As we all know, James Damore, former Google employee, has been demonized for life for supposedly suggesting in his famous memo that women weren’t as qualified to work in tech jobs as were men. In fact, his memo didn’t say that: it said that perhaps women were underrepresented in tech at least in part due to their lack of interest in such jobs (he didn’t discount sexism, nor do I). But suggesting that lack of gender parity in jobs has anything to do with lack of interest or preference is not acceptable in today’s climate, where ideology decrees that men and women must be exactly equal in both abilities and interests.
Google fired Damore for violating the company’s code of conduct. He then filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board for being unjustly fired. He withdrew that complaint, but the NLRB had already determined internally that Damore’s firing was legal, saying that “statements regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected”. I find that distressing, for I believe there are some biological differences between the sexes, and if saying that is harmful and disruptive, then not only will research be suppressed, but nobody will be able to even mention the existence of biological differences. And, as I’ve said repeatedly, differences in preference or ability cannot and should not be used to deny anybody equal opportunity—the climate to let their talents and interests flower without the restrictions of bias.
In fact, as I reported the other day, new research by Gijsbert Stoet and David C. Geary supports the existence of gender difference in interests in STEM fields: the more gender-equal the society, the less likely women are to get tech degrees. That’s the opposite of what you’d expect if differences in preferences played no role in unequal representation. (That study also showed that women were at least equal to men in their abilities in STEM areas). For an explanation of the paradox, go read my exegesis of Stoet and Geary’s paper.
So Damore, regardless of the merit of the studies he quoted (they’re disputed), was probably partially right. Jon Haidt and Sean Stevens agreed, concluding, after analyzing the memo, that differences between men and women in STEM abilities was virtually nil, but differences in preferences were significant:
Damore is correct that there are “population level differences in distributions” of traits that are likely to be relevant for understanding gender gaps at Google. Even if we set aside all questions about the origins of these differences, the fact remains that there are gender differences in a variety of traits, and especially in interest/enjoyment (rather than ability) in the adult population from which Google and all other tech firms recruit.
It’s been some time since I read Damore’s memo, but I gave my take last August. Here’s part of it:
I’ve reread the infamous Google memo by James Damore, and my opinion is about the same: it’s a mixed bag insofar as it makes some weak biological/evolutionary claims about male versus female preferences, and it could have used some citations (but of course there’s lots of literature to cherry-pick, and that would have made it into a paper, not a memo). Damore seems to take observed sex differences in behavioral traits like “neuroticism” to argue, implicitly or explicitly, that differences in psychology or ability are biological differences instilled in our ancestors by natural selection. He doesn’t consider that some part of these differences, or even the bulk of them, could be cultural—due to socialization and biases—and therefore should not be taken as “evolutionarily hardwired”. And even “evolutionary hardwired” differences can be susceptible to cultural change. Further, Damore’s argument that these differences are “universal and therefore genetic” is not only a priori illogical (nearly everybody in the world is religious, but does that mean we have a gene for it?), but I even doubt that every society has been surveyed to show the universality of sex differences in psychology, preference, or ability.
That said, I think the memo makes points worth considering, has been grossly misrepresented by people who attacked it, and likely led to Damore’s firing simply because he violated the Regressive Leftist dictum that there are no biological, or even existing, psychological differences between men and women, and therefore differential representation must be due to sexist bias leading to failure to hire or promote.
Given the results of Stoet and Geary, I’d probably emphasize biology a bit more now than I did then, though their study should be replicated.
This is all a long-winded way to explain why Damore, when he speaks in public, gets attacked and disrupted by Leftists, abrogating his freedom of speech. This happened on a small scale on February 17, when Damore was part of a panel at Portland State University (PSU) called “We need to talk about diversity.” The panel was organized by a student skeptic group, Freethinkers of PSU. Besides Damore, it included former Evergreen State biologist Heather E. Heying, PSU philosophy professor Peter Boghossian, and writer Helen Pluckrose. Bret Weinstein, Heying’s husband and the target of student ire at Evergreen, also appeared briefly. The panel and disruption are discussed in a Quillette article by Andy Ngo.
The protestors didn’t manage to derail the event, but disrupted it, even ripping out the sound system as they flounced from the room. As Ngo reports, there were other attempts to prevent people from hearing the panel:
A protest campaign to hoard free tickets claimed more than half the seats, suppressing turnout.
After the event, police and security escorted the speakers out of a back entrance. I caught up with them and asked for their reactions. Helen Pluckrose recalled what one of the police officers had told her: “So why are you so radical and extreme and dangerous that I have to escort you off campus? You seemed very reasonable to me.” She still doesn’t have an answer.
You can see the protest in this clip from a tweet, and the full discussion at the bottom. The protest began when Heying rather than Damore was speaking. (Why do these protestors always have red, green, or blue hair?)
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) February 26, 2018
Note how angry the woman was who was removed by the police. One protestor calls Damore a “Nazi.” The anger in these people is strong, palpable—and unwarranted. It’s a way of preventing discussion by spewing outrage.
Willamette Week reports the disruption, which starts at 20:08 in the full video below.
When the doors of Hoffman Hall opened to the ticket-holding attendees, the only protesters in sight were a group of six students holding signs displaying photos of prominent women scientists: Dana Ulery, Gladys West, Lynn Conway, Radia Perlman, Adele Goldberg, and Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, the Eniac Team, Karen Spark-Jones and Sophie Wilson.
The small group walked up to the courtyard in front of Hoffman Hall, showing the signs to people waiting in line and patiently answering questions from bystanders curious about the women. In front of the hall, they held their signs and talked quietly among themselves.
Some other protesters waiting in line for the walk-out protest wore purple, a color chosen to distinguish themselves from the rest of the small crowd waiting to listen to Damore speak.
“I’m bummed my tuition money is going toward James Damore,” said Chloe Kendal, a senior graphic design major, as she waited in line. “Most people I know are really bummed. People in my department are really unhappy he’s speaking on campus.”
Her friend Jenny Vu, also a graphic design major, says most students didn’t know or care about the event.
“Most people are unaware and indifferent, but the people who are aware are angry,” she says.
They both hoped to send a message to the event organizers by walking out of the auditorium.
More than 200 people showed up to the event. Around 6:30, a handful of attendees got up to walk out.
As they were leaving, two people tried to disconnect the audio equipment by knocking over a speaker and pulling out wires. The microphones cut out for about 30 seconds.
I mourn the lack of civility in all this, and the willingness of the protestors to call people Nazis and try to shut down their talk by ripping out wires and speakers. Fortunately, the panel went on, and the protestors huffed off into the night.