Aug 11

See the problem yet?

The entirely predictable backlash against Google for firing the sexist manifesto author has begun.  Among the notable contributors is the NY Time Editorial page in the form of David Brooks.  In support of his position that the Google CEO should resign, he’s even gone so far as to dig up some evolutionary psych types to assert that men and women do, indeed, differ and therefore the author was on safe scientific ground.

The logical errors are consistent and depressing.  Nobody is arguing that men and women don’t differ on anything. The question is whether they differ on google-relevant work skills.  Consider the following 2 fact-based statements:

  1. Men are taller than women
  2. Women are more inclined towards interpersonal interactions

There is data to support both statements on aggregate and statistically across the two groups.  The first statement is clearly a core biological difference with a genetic basis (but irrelevant to work skills at Google).  However, the fact that (1) has a biological basis does not mean the second statement does.  The alternative hypothesis is that (2) has arisen from social and cultural conditions, not something about having XX or XY genes (or estrogen/androgen).  The question is between these two statements:

2a. Women are more inclined towards interpersonal interactions because of genetic differences

2b. Women are more inclined towards interpersonal interactions because they have learned to be

And while statement 2 is largely consistent with observations (e.g., survey data on preferences), we have no idea at all which of 2a or 2b is true (or even if the truth is a blend of both).  Just because an evo psych scientist can tell a story about how this could have evolved does not make it true either, it just means 2a is plausible (evo psych cannot be causal).  It’s unambiguous that 2b is also plausible. There simply isn’t data that clearly distinguishes one versus the other and anybody who tells you otherwise is simply exhibiting confirmation bias.

And anybody even considering that the firing was unjust needs to read the definitive take-down of the manifesto by a former Google engineer, Yonatan Zunger, who does not even need to consider the science, just the engineering:


His core point is that software engineering at Google is necessarily a team-based activity, which (a) means the social skills the manifesto author attributes to women are actually highly valuable and (b) the manifesto author now no longer has any prospects for being able to be part of a team at Google because he has asserted that many colleagues are inferior (and many others will be unhappy they’d even have to argue the point with him).  Given that any of these skills is likely present in a normal distribution across the population and that Google selectively hires from the high end for both men and women, even if his pseudoscience was correct, you’d still have to fire him to maintain good relationships with the women you’ve already hired from the very high end of the skill distribution.

It’s kind of amazing how bad so many people are at basic logic once a topic touches their implicit bias.  Also depressing, too.

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