Friday, 11 August 2017

James Damore vs. The Google Archipelago

I was distressed and saddened this week to learn that Google had decided to fire James Damore for his circulation of an internal memo that dared to question some of the more extreme elements of the social justice warrior (SJW) inspired workplace equality/diversity movement.

Predictably, the contents of his memo have been grossly misrepresented by the popular press as having been an anti-diversity tirade. If one takes the time to actually read what he wrote (and the full contents of the memo are reproduced below for posterity), it is easy to see that this is absolutely not the case. The memo is instead a balanced and considered analysis of several critically important issues that is aimed at stimulating a critical re-examination of some of the key assumptions/biases that may have crept into certain mainstream views. That is exactly what a learning organization (or person) should do - welcome diverse and open-minded perspectives.

Furthermore, most of what was written was not Damore's idle conjecture or speculation, but was rather an eloquent synthesis of a large body of contemporary academic work spanning the fields of biology, evolutionary psychology, and clinical psychology. All of the claims made in Damore's memo are well supported by actual studies/data, and are claims that many (although by no means all) experts in the field would readily agree with. The influence of Jordan Peterson in particular, who happens to be one of my favourate psychologists, is particularly recognizable in Damore's work.

Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with Damore/Peterson's perspective is actually beside the point (although I happen to believe they are both 100% correct). What is most concerning is that Damore was not able to present - even in a balanced and considered way - a valid perspective supported by scientific evidence, without being misrepresented in the media; shamed into silence; and ultimately fired. Indeed, the growing assault on free speech and the diversity of ideas both within Google, and in society at large, was cited by Damore as being one the most pressing reasons why that memo needed to be written.

The outcome has proven Damore's concerns about creeping authoritarianism and intolerance well founded. The response to the memo by Google, the media, and the regressive left in general, represents nothing less than the impending death of free speech, open society, and rational fact-based discourse. It is how totalitarian societies are born (hence the thinly-veiled reference to 'Gulag Archipelago' in the title - something I stole from Peterson's YouTube channel which I highly recommend one visits). And it is particularly concerning when it is coming from an organization that putatively stands for the dissemination of the world's information, which is increasingly tasked with the responsibility of providing platforms for others to share and express their ideas (Google has the power to block videos on YouTube for instance, or even shut this blog down).

At the very least, Damore's document called for a considered discussion/debate in response, if not an outright thank you for the effort put into it (I for one found the document value-add to my thinking). The idea that it called for summary dismissal and nationwide shaming in the media is a sad indictment on the contemporary state Western liberal democracies and the direction they are heading in (and I happen to think, by the way, that Trump's election; Brexit; and the relative rise of the hard right in Europe, have a lot to do with a growing backlash against this pernicious trend).

3D thinking is often needed, but is generally lacking

In order to understand complex issues in the world, nuanced, multi-disciplinary thinking is often required. That's hard. Most people have neither the time nor the inclination to commit the energy to properly understanding complex issues, so they instead rely on overly-simplified heuristics.

The overly-simplified heuristic/presumption that supports the outraged opposition to Damore's perspective is the idea that men and women are biologically exactly the same, with any differences being purely socially constructed. If that proposition were true, it would mean that, on average, men and women had identical interests, strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, and consequently, that any observed differences in representation amongst a large enough population (e.g. 75% of Google software engineers being men) must be the result of systemic discrimination.

Furthermore, anyone who dared to suggest that the above was not necessarily the case or the full story - i.e. that there may in fact be natural differences, on average, between men and women, that contribute to differing degrees of representation in different contexts - is automatically assumed to be arguing that 'men are better than women', with the perpetrator merely using biology as a means of rationalising their sexism.

Both of these assumptions are deeply problematic. The first proposition is problematic because it is an assumption for which there is a complete absence of any supporting scientific evidence. Indeed, virtually all the evidence from biology and psychology stand in clear refutation to the idea that men and women are identical, not to mention the common sense reflections one can derive from everyday life. The idea that men and women are exactly the same, just like the idea that all human beings have the same level of innate intelligence, is nothing more than wishful thinking (SJWs might as well try to argue that we are all of the same height and equally good looking as well - that would be nice/fair, but unfortunately it is patently untrue).

Secondly, at no point did Damore's memo argue or even imply that natural gender differences meant that men were better than women - only that they may be different, on average, and therefore that across large populations, they may incline towards different occupational preferences. He was careful to emphasize that overall population-level differences implied nothing about the individual, given the large degree of (again, scientifically documented) overlap between the sexes.

The reason many assumed Damore was being sexist was because men are indeed over-represented in prestigious and high-paying Silicon Valley computer programming jobs. However, that does not mean that men are 'better' than women. As Damore points out, men are also over-represented in undesirable and dangerous jobs as well, and incur 93% of all workplace deaths. (Incidentally, where are the demands for gender equality in coal mining, construction work, and garbage collection, alongside the SJW demands for equality in select prestigious and high-paying professions? Where is the outrage women suffer only 7% of workplace fatalities, and the initiatives to bring that up to 50%? You need to take the good with the bad in life).

A little bit of common sense goes a long way as well. When you were at school, how many male vs. female computer geeks did you know that spent their weekends tinkering with their motherboards, playing computer games, and coding? Is it therefore not common sense to expect men to be over-represented in computer programming professions? That someone can get fired and publicly disgraced for pointing this out is extraordinary disturbing to say the least.

Fighting injustice

I know of few traits in life that are more admirable than the willingness to stand up for what is right at the risk of injury to one's livelihood and person, and particularly when it is being done not out of self-interest, but instead purely based on principle and a desire to fight injustice. That is exactly what Damore has done, and it has cost him his job, not to mention the endurance of a completely unjust character assassination in the media. It is a grave injustice, and it is something I find it saddening. Courage is in critically short supply in our society, and Damore is deserving of both our admiration and our support.

We all have a moral duty, in my opinion, to do whatever we can to correct whatever injustices we perceive in the world and have some ability to influence. My blog readership is still pitifully small, but I believe I nevertheless have an obligation to do whatever little I can to fight in Damore's corner here.

You, dear reader, can have more influence than you think as well. Most are familiar, I believe, with the idea of 'seven degrees of separation'. Well, that means a direct individual-to-individual word-of-mouth argument needs only be won seven consecutive times to reach every person in the world. It is everyone's responsibility to fight injustice and the toxification of our society one battle at a time, and this issue goes beyond Damore, and touches on the right to free speech and free society which too many take for granted. We must not be complacent in the face of threats to these values.

Implications for Google as a stock?

One should never over-react to the news of the day when assessing the impact of events on the long term valuation of stocks - particularly if the issues are emotionally charged. Google is and will remain a powerful company, whether that is fair or not (and the irony of this post being written on Google's blogspot platform has not been lost on me). Nevertheless, if I was a Google shareholder (I am not), I would be somewhat concerned, and if I had any degree of influence, I would probably be calling for CEO Sundar Pichai's resignation.

Google is a high-multiple stock (c30x PE) that is, perhaps, in the 5-6th inning of its easy run of growth, and the company will need to remain innovative if it is to preserve its dominance in coming decades in the face of technological change and growth in artificial intelligence - particularly as paid search migrates to non-text formats including voice recognition (e.g. Alexa), and faces growing disintermediation threats from platforms such as Amazon.

Google will not be able to rise to the challenge if it fails to innovate, and innovation requires an environment that is supportive of free and diverse thinking, and a commitment to doing what is right and supported by the evidence, rather than what is merely popular or conventional. Pichai has demonstrated a commitment to none of these things with his decision to fire Damore (instead, he appears to be demonstrating a commitment to self-preservation above all else).

Google appears to already be well on its way to becoming a lethargic, institutionalized bureaucracy subsumed by politicking - the typical outcome of previously-successful companies that become complacent and fat. I imagine also that the decision to fire Damore will be highly demoralizing for many of Google's most talented employees, who will collectively be smart enough to see through the PR facade to the underlying truth of the world. I would not be surprised if this cultural rot results in Google losing its innovative edge and missing the next big technological curve in the road, in much the same way that Microsoft missed the move to mobile.

Pichai's response is to some extent understandable given the misguided external criticism Google has suffered for its lack of gender parity, but it is Pichai's responsibility to do what is right to preserve the company's culture long term, instead of what is expedient for himself in the short term. Google has certainly strayed some distance from its famous 'Don't be Evil' injunction on many fronts, but it is at risk of becoming dumb and ineffectual over time as well.


Full memo below sourced from:

Reply to public response and misrepresentation

I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.


  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology. 
  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business. 

Background [1]

People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document.[2] Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology. What follows is by no means the complete story, but it’s a perspective that desperately needs to be told at Google.

Google’s biases

At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases. Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices. 

Left Biases

  • Compassion for the weak
  • Disparities are due to injustices
  • Humans are inherently cooperative
  • Change is good (unstable) 
  • Open
  • Idealist

Right Biases

  • Respect for the strong/authority
  • Disparities are natural and just
  • Humans are inherently competitive
  • Change is dangerous (stable)
  • Closed
  • Pragmatic
Neither side is 100% correct and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company. A company too far to the right may be slow to react, overly hierarchical, and untrusting of others. In contrast, a company too far to the left will constantly be changing (deprecating much loved services), over diversify its interests (ignoring or being ashamed of its core business), and overly trust its employees and competitors. 
Only facts and reason can shed light on these biases, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies. For the rest of this document, I’ll concentrate on the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and the authoritarian element that’s required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.

Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech [3]

At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story. 
On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
  • They’re universal across human cultures
  • They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
  • Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
  • The underlying traits are highly heritable
  • They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective
Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions. 

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. 
Note that contrary to what a social constructionist would argue, research suggests that “greater nation-level gender equality leads to psychological dissimilarity in men’s and women’s personality traits.” Because as “society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality becomes wider.” We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism. 

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[4], 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 and without resorting to discrimination. Google is already making strides in many of these areas, but I think it’s still instructive to list them:
  • 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. Unfortunately, there may be limits to how people-oriented certain roles and Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise (some of our programs to get female students into coding might be doing this).
  • Women on average are more cooperative
  • Allow those exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive. Recent updates to Perf may be doing this to an extent, but maybe there’s more we can do. This doesn’t mean that we should remove all competitiveness from Google. Competitiveness and self reliance can be valuable traits and we shouldn’t necessarily disadvantage those that have them, like what’s been done in education. Women on average are more prone to anxiety. Make tech and leadership less stressful. Google already partly does this with its many stress reduction courses and benefits.
  • 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. 
Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principles reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that. For example currently those trying to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead and if we try to change that too much, it may have disastrous consequences. Also, when considering the costs and benefits, we should keep in mind that Google’s funding is finite so its allocation is more zero-sum than is generally acknowledged.

The Harm of Google’s biases

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:
  • Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race [5]
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)
  • Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination [6]
These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology[7] that can irreparably harm Google.

Why we’re blind

We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change) the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ[8] and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social scientists learn left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap[9]. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs. 
In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females. As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more cooperative and areeable than men. We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and whiner[10]. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is spent to water only one side of the lawn.
The same compassion for those seen as weak creates political correctness[11], which constrains discourse and is complacent to the extremely sensitive PC-authoritarians that use violence and shaming to advance their cause. While Google hasn’t harbored the violent leftists protests that we’re seeing at universities, the frequent shaming in TGIF and in our culture has created the same silence, psychologically unsafe environment.


I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).
My concrete suggestions are to:

De-moralize diversity.

  • 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 require for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.

Confront Google’s biases.

  • I’ve mostly concentrated on how our biases cloud our thinking about diversity and inclusion, but our moral biases are farther reaching than that. 
  • I would start by breaking down Googlegeist scores by political orientation and personality to give a fuller picture into how our biases are affecting our culture.

Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races.

  • These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive. Instead focus on some of the non-discriminatory practices I outlined.

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. 
  • There’s currently very little transparency into the extend of our diversity programs which keeps it immune to criticism from those outside its ideological echo chamber. 
  • 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.

Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity.

  • We should focus on psychological safety, which has shown positive effects and should (hopefully) not lead to unfair discrimination.
  • We need psychological safety and shared values to gain the benefits of diversity
  • Having representative viewpoints is important for those designing and testing our products, but the benefits are less clear for those more removed from UX.

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 offense 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.

Be open about the science of human nature. 

  • 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. 

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.
  • Spend more time on the many other types of biases besides stereotypes. Stereotypes are much more accurate and responsive to new information than the training suggests (I’m not advocating for using stereotypes, I [sic] just pointing out the factual inaccuracy of what’s said in the training).
[1] This document is mostly written from the perspective of Google’s Mountain View campus, I can’t speak about other offices or countries.
[2] Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint. In terms of political biases, I consider myself a classical liberal and strongly value individualism and reason. I’d be very happy to discuss any of the document further and provide more citations.
[3] Throughout the document, by “tech”, I mostly mean software engineering.
[4] For heterosexual romantic relationships, men are more strongly judged by status and women by beauty. Again, this has biological origins and is culturally universal. 
[5] Stretch, BOLD, CSSI, Engineering Practicum (to an extent), and several other Google funded internal and external programs are for people with a certain gender or race.
[6] Instead set Googlegeist OKRs, potentially for certain demographics. We can increase representation at an org level by either making it a better environment for certain groups (which would be seen in survey scores) or discriminating based on a protected status (which is illegal and I’ve seen it done). Increased representation OKRs can incentivize the latter and create zero-sum struggles between orgs.
[7] Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. 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.”
[8] Ironically, IQ tests were initially championed by the Left when meritocracy meant helping the victims of the aristocracy.
[9] Yes, in a national aggregate, women have lower salaries than men for a variety of reasons. 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 employees sacrifices (e.g. more hours, stress, and danger), we really need to rethink our stereotypes around power.
[10] “The traditionalist system of gender does not deal well with the idea of men needing support. Men are expected to be strong, to not complain, and to deal with problems on their own. Men’s problems are more often seen as personal failings rather than victimhood,, due to our gendered idea of agency. This discourages men from bringing attention to their issues (whether individual or group-wide issues), for fear of being seen as whiners, complainers, or weak.”
[11] Political correctness is defined as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against,” which makes it clear why it’s a phenomenon of the Left and a tool of authoritarians.