Google, Diversity and Free Speech

IDIC: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
Basis of Vulcan philosophy in Star Trek

Before you read any further, visit this article, ignore the first paragraph and start with:

Reply to public response and misrepresentation (the first bold text line)

(update: or read the original document, which someone put online)

When you are finished, continue below.

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I asked you to read the text by this Google employee before reading further, because this text is usually framed by the articles who cite it. And in mainstream media, usually in negative terms. Memo becomes manifesto, the text becomes a screech, and so on. (And yeah, Vox Day also framed it. But his framing is comparatively minor. And of course, his framing is quite different of what you find on more mainstream news sites.)

I find the whole situation very interesting, almost comical, if it were not such a serious topic influencing so many careers and so many interactions. It’s a beautiful example of what you can and cannot say in our (Western) society. And it reminded me of a recent video by Lauren Southern. In it, she quotes an activist who said:

“You only feel your shackles when you move.”

And she’s right. Most of the time, we don’t really notice what we can and cannot say. And it can be very surprising to find out that people around you are not open to discussion on some topics and consider differing opinions not only (factually) wrong but morally objectionable (= evil/atrocious/etc).

The reactions to the posting by the Google employee are very interesting. Seeing how his position is summarized, generalized, how straw men (sorry: straw persons) are build, … it’s incredible. Just take a look at what sites like gizmodo or The Mary Sue write about it. (Gizmodo at least publishes most of the text, but did remove “Two charts and several hyperlinks”.)

I think the reactions show pretty clearly that he has a point. Essentially, he is advocating for equality of opportunity (which values individuality and freedom) and he criticizes equality of outcome (which is collectivistic and places unchosen group identity over individual merit).

The whole negative reaction becomes more concerning when you consider the influence Google has on the public at large. For example, consider YouTube. 1791L describes the current situation very well in the video “YouTube Surrenders“.

It will be interesting to see what the wider fallout of that memo will be, and whether there are other elements in play (I am usually very skeptical of outrage and suspicious of whether it was created deliberately or with other aims in mind). But like I said, I am not surprised by the reaction.

And yeah, we need an open discussion without moralizing (discarding something as evil). Will we get it? Probably not. It’s more likely that some other company will replace Google. Which is a shame, because the author is right — we need viewpoint diversity for progress, not shaming or witch hunts.

BTW, for articles/postings supporting the Google employee, they also appear, e.g.:

But as with the pieces “critical” of his posting, it always pays to have a look at the original document — and avoiding any frame as much as possible.

Oh, and as usual, when one door closes, another opens: Free Speech Platform Gab Wants To Hire Google’s Anti-PC Manifesto Author. How’s that for a diversity hire 😉 (Yeah, the irony …)

Update: Aaaand he’s been fired:

Funny thing, as someone on Twitter mentioned, it is very likely that Google’s ad data makes use of the sex of a person. And the author did just claim that fact — men and women differ on average. And he correctly stated that this does not apply to all men or women. But strangely enough, many people are unable to see the issue with some distance and immediate think it applies to all women (them if they are also female). I think it says more about themselves (and their statistical knowledge) than about the memo writer.

I also wonder whether there are memos claiming negative traits for men or for white people and how these memo writers fare. Some generalizations often seem to be okay.

And seriously, if you cannot discuss issues, because these issues are radioactive, it does not help the situation long term. The company (or society) just dies a long painful death by radiation poisoning.

Another Update: A hiring manager with extensive experience in IT wrote about his perspective on Reddit. Some very interesting points in his comment:

I will never work for Google as if this engineer told me they had concerns about this, I would tell them to write a doc, just like this. What this engineer did was EXACTLY the correct way to handle this: Summarize the problem, make a detailed dispassionate assessment of the problem and then purpose solutions. This is how engineers be disruptive, this is how they are supposed to tackle ANY systemic problem. It’s text book engineering approach called a problem/solution white paper.
Any engineer worth a damn and disagreeing would research the issue, find where he’s wrong, comment this doc up with references send it back to the same distro list. I’ve seen this done so many times I couldn’t begin to count. I’ve seen fools purpose things via white paper and be demolished by professional responses. I have personally embarrassed Principal level Engineers via white papers where they couldn’t prove me wrong and made major beneficial changes to enterprise level products as a result. I have coached so many engineers through this exact process.
No one at Google could tear apart his white paper so instead they leaked it publicly to shame the company, it became a political embarrassment and they just fired him. They’ll eat any lawsuit.
This is how engineers work and why I’m so amazed that Google fired this one, hence me writing this. They just told their entire workforce it’s not OK to think different, it’s not OK to identify and purpose solutions to systemic issues, it’s not OK to solve big problems be they culture or technical. That engineer wrote that doc because he cared about the company and he wants it to be more successful. I would have given him very positive feedback in his monthly one on one for this and my respect and confidence in him as a team member would have increased quite a lot. It takes a rare individual to do what this engineer did, I would hire him for sure.
The fact that other google engineers demanded he be fired for this tells me everything about the culture at Google, no thank you. I guarantee the same behavior exists for pointing out systemic technical issues with other teams/departments. As a engineering manager, I bet working for Google is very unpleasant.
https://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/comments/6scd84/long_my_experience_as_a_hiring_manager_in_it/

Worth considering (and beautiful use of Pichai’s “not ok”).

Update: Another gem from Reddit: A list of everything linked in the Google Memo (with abstracts or the first paragraphs) by James Damore, linked again and archived for your reading pleasure. All of the websites that removed the links from it are garbage trucks set on fire and driven by cretins who love obscurantism. You gotta love sci-hub. And yep, interesting how many reports omit the sources — or the whole memo.

Update: And the inevitable Reddit Megathread: The Google Manifesto Megathread.

Update: Heterodox Academy provides a great scientific analysis of the topic: https://heterodoxacademy.org/2017/08/10/the-google-memo-what-does-the-research-say-about-gender-differences/

Categories: Community Aspects, Doing Science, Gender, General Tips, Generating Ideas, Improving your Creativity, Inspiration, Learning to do Science, People, Science, Something to Think About



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