Monday, August 7, 2017

The Google Heretic

The news arrived a couple days ago that Google's engineering ranks include someone with unorthodox opinions on the subject of "diversity" as practiced in Silicon Valley, the actual text (minus graphs and hyperlinks) leaking out in the pages of Gizmodo Saturday. The essay itself senselessly adopts some of the worst flaws of modern political discourse from the left, particularly "psychological safety", a fatally damaged concept that has no place in grownup discussion. He (I assume the author is male) also mislabels as "authoritarian" the idiotic and badly misguided private efforts toward an inflexible and unachievable "diversity" goal; I note the author is free to leave Google, and work elsewhere. He also adopts the whiny language, itself extracted from Marxism's leaden skeins, that makes so much feminist writing unbearable: what does "swaths of men without support" even mean?

But those criticisms aside, the author is right about biological origins of a number of disparities between the sexes, particularly in mathematics, which are of long-standing and universal at the higher end of achievement. That is to say, from a population standpoint, women are more uniform in ability than men, and thus you end up with fewer geniuses — and fewer morons. (There are nations where female averages are actually higher than male averages [PDF, see page 10], but male-female average math score gaps exist for the majority of OECD countries save Iceland, where it is reversed, with some less significant than others.) Unfortunately, he does not provide substantiation for his claims, unless of course Gizmodo's editorial decision to strip the jeremiad of hyperlinks was an act of deep political cowardice.

However, why did he feel it necessary to pen such a document? To know that, it is necessary to ask, how is it that Google has a Vice President of Diversity, whose job presumably is to root out and destroy a would-be modern T.J. Rodgers accidentally joining the Googleplex ranks? Google, simply, has become a huge visible success, to the extent that it can afford to operate many companies with dubious or nonexistent paths to profitability. Throwing some bones to the commercial feminists is a no-brainer, for now; if you can lose a billion dollars in a quarter, you're doing something right. But as with Microsoft and its seemingly invincible computing platform that took a dive once they made (wholly necessary) forays into mobile, nothing is guaranteed, and today's juggernaut could easily be tomorrow's roadkill. Advanced parasitism of that kind will have no place in a smaller company, either devourer or devoured. Asking "why are there so few women coders?" is as pointless as asking "Why are there so many Jews in Hollywood/banking/diamond cutting?" The answer is, and should always be, who cares?

Update, 2017-08-08: Google yesterday fired author James Damore on the ground that he was  "perpetuating gender stereotypes", thus essentially proving he was right about the company acting as an echo chamber. (I would observe that companies set up thusly are also liable to fall apart in other ways.) As usual, Scott Alexander has a terrific followup:
Galpin investigated the percent of women in computer classes all around the world. Her number of 26% for the US is slightly higher than I usually hear, probably because it’s older (the percent women in computing has actually gone down over time!). The least sexist countries I can think of – Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, etc – all have somewhere around the same number (30%, 20%, and 24%, respectively). The most sexist countries do extremely well on this metric! The highest numbers on the chart are all from non-Western, non-First-World countries that do middling-to-poor on the Gender Development Index: Thailand with 55%, Guyana with 54%, Malaysia with 51%, Iran with 41%, Zimbabwe with 41%, and Mexico with 39%. Needless to say, Zimbabwe is not exactly famous for its deep commitment to gender equality.
As usual, the whole damned thing is worth reading.Also, this:

And, this:
Update 2017-08-08 9:31: Also a good read at In A Crowded Theater:
Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged that these topics are “fair to debate.”   He claimed that Googlers are free to discuss these topics so long as they do not advance “harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”  But by firing Damore, Pichai belied any commitment to real discussion.  A true debate about these issues requires grappling with all of the thorny premises.
 The good news is that now a woman can be hired to replace Mr. Damore, thus ensuring Google's comittment to diversity. Also, they will make sure she has the right opinions before hiring, and the Vice President of Truth Diversity to make sure she keeps them with the party line.

Update 2017-08-08 9:58: Also Inez Feltcher at The Federalist:
Damore is guilty of nothing more than gently stating the obvious truth, backed by a laundry list of scientific studies: on average, men and women have divergent talents, interests, and skills. Because of these differences, men and women make different career decisions in the aggregate. Damore’s great offense was recognizing that maybe, just maybe, the imbalance between men and women in software engineering has more to do with freedom of choice than being the six-figure salary counterparts to the handmaids in Gilead.

Instead of fighting these “gaps” as the result of discriminatory systems and attempting to force men and women to be the same, we should consider the possibility that their divergent choices are the result of our true diversity.
Also useful in that Federalist piece is a link to the essay, links intact. As I expected above, the stripped links point at buttressing evidence for his thesis, which Gizmodo made the political decision to shamefully omit in their rebroadcasting.

Update 2017-08-09: Before passing on this subject, it's worth quoting this passage from the Scott Alexander post upthread:
We know that interests are highly malleable. Female students become significantly more interested in science careers after having a teacher who discusses the problem of underrepresentation. And at Harvey Mudd College, computer science majors were around 10% women a decade ago. Today they’re 55%.
I highly recommend Freddie deBoer’s Why Selection Bias Is The Most Powerful Force In Education. If an educational program shows amazing results, and there’s any possible way it’s selection bias – then it’s selection bias.

I looked into Harvey Mudd’s STEM admission numbers, and, sure enough, they admit women at 2.5x the rate as men. So, yeah, it’s selection bias.

I don’t blame them. All they have to do is cultivate a reputation as a place to go if you’re a woman interested in computer science, attract lots of female CS applicants, then make sure to admit all the CS-interested female applicants they get. In exchange, they get constant glowing praise from every newspaper in the country (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc, etc, etc).
Now, we don't know if female CS candidates are admitted at 2.5 times vs. men — the rate could be higher or lower in that specialty — but this definitely points to at least a potential problem for their headline story about women in CS: it's not so much that they support women as they throw enough women at the problem that eventually some of them will get through.

Look! More stupid!

1 comment:

  1. I heartily endorse your original conclusion: "The answer is, and should always be, who cares?" As my Mom always used to say: "To each his own," said the lady as she kissed the cow.