James Damore: Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber

Highlights from the document that got Damore fired:

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more:

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
    • These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.
  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness.
    • This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.
  • Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).
    • This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs

.. Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life. Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap

Below I’ll go over some of the differences in distribution of traits between men and women that I outlined in the previous section and suggest ways to address them to increase women’s representation in tech without resorting to discrimination.

  • .. Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things ○ We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration.
  • .. Women on average look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average
    • Unfortunately, as long as tech and leadership remain high status, lucrative careers, men may disproportionately want to be in them. Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.
  • The male gender role is currently inflexible
    • 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.

.. . Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social sciences lean left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap9.

.. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”

.. For the same work though, women get paid just as much as men. Considering women spend more money than men and that salary represents how much the employee sacrifices (e.g. more hours, stress, and danger), we really need to rethink our stereotypes around power

.. I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

.. As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”’

.. Stop alienating conservatives.

  • Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.
  • In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.
  • Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is required for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.

Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.

  • .. Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.
  • .. These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.
  • I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.
  • 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.
  • Prioritize intention.
    • Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offence and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions.
    • Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.
  • Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.
    • We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.
    • Some of the suggested methods of the current training (v2.3) are likely useful, but the political bias of the presentation is clear from the factual inaccuracies and the examples shown.

The Age of Entanglement

Why humans should think about technology the way field biologists examine the living world

Hundreds of thousands of air travelers were delayed by a major, system-wide network outage at Delta on Monday morning, a problem that’s becoming increasingly common in a world run by interconnected and aging computer systems.

.. Such large-scale technological failures aren’t just massively inconvenient, they’re potentially dangerous, especially as machines increasingly handle crucial operations across a variety of industries. Complex systems are redefining the ways in which humans think about and interact with technology, a dramatic shift in perspective that poses its own risks. That’s the argument at the heart of Samuel Arbesmn’s new book, Overcomplicated.

.. Arbesman is not saying you need to dismantle your iPhone and build it from scratch, or only use apps that you created yourself. (Although, hey, if that’s your thing, great.) But he is saying that active curiosity—and a certain degree of futzing with the technological systems we encounter—is culturally overdue.

Sean B Carroll recommends the best books on Biology

.. Unlike physics, where matter behaves in a very regular way under so many different conditions, biology doesn’t necessarily have laws. It more has tendencies, and we’re trying to figure out what those tendencies are. For example, one rule at a larger level is that, much to ecologists’ surprise, there are species that have disproportionately large effects on the stability and diversity of the community they live in. You might think, looking at a forest or a tide pool, that all the creatures in it are equal. But it turns out that some individual creatures have a much bigger influence than others. There’s a name given to those creatures, keystone species. They work much like the keystone in a Roman arch: if they are removed, the whole thing collapses.

.. Most of these folks were derailed by World War II, they had to be doing other things before they got back to their research. You get a sense of the epic sweep of where we went from blind ignorance about life at the molecular level to being on the verge of manipulating it ourselves through genetic engineering, in just a couple of decades.

.. What’s different about the birth of molecular biology is the discoveries being so crystal clear. One day we were in the dark about heredity, something as fundamental as how life makes life, and the next day it was phenomenally clear. Those are pretty hard revolutions to match.

.. He was brilliant, he became a physician, but he concluded that the most important thing anybody could ever discover was the supposed missing link between humans and apes. He decided he was going to find it. In what must be one of the most rash and perhaps luckiest expeditions in the history of palaeontology, he decided that the cradle of humanity must be in Asia, and he thought, ‘Let’s go to the Dutch East Indies!’ How convenient, if you are a Dutchman! He searched in Indonesia, and darned if he didn’t find what we know today as Java Man, or the speciesHomo erectus. He threw the luckiest dart in the history of palaeontology.

.. Dubois was, in many ways, his own worst enemy in the way he behaved. He had a difficult personality and he made his own world more difficult. It’s a tale that we find in other places in literature, of people who are visionaries and great dreamers, and committed to that vision, but at the same time they are shooting themselves in the foot and dragging down the people around them.

.. Wallace’s work on islands in the Malay archipelago in the 19th century was fundamental to him coming up with similar ideas to Darwin about evolution. He went island hopping across that archipelago – visiting islands like Borneo, Sumatra, Lombok, Bali. He put in thousands of miles and dozens of crossings trying to understand the distribution of plants and animals there.

More broadly, the book covers the role that islands have played in our thinking about how nature works, all the way up to the current issues and debates of the time.

.. But I’m also optimistic because, although nothing happens as fast as we’d like it to, we know lots more now than 30 or 40 years ago. We also have a lot of success stories that just aren’t talked about much. When we protect species or places they can really rebound. There are lots of examples of this from sea otters, elephant seals and whales to bald eagles, wolves and bears.

.. nature is incredibly resilient and, given a chance, she can rebound on a timescale that is surprising. We see that in the oceans when we protect fisheries, we see that on the land.

Why Do Taxonomists Write the Meanest Obituaries?

The open nature of the science of classification virtually guarantees fights.

Ever since Darwin gave us a framework for understanding common descent, the search has been on for a natural classification, an arrangement of nested groups, or taxa, that accurately reflects evolutionary relationships. In this scheme, a classification functions as an explicit evolutionary hypothesis—to say that five species form a genus is also to say that those five species share a unique common ancestor. Ditto for families and orders, right up through classes and kingdoms.

.. splitters, who advocate for more and smaller groups, and lumpers, who like their groups big and inclusive.

.. Keeping track of all these names and their shifting histories requires specialists to maintain a near-encyclopedic familiarity with the literature of their group.

.. the Codes generally remain silent on the question of quality: Any taxonomic proposal, no matter how outlandish, ill-informed, or incompetent, counts so long as it was published according to the barest of requirements set out in the Codes themselves.

.. if you can print it and you can distribute it, then you can describe pretty much whatever you want.

.. it also creates a massive loophole for unscrupulous, incompetent, or fringe characters to wreak havoc. That’s because the Principle of Priority binds all taxonomists into a complicated network of interdependence; just because a species description is wrong, poorly conceived, or otherwise inadequate, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a recognized part of taxonomic history. Whereas in physics, say, “unified theories” scrawled on napkins and mailed in unmarked envelopes end up in trashcans, biologists, regardless of their own opinions, are bound to reckon with the legacy of anyone publishing a new name. Taxonomists are more than welcome to deal with (or “revise”) these incorrect names in print, but they can’t really ignore them.

.. As E.D. Merrill, the Harvard botanist who set out to index and correct much of this work in the 1930s and ’40s, put it, “we would have been infinitely better off today had Rafinesque never written or published anything appertaining to the subject.”

.. Makhan’s descriptions are notoriously short on detail. In place of clear scientific diagrams, he illustrates much of his work with blurry, out-of-focus photographs. Most frustrating to fellow entomologists, many of Makhan’s “new” species are instantly recognizable, at least to them, as already described insects. Despite numerous articles and blog posts on the so-called “Makhan problem,” new publications continue to appear, most in a small Australian journal without a traditional peer-review process. (As recently as last year, Makhan described a new species of waterbeetle, Desmopachria barackobamai—named, of course, for the 44th president of the United States.)

.. That’s because the growth of so-called “vanity journals”—publications that look to all appearances like mainstream scientific outlets, but lack rigorous peer-review—has produced new avenues for what some have taken to calling “taxonomic vandalism.” As traditional boundaries between experts and amateurs dissolve in the face of digital publishing, more opportunities than ever exist for novel voices in science, journalism, and politics. Unfortunately, these opportunities come at a cost, as a growing tide of information challenges the discriminatory abilities of scientists and lay readers alike.

.. While discussions underway now could revise the Codes to include stricter controls on which publications count for classificatory changes, many taxonomists are wary of doing anything that might deter amateur contributions. With so many species left to discover, and with existential threats to biodiversity looming, they realize the field needs as much help as it can get.