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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.

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Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2017 at 11:34 pm

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