The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond

The author of the Google essay on issues related to diversity gets nearly all of the science and its implications exactly right. Its main points are that:

  1. Neither the left nor the right gets diversity completely right;
  2. The social science evidence on implicit and explicit bias has been wildly oversold and is far weaker than most people seem to realize;
  3. Google has, perhaps unintentionally, created an authoritarian atmosphere that has stifled discussion of these issues by stigmatizing anyone who disagrees as a bigot and instituted authoritarian policies of reverse discrimination;
  4. The policies and atmosphere systematically ignore biological, cognitive, educational, and social science research on the nature and sources of individual and group differences.

I cannot speak to the atmosphere at Google, but: 1. Give that the author gets everything else right, I am pretty confident he is right about that too; 2. It is a painfully familiar atmosphere, one that is a lot like academia.

..  I mainly focus on the reactions to the essay on the Gizmodo site, which indirectly and ironically validate much of the author’s analysis. Very few of the comments actually engage the arguments; they just fling insults and slurs. Yes, slurs.

.. The arrogance of most of the comments reflects exactly the type of smug self-appointed superiority that has led to widespread resentment of the left among reasonable people.

.. Even the response by Google’s new VP in charge of diversity simply ignores all of the author’s arguments, and vacuously affirms Google’s commitment to diversity. The essay is vastly more thoughtful, linked to the science, and well-reasoned than nearly all of the comments.

.. But it is not clear to me how such sex differences are relevant to the Google workplace. And even if sex differences in negative emotionality were relevant to occupational performance (e.g., not being able to handle stressful assignments), the size of these negative emotion sex differences is not very large (typically, ranging between “small” to “moderate” in statistical effect size terminology; accounting for less than 10% of the variance). So, using someone’s biological sex to essentialize an entire group of people’s personality would be like operating with an axe. Not precise enough to do much good, probably will cause a lot of harm. Moreover, men are more emotional than women in certain ways, too. Sex differences in emotion depend on the type of emotion, how it is measured, where it is expressed, when it is expressed, and lots of other contextual factors.

.. Among commentators who claim the memo’s empirical facts are wrong, I haven’t read a single one who understand sexual selection theory, animal behavior, and sex differences research.

When the memo went viral, thousands of journalists and bloggers transformed themselves overnight from not understanding evolutionary psychology at all to claiming enough expertise to criticize the whole scientific literature on biological sex differences.

 .. Even Google’s new ‘VP of Diversity’, Danielle Brown, criticized the memo because it ‘advanced incorrect assumptions about gender’; I was impressed to see that her Michigan State B.A. in Business and her U. Michigan M.B.A. qualify her to judge the scientific research.
.. I think that almost all of the Google memo’s empirical claims are scientifically accurate. Moreover, they are stated quite carefully and dispassionately.
.. Whoever the memo’s author is, he has obviously read a fair amount about these topics. Graded fairly, his memo would get at least an A- in any masters’ level psychology course. It is consistent with the scientific state of the art on sex differences. (Blank slate gender feminism is advocacy rather than science: no gender feminist I’ve met has ever been able to give a coherent answer to the question ‘What empirical findings would convince you that psychological sex differences evolved?’
.. implicit in the author’s critique of Google’s diversity programs. This dogma relies on two core assumptions:
  • The human sexes and races have exactly the same minds, with precisely identical distributions of traits, aptitudes, interests, and motivations; therefore, any inequalities of outcome in hiring and promotion must be due to systemic sexism and racism;
  • The human sexes and races have such radically different minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and insights, that companies must increase their demographic diversity in order to be competitive; any lack of demographic diversity must be due to short-sighted management that favors groupthink.

The obvious problem is that these two core assumptions are diametrically opposed.

..  The usual rationale for gender diversity in corporate teams is that a balanced, 50/50 sex ratio will keep a team from being dominated by either masculine or feminine styles of thinking, feeling, and communicating. Each sex will counter-balance the other’s quirks. (That makes sense to me, by the way, and is one reason why evolutionary psychologists often value gender diversity in research teams.)

But if there are no sex differences in these psychological quirks, counter-balancing would be irrelevant. A 100% female team would function exactly the same as a 50/50 team, which would function the same as a 100% male team.

.. psychological interchangeability makes diversity meaningless. But psychological differences make equal outcomes impossible. Equality or diversity. You can’t have both.

.. His most important suggestion though is apparently the most contentious: ‘Be open about the science of human nature’. He writes ‘Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.’ This is also correct. If American businesses want to remain competitive in a global market, they must open their eyes to the research, and ground their policies in the known facts about the genetic evolution of sex differences, rather than blank slate delusions about the ‘social construction of gender’.

.. 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.

The GOP health-care bill shows the need for regular order.

Kennedy was the showy performer in that ugly spectacle, but Senator Biden, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was the stage director. Prior to Bork’s nomination, Biden had in fact said that he would support it: Bork was, after all, a distinguished legal scholar with a long history in public service. Bork had many challenges in front of him: For one thing, he was very sharp-elbowed in intellectual disputes, which had not won him very many friends.

.. The Senate majority leader at the time was Democrat Robert Byrd, a man who had rejoiced in the title of Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, and who held a grudge against Bork for his role in the Watergate scandal, during which Bork had fired special investigator Archibald Cox on the orders of President Richard Nixon.

.. The Senate majority leader at the time was Democrat Robert Byrd, a man who had rejoiced in the title of Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, and who held a grudge against Bork for his role in the Watergate scandal, during which Bork had fired special investigator Archibald Cox on the orders of President Richard Nixon.

.. The Democratic primary field was very full: There was Biden

.. Biden could not afford to stand by his earlier assessment of Bork and announced his opposition to the nomination shortly after it was made formal.

.. The 14 hours Senator Byrd had spent filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not prevent him from becoming the Democratic leader in the Senate.

.. The Bork nomination, on the other hand, was an ordinary piece of government business elevated by Democrats to the status of national emergency in the service of narrow partisan interests. Biden was running for president, Kennedy was running for conscience of the Democratic party, and Byrd, frustrated by Republicans’ lack of cooperation on a number of his spending priorities, had promised: “They’re going to pay. I’m going to hit them where it hurts.”

.. The hysteria and vitriol directed at Bork were of a sort rarely seen since the early 19th century. But they quickly became commonplace.

.. But the rules of the game are not all there is to the game. What in another context might be called “sportsmanship” is in politics a question of prudence and even of patriotism, forgoing the pursuit of every petty partisan advantage made possible

.. The progress from Robert Bork to Merrick Garland is a fairly obvious story, but there is more to it than that:

  • The increasing reliance upon legislative gimmicks such as omnibus spending bills and retrofitting legislation to fit with the budget reconciliation process,
  • the substitution of executive orders and open-ended regulatory portfolios (“the secretary shall . . . ”),
  • the prominence of emergency “special sessions” in the state legislatures,
  • the absence of regular order in the legislative and appropriations process —

all are part of the same destructive tendency. Procedural maximalism in effect turns the legislative system against itself, substituting the exception for the rule and treating every ordinary item of business as a potential emergency item.

.. at the time, their numbers in the Senate were enough to secure their victory without a filibuster. But the course they set in those hearings — one of maximal confrontation, of reaching for whatever procedural cudgel is close at hand — led directly to our current state of governmental dysfunction.

.. at the time, their numbers in the Senate were enough to secure their victory without a filibuster. But the course they set in those hearings — one of maximal confrontation, of reaching for whatever procedural cudgel is close at hand — led directly to our current state of governmental dysfunction.

.. The recently proffered Republican health-care bill instantiates much of what is wrong with our politics:

The bill was constructed through an extraordinary process in which there were

  • no hearings,
  • no review from the Congressional Budget Office, and
  • no final text of the legislation until shortly before the vote.
  • The process is erratic and covert rather than regular and transparent.
  • It was put together in a purposeful way to avoid substantive debate and meaningful public discourse,

making the most of the majority’s procedural advantages for purely political ends.

.. As Rod Dreher recently put it, Republicans will have to choose whether they love the rule of law more than they hate the Left.

.. Republican populists who argue that the GOP must play by the same rules in the name of “winning” have very little understanding of what already has been lost and of what we as a nation stand to lose.

The United States will not thrive, economically or otherwise, in a state of permanent emergency.

.. What’s truly remarkable about our current constant national state of emergency is that no one can say exactly what the emergency is. But we all seem to be very sure that something has to be done about it right now, that we must rouse ourselves to excitement about it, and that the ordinary rules of lawmaking and governance no longer apply.

There is not much political mileage to be had from arguing for regular order, transparency, and procedural predictability — but that’s part of what makes those things so valuable. Order in the little things is a necessary precondition of order in the big things. Orderly government cannot be built on a foundation of procedural chaos.

Living in the Trump Zone

The reason I use scare quotes here is that the single-page document the White House circulated this week bore no resemblance to what people normally mean when they talk about a tax plan. True, a few tax rates were mentioned — but nothing was said about the income thresholds at which these rates apply.

.. Meanwhile, the document said something about eliminating tax breaks, but didn’t say which. For example, would the tax exemption for 401(k) retirement accounts be preserved?

.. So if you were looking for a document that you could use to estimate, even roughly, how much a given individual would end up paying, sorry.

.. Trump is like a temperamental child, bored by details and easily frustrated when things don’t go his way; being an effective staffer seems to involve finding ways to make him feel good and take his mind off news that he feels makes him look bad.

The Pond-Skater Presidency

The problem is that Trump has now changed and many of his critics refuse to recognize the change. He’s not gotten brighter or humbler, but he’s gotten smaller and more conventional. Many of his critics still react to him every single day at Outrage Level 11, but the Trump threat is at Level 3 or 4.

.. The “resistance movement” still reacts as if atavistic fascism were just at the door, when the real danger is everyday ineptitude.

.. First, it is increasingly clear that everything about Trump is less substantial than it appears. Trump will be the last president who grew up entirely in the TV age, post-print but pre-internet. In the Trump mental framework, everything exists in segments and episodes. Ratings are the ultimate criteria of value.