That Google Memo

I’m a bit late to this party, I know. I wasn’t going to comment on the ‘Google memo’ business. It’s been done very well on YouTube by several people. But then I saw the article “No Way Up This Ladder” by Lara Williams in New Scientist (vol.235, No.3139, page 22, 19th August 2017).

It is regrettable that New Scientist chose to get involved in the ‘Google memo’ affair at all. Unfortunately New Scientist went down the ‘progressive’ plug hole some years ago (see for example this and this and this). But, if it had to get involved, there is surely an obligation on New Scientist to address the scientific aspects of the matter. I pay my subscription to read about science, not to read the sort of gender-political stuff which I can find for free on a thousand blog sites.

Unfortunately we now see that New Scientist is more committed to the PC agenda than it is to science.

Whilst virtually all the major news outlets have written about the ‘Google memo’, none that I have noticed have bothered to mention why James Damore wrote it. The impression given is that here we have a vile misogynist who simply likes parading his nastiness. No, the worst criticism one can throw at Damore is a touching naivety in thinking that there could be a rational discussion about the matter. So why did he write it?

The memo was a reaction to “diversity training” which Damore, and his colleagues at Google, had been obliged to attend. What disconcerted Damore is that, at this diversity training, employees were informed that the company was intending to introduce discriminatory practices which, in Damore’s opinion, appeared to be illegal. This impression was reinforced by the instruction that what was said at this ‘training’ should be regarded as secret, unrecorded and have no paper trail. The objective of these practices would be to increase the numbers of women and racial minorities employed. Damore reported that this was causing some tension within the staff.

The sub-text here is that the US Department of Labor (sic) is currently investigating Google for violating federal law by having gender disparities in salaries. Though I’m not inclined to offer Google an excuse, one does wonder whether they are being obliged to break the law in a PC manner in order to avoid breaking the law in a non-PC manner.

The memo, which Williams describes as an “anti-diversity essay” begins “I value diversity and inclusion”. Damore summarises his main concerns about the culture at Google thus,

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

Surely something wrong? Google has made a clear statement,

Part of building an open inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions.”

In order to demonstrate their adherence to this principle, and to refute Damore’s ridiculous concerns, Google sacked him for sharing his different opinion.

In refutation of Damore’s concerns about being shamed into silence when attempting honest discussion, he has been shamed and sacked for attempting an honest discussion.

The essence of Damore’s position is this,

Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.

Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”

The first of those statements is capable of scientific resolution. It has been. Whilst there is always room for doubt, there is a clear consensus amongst scientific investigators that Damore is correct: differences in trait distributions between the sexes do indeed contribute, significantly, to the differing popularity of different professions between the two sexes.

The second statement is Damore’s reaction to Google’s secret policy to increase the number of women and racial minorities employed – what is sometimes called ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’, both of which are euphemisms for discrimination against males and/or whites.

Let’s turn now to Lara Williams’s article in New Scientist. She begins,

Sexism in the tech industry is a long-standing problem

Really? That’s a strong statement. Where is the evidence? None is given. One assumes that Williams simply equates less than 50% employment of women with sexism – by definition. In other words, she simply dismisses out of hand the possibility that there may be reasons for unequal numbers of male and female employees other than discrimination. She does so without evidence or argument. This is the standard feminist position. Oddly, they never apply the same assumption to areas where men are under-represented. (Oops, silly me – discrimination against men is an impossibility due to the infinite power and privilege of males).

Williams continues,

The anti-diversity essay comprises 10 pages of bad science and biological determinism

It’s impressive that such a short sentence manages to make three separate major errors.

  1. As already noted, Damore is not against diversity – only against achieving diversity by unfair (and perhaps illegal) practices. In fact, after presenting his arguments for innate differences in trait distributions between the sexes, Damore spends a page discussing “non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap”. As well as being fairer, he argues that his suggestions are more likely to actually work. For a vile misogynist who is against diversity, he sure isn’t doing it right.
  2. Merely asserting that Damore’s summary is “bad science” does not constitute a counter-argument. Apart from a brief remark about neuroscience, Williams does not provide any counter-argument. It would not be easy, because Damore’s position is actually the scientific consensus.
  3. Similarly, the phrase “biological determinism”, used as a pejorative, is profoundly unscientific. In fact, it is merely an indicator of a gender-political social constructivist opinion. How anyone can believe that the ability (or not) to gestate offspring failed to co-evolve with behavioural differences I cannot fathom.

Williams is willing to concede a degree of scientific basis for Damore’s claims, “but only insofar as there is a school of neuroscientific thought venturing theories of anatomical differences between men and women’s brains. Equally, there is a school of thought dismissing them.” At least this is (grudgingly) better than New Scientist wrote the previous week (12th August 2017, page 5, “Google sacking”),

While it has historically been claimed that male and female brains are different, there is little in the way of modern neuroscience to support this idea.”

Eh? What about the huge Cambridge meta-analysis by Ruigroka et al, A meta-analysis of sex differences in human brain structure? The headline conclusions are,

Regional sex differences overlap with areas implicated in psychiatric conditions. The amygdala, hippocampus, planum temporale and insula display sex differences. On average, males have larger brain volumes than females.”

The “school of thought dismissing” sex differences in brain structure, which Williams alludes to, probably refers to the work of Daphna Joel and colleagues. New Scientist also has previous in promulgating the social constructivist gender-political spin on Joel’s work, despite the findings showing clear sex differences (as I deconstructed here).

However, this is all rather a distraction. Neuroscience, whilst interesting, is not the most important evidence base. It would, in any case, be rather a stretch to claim trait differences based on brain structure differences. The real evidence base is from empirical psychology. Presenting a thorough review of the literature on sex differences in traits and behaviour, and evidence for their innateness, would require an entire text book – yes, there’s that much of it.

I include as an Appendix, below, a list of references copied from Jordan Peterson (here). It’s well worth reading through the Abstracts which are linked.

I make no claims to be familiar with the broader literature on sex differences. However, we need not just take Jordan Peterson’s word for it. For example, here are four other scientists, experts in the field who are all very supportive (and here is a fifth).  These scientists’ summaries are worth reading, being more accessible than published papers. Here’s what one of them, Debra Soh, had to say,

As a woman who’s worked in academia and within STEM, I didn’t find the memo offensive or sexist in the least. I found it to be a well thought out document, asking for greater tolerance for differences in opinion, and treating people as individuals instead of based on group membership.

Within the field of neuroscience, sex differences between women and men—when it comes to brain structure and function and associated differences in personality and occupational preferences—are understood to be true, because the evidence for them (thousands of studies) is strong. This is not information that’s considered controversial or up for debate; if you tried to argue otherwise, or for purely social influences, you’d be laughed at.”

The science-deniers should indeed be laughed at. But unfortunately everyone grovels to them instead. Lara Williams writes,

Biological determinism has a history of being trotted out to justify sexism

Really? References at all? I suspect this is more of a feminist worry than a reality. Feminists appear unable to break away from the idea that the only equality is identity. Equal-but-different appears to lie beyond their cognitive capacity. Nor am I impressed by Williams’s advice that Damore should pay attention to Simone de Beauvoir. Now there’s proof, if you needed any, of where Williams is coming from.

Williams writes, in connection with Damore’s concerns about tensions arising from discriminatory practices favouring ‘marginalised’ candidates, that “they increase tensions only for those with a sense of entitlement”. But entitlement to what? Williams hints that it is an undeserved sense of entitlement to privilege. But it isn’t. It’s the entitlement to equal treatment which is relevant here – and that’s what Williams fails to grasp.

In using phrases like “bro-culture”, Williams is explicitly sexist. Damore, on the other hand, is respectful in tone throughout.

Williams accuses Damore of fearing gender parity. But again this is a misrepresentation of what he wrote. What concerns Damore is unfairness. His concern is the concern which anyone facing discrimination is bound to feel.

As for the title – “no way up this ladder” – well 31% of Google employees have managed it, so that’s hardly “no way” is it? And that’s larger than the percentage of male teachers in the UK (in primary schools only 12% of teachers are men). But there is no feminist concern about the lack of male teachers (see here). Nor would we be allowed to conclude that the dearth of male teachers is obviously anti-male sexism.

But everything I have written is really beside the point. For the feminists, truth holds no interest. It is all about power. Our society increasingly consists of two immiscible layers. In one lies all the science and truth; in the other all the policy and power.

The bottom line is this: James Damore was sacked for voicing his opinion, despite his opinion being backed by scientific consensus and despite his concern being grounded in equality. Lara Williams, on the other hand, does not know what it is to be unable to express her opinion, constrained by cultural disapprobation. She can express her views and have them published in New Scientist, without need for scientific justification or even any attempt at claiming any. And she can do so without any fear of being sacked whatsoever. So who holds the power here? Who is supported by the media, business and politics? Who is the establishment?


References Supporting the Claims in James Damore’s memo

(after Jordan Peterson, here).

Sex differences in personality/cognition:

Larger/large and stable sex differences in more gender-neutral countries: (These findings run precisely contrary to social constructionist theory: it’s been tested, and it’s wrong).

Differences in men and women’s interest/priorities:

Life paths of mathematically gifted females and males:

Lubinski (2014):

Sex differences in academic achievement unrelated to political, economic, or social equality:

Stoet (2015):

Big Five trait agreeableness and (lower) income (including for men):

Importance of exposure to sex-linked steroids on fetal and then lifetime development:

Hines (2015)

Exposure to prenatal testosterone and interest in things or people (even when the exposure is among females):

Primarily biological basis of personality sex differences:

Status and sex: males and females

(Peterson’s remarks): To quote de Bruyn et al: high status predicts more mating opportunities and, thus, increased reproductive success. “This is true for human adults in many cultures, both ‘modern’ as well as ‘primitive’ (Betzig, 1986). In fact, this theory seems to be confirmed for non-human primates (Cheney, 1983; Cowlishaw and Dunbar, 1991; Dewsbury, 1982; Gray, 1985; Maslow, 1936) and other animals from widely differing ecologies (Ellis, 1995) such as squirrels (Farentinos, 1972), cockerels (Kratzer and Craig, 1980), and cockroaches (Breed, Smith, and Gall, 1980).” Status also increases female reproductive success, via a different pathway: “For females, it is generally argued that dominance is not necessarily a path to more copulations, as it is for males. It appears that important benefits bestowed upon dominant women are access to resources and less harassment from rivals (Campbell, 2002). Thus, dominant females tend to have higher offspring survival rates, at least among simians (Pusey, Williams, and Goodall, 1997); thus, dominance among females also appears to be linked to reproductive success.”

Personality and political belief:

Occupations by gender:

Problems with the measurement and concept of unconscious bias:

Neuroscientific Studies of Brain Differences of the Sexes

Ruigroka et al, A meta-analysis of sex differences in human brain structure, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Volume 39, February 2014, Pages 34-50

Daphna Joel, Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic, 15468–15473, PNAS, December 15, 2015, vol. 112, no. 50

7 thoughts on “That Google Memo

    1. William Collins Post author

      Thanks – I’ve replaced the dead link with one that works now, though not the one you suggested.

  1. Paul

    What everybody else has said. But I also think we need to revisit this glib and misleading term “sexism” because it has come to be used as a kind of semantic blunderbuss to catch anyone who says the “wrong” thing about the sexes. Just as “racism” should refer to the belief that one race is in some way superior to another, so “sexism” should mean the belief that one sex is in some way superior to the other.

    As such, there are for sure plenty of sexist men and women. Some of them, on both sides, willing to believe in the superiority of the opposite sex over their own (after all, it takes all sorts). But it is quite inappropriate to call someone a “sexist” merely for pointing out differences between the sexes. Yet that is where the constant shouting down and vilification of commentators has brought us. This needs to be challenged every time the term is used incorrectly. Since when does pointing out differences in interests and job choices between two groups of people who both have very much the same opportunities, freedoms and choices over the matter, constitute the belief that one group is superior to the other?

  2. Michael Porter

    How I hate dear William!
    For I cannot match his academic credentials – and had better not try I fear!

    His posts are a must read for anyone who entertains any hope of understanding the present socio-poilitcal situation, and are positively jam-packed with the sound of nails being hit squarely on the head.
    but I HAVE long understood his observation that it is principally about power, where that is defined simply as ‘The Ability to Act’.
    As a species we are obsessed with it due to – I take it – to the fact that possessing it is a major survival advantage, and not possessing it likewise a major disadvantage, to the point of extinction.
    it’s that important.
    And as such, we are stuck with it.

  3. Groan

    “Biological determinism has a history of being trotted out to justify sexism” This actually is a description of a great deal of feminist argument. For though supposedly believing “gender” is entirely a social construct foisted on what would be essentially similar beings their writing and campaigning is awash with explicit statements of inherent “natural” skills, behaviours, proclivities and thoughts, in effect virtues that make women both far more moral beings but also vulnerable and in need of support and safety. Of course the irony is that such a formulation is materially not distant from the mid Victorian view.
    Being perhaps a contrarian, by nature or nurture, it has been my practice over many years to read feminist research. By which I mean not just the abstract. It is no longer surprising to me how often the data presented doesn’t actually support the conclusions presented. The most frequent such distortion is to only include findings about women or girls leaving out the findings within the body of the paper pertaining to males. Indeed its not uncommon to find authors comment on “surprising” or “challenging” findings about males from their data within in the paper , even comment more research may be needed. But then simply leave any of this out of the conclusions.
    As an instance from the 1950s there has been research into observable differences in the application of criminal justice in the English Speaking world. And it was and is feminists who have done most of this research. So it is as established as anything can be that women are treated more leniently in the criminal justice systems in the English speaking world. I won’t bore with the various theories about this but the facts are uncontested. Apart from in any public debate (as per Philip Davies) where simple observation of these facts is misogyny and commissioned reports (the Corston report for instance) simply leave out males.

    1. Tom

      Feminist claim ‘ the brains of men and women are the same ‘ followed by ‘ we need more women in STEM , science is losing out without women .


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