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What does a sexist Google engineer teach us about women in science?

Posted on 25 October 2017 by John Abraham

What does a sexist Google engineer teach us about women in science?

Nothing. 

That’s the short answer, but it deserves some commentary. In early August, a young Google computer engineer made lots of news in the US when he penned a manifesto that many described as sexist and which led to his firing. The memo was written as a backlash against efforts to improve diversity in the workplace. However, the arguments articulated by the manifesto were rightly described as offensive by Google executives. 

The explosive part in the memo involved comments about how biological differences explain the paucity of women in technology and leadership fields. While there are certainly both physical and mental differences between men and women, the comments about both genders are, in my opinion, misguided and offensive.

This article is not going to focus much on the content of this so-called manifesto. It also won’t focus on the author of this document, except to question the basis for how a very young engineer has the experience, training, or education to make such broad-brush generalizations. I mean, has he for instance managed scores of male and female engineers and been able to assess their quality of work and intellectual capacity? I doubt it. Has he studied this in any detail or published on the topic? I doubt it.

I found this manifesto so ironic because I give a lot of thought to differences between male and female scientists. I am not an expert in the area, certainly not in evolutionary biology. But I am a Full Professor with many years of instructing both undergraduate and graduate students in engineering. I am often struck by how small the female population is in my discipline (perhaps 20%), yet it is higher in other technical fields (biology, mathematics, chemistry, etc.). I am also impressed by how well female students do in technical courses and degree programs. I note a statistically significant performance gap between male and female students in courses; females consistently outperform their male peers.

I also have had the fortune to be a consultant for many different engineering companies from industries such as biomedical, aerospace, manufacturing, clean energy and other fields. In my work, I notice that women team members easily hold their own with male co-workers. I also believe (but I have no evidence) that women think differently than men. 

In my anecdotal experience, women are able to consider problems from a wider range of perspectives. This perspective has real value to design teams, it encourages companies to pay more for female employees (yes, our female engineering graduates tend to make more than their male counterparts). Diverse teams make effective teams. That includes gender diversity. So, in my 15 or so years as a professor, and in my perhaps 50 consulting positions, I have lived an experience very different from the one this young Google engineer articulated.

With all that said, I thought this event provided an excellent opportunity to showcase some female scientists who are either world-known or becoming world-known in the field of climate science. So, here are some short bios of brilliant women climate scientists.

Dr. Magdalena Balmaseda

Magdalena A. Balmaseda has been working at ECMWF since 1995. She currently leads the Earth System Predictability Section in the Research Department. 

Dr. Balmaseda has developed her career by helping us understand weather and climate. She has contributed to building bridges between the climate and weather sciences. Her expertise in ocean modelling in general, and in El Niño in particular, greatly contributed to ECMWF’s first steps in seasonal forecasting back in 1995. Now seasonal forecasts are one of the pillars of the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), and the ocean is included in all ECMWF probabilistic forecasting systems, contributing the provision of forecasts of atmospheric conditions from days to months and seasons ahead. 

Equally important have been her contributions to the role of the ocean in a warming climate. The apparent slowing of the global rise in surface temperature in the first decade of the 21st century – the so-called “hiatus” – had puzzled the scientific community. In 2013 Dr. Balmaseda together with other colleagues demonstrated that a fair amount of energy trapped in the Earth system had actually been absorbed by deep ocean waters. This outcome was only possible thanks to a combination of information from ocean models, atmospheric winds, and ocean observations, using similar combination techniques as those employed for weather forecasting.

Dr. Karina von Schuckmann

Karina von Schuckmann is an oceanographer working in France at Mercator Ocean. She leads the ocean climate monitoring activities of the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service, which includes the development of a regular Ocean State Report with more than 100 authors. She is also a lead author of the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special report on ocean and cryosphere.

Her research is focused on the ocean’s role in the Earth energy budget. This means she studies how much heat is stored in and how it flows throughout the ocean waters. Her studies particularly highlight the unique importance of measuring the global ocean as its global heat storage is the most fundamental metric defining the status of global climate change and expectations for continued global warming. With this topic she is also playing a leading role on international scientific collaborations under the framework of the World Climate Research Program.

Dr. von Schuckmann’s résumé reads like a seasoned superstar’s; she has worked at some of the best research labs in France, the USA, Germany. I was so surprised to find she only recently received her PhD (in 2006). I want to know how she has become a leader in the field so quickly. I guess talent will do that. Her dissertation topic was on ocean climate variability in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. 

Dr. Jessica Conroy

Dr Jessica Conroy is a faculty member at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. She holds a dual appointment in the departments of Geology and Plant Biology. Another young and upcoming research scientist, she has been at the forefront of connecting modern climate observations and climate model outputs with long-past climate measurements (paleoclimate data). Her work has helped improve our understanding of past Earth climate.

In addition, she has developed long paleoclimate records from regions that are very sensitive to climate change. For instance, remote islands across the tropical Pacific and the Tibetan Plateau. She goes where few scientists have gone to make measurements that even fewer can.

Part of her work relies upon lake sediment samples and on the use of stable isotopes (oxygen and hydrogen) to give clues about what past climate was like. Not only does this give information about past temperatures but these data also, perhaps more importantly, tell us what the water cycle was like in the past. She was recently selected as a National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow. 

Dr. Sarah Myhre

Dr. Myhre is skilled in climate science as well as climate communication. Her area of research is in paleoceanography (the study of past climate and biology through the oceans). Her research requires her team to gather sediment cores from the seafloor, to analyze the chemical compositions and the shells of creatures that are contained within such cores, or to observe deep sea ecosystem using remotely operated submersibles. Her publications have appeared in some of the most prestigious scientific journals.

She may become even better known, however, for her work not only communicating about climate science to the general public but in training other scientists to be communicators. We scientists are often good at talking amongst ourselves, but we are less skilled at explaining why our research is important and how society can use our research to make informed decisions. This is where Dr. Myhre shines. She is a board member of the organization 500 Women Scientistsand the Center for Women and Democracy, and is an uncompromising advocate for women’s leadership in science and society.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 27:

  1. For me its hard for me to believe biological differences explain a shortage of women in technology. Its well known girls are outperforming boys at school in science and maths, which undermines any biological theory. I know plenty of talented women in science and technology.

    Theres no evidence google discriminates on gender, and they would hardly have some programme promoting gender balance if they did.

    I would think its more about career choices. There appears to be a shortage of women qualified in computer science as below.

    www.computerscience.org/resources/women-in-computer-science/

    This is due to girls seeing computer programming etc as a mans world of nerds, and computer games enthusiasts who are mainly men. I think this is probably changing, but maybe slowly.

    I dont think you can actually expect some perfect 50 / 50 balance of men and women, because the sexes just do sometimes have different preferences, which are not always sinister or anything,  but huge differences suggest some obstacle or issue of some sort to me.

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  2. I try to use this website to debunk climate deniers.  Yet, when I see an article like this, which has absolutely nothing to do with climate science, and in particular seems to be filled with anecdotal information and personal attacks, I wonder how neutral this site plans to be.

    I'll counter your anecdotal data with my own and we'll be exactly where we started.  I'm a technology manager.  I've employed men and women with it being overwhelmingly

    I once had a woman on my team and she was one of two females in a team of 20 engineers.  She decided a public team meeting was the appropriate place to bring up that I didn't have enough women on my team.  She was clearly calling me a sexist (pig?).  And yet, what she failed to grasp was that I had hired every woman who applied, including her.  She failed to see that more times than not when I posted an opening for a position, I would receive only applications from male applicants. 

    Was she good at her job?  Yes, she was.  Are there good female scientists?  Yes, there are.  Does the fact that there are good female scientists and engineers mean that women aren't applying for jobs in STEM fields as much as frequently as men?  

    One more anecdotal piece of information.  Google is such a diverse place that they fire a qualified engineer just for THINKING in a way counter to Google's policies on diversion.  If they're so diverse, why isn't 50% of their population of engineers and scientists female?  

    For a scientist who looks at inputs and outputs all day, you certainly are missing that women are not applying for STEM jobs. 

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  3. This graph gives some data on the subject of women in science.  Many of the PhD's are people from overseas.

    women in science

    For anecdotal stories, I noticed in my work (biotechnology) that often there were more men in undesirable jobs.  More women worked in research (which was more interesting) and less in manufacturing (where there was more chance of promotion).  Traveling salesmen were much more likely to be men (an undesirable job because you were away from home so much).  The hot (radioactive) lab was mostly male.  There are a lot of exceptions.

    My superficial impression was that men were willing to sacrifice more for promotion or money.  There might be a better explaination.

    Not everyone wants to put in the long hours commonly attributed to tech workers.  I would not want the job, even for the big money they are reported to make.  Other things in life are more important to me than money.

    Last year teaching AP Chemistry in High School I noticed that about 80% of my students were female.  These were the top students in the school.  Other AP teachers reported more women in their classes.  

    Women in science

    The graph above shows increasing numbers of women in undergraduate science.  Perhaps in the future there will be more women than men in more areas of science.

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  4. Other reasons for women not choosing computer science. Relates to what Michael Sweet is saying.

    readwrite.com/2014/09/02/women-in-computer-science-why-so-few/

    "Computer science is the only field in science, engineering and mathematics in which the number of women receiving bachelors degrees has decreased .......One reason for this is because women have historically chosen lower-paying yet fulfilling jobs like teaching or journalism, whereas their male counterparts, sometimes considered family providers, choose high-paying careers like computer science and engineering."

     "The advent of the home personal computer may have contributed to the historic gender gap. In the 1980s, when the PC became a standard home appliance, it was mostly men who used it."

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  5. The guy that was fired from Google, James Damore, was apparently fired for violating their code of conduct in some way. Numerous media articles have covered this. I havent seen any specifics on what clause in the code was violated, but the code does have a general clause about "Dont be evil".

    Damore sent a memo around the company making rather dubious claims about biological nature of differences. IMO this seems like it has no relevance to computer work, and is  spreading inflammatory opinion.

    But If women arent applying for jobs in technology, its hard to see what employers can do. Active gender balance which maximises hiring women runs the risk of hiring people with second rate qualificiations. "If" google have such a deliberate gender balance code programme it seems in conflict with their own code of conduct, that says people should be hired on merit.

    Having said that, it would be good to see more women in techcnology, and for the record I loathe gender discrimination. This is stone age attitude.

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  6. Here is googles code of conduct: Its a most interesting, unusual sort of thing to me, but seems well intended.

    abc.xyz/investor/other/google-code-of-conduct.html

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  7. Megreen @2 , certainly you are right, in that it is hard to see any connection between AGW and "women in science".   Still, this site cannot be expected to maintain an exclusive razor-thin focus on Hard Science & its Exact Opposite [= denialism].   And you may have noticed that the more sociological topics often garner considerable interest (as judged by the amount of discussion in the comments columns).  Including your own interested comment, here!

    But it is IMO puzzling what you mean with your word "neutral" here.  It might be interesting to unpick the implications of that !

    The only "women" connection I can see, is the sociological comment that having a great many more women in political power / leadership roles, would surely have prevented the world coming to this ludicrously tragic condition of rapid AGW & snail-like political response to the problem.

    Michael Sweet @3 , your second graph is quite shocking.  Shocking that the so-called greengrocer's apostrophe should appear so prominently on a graph from the APS.   Bachelor's Degrees, indeed!!    Wot are they learnin them fizzysisters at the APS ?

    I suppose we should simply be grateful it wasn't Bachelorette Degrees.

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  8. What is it we tell skeptics when the show us the next great proof that AGW is a hoax?  Look at the science.  Check the sources and see if they're credible.  So, instead of just taking all the hype, I've now read the entire memo.  I know find it ironic, actually, to find this post on this particular site.  The parallel is incredible. Damore is making a simple request that the people at Google not be punished for challenging the status quo. Just imagine the people who understand the science of AGW and yet know they can't talk about it at work because they'll be punished (I know, I work in the oil business).

     

    He provides scientific data to support his positions.

    From the post above: 

    The explosive part in the memo involved comments about how biological differences explain the paucity of women in technology and leadership fields. While there are certainly both physical and mental differences between men and women, the comments about both genders are, in my opinion, misguided and offensive.

    I like how the author both agrees that there are differences and attacks Damore at the same time for saying the same thing.  If you read the memo you'll actually be hard pressed to find anything remotely offensive.  IMO, the only way one could be offended is if they are offended by scientific research. And ultimately, that was Damore's point, Google's culture was so closed to alternative ideas that even presenting scientific data could get you fired.  If a scientist presents a theory and it has flaws, is the correct answer to shame him and remove him from employment?  That's what happens at Google.

    There is one point in the memo where Damore refers to the risks of lowering the bar to increase diversity.  His point was that if your sole objective is to achieve 50% diversity of men and women, that to achieve the goal you might have to lower the quality requirements of applicants because you don't have a large enough pool of interested candidates to draw upon. I'll add to that with my own experience referenced above in my other comment.  If I had wanted to attain 50% diversity, I would have had to leave positions unfilled as I waited for women to apply, or I could have lowered the bar and started accepting people who weren't trained in the field but wanted the money. 

     

     

    Eclectic @7, by neutral I mean that science shouldn't be left or right of politics, it should only be the search for truth.  4+4=8 is not a left or right issue.  This site seems to use scientifically supported information that counters political or religious dogma, regardless of where on the spectrum that myth comes from.  

     

    nigelj, I recommend you read the memo.  You'll be mildly suprised 

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  9. megreen831 @8

    I had already read the memo before posting any comments. I was not surprised by it at all.

    His claims on biological differences and work apptitudes are unsupported by real evidence, and in my view his criticism of googles attempts to force a 50 / 50 gender balance does have some credibility.

    But the point is he circulated his opinions in office time, and they are divisive on the biological issue and undermine management on the gender balance issue. I can see why google were annoyed. He seemed to be almost asking for trouble.

    I feel its more about how he went about things. It was dumb and arrogant to do in office time like that, and the sort of thing to discuss in private with work friends out of work hours, and then maybe approach google in private alone, or with others of like mind.

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  10. megreen831 @2

    Nothing to do with climate science?  But the second part of the article sketches the careers of seven prominent woman climate scientists.

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  11. Megreen @8 , thanks for your definition of "neutral" — though I am somewhat puzzled by your application of "neutral" to the SkS website.  Surely, SkS exists to counter the lies & half-truths circulated by the anti-science propagandists (wrt climate science).   And thus, the issue of "neutrality" . . . is inapplicable to SkS.   SkS does not exist to counter political & religious dogma, but only to counter "anti-science".  

    As I mentioned above, a razor-thin focus on the pure science aspects cannot be maintained at precisely 100% (because the problems we face with rapid AGW, are problems which require some sociological analysis and response).   Inevitably, there will be some discursiveness in the sociological topics — but I think it is fair to say that SkS shows very little political partisanship there (and indeed, this discursion into "women in science" is quite atypical of SkS generally : and in itself this episode probably demonstrates a "Nothingburger" wrt SkS policy).

    As to the Memoist (if I may call him that) at Google : on a number of points he "chose poorly" [gotta love that modern cliche, from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade].

    He has "chosen poorly" by :-

    (A) going public, via a lengthy memo of decidedly non-PC statements, at the very time that his company (Google) is beset by problems of legal compliance & the need for PR virtue-signalling.   His "loose cannon" action seems (IMO) to show he puts his own desire to vent his opinions ahead of his responsibility to his company.

    (B) expressing ideas that were in vogue 40 years ago, but which nowadays show a poorly-scientific understanding of the relative contributions of Nature / Nurture / and Culture, in the male/female gender roles.   And in particular regarding the low importance of innate gender differences in the fields of science, technology, engineering and [here] business management.

    To quote one pundit: "... most of these sexual differences are [only] moderate in size and in my view are unlikely to be all that relevant to the Google workplace ..."

    (C) making paranoid claims about "Marxist intellectuals transition[ing]" to sabotage/attack society by means of gender warfare.

    (D) exhibiting extremist dogma that [to slightly paraphrase him]: "about 95% of hard-science scientists and soft/social-science scientists and humanities graduates are left-leaning".   This demonstrates his lack of insight into himself, and lack of insight into the nature of society.

    He fails to understand that [to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw]: "There is a desirable Goldilocks level of political correctness."

    (E) denying that a "pay gap" issue exists.  For all I know, within Google that might be so — but the Memoist's comment is expressed as though applying generally : where his statement is clearly false.

    * The Memoist's punishment was harsh — but is doubtless seen by Google as a justifiable damage-control measure.   Something rather like: "Push the cannon overboard to save the ship."  [excuse my hyperbole!]

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  12. It seems to me that there is a clear link between the kind of pseudo-science and disinformation that Damore used in his screed and the same in climate science.

    What is the difference between all those pointing to the individual studies Damore cited for his claims of biological differences and climate change deniers pulling up papers by random cranks to advance their agenda? In both cases they are ignoring the overwhelming body of research which disputes their position.

    Damore was fired for publicly posting a sexist screed. As he should have been. The company would have been opening itself to massive liability otherwise.

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  13. @nigelj:

    Could you elaborate on why you think his claims are unsupported by "real" science?

    "But the point is he circulated his opinions in office time, and they are divisive on the biological issue and undermine management on the gender balance issue. I can see why google were annoyed. He seemed to be almost asking for trouble."

    Well, he never did intend to go public. His document was intended as a feedback to a recent diversity course he attended (which they asked for). It circulated internally without much fuss until it got into the hands of an internal skeptic group. They made it public and sent it to the press. He explains this in his interview with Dave Rubin: https://youtu.be/6NOSD0XK0r8

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  14. @Eclectic:

    Some notes to your points:

    (A) He never did go public as I already explained in post #13

    (B) Could you elaborate on that? Most social scientists agree, that biological gender differences are negligible. However, most evolutionary psychologists (and many psychologists in general) agree, that there are significant differences.

    Also it seems quite unlikely, that e.g. hormones have a huge impact on thousands of physical traits but on the other hand should not have any impact on psychological traits.

    (C) I agree with you on that. Although I see where he is coming from (Modern intersectionality is largely based on Marx's conflict theory, without much quantitative evidence). However, he doesn't have evidence to support his own position either.

    (D) I fail to understand what you mean. You don't deny, that there is a liberal bias in academia, do you? There is even a Wikipedia article about that (although the bias is smaller than 95%): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_bias_in_academia

    (E) What is your evidence for that? There certainly is a pay gap in the sense, that women on average earn less than men. But it is not clear at all, whether women earn less at the same position in the same company. The more external factors one considers, the more the gap shrinks. The remaining part is about 5% to 7% (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_pay_gap#United_States). And this still excludes many potential external factors.

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  15. Cereo @13

    "Could you elaborate on why you think his claims are unsupported by "real" science?"

    He basically claimed a lack of women at google and technology related companies was due to "biological differences" between men and women and that women were temperamentally unsuited to detailed work of this kind.

    He presented no peer reviewed research papers or text books to back his claim, and would also need to have gone further, and assess the full range of related peer reviewed research on the matter and see what the weight of evidence said. He really just expressed an uninformed opinion.

    I have done some university level psychology, and know of no consensus in any of the sciences that would say career choices stem from biological differences, or evolutionary psychology.

    I agree biology and psychology are interelated, its all chemistry ultimately, but this does not mean biology explains this specific difference until you prove it does. Ironically you might find biology makes girls better suited to technology work, and other factors keep them away.

    Further more, given girls are doing well at school on the whole in science this suggests a distict lack of biological or other deep seated differences.

    And more compelling is the reason I already gave. The lack of women in computer technology is easily explained by a lack of computer science graduates related to 1) a long standing perception its a "mans world" and 2) a preference for things like journalism etc. 

    "Well, he never did intend to go public. His document was intended as a feedback to a recent diversity course he attended (which they asked for). It circulated internally without much fuss until it got into the hands of an internal skeptic group. They made it public and sent it to the press. '

    He still circulated material in office time, that was essentially sexist and undermined google as already explained. He locked in a chain of events that meant google had little choice but to fire him imho.

    If someone leaked his information that may have been wrong, or maybe it was legitimate whistle blowing, however it's beside the point and doesnt make what he did right.

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  16. Cero @14 , thank you for your notes.  In reply :-

    (A) I take your point on public/non-public.   Yet in this world of rapidly-shrinking privacy (and especially so in the digital world) it seems that an employee of Google (of all places!!) would be very alert to the possibility that any statements made would bob to the surface and see daylight at some stage, sooner or later.

    Considering his rather paranoid comments on "Marxists" [is the word Marxist still a thing in colloquial English? — I rarely see the word written, and practically never hear it spoken . . . or is that absence just a sign of the fiendishly-clever tactic of invisible conspiring which World Communism is presently undertaking?] ~ considering his paranoia, one would assume that the writer/memoist is very aware he is "encircled by adversaries".  And perhaps we should not be entirely surprised to find that there is a touch of his own "Manifesto" in his comments!

    (B) in past centuries, the (male) opinion was that the female was an imperfect/inferior version of the male — and only grudgingly permitted to own property or (gasp!) vote.   [Prominent exception: the upper-class married women of Sparta, who were the envy of other Greek women.]

    Even into the latest decades of the 20th Century, the focus of attention was the "deficiencies" of the female intellect — and the poor "track record" of women (other than the occasional undeniable female genius) was explained away as "Nature" : a lack of Y-chromosome or maybe insufficient exposure to testostereone in-utero or during later brain development.   Nigelj will doubtless remember the old psychologists' teaching that women's brains were not only [very suggestively] smaller than men's, but were more "average".   True, the median educated female showed much the same I.Q. as the male — but the wider Bell Curve distribution of male intellects permitted a much higher percentage of elite/genius male brains . . . as well as the downside: more idiots, of course.  [Of the last two categories, I am not sure that women completely agreed with the first point — but they are unanimous about the second point.   ;-)   ]

    It is really only very recently that we see the results of social changes which reveal that (with appropriate nurture / acculturation / education) the female intellect is at least the equal of the male.   Hardly surprising, considering the biological 45/46 chromosome overlap.   Equal, but possibly not exactly identical in all respects.   Yet identical enough, in all practical respects, that a wise corporation should choose to enlist the synergistic benefits of a roughly equal M/F distribution of employees (and should delete all pay gap).

    To that extent, Testosterone is irrelevant (and in some management areas, a distinct disadvantage!) .

    Sure, despite the overlap, there are innate biological differences in M/F intellectual "style", related to the increased aggressiveness, risk-taking and "urge-to-dominance" coming from the male's higher testosterone level.   ( I for one, would much rather take a short-cut by walking across a field having a cow in it, than a field having a bull in it! )

    But in human terms, for corporations & governments, it would be both wise & equitable to have males and females present in the middle and upper levels . . . roughly in proportion to their birth percentage.  Unless we can find some valid evidence to the contrary.

    Cero, excuse my verbosity!   I shall take a coffee break and return to your remaining 3 notes, a bit later.

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  17. Cero @14 , a continuation of my (#16) reply to your "notes" :-

    (C) Yes, I agree that the Memo-ist's comment about "Marxists" demonstrates that he has a rather wacky/extremist attitude.

    (D) Mention of "liberal bias in academia" is one of those strange (but frequent) claims causing me to smile.   Among other things, it presents a fuzzy poorly-defined poorly-researched picture of reality.   Much of it arguable.   And much of it based on bizarre American definitions, where "liberal" is a code-word for something which is not liberal, and "conservative" is a code-word for something which is not particularly conservative (and is especially non-conservative in relation to climate & environmental issues).

    All that aside, the Memo-ist seems to be trying to say that academia & social scientists & scientists generally are "strongly to the left" in their views.   BTW, thank you Cero, for the Wiki reference on the issue — I was interested to see there that studies in 2010 & earlier, indicating that students generally remained uninfluenced by the political views of academic staff.   And AFAICT, the "Leftishness" that the Memo-ist was complaining about, was more in the region of 75-90%, than the 95% he was complaining about.

    True, they were American studies : but my overall impression is that this same "Leftish" tendency applies throughout the Anglophone academic world (with the possible exception of South Africa?) — and probably for the same causations, applies in non-Anglophone Western Europe too.   You will note, Cero, that the Memo-ist paints with a broad brush — broader than mere academic/teaching scientists [and elsewhere in SkS, you will find reference to surveys indicating that scientists more generally are low (and increasingly low) in American "conservative" allegiance.]

    so the Memo-ist has a point, in his comments.

    But when we boil it down, the situation is this :- When a commentator finds that 75-90% of highly-educated intelligent people hold a view which is appreciably "to the left" of the commentator's view . . . then very likely it is his view that has a bias — not theirs!

    Oh wonderful irony.   (And the cause of my smile.)

    (E) On the question of "pay gap" for women, I don't know whether any such applies at Google itself.   But look around, Cero, within the USA and internationally too — for women, the "zero pay gap" is the exception, rather than the rule, for equal-work jobs.   And to that must be added the "economic gap" also, owing to opportunity disparity (an important matter for the vast majority of women, who get little access to that minority of jobs possessing zero pay gap).

    Overall, it ain't good . . . and we can't hide behind soothing sophistries about the whole thing being a non-issue.

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  18. The memo writer appears to be driven a lot by ego, ignorance and  politics. This has diminished any good points he made.

    Regarding differences in aptitudes between men and women. One thing seems certain, women are good at multi tasking, men good at focussing intensely on one thing. Not sure if this is learned or genetically evolved. However the implications for technology jobs could depend on whether you are responsible for running a team of people, or being away in a corner solving one particular problem. Perhaps companies need a mixture of both skill sets.

    I go along with Eclectic, given what we know it seems good to have as even a mix as possible of women and men in technology, business etc. But I dont like forced quotas, and instead it should be encouraged and make sure we remove barriers and prejudice.

    Maybe there are more liberals in media or academia, however I'm not sure why this is a problem, or what you would do about it. They choose this profession for whatever reason, and are also entitled to their views arent they? Its called freedom of speech. A  forced quota of political leanings in academia and media would seem unwise, and as unwise as a forced quota of women.

    The gender pay gap is a simple fact, generally around 10% . It's simply an average across companies and obviously could vary from company to company. I dont know why anyone would deny that which is obvious and easy to measure.

    What is far more important to me are the reasons: Gender pay gap on wikipedia has some interesting summation of peer reviewed research. The causes appear to be a mix of 1) gender discrimination 2) Women tending to choose slightly lower incomes professions and 3) Low wages in professions like aged care.

    We cant change choices women consciously make and I have no problem if women prefer certain professions, but we can minimise blatant gender discrimination with strong laws, and do things to ensure people in services industries get reasonable wages.

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  19. Thank you for your responds. I'm sorry it took me some time to answer you.

    @nigelj:

    "He basically claimed a lack of women at google and technology related companies was due to "biological differences" between men and women"

    No, he claims that it may be partly due to biological differences. Primarily he claims, that there are many non-bias causes of the gender gap. For this it doesn't really matter whether women choose to work in some other field because of biological reasons or because of deep-lying cultural reasons. However, you are right, that he sees the psychological differences as primarily biological.

    "and that women were temperamentally unsuited to detailed work of this kind."

    No, he doesn't. He says that there is a statistical shift between men and women in behavior, which may have an influence on this work. He never says that women are generally unsuited to this work, he even made a graphic just to underline that point.

    "He presented no peer reviewed research papers or text books to back his claim, [...] He really just expressed an uninformed opinion."

    Have you read the full (original) version of the memo or the stripped down one on gizmodo? In the full version he links to several research papers. You can find the full version here:

    https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586/Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.pdf

    "I have done some university level psychology, and know of no consensus in any of the sciences that would say career choices stem from biological differences, or evolutionary psychology."

    No, but there is a consensus, that biology affects behavior in all kind of areas. And it is not implausible to assume, that general behavior and career choices are interrelated (In fact, that is part of the core of sociological theories as well).

    "I agree biology and psychology are interelated, its all chemistry ultimately, but this does not mean biology explains this specific difference until you prove it does. Ironically you might find biology makes girls better suited to technology work, and other factors keep them away."

    Yes, I completely agree. It is just more convenient to assume that the status quo reflects biology in some way. However, until we have more detailed studies, this may be the best basic assumption. I would see those who argue the opposite in the obligation to provide evidence.

    "And more compelling is the reason I already gave. The lack of women in computer technology is easily explained by a lack of computer science graduates related to 1) a long standing perception its a "mans world" and 2) a preference for things like journalism etc."

    You are right. The only difference between your opinion and the author's is the reason for the preferences. And he states, that there is evidence, that those are partly biological. However, this doesn't change much for the consequences.

    "The memo writer appears to be driven a lot by ego, ignorance and politics. This has diminished any good points he made."

    Why do you think so? Have you seen any interviews with him? To me he seems quite humble and also quite insecure.

    "I go along with Eclectic, given what we know it seems good to have as even a mix as possible of women and men in technology, business etc. But I dont like forced quotas, and instead it should be encouraged and make sure we remove barriers and prejudice."

    In the section "Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap", the author of the memo argues exactly for this position. He says, there are some differences in behavior and the company should adjust to make the workspace more inclusive instead of being male-centric.

    "Maybe there are more liberals in media or academia, however I'm not sure why this is a problem, or what you would do about it."

    I don't think anyone should do anything about it. But it is sensible to be aware of this bias whenever academia argues about highly-political subjects. Especially in the soft sciences many results depend on interpretation and this may be affected by a political bias through known effects such as confirmation bias.

    "The gender pay gap is a simple fact, generally around 10% . It's simply an average across companies and obviously could vary from company to company. I dont know why anyone would deny that which is obvious and easy to measure."

    That is, because people mean different things when they talk about the pay gap. In the media the pay gap is often used as a short form for "pay gap due to discrimination".

    "We cant change choices women consciously make and I have no problem if women prefer certain professions, but we can minimise blatant gender discrimination with strong laws, and do things to ensure people in services industries get reasonable wages."

    I completely agree. But one should be aware, that there is almost no reliable data on how large the difference due to discrimnation is. It is hard to tell from which point on one is fighting a phantom.

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  20. @Eclectic:

    (A) "Yet in this world of rapidly-shrinking privacy (and especially so in the digital world) it seems that an employee of Google (of all places!!) would be very alert to the possibility that any statements made would bob to the surface and see daylight at some stage, sooner or later."

    Well, I hope not. Of course, the possibility exists, but if this would be likely, I would live my life in fear. At least I don't see how anyone could blame him for that.

    When I hear him in the interviews it at least seems as if he genuinely thought he could start a reasonable, open debate with this document (I would still recommend to listen to the interview linked above).

    (B) I get your point. However, the author auf the memo doesn't argue about a difference in general intelligence, but about a difference in behavior.

    As a sidenote: Is the statement, that men's IQ shows more variance than women's disputed? I know, that the brain size argument was once there and has been disproved, but I don't know about the IQ variance.

    Another sidenote: Yes, of course, the behavior (and therefore the hormones) are irrelevant when talking about the skill for a certain profession. However, it is highly relevant when talking about the number of people who choose a certain profession.

    (C) Well, I wouldn't go so far as to attest him an extremist attitude, but at least it shows a conservative touch and maybe not enough insight into sociological theories (on the other hand, I don't have them as well, so who am I to judge).

    (D) You are right, the American terms of "liberal" and "conservative" are quite different from the meanings in Europe. But I think one should interprete his statements in an American context.

    About the 95%: For this he cited the following. https://heterodoxacademy.org/problems/

    They state, that the 95% is the number of liberals in the humanities, while the figure from Wikipedia refers to academia as a whole (He also explicitly refers to social sciences in the memo). I ccurrently can't confirm this number, however it seems plausible for me, that the number of left-leaning scientists is higher in the humanities.

    "But when we boil it down, the situation is this :- When a commentator finds that 75-90% of highly-educated intelligent people hold a view which is appreciably "to the left" of the commentator's view . . . then very likely it is his view that has a bias — not theirs!"

    In general I tend to agree with that. However, if we look at topics such as GMOs or homeopathy there is a tendency to be more anti-scientific, the higher the formal education is. So while higher educated people tend to agree on the scientific consensus, which confirms the left, they do not necessarily tend to agree on scientific consensus for positions on the right. (Sorry, this sentence is awkward)

    (E) "But look around, Cero, within the USA and internationally too — for women, the "zero pay gap" is the exception, rather than the rule, for equal-work jobs."

    That seems highly anecdotic. If I look around in my area, I don't see women getting paid less for the same work with the same qualification etc. I don't deny, that there are some, but I would rather rely on scientific data than on anecdotes. And the scientific evidence for a significant difference due to discrimination is rather weak.

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  21. Cero @19

    Thank's for your response. I dont have the time for in depth response, but here are the essential things to me:

    I still think the memo writers position is essentially and mainly that biological and deep seated temperamental differences are the main issues in this particular career choice.

    He has provided a couple of peer reviewed papers, but thay could be non typical and other research might find something different. Refer to my prior comment that he needs to look at full range of evidence. Its not totally clear if women preferring people jobs is biological or learned.

    The evidence in the articles I linked to is actually pretty compelling. However ultimately we dont know for sure either way. It may be a combination of all these factors biological differences, learned differences, barriers, and perceptions etc.

    But the bottom line is the memo writer made a claim he hasnt been able to prove adequately, and its on a contentious matter. This puts him in a difficult position, especially as she did it in work time and spread it around the office. It could be interpreted as spreading sexist opinion. If he was writing a book, no problem he can claim what he likes.

    He did make a number of political comments about marxism, liberal media bias etc. I think that is unusual material to be circulating in office time at a technology company and rather inappropriate, and his views are pretty dubious as well.

    I  accept he made several other good points as you noted, but these get lost once he started ranting about liberals in the media. I dont actually see many liberals at Fox. And this is the problem, once the issue is policised it gets argumentative, and away from the issue of women in technology

    Regarding the gender pay gap, we do have a reasonable idea of cause. The main factor appears to be career choices women make and just low paying jobs in some industries. Gender discrimination appears to be about 25% of the problem. Read the research linked on wikipedia.

    However I dont think it matters what the exact proportionality is, gender discrimination is still a part of the  problem, and is easy to address with appropriate laws, and we have those in my country and they work quite well. I assume America has some sort of laws.

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  22. Cero @20 :-

    (E) Look at human history: for centuries (millennia, actually!) the subordinate position of women has effected a "pay gap" [in monetary or other reward] for the female of the species.   Exceptions were rare.   In effect, the "pay gap" has been the default position.   I accept your point that the difference is diminishing — in First World countries.  There, because the situation is in a state of flux, it becomes less easy to distinguish between true preferences and true discrimination.

    But the onus is on you to dismiss the default position by demonstrating the alleged absence of adverse discrimination.   (Yet the point is fairly minor, in comparison to AGW . . . so please don't bother to put yourself to much trouble in doing so !!)

    I am not sure what region of this planet you inhabit, Cero — but it must surely be a Utopian place, if you regard the "pay gap" as highly anecdotal.   ;-)

    (D) Pro-homeotherapy & Anti-vaccination stances are often correlated with higher-than-average education levels.   Yet that is not at all to suggest that education (and possibly intelligence) could be the cause of such self-harming & deeply insane stances.  But merely that (insane) motivated reasoning is facilitated by above-average education.   [Sadly, the term "above average education" is a long way short of flattery, for anyone !!)

    (C) In part, the [above] is why I say that "the Memo-ist" shows bias and lack of insight into his own nature and also into the nature of humanity/society.

    But Cero, please call a spade a spade — and please do go so far as to attest him [having] an extremist attitude.  I doubt it would hurt his feelings.  Indeed, I strongly suspect he is proud of his extremist attitude [though he would never admit to himself as being anything other than a mainstream thinker   ;-)    ].

    (B) The greater variance of men's IQ . . . is an old idea, and likely of dubious validity.   There would be many confounding factors in such assessment — especially decades ago, when there were greater M/F social differences.

    (A) I fear for you Cero, if you believe our modern world holds little threat to your privacy.   I wish you good luck!

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  23. Cero, a small addendum to (D) above :-

    The unreality of the (American) labels "liberal, or conservative" . . .  is hampering the (American) ability for logical thought on these issues — and is fanning the false-dichotomy (which seems to be the local mental fashion in recent decades).   Unfortunate.   But we (including you) must try to rise above that sort of nonsense.   Regardless, it all reflects poorly on "the Memo-ist".

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  24. @nigelj:

    I think we've gotten to common ground with your post. I agree with your points.

    Just one small side note to the gender pay gap:
    The 20-40% is not the part due to discrimination, but the currently unexplained part (which may be - at least in part - due to discrimination). In Wikipedia they talk about discrimination or being "less willing" to negotiate salaries. Also they state, that in the EU direct discrimination is relatively rare due to strong laws against it (but without source).

    @Eclectic:

    (E) Yes, of course, I am talking about some specific first world countries nowadays. It is undisputable that some time ago there was heavy discrimination against women (and still is in many countries).

    In fact, even in some first world countries like Japan and South Korea I suspect there is still a lot of discrimination going on.

    I get your argument, that having discrimination is in some sense the status quo. So yes, you are right, the research is not conclusive enough to completely dismiss discrimination as a significant factor for the pay gap.

    However, I do not reject that there still is real discrimination in some places, but I state that the effect of that is probably much smaller than commonly communicated.

    I didn't want to imply, that the pay gap is anecdotical, but your evidence was. I work at a university in Germany by the way, there we get equal pay for equal work by definition. But also for my friends I did not get the impression, that the women are paid less than the men in the same area (just that the percentage of men in engineering is much higher). However, as I said, this is anecdotical. ;-)

    (D) "Yet that is not at all to suggest that education (and possibly intelligence) could be the cause of such self-harming & deeply insane stances. But merely that (insane) motivated reasoning is facilitated by above-average education."

    Yes, I agree. I just wanted to dismiss your point, that something is probably true if more highly educated people believe it to be true.

    "The unreality of the (American) labels "liberal, or conservative" . . . is hampering the (American) ability for logical thought on these issues — and is fanning the false-dichotomy"

    Yes, of course. However other labels such as "left" and "right" aren't much better either. I agree, that one should therefore not overuse those categories. However, people who agree with e.g. some "left" positions are more likely to also agree on other "left" positions out of partisanship. So those categories are not completely useless.
    (There are btw some people in the US who refer to themselves as "classical liberals" to escape the false dichotomy.)

    (C) Well, I am unsure in the usage and definition of "extremist", therefore I avoid using that word. In Germany extremists on the right are blatant nazis while extremists on the left are anarchists and communists. His positions are in the spectrum of the main conservative party in Germany (which would ironically be called "liberal" in the US). And that party is mainstream enough to provide the chancellor. :-)

    I would even avoid calling Trump an extremist, and he has a much more extremist attitude than James Damore (who didn't vote for Trump and frequently states that he doesn't support the alt-right).

    (B) You are right, the idea is disputed. There are some hints, that the effect may only occur in Western countries and therefore may be affected by the environment. (There is also a study from 2008 which supports the hypothesis)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variability_hypothesis#Modern_studies

    (A) Oh, I didn't say that. But I hope not everything I share at work will eventually be made public. ;-)

     

    Again, thank you both for the rational debate!

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  25. Cero @24, yes ok the 20% - 40%  is unexplained. I recall seeing some other source saying about 25% somewhere was gender discrimination.

    But its hard to measure the gender discrimination component accurately, and  we agree it is at least a smaller component of the overall problem.

    But how much smaller? I would say its still a very significant component although my evidence is a bit anecdotal and partial as follows:

    For example in New Zealand we get a few cases of gender discrimination going through the courts each year so it does happen. Its a hard thing to prove, so many cases likely dont make the courts. Employers can come up with numerous spurious justifications if they want. I still think its likely about 25%  of the problem, but clearly the trend has improved since middle of last century.

    It also depends on how you define gender discrimination. We also recently had a case of low paid home care workers employed by the state who are mostly women taking a case to court against the government on the basis they were paid less than other occupations of similar skill levels. They won. Perhaps they were low paid because they were women, or perhaps it was just because the government could get away with it. We will probably never know. This is why having good laws and procedures is more important than over analysing and debating the exact cause.

    IMO Trump is not a political extremist as in hard right / conservative or hard left /liberal. His politics are complex and self serving, and have fluctuated all over the place. He used to support the Democrats.

    Rather Trumps specific ideas and policy responses tend to be extremist if you think about it. And I have to say for the record almost all his policies and ideas are most unwise.

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  26. Cero, and yes thanks for your rational debate as well. Makes a change from the usual war zone of opinion.

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  27. Cero, I suspect you and I have very little difference when it comes to realities (rather than abstractions).

    I agree that it would be completely inappropriate to describe President Trump as a political extremist.   Trump is sui generis, and does not really fit on the left/right political spectrum,  despite his numerous "extremist" policy efforts (as pointed out by Nigelj in #25 final two paragraphs).   But I am getting off topic!

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