it not hold in this specific case, it does hold in many others. Notably, the people complaining about “hate”/“haters”/“hate speech” are usually the bigger sinners by a considerable distance.

    **By which I do not intend to put the NSDAP and the Black Panthers on an equal footing. Then again, the Neo-Nazis of today are not the NSDAP either and many of those called Nazis are nothing of the kind.

    As always, it is important to look more at actions than opinions.

  2. The original cause, the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, is part of a great problem of hypocrisy and historical revisionism in the U.S.:

    The civil war is by now almost exclusively portrayed as a war over slavery, with the South a nation of evil-doers and the North the shining knights in white armor. In reality, slavery (and arguably more general disagreements about who should decide what for whom) was the cause of the secession and the war was fought over whether the South had a right to secede—not over slavery. In this, the ensuing civil war goes in direct opposition to the earlier revolutionary war, where the then colonies did what? They seceded over issues like taxation and representation… Would the U.S. have declared war on Canada, had slavery been legal there? Almost certainly not (barring the eventuality of a pretext to expand). Would the North have declared war on the South, had they seceded over, say, a new cotton tax? Very likely*.

    *Doubt remains mostly because of questions of what political issues are sufficiently loaded that a war will gain acceptance in the populace and what can and cannot be patched up. (Compare e.g. the World Wars to the Vietnam war.) It would e.g. be imaginable that a cotton-tax secession would have led to a brief crisis, which was resolved with a voluntary reunification, or to a war of two months after which both sides were fed up and let each other be.

    Was Robert E. Lee such a monster that his statues should be removed? Skimming through his Wikipedia page, I see nothing that would indicate this or anything that would make him worse than, say, Washington (but Washington won; Lee lost). He was to some degree involved with slavery, but apparently somewhat accidentally (as executor of a will) or even reluctantly, and there is nothing remarkable mentioned by the standards of his society. He even appears to have originally opposed the secession… If anything, I suspect, the root is a wish by the populist Left to follow the lead of Orwell’s* Big Brother and stamp out any potential sign of disagreement or dissenting thought, to paint every opponent, even non-ally, as evil beyond measure, and so on—something I have very often observed in Sweden and, to a lesser degree, Germany. Notably, the park of the statue used to be called “Lee Park”—it is now called “Emancipation Park”. There is no doubt to me that this change of name is ideologically and/or politically driven; I would even suspect that the name was chosen demonstrably; I would not rule out a deliberate provocation**.

    *Reading Orwell is an education in it self, especially when it comes to the problems with the Left. The fact that someone himself so far to the Left was so critical of the behavior, hypocrisy, …, of the Left is remarkable. Much of “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is based directly on his personal experiences, observations, and thoughts on various Leftist parties and movements in Britain, Spain, and the USSR. Orwell looked at the actions of the Left, not the opinions of the Left. Similarly my own extremely negative opinion of the Left, the politically correct, and, above all, feminists is rooted not in their opinions; it is rooted in how they behave, how they confront dissenting opinions, how they handle conflicts between their theories and actual observations, …

    **I suspect that the extremely negative attitudes that e.g. the Swedish PC crowd displays towards everything non-PC actually serve to worsen problems with e.g. racism and xenophobia: Because even legitimate discussion of topics like immigration or immigration problems are so hard to do in public forums, many who try to start such discussions are driven out and end up in discussions with actual xenophobes instead, where they have every opportunity to be “radicalized” or whatnot. The same danger is present with e.g. the above renaming, being a signal (or, if not, very likely will come across as a signal) of “you are either with us or what you think and feel does not matter”.

  3. Somewhat overlapping with the previous item, people in general and the Left/the PC crowd specifically, tend to have a very weak grasp of history, judging behavior and events in different times by the standards of the current time*, seeing too much in black-and-white, seeing the historical “us” as heroic and the historical “them” as evil**, and often being ignorant of even the most basic relevant facts***. Now, I am by no means a historian, but I can at least say that my knowledge and understanding has developed past high school, and that I actually bother to think—the same cannot be said about most people. (Regrettably, the “think” part does not automatically apply to all historians either…)

    *Examples include speaking of “poverty” among modern people who live very well by the standards of a hundred years ago, looking down on or even morally condemning people of old who simple had access to less knowledge, criticizing behavior that was necessary for survival at one time but is so no more, comparing the life of one group of people (e.g. U.S. slaves) back then with modern groups instead of contemporary groups (including e.g. the British lower class of the 19th century or the bottom rungs of the feudal hierarchy a few hundred years earlier); applying modern standards for warfare on wars of old; …

    **Consider e.g. how Vlad Tepes is a Hitlerian figure in most of the Western world, but a folk hero among his compatriots; how Napoleon is still viewed differently in different parts of Europe; how the estimate of e.g. U.S. presidents varies depending on their involvement in “good” wars (Washington, Lincoln, even such a disaster as FDR); or, obviously, how differently Robert E. Lee is viewed in various U.S. groups.

    ***A particular laughable example is feminist complaints that Swedish women did not receive the right to vote until the 1920s—oh, oppression and discrimination! In reality, some men received the right to vote only a dozen years earlier; men in general at the exact same time as women did; and factoring in that men, even then, were only allowed to vote after they had completed the mandatory military service, they were briefly worse off than women…

  4. In many cases, the questions of who is in the right and who in the wrong, who did what to whom, what the facts say, appears to be irrelevant. If the facts do not match reality—ignore them. It does not matter, in this regard, whether Trump was right* or not, when he spoke of violence from different directions—the Left would have condemned such statements either which way. It does not matter, whether “The Bell-Curve”** was good or bad science, factually correct or faulty, neutral or racists—the PC crowd would have condemned it either which way. It does not matter, whether I post a dissenting comment with a scientific finding*** or a curse on a feminist blog—the blog owner will censor it either which way.

    *I have no clear opinion on this specific situation. (But in many others, he would have been correct or even unfair towards the “Right”. Cf. above.)

    **While there have been some scientific objections raised, this applies to virtually any scrutinized work; the picture painted by many Leftists is a very grave distortion of the actual contents and the claims made.

    ***The former has more often than not led to censorship (but admittedly not quite always)—so often that I hardly ever bother these days. I am not certain whether the latter has ever happened (but I have been tempted many, many times).

See e.g. [1], [2] for examples of potentially similar blame pushing; and e.g. [3], [4], [5] for examples of how the Left’s behaviour is more fascist than the “Right’s”. My previous post also touches on some points common with this post.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 17, 2017 at 10:45 pm

WordPress at it again

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For those who wonder: The last post was arbitrarily cut off by WordPress. Email notifications will not reflect later corrections.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2017 at 11:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Google employee fired for questioning … intolerance of opinion

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Google employee fired for questioning … intolerance of opinion

[tags Google, political correctness, oppression, discrimination, gender science, feminism, nature, nurture] I have repeatedly warned against the dangers of the anti-democratic, unscientific, and destructive trend towards extreme measures against those with the “wrong” opinions. (Cf. e.g. [1], [2].) This week, a particular atrocious case appeared on my radar screen: A Google employee was fired for writing a well-reasoned memo titled Google’s ideological echo chamber. A particular sad twist is that one of his main points in this memo was the dangers of
intolerance against “wrong” opinions…

This behavior is utterly inexcusable and reprehensible, worthy of all condemnation we are capable off.

Below I will discuss some parts of this memo, with a particular eye on how its contents fit in a bigger picture. Before I do so, a brief side-bar:


Looking into the situation around the memo, I stumbled upon a Norwegian TV production Hjernevask* (“Brainwash”), that I recommend very highly. It makes many of the points I (and the memo) have made in the past, largely by comparing and contrasting statements by various gender “scientists”, social scientists, and the like with those by e.g. biologists and evolutionary psychologists—the latter providing data and arguments, the former unsubstantiated opinion.

*The link, hosted by Google’s (!) own YouTube,
purports to have English subtitles. For me, they only appeared on the last episode; however, much of the contents are actually in English to begin with, especially the parts dealing with actual scientific opinions (as opposed to what journalists like to claim is scientific opinion). Even those who do not understand Norwegian will be able to profit. (Being Swedish, I could understand most of the Norwegian parts.)

It was particularly fascinating to see academic adherents of e.g. “cultural constructs” having to defend and explain their ideas on screen (as opposed to on paper), especially when confronted with claims by scientists: Virtually no arguments, vague and evasive claims, blanket denial of “heretical” claims (even when backed by numbers), …—basically the same behavior that I have seen e.g. ESP claimants display in similar contexts.

A particular problem seen in the series, matching my own experiences very well, is
that many believers in social constructs simultaneously a. deny any biological influence, b. raise the straw-man accusation that their opponents would deny any non-biological influence. In reality most opponents simply say that we have to also consider biological influences. Many (including yours truly) believe that these influences are quite strong (in at least some areas); but hardly anyone claims that they are the only influences.


On with the main topic (quotes from the link above; some reformatting has taken place for technical reasons; beware that the discussion only goes through a subset of the claims made):

> When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions.

One of the central points the PC crowd seems unable to understand: Anyone claiming e.g. a difference between men and women as population groups is more or less automatically accused of considering women to
be inferior or even of claiming that all men would be better than all women in some regard—a grotesque distortion. At the same time, differences between groups, averages, distributions, whatnot, can have a massive effect on societal outcomes, especially when looking at the extremes. For instance, a slight difference in math ability (or interest!) will not matter much when looking at a high-school math grade—but could have a massive impact on the distribution of math professors*.

*But also note that when looking at individuals the proportion of math professors in e.g. the groups of men and women, will be very small: The size of the effects also depends on what populations are viewed from what perspective.

> If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.

And the poor author immediately becomes yet another example of this lack of honest discussion…

I have complained about this again and again: View-points that are not considered sufficiently conformant are rejected out of hand, censored, persecuted, belittled, or otherwise mistreated in a virtually religious manner. To boot, this is done without investigating the correctness of these opinions (often even without verifying that the opinion was correctly understood…), in a manner entirely lacking in scientific and intellectually honest behavior. When people are being fired for having the wrong opinions, how can we have freedom of speech in any sense that is practically useful? How can we have scientific progress? How can we question the status quo?

Even if he had made claims that were in drastic opposition to the scientific consensus, this is not a legitimate reason for a firing. (Unless those claims showed a clear unsuitability for his work, e.g. a physician claiming that Homeopathy is a good cure for cancer—and even then work performance should be
given priority: She* might still keep to the text book when it comes to actual treatment.)

*Homeopaths are overwhelmingly often women.

As is, those of his claims that are scientifically investigated* are not in drastic opposition to the scientific consensus—only to the make belief and pseudo-knowledge of some groups of social scientists, politicians, journalists, … On the contrary, they are closer to the scientific consensus than the beliefs of these groups.

*For instance, claims relating to the internal culture at Google are not a natural target for scientists. However, if anything, he has been overly optimistic, as proved by his fate. Other claims, e.g. relating to biological influences, have been researched by scientists and the verdict is, by and large, in his favour.

To boot, his opinions/suggestions are far more reasonable that the destructive attitude of
e.g. the PC crowd.

> 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.

In society* as whole—not just at Google. Refer e.g. to the many posts I wrote on topics like censorship in the early years of this blog.

*Swedish (and, going by Hjernevask, Norwegian) society is permeated by both this attitude and even long discredited claims by gender “scientists” and feminists are often parroted by journalists and politicians. In the U.S. and Germany the situation is not yet quite as bad, but it is growing worse and there are many areas that are lost, including certain papers, political parties, university departments, large sections of the blogosphere, …

> Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us
grow, which is why I wrote this document.

Yet, knee-jerk rejection of other opinions are one of the main problems with the PC crowd. Feminists are particularly bad. I have e.g. often seen comments on blog posts that were neutrally formulated and proposed counter-arguments or linked to actual statistics being censored for no other discernible reason than dissent. Certainly, this is a strongly contributing reason to the intellectual stuntedness of certain movements.* At the same time, I have always found that I benefit more from discussing with someone who holds the wrong opinion for a good reason than with someone who holds the right opinion for a poor reason (e.g. “my teacher told me so”). A very significant part of my intellectual growth has come from my willingness to investigate more than one side of various issues—and to do so while actually thinking.

*I am tempted to add “certain individuals”,
but that could be reversing cause and result.

> Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology.

Society as a whole….

> At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases.

Society as a whole… In fact, in my personal experience, the most biased, bigoted, intolerant, whatnot people are found among those who spend their time complaining about bias, bigotry, intolerance, …, among others. How people can be blind to the hypocrisy of being outraged over any type of racial bias (be it real or imagined) and at the same time considering anyone with the wrong opinion morally deficient*, that I still cannot wrap my head around.

*This is important: If we disagree with someone, a reaction of just “you are wrong”, would be one thing. Even “he is an idiot” is
often understandable, possibly even correct. Very often, however, the PC reaction goes exactly into the territory of “you are morally deficient”, “you are evil”, “you are hateful”, …, even with perfectly factual opinions that should be measured on whether they are factually correct. “Kill all Jews” is an evil statement; “Group A has a higher average IQ than group B” is not. As I have said again and again: Measure good and evil by actions, not opinions. (And measure e.g. intellectual strength/weakness by how others deal with arguments/evidence/facts/ideas/… and whether they are willing to adapt an existing opinion in face of new such—not based on whether said opinion agrees with your own.)

> Left Biases […]

> Right Biases […]

I will not discuss these in detail, but I do consider some items simplistic and strongly discourage the use of the
Left–Right division. The Right is sufficiently heterogeneous that the term is useless. (The Left, on the other hand, can be used as an at least semi-reasonable grouping.)

> Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies.

Society as a whole…

> At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership.

Society as a whole… In reality there is scant evidence that this would be a major factor, and the biological factors (including interests) make far more sense and are better supported by actual science.

> On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

> They’re universal across human cultures

> They often
have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone

> Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males

> The underlying traits are highly heritable

> They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Amen! Hjernevask discusses all these items.

> This [personality differences] leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.

One of the points I have made repeatedly (cf. e.g. [3])) is that differences in ability to negotiate (as well as e.g. different priorities and risk taking behavior) is an explanation for various salary differences that are only indirectly rooted in being a man or a woman: It is not (or only rarely) the case that some old white man hands out a bigger
raise to a younger man than to a younger woman because of sexism or sexual discrimination—more often, he reacts to their respective behaviors. These behaviors, in turn, are (on average) influenced by the one being a man and the other a woman. The old white man discriminates* by behavior, not by sex**. And: When a man behaves in the “female” style and a woman in the “male” style, outcomes change correspondingly.

*The word “discriminate” is absurdly abused and misunderstood in today’s world. I have vague plans for a post on that topic. For now: To discriminate means approximately to make a distinction or to see a difference as important. Hiring based on education level and by skin color are both cases of discrimination. The first is widely considered OK (strong assumed tie to work performance, education is open to everyone); the second widely considered reprehensible (weak assumed tie to
work performance, skin color, Michael Jackson notwithstanding, is something we are born with).

**Here and elsewhere I will prefer to speak of “sex” instead of “gender” (even when the original text uses “gender”). C.f. e.g. [4].

> Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap

The formulation implies (or could be taken to be imply) that we should reduce the gap. The degree to which this is correct depends on the causes. In as far as these causes are personal preferences, interests, life priorities, and, of course, ability, I am very strongly opposed to such interference. In particular, I do not see any benefit* for society in leading people into other areas of work than they would themselves have chosen—but a
disadvantage for the individuals involved.

*Reasoning like “we must get more women into tech, because we have a greater demand than supply of good tech workers” is simplistic, even assuming that these women bring the right skill-level/-set: Competent workers are a scarce resource in a great number of fields. Artificially shifting people into one field will worsen the problem in other fields. What if the quality of the teacher corps falls even further because more high-I.Q. women end up as software developers? (The reverse applies equally, but calls for driving more men into teaching are far rarer.)

Two representative examples:

> We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration. Unfortunately, there may be limits to how people-oriented certain roles and Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise (some of our programs to get female
students into coding might be doing this).

Pair programming should be used if and when it has advantages (often it has)—not to shift the character of a field. Ditto collaboration. Going down this road would potentially be a good example of paving the road to hell with good intentions. In a worst case scenario, highly competent lone wolves (very common in software development) will grow dissatisfied, perform worse, or leave for other fields or companies.

> Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.

It could, and if this is one of the aspects that give women problems without a significant benefit for the employer this could certainly be something to consider. However, this suggestion would sit far better with me were it about giving employees better opportunities, regardless of sex. Also keep in mind that the relative aversion to part time that many corporations display is rooted in
(real or perceived) benefits with having full time employees.

> The male gender role is currently inflexible

Bullshit!

> Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally feminine roles.

Here the original author shows a considerable lack of insight. Attributing the “freeing” of women to feminism (as opposed to liberalism, natural societal changes, changing work force requirements, …) is highly disputable; and (at least gender and political) feminists have a very different focus, namely on banning the “old” roles. They do not say “you can have a career” but “you must not be a house-wife, because that is a betrayal of other women
[or some other silliness]”. True freedom implies the right to chose what we want, not what others believe that we should want. Here feminists are worse than their windmill enemies. At the same time, in the U.S. as well as in Germany and Sweden, men can be as feminine as they like—if anything, it is the traditional masculine ideals and stereotypes that are frowned upon. Drink beer and drive a Humvee, and you are a Neanderthal; wish for a housewife, and you are a monster; dress like a woman and demand to use the women’s bathroom, and you are a hero.

> Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principles reasons for why it helps Google;

By and large my take on the issue in society, except that society (unlike Google) should focus more on the rights of and benefits for the individual than e.g. on the
bottom line.

> 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

> 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

> These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing
to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology that can irreparably harm Google.

Again a reflection of society as a whole; although, the mechanisms are often less explicit (e.g. through giving organizations incentives to increase the proportion of women in some area) or have another character (e.g. through selective quotas based on the blanket assumption that any difference in outcome must arise through a difference in opportunity).

> We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change) the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social
scientists learn left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.

Mostly a good point. The strong left bias/ideological distortions in many of the softer sciences is certainly a well-known problem. However, there is a fair chance that the causalities are more complex. The description of the right here is likely overly U.S. centric. Whether Google is actually left leaning, just follows political pressure, or is simply too gullible, I cannot judge. In the big picture, the typical journalist is certainly both left leaning and gullible (and may suffer some degree of peer pressure); while many non-Left* politicians likely support such nonsense for populist reasons.

*For instance,
Swedish politicians on both sides appear to believe unquestioningly in e.g. “the Patriarchy”, systematic wage/career discrimination against women, and gender-roles-as-cultural-constructs. (I have some hope that they are not all that stupid or uninformed, only saying what they are “supposed” to say, but that is of little practical importance.)

> In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females.

This might seem like a minor point, but I have seen a lot of speculation over the years (and consider it reasonably plausible myself) that the natural male reaction to protect women has contributed strongly to the current situation, especially through female claims (resp. claims made about the situation of women) not being scrutinized sufficiently. Such situations are definitely common in daily life, where a woman tells a man a sob story and he rides out to joust the alleged bad
guy without bothering to hear both sides of the story.

> We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and whiner. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is spent to water only one side of the lawn.

Several related things I have often complained about in the area of female hypocrisy and inability to see the other side of the story. I like to use the analogy of a boy having a dollar in dimes and a girl a dollar in quarters—and the girl raising hell because the boy has more coins… A telling, almost surreal, example is provided by a switch of portraits on Swedish notes some years
ago: Women were “mistreated” because they got more low denominations and fewer high denominations than men did. Apart from the extreme pettiness: George Washington is on the U.S. one-dollar bill. Abraham Lincoln on the five-dollar bill. The Yanks cannot think very highly of them…

> De-emphasize empathy. I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.

Over-emphasis on empathy is a root of many evils and poor judgment call, including framing villains as heroes, infringing the rights of one on the whim of another, creating euphemistic tread-mills for fear of insulting one group or another, etc. To boot,
that which is called empathy is often nothing more than emotional contagion.

We should look at who is in the right—not at who is the most upset.

> Be open about the science of human nature. Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.

More to the point: If we want to transcend human nature and its basically animalistic roots, then the first step, no matter how trite, is to “admit that we have a problem”. Denying the biological basis of much of human behavior is not helpful. Believing that we are some form of superior being is not helpful. Sitting in an ivory tower and fantasizing about how others “should” behave, think, and feel is not helpful. Understanding what we are, were we come from, why our urges can go contrary to
our intellect, when we should and should not fight those urges, …, now that is helpful.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2017 at 11:34 pm